Last remaining member of original group of 20 founding idols announces graduation, says she “still loves AKB48.”

There’s a famous logic exercise that goes something like this: If you replace first the head of George Washington’s ax, and then later the handle, is it still George Washington’s ax? Sometimes the substitute subject is a car or other machine that’s gradually had all of its parts replaced, but the fundamental debate is still the same: is the sum of parts still the same sum if none of the original parts remain?

That’s about to become a question that you can apply to Japan’s most popular idol singer group, AKB48. With 48 full-status performers plus a roster of “trainee” junior members who are periodically rotated into the main group, AKB48 is essentially the immortal hydra of the idol industry, but soon it’s going to lose its last original member, 27-year-old Minami Minegishi.

▼ Minami Minegishi

Despite the name, AKB48 was initially formed with a core group of 20 idols on December 8, 2005. Following the retirement (or “graduation,” as the industry and fans call it when an idol leaves her group) of fellow original member Haruna Kojima in 2017, Minegishi has been the only first-generation AKB48 idol who’s still part of the unit. However, in a 14th anniversary concert held at the AKB48 Theater in Tokyo’s Akihabara district on Sunday, Minegishi addressed the audience shortly before the end of the performance. “Thank you for standing by me until this day,” she told those in attendance, before going on to announce “I, Minami Minegishi, will be graduating from AKB48.”

While it’s customary for Japanese entertainers to always make a point of thanking their fans for their loyalty and support, Minegishi’s idol career has been something of a comeback story. In January of 2013, a tabloid published photos showing that the then 21-year-old Minegishi had spent the night at the apartment of a boy band member. With idols widely prohibited from dating, the incident was treated as a case of Minegishi putting her personal desires ahead of a single-minded dedication to improving her craft for the sake of her AKB48 members and fans. She was demoted to trainee status, and also appeared in a video, posted to AKB48’s official YouTube channel, with her hair shaved down to a buzzcut, a traditional show of contrition in Japanese society. By August of the same year, however, Minegishi was back in the group’s good graces, having been fully reinstated and even designated the captain of one of AKB48’s sub-divisions.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and have decided to graduate while I still love AKB48,” Minegishi explained to the audience after announcing her pending graduation. “I will be starting over and trying my best again, and if you will all watch over me, I’ll be happy,” she added, though she has yet to provide any details as to whether she intends to remain in the music industry, transition to acting/media personality work (Minegishi has appeared in multiple movies and TV programs), or plans to leave show business entirely.

For the time being, though, the fans that Minegishi has accumulated over her 14 years with AKB48 will get to see her continue as an idol for just a little longer, as she’s scheduled to formally leave the group following a special farewell concert at Yokohama Arena on April 2.

Source: Nikkan Sports via Yahoo! Japan News via Hachima Kiko via Anime News Network/Kim Morrissy
Top image: Pakutaso (edited by SoraNews24)
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