Last week ended with a heart-break as four beloved members decided to pursue other goals outside the group. Trixie, Zen, Van, and Mae all decided that being an idol wasn’t for them and bid goodbye in last Friday’s MNLife.

For Trixie, it was a painful decision as she realized she would not graduate Grade 12 and wouldn’t be able to start college as MNL48’s schedule takes over theirs. Zen has had to leave due to homesickness and because she’s finding it difficult to keep up with the tough training regimen. Mae and Van also realized that being an idol might not be for them.

Prepping the new Kami 7 member, Ash

It’s a stunning conclusion to days of speculation that began when the members started posting cryptic messages on their official SNS accounts. What made the news so shocking was that two of the girls were part of the Top 7. But, as always, life must go on for us, these girls, and the members. We are in pain because of the loss, but the pain will only cease if we all keep moving on towards our goal of making MNL48 reach the top.

Following this news, two senbatsu members were “upgraded” to the Kami 7 to fill the void left by Zen and Trixie. Ella and Ash now complete the Top 7, while Alyssa and Erica round up the new senbatsu. It was a bitter-sweet moment for Ash who, as an aspirant, has stated that she wanted to get into Kami 7 and go to Japan. But, as she explained in MNLife, she didn’t want it this way. Nevertheless, both Ella and Ash are fine additions to the Kami 7 and I have no doubt they will make a solid contribution to the group in the future.

The new Kami 7

With slots open, four kenkyuusei were “promoted” to full members: Rans, Nina, Andi, and Colleen. They appeared in the MNLife episode wearing the uniform of the full members and were welcomed by the center girl Sheki, new Kami 7 Ella and Ash, and new Senbatsu members Alyssa and Erica.

All in all, every member below Ella and Ash were promoted at least two spots. Gabb is now the Rank 8, and so on, and so forth. Most members below Van and Mae were promoted four spots, with Cess now occupying Rank 44.

Here was the episode of MNLife where the announcement was made:

Members leaving is a common occurrence in all idol groups. Because Japan doesn’t have slave-contracts like they once had in Korea, members leaving even after just a month isn’t unheard of. Being an idol is not for everyone, certainly not to those who cannot commit to the lifestyle they’ll all have to endure. Talent Agencies generally respect an idol’s decision to withdraw back to normal life, and generally without stigma attached.

It is a common misconception that promoters like Up Front (handlers of Hello! Project acts like Morning Musume), and AKS choose “normal” individuals to mold into idols. The truth is much more complicated and it requires commitment from the girl more than any system in place. You don’t pass an audition and then magically transform into an idol, you’re going to work hard for it.

That hard work part seems to have been the kicker for these latest departures, and that’s normal. Unfortunate, but normal, in the idol world. It’s easy to judge people as being weak or a quitter, without ever really understanding what these girls go through every single day. This is not your average “let’s meet and practice in the weekends” type of group, they are professional performers with professional performance requirements.

The footage we’ve seen of their training is just a small snippet of what actually goes on. If you consider the fact that these girls are on a diet, you can just imagine how weak some of them might have felt, as if they were running on an empty tank. If you add the feelings of homesickness, anxiety, worry, and stage fright, then it’s understandable that the relatively weak-minded can get overwhelmed.

Anything less than 100% commitment to the program can end your career. That said, accepting the fact that this life is not for you is a very brave thing to do. Accepting the fact that you can’t both be an idol and follow your non-idol dreams is a tough thing to do, and these four are not less the idol they were for it.

There are fans, however, who put HHE to task for supposedly “forcing” the girls to choose between their studies and their career. I can’t comment on something I can’t really verify, and I wouldn’t dare ask a members’ relative about it as some fans have apparently done (it’s private space guys. Respect it). But here’s my take on the issue.

While we do have home-schooling programs in the Philippines, I’m not sure if it is as extensive as in Japan’s, therefore making AKS’ approach to the members’ education impractical for use here, hence why HHE didn’t use it. You can’t just lift one system from one country and apply it arbitrarily on another without the necessary infrastructure involved.

We don’t have dedicated schools for idols and celebrities, and while members still in high school can be home-schooled (or members whose schedules aren’t as hectic as the senbatsu can theoretically still go to school), things are quite different if the member is already in tertiary (college/university). I didn’t come from a normal college, being a former seminarian, so I don’t know if colleges and universities have home-schooling programs for select courses or if that is even possible.

In the end, it will be up to the member how she’ll handle her situation. Imagine, if you are already busy with training, recordings, commitments, appearances, and other idol stuff, would you still really have time to study and attend to your academic commitments? If you do pursue both, would you be able to accomplish as much as you wanted, or would it just burn you out, which can make you lose both? It’s a hard question to answer and each member will have to answer it based on their priorities and what they feel is the right thing to do.

Finally, we as fans should know how to accept whatever reason a member might give for leaving. Whether it’s for studies, for family, something generic as “personal reasons”, or she just doesn’t feel like it anymore, the girls should have complete freedom to make that choice. And if we really care for them, we would let them go.

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MNL48 and the Kenkyuusei marked their return to “It’s Showtime” by performing their official rendition of AKB48’s Sakura No Hanabiratachi – a song that quite ironically, is about graduation. The members performed in the show as aspirants for 15 weeks for the past months to show off their singing and dancing skills to become part of the newest idol group in the country. The roller-coaster ride of an audition saw the aspirants undergoing difficult challenges during their trainings and rehearsals, with the bottom-rankers being eliminated weekly.

Alice, the overall team captain of MNL48 expressed her gratitude towards their fans, on behalf of her fellow members. “Yung dati pong aspirants, ngayon idol na po na nakapagperform na live na live dito sa It’s showtime. Yung mga paghihirap po na pinagdaanan po namin ito na po unti-unti na po namin nakakamtan dahil po sa lahat ng sumusuporta samin, wala po kami dito kundi dahil sa inyo.” (These former aspirants are now idols that can peforming live here in “It’s Showtime. The hardships we went through to get here, we were able to overcome because of your support. We wouldn’t be here without you all.)*

As MNL48 represents the Philippines in the 48 Group family, Alice also asked for every one’s genuine and full support to the group. “Please be patient with us po na maipakita po kung anong talent po ang meron ang Pilipinas, na magiging magandang ehemplo po kami sa mga kabataan.” (Please be patient with us as we show the talent that Filipinos have that we can be good examples to the youth.)*

Sheki, on the other hand explained her role being the Center Girl of the group. “Nandito po ako to lead the whole group po, kung pano po kami magwo-work together as a group. Alam ko po marami pa kaming pagdaaanan l will make sure po na lahat kami pantay-pantay na ibibigay yung best namin para mag shine po ang bawat isa sa amin.” (I am here to lead the whole group, how we work together as a group. We went through a lot of challenges and I will make sure each and every one of us can equally give our best to shine.)**

It’s Showtime hosts Karylle, Vhong and Anne also agreed that the girls have improved in terms of their performance as well as their looks compared to their previous appearances.

Despite the hard challenges, bigger opportunities are lined up for them as they received an overwhelming support from their fans on their recent Fan Meet, where they first sang the Filipino version of AKB48 songs Heavy Rotation, Aitakatta and Sakura No Hanabiratachi.

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This last topic seems to be a hot issue nowadays. Outside of Sheki announcing that the Kami 7 will go to Japan to attend the Senbatsu Sousenkyo (and presumably start their training directly under AKS which was supposed to be their reward), there wasn’t any real news about it. Rumor has it that it is either not going to push through, or that several members might not be included, with one rumor even circulating that the Kenkyuusei will take the place of the unfortunate Kami 7 that can’t make the trip.

First of all, calm down guys.

As always, we need to double-check our sources. If we didn’t receive any official announcement, then it’s not considered final. There are several perfectly valid reasons why the trip won’t push through as quickly as everyone would have liked, and there are also as many valid reasons as to why certain Kami 7 members won’t be able to make it. For example, having a passport is an absolute necessary for international trips. If a member hasn’t already had her passport before joining, it’s going to be difficult to procure one as quickly as possible, even with all the connections in the world.

There’s also the problem of the visa. Trixie and Zen were supposed to be part of the group and they just left. Assuming the others already have their papers in order, the new Kami 7 members might be starved for time in securing theirs. They only have a week to do that, after all.

On the topic of the Kenkyuusei joining the Japan trip, I agree that it will send the wrong message to the fans (as well as adding more reason for the wotas to hate them). However, we have to consider that at the very least, HHE has a legal right to send any member for whatever reason.

HOWEVER, that does not mean that it is right or fair because frankly, it isn’t. But right now, fans are up in arms about something we haven’t convincingly confirmed yet. There’s nothing more embarrassing than fighting for a cause that doesn’t exist. When the challengers were introduced, we let known our disapproval in imaginative and increasingly brutal ways because it is already a reality staring right at our face. Nothing has happened yet. Wait for them to make a move, ladies and gentlemen. We can always make our opinions known in a way that doesn’t make us look bad.

Take any rumor with a grain of salt, check and double-check your sources, pick your battles but choose very carefully how you wish to fight them. Think of HHE as your partner, and heaping a verbal abuse on a partner isn’t the right way to go. Vote with your wallet, express your displeasure in polite but firm words. Most importantly, respect the private space of the members’ family, friends, and relatives and don’t go asking them for information. Mindless and rabid white-knighting will only reduce your cause into just another garbage on the internet in other people’s eyes, and we’re better than that, right?

And with that, I end this week’s blog with MNL48’s Sakura No Hanabiratachi, a taste of what’s to come.

* Interpretation is the writer’s own.
** Interpretation is still the writer’s, although it should be pointed that Sheki phrased her words peculiarly that it is difficult to really ascertain her actual meaning. She seemed to talk about leading the group and at the same time give each member an equal chance to shine which is not really her call as center.
All pictures used were taken from official MNL48 pages. If any were the property of the many fan-groups who also cover MNL48, kindly send me a message and I will credit you properly.

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