Respect for Minami Takahashi: AKB48 Team A Open “M.T. ni Sasagu”!
AKB48 began a new chapter in their history as Team A opened their first original stage in 5 and a half years, “M.T. ni Sasagu” at the AKB48 Theater on February 10, 2016 and Tokyo Girls’ Update was fortunate enough to be at the dress rehearsal which preceded the opening performance that evening.
Although Rina Hirata did not appear on stage, she was given the task of reading the pre-show announcements in Japanese, English, and Chinese.
Deep pulsing synth notes accompanied the opening of the curtain, red beams of light cutting through the hazy air. Yui Yokoyama stood at center stage behind yellow caution tape strung up on the microphone stands and flanked by the rest of Team A, who looked out with arms crossed and steely eyes. Clutching the microphone for the megaphone hanging at her waist, Yokoyama spoke passionately about the quest for love, liberty, and peace, appearing more like the leader of a resistance heading off to battle rather than the leader of an idol group. Pumping their fists and chanting “M.T.”, Yokoyama waved them off, declaring that the time had come for the new stage to begin, punctuating with a fierce shout.
Tearing down the caution tape, Team A launched into the dark galloping hard rock of “Hajimaru.”, their hands extended as if scanning their perimeters, fingers extending and curling back into fists as they stood behind the microphone stands accented by red LEDs. The members spinning in quick succession, like the shockwave of an explosion traveling across the stage during the guitar solo, fog billowed out from behind them as they stepped forward, casting dramatic silhouettes.
Laser beams shot out as more fog floated through the theater. Nana Owada, Anna Iriyama, and Miru Shiroma kicked off the futuristic electro-disco party “Prime time” by removing their coats to reveal iridescent short sleeved dresses crisscrossed by fluorescent white stripes. The floor panels began moving up and down as the members moved their arms in quick, short geometric motions.
Shifting gears drastically, the etherial orchestral sounds of “Sagashite Ageru” resounded throughout the theater accompanied by bright lights as the doors at the back of the stage rotated open. Haruna Kojima followed by Miho Miyazaki, Miru Shiroma, Sakura Miyawaki, and Nana Owada emerged from the mist. Mayu Ogasawara stood at the front of an EXILE-like spin on the left side of the stage, several of the other members casting shadows as they spun in front of the flashing backlights. With its layered vocals and new age sound, “Sagashite Ageru” may be the only song in AKB48’s catalog that will ever be compared to Enya. Lingering for a moment, Kojima cast a single silhouette as she walked back through the doors and into the darkness.
Returning to the stage in the darkness, Anna Iriyama took the center position, flanked by Haruna Kojima and Sakura Miyawaki. After an introduction that teased a continuation of the previous song, the music accelerated and settled into “Lavender Field”, a midtempo pop rock tune that carries on the DNA of songs such as “Iiwake Maybe”, “Bingo!”, “Kataomoi Finally” (SKE48), or “Oh My God!” (NMB48).
Taking a short break, co-captain Mariko Nakamura reminded the others that it had been 5 and a half years since Team A’s last original stage “Mokugekisha” (A6). Yui Yokoyama pushed Haruna Kojima to make a comment only to receive a typically scatterbrained “We’re gonna do this again at 6pm, right?”, before reminiscing how they would be rehearsing until late at night before the opening day. Newly promoted draft member Yui Hiwatashi commented on the kindness of the other members and her happiness at being chosen for such a momentous performance (not actual translation of what she said).
Forgoing the usual member introductions, Sakura Miyawaki, Yui Yokoyama, Anna Iriyama, Megu Taniguchi, and Miru Shiroma remained on stage to talk about the new set list as the others left to prepare for the next songs. Yui emphasized that there was a period (maru) in “Hajimaru.” and seemed to echo the feelings of the others when she expressed how different the beginning of the stage looked with all the caution tape and lasers. Miru mentioned how the fog machines would make her cough during the rehearsals. Megu felt moved that she had an outfit with her name written on it for the first time as it was a completely new set list.
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