AKB0048, Universal Nostalgia, and the Power of the Pop Idol

“I wanted to meet you…YES!”

Do you remember the pop songs you listened to when you were young?

More importantly, disregarding their ability to jog your misty-water colored memories, do you still listen to those songs now? For most, the answer to this question is “No.”

Tastes change as we grow older and experience different things, as does the music of our once-favorite performers. Often, the most choice earworms are doomed to be brought out only when one wants to remember hamming it up in the elementary school talent show dancing to Whoomp! (There It Is). These songs have a staying power all their own that has nothing to do with the song and everything to do with the sepia-tinged nostalgia that we assign to these songs ourselves.

Aitakatta (I Wanted to Meet You) and AKB0048

An odd quirk of AKB0048 is that they appear to have been performing the same handful of songs for at least a decade (add in the fact that this is the 77th iteration of this specific idol group and one can presume the amount of time to be much longer). The song that begins AKB0048’s guerilla concert, inspiring four girls to become pop idols, is the very same song that leads off their concert years later: Aitakatta. For an AKB48 fan, this is a shout-out to the real-life group’s signature song (one of their first and most popular hits), often used to introduce them at television appearances. For me, it seemed a bit off for an idol group as large as this one to be performing the same song after so many years had passed.

Taking a brief look at pop music today, songs rotate in and out of public popularity at the blink of an eye. A popular entertainment entity would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t add new songs to their repertoire. The real-life example of AKB48 is about to release their 26th single where the fictional 77th generation of their anime counterparts are about to learn the same songs that they have been performing for decades. This is where the nostalgia piece comes in. In a world where entertainment is banned, one song would resonate across the ether far more powerfully than it would in today’s more fast-paced society where entertainment (and dare I say, culture) streams quickly and disappears just as quickly, only to be replaced by something else.

In addition to this, there’s also the powerful nostalgia factor, as introduced in the first few paragraphs. The soon-to-be 77th generation of AKB0048 is populated with girls who heard these songs when they were very young. In Nagisa and Chieri’s cases, both of their families appear to actively oppose the idea of “entertainment.” Their nostalgia is both a literal reminder of their childhood, and the often-cheesy but powerful universal nostalgia of humanity that longs for entertainment, culture, or as the promotional material for AKB0048 says so succinctly, “things that disturb the heart like music or art.”

“Just a song that was popular in an alien city, tens of thousands of years ago. Just an ordinary love song.”

Macross: Do You Remember Love? A Genetic Nostalgia.

There is no other piece of animation that exemplifies this idea of universal nostalgia more than the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? where the song of pop idol Lynn Minmay has the power to change the hearts of an alien race and turn the tide of a war. Notably, the song that Lynn Minmay sings is not her own, unlike the many others peppered throughout the movie, but a translated version of a melody penned over ten-thousand years in the past.

“I have found the answer. The culture of those who provided our genes is being awakened.”

Presented across a stunning action set-piece, the song is sung to quell the furor of Zentradi, an alien race that has separated along gender lines with the males (Zentran) and females (Meltran) actively at war with one another. As Minmay begins to sing, the Zentradi commander Britai speaks to the strange sensation that he’s heard the song before, in spite of their society being completely devoid of culture. His bridge counterpart remarks that it’s their genetic programming being awakened.

In the world of Do You Remember Love? (note: I am only speaking of the movie and not of the Macross television series) both the Zentradi and humans are genetically derived from the same ancestry: a race known as the Protoculture. Where the former is an expansion through genetic cycles and a warrior race without culture, the other is humanity’s development (plus space!) by procreation. Through the mouthpiece of the idol, Lynn Minmay, they are unified by an ancient pop song. Imagine, a world unified by Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, or for a more recent example, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.

“I love you so.”

Is this cheesy? Oh, goodness yes. What else do AKB0048 and Macross: Do You Remember Love? have in common in addition to pop idols and nostalgia? Shoji Kawamori as the director.

Do You Remember Love? was his directorial debut where AKB0048 is his most recent work. I’m hardly equating the two; however, they have a certain fascinating similarity to them in the way they address the power of the pop song using an idol (or idols in the case of the latter) as a mouthpiece of disseminating culture. The ability of a catchy earworm to unify the public is obviously something that Kawamori is interested in. Music, or culture, is something that can move, or disturb, the heart in a dangerous and fantastic way.

In response to the question posed at the beginning of this article: do I still listen to the songs I listened to when I was young? While listening to End of the Road by Boyz II Men brings up fond memories of friends crying over their middle-school boyfriends in the girls’ bathroom, I don’t feel this particular universal nostalgia that Kawamori seems to be so fond of. Bringing up End of the Road with others, we all have hilarious or awkward stories to share, as it reminds us of our childhood. Perhaps this is the only nostalgia that we will ever feel, never having been raised in a society devoid of culture, or where music is banned by law. Still, however ridiculous, it’s impossible to deny the power of the pop song.

12 Comments

Filed under AKB0048, Editorials

12 responses to “AKB0048, Universal Nostalgia, and the Power of the Pop Idol

  1. I remember the pop songs I listened to when I was young, and I remember hating them then just as much then as I do now. I’d only listen to them when I was forced to because I was riding in someone else’s car. Man I hate pop music so much (and J-POP even more). It certainly “disturbs the heart.” This is probably why I can’t get behind this show as much as you guys.

    I do hope this universe has other forms of “entertainment” other than idols. Because if the word “entertainment” has changed its meaning in the millenia leading up to the show to simply mean “J-POP idols”, then I have to sympathize with the government.

    • Ah…so you’re going to be this comment section’s Boddole Zer, eh?

      I’m actually not a huge fan of pop music as a general rule, but I cannot deny the catchy melodies of certain songs. Admittedly, I don’t think that I’ve ever felt the universal nostalgia that Minmay inspires with “Do You Remember Love?” or AKB0048 refreshes with “Aitakatta.” Actually, I wasn’t allowed to listen to pop music as a child (among many other things I wasn’t allowed to do). Any music I did hear was gleaned from summer camp, friends’ houses, etc. In spite of enjoying these songs, l was really listening to them more as a way to be included in the social loop rather than a genuine affinity for them, but this too is part and parcel of the unifying power of pop (even if it’s unification through hatred, as it is in your case. I can feel Kawamori’s disapproval already. ^ ^).

      Surely there are other forms of entertainment in the world of AKB0048 than pop idols; however, it is the pop idols that are the showpieces and focus for this series. If the series deviates from this, I’ll be shocked, especially given Kawamori’s fascination with idols in general.

      In closing, just in case this didn’t come through in the article, AKB0048 is stupid and over-the-top, but wonderfully so in both cases. It plays its ridiculous cards with a straight face and I love it for that.

  2. Nice post on AKB0048! I wasn’t really sure about the series, but after I saw the first few episodes it does have me hooked because it kind of reminds me of the Idolmaster; sadly AKB0048 is lacking interesting characters because most of the girls act the same as far as personality goes, but hey there are a few fun characters like Makoto, Sonata and that random girl that has a built in gun inside her arm? Yeah that was awesome.

    I do enjoy the idea of having all forms of “entertainment” banned for the story and how they mixed in gun play and of course random giant robots suddenly appearing? Oh and like you said AJ it’s SPACEEEEE! Gotta love that <3

    Damn there are a lot of songs that I hear on the radio that take me back to all kinds of great past memories like in school or the occasional camp trip when I was 13 or so! I do find it funny how songs can trigger memories we might have forgotten over the years…hopefully they are good memories ahaha

    I only remember bits and parts of of that Macross movie, but yeah da power of song! Just like Macross Seven with all their catchy songs damn there are some great ones, but Idol themed shows are strangely addictive huh? I hope this comment works xD

    • Yeah, Idolm@ster definitely had a much better character focus, whereas these girls seem to be a bit more obvious in their being used for shameless promotional purposes. This is probably due to the fact that Idolm@ster was a game with very structured character archetypes, whereas AKB0048 is based on real-life idol group AKB48, which rotates through members constantly. (Also, perhaps they didn’t want to risk offending the real-life idols? I’m not so sure, so if anyone else who is familiar with AKB48 knows, feel free to chime in please!)

      I need to watch more Macross. I say that every time I watch Do You Remember Love? and soon I shall finally follow through, starting with the original and including Macross 7. There’s something especially endearing (and wacko) about a guy riding into space battles with his guitar and thinking he can change the world.

      I can’t wait! ^ ^

  3. Lemon Angel Project done right? ^ ^ I think Kawamori is really good at keeping tight themes but varying the context, and that’s interesting considering how moefied AKB0048 appears.

    So about them 90s tunes… I remember them, but don’t make a point to listen to them. A couple years back I was riding out to Keystone with my brother and a friend when they stumbled across the “All 90s, All the time” station on satellite radio. It was so terrible, even when a song we heard AN HOUR AGO came on, their excitement levels were outrageous like they hadn’t heard it in ages… lol, they are a bit younger though, so I guess they were still in elementary when those songs were playing.

    • Although I’ve never seen Lemon Angel Project, based on the description…perhaps? I can guarantee the focus on love, trust, and the bonds of friendship. ^ ^

      I remember watching the first episode, where the opening scenes are pans over dank, gritty landscapes, and all of a sudden the girls’ younger versions appear…it’s quite the juxtaposition.

      An all 90s all the time station sounds alright, although I’d probably get bored of the nostalgia after about an hour. Elementary school is when these girls presumably saw AKB0048, so the shoe fits!

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  5. I came into AKB hoping against hope for Glass Mask in space, and ended up with Macross Frontier: The Junior Years.

    In fact the fact it’s so straight-laced in depicting a completely bizarre future makes it all the more compelling – the best SF makes you swallow its idiosyncrasies hook, line and sinker and Kawamori is a master of it.

    To keep with the music analogy, based on what you’ve written about Ai Oboeteimasu Ka, Planet Dance must be the Macross setting’s equivalent of Don’t Stop Believin or The Final Countdown, a cheesy as hell and not very good song that has huge, huge pop culture significance.

    • Glass Mask…there’s an anime that has been recommended to me time and time again and I do not know why I haven’t watched it yet. ^ ^

      I feel as if “Don’t Stop Believin'” is another good analogy. This is based purely on my experience with it, which reminds me of a drunken legion of collegiate rugby players singing in cacophonous unison; not a one-time thing, mind you, but a recurring sing-along weekly at team parties.

      Thank you, and I look forward to other insightful comments of yours.

      • Glass Mask is really good, if perhaps suffering from a tendency to wallow in melodrama at the expense of keeping the plot moving. The 80s version is too short to tell the story but the 2005 one perhaps a little bit too long. The latter is definitely the better pick though.

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