I. Tsunku: The Enigma
If one follows the development and output of Hello! Project, one is likely well acquainted with Tsunku, the Producer:
Of course, Tsunku does not produce everything in Hello! Project, nor is his work limited only to production. A prolific lyricist and composer, he is also responsible for writing most of Hello! Project’s songs. One need only scan any recent (Tsunku-produced) Hello! Project release to see Tsunku’s name emblazoned across the front cover, acknowledging his role in producing the record. In addition, on the interior of the liner notes, one may often see both the lyrics and composition of the tracks attributed to Tsunku, his name rising elegantly above the very words he has penned.
Indeed, let us journey together, dear reader, through the experience of gazing upon Tsunku’s name as it appears on the Berryz Koubou single “VERY BEAUTY”, selected arbitrarily as a typical example of a Tsunku production.
Observe in particular how the three simple hiragana strokes (つんく) are embellished with a Mars symbol (♂), prominently displayed yet not intended to be pronounced. An interesting touch, otherwise attributable to Tsunku’s idiosyncratic whims but for the fact that this name appears differently on the interior:
Here the Mars symbol is noticeably absent. One might dismiss this as a mere typographical error, but closer examination of other recent Tsunku productions reveals that the Mars symbol is consistently missing from the lyrics and composition credits while present on the cover production credits.
One might fancy the notion that behind the “Tsunku” nom de plume lies a team of two individuals, one a producer and the other a lyricist and composer, differentiated only by the presence or absence of the Mars symbol. While there is some merit to this possibility, one must consider the history of this peculiar symbol as it is displayed on the covers of Tsunku-produced releases over the ages. In particular, one must note that early Hello! Project releases credit Tsunku as producer without the Mars symbol.
Immediately some pertinent questions arise: At which point did Tsunku the producer begin adopting the Mars symbol as an essential feature of his pseudonym? Did he consistently omit the symbol prior to this point, and has he consistently included it since then? And perhaps most importantly, why are there two Tsunkus now when once there was but one?
Speculation about Tsunku’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation aside (to be addressed in due time), let us examine in detail, dear reader, the evolution of this name, in hopes that such an endeavour may uncover heretofore unacknowledged clues to illuminate this enigmatic figure and to guide us in dissecting this mystery.
II. The Evolution of a Mystery
Let us proceed by scrutinising the covers of Hello! Project recordings that bear Tsunku’s name, beginning with Morning Musume.’s second single, “Summer Night Town” (the group’s debut single does not have a production credit on the cover), and examining each release in turn:
|Title||Artist||Release Date||Production Credit|
|Summer Night Town||Morning Musume.||1998.05.27||Produced by つんく|
|Daite HOLD ON ME!||Morning Musume.||1998.07.08||Produced by つんく|
|Last Kiss||Tanpopo||1998.11.18||Produced by つんく|
|Odaiba Moonlight Serenade||Nakazawa Yuuko & Takayama Gen||1998.12.02||Produced by つんく|
|Dai Isshou||Nakazawa Yuuko||1998.12.12||Produced by つんく|
|Memory Seishun no Hikari||Morning Musume.||1999.02.10||Produced by つんく|
|Motto||Tanpopo||1999.03.10||Produced by つんく|
|Tsuki to Yaiyou||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.04.21||PRODUCED BY つんく|
|Manatsu no Kousen||Morning Musume.||1999.05.12||Produced by つんく|
|Tanpopo||Tanpopo||1999.06.16||Produced by つんく|
|Gatamekira||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.06.23||Produced by つんく|
|Furusato||Morning Musume.||1999.07.14||Produced by つんく|
|Futari no Hokkaido||Country Musume.||1999.07.23||サウンドプロデュース つんく|
|Halation Summer / Summer Night Town (English Version)||Coconuts Musume.||1999.07.23||Produced by つんく|
|Uchuu de La Ta Ta||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.07.28||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|Everyday Everywhere||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.08.25||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|DANCE & CHANCE||Coconuts Musume.||1999.08.25||Produced by TSUNKU つんく|
|LOVE Machine||Morning Musume.||1999.09.09||Produced by つんく|
|Magic of Love||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.09.29||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Seinaru Kane ga Hibiku Yoru||Tanpopo||1999.10.20||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Chokotto LOVE||Pucchi Moni||1999.11.25||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Yukigeshiki||Country Musume.||1999.11.30||サウンドプロデュース つんく|
|Marui Taiyou ~winter ver~||Taiyou to Ciscomoon||1999.12.08||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|Koi no Dance Site||Morning Musume.||2000.01.26||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|Amai Anata no Aji||Melon Kinenbi||2000.02.19||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Akai Nikkichou||Akagumi 4||2000.03.08||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Kiiroi Osora de BOOM BOOM BOOM||Kiiro 5||2000.03.08||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Aoi Sportscar no Otoko||Aoiro 7||2000.03.08||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|3rd-LOVE Paradise||Morning Musume.||2000.03.29||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|DON’T STOP Renaichuu||T&C Bomber||2000.04.19||Produced by つんく “TSUNKU”|
|Hokkaido Shalala||Country Musume.||2000.04.27||サウンドプロデュース つんく|
|Happy Summer Wedding||Morning Musume.||2000.05.17||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|One Room Natsu no Koi Monogatari||Heike Michiyo||2000.05.17||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Tokonatsu Musume||Coconuts Musume.||2000.05.17||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|Kokuhaku Kinenbi||Melon Kinenbi||2000.06.28||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Otome Pasta ni Kandou||Tanpopo||2000.07.05||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Shanghai no Kaze||Nakazawa Yuuko||2000.07.12||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|HEY! Mahiru no Shinkirou||T&C Bomber||2000.07.19||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Seishun Jidai 1.2.3! / Baisekou Daiseikou!||Pucchi Moni||2000.07.26||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Watashi mo “I LOVE YOU”||Coconuts Musume.||2000.07.26||Produced by つんく TSUNKU|
|Koi ga Suteki na Kisetsu||Country Musume.||2000.07.31||サウンドプロデュース つんく|
|Ai no Chikara||Heike Michiyo||2000.08.09||produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|I WISH||Morning Musume.||2000.09.06||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|2nd STAGE||T&C Bomber||2000.09.27||produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Kokoro no Pheromone||Sheki-Dol||2000.11.01||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Renai Revolution 21||Morning Musume.||2000.12.13||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Mini Moni. Jankenpyon! / Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu Daisukki!||Mini Moni.||2001.01.17||つんく プロデュース TSUNKU PRODUCE|
|Kekkyoku Bye Bye Bye||Heike Michiyo||2001.02.07||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Kuyashi Namida Porori||Nakazawa Yuuko||2001.02.15||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Koi wo Shichaimashita!||Tanpopo||2001.02.21||Produced By Tsunku|
|BABY! Koi ni KNOCK OUT!||Pucchi Moni||2001.02.28||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Denwa Matteimasu||Melon Kinenbi||2001.03.07||Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’|
|Ai no Bakayarou||Goto Maki||2001.03.28||Produced by つんく|
|Tetteiteki Unmei||Sheki-Dol||2001.04.13||Produced by つんく♂|
|Hajimete no Happy Birthday!||Country Musume. ni Ishikawa Rika||2001.04.18||サウンドプロデュス：つんく♂|
|Tropica~l Koishite~ru||Matsuura Aya||2001.06.13||Produced by つんく♂|
|Zentaiteki ni Daisuki Desu.||Sheki-Dol||2001.06.27||Produced by つんく♂|
|Chu! Natsu Party||3nin Matsuri||2001.07.04||Produced by つんく♂|
|Summer Reggae! Rainbow||7nin Matsuri||2001.07.04||Produced by つんく♂|
|Dancing! Natsu Matsuri||10nin Matsuri||2001.07.04||Produced by つんく♂|
|The☆Peace!||Morning Musume.||2001.07.25||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
|Jounetsu Yuki Miraisen||Coconuts Musume.||2001.08.22||Produced by つんく♂|
|LOVE Namida Iro||Matsuura Aya||2001.09.05||Produced by つんく♂|
|Mini Moni. Telephone! Rin Rin Rin / Mini Moni. Bus Guide||Mini Moni.||2001.09.12||つんく♂プロデュース|
|Afurechau… BE IN LOVE||Goto Maki||2001.09.19||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
|This is Unmei||Melon Kinenbi||2001.10.11||produced by つんく♂|
|Koibito wa Kokoro no Ouendan||Country Musume. ni Ishikawa Rika||2001.10.17||sound produced by つんく♂|
|Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~||Morning Musume.||2001.10.31||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
|Propose||Heike Michiyo||2001.11.07||Produced by つんく♂|
|Pittari Shitai X’mas!||Pucchi Moni||2001.11.14||Produced by つんく♂|
|Oujisama to Yuki no Yoru||Tanpopo||2001.11.21||Produced by つんく♂|
|100kai no KISS||Matsuura Aya||2001.11.28||Produced by つんく♂|
|Minihamuzu no Ai no Uta||Minihamuzu||2001.12.05||つんく♂プロデュース|
|Ai wa Muteki ~Hatachi no Yoru no Chikai~||Sheki-Dol||2001.12.05||produced by つんく♂|
|Country Musume. Daizenshuu 1||Country Musume.||2001.12.12||Sound Produced by つんく♂|
|First Kiss||Matsuura Aya||2002.01.01||Produced by つんく♂|
|Mini Moni. Hinamatsuri! / Mini. Strawberry Pie||Mini Moni.||2002.01.30||つんく♂プロデュース|
|♡Momoiro Kataomoi♡||Matsuura Aya||2002.02.06||Produced by つんく♂|
|Saa! Koibito ni Narou||Melon Kinenbi||2002.02.14||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
|Souda! We’re ALIVE||Morning Musume.||2002.02.20||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
|Aenai Nagai Nichiyoubi||Fujimoto Miki||2002.03.13||produced by つんく♂|
|4th “Ikimasshoi!”||Morning Musume.||2002.03.27||PRODUCED BY つんく♂|
From the above evidence, we can trace the evolution of the Tsunku name as it transforms from a simple “つんく” in 1998 to a composite appending the hiragana spelling to the romaji spelling “TSUNKU” circa July 1999, which usually positions the Latin letters below the kana, sometimes to the right of the kana, and once above the kana, often enclosing the letters within a pair of single quotes and once in double quotes.
A few notable exceptions are also introduced: the Country Musume. releases credit Tsunku with “Sound Produced by” after a general production credit given to another individual; Mini Moni. eschews the “Produced by” format and opts for the unorthodox “Tsunku Produce” (which brings to mind images of Farmer Tsunku at the market selling fruits and vegetables packaged as audio recordings); and Tanpopo’s “Koi wo Shichaimashita!” drops the hiragana altogether in favour of a design resembling a shoddily constructed bootleg edition.
These anomalies aside, however, we find that the general “Produced by つんく” line returns to its original version with Goto Maki’s “Ai no Bakayarou” in late March 2001, after which the Latin rendering of “TSUNKU” never again emerges. Shortly thereafter, the Mars symbol makes its first appearance on Sheki-Dol’s “Tetteiteki Unmei” and remains on every subsequent release, including the alternatively styled Country Musume. and Mini Moni. releases. This pattern has continued until the present date, so it is not particularly fruitful to examine the covers of later recordings.
III. Curiouser and Curiouser
Having determined the point at which Tsunku the producer first adopted the Mars symbol and demonstrated the consistency both of its absence prior to April 2001 and of its presence after April 2001, we may now attempt to answer the question of what prompted Tsunku’s momentous name change.
Our first step in this direction is the realisation that one Hello! Project single, Matsuura Aya’s “Dokki Doki! LOVE Mail”, was released on 2001.04.11—after “Ai no Bakayarou” but before “Tetteiteki Unmei”—precisely during the period in which Tsunku undergoes his transformation. Indeed, both tracks are credited to Tsunku the lyricist-composer, and from this we may suppose that Tsunku the producer is responsible for the production … were it not for the fact that no such production credit appears on the cover:
Clearly we have a Conspiracy at hand! This is no coincidence, dear reader. One does not innocently append a Mars symbol to one’s name at the exact same time one produces the debut single of a solo artist while atypically choosing not to give oneself credit for doing so. Tsunku is obviously trying to cover up a most devious scheme of truly epic proportions, and having ascertained its existence, we must now strike deeper to uncover the heart of this infernal plot—quickly and silently, lest Tsunku and his minions catch wind of our enterprise and initiate a counterattack against us.
At this point, much remains unclear, but we may construct one or more hypotheses regarding the nature of this Conspiracy. Given the association of the Mars symbol with the male sex and masculinity, we may suppose that つんく♂ is actually the masculine component of the original つんく, whose gender was a superposition of feminine and masculine eigengenders, and that a decisive Decoherence Event occurred at the beginning of April 2001, one that forcibly tore Tsunku apart, giving rise to two independent entities, the masculine つんく♂ and the feminine Matsuura, whose true origin has been concealed behind a façade presented to the public. For Matsuura was no innocent singer launching her solo career with a debut single; she is in fact half of the original Tsunku, separated from his masculine half through a quantum bifurcation of incomprehensible magnitude. In support of this hypothesis is the preponderance of rockets in the “Dokki Doki! LOVE Mail” music video; such overt Freudian imagery does not escape our observant lens.
This nefarious scheme has been laid before our eyes, and lest any disbelievers dismiss it as pure confabulation on the part of a hyperactive imagination, allow me to remind you of the compelling evidence brought forth in the preceding sections. That such unlikely coincidences could arise naturally is inconceivable. This masterful diversion has been orchestrated by forces beyond our immediate comprehension, forces that will stop at nothing to thwart our steady and determined advances. For we have seized upon the crux of this mystery, and it is a foul beast that has remained hidden for far too long. Now is the time to unearth this elusive leviathan for once and for all. We must embark upon a voyage fraught with dangers lurking behind every corner, in order to shatter the endless walls of mirrors that shield the darkest secrets of this Conspiracy from view. The Truth shall be revealed!