February 24, 2007
Haruko Update Review, part 1
It took a bit longer for me to get around to doing this as I was unexpectedly whisked away to another country on the other side of the world for about 10 days, but at last I have gotten around to uploading my review. For those who haven't had a chance to watch Haruko Update yet, I hope you find it informing.
Note: I get pretty long-winded in this, and there's 114 screenshots...a great product of jet lag.
For the past two weeks, Haruko Update part one has been immensely fun to watch through again and again. It provides a dramatized but informative look at the life of a younger Momoi.
Initially, I expected a documentary-style drama that dealt with various events in her early career, but the bulk of the story is much more focused on leaving an emotional impact on the viewer, and goes much farther back in history to accomplish this: in fact, three years prior to her first idol debut. Haruko Update shows a very different Momoi of the past, and basically explores the friendships, influences, and motivations that started her on the path to being an idol and transformed her to who she is today. To help facilitate the storytelling, Haruko Update splits the story into two timelines, one in the past and one in the present. Furthermore, the story splits Momoi into two incarnations, "Haruko" and "Momoi", representing her at the different stage of maturity, respectively one for each timeline. "Haruko" is the young 16 year old Momoi of the past, played by budding actress and model Takayama Saki. "Momoi" is the current Queen of Akihabara, played by Momoi herself.
In the "past" scenes, there is actually very little song and dance. True performances are, for the most part, set in the present and wisely consist of scenes performed only by the real Momoi at Stellar Ball 2006, since there is no way any fan would accept any substitute. The Stellar Ball concert serves as the current timeline while the past timeline is presented through a series of chronologically ordered flashbacks that play out at various cues. A common theme of these transitions back and forth between past and present seems to be emphasizing the differences of the two personalities. The current "Momoi" is powerful, confident, and seems larger than life. The younger "Haruko" is shy, weak, afraid, and also very geeky.
For example, the drama starts out with a tense "Momoi" backstage at Stellar Ball. As she puts on the last few accessories of her maid costume, she pauses in thought for a moment, and then sprints through the stage doors to meet the anxious crowd. The venue is packed with fans, and "Momoi" rushes in front of them jumping and kicking, already deep in her element of Moesong. Amongst the mass of screaming fans fiercely waving their glow-sticks, she looks like a Goddess of Rock on stage, in total control of what should seem like an unruly horde of dirty maniacs and sweaty nerds.
In the midst of this chaos, a flashback introduces "Haruko", the smiling high-school girl of the past. At first glance, she seems to be a very cheerful girl. It seems not surprising for Momoi, known to send a thousand otaku into euphoric shock simultaneously by uttering a single "mugi." Surely, she must spread happiness wherever she goes! Instead the viewer is abruptly introduced to a very different look at the Akihabara Queen. Starting off innocently enough, a smiling classmate hands Haruko a notebook, but in contrast to the admiration seen by the viewer just moments earlier, Haruko flips through the pages and is horrified to find death threats. She stops on a page where "Loser", "Trash", "Disappear", and a doodle of her being stabbed in the head are shown, with each contribution in different handwriting. Additionally, the snickering of her many classmates in the corner suggests that mocking Haruko was quite a popular class activity. Her independent personality is put in the spotlight during the next scene where she refuses to play a different song at the repeated insistence of her music teacher. These kinds of incidents further ostracize her from her peers. In an emotional scene portraying Haruko brilliantly, Takayama Saki slumps down alone on a gym floor and screams in sadness and frustration.
Of course, this jives well with her many hardcore fans, who were probably similarly picked on in school or outcasts for being as they were. As the Queen of Akihabara, Momoi leads her loyal subjects by example :). Momoi, in her many interviews and appearances, has always been portrayed as someone very sympathetic to her fans. Unlike some other seiyuu that have been scandalized for being less than welcoming around some more "maniacal" fans, Momoi has always been known to welcome her fans with open arms no matter how socially awkward they seemed (as parodied in Komugi). Apparently she was not very different from them. As a teen, she too was obsessed with an Akiba-idol, referred to in the film as "Ai-nyan" (in real life, Mizuno Aoi). In one of my favorite scenes in the drama, "Haruko" runs across a street to meet with her fellow Ai-nyan fans. She dramatically pulls her cardigan open to reveal a T-shirt with "Ai" on it. Her face is completely straight. The screen cuts to her three misfit friends doing the same thing. They proceed to do a "neko" dance together in complete seriousness. Their love for the idol surpasses all sense of public shame!
It turns out "Haruko" treats Ai like a savior. Although she was relentlessly teased in school, her love for the idol helped her get through with a little bit of happiness each day. While her classmates were nonchalantly giggling at hot guy magazines, she would sneak peeks at the idol magazines stashed in her desk like contraband. It was also through Ai-nyan that she met her only friends, like the three Ai-nyan nerds, and eventually "Akio" (voiced by Haruko Momoi), who she started corresponding with through email regularly. When the two first met through Ai-nyan's BBS, Akio incorrectly assumed "Haruko" was a male, since "Ai-nyan was a female idol." Not wanting to scare her new friend away, Haruko went along with this assumption and identified herself as "Haruo." Akio becomes pretty significant later on in the story.
The rest of the drama shows Haruko's days at school or at Ai-nyan concerts, and subsequently her at-home conversations with Akio. Soon Haruko was pouring her heart out to the stranger on a daily basis. She continued to be harassed during school without saying anything, but at home she vented about her thoughts to Akio. Akio was a good listener, and always tried to counsel her on the various issues she was facing. After one particularly bad incident at school, Akio told Haruko that she should stop feeling bad about herself. She was herself by her own choice, and therefore she should accept that with pride and stand up to her bullies. Thanks to Akio's email, she did, her bullies backed down, and her life changed.
Akio also expressed his own feelings and dreams. He said he loved dancing more than anything and was coming to Tokyo to train and become a dancer. Owing Akio her new life having moved past her bullies, Haruko was determined to meet him, although very nervous. To make a good first impression on Akio, and also to offset the earlier lie about her being a guy, Haruko dressed up for the meeting in the frilliest pink outfit she could find. Strangely, at the meeting place Akio was nowhere to be seen. Just as she had given up hope, it started raining. Soon all the dancers left except for one. Who loved dancing so much no rain could stop him? Akio. As it turns out, Akio was just like Momoi, merely pretending to be a guy. Her real name was Aki. In a great scene, Haruko chases the startled Aki around with an umbrella. As soon as they identify each other, Haruko starts crying, but Aki grabs Haruko's cheeks suddenly and forces her to smile, and both of them start hugging and laughing. Haruko had met her first real friend.
Back in the present timeline, Momoi finishes up her concert with a song while in a beautiful green dress and an awesome hat resembling a dessert dish. In the back of the audience, a person is watching quietly. It is none other than Aki. Implying that they have not seen each other for many years, the DVD ends on a cliffhanger just as these two are about to meet again.
My overall reactions to Haruko Update are extremely positive. The plot is thin and simple, but interesting all the same as it reveals the humble back story of Akiba's moesong legend. The flashbacks, taking place in the last decade, are also peppered with references to old technology, like when Netscape Mail was still widely used (Momoi used to have a Netscape parody logo on her site called Moaiscape) or clunky old computers. I also enjoyed the concert scenes, which only make me more excited for the official Stellar Ball concert DVD release next month. The casting has been great. Haruko comes off as an extremely likeable character, and there is someone who deserves an immense amount of praise here for this. That someone is Takayama Saki. As most people have probably noticed, I don't exactly give unbiased commentary when it comes to Momoi. I'm basically a yes-man because I've praised pretty much everything that she has ever come out with. I would like to think I am brutally critical of Momoi imitators however, which is why I find it so particularly special that I actually LIKE Takayama Saki. She must have done something amazing. I've said it in my last post, but now I'm saying it again. I didn't think anyone could play Momoi so well. It's not just how much they look alike, Saki playing teen Momoi is almost as good as if the real Momoi played herself
The background music is a great blend of originals and orchestra versions of Momoi songs (which are included on the bonus CD). The production values and video quality is also fairly high, and there are many included extras like cast interviews, behind the scenes stuff, full commentary from Momoi, Saki, and others. My only complaint with Haruko Update is that it isn't long enough. I also do not agree with the timing decision of shoving a "cafe talk session" in the middle, which should have been moved to the "extras" section as to not disturb the pace of the story, since they will usually be skipped during rewatchings. I loved learning about the "real" Ai-nyan and seeing Momoi's real life nerd reunion, but it should have been a separate feature.
In any case, I am looking forward to seeing the next part of Haruko Update. It was released yesterday in Japan and I should be seeing it in about two weeks. Until then, I am working hard on doing the subtitles for this video, and listening to the great Haruko Update Songs Best album. The new GURA GURA rocks!
Posted by Paranda at February 24, 2007 7:28 AM
Thank you so much for the review! I really enjoyed the lengthy write-up and the screenshots! 8D
I'm pleasantly surprised that Halko has such a heartwarming success story (although I'm also wondering how much of it is true). I'm looking forward to watching the drama in the future. :)
Just curious, what are the orchestral versions of Momoi songs included in the bonus CD?
Posted by: emi at February 25, 2007 8:46 PM
Hi emi, the 4 tracks included on the bonus CD are:
Friendship -waltz version-
Akihabalove -ballade version-
LOVE.EXE -piano version-
Yume no Baton -music box version-
Posted by: Paranda at February 26, 2007 5:30 AM
I have to agree about the new GURA GURA... excellent song! ^_^
Posted by: InsaneLampshade at March 2, 2007 7:52 PM
wow, it's amazing!
Posted by: kaoru at October 19, 2007 9:25 AM
Posted by: offensePync at May 23, 2013 12:34 PM