First post of the year! The end of 2017 was pretty busy for me as we moved out of our old home in busy, noisy Makati, to the peace and quiet of faraway Cavite. Commuting to work took a bit getting used to, and geographically speaking, I’m going to be at a disadvantage when the time comes to cover MNL48. But a lot of fans came from the same area and they are regulars to most – if not all – of the pop culture events in the Metro so it’s not like I’m going to be “alone”.
A lot has happened since my last entry and big part of it is the upcoming Second Stage of the auditions. Supporters only have until January 14, 2018 to like the accounts of their “chosen” before the applicants are whittled down to just the Top 200. On top of the usual drama between candidates, fans, and their gripes with the system (with some amusing stuff from the IT team handling the MNL48 app), several issues came up that I believe deserve a bit of attention.
The MNL48 audition attracted not only the hopefuls among the fans, but also girls who’ve only just heard or followed the group. For these “newcomers”, the audition is an opportunity to get into the entertainment industry, regardless if they even like Jpop or not.
From the last two weeks of December up until the writing of this article, I’ve seen articles and comments pertaining to how “things should work” and which candidates are “deserving” to get in. I was disappointed to see candidates calling out other candidates regarding their reasons and motivations for entering MNL48. There is no “right” reason for joining besides wanting to be in. AKB48 members past and present have different reasons for joining, and “love for AKB” is a very recent phenomenon. The original goal for those applying for AKB48 is to be able to join the entertainment industry usually as an actress or talent. The group itself isn’t supposed to be the end but a bridge towards better opportunities. It was only much later when the group started accepting new generations that included AKB48 fans that the group became an end goal in itself. But that’s the natural result of a group whose existence is more than a decade.
Japanese idols are a sub-set of the country’s pop-culture that has its own set of norms and practices. A person who is into that culture is called a wota and he/she supports his/her “oshimen” through buying her merchandise, attending her (and her group’s) events, standing in her line during handshake events, etc, etc. Wotas do chants, name-calls, all the things you can see during idol events and concerts.
The most important thing to remember is this: immersing yourself into the culture is a choice that only you can make. “Wota” and “fan” aren’t mutually exclusive, and you can be a fan without going too deep into it all. Of course it would be really fun if you participate in the chants, get to buy merchandise, and go to their events like it’s Sunday service. You can meet new people, join new groups, and establish connections that can help you with regards to your new-found interest. But know your limits, or rather, understand how deep down the rabbit-hole you really wish to go. When you become a “veteran” and meet new fans, guide, not gatekeep.
There’s also something else bugging me that I wanted to share here. The ever-fluctuating ranks has been a cause for concern for both the candidates and their supporters alike. I used to think that this may be a product of their increasing vigilance regarding fake and unverified accounts. However, one experience changed the way I view their IT team’s efforts. It’s no secret that there was supposed to be another audition for a girl group for “It’s Showtime!”. Girl Power Unite (or GPU) was supposed to be just one of the many groups formed by the noon-time show. The GPU audition seems to have faded away, and the girls who applied for it were told to join MNL48 instead, and given ABS-CBN’s habit of inserting their talents into every audition that the network is involved in, many fans think that the audition itself is rigged. At least, that’s the news I’m getting from the ground.
So, what’s the connection between a discontinued audition and the IT team running the audition app? Well, their methods for verifying are, to say the least, crude. My first account got disabled because the domain was our website. There was no “verification” SMS although the account went through an earlier email verification. The account existed since December 2016 and only now did they tell me it was disabled because it was unverified? What’s funny is that this same email is the one that HHE uses to send me invites and press-releases, so the problem might not actually be with the email in question, but with the system powering the audition app itself. Their system doesn’t seem to recognize email domains besides the main ones like @yahoo or @gmail.
If the system doesn’t recognize unfamiliar domains, then I wonder what’s the ultimate use of the SMS verification if it works in concert with the email verification instead of complementing each other by verifying accounts that the email verification failed to recognize and vice versa. It’s not even a case of multiple or duplicate accounts: I’m probably the only guy from Back2gaming.com who is actively involved with anything MNL48, so I’m the only one with this domain. Coupled with my mobile number and the fact that the account has existed since 2016, I can’t see any other reason why it should be disabled. It’s as if someone just pulls the record from their system, filters it to unrecognized domains, disables them without checking, and then re-uploading the data.
What is more, unverified and illegal accounts are regularly being purged by the system, and this purge has really adverse effects on the rankings. It seems that a lot of those going up the rankings are what some fans call “GPU girls” or those girls who first auditioned for GPU. It’s hard to find a smoking gun to all these assumptions and rumors, but the less-than-convincing performance of their IT team with their weekly purges and their unconvincing account verification all add up into one very murky soup of probabilities, coincidences, and conspiracy theories.
To be fair, Admin Youko informed me that he recalled that we were told that the verification process will only recognize major domains. But for the love of me, I can’t recall when that was said and how. But even if we were informed, verifying uncommon but legitimate domains should be easy because there’s a phone verification to support it. A supporter or a candidate who used an uncommon email domain should still have had the benefit of having a secondary verification system.
I believe in this project enough to want to stay positive, and I am still very positive despite many of my fellow fans having already lost faith in it. It’s just….you know, sometimes hard and these ranking fluctuations and the doubts on the integrity of the mechanics are not helping.
I would like to be clear though: I am not saying the audition is rigged or fixed, only that I feel there are far too many circumstances making the whole exercise a bit less than convincing, and a convincing line-up is what they actually need. I still believe this is a project worth following and believing in. It’s just that as time passes by, the venture seems to have turned off a lot more fans than I hoped, making MNL48’s journey to mainstream relevance a lot harder than I expected.
Moving on, I really liked the MNL48 Online Update and its attempt to cast a spotlight on the bottom-rankers who equally deserve to get noticed. I also like how the Hashtags (a group I didn’t even care about when this whole ABS-CBN/HHE partnership started) are making an effort to understand the system. They are slated to go to Japan and watch the group either later this week or next. A lot of fans commented that they cringed during the Team 8 event: I personally liked how they presented it. They knew the rules, even if not exactly the particulars. The only negative thing about the Online Updates? The comments. Come on guys, even if you don’t like what’s happening, don’t troll each and every MNL48 FB post and livestreams. Such antics normally bounce back in the eyes of the people you call “normies” and helps put the rest of the fandom in a very bad light.
Before I end the first entry for 2018, I’m going to take some time to “promote” some of my bets. These girls are but a fraction of the total girls I’ve given my “Likes” to, but they’re very special because I’ve met them in person and I generally liked what I saw. Courteous, nice, and they were very accommodating to me, a perfect stranger. Even if none of them make it, I’m sure to follow their chosen ventures with interest and hope to bump into them again in future events.
Yes guys, the girl you are seeing right now is 19. I originally thought she was 13 when I first saw her picture. I almost didn’t believe Admin Youko and Admin Kome when they told me her age. When I finally got to see her in person in Asia Pop Comicon, I admit I was wrong: she looked 15, not 13. Still way below her actual age.
Ashley was the first ever MNL48 candidate I voted for. She looks like an idol, can speak like an idol, can sing like an idol, can dance like an idol, the only thing missing is her actually being an idol. Her ranking is hovering around 135 to 170 range, which at this point can be considered somewhat safe, but stranger things have happened.
This girl is also really nice, and I’m really, really hoping she gets in.
I featured Seushi once before, and I remember that I chose her because she used an excellent picture as her profile picture (before videos were a thing in the audition). She’s really pretty and her cosplay made her look “idol ready” (for lack of a better term). This was before I regularly watched videos in the app.
The thing is, I appreciated Seushi more when I met her in person last December 2, while waiting for the Team 8 event to start. I was there in front of her and her group when they suddenly danced to Koisuru Fortune Cookie. That was after I introduced myself to her. Good Lord, one of the nicest girls I’ve ever met! I already saw her while she was still outside the gate before she wore her costume thinking “Is that pretty girl a candidate? Why is she standing there outside?” The Japanese fans seemed interested in her, and the video of her dancing KFC went viral. When she took to the stage to ask a question to Team 8, many people really reacted positively to her.
Unfortunately, for some reason, her rank dropped and she’s now out of the Top 200. I really hope she gets in by some miracle because she really wanted to join, and despite the shocking drop, she still stayed positive and determined to finish this, whatever the result may be. Best thing about her? I had a conversation with her, and I find her to be really smart, something that I also found in Ashley.
My golden girl has also dropped hard in the rankings. But I’ll never forget the day I met this young hopeful. She looks really cute in person, also very nice too. I really like her smile and she seems to have a lot of potential.
Hovering between “life” and “death”, Coeli is currently ranked 204…so close, yet so far. My first impression of this girl is that she’s terribly shy and has a low self-confidence. She still has some baby-fat (she’s only 16, after all) but true to her handle (Coeli comes from Coelum or “heaven” in Latin) she has an angelic face.
To be honest, I was a little worried what a cutthroat, high pressure job can do to a young girl that seemingly has low self-confidence. In normal situations, the experience can build you up and makes you tougher. But given how vicious Filipino fans are in social media without any hint of responsibility to the effects their words make, the opposite can happen. Still, if Coeli really wants to be an idol, this is a very crucial thing she has to overcome.
There were supposed to be others, like Shaina and Shaira Duran (yes, they are twins), Marsela, Vivienne, and several others but I ran out of time. Sorry.
Just a few days more and the 1st Stage will officially be over. What happens next is still anyone’s guess. It’s been a tough ride, and MNL48’s 1st Generation audition still has a long way to go, buy we’re still going to follow it every step of the way.