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The singer, the lover and the scholar : current state of Keyaki

As i’m writing this, Shida manaka announced her graduation from the group after a 3-4 month hiatus, effective immediately.

It was expected but i was wondering if we truly seized the impact that those three graduations has on the group future. Let’s break down all respective sotsugyo:

  • Yonetani Nanami has considered her experience as an idol was fulfilled, and even though she had her up and down, she enjoyed being in keyakizaka, and is ready to move on with something she decided herself, which is entering a well known university. I appreciate that she left keyakizaka in good terms, and not because of frustration. 3 years in idol timespan is decent and her departure doesn’t feel hurtful as much.
  • Imaizumi Yui chose to pursue her artist career. At first we thought her sotsugyo was from health issue, but after few interviews, it was clear she also wanted to discover new field, in a different environment. Then questions arised : Was she frustrated from the stall position being number 2 in keyaki? Was she dissatisfied with the artistic identity of keyaki? I was kind of upset seeing so little interaction with the other girls (officially) after her graduation announcement, but it’s possible she was already working on her solo activities (photobook, single?) or simply it was not her decision. On the manager diary, yonetani and zuumin were in the center of the photo so i’m not going to gossip of her relationship with the girls.
  • How Shida manaka case was handled was very infuriating. It was a total blackout of information, followed with whole months of uncertainty leading for fans to worry. The graduation announcement was also savage. No handshake, no ceremony, and a probable disappearance from the idol scene, so swift i’m not sure fan will have time to digest this. Or they are going to struggle at minimum. I really felt this was all done in panic mode. The only positive things i see in this is that manaka will be able to move on, and so is her fans.

Let’s now switch to a management standpoint : this is a huge blow for them, as Zuumin and manaka were popular members, selling a lot of goods. Can’t say the same for handshake events as they were often absent, but a lot of fans were involved with them, so their absence will affect us in how we see the group. But most importantly, Manaka was part of Aozora to marry that have 3-4 b-sides, and Zuumin was part of yuichanzu that currently has 5+ b-sides. In other words, those 2 graduation amputate a big chunk of Keyakizaka prime investment and musical identity. They put many b side/outdoor activities for manaka and we expect them to be replaced in such a short time? It’s even worse for Zuumin who was literaly the singer of keyaki. Not only they have to think of the girls they want to push, but they also need to re-think their strategy on how to produce concert; because you can’t just add nagasawa nanako in aozora to marry to make the fix. It doesn’t work like that. They have to come up with new side units, new members chemistries, and it all takes time. Not counting the arrival of the second gen. This is probably why the pace of keyaki has lowered so much recently. They are thinking of the timing and how they’re going to add the new girls.

But it’s not only business. As long as their making decent music, concert attendance will be full. But i’m also thinking on how this affect the girls. 3 graduations in such a short time, not seeing members that you were tagging along in Music tour for 2 years. Those graduates questioned their time as idol, and i’m pretty sure it crossed mind to other members as well (For example, Ishimori nijika might also think she’s in a stall and decide to graduate, or Harada aoi choose studies after all). It’s not a bad thing to have their stance change over time, but it can affect your mental well-being and overall performance. Putting more pressure on you. I’m thinking of Risa, that will rocket to the forefront to make up for manaka departure. Management will rely to her much more; and she already has non-no activities.  Of course i’m thinking of techi, who is being more and more isolated from doing solo works, and keeping the center pressure with a 7 single history in keyaki. The whole structure holds because she has a monster willpower. But with the background waving (she was very close to manaka), will she find the support she needs in the group in order to keep up? Or will management finally decide to lower the burden by sharing the center?

I think the biggest challenge right now is to rewrite a clear, definite path so the girls knows what’s their keyaki agenda, and strenghten in the same way their resolve. Those 3 graduations brought a lot of uncertainty in the group, and having lost the momemtum because of the blank, fans look elsewhere to enjoy other idol act like I*ZONE or =LOVE. Keyakizaka needs to learn from it’s mistake, and reassure fans about the girls morale and what we can expect for the future. Talking about I*ZONE, you can see the korean expertise by feeding the fans with reality show displaying intimate interaction, training and cute moments of their members. It’s creating a story, and this regular content helps to keep, and create a fanbase. Keyakitte kakenai is not enough, as it become a dull show were segments are piled up one by one without really synergy between them.

My incentive to move forward our three graduation :

  • Don’t overpush hiragana because their situation is more stable than Kanji. It won’t solve core Kanji problems.
  • New kanji member shouldn’t be doppledanger of another member (like, the new zuumin). Also, like it needs time to build popularity, give time for trainee to train and don’t add them to kanji like the assimilation will be easy. Remember neru when she came a little bit late
  • While graduation is sad, it’s also an opportunity to showcase members like Habu or Koike and “promote” them with more visibility in B-sides etc.
  • Big project like another group drama would give visibility for members so they can focus on what’s ahead instead of “keyaki is not fun anymore”. Challenges keeps the girls motivated.
  • Use the new arrival of new gen to create a story between the new and the old kanji.

It’s management responsibility to make Keyaki appealing, so members want to stay. If it’s unfair, or dull, the turnover will be great and balance will waver. Yes it takes more than 6 years to reach Yamamoto Sayaka, Watanabe Mayu, or Shiraishi Mai. It takes many years to have a graduation dome. For the moment, Keyaki is nowhere near this level of member popularity, and if management want to keep the business rolling they must think it in the long term.

Keyaki is losing it’s edge, but if they avoid the mistake of “replacing member” and focus on “innovating narrative”, they can still manage to reconquer their fanbase.