(Translator's note: This post is a continuation of a previous entry.)
The Japanese idol slump was given respite with the emergence of Ai Shinozaki and even then, complaints about her curvy frame and how it was so unlike the stick figure aura of innocence those in AKB48 and the like possess led to grumbles. The women who make up the AKB units seem to dominate the entire left hemisphere of the image matrix posted previously (Hinako Sano is a recent exception.)
Many in this bunch see themselves as having not much of a future and even from the perspective of penning this piece, I'm obliged to agree—especially when considering the gravure idoling industry of days long past. There used to be a smorgasbord of niche magazines focused on the Lolita style that have always been absent in more major publications. The current world of the gravure idol has simplified to a combination of cheerful yet erotic models. Take a look at the next image:
More concretely, the left side of this image can be represented by the likes of Mayuko Iwasa and Yui Ichikawa whereas the right side was dominated in the early-to-mid 2000's by the Yellow Cab modeling agency (not to be confused with the other meaning of yellow cab). This image is quite simple in that it only contains two directions and can be summarized with cute healthy beauty on the left and and less cute, more erotic on the right. For example, both Rio Natsume and Miri Hanai aren't traditionally cute, but both possess extra curvy and erotic bodies with bombasticly big breasts (huge breasts like theirs are actually called bakunyuu—translated literally as 'explosion breasts') which have been their main selling points.
However, these two examples along with Yuuko Ogura have been considered initially part of the Lolita category, but have moved on to the erotic as they have matured. Along with this, the radical chakuero (near nude) niche of gravure model has seen much growth. The world of gravure idoling can initially be seen as a massive continent akin to Pangea, but as time goes by it slowly has fragmented into unique islands of individuality. This was most noticable in the time leading up to the 2008 financial crisis and is best summarized by the first matrix image.
Over-diversification along with more and more radical niches of gravure idoling did not help in preventing an industry downswing. The barrier separating junior idols and chakuero has been drawn dangerously close as of late—especially with independent publishers. This may also be the reason why major publications are shying away from the gravure industry (and the same can also be said as to why gravure idols aren't being embraced as often by the music industry). It may be no exaggeration to say that the rise of the AKB-like idol groups has coincided with the decline of the gravure idoling industry especially when considering that so many of the niche modeling magazines have closed shop.
A huge factor influencing the changes in the industry can be the persistant Lolita Complex that continues to dominate Japanese society. However, that's a story for another day. For all readers of messy, think about how hard gravure idols of today have it with their difficult work prospects compared to your own so no matter how tough your life appears to be, keep on trying your hardest!
Written by Caetano Takeno Coimbra
Takeno was born in the 1980's in the Fukushima Prefecture. Keeping a popular online diary since the dawn of the internet age in Japan, Takeno now works independently dealing with both online sales and online sales data analysis.
(Translator's note: The idol culture that AKB48 represents boomed in the 80's and hit a slump with the popping of the bubble though over-saturation was certainly at play. Will history repeat seeing the demise of the current Japanese idol mania and a return to individual acts—gravure included? Probably.)
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