The stage for Berryz Kobo’s final concert at Budokan.
On the evening of March 3, 2015 in Tokyo, j-pop idol group Berryz Kobo performed its final concert at Nippon Budokan, eleven years to the day following its major debut. While the all-girl group is known for doing everything from performing a capella harmonies to dancing in fish costumes at its concerts, the seven members had a few more surprises up their sleeves to surprise and delight their fans until the very end.
An Unexpected Setlist
One of the most iconic songs in the Berryz repertoire is “Special Generation”. As the first of the group’s songs to hit the Oricon top ten, it has been featured in several concerts over the past ten years, usually near the end. Imagine the surprise, then, when it was the very first song of the night. The setlist proceeded to include several B-sides and album tracks, and the girls performed full versions of all twenty four songs with no medleys, solos, or small group numbers. The selected songs were heavy on opportunities for crowd participation, guaranteeing a completely engaging show from start to finish.
From Cinderella to… what?
After opening the concert in magical transforming Cinderella dresses, the girls stepped backstage while a brief video chronicled their adventures from their elementary school debut days to adulthood, including footage from their Anime Next and Paris appearances. When they returned, they were dressed in monkey outfits that were anything but elegant, celebrating the fun novelty songs that made them stand out from their Hello! Project peers with one final performance of “Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance”. In an ironic play that only Berryz Kobo could pull off, the girls followed that number with a spirited rendition of “I’m so cool!”
Pro wrestling fans may be familiar with the term “kayfabe” which refers to the in-character story lines and personalities that we are supposed to believe about the wrestlers. The world of idols is similar, but we got a few surprises during the girls’ final messages to the fans. Kumai Yurina has long been known for her “Enjoy!” catchphrase. She explained during her speech that it came from a questionnaire she filled out early in her career. When she was asked for her favorite word, she wrote tanoshimu — and then her manager later erased it and filled in the English equivalent. In an even bigger shock, Sudou Maasa confessed that while she always said she’d auditioned for Hello! Project because she was loved Morning Musume… that was a lie. At the time, she auditioned simply because her little sister was doing it, and she couldn’t even tell two of the most popular group members apart.
Berryz Kobo producer and Rhythm Heaven creator Tsunku revealed on his blog that the members of Berryz Kobo were heavily involved in the production of the show, including the selection of the setlist and costumes. It’s a fitting transition from a career where their public lives, as we saw, were micromanaged by others. With two members continuing with Hello! Project backstage as advisors, and two others remaining on the front lines as “playing managers,” it appears as though the overarching Up Front Agency is realizing the wisdom of leveraging its young talents’ years of experience. The other beautiful outcome is that when we look at all of the positives outlined above, we know that they come from the members’ love for their fans and their experiences with the band.
That Final Number
For their last encore, Berryz sang “Love Together” with a live pianist accompanying them. Voices quavering, their singing seemed to grow steadier and stronger as the audience chanted for them and eventually began to sing along, a sound which barely made it through on the broadcast but was deafening inside the arena:
Toki ga sugi Sorezore no
Michi ni mukatte yuku
Dakarakoso Kono shunkan
Takaramono da yo
Wasurenai wa Kyou made no
Suteki na kono michi wo
Suki yo Suki Daisuki
Mata aeru yo ne
Time passes, and we all
Head toward our separate paths
That is why this moment
Is a treasure to me
I won’t forget the road
We’ve traveled together until today
I love you, I love you, I adore you
We’ll meet again, right?