It has been three years since I first writing under the banner of “MNL48 Weekly” and it has been loaded with ups and downs. With this blog I followed the group from concept to reality, and witnessed the wobbling first steps of a group whose coming I have covered with the passion of someone seeing beauty in a project discarded by many.
But all things must come to an end, or so the cliche goes, and I have decided that this blog – which has defined my writing career for three years – has finally come to an end.
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Retiring “MNL48 Weekly Blog” doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing about MNL48. It only means that my future articles would no longer carry the name anymore, along with my self-imposed quota of at least one article per week. Back2Gaming.com now has a dedicated category for all things MNL48 – news, feature articles, uploaded videos, event coverages, and the like – and as before, they will be handled by me: my own personal fiefdom in the Kingdom of Boss Mac.
However, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t sad. The name truly has immense sentimental value for me. After all, this blog defined me as a writer for three whole years. Four, if you retroactively apply my first MNL48-related article back in 2015. I felt immense joy when I learned that there are people who have read the blog and enjoyed it, especially the first generation aspirants and some of MNL48’s members. One of them in particular, I wanted to highlight in this final piece.
I have written about several members throughout these three years, and I admire and respect all of them. But there is one who will always be a part of me as a writer, and whose outlook and approach to life I will always admire. When the audition started, it was clear who I wanted to get in, and who I favored to win. Ashley Cloud Garcia was a shy young lady who I first encountered in the “MNL48 Fan Meeting” held in the old Movie Stars Cafe way back in 2016. Coming in wearing a seifuku, the girl was brimming with “idol-ness” (if there ever was a word), and many people who were there in the fan meeting, eventually went on to become her most loyal and ardent fans.
Back then I barely knew anyone, being new to the AKB48 fandom after jumping from the Hello! Project ship I had been sailing in since 2000. I have only begun communicating with the group called FilWota48, who would eventually become good friends of mine. Back then, there was none of the “chosen one” aura that people would associate her with late in the first generation audition. But many of us felt that she was special, and a perfect fit to be a J-idol. Ashley has grown into a beautiful young lady since then, but three years ago? You could mistake her for a 14 year-old. I actually thought she was fifteen myself (she was actually seventeen back then).
FilWota48 Admins Youko and Kome both knew her long before I did, and they told me pretty interesting things about her. But I was to know more about Ashley myself in a way that, although not as deep as other people, nevertheless left a profound impression on me. I found out that girl was way mature beyond her age, as if she had went through so much and have developed a certain perspective on the things that are happening around her.
But that’s the thing: she’s still a little girl, and as the stress from the chaotic first generation auditions grew, you could see that she was having a tough time. She eventually overcame that difficult period in her life, but I doubt any member went away from that audition unscathed. After shaking her hand during the pre-Election handshake event in Trinoma where there were rumors that she was backing out (and after seeing that apologetic, almost exhausted look on her eyes), I was seriously asking myself if her dream was worth all the pain we were making her endure.
But she emerged from it more or less intact, ready to take on whatever challenges ahead. And oh did they come! From having to stop her studies for a while, to being pushed out of the senbatsu for the second and third singles, to being prevented from going to the usual events and conventions that she used to, to having to juggle both her work AND finishing her degree. That’s on top of whatever it is they would have to face both in the Mansion and behind the scenes. Reality doesn’t slap much harder than that, it seems.
When I featured her in my articles during the audition, stealth-promoting her, and always putting her pictures in whenever I can, I thought things would really be this simple: I will follow the group, and I will promote her. In that, I failed her, as my attention started shifting. It wasn’t that I stopped being her supporter (she never got out of my top five in the app), only that I started supporting another. Not that my divided attention mattered in the greater scheme of things (her fandom is still as strong as ever), but it bothered me in a very personal sense.
My only consolation is the fact that Ashley is considered one of the more popular members, even more popular than several of the management’s own choices. Despite not being part of two straight singles, Ashley has shown that she has the skills required to be a competent senbatsu member, and a fandom that can push the sales. And that is something that I feel many fans should understand in this system: if the management won’t recognize your girl, it is up to her fans to do that for her. Many former members of AKB48 have managed to thrive even though they barely appear in any senbatsu.
Being part of the senbatsu does not validate an idol’s career: her fans’ adulation and loyalty will. In last year’s Manila Idol Matsuri, the whole first single senbatsu came to perform including the big three of Sheki, Abby and Sela. But there are only two members that the people in the venue were cheering loudly for: Alice, and Ash.
So what if Ashley isn’t getting the attention we think she deserves? The long handshake lines, the votes she got over some of the senbatsu staples, the high demand for her photo-cards all point to one thing: that in our eyes, she must be doing something right. Ashley and Alice are two members who has the benefit of having long-time idol fans supporting them. Fans who knew what they are getting into when they started following MNL48.
One of my fondest memories with Ashley the idol is when she called me “kuya” after I greeted her on her birthday last year. Until then, Ashley never called me kuya. Ever. In all our conversations in messenger, she never once called me kuya. Ashley isn’t really the type who opens up to people, and you can barely make her talk if she doesn’t want to. That’s why even something as small and simple as this makes me really happy, and felt like a huge accomplishment. It may be nothing to other people – it may even mean nothing to her – but it surely meant everything to me.
And so I end this, the last piece I will write under the banner of “MNL48 Weekly”. The blog that started with Ashley, now ends with Ashley. To have witnessed her growth from awkward teenager to young lady, from making dance covers to actually being covered, from audition bet, to the kami-oshi of many, it is something to be truly proud of.
In the same way that through this blog, I have seen the growth of these young girls from hopefuls to legitimate idols. The struggle for acceptance that is still ongoing, and their little victories that feels so much sweeter when we see former critics voice out their admiration and respect for how much these girls have grown. It has been an honor and a privilege seeing it all.
And to the birthday girl, fly high in the clouds, Ash. You’re doing just fine.