There are only a few things in this world that can make me look forward to a sleep-less weekend, and the words AKB48, Team 8, and MNL48 are pretty much a the top of that list. The prospect of covering an AKB48 event for the third year in a row excited me. I already committed to covering MNL48 events especially the ones in Metro Manila, and covering both the MNL48 audition and the Team 8 events seemed to me like hitting two birds with one stone.
Team 8’s third visit to the Philippines came as a surprise. I wasn’t expecting an AKB48 event this year, especially because the first two events were announced months in advance. Their previous visits were to grace festivals or diplomatic ties. This time, they’re trying to hype up the audition of a sister group. The group that came here was smaller than their previous line-ups, but I personally did not care as all that was important was the fact that they were coming.
December 2, 2017
This wouldn’t be the first time I went to an event after work. I covered the MNL48 booth in Asia Pop Comic Con, and I went to the launching of the MNL48 Audition Tour in Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall. But in both of those events, I had the benefit of not having to stand in line, or of having media passes to ease my entry. This time, I wouldn’t have that luxury. I received an invite for the press-conference but that was for the next day. There were no guarrantees for me.
Going to Mother Ignacia Avenue was like testing the waters for me. HHE certainly made plans for the MNL48 Theater to be made in Centris Mall, and going to Quezon Ave felt like I was having a dry-run for when I am going to attend shows in the future. Getting to ABS-CBN was also easier than I thought, with just one tricycle away from the MRT station to the ABS-CBN Center Grounds. It was there that I discovered the first shock of the day.
The event will accommodate only fifty people. Fifty. What the heck?
The MNL48 Facebook page only mentioned “limited slots”, but nobody said anything about just having 50 people. The guards were really strict, even when the MNL48 staff and their bosses themselves tried to reason with them, no quarter was given. It almost felt that ABS-CBN didn’t expect the event to garner more than 50 fans. Adding to our misery is the fact that HHE didn’t seem to have informed their partners about it. There’s even a lack of media passes to distinguish those covering the event from those just attending, and there were even VIPs who couldn’t get in at first because of the security.
I was trying to settle down and not get myself noticed while taking note of the stuff happening. Team 8 will appear on “It’s Showtime!”, with some of my friends inside the studio to cheer for the girls. The show was televised in my location so I was able to see the performance that officially kicks-off Team 8’s third Philippine event in as many years.
Koisuru Fortune Cookie – the first of the Sashihara-centered Senbatsu Sousenkyo (General Election) songs, is also the official MNL48 audition song. Centered by Ayaka Hidaritomo, and flanked by Nao Ota, Ikumi Nakano, Serika Nagano, Yuri Yokomichi, Hitomi Honda, and Kotone Hitomi, they served as the openning number of the show. The camera seemed to love showing Hiichan (Honda) which isn’t surprising since the young girl had a very pretty face anyway. The hosts of the show interviewed the girls afterward, and then it featured the on-going audition.
With Team 8’s TV appearance done, there was really nothing to do but wait. I couldn’t wander as much as I wanted to because I lacked a proper pass and they were sending out supporters of applicants who were finished in their turn in the MNL48 audition truck. By this time, I was with the admin of FilWota and the rest of the group who watched Showtime. While I was happy that I was no longer alone, my enthusiasm wavered when the full heat of the Saturday afternoon came. I haven’t had a decent rest since I’ve been there and I couldn’t go out to buy food and drink because I wasn’t sure I would be able to come back in again. It’s a difficult choice between starvation and deprivation and frankly speaking, such things shouldn’t happen in the first place. The staff took pity on us (sand provided us with food from Jollibee. This small act of generosity is probably a big reason why I didn’t lose consciousness that day.
The live was scheduled for 3PM but we were still standing in line at 3:30pm. The lucky 50 were also let in, but applicants were still being turned away. The staff was still negotiating with ABS-CBN security to let the fans in. Some compromise was probably reached because some were able to get in about the time the Showtime group were led (finally!) into the event area.
It was at that point that I, having had no identification of any kind (as I said, media passes weren’t given), I was yanked off the line to the main area. I protested since I was covering the event with the knowledge of HHE, but there was nothing the staff could do for me at that point. I was finally let in but I was so far from my friends and – as fate would have it – in the middle of a group bearing placards.
The girls finally came, and we were all happy. Having covered last year’s event, I knew what to expect from seeing Serika and Kocchan (Hitomi Kotone) up close so I tried to divert my attention to the others in the group. I went to the Cool Japan Festival in 2015 and saw the AKB48 performance there, albeit, at the second floor of Trinoma because the line going inside the event grounds was far too long. This means that this would be the first time for me seeing Ota Nao up-close. Team 8’s oldest member looked far more beautiful now than when I remembered her two years ago.
But it was the new girls who were the highlight for me. Nakano Ikumi was Team 8’s first center and the first Team 8 member to be included in an AKB48 senbatsu (for Kibouteki Refrain). Ikumin’s stock has tumbled since and Team 8 now has several front girls, but she’s still a consistent performer, sometimes even superior to the current front-row girls. Watching her perform was one of the highlights of the weekend and I sure hope she’s happy to hear her name being called during chants again.
Also her first time here is Hidaritomo Ayaka. Unlike Ikumin, Hidaaya never became a center and she’s rarely at the front, so it was extra-special to see her as this weekend’s center for ‘Koisuru Fortune Cookie’ of all songs (KFC as it is called, is one of the group’s most recognizable songs). With them is Yokomichi Yuri, the small girl with limitless energy and enthusiasm, who charmed her way into our hearts with her 200% effort. Finally, we also have Honda Hitomi, another staple of the front and second rows. Hiichan, like Ikumin, is an excellent dancer, having been a cheerdancer prior to her joining Team 8. In terms of dancing skill, she’s in the Top 3, the other two being Ikumin and another member – Yokoyama Yui (Team 8) – who isn’t part of this group. She’s also very pretty, and the cameramen in Showtime seem to love her based on how many times they focused on her face.
The set-list was short (it was a mini-live, after all) but the girls gave their all. Probably conscious that so many fans waited in line, they pulled off an almost flawless performance, marred only by a technical gaffe that made Serika miss her cue on their first song ‘Heavy Rotation’.
The live didn’t include an encore, which is probably due to time constraints and the fact that there are two lives the next day. But for me, it was enough to feel refreshed and reenergized and forget the unfortunate incidents that happened that day.
I’d just want to highlight a few things.
– There seems to be a total lack of coordination among the various departments involved. That 50-person limit should have been disseminated to the public days before and there is simply no excuse for the lack of passes.
– ABS-CBN didn’t seem to comprehend the idol-fan dynamic of these events, else they would have allowed much more fans inside.
– The hosts of Showtime mistakenly said it was their second time on the show. The fans had to correct them (it was Team 8’s third visit). It’s nit-picking, but I would have thought such a major show would keep track of its guests.
– The applicants were told to leave after their turn in the truck. That’s a missed opportunity in my opinion. These girls should have been free to stay and enjoy the day.
– While I understand how passionate fans can be in preparing placards, make sure you don’t block the view of the person behind you. You may be passionate but be considerate.
– I met another girl I featured before. Seushi came to the audition, got onstage to ask the girls a question, and got a free handshake from Serika to boot.
Day 1 was over and FilWota admins Youko and Kome and I celebrated the day at the Vikings Buffet (it was Kome’s birthday too). Day 2 will bring new challenges but I figured that it would be a much smoother affair.
I was wrong.
To be continued…