Last December, Japan’s most popular idol group AKB48 released a PSP game. There were several bundles, including one that cost ¥36,729 (US$453) and came with 48 PSP battery covers that featured “kiss marks” from all 48 members. When the bundle was released, many wondered who the hell was going to buy it? This guy, probably.
On Japanese social networking site Mixi (via アルファルファモザイク, one AKB48 fan claims to have purchased 5,500 copies of the group’s latest single “Everyday, Kachusha” for a grand total of ¥8.8 million, or US$109,000.
That’s right, over a hundred grand. On AKB48’s latest single. The Japanese internet is baffled by this fan’s purchasing decision, though there is a long standing otaku tradition in which crazed fans purchase large amounts of their favourite video game, comic or CDs, take photos and them post them online. It’s all about outdoing others, showing how hardcore you are. Think e-peen, but for rich otaku. In the U.S., geeks might get tattoos to prove their loyalty. In Japan, geeks buy shit—the same shit, over and over again.
These days, AKB48 is magnet for loyal fans. It’s a popular idol group with around 48 members; the number depends on if new members join or if old members graduate. The group, based in Tokyo geek mecca Akihabara, was created by music whiz Atsushi Akimoto, a former Onyanko Club song writer. Their tunes are gooey sugar, but some of them, as pure unabashed pop go, are actually quite brilliant.
In the last few years, the group’s popularity has exploded in Japan, making AKB48 one of Japan’s most popular act. In the way of last March’s earthquake, it was AKB48 who donated more money to relief efforts than either Nintendo or Sony.
The group’s popularity is a result of diehard fans. Even if he didn’t buy 5,500 copies, it appears that he purchased many copies. With each copy, he gets a ballot, which has a serial number, to vote for his favourite AKB48 member in the group’s general election. The general election decides which member is the most popular, and the most popular member becomes the group’s de facto leader, appearing front and centre on album covers, TV commercials and more.
Team K member Yuko Oshima (Office AKB) There have been studies that AKB48 has a smaller number of fans that it’s sales indicate; sales are beefed up through general election voting as well as handshaking events.
This AKB48 diehard wrote that his favourite is Yuko Oshima, who is a member of AKB’s Team K (there are three teams) and is also a member of Dragon Ball theme song subunit, Team Dragon.
Released on May 25, “Everyday, Kachusha” is now the biggest single in Japan, selling nearly a million copies. Yuko Oshima is now leading the general election with 17,156 votes, followed closely by former AKB48 leader Atsuko Maeda with 16,452 votes. The general election will wrap up on June 9. The bewilderment towards this nerd will continue long after.