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Friday, June 20, 2014

Is Black Diamond -really- helping Gyaru?

This has been on my mind for a few days now. With 小悪魔Ageha currently without a publisher (though it's sister mag 姉Ageha is set to start circulation again in August), and EGG supposedly being "DONE" and officially "retiring"/shutting down (I say this because this is not the first time they've attempted to 'quit' before coming back..), the spotlight on Japanese Gyaru subculture has been dimming. The real gyaru are still around, but admittedly things like gal circle activity are slowly dwindling. The question that's been buzzing around is, "is Gyaru dead???"

Firstly, just because the gyaru magazines are currently not in circulation does not mean the entire thing is done for. People seem to forget the roots of Gyaru as a counter-culture movement. It was not intended to be a popular 'trendy' style, it was created out of rebellion. Just because it's no longer mainstream, does not mean it loses it's identity and it's livelihood completely. Many gyaru brands in 109 and online are still going pretty strong, e.x. D.I.A., Gold's Infinity, et cetera, and while for some it may be difficult to keep track of current gal-cirs and event circles,  (especially if you're not familiar with navigating Japanese SNS sites like crooz or have access to mixi), there are still plenty of dark gals around, and gal circles still do exist and are active. You can still catch recent circle parapara events via Youtube, and I have seen many westerners abroad say that there are actually many gyaru outside of Tokyo in other prefectures.

With all these magazines "dying" all around, I decided to dig up old EGG magazine scans from my harddrive, mainly from 2008-2010. Some might coin those years the "golden years" for Gyaru fashion (pun intended) since it was the period where it's popularity was at it's peak. Besides for nostalgia, I was looking at the trends and the outfits from each spread and street snap; and in doing so, I noticed something. That is, how incredibly simple and convenient gal style was.

"lol girl wut r u talkin about--"

What I'm saying is that the recurring trends and outfits are honestly ridiculously simple, and that the main important part is the girl's ability to be able to make simple things work together. Graphic tees over striped tanks. Fluorescent greens and yellow tops with neon pink skirt, or denim skirt and neon pink or multicolored pumps. Neon fishnets over equally bold knee high socks. Hints of shocking purple in a completely black and white outfit. Even in the most simplistic of outfits, GAL is screaming out through every part of their being. Everything looked DIY, or quick/fast fashion put together in an unconventionally colorful manner.

Seeing all this variety made me wonder to myself, "Why aren't a lot of us in the west getting this down?" Fact of the matter is, no one has creativity (Besides maybe some European gals. It seems they're all flawless...ermgherd). There are really not that many girls who try to even attempt to recognize the basics of the style, whether it's makeup or clothing, and for that reason they can't even step into the area where they can break color boundaries or take things from western fashion and make it work. We are admittedly obsessed with the popular well-known brands-- even those who supposedly 'hate brand' or 'hate brandwhores/people who can personally afford brand for themselves' cannot distance themselves from brand because that is all they know, and most don't know how to recreate the style's aesthetics with non-brand items. We are so stuck onto the brand images and concepts of D.I.A., of M*A*R*S, La Pafait and less often nowadays, COCOLULU.

Besides the effort of the gals in making almost anything work, I also noticed other things-- the way their hair was laid. They were always hairstyles that were easy to do on your own, for the most part; hair down, up-dos, partials-- wavy, curly, SUPERcurly, pin-straight, heavily teased, crimped, etc. A lot of them could be done in maybe about 30 minutes average. Their nails were simple-- and when I mean simple, I mean for the gals who had their nails done, even the crazy 3-D deco'd nails, were either 'normal' tip length, or at least long enough to be practical and functional.

(excuse the poor quality.)

Seeing these things, my mind begin to shift over to Black Diamond. All past drama aside (e.x. with the failed Black Diamond International), I do admire the Black Diamond girls for kind of still being there as a "visible" face of gyaru. Not having expected them to last long, especially under the production of shady Pontsuyo, a part of me is pleased that they're still out and about and active.

However, in a way, their style may be doing more bad than good. I'll break it down into major points:

  Unrealistically High Maintenance


I'm talking about hair and nails. Not every single member does this, but a good amount of the main faces of BDia do.

While big and detailed enough to make anyone go "WOAH!", most of the huge "sujimori" ("筋盛り" suji- literally meaning "stripe/streaks", -mori describing voluminous) hairstyles are salon sets, not done by the girls themselves. The complexity of the hairstyles aren't convenient to the everyday person. From personal experience, attempting sujimori could take about 2 hours or so trying to do it -on your own-, with your own hair, especially depending on how intricate someone is trying to go, and how well your hair can hold up. For a lot of people, that could be a pretty good chunk of your day, or at least a good chunk of your normal 'prep time' when it comes to going out. Even as far as using wigs, synthetic wigs in particular, it can take about 10 hours including washing and prepping to style a wig if you want it to look good and actually realistic.

The many stripes of a sujimori set is visible, even through
blurry screencaps
In comparison, EGG kept their styling reasonably easy with all sorts of styling. Even Ageha, to a point Long hair, short hair, straight hair, curled hair, crimped hair, ponytail, pigtail, on and on and on. You saw enough of each kind of hair length and style that there was not much reason to think "I can't do gal with short hair", or, "I can't leave my hair straight". Heck yes you could! But with all the mori styling in Black Diamond, it kind of tells a different thing, one with less options and lots of maintenance. The only time you saw them without anything special would be during their off-days, definitely not so much with press shoots or events.

Even from the perspective of Japanese hostesses (which I've seen through multiple sources, one of them being the 2009 New York Times article's video feature), those who bother to get things like mori hair sets don't have time to do it step-by-step; they bring all their crap to the hair salon, and have their hair and makeup prepped simultaneously. Not only is sujimori time-consuming no matter how you do it, in terms of being a regular at the hair salon, that's like dough turning to liquid and spilling out of your pocket constantly. For many it's an unnecessary expense and something girls nowadays wouldn't bother trying to do it on a regular basis. And while sujimori was a big thing in Ageha, Ageha was mainly catering to actual hostesses anyways, not regular gyaru; and even then, they had their fair share of do-able mori hair set tutorials if some wanted to go that extra mile.(as well as BETTY magazine)

While there are girls who don't -usually- get too much done, they usually end up in the shadows of Harutamu and co.'s magnificent salon hair. For example Demi, who is effortlessly gyaru without the detailed striped locks (and she seem to have a lot more popularity on her own!), and then at times Mayuchibi would either have simple hair, or a more -doable- mori style. Pomitan tends to have her hair mori'd out, but sometimes she'll rock a more doable style as well. 

Sakurina's nails, from some time ago.
Ridiculous deco, but still about 3-4 in.
Now as far as nails...again, not every BD member get their nails done, but those that do usually go hard... to the point where they can't even properly function without their fingers spread miles apart. The most notorious would be the supercutie Harutamu, who was featured for getting Candy Crush and My Melody figures clustered all along 6-8 inch pointed nails. Of  course that is not her only ridiculous set, it's a regular thing she does. However, when most see that, in regards to convenience and basic movement, it's more or less an instant "nope".

I'd say 4 or 5 inch nails can be seen as really long, but leaving the wearer to be able to do normal activities (with some getting used to). Even Ageha model Sakurina, who was known for ridiculously cluttered nails, usually kept hers at a reasonable length. Long nails are good as long as you can figure out how to wipe your tush, hold utensils, handle money, and not snagging pieces on everything. Even looking through "gyaru nails" or something via. Google or Tumblr, you can see a variety of lengths and designs, most sets are about 4 inches or shorter. (Different photos of different girls' nails, not the same chick because you will obviously keep getting the same lengths.)

Cookie-Cutter Outfits

While D.I.A. is nowhere near losing their overall popularity, a lot of their 2012-2013 lines became extremely played out thanks to Black Diamond. For a good minute there were back-to-back, month-after-month repeats of the same kind of outfits; no mixing and matching different brands to make unique looks, you had maybe 3 girls in the same exact outfit, maybe different colorways; 4 of them wearing the same top, 6 of them the same belt, and then 12 of them the same furry legwarmers in different colors. Twinning/Tripling/Quartupleting outfits could be fun, but only on an occasional basis-- these girls did it constantly and consistently, to the point where their look got really old, REAL fast. Also, crocs (enough said).

While D.I.A. is overall cool, and maintains this brand concept of 'bad ass', when too many people wear the same brand head-to-toe, over and over again, it becomes a bit discouraging and may steer people away from 'looking the same'. Not to mention that D.I.A. is not a 'fast' fashion store-- one would need to throw down some money for it, so when you got high price + someone wearing the living hell out of every piece, it leaves people less enthusiastic about purchasing for themselves. (Plus, at some point in time, a gal wearing nothing but a specific brand of clothing religiously often got looked at for being a poser...)

I WILL say however, that in recent times the Black Diamond members seem to be breaking away from the "Octuplet" twinning thing and are sporting outfits that are actually a bit different from each other, aside from wearing the same D.I.A. belt. Though a majority of it is still pretty much from the same brands, the variety is giving a bit of a fresh breath of air. However, with gal fashion and trends having originated from the streets, they are nowhere nearly as raw as gals of the past or the popular "sa-jin" (a term for Gyaru circle member(s)) who have put multiple things into trend within Shibuya gal style.

Just to give you a comparison on how D.I.A. was usually used by style icons, here are a couple of scans from some old EGG. I apologize for the bad shoop... my computer had to be reset and so I had to get everything done in Paint. (Click images to enlarge)

('one thing as a statement piece***', I don't know where my mind was when I typed that LOL)

Overall, D.I.A. was used sparingly throughout different outfits, not from head to toe. In my opinion, the outfits looked more practical and obtainable to EGG'S audience. The only exception to that would maybe be Yun from time to time. We can also say the same about the COCOLULU craze as well-- the only exception was that a lot of 109 stores and cheaper brands followed COCOLULU a lot, and so there were MANY colorful clothes by different brands to choose from, to make a similar look but still look unique from others. And you may go, "But you're comparing trends from <8 years ago to now?", but my point isn't the trends itself, but the effort put into doing a creative outfit. These girls have 109 stores, Baby Shoop, Galaxxy, etc, they have their Forever 21, H&M, and other stores that are -bound- to have colorful staple clothing and whatnot but they keep to the same outfits. It becomes unclear whether their D.I.A. collection is supposed to be their 'style', or a group uniform...

Lack of Community


At a time where you would assume group/community activity essential in order to preserve the culture, it's a thing that is not happening. At least, not between Black Diamond and real gyaru circles. Why not?

In the beginning when Black Diamond first came onto the scene, with it's "120+ membership", an awful lot of that group eventually dropped out because 1) they were only interested in Black Diamond as a blog ring, which it originally was, 2) they weren't getting paid for the time like they had hoped, but a good chunk was 3) actual gyaru circle members whose time was being taken away from their real ACTIVE circles. Majority of the sa-jin who used to be part of Black Diamond were committed members of their actual circles, so when bit of media hype and 'BD meetings' came up frequently, it was taking an awful lot of time from their responsibilities as circle members.

In case you are mostly unfamiliar with gyaru circles: despite being full of crazy youth, they were actually very organized. Membership was a serious commitment to make, not just jokingly made out in old Bananaman Himura x Charasen features or Gal Circle dorama. Members were often required to put forth monthly fees for the maintenance of the group for future circle events; commitment time-wise was also essential, usually to the point where if something was seriously obstructing your attendance, e.x. a boyfriend, or even school, you were in risk of getting kicked, and in stricter policies almost 'excommunicated'. Despite there having been -different- circles, they are all more or less in connection with each other, having made collaborative events such as DANCE GROOVE, and also casually going out together and having fun at the beach and places during the summer. So if you got kicked out, you weren't allowed to join any circle in the same area or age-bracket(?) because of your wish-washy tendencies.

So when these BD members were missing out on circle stuff, they were actually missing out on a whole lot and they quit because their own circles were more important. Other members, e.x. Kaya (who was the youngest in the group at the time, 14 years old) eventually left, and apparently joined an actual gyaru-sa herself! Meanwhile Black Diamond only really do what you see them do... occasionally be on TV, occasionally coming out with a music track, occasionally at an event, and occasionally on a youtube show. Anything concerning hanging out or having fun is more or less done on a more individual friend-basis, not so much as an overall group activity unless it was necessary for the media.

That being said, if they had members who were members of gal circles, or members who were well acquainted with sa-jin, why weren't there ever any collaborative events between Shibuya circles and BD?

Drama, mainly.

Since it's conception as an actual "group" v.s. a blog ring, sa-jin saw red-flags because BD shared a very similar structure to DJ Fukui's "gal circle unit", which was music based and had a really big 'member base', resulted in getting shut down and Fukui being thrown in jail for soliciting sex from underage members. Pair that with the fact that sa-jin were having their time occupied by BD rather than their respective circles, there was always tension. Black Diamond in the beginning also made it clear that they are a "Gal UNIT", not a gal circle. Some media do regard them as a 'circle', but they aren't; however that is an example of exactly what BD Producer Pontsuyo wanted, which was the 'image' of a gal circle without claiming to be one. Then, there was the whole prostitution thing (where a lot of the BD 'members' were prostitutes, who were openly advertised on websites), which leaned heavily on the guess that Pontsuyo was trying to be the new Fukui... then there was the fallout of Black Diamond International; and not long after that, the number of girls at BD gatherings was cut by at least half (most likely due to the realization that most, if none of these girls would ever see any sort of cut from the BD music/fan club sales, via 109 store or BD shop on facebook).

Later on, (and several back-and-forths later, because Pontsuyo often started drama on sa-jin mobile forums) things calmed down between Pontsuyo and sa-jin; besides random occasional times where he acts like a straight up kid against guys half his age. But overall, fact of the matter is is that the producer is really in it for the money and besides big events like last year's Campus Summit, he wouldn't actually commit to any actual circle events or collaborative circle events such as Dance Groove. Instead he commits to trying to make BD events (often with a lot of normal working men showing up, barely any gals..), or things like GAL CON which another gal networking event (but again, not that big of a gal turnout, besides select featured models and BD members, females that are more on the normal side, and quite a bit of non-galo men).

Overall, with the major gal magazines currently down for the count, and Dance Groove discontinued, and details of Campus Summit 2014 kind of seeming a bit iffy this year, I'm not really optimistic about Black Diamond's current position as far as promotion. While at times they're nice to look at, when looked at in terms of community, the group identity itself is quite disconnected from the actual gal/circle subculture; and then in terms of style, they're not exactly fresh, and they aren't exactly trendsetters in nature. It's less of the "GET WILD, BE SEXY!" mantra promoting fun and living out youth as crazy as possible, and more 'let's all dress up for photos.' Even as far as live musical performances, they are unorganized, often dance out of sync. There's no real effort on maintaining or improving their brand image, nor are they doing much to be style icons. 100+ members, but only about 6-7 of them are really showcased all the time... what about the others?

As a group entity, just photos and minor features are not enough to revitalize the GAL spirit in Shibuya. Even with summer being here, there is nothing to inspire people to get excited and be flashy and fun. MAYBE things will look better with Demi back in the group, but I can only hope that the underground gal culture in Shibuya revives by itself, or that all the gals outside of Tokyo continue to rock the style in pride!


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