Rei Inoue is the sole member of Kobushi Factory who will remain with Hello! Project after KF disbands, so the speculation surrounding her future role in H!P is lively. The three most likely scenarios are: 1. solo career; 2. lead a new unit; 3. join an existing unit. I’ll avoid speculating on what I think Up Front will do — because UF is adept at finding creative ways to disappoint — and instead concentrate on what I think they should do.
This seems to be the most popular choice of online fans, and while it might produce the best results musically (if handled properly, which is no guarantee), I think it would be the worst of all possible outcomes for Rei. Solo idols are simply not in vogue, and Rei doesn’t have the large dedicated army of wota — even within the H!P fandom — that she’d need to succeed on her own. She would be relegated to a career of sub-10K sales and being the warm-up act for H!P’s more popular groups, and her talent is far too valuable an asset to squander on a role that so few fans want.
Lead a New Group
I’ll admit this is tempting, and if Rei were even one year younger, I’d probably be okay with it. As it is, she’s right in the prime of her idol career at 18, and the amount of time it would take to build a new group around her would eat up precious months — if not over a year — of that prime, which would also be a waste. Rei will actually turn 19 this July, and her talent should not be put on a shelf waiting for a group to lead. Which brings us to…
Join An Existing H!P Group
This is the optimal outcome for everyone involved: Rei, Up Front, H!P, and whatever group she would join. I think that there are two groups that make the most sense from a personnel and fit perspective, so let’s weed out the other three first. Morning Musume just added three of the most exciting new members since the 10th gen, and while I expect multiple graduations this year, the 15th gen is their future. BEYOOOOONDS is brand new and moving product like their name is Morning Musume, so there’s no need to rock that speed-boat. Tsubaki Factory, like KF, will never add new members, nor should they, and Inoue doesn’t really fit their vibe, anyway. That leaves two sensible destinations for Rei: Angerme and Juice=Juice.
My knee-jerk, gut instinct was Angerme, mainly because I’m still salty about Funaki’s looming March graduation. Rei would be the perfect replacement for Musubu, and the group would be better for having her. After a bit of more sober consideration, though, I can think of three reasons why Angerme shouldn’t be the landing spot for Inoue: 1) I think Funaki will be Angerme’s only graduation this year; 2) they’ve already added several new members the past couple of years; 3) they’re currently running new member auditions, so their dressing room is fairly crowded already.
That leaves Juice=Juice, whose aging lineup is almost certain to see the departure of Tomoko Kanazawa this year, and possibly Karin Miyamoto, as well. Rei’s voice and demeanor seems more well suited to J=J than any other group, and considering Sayuki and Manaka will both turn 23 next year, Rei could add stability for the next 3-5+ years. Honestly, If I were running things at Up Front, I would have Rei training with J=J on a part-time basis right now, so that when Kobushi Factory steps off the stage for the final time in March, she can walk straight to Juice=Juice’s dressing room to join her new group.
Rei-to-Juice=Juice is my perfect scenario, but I’d be thrilled if was Angerme, too. Now watch Up Front reboot LoVendoЯ starring Rei Inoue.