Wednesday, December 7, 2016

AKB48 Returned to Manila! My Ecstatic Report!

Twelve members of AKB48 Team 8 performed for two events at two separate locations in Manila within two days on their second official visit to the Philippines, and you can bet I was there for both of them!

Six members returned while six others were first time visitors of the Philippines; the six who were also here last year were Rin Okabe, Nanase Yoshikawa, Maria Shimizu, Yurina Gyoten, Rena Fukuchi, and of course, beloved english-speaker, Riona Hamamatsu, while the six first timers to join them are Hijiri Tanikawa, Nanami Sato, Kotone Hitomi, Karin Shimoaoki, Ayane Takahashi, and acting as center, Serika Nagano!

The first event was a private fan meet last December 3, 2016, Saturday, held in an exclusive diner/cafe. This was a paid event (unlike the second event which was free) which had stricter rules. For example, I saw a few fans, both Filipino and Japanese, who arrived at the event who were not allowed to purchase tickets, since all tickets had to be purchased online and the deadline had already past. Others also could not join due to schedule or financial restrictions. I estimate that there were over 300 fans who attended this event, which was just the right number since we were able to sit comfortably in the venue, and since the venue was not huge, it was just packed enough. The venue was positioned for performances, and had a stage at front, and a catwalk in the middle. And no, fans were prohibited from taking pictures.

We didn't expect them to perform, but Team 8 entered the stage after their Overture and performed Aitakatta, and the crowd went ballistic! Just hearing the Overture again here in the Philippines since last year made me ecstatic, but having them perform three songs, when I wasn't expecting any, was awesome! Aitakatta was so fitting as the first song, as since the first time they were here, I have wanted to see them again. I really wanted to tell them "Aitakatta!" ["I wanted to see you!"]

Here is the setlist of the first event:
1. Aitakatta
2. 47 no Suteki na Machi e
3. Oogoe Diamond
Encore: 47 no Suteki na Machi e

It was nice that they performed Aitakatta and Oogoe Diamond for us, especially considering they eventually wouldn't perform them on the second event, and that they performed these on their first visit last year. It is also always great to see Team 8 perform their first original song 47 no Suteki na Machi e. The girls were also surprised that after performing Oogoe Diamond, we would chant "Encore! Encore!" It seemed like they really weren't expecting it and that they didn't prepare for one, which made the whole thing even more awesome. Their manager would whisper to them (while they were still on stage) to perform 47 no Suteki na Machi e again, a message I watched passed on as they cutely whispered, passing along the message, one girl at a time, since they were still in line on stage. They didn't perform the choreography on the encore, but just had fun on stage waving at the fans, which was fun for us since they made good use of the catwalk in the middle, which they also used during their performances, meaning there were many times they were dancing just about three meters away from me! I'm surprised that the girls were not expecting us to ask for an encore. They should know by now that we will always want them to perform as many songs for us as possible.

Apart from a raffle where each girl gave a fan autographed merchandise (no handshakes allowed, otherwise the other fans would have gone mad!), a short question and answer, where Nanase Yoshikawa adorably proclaimed her love for the Filipino snack food "Halo-halo," and the official announcement of the opening of auditions for MNL48, the highly anticipated high-touch event would cap the afternoon.

At first, we were only allowed to purchase one ticket, meaning one high-touch for only half of the members there, but when it was announced that we could purchase another one, you bet I bought another one so I can high-touch all of them!

The first in line was Rinrin (Okabe Rin), which I was very happy to see back and very happy to thank. This is my second AKB high-touch event, and as usual, I was too shy to say much other than "Thank you".

I've liked Nanami Sato for some time now, but never thought of her as one of my favorites (and with Team 8, my list of favorites is quite a long list), at least not before. When she was at the catwalk in front of me, I was watching Serika besides her, which I think she noticed, since I saw her looking my way. I doubt she actually remembers that, but when it was my turn to high-touch her, she said "I love you," and I believe I was so surprised, I told her "I love you too," and you bet I was fished, hook, line and sinker! Reel me in, the master tsurishi caught me, and I was very eager to bite on her bait, and lie there like a victimized fish! Nanamin is truly one of the best fishermen in AKB, and she can take her place with Yukirin, Milky and Dasu. Yes, I know those words probably don't mean much, but my list of favorites just grew longer with the addition of Nanamin, as I will treasure those words nonetheless.

All of the girls were a pleasure to high-five, and I will treasure the fact that I got to high-touch them.

Serika Nagano was surprisingly warm, and I really enjoyed my short time with her even if the only thing I got to say to her was "Thank you so much," because I really appreciated her warmth.

Next to her was Riona Hamamatsu, which I was eager to thank by saying "Thank you so much for coming back," which she replied (to paraphrase) "I would love to come back again!" to which, I replied, "Please do!" I don't know if she means it, but I believe she does, and I want Team 8 to come back again, and when they do, Riona better be back with them! As the english-speaker of the group, it should be a no-brainer to bring her to any AKB event in the Philippines. Her winning the Nemousu TV survey in Hawaii which was based on pictures alone shows how much her beauty alone makes her stand out, add to that the fact that she's the member I can actually talk to comfortably since she is fluent in english means she should always be brought to any english-speaking event. Remember how SDN48's english-speaking Sayaka Kondo was brought to the US, even though the AKB event did not feature SDN at all? Riona should get the same deal. Also, if Hillary (Rina Hirata) is no longer doing Nogi Eigo (since she was absent in the most recent episode) since she has graduated from AKB, Riona should take her place! I want to see Riona more and I want to hear her talk more.

Last on the line of my high-touch was Hijiri Tanikawa. I've always thought of Hijiri as a beautiful girl and I've liked her ever since, but seeing her in person, she was gorgeous! It was hard for me to accept that she was only fifteen! She would steal my eyes every time I saw her! It was so cute how shy she seemed on stage! She was so adorable! When she is playing with fans on the stage (by communicating with them from a distance) she looks so cute, in a dorky way (similar to her beloved Maeda Atsuko). Her ponkotsu character suits her, as she pulls it off so adorably. Hijiri has been added to my list of favorites and I've been trying to dig up old videos of her from my collection to satiate my desire to see more of her. It's fortunate that the current episode of Nemousu TV features her along with Team 8 members such as Maria Shimizu and Nanase Yoshikawa, who were here in the Philippines with her, and that I have quite a number of Hijiri's Showroom videos as well. I still can't get over her! She actually said more things to me, none of which I truly remember because I was so taken aback by her beauty. I think she said "See you tomorrow."

The first event was very satisfying as seeing them, watching them perform, and getting a high-touch with them was definitely worth the price of admission! Fans were euphoric after the event!

The second event was held the day after, December 4, 2016, Sunday, as part of the 60 Years of Philippines-Japan Friendship Celebration, at the activity center of a large mall. AKB48 Team 8 served as the main event, with cosplay, anime, and seven-time visitor to the Philippines Starmarie acting as front acts. Team 8's part lasted a wonderful hour.

Here is the complete setlist of the second event:

1. 47 no Suteki na Machi e
2. Everyday Kachuusha
3. Heavy Rotation
- Self-introductions
4. Yume no Route
5. Kibouteki Refrain
6. Iiwake Maybe
- Short question and answer
7. Seifuku no Hane
8. 365 Nichi no Kamihikouki
- Advertisements regarding MNL48 auditions
9. High Tension
10. Koisuru Fortune Cookie
Encore: Aisatsu Kara Hajimeyou

It is always awesome to see them perform 47 no Suteki na Machi e, and it was cute how Hijiri almost forgot her turn to say "Akita" in the part where each girl says her prefecture. I was watching Hijiri at the time, and I guess she was fascinated with the fans, and almost missed her turn. She would cutely laugh about it with Rinrin who was beside her.

It is great that they got to perform more of their own songs this year. In addition to 47 no Suteki na Machi e and Seifuku no Hane, they also performed Yume no Route and Aisatsu Kara Hajimeyou which they performed for the first time in the Philippines. I really like Team 8's songs and I love it when they perform their originals. It was a treat to have them perform a favorite of mine, Iiwake Maybe, and the popular Heavy Rotation.

Rin Okabe was able to display her vocals when she lead singing the recent hit 365 Nichi no Kamihikouki which she sang surprisingly well, and Nanami Sato very well performed the center to AKB's latest single High Tension, which they also performed at the same noontime TV show they performed in last year. Trying to dance along with the girls in Koisuru Fortune Cookie was more difficult this time around because of how packed the venue was, but it was fun, especially when as a surprise, balloons and confetti were dropped at the middle of the song. It was funny how, at first, only two or so deflated balloons fell, and people who noticed it were kind of surprised, as I was wondering, "what is that?!" and the girls were a bit surprised as well, as I was watching Rinrin that time, who whispered "Yabbai!" ["oh my gosh!"] not knowing what it was either, but when the other balloons and confetti dropped, it turned out to be really fun. Of course, the fans were cheering for an encore even before the girls left the stage, and cheered "Team 8!" until the girls came back on stage to treat us to Aisatsu Kara Hajimeyou.

Their self-introductions were enjoyable as they did their Japanese self-introductions, and added Filipino phrases at the end. This is probably because last year, the fans showed we were really happy to hear them give their original Japanese introductions during the last performance, as opposed to a special Filipino introduction before then.

I am disappointed that Management didn't let Riona talk a lot. Since last year, I have been saying that they should let Riona host, especially considering I didn't think the actual hosts (for both events) did a particularly spectacular job. I could have done it better, that's how unimpressive it was. It wasn't terrible, but not really great either. They should let Riona host since she seems fluent in english, and we would absolutely love to see Riona talk to all of us. The only excuse I would accept is if Riona doesn't want to, because she is either shy or will be too tired to perform and host and act as translator for everyone. The translator was fine, but its embarrassing when the translator doesn't even know who Maeda Atsuko is. (In the first event, Hijiri Tanikawa was asked why she joined AKB, and she said it was because she watched Maeda Atsuko.) Also, couldn't they ask better questions? The questions seemed generic, other than that question to Hijiri. What I would have done was, I would have gotten questions from fans before the event, and chose the best ones, to be asked by the host, who should be Riona (or me!) during the event, but the girls can see the questions before coming on stage so they can prepare answers. I would even let the members of Team 8 choose which questions they would like to be asked before the event, so everything would be smooth. The hosts should be knowledgeable about AKB to make the event more personal, more enjoyable and more impactful, for both the fans, and the members of Team 8. Fans complain when we know more than the hosts do, making the hosting too generic and impersonal.

Also, although Management announced beforehand that Team 8 would perform again at the same TV show from last year, they announced it one hour before the TV show aired, which is far too late for any of us to get tickets to that show. When Team 8 comes to the Philippines, we don't just want to watch them on TV, we want to see them in person, and very importantly, we want to show them our support so we can show them and everyone watching how much we love them. Again, I can imagine, how less than warm the reception was performing for people who mostly didn't know them.

Speaking of which, I am proud of the fans who showed their support to the girls, and kept the girls safe and protected while in the Philippines. I am very glad that we showed a lot of love and passion to the girls during their performances. It's probably because of this why the six that came back from last time did come back, and why others were willing and able to join them. I hope they come back again!

If the event last year was probably Management testing the waters for the possibility of MNL48, this was probably mostly a way to push MNL48 and to officially launch their audition now that it has materialized. Speaking of which, I am not very happy with the current direction of MNL, at this point, which at this point, is mostly Management. I can't say I dislike MNL since they don't actually exist as a group yet, but it seems like MNL will not be tailored to satisfy current AKB fans, but rather will be catering to Filipino masses. This makes sense in a financial point of view, but of course, AKB fans won't be happy about it. I, for one, will hate it, if MNL becomes watered down. I will hate it if MNL becomes the same as the typical Filipino celebrity. There's a reason why I chose AKB48 over local entertainment, it's because I hate the typical Filipino entertainment. If I liked it, I wouldn't have drifted over to an entertainment group (AKB48) in a completely different country that was mostly non-present in the Philippines. And I share the concerns of some that if this does happen, I hope MNL protects the name of AKB. I do consider AKB as quality entertainment, and as I have said last year, I will dread Philippinized versions of AKB songs I love so dearly if the quality of the original will literally be lost in translation. For example, I have loved Utada Hikaru for a long time, and I of course love her classic "First Love," but if you have ever heard the supposed english version (that was not translated by Utada Hikaru herself) that was popularized in the Philippines literally years after the Japanese original version was released, then you would see that the quality of the lyrics were hugely watered down. I love the original version, but I absolutely hate the watered down english version that was popularized in the Philippines. I can bare MNL even if they won't be positioned to go after current AKB fans but instead the larger Filipino masses, but please do not let them tarnish the quality of AKB, most especially the songs, which I really do love. I dread the time when I have to put on my earphones because what is playing is a bad local version of my beloved AKB song, only to listen to the exact same song in my mp3 player but in its original version. It is possible that they could go after a niche market, and cater to us existing AKB fans instead, but I am concerned that as a niche, we may be too small for their liking. So based on signs of plans about MNL, it looks like they will go the route of typical Filipino celebrities and target Filipino masses, possibly ignoring AKB fans. Then again, as I said last year, if you want me to follow MNL, just add kennin / concurrent members. Hey, Riona said she would love to come back! HKT48's Emily Yamashita is half Filipina, SKE48's Rara Goto also speaks english, and maybe AKB48 graduate half-Filipina Sayaka Akimoto would like to add work in the Philippines. Heck, anyone in the whole AKB48 Group / family would be great! They don't even have to live here, they could just come here once in a while to perform! Riona, you could just keep visiting us every month or so! Of course, I may watch only when they are here, but adding kennins will at least appease some of us AKB fans. Considering JKT and SNH all got kennins at the beginning, I am hopeful that we will get a few as well. (I discussed other points in my report of Team 8's first visit last year here: )

I think that having two different events was a good thing. I think an exclusive paid event is a good idea, so they can generate more revenue (after all, they wouldn't come back if there was no money in this), and at the same time please a targeted audience. If anything, I believe there should be another exclusive for fans who are willing to pay more, for example, exclusive front row seats. I definitely would have gone for that and it would have been worth the money. But at the same time. I agree that they should have a free event as well such as the second event. AKB still has a lot of people to reach in the Philippines, and a free event at the middle of a mall is a necessity to reach out to these people who don't know them. Plus, not all AKB fans can afford the paid event, although I would encourage these fans to save money for such an event because the girls do need our support; they can't do this for long if we never pay for anything (I discuss this further here: ).

Speaking of which, here's another major complaint: Where were all of the licensed Team 8 merchandise for sale?! There were none! I assume it was because of the venue of the second event, which unlike last year, was not positioned to have any sales, and I suppose some arrangement about it was involved with the venue, so I guess they weren't allowed to sell so they didn't bring any, but I wanted to buy official Team 8 stuff in the first event! Buying stuff in the secondary market is fine, but buying them first-hand from the official seller is how the girls can earn from royalties.

Considering how limited my mobility was, I'm glad some of my shots turned out nice. The presence of so many people made it difficult for me to get good shots, but I did get a few, and I was able to get a relatively good video of the encore, up to their exit. Sorry about the shaky parts in the video, a lot of which is in the beginning, but I'm happy with how that video turned out. The video uploaded in YouTube is in HD, so HD is available in case you get a lower quality version because of a slower internet connection. The video is at the bottom of this post. All these shots are taken by me; if anyone will use them, please don't forget to credit me for them, and do ask permission from me first; I will give my permission if the use is ok.

I love Team 8, they are currently one of my top two favorite teams (that are still currently a team, along with HKT) and I am glad that as a group they are still growing strong. I was crying with them over the 2nd Grand Sportsmeet held earlier this year (and there better be a 3rd next year so I can cheer for them), and was miffed I couldn't cry more with them in the Team 8 dedicated camera for the DVD of the event because that part was cut (or never shot). I love watching their various performances and miniconcerts. I enjoy watching them perform stage unit songs, and I love seeing them on AKB's TV shows. I absolutely adore these girls. More power to Team 8 and may Team 8 stay strong!

Thank you again to Hallo-Hallo Alliance for bringing back Team 8 to us, and thank you to AKB48's Team 8 for visiting and performing for us! Please come back, I want to see you all again!!!

All pics are shot by me, please do not reuse without permission, I will give it if you ask if the use is ok. On top of this post is the Overture. Click the pictures to enlarge:

47 no Suteki na Machi e. Check out Nanamin's henna kao. [Making a weird face]

Everyday Kachuusha

Heavy Rotation

 Heavy Rotation ending

Jikoshoukai [Self-introductions]

Riona is cute

Yume no Route

Iiwake Maybe

Seifuku no Hane

JUMP SHOT!!! They are all floating in air!

Really proud to be able to capture such a dynamic shot

365 Nichi no Kamihikouki

Playing around with fans

High Tension

Koisuru Fortune Cookie

HD Video of the encore. 
If you are not downloading it in HD, 
look for the gear icon for settings on the lower right corner, 
and then adjust the quality to 1080 HD if your internet speed can handle it. 
Watch it in full screen (lower-rightmost icon on video) for maximum enjoyment! 
I shot this video, so please only share it by sharing this webpage!