An online prank 5 years in the making surfaced over the weekend as J-pop fans and otaku discovered that a seemingly obvious web address led to some not-so-obvious places.
News sources reported that the domain “akb48.com” was up for grabs on Yahoo! Auction Japan, with a starting bid of
OVER 9000 10 million yen, or about $120,000 IN AMERICA. Now, I’ve heard of some AKB48 goods selling for crazy-ass prices (one would need to put down around $200 to legitimately own the ENTIRE contents of No Sleeves’ 1st album—seeing as the A, B, C and Regular editions each have individual exclusive tracks) but it would take a stupid ass wota of an entirely different financial caliber to make this purchase.
Not that this has anything to do with official AKB48 management—the group’s actual site, as even the most BEGINNER of fans should know, is found at akb48.co.jp, using the traditional Japanese domain suffix. The .com location, on the other hand, is a much stranger entity, as curious visitors found out when they tried to access the site. Anyone who types akb48.com into their browser window … ends up in enemy territory.
And by that I mean, the domain name redirects to the sites of other well-known artists in the idol and anison (anime song) genre. Most visitors found themselves scattered within the realm of Hello! Project—the Boston Celtics to AKB48′s Los Angeles Lakers—with their wayward journeys ending at the homepages of Hello! Pro performers like Morning Musume, Berryz Kobo, °C-ute, Buono!, and S/mileage. Others were teleported to the 2-D world among franchises like Idolm@ster and K-ON!, as well as seiyuu idols like Nana Mizuki, Sphere, and Asami Imai.
In fact, akb48.com will take you anywhere but AKB48.
(And you can’t get any K-pop artists, either, although imagine the lulziness of ending up at SNSD’s site.)
A bitter fan’s revenge, or just some guy having a little fun?
Whatever the reason, the site’s odd behavior and the circumstances surrounding it are the stuff of online conspiracy theory (INBOU). The redirect is actually not entirely “random,” as the pattern appears to be based on the user’s IP address—if you switch to an online proxy and try akb48.com again, it’ll take you to a different place. Yet if you stick with the same internet connection and just keep refreshing, you’ll only get the same artist over and over. So it simply looks at where you’re connecting from, then uses that chain of numbers to decide where to send you.
A little more dirt-digging and looking at the history of domain registrations brings us the following skeletal timeline:
Late 2005 AKB48 is formed, Team A begins performing at the Akihabara theater
January 2006 “akb48.com” is registered, falls into the hands of the insidious “Taro Yamada” (“John Smith”)
April 2006 “akb48.co.jp” is registered, goes into use as the group’s official site
January 2011 “akb48.com” goes on sale on Yahoo! Auction JP, and is also programmed to redirect visitors to AKB48′s rivals
Adding to the mystery is that Yamada, the seller of the domain name, appears to be legit, with a reputation for “selling a lot of concert tickets and other merchandise.” So apparently he does want to make a deal, but only at the right price … and considering that is AKB48 is pretty much breaking music industry records with each successive release, is any price too high?
In the end, it looks like someone with an eye on idol culture witnessed the formation of AKB48 half a decade ago, decided to buy akb48.com “just in case,” and is now capitalizing on their booming popularity in the last couple of years. As with so many things in life, all that matters is being in the right place at the right time.
1. Buy akb48.com domain