Seishun Youth Academy, Vancouver-based pop group and sister group of Japanese idol group Seishun Gakuen, made their first appearance at Anime Expo, performing all throughout the four-day convention. Multiple times each day, U.S. fans got a chance to cheer and dance along with the energetic members of Seishun Gakuen at the Lumica Stage. Prior to their final day of performances, APA sat down with the group to discuss how twin sisters Ally and Sally got their start as idols in Japan and formed Seishun Youth Academy in Canada, and what it’s like to be an overseas J-pop group.
APA: Let’s start from the beginning! How did Seishun Youth Academy become the sister group to Seishun Gakuen?
Sally: Ally and myself, we were in Japan for a year abroad. We’ve always wanted to become idols, so we applied to a bunch of idol auditions. People told us it was impossible though. Initially, we saw Seishun Gakuen in 2013. During our time in Japan in 2017, we tried auditioning, passed, and became members of Seishun Gakuen. When our term was coming to an end, we asked our music producer SHUN if we could create a Seishun Gakuen in Canada. We felt that Seishun Gakuen fosters a warm, uplifting and positive environment where girls can explore their skills and talent, so we wanted to bring that back to Canada. Fortunately, we got permission, so once we returned to Canada, that’s how Seishun Youth Academy started.
APA: What was the audition process in Japan like?
Ally: We auditioned for a lot of different groups and agencies, both small and large ones. We have a lot of experience singing and acting in front of a panel. However of all the auditions, Seishun Gakuen was the most laid back. We filled out the form and got a mail back inviting us to an audition. We met this one lady at a station we’ve never been to. We just talked to her while we were walking to somewhere, which ended up being a studio. She said, “Actually, the members are practicing now. Pretend you don’t speak Japanese, just speak English.” She brought us in and it was like a fun game. They were so surprised, but were very nice and positive. Eventually, they found out we spoke Japanese. We also later found out the woman we spoke to was the boss of a huge model talent agency, which was home to Seishun Gakuen. She suggested we try out Seishun Gakuen for the next couple months and we began practicing with the members. Some auditions are very serious, while some are just conversations with a person in a cafe; it really runs the gamut.
Sally: When applying for auditions, I’d recommend using as little personal information as possible because you don’t know who you’re giving it to. Even when applying to Seishun Gakuen, we had to be very thorough and made sure it was the right place for us.
APA: After receiving permission from Japan, how did the audition process go for the other members?
Emily: I heard about it from my friends. They suggested trying out, but honestly I didn’t really have high hopes. I just did it on a whim and I was really nervous, but then I realized I got in. I just fell in love with the group and I can’t picture myself not being apart of it.
Stella: I applied because it’s a rare opportunity to apply for an idol group in Canada. I thought that even if I fail this would be a great opportunity for me. After I got in, Ally and Sally really helped me a lot and taught me many things. I felt their warmth and thought that this is what I’m meant to do.
Jessica: I’ve always tried to do idol stuff in Hong Kong, but there weren’t many opportunities. When I came to Vancouver, I thought I might not dance again. But, I came across the audition page. My friend Kuyumi who used to dance with me back in Hong Kong actually joined Seishun Gakuen, so I knew the group and learned they were starting a sister group over here. I’ve been doing similar things for so long, so I thought I might as well give the audition a shot.
APA: How does Seishun Youth Academy maintain that relationship with its Japanese counterpart?
Sally: We’re still members in Seishun Gakuen; when we joined we were supposed to be limited-time members, but that changed right before we returned to Canada. It’s generally Ally, SYA staff, and I who maintain our relationship with the Japanese members and staff. We keep in close contact with the other members. Some of the members from Japan will do video calls with us and provide feedback on our performances here. With that, we practice three times a week, usually five to six hours each session; it’s pretty intense. Our practice isn’t just going over the choreography, but it’s also stamina, muscle and vocal training.
APA: What about J-pop interests you?
Ally & Sally: We’ve grown up with J-pop. That’s all we listened to. When we listened to Seishun Gakuen, we were really moved by the meaning of the lyrics, the positivity and how it relates to our personal experiences. With J-pop, there’s a sense of a deeper connection, whereas personal connection doesn’t seem to be the focus of Western music. It’s not to say the melody of the music isn’t important — it is and I think that’s reflected in Seishun Youth Academy’s music.
I know some groups do lighter, cuter topics, but Seishun Gakuen has music that speaks to everyone’s experiences in life and what kinds of things we are striving for like following our dreams. So personally, I really wanted to take this and bring it back to Canada, spread this message across the world and change people’s perceptions of J-pop and idols.
Emily: For me, I’m more into idols. I don’t know much about other Japanese music. My favorite part about it is the interaction. It’s not just dancing and singing, but it’s also about connecting with the audience.I love watching videos of performances and seeing the special interaction because so much personality comes out.
Jessica: What I like about it is that compared to other genres of performance, J-pop performances don’t require you to be 100% perfect. It shows more personality and it makes the performances more unique. Everytime you watch a show, it’s different; that’s what attracts me. There’s creative room for each performance and each member.
APA: Emily, you mentioned that you love watching idols. Does anyone have any idols they look up to?
Emily: I really followed AKB48 and Hello! Project. I also started getting into smaller groups. Ally and Sally introduced me to groups like Lovely☆DOLL and Ange☆Reve. I’d love to go to Japan and see an idol festival.I’ve only ever watched videos as an overseas fans.
Ally: Sally and I were really inspired by Haruko Momoi, who isn’t really an idol. She tends to get misunderstood as an idol, but she is a voice actor, singer songwriter and produces an idol group, Junjou no Afilia. She really inspired us to reach for our dreams. We always go back to her music. Her music is really similar to SHUN’s and the meaning is very inspiring. We always look at different idol groups to learn from what they’re doing.
Jessica: Like Emily, I also started with AKB48 and then later I started discovering other J-pop groups. Because I was a dancer since a young age, I’ve performed different genres such as ballet, Chinese and folk. At the beginning, I really liked dance heavy teams. I really like Fairies and GEM, who disbanded. But then afterwards, Ally and Sally got me into alternative idols, who are a bit more wild and crazy. I really like the group Gang Parade.
Sally: Some people would say Seishun Gakuen is alternative, but I’d say Seishun Youth Academy is more orthodox.
Emily: We’re in between. Sometimes we’ll do a really cute song and then we’ll do rock. We totally rock out on stage, especially when our producer SHUN comes to visit. We had our one year anniversary concert a couple months ago and we performed some really good rock songs then.
Jessica: We strive to be well-rounded.
APA: How does it feel to be a J-pop sister group in a foreign country?
Sally: We often feel torn. Since we came back to Canada, Seishun Gakuen has very much changed. A lot of members have graduated since we’ve left and sometimes it feels lonely. We feel a bit disconnected from the other members since they don’t really understand what we’re doing here. SHUN and the president of Seishun Gakuen’s agency came to Canada and it was really nice to be able to connect with them.
Ally: In regards to our performances in Japan and Canada, sometimes we face the same walls in both countries. For example, how do we get fans to behave properly. No matter where you go, it’s similar, yet different especially now that idol culture has been growing in Vancouver. We strive to continue supporting idol culture here.
APA: How have you been able to find the right audience and cultivate that idol culture?
Ally & Sally: We first called ourselves J-pop idols, but then people get confused asking, “Are they Canadian? Are they Japanese? Are they Japanese Canadian?” We do have a member Yayoi who is on hiatus and is half Japanese half Canadian. But recently we’ve just called ourselves a girl pop group because it’s easier. If we say we’re an idol group, people aren’t sure what that is or they think we’re a K-pop group. K-pop and J-pop are very different.
We’ve been performing in Vancouver at Japanese events. We hand out flyers on the streets. We try to reach more of a mainstream music-oriented crowd. We also broadcast daily on a program called Showroom.
APA: To get to know the group a little better, can we have each person describe the person to their left?
Sally: To my left is Emily. She’s our princess pink super cute member. Even though her character is cute, she is naturally just adorable. Just the other day, she walked into a pole and almost started crying because she was so embarrassed. She zones out a bit [laughs] and starts asking questions again, but we love you so much. You always try your best and take things to heart too much.
Emily: To my left is Jessica. She is very tiny [laughs] but full of explosive energy! When she dances it’s like pow! pow! pow! She’s really good at dancing and always brings ideas for our choreography. She’s like our dance leader. She’s also very fashionable. I remember when I first met Jessica I was like “Her clothes are so cute!” She has a great eye for aesthetics. Oh! She’s also good at handwriting. When we need to make a card, she always wants to write it. [laughs] And! She likes chocolate and matcha.
Jessica: Everyone says it’s a weird combination though.
APA: That’s weird? I don’t think so!
Emily: We had a chocolate matcha cake and we thought it tasted so weird!
Jessica: But it was good!!
APA: Well, that just means more for you.
Jessica: Yeah, more for me. [laughs] I’m describing Stella. She’s very quiet to begin with, but when you get to know her, she’s very warm. She really sincerely cares about everybody. It’s not like we’re not all like that [laughs] but even when she doesn’t speak much, you can feel that she cares about each member. She’s also very sensitive and perceptive of each member. If something’s wrong, she’ll know. She’s also my partner in our song “Message.”! We’re both the short team. [laughs] I feel like we have that bond. Or else everybody would be too tall! I love you~
Stella: Ally is our sub-leader and she has very beautiful vocals. I really love her voice. Everyone knows, but she’s our big sister in the group. She tries to take care of everyone and she tries to make sure everyone is doing OK. I always appreciate her.
Ally: And I’ll be describing Sally. There’s just so many things to say it’s hard to pick what to say. She’s our passionate red leader. She said Emily takes things too heart too much, but Sally takes things to heart so much more! She takes on all the responsibility and she overthinks things, but we’re always here for her. She’s always thinking about what more she can do for the group, but you’re already doing it all. If you weren’t here, there wouldn’t be a Seishun Youth Academy.
Seishun Youth Academy is currently holding a crowdfunding campaign to perform alongside their sister group Seishun Gakuen at Jam Expo 2019, taking place on August 24-25 in Yokohama, Japan. The crowdfunding campaign can be found here and English instructions can be followed here.