NMB48 is a female idol group that is based in Namba in Osaka, Japan and produced in part by AKS and an offshoot of Yoshimoto Kogyo, Yoshimoto Kyoraku.
Let’s go over each point one by one.
1. What is an idol?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “an idol is a representation or symbol of an object of worship.” But we’re not speaking in English, we’re speaking in funky Japanese, so (I hope) this definition doesn’t apply.
The Japanese Wikipedia defines an idol as a jack-of-all-trades entertainer, being able to sing, dance, do voice acting, do real acting, etc. Somewhere along that line they also include fashion and sexy photoshoots. A group is just all of them bundled together. Solo idols, like my favorite Ueto Aya also exist.
The most popular female idol group used to be Morning Musume, though AKB48 has surpassed them. Male idol groups are usually associated with those under the Johnny’s Entertainment management company, primarily SMAP and Arashi though there are other popular groups too like KAT-TUN.
2. What is Namba and what is Osaka?
When most people think of Japan, they think of Tokyo. Tokyo is the capital of Japan and around 30 million live in and around it, and 12 million actually live in the metropolitan area. Naturally, many things associated with Japan originated in Tokyo. Tokyo is also considered as Kantou, or the east side of Japan.
Osaka is in Kansai, which is considered the west, though there are cities that are more westward. When Kyoto was the capital, Osaka was the economic powerhouse. Japan was not unified until the 1600s, so until then, there were still quite a few differences between the various prefectures. Accordingly, Osaka and Kansai carry strong identities and carry a little bit of a rivalry with Tokyo. It’s not much different between the rivalry between Southern California and Northern California, or the West Coast and the East Coast.
Osaka has several distinctive features about it. To start with, they speak a different dialect of Japanese known as Kansai-ben. It’s not quite country/hick as English anime dubs make us believe. They use different pitches for words and different words for other words. The more you hear it, the more you “get it,” so to speak. A lot of entertainers and comedians hail from Kansai so you’ll often hear it being spoken by them and it’s often associated with being funny.
Other distinctive features of Osaka include flour-based food, like Takoyaki (octopus dumplings), Okonomiyaki (a savory pancake made with cabbage and any kind of ingredient you wish to throw in), and Udon (thick noodles). Famous landmarks include Osaka Castle, Tsuutenkaku (a giant tower located in the Shinsekai district) and Dotonbori, a popular shopping street. You can also spot the giant Glico man advertisement from here. Tiger print is also popular, which is probably inspired by the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers.
The two main districts of Osaka are known as Umeda and Namba which are also known as Kita and Minami (North and South) respectively, though they are separated by only 6 minutes on the subway. NMB48’s theater is located in Namba.
I’m no travel guide or cultural expert so I believe that’s as much as you need to know for the purpose of this group. But feel free to learn more about Osaka and Japan. We all have to start somewhere. Even I’m still learning and still make mistakes!
3. What is AKS and AKB48? What makes them different from other idol groups? How does this apply to NMB48?
AKS is another management group. Led by producer Akimoto Yasushi, (Aki-P; the P is for producer) he was responsible for idol group Onyanko Club in the 80’s and the current producer for AKB48. He writes the lyrics to all the songs. NMB48 is a sister group to AKB48, so we can’t really describe them without describing AKB48.
The theme of AKB48 has been about “idols you can meet,” so there was an emphasis on being able to experience them live. AKB stands for Akihabara, the tech/anime/nerd district of Tokyo. They started by performing every day at a theatre located on the top floor of a department store in Akihabara called Don Quixote and have gradually risen in popularity before exploding in 2009.
There are several teams in AKB48: Team A, Team K, Team B, and Team 4, and probably more. At the theatre they perform what is called a “stage,” a set list of 12-16 songs which also include talk sessions during the intermissions known as MCs. The stages are usually updated every year or so.
Auditions take place around every 6-9 months. Each draft is called a generation or “kisei.” The first members are called 1st generation, the 2nd auditions are 2nd generation, etc. There’s also a group of understudies called Research Students or “Kenkyuusei/KKS” who are drafted but not yet promoted to a full team, and they substitute members in the theater who aren’t able to make it.
AKB48 has 2 major things that they’re known for: Handshake events and the fan election. Back in the day, you used to get a ticket with every CD purchase to go to an event where you could shake their hands and exchange a few words with them. Nowadays you need to pre-order the first-pressing, limited edition CD to get a ticket, but it’s still a great event where you can actually go and meet the celebrities. The fan election is an event where you can vote for your favorite member and the lineup for the next single is arranged according to the fans. The CD before the election will contain a ticket that you can use to vote online, so you can imagine what kind of buying frenzy this can cause.
Because of the boom in AKB48, they’ve established sister groups. One of them is NMB48 in Namba. There is also SKE48 (Sakae, in Nagoya) and HKT48 (Hakata, in Fukuoka).
NMB48 uses the same format. They have 3 teams, Team N, M, and BⅡ. You can watch theatre shows every day in their theatre in Namba. They have handshake event tickets included with the CDs as well, and sometimes have promotions like cell phone picture events where you can take a picture of them with your cell phone. For the election, all the groups are thrown into it, so it’s not just AKB48 but NMB, SKE and HKT as well.
4. What is Yoshimoto Kogyo?
Yoshimoto is an entertainment company based in Osaka that owns a ton of comedy acts. If you’re watching a variety TV show, chances are that at least one of them belongs to Yoshimoto. They practically gave birth to the comedy style known as manzai. Manzai is a standup comedy format which features a stupid person (boke) and a straight man (tsukkomi). The boke usually says something, well, stupid or off kilter or sarcastic, and the tsukkomi reacts to it in a funny. Their ace group is Downtown, a duo that hosts a billion TV shows and revolutionized manzai.
A big difference between NMB48 and the other AKS groups is that all the talent in NMB48 is managed by Yoshimoto, whereas the others are centrally managed by AKS and also signed to different talent agencies. While I’m not sure of the details of the business relationship and probably never will be, you can be sure that a lot of the money funneled into NMB48 comes from Yoshimoto so they have considerable financial backing.
5. So in the end, what does this all mean?
NMB48 incorporates all these elements to form the group that they are. They’re an idol group but they carry a strong Osakan identity. Some songs are performed in Osakan dialect and their logo is on tiger print. There’s a bigger emphasis on being funnier than other idol groups because of their Osakan roots, and they sometimes perform manzai on their own TV shows or even at live performances, such as at Nicofarre. Since they’re under Yoshimoto, they also appear on a lot of shows associated with Yoshimoto.
Above all, they’re very entertaining to watch, whether they’re singing and dancing on stage or telling jokes on the radio, and that’s really the most important thing, ain’t it?