AKB48 was founded as "idols you can meet". The group's chief producer, Yasushi Akimoto, said that his goal was to create a unique idol group which, unlike other idol groups which perform occasional concerts and appear primarily on television, would perform regularly in its own theater. The AKB48 Theater is in the Don Quijote store in Akihabara, Tokyo.
The group is split into several teams, reducing its members' workload (since the theater's near-daily performance is by only one team) and enabling AKB48 to perform simultaneously in several places. According to member Misaki Iwasa, each team has its own theme. Team A represents freedom; Team B is idol-like, with cute costumes, and Team K has a strong, powerful image. According to an early press release the group was intended to have 16 members on each of three teams, for a total membership of 48; but its membership has varied over time, and has exceeded 120 people. New members are called trainees (研究生, kenkyūsei) who are understudies for the group, performing occasionally in the theater as a team. In addition to their performances with the group, members are promoted by the Japanese mass media. AKB48 regularly hosts events, where fans can interact with the members, such as taking pictures or shaking hands with the members.
The group members' ages range from their early teens to over 20, and they are selected from regular auditions. Members are not allowed to date, and must be well-behaved; any violation of these restrictions used to be punished, possibly by expulsion from the group. AKB48 has a system that allows members to "graduate" from the group when they are older and are replaced by trainees who are promoted. Monica Hesse of The Washington Post described the AKB48 audition process as "rolling American Idol-esque".
In July 2005, Yasushi Akimoto held an audition for a new theater-based idol girl group. Of the 7,924 who auditioned, 24 were chosen as first-generation group members. On December 8, 20 members debuted as Team A in the AKB48 Theater performing PARTY ga Hajimaru yo (PARTYが始まるよ?) to an audience of seven; attendance quickly increased. In January 2006, AKB48 cafe waitress Mariko Shinoda joined Team A as a "1.5 generation" member when her popularity with patrons prompted Akimoto to give her a special audition.
The group's second audition was held in cooperation with telecommunications company NTT DoCoMo in February 2006, with applicants submitting audition videos on mobile phones.
Of 11,892 applicants 19 were selected, and 18 joined AKB48 as Team K in April. Team K performed Party ga Hajimaru yo and Team A moved to a new stage program, Aitakatta.
AKB48 released its first independent-label single, "Sakura no Hanabiratachi", in February 2006. It entered Oricon's weekly Top 10 chart, with first-week sales of 22,011 (a rarity for an indie-label group). On March 31, Yuki Usami became the first member to "graduate" from the group. On June 7 AKB48 released its second independent single, "Skirt, Hirari", which sold 13,349 copies on its first day. The group made its first television appearance two days later, and signed a contract with DefStar Records (a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment) in August.
In October 2006 AKB48 announced auditions for Team B, and 13 girls were chosen out of 12,828 applicants in December. The group's first DefStar Records single, "Aitakatta", was recorded by 20 members of Teams A and K and released on October 25. It debuted at number 12 on the Oricon weekly singles chart, selling 25,544 copies in its first six weeks, and remained on the chart for a total of 65 weeks. On November 3–4 AKB48 performed its first concert, "AKB48 First Concert: Aitakatta ~Hashira wa Nai ze!~" at Nippon Seinenkan in Shinjuku. The group performed "Aitakatta" on the New Year's Eve TV program 58th NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen as a part of the "Nihon ga Hokoru Saisentan! Special Medley". At 43 members, the group set a program record for the most people in one group onstage simultaneously. AKB48 made its first lineup change in December, transferring Kazumi Urano, Shiho Watanabe and Natsumi Hirajima from Team A to Team B as supporting members.
AKB48's second major-label single, "Seifuku ga Jama o Suru", was released on January 31, 2007 and debuted at number seven on the Oricon Top 10 chart. Its music video and lyrics hinted at the subject of enjo kōsai (compensated dating, remotely related to escort services outside Japan), triggering controversy and negative reviews. On March 18 AKB48 released "Keibetsu Shiteita Aijō"; debuting at number eight on the Oricon chart, it dropped to number 98 in its second week. The group's second concert, "AKB48 Haru no Chotto dake Zenkoku Tour ~Madamada daze AKB48!~" on March 10, had poor ticket sales.
In April 2007 AKB48 posted its Team B roster on its website, with five fewer members than originally announced; for the first time, its membership numbered 48. The group's fourth single, "Bingo!", was released on July 18. AKB48's sixth single, "Yūhi o Miteiru ka?", was released on Halloween 2007 and sold 18,429 copies (the least of all the group's singles).
On New Year's Day 2008 AKB48 released its first album, Set List: Greatest Songs 2006–2007, a collection of the group's singles and live song lists. The group's seventh major-label single (its ninth overall), "Romance, Irane", was released on January 23 and reached number six on the Oricon Top 10 chart in its first week.
On February 27 the group released its eighth major-label single, "Sakura no Hanabiratachi 2008", a reprise of its Team A debut single. This version featured ten members from Team A, six from Team K and five from Team B. The single's CD included a poster, and a promotion was planned in which fans who collected all 44 posters would be invited to a special event. The promotion was later canceled by DefStar Records amid concerns about possible violations of antitrust laws.
In June 2008 AKB48 announced plans to launch a sister group, SKE48, in Sakae, Nagoya. In August, the group moved from DefStar Records to King Records. That month Ayaka Kikuchi was the first member to be fired from the group, for "immature behavior" involving a leaked purikura photo of her with a boyfriend. Kikuchi returned to the group after a 2010 audition.
On October 22 AKB48's tenth single, "Ōgoe Diamond", was released on King Records' You Be Cool label. With 11-year-old SKE48 member Jurina Matsui the single's center and cover girl, it was the first single featuring a member of AKB48's sister group and debuted at number three on the Oricon Top 10 weekly chart.
The group released its 11th major-label single, "10nen Sakura", on March 4, 2009. Also reaching number three on the Oricon charts in its first week, it was the group's first single to sell over 100,000 copies. The group's 12th major-label single, "Namida Surprise!", was released on June 24. Promotions included a handshaking-event ticket and a ballot for a member to headline its next single. "Namida Surprise!" sold 104,180 copies in its first week on the Oricon charts. AKB48's 13th single, "Iiwake Maybe", was released on August 26. Outselling rival SMAP's single, it reached number one on the Oricon Daily Singles Chart and number two on the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart.
AKB48's Team A, was guest of honor at the Japan Expo in Paris from July 2–5, 2009, performing an English version of "Ōgoe Diamond". The group made its U.S. debut with a show at Webster Hall in New York City on September 27.
In October, three AKB48 singles ("10nen Sakura", "Namida Surprise!" and "Iiwake Maybe") were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Its 14th single, "River" (released on October 21), debuted atop the Oricon Top 10 weekly chart and was the group's first number one.
AKB48 released its 15th major-label single, "Sakura no Shiori", on February 17, 2010. In its first week the single topped the Oricon chart with over 300,000 copies sold, the most by a Japanese female artist in seven years. This was the group's last single until the release of their first King Records album, Kamikyokutachi, which would top the Oricon album chart and be certified double platinum by the RIAJ for sales of over 500,000 copies.
AKB48's 16th single, "Ponytail to Chouchou", was released on May 26, 2010. Its sales exceeded those of the previous single, with over 400,000 copies sold on its first day and over 513,000 in its first week. On April 27 Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in the United States, announced that AKB48 would be a guest of honor and the group performed on July 1 at the Nokia Theatre.
On October 23 AKB48 represented Japan at the seventh Asia Song Festival, organized by the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange, at Seoul Olympic Stadium. Four days later the group released its 18th single, "Beginner". It sold 826,989 copies in its first week, the highest first-week sales for a female idol group single. AKB48 member Mayu Watanabe appeared on the cover of the December issue of the idol magazine UP to boy with Airi Suzuki from the Japanese girl group Cute, the first gravure collaboration between Hello! Project and AKB48.
In November 2010, AKB48 participated in several events outside Japan. On November 20, 12 members of the group performed at the Japanese Pop Culture Festival in Moscow. AKB48 performed at the Cool Japan forum in Singapore as part of Anime Festival Asia X, and at the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. Group graduates in 2010 included second-generation member Erena Ono, who left on September 27 to pursue an acting career overseas.
The group's first 2011 single, "Sakura no Ki ni Narō", was released on February 16. It sold 655,000 copies on its first day, surpassing "Beginner's" first-day sales of 568,000. By the end of its first week the single sold 942,479 copies, the group's best and the fastest sales in Japan since 2000.
On February 21 AKB48 announced its third album, Koko ni Ita Koto (ここにいたこと), which would include 11 new tracks and was scheduled for an April 6 release. Due to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the group stopped its AKB48 Theater performances and canceled some of its public events. AKB48 began the "Dareka no Tame ni" (誰かのために, lit. "For someone's sake") project, collecting donations for earthquake and tsunami relief. One of its concert venues, the Yokohama Arena, was used for a two-day charity event beginning on March 26 and 12 AKB48 members attended the Okinawa International Movie Festival that day for the same purpose. On March 15, AKB48 announced that ¥500 million would be donated by the group, its sister groups SKE48, SDN48 and NMB48 and associates of AKS, its management company. Koko ni Ita Koto's release was postponed until June 8, with part of the album's proceeds donated to disaster victims. On April 1 the group released the charity single "Dareka no Tame ni (What can I do for someone?)" (誰かのために -What can I do for someone?-) on the Recochoku website as a digital download, with all proceeds earmarked for earthquake and tsunami relief.
On May 1 AKB48 announced a new sister group: HKT48, based in Fukuoka, Kyushu, with its theater in the Hawks Town Mall of Fukuoka’s Chuo ward. On May 3, The Straits Times reported the opening of AKB48's first overseas theater in Singapore. The theater, in *scape Youth Park, would host 16 members from AKB48 and its sister groups for two shows a day two days a month. It had an adjacent AKB48 shop for merchandise and an AKB48 Cafe, serving Japanese fusion cuisine and desserts.
AKB48 released its 21st major-label single, "Everyday, Kachūsha", on May 25. An "election single", it contained ballots for determining who would headline the group's next single and set Japanese records for first-day (942,475 copies) and first-week sales (1,333,969 copies). On June 22, Oricon reported that for the first half of 2011 AKB48 topped the album sales charts and had the best- and second-best-selling singles ("Everyday, Kachūsha" and "Sakura no Ki ni Narō"). The group amassed ¥6.66 billion in merchandise sales.
On June 7, before its nationwide concert tour, AKB48 announced the creation of Team 4. The 16-member team would be captained by Mina Ōba, and the word "team" was dropped from "Team Kenkyuusei" for the group's alternates. Four days later the group announced at a handshake event that Aimi Eguchi, who supposedly auditioned for NMB48, would join AKB48 as a trainee. It later became known that Eguchi was not a real person, but a composite of AKB48 members' facial features created to promote Glico's Ice no Mi. On June 28, AKB48 producer Yasushi Akimoto announced plans to create another group as AKB48's "official rival". Nogizaka46 (乃木坂46) would debut with about 20 members, and Akimoto would join Sony Music Japan to produce the new group.
AKB48 released its 22nd single, "Flying Get" (フライングゲット, Furaingugetto), on August 24. It sold 1,025,952 copies on its first day, and became the group's fourth single to sell over a million copies (1.354 million) in its first week. On September 20, AKB48 held its second rock-paper-scissors tournament to determine the lineup for the group's 24th single. The group's 23rd single, "Kaze wa Fuiteiru", was released on October 26 and sold 1,045,937 copies on its first day. The next single, "Ue kara Mariko" (released on December 7), sold 1.199 million copies in its first week.
At the end of 2011, AKB48 topped seven of 16 Oricon rankings: total sales by an artist, copies sold for a single, total sales for a single, total sales by an artist (for singles), copies sold for a music Blu-ray disc, total sales for a music Blu-ray disc and total Blu-ray sales by an artist. The group set records for the most million-selling singles in a year, best-selling single by a female group and highest-earning female group. AKB48 won the Grand Prix in the 53rd Japan Record Awards for "Flying Get".
Oricon announced on January 6, 2012 that AKB48 had sold 11,787,000 copies of its CD singles, surpassing girl group Morning Musume's Japanese record for a female group of 11,774,000. On January 22 (the final day of its "AKB48 Request Hour Set List Best 100 2012" concert series at Tokyo Dome City Hall) AKB48 members performed the new "Give Me Five!" as Baby Blossom, playing guitars, keyboards, percussion and horns. The Baby Blossom members had spent five months learning to play musical instruments, and some had little (or no) previous experience. "Give Me Five!" was released on February 15.
AKB48's second documentary film, Documentary of AKB48: Show Must Go On Shōjo-tachi wa Kizutsuki Nagara, Yume wo Miru, opened on January 27 in seventh place at the box office and grossed nearly $4 million by February 19. An anime series, AKB0048, was developed by Satelight and aired from April 29 to July 22. It was directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike, with group producer Akimoto aiding with planning and supervision. Nine members of AKB48 and its sister groups voiced the main characters, singing its opening and closing themes as No Name.
After photographs with their boyfriends surfaced, Natsumi Hirajima and Rumi Yonezawa resigned from the group and were replaced by Jurina Matsui of SKE48 and Miyuki Watanabe of NMB48. On March 24 AKB48 announced that five trainees would be promoted to Team 4, expanding its roster to 16. It was also announced that the group would perform at the Tokyo Dome stadium, one of AKB48's main goals since it was founded.
On March 25, longtime headliner Atsuko Maeda announced her graduation from the group. AKB48 announced that Maeda would graduate after the Tokyo Dome concerts; her final performance (and graduation ceremony) took place in the AKB48 theater on August 27, and was streamed live on YouTube.
On March 26 AKB48 announced an election for the lineup for the group's 27th major-label single, "Gingham Check". The candidates were 243 members of AKB48, SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48, and ballots were included with the group's 26th single ("Manatsu no Sounds Good!"). The election was held June 6 at Nippon Budokan, with the results telecast live. Yuko Oshima finished first, followed by Mayu Watanabe and Yuki Kashiwagi.
On April 23 AKB48 announced the creation of its third overseas sister group, SNH48, based in Shanghai. It was announced on June 17 that Rino Sashihara would be transferred to HKT48 in July as a "restart" because of an alleged scandal involving her ex-boyfriend. On June 24 AKB48 announced the promotion of six trainees from the 10th and 11th generations and its third rock-paper-scissors tournament (scheduled for September 18) to determine the lineup for the group's 29th single, "Eien Pressure".
On August 15 the group released its fourth album, 1830m, and on August 24 (the first day of its Tokyo Dome concert series) AKB48 announced a reorganization of its teams. Team 4 was dissolved, with its members transferred to the other three teams. Aika Ōta was transferred to HKT48, Aki Takajō and Haruka Nakagawa to Jakarta-based JKT48 and Sae Miyazawa and Mariya Suzuki to SNH48. Minami Takahashi became general manager of AKB48, with Mariko Shinoda replacing her as Team A captain. Yuko Oshima became Team K captain, and Ayaka Umeda captain of Team B.
AKB48 recorded "Sugar Rush" for the 2012 Disney animated film, Wreck-It Ralph, and the group set a Guinness World Record for the most pop singers in a video game (its dating simulation game, AKB1/149 Ren'ai Sōsenkyo). It won a second consecutive Japan Record Award, for "Manatsu no Sounds Good!". The group was the number one artist by total sales revenue in Japan in 2012, with ¥19.098 billion. The AKB0048 anime series was renewed for a second season, AKB0048 Next Stage, and aired from January 5 to March 30, 2013. In January 2013 AKB48 played its Request Hour Set List Best 100 concert at Tokyo Dome City Hall, announcing future shows at Nippon Budokan and Nissan Stadium (the first show by a female artist at the latter). On February 1, the film Documentary of AKB48: No Flower Without Rain: Shōjo Tachi wa Namida no Ato ni Nani o Miru?. opened in tenth place at the box office, and grossed $2.2 million by February 17. During a meet-and-greet event for the film, first-generation member Tomomi Itano announced that she was leaving the group. On April 28, after a Nippon Budokan concert, AKB48's general manager announced another reorganization of the teams (including the girls who were also members of its sister groups). Nito Moeno and Tomomi Kasai also made their final appearances with the group.
AKB48 released its 31st single, "Sayonara Crawl" (an election single), on May 22. It sold more than 1.9 million copies in its first month, breaking Speed's White Love 1997 record for the highest single sales by a female group. The election candidates were 246 girls from AKB48, its sister groups and former members. On June 8 the results were broadcast on Fuji TV and streamed live on YouTube, the latter with Japanese and English commentary. The winner was HKT48 member Rino Sashihara, a former member of AKB48. During the event, Team A captain Mariko Shinoda (who placed fifth) announced that she would leave the group in July. On July 31, during AKB48's summer concert series at the Sapporo Dome, guest and former group headliner Atsuko Maeda sang her new solo single ("Time Machine Nante Iranai").
On August 21 the group released its 32nd single, "Koisuru Fortune Cookie". Its music video had 3,800 extras, the most for any AKB48- and sister group-related video. On August 24 the group announced the restoration of Team 4, with Minami Minegishi as captain and members promoted from the 13th and 14th generation of trainees.
On September 18, AKB48 held its annual rock-paper-scissors tournament at Nippon Budokan to determine the lineup for its 34th single, with Jurina Matsui the winner. After the event the group announced the lineup and performed its 33rd single, "Heart Electric", which was released in October. Its music video was directed by Shusuke Kaneko, known for the Heisei Gamera trilogy Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and the live-action film version of Death Note. On December 11 the group released its 34th single, "Suzukake no Ki no Michi de 'Kimi no Hohoemi o Yume ni Miru' to Itte Shimattara Bokutachi no Kankei wa Dō Kawatte Shimau no ka, Bokunari ni Nan-nichi ka Kangaeta Ue de no Yaya Kihazukashii Ketsuron no Yō na Mono", and on December 31 longtime member Yuko Oshima announced on Kohaku Uta Gassen that she was leaving the group. The group was the 2nd artist by total sales revenue in Japan in 2013, with ¥13.254 billion.
On January 22, 2014, AKB48 released the album Tsugi no Ashiato. It reached number one on the weekly Oricon Albums Chart, selling 962,000 copies. The group's 35th single, "Mae shika Mukanee", was released on February 26 and sold 970,413 copies on its first day.
AKB48 announced plans for a fifth team, Team 8, with one member from each of Japan's 47 prefectures. On February 24, during the group's Grand Reformation Festival event at Zepp DiverCity Tokyo, the group announced a team reorganization. This included a captain and co-captain of each team, promotion of AKB48 trainees to regular membership (with assignment to the four teams) and the transfer of members between AKB48 and its sister groups. On April 3 AKB48 introduced its 47-member Team 8 as "the idols who come to you". Akimoto announced auditions for an Otona adult member over 30 years old, to participate in events and be the centerpiece of a Glico Papico commercial. On April 16, AKB48 announced the Otona member: Mariko Tsukamoto, a 37-year-old housewife and mother of two.
On May 21 the group released its 36th single, "Labrador Retriever", which sold over 1,462,000 copies on its first day.
On June 7, AKB48 and its related groups announced the results of the annual election to determine the lineup for its 37th single. The winner was Mayu Watanabe with 159,854 votes, and Rino Sashihara was runner-up with 141,954 votes. The top eighty candidates were ranked in five groups of sixteen.
In August, AKB48 announced the Baito AKB project, which allows girls to join AKB48 part-time using the job search site Baitoru. 13,246 girls applied for Baito AKB, and after several screening rounds, 53 girls were selected to sign a five-month contract with a possible three-month extension in February. After the end of the project, 11 of the former Baito AKB members entered the yearly Draft Kaigi event aiming to become full members, while others expressed their desire to take part in the auditions for the newly planned NGT48 group.
On December 8, long-time member and general manager Minami Takahashi announced she will leave the group in December 2015 for the group's tenth anniversary. She recommended that Team K captain Yui Yokoyama be her successor.
The group ranked second overall in Oricon's Artist Total Sales Revenue for the 2014 year, with ¥13.075 billion.
At a May 25, 2014 handshake event at the Iwate Industry Culture and Convention Center in Takizawa, Iwate, group members Rina Kawaei, Anna Iriyama and a staff member were attacked by a 24-year-old man with a handsaw. The suspect was arrested for attempted murder, and the three were treated at a hospital for fractures and cuts. AKB48 canceled its theater performances through the end of May, and handshake and photo-shoot fan events in May and June were postponed. In response to security concerns, the Manseibashi Police Station of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department asked AKS to conduct security checks of audience members at the theater entrance. Although sister groups SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48 did not suspend their theater performances, they introduced security measures: metal detectors, not using the theaters' front rows, suspending post-performance "high-five" events and increasing the number of security guards. On May 30 AKB48 resumed its television appearances, and on June 2 the group resumed theater performances with security measures similar to those of its sister groups. Security and bag checks were added at the general-election-results event and Yuko Oshima's graduation concert.
On January 21, 2015, the group released its sixth studio album, Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!. On March 4, the group released the single "Green Flash". The group became the first group who sold their 20 consecutive singles in 1 million on the first week. On March 26, member Rina Kawaei announced her graduation from the group in order to continue her acting career on her own, stating that the previous incident and long period of rest brought her to reflect on her future without depending on the group.
On May 10, AKB48 was invited to the annual Japan Day festival in New York, their second performance in the city since 2009. A small away team consisting of members Rina Hirata, Ryoka Oshima, Haruna Kojima, Tomu Mutou, Saho Iwatate and Rina Nozawa performed a total of five songs cheered by a crowd of 5000 attendants.
On May 20, the group released the single "Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai".
June 6 saw the announcement of the seventh general election results. The event was broadcast live from Fukuoka Dome on Fuji TV, which reported an average viewer rating of 18.8% with a peak of 23.4%. A record 3.2 million votes were cast, with Rino Sashihara winning the poll for the second time with a record 194,049 votes.
On August 26, the group released the single "Halloween Night".
On October 25, 2015, during the handshake and autograph event at Pacific Yokohama had announced the details of AKB48's 42nd Single and Request Hour 2016. The 42nd single was released on December 9, 2015. Minami Takahashi was the Center in what will be her final appearance on an AKB48 single.
On November 18, the group released its 7th album, 0 to 1 no Aida. This album marks the 10th anniversary of Japanese group, founded in 2005.
The group's 42nd single "Kuchibiru ni Be My Baby" sold 813,044 copies on its first day of release. This brought their combined single sales to over 36,158,000 single albums sold, making them the artist with the highest number of single album sales in Japan, surpassing rock group B'z.
On January 24, 2016, during the final day of the Request Hour 2016 at Tokyo Dome City, AKB48 performed their 43rd single "Kimi wa Melody" which released on March 9, 2016. Kimi Wa Melody is the first single to bring back graduates Atsuko Maeda, Yuko Oshima, Mariko Shinoda and Tomomi Itano being featured on the main track. The single was centred by Sakura Miyawaki being her first time to have a solo centre on an AKB48 track.
In February 2016, a Taiwanese girl Chia-ling Ma was added to the group as "Taiwan Kenkyusei". This is the first foreign member in the group.
On June 1, 2016, the group released the 44th single "Tsubasa wa Iranai", the single included election voting tickets to the 45th Single Senbatsu Election. Results for the 45th Single Senbatsu Election were announced on June 18 at the Hard Off Eco Stadium in Niigata on BS Sky TV Premium and Fuji TV. 1st generation member Haruna Kojima announced her graduation from AKB48, her graduation will be held on February 22 with her final theatre performance to be on February 23. Sashihara Rino came first with an outstanding 243,011 votes, she became the first member to have over 200,000 votes in the history of the AKB48 group.
On August 31, the group released the 45th single "LOVE TRIP / Shiawase wo Wakenasai", it was the only single that included members Hinode Yuka and Shigefuji Yuka before graduating from the Baito AKB Paruru Selection program.
On October 3, Haruka Shimazaki announced her graduation from AKB48 during a new TV commercial presentation of Baitoru. On November 16, the group released the 46th single "High Tension", which is Shimazaki's last single to participate.
On December 12, Mayu Watanabe, Rina Izuta and Saya Kawamoto announced a new subsidiary to the AKB48 group known as 'AKB48 China' during a Shanghai press conference and fan meet. Unlike the established Shanghai sister group SNH48, AKB48 China will act as bridge between Japan and China, bringing Japanese members to the upcoming AKB48 China Theatre. Upcoming promotions include a television drama being filmed and a new online game.
On January 25, 2017, the group released the eighth studio album Thumbnail.
The group's style has been characterized as "bubblegum pop and synchronised dancing", appealing to prepubescent girls and older males who purchase the group's merchandise. Mari Yamaguchi of the Associated Press wrote that the "performances can seem orchestrated. As the girls sing and dance in unison, fans follow a cheering formula", comparing fan response to a Kabuki audience. Monica Hesse of The Washington Post described the group's style: "It is as if Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and the entire cast of Twilight were placed into a saucepan and simmered on a low boil until nothing remained but the sweet, cloying essence of fame, and if that fame were then poured into pleated tartan skirts and given pigtails."
Andrew Joyce and Kenneth Maxwell of The Wall Street Journal described the music as "sugar-sweet pop tunes and sometimes-suggestive lyrics". During AKB48 performances, "members perform a revue of simply choreographed routines in front of a roughly 95-percent-male audience. The music is typical Japanese pop: fast-paced numbers with high-pitched, singalong choruses."
AKB48 and its sister groups boost their record sales by a variety of marketing strategies. The singles and albums are released in different editions and types with alternate album-cover pictures, B-side tracks, video DVDs, collectible member pictures, event tickets and voting codes for several annual election contests. Alan Swarts of MTV Japan has noted that collectors purchasing multiple copies of AKB48 CDs have inflated the market, and is one of the reasons Japan's music industry has been booming.
The group has publicized special events to choose the promotional and recording lineups for some of its singles. In 2009, the concept of senbatsu sōsenkyo (選抜総選挙?, lit. "selection general election") was introduced, which allowed fans to vote their favorite members into the promotional line up or senbatsu (選抜?, "selection") for one of their annual singles. Ballots are obtained by purchasing the group's latest "election single", or, alternatively, through the group's mobile app products and fan club subscriptions. Top vote getting members are heavily promoted, with the winner getting the centerpiece of the group's live performances of the single. Votes in the 2011 election exceeded one million, and the single "Everyday, Katyusha" (which contained a ballot for the election) set a Japanese record for weekly sales of a CD single. The 2012 election had nearly 1.4 million votes, the 2013 election increased to 2.6 million votes, while the total vote count peaked at 3.2 million in 2015. Fans have reportedly bought hundreds of copies of singles to vote for their favorite members.
Another selection method, AKB48's rock-paper-scissors tournaments, was introduced in 2010 for the group's 19th single ("Chance no Junban") and has recurred as an annual event. Members of AKB48 and its sister groups compete in the knockout tournament to be part of the recording and promotional lineup for the group's next single, with participants wearing a variety of costumes. Starting with 2014, the tournament does not determine the promotional line up of a single anymore. Instead, the winner would debut as a soloist or, if she was already a soloist, would perform a solo concert.
AKB48 has also used the general election scheme to determine set lists for an annual Request Hour (リクエストアワー, rikuesuto awā) show. Other annual events include a AKB48 group only version of Kōhaku Uta Gassen and the AKB group draft meeting (AKB48グループ ドラフト会議, AKB48 gurūpu dorafuto kaigi), in which all teams from any of the sister groups chose new members from a pre-selected group of applicants.
Four AKB48 documentaries have been released in theaters since 2011. The first, Documentary of AKB48 – To Be Continued, was released in Japan on January 22, 2011 and on DVD in North America on December 1. The second, Documentary of AKB48: Show Must Go On Shōjo-tachi wa Kizutsuki Nagara, Yume wo Miru, was released on January 27, 2012 and earned $3,984,152 at the Japanese box office. The third, Documentary of AKB48: No Flower Without Rain: Shōjo Tachi wa Namida no Ato ni Nani o Miru?, was released on February 2, 2013 and earned $2,269,118 at the Japanese box office. The fourth, Documentary of AKB48 The Time has come Shōjo-tachi wa, Ima, Sono Senaka ni Nani wo Omou?, was released on July 4, 2014 and (as of July 13, 2014) grossed $984,757 at the Japanese box office. Each film chronicled events and issues encountered by the group during the previous year.
The manga AKB49: Ren'ai Kinshi Jōrei revolves around AKB48, featuring group members in the story as supporting characters. The 2012 anime series AKB0048 is a science-fiction series based on the group, with production supervised by Yasushi Akimoto. Nine characters in the anime are voiced by members of AKB48 and its sister groups. First airing in Japan in the spring of 2012, a second season was broadcast in 2013.
The group has its own visual novel-dating sim series. In the first installment, AKB1/48: Idol to Koishitara... (released December 23, 2010), the player engages in a relationship with one of the members. The second installment, AKB1/48: Idol to Guam de Koishitara... (released October 10, 2011, with a similar storyline) is set in Guam. The third installment, AKB1/149 Ren'ai Sōsenkyo (released December 20, 2012), expands the scenarios to AKB48 sister groups SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48. The three games were released for PlayStation Portable, with Ren'ai Sousenkyo also released for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3. In 2014 Namco Bandai developed Sailor Zombie: AKB48 Arcade Edition, as a tie-in for the television drama going by the same name, in which AKB48 members are also the main cast. In this arcade game, the player must use a light gun to shoot vaccine bullets at zombified AKB48 members. The game includes a rhythm game in which the zombie idols dance. In April 2014, a rhythm game was released for Android and iOS, in which the players select their favourite line up and may compete in various community events. In 2012, AKB48+Me was published for the Nintendo 3DS, which let the players try to become a member of AKB48.
AKB48's producers have developed several television shows to promote the group. AKBingo!, AKB48 Show!, AKB to XX, and Nemōsu TV are variety shows. The Majisuka Gakuen series and Sakura Karano Tegami feature group members in dramatic roles. Outside the self-developed house shows, members of AKB48 have appeared in high-profile programs such as Mecha-Mecha Iketeru!, Waratte Iitomo! or SMAPxSMAP. Members have modeled in gravure magazines.
Tower Records Japan CEO Ikuo Minewaki described AKB48 as a popular act, and the group has been characterized as a social phenomenon in Japan. In 2012 AKB48 had record sales in Japan of over $226 million,. Total sales of over $128 million were reported for 2013, and of over $96 million in 2015. According to Oricon, as of January 6, 2012 AKB48 sold a total of 11,787,000 singles, setting a record for "the most singles sold in Japan by a female group". The number of singles sold has increased to over 36 million since then, making the group the highest single selling act in Japan. The group's last 29 singles have topped the weekly Oricon Singles Chart. In 2010 "Beginner" and "Heavy Rotation" placed first and second, respectively, on the list of Japan's bestselling singles of the year; From 2010 to 2016, AKB48's singles have occupied the top four or five spots of the Oricon Yearly Singles Chart. As of December 2015, the group has sold over 40 million records. However, AKB48's 42nd single "Kuchibiru ni Be My Baby" failed to sell more than one million copies in the first week after its release, ending a run of single releases achieving this feat, starting with "Everyday, Katyusha" in 2011.
AKB48 holds several Guinness World Records, including being recognized on December 1, 2010 as the "largest pop group" when it numbered 48 members. It set a record for "most number of same-product television endorsements within 24 hours" on February 28, 2012, after 90 group members appeared in 90 different commercials aired in the Kanto, Kansai and Tokai regions of Japan. Japanese ambassador to the United States Ichirō Fujisaki, on meeting the group during its visit to Washington, D.C., said that "AKB" stood for "adorable, kind and beautiful". On February 1, 2012, Japan Post issued a stamp commemorating the group.
AKB48 has been criticized for the perceived sexually-suggestive lyrics found in their song "Seifuku ga Jama o Suru". It addressed the issue of Enjo kōsai from a first person view, and was considered by some Western reporters unsuitable for its young members. When asked about this by CNN's Anna Coren, AKB48 founder Yasushi Akimoto (who writes the group's lyrics) said that his lyrics "depict[ed] reality" and were meant to prompt the consideration of difficult issues.
One of the group's risqué music videos have also been considered controversial. "Heavy Rotation"'s video was criticized by the same Western reporters for showing AKB48 members in lingerie, hugging, kissing and sharing a bath. Its director, Mika Ninagawa, said that she wanted to appeal to men and women with a creative, fun video because of the group's increasing popularity among girls. In an interview, she accepted responsibility for its content: "Mr. Akimoto left everything to me. He did not give me any tips at all ... I tried to show how AKB48 is in real life, in the video. In the dressing room, they seemed very close to each other. Then I came up with the concept [of a] girls' high school."
A television commercial for Puccho candy which debuted on March 15, 2012 featured AKB48 members in schoolgirl uniforms passing a candy from mouth to mouth. The girls held the candy between their teeth, with some viewers called it "encouraging homosexuality", "unhygienic" and a "bad example to children".
In January 2013, the group was criticized when a photo from Tomomi Kasai's Shukan Young Magazine photo shoot became public; Kasai was topless, her breasts covered by a young child's hands. The photo was pulled from the magazine and from Kasai's upcoming photo-book (where it would have appeared on the cover), and the magazine's publication was postponed from January 12 to 21.
In February 2013 group member Minami Minegishi, her head shaved, appeared in a YouTube video to apologize after it was reported by a tabloid that she had spent the night with a man in violation of her contract; she was demoted to the status of trainee. Although her shaved head was self-inflicted in an apologetic response to her fans and peers for her demotion, it was seen as an overreaction and attracted criticism of how the situation was handled.
A 2016 NHK documentary reported that the popularity of AKB48's handshake sessions has contributed to the decline of romantic relationships among young Japanese people, including "herbivore men", which triggered debates. According to the report, fans would rather spend their time supporting their favourite idols than actively pursuing love interests.
On April 1, 2011 the group released a digital charity single, "Dareka no Tame ni (What Can I Do for Someone?)", with its proceeds donated to earthquake and tsunami relief. AKB48's 23rd single, "Kaze wa Fuiteiru", was dedicated to the disaster victims and also had lyrics of consolation. In February 2012 AKB48 announced another ¥580 million donation to the Japanese Red Cross, and it was reported that to date the group had raised a total of over ¥1.25 billion for earthquake and tsunami relief. On March 8, 2013 the group released "Tenohira ga Kataru Koto", another song dedicated to the March 2011 disaster victims, on its website for free digital download. On the second anniversary of the disaster AKB48 and its sister groups visited the affected areas, performing at schools and the AKB48, SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48 theaters with proceeds aiding the ongoing recovery.
AKB48's line up has frequently changed due to departures, admissions, team rotations, and transfers between AKB48 and its various sister groups. As of January 5, 2017 the group consists of 136 members, divided among several teams: Team A with 16 members, Team K with 17 members, Team B with 15 members, and Team 4 with 19 members, Team 8 with 47 members, the last of which have 3 members serving concurrently with other AKB48 teams. There are Kenkyusei members, 6 of whom serve on specific teams as understudies, and 19 of whom were recruited as a group of general understudies. Some members belong concurrently to AKB48's sister groups, and Yui Yokoyama is the general manager of AKB48 and its sister groups.Set List: Greatest Songs 2006–2007 (2008)
Koko ni Ita Koto (2011)
Tsugi no Ashiato (2014)
Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe! (2015)
0 to 1 no Aida (2015)
The following table lists some of the major awards received by the group.
The group and its songs have set the following records:Guinness World Record for Largest Pop Group — In November 2010, Guinness named AKB48 the world's largest pop group.
Guinness World Record for Most Number of Pop Singers Featured in a Video Game — In December 2012, the group's dating simulation game AKB1/149 Ren'ai Sōsenkyo featured 149 members.
Guinness World Record for Broadcasting the Most Same-Product Television Endorsements Within 24 Hours — In February 2012 AKB48 members appeared in 90 commercials for Asahi’s Wonda Coffee Morning Shot, breaking the previous record of 60 commercials.
Most singles sold in Japan by a female artist — In May 2013, after the release of the group's 31st single ("Sayonara Crawl"), combined sales figures for AKB48 singles reached 21.852 million since its 2006 debut in 2006 (breaking Ayumi Hamasaki's previous record of 21.416 million).
Highest Japanese sales of a female-group single — In June 2013 "Sayonara Crawl"'s sales reached 1,872,000 copies, breaking Speed's 1997 record for "White Love". The single's total sales reached 1,955,800.
Most consecutive million-selling singles sold in Japan — In October 2013 AKB48's 33rd single ("Heart Electric") sold 1,021,000 copies on its first day, becoming the group's 14th consecutive million-selling single and breaking the previous record of 13 held by B'z.
Most million-selling singles in Japan — In December 2013, the group's 34th single ("Suzukake no Ki no Michi de "Kimi no Hohoemi o Yume ni Miru" to Itte Shimattara Bokutachi no Kankei wa Dō Kawatte Shimau no ka, Bokunari ni Nan-nichi ka Kangaeta Ue de no Yaya Kihazukashii Ketsuron no Yō na Mono") sold 1,033,000 copies during its first week. AKB48's 16th million-selling single, it broke the previous record held by B'z for 13 years and nine months.
Based on the same "idols you can meet" concept, seven additional groups have been created across Japan (5) and Asia (2). The Japanese so-called sister groups as a single entity are referred to as AKB48 gurūpu (AKB48グループ?, AKB48 group). Each sister group has a home theater and releases its own singles, however, the groups outside of Japan publish localized version of AKB48 songs only. Japanese sister group members also perform with AKB48 and are frequently employed as temporary, concurrent members of AKB48, for example Jurina Matsui and Miyuki Watanabe.
AKB48's first sister group, SKE48, was formed in 2008 with its theater in Sakae, Nagoya. SDN48 ("Saturday Night"), NMB48 ("Namba") and HKT48 ("Hakata") were later formed.NGT48 was launched in 2015, and is located in Niigata. STU48, the latest Japanese sister group, was announced during the AKB48 rock-paper-scissors tournament on October 10, 2016. It is based on the seven prefectures adjoining the coast of the Seto Inland Sea and they will have a theater on a ship. In addition to the sister groups AKB48 has an "official rival", Nogizaka46, for which its own sister group – Keyakizaka46 – was created as well.
In 2011 AKB48's first sister group outside Japan, JKT48, was announced; the group is based in Jakarta, Indonesia. JKT48 was followed by another overseas AKB48 sister group: SNH48, based in Shanghai, China. However, AKB48 suspended the partnership with SNH48 since June 9, 2016. Following the statement, SNH48 declared that it had been completely independent from AKB48 from the beginning and SNH48 management had never made any form of partnership with AKB48. Three new upcoming overseas sister groups were announced in March 2016: BNK48, based in Bangkok, Thailand; MNL48, based in Manila, the Philippines and TPE48, based in Taipei, Taiwan.