Seven months is a long time for an audition. A very long time. They usually take about a month to sort out the applicants, about two weeks two finish the second round, about one to two weeks of boot camp, and then the final competition for a total of two and a half months.
That didn’t happen with MNL48, and the longer the wait became, the easier it is for local AKB48 fans to actually doubt it would even take place. I started this blog to follow the group from audition to debut and beyond, but I found myself forced to go on hiatus because there wasn’t anything to write about, and the few tidbits of news that I know aren’t cleared for public knowledge.
But lo and behold! The AsiaPop Comic Con Facebook page suddenly posted news that MNL48 will have a booth during the event. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and the excitement was overwhelming.
The Road to APCC
I’m not a frequent convention goer, but there are two cons that are an absolute must for me: Toycon, and APCC. So I was pretty much set on going to APCC even before the announcement but only as an ordinary con-goer without the pressure of having to cover the event. Obviously the announcement changed things, most especially when the announcement came that Hallohallo Entertainment has partnered with media giant ABS-CBN to bring us MNL48. At that point, I knew that something was up and this wouldn’t be just any other con for me.
ABS-CBN is no stranger to audtions and reality TV and they have long been rumored to be HHE’s partner ever since the app was leaked. Despite the reservations of some fans (all of whom have their own reasons for not liking the partnership), hooking up with a major media partner is a coup for HHE. J-pop is on the fringes of the local music industry, mostly confined to hardcore fans unlike Jakarta, Bangkok, and Taipei (the remaining official sister groups after SNH was removed) where J-music in general already had a large following. Bringing in a major network can only work to put the brand into mainstream consciousness.
In any case, I was set, with my media accreditation at hand, a tablet with a better camera than the old Galaxy J1 I used for Team 8’s Market! Market! event, and a clear objective, nothing can be better than this, right?
Wrong! Mere days before the event, the MNL48 page published a video of Mayu Watanabe inviting girls to audition. MAYU WATANABE. MAYUYU. Let that sink into your consciousness. The AKB48 Queen, mere months from her own graduation, had a video message. No words can express my spazztic reaction, and I’m actually a Sasshihara fan.
August 26, 2017, Day 2
I arrived at SMX at around 11:00 AM. Since I haven’t got my passes yet, I had to fall in line with everybody else but I was the only one on the media lane on the ticketing area at the second floor. After I received my pass, map and programme, the realization hit me that this is just the second event that I attended as part of the media crowd. The first? The Philippines-Japan event in Market! Market! that featured AKB48’s Team 8. As an AKB fan, the Team 8 event was big, but as part of the media, APCC was bigger and soon I noticed the stares on my media pass by folks who had to stand in line to buy their tickets. It’s one of the perks of the job, but knowing I got a free pass while these kids saved their precious money to go to the event is never lost on me. Not when the lines got longer as the day went on.
Troubled, I made my way to the event grounds and my mood lightened up! There’s the Iron Throne (with a really long line), there’s the 501st Legion, those bad-ass Star Wars fans who appear in events to promote Star Wars with their accurate costumes (and they don’t get paid. They do it for the love of Star Wars. That’s the best part).
I would have stayed to get a picture taken with the Stormtroopers but I had a job to do and off to the MNL48 booth I went.
The booth is in a good area: spacious, and people naturally go that way so it was easy to spot. Plus, it was literally beside the autograph area so there was a landmark. In front of the booth is my good friend, Admin Youko from FilWota who not only filled me in on the things happening in the booth, but also taught me stuff about AKB48 and other aspects of the fandom I previously wasn’t exposed to.
The booth was full of ladies wearing the MNL48 t-shirt and prepping up. It’s not that hard to guess that they were the ones who will perform later that day. For the moment, they will be distributing flyers to con-goers which they did by spreading all-throughout the Level 1 Function Hall.
Back in the booth, people can register either as an applicant or a supporter. Doing so will allow you to join a raffle for merchandise like T-Shirts, stickers, and pins. I already had the MNL48 app downloaded, and liked and shared their Facebook page. All I needed to do was prove it, which I did with the help of Youko’s wifi (thanks, man). I took the raffle and won a pin! It was exactly what I wanted because it’s something I can use. Most wanted to get the T-shirt, but not me since, given my size, wouldn’t fit me at all.
That early in the day, there were already some girls approaching the booth. Some are tentative, unsure of what it is, but others actively took selfies with the booth’s many signs.
What realy caught my attention was the big screen inside the booth which played PVs of various AKB songs, accentuated by showings of the Mayuyu video message. But what got me thrilled was the video message of Yui Yokoyama, the current Group General Manager, and Mion Mukaichi the former child actress turned AKB idol. I hope I see the video uploaded on Facebook soon.
I had the honor of meeting in person Ashley Cloud who I once ranked number one in my old rankings. She came cosplaying as Sun Bak from Sense8 (I don’t watch the series so I can’t say whether she got it or not). The girl was nice, posed for a pic with me (including her friend whose name I wasn’t able to ask. Don’t worry, you’re cute in your costume.) and shook my hand. She’s my bet in this audition so that handshake would most likely be the last she’ll give me for free.
I also met Angel from Hallohallo Entertainment. She performs in Movie Stars Cafe, and uh… someone I developed a bit of a crush into. She’s really pretty up close. You can see the smile on my pudgy face. Standing beside her makes me feel really ugly but only because she’s that pretty.
Angel will also be part of the performance which was still later that day. So Youko and I hung around the booth for a minute. He introduced me to the staff that were there, telling them that I was “the one behind the weekly blog”. They seemed happy about it, although I don’t know if anybody ever read a single entry of it. But the smile on their facces made me feel good. I didn’t have good questions with me and I figure they might not be allowed to share a lot anyway so Youko and I just decided to roam the floor while we wait for the performance to start.
The HHE performance was just short: a mix of hip-hop and AKB48 songs. I was frankly expecting a pure AKB48 setlist, but I quickly realized that the girls were there to promote, not perform as, MNL48. The drawback to this strategy was that many people thought they were MNL48. But I guess that is something for the staff to sort out. With that, my coverage of the MNL48 Booth in APCC ended.
The hype surrounding the audition has pretty much died already. This is why I am beyond happy that HHE has decided to set up this booth and finally get the ball rolling. The booth setup was fine. I was pretty much inconvenienced by the need to prove that I shared their page and my having the app. But I was the one without the internet, not them so it is my fault.
The staff were really nice and accommodating. The ones in the booth were full of smiles. There were a lot of them too, which makes me feel that they’ve gone full-force this time.
I think the surprise to me was that many girls did express interest and did sign up, some with their moms in tow. I don’t mind if they may never have heard of AKB48 or actually listen to J-pop songs, as long as they have a dream and they wanted to reach that dream, let them.
My sole criticism of the event is directed to the performance of the HHE girls. It’s not that they did not dance well. They did. But the editing of the track is sub-par, they weren’t introduced before their performance (which cofused people as to who they really are), and certain parts of the group got lost in the choreography at times. I can almost see who are the MSC girls because they were the ones performing really well (they are professionals). It will still be a while until MNL48 does these kinds of performances for conventions, so hopefully next time the performance will be sharper.
Shout out to the lovely lady from 48Fam who gave me this anniversary pin. I confess I haven’t really went around to know the different sub-groups in the fandom. But I will watch out for you. Thank you for this pin.
Now that we have the APCC event out of the way, I want to talk about the HHE/ABS-CBN partnership. Many fans are concerned, as they have their own beliefs about the station, its credibilty and perceived “shortcomings”.
I’m not here to say that those things are unfounded, but I’m here as a fan who wants this endeavor to succeed more than insisting my own view on how a 48 group should be run. Partnering with a media giant is a logical business step whenever you want to form a musical group. More importantly, MNL48 is not in a position to insist on network neutrality. Yes, AKB48 is massive in Japan. But this isn’t Japan and the realities of the industry here should be HHE’s utmost concern. It is great that the fans speak out about their feelings and the staff really does listen to feedback. But be realistic.
The same is also true of how some fans reacted at the HHE girl’s dance routine especially on the flash mob on the 27th. So the dance was modified, is that a mark of incompetency? Should that even be an issue? The girls aren’t MNL48, they don’t need to do the routine down to the last step. No one – outside of the fans – would even notice or care.
The secret to AKB48’s success isn’t just its hardcore group of fans but its mainstream appeal. For MNL48 to be a success, it must reach out to the mainstream market which means HHE has to do things that are not appealing to us fans. Things that are different from the ones we are used to. As the audition moves on, we will see an influx of fans who have never listened to the AKB classics nor have any idea what kind of industry this is. How can we contribute to its growth? By opening our minds to change. We only have one shot at this. Let’s all help in making MNL48 a success, shall we?