My Top Ten PVs of 2016

Hi everyone! Here’s my last list for 2016. This is in no particular order and can include covers, it’s just some of my favorite PVs from 2016.

Dempagumi.inc – Star tto Shichauze Harudashine

This PV wins the purely on set and prop design, and for being a whole lot of fun. The entire PV spoofs B movies, with each Dempagumi.inc member having their own set and gimmick, which are all beautifully and uniquely designed. My particular favorites are Mirin’s spaceship set and Nemu’s giant space creature. Everything seems to be physically built practical props, which is fun to see and works really nicely. Each set looks unique and has a different feel to it. However, partly through the PV we start to see members show up in each other’s sets (Mirin joining Nemu riding the giant space dog, for example), and walking through the large collection of sets, further emphasizing how fake it all is (but, in a way, how all these are built). The end is a giant group dance with all the extras and it’s a nice touch. This also has a lot of humor in it (mostly how Pinky can barely move in her giant monster costume), and does a great job of showcasing the group and the song. If you haven’t been following Dempa, this is a good place to start.

Niji no Conquistador – Love Men Koi-Aji Yowame

Why is a song and PV that’s purely a tie-in promotion for cup noodles so good? Love Men Koi-Aji Yowame is 3 minutes of beautiful, absurd bliss, which puts the members of Niji no Conquistador in several completely separate situations like eating bowls and bowls of ramen, doing a quiz show, being woken up on TV, doing TV show antics and so on. They’re all disparate but feel like they’re all familiar things for idol fans, and the details at the end feel pretty legitimate. It’s strange and fun. Plus, they just throw in Hyadain, my favorite songwriter, who didn’t even write this song (and hasn’t written a song for Niji no Conquistador in some time?) It’s just bizarre and fun.

Dream Ami – Lovefool ~Suki datte Itte~

This, much like the Dempagumi.inc PV, succeeds on a production design basis. Every single set, from the band performing during the chorus to the crises around the house, to the basic details, all ooze style. Ami herself plays everything straight, languishing while there is chaos around her, which fits perfectly to the song. Every little detail, edit, set design, is perfect – I don’t have a favorite or #1 PV on this list, but if I had to pick I might give it to Lovefool.

Team Syachihoko – Cherie!

Cherie has two gimmicks in it and both work very well. First off is the QR codes littered throughout the PV, which are honestly kind of genius in that they demand a level of interaction that most PVs don’t interact. It’s so genius, it’s the type of thing I wonder why it hasn’t been done before. I know the night when Cherie came out I got a QR scanner and just scanned as many as I could. Some lead to behind the scenes videos, some lead to brands that are used in the PV. While some of the codes just lead to error messages (where they used to lead to products that are no longer sold at that retailer), looking through these are fun and demands more engagement from the viewer.

The other thing that’s striking is the fashion. Team Syachihoko has never been exactly a fashionable group – most of their costumes in the past have been questionable at best – I say this with love as a fan, but they were often odd, ridiculous. Cherie has fashion and is set in fashionable Harajuku, and all the members have several outfits they wear throughout the shoot, and all of them are pretty cute – even their main member outfits for this are cute too. It’s fun to see the group try on so many outfits, and it’s a really fun gimmick for the PV.

This isn’t to say the basic elements of the PV aren’t good – it’s edited well, it’s shot well, but these two gimmicks make Cherie really memorable.

AKB48 – Love Trip

Look, you should know that I haven’t been great with keeping up with AKB48 – most of my favorite members are long gone, the music is largely uninspiring at best. However, every year I check out a few PVs and singles, just to make sure that I’m not missing some giant resurgence of quality from AKB. Love Trip is, as I mentioned in my honorable mentions for songs, probably the best of the bunch, and the PV is also a lot of fun. Since I’m pretty ignorant to the current state of AKB, I have no idea if the actual premise of the PV is real (i.e., did AKB48 travel around Japan helping people confess their love to their crushes?) or if it’s just acted out. Does that even matter? All I know is that it’s a cute premise for a PV, that AKB goes around to cheer on people in love. It’s kind of weird in a way, that AKB is cheering on love but the members on the group aren’t allowed to date, but it’s a cute premise, it’s shot well, and a genuinely pretty fun and at times moving PV that made me think of it for this list.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) – Party People Alien

Honestly, the fact that this song and PV didn’t get more attention is baffling to me. This is almost designed to grab attention. Set primarily at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, and features a lot of extras, including some wrestlers, a member of Idol Renaissance and the actual writer of the song. The PV perfectly matches the weirdness and the pace of the song, and is a lot of fun to watch. It’s almost unbelievable that this came from Up-Front, considering the budget that had to have gone into this. Party People Alien is chaotic, hectic, and fits its song perfectly.

The World Standard – Ultra Mirakurukuru Final Ultimate Choco Beam

This has such a strong aesthetic throughout, with paint dripping as the main backdrop of the dance section, the interior set (with paint dripping behind the window), and down to the costumes. These are probably my favorite idol costumes of the year. However, the real draw is the narrative of the song in the PV, which is the RPG game stylized fights with clearly hand-drawn enemies. It adds an interesting flavor to the PV, and made it immediately stand out. Adding to this some surprisingly decent graphics at the end, Wasuta’s debut PV has a ton of heart and character, making it one of the most fun PVs of the year.

Momoiro Clover Z – The Golden History

The Golden History has one of the more interesting concepts for a PV this year, which is the idea that this PV was a complete surprise to MomoClo. Whether this is true or not is up for debate (I have no idea how they wouldn’t hear/notice the crowd for the final section of the PV) but it’s a really fun idea and showcases MomoClo at its most candid and entertaining. MomoClo’s personalities are a big part of their draw, and a PV that fully shows them off is a lot of fun. The PV is also paced pretty perfectly, and the editing near the end as they start performing on the stage in front of fans is just perfect. The Golden History’s PV is one of the more creative ones of the year and is certainly one of the most fun.

Takoyaki Rainbow – Dot JP Japan

Much like the Star tto Shichauze Harudashine, Dot JP Japan features different scenes for each member, this time being a different type of singer. Saki seems to be a Showa era idol singer (judging by the filter on her scenes), and Kurumi is doing her best Lady Gaga. All of these different scenes work really well, and while certain girls start showing up in each other’s scenes I love how separate these all feel and how seriously they’re played – even when Kurumi is posing with a kebab of meat (relating to the lyrics about Japanese food), she plays it serious. That said, since this is such a goofy song Takoyaki Rainbow do play into that. Dot JP Japan, the song and PV, are such a joy to watch that this PV is continuously enjoyable.

Dempagumi.inc – WWDBEST

Dempagumi.inc put out their best of album, also titled WWDBEST, and this is the original song and PV off that album. As noted by the title, this PV is chock full of references to older Dempagumi.inc work, making it almost a love letter to Dempagumi.inc’s previous work. There are clear references to Future Diver, WWD, WWD II, Gida Gida da Zuba Zuba da, Fuyu e to Hashiridasu o, and countless other costumes and references – I’m sure there are several things I’m missing. It’s well made, as to be expected, and it’s a fun love letter to fans and to the group.

My Top 25 Songs of 2016 Part 4

10. Momoiro Clover Z – Imagination

Here’s another MomoClo track, this time it’s Imagination off the Hakkin no Yoake album. This is one of the more straightforward songs off these albums. It’s very cute, upbeat pop. Cute is the operative word – it’s straightforward and one of the cutest songs the group has done. Yet, everything works for Imagination. It’s got a perfect arrangement, the melody is cute, and its pacing is impeccable. It’s not one of the most inventive songs of the year, but it’s one I listened to on repeat and feels pretty perfectly crafted. Imagination is a delight from start to finish, and it says a lot that this is one of the highlights from MomoClo’s two wonderful albums.

9. Juice = Juice – Keep On! Joshou Shikou!

I have high hopes for Juice=Juice moving forward. Hello! Project’s output is inconsistent at best, but Juice=Juice keeps having solid music. I think it helps that all of the members are increasingly becoming legitimately good performers and singers. Last year’s Umaretate no Baby Love was my #1 song of the year, and here Juice=Juice is again in my top 10. Keep On Joshou Shikou is basically tailor made for me to love it. It was written by Maeyamada Kenichi, my favorite songwriter, and was arranged by Dance Man, who arranged a lot of classic H!P tracks like Renai Revolution 21, Love Machine, The Peace, etc. It lives up to that impressive pedigree, by being a clearly 80s Michael Jackson inspired track that works incredibly well. Even if I cringe a bit at the repeated “you only live once,” it also has some great lyrics. Everything about this song is impeccable, and it should be no surprise that it’s on this list.

8. Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku – Haruyasumi Moratorium Chuugakusei

Ebichu’s most recent album, Anarchy, would have been a contender for album of the year had MomoClo’s albums been any less good. The clear stand out of Anarchy (other than Zette Anarchy, which should be an honorable mention here) is Haruyasumi Moritorium Chuugakusei. With a lot of rock flavor, this song is a perfect combination of some killer guitar-heavy instrumentation (with some great piano/keys too), a great melody, and some great pacing. This song has some great interplay between different vocals and exclamations, so there is zero boredom in this song. It’s one of the most fun, high paced songs of the year. Anarchy is available on iTunes, so if you have some money definitely give it a shot, but at the very least check out Haruyasumi Moratorium Chuugakusei.

7. Niji no Conquistador – Alien Girl in New York

Niji no Conquistador didn’t have quite as good of a year musically in 2016 as they did in 2015, but Alien Girl in New York all but makes up for any songs I didn’t particularly care for because it’s just wonderful. A bit funky, a bit disco inspired, a bit jazzy, Alien Girl in New York has some great instrumentation (there are some clanking piano sections that are particularly great), one of the catchiest choruses of the year, and, if not great vocals, vocals that completely sell the song. I feel like in many ways this song is completely up my alley. The arrangement also reminds me a bit of Berryz Koubou’s Ryuusei Boy, which, given that both of these songs were ALSO arranged by Dance Man, this totally makes sense. This song is weird, funky, and hits all my buttons.

6. Momoiro Clover Z – Guns n’ Diamond

Guns n’ Diamond is one of the hardest songs to describe – I’ve been trying to think for a while how I would describe it, and I’m coming up blank. The best way I think I can describe it is that I can almost imagine it being used as the theme song to a modern noir, detective film – it’s mysterious, almost inscrutable (given how much the last 45 seconds deviate from the last of the song). It feels almost completely new, dark and mysterious. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any songs completely like Guns n’ Diamond, which is why it’s my standout song from MomoClo’s Amaranthus.
In trying to describe just what Guns n’ Diamond actually IS, I came across this review on New School Kaidan which I think describes just how special I feel Guns n’ Diamond is, and why it’s one of the best songs on Amaranthus. Take a look!

My Top 10 PVs of 2014

Last year I did 15 PVs, and this year I could barely think of 10 to fit this list. I think that says a lot. 2014 had some fantastic, great PVs, but overall it was an unimpressive year.

Honorable Mentions:

SKE48 – Mirai to wa?


This is on here for ambition alone. It was filmed and edited in reverse, so that you see the world moving in reverse behind SKE’s members (which meant that SKE48’s members moved and mouthed the lyrics in reverse). This is a cool idea, and one that fits the idea of the single (since Mirai means “future”). However, I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. There’s not enough moments that show off the initial idea, and most of the second half is a live concert that feels a bit disjointed. The idea’s cool, but the execution isn’t all the way there.

10. Especia – Kuru ka na

Choosing between Kuru ka na and No1 Sweeper was a difficult choice – both really show the Vaporwave aesthetic, showing the very worst of the 80s/early 90s aesthetic, in a good way. However, Kuru ka na goes a step further in being just awful (in a good way!). The PV is nonsensical and more often ugly, with 3D graphics and editing that looks like someone is creating their first PV with limited art assets. The green screen is even iffy, with some of the girls’ outfits matching the green screen, creating that weird floating effect.

It’s the type of PV that, if done slightly better or done by a group without Especia’s aesthetic goals, I would be pretty baffled by. However, as it is, Kuru ka na is very purposefully exploring the ugly aesthetics of the era, and almost a critique of the era. It’s easy to feel nostalgic, because nostalgia often blinds you to the negative aspects that were forgotten by time. Kuru ka na still feels nostalgic (I know I have seen videos that look like this before) but uncomfortably so.

This is probably the closest to an art piece that is on this list, and I am really looking forward to more from Especia.

9. Morning Musume- Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe

For real, Morning Musume, shoot a PV outside and not in the comfort of your own studio. It’s OK!
That said, Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe is my favorite of the “let’s shoot this completely in front of green screen” PV that MM has done in a while. The celestial background is beautiful, and looks like effort was put into it. The solo shots in front of this look just lovely, and the solo shots in front of the white background look good, as well. None of the effects look extraneous or out of place. The editing is paced well, and moves between shots at just the right pace. I might have made the lighting a bit more interesting in the solo shots with the white background, but ultimately this is a well put together PV.

Green screen and effects heavy PVs aren’t bad, but what you need more than anything is a solid visual style and effects that don’t look cheap. While Morning Musume hasn’t always excelled at this in the past (Help Me and Pyoko Pyoko Ultra are two notable ones), Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe looks gorgeous, and so a lot can be excused.

8. Michishige Sayumi – Shabadabadou

Speaking of PVs with limited resources and locations still having potential to be good, how about that Shabadabadou? It’s a PV that relies on very little – there are two outfits, a couple of props and a minimalist sets. The bulk of the work is done by Sayumi herself (who is at her most charismatic here) and the visual effects. What makes this a great PV is that there is a unified, clear style at play. The retro visual effects fit the song perfectly and are used perfectly – they are there to serve the song and to give attention to Sayumi. This should be the goal of PVs, so Shabadabadou does a lot of good.

This PV is a great example of taking a little and making it into a lot, and what having a good staff can do. The editing is just about perfect, the lighting looks great (especially in the scenes with the mic stand). Having these basic elements done well makes a lot of the other parts seem better, too.

Ultimately, though, Shabadabadou has a unique, interesting visual style which makes it a treat to watch. H!P, take notes, this is a PV you’ll want to emulate in the future.

7. E-Girls – Odoru Pon Pokorin

I have to admit, external forces were part of what made Odoru Pon Pokorin such a memorable PV. This PV came out just after I saw Snowpiercer, my favorite movie of 2014, which is notably set almost entirely on a train in a post-apocalyptic setting. So seeing this PV, joyfully taking place on a train, was a bit weird to say the least.
However, while that’s why the PV initially stood out to me, I can’t say that’s why the PV was good. While the whole group scenes are just fine, colorful amusement park scenes that are serviceable, and the external shots of the train are hit and miss (not the best CGI, E-Girls), the set decoration of the season-themed train cars is just wonderful. I especially like the gorgeous Autumn-themed car, but the rest are great, too. There is some subtle lighting changes with each car, too, and it just all looks great. This is excellence in set design.

Beyond that, though, there is just a sense of fun throughout this PV. Getting little kids to dance along was really cute, and it felt like a chance for E-Girls to let loose, especially since E-Girls is generally a very polished group. Odoru Pon Pokorin allows the members to have some fun, and they do it well.

Ultimately, though, this PV came to mind because of the fantastic set design. Design elements like this can make PVs stand out.

6. Takoyaki Rainbow – Naniwa no Haniwa

If you’re going to do an entirely green screen PV, Naniwa no Haniwa is not a bad one to emulate. What a lot of these PVs have in common is a sense of overall style; they don’t rely on a single idea or a collection of moments, but have a unique artistic vision.

Naniwa no Haniwa looks great, and is the type of PV that you can hardly complain about being almost entirely green screen. There is a lot of style to Naniwa no Haniwa; I particularly like how the backgrounds start out muted and then become brighter and more colorful as the PV goes on. It seems like the members are bringing color into the world. Throughout everything there’s a lot of interesting, colorful graphics, and it really feels like Takoyaki Rainbow’s members are in a storybook. There are also a lot of surprising, interesting moments – my particular favorite is when the background becomes sepia toned and there are the lyrics on the screen, becoming a karaoke video.

Beyond the impressive visual style, though, what I liked was the movement. There’s a lot of camera movement, movement of the graphics in the background, and of course the movement of the members. Nothing feels static or boring, and the combination of fantastic editing and the camera movements make for a visually interesting PV. The flow of this PV is just perfect, and everything is visually engaging.

Naniwa no Haniwa is, in essence, how to do a PV in front of a green screen and do it well.

5. Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Appareshon

While I’ve be en extolling the virtues of good effects-driven PVs, I really have a lot of respect for PVs that go the opposite route, and have more minimalist PVs. While there are certainly visual effects in Sakura Appareshon (I’d actually be very interested to know just how many of the various visuals in this PV were real and how many were visual efects), it’s a fairly plain PV. There are some close up shots, but the bulk of the PV is done in very few takes, with the members of Dempagumi.inc moving around to different rooms, using props, and dancing. That’s about it. It’s a credit to the girls of Dempa that they can make this so compelling, but it totally works. The minimal effects matched with the props looks great, and it’s fun to see a PV that chooses to do so few takes/cuts.

Honestly, the biggest disappointment of this PV is that it does cut away, there are takes, and that there are these added visual effects. I’d almost rather see a single-take version of Sakura Appareshon. It might be less polished, but it would be ambitious and fun.

Still, despite wondering what might have been, this is still a lot of fun, focusing on making the best use of small amounts of resources.

4. Babyraids – Koi wa Panic

This is one of the most fun, joyful PVs of the year that shows that doing a PV almost exclusively in a studio setting can still be a ton of fun.

The PV makes use of a lot of slow motion as Babyraids’s members do a lot of silly things. The slow motion is a big part of the fun of the PV, as it adds a lot of tension and allows for anticipation to build . This also allows for the editor to make control the speed to match the song perfectly.

The slow motion works really well with the what looks like stop motion filming of the other sequences in the PV, which are done over an orange background. This adds a great contrast to the rest of the PV, and breaks up the slower moments of Koi wa Panic.

This PV is just a lot of fun, watching the members of Babyraids goof around, and I enjoyed it immensely.

3. Team Syachihoko – Shampoo Hat

While I am very fond of Ii Kurashi’s PV, Shampoo Hat was simple, relatively understated, but at the same time incredibly well made. While this is the most restrained Syachihoko PV, it is probably the best made one.

Honestly, I might have to review this PV to show everything I love about it. It’s lit perfectly, it’s shot perfectly, and the editing is just about perfect. There are several moments that, when I first saw it, made me have to pause and look – this is a beautifully made PV.

But what stands out is the use of the shampoo hat as a visual metaphor – it not only adds a lot of color and visual interest to the PV, but adds a lot to the meaning of the PV, as well. Each member’s shampoo hat corresponds to their member color (and a color they’re wearing), and show up with the person they have feelings for. It’s really clever and relatively understated.

Honestly, the only thing I would change about Shampoo Hat is a bit of the acting direction – Syachi’s members do a good job acting here, but I think it could have been improved a bit. Still, that is a small complaint for what is otherwise a fantastic PV.

2. Cheeky Parade – Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb

Well, I didn’t think that Cheeky Parade would make me cry this year, but Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb gets to me. There is a very palpable joy in Candy Pop Galaxy Bomb, which comes from this being from Cheeky Parade’s New York concert.

I really like the variety of shots in this PV – there are shots from their concert, from their appearance at New York Comic Con, and various places all over the city. It really gives you a feel like you are seeing a condensed version of Cheeky Parade’s trip.

This is a very well put together travelogue, showcasing Cheeky Parade in New York. There’s a lot of real emotion here, and it’s fantastic.

1. Dempagumi.inc – Bari 3 Kyowakoku

Honestly, just about every Dempagumi.inc PV deserves to be on a top PV list – they are just in their own category for greatness. But Bari 3 Kyowakoku just about blew me away.

In addition to every basic element being very well made (framing, lighting, editing, visual design), the clear thing that sets this apart is how well animation is combined with live action Dempagumi.inc. The transition between animation and reality is pretty seamless, with a lot of the animation being done over the members. It makes the distinction between reality and animation blur just a bit. Which I believe the group is trying to achieve – animation blurs into the members, and the members’ faces meld into the background.

It wouldn’t work well unless the animation looked good, though, but it does. Just about everything looks absolutely fantastic. I also really appreciated the clear references to anime here, specifically referencing the mecha genre (there might be a specific series but I wouldn’t know it) and Sailor Moon.

The visual style is hectic and almost purposefully clashing, but it works. There are a lot of very strange elements to this PV visually, but it all feels purposeful.

This PV is really fantastic, and was the clear choice for #1.

2014 in Review

The end of the year is always a great time for reflection. While I don’t necessarily get serious about resolutions or anything, I like doing end of the year lists because I think it’s a great way of summing up the year and taking a big picture look at things. It’s hard to think about these things while the year is going on, but I do like thinking about these things. As such, here are some of my assorted thoughts about 2014.

AKB48 is falling – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As someone who has been a big AKB fan in the past, 2014 was not a great year. In addition to having subpar musical output, the attack of Kawaei Rina seriously put into doubt one of the cornerstones of AKB’s fandom, the handshake event. Things are slowly cooling down, but right around the time of the event there was serious doubt thrown into it. Members are graduating left and right, and the last real notable single was, by my count, Koisuru Fortune Cookie. Kokoro no Placard was really trying hard to replicate the viral success of Koichun, but not working.

In 2015, AKB48 is going to seriously have to do something – Takahashi Minami is graduating, and while she hasn’t been to the level of Maeda Atsuko, she is probably the biggest grad since Acchan. Nothing against Yuko or Mariko, but Takamina is a huge influence within the group as well as outside of the group. They will have to seriously work if AKB is to remain the biggest group out there.

That said, while the 48 groups have been starting to struggle (and, mind you, this is while they are maintaining their chart dominance – by no means has the 48 groups failed YET), I don’t know if this is a bad thing. While I have maintained in the past that the 48 groups dominance is a pretty good thing, for bringing idols into the public eye, this might also not be a bad thing. We are at the point where there are several groups out there that have big followings. Idol groups are out in the public eye, and a decline in popularity for AKB might not be terrible. If even half of the current AKB fans decided to support other idol groups, should AKB fall, that would be a huge boon to smaller groups. While I’m sure there are a lot of AKB fans that are just fans of AKB and nothing else, there are certainly fans that are mostly interested in idols and might be inclined to move on.

The point is, even though I do think it’s possible to point at AKB and say it’s the beginning of the end (unless they make some big changes to make themselves more relevant) I don’t think this will necessarily be a bad thing for the idol industry as a whole.

Lesser known idol groups keep on growing and doing great things for the industry

More and more idol groups are going major; I recently saw that Yumemiru Adolescence is going major, for example. While working on my top 25 list of songs, I was really amazed at the variety of the groups, and how many groups I’m enjoying that either just went major or are fairly recent groups. The idol boom is really paying off for a vast number of idol groups who are managing to do good things with it.

I think this could be excused by the idol boom, which I would say started at the end of 2009 with AKB48’s River but really came into its own in 2010 with Heavy Rotation. So it’s been several years, and groups that were formed around that time are finally coming into their own. That said, these groups are often diverse musically, and there’s a ton of really quality stuff out there. Beyond idols being a trend, there are a ton of groups that are filling musical niches and doing really interesting stuff. These are the groups I think can stand the test of time, but I think beyond that they are showing that idol groups don’t just have to exist as a trend or as nerd culture, but can fill musical niches as well.

I’m really satisfied with where the idol industry is going, and I have high hopes for the future, even as idols become less trendy.

International appeal is gaining notice, which is good for me!

As a live music fan, being a fan of idol music can kind of suck. I love going to live concerts, but I’m at the point where I have to fly out somewhere to see shows. That said, the distance I would have to go is shortening.

This year, Morning Musume, Babymetal, Cheeky Parade, Tokyo Girls Style, Itano Tomomi, RYUTist and Aither all performed live in the United States. That is quite a lineup. With Babymetal’s huge fan following outside of Japan, with Morning Musume’s successful live at a decently sized concert venue, with Cheeky Parade making a PV and performing at a non-Japanese themed event, things are going well for Japanese artists in the United States. These are all still incredibly niche followings, of course, but slowly but surely Japanese groups are starting to realize they have a passionate following outside of Japan.

I really hope this trend can continue, partially for my sake, but also so that idol music can possibly expand and grow.

My 2014

On a personal level, 2014 is the best year I’ve experienced as an idol fan. While my blog writing has definite room for improvement, I had a lot of really great things happen this year. The big two were Idol Matsuri and seeing Morning Musume in New York. Honestly, thinking back, it’s hard to fathom the things I did this year. I flew to both coasts of the United States on my own, stayed in a hotel with friends, met idol groups, met more friends, and had two incredible weekends.

Idol Matsuri was another level of fun. It was a very small event, but that lead to a really fun, intimate atmosphere. It’s a little surreal, hanging around at the hotel, and seeing the idols you are into hanging around the hotel as well. Or being in the front row for two indie lives. It was a really full weekend of fun. Even beyond the idol moments, of which there were many (Chatting with Aither’s Misaki about Morning Musume and her singing Ikuze Kaitou Shoujo, RYUTist doing their intro to me during their interview), this is the first time I really hung out with idol fans I know online in person, and it was ridiculously fun.

It’s easy to imagine how fun going to an idol live, but almost equally memorable are things like going out to a late night meal with a bunch of idol fans, fellow bloggers and twitter buddies. Being able to mention to people at the con that I love Team Syachihoko, and have other people go “OH Team Syachihoko is great!” is a weirdly amazing kind of thing that I don’t get in my personal life. I don’t want to list everyone I met because that would get boring fast, but if I met you it was an absolute pleasure. Talking idols was so much fun, and I want to hang out again sometime.

New York was another really fun time because, while RYUTist and Aither were really fun, Morning Musume is really the group that got me into idols in the first place. Seeing Renai Revolution 21 and The Peace performed, two of my long-standing favorite idol songs, was a moving experience. Even though this group is very different from the group that I became a fan of, and even though they performed updated versions of my favorite songs, it was still an amazing experience. Hell, even waiting in line for over six hours was totally worth it, because it allowed me to meet more people and chat with more people. Waiting in Times Square and seeing this concert was practically surreal, as was meeting the members. Even though I can barely remember meeting half the members, because it all went so fast, it was really wonderful. Ishida Ayumi has been a favorite for a couple of years, now, so telling her that I was a big fan of hers and getting to wear her colors was so fun.

Again, meeting people was just as big of a deal, if I’m being real. I stayed with my friend, Dani, who I’ve been good friends with for easily over 5 years at this point. I had a lot of fun hanging out in New York with her, and being able to meet her was really special. Hello! Party was very fun, as well, and it’s also exciting being able to see all sorts of fans and people I knew (I also got to see the trophy the Koisuru Fortune Cookie Fan Version won, which was pretty nifty). I got to meet and hang out with people I’ve known for a while on Facebook and Twitter, which was both fun and surreal. Even standing in line, I met twitter friends who I didn’t even know I would meet. Again, I won’t list everyone, but wow it was fun.

2014 was a year of meeting friends, seeing idols, and having a great time. I think it has pulled me even deeper into the idol fandom, really. I just feel so privileged to have met so many amazing people, done so many great things, met idols. I just can’t put into words how grateful I am to everyone in this fandom and for the amount of fun I had. While I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in 2015, if it’s anywhere near as fun as 2014 then I am looking forward to it!

Review: Team Syachihoko – Himatsubushi

You guys knew I had to review this, right? Seriously, this review has been a long time coming. I started reviewing this when it came out. It’s been months. What happened?

It’s no secret that Team Syachihoko’s first album, Himatsubushi, is my most highly anticipated release in quite a while. They are by far my favorite idol group out there; all of their members are really fun performers and the group does a lot of fun things that make them a really fun group to follow. However, what really cinches them as my favorite group is their music. Often unorthodox, very often catchy, Team Syachihoko is one of the most consistently great groups in the idol world for musical output. Since Himatsubushi was announced to have nine new songs, a rarity in the idol world where albums are often just a collection of single songs and b-sides, I have been waiting for this album. And, spoiler alert, it was well worth the wait.

1. Space Himatsubushi supported by ZEN-LA-ROCK

One of the things that continues to impress me about Team Syachihoko, musically, is the variety of talent they collaborate with. They work with a wide variety of artists and composers who are often not usual figures in the idol world. Space Himatsubushi is a collaboration of Team Syachihoko with Japanese hip hop MC ZEN-LA-ROCK, who also wrote the lyrics (the music was written by Anne Beats). It’s pretty remarkable how, in these songs, Team Syachihoko often takes a back seat to the featured artist; ZEN-LA-ROCK is very prominently featured.

Possibly the most notable thing about this song is the lyrics. While usually idol lyrics aren’t the focus of a lot of idol tracks, this song is basically a large collection of inside references to the group. The chorus is based off of the words from Syachihoko’s overture, “Ningen Gojuunen, Idol Gonen, Owari Nagoya ni Syachihoko ari” which, in my rough translation skills, means “Human 50 years, Idol 5 years, in conclusion, in Nagoya there are Syachihoko” (please let me know if you have a better translation). As a point of note, this actually refers to a famous Noh verse called The Atsumori, and the “Ningen gojuunen” is famously referring to the span of a life. So this is basically saying that, for what humans is fifty years, for idols it’s five years. (Syachi, please don’t disband in a couple of years).

Anyways, the rest of the lyrics are filled with references to other Team Syachihoko songs like Owari no Hana and OEOEO. It’s a fun song to listen to in that regard, as it rewards listeners who are familiar with Team Syachihoko’s discography.

The actual song itself is fast-paced but predominantly laidback. It seems like a bit of an odd choice to start out with, especially with such strong starter songs like Otome Juken Sensou and Dakishimete Anthem would be, but I actually really like how this starts. It feels like it’s winding up into the album instead of everything starting right away. It’s electronic and a little dreamy; it feels a bit like trance music. It’s actually kind of hard to describe; I’ve listened to the song several times in this review and I just can’t pin it down.

This isn’t a typical Team Syachihoko song, or a typical idol song. That said, it feels like a telling opener for this album. Many  idol albums choose to start out with a high energy song, to immediately hook the listeners. Team Syachihoko chooses a more unusual song to ease listeners in.

While this song isn’t the most exciting on its own, its referential lyrics and it’s dreamy feel make it an excellent start to the album. 8/10

2. Shuto Iten Keikaku

The first major single, and the first single to pop up on this album! This was written by hip hop artist Seamo, and remains one of my favorite Team Syachihoko songs.

I feel like this could be a separate post in itself, but it’s interesting to see what artists do as their first single and as their major debut single. These are singles that set the stage and show what the group is going to be doing. Koibito wa Sniper and Shuto Iten Keikaku are two interesting cases. On the one hand, Koibito wa Sniper is hyperactive and a bit crazy, which is what I think a lot of people expect from Team Syachihoko. But on the other hand there’s Shuto Iten Keikaku. I know I was surprised the second I heard Shuto Iten Keikaku, and it took me a while to get into it.

The thing is, it’s written by a legitimate hip hop artist, Seamo, and it kind of shows. While a lot of idol songs might have a rap verse here or there, Shuto Iten Keikaku is a bit darker, a bit heavier and feels more like an actual song written by a hip hop artist. The beat’s great, and the pacing is just perfect. The song never lets up in all its five minutes. That said, the Syachihoko members actually sell the song; I don’t know if every idol group could do with this song what Team Syachihoko managed.

Further, when talking about Team Syachihoko lyrics, Shuto Iten Keikaku is one of the best. Not satisfied with just having a song about their hometown, Shuto Iten Keikaku is Team Syachihoko singing about how the capitol of Japan should be moved to Nagoya. It’s a bit silly and the lyrics are pretty funny, almost reminding you that while they are performing this song that they are still Team Syachihoko.

This is one of the great Team Syachihoko songs. The lyrics make me laugh, but the song is what keeps me listening. 9/10

3. Dakishimete Anthem

Since this song was the first song released from Himatsubushi, via a dance practice video, I think this will be the song a lot of people take away from Himatsubushi. And really, it’s not a bad song to be the representative song. It was written, after all, by Asano Takashi, who writes a lot of Team Syachihoko songs. He wrote Koibito wa Sniper, The Stardust Bowling, Otome Juken Sensou and Katte ni Hybrid.

Katte ni Hybrid is what this song reminds me of most. Both of these songs combine the hyperactivity of a lot of Team Syachihoko’s work with the sound of something like Shuto Iten Keikaku, to create a hyperactive song with heavy beats that has a killer rap line by Haruna. These two songs might be the best example of Team Syachihoko’s style, actually. Upbeat and happy but with a good beat to them.

This song is quickly becoming a Syachihoko staple, and for good reason. It’s perfectly paced, has the high energy that has become a big part of Team Syachihoko, and is just generally well written and well arranged. Even though Team Syachihoko has never really been known for lyrics, they sell this song and sound great in the “woah woah woah” parts and the softer bridge.

This is generally a perfect Team Syachihoko song; energy with enough edge. 10/10

4. Ndatte!!

This song immediately surprised me the first time I heard the instrumentation at the beginning; it sounds like more of a rock song that Syachi has ever really done before. While the song veers more towards pop in the chorus and verses, there’s a rock sensibility that feels rare from idol songs.

Ndatte is one of the Syachi songs that kind of sneaks up on you. When I first listened to it I didn’t know if I liked it much. However, I found myself humming the chorus to myself later in the day, and then kept seeking out the song. It’s surprisingly catchy and fun.

This song was written by Tsutaya Koichi, who also notably wrote Dempagumi.inc’s great song VANDALISM. While NDatte isn’t quite as unhinged and wacky as VANDALISM got, it still has a bit of that same feel to it. It’s harder rock than Syachi’s used to, and still gets a little bit unhinged. Syachi manages to do the song justice, too.

While Ndatte took a while for me to get into, I ended up really liking this song. It’s not quite as interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it’s still great. 7/10

5. Ai no Chikyuusai

This is another song that took me a while to get into the first time I listened to it! It’s… weird.

Ai no Chikyuusai is relatively laidback (well, for the most part) song with an electronic arrangement that, again, takes a while. As I mentioned in my full review of this song and PV, it was written and arranged by Komorita Minoru who did some of songs from Matsuura Aya’s later albums, which had a similar feel in being laidback and mellow but still upbeat and idol-y.

Ai no Chikyuusai is one of those songs that I don’t think I’d ever put as one of the best Syachi single songs, but I still like it a lot for what it is. It’s a break from what Syachi was used to, for one. I also really like how, for the most part it’s laidback but in the chorus and at the end it just suddenly ramps up to being more unhinged and energetic in the way I expect Team Syachihoko to be.

Ai no Chikyuusai isn’t the song I would pick as a representative Team Syachihoko song, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead it’s a pleasant diversion for the group. 8/10

6. Ii Kurashi

Written by my twitter buddy Yoshida Tetsuto! My review of this actually got some feedback from Japanese Syachi fans and from Yoshida Tetsuto, who composed and arranged this song. This is probably the proudest moment I’ve had while writing Happy Disco.

One of the things that I mentioned in my first review that I have to say again is that this song does NOT feel like six and a half minutes. Instead, it totally justifies those minutes by being six and a half minutes of just about perfectly paced acid house music.

I also stand by the fact that, since Yoshida already writes acid house music, that the arrangement is better for it. While I tend to prefer instrumentation that includes, instruments, there’s no arguing that Ii Kurashi does it just about perfectly. The arrangement is full but not too busy.

This is a song I never expected to love, but I do. Everything about this song is pitch perfect. 10/10

7. I Don’t Care

I Don’t Care is the song on Himatsubushi that I can’t really put my finger on. It has a much darker feel than most Syachi songs (and a lot of idol songs), focusing on electronic sounds and is heavy on the bass. Even the sentiment, proclaimed by title and in the chorus, “I don’t care,” doesn’t feel quite like Team Syachihoko. This isn’t a bad thing; Syachihoko has been trying to branch out. However, it just feels kind of odd.

The song itself is solid. It’s catchy, and the beat is fantastic, especially as the song ramps up into choruses. Also, I know that I’ve been personally singing the “I don’t care” from the end of the chorus to myself a lot. The dubstep, EDM sound isn’t necessarily my favorite, but they do it well.

That said, this is one song that Team Syachihoko doesn’t quite fit. “I don’t care” as a sentiment doesn’t really work when you have six enthusiastic girls doing their best. As such, even though they are all trying to sell this song, they aren’t really completely successful at it. None of the girls really fit the song, except for the parts leading up to the chorus where things lighten up. There, Honoka and Chiyuri really shine.

This is a good song, and I like that Syachi tried it, but it doesn’t really work for me the way that the rest of this album does. 7/10

8. Akamiso Blood

I have been way too hyped over this song for a long time. The song and lyrics were written by Shihori, who wrote Momoiro Clover Z’s GOUNN. However, the main draw of this song is that it’s a collaboration with Daichi, a famous beatboxer. So, along with Daichi, Syachi’s vocals provide the backing track for the song, with Yuzuki and Nao as the main vocalists.

This is the type of song that I honestly don’t know if other idols have really done before. I mean, I know that idols have done acapella before. Berryz Koubou famously has done acapella arrangements of their tracks at concerts. However, this is an original song, and as such is written to suit the human beatbox that Daichi and Syachihoko provide. It has a fairly simple but pleasant melody, and while Syachihoko are hardly experts at this they do a fine job. The simple piano background suits the song well, too; rather than doing a song that’s fully acapella, it’s Daichi, the members of Team Syachihoko, and his keyboard. This creates an interesting, original sound, where all the elements play off one another very well.

I think the thing I love about Akamiso Blood is that it’s an experimental song, and a song I haven’t heard really by anyone else, but Syachi is doing a lot to elevate the song. Akamiso Blood isn’t just a little experiment they did, it’s an experiment that they are putting on an album.

And really, while it might be easy to look at an experiment and not think highly of it, Akamiso Blood shows that a little ingenuity can work. This song is fun, and it sounds superb. Every element is noticeable and so one element being off (such as the melody, or the backing vocals provided by Syachi) could make the whole thing fall flat. That said, every element is completely on point. This isn’t the most complex song of the year (by its very nature it’s not trying to do so), but it is by far one of the best songs of the year. 10/10

9. colors

Since I have taken so long to write this review, Team Syachihoko’s latest single, Shampoo Hat, has come out. A lot of people marveled at how relatively normal Shampoo Hat is, when being normal is an unusual thing in itself for Syachi. However, I’d say that “colors” is their most standard song yet. Written by one of the members of the band Base Ball Bear (who I knew from their single with Hyadain), this is Syachi’s take on a pop-rock song. While this might not be what everyone expected from this album, I know a lot of fans have grown attached to colors, and for good reason.

When a group focuses on having a weird image or doing unusual songs, it’s easy to assume that the group is doing that as a gimmick. I certainly don’t think that is true about Team Syachihoko, but it’s an easy assumption to make. What something like colors does is show off just how strong of a group Team Syachihoko is at its core, without the strangeness. The song has a very strong melody, and I really like the guitar heavy instrumentation. However, what I think works the best about colors is the basic arrangement. Behind everything is a faster, driving guitar and drums, but Syachi’s vocal line is often slow, with elongated notes. The melody could belong in a pretty basic ballad, but the arrangement keeps it moving forward. However, that slower melody that Syachihoko sings allows for members to show off their vocal prowess. Chiyuri, as expected, sounds fantastic, but Yuzuki really impressed me with that last vocal line. It’s these songs that can showcase a member’s talents and skills.

Beyond that, the rest of the song is great. It’s paced just about perfectly, the harmonies and the vocals are spot on almost everywhere. While I don’t hold this up with Dakishimete Anthem or Akamiso Blood as the real stars of this album, colors is a great song. It’s not just a great idol song, but it’s a well-produced, well-written song that any artist should be proud to have. While I know I initially found Syachihoko for their weirder songs, I’m glad that they are putting out songs like this. 8/10

10. Akeboshi

Akeboshi is not a track I expected from Team Syachihoko. At all. It’s a slow ballad sung completely in unison which ends up being very restrained. Restraint is not a word I would normally associate with Team Syachihoko. And really, neither is ballad. Team Syachihoko is a group that I know for its high energy, not for something like this.

Ballads are not my favorite type of song. At all. It takes a lot for me to really love a ballad; a memorable melody line or inspired instrumentation. Luckily for me, Akeboshi has both. The thing that immediately struck me with Akeboshi is that it reminds me of an Electric Light Orchestra ballad. ELO’s songs often combined rock music with orchestral instruments and synthesized electronic sounds. Akeboshi is very heavy on the strings, string instruments and a piano largely backing the piece, but it’s often intercut with electronic sound. This adds a really interesting element to the song, as the strings/piano feel old-fashioned but the electronic sounds add a newer sound to it. It’s odd, but it works.

The vocals are all restrained, but I actually like it that way. All the members sound incredibly pretty singing this. While some idols can belt vocally (I’m looking at you, Chiyuri), I’m actually not a huge fan of belting in songs, especially ballads. It’s more of an expression of raw power than finesse. The vocals in Akeboshi don’t show off much skill in particular, but they sound really soothing and pretty.

The song does a good job of building up towards the end, using more drums, but ultimately this is a beautiful, laid back ballad that does interesting things with its instrumentation. 9/10

11. Yoroshiku Jinrui

Man, I love the opening of this song. Nao and Chiyuri singing “Hello” at the start of Yoroshiku Jinrui might be my favorite individual couple of seconds. While the rest of Yoroshiku Jinrui is a fine song, the opening 20 seconds or so are just golden. And then the song breaks into the Ode of Joy, which is apparently an idol trend to use in idol music this year.

This song builds really nicely; the verses are good, but they really drive into the chorus. I would say the chorus is where the song shines, but that wouldn’t really be truthful. The verses do a great job of leading up into the chorus, but the verses are quite listenable, too. Driving forward is really what I would use to describe this song, oddly enough. It’s over five minutes long, but while not being as frantic or fast as something like Dakishimete Anthem, it still feels like those five minutes go by in an instant. The song doesn’t rush, but it still moves at just about a perfect pace. Even in the slow part near the end, it almost always feels like it’s moving forward.

Beyond that, it’s a lot of business as usual for Team Syachihoko. Upbeat, well produced pop music. However, it’s a pretty layered song, with a lot of different elements going on at once, without ever feeling cluttered or like too much. Yoroshiku Jinrui is, more than anything, a well-made pop song. It’s not quite the hyperactive, weird Syachihoko we know and love, but it’s a great example of idol pop. It has complex instrumentation that just sounds effortless, a catchy melody, and is easy to listen to. This is the type of song I have grown more and more fond of the more I listen. 9/10

12. Country Girl
So, for the penultimate song on Himatsubushi, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but country was NOT it. It feels like this entire album is comprised of surprises, which I am very fine with. Syachi excels at being unexpected, and Country Girl is certainly it.

This immediately gives me Country Musume vibes. However, the one thing that differs in this regard is the tone. It’s not just cheesy, banjo country music (though I do believe that is a banjo in this song), but it’s literally referring to the country. The song is upbeat and happy, but also wistful and nostalgic, as the members are singing about having only one hometown in their heart. Even if their hometown is a large metropolitan center like Nagoya, it feels appropriate, and almost necessary. As Syachihoko has grown, they have spread far beyond Nagoya. However, the group has always had strong roots in Nagoya, and this reinforces it. Really, this song feels appropriate for almost any local idol.

The instrumentation on this is excellent. The main sounds other than Syachi are guitar, banjo and horns, and while I wouldn’t necessarily peg horns as being a common element of country music, they work remarkably well here.

Even though I initially thought this song sounded a tad cheesy, I really like how it ends up sounding wistful. The song is well-made and, like always, catchy and a pleasure to listen to. This is a song I didn’t thought would be memorable and wonderful, but it is. 8/10

13. Otome Juken Sensou

If I had to pick one song that encapsulated Team Syachihoko, Otome Juken Sensou would be it. This is possibly THE Team Syachihoko song; it opened their first oneman live and ended it. It is always a hit at concert, and one of the songs I never tire of, even though it came out nearly two years ago (as a limited venue-only single).

This song is high energy, it’s weird, it’s Syachi at its best. It involves Nao shouting at the crowd, it involves Yuzuki shouting “sir! Yes sir!” Just every element of this song is high energy, and it’s just one of the most fun idol songs around. It’s fast-paced and builds to a fairly epic end. This is either the perfect start or end of an album, and I think it really fits well at the end. I don’t have much more to say, because every element of Otome Juken Sensou is perfect to me. It’s one of my favorite idol songs of all time. 10/10.

Overall: Himatsubushi is a joy from start to finish. Dedicated to surprising its listeners, Himatsubushi brings together various different genres, styles of music and sounds to form a surprisingly cohesive whole. There are so many songs in this album I didn’t imagine to hear from Team Syachihoko, but now that I’ve been listening to the album for several months I can’t imagine them not doing. While I would argue a few of the songs are less successful than others, this album is a triumph overall. It’s unique but polished and listenable. As a culmination of about a year and a half of Team Syachihoko (from Otome Juken Sensou onward), it does a great job combining the old and the new. This is my favorite album of 2014, and possibly my favorite idol album for quite some time.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2014 – Part 4

I have long neglected Happy Disco and now TIF is over. I’m still going to finish these before the year is up!

AliceinAlice

AliceinAlice is an idol group formed from the theater company “Alice in Project.” Please note that this is not from Alice Project, and are completely unaffiliated with that. However, since AliceinProject is a theater company, this group promises to have really interesting, theatrical live performances. However, what little I’ve seen of this isn’t really true. The two PVs I’ve seen are trying to be interesting, but aren’t really competently made. Even when they’re competent they’re not particularly good.

Perhaps this is being too harsh. By idol group standards, they actually seem to be doing some interesting things. The short PV preview to Cold Bullet is pretty intense. However, I’m just not feeling them, especially when I feel like they should be able to do much more.


Ange☆Reve

Everyone remember Lovely Doll and Doll Elements? Well this is the newest group in what has become the Arc Jewel idol collective of sorts. Ange*Reve is a five member unit that is brand new. They made their debut in April of 2014, and as such have only been around for a few months so far. They just released their first single, “Yuukan na Koi no Serenade” this August.

This group, which means “Angel*Dream” in French, and are, as expected by that kind of name, going for a cute image. Their debut PV confirms that, focusing on cute imagery and overexposed light.

Even though this group is nothing new, I’m finding myself liking them. Yuukan na Koi no Serenade is a really solid idol song, and these girls are remarkably assured performers for being so new. Their dancing and singing is all passable and all the girls seem really cute. This group is so far nothing revolutionary but a fresh group doing a tried and true thing.

That said, it’s hard to know the future of groups like this, so I’m interested to see where Ange*Reve goes from here!

Weather Girls

Still waiting on that cover of It’s Raining Men, girls!!

Weather Girls is a group of seven girls from Taiwan. They originated as a group that mainly focused on weather forecasting in Taiwan. However, in 2012, they made their debut as an idol group in Japan. Since then they’ve had activities in both Japan and Taiwan, though they focus much more on their idol career in Japan, it seems.

The thing that I find kind of interesting is that they’ve still continued their career as weather forecasters, though I have to admit I don’t know the extent. In 2013 they went through the courses and examinations to become licensed weather forecasters in Japan. All the members have a designated day of the week and an element of the week (though really this is just a type of weather), as well as the standard image color.

While this group’s Oricon numbers aren’t great, they’ve certainly been making a name for themselves. They tend to go for a sexier, more cool approach than many Japanese groups, so if that’s what you’re after you might want to check out Weather Girls. Ultimately, they haven’t really caught my interest. When I want to go for this type of thing, I feel like there are just as good, if not better options with KPop groups or E-Girls. Still, I know a lot of people like them, so you might want to give them a shot!


usa☆usa Girls Club

Ahh, Usa Usa Girls Club. I know every time I write about them I make this comparison, but they are seriously like Sakura Gakuin. They are another group that has the girls graduate when they reach high school. Perhaps more than that, though, they have produced two signifcant idol groups as their subgroups: Rhymeberry (one of my favorite idol acts) and Death Rabbits.

Unfortunately, while Sakura Gakuin boasts some very fine performers and performances, Usa Usa Shoujo Club has never really done it for me. The girls seem fine, but neither the songs nor the performances stand out. Their debuted subgroups are their biggest claim to fame.

That’s not to say they’re bad performers. They just don’t do a lot to stand out. They don’t release much in the way of singles, and tend to be much more live performance focused, which is tough for us foreign fans.

At the end of the day they are a pretty standard group with young members that have produced some very interesting subgroups. And that’s about it.

Ultra Girl

Ultra Girl is a five member unit from Spiral Music; if you’ve followed TIF before then you should know them as the label behind the idol group Power Spot. Ultra Girl has released four singles, the latest being “888 (as in “pachi pachi pachi”) and their fifth single is coming out in September. They’ve been around since 2012, so at this point the five members do have some solid experience, if you prefer to avoid the groups that have just formed.

This group does have a solid social media presence; all the girls themselves have twitter accounts and blogs. This is almost a given for larger groups, but Ultra Girl seems like a decently connected group for being so small.

Beyond that, though, there’s not too much noteworthy. 888 is a cute song, but not all that memorable, and the performances are solid but not great. I don’t know much more of what to say about them, to be honest, other than that they seem cute and I hope for the best for them!

AKB48 2014 General Election: Thoughts + Analysis

Hey everyone! This morning I got up at the bright hour of 3 AM to watch the AKB48 senbatsu election live. Even as my AKB48 fandom has changed and shifted (I really haven’t been into AKB’s music much lately, for example) this is still a huge event that I love staying up for year after year.

If you haven’t seen the results yet, THIS is where I’m looking at, though most of my thoughts are coming from what I saw at the livestream.

Last Night’s Winners: HKT48

Now, this might be odd; Watanabe Mayu is the new AKB48 center, not Sashihara Rino. However, HKT48 did VERY well. On Fuji TV there was a running counter of how many members ranked from each group. Usually this number goes sequentially from when the group was formed; AKB, SKE, NMB and HKT. However, this year more HKT48 members ranked than NMB48. Girls like Murashige Anna ranked for the first time (a fact that thrilled everyone) and Miyawaki Sakura had a huge leap in rankings.

One thing I noticed, however, was that HKT had a really big sense of community. Murashige went straight to Sashihara after she ranked to celebrate. The girls seemed genuinely all thrilled whenever someone ranked. I think HKT48 has really proved themselves to be a great group, and they were really enjoyable to watch.

Last night’s Losers: NMB48 (and Watanabe Miyuki)

NMB48 didn’t do terribly, not at all. However, being outstripped by HKT48 has to be significant. Further, there were some drops. I was surprised to see Ogasawara Mayu ranked fairly low in the Up Coming Girls (the new added ranking) and I was very disappointed to see Watanabe Miyuki’s ranking drop out of senbatsu. Yamamoto Sayaka did well, but that’s the biggest gain that NMB had.

Winners: New(er) girls

The senbatsu lineup is usually girls that are well-known. However, FOUR new faces entered the senbatsu. The old guard has generally been graduating, but it’s interesting to see who’s entering senbatsu. It makes sense; new girls generally get a lot of press. But those climbing the ranks tend to be members who are newer.

Losers: Old(er) girls

A couple of us tweeting the senbatsu noticed some disappointment. Kuramochi Asuka, for one, mentioned in her speech that she kept dropping in categories. Kobayashi Kana didn’t rank. Nakagawa Haruka didn’t rank. Miyazaki Miho ranked again, but she was low in the Up Coming Girls (which was noted to be pretty funny, considering).

This makes sense; as management is promoting the newer, fresher girls, the girls that never got a big push (or got a small push) are falling. Still, it’s something I noticed.

Winner: Matsumura Kaori, Undergirls center?

Kaotan being popular isn’t that new. It’s just that I’m really looking forward to what a Kaotan center song will look like.

Winner: Nogizaka46 and Ikoma Rina

I thought that Ikoma would rank highly. I mean, she’s a popular Nogizaka46 member, once the center of the group, and Nogizaka fans would want to vote for her even if they weren’t particularly into Ikoma. However, ranking in the senbatsu is really significant, and does a lot to show Nogizaka46’s power in relation to AKB. Well done.

Winner: Kawaei Rina, Iriyama Anna (and all the members)

The live event started (notably) with Gamushara Ouendan cheering on the 48 members. It was a bit silly, and I know a lot of foreign fans (including myself) were wondering what was going on. However, this was for the girls. This is the first really major 48 event since the incident, and I imagine every single one of them is a little afraid.

However, the most memorable and emotional moment of the night was Kawaei Rina appearing on stage. She’s my favorite AKB member, so it was already going to be emotional. However, she outshone everything else. The fact that she had the courage to appear was remarkable. The hosts asked her if she was scared, a few times, and Ricchan just said “I’m not afraid at all, I’m fine.”

The incident was hard on AKB48, all 48 groups, and the fans. This is a sizable step that people are moving beyond it.

Winner: Watanabe Mayu

You know, because she actually won it. Seriously, it was an unsurprising turn of events, but not unwelcome. CG Revolution!

All in all, it was a really solid election; some surprises, a lot of really expected things, but overall an enjoyable year.

Review: Aso Natsuko – My Starlit Point

Aso Natsuko is one of those idols I really wish got more press. It could be mostly my personal biases, but she’s had consistently good music and is a strong performer. As a singer that mainly does things for anime openings, so she doesn’t really get considered among most idol performers, which is unfortunate. Also unfortunately, she just announced that her music career is going on hiatus. This is an understandable move; she is a presenter on ZIP, a morning TV show and is, of all things, in school as a law student. While I wish Natsuko the best of luck in her future endeavors, and I know she’s going to be successful at whatever she does, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. This album, as I’ll elaborate further, makes me wish that she was sticking with this, on a purely selfish level.

1. My Starlit Point – Every Natsuko album comes with a titular song that generally does a good job of summing up the album as a whole. My Starlit Point is no exception. I recommend Natsuko’s albums for a reason; they are cohesive products that feel like a natural whole, as opposed to the collection of singles that idol albums too often tend to fall into.

This song is an upbeat, pleasant song that isn’t as dramatic as some of the later songs (MoonRise Romance is one) in the album but is probably the best way to start it off. The instrumentation could have been too busy and overdone; there’s electric guitar, strings, some (fake) brass instruments, percussion, clapping and Natsuko is often doing some background/echoing vocals. However, it’s a testament to the arrangement that so many elements sound so cohesive and never detract from the melody and from Natsuko’s vocals. She sounds especially good here; it’s clear she’s continuing to improve as a vocalist.

This song is light and pleasant. It occasionally veers into the dramatic swelling strings that define some of the later songs, but this is mostly a pleasant, easy to listen to song. 8/10

2. Merry-go-Round– This is actually a B-Side from the Lovely Girls Anthem single. Natsuko sang this when I saw her live, and this was the one song I really wanted to listen to more, so I’m very glad it made it onto the album!

Merry-go-round features one of my favorite hallmarks of Aso Natsuko’s music; her fast singing (and how she does her background vocals). While it’s not quite to the level of Parade (which comes straight after…) some of the fast lines are enough to make some vocalists trip.

This starts off the trend of very staccato, pizzicato performing, particularly in the backing strings. This is a running motif of this album, and I think a very indicative one for whether you will care for this album. If this sounds a bit too precious for you, you might want to stay away. However, I personally love it, so this album fits with my personal tastes.

This is not the best or the most mind-blowing song by Natsuko; in fact, it feels very standard for this album. However, that’s particularly why I enjoy it. 8/10

3. Parade – One of my top songs of 2012! Parade is probably the single that fits least on this album (though Fighting Growing Diary could be debated). While strings (well, string sounds) are still here, the main focus of Parade is a strong, driving drum beat and the electric guitar. It never stops sounding like a Natsuko song, but it focuses more on the upbeat rock type of sound you get from a drum/guitar heavy arrangement/mix. The guitar solo is quite nice, and I’d feel comfortable putting it on a list of best guitar solos found in idol songs (OK where is this list).

I also mentioned that the fast singing that Nacchan is known for is in here. Which it is. She sounds fantastic rattling off these lyrics. Some sound slightly awkward, but Natsuko delivers it with such style that it doesn’t matter.

The song is fun, almost uplifting, and is a pleasant deviation for this album. It fits Natsuko remarkably well, and the balance of the arrangement is spot on, like always. 9/10.

4. Fighting Growing Diary– I generally like all of Natsuko’s music. However, for a long time, this is what I considered to be Natsuko’s weakest single. It’s not bad, but I never loved it as much as Parade, and found it to be an anomaly of her singles catalog. However, with some listening, it doesn’t feel as anomalous. There’s still a lot of pizzicato strings, for example. The instrumental might be mostly (way fake) brass instruments and Natsuko never sings fast, but this is still a worthy, happy song.

That said, even after a new appreciation, it is the weakest single that appears on the album. There’s no drama from swelling strings, it doesn’t have the guitar-driven excellence of Parade, and it’s not nearly as pleasant to listen to as My Starlit Point. This isn’t to say this is a bad song; not at all. However, if I had to pick a weak link from the pre-established songs of this album, this would be it. 7/10

5. CROSS x OVER SENSATION – This is the other A-Side on the Parade single, and, as much as I love Parade, this has to be just as good as Parade. Whereas Parade was more of the rock-inspired side of things, CROSS X OVER SENSATION goes back into the upbeat, happy side with lots of staccato. The arrangement of this does feature some guitar (the bridge near the end is especially good) but it’s mostly electronic instruments. I wish that Nacchan would have been able to perform some of this stuff with a full band and orchestra, because that would only improve the songs.

CROSS X OVER SENSATION is cute and upbeat, but Nacchan manages to fit the song perfectly. Even though this is no test of her vocal skills it still allows her to emote and make her voice fit the song. She also does all the background vocals, and those work together nicely. Some of the best Natsuko songs have her voice playing together in harmony and as an echo, and that works the best here. The choruses are improved immensely by the response of “Sensation” to her vocals.

This is a surprisingly good song that manages to hit the level of Parade. The back and forth is particularly pleasant, as is the arrangement. 9/10

6. Watashi Iro Clothes – This is the B-side to MoonRise romance, and manages to be more guitar driven while including the great string sound. I do like that there’s what sounds like some deeper strings like a bass in there in the chorus; it’s a nice reprieve from the rest of the song.

This is a fairly mellow song that was one I skipped over on my first listen through of the album. However, it’s the type of song that grows on you with more listens. As always the instrumentation is very nice, although this throws in a little electronic sound that is almost dubstep-esque. It is surprising but sounds very nice.

While the instrumentation does make it a tad heavier (especially after the airy and upbeat CROSS X OVER SENSATION), this song is mellow and pleasant, and comes at exactly the right time in the album. 8/10

7. Lovely Girls Anthem – One of the mellower tracks, Lovely Girls Anthem is pretty understated, and as such I think it’s a little underrated for the Aso Natsuko discography. That said, it’s still a rousing fairly fast number that only feels mellower in comparison. That said, it is a cute song that only improves after more listens. When I saw Natsuko live I liked this song, but was waiting for Perfect Area Complete and the other hyperactive songs that Natsuko does so well. However, after listening to this song more and more, it starts to stand out more.

The one thing that sounds especially good is the harmonizations that Natsuko does with herself; she has a very beautiful voice, and hearing it in duplicate or triplicate just works. It’s one of the things I like about a lot of Natsuko’s songs, but it’s especially good here, and is the particular item of note for the song. The other elements (catchy melody, strong arrangement, strong vocals) are all there, as well.

All of this said, this also fits really well into the album. If you haven’t liked Natsuko’s music until now, then I doubt you’ll like Lovely Girls Anthem. However, this is a song that has grown on me a lot, and has become a valuable part of Nacchan’s discography. 8/10

8. MoonRise Romance – OK, why didn’t I put this in my top songs of 2013? I’m serious. I don’t think I gave this song the attention it deserved when it came out, because this is fantastic.

The biggest strength is in the strings; there is a really great instrumentation here, with the swelling of the strings. This adds to how well the song builds over the course of the song; the whole thing builds and builds. The slower, jazzy part that seems to come from out of nowhere only serves to make the following section even more explosive.

This song is a fantastic pop song, and one I wish I got more into sooner. Its arrangement is perfect, and does a great job of serving how well the song builds. This is wonderful, and, in hindsight, one of my favorites of 2013. 10/10

9. Fuantei na Wakusei – After a song like Moonrise Romance any song is going to be a bit of a letdown. However, Fuantei na Wakusei is probably the weakest song of the album. It’s a much more electronic-based song. There’s a lot of dissonant sound in the background, and it manages to be much more minimalist than the rest of the album.

The thing is, this isn’t a bad song. I like it a lot. The worst crime this song does is fit the wrong album. This song would be a perfect fit for Precious Tone, and would fit well next to something like Tokimeki Traveler. This is just the odd duck of the album.

I do like how this song builds, and how everything seems to crescendo throughout the song. The start of the song is very low in energy, but it builds up nicely. Natsuko’s voice sounds great here, too. I like how mellow it is, and I do like the instrumentation. It just doesn’t fit.

If this song was on Precious Tone, it would probably be one of my favorite songs on the album. However, on an album like My Starlit Point, it doesn’t quite fit. 7/10

10. ICE NINE – ICE NINE continues with the more electronic feel of Fuantei na Wakusei, and, again, would fit very well on Precious Tone. However, ICE NINE tends to have much more of a drive to it, and has the upbeat feel that’s consistent throughout the album. Further, while all the instrumentation is clearly electronic, there are many points where it sounds like it’s trying to approximate strings. Everything is a bit more dissonant than the rest of the album, but in a good way.

Still, while I do like that they are trying something new and this does fit a bit better than Fuantei, these two songs (soon three) have created a weird pocket in the album of much more mellow, much more minor/dissonant stuff. It’s all great, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of wonder if it would have been possible to spread these out throughout the album.

ICE NINE is good, and I like it a lot, but again it feels like it doesn’t quite fit as well. 7/10

11. You’re My Brightness – If you were wondering about Natsuko’s vocal skills, look no further. While Natsuko sounds great on all of these tracks (another reason why this album is so great), You’re My Brightness is a ballad that shows off how strong her vocals are. She sounds beautiful.

The ballad itself is pretty standard and doesn’t break any barriers. The way that the song is set up is nothing new. What should make you want to listen to this ballad, however, is just how well polished it is. Natsuko sounds fantastic, the strings are particularly good in this one, and get an extended focus at the end. The end of this track makes You’re My Brightness as much about the instrumentation as it is about Natsuko. The songwriting itself is a bit bland, but the arrangement is lovely.

This song won’t convince you of Natsuko’s music, but it should convince you of Natsuko and the strength of the team behind her. 8/10.

12. Never Ending Voyage – How is this not in my top 5 songs list of 2013? Seriously, Never Ending Voyage is pure pop music perfection, and the best way to end an album (even though ending your last album with the track “Never Ending Voyage” is kind of cruel). After the mellow songs off the album, Never Ending Voyage ends things with a bang. It’s pure orchestral-focused energy. Even in the mellowest sections of the song there is something, a guitar or a drum beat that is driving everything quickly. Even with this, though, it’s never exhausting or gets overplayed; there’s enough variety present in the song to make it keep my interest.

Everything about Never Ending Voyage is done perfectly. The melody is catchy but doesn’t feel old hat. The arrangement is, like always, perfect, with beautiful strings work. I don’t know if they recorded the strings in a different location or added in some echo in the mixing, but they sound superb. Natsuko as always sounds fantastic, but she really sells it on this song. She delivers her lines with such a punch that even though this might not be as strong a test of her vocal ability as You’re My Brightness, it still might be one of her best songs ever vocally.

While I wish Natsuko wasn’t going on hiatus, what a way to go. It is the perfect end to this album and the song that exemplifies why Aso Natsuko is worth following. 10/10

Overall: This album doesn’t have that many new songs, not really. A lot of B-Sides are on the album, and this is something I’ve criticized albums for in the past. I would have liked more songs. However, that can be forgiven because of how successful My Starlit Point is as an album. Every song, even the ones that feel like they’re a bit misplaced, is excellent. There is no weak link, and the best songs are some of my recent favorites. Every element is working at a very high level, making an incredible album. Honestly, I feel like this has to be my album of the year; nothing will be able to compete. I hate saying that so early in the year, but this is the type of album that I will be looking back on as one of my favorite idol albums.

Announcement: Big Changes to Happy Disco

You may have noticed that my posting has slowed down as of late.

I’ve given my standard excuses; that I’m “busy with work” and “have a lot on my plate with my personal life.” While all of that may be true, there’s another thing. Some of you might know this, but I do want to work professionally in the media world. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to things, and I’ve started to look into and work towards applying to grad school. This will slow down my posts to Happy Disco, and I apologize. But, while thinking about that, I had an idea.

See, I want to show prospective employers that I can do a good job in promoting a group, and writing under strict parameters. I want to incorporate good corporate synergy into my blogging, so that I can show a prospective employer about this. If you are wondering “Serenyty, what’s that corporate synergy you’re talking about?” I’ve embedded a video below that does a great job getting at the basics.

So, in the interest of corporate synergy, starting this April Happy Disco is now becoming Happiness Disco. And yes, I’m going to be focusing on the JPop group Happiness.

It’s not that big of a change, not really. I would be a fool’s to ignore such strong synergy in my blogging. I liked parent group E-Girls’ Gomen Nasai no Kissing You last year, and I figure that I can make liking Happiness work. I can also sometimes write about E-Girls, so. Gomen Nasai no Kissing You PV time!

Some of you might be wondering; how are you going to talk about Happiness all day? Well, the answer to that is cross-promotional synergy. While I focus on Happiness, I can also focus on any song title that might have “happy” in it. Sekaiichi Happy na Onna no Ko is one option; so is Happy Daisakusen. However, the number one song that will be on everyone’s mind when they visit Happiness Disco is now going to be Kusumi Koharu’s seminal classic “Happy.”

(I’ll also play Happy Happy Sunday but I think I’m over Hyadain).

Let me know in the comments what kind of changes you would like to see in Happiness Disco! But beware; you have to include “Happy” in every sentence you write, otherwise my comment filter will get rid of it.

Review: Dempagumi.inc – Sakura Appareshon + Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Hey guys! Happy Monday! Sorry I took an unscheduled week off. Partly, I desperately needed to get some sleep (work has been a doozy for a few weeks), and partly because I spent the last week perfecting my book proposal for the 33 1/3 series (333sound.com).

Dempagumi.inc is at this point the most consistently excellent idol group, in terms of both music and PVs. They might not be my overall favorite group, but I’ve gotten to expecting a certain level of quality from Dempagumi.inc. So here’s my review of their latest!

Sakura Appareshon

Song:

I feel like there are two types of Dempagumi.inc songs. The songs I love immediately on first listen (i.e. W.W.D) and the songs I love more after taking some time to listen (i.e. Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo). Sakura Appareshon is part of the second category. The first listen I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but after a few listens (mainly facilitated by how much I adore this PV!) I think I got a hang of this song.

The thing is, it’s not the sweeping orchestral epic of W.W.D II. But it’s not trying to be. It’s also not one of Dempagumi.inc’s quieter, sweet songs like Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo. But again, it’s not trying to be that. It’s one of the more middle of the road songs like Den Den Passion and Demparade Japan. It’s the type of song that is really excellent, and deserves a lot of praise, but ultimately doesn’t quite get up there in terms of top 10 lists. Which is kind of a shame.

Sakura Appareshon adds a level of traditional themes to the normal level of Dempagumi eccentricity. In fact, there is one section that is very reminiscent of matsuri songs; or at least the poppy version that I know from idol music. My favorite thing about Dempagumi.inc trying new things is that there is a very distinct sense of self in Dempagumi.inc’s music.

My first thought with both the song and the PV is that this is what I wish Momoiro Clover was doing now. Remember when Momoiro Clover was originally a group intended to have a traditional influence? They wore modified yukata for their first three PVs? When I first became a MomoClo fan, I was really excited for a group that would blend some of that traditional Japanese image with idol pop. Ultimately they went for something different, but Sakura Appareshon fulfills that desire I had.

Like I said, this doesn’t fit the dramatic highs of W.W.D, but this is still a memorable, fun Dempagumi.inc song that is more than worthy of an idol group of this caliber. 8/10

PV: I love this PV. Let’s get this out there right off the bat.

I have a particular fondness for PVs that have long takes. Limitations encourage creativity, and limiting cuts and visual effects does that. While Sakura Appareshon isn’t as extreme of an example as Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s Te wo Tsunagou, it still has a fair amount of practical effects and most of the PV is comprised of long takes.

Even if this isn’t the completely long take PV of Te wo Tsunagou or AKB48’s Dakishimecha Ikenai, this still really exemplifies why I have a fondness for this type of PV: it’s because it shows off idols almost better than any PV.

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The reason being is that, more than almost any other music genre, idols are dependent on personality. Sure, some idols survive on being strong singers or dancers, but personality is key to most idols’ successes. I’d say that having a strong personality to an idol group is one of the most important facets of a group’s success.

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PVs like Sakura Appareshon, that take place in one setting and are generally without many special effects, are dependent on the creativity of the team behind the group as well as the girls themselves. In the hands of another group Sakura Appareshon would be boring and uninteresting. It’s the girls of dempagumi.inc (and the creative team!) who make Sakura Appareshon fun to watch and rewatch. Dempagumi.inc is a personality driven group (in addition to their really high production values and fantastic music/PVs) and this type of thing suits them.

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That isn’t to say this couldn’t be improved; some of the stop motion speeding things up was unnecessarily added to make the PV more fast paced, I assume, but it made a friend of mine’s eyes hurt, which is a shame. It wasn’t a very necessary addition, either. I also think that the close-ups, while handled well, weren’t particularly necessary, and were in there a few too many times.

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Ultimately these aren’t huge complaints, and Sakura Appareshon is one of the most successful PVs of the year so far. 9/10

Fancy Hoppe U Fu Fu

Song: You know the song is a CM tie-in for candy because the word “flavor” is heavily included!

This song is pretty retro sounding, in JPop terms. I want this to be the opening of a late 80s/early 90s shoujo anime. Which is, from the PV, what I think they’re going for.

I have a feeling that this song is going to be hit and miss for a lot of people, but I like this song a lot. The first time I listened to it I was unsure of how I felt, but then the chorus stuck in my head and wouldn’t let go.

It’s not particularly Dempagumi.inc of a song but it’s pleasant and retro. While I want Dempagumi.inc to stick with a lot of what they’ve done in the past, this song represents the type of group I’d like more of. Stuff like Vanilla Beans and early Nogizaka46; groups that have that retro type of appeal.

Still, this is really pleasant, and a song I have been enjoying. 7/10

PV

This is a much more standard PV than Sakura Appareshon. Again, the word I would use is pleasant. Which does seem to be what they’re going for; this isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it is nice to watch.

fancyhoppe1What people are going to notice more than anything is the low-contrast, soft focus filter that’s on everything. I have a feeling that this is going to be contentious; people may dislike this a lot. However, it feels to me like it’s keeping with the late 80s/early 90s shoujo manga aesthetic. They only needed to add bubbles or twinkles and the effect would be complete.

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It feels like a bit much at times, but, really, it feels like this is intentional.

Beyond this, the PV is pretty unremarkable. This is an exercise in adorableness. The cheerleading scenes are cute, and all the group scenes work nicely together. I do like when they write wktk on the screen; it’s a nice touch.

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This PV isn’t remarkable. It’s made well (as expected) and nothing is bad, but it’s just pleasant. Like the song. 7/10

Overall, this is a strong single. It might not be anyone’s favorite Dempagumi.inc single (especially with last year having W.W.D/Fuyu e to Hashiridasuo and W.W.D II/Not Bocchi… Natsu) but this is hardly a misstep for the group. If anything, it’s nice to have a mellower Dempagumi.inc single, to show that they can excel at this too.