In a piece of news so grisly and odd it sounds almost made up, it was reported Sunday two members of phenomenally successful idol group AKB48, plus one member of their staff, were seriously injured by a man wielding a saw at an AKB event in Iwate prefecture, Japan.
The injured members of AKB were Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both members of AKB48’s Team A. The hands and heads of both singers received cuts, and one finger each was fractured. The staff member received cuts to his hand. All three were taken to a local hospital where they underwent surgery.
The attacker was identified as Satoru Umeda, an unemployed 24-year old. The motivation behind his attack is not yet clear.
Meet-and-greet handshake events like the one in Iwate are a central part of the AKB phenomenon, designed to make members of the group appear more approachable than those of other idol groups. Handshake tickets are included in AKB48 CDs, with each ticket valid for a few seconds of hand-shaking with one’s favorite member. In some cases tickets can be combined, encouraging fans to buy multiple copies of the same CD to extend their handshake time.
Including handshake tickets, as well as ballots for the annual AKB election, in which fans decide who will rise or fall in the hundreds-of-members strong association, has boosted AKB sales impressively since its debut in Akihabara in 2005. In 2013, seven of Japan’s top 10 best-selling singles were by either AKB48 or its affiliated acts.
Because fans buy multiple copies of the same CD, it’s unclear how many true fans of the group there actually are.
Rina Kawaei made her debut with AKB48 in 2010 and made it to Team A in 2012. She is notable having received the lowest score of all the AKB members on a test and receiving the title “dumbest member.” The AKB48 song “Hasute to Wasute” centers around Kawaei and her alleged stupidity.
Like Kawaei, Anna Iriyama joined AKB in 2010, being promoted to Team A in 2012. That year, she appeared with Kawaei in the AKB48 television series about delinquent teenage girls Majisuka High School 3.
Though Sunday’s incident was by far the most dangerous in the history of AKB48’s meet-and-greets, it wasn’t the first time AKB members have faced harassment at the events. There are reports of fans verbally harassing idols, as well as one incident where a fan gave former member Akimoto Sayaka the middle finger.
It’s not yet clear what will come of AKB’s handshake events in the future. Future events have been canceled for the time being, but it’s hard to imagine them going away forever, as they’re such an essential part of the phenomenon. On the other hand, the security at these events – reportedly currently handled by retired Osaka police officers-turned-idol-group-turned-security-guards OJS48 – is in need of serious review.
Whatever you think of AKB48, clearly an assault in two teenage girls is nothing but horrific. We wish all three injured a speedy recovery.