Following Atsuko Maeda’s March 25 announcement that she was leaving the all-girl idol collective AKB48, a rumor circulated on Twitter that a male University of Tokyo student had committed suicide in response. The rumor was quickly exposed as a hoax, but the point had been made. People were taking the news way too seriously. No one was really surprised when the sports tabloids made it their front-page story, but did the national dailies have to report it in such detail?
When Maeda said she was “graduating” from a group she joined as an original member at 14, she was already 20, the age of majority in Japan. As a commercial enterprise, AKB48 is fixated on adolescence, but there are members even older than Maeda who remain with the ship, so some commentators have been pondering the significance of her decision. She’s nominally the group’s most popular member and, more significantly, her endeavors as a solo entity have yet to meet with much success. In the past she said her main ambition was to be an actress, but the TV drama series she appeared in last summer, “Hanazakari ni Kimitachi,” averaged a miserable 7 percent share per episode, and her big movie vehicle, “Moshi Koko Yakyu no Joshi Maneja ga Dorakka no ‘Manejimento’ wo Yondara,” was a box-office dud. Adding insult to injury, the tabloid Sports Hochi awarded her its Hebi Ichigo Award — Japan’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Razzies for the worst film performances of the year.
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