CHAPTER 1: To the promised place
Sasaki Ayaka’s “Failure”
Two days after Seibu Dome, Momoiro Clover Z visited Odaiba.
They were there to perform for the live broadcast of “Mou hitotsu no, Momoiro Christmas 2013!”, on CS Fuji TV NEXT.
The members initially thought the programme would be more like a “talk show”, but in truth, it was a full 3-hour non-stop music programme, produced by Fuji TV’s music department. Many popular musical acts were putting in an appearance to do collaborations with Momoclo, so it was like the FNS Music Festival.
For the collabs, the members were split up to do solo performances. Sasaki Ayaka was tasked to perform “Silent Eve” with Karashima Midori-san.
As the programme was broadcast on Christmas Eve, the song was a great, timely choice. But there was just one problem. As Karashima-san was involved in another live broadcast in Shizuoka just before the programme, there was no chance for the duo to rehearse together at all before the show.
The song was truly a difficult piece to perform, so to do a collab without any prior rehearsal was indeed a tough hurdle to cross. Furthermore, it was going to be a live broadcast, so there was really no room for error.
As expected, this proved to be too overwhelming for even Sasaki Ayaka to handle, and her nervousness was evident. The programme structure cast Momoclo as the main hosts, and the studio as the location where they would receive their numerous guests. It was not an unfamiliar situation for Ayaka; she had much experience as an emcee. That day, however, she made a series of “un-Aarin-like” misses, from the programme flow to the sequence of guest appearances. There was no doubt that her mind was preoccupied with the upcoming performance of “Silent Eve”, the highlight of the programme.
Finally, the time for the performance came.
Sasaki Ayaka’s performance of “Silent Eve” was a failure.
If this had been a live concert, the audience would have stood up and given her encouragement regardless, but this was a live broadcast for a music programme for TV, afterall. No matter what happens, a performer has to take it in stride and strive on. With a tearful expression, Sasaki Ayaka continued standing tall before the camera.
However, after the broadcast was over and she returned backstage, she fell onto her knees and sobbed.
It was hard to imagine that she had shed joyous tears just two days before after the Kokuritsu announcement, and now, so much sorrow marked the end of Christmas Eve…
Looking back, her voice had not been in good condition for the past few days. In fact, when the group performed for the live broadcast of “Doyou Studio Park” (NHK) right before the concert at Seibu Dome, her poor voice made many fans worry about her performance for Momokuri.
“I’ll definitely do well today!” She had commented during Seibu Dome, and true to her word, she focused hard on her vocal training and pulled through for a commendable period, though she was far from prime condition. Even during the rehearsals for “Mou hitotsu no, Momokuri”, she kept a mask at all time, unless she was singing, and took full care of her throat.
But even with all that training, taking on such a technical piece was still undoubtedly a challenge.
However, as a true professional, it was no longer appropriate for her to whine and try to slip out of it.
Seeing Sasaki Ayaka lying on the floor in tears, Kawakami Akira told her.
“I know these are tears of regret, but you’ve already done all you could, right? You knew that this programme came right after Seibu Dome, so you did your best to take care of yourself, we understand that. In fact, you didn’t even speak a word backstage just now, before the show began. So you’ve done your best, right?”
From the fans’ perspective came feelings of sympathy for the girls, about how they had not had a chance to rest after hosting such a large concert. It would be hard for them to progress at this pace, many reasoned.
The live broadcast had been a new challenge for the girls, and as the fans feared, Sasaki Ayaka had blundered.
Even so, her personality helped her to spring back and use the regret to fuel herself. “I cried my heart’s out that day, so that I won’t harp on it the next day. That’s why I could let myself go and cry all I wanted,” she commented. But soon after the new year arrived, another unexpected trial befell Sasaki Ayaka.
An old injury in her left leg came back.
A crack had developed in her shin, so she had to wear a permanent cast for quite a while. Of course, this meant that she could not dance, and because the group had several events lined up right to Kokuritsu, she had no choice but to continue putting on performances.
Her first event after the injury was the “Anime Kouhaku Utagassen” (19 January at Yoyogi Gymnasium). Backstage, Sasaki Ayaka handed out snacks and sweets to everyone, with a short message of “I’m sorry to cause so much trouble”. It was a mature move, and everyone wished for her speedy recovery as they munched on the little fish-shaped snacks.
To draw attention away from her inability to dance, she was also cast in her alternate role of “Aarin robot”.
As her robot persona, it was thus less awkward that she could not dance with the rest. With an “out of order” tag, the sting of the injury was further lessened. Aarin robot, once conceived as a playful addition, had become a “lifesaver”!
After the performance, the girls returned backstage. Sasaki Ayaka’s eyes were glistening.
“Aah! I’m gonna cry again~”
This time, it was tears of gratitude for the kindness of the other members.
“Because I can’t dance, everyone had to change their dance formations today just for my sake. It must be so tough for everyone, but nobody complained at all, and took the new lessons so seriously. I’m just so sorry, but also so grateful…”
Who knew that even robots could cry.
It must have been tough on her as well, as they were unable to present Momoclo’s full force to all the fans present. As the event was an anime showcase, she also cosplayed as Clara from the story “Alp’s no shoujo Heidi”. Despite the role, Sasaki Ayaka stood up from her wheelchair in front of the audience as her own self, holding back all her pain and sorrow.
In order to recover before Kokuritsu, she had to continue to refrain from dancing. Every time she went to exchange her cast for a smaller one, she focused on her countdown towards total recovery. As such, the time remaining until Kokuritsu took on additional meaning for her.
During that time, a point came for Sasaki Ayaka to exact her “revenge”.
On 19 February, the girls hosted “Momoiro Yobanashi Second Night “Gentou”” at the EX Theatre at Roppongi. Though she had planned to take “revenge” for the failed performance of Yamaguchi Momoe’s “Akizakura” during “First Night”, held the previous year, the guest this time round was Karashima Midori-san. It was Sasaki Ayaka’s second chance to meet and perform “Silent Eve” with the song’s original artist.
Unable to dance, she had devoted all her time to practice her singing, and the results showed. Before a silent audience, Sasaki Ayaka performed well. It was not the perfect performance, but compared to her tearful expression on Christmas Eve, this performance clearly demonstrated how much she had grown.
“As the audience was so silent, I didn’t even know how I did. Did I do well? I really hope I did.”
After the performance, Sasaki Ayaka looked relieved, and for the second day’s “Oshiiro Manhattan ~Nantekotta Pannacotta~”, she immersed herself fully into her usual cheerful emcee role.
For that day, the members switched colours. At the end of the show, she finally spoke of all the emotions she had kept within herself since the injury.
“Everyone now understands how important their own part is. For me, having injured myself, I took the chance to stand at the sidelines and watch. And what I’ve seen is how bright Momoiro Clover Z shines.”
Then, turning to the audience, she shouted,
“Let’s go together! To the other side of Kokuritsu!”
It was the first time any member had mentioned Kokuritsu to the fans after the initial announcement at Seibu Dome. With that shout, the figurative cast around Sasaki Ayaka grew even smaller.
Her body and soul were finally ready to take on the battle leading up to Kokuritsu…