AKB48 rebounds from saw assault to crown new queen bee

AFP-JIJI, Staff Report

Mayu Watanabe was voted the top AKB48 idol in a popularity contest Saturday amid tight security after two members of the all-girl pop group were attacked by a saw-wielding man last month.

Thousands of fans congregated at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, western Tokyo, for Saturday’s face-off, a nationally televised extravaganza.

Watanabe, 20, garnered 159,854 votes and will lead the group for the next year. She was followed by Rino Sashihara, 21, with 141,954 votes, and Yuki Kashiwagi, 22, with 104,364 votes.

Organizers announced the results of the vote, dubbed an AKB48 “general election,” late in the evening. Fans finished casting their ballots by Friday, using ballot slips available only by purchasing the group’s latest single.

The annual vote was overshadowed by last month’s attack on two teenage AKB48 members at a regular meet-the-fans event in Iwate Prefecture. Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both suffered broken bones in their right hands and cuts to their arms and heads after Satoru Umeda, 24, attacked them with a 50-cm saw.

Organizers doubled the number of guards to search people entering the stadium Saturday and set up metal detectors at the gates, local media reported. Kawaei and Iriyama were running for the top spot but it was not clear if they would appear at the venue, as they are still receiving treatment for their injuries, news reports said.

AKB48, part talent show, part pop act, draws from a pool of more than 300 girls and young women at home and overseas who compete for a spot in the limelight with each new formulaic yet catchy hit.

The popularity of AKB48, one of the most successful acts of all time in money-spinning terms, is partly built on its members’ accessibility to legions of fans. The members regularly appear at events all over the country to shake hands with fans and pose for pictures, in addition to a hectic online promotional schedule via social networking sites.