Renai Kinshi Jourei (25 May 2013) First-Time Report
Exactly four months after I began sporadically watching 48 group performances with January’s Request Hour Set List, I found myself sitting inside JKT48 Theater for my first theater show experience of any 48 group. With coordination by Angga several weeks in advance, some members of the JKT48Stuff staff were able to meet up with friends to watch the theater show together.
I had the privilege of sitting with Melos of Melos no Michi in the section for Far and Super Far ticket holders. He shared some of his knowledge and experience with AKB48 groups, and I was able to provide him interpretation of JKT48 members’ conversations into English during the show. Visiting the theater has made me even more convinced that the barrier to entry into understanding what happens at JKT48 Theater is the lack of attempt to acquaint first-time visitors to the processes of ticket redemption, seating procedures, and show progression. If even local Indonesian first-time visitors unfamiliar with the 48 group concept find it difficult to understand the chaotic theater procedures, how does one expect a foreign visitor to understand them?
Given the unpredictable theater schedule lately, it was perhaps a miracle that Aturan Anti Cinta was the set list selected to be performed that day. I had already felt that the best introduction to watching a theater show would be a Team J performance rather than Trainee one, thus it was quite fortunate that the stars aligned properly.
As a first-time theater show attendee, I am almost entirely unfamiliar with songs that come from theater set lists, thus many I were hearing for the first time. These songs may be a staple for regular fans of AKB48, but I am more used to listening to songs pre-arranged for me in an album release such as a “best of” compilation. The impermanence of performers for each song is not something I am used to, and impressions in that setting can change from show to show, while the experience of listening to album does not change.
This is perhaps also why I almost never attend concerts because the nature of live performances is that they can be unpredictable. I enjoy certain songs because they have been pre-recorded for an album release, not because I hear them live for the first time.
I came into the show without having an oshimen in JKT48. As I explained to Melos, the reason is because it is difficult to get a glimpse of the individuality of each member from public appearances because JKT48 always appears as a large group for TV performances or talk shows, reducing the time spent introducing each member’s personalities. There was no way for me to create individual impressions of each member.
Set List & Member Impressions
For some reason, I have always found it fascinating that members themselves conduct the pre-opening and post-closing announcements, which adds to the personal flavor of the theater show. Having been an anime and seiyuu (voice acting) follower for several years, I take particular interest in only hearing someone’s voice rather than seeing the person speak. In this show, Nabilah was the designated announcer, and while it was conducted in a fitting tone I had never noticed how she often seems to unable to pronounce the letter R by rolling the tongue. It also became clear to me throughout the show why she is one of the leading members of JKT48 even at such a young age. Nabilah never seems to lose energy through the entire night, and the confidence she has in herself shows in both performances and talk sessions.
As the opening solo singer of the show, Stella is one of the members that immediately stands out among the rest. I find her voice to be her strongest point. While photographs of her performances in public often show her with a smile, I did not see this side of her in the theater. Instead, she looked entirely calm and composed during each performance, as if demonstrating a boldness I had never seen from her in public appearances further emphasized by her wearing deep red nail polish that made her stand out among other members.
I used the four opening songs as an opportunity to get a sense of each member’s performance personality and how they fit within the overall group dynamic of JKT48. The self introduction session that follows also allows the audience to get to know members on a personal level. This is the time when their characteristics really shine, and I could immediately verify and understand why each member has a certain reputation.
The unit songs that follow also enhance this understanding by allowing the audience to focus on only three or four members at a time rather than getting drowned among 16 all at once. For example, Melody showed the audience in “Malaikat Hitam” why she is the center of JKT48. Whether during talk sessions or group songs, watching her can make the audience understand the mood of the song and dance. On the other hand, some members never seemed to break out of their stereotype. The most noticeable example is Cindy Gulla, whose cute characteristics was on full display when earlier she stumbled along her self introduction, during “Tsundere”. Because her dere image is overwhelmingly strong, the tsun side never really materialized in the course of the song.
As much as I appreciate the presence of the evening’s Japanese trio of Haruka, Rena, and Ayana in “Virus Tipe Hati”, I also feel like they are too burdened with Japan’s prolific kawaii image. It is clear though they have a strong following among fans of JKT48, and they can definitely steal the show when the time is right. Haruka in particular is a prime target for pranks because of her low fluency in Indonesian, and her cute and clumsy image enabled her to often steal the show during the talk sessions. At one point, she attempted to pronounce “Iron Man” with a Japanese accent that made it sound like the Indonesian “Ayo, man!” (“Come on, man!”) While this is fun to watch for entertainment, it also brings the question of the image she really wants to portray. At the end of the show, another member made a comment (albeit in jest) that Haruka as a 21-year-old acted no differently than the 15-year-old Rena and Cindy.
Despite some questionable impressions, I thoroughly enjoyed the show from beginning to end because I could finally understand the individual charms of each member. Shania’s facial expressions are among the most vibrant and varied of the group, and her signature eyebrow frown is certainly a point of attraction that will never make me bored when I watch her perform, which I think is quite impressive considering that she is among the youngest members. Rica and Sendy appeal to the more traditional Indonesian charm as they follow the local trends, exemplified when Sendy noted during a talk session that Rica does not often watch foreign films. Ghaida’s boyish outlook is something I believe as almost necessary to have in an idol unit. The rowdy Jessica Vania and the quiet beauty Jessica Veranda, despite having the same names, are almost polar opposites in demeanor. Gabriela is one I would consider as demonstrating natural beauty with facial features that I consider somewhat average yet possessing a certain charm with her hairstyle. Frieska, while a hard worker, suffers from having to stand in the shadow of her more successful older sister.
If you are counting, you will find that I saved one member for last because I believe Beby left the deepest impression on me that evening. I immediately took notice of her solid dance abilities in the unit performance of “Aturan Anti Cinta”. While her self introduction did not have a particularly strong appeal, she is best observed during performance. I was almost always watching her in each song by the end of the show, and I think she took notice of this and looked straight at me multiple times for extended durations in the process. During one of the final talk sessions, I had taken notice that Beby seemed out of breath after performing three straight group songs. She seemed more concerned with the state of her own stamina than attempting to participate in the conversations. Then, in rare display of endurance, she clenched a fist and pounded her stomach as if telling herself to pull it together, and she eventually began to contribute bit by bit to the rowdy conversation.
It is not often that the audience gets to see members when they are struggling. We are there to push them even further when they are successful, but we rarely notice their struggles on the spot and only find out later when something has happened to them. But being able to see Beby show her own weakness and then overcoming it in the span of one minute will make anyone acknowledge just how far she intends to work in order to put on her best performance. This wins her points in my books, and so I made the decision that she would be my first oshimen in JKT48.
I gave her a brief, congratulatory message on a job well done during the high-five session, and she thanked me in return.
As I mentioned earlier, JKT48 Theater is perhaps best experienced for the first time by watching the original members that started it all: Team J. I had actually won the lottery for the Trainee performance during last month’s visit to Jakarta, but a sudden change in travel plans made me unable to claim that reservation. In retrospect, I am somewhat grateful that I decided to pass on that opportunity with the hope of being able to watch Team J as my first theater experience. I was also fortunate enough to have watched the show with several personas of the JKT48 blogging scene, which I think made the experience much more enjoyable than if I were to attend alone.
Despite my writings which have been overly questioning of the success potential of JKT48, I never doubted the fact that all of its members are working as best they can as performers. The entertainment industry is not an easy place to be in, and these girls are trying to show that they are ready to be part of it. Any shortcomings from the group as a whole will only result from the oversight or overzealousness of management.
Watching a theater performance resolves the earlier issue I mentioned to Melos of not being able to see enough individuality in JKT48 members’ public appearances. This is perhaps the irony and challenge for management as well. Members will not become known without JKT48, but not many people will necessarily buy into the group without knowing more about the members.
If theater performances are more accessible, then more people will have a chance to know the members of the group. After all, I won’t be the last person to have this kind of experience with a theater performance.
Traveled 10,000 miles from US to JKT48 Theater to find an oshi in @bebyJKT48
— Richardson H. Kilis (@rhkilis) May 25, 2013