There are 56 members in the idol group AKB48, all girls aged 12 to 24. AKB stands for Akihabara, the notoriously eccentric Tokyo neighborhood where the group was invented, and where they perform for creeps on the 8th floor of Don Quixote every day.
AKB48 members usually appear as schoolgirls, popping cute little blinky faces and wiggling their limbs in talent-show dance moves. When they're not dressed in school uniforms, they're in bikinis or sexy (but sweet) lingerie.
AKB48 is used to promote an incredible variety of mainstream products, and you see images of the group in convenience stores, on train platforms, on magazine covers, on drink bottles. Sometimes it seems like AKB48 is everywhere. This distresses me because in my dreams, Akihabara is a quarantine for this kind of gross lolita bullshit.
The neighborhood, famous for its concentration of game and electronics shops, has cultivated a similar concentration of shopping and entertainment catering to anime, video game, and pornography subcultures. What you can find in Akihabara ranges from awesome (vintage game consoles and offbeat memorabilia) to distressing (pornographic comic books featuring toddlers). Unfortunately, the neighborhood leaks.
About a year ago, my junior high school and high school students started showing up with AKB CDs and writing in their class journals about going to the convenience store to buy chocolates to get AKB member trading cards. Before long I'd lost count of how many times I'd watched groups of 12 year old boys unfold the jackets of AKB48 cds to exclaim over photos of the girls in thigh-high fishnets and skimpy pastel bras and panties making pouty porno-moe faces. I'd lost count of how many times I've heard 12 year old girls discuss which AKB member is the cutest.
This is a group that was invented specifically for otaku men who fetishize young girls. The idea was to assemble a bunch of fresh young female faces and bodies to be sexually idolized, and keep them close and accessible to the guys who idolized them. AKB48's fans get chances to meet them at events in Akihabara all the time, and, like most idol groups, AKB48 makes it a point to acknowledge its otaku fanbase and ply them with sweet comments like "I consider myself an otaku, as well!"
Choose your favorite member and pretend she's looking at you while she drinks juice!
Akihabara bothers me. Idol groups like this bother me. Adults drooling over young girls bothers me. Encouraging cuteness as a major female virtue bothers me. That a sizable portion of men in the world can only think of girls as a mystifying and intimidating species, approachable only when they act like talking cupcake babies, bothers me. But AKB48 in particular bothers me.
It's disturbing that someone can create a product as a porno fantasy for men who like underage girls, and then, having cornered that market, push the same product onto children through heavy mainstream exposure with singalong songs on the radio and advertising tied to bottled soft drinks, chocolates, and snacks. It bothers me that parents of young boys and girls aren't disturbed by the idea of their kids sipping this sickly sweet lolicon brew.