Kai: A Retrospective Of A Wonderfully Unique Idol

By now most of you know that Kai, one of our favorite quirky oddball idols around these parts, has decided to step down from all activities. TRASH-UP!! Records released a statement late last week breaking us the news…

For a lot of us, this retirement of sorts is a more personal loss than usual in a business where graduations and disbandments are common events that we’ve developed an understanding and acceptance of. Kai was just something… well, unique, y’know? Aside from her fans, she’s also always been a consistent friend of idols. I can’t recall exactly how many times she showed up in my instagram feed having lunch with someone else I followed. Beni made a point to post her well-wishes and reminisce over some fond memories…

…and so did Koji Ishikawa, who became a late-adult idol when he joined Kai and Beni for the light-hearted childhood-themed unit Engawa. Koji frequently mentions Engawa on twitter and his FB account, and he always seems to be very upbeat and happy talking about how much he enjoyed the experience. Both he and Beni expressed a mild regret that they’ll never get to revisit this silly-fun project…

Kai’s even more outré than usual project with Yoneko, new fashion food will also cease activities. All of this this adds up to  like a 35% reduction in the weirdo idol genre ranks.

As for Kai, she’s said very little (Okay, nothing, actually.) about all this, but having been a fan of hers for some time now, I can say this isn’t terribly unexpected. She’s always been a little tough to figure out, and I believe that was exactly what her fans came to like about her.

Banner for Japanese alt-idol group Bellring Girls Shoujo Heart, who dress like crows

Homicidols Website Banner From 2016

From the beginning, Kai developed this standoffish, distant personality that somehow never felt cold or unfriendly. She managed to nurture this persona into something disarmingly charming. It wasn’t rude or disconnected, it was like that shy kid who you know is flowing with hidden expressive energy that suddenly never bursts out, but rather is released cautiously like a shaken-up can of soda.

The MV for Bellring Shoujo Heart‘s (AKA The Peak of Chika Idol Madness.) “Gigabyte” is a perfect example…

Y’know, I realized an interesting thing while sifting through Bellheart (and There There There’s) videos and performances for this tribute piece. Kai often doesn’t really take up much prominent space in any of them. I mean, she’s absolutely always there, but it’s often in the form of quick and nonintrusive edits, or brisk rushes to the front of the stage before she whisks off to the side again. Bellring was a group of highly loud and visible personalities, where standing out could be a real challenge. But somehow she managed this without being relegated to a shrinking violet. Kai did indeed gain her own fanbase with a vivid and engaging presence, but in a very understated way...

Of course the other great thing with Kai is that while she seemed to be living on another planet sometimes, there was always this bright but quietly absurd sense of humor in everything she would do. It kind of feels like there’s a hilarious joke that’s only she’s in on, and it permeates her whole vibe when performing. Engawa was pretty fitting encapsulation of that

I know for me, I was relived and happy that Kai stuck around with Aqbi after Belling Shoujo Heart was dissolved. She reappeared in the follow-up unit THERE THERE THERE’s. Again, she was as she’s always been, Kai in all her Kai-ness. In a similar sense, she maintained the detached persona but it never felt like a played-out put-on…

I noticed that when I discussed both Belheart and TTT’s, other fans definitely appreciated Kai the same way I did. I can’t say if most everyone interpreted her stage-personality the same way I did, but there were most certainly a lot of fans who “got her”, and it was always clear that she had won a lot of folks over! Kai quietly defied standard idol conventions and achieved a following on her own terms…

Eventually, Aqbi decided to disband THERE THERE THERE’s and once again, that  burning anxiety of wondering where all the members will go when a group you love comes to an end raised it’s head. I was thrilled that Rere went to Migma Shelter and that Mizuho went over to TRASH-UP!!, but Kai’s future was not revealed as immediately as those two. I’ll freely admit to having a mild concern at the time about whether to accept that she could be done with the business, but then TRASH-UP!! released the news that Kai was also joining their roster. One of my fave idols on my favorite label? Yes please!

But how would Kai, a beloved but fairly reserved blip on the idol radar, make the jump to a solo artist?

“Moonlight Tokyo” hit the scene in July of last year, and from the old-school vibe of the cover art alone, we all just knew this was going to be a mini-masterpiece. Essentially everyone I know who gave it a listen was declaring in advance that it would likely be the best release of the year. I wrote a pretty gushing review of the EP at the time and I don’t take a single bit of it back.

The Moonlight Tokyo MV was then followed up by this absolute gem: “Himitsu No Tobira” was the moment where Kai fulfilled her promise as a solo artist with this charming and endearing short film that really did make the world a better, more heartwarming, and tolerant place.

And to close out 2019, Kai recorded another EP, “Paper Diamond”, which was nearly equally as fabulous, continuing in much the same vein as “Moonlight Tokyo”, cementing a sustained solo career in the business if Kai wanted it…

So what happened to have Kai step down? I don’t know and see no reason to offer ungrounded speculations, so I’ll leave it at that. And also, it’s not our business if it never gets explained because we’re not owed one. I believe that to support an idol means to accept when the time comes for that idol to move onto a new road. As you can see from the links contained here, there’s a vibrant history history of rich memories for us to look back on. Let’s be thankful we ever had a chance to enjoy it all while it was here.

And for all we know, maybe we’re not really finished seeing Kai around anyway. She’s recently been doing a few DJ gigs, so perhaps she’ll show up occasionally to spin a record or two somewhere. That would be fantastic and we would all enjoy it, but if not, that’s okay too.

In any case, it’s the coming of the Fall season in 2020. The time to move on has been decided and it’s a done deal. Kai, thank you very much for being a wonderfully memorable part of our idol fandom experience. We’ll always appreciate and remember you! Best wishes and good luck. 

 

 

 

 

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