On 2.5D and Authenticity — We review things: Flowers of passion episode 3

This is both a review and a discussion of Derek Vasconi’s third episode in his documentary series Flowers of Passion. If you would like context and an introduction to the series, I recommend checking out the reviews of the first two instalments. I have tried to label what is directly about the documentary versus what is in conversation with it, but as the two are intertwined, it was not always possible.

This third episode is shorter than its two predecessors, clocking in a little under 40 minutes, and it covers the relationships between fans and idols. It features Moe from XOXO Extreme, Chihiro from Merry Bad End, Koyuki and Yuka from Lilii Kaona, as well as Japanese pop culture academic Patrick Galbraith!

Review

The documentary opens on a quote claiming that idols are 2.5D (halfway between fiction and real humans, basically) and that is what idol fans are supporting. I take issue with that statement, especially since I think this is a by-product of the documentary analyzing idol as a whole industry and underground idol in the same breath, as I find it way less applicable to smaller acts. The stakes are not the same as the scale changes. I engage in depth with Galbraith’s interview later in this article.

Much of the interest of this episode was the intertwining of Galbraith’s acafan perspectives (he seems to be really into Xteen, per his chekis) with the impressions of idols themselves on the idol-fan relationship. I was happy to see a more academic take on idol. While the interviews are gold, it is nice to have more reflective segments once in a while. The interiority of the performers we love is a very rare sight, and I really loved hearing from the Lilii Kaona girls what they thought about their fans and how it differed from their previous artistic experience, as they both used to be actresses and therefore have a much more distant and less involved relationship with their fans. The idol to fan relationship is unique to this scene, and that post-live proximity is where the crux of modern idol resides. 

I loved seeing Lilii Kaona’s Koyuki talking about how despite being on a much smaller budget/scale, the underground idol scene is as compelling as bigger productions like music stations, because of the sheer energy of the fans as well as the strength and diversity of the music.


Modern idol is also rooted in catharsis. One of the interviewees, event organizer Ansan, said: “There are some people are coming to just cause a ruckus” [sic]. It made me laugh because I do know a couple of fellow fans who used to unwind through mosh pits and cheki interactions and who are now bored at the “no fun allowed” lives necessary in the presence of a pandemic. So I feel like the variety of music in the underground idol scene and this bit of loudol in particular has several avenues for cathartic release, including ones that go beyond the discussion after you took your cheki.

During the documentary, the following quote appears: “If a live house is like a jinja, then its front doors are the torii gates and the idols are the kami who live within. The fans visit these kawaii kami, offering prayers of thanks in the form of special chants, known as ‘mixes’, along with dance and hand movements that are similar to the nirei-nihakushu-ichirei (clapping your hands twice and lowering to the ground) custom. Fans also show gratitude financially through osaisen, tossing their money into the cash boxes of the idol groups via the purchase of idol merchandise. Finally, to commemorate their visit, fans usually will buy a kind of take-home ‘ema’, in the form of a cheki. And just like a real ema, chekis cost anywhere from 500 to 1,000 yen (or more).”

 While discussing this with Daemon, who noted that the “worship at the altar of rock” was a fairly common analogy, this quote still doesn’t sit right with me. The docuseries spends a long time talking over several episodes about how the underground idol scene does not have that aspect of distant worship compared to previous iterations of idols pre-AKB, and then presents us this. It seems like an oxymoron. In addition to the contradiction, this quote also does two ideological things that rubs me the wrong way: first, by associating this contemporary and very modern phenomenon with something traditional, the traditional give it a form of forward momentum in time that means the present is a teleological endpoint of history. There’s no real looking beyond it. It cements “Idol” as being this exclusively Japanese thing, despite there being no real equivalency. Furicopy (copying the dance/hand movement of the artist on the stage) is not derived from nirei-nihakushu-ichirei, it’s literally just dancing. In addition, because Ema (the wooden tablets you purchase to write a wish and then hang at the temple) are meant to stay at the temple, I don’t think the chekis that you take home as a souvenir really works as an analogy. I know that tourists do buy Ema to commemorate their trips, but it’s not the intended purpose. Secondly, that deification really shifts the focus away from the fact that you are interacting with a real, live person, who has a history of their own, bills to pay, and exists beyond the context of the livehouse. And that is the core of my disagreements with this episode.


2.5D, Authenticity and Context-Based Relationships

My issue is a fundamental conceptual difference in how we consider idols. Some idols, like Dempagumi Inc.’s Risa Aizawa, do identify as 2.5 people. It is also relatively applicable to more popular idols from bigger agencies insofar as the rigid context in which they exist and in which you can meet them means that the distance between the fan and the idol will always be palpable. However, the proximity with the performers in the chika idol scene, combined with how precarious indie groups are bringing a very different experience. It also means that some of us (us being idol fans) care about the girls as people rather than as characters. Idols show you selected parts of themselves, much like anyone in your life. There is always some sort of filter going on in social interactions and I would liken the chika idol experience more like this than a betwixt and between fictional experience. Also keep in mind that for smaller idol groups, due to the proximity with the fans, a facade or character might be harder to keep up, as you are seen much closer and in somewhat less rigidly geared settings.

One thing that is interesting to me is that it is fairly common for idols to aspire to be considered/labelled “artists” rather than “idols”. Being considered an artist carries that idea of legitimacy and authenticity in the sense that the person is doing their craft as they are, as opposed to the idea of playing a character. A fairly popular example of this would probably be Perfume, who started as idols but are now wildly just considered artists by the general public, as if they transcended idol. A smaller, more local example would be the proficient, multitalented Yoneko, who said they had nothing more to accomplish as an idol, but is certainly continuing their creative musical endeavours. 

The musical diversity is really highlighted as part of the documentary, and I think that’s important. While I know this scene is not only about the music and rather about the whole experience of proximity with the performer, I sometimes wonder if there are people who don’t care about the music and how it must feel for the girls. This is anecdotal at best, but I have heard people talk about traditional idols as this “really cute but extremely dumb girl,” which is … disrespectful, to say the least. I wonder about the people who go to idol shows more for the experience than the music itself. Like people who like a group or a member but find the music literally unlistenable. Is that a fan I made up? A person who goes “Aaah, I get to spend time with a cute girl but you are so bad at what you like to do”? I don’t know how I feel about this.

During this episode of the documentary, Ansan also assesses that “Idols really think about the fans . . . the difference between any artist and idol is that idol shows aren’t over after the performance.” I do think this is an accurate and astute statement, but I wish we could also figure out a way or a system that would make idols support less unilaterally. I know that, well, fan pay for the emotional support they get from idols by giving them money for the interaction. However, per my own observations and per what you can see in the documentary, fans are not the only ones who struggle with alienation and other mental health issues. And while money does help (having a roof over your head and being able to put food on the table are pretty much requirements for living and not being immediately overwhelmed by the stress of trying to survive instead of living), it doesn’t fix your mind. Feeling the pressure of perfection, the pressure of being likable, the pressure of being thin enough or pretty enough are significant ordeal that fan money will not fix. I don’t know how it would work, but if I have only hope for the idol fandom, it would be to make it more about the performer as people rather than just the figure of a person.

Galbraith seems to refer to an unnamed “they” (The Tokyo Idols documentary producer and her team, perhaps?) as people who just don’t know about idols and don’t have data to be forming their opinions of thinking this is an icky scene. The thing is, we do have data to back the fact that there is (occasionally) gross abuse happening behind the scenes. It is (as far as we know) occasional. However, as the idol scene involves several performers who are minors (and therefore considered vulnerable by about any ethics committee), it is particularly important to scrutinize this. We don’t want more of this happening. There are idols like Wada Ayaka (of S/mileage & Angerme fame) who give interesting and nuanced interviews about her experience as an idol and what she thinks should change. You can find one here, please give it a read. That is one part of it. The other part of it is that although the documentary works very hard to make everything seem very platonic, not talking about gravure, nor about photobooks with bikini pictures. Now, in very crude terms, I am not saying, “if you bought a photo book with bikini pictures in it, you clearly rubbed one off on it”. But gravure is titillating, it’s not on the same level as artist profile photos.  In the previous episode, they even go so far as translating Gachikoi as “they really like that idol ^_^” whereas it means being in love with an idol. Like, dissolve the idol/fan relationship, “I want to date her for real for real” love. Gachikoi means that this love goes beyond supporting her dream and involves wanting her for oneself in your personal life.
I am not saying that these are necessarily reprehensible things1, nor am I even thinking it. You can be an adult and platonically support idols. You can even think “Yes, she is surely a fine young woman that could be the age of my hypothetical daughter” in a non-creepy way (maybe don’t use my wording, though). I know and love very respectable and respectful idol fans who are exactly the kind of people to give no mind to gravure. Heck, I am arguably the Horniest for Idols ™ member of the Homicidols staff. These nuances aside, I find that this sanitization of the idol experience in order to make it seem respectable both to us and to the exterior, uninitiated world is not doing us a service. At best, it simply glosses over a non-negligible part of the industry, at worst, it makes us sound disingenuous or in denial.2

Speaking of gachikoi, I thought Yuka’s assessment of the idol/fan relationship being like a regular at a coffee shop rather than having a wall between them was very interesting. It’s not the first time I hear this. A friend of mine once compared the oshi experience to going to his usual bar to see his favourite barmaid. But while there is no wall, there is still the same idea that this relationship takes place in certain contexts. While it’s not impossible that you could build links strong enough to hang out with your favourite barmaid as a friend outside of her work, it is more likely that she really appreciates you in the context of her work, but keeps her private life separate from the customers who happen to go to the bar and chat with her. And the same is true for idols and their fans. I am absolutely willing to die on the hill that the idol/fan relationship in their gratitude and how they remember you and bits of your life is genuine, but I also think compartmentalization is an essential part of this job, in order to keep yourself from burning out. I still believe this compartmentalization does not equate a 2.5D relationship.

Now, one very interesting and important element of this documentary that is not addressed is that the part of the idol scene that Derek documents also has a tendency to have older performers. That part is extremely good news for many idol fans and idol advocates in that it demonstrates that this is beyond a scene akin to watching an extremely good high school talent show. In Episode 2, for instance, Lilii Kaona’s producer talked about the fact that Koyuki and Yuka were adults when they started, which makes it likely that they have more more leeway in how they decide to live their life (compared to an adolescent doing this as a part-time job) and likely more life experience as well. Featuring performers who are (somewhat) older is an important debunking and an integral part of the current modern idol experience. It also vouches for the legitimacy of idol as a “genre” rather than something that performers inevitably get tired of.

All in all, this episode was the one that was probably the most consistent in having one very explicit theme and treating in a concise way. Despite this, it might be the episode I liked least so far. While the other two episodes really fired me up with new content and tidbits about idols I didn’t know about, I felt like this episode didn’t bring much of something new, if only maybe defending its points of few compared to the content presented in other documentaries on the topic.

*****************
1 Except,obviously, the “taking advantages of minors” part. That is absolutely, 5,000% reprehensible, don’t do that. Garbage. Gravure done by people old enough to know what it entails, then that is your business.

 2 Should it be necessary to precise, I am not saying this is what Derek’s documentary is saying. A five hour (approximately, estimated) documentary series cannot and should not be expected to cover everything. This is part of a larger discussion on the conceptualisation and representations of idols.  So literally all I am saying here regarding the documentary is that this translation of Gachikoi is a little sterile, and it works with the larger message that idol = support system that is the essence of this docuseries. But  let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that there is no horny system in idol.

We Review Things: Yukueshirezutsurezure | Paradox Soar

It’s been long awaited. Yukueshirezutsurezure (aka Not Secured, Loose Ends) has spent a lot of time in the studio re-recording songs with the current lineup, leading to BrightDark and DarkBright. But with Paradox Soar, they prove it wasn’t reheating old content for the sake of nostalgia: the unit was being developed under the character of Mei Yui Mei’s leadership, voices were being seasoned and the good stuff was coming.

Paradox Soar, the group’s third full album, has sixteen tracks on its sole edition,  which includes all of the members’ solo songs. The twelve songs with the whole group are split equally between their single releases (including B-sides) and 6 new songs. As a whole, the album covers a wide range of territory that Tsurezure hasn’t delved into before.

There was so much to cover that Papermaiden and DAEMON had to join forces to write this review.

Let’s get into it!
Continue reading

We Review Things: “It’s a SAKA-SAMA World”!

SAKA-SAMA have been something of a favorite with Team Homicidols since they first formed in 2016, but at the same time, they’ve remained a perplexing enigma of an idol unit. Constantly shifting membership rosters are always part of this territory, but this group seems especially prone to changing it’s line-up with each passing season, with only Kokone and Dr. Mahiru providing consistency as it’s founding members. And the music of SAKA-SAMA, primarily billed as “Low-Fi Dream Pop”, is in truth equally unpredictable, with a wide variety of unique genres and styles that run the gamut of shoegazey indie-pop to oddball quirky country songs and spoken word pieces, making it a rather difficult task to describe what exactly the group does. Mind you, this isn’t a complaint by any means, I’m just trying to clarify why writing about TRASH-UP!!’s in-house idol group is well… quite a challenge. 

So after a couple of years of compilation tracks, EPs, singles, and one live recording, SAKA-SAMA have finally released an actual, honest-to-goodness full length album, titled, appropriately enough, “It’s a SAKA-SAMA World’! I’ve been excitedly anticipating this release since the moment it was announced, and I eagerly snatched it from OTOTOY right away. I came to realize quickly that this is an album that, just like anything related to SAKA-SAMA, has certain unique traits that can’t be summed up after a breezy listening session. This is what we call a “grower”, or a “slow-burn”, wherein one must dig in deeply to truly reap the rewards of the listening experience, and develop an opinion based on multiple takes instead of relying on easy gratification. 

Continue reading

We Review Things: Avandoned’s “Lemon Peels” is Certified Organic

Life’s best pleasures are simple things: Walks in the woods, black coffee, dogs n’ cats, and 45rpm singles. And speaking of singles, Avandoned, the delightful queens of quirk, gave us their second release this year, following up the completely fabulous old-school jam “After School” with their latest offering, “Lemon Peels”.

This is their third single on the terrific Vivid Sound label (the first was the nearly perfect “Donut Friends”), which has produced some bountiful musical fruit for Beni and Kotao. The vinyl-oriented label’s been around since 1973, and with that sort of history and experience, they’ve really shown an understanding for what makes this duo unique and tapped into that by helping them align with label-mates like Magic, Drums, & Love, Monari Wakita, and SOLEIL (although SOLEIL jumped into the majors with Victor Records). With these resources, along with their friendships with great retro-rock bands like LEARNERS and The Childish Tones, Avandoned have really come into their own over the past couple of years, and I think they’ve finally arrived at what is truly their own sound, and not simply the vision of outside producers. Continue reading

We Review Things: NaNoMoRaL is Long Overdue For a Heaping Ton of Glowing Praise…

I feel like a bit of a wrong has been committed in that NaNoMoRaL hasn’t gotten a proper write-up on this blog, but it’s most certainly not Maniac’s fault. They’ve been on the Homicidols radar nearly from the unit’s beginning, but I kinda-sorta called some claim on this group, and then sat on it far longer than they deserve. But the honest-to-goodness truth is that the reason for that is because I feel strongly that the group is so good, and it’s debut EP is so excellent, that I really wanted to think about this and get everything right instead of just blabbering like a giddy little fanboy. 

NaNoMoRaL is a duo made up of Amamiya Miku and Paseli-chan. Amamiya is remembered by a lot of us by her stage name “Natsuki” from her time in Avandoned. Natsu left that group in late 2016 and reappeared shortly after in the far-more traditional idol unit Emoquru Scoop (currently renamed EMOP), and then later still, announced she was leaving to become a solo act. But in actuality, she was working with EMOP’s producer, who happens to be Paseli-chan, and so, NaNoMoRaL was created! (Hope you’re taking notes on this.)  Continue reading

We Review Things: The tipToe./Dots Split Single is a Concoction of Fizzy Goodness


DIY rock bands figured out a long time ago that the “split-single” is a great way for fledgling artists to achieve the milestone of getting a record out there. Two bands chip in their money, and each gets one side of a 45 rpm vinyl record, ready to share with the masses. And for music lovers, it’s a pretty nifty deal as well, cause for a low price point,

you could take a chance on hearing two new bands you might happen to dig. It’s a great punk-rock tradition that plenty of bands still carry on today. 

And now here come two darlings on the indie-idol set, tipToe. (That’s how you stylize the type.) and ········· (You know, Dots.) with a split/collaboration single entitled “Tokyo Sentimental”. The two groups have been friendly buds for a while now since they shared a bill in which the tipToe. girls surprised the audience by coming out on stage wearing the Dots’ patented visors and vintage dresses and paying a little tribute to the ethereal idols. It was a fun little moment that brought tipToe. to my attention for the first time, and thanks very much for that! 

So how’s the single? “Tokyo Sentimental” is only four songs and it’s quick listen, and the two groups make the most of the brevity.  Continue reading

We Review Things Sleepily: 3776 | “3776 wo Kikanai Riyuu ga Aru to Sureba”

Last week, I was kindly informed that 3776’s Magnum Opus album, 3776 wo Kikanai Riyuu ga Aru to Sureba, was available for free on OTOTOY temporarily. Always one for a freebie, naturally, I downloaded it, and upon listening, I was like “Damn! This is a really great album!” and so Maniac responded, “Then review it”.

Two problems here:

  1. I suck at song reviews. They’ll all painfully boring and don’t go anywhere beyond “This is a pretty good song.”
  2. The album is three years old, making any kind of review totally irrelevant.

So, I had this ridiculous idea; I always come up with the best Friday Fun ideas when I’m half-asleep! YouTube dungeons, not so much. So, what would happen if I attempted to review an album (or more accurately, liveblog the album) on an hour of sleep? It wouldn’t be hard. My sleeping habits are atrocious anyway. As for the whole “three years old” thing? I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even know this album was from 2015 until halfway through listening. I didn’t even know 3776 existed until OTOTOY informed me of this album’s existence. But one thing I do know, is Ide Chiyono (also known as 3776-chan in this review, as I was too tired to remember her actual name) is, according to her Last.FM profile image, the disaster girl meme.

Brian was invited to provide some input on 3776 as a bona fide expert, but he refused on the grounds that the piece would be funnier if it had less context.

Long story short, consider this shitpost-in-disguise an introduction to 3776 of sorts. As much of an introduction as a shitpost can be. But hopefully, we’ll be covering 3776 more in the future, because this was one of the most fun albums I’ve listened to in a long time.

So, onward with sleep-deprived Kerrie! Continue reading

We Review Things: Melon Batake a go go Make Sick Music For Sick People

Psychobilly idols Melon Batake a go go don’t generally strike me as rule followers, but in the case of their new EP, they abide by an age-old rock n’ roll rule: Keep it short and sweet and make them beg for more. It’s a formula that’s brought us legends from Hasil Adkins to the Ramones to Guitar Wolf to a hundred other rock stars who put a pep in our step and tickled our hormones. You simply can’t beat a great garage stomper, and now, Melon Batake a go go have come to put the idol spin on the barn dance. Continue reading

We Review Things: Yukueshirezutsurezure | ‘Six Fall Roar’ / ‘A Drama with Nietzsche’

Though the digital files for the three tracks on this double-A side from tortured yami-kawaii nymphs Yukueshirezutsurezure found their way into my inbox, I ultimately didn’t have time to handle a review. Fortunately for us all, Tsurezure mega-fan Phillter, who is now living the dream in Japan, was more than happy to step to the plate.

Cover art for double A-side single "Six Fall Roar" / "A Drama with Nietzsche" by Japanese yami-kawaii idolcore group Yukueshirezutsurezure

That one band with a super long name, Yu-something-something. The little sisters of the Queens of Yami-Kawaii, Zenbu Kimi no Sei da.

If you frequent this site (or the Idol Metal communities in general), then you should be very familiar with this band of four. When they first marched on the scene back in late 2015, no one quite knew what to think of them, but the general consensus was that they were something to keep an eye on. The name alone was something to stick with you … if you could pronounce it!

The haunting, lilting melodies that suddenly threw the listener into a panic with growled vocals and screams of frustration and rage were a combination no other band in the genre had attempted to quite that extent before. It was that combination of lullaby and nightmare fuel that intrigued many a fan, including yours truly, to become an Aquamarine (the name of their fans). So it will be no big surprise when I say that I loved this record. Continue reading