Berryz Kobo x ℃-ute
A 12-person human drama
It's been 11 years since they met one another - a conflict where neither will yield
Top Yell September 2013 opening blurb:
These bunch of primary school girls were assembled because of their admiration of Morning Musume。 11 years have passed since they started activities, and before anyone knew it, they've become groups who shoulder the burden of being the central pillars of Japan's idol scene.
Berryz Kobo and ℃-ute are called Hello! Project's Minister of the Right and Minister of the Left. With ℃-ute announcing that they would be advancing upon the Budokan, their rivalry heated up beyond anything that had been seen before, but what's really happening inside? The gong has finally rung on this extremely stinging round-table discussion that could only be pulled off by this magazine!
Top Yell + H!P Compilation 2014 version:
The story of the rivalry between BeriKyuu that started with the announcement that ℃-ute would be advancing to Budokan became a staggeringly huge topic in 2013. Being overtaken by a group from their own generation, Berryz Kobo's Captain Shimizu Saki expressed her determination through her blog posts. Three weeks after that, Berryz Kobo's Budokan was announced......
In the midst of all sorts of speculations happening amongst the fans, in the September edition of Top Yell, we pressed ahead with a hard-hitting interview with the members of both groups caught up in the maelstrom.
Looking back, they were partners who were always there. Now both groups motivate one another, but that doesn't imply that they had a rivalry from the very start. In 2002, when they were assembled as the Hello! Project Kids, they were a group of people who were united in the goal of making their debut. The four of them look back on those times.
You weren't broken into groups at first, and there wasn't any sense of hostility. When did you start thinking of one another as rivals?
Okai: It somehow came up naturally...... I guess. At the start of the Kids, just remembering the choreography had me grasping at straws, so I think that I couldn't look beyond myself.
Shimizu: That's true, there wasn't any rivalry between us before the formation of Berryz. We were just friends, playing tag together..... If I had to say, it felt like being with my usual friends.
I think that the formation of Berryz Kobo in 2004 had a huge effect on how your relationship changed. At the time, there was talk that there would be a rotational system, with 8 names being nominated as Berryz Kobo's starting members.
Shimizu: Yup, so at the time, I probably might have felt a stronger sense of rivalry towards those who were in Berryz. I remember thinking that I might get dropped if I were to lose to another girl. Just that thought was terrifying to me!
Natsuyaki: I didn't think much of it...... I didn't really feel it in particular. Even with talk of the rotational system, I felt that it would be a group that would change according to Tsunku♂-san's moods, so I didn't feel a sense of tension. Even if someone were to drop out or someone were to come in, there would probably still be a chance for people to make a comeback. I guess I kind of accepted it..... In the end, it felt more like a club activity back then.
You weren't concerned about the danger of being dropped?
Natsuyaki: ... I wasn't (laughs).
Shimizu: Well, that's Miya (laughs). The ones who felt it the most were the girls who were on the edge.
Natsuyaki: Eh~! But back then, there wasn't an established centre or an ace, right?
Shimizu: Nope! I may have been Captain, but it wouldn't have been strange for that to change. I was constantly in fear. Whenever the staff would call us, that's when I got the most nervous. I thought that the time had finally come..... (laughs).
Were you particularly conscious about the 7 Kids that weren't in Berryz Kobo?
Natsuyaki: ℃-ute came up a bit after that, right? That's when things started changing. That said, talk about the rotational system had officially ended by then. Up until then, we hadn't really thought of the ℃-ute girls as rivals, and anyway, we were still doing things together as the Kids as a whole. We didn't think of anything beyond that.
I suspect that back then, Okai-san couldn't wait to get into Berryz Kobo.
Okai: No, I thought that their dances looked difficult to remember, which was huge to me. Since back then, I wasn't good enough at dancing. I couldn't even keep up with the dances that were done with the Kids as a whole. If I joined them (Berryz Kobo), I wouldn't be able to pull it off (laughs). While of course I admired how nice Berryz were when I watched them on-stage, the level of busyness was completely different. Watching them, it would float to my mind, the thought that it would be impossible for me. Since there were concerts as well, and lots of rehearsals, I'd cry in front of the coverage cameras (laughs).
On the other hand, Suzuki-san, you stated in a past interview something on the lines that you felt so frustrated that you definitely didn't want to enter Berryz Kobo.
Suzuki: Yup~...... But it's complicated. I did think a bit about the possibility of entering (Berryz Kobo). I remember watching Berryz Kobo dancing 'Fighting Pose (ha Date janai!)' at a Hello! Con, and I was copying the moves with everything I had. To a certain extent, I felt that there was a possibility for me to enter, and beyond that, I simply liked the song. I went out and bought Berryz' first album normally. They were my contemporaries, and their songs were different from Morning Musume。 And I thought that it was nice that they could sing something from their own repertoire at the Hello! Cons.
So, the envy from your 'frustration' was mixed in with the hope that you might be able to join in, was that what you felt?
Suzuki: However, that wrapped up with the third single1. The rotational system wasn't happening. Well, even from the start, I had misgivings on whether or not there really was a rotational system, so I didn't really have my hopes up. By the time the third single came out, it was evident that there was completely no chance to enter Berryz. So rather than thinking about that possibility, my thoughts switched to working hard with eyes on making my own major debut.
2 years after Berryz made their debut, ℃-ute also made your debut with 'Massara Blue Jeans'. You were now at the same position, did you realise anew the troubles that had been faced by Berryz Kobo?
Suzuki: However, the environment at the time of our debut was completely different. When we were still indie, our CDs didn't line the stores.While the joy of making our debut was undoubtedly huge, it felt different from Berryz up to that point.
Did Berryz Kobo have any congratulatory words?
Shimizu: Not really~ (laughs)
Okai: There was a point in time when we really didn't interact. Perhaps our childish emotions were being laid bare, because we were in this state where there was just this strange sense of rivalry. Like even when we were together at Hello! Cons, I wouldn't meet eyes with the Berryz girls (laughs). Thinking about it, I also felt that 'Berryz are like this, so we have to be the same way'......
Suzuki: I can really sympathise with that! Like, 'Ah... Berryz Kobo, they're still flashy this time around as well'. Really recently... up until just recently, I'd allllllways thought the same thing. I think that it was the same for all the members of ℃-ute as well. As they solidified together with their constant seven members, we would feel down every time we saw Berryz Kobo, we had no confidence...... Since every group would announce their latest songs at the Hello! Cons.
Okai: Berryz had that flashiness. And they also had this amazing intensity.
Suzuki: It definitely seemed that their songs and outfits were flashier than ours.
Natsuyaki: Eh, really? What a surprise!
'Why just us...!? '
Mutual envy and jealousy
Suzuki-san, you've been known for your hang-ups about Berryz from long ago, but seven years have passed since ℃-ute was formed. Isn't that enough, wouldn't it be fine to sweep away that trauma?
Suzuki: It's definitely lessened recently though. We've also had opportunities to stand on-stage together at BeriKyuu combined concerts. But at the time of our debut, we were treated like rookies, even compared to Berryz Kobo, and we didn't have any mature songs either......
Shimizu: No way! But, even now, I really remember when ℃-ute sang 'Wakkyanai (Z)' at the Hello! Cons. Your intensity was impressive, and I could feel ℃-ute's drive. I actually thought 'OMG, this is going to be quite something...' (laughs). I realised at that point that both our groups already had driven ourselves to grow. How do I put this...... It's not like both our groups came together and discussed things. Berryz and ℃-ute, each of our groups were just doing our best. So as Berryz, it wasn't that we were concerned about ℃-ute, we were just constantly thinking about what Berryz should do.
℃-ute were constantly conscious of Berryz Kobo, but Berryz Kobo were focused on improving themselves. How exactly did that difference in attitude come about?
Suzuki: (Abruptly lets out a laugh) ... You know, it couldn't be helped! We had no confidence after all!
Okai: As we were from the same generation, they were the closest to us, so we were definitely conscious about them~. After that, we would look at our posters. Berryz had a flashy background behind them, yet ℃-ute had nothing but just a wall......
That sounds paranoid, I'm sure that can't have been the case (bitter laugh).
Suzuki: No, it did happen~! Since the MVs were like that~!
Natsuyaki: Well, that depends on the song (laughs). Since we were making our debut, like around 'Fighting Pose', they definitely spent some money, but on the other hand, ℃-ute got to wear lots of outfits. We were envious of that, right?
Shimizu: Yup, that's true. So in the end, we just wanted what we didn't have.
Natsuyaki: Like for our dances, Berryz will wear comical things like monkey or sea bream outfits, but ℃-ute get to wear stylish outfits that would be acceptable in public, right? To use a current analogy, you're very much like E-Girls. I think that's nice.
Shimizu: That's right! Before we knew it, ℃-ute were being told that you were cool or sexy, but on the other hand, we'd be asked if we were comical idols (laughs).
Natsuyaki: Well, it's a fact that we have lots of members who are like entertainers (laughs). But I think that recently, we have been comparing ourselves to ℃-ute in that way. Maybe because we've grown up, and we do get all sorts of news. Like we'll comment on how ℃-ute is making an approach from a different angle.
Perhaps it was because of the increased differentiation between Berryz Kobo and ℃-ute that you were able to compare yourselves.
Okai: But we, ℃-ute, have only recently come into our own. Having come this far, we've begun to think seriously about how we want ℃-ute to be like. Up until then, we'd just follow the words of the staff, whether it be for outfits or for hairstyles...... That change happened recently, like from about two tours ago.
Suzuki: ℃-ute fundamentally seeks to be in unison. Before touching on own individual characteristics, we would have similar accessories, not have earrings on, we wouldn't paint our nails...... we'd have lots of regulations to ensure that we would match. But recently, as we've grown in age, our opinions are starting to get heard a little. That's not to say that they'll be accepted, but they'll take our opinions into account, it plants the seeds of how ℃-ute ourselves would like to be as we move forward. That's something we've been talking about recently. We hadn't talked about it at all up to now.
Suzuki: We've talked about it, like how we would like to change our hairstyles depending on the song.
Indeed, Berryz Kobo-san always does as they please.
Natsuyaki: But that's pretty recent. When we made our debut, virtually everything was prohibited. To an extent, it felt painful (laughs). Well, thinking about it now, since we were in primary school, there were certain parts of it that couldn't be helped. I also understand what the staff were thinking. At the time, gyaru culture was all the rage. For me and (Sugaya) Risako in particular, we like our makeup to be flashy, so we gave it a hand, thinking that it might look cuter, but every time we'd be told off, we'd be told to fix it.
Suzuki: Maybe the period of time when we started taking the lead in things wasn't so different after all.
Okai: I think that Berryz played a big part in opening up that path. I remember (Umeda) Erika painting her nails, and getting a great big scolding because of that. Even now, Erika's modelling, she's always had a high awareness of fashion since then. That's something that's changed within us little by little.
The long path walked by Suzuki to sweep away the trauma
The haves and have-nots. Even if they see the same view, it's natural that both would receive it differently. The relationship between Berryz Kobo and ℃-ute is shown in many systems, not just as idols. However, in BeriKyuu's case, it doesn't just end there. Having grown up, how do both groups perceive one another?
Okai: Frankly speaking, nowadays, it doesn't really feel like we're rivals. On that front, I'm more concerned about Morning Musume。Like, I'm interested in what they're up to now. When it comes to Berryz, while I watch them perform on-stage as usual, and notice things like how much their singing has improved, it's not like we've officially declared that we have a rivalry...... It's difficult to explain well.
Suzuki: It's an established relationship?
Okai: Yup, our relationship is probably one of established rivals. Honestly, there was a period of time when I felt something like spite. Even at rehearsals, I'd try my utmost best not to look in Berryz' direction. You know, since if I watched them, I'd get interested. In a strange way, I thought that it would suck if that happened (laughs). But now, it's normal for me to watch Berryz' rehearsals from up-front. We can bandy about anything with one another. There've been times when I've told them how in-sync their moves are, and there have been times when they've told me how good our new songs are.
Suzuki: Saki-chan mentioned our reputation for being cool just now, but ℃-ute first started getting told that we were cool from when S/mileage got started. Since we were no longer fresh. We couldn't fight on the youth and freshness front, so we ended up aiming for coolness. And ever since then, compared to the past, both our groups had clearly split in style. Despite that, it was inevitable that we'd still compare ourselves. Like we'd still have to tell ourselves that differences were natural, or that ℃-ute are aiming to be like ℃-ute...... It's only been just recently that we've come to think that way. Even our interviewers would tell us to have more confidence. We were told it so repeatedly that we felt like we should apologise. We weren't trying to brainwash ourselves, but we also talked about whether ℃-ute would be fine just being like we were...
Natsuyaki: Kukuku...... (Starts laughing all of the sudden)
What's up, Natsuyaki-san?
Natsuyaki: No, I'm really sorry (laughs). Airi doesn't speak smoothly, so I thought that I had misheard.....
It's fine once you get used to it (laughs). By the way, of the four of you have been in the entertainment industry for eleven years. From your eyes, which BeriKyuu members do you think have changed?
Okai: Let's see...... We all grew up roughly equally, didn't we? When it comes to ℃-ute, despite present appearances, we used to do things like ignore one another in the past. We'd get into fights, we'd clash in opinions, we wouldn't speak to one another, we wouldn't even meet eyes......
Shimizu: Well, it couldn't be helped. We were actually kids (laughs).
Okai: Now, we can really talk about anything! There's a difference in ages in ℃-ute, but there isn't any distance between us. But when we were in middle school, we were know-it-alls, you see. We'd just make all these completely rash remarks (laughs). But, maybe our current relationship was built up because we went through those times.
Well then, perhaps there might be some internal discord in Juice=Juice? Though even venturing such a guess would be disrespectful to them (laughs).
Shimizu: Well, jokes aside, that's not out of the question. Even beyond group activities, there'll be a point in time when that period turns up.
Natsuyaki: On the other hand, a group needs those sparks within them. I think that's something that hasn't changed from way back.
Okai: Currently, they're at a point where the centre hasn't been set in stone, right? I think that having sparks in between themselves would definitely be better.
Shimizu: I wonder what changed about Berryz..... The biggest change might be that we learnt how to read the mood. In the past, there would often be times when the flow would lead to a strained atmosphere. Nowadays, before that happens, the involved parties would notice it naturally. In short, I think that we grew up as well.
Okai: When we were doing BeriKyuu concerts together, even we could tell when Berryz had a spat amongst yourselves. There was a strained atmosphere between all of you (laughs).
Shimizu: That did happen! And ℃-ute did something that made it worse (laughs).
Okai: Since we had no idea who was fighting, we were all shook up, confused over who was fighting with whom (laughs).
This relationship that has gone on for 11 years
Will always continue on in the future
Due to the piled up years, both groups seem to have built up a relaxed relationship, but a legend of rivalry has started, inflamed once again by the keyword 'Nippon Budokan'. The first to step forward to the Budokan were ℃-ute. Regarding that, Captain Shimizu bit back with a blog post, declaring 'We want to aim for the Budokan as well!' From then, a continuing war of words and supportive encouragement ensued through the blog posts of both groups. By the end of it, it was decided that Berryz Kobo would also be moving on to the Budokan. On the other hand, it was also decided that ℃-ute would have a two day Budokan.
Wasn't there an impressive response from the fans about your blog correspondences?
Okai: Eh, that's thanks to everyone (laughs). Since it was the first time in 11 years.
Shimizu: We never had done anything like that up to then, had we? Of course, that wasn't our aim.
Okai: We'd noticed that we'd grown up in certain ways as well, and a grown-up wouldn't speak out everything on their minds, would they? And yet, we put it into words, since we seriously thought that Berryz and ℃-ute had a rivalry, in our own way.
Natsuyaki: That definitely was the case......
Okai: No matter what position we put ourselves in, we definitely wouldn't be able to avoid feelings of frustration. ℃-ute have had lots of frustrating memories from when Berryz made their debut. And on this Budokan issue, ℃-ute got to advance there just a bit earlier, so Berryz might have experienced frustration. But at those times, it's difficult to figure out whether we should say something. Of course we can't say that we pity you. Because that would be the most pitiful thing, for us to tell you that we pity you. We don't want to act like we're better than you. Honestly speaking, those blog posts were difficult to write. I spent a lot of time thinking how to write them.
Shimizu-san, you also mentioned that 'With ℃-ute overtaking us and getting to the Budokan before us, for the first time, we understood the frustration that ℃-ute feels towards Berryz Kobo'.
Okai: No! I think it's happened plenty of times before. It was the same with Oricon rankings. In the end, we'd compare how we did. And what's more, I hope that our relationship continues on as well. It's our destiny, it's a problem that we'll never be able to shake off. For example, what Momo-chan (Tsugunaga Momoko) has been doing has had a big role in letting the world know about Berryz. Well, it might have been tough on the Berryz members as well though (laughs). Thinking about the degree of popularity that Momo-chan possesses, I think that ℃-ute still has some ways to go.
As comparisons between your groups can't be avoided even in the future, you've sort of prepared for it.
Suzuki: I think that when those feelings disappear, BeriKyuu would be done. Because if we stop being concerned about one another, if we're like 'Well, whatever', then there's no meaning to being contemporaries.
Natsuyaki: It's a bit complicated, but I think the obsession over the rivalry between us differs based on the individual. Of course we keep tabs on one another. I think the world compares us as well. While it's true that it's unavoidable, if we had so much spare time to declare whether we 'won' or 'lost', we might as well have used that time to learn from one another's strengths, or find ways to further improve as BeriKyuu...... The world might call us rivals, but in the best of senses, I'd like us to motivate one another.
Suzuki: In ℃-ute's case, before we made our debut, there was a continuous period of time where several years had passed and we had no confidence, and we could only watch others and not ourselves. We'd only think about how envious we were, and we might have mistaken those feelings as rivalry. It's embarrassing. Only just recently have ℃-ute become able to bring out our own flavour, and we've even become able to pull of things like the Budokan, so we're able to calm down and look at what's happening around us. However, thinking about it again from that angle, no matter where we go, Berryz and ℃-ute are contemporaries, so we'll get compared. This sort of relationship is something that we'd hardly ever find in this world. And so, just like Miya said, I'd like to increase the synergy between us. As we treasure our own flavour, we'll also get motivated by the other at the same time...... Actually, as we are now, we've already done that. I'd like to continue on treasuring the rivalry that we've kept on going for 11 years.
1 Third single: 'Piriri to Yukou!' Released May 2004. Also, their first single 'Anata nashi de ha ikite yukenai' was released in March of the same year, while the second single 'Fighting Pose ha date janai!' was released in April of the same year.