In compiling my top 100 PV countdown, I’ve now run into a roadblock, as I’m about to introduce the first Morning Musume video on the countdown. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss it properly without putting it into perspective first. The reason is because there are only two acts in all of H!P history for which my enjoyment hasn’t been relatively uniform but rather concentrated on distinct periods. They are Morning Musume and Maki Goto, and Gocchin isn’t as significant since her later era ended after only three singles and my enjoyment of her earlier work is pretty uniform. So I’m posting this entry as a framework in which to evaluate the MoMusu videos.

With Morning Musume, more so than with any other H!P act, one can clearly see distinct periods in its development over the 10+ years it’s existed. The term “Golden Age” has been applied to refer to the period beginning with “LOVE Machine”, and there is certainly a big shift between “Furusato” and “LOVE Machine”. Where the Golden Age ends, however, is a matter of debate. While most people seem to put it sometime after the classic “The Peace!” and “Renai Revolution 21″, I argue that the period that started with “LOVE Machine” ended one single later with “Koi no Dance Site”, and a distinct new period formed with “Happy Summer Wedding” that had more in common with the one that followed it (which included “Go Girl ~Koi no Victory~”) than the “LOVE Machine” period.

The dividing of MoMusu history into ages has been done before, but I have a different take on it. I now present a timeline of Morning Musume, divided into distinct periods framed by a number of decisive events I will term “The Awakening”, “The Coalescence”, “The Singularity”, etc.:

      The Awakening (Sept. 1997)
      THE PRIMORDIAL ERA (Sept. 1997 to April 2000)
        The Neolithic Age (Sept. 1997 to Aug. 1999)

        • 00: Ai no Tane
        • 01: Morning Coffee
        • 02: Summer Night Town
        • 03: Daite HOLD ON ME!
        • 04: Memory Seishun no Hikari
        • 05: Manatsu no Kousen
        • 06: Furusato
        The Coalescence (Aug. 1999)
        The Industrial Age (Aug. 1999 to April 2000)

        • 07: LOVE Machine
        • 08: Koi no Dance Site
      The Singularity (April 2000)
      THE TRANSCENDENTAL ERA (April 2000 to Jan. 2005)
        The Radiant Age (April 2000 to Spring 2002)

        • 09: Happy Summer Wedding
        • 10: I WISH
        • 11: Renai Revolution 21
        • 12: The Peace!
        • 13: Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~
        • 14: Souda! We’re ALIVE
        The First Metamorphosis (Spring 2002)
        The Metamorphic Age (Spring 2002 to Fall 2003)

        • 15: Do it! Now
        • 16: Koko ni Iruzee!
        • 17: Morning Musume no Hyokkori Hyoutanjima
        • 18: AS FOR ONE DAY
        • 19: Shabondama
        The Second Metamorphosis (Fall 2003)
        The Ethereal Age (Fall 2003 to Jan. 2005)

        • 20: Go Girl ~Koi no Victory~
        • 21: Ai Araba IT’S ALL RIGHT
        • 22: Roman ~MY DEAR BOY~
        • 23: Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari
        • 24: Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago
      The Cataclysm (Jan. 2005)
      THE POST-APOCALYPTIC ERA (Jan. 2005 to present)
        The Dark Age (Jan. 2005 to June 2006)

        • 25: THE Manpower!!!
        • 26: Osaka Koi no Uta
        • 27: Iroppoi Jirettai
        • 28: Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo!~
        • 29: SEXY BOY ~Soyokaze ni Yorisotte~
        The Reformation (June 2006)
        The Promethean Age (June 2006 to Jan. 2007)

        • 30: Ambitious! Yashinteki de Ii Jan
        • 31: Aruiteru
        The Regression (Jan. 2007)
        The Twilight Age (Jan. 2007 to Oct. 2007)

        • 32: Egao YES Nude
        • 33: Kanashimi Twilight
        • 34: Onna ni Sachi Are
        The Efflorescence (Oct. 2007)
        The Morning Age (Oct. 2007 to present)

        • 35: Mikan

Within this framework, the entire Transcendental Era is the period in which MoMusu flourished, in my opinion. And while the placement of the First and Second Metamorphoses may be a bit unclear, I find the Singularity and the Cataclysm bookending the Transcendent Era to be precisely placed. The spark of greatness was brought to the table by “Happy Summer Wedding”, and it disappeared with “THE Manpower!!!”. Almost all of the MoMusu PVs that make the countdown are from this era.

But let’s start at the top: The Neolithic Age saw the formation of Morning Musume as a group, but the music produced during this period was rather generic.

The PVs during this period were also rather boring. Typical characteristics were:

  • (0a) Drab and claustrophobic or boring natural-looking sets.
  • (0b) Multiple sets that resemble each other.
  • (0c) Setting depicts scenes from everyday life.
  • (0d) Scenes tell a narrative of a typical human experience.
  • (0e) No special effects, or special effects that look like they came from the standard set of transformations included in a freeware video-editing application.
  • (0f) Costumes that are everyday attire, or matching fancy (but still ordinary) outfits.
  • (0g) An overall emphasis on the typical and ordinary.

It was with “LOVE Machine” that the revolution I call the Coalescence transformed MoMusu from generic pop to fresh, catchy dance-pop. And so began the Industrial Age.

But MoMusu didn’t stay long in this age at all. The arrival of “Happy Summer Wedding” brought on an entire new era, the Transcendental Era. I think the shift between the Primordial and Transcendental Eras can best be observed by viewing the videos for “LOVE Machine” and “Koi no Dance Site” and comparing them to the videos for “Happy Summer Wedding” and “Renai Revolution 21″ (“I WISH” was something of a departure from everything before and after).

I think that the former two definitely had an emphasis on clashing visuals and the outré while “Happy Summer Wedding” introduced an atmosphere of fun and cuteness for the first time. The former two featured:

  • (1a) Monochromatic eye-frying pink sets.
  • (1b) Numerous sets that look different from each other but at the same time all blend together.
  • (1c) An outlandish setting that feels contrived.
  • (1d) No apparent reason for why the setting exists other than to make a visually catchy PV.
  • (1e) Cheap-looking special effects included mainly for weirdness.
  • (1f) Distinct but clashing costumes.
  • (1g) An overall emphasis on eccentricity.

“Happy Summer Wedding” and its successors, on the other hand, introduced several components of the classic formula that would underlie the majority of the videos produced during the Transcendent Era. These components are:

  • (2a) Colorful, polychromatic sets.
  • (2b) Alternating among a small number of sets, with distinct backdrops (including clear changes in lighting and color) and costumes for each.
  • (2c) An interesting, atypical setting that feels wholesome and self-consistent.
  • (2d) The impression of a narrative and the implication of a backstory to the scenes presented.
  • (2e) Minimal, non-gratuitous use of special effects that complement the story.
  • (2f) A distinctly different set of costumes for each set, and for each set, costumes that differ across members but maintain a cohesive whole, or costumes that are identical for a reason related to the narrative.
  • (2g) An overall emphasis on cuteness, happiness, and quirkiness.

With the appearance of “THE Manpower!!!”, however, all of that changed. First of all, a clear sign that MoMusu was making a dramatic shift was the release of what is essentially a dance-shot video as the main PV, and the relegation of what should have been the main PV to “Another Edition” status. (This experiment was also attempted for another release a month later, Aya Matsuura’s “Zutto Suki de Ii Desu ka”, which had a close-up video featured as the main PV.)

I don’t know what motivated whoever made this decision, but this is, simply put, artistic suicide. You don’t release a sub-par dance-shot promotional video without close-ups of the members when a clearly superior regular version exists. Maybe they were running on a tight deadline and couldn’t put out the right video in time. If so, I think they should have pushed it back. Even releasing the single without the PV would be a better idea than this.

Luckily, this disaster was never again attempted, but the PVs following “THE Manpower!!!” exhibit a distinct shift from the videos preceding it. “Chokkan 2″ even had the audacity to recycle excessive amounts of concert footage. I didn’t think H!P would stoop this low. And with only a few exceptions, most of the videos in this era were bland, unimaginative dance videos. Common characteristics:

  • (3a) Bland, minimalist backdrops.
  • (3b) A single set, with no costume changes.
  • (3c) Uninteresting setting.
  • (3d) No implication of a backstory.
  • (3e) No special effects, or strikingly unnecessary ones.
  • (3f) A single set of costumes that are identical for no good reason.
  • (3g) An overall emphasis on a mature, “sexy” image.

I think these characteristics clearly delineate MoMusu’s PV output into four distinct periods which correspond to the time scale I introduced above, though I combined the first two into the same era.

It would be useful to analyze what components are incorporated into each PV that MoMusu has released, so see how these elements have evolved over time (I’ve also included what should have been the “THE Manpower!!!” PV). This should also illuminate places where MoMusu made departures from the typical style of the period, and possibly what direction it is heading now. For each single PV, I’ve listed which elements of each of the four styles are included (a = visual appearance, b = sets, c = setting, d = narrative, e = special effects, if any, f = costumes, g = theme):

PV 0 1 2 3
00: Ai no Tane abcdfg - - -
01: Morning Coffee abcdfg - - -
02: Summer Night Town abcdef - - g
03: Daite HOLD ON ME! bcdef - - g
04: Memory Seishun no Hikari bcdef - - g
05: Manatsu no Kousen abcdefg - - -
06: Furusato abcdfg - - -
07: LOVE Machine - abcdefg - -
08: Koi no Dance Site - abcdefg - -
09: Happy Summer Wedding - - abcdefg -
10: I WISH - - acdefg -
11: Renai Revolution 21 - - abcdefg -
12: The Peace! - - abcdefg -
13: Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ - - abcdefg -
14: Souda! We’re ALIVE - - abcdefg -
15: Do it! Now - - bcdef ag
16: Koko ni Iruzee! - - abcdefg -
17: Morning Musume no Hyokkori Hyoutanjima - - abcdefg -
18: AS FOR ONE DAY - - abcefg d
19: Shabondama - - ef abcdg
20: Go Girl ~Koi no Victory~ - - abcdefg -
21: Ai Araba IT’S ALL RIGHT - - abcdefg -
22: Roman ~My Dear Boy~ - - bcdefg ag
23: Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari - - acdefg -
24: Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago - - abcefg d
25: THE Manpower!!! (Another Edition) - e abcdg afg
25: THE Manpower!!! - - - acdf
26: Osaka Koi no Uta - - - abcdefg
27: Iroppoi Jirettai - - - abcdefg
28: Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo!~ - - f abcdefg
29: SEXY BOY ~Soyakaze ni Yorisotte~ - - - abcdfg
30: Ambitious! Yashinteki de Ii Jan - - abcg acdefg
31: Aruiteru ac - bcdfg -
32: Egao YES Nude - - - abcdfg
33: Kanashimi Twilight - - f abcdg
34: Onna ni Sachi Are - - - abcdfg
35: Mikan - - abceg df

So I guess the more letters a video has in Column 2 and the fewer letters elsewhere, the more I’ll like it, and that’s what you can expect coming up on the countdown.

This clearly divides MoMusu’s history into distinct eras, though there are a few videos that attempt to branch out into different directions. These are the motivation for my subdividing the Transcendental and Post-Apocalyptic Eras above. “Shabondama” seems to be a forerunner for the Post-Apocalyptic Era, though luckily the following few videos avoided that route.

And during the Post-Apocalyptic Era, “Ambitious!” and “Aruiteru” were obvious attempts to break out of the mold, though “Ambitious!” was a half-baked attempt at emulating a Transcendental Era video. Aruiteru, on the other hand, channeled some of the energy from the first era of MoMusu and produced something of a hybrid between the “ordinary life” videos of the early days and the cute and quirky videos of the Transcendental Era.

Finally, “Mikan” exhibits a clear attempt to return to the Transcendental Era, though it misses a couple of elements: it still has the identical costumes of the Post-Apocalyptic Era and while the setting is interesting, it doesn’t evoke any images of an underlying narrative.

I really think Tsunku is trying to bring MoMusu back into a second Transcendental Era. The significance of naming a single “Kanashimi Twilight” for a group named Morning Musume is not lost on me. I think a single like “Mikan” should have followed “Kanashimi Twilight”, but for whatever reason, “Onna ni Sache Are” interceded. I hope the next single will continue the revolution started with “Mikan”…