Woke up today to see that Up-Front had decided to dip their toes into the waters of forgiveness with a solo recording and video from former Tsubaki Factory member Risa Ogata. Nothing too crazy — no swan-dives or cannonballs — just a quick check to see if the water is worth wading into a little further. Ogata officially joined the M-line club today, but her debut is a major bet-hedge on the part of Up-Front.
Risa’s solo teaser (it’s not really enough to be called a “debut”) is a shortened cover of a Natsumi Abe cover, Shinji Tanimura’s “Too far away ~Onna no Kokoro~” from Abe’s ninth single, and contains only the first verse and chorus before skipping straight to the final chorus. This is a glorified karaoke performance, as the instrumental is just an edit from Abe’s single, while the video consists of a single-set with two basic shots: close-up and medium-long. In other words, Up-Front spent as little as possible to reintroduce Risa Ogata to the world as a viable soloist. This is a heat-check, pure and simple, intended to gauge fan interest in their scandal-tinged idol. The reaction so far has been favorable, with the video closing in on 100K first-day views and overwhelmingly positive comments.
That’s not surprising when you consider that the nature of Ogata’s “scandal,” while absolutely necessitating her removal from Tsubaki Factory, is one that’s universally relatable. Who hasn’t gone off on social media about their boss or co-workers at some point? I think most fans see seven months of penance as enough for Risamaru, and are thrilled at the prospect of having her back.
As for Ogata’s performance and what it portends for a possible solo career, I’m intrigued. Risa has an interesting vocal timbre that’s mostly light, but with a bit of weight and seriousness to it. Her range is decent with a sweet-spot in the lower-mid range to my ears, and she’s developed a nice vibrato on longer notes. To compare Risa’s version directly to Natsumi’s, I’d say that I prefer Risa’s more emotive performance right up until the final chorus, where Abe’s superior strength and stability win out. This exposes Risamaru’s most pressing flaw as a singer: her lack of power. Her a capella high note is thin and constricted, sapping her performance of emotion and energy right at the climax of the song. By contrast, her more restrained verse and first chorus are brimming with tense emotional energy, so the lack of a satisfying release is kind of frustrating. Still, what she does have can’t be learned, and it’s not like she has to develop Ruru Dambara’s power; Abe’s will do.
The conundrum for Risa is that success as a solo idol these days is rare even for advanced singers, and she’s painted herself into a soloist-or-bust corner. I can’t imagine she’d be able to gain the trust of a group at this point, and my guess is that management feels the same. Still, I had written Risamaru off completely, so this quick-hit teaser is a nice surprise. Rather than ride out her contract, Up-Front is giving her a shot at a redemption arc, but they’re making it clear that the amount of work they’re willing to put into it is entirely dependent on how much they believe the fans want it.