This is an interview with Matsui Jurina, found in the 2014 version of the Senbatsu Election Book. Interviewer is in bold, Jurina’s answers are in quotes.
“I need a rival so I can continue to grow”
In the 2013 Election, Matsui Jurina entered “Kami 7”. After that, she was the victor in the Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament. The next place she sets her sights on can only be that one. In the interview, she analyzed herself with composure, but from every word blossomed a passionately burning fire. What could the reason for that be—?
When talking about this past year in regards to Matsui Jurina, the thing that comes to mind is, of course, her triumph in the Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament. After her entrance, the image of an innocent girl in a school uniform, she rose to victory by throwing nothing but paper.
“You’ve got it”
I can’t explain it in words other than that. You surely have the “Hand of God”.
“The instant I won as champion, I ended up making a face of surprise without thinking. My mouth was wide open (laughs). I’m still so embarrassed about that, I can’t even bring myself to look at the photos! To my fans, that rock-paper-scissors tournament was the beginning of something. At handshake events, they would tell me, ‘There hasn’t been anyone yet who’s been both election center and rock-paper-scissors champion, so let’s aim to crown you as the first!” But on the other hand, I also got a lot of people telling me ‘I wanted your first solo center to be one that wasn’t won through rock-paper-scissors.'”
The fans’ feelings are passionate. And you are connected as one, as remarkably evidenced in this year’s “Request Hour” when the song you stood as solo center for, “Suzukake~”, was voted in at #2 over a multitude of other songs.
“I was really surprised. I would’ve been happy if it had just ranked within the top 10, but to think it would land at #2… While I was singing, I naturally broke down into tears. I also feel like a lot of people got to know me through the rock-paper-scissors tournament. At that time, I had an eye problem, so for a while I would wear an eyepatch or a pair of glasses. Because of that, fans who like ‘girls in glasses’ started to come see me at handshake events (laughs)”.
In any case, the biggest change came in your way of thinking when standing as “solo center”.
“Double center and solo center are completely different. Of course, you’re happy to be solo center, but the pressure is enormous. There’s the million-seller streak on the line, and I don’t want people to say ‘It all went bad when Jurina became center’. So I was always battling my anxiety over that”.
Having experienced being solo center, Jurina has passed another landmark in her growth.
On March 8th, she had a birthday performance in both Nagoya and Tokyo. This was a historical first for the 48 Group. In the afternoon, she appeared in a Team S performance for SKE48 in Nagoya, and then headed for Akihabara in Tokyo. Then she appeared in a night performance for AKB48’s Team K, and she was all smiles.
“I was worried it would be very difficult for my body to withstand. I didn’t even know if I would be able to do it. But the fans on the birthday committee were warmly awaiting my birthday performances, and the SKE members saw me off with ‘It’ll be hard from here on, but have a good trip!’ When I got to Tokyo, everyone came and talked to me, saying ‘You just came from a performance in Nagoya? It’ll be tough, but let’s do our best.’ Hearing everyone’s feelings made me happy, and I was also happy to be the first member to do this.”
Looking back, you were 11 years old when you auditioned. And now you’re already 17.
“I feel both like ‘I’m still 17?’ and ‘I’m only 17?’ Though when I talk to the staff, they talk to me like I’m already over 20 (laughs)”.
As you get older, your group of fans acquires more layers. Your peak as an idol is yet to come.
“From around the time I turned 16, I gained new fans. I’ve been told ‘You were too much of a kid until now, and I couldn’t support you’. And since I turned 17, it seems my fanbase has increased yet again (laughs). I think I’m still fresh. I’ve been doing this for 6 years now, but I’m still only 17! I won’t lose to those past 6 years. But NakoMiku-chan (Yabuki Nako and Tanaka Miku of HKT48) have just started middle school… . I’ll lose to that kind of cuteness, but I won’t lose in energy and being powerful! I want to shine even brighter when I turn 18”.
In her 6-year career with youth on her side, she will become a grand weapon for the 48 Group in years to come.
That brings us to this year’s election. Last year, you got into “Kami 7” for the first time. With what feeling are you facing the election this year?
“Last year I received a really wonderful rank. Supported by that result, I’m able to overcome all the hardships”.
Last year, Shinoda Mariko, who was one placement above you, was separated from you by 15,000 votes. We can call this a difference resulting from general public familiarity. In order for you to eventually climb that high, you have to become familiar as well.
“It’s true that I still have a long way to go in attaining that degree of familiarity. I want to keep increasing the frequency of nationwide exposure I get, and there are a lot of things I want to do. But right now, I think the most important thing is to focus as much as I can on the activities I’m doing in SKE and AKB. Rather than making my name as an individual known, I’m putting priority on doing things “for the sake of SKE” or “for the sake of AKB”, because I want us to grow more as groups… . And I’ll be glad if that comes back to me someday, and glad if I can shine brighter when I’m 18. That’s what I think”.
For the recent single, “Labrador Retriever”, you’re no longer center.
“I was incredibly happy to have been chosen to be one of the front 3 members, but frustrated when I thought there’s still a higher place I could be in. But after listening to the song, I was satisfied. I think I would have been more frustrated if I was passed over as center for a dance number”.
The frustration you hold inside hasn’t really shown on your face this past year. Good things have just kept coming your way. I’m sure you’ll sparkle even more if you turn that vexation into energy. If you didn’t aim desperately higher like you are now, it wouldn’t be very interesting.
The presence of Yamamoto Sayaka seems like motivation in the making. You and she are both aces of sister groups, and now you’ll both stand on the same stage in Team K performances. Should we be calling you strong rivals?
“When I found out we’d both be in Team K, I was really looking forward to it, because it’s been a while since I’ve had this burning feeling. Until recently, the rival I’ve been trying hard not to lose to has been (Oshima) Yuko-san, my senior. But this is the first time I’ve felt a burning desire not to lose to one of my juniors. When I realized that, I couldn’t help but be excited. Because it won’t be my 100%. I’ll be putting out 120%.
Oh yeah, at AKB’s Request Hour, it was amazing when we danced together as Team K members. Before our performance, Sayanee and I were both calm, but when we went out on stage we both danced as if to say ‘Like I’ll lose to you!’ (laughs). As we were dancing, that’s when I felt it. I wanted all our fans to see us at a theater performance. Because concerts and theater performances are totally different things. I want to change myself, I want to be forced to grow, and because of that I need someone who will act as motivation for me.”
Since your debut, Matsui Rena has been by your side, and you’ve constantly been compared to each other. These past 1~2 years, you’re no longer considering each other rivals or being considered rivals with the appearance of the Western Beast, Yamamoto Sayaka. She’s become an unknown variable in this election. As a vision of the future of AKB, the position you’re both in will likely come to stand out from the rest.
“But I’ll be satisfied with any rank I get in the election. Though I’m a bit let down to be forecasted [in the book] at 7th place (laughs). Eh, the book staff forecasted Sayanee as 1st?! That’s totally fine, but, yeah, I’m a little fired up about it (laughs)”.
To Jurina, is it that the election is an ignition point for vexation? Or is it a springboard to a leap forward? The two are one in the same.