Idol Chit-Chat — Tokyo Idols (with Al from SliceOfAlfredo), Part 2

This is a direct continuation of our discussion of Tokyo Idols from last month, so if you haven’t yet, do check out the first half of it here!

I hope you managed to catch the documentary yourself over the past month, but if you haven’t yet; you can still catch it on Netflix, BBC Four if you’re in the UK, and if both aren’t available to you, here’s a compressed version of it on YouTube.

If you don’t feel like watching it at the moment, or are unsure whether you want to commit the time to watching it, then that’s totoally fine. More than that, our posts here are for you. If you’ve read through the first part of this, you know now that we’ve gone over most of the preliminary stuff and we’re now delving into related topics and whether or not we ultimately would recommend Tokyo Idols to someone as something to watch.

SO, enough idle chit-chat, and let’s get into some Idol Chit-Chat shall we~?

ーー

Al

I definitely had and still have that kind of mindset when it comes to idols: assuming that being an idol looks so simple that is (plus the fact that there are so many of them) but I think knowing what it’s like on the other side of being an idol makes you appreciate them even more. It’s the things like performing at small gigs or having trouble finding work (especially if you’re Rio and being a freelance idol) that gives a more “real” feeling to them, which I really do enjoy watching.

As an idol, there’s a best-by date, I can’t do this forever.”

And going off your point about the “sell-by date”, it got me thinking about really how old can an idol be before they are considered “not popular” anymore? I mean, you can see many idols such as Horie Yui who has voiced major roles in anime, she’s like over 40 now and to the best of my knowledge, she’s still getting a good amount of work; or Nanjou Yoshino who voiced Ayase Eli in the Love Live: School Idol Project franchise, she’s 33 and is still doing well with her musical duo group, fripside.

“For me, everything’s about work now. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Recently things haven’t gone as planned. I almost got a voice acting job for the main character in an anime. But in the end it fell through. I was going so sing an anime theme song, but that didn’t happen either. My hard work wasn’t rewarded. I had a couple of chances. They just came my way and then disappeared. That was it. I felt sorry for myself. I hated that. So I decided to work even harder.

In my opinion, I think it’s just luck or chance with aging idols: it’s either the momentum of your popularity continues or you just start to become irrelevant slowly and end up not getting as much work as you had before… it’s a sad thought now that I think about it. I actually loved the fact that fans would rather support lesser known idols rather than the ones that are already popular. I’m definitely not on that side of being a fan given that I’m a Watanabe You fan who has a massive following in the Love Live community, but it’s sweet to know that fans want to see others shine as bright as ones who are more well-known.


Leap

Nakamori Akio, one of the scholarly figures we see in this documentary (of which there were a handful) famously coined what is now a precept in the idol industry in that; idols don’t have to be good singers or dancers, nor do they have to be undeniably beautiful — they are merely cute and popular, and are admired and loved by fans for no specific or persuasive reason. Suffice it to say, the idol’s efforts are concered are largely disregarded even by cultural experts, instead attributing the idol’s successes to their pandering appeal.

The age bit is interesting though, as you’d notice that both names you mentioned here, Horie Yui and Nanjou Yosjino are both prominently known in other fields — with Horie being more known for her seiyuu work (which is a line of entertainment work that can go on up to someone’s 60’s) and Nanjolno with her work as one half of fripside; a legitimate J-pop duo that dabbles mostly in anison which is in itself a pretty ageless field as well. I wouldn’t call either of the two idols now is the thing, even if they were at one point in time. Not because they stopped being popular, but that youth in itself is a large part of being an idol. To answer your question though, I reckon late 20s up to early 30s seem to be the age where most idols move on to different activities.

2.5D idols such as µ’s and Aqours from the Love Live! franchise are a special case in that they address two different fandoms simultaneously, but the mechanics of it all are still the same. You support your favorite because you want them to succeed. The neat thing is that those fans of lesser known can say that they had a hand in making their favorite idols famous and it’d be the absolute truth.

Speaking of idols campaigning for stardom, that was interesting to see wasn’t it? The politics of the idol industry in what is arguably the biggest spectacle in the world of idols — the AKB48 elections.


Al

Definitely! And I’m sure the idols themselves would appreciate every fan that supported them. Oh boy, the AKB48 elections. That was very much a surprise to me. I knew that the AKB48 idol group is massive, but I never knew that they held pretty major events in order to select a new crowd of ladies to make up the AKB48 idol group and sub-groups within. It definitely shows that the idol culture is not taken lightly by many people including fans and even the business side of things, as the way to vote for these girls is for fans to buy a single which ultimately gives them a ballot to vote for their favorite idol.

Fans can spend up to thousands of dollars, buying the same single CD, just to increase their idol’s chances of being chosen. Other than questioning their financial decisions, I think it’s a great thing that the fans are involved with this particular election. Rather than some corporate team who may or may not know much about idols and the potential and abilities that each and every one of them have, it’s better to put that kind of decision into the hands of the more knowledgeable minds. For one, fans know a lot about these idols and if a particular girl has potential; and for two, they immensely care about idols and devote their lives to this aspect of entertainment.


Leap

I didn’t know much about AKB48 going in to Tokyo Idols so seeing how the elections aren’t only televised but is actually a whole day affair was really eye-opening — more so even when you consider what’s at stake for these 100+ girls. Makes you think whether this actual phenomenon was the basis somewhat for the concept of Love Live!, as a stage where “dreams come true” (it’s actually an interesting parallel when you consider there’s not much difference with Livers voting for which character they want as the center for a single with how they do it with the AKB elections, but a discussion for another day xD).

I wouln’t put past the idea though that fans support their favorite idols in the hopes that they get even indirectly reciprocated somewhat by ensuring that the idol would get to appear in more public events where they can actually interact with them (and ideally show to them how much of a fan they are).


Al

I’d also assume that these elections can really break the hearts of some idols, having to wait there for a whole day to possibly hear your name called when in the end, luck wasn’t on their side.

It’s only in the last few decades that handshakes have become accepted. So bringing in the handshake events was a very smart move. From the artists’ perspective, it seems very innocent. But for the fans, there’s probably a sexual component. It’s a legal grey zone.

Yeah, the interaction between fans and idols is one… interesting thing to talk about. The more accessible and common interaction idols and their fans have are what is called “handshake events” where basically fans get the chance to, well, shake their idol’s hand and have a bit of a chat with them for a very strict and limited amount of time. I think they even mentioned that the handshake gesture can be perceived as a more “sexual” gesture (I honestly don’t know why it would bey) to fans, while the idols themselves only see it as an innocent greeting.

It comes back to discussion of whether or not fans see idols as a romantic/sexual figure, which took me by surprise how much of a reoccurring theme it is in this. I also remember a particular line/part regarding this topic where there were “rules about where they [fans] can touch”, talking about the handshake events… it got me thinking if any incidents have happened where a fan went out of line when meeting their idols. I just hope that isn’t the case.


Leap

I actually call bullsh*t on the whole “handshakes are a sexual gesture” thing that got brought up here — primarily because the guy who said it was an industrial economist (xD). That, and he says that handshakes were viewed as such in recent decades. Decades, loI, I’m sure a lot socially unacceptable actions were totally fine and the norm back then too if we’re going that route, but I digress. I imagine his point really is that physical interaction in whatever form is enough to satiate the fans’… desires, for lack of a better term. Makes me me wonder whether female fans of female idols partake of this particular event.

The “body touch” line is curious though, as the subtitles definitely played that part up. The line is really just saying so matter of factly like a common sense thing(almost as if she was asked the question prior, but they only leave out her answer) as opposed to something she/her management imposed on the fans. I mean, being felt up is bad regardless of whether she was an idol or not I would think.

I guess I’m glad (?xD) you brought that up; here’s a famous case of that from a couple of years ago.


Al

Alright, let me just say my imaginations/expectations when I said “incidents” weren’t as bad as “attempted murder”, as that article stated. That’s insane, though.


Leap

I wanna say the same guy retracted this statement some time after and really did claim to be fans of them, but I might be thinking of a different case (so this does happen, albeit not often). but yeah, this is right at the extremes of it.

Thankfully Tokyo Idols didn’t go this far/deep, but on the other hand maybe this type of thing only really happens to “national idols” like AKB48, and not with the more regional idols like the ones shown in the doc.


Al

Yeah, I don’t know, I mean I see these kinds of violent fan or hate incidents happen pretty often with celebrities here in the United States, even involving the young stars as well, so I shouldn’t be in much of a shock but I guess me becoming more and more into the J-idol scene and my viewpoint of the Japanese idol scene being overall peaceful and happy kind of overpowered the fact that things like this can happen.


Leap

I mean, for the most part idol fandom probably is still peaceful and happy at least within its own world. Towards the end Koji talks about how his fellow “Rio brothers” looked as Rio sang for the last time “as an idol”. He describes them as looking both “happy and desperate at the same time”, and how going to idol events such as these end up being a form of emotional release for them.

I was in the middle of the front row. I looked behind me and saw all these faces. They looked happy and desperate at the same time. It was so moving. You don’t often see such joy and release. With these guys, I don’t have to worry about social rank and oblidations. If it wasn’t for this I’d be alone forever. Unmarried and alone in the truest sense.”

This could tie in to a lot of things — for one, there was the idea presented early in the documentary about how fans gravitate toward idols because idols treat (read: love) all of their fans equally; which the fan then reciprocates and returns in full by following their careers as idols (in something that I’ve called once before as the “transaction of smiles”). The same guy also talks about idols having a “healing effect” for fans as being part of idol fandom enables fans to touch upon their more childish side unabashedly. By these merits we see how easy it could be then to devolve from mere fascination to fanaticism, seeing how emotionally invested the fans tend to be.


Al

Oh, definitely. While I am fascinated about learning these darker moments around the idol industry (not in a way that I enjoy seeing these idols be involved in bad situations, of course not), it’s better to see the positive side of this particular area of entertainment. As I mentioned earlier on, seeing the passion and how much idols emotionally move Koji and the rest the “Rio brothers” group was sort of a “refresher” to me, as I’ve definitely given a lot more respect to older idol fans in general. It’s just really cool to see these people who were considered “failures” in society and didn’t see much of a successful future in their eyes, now finding something they can truly love in their life, coming together as mutual fans and putting those societal worries behind them.

Like Koji mentioned in the documentary, “With these guys, I don’t have to worry about social rank and obligations” and even went on to say, “If it weren’t for this, I’d be alone forever”. I find it nice that idols actually can have more of a purpose and have more of an impact on people, rather than just making money for the executives or simply entertaining people around the world with song and dance.


Leap

If anything learning about all this kinda grounds their existence quite a bit I’d imagine. At least for me it did. Not that I held them in as high regard as the fans we’re shown here, but I’ve always held the belief that it takes a special attribute to actually want to become an idol of all things (after knowing now how much hard work it entails, in an environment where one is always being watched), and said attribute will always set them apart from the norm for me.

“Whether it’s the Rio on the stage, or the Rio who live-streams, or the Rio who bikes across Japan, it’s all Rio. I think I’ve found a perfect balance.”

Another theory by cultural anthropologist Aoyagi Hiroshi attempted to explain idol fascination by stating that fans support their chosen idols as a means of living vicariously through their successes in order to make up for their past failures. We see this in spades with Koji’s entire narrative. He even says as much as he relates his admiration for the hard work that Rio puts in the pursuit of her dreams. And it is admirable. Likewise easily overlooked as just that — as simply entertaining people around the world with song ang dance and nothing more.

Than again, maybe there really should be nothing more to idol fascination than just that.Tokyo Idols paints this elaborate picture of men finding an outlet for their carnal desires through idols, when the truth is, it’s not always the case.


Al

I can believe that theory, after seeing how much these ladies mean to them and the amount of dedication they have for their idols. It honestly sort of reminds me of the “father figure” topic we briefly discussed earlier. Most parents want to see their children succeed in life and once they do, the parents have a huge sense of accomplishment and become happy/proud that they’ve helped an individual grow into a knowledgeable person who will have the possibility to change others’ lives.

It’s pretty much the same with the perspective and mindset of Koji and many other idol fans with what you said, supporting their beloved idols for them to succeed further and further. I guess we added a pretty good answer for my earlier question about if idol fans are seen as “father/big brother” type of figures to these idols, haha!


Leap

Huh, I guess we did (xD)

So, Al, now that we’ve said all this — are you ready to give your final verdict on Tokyo Idols?


Al

Definitely!

Overall, I think I would definitely recommend this documentary, regardless of if you’re a massive idol fan or just someone who has heard about the idol phenomenon. In my experiences with Japanese idols and how they’re perceived by others, there have been things/topics about it that wouldn’t seem “normal”, for a lack of a better term, such as the fact that the majority of the idol fanbase are men and a good chunk of it being men that are almost twice the age of your average J-idol (I was one of those people who had iffy thoughts about said topics) but this documentary definitely busted some of the misconceptions people can possibly have when thinking about the Japanese idol culture.

As we stated multiple times, this documentary shows off the realities and gives you a “behind-the-scenes” look at both being an idol and being a fan of idols and as you can see throughout my thoughts on various topics, my beliefs and thinking about the idol culture definitely were changed drastically, to the point of me appreciating things that I wasn’t too fond of before. Both Rio and Koji’s stories were just super interesting throughout the whole documentary and I definitely got to learn a lot more about this wonderful area of J-entertainment that I’m very much involved with and talk about so frequently.

And even if you’re not too fond of idols, I still would recommend giving it a try as idol culture and it’s significant impact on Japan’s society and even the rest of the world surprisingly might spark your curiosity.


Leap

Same (shouldn’t really come as a surprise really xD) Even if you’re mildly interested, or just curious, as to what idols are about then I implore you to check this documentary out as it’s sure to be worth your time.

A word of caution though. As I said when we first started this discussion Tokyo Idols will present to you a very real reality of idol subculture — and whatever you take away from seeing that reality, I advise that you take it with a grain of salt as we have done here. Like Al here said, there’s a lot to learn from here so long as you don’t stop at the surface. You might even attain some newfound appreciation for the craft. And if not, that’s fine too — but I doubt that after seeing Rio and Koji’s story that any preconceived notions you had about idols, and idol fandom, idol subculture would not have changed like it did with Al.

At the very least, and as my final word on the matter, it’s a peek into one of the most fascinating worlds in Japanese entertainment, and the entertainment industry as a whole.

ーー

If you managed to watch it over the course of our Idol Chit-Chat; what did you think of Tokyo Idols? Let us know in the comments section below. If you didn’t, but still read through our talk, tell us what you think of it and/or any of the topics we brought up. We’d love to hear from ya!

I’d like to take this moment now to thank Al for going along with what was essentially me asking him to watch something for me so we could then talk about it after (xD), and while I did expect it to be at least be somewhat fun, it was doubly so owing to how engaged in the conversation we ended up being. Al was the first blogger I had in mind to collaborate with when I first thought this up and a large part of that comes from my realizing that we have a lot of overlaps with regard to what Japanese media we like — be it music or idols (lol); and overall I’m glad to have had such a lengthy chat with the guy (also apologetic because of the amount of time that went into our talks, but mostly glad :D)

I suppose as a bit of a cliffhanger, I told Al he can hit me up with anything he wanted to talk about for another go of Idol Chit-Chat, and well… we have something in the works :p

Till then!

 

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