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Toward the Zenkoku tour final, in Makuhari Messe : Another Keyakizaka story

Keyakizaka was already known for releasing their tracks at a fast pace. But what could be a bigger announcement than their 5th single? Many fans were caught off-guard when the official website introduced a whole album to be released the 19 July, 2017 with more than 16 original songs. It could have ended there, but the hype was even more building up as this album would be promoted by a zenkoku (nationwide) tour in many big cities like Nagoya, Fukuoka, Kobe or Sendai. The opportunity to witness the new songs live couldn’t be missed, and after 2 concerts in FujiQ, i tried my luck once again. Lottery allowed me one performance in Sendai, and one in the most wanted, in makuhari. It is the tour final and also the biggest venue (in tokyo). So many questions ahead : Will they step up on another level of performance? Which songs sounds okay studio but awesome live? Will Zuumiko return? One thing sure, this tour is bringing a new flavour to the already defined Keyaki style.

“A momemtum that was becoming more and more time-consuming…”

You can see a group popularity by their amount of activities, and their scale. At AKB’s peak, the group could do a summer dome tour. There wouldn’t be a 6 cities zenkoku tour if management wasn’t confident of Keyakizaka momemtum. But that’s not all; and probably more impactful, they took a chance in booking performances in rock festival like rock in japan and Summer Sonic, something that only few idol groups would dare do. Rock festival attendees are most of the time not interested in idol music, and it was a gamble for the girls to convince them they are legit. For keyaki fans themselves, this summer tour was welcomed with bliss but also anxiety. As you can see above, this is an hectic schedule that only give room to one day rest. But is it really a rest when we count the rehearsal time and commuting? For sure the members endurance would be challenged. All dates were sold out except of Niigata.

I think there’s a lot of discussion about how management handle things, even in japanese fandom. Are they inconsiderate of the girls health? Are they forcing them into a situation they don’t want to? Without context, we don’t know. But what i know however, is that many young fans can’t afford to go straight to Tokyo for a keyakizaka performance. Many have missed the FujiQ because the venue was hard to reach. To have date in Sendai (mid north) and Fukuoka (south) is a gift to the fans. It can’t be all about Tokyo, and if we want the group to grow beyond local, girls knows that it give a stronger impact if they come to far away places themselves. the group need to take risks in order to get better results than other idol groups. On how zuumin issue got handled by management (extended hiatus), i do think management knows when to stop.

“Tower Records Shibuya is a wonderful place that promote artists from a personal standpoint. Clerks write the reason why they liked the album, and which girls caught their eyes.”

After a few observations of the field, i would say Keyakizaka has benefited from a great promotion. Even though modeling magazine is Nogizaka territory, i was impressed by the covers of either members as solo or the group. There’s fashion magazine, gravure, but also computer magazine (???), travel and culture. There’s also indirect promotion with celebrities covering keyaki songs (fukyouwaon by a theater actor, eccentric by a comedian) or just mentioning the group (hirose suzu, maeda atsuko, yoshihiro togashi author of Hunter x Hunter). Not long ago, 5 members were announced for the rakuten fashion award to walk as models. All those little things build the image of the group in people’s mind. Not only idol fans, but overall japanese people. Silent majority being a hot song in karaoke’s ranking is probably a better proof than handshake results that keyakizaka is making his way outside the idol range. We also have to take notice of Showroom which is also a game changer that idols of the previous generation didn’t have.

“The Keyaki truck was very popular, as it symbolize the zenkoku tour. You couldn’t take photos inside the venue.(Sendai venue) Yuipon family sent her a standing bouquet too.”

Short comment, as it is the similar to FujiQ : A lot of young fans waiting outside, trading photoset and discussing on fresh keyaki news. Very strict security. You have two choice of seat : Arena (close to the stage) and stand (upstairs). Both have their pros and cons, i was far away but thanks to the elevated view, i could see everything, and didn’t needed to watch big screens. Sendai was much more intimate than FujiQ, i think we were less than 5000. Perfect to see the girls close. Moriya akane was the kage (shadow) speaker since she’s from sendai area and asked in a sexy way to not use penlight during the ouverture. It was amusing to see some fans fooling around to kill time : Some were shouting “berika doko???” (where’s berika?) and someone else at the opposite would shout “manaka doko????” making echo through the venue. Or another game was, “my oshi is the cutest” then someone answer “ iya iya iya, mine is the cutest” then it would go on indefinitively as long as someone join the joke. A berika oshi stood up and said a rather abrupt “kimi no heart ni!!” and all the crowd would shout “revolution”. Then he would say “mou ikkai” (one more time!) to hype the crowd before the concert. It was all in a friendly atmosphere and i’m glad people were having fun.

PART 1 : Contemplation

“Keyaki pushed Makuhari to the utmost limit, bringing the venue to a 18 000 people capacity. Both days were sold out.”

I’m gonna criticize, Sendai was much better in term of viewing than Makuhari. Granted, this place is legendary, but all the seats are arena and second half seats are too far from the stage to see anything (stage is bigger than in the picture though). I had a bad feeling about it, and well, i got G1 seats. there was the screen viewing above us, between E1 and F1. All i could pray of was a good atmosphere and an original setlist. There was a special notice where staff ask us to not use penlight during the first song and ouverture. The reason is simple : Eccentric is using the transparent curtain for the choregraphy, and the venue needs to be dark.

The concert start with an heavy clubbing track to hype the crowd. People can like it or not, but it worked pretty well during the concert. Behind the curtain, girls appear one by one with their solo dancing. It’s like seeing their shadows moving, with their name showing on the curtain. Techi is the last one. Eccentric is like a glass of wine; it gets better over time. Being the Tour final, you could see the girls being comfortable with the unique choregraphy. The transparent curtain is a part of the song, Kanji and words are bursting everywhere on the screen as the song run in. Very powerful. But what really caught my eyes is the transition between eccentric and skirt ga kirareta, with a slow, melancholic piano tune. Techi is drifting away from the formation. She steps on their back (the girls were on their knees to form a ladder) and thereafter walk down the upper stage to the lower stage. The group join her and the curtain fall over the beginning of Skirt ga kirareta. When i say contemplation, it’s because the whole crowd was silencious between the songs. It was like we were watching a piece of art that shouldn’t be disturbed.

From skirt ga kirareta to kimi wo mou sagasanai, the transition is getting a faster pace, and the melancholic piano make way to an symphonic orchestra. The girls are dancing around a lost Techi, staring at the immensity of the makuhari crowd. Yes, the first part is build on Techi. I feel like this whole choregraphy represents a young girl fighting the demons inside of her. Each battle hurts her, thus the sadness in the beginning. The third transition, from kimi wo mou sagasanai to Kataru nara mirai wo is when Techi fights back, entering some sort of transe and releasing her rage. The powerful dance track can be compared with the one during Ariake between otona wa shinjite kurenai and kataru nara mirai wo.

I really like how coherent the songs are between them thanks to those artistic transitions. It’s like telling a story; the crowd doesn’t take part with wotagei but is suffocating from the melodramatic atmosphere that is taking place. Keyakizaka is the only group who’s going that far in creating a style. It’s not new, the closest would definitively be “emo” or “i’m in pain but fuck the adult” rebellious idea. The way the group express it through the stage, there’s nothing you can do aside from watching in awe.

I’m most of the time offended that people judge idol as not being artist, but as marketed product of a sub culture based on middle aged male fantasm. But i have to admit the way Keyakizaka is produced right now, they are building an edge between them and usual idol group like AKB48. An edge that are making them closer and closer to the definition of “artist”. While FujiQ was a really standard concert, this Zenkoku tour is investing a lot on creating an Opera-like kind of group. It’s all about sending a message. 

Part 2 : individuality

The first part was running so smoothly i was actually wondering how they could switch from kanji to hiragana without killing the mood. It seems that a formal MC did the job. The MC was very standard, nothing to say much about it. Yuuka being captain does the usual “let’s have fun together” to cheer up the crowd, but it would say Sasaki Kumi from hiragana became better at this than her. Neru solo had the particularity  to have her fly a small and cute ballon ahead of makuhari crowd. There’s staff below to redirect the balloon with cables. Neru is really cute and do a lot of interactions with fans. In sendai, her nest was so close i could actually touch it since i was in upper stand seats. Luckily for staff that Neru is not afraid of heights, because that was actually pretty high. The balloon was a very nice touch to make the zenkoku tour original.

This part focused on sub-units of the album, starting with AM 1:27, trio of suzumon, techi and yuipon. It was referred as a dance track so i was expecting something very difficult knowing takahiro sensei, but after all it was more than doable. The girls were dancing inside of a enlighten pyramid, with hoodies that had LED on the sides. Techi and Suzumon were on point, being serious and fluid on their dancing pattern. Yuipon proved that not only she can sing, but can perform a convincing pop lock dance. I realized that since Zuumin hiatus, she quickly been used as an emergency front member and did it without flinching for the sake of the group. In an interview, it was said she let Zuumin focus on lead singing because she knew that’s what she likes the most. Yuipon is the kind of girl that is caring over others, and a member we can rely to when having trouble. She’s the hidden MVP of the tour.

Ballet to shounen is noteworthy for being a story by itself. The song of Nagasawa nanako, koike minami, yonetani nanami, uemura rina and harada aoi has this “billy elliot” feeling, or the french streets in 1920′s or so. Keyakizaka trade their uniform for something more unusual and it is more than welcome. It’s a incredible opportunity to showcase member that are not pushed as much as other, especially harada aoi or nanako that i admit i don’t know much about. Since keyabingo 3 and some keyakitte episode, i feel koike is having some momemtum and seeing the girls so expressive in ballet to shounen is marking people’s mind. Aoi, the aristocrat girl, is in love with the poor boy from the streets (koike), but the impossible love makes the boy leave her side…

Shoujo ni wa modorenai showcase other “end row” members like Saito fuyuka, Oda nana, Habu mizuho, Nishimori nijika and Satoh shiori. this is another strength in Keyakizaka. From the center pattern, keyakizaka can be seen as a one person group but how the concert is built, they really do an effort to highlight all girl’s skill. Satoh shiori is absolutely stunning in this, and the other girls dance are very sharp. Oda nana who has a comic character in variety is really pulling her cool side here. They can just split The group to yuichanzu as singing, Aozora as sexy, Five card as weird but instead, they even switch style in sub unit. The song is not as sexy as wareta smartphone, but is rather cool.

“Aozora to Marry has steadily become the most popular sub unit, and being in charge of the visual of the group.”

koko ni nai ashiato is a very standard idol song that could be given to Nogizaka as it is similar in style. But it takes another dimension when we talk about the members of Aozora to Marry. The call, the atmosphere. The five of them is probably ¼ of all wota in the crowd. That’s how powerful this unit is. Wherever it is in FujiQ, Sendai or Tokyo, they always have the biggest cheer. The choregraphy is at a minimum, but their long, elegant casual clothes makes their appeal explode. The girlfriend material meter is tingling nervously.

Since the song is about being a cool beauty, Shida manaka didn’t really have expressions. But over these 2 years, i think she’s the one who came out of the shell the most. She’s so expressive in variety, making seiyuu saying embarassing quote, or making fun of other members during location shooting. In concert, thanks to abunashii keikaku, she improved her interaction with fans. With members, she looks for others well being. Like Yuipon, Shida is a hidden jewel that helps the group stick together. Another moodmaker is born! She isn’t afraid of showing she’s having fun in Keyakizaka.

“After the concert, you could see Imaizumi Yui fans hugging each others,  celebrating the return of their oshimen”

But talking about individuality… if there’s someone that people have missed so much, it’s Imaizumi yui. One of the most quirky, cutie figure of keyakizaka has been missing for almost 4th month due to health issue. Her hiatus has been covered by the utmost effort of her comrades, in fukyouwaon promotion and Zenkoku tour. After singing the song Neko no namae, Akanen and Yuuka teased the next song as “the moment we were waiting for” and i perfectly remember our reaction : “it can’t be, finally?” and when Natsu no hana wa himawari dake janai started playing, people couldn’t believe she was back. Barefooted, Zuumin appeared with her new haircut and sleeve less dress in front of 18 000 fans on the verge of a mental breakdown.

In the beginning, she was quite anxious i must say. She was all alone on stage, in front of a sea of yellow penlights. It was a ballad, so no cheer or anything. She didn’t hit the low notes, you could feel she was trying to not cry. But as soon as the melody kicked in, she closed her eyes and let herself go with the flow of the song. Such a shame there was her voice recorded in playback because her live singing was great. What happened next was really awkward. Obviously we did as much cheering as we could, but people were split between crying or cheering up, ending up in a big mess. Also, she quickly gave a speech, and people didn’t know if they should shut up to listen to her or cheer her up because she said she felt unworthy to stay on the stage she didn’t take part from the beginning while crying. I wish i had started a zuumiko call but i didn’t have the balls to do so. Still everyone were glad to see her back after those “restoration” gravure shoot we had on BLT graph.

Part 3 : Soul of Keyaki

“Something i felt was leaving slowly from AKB fondation, is the bond between members. In opposite, Keyakizaka members evolve and support each other in small numbers.”

Tokyo Tower wa doko kara mieru? is probably the song that made the biggest impact on me during the tour. It highlights everyone in small dance part, like all of them are centers for a brief instant. I could feel members personalities, like Akanen sexy move, Suzumon technical dance, Berika  slowness, and of course Techi’s stare. The choregraphy was dynamic and sharp, i can easily put it on the same level as kataru nara mirai wo (my favourite choregraphy). It raise awareness on how management deal with Keyakizaka right now. “Yes it’s a center oriented promotion, but we won’t let anyone down”. I don’t repeat enough how important it is to fuel the girls with hope. Nishimori Nijika being 4 times last row, sometimes your willpower is on high tension. But with individual PV, balanced sub units, and those songs like Tokyo tower, there’s certainly room to grow a fanbase. On your own.

Sekai ni wa ai shikanai and abunashii keikaku felt like the essence of keyakizaka. Both represents the wind of change and the effervescence, freedom of teenage days. The pain, sadness of being misunderstood (first part) made way to an heartfelt celebration of friendship. This sounds sugar heavy but people were having so much fun, waving our oshi towel. The allegory of the plain white screen coated with colorful drops from the official picture of the tour, is exactly this storm of emotions keyakizaka is bringing to us. the wide range of songs and style that keyakizaka do are the drops. Keyakizaka is not one dimensional, instead it is the opposite.Balance between Kanji (cool) and hiragana (cute), Singing (yuichanzu) and dancing (AM 1:27) Keyakizaka manage to find harmony in the storm. So much energy from passion, but without the messiness, chaos that implies a storm.

I feel like the setlist order influence how you appreciate a song. In FujiQ, all A sides were played first, and their power to hype the crowd was questioning. But having them in last, like Ariake, gives this feeling of “best for the end” to Silent majority and Futari saison. It is coherent with how the concert was build: first part focus on the style/flavor, second part on individuality, then the last we finish as a group. What’s better than A-sides to represent keyakizaka as a whole?

We’ve come a long way. I told you it was awkward when Zuumiko came, to be honest we didn’t realized she was really back. But when the encore started with Silent majority and the monitor focus on Zuumin finally being on the left of Techi in the line up, fans roared in Makuhari. She was with her teamates, and had a big smile on her face, to be able to perform once again. We didn’t really know if her health condition would allow her to do difficult choregraphy. But to see her there, was both a relief and a huge moment of joy. At this moment, i realized Keyakizaka was reunited at last and got emotional too. In futari saison, to have Yuichanzu holding hands again, a sense of plentiness filled everyone who warmly watch over them.

“An untameable spirit.”

I can’t end this article without talking about Techi. Since FujiQ her fans have been witnessing such high and low during the Zenkoku tour : first news came from her almost collapsing during Kobe concert and being absent from the encore. Tokyo Idol Festival was a shock, as she was expressionless, hiding her face with her towel. Even worse, she plainly wasn’t participating in Nagoya first day. People were concerned, and Sugai Yuuka captain wrote messages for fans to adress the situation : We are a group that is struggling, but we support each other. Even Aki-p give his take saying “there will be always difficult situation to handle” implying Yurina’s health is taking a serious turn. Can Keyakizaka endure another blow after Zuumin hiatus?

It’s unfair to say Keyakizaka is pretty much doomed without Techi. From what i’ve seen,the girls are doing their best to compensate her weak condition. Hell, they even show a part of themselves i’ve never seen before. I’ve witnessed numerous time members checking on techi during performance (Shida manaka), hugging her (koike), playing games (aoi) teasing her (oda, saito fuyuka). It warms my heart to see them so close and supporting. Probably the reason why Techi doesn’t want to give up the hectic schedule even though it’s tiresome. She doesn’t want to be a burden to her comrades.

But that doesn’t explain everything. There’s things i don’t understand. In Sendai, it looked like she physically recovered. Her performance were sharp (her futari saison solo was good) but her interaction with fans were lacking. Why doesn’t she even lay eyes on the crowd when comes the time the girls wave at fans? Why doesn’t she ever smile in cheerful songs? Was she still down somehow? Because in FujiQ, she was lively, full of smile and grateful during the whole concert, especially in abunashii keikaku. What makes this sudden change?

Then unexpectedly, just before makuhari date, she attended a cross media event of school of lock in tokyo, where she is cheerful and lively with a guitar. She even goes to see fans outside the venue, playing with the mascot and accepting video. The Techi that i know came back. I was now seriously wondering if all this tsundere/saltiness during concerts were an act asked from management.

I haven’t experienced it, but last day of Makuhari they performed her third solo and another version of Fukyouwaon. People reported that this version is scary and wild, with the loudest “boku wa iyada” ever done, beyond FujiQ. Techi end the show with a mad smile, her face dripping in blood. How sick is that?

I feel defeated by Techi. I can’t guess what’s on her complex mind. An unfathomable character, unpredictable. She reminded everyone from this Fukyouwaon performance that madness is a part of her and she enjoys it. When she’s low, she’s low. If she wants to have fun, she has fun. It’s disturbing how she can switch from being expressionless to the most powerful fukyouwaon performance…and yet she does. It’s useless to explain in a logical way what’s going on, because she express herself with raw emotions.

Conclusion : A still growing Keyaki tree

“Takahiro sensei did not only the choregraphy but the stage play (part 1). He has been, with the sound engineer, the architect of Zenkoku tour success.

Keyakizaka46, as a fan, made me greedy. I’ve put them so much on top to the point i thought of Fukyouwaon as a “subpar” A-side, listening to B-sides instrumental complexity or scruting members expressions during live, criticizing without hesitation. I always wanted more : More Yurina solo, more Yuichanzu songs, more A side that blowed me away like Sekai ni wa ai shikanai.

Damn, how little i am compared to the Zenkoku tour. Hundreds of organization staff, dozen of truck filled with million yen light and sound gear/equipment, months to prepare choregraphy and stage play, days of rehearsal, to give the opportunity for all fans of japan to enjoy Keyakizaka performances. I was a mere pixel in a sea of green penlights, overwhelmed by the raging beat of the group setlist. Those same b-sides that i casually listened in the subway became memories carved into my body and soul. The goosebumps of Zuumin return, the breakdance of Habu mizuho during tokyo tower, the mad shout of Techi in fukyouwaon gave another meaning to keyaki songs. The Zenkoku tour gave life to the album.

Even though i’m short describing part 1, it’s probably the most important part of the concert. The 4 first songs represent the future keyakizaka in my opinion. The meaning behind this act is tenfold the script of keyaki second drama, “cruel audience”, and i don’t think they can switch style that easily, especially when hiragana is in charge of the cute side. That also means they can’t replace Techi since she fits this style the most. I have no idea what the second chapter of keyaki will look like after the tour, but i’m thrilled to see them becoming “artists”.

It was a hell of a summer for keyaki fans. This tour has definitively strengthen the bond between members, but fans as well (you associate memories of the tour with the songs). As a said before, i’m not craving for more, instead i only feel gratefulness for joining the frey.

“After so long, W-Keyakizaka no uta was finally performed with all the members”

This is probably the last live i will attend for a while. To live the real deal compared to our lives as foreigner fans, feeding from reports on the internet or music video posted on youtube, i know it will be difficult to come back to reality. But with this article i want you to know that if you plan a trip to japan in order to see Keyakizaka, it’s worth it. It’s true that this journey might look lonely, but through this write-up, it’s like you guys were accompanying me. The colorful stage, the sea of green penlights, can you see it? You will probably know what i mean when the DVD box will be released. But the emotion rushing through your body, the tears on fans cheeks, you have to witness it by yourself. I’m confident Keyakizaka can achieve a Tokyo Dome concert, so let’s be there together!

Humility, Kindness, bond. I climb the hill, toward the Keyaki tree.