National / Media | Japan Pulse

'Ainori' reboot reflects attempt to attract a new generation

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

When Namie Amuro announced that she would be retiring in 2018, even those who weren’t hard-core fans were shocked to hear that the pop star who had been an influential part of their seishun jidai (coming-of-age) would be leaving the music industry.

The news came less than a year after SMAP’s official retirement and as the idols that have dominated the entertainment industry for the past 10 to 20 years start to bow out of the limelight, television is looking for a way to attract its target audience.

Several networks appear to be using nostalgia to woo an older crowd, rebooting shows that were once popular in the 1990s and 2000s. “Tokyo Friend Park II,” a popular variety show on TBS that ran from 1994 to 2011, returned to the airwaves with a three-hour special on July 3. What’s more, “Amazing Animals,” another variety show on TBS that aired from 1993 to 2009, was revived for a three-hour special in 2016 and returned to regular programming from July 1 this year.

Reboots from the 1990s and 2000s are primarily gaining traction because they appeal to the arasa (around 30) generation that watched the shows as children and teens. TV networks are relying on a show’s original audience to tune in for a cast, storyline or concept they know and love, while at the same time introducing the series to a brand new generation.

It isn’t only variety shows that are receiving the reboot treatment. Netflix has had success domestically and abroad mining content from the ’80s and ’90s. Popular American TV shows such as “Full House” and “Gilmore Girls” returned with the original cast members in 2016. Now there are even plans to bring back children’s shows such as “The Magic School Bus” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

Netflix Japan recently announced it is resurrecting “Ainori” (literally, “ride together”), a popular reality show that featured seven young men and women looking for love while traveling the world in the show’s trademark pink van. The show was part travelogue, part dating show, with a twist that kept viewers hooked. When participants officially coupled up or were rejected by their love interest after a public declaration (or plea, depending how you looked at it), they would have to leave the van and return to Japan, which allowed new members to join the cast.

According to the official Fuji TV website, the show visited 92 countries and brought together 44 couples, eight of which got married. The program ran for 10 years from 1999 to 2009. Twelve years after the show went off air, “where are they now” websites tracking the online presence and public appearances by former ‘Ainori’ members continue to keep fans up to date.

As intended, the announcement of the reboot struck a nostalgic chord. Netflix Japan started auditioning new cast members on March 1 and the original concept remained unchanged: Participants must want to travel the world and find true love.

Online users viewed the promotional video on the official Netflix JP Instagram more than 29,000 times, a huge increase compared to standard Netflix video posts that typically attract around 4,000 views. Instagram user @nonyunasara wrote, “Wow, ‘Ainori.’ I used to watch every episode. It’s been 10 years since then. I hope arafour (around 40) can enjoy it, too.”

TV personality Becky publicized her role as the show’s MC with an Instagram post of a single chopstick rest. The post received more than 31,000 Likes.

Comments from “Ainori” fans posted material on social media repeating the same sentiment: Natsukashii (That’s nostalgic). Instagram user @sakkkiiiiii said, “This really takes me back! I watched the show all the time! I’m looking forward to watching Becky on ‘Ainori.'”

Becky herself stated that she is glad the reboot is staying true to the spirit of the original show. “What surprised me is that ‘Ainoi’ aired more than 10 years ago, but the show does not feel old at all,” she wrote on an Instagram post. “In fact, it might be perfect for this period. I would love to see young children enjoy the show.”

Becky’s message reflects the network’s intention to serve multiple demographics. They want the best of both worlds by bringing back tried-and-true concepts to a generation yearning to revisit their youth, and drawing in the next generation of TV viewers on the cusp of adulthood.