Morning Musume’s 8th Generation may go down in history as the “Cursed Generation.” These were the girls who had to preside over the group’s bleakest era, a time of creative bankruptcy when bubbly, energetic charm gave way to boringly “mature” songs and unnecessary glitter and synth-strings and 3 1/2 years straight of minor-keyed singles. THREE AND A HALF YEARS. I counted. If you wanted to find anything more musically monotonous than that, you’d have to go to that organ piece that’s supposed to last 600 years and the last time they changed a note was in 2009 or something.
The curse began with the selection of Aika Mitsui, who was nobody’s (okay, hardly anybody’s) favorite in the Happy 8 Auditions, who had to deal with mean-spirited jokes about her weird face and weird voice, who could only watch as sales continued to decline and a bunch of nobodies called AKB48 began their long climb up, who had to watch as other former 8th Gen auditionees would go on to be gravure queens (Yuki Kashiwagi) and multi-genre soloists (Yuu Kikkawa) and adorable potato-faced hamsters (Sumire Sat0rrrr). She would never live up to the single-member generation that came before her; Koharu became an anime icon and a morning show co-host and left the group as an aspiring fashion model, while Aika is leaving the group limping on her bad foot.
The curse continued with the Pandas,
Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling Junjun and Linlin, who as Chinese imports immediately infuriated the racist-nationalist side of Momusu’s Japanese fanbase. As the story goes, they were supposed to be part of Hello! Project’s expansion into pan-Asian fandom—except that the only people showing up for concerts in Korea, Taiwan and Thailand were pre-existing supercrazy Hello Pro fans. And then it became clear Tsunku had placed his bets on the wrong nationality when suddenly in the late 00′s K-pop became a thing. To this day, Jun and Lin’s graduation remains a controversial topic—Did their work visas expire? Was management giving up on the Asian expansion?—which was made only more painful by having to leave in Eri Kamei’s shadow.
And so the curse ends today, with Aika having to leave on the most heartbreaking terms: “for health reasons,” rather than to continue her schooling or explore new opportunities in the industry or even getting ratted out by the media for having a boyfriend. It feels the worst because there is literally nothing you can do about it: it’s the way she was born, not a choice she made. Her body is forcing her to graduate. Either she quits dancing, or she never walks straight again.
This is why it galls me, in particular, when some fans (not to name names) have complained about Aika “stealing Risa’s spotlight,” or have tried to make it a reverse-victim issue by saying Aika deserves her own grad concert and WAAAAEEEE doesn’t she get her own commemorative photobook and single B-side and Will there be graduation merch available. Are these people actual Morning Musume fans? Are they actual Aika Mitsui fans? Do they not care about Aika as a person? Her physical health is at stake, which I think is a slightly bigger deal than how long we get to honor her on stage and how much swag there is buy. If you truly love Aika as a person, shouldn’t you care more about her future health and happiness for the rest of her life instead of a two-and-a-half-hour concert? I’m pretty sure Risa does.
Sorry. Had to get that out of my system. Too many negative waves flowing around here. But I’m not saying we should pity her because she was part of “The Cursed Generation”—maybe that curse was something Aika had to bear for the greater good of all of us. It’s always darkest before the dawn, they say, and maybe Aika went through this darkness so that she could live a bright, shining life after all of it was behind her.
Of course, it’s not like she was some kind of special snowflake who suffered more than anyone else so that she could be elevated as a martyr after graduation. First off, there are REAL martyrs, who fight for life-changing causes and ACTUALLY die in the service of humankind, so this isn’t exactly Martin Luther King Jr. or Benazir Bhutto happening here. Secondly, Hello! Project has seen its share of ignoble exits—none more publicly scrutinized than Ai Kago, who seemed forever caught in a spiral of poor personal choices and keeping bad company, or Mari Yaguchi and Miki Fujimoto getting booted just because they wanted to live normal adult female lives. But they at least knew a moment when the idol spotlight shone on them, whereas Aika never really did. And that, I think, is what makes her career unique and exemplary.
For every aspiring idol who’s been told her weird face or weird voice wouldn’t make it, Aika graduates.
For everyone who’s not quite a vocal powerhouse, not quite a showstopping dancer, not quite a magazine-cover model, Aika graduates.
And yes, even for that anon jerkface on the livestream several months ago who said they wanted Aika to graduate … well, how does it feel to get your mean-spirited wish?
She can bear all that pain for us because she knows that greater things await her. And she can bear that pain because she knows the era of the Cursed Generation is only the beginning of the rest of her life. And I swear I didn’t write those last two sentences just to sound nice and take up space.
You see, it was mentioned in the graduation notice that Aika has been talking and working with Hello! Pro staff to continue with the organization in some capacity. Now think about everything she’s done. She knows five years’ worth of Morning Musume dance moves (plus all the old hit songs). She worked with small groups in Athena & Robikerotts and Guardians 4. She threw herself into training the 9th Gens, the first new blood to join Morning Musume since … well, since Aika’s generation. And in her own words, she “became the hated one,” dishing out discipline and harsh advice so that the n00blets wouldn’t hate the other senior members. And maybe she made that kind of self-sacrifice knowingly, realizing that she might have to set up the second stage of her career if the gimpy foot didn’t work out. A stage where, instead of performing, she could teach.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? She won’t ever be able to put pressure on that foot again, so traditional idol activities are off limits, but what’s stored in her head is an indispensable font of knowledge. And it wouldn’t have to just be limited to training Morning Musume. She could work with the Hello Pro Eggs, or other fresh H!P auditionees, or even the random girls from Tsunku’s side projects that pass through the Up-Front system.
So it isn’t an end, but a beginning. It could be the beginning of Aika as a mentor, to be the bridge between young and old, still toiling away in the shadows—but as a result, allowing the light to shine on those who come after her. She could be more influential as a teacher than she ever was as a performer. Imagine that, a world where the idols of tomorrow don’t speak of Natsu-sensei (the legendary choreographer who trained Momusu at their peak and AKB in their early years), but of the great Mittsi-sensei, who taught them so much because she had been there, performing alongside great names like Takahashi and Michishige and Sayashi. But this is all just speculation. I mean, she’s got to finish discussing things with management to decide what she wants to do first. But when she finally does it … the “Cursed Generation” may, perhaps, turn out to be a blessing upon the idol world after all.
I leave you with a short story about a friend of mine named Bob. Bob is from the 19th century, which was a major time of upheaval in the Western world. Bob was a smart, talented, well-educated kid who was so sure he was going to become a concert pianist. So what does he do? He injures his hand irreparably and can never perform again. Undeterred by this physical injury, Bob went on to become one of the key composers of the Romantic era. I speak, of course, of Robert Schumann, whose works for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra are all highly regarded today as essentials of the repertoire. And just think, he may never have gotten the opportunity to share his creative genius if he’d kept his hand healthy and become a regular old piano player.
Perhaps Aika Mitsui is on the verge of penning a similar life story. The next chapter awaits.