Before Berryz entered my life and Mikitty entered my dreams, Tanaka Reina was my #1 object of affection in Hello! Project. She still holds a special place in my heart, if only because – to me – she manages the balance between kakoii, kawaii, and sexy better than anyone else in the current line-up. In fact, I’d dare say she’s the best and brightest hope for Morning Musume’s immediate future.
Obligatory dental observation: receding gums? A little crooked. But it’s Reina so anything is acceptable with her.
I’ve already written several posts on the appeal of Reina – her memorable Futarigoto, her solo take on “Memory”, her weird little Miyazaki adventure with Rika… She’s the golden child of sixth gen, the one who has the most developed and likeable persona, the one with the clearest talent. She even had her own subgroup with Aa!, which was basically U15 All-Stars (though Version 2 was a vast improvement to Version 1).
Eri and Sayumi have done a good deal of catching up this past year. Eri’s finally found her niche and become a fan favorite – I’d dare say she’s actually more popular than Reina now – while Sayumi’s beauty only continues to grow over time (and she had that wicked cool red hat in Kouhaku). In contrast, Reina was already in the privileged position: she was in the shuffles this year and has regular leads on singles with Takitty and Miki…
But looking back, it seems that Reina was treading water in terms of her persona this past year. No, that’s the wrong term – she seems to have decided that becoming cute is more important than being Yankee. Which would be an interesting choice in others… but on her, it’s not as obvious a decision.
I think of her performance in “Kouhaku” and her solo performance of “Koi wo Shichaimashita” in Hong Kong… I also think of her turn as a panda in the Hello! Morning skits and her more recent turn as a cat with Koharu in that rap thing. All added up,she seemed to be winking and flirting and going all kawaii more than in her first year or so in Momusu.
Now, don’t get me wrong: she was always cute and always indulged her cuteness when needed. As the youngest of sixth gen, it seemed almost mandatory. However, she rarely made a big deal of it before: if anything, her Yankee style and tough girl attitude seemed to leaven this impulse. Now it seems to dominate her performances more than before.
There could be all kinds of reasons for this. Maybe her managers figure it’d make her a better sell to the fan base. Maybe she’s grown out of her tomboy phase and is trying out this more feminine turn to see where it takes her.
I’m not saying I hate it. However, it does seem puzzling… a seeming regression from the serious young woman who led “Shabondama” and “First Kiss” and stole the spotlight of “Yuujou” from some very capable senpai.
And yet, this may indicate something more important and more helpful in the long run: a versatility that isn’t as evident in most of the other current members. This is obvious in terms of performance and group role: Reina manages to be both a capable utility player as well as a solo superstar in the making. She sings very well, can do comedy reasonably well, and is a good sport about most anything she has to undertake.
But she’s also still at a point where she can play with her idol personae more freely than just about anyone short of Koharu. Which is ironic, since she’s one of those least in need of reshaping how she presents herself – and yet I think she’s now showing a willingness to tinker and see if something different will work for her beyond the Reina we first got to know.
As far as versatility, the proof is in the PV: Reina’s the only one of the current Musume who can easily fit into any of the three subgroups of Chokkan 2. She’s still very cute, she can do sexy (well, I think she can and I don’t care what anyone else thinks), and her tough-girl Yankee image certainly places her in the masculine Heroic group quite easily.
And for the heroic group, she certainly seems to go out of her way to be as kawaii as possible. Makoto and Yossi went as butch as their roles could take them, while Reina seems to play up the cute younger sister vibe. She never threatens as much as winks, pouts, and flirts in a childish manner.
It’s like Eri’s version of a Gold Sexy performance – emphasize the cuteness and let the sexiness shine subtly. Though in this case, I must confess I’m not as sure that the Heroic or the masculine is as evident in Reina. Anyone watching Morning Musume for the first time with this PV would not have guessed she was the Yankeeof the group.
If anything, placing her in this category only highlights how much her performance is a departure from past expectations. Which was initially disappointing, but now feels like a tentative step forward for Reina. Not that I want to see her lose that Yankee appeal and go all Sayumi on her fans, but that she’s willing to defy expectations when possible.
If she plays it right, Reina has the ability to be the most fluidly chameleon-like of idols in the current Momusu line-up. Need someone who can do strongly dramatic, emotional songs? She can definitely deliver on that. Need someone who can do light and frothy idol frou fou silliness? She can do that as well. Need someone as comfortable with harmonies as with solo lines? Pair her up with Risa – they seemed to make a great team on “Osaka Koi no Uta” especially.
While there’s still vestiges of her being the “baby” of the group for the past couple years, that’s rapidly slipping away. If anything, she’s the best positioned to now emerge as the most valuable player of the line-up – not through leadership but by providing the best example of what a Morning Musume idol should be like.
Keep in mind, I’m highly biased here. But in a post-Mikitty Momusu – yes, I’m still counting on that happening – Yossi will remain leader with Takitty the most likely subleader. Lead vocals will be split between Takitty and Reina, with Risa likeliest to fill in for a semi-regular lead in Miki’s place. So shouldn’t Takitty emerge as the best exemplar of the Momusu ethic?
Takitty should… but I don’t think she does. I’ve already expressed reservations on why I have a problem with Takitty as an idol. She’s got the most photobooks and the likeliest solo career – but she doesn’t have the proper persona and carries herself the wrong way to be a useful example to the others. Especially those with considerably less talent to show for their efforts. If anything, Takitty seems to be heading to a point where she’ll debut in her solo career with the kind of generic idol-ness that Momusu haters often accuse the entire group of embodying.
Reina, in contrast, is more in-your-face, more willing to be outrageous in her own way. She dressed in an idiosyncratic manner while still appearing down-to-earth. She later learned to parody her Yankee image a little, and now she seems on the verge of jettisoning it – or at least making it just one color in the wider palette of her idol persona. All throughout, she has remained distinctly herself, which is amazing when you consider that “being herself” is just another media construct for idols and yet it’s so tempting to attribute this to the girl and not the marketing of the girl.
I think there’ve been good influences on her idol development – perhaps most prominently, Kago Ai. When she was younger, Reina was a Minimoni fan and she’s expressed her fondness for Kago in different clips – most notably in her Futarigoto. If you need a lesson in how to do an outsize idol persona that captures the hearts of fans, Kago’s certainly as good an example as you can find. (For the sake of this argument, never mind the current scandal.) So in essence, she and – in a more roundabout way, Sayumi – have become the best standard-bearers for the legacy of fourth gen… something that bypassed fifth gen completely.
And why is this all useful for her fellow Momusu? Because it’s a path that can be followed usefully by the girls who need to rely more on stronger singers, whose talents may not be as strong but whose desire to be an idol rely on that marketing X factor which Reina seems most aware of – and fluent with – among the gens five to seven. Ironically, I think her fellow gen sixes have picked up on this on their own and progressed, while gen fives are still a bit lost on the matter… Which may just prove the truism: either you have it or you don’t. Though the jury’s still out on Koharu, at least.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Reina’s future post-Momusu, but I think she’s got enough careerism in her to set herself up for as many possibilities as she can create. She can become more of a rock diva (think “Yuujou”) with a funky Yankee or street look; she can go for the gentler power-ballad diva approach and perhaps get away with it; she can even believably lead her own unit, perhaps continuing Aa! and making them a Melon Kinenbi Version 2.0…
I think there’s still some question of whether or not she can indeed carry a solo career, but I’d attribute that to her youth. Let her grow a couple more years in Morning Musume and watch how she blossoms – certainly, she’s the most exciting of the group to see develop, if only because she started with so much potential and seems intent on making the most of it.
Reina’s been at it for three years now almost, and while she has a lot to show for it, she’s also just beginning. She’s not only been the most exciting to watch in recent years of Momusu, she’s also the one who’ll most astound us in the future, I’d bet. For all she’s done, there’s just still so much potential with her – she knows it, and she’s making use of it. One can’t help but admire that.