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Nadeshiko Glass Cannon : Thoughts on Hirate Yurina (平手友梨奈)

header credit to : @hapojun46

Amidst the chaotic world of internet, lot of debates emerge and many arguments clashes. One of them is fan’s talk on Hirate Yurina’s situation. Is she being unprofessional considering her Center status of keyakizaka? Is she a sensitive girl whom we should give some safe space? For someone as complex as her, it’s hard to build a reasoning from twitter, more fited to one liner thoughts. After a long hiatus on this blog (since summer vacation), i will try to express my humble opinion on this topic.

First, let’s get into context. Actually i believe it started during Futari saison, where you could notice a drop of attention (during promotion), but nothing to be worried about. FujiQ concerts, Republic of Keyakizaka were completed in outstanding fashion, with fireworks and water pistols. However, during Zenkoku summer tour, fans noticed another drop in strength, especially in-between concert Tokyo Idol Festival, were Techi was quite low tension. In Sendai concert, she didn’t interact nor even looked at fans once. Anyone could have guessed that Yurina was under pressure in both physical and mental aspect through summer and she would eventually recover. Kaze ni fukaretemo was an upbeat atmosphere with lot of smile, contrasting with the angry toned Fukyouwaon. A song that was supposed to lift a little bit the burden off her. Unfortunately, few  more broadcasted TV performances showed another low tension, depressed center. To the point that many fans pointed out this as clearly unprofessional. Japanese fansite had their biggest article (600 comments) on Techi’s behavior.

“What we thought as punctual exhaustion, leant towards chronic mood swings”

Objectively speaking, it’s hard to deny Hirate’s special status in Keyakizaka. As unmovable center so far, she naturally represents the face of the group, and is scrutinized by fans and regular japanese audience alike. Even though TAKAHIRO sensei makes an effort to give highlights to everyone, choregraphy  still hugely rely on the 0 position. Even if other members do their best to pull their best shot, a weakened Techi will 100% draw attention of the viewer, even unconsciously. This is something fans of other members noticed “we can’t help looking at techi being expressionless” “the contrast between uplifted members and a moody yurina is striking”. Since we agree on the amplified impact of a weak center in performance, we also should take into account management goal. Who are they targeting? Regular audience, like those who watch Kouhaku utagassen at the end of the year. Those potential fans are very sensitive to first impressions of a performance, and won’t bother learning keyaki’s history if performance is not satisfying. Even though some fans would defend her since she’s only 16 and having an insane workload, it is clear we should at least address the issue. The question is, do we let things go through despite fans discontent having their oshimen performance shadowed by techi’s condition, and having potential fans not being impressed by keyaki’s act anymore?

What i believe cause an uproar among fans, is the thin gap between an idol personality/character and the idea of professionalism in the entertainment industry. Idol subculture is suffering from stereotypes (and sometimes, justified) where female members put fake smiles and do quirky gimmicks to please middle-aged male fans. Asking Techi to change her attitude during performance could be seen as not genuine, or even worse, forceful. Such blasphemy considering Keyakizaka are identified as “idols who don’t smile and rebel against adults”. Quite troublesome to argue against “don’t force her to be someone she isn’t”, but is it really what it is about? Following her since the beginning, Techi has showed a wide range of emotion in Keyakizaka. Granted, she is the reserved and shy type, but more than enough i’ve seen her enjoying doing radio, interacting enthusiastically with members during variety shows, being high tension meeting comedians. The PV of Kaze ni fukaretemo showed her being full of smile. Techi absolutely can be in a good mood. So why isn’t she like that during key moments like Single promotion in TV music show? Are we going to risk an average performance in kouhaku utagassen?

“while being rare, Techi shows her kiddy side in private”

To get answers, it’s necessary to process bits of information given here and here in interview and making-of. In the latest rockin’on japan interview (that you can read here), she explains that she always aim at the greatest performance, and that she would go as far as saying “if it’s not that good, i won’t do it”. A perfectionist mindset, that could explain her polarizing performances. An hypothesis would be, because she sees single promotion on TV show as routine, she’s doesn’t put her max in it, while her solo dance with Ken Hirai is seen as challenging, thus her breathtaking performance. Because Keyakitte kakenai is considered as routine shooting, she keeps her profile low, letting others like Oda nana shine. Unlike what has been said before that Techi has multiple persona, she is actually a straightforward person. Meticulous during rehearsal, she let loose during performance, only moving through raw emotions rushing in her mind. In all performance, she is expressing her self. She said that all keyakizaka singles pictured what she felt at the time, especially the fourth single. This is when she felt anger that she could bring her best fukyouwaon performance ever in makuhari. Because she has trouble grasping the style of kaze ni through her emotion, she has yet to best it.

In short, she shows great professionalism because she wants to transcend the idol status with performance never done before (summer tour last Fukyouwaon was epic) . The drawback, is that she is not enough in control. By letting herself loose, there’s a risk she isn’t able to convey the song spirit according to her very high standard. She is literally a glass cannon, high risk, high reward. It makes sense that her relationship with other members was quite complicated. Because she applies this absurd standard to herself only, like a burden, she couldn’t open her heart easily; because she was afraid to be misunderstood inflicting such negativity (self criticism) to herself. She doesn’t want to put this pressure on members she loves.

She doesn’t cares about position or popularity (that can be source of tension between the girls). Alone, she always push herself further away. Can you be introverted and straightforward at the same time? Techi proved it was possible.

“Yurina allows Keyakizaka to reach new artistical heights, but she’s also who makes the group vulnerable to worrisome performance”

We can always make assumptions on who she is, to find a culprit, to determine what’s wrong or right. Instead, I want to believe that every stakeholders have a responsability in this. Yurina, who unconsciously don’t compromise, and management who put her in center of songs that doesn’t fit her personality. So far Keyakizaka singles were successes because Yurina found herself in all of the songs. But choosing center need to be primarly determined by who can embodies the song best, and not by blindlessly following a “center pattern”. In my opinion, Techi was viable as a center for Kaze ni, but this time other keyaki members were too, like yuipon or akanen with positive attitude.The benefit would have been to avoid the current unconsistency Techi is having.

Health condition still plays a big part in this; Yurina have been center for so long it must have drained her long term. To change center would not only give her some mental rest to recover, but also give a great opportunity for another member to shine. Keyakizaka fandom is mature enough to see this change, also Zenkoku tour has finished safely, so there’s no obligation to continue with Yurina to build a storyline anymore. Another advice to management is to create a more comfortable environnment in order for Techi to find balance in her lifestyle. Reaching artist level thanks to her unique mindset is one thing, but hurting herself (not stopping even though she’s exhausted) is a mistake as well. It’s totally plausible that because she doesn’t want to disappoint, she cast aside her own health to keep performing. An “immature” behavior, that is not her responsability. It is up to management to say “STOP” and preserve her.

It’s not easy to find ourselves. It’s not easy to open our heart. Yurina showed great courage seeking help to other members, and it tells she’s more conscious of her limit, a step to the right direction of an equilibrium within her. She need to put faith in members, in staff and last but not least, something i haven’t seen yet, to fans! Because yes, we are part of the whole. As fans we also have opinions, feelings toward our oshi that inspire us. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.

“It is at our lowest point that we are open to the greatest change.”