Where were you when you first saw an AKB member in a bikini?
Were you browsing through the men’s manga magazines, only to find Mai Oshima or Nozomi Kawasaki staring back at you?
Were you trawling for the latest entertainment news and gossip, when suddenly you found yourself face-to-face with a very underdressed Atsuko Maeda?
Or were you, (like me), visiting your usual uploader sites when LO AND BEHOLD IT’S HARUNA KOJIMA IN A BIKINI DEAR LORD MY PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED?
Ever since the beginning of mass media and pop culture, there has been an inextricable link between female celebrities and swimsuits. If there is a beautiful woman, there will be horny fans who wish to feast on her with their eyes, and the best way to present that feast without turning to straight-out pr0n is by means of the swimsuit. And so it goes with AKB48, whose booming popularity over the past year has made them a common fixture in cheesecake magazines all across Japan.
But so many of us are busy drooling over their gorgeously photoshopped abs and deliciously creamy thighs that we have overlooked a minor fashion revolution taking place. At some point, AKB48′s swimsuits stopped being swimsuits. They weren’t exactly what you would call lingerie, either, since lingerie was something that slutty gravure idols like Aki Hoshino and Mikie Hara did, but surely not our innocent singing and dancing schoolgirls! Instead, AKB48 has entered an entirely new realm of celebrating the sensuality of the female form. Too impractical to be swimwear or underwear, but still intensely revealing and alluring to the eye, AKB48′s wardrobe choices have entered the realm of … post-gravure.
Our journey begins with the AKB-Idoling!!!!!!!!! cross-promotional shoot, back in April 2009. At this point one can still imagine the girls going for a swim in those outfits. (Jurina can fuck right off, though.) Other points of interest include Mai Oshima shortly before her graduation, Yuko Oshima’s hair in its natural black, and when was the last time they let Kasai hang out with the front girls? At this point in time, the only odd thing about these swimsuits was the really painful shade of green.
One of the most iconic AKB48 images of all time, this June 2009 pictorial is regarded by many as “the gravure shoot that got me into AKB.” (Check out the header of this blog.) Here we see the first flourishes that go beyond normal swimwear: the fancy socks and stockings, the headpieces that would surely get lost if you tried to dive into a pool (what exactly do you plan to do with that hat, Maeda?), and various decorative frills and ribbons. Not the most practical things in the world, but you could probably still lounge at poolside with those things on.
Just over a month later, the wota world was holding its breath in anticipation of one of the great works of modern Japanese literature: the Bikini Surprise! photo-mook. The promotional photoshoot in this issue of Weekly Playboy—featuring the Top 7 members according to senbatsu vote for the “Iiwake Maybe” single—goes right past frills and ribbons and into the realm of metal jewelry. Gold chains, bracelets, necklaces, the works. Who on earth wears their valuables when going for a swim? Or stripping down to their underwear? The AKB girls, that’s who, as their gravure shoots became more and more distanced from reality. Even Takamina’s trademark hairbow is dwarfed by the ostentatiousness of Acchan and Yuko’s hats.
November 2009 brought colder weather, but apparently in AKB-froo-froo-land it was still warm enough to wear swimsuits, or something vaguely resembling them. Of course with all the furry wristbands, pretentious headgear (hey Acchan, CinDy called, she wants her tiara back), and skirts made of some bizarre non-swimming space-age material it’s hard to tell. Mayuyu is a particularly puzzling case in that she appears to be wearing a dress that’s been strategically lopped off to reveal her pedoliciously trim figure. At this point it’s not just the designs, but the very materials themselves, that have ceased to be anything remotely resembling an actual bikini.
A couple of weeks later, with the “RIVER” promotional wave still going strong, another photoshoot emerged to reinforce the non-swimsuitness of AKB’s swimsuit pictorials. Sequins! Belts! Boots! Interestingly, the choice of background and props suggest that this is supposed to be some kind of stage performance, but the last time I saw any J-idol wearing something that skimpy on stage it was Megumi O-wh0re-y. Are they idols? Are they swimsuit models? The laws of reality completely break down.
This Valentine’s-themed pictorial from 2010 proves that AKB48′s Weekly Playboy wardrobe coordinators have gone completely Louis Wain on us, perhaps being driven to madness by the presence of so many hot girls in one room. From top to bottom we see complete fashion chaos: enough headgear to fill a milliner’s workshop, an assortment of bikini tops that have been accessorized beyond recognition (AND WHY IN GOD’S NAME IS YUKO WEARING LONG SLEEVES, WHAT THE FECKING FECK IS THAT ALL ABOUT), and bottoms/skirts that seem to be a showcase for the versatility of the modern textiles industry more than anything else. Yet in that chaos is a frightening sort of beauty: the beauty of the cheesecake pictorial pushed to the limits of abstraction.
After all, in the context of photoshoots like these, the bikini plays only a secondary role to the body wearing it. Its functional purpose is merely to keep her naughty parts covered up. So why not evolve it into something beyond practicality, something that becomes “eyecandy” in its truest form? The frills, the ribbons, the jewelry, the belts, the hats, the headbands, the boots, the stockings, are all there to accentuate what is already beautiful. It is there to tell us, these are not just some middle-of-the-magazine gravure idols rolling around in the sand, but the hottest and finest pop tartlets in all of Japan RIGHT NOW. And they can wear whatever the hell they want.
So perhaps what you should really be asking yourself is:
Where were you when you first saw an AKB member in a bikini … that wasn’t a bikini?