Assessing JKT48’s Leadership Shuffle
Fans of JKT48 had their first taste of a reorganization at Saturday’s Pintu Masa Depan (Mirai no Tobira) concert, the closing act in a series of four back-to-back concerts that spanned a full day. While some fan circles have called for a reorganization for some months, others have considered such a move too early, given the recent formation of Team T.
On the other hand, there is greater consensus that some sort of refresher is necessary for JKT48 to overcome stagnation. A leadership shuffle, therefore, is one way management is able to bring about change without creating too much chaos. It also prepares fans for the future possibility that management makes more far-reaching changes in order to advance the group’s standing.
Management had presented a challenge for each of JKT48’s three teams. The first team to sell out all of its concert’s seats would gain the right to publish its own CD album, and the second team to do so would be able to release its own photo book. No team was able to fulfill this objective, despite Team J coming to within 100 tickets of a sold out concert. Therefore, JKT48 General Manager Jiro Inao indicated the possibility that management will present the same challenge again in the future.
Given the leadership shuffle announced on Saturday, it will be interesting to observe if and how the competition for these two rewards evolve.
Melody appointed JKT48 Theater General Manager
As of the end of June, Melody will have held the position of JKT48 Captain for 18 months. In this time period, JKT48 has held two elections and welcomed its third and fourth generation members. Needless to say, with the rapidly changing line-up of JKT48, management saw the need for a stabilizing factor in the group. They saw this in Melody, who had started off simply as a center but saw her role evolve into something more as the group grew over the years.
In a move which can be seen as management’s further acknowledgment of Melody’s stabilizing presence, she will be appointed JKT48 Theater General Manager effective August 1, 2015. This is not the same position as General Manager, which remains occupied by Jiro Inao. However, since the departure of the JKT48’s other General Manager, Mifumi Kato, earlier this year, management may have seen the need to delegate some of the duties which currently rest entirely on Inao.
As mentioned by Inao, this position is new to JKT48 but already exists among its sister groups in Japan. Notable examples are Hiroshi Yuasa, the SKE48 Theater Manager and previously AKB48 Theater Manager, and Rino Sashihara, an HKT48 Theater Co-Manager. It is unclear how Melody’s new role will relate to Vikry Artha, who currently runs JKT48 Theater’s operations. However, Melody’s position opens a new door for the group—it now has the opportunity to further focus its efforts into theater performances.
In the midst of all the drama of elections and team rivalries, we often forget that JKT48 are first and foremost theater idols. Without its theater, JKT48 has no core activity. While attendance of theater performances has never been better, there has been a noticeable lack of enthusiasm among fans who frequently attend them. Addressing this issue should be the first priority of Melody’s new role.
Nina, Stefi, Cesen promoted into Team T; Sofia promoted into Team J
The formation of Team T echoed the drama of the formation of Team KIII—not all third generation members were able to be promoted into the same team at the same time. Learning from past experience, fans have rallied to support the third generation members left behind as Trainees, and I feel these Trainees have risen to the occasion faster than the second generation. I have seen fans of these promoted Trainees come out in strong protest against management’s neglect, which may have had an impact on these promotions. It was also pointed out that these four members either sold out or nearly sold out their sessions at the Pareo is Your Emerald Handshake Festival.
What remains to be seen is whether the breakup of the third generation into separate teams will permanently change its dynamic as what happened to the second generation.
Shania appointed Team J Captain
The position of team captain is likely a better fit for Shania than center, a position she held in the seventh single “Papan Penanda Isi Hati”. It is common knowledge that Shania has often stepped up as a leader in Team J. Other first generation members have also acknowledged her potential as a future team captain because of her tendency to speak up her mind and bring the team together in the absence of senior members.
What remains to be seen is if and how her leadership style will differ from Kinal’s. Team J remains the darling team of fans, but its position is threatened by the possibility of senior members graduating and younger members usurping their popularity. As the fourth youngest member in the team and the second youngest among the first generation, Shania is certain to bring fresh ideas to reinvigorate Team J, but she must also transition it from a legendary team into one that remains accessible to new fans.
Kinal replaces Naomi as Team KIII Captain
While a controversial move, Naomi’s sacking as captain will come as no surprise to some observers. Her team recently won back-to-back competitions in jump rope and battle of the brains against Team J. Although these victories boosted the team’s morale, they have no lasting effects. In the recent JKT48 Journal documentary, Naomi admitted that she had not expected the original captaincy announcement and is still learning how to lead. Team KIII has accomplished much in its first two years, yet its holistic progress remains lacking compared to Team J. Management may feel that the team cannot afford to lag behind any further.
Team KIII is often fragmented in its identity despite having a dedicated following and its share of frontline members. The impact of management’s decision to break up the second generation into separate teams in 2013 remains a difficult memory, as seen in the documentary. While second generation members in the original Team KIII had hoped that all of their cohorts would eventually be promoted into the same team, management denied the reunion by assigning Dena, Rachel, and Vanka to Team J. This abrupt change was difficult to swallow as members saw some of their cohorts be assigned into the “senior” team.
Naomi will have completed two years as team captain come July, but Team KIII appears to have reached a glass ceiling. As new team captain, Kinal has two primary tasks. The first is to help the team discover and enhance its identity. When this task is achieved, the second is to help the team overcome its past and break the ceiling that is preventing them from competing on even ground with Team J. In the words of its concert theme, Team KIII must not look back into the past and let it hinder them from seeing the future.
Haruka appointed Team T Captain
In another controversial move, management decided to appoint a frontline Team J member as leader of a previously captainless team. This move can either jump start Team T’s competitive nature or backfire more seriously than the second generation’s breakup. Haruka’s appointment may mean that no clear individual has emerged as a candidate for captain of Team T. Fans are also divided on who among the third generation is fit for the role.
The only option is then to bring an outsider. Having worked with Grace and Angel in 4 Gulali, Haruka is the only member to have worked closely with members of Team T. If Haruka has shown that she has leadership potential, this is a gamble that management is willing to take. However, this puts additional pressure on Haruka, who confessed in her election speech that she has worried whether she is up to the task, having had little experience as a frontline member in AKB48. This move reflects AKB48’s own history when Kazumi Urano was reassigned from Team A to the newly formed Team B in December 2006, eventually acting as the team’s de facto leader before captains were appointed.
This is where the appointment can backfire, because appointing an outsider as team captain means Team T will not have an opportunity to identify itself as a third generation team the way Team KIII identified itself as a second generation team. Should this experiment fail, the team will have an even more difficult time in formulating a unified identity in the future and remain without a leader if Haruka is sacked.
Naomi and Elaine reassigned to Team J
Naomi being stripped of her captaincy and reassigned to Team J may be a blow to her pride, but she and Elaine must see the reassignment in a positive light. It may be an indication that management is giving them an opportunity to learn from the veterans, meaning that they still have the potential to return as or be appointed captains of their original teams. This is also a test for Team J, which has never received another member who is not promoted from Trainee status. How will the team help to integrate these members into its inner circle?
For Elaine especially, it is my observation that she has stalled in her ability to emerge as a frontline member since the formation of Team T. While she remains popular among fans, having earned the under girls center position in the tenth single, the determination of the Elaine I saw in Team T is lacking compared to the one in the Red Trainee Team. It is my hope that she will regain her ambition as a member of Team J.