Musume Monogatari + Musume Monogatari ALIVE! – The Official Morning Musume Mangas!

Once again, I am diving into the oddly specific niche genre of real life idol manga. This time, I am covering the two series that follow the iconic girl-group; Morning Musume. Is it a time capsule? Does it still hold up? What wacky hijinks will ensue? Join me and find out!

As always, before we dive into the manga, we have to talk about the group itself. And boy, does Morning Musume have quite the history. Morning Musume, is the original rotating member line-up super group of Japan. The group was founded in 1997, by producer Tsunku who has composed most of the groups songs in the early years, and guided the group to various projects including film, dramas, musicals, extended tours and much more.

The group was formed from runner’s up of Tsunku’s prior competition, and started out with five core members and a grass roots promotional strategy of selling 50,000 copies of their demo single in 5 promotional days. Which was goal accomplished in only four days. That humble beginning juggernaut-ed into twenty-three years and counting of being an active group, 19+ sub-units and affiliated acts, a discography that boasts 15 studio albums, 5 compilation albums, 64 singles, as well a ranking with the top 30 best-selling acts in Japan with additional awards and recognitions. The group has an extended history of former members still active in entertainment outside the group, and is currently (as of writing) in Generation 15, with 14 active members.

“Musume Monogatari” is the official Morning Musume manga, originally published in 2001 through 2004 and focusing on the first 5 generations of Morning Musume. The story is told through semi-chronological events, indicating the origins and then up to the most recent version of Morning Musume. The series was then has a sequel that ran concurrently with the original, from 2003 to 2004, detailing the wacky adventures of the sixth generation of Morning Musume.

Morning Musume is a group that I have a lot of weird, out of context information about members/generations/scandals/etc due to a tumblr blog I co-run, but I didn’t actually know the group’s story. While the manga wasn’t exactly coherent, the narrative choice was interesting.

The story started shortly after Kago Ai, Tsuji Nozomi, Ishikawa Rika and Yoshizawa Hitomi were introduced to the group (the 4th generation). The older group members then tell the origins of Morning Musume in a semi-flashback setting, as a way of educating the new members of the legacy the girls would be continuing. It makes sense that at the time of publication three of the original five members of Morning Musume had graduated from the group, and that the group was in the 4th generation.

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So while it was out of order, the deviation was a welcome change of pace and remained fairly straight forward in presentation. Although they repeated this formula with Nozomi and Ai then taking on the role of recounting earlier members, to the fifth generation in the later volumes. Otherwise, the plot remains a semi-fictionalized account of the group’s events, and individual shenanigans based off interviews and other publications.

The art is a product of it’s time, much like other titles I’ve talked about previously. It’s highly stylized, very much the moe shojo and does make distinctions between each member which is welcome.The manga also has proper background art, textures, and panel lay-out that’s easy to follow. Given the girl’s fanbase at the time, it was aimed at a younger audience, but had the powerhouse Kodansha Comics publishing it.

As a weird, only in the 2000’s, surprise the manga also included a sticker sheet at the beginning of the volumes. Even second-hand I was surprised to find the sticker sheets intact, with the most recent single’s images of each member displayed. It’s a neat little promo item that I wasn’t expecting, but really stuck out since I’ve never seen that done before in a shojo manga.

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Musume Monogatari ALIVE!, remains the same but instead picking up more fictionalized hijinks for the 6th generation members. The art style remains consistent, by keeping the artist Kanazaki Yutaka from the original series. However, the story writer switched from Tanaka Rika, to Hoshino Mayumi. Thus making a large deviation from the original storyline that I enjoyed while reading, but reflecting realize makes the series a little less conhearant.

About the only thing that stood out to me was realizing exactly how young some of the members were at their time of recruitment. Tsuji Nozomi and Kago Ai were 12 when they auditioned and joined the group. Maki Goto one of the most famous members was barely older at 13 when she joined. The other members were already in their late teens and early 20’s by comparison to these three. This should have caused more tension between the members, but any conflict due to the age gap was largely swept under the rug or made into more comedic moments within the story. Additionally, anything scandalous that occurred during this period of the group wasn’t addressed within the manga. I understand why they wouldn’t want it included, but it added to the disingenuous feeling I got by the end of reading.

I couldn’t help but be frustrated that all the members stories were told the same way. All of them (apparently) sucked at the beginning, but had something ‘star worthy’ about them. This fact is held over their heads as a taunt when any of them expressed frustration with their situations. In some cases literal children, worked themselves to near exhaustion, for the sake of their dream! For the glory that was is Morning Musume!

(Some lighthearted hijinks of the 6th generation.)

It really bothered me. This isn’t a new concept to depict a cleaned up version of idol life, but it’s one that was widely circulated among their fanbase. These conditions were accepted as being okay. They were overworked because it was their dream! They were pushed to their limit for the sake of their fans! It’s okay because they’re hardworking girls that never ever felt pressured to do any of it! Now in 2020, with more stories about idol mistreatment/mismanagement coming forward, we know isn’t okay. That these circumstances weren’t okay. It’s a very large part of the story that hasn’t aged well.

For what it is, a product of it’s time, it was interesting, and fairly insightful. There’s a lack of real-life female idol mangas, and Morning Musume is a group with a long standing legacy that continues to this day. (although, with a significant downturn in popularity in recent years) It’s a nice group time capsule of their peak, with all the shojo sparkles and shimmers to go with it. However, it’s not a series that anyone other then hardcore fans of the group, specifically around generations 5-6, need to seek out.

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