Whither Alice?

Once upon a time (it was about five months ago!), I was showing ye olde website to a friend. You see, IRL Maniac isn’t always Maniac IRL, and not everybody in the social orbit is aware of this joint’s existence. I don’t exactly hide it — I’ve introduced myself at parties as “owner of North America’s finest J-pop website about punk rock girl groups” on several occasions — but nor do I flaunt it because, well, I know a lot of boring-ass people and choose to not cast my pearls before swine.

In the context of the tale, Friend in Question had heard me talking about a group* and was curious about the description, in response to which I ultimately produced my phone and did a little tour of the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist. As I expected, the original sheen of excitement wore off after a few minutes, but then this particular Kamen Joshi MV popped up and her enthusiasm was suddenly re-piqued.

She wanted to know why the members were dressed the way they were, why the masks, why the song sounded like “something from a Disney Channel movie,” etc. I answered the best that I could, which was interesting because I easily had the least to say about Kamen Joshi than about any of the other groups that I’d showcased. Friend in Question noticed: “You sound like you don’t like this one as much.”

“You know,” I said, “they’re kind of one of those things that you either feel strongly about or not at all.”

So let’s fast forward to now, a point in time wherein the Alice Project is graduating a whole mess of people over several weeks at the end of the year:

The list:

  • Sakura Nodoka
  • Tachibana Anna
  • Kamiya Erina
  • Sakamoto Mana
  • Mizusawa Mai

I was going to say again, but I have no way of knowing that this mass graduation is anything like the last one, which was hotly rumored to be tied up in a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes shadiness, and I don’t want to imply a thing out of thin air.

Nonetheless, that incident, plus stuff like high-profile death threats to members, bizarre accidents that leave girls paralyzed, sketchy funding and on and on ultimately made it hard to want to follow the Alice projects very far — at best, it seemed like a bad emotional investment; at worst, many of the Bad Things in Idol all wrapped into one neat package. And it’s not like they were releasing music all that often, anyway.

It’s still weird to see some of those names, which are senior as hell. Anna has always been the Alice Juban and Kamen Joshi center to me, Nodoka the leader. I imagine that a lot of people who observe passively and aren’t regulars at the theater in Akiba (or Osaka, for that matter) feel the same way. And to that end, then, what does this indicate for the future of Alice — not what management says, but for realsies?

I’m taking a particularly academic interest in this. For good or ill, Alice Project was the Akiba underground’s theater unit, juxtaposed against the likes of 48g and in plenty of ways emblematic of that scene that in so many ways informed the growth of idol, both mainstream and chika, in this modern context. The old PARMS didn’t have the rep or landmark significance of DEAR STAGE, for instance, but it did play host to a lot of acts, either on the same bill as Alice groups or in separate events. The Alice Project may or may not be a true scene bellwether, but they do matter, so this matters.

What I’m not trying to suggest is that the whole kit and caboodle are about to go up in smoke. That’s not this works! But will it be able to keep up, or does Alice wither up without so many of its flagship performers? Does the essence change? All stuff worth paying attention to, especially if this is in any way indicative of other currents without the idol underground.

*If you can guess who, you win a prize!