A Befitting Memorial: SPEED’s Legendary Stage

So, I promise after my prolonged coverage of late 90’s and early 2000’s Jpop artists who were given rather debatable in quality manga – This is the last post in the series. This is also the only artist that I was relatively unaware of any backstory to the group, aside from the name. So~

As always, we have to talk about the artist before covering the manga. SPEED was an all female vocal and dance group that debuted in 1999. The group was compose of four members, Hiroko Shimabukuro, Eriko Imai, Takako Uehara, and Hitoe Arakaki. All four members had trained under the Okinawan Actors School, also known for training other popular Okinawan born artists.

SPEED cover

SPEED had a major label debut with Toy’s Factory, in 1996. They would be one of the most successful girl groups within Japan, which is why many fans were shocked that the group at their prime and peak, would disband in March 2000. During their four year active period they released 4 studio albums, 3 compilation albums, and 11 singles.During that time SPEED did manage to break into the top 30 best-selling artists of all time within Japan.

All four members had chosen to pursue solo careers and eventually pursuing higher education. The group would reunite a handful of times for charity concerts through the 2000’s, and attempted to re-debut in 2008. The group never reached their previous success and in 2012, the group disbanded permanently. At the end of their career in total they released five studio albums, 4 compilations, 2 live albums, and 16 singles.

What’s unique about this manga, is that it was released March 15th 2000. Which was only a few weeks prior to the group’s official disbandment on March 31st, 2000. As you can anticipate, the story follows each member prior to joining the Okinawan Actors School, and their experiences within the school into SPEED’s debut and into their brief period of activity. The ending is the anticipated conclusion for the group, which is a unique take within this series, as none of the other artists featured have retired from the industry.

DSCN0715

Overall, given the short period of time, the emphasis on each girl’s individual story prior to debuting in SPEED. I was genuinely surprised that the shortest chapters were SPEED’s debut and active period. Given the publication date, it makes sense that readers would be familiar and wouldn’t need an extensive recounting of their careers but the interest would be in pre-debut stories. I found it interesting that each member’s solo debuts, which occurred concurrently with their initial activities as SPEED, were glossed over and excluded.

Arguably, SPEED’s manga got the best art. Ide Chikae Sensei has a rich background in shojo manga, and brought her a game for the ladies of SPEED. Each member gets the shojo treatment, with very expressive and feminine styling throughout the volume. Additionally, Ide Sensei actually knew when to use a reference in a background, grey-tones and other textures like an actual volume of manga. (Finally) Each page had appropriate panel breaks, and allowed my eye to naturally flow from page to page. Given that SPEED was a dance driven group, the use of twirling and movement enhanced this effect brilliantly.

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Since I only knew SPEED in passing, I learned a lot when reading, and by the end even felt a little sad. While I appreciate the girls making the active choice to conclude their activities when they did, it still felt like they cut their career short prematurely. (We could make arguments about the re-boot but this isn’t the post for it.)

It was short, but bittersweet read. With a handful of pit-falls with the pacing of the narrative, that suffers from not being built to age well. Overall, a great way to be introduced, and subsequently say good-bye to one of Japan’s most iconic girl groups.

 

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