Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kazumi Urano

What made me a fan of AKB48 were their concerts in JCB Hall 2008 and NHK Hall 2009. I didn't know much about them at the time, so in this one particular song at NHK Hall, when I saw this girl pushing this other girl who was seated, I didn't know what it was about. The seated girl didn't seem like she could stand for long, but could walk, but I thought more about the girl that was pushing her. One thought that came to my mind was, "poor girl, she got assigned to be the girl who has to push this other girl. Maybe she's new." Or at least I thought maybe she was less popular than the other dancing girls or something like that. But I also admired her. I thought she was such a trooper. She didn't mind doing this kind of stuff even if it makes her look like less than the other members, she did what needed to be done. Little did I know how true those words are and what this scene actually meant until I got to know AKB48 and Kazumi Urano more.

Formerly nicknamed Miho and Miporin, Kazumi Urano, now nicknamed CinDy, is an original member of AKB48, meaning she qualified on the very first auditions and has been a part of AKB48 since the very first day. Meaning she was with the group when AKB48 was still unknown, when AKB couldn't even fill their small theater, when they had to go out and hand fliers themselves, when they had to undergo many unusual marketing techniques such as fans being able to talk to them via live video streaming on mobile phones. During the hard times when AKB was crawling to make a name for themselves, she was there sweating it with the other originals. One thing, though, when the third team was created one year after, the other members of the original team got to stay in what was then already called Team A, while Kazumi Urano, along with Natsumi Hirajima and Shiho Watanabe, were transferred to this third team, Team B. I haven't read a clear reason as to why exactly they were transferred, I doubt it was any sort of punishment, and I don't think there was trouble between them and the other members (CinDy seems to have a good relationship with Mai Oshima while Nacchan seems to have a good relationship with Minami Minegishi). My best guess is they were transferred to draw fans to the new team. When the second team, Team K, was created, they received harsh and unfair criticisms because they kept getting compared to Team A, which relatively already had a fanbase. Not wanting this to happen to the third team, I guess AKB Management chose a few girls from Team A to transfer to Team B. CinDy, Nacchan and Shiho were not necessarily the least popular members of Team A, but they were certainly not the most popular, so in that sense, they were expendable; Team A could lose them and not lose too many fans, but the three had enough fans that their influx to the new team would be significant to the new team. So, leaving behind working with their friends and working with people they have been with for a year, and no longer being a part of the original team, the three worked with Team B, and although Shiho graduated after Team B's first stage, CinDy and Nacchan stayed. CinDy may have also been transferred possibly because her leadership potential had been seen, but since Minami Takahashi was more popular than her, and Takamina's leadership was recognized and established in Team A, CinDy could be better utilized in a new Team.

Before the Budokan shuffle was even imaginable, CinDy, Nacchan and Shiho were the first to be shuffled to a different team, and if the Budokan shuffle was any indication of the emotions these girls go through, you can imagine what CinDy, Nacchan and Shiho felt being the first and only ones to be shuffled during that time. But they worked, and gave it as much as they could. After three stages with the original Team, when AKB wasn't as popular as they could become, they had to go to the new, unknown team, so there was a chance that as AKB's popularity rose, as it did, they might even be forgotten by the newer fans, being no longer a part of the original team, and perhaps not getting as much respect as the other originals whom they worked hard with to build the AKB name.

All members of Team B were left out of Himawari-gumi, the two stages considered by some fans as the all-star stages; they were left out because Team B debuted just before Himawari-gumi started.

In a time when I don't think AKB Management decisively chose who would lead Teams, CinDy became the leader figure of Team B. When I first read this, I wasn't so sure, until I kept seeing CinDy stepping up whenever necessary in many ways in the various shows AKB are in. In one of my favorite AKB surveys published in the AKB48 Complete Book 2005-2008, all members of AKB (then actually 48 members) were polled, and CinDy was voted second as the member who looks after the other members the most. Comments about her were "She's ultra kind", "She observes us, gives us indications, advises us and encourages us", and "She puts Team B in order!!" (Translations from Ange of Saeyaka). Mariko Shinoda ranked #1 with 1 vote more, meaning CinDy even beat Takamina. Again, this is a survey filled in by the members themselves. In the question, "Who's the member you can rely on the most?", comments about CinDy were, "Elder sister" and "She listens to my problems." She ranked 4th under Sayaka, Yuko and Nonti. (Another amusing comment, for the question "If I were male, who's the member I would like to date the most?", CinDy was described as, "Totally fun!! She's got a big repertory of stories and they are fun. I think she's always naturally smiling.") I personally believe she can be kind of strict at times, but I really don't have concrete proof of that.

The first two stages of Team B were revivals of Team K and Team A stages (Seishun Girls, Team K's 2nd stage, 1st original, and Aitakatta, Team A's 2nd stage, meaning CinDy and Nacchan are the first [and so far only] members to perform the same stage twice under different teams, and have different subunits for the original and revival of the stage, Koi no Plan to Namida no Shounan for CinDy, while Nagisa no Cherry to Glass no I Love You for Nacchan.) Team B's first original stage, 3rd overall, "Pajama Drive", is for me the best pre-Budokan-shuffle stage of the whole of AKB. Except for one, all songs in that stage got in the Request Hour Setlist Best 100 2009, on its debut, with their opening song, Shounichi, getting number one, as voted by fans. At a time when Team B was left out of so many things, they proved their value. (You may read more about this here: With whatever she was able to contribute, CinDy helped lead a new, upstart team to get the number one spot in the Request Hour Setlist Best 100, marking the first (and so far only) time a team song became #1.

But there was one thing CinDy has not accomplished that time. She was never chosen by AKB management to be part of the recording of any of the singles (except for their first, the original Sakura no Hanabiratachi, where all original members recorded), a status they call Senbatsu. By year 2009, CinDy would be the only original member to have never been chosen Senbatsu. So, when AKB Management decided that the girls who would do the recording for their next single then, "Iiwake Maybe", would be chosen by fan votes, CinDy's appeal video was the first to be shown on their NHK Hall concert where this was first announced (not part of the DVD). And for the first time, ranking 17th out of about 100 members that time, CinDy became Senbatsu by fans' votes.

However, three days before the actual release of the single, was the surprise Budokan shuffle, where the members were distributed to different teams, where it was announced that CinDy would be transferred from Team B to SDN48 fulltime, leaving Nacchan at Team B. It is expected that Team B's fourth stage would end February, 2010, marking CinDy's last day with Team B. SDN48 is composed of four former members of AKB, where the other three are Yukarin, Meetan, and Nonti, (they were already part of SDN before the shuffle, the shuffle just announced their complete transfer) where Nonti was assigned team captain at the Budokan shuffle. I was happy to read that in a meeting at the AKB theater involving Aki-P, the theater manager, and the team captains of AKB and SDN, Nonti acknowledged how valuable CinDy's experience in leading a team would be since this would be Nonti's first time to lead a team. Apart from the four, SDN48 is composed of those who passed their auditions, all of which are at least 20 years old, an older group from AKB, who as far as I know only performs at the Akihabara theater every Saturday night. I personally expect that SDN will be used more once the Budokan shuffle takes effect.

Pre-Budokan shuffle, CinDy holds the record for official membership in the most number of teams, with Team A, Team B, and SDN48, without getting fired, and also holds the record for most stages performed in as a member, with eight, Team A's first three stages, Team B's first four stages, and SDN48's first stage (tied with Yukari Sato, Kayo Noro, and Megumi Ohori, counting the two Himawari-gumi stages, and their first SDN48 stage).

CinDy doesn't get as much exposure as I believe she deserves too. (For example, on Shuukan's coverage of the Grand Sportsmeet, Kasai and Minegishi's reading of their letters to their captains was much longer than CinDy's reading of her letter, as it was cut too short.) She's a great performer who keeps on pushing herself and supporting those around her, many times, sacrificing herself, I may add, but she herself does not get a lot of push from AKB Management. I believe she is one of the most underappreciated members of AKB. Not that any of these are necessarily accurate representations, but she has pretty much consistently ranked in the top 20-30 in Mixi rankings (Japanese AKB online community), Stage48 and Nihongogo (English AKB online communities) annual rankings. I hope she does get more exposure before she eventually decides to graduate, be it in SDN or any other AKB medium. She certainly has worked hard and has done good work to earn it.

More about CinDy in the following screencaps.

CinDy in the PV (Promotional Video, a.k.a. Music Video) of AKB48's very first single, the original Sakura no Hanabiratachi

Although she was never chosen Senbatsu before, she does appear in a few of the other PV's. Here is Skirt, Hirari, their second single.

One of my favorites, Bingo!

Another of my favorites, Oogoe Diamond

Part of the audience in Oogoe Diamond, you can see CinDy's originality and creativity by not just doing what everyone else is doing

Although she was voted Senbatsu for the first time, it was hard to notice CinDy in Iiwake Maybe's PV. She's actually the one the teacher hands off the vase of flowers to.

She doesn't get close ups on the dance shots of Iiwake Maybe either, shown here with Minami Takahashi

AKB48's first ever stage "Party ga Hajimaru yo"

CinDy's first stage subunit was Kiss wa Dame Yo, one of my favorites, with Shiho Watanabe, who would get transferred to Team B with her, and Mai Oshima, I believe her close friend.

CinDy's second stage subunit, another one of my favorites, Koi no Plan

CinDy performs one of my favorite AKB songs, the very sad song, Dakedo...

I don't believe CinDy was ever a part of Team A's fourth stage, but on AKB's first concert tour (second concert), just before Team B debuted (they were still rehearsing), CinDy, Nacchan and Shiho performed with their Team A teammates; shown here performing one of my favorite Team A team songs, the title to Team A's fourth stage, Tadaima Renaichu

Team B's opening song for their first stage, Seishun Girls, shown here with Shiho, who was transferred with her.

Up front is Team B's future top 3 (based on the Iiwake Maybe elections), CinDy, Mayuyu and Yukirin

I'm not sure, but I believe Sayaka Akimoto is the center of Team K's Blue Rose, and if so, since CinDy takes her place in Team B's revival of Blue Rose, this means CinDy centers her first stage subunit in Team B's first stage.

For the first time, CinDy centers an original subunit, Tengoku Yarou, my favorite performance in Team B's fourth stage.

CinDy gets to perform her Team A third stage subunit, Rider, on the Shibuya AX Request Hour Setlist Best 100 2009, with her old Team A teammates.

Not physically well to perform in Shibuya AX Best 100 2009's second day, former teammates CinDy and Haruna Kojima are kept company by Nacchan. Here, they watch Team A perform Namida Uri no Shoujo, which all three of them originally performed in Team A's third stage.

The surprise announcement that Team B's Shounichi was voted the #1 performance in Shibuya AX Best 100 2009 caught Team B offguard. In her thank you to the audience, CinDy has to keep pausing to stop herself from crying.

The end of the performance pose of Shounichi, where Team B still try hard to hold their tears.

A specially sweet victory for Nacchan and CinDy, who were transferred from the original team, Team A, to the then newly created team, Team B.

At the end of the concert, CinDy again addresses the fans from the backstage.

Nacchan and CinDy, after that concert's final address.

Described by her teammates as one of the most serious, Mikipomu would fall under hard times as she is demoted from Team B to Kenkyuusei, until she finally decided to graduated at the NHK Hall Concert, April 2009; shown here with leader CinDy.

Perhaps the biggest sign of respect given to CinDy by AKB management, CinDy opens the second of three parts of the NHK Hall April 2009 concert series as center of the AKB classic, Nagisa no Cherry, with no less than AKB topstar, the original center of Nagisa no Cherry, Maeda Atsuko as her backup dancer, along with SKE's topstar Jurina Matsui and one of Team K's youngest, most popular members, Erena Ono, as the other two backup dancers, and for the first time, I see CinDy actually nervous, shown here first in the "The Making of..." video before the concert starts.

In what may be the biggest performance of her career, for the first time, CinDy actually looks nervous performing as center of Nagisa no Cherry.

As CinDy performs Nagisa no Cherry, her Team B teammates watch her 'backstage' (from the "The Making of..." video), shown here are Mayuyu, Nacchan and Harugon

After Nagisa no Cherry, Team B humorously joins CinDy on stage to perform their #1 song, Shounichi, where CinDy resumes her leadership tasks in leading Team B in the chant.

She performs Shounichi wearing the Nagisa no Cherry costume.

Sidelined by a recurring leg problem, Mikachi makes a surprise appearance in the NHK Hall concert as Team B performs their new song, Minasan mo go Issho ni, so team leader CinDy pushes her injured teammate for the song's monologue. This is leadership.

After the monologue, CinDy rejoins Team B before the song ends.

CinDy performs my favorite stage subunit song, Tsundere!, with Mayuyu and Tomomichan, at the great Budokan stage, August, 2009.

CinDy performs her very serious Team B 3rd stage subunit song, Kagami no naka no Joan da Arc at the great Budokan stage. Many stage performers forget the importance of facial expressions, something even AKB topstar Maeda Atsuko gets criticism about, something CinDy excels at, which many of her fans appreciate and admire.

Injured Mikachi decides to graduate at Budokan, where Team B surprises her by joining her on stage while she performs

Not one to forget her leadership duties, CinDy was not about to let her injured teammate carry her mic out on her own.

CinDy debuts on AKB 1ji 59fun, the predecessor to AKB's weekly variety show AKBingo!, the same day AKB topstar Maeda Atsuko debuts, on it's fifth episode, Feb. 21, 2008, as they are both assigned to help MC the show for that episode ("day duty").

After Junji immediately gives Maeda two oshipins for showing up, CinDy asserts herself by saying it's her first day too.

Junji denies her request by saying she's not cute.

She insists that she's cute, where this time it's her friend Nonti who blocks her appeal by saying she's not.

CinDy certainly gives her contribution to the show's humor.

CinDy, on the March 6, 2008 episode, where she is nominated for a Chara-demy award. Unfortunately, they never aired her explanation for her tiara gag.

On the same episode, when one of the lizards in the game escaped its box, and the other girls were running away or getting ready to in fear of it, it was CinDy who went all the way from the back row to get the lizard. Sayaka would help her eventually, but Sayaka was already right there. Remember, this might have even been cut and never been aired, had Sata himself not been running away from the lizard.

On the May 5, 2008 episode of AKB 0ji 59fun, CinDy humorously calls Sata out.

The amusing acting skill battle of that episode.

CinDy continues to humorously call out Sata by starting the "Pervert!" chant, where the members happily chant along.

In an old episode of AKB48+10, CinDy plays the teacher for the rest of Team B.

CinDy, playing with the microphone with her younger Team B teammates, on the October 2, 2007 episode of AKB48+10

CinDy pretty much acts like the interviewer to her Team B teammates for this episode too.

When things get slower, CinDy spikes the tempo, to ensure things get interesting, shown here on the Sept. 5 2009 episode of AKB48+10

CinDy's appeal video for the Iiwake Maybe Senbatsu elections

Upon the announcement that she was voted Senbatsu in the Iiwake Maybe elections, one of the most important victories of CinDy's career

CinDy was part of the AKB team that debuted in Paris.

CinDy, trying to ignite some smiles after the announcement of the very tearful Budokan shuffle ends.

CinDy comforts Team B teammate Yonechan at the aftermath of the Budokan shuffle, who will end up in separate teams

CinDy comforts her team's topstar, Mayuyu, crying after the Budokan shuffle.

CinDy performs with SDN48 at Budokan

It doesn't matter what team you're in, us, your fans, will continue to support you! ガンバレ CinDy!