It took nearly two decades to happen, but J-pop group Arashi has spent the past six months embracing the internet. The quintet, which is scheduled to go on hiatus at the end of 2020, went from being virtually invisible online to debuting music videos on YouTube and uploading a large chunk of its back catalog to streaming sites.
The group’s latest digital moment comes via “Arashi’s Diary: Voyage,” an original documentary made with Netflix. The series aims to follow the group on its final tour, with a new episode every month, meaning the ultimate shape of “Voyage” remains to be seen. In its first two installments, the show has offered something long absent from the world of such groups — behind-the-scenes access, allowing glimpses of how the members of Arashi function within the J-pop machine.
What makes “Voyage” a welcome departure from the standard streaming music documentary is that it eschews grandiose narratives and drama for something rarely seen in these productions: tedium.
The first two installments of “Voyage” largely act as prep for the upcoming tour and hiatus. Arashi’s farewell streaming souvenir resembles Namie Amuro’s Hulu series “Finally,” a year-spanning production that coincided with the singer’s retirement from the industry.
Like “Finally,” “Voyage” also fails as a real intro to the group for the uninformed. This is made for fans and people already familiar with what Arashi is, with little time spent contextualizing its members. The closest to a “why they matter” segment in the debut episode is a four-minute crawl where every one of the group’s 400-plus songs scrolls by, alongside some chart and live accomplishments.
This prompted some eye rolling initially — it was like someone reciting their resume at you. Then I watched “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana,” another Netflix original in which that American singer-songwriter spends the first hour doing basically the same, albeit with ample dated footage and melodrama. It’s a formula that was central to a rash of pop-centric music documentaries from the start of the 2010s.
“Voyage” simply gets that success out of the way in a few minutes to devote more time to interviews with Arashi’s members, which prove revealing. The first episode implies everyone has different feelings about the impending hiatus — “I think … this is taking something you truly love and attempting to strangle it to death,” Jun Matsumoto says — while also underlining how all-consuming Arashi really is.
Better still is the second episode, which documents the initial preparation for the final tour. While the five members take it all seriously, “Voyage” doesn’t portray anything so dramatic. Rather, you see Arashi’s members spending weeks fretting over setlists, getting annoyed at early graphics and scrutinizing fabrics for potential costumes. It makes being in Arashi appear boring, and reminds us that stardom is a job.
With 18 more episodes to go, whether “Voyage” can morph into a legacy-building affair is unclear. So far, the series has offered a glimpse into the often uneventful, and sometimes exhausting, careers of five people who have spent half their lives in J-pop. Parts reminded me of “BTS: Burn The Stage,” a YouTube docuseries about the titular K-pop titans. It captures young stars experiencing their breakout moment and loving every soundcheck. “Voyage” shows what happens decades later, when that excitement calcifies and a book of fabrics is just another task.