My body ached but my spirits were full of life as I arrived in Market!Market! to attend the ’60 Years of Philippines-Japan Relationship Celebration’. I had two roles that day: one as a representative of Back2Gaming, being the MNL48 correspondent; the other as a fan. You can read the first part here.
Since the Fan Meeting the day before prohibited taking pictures inside the venue, I wanted to use this chance to take as much pictures as possible. Due to logistical issues, I was armed only with my phone’s camera (something that would end in tragedy, but that’s getting ahead of the story), but any picture of the girls was worth the embarrassment.
As a fan following the girls from the comforts of my home, it is truly hard to appreciate just how professional these girls are. In sharp contrast to their warm and smiling introductions during the Fan Meet, the girls were all business for the press conference. They are alert, aware that their every move will be recorded and judged by the strangers facing them, and they were able to pull it off without a hitch.
The questions were your normal press conference fare. I wasn’t really paying attention much to what was being said because the fan part of my psyche was really overpowering the reporter side. Some highlights were: Riona Hamamatsu saying this year’s trip was different because they had a fan-meeting; Rena Fukuchi said she wanted to learn dance here; Serika Nagano said she was surprised at the reaction they got from the fans and she loves them; Nanase Yoshikawa said she loves Halo-halo since she visited the country when she was younger and ate the dessert. Yes, that’s all I really remember, and the rest are kind of hazy (which makes me a bad journalist and part of why this article is entered as a blog).
The girls knew how to react and when to do it: When the time for the photo-ops came, that mental switch in their heads just clicked and the poses came naturally. I understand that training helped make them that way, but seeing it happen in front of me was really amazing. There were instances where the “fan” part of my brain simply kicked and I thought that the girls seemed to recognize me from the event the day before. Now, I’m not saying they actually did – and it is more just a projection of my desire that they actually would. For all I know they were most likely wondering why someone from the press is using their smartphone to take pictures. I didn’t notice it at that time but I did feel stupid about it afterwards.
The purpose of the event was to celebrate Philippine-Japan ties, and the girls were serious about their role as ambassadors of Japanese pop-culture. Seeing them at the press conference, I couldn’t really decipher what was going on between their minds. I felt so sure they enjoyed the fan-meeting. Would that motivate them to give a great performance and give a favorable impression to the casual public? I had the feeling that I was about to find out.
It was very nice of HHEI and the Japanese Embassy to allow us to sit on the VIP area. Everyone in my group had been in various events and knew each other, but this was my first event in an official capacity and I was mind-blown by my first “VIP” experience. As the event started with performances from HHEI’s talents and trailers of upcoming anime and Japanese movies, I looked back on the past year to what lead me into this moment.
Warning! Some sentimental, cheesy fan-boy spazzing will follow.
Cool Japan Festival was the first time I accepted that I was an AKB fan. I came on the first day so that I can cover Team 8’s performance and, hopefully, write something out of it. I was in the midst of a long episode of writer’s block since my hobbies have pretty much ground to a halt, Star Wars The Force Awakens wasn’t to release until a month later, and I was still playing in the PS3, affecting my ability to review games.
Now, I’m not saying that Team 8 “inspired” me, but they gave me something to write about through their amazing performance. Because I miscalculated the time it would take me to travel from Makati to Trinoma, I was not able to come inside the event area, choosing instead to stand on the second floor so that I can see the performances. But it did not matter: I left Trinoma sold on Team 8, and broached the idea of covering MNL48 to my editor.
Team 8 was an ideal vehicle for me to get into the fandom. They are relatively new, with a different concept from the other teams. Team 8 was built around the concept of “Idols who come to meet you” which, as it turns out, means that the girls will go to events no matter how big or small, or how far it is from Tokyo, AKB48’s traditional stronghold. It doesn’t matter if the event is packed or whether only a handful of fans show up, the girls were expected to – and usually did – perform on a high level.
More importantly for me is that the team’s lives look real fun. In some cases, they perform with more vigor than their much more popular seniors. The team has 47 members, one representative from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Suddenly, you have a group that is representative of Japan in its very composition, sometimes even more than their seniors ever did.
The girls who came here last year made numerous references of their visit in regular AKB shows and Showroom streams. It was only natural for Filipino fans to begin hoping for a repeat, maybe even by the whole team this time. The Cool Japan Festival event itself was featured in an SP about their visit but it wasn’t really mentioned elsewhere. It had a few seconds of screen-time in AKBingo!, and was referenced in the Nemosu AKB episode of their Guam vacation.
I snapped back from my reverie when Starmarie took the stage. I must admit, I came to the event knowing nothing about them outside of them having performed regularly in the Philippines. But for a group I barely knew anything about, I was impressed with their performance. They have a lot of fans in the crowd, and they performed really well.
After Starmarie’s stage was over, there was a pause for about 15 minutes. HHEI showed the promotional videos for MNL48, whose application process has begun with the launching of the app. Then a short wait.
The famous Overture brought the place to life with the screen flashing a montage of Team 8 activities including last year’s Cool Japan Festival. The Overture has been in existence since AKB48’s formation, and all official 48 Groups have a version of them. The cheers became louder as the girls finally went up the stage to start the show.
During lives, fans use chants they shout during the song as a form of ‘participation.’ As expected, I know zero about what it is they’re saying. Filipinos, most of whom are exposed to idol culture only through the internet, found a way over the language barrier: cheat-sheets. When Team 8 started their set with their representative song “47 no Suteki no Machi e”, the fans used these sheets to do the trademark chants of the song. It was a magical moment, and it was just the first number.
There was something different about this performance. The girls seem to be more energetic than I remember them being in all the videos I’ve seen. Surely, the effect of actually being in there has a lot to do with that feeling, but the mood, the energy was on another level.
Team 8 performed a mixed set of their own songs and main singles like “Everyday, Katyusha”, “Kibouteki Refrain”, the iconic “Heavy Rotation” (wasn’t expecting that one), “365nichi no Kamihikouki”, “Seifuku no Hane”, “Yume e no Route”, the classic “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”, and their current single “High Tension”. It was for me, a good mix of old and new tracks sprinkled with Team 8’s own tracks. Although they never did get to perform “Hoshizora wo Kimi ni” and “Shishunki no Adrenaline” (B-sides in the ‘High Tension’ single, both performed by a Team 8 divided into EAST and WEST teams) despite the songs’ off-vocal tracks being played during MC breaks, the set list was, in my reckoning, a good ‘representative’ of AKB’s music.
It was the longest set they’ve had in the Philippines, but it felt woefully short for the fans who wanted to see the girls stay longer. During Koisuru Fortune Cookie – originally the final song, the balloons and confetti came raining down. There were already shouts for an encore long before the girls even waved goodbye and the calls only persisted and became louder when the performance seemingly ended. I saw Team 8’s manager for this trip, Nishiyama-san better known among the fans as Saru-obasan, rush to the backstage. Then the staff came to clean up the balloons and confetti and we were so sure the girls are coming back.
Their encore was “Aisatsu kara Hajimeou”, a B-side from the single “Green Flash”. The song, when translated to English, means “Let’s Start with a greeting”, a strangely fitting song that is like saying this is isn’t goodbye, but hopefully the start of something. The girls took a photo with the fans, thanked the audience, and went around the stage waving us goodbye.
During the agony of Saturday’s standing in line for so long, a thought crossed my mind as to why I was willing to stand in the heat of a Saturday noon to see pop stars who wouldn’t remember me the second I walk out the door. After Sunday’s concert, I realized it is because of this feeling of being connected to them that I wanted, and which I have read so much about in various online forums. Just watching videos do not compare. They no longer compare.
Live performances and fan events have always been AKB48’s bread and butter. Last weekend was just a taste of what they could actually do, and what we’ve been missing out for years. Team 8 has afforded us a glimpse into their world, one we can experience for ourselves and not work with the experiences – and thoughts – of others. The girls performed their hearts out, and the fans reciprocated by showing their passion, all the while making the girls feel loved.
The days I spent writing this article was bittersweet: right after uploading the videos I took of the live, my phone froze and when it recovered, the SD Card holding my precious photos was broken. I took so many pictures and all I have left is the one I made into my wallpaper. But memories are best saved in the mind and in the heart, not phones. And I consider this a painful reminder that I need to save for my own camera. I shouldn’t really be using my phone for important things such as these.
Team 8 came to our country twice, and in both times have managed to capture our hearts. No one knows when the next event will be, or if there will even be a “next event”. The next time an AKB48 team comes here, they will be welcomed not only by fans, but a sister group as well. It should be an interesting meeting.
So as I move on from last week’s event and stare at MNL48’s auditions right in the face, I’ll always treasure those wonderful moments when my fandom just felt a bit more real than I thought was possible. I’ll be following MNL48, but nothing’s stopping me from hoping. Again.
Just like last year, “We Came, We Saw, They conquered our hearts.”
Special Thanks to the Following:
- Ms Danica Nayre and Hallohallo Entertainment Inc.
- Admin Youko of FilWota for helping me with AKB stuff I’ve yet to understand (as well as putting up with my questions).
- And Team 8 for giving me my best weekend of 2016.
All pictures of the event were taken from AKB48 Team 8 website.
In 2009, Ate Rio First Visited The Philippines To Put Up A Sister Group Of AKB48 However This Is The Modern Visit After Tito Rick (Richard J. Harner) First Visited In 1996 For A Mission Of His Church, New Life Fellowship In Queens, NY However Ate Rio (Riona C. Hamamatsu) Who Is From Tito Rick’s Home Country USA Far From NLF In New York Is Los Angeles, CA However Riona Is From Tokushima, Honshu Island Whom She Is The Representative She Graduated On July 2, 2017 Riona Hamamatsu Came To The Philippines in 2009 She First Teached The Heavy Rotation Dance at a Public Institution In Consolacion, Cebu (Rick And Jiji’s Residence) It Is In A Hinterland Barangay Polog, Where The Landfill Is Located She Taught 4th Year Students In Dancing The AKB48 Hit She Rode A Jeepney From Barangay Polog To The Municipal Hall Of Consolacion In Barangay Poblacion Occidental Where She Met Mayor Avelino Gungob Sr. In The Neighboring Barangay Of Nangka, Rick And Jiji’s Residence Is Located She Danced Kpop Hits Because Rio-san Is A Kpop Fan She Speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese She Is Quadrulingual