What Kind of System Does MNL48 Follow as a Sister Group?


From Handshake Events to Love Bans: What Kind of System Does MNL48 Follow as a Sister Group?

The term “idol” wasn’t a familiar concept in the Philippines until MNL48 came. As the third international sister group of AKB48, one of the most popular and influential idol groups in Japan, MNL48 follows a specific format to make sure they’re on brand and consistent with other groups. (Although, there could be exceptions to fit the local market.) This factor in itself makes MNL48 unique, but what rules and systems does the group follow exactly? Let’s take a look at some of them.

Deciding the Center

With AKB48 at its 59th single as of April 2022, MNL48 is not only spoilt for choice in which song to perform, they also have a lot of members to choose from. As of December 2021, the group has 30 members and two kenkyuusei (research students) who are in training to become an official member. With that many members, how do they decide who’s going to be in the next single?

Usually, it’s the management that decides who will be the center and who will be included in the senbatsu (the 16 girls who will be the main members of a single), but there are events in the 48 group that give everyone a chance to be in the spotlight.

A good example is the General Election, which is decided through votes collected from buying a single or merchandise. It’s a popularity contest where fans can go on a voting spree to push for their favorite member to become the center. As of writing, MNL48 had three General Elections, with the third one being the recently released seventh single "No Way Man."

MNL48 Third General Election
Photo by Facebook/MNL48

Another event is through janken or rock-paper-scissors. In 2019, to represent the upcoming MNL48 Janken App, MNL48 held a program during Coslandia (a Japanese culture event) where the group decided the center through rock-paper-scissors. It isn’t as grand as their sister groups that took rock-paper-scissors to the next level (yet) but it still gave birth to the janken senbatsu, which later became their first sub-unit — Baby Blue.

Handshake Events

As a fan, most of our chances to meet our favorites are when they’re on stage or at events (where they’re mostly guarded). But what would you do if you were given a chance to meet them face-to-face and have all their attention on you (while holding hands!) for a few seconds?

The 48 group upholds the “idols you can meet” concept, and one of the activities they do to make this happen is through handshake events. A handshake event takes place when the group releases a new single — in CD or music card format. You buy a single and it comes with one handshake ticket. Each ticket allows you to shake hands with your favorite member while talking to them for 10 seconds. The more tickets you have, the longer you can talk.

MNL48 handshake event
Photo by Facebook/MNL48

Other events where you can meet the members up-close are cheki sessions (where you can have a two-shot polaroid with your favorite member), seitansai (birthday events), and mall shows.

The Infamous Love Ban

The 48 group — and Japanese idols in general — follows a love ban where the members aren’t allowed to date. An exaggeration? Not really. Even MNL48’s current center Abby Trinidad admitted during an interview that she was in a relationship before but had to give that up.

MNL48 Abby Rated Korina interview
Screenshot from YouTube/Korina Sanchez

This might seem strict for those who are not aware of Japan’s idol culture, but there are many theories why love bans were put into place.

The first theory is “it (being in a relationship) could interfere with work.” Being an idol is a job, but then again, these idols are mostly teenagers. It’s possible that dating could divide their attention and make things, including their studies, difficult to balance.

The second theory is “it’s meant to protect the girls.” There’s an age requirement if you want to join the 48 group. For MNL48’s auditions, it’s between 15 and 20 years old, but there have been reports where in other groups a girl can join as early as 10 years old. Debuting at such a young age makes the girls prone to predatory behavior, which none of us would want to happen.

The third theory, which raises the eyebrows of many, is “it’s meant to maintain the ‘pure’ image of the girls.” Imagine finding out that the girl you’ve been supporting has a boyfriend. A lot of us would be okay with it, but there could be others who would probably feel that they’ve been cheated (although there’s no romantic relationship to begin with) and quit supporting the group entirely.

No matter the reason, at least the love ban is a straightforward way to say that lines can’t be crossed.

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