I’ve done a wrap up about every members situation a while ago, and after one year rich in emotions and activities, it’s probably relevant to do an update. Even though it’s impossible to be absolutely objective, i will try to weigh members influence like their activities, skills, characters and what management has in store for them. Disclaimer : members don’t have to be everything mentioned in the tier to belong to it.
Tier 6 : Members who are not selling slots as much as others, struggle building a distinctive character. Doesn’t have management favors. Have an appeal known by core keyaki fanbase.
Oda Nana : Even though her new haircut could have impacted this judgement, it was more her less flamboyant presence in variety show that led to this decision. Not only her pon observation blog can be a double edged sword (you can assimilate her as the creepy yuipon fan instead of standing on her own personality) , but her recent location shoot with Suzumoto miyuu where she’s extremely passive and cold toward her teammate made me uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s scripted or not, but either way this route looks like a slope to me. I hope she can find that little something that make her more sympathic in the near future.
Saitoh Fuyuka : I personally believe she’s a very nice and conscious person (she has many blog post about the group), and legitimately the hidden captain of keyakizaka. I was there when she gently smiled at techi during the Sendai concert. However when it comes to popularity it was much of a stalemate over the 2 years, and it can be explained by how fans perceive her : it’s highly probable she looks like a fan friend relative way too much compared to what they want, some bit of star power. Because she cares more about the group than her personal gain, because fans feelings toward her is friendship more than attractiveness, and because visual is still reigning supreme in the idol world, she just can’t break through. However it’s not something impossible to overcome : she is leader type like Takahashi minami in her time, and that same person was popular. Perhaps digging the variety field would be a solution. More Sassy and fierce.
Iguchi Mao : Iguchi is one of a kind, really. She’s being known for lacking in singing, dancing, and having a loud voice (and yet we put her in futari saison solo to prove otherwise). Even though it was the final cut of “dare ka takaku tobe!” shooting, mao dancing really felt awkward. Being ponkotsu is seen as cute by most of the fans, but how mao do it is kind of heavy. I think she needs to showcase other abilities if she doesn’t want to be trapped in the fail character. Being like that make her known by core fanbase, but not in a good way. Up to her to find equilibrium.
Ishimori Nijika : I think people warmed up to her since her front in kaze ni fukaretemo single; but Nijika comes from very far away. Not only management never really took her seriously (she has the most third row position of the group) and her dog lover persona isn’t well exploited during segment. I also feel her fail character (baka team in keyakitte kakenai) is forced, and it doesn’t add up well with fans. Her interactions with other members are rare. In that case, committing to performance is a solution. We’ve seen good thing from Glass o ware performance, like powerful gaze and sharp moves. I can see her making a duo with Satoh shiori for example.
Tier 5 : Members who are not selling slots as much as others but overall increasing a bit. Have character but isn’t appreciated by everyone. Management favors are punctual, comes by bits.
Takase Mana : Hiragana has a slight disadvantage for being the next gen after kanji, but for what’s given i believe takase mana is improving slowly but steady. We don’t realize enough that for each handshake, each fan interaction, their response must be impeccable. She has a quiet character that doesn’t clash with others, so she takes the hard road to make herself known by people interested in her. She did a good job on Re:mind and i’m looking forward to see more of her in the future.
Ushio Sarina : Knowing that a big part of overseas fans are indonesians, her talking a bit of bahasa is always an advantage. Her character is more bubbly and happy than Takase, and it helps raise the mood in the hiragana group. I think that make her existence enjoyable but not enough to stand out yet compared to other powerhouse that steal the spotlight. She acts cute, but other acts cuter. She’s lively, but others are lively-er. I think she needs to work on her individual appeal and find something other members don’t have. Management should give her that opportunity.
Yonetani Nanami : Since the pop quizz queen segment in keyakake, her highlight in fukyouwaon bonus footage (her doing maths) and juggling between both idols and college, she has been labelled as “smart girl” of the group. Even though she has a distinctive character, other than that i don’t feel she’s doing enough to catch people fans heart. Her history with neru regarding acceptance in keyaki group didn’t help either. Such a shame because i find her cute (she has a great smile), i would recommend being more sharp and assertive rather than just going with the flow of jokes cracked on TV shows. Management should also give her singing opportunity because i do believe she has a strong voice (glass o ware performance).
Harada Aoi : Probably the member i’m the least familiar with. She had some photoshoot opportunities, has a small face and the combo quirky character/pouting child is something only her has in Keyakizaka. Being teased by other members makes her cute. Overall her background makes her suited to be an natural idol, but somehow it doesn’t stand out in Keyakizaka, because this group wants to do things differently. She could have been a great replacement to Ozeki Rika in “bathroom travel” (Glass o ware B-side) for example. In my opinion her character is not the problem, more that management doesn’t exploit enough her abilities. If she choose to stand out more in variety or management gives her more prominent role in B side, she can rise out of this tier.
Nagasawa Nanako : Actually she’s selling decent amount of HS slots. But i have a hard time understanding her character. She has the potential to be a great “boke” (the stupid member in a manzai duo) because her face isn’t expressive at all. She could roast members while being expressionless, it has a huge comical potential. But i think it comes periodically. One time she show creativity doing a tuna cutting ritual for Tsuchida (Keyakitte host), another she shows no interest. My advice would be to fix this inconsistency and find a definite character so fans can finally understand what she has to offer.
Tier 4 : average handshake slots, but showed improvements. Character has polished over time to be known by most of fans. Management show interest in pushing them in the near future.
Satoh Shiori : Shiori has this artistic fuel in her that i’m desperate to see more in keyakizaka. She has a lot of knowledge in drawing (she designed her own outfit for Xylitol Gum LOTTE event), can dance many style like modern, ballet and pop&lock, and has great visual. To be honest i would have put her center of goninbayashi like they did with yuuka for Aozora to Marry. Despite many qualities, she still lacks in confidence and it shows during interviews and screentime. She blush, has a very humble tone, and quite emotional (she cried watching nogizaka documentary). She doesn’t need to turn aggressive to reverse her insecurity, but more like be more positive.
Higashimura Mei : What’s great about starting from scratch, is that you have lot of rooms for improvement. I put mei on the rise because she embraced hiragana momemtum very well. She has yet to be noticed by the whole fandom because others are spotlight catcher, but many times she proved to be an hard worker and basics of an idol (good handshake response, positive oriented, lot of energy) has been mastered. What’s needed is a special ability that allows her to stand out in hiragana. In sendai concert we celebrated her birthday, and that day she was very cute.
Sasaki Kumi: hiragana unofficial-but-super-obvious captain. A prominent role in Re:mind, natural ability in leading an MC and regulate members flow. I put this skill in high regard because it is not intuitive to develop this with only idols activities. I feel like because she looks mature and responsible it explain why she isn’t as much as popular as other hiragana member but her existence is necessary, as she is the voice of hiragana. There has been some attempt to develop this elegant side with “neko no namae”, along with yuukanen. The outcome is unsure but it’s still a safer route than using the cute card when you are this tall. (are fans embarassed that kumi is taller than them?)
Sasaki Mirei : her candid face, very positive character and trained voice makes her a solid member of hiragana. She also showed good results in Re:mind, giving her more personality thickness : it’s always good to show versatility compared to what an idol usually gives. She smiles a lot in concert and her energy is contagious. This is the same diagnostic of higashimura mei; she hasn’t found something that help her stand out compared to spotlight stealer. It could be interesting to see her if Hiragana keyaki has another drama. Not related, but i’m absolutely not buying her baka character.
Ozeki Rika : I think she’s a natural comic. She’s weird in a good way. From ozeki style, to embarrassing monomane, she has build a very strong character in keyakizaka. But what’s even more interesting is that she took a slight turn into a more mature, elegant flavor. I’m encouraging this decision even though i have no problem in her former comic character, because it stands out in a group like Keyakizaka. I don’t know if Rika can be a visual and a comic at the same time. It’s not impossible but it doesn’t mix well (the only good result i know is Yamamoto Sayaka in NMB). If she succeed, she will have leverage to anyone in the group.
Habu Mizuho : What a wonderful idea to cut her hair. She looked more fierce, more adult and much more coherent with her tall height. I believe that thanks to that, it opened her modeling opportunities as long as runways. What’s important to point out is that she hasn’t dropped her otaku side, absolutely essential to keep being close to fans (you are more keen to like an idol if she looks like you) making her genuine AND innovative. I’m not convinced habu can take the cute or sexy route, but cool and elegant is a big yes to me. But a question remains : is it enough to enter the upper tier? Because competition is starting to get spicy.
Tier 3 : decent handshake slots. Good visual. distinctive character. Management has invested a bit in them. Showed good improvements.
Kakizaki Memi : She was promised to a great future in hiragana (Wcenter of hiragana first song) but it ended more in a stalemate because management decided to take a turn. She has visual and is cute but i’m not as convinced in her facial and overall expression. I feel she’s more the quiet type in TV show and is very friendly around her nakama (comrades). Still, she’s high on management agenda and probably will come back pushed in hiragana album. For the moment she has nothing to be worried about, but some hiragana second gen are also young and cute so she should be careful.
Kageyama Yuka : She’s the hiragana member that has improved the most. Outstanding performance in Re:mind, great facial expression in lives (we need DVD Blu-ray of budoukan live to confirm it), great handshake experience. Who would have thought she was dismissed from AKB draft? She also capitalize well on her love for soccer as she is now involved in football show. Nothing to say much, other than she must keep rocking and i have no doubt she will be a popular member in the near future. it’s just a matter of time. Her keyakise story card are funny too.
Suzumoto Miyu : Hard for me to say if she’s pushed by management. On one hand, she has been a lot of time front row, on the other hand she isn’t in a sub unit. (if AM 1:27 doesn’t count). Also, it looks like she got some health problem, inevitably slowing down her growth. Dynamic is so-so but her assets are great : one if not the best dancer of keyakizaka, very sweet character (waifu material after her shooting with oda nana), very professionnal and has unique facial expression. She will rise in popularity when she will come back on shape and if management makes more individual dance oriented MV. She’s active in doing epic reaction but kind of passive when it’s time for her to talk, so she has room to work on.
Koike Minami : Her haircut develop her feminine side (from kid to young adult). She exploits well her appearance in radio show. She tries traditionnal japanese comic sketch. She has a cute voice. Management gave her ballet to shounen (to me she’s the center of the unit) and bathroom travel with ozeki rika and Neru. To me it was a great period for Koike. She’s getting along well with everyone especially with habu mizuho, and her kansai ben makes her very cute. She has many assets and her dynamic is strong. There’s nothing to change, really. Keep up the good work penguin.
Uemura Rina : Her visual is out the roof. Being god-level cute in the idol world will never be a problem. But when it comes to dynamic, i would say she relies on that a bit too much; she does that indirectly because she’s the calm/quiet type. Sister like (flied to techi’s side in kouhaku), fragile (haunted house, sports), sensible (called out scumbag fans telling her she’s old in HS), it’s always a hit among fans. But i’m worried that since she isn’t the fighter type, she might be overcome by members with big potential. She really impressed me in her individual video (her moves are turned into cute sound), but since fukyouwaon i haven’t seen her actively trying to make a difference. By visual alone she’s tier 3, and fans know she’s a very caring person toward junior, but there’s risk to reach a glass ceiling.
Takamoto Ayaka : Saitoh Kyoko’s lover is charming and sweet, reminding me of former AKB Kuramochi Asuka. I have the same diagnostic with higashimura mei, but Ayaka has better result with fans due to her visual.
Tier 2 : Excellent handshake sales. Pushed by management. Popular with fans. Most of them are fan’s oshimen (their number one). Strong character. Can be considered as Royal guard.
Shida Manaka : Not only her visual is great but is kind of different from the usual japanese beauty standard. The way she genuinely express her emotion during TV show is a great appeal to fans. She has this cheeky sense of humor (was she the instigator of mozarella cheese?) that makes her unique too. If i had a minus to give, is that manaka can be inconsistent sometimes, where she is low tension (in keyakise it’s pretty obvious). But her laugh is so contagious we forgive her everything. I think what makes Keyakizaka a popular group is how strong it’s core is. Filled with popular members. I don’t see manaka going anywhere down this tier because she’s a very recognizable face of the group.
Sugai Yuuka : A core member within a core sub unit, Aozora to marry. Sugai sama is pretty much the pillar of Keyaki. Her appeal list is endless : refined personality, ultra professionnal consciousness, sweet, clumsy, pretty, cute, caring… She shines both individually and as a support member, which is rare. Those assets are perfect for a core member, but not to stand out. Because now that everyone in this bracket are popular, it’s much harder to take an edge. Also, does Sugai yuuka wants it? To be center. It is just a suggestion, but i think she’s fine blooming in a great sub unit and taking care of the group as a whole.
Moriya Akane : When it comes to distinctive character, she’s on par with ojou sama character of Yuuka. She’s playing 2 cards : the majime type, a girl who hates to lose, very athletic, energitic and bringing the group forward like a general and the tsuri type (fishing) where she charms fans with a great smile, sexy clothes (showing nude shoulder in keyabingo) and teasing people. Her keyakise card are top tier reaction. But there’s something i noticed during Keyakitte kakenai sports contest and the gathering of hiragana 2nd gen. She quickly realize they are tough competition and gave up quickly her position of fastest runner in keyakizaka. She slowed down before the finishing line, not wanting to show defeat in full power. To me it’s crumbling her powerful majme type, but i agree hiragana came so fast she didn’t thought of this outcome. Also majime type is a double edged sword, to be too sharp can cool down some fans. I would advise her to put more sweetness in her mix.
Watanabe Risa : Modeling with Non-no magazine (Nishino nanase is also an exclusive model) gives another dimension to Keyakizaka. Even though she becomes one of the busiest member with this outside activity, she keeps great live performance during glass o ware promotion with fierce expression and energetic moves. She’s quiet during TV segments but showing affection to Ozeki rika proves she tries to escape from her former stiffness. I would not be surprised if she’s next in line for a photobook, as she become quite experienced now. In makuhari Japan, i’ve seen a lot of her towel among fans. I would be interesting in reading more of her interview to know more of her inner personality. As long as she is with non-no, she slightly above the royal guard.
Watanabe Rika : She brought a lot to Keyakizaka because her personality is absolute extreme and very recognizable, the ponkotsu queen. Awkward is an euphemism with her. She is fuel for many comical situation in TV show, like creating a gap between being low tension and her Revolution mimic, or just forgetting her whole suitcase before the group debut. She is expressionless but land a modeling contract with Ray magazine (Hori miona is also an exclusive model) and is one of the first member to get a photobook, creating a gap between her low tension personality and her overall visual. Even though she’s clumsy, she always find a way to finish the group performance when it matters the most. People who likes pretty&clumsy member will be delighted with her, but i’m afraid she will have a hard time to get away from her own box. For the moment it’s an advantage, because no one in the group does that. And perhaps she doesn’t need to be other than herself, to keep being popular. That depends of her mindset really. If she wants to grow as an individual, she needs to develop other abilities than just being ponkotsu.
Katoh Shiho : When performing in Sendai concert, i remember mistaking her with Maiyan. She is undoubtely the visual of hiragana, proved by many of her photoshoots works. Little by little she assert herself as front member of hiragana, making all of her appearance on TV an event. She was really entertaining during Hiragana new year event, not afraid to crazily react when being electrified. She reminds me of manaka a bit. Same during concert, she fall from stage during makuhari concert and comes back saying “don’t worry i’m the toughest of hiragana, i’m okay”, cracking a joke over her embarassing moment. The adequacy between smart variety skill and powerful visual potential make Shiho a force to be reckoned in hiragana, and probably keyakizaka as a whole. She still needs some time to rise among Aozora to marry member, but her dynamic is strong. She was convincing in Re:Mind.
Saitoh Kyoko : the star of hiragana. She has a great voice, is pushed by management (center of a b-side, wcenter in live performance), was super funny in Re:mind, has a distinctive character as the ramen lover, has great visual, and is super active in mobame and blog, nurturing her relationship with fans. Handshake sales are a perfect score as well. She’s getting along great with everyone and even beyond, going out with kanji members like harada aoi, sugai yuuka, and of course shida manaka. She’s linking members together, making her absolutely unique both in the group and the fanbase. If we had to tell a success story, i would pick her without problem. She’s already the same level as Aozora to marry members. To develop even further, i would give her TV opportunities related to ramen, making her known by large audience.
Tier 1 : perfect handshake sales, could sell even more if we unlock more slots. Management top priority. Extremely popular with fans. Super distinctive character. Rising above Royal guard because they are related to Keyaki’s future.
Imaizumi Yui : Since her comeback from illness, Zuumin is not holding back anymore. She’s really enjoying her time as an idol, and fans can feel the warm of her energy pouring into everything she does in keyakizaka. Powerful performance, great blog post, lot of smile and interaction during TV segments. Zuumin has absolutely everything a successful idol should have. But to be a super idol, you need to be more. But Zuumin deliver, being the most distinctive voice of Keyakizaka. Her and Yuipon bring the folk, shonan sweet tune in keyakizaka as Yuichanzu, balancing with the tough image that keyakizaka has built over time. We could say they became an irreplaceable existence in the group, because without them Keyakizaka would be too one sided. She shines as an individual, turning peoples bad day in a good day thanks to her smile. To make things even more unfair, she has a sexy potential thanks to her…ahem…”healthy” chest. “Zuumin no Zuumin” will explode the keyaki game when she will get her photobook.
Kobayashi Yui : To me she’s the member that has improved the most, both in skill, visual and mindset. Yuipon was timid during keyakizaka early days, and lacked confidence after getting front row position in Silent Majority. But fans witnessed her growth, and it was really moving. The point of being a fan is to enjoy our journey following our favourite members becoming great individual beings. Thanks to Zuumin, yuipon had no choice to break of her shell, being more active in TV segment (when they go to Hakata theater), to show resolution toward her role in keyakizaka (to prove that keyakizaka is not all about yurina), showing wide range of emotion in photoshoots (melancholy, sweetness, happiness). By talking with sincerity to fans about her will to change keyakizaka through blog and interview, i do believe it reached fans, praising her determination that cut straight with her former timid personality. What’s crazy about yuipon is that despite being an all rounded idol, she still has leverage : i’m eager to see her photobook, eager to listen to a solo song, seeing her playing many instruments in concert. There’s still so much to do. Her future makes her fans enthusiastic.
Nagahama Neru : the member “closest to god”. I don’t have to introduce her, she’s so popular and beyond as she appear in prime time Quizz show and is the representative of her Hometown, Nagasaki. She dares to touch Maiyan hegemony with her photobook sales, close to 160 000. Du “jamais-vu” (never seen before). The reason she’s in a stalemate is that she was in a really favorable position since the beginning : double kennin kanji/hiragana, and solo songs. Her push can be considered as consistent rather than growing in power. Technically she doesn’t benefit from hiragana momemtum (not in Re:mind, not here in concert). It’s better for her health to just focus on kanji. Neru is the embodiment of “my youth crush” of all fans. The girl we all fall in love in high school. The girls-next-door concept pushed to the limits. She shows a lot of love to everyone (fuyuka, techi) and i don’t understand why some fans resent her for being fake. To me it’s a groundless statement, she proved much more her commitment to the group than playing tricky to become popular in handshake. Even though she’s super smart, she puts her studies on hold to realize her dream. No one can take that from her.
Tier 0 : Center position.
Hirate Yurina : So much turmoil going around with her. Fans can’t rest when she blows ice and fire, low tension in Fukaretemo or explosive during fukyouwaon. Her personality is a mystery as she absolutely doesn’t updates blog or mobame. She is taking leaves for her health, but at the same time she’s involved with concert production and MV (the scream in sekai ni wa ai shikanai, the blood of fukyouwaon in makuhari). shocked or thrilled, she doesn’t let anyone indifferent. When people talk about polished idol, Yurina is more like raw power. Untamed. Like a big punch in your face. Plus some side effect because you didn’t expect the punch.
But that’s the problem. The extreme inconsistency of her character makes her hard to follow in the long term, making fans perplexed more than in awe. People likes her but are also worried. The same power that is bringing her to artistic level is the same that makes her vulnerable, and de facto making keyakizaka vulnerable. Not to mention that showing weakness makes fans speculate many things about her, stirring controversy for nothing. And of course, the center curse, where fans dislike someone for getting more spotlight than others.
Lot of peoples are mocking this concept of artistic. But let’s be clear on this, this is not being condescending toward the idol genre. Artistic is more of a mindset. Yurina has talked about it many times in interview : She wants to convey the song the best of her abilities. And because Keyakizaka has a rebellious image, she enter some kind of transe. She forgets everything else. When performing in live performance, it can be seen as “work”. But in her mind, it’s always about “embodying the soul of the song”. If she doesn’t feel the song, she will struggle performing it. That’s partially why Kaze ni fukaretemo was troublesome to her.
I put the red arrow because these days she’s been absent from live performance and TV show, leaving it to Yuichanzu as Wcenter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it means management take her health in consideration and other members show their skills. I know she’s a selfless person when it comes to the group. She trusts her teammates to deliver a good performance when she’s absent and it deepens their bond. It’s a very japanese thing to do : “i must not let down my teammates, i need to do my best. If we fail it will be because of me”. That’s why Techi is always trying to keep all the burden to herself.
She needs to find inner peace. More trust to others. She needs to let go. I want to see her enjoy performing rather than wishing to die on the dance floor for the sake of the performance. Perhaps she’s afraid she will lose her ability to convey a song if she’s not 100% into it, but i disagree. Many times she showed great things in Ariake, full of smile. In an interview, she said she asks for help in Zenkoku tour, and i believe this is a step in the right direction.
If another member wants to reach Tier 0, it means management must invest AS MUCH TIME and commitment (aka 5 single center) as they did with Yurina. To create a center like Techi, you need to reshape the whole image of keyakizaka. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Techi has been written in Keyakizaka DNA the moment they released Silent majority. But who knows? It’s never too late to create another story.
Conclusion : if you have any idea, request, argument, it’s an open discussion. Feel free to answer in the comment section below in