Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guile and Deceit in the Ranks of AKB48

The well-populated song and dance group AKB48 has been a pop culture staple in Japan for the past four or five years. Their creator, Yasushi Akimoto, kind of took the nation by storm with his idea to make a gigantic 48-girl pop performing group that could then be split into several subgroups to tour and perform live in multiple locations simultaneously, increasing accessibility to fans. Additionally, with 48 "varied" personalities, fans can choose and follow a member that they find specifically appealing. It was like everyone had completely forgotten about Hello! Project's Morning Musume.

Anyway, AKB48 holds a variety of annual televised events to popularize the group and give fans a sense of interaction. One of those events is a giant Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament held between all of the group's members in single-elimination matchups. The grand victor is awarded the lead spot on one of the group's CD singles released in the following year.

Japanese culture.
Of course, the appeal to fans is that any one of the 48 girls in the group could emerge victorious. Even one of the lesser-known girls could become the group's lead singer for a day. Devout fans actually watch the tournament with bated breath, hoping each of their chosen favorites might make it to the top.

Now, being a well-oiled commercial machine, the AKB48 franchise is there to capitalize on every moment of public attention they can. The girls are regularly featured in product and brand advertisements, from kids' candy to men's suit retailers. And following the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament, merchandise quickly goes on sale at associated retailers to celebrate the champion and her upcoming musical release.

The machine is so well-oiled, in fact, that these celebratory goods go on sale mere hours after the tournament's conclusion. If the show is televised on a Tuesday night, you can bet the champion's face will be all over the shelves of the local 7-11 on Wednesday morning. That's some impressive efficiency.

...or, wait a second. Hours after the conclusion of the show? On sale at 7-11 at midnight Wednesday morning? Don't the logistics seem a bit too good to believe?

"The control group was
just a sham?!"
Enter my businessman friend. A "friend of a friend of mine" (in the spirit of all Internet conspiracy theories), whom I seem to run into every so often at our mutual friends' social functions and who is the owner of a couple 7-11 franchises in my area, had some interesting news on the issue. Thankfully, for he and his employee's sanity, the boxes of promotional goods arrive at his shops with plenty of leeway to unpack, itemize, and shelve the new stock. In the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament's three years' running, usually the associated products have been delivered several days in advance

--in advance of the broadcast. While the tournament is still presumably being filmed.

Not to mention the weeks of product design and manufacture preceding those shipments.

Now, the real conspiracy theorists out there can take (and have taken) this further, with analysis of the frequency of rock, paper, and scissors used by each girl and their progress through the ladder. But let's stop where we are and just enjoy a fun story for what it's worth. Yes, pop culture is dressed up and far removed from reality. But when you read too much into it, you just end up looking like this guy.

1 comment:

  1. I used to work for a conference centre. We hosted a wide variety of groups, including one aimed at promoting sexual health in gay men. Helping clear up after one session I was surprised and not a little frightened to see the demonstrator pack up his props, which included an anal fisting dildo shaped not unlike part of the trophy at the top.

    It's all I could think about while reading this article. And now it's all you can think about as well. Have fun with that.