Last year, there were a lot of ups and downs in Hello! Project. We lost some members, while we gained some more. A lot has happened while I was on hiatus, so I decided to comment on a few of these happenings below:
Taguchi Natsumi Removed from Kobushi Factory and Hello! Project
In December 2017, Taguchi Natsumi’s contract was terminated, and she was removed from Kobushi Factory and Hello! Project. I would like to say that I was surprised about Taguchi Natsumi’s departure from Kobushi Factory, but I am not. Taguchi seemed to follow in the footsteps of her friend, Ogawa Rena. Just like Rena, she was caught in a scandal where pictures of her in bed with a guy was shared all over social media. Although dating is not *formally* banned by entertainment companies, it is highly discouraged, since some fans tend to have negative reactions to their idols dating. I could never understand fans that object to their favourite idols dating, but that’s another discussion for another post.
Additionally, it seemed that Natsumi was going through a rebellious phase. She wrote on her blog about running away from home after a disagreement with her parents and was even featured in Rena’s LINE live stream after Rena’s departure. I am sure management was very unhappy about the latter. Idols are heavily guarded and managed since almost everything that they do is in the public eye. Her appearance in Rena’s live stream was apparently done without management’s knowledge, and with Rena being in the centre of controversy with her tweets and videos that “don’t show a favourable idol image,” they probably deemed Natsumi’s “image” as in danger.
Honestly, much of this is speculation. We do not know about all the details of Natsumi’s departure. It is sad, but not shocking that she had to leave. Now, Kobushi Factory is down to five members. I expected them to add more members during the first half of this year, but they will be releasing a new single at the end of March with their current lineup. I really look forward to this new single and seeing how Kobushi bounces back from their rough year.
Kudo Haruka Graduates from Morning Musume and Hello! Project
On December 11, 2017, 10th Generation member, Kudo Haruka, graduated from Morning Musume and Hello! Project. She had a beautiful send off at Nippon Budokan with a sea of orange in her honour.
In the past six years, Haruka has made a significant contribution to Morning Musume. She brought her charisma and tomboyish charms to the group, and her lower toned voice provided a delightful contrast to the many higher pitched voices of the group.
I really hoped that she would have been the leader of the group someday. However, she had other plans and dreams. Haruka aspires to be a top actress in the industry and has already started off her new path with a bang. She is currently starring in the show “Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger” as Lupin Yellow. I have watched the first episode, and I am thoroughly impressed by her acting. I can only see Haruka going up from here.
Although her absence is quite evident in the group, I only wish Haruka success in her acting career. I will continue to follow her carefully, especially on her Instagram account, which you can follow at haruka_kudo.official.
No Winners for the Hello! Project New Member Audition
Yet another Hello! Project audition ended with no winners. Last year, the company held auditions to find members to join any of the existing groups or Ichioka Reina’s new group, for the 20th Anniversary celebrations.
The final round of the audition was televised on AbemaTV for a couple of weeks. Eight finalists were chosen. These finalists are listed below:
Kodama Mai (Chiba, 15 years old)
Hashimoto Momoko (Yamaguchi, 14 years old)
Goto Sayaka (Oita, 14 years old)
Tamenaga Shion (Nagano, 13 years old)
Kubota Nanami (Chiba, 13 years old)
Shutto Anna (Chiba, 12 years old)
Kanemitsu Ruru (Tokyo, 12 years old)
Matsubara Yuriya (Tokyo, 9 years old)
My personal favourites were Goto Sayaka, Shutto Anna, Kanemitsu Ruru, and Matsubara Yuriya.
Sayaka reminded me of Inaba Manaka. While her singing was a bit weak, her dance skills were top notch. I imagined that she could have joined the Hello Station Dance Club!
Anna was sassy and stylish. I would love to see her be paired with Kiyono Momohime someday!
Ruru reminded me of Meimi. They are both musical stars, and they look similar in my opinion. She was the best vocalist out of all the finalists.
Yuriya is young and inexperienced, but that is what made me love her! She is also very blunt, and I love stark and frank idols. Not to mention, she got bonus points from me because she can speak Japanese and Bulgarian.
Unfortunately, in the end, there were no winners. However, all finalists received invitations to join Hello Pro Kenshuusei. All finalists, excluding Kodama Mai, who previously declined an invitation to join the Kenshuusei, accepted these invitations.
Goto Sayaka ended her training and left the Kenshuusei due being unable to travel from Oita to Osaka for training. While this news broke my heart, it was understandable.
We have not seen much of the other Kenshuusei after the show ended. However, I look forward to seeing clips of them after March’s Kenshuusei recital and this year’s testing event.
Aikawa Maho Graduates from ANGERME and Hello! Project
Last, but not least, I will talk about one of the most heartbreaking announcements from last year. It was reported on December 31, that ANGERME’s Aikawa Maho ended her contract with Hello! Project.
Maho initially went on hiatus at the beginning of the year after being diagnosed with panic disorder. She took some time off and promised to be back after she has been treated and felt comfortable to go back on the stage. However, at the end of the year, Maho announced that she will be graduating because she feared that she will experience a relapse and inconvenience her fellow members and staff.
As sad as I am to see her go, I understand and respect her choice. Panic disorder is a complicated disease to deal with and with many triggers. I will miss Maho, but I would love for her to get better. She also announced that she has been taking photography while in University. I really hope that she is enjoying her new path and I wish her all the best.