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.

 

Review Monday: Morning Musume – Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai, What is Love?

That’s right, I’m reviewing Morning Musume’s latest. I’m sure you guys don’t need much more introduction!

Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa

Song: When I first listened to Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, I hated it. Not just dislike, I thought it was just terrible. However, something amazing happened. I kept watching the PV (partly out of my interest in the group and partly because of the PV), and the song suddenly grew on me, where I began to like it where I had hated it.

This isn’t to say the song is perfect. By all means, there are still the flaws it had before. The most noticeable flaw is the weird phrasing of lyrics in the song, where words get bunched together and the girls have to very quickly sing lyrics in small places. It’s hard to imagine this particular melody without the weird phrasing, but it does sound unprofessional and a bit odd.

I think the thing that I appreciate most about Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa is more of what it represents for Morning Musume than anything else. While I’ve really enjoyed Morning Musume’s latest output, I have wondered, like many others, if the group would get stuck in the EDM genre and eventually play out the genre until people were sick of it. Hello!Project has a terrible habit of adopting a “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality, and since Morning Musume has been suddenly selling better than the group has sold in years and years, I was worried the group would get stuck in a rut. Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa still fits the mold in that it does use EDM. However, this song experiments with using the group’s signature sound and making a lighter, happier song. In a way, they’ve proven that they can take the group’s signature sound, and still have very varied songs.

This song, while initially something I really hated, has grown to become a song I love, and one that I think represents good things happening for Morning Musume. 8/10

PV I think green screen has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s a tool, and like any tool it can be used well and used poorly. I understand why Morning Musume fans have lately held it in contempt, for sure; Up-Front tends to use it pretty poorly, like in the case of the Help Me PV where it was a poor substitute for actually being outside. However, with an interesting aesthetic style, a green screen can be a great asset. Morning Musume has somehow managed to use this well.

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By only using the green screen sparingly, as patterns that move with the girls to the song and to the dance, the PV looks a lot more interesting than in something like a Help Me situation. This elevates the standard H!P studio PV from being basic to being something visually interesting and appealing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a H!P PV because I found it to be an interesting PV.

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The PV is actually shot well, too. I really enjoy the opening shot that starts up overhead and tracks down to in front of the girls. Since Morning Musume is still (rightfully so) getting known for its formation dance, I’m glad that they capitalized on this with some good bird’s eye shots.

The lighting is also good, especially by Hello!Project standards. While I would change it a few places, this is miles above the awful flat lighting they were trying to use for a while.

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By far my biggest complaint is the blurry, bloom effect that they used on the close-ups. I don’t object to the idea of it, but I do object that it gets used as much as it does. This isn’t as bad as some other effects (see: One Two Three), but it does detract.

This is a solid PV that is a step up from other recent H!P efforts to show off Morning Musume’s strengths while having a unique visual style. 8/10.

Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai

Song: This is the least interesting song on this single. Not to say this is bad; I actually quite like it. But for being a fairly experimental and interesting single, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai is fairly standard. Which makes sense; this is being used as the cheer song for the Japanese team at the Olympics this year, so they would want something that was energetic, exciting and all that (I do particularly like the “Nippon” chants; they sounded nice here).

This doesn’t sound particularly like Brainstorming or Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke (It might be a bit closer to Ai no Gundan) but it’s in the same mold of cool song. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Brainstorming or Wagamama, but that’s in part because of how great I thought those two songs were when I first heard them and now some of the novelty has worn off.

Really, I don’t have much more to say about this song than that. I know I like it, but as a song it’s the least interesting and least remarkable one of the lot. 7/10.

PV: As a PV, this is a lot less interesting than Egao no Kimi.

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Production values are still good here; I like the camera angles and the lighting. I feel like H!P hired a new team or got their PV people in gear, which makes me VERY happy. This PV is shot much better than a lot of H!P’s older stuff.

Like everyone else ever, I’m not sure how I feel about these outfits on this background. They kind of clash, but at the same time look fine. H!P’s always had iffy costumes at times, and this is hardly the worst of the lot, but it does stand out.

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One of the biggest strengths of these PVS (not just Kimi no Kawari but all three) is just how strong these girls have gotten. Gone are the awkward days of early PVs, Morning Musume is now full of pros. While I think that a stagnant lineup is a mistake and that they really ought to be working on that 12th gen, I can see why H!P would be hesitant; all the girls in MM are solid, and work well together. Riho and Ayumi do a great job of starting things off here, and Kudou Haruka stands out.

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The green screen used in the closeups is the weakest part, but it’s mostly harmless and unobtrusive.

Despite weird costume choices, H!P puts out a solid effort with this PV, even despite being unremarkable. 7/10

What is Love?

Song: What is love? How I feel about this song.

What is Love brings back Morning Musume to what made me fall in love with the group in the first place; playing with genres within the contexts of pop music. The first Morning Musume song I heard and loved was the good old Mr. Moonlight Ai no Big Band (also probably why my first favorite was Yossy), and I still love how it brings back an older genre of music into pop music. What is Love does what Mr. Moonlight did to big band, only with swing, and adds on some additional interest with combining it with the EDM/dubstep inspired sound of Morning Musume’s current era.

What is Love is catchy, exciting, and I just love the swing music sound that they throw in there. This is one of Morning Musume’s best songs in years, and I don’t say that lightly. Morning Musume has improved a lot in the past year, year and a half, and What is Love is, to me, the culmination of that. 9/10.

PV While I’m not opposed to the idea of a live PV (especially on a single where there’s two other PVs going on). However, live PVs can be done well and they can be done as, well, an easy PV.

Team Syachihoko’s Soko Soko Premium is a good example of a live PV; it takes multiple live performances, and edits things together so that the PV conveys some of the energy of the group’s live performances. What is Love often falls a bit flat at this.

What is Love isn’t bad, per say, it just feels like a bit of a cop out. I like Morning Musume live, and I don’t see much wrong with the PV, but it could be a lot better. 6/10

Overall, I’m impressed by this single, in addition to being impressed by Morning Musume as a whole in the past years. While the first two songs took a while to grow on me, once they did I really enjoyed this single and I’m happy it’s been so successful.

My Top 25 Songs of 2013 – Part 4

Top ten now! These are all songs I find extraordinary, and are songs that I’m positive I’ll continue to listen to and enjoy for years to come.

10. Megitsune – Babymetal

2012 was the year that I was surprised and impressed at Babymetal’s success. 2013 was the year where this was a given. Megitsune is not only the next in line of Babymetal’s increasingly popular tracks, it’s a very innovative track. Babymetal has pushed boundaries by combining both metal and idol music (though even that’s becoming more and more commonplace). Megitsune took it a step further by introducing traditional instruments and motifs. There are pieces of idol music, metal music and traditional Japanese music, but Babymetal somehow makes it all work together. That’s what Babymetal really does best; it combines various elements together, but Babymetal makes it make sense, as opposed to being a hodge podge jumble that it could be.

Every element is in place here. It’s well made music in all the genres it touches. Suzuka’s vocals have always been solid, but this year they were extraordinary, and Megitsune further proves her vocal talent.

While many thought Babymetal was going to end up a one-hit wonder, a brief flash in the pan meme, 2013 proved that Babymetal is here to stay, and that we’re better off for it.

9. Gomen Nasai no Kissing You – E-Girls

Of all the groups to have one of my favorite songs of the year, I really did not expect E-Girls to have one. But lo and behold, I absolutely adore Gomen Nasai no Kissing You.

If it wasn’t evident by my blog title, I enjoy happy things. I appreciate things like Megitsune and some of the heavier songs on this list, but more often than not I crave listening to fun, happy songs. Gomen Nasai no Kissing You completely scratches that itch.

This song is a complete Eurobeat sugar rush and I can’t help but love it. It’s such a feel-good song, with a heavy beat that makes me want to dance every time I listen to it. And since E-Girls are an Avex group, it’s a polished, well-produced song.

Gomen Nasai no Kissing You has no pretensions of seriousness. It never pretends to be more than a fun, happy song, and it does this very well.

8. Not Bocchi… Natsu – Dempagumi.inc

2013 was the year I became a Dempagumi.inc fan. Which is understandable because wow Dempagumi.inc was fantastic this past year! Not…Bocchi Natsu is just one of the great tracks that Dempa released this year.

Arranged by my very favorite idol producer (Hyadain), Not Bocchi… Natsu fits very well into Dempagumi’s established oeuvre of upbeat catchy music that’s a bit unhinged. As is expected by a song touched by Maeyamada Kenichi, the arrangement is excellent. Strings heavy in the chorus, the song is given a bit more gravity and pathos than it would in the hands of a lesser producer.

Still, this is just another song where everything comes together. All the girls sound nice and fit their selections nicely (Eimi does very well in her rap solo). One of the things I love about Dempagumi.inc is just how distinctive all the girls’ voices are, and that’s highlighted well in this song. This isn’t as tailor-made to Dempa as some other songs (that are on this list) do, but this feels like a song that fits Dempagumi.inc.

This song is not as weird as others, but is an upbeat, happy song that has me listening to it all year round.

7. Please Me Darling – Vanilla Beans

One of the things I’ve said at just about every mention of Vanilla Beans is that I love their style but their music never appeals to me, and that I wish they would have music that would be still retro but more of my style. And they did that, because I ADORE Please Me Darling.

Please Me Darling has the retro, 60s sensibility but does it in a pleasant, upbeat way. Their older stuff didn’t do anything for me, but Please Me Darling is the type of music that I want more from my idols (much like how I loved Nogizaka46’s similar foray into 60s era pop with Hashire Bicycle in 2012). One of my favorite Western acts that takes a look at similar music is She & Him, and that’s the closest approximation I can come to what Please Me Darling does. It is a modern look at this kind of music, and does it well.

I’m completely surprised at how much I loved a Vanilla Beans song this year, and I hope that they put out more music like this. If they keep this up, they can count me as a fan.

6. SUPERMCZTOKYO – Rhymeberry

I was a Rhymeberry fan in 2012, but I was so pleasantly surprised by their move to T-PALETTE Records in 2013. This allowed for this idol hip hop group to get higher production values and actual PVs, two things I was very glad about.

While R.O.D/Sekaichuu ni I Love You was a great single, SUPERMCZTOKYO is a superb showing of what Rhymeberry can do. First off, all the girls sound fantastic and polished. In the past Rhymeberry has really shined in their live performances and didn’t really show this in their recordings. In SUPERMCZTOKYO, you can hear how strong at rapping these girls are.

I also love just how funky and fun this song is. While Sekaichuu ni I Love You is perhaps more interesting, with its use of swing music as the background, SUPERMCZTOKYO is just plain fun, and shows off Miri, Hime and Yuka a lot better.

Rhymeberry has been a great group for a while, but their move to T-PALETTE records gave them the polish they needed to become even better.

Your Thoughts: On Perfume, Homophobia, and the Reactions

Hey guys! I had one comment come from Derek, who found me through Idolminded. So welcome to Happy Disco!

Hello…I am a reader of idolminded, which brought me to this blog. I really can’t thank you enough for bringing such a well written and thoughtful article to light regarding this completely idiotic scandal. Here’s the deal, and maybe this will help people understand some things a little better:

First, Perfume is not anti-gay or anti-lesbian or anything of the sort. How can they be when they work with people in these communities on a regular basis? I believe to be a fact (of course whether it is true or not I wouldn’t know unless I actually KNEW Perfume personally, but please follow my logic for a moment here…). I’ve seen virtually every single interview and behind the scenes programs released by the Perfume camp and TV stations since 2006, when Perfume first came onto the Japanese national media map. I have followed them religiously and consider myself to be one of their biggest fans. I have seen them, REPEATEDLY, work with, smile with, joke with, and be friendly with MANY MANY openly gay Japanese celebrities in all the aforementioned interviews and behind the scenes docs! There isn’t a single shred of anti anything by them! And if there was, trust me, they wouldn’t show that to the general public no matter what!

That leads me to my next point…they are Showa style artists, meaning they conduct themselves in a manner that has bordered mostly on being stoic and unaffected by the world around them. They have been virtually perfect up until this point and though they don’t consider themselves as Jpop idols but rather J-artists, they still have even kept close their personal relationships with men out of the spotlight. The point I’m trying to say by sayiing all of this is that they wouldn’t DARE dream of committing career suicide by exposing anything hateful about their personalities. They’ve worked too hard for the past decade plus…do you really think A-chan would say something purposefully demeaning, even if it was to a gaijin who put her in an impossibly awkward spot to begin with?

That brings me to my final and most demanding point to consider about what A-chan said. She was talking about the whole PEOPLE WHO ARE NEITHER because she was simply emulating her idol AIKO. Now if you don’t know who AIKO is, go look her up. You’ll see that AIKO popularized this type of affectionate statement towards people who bend genders and what sexuality means…AIKO used to use this in her call and response at live shows. A-chan has said many times that AIKO is her idol…wouldn’t it make sense that she was borrowing this phrase from somebody she and the whole of JAPAN has accepted as a successful J-artist? Think about it. A-chan didn’t read anymore into that statement beyond the fact that she was echoing somebody she looks up to, and AIKO has talked about how she made this statement to be one of LOVE towards gays and lesbians and gender benders/transvestites, not one of hate. What I believe happened here, consequently, is just a misunderstanding of culture. I mean, for crying out loud, in Japan a bi-racial kid is referred to as a “halfie!” Does that mean that Japanese people think of bi-racial people as only half humans? But to the outside and stupid eye, people would construe this as offensive, which is what happens when you take it out of the cultural context of Japan and its usage of language.

I am married to Japanese woman. We have a HALFIE child. We don’t think she’s half-human. My wife reminds me everyday of the cultural differences between me and her (I’m a white Italian male). She says things that aren’t really acceptable in America but I know what she means completely from being around her and from living in Japan like I have done several times in my life. Yes, it’s true that Japan is a bit behind on the times with SOME issues regarding sexuality and LGBT themes, but on the other hand, I don’t see too many American shows with gays, transvestites, and cross-dressers on an everyday basis like I do in Japan’s variety shows. I think it’s really amazing that people had ANY reaction at all to this comment by A-chan…it shows a lack of education and open-mindedness by those who didn’t take five minutes to do some research and look at all the facts surrounding the three girls from Hiroshima and the country they come from. If people DID do research, they would’ve seen, very quickly, that the Perfume girls are the LAST people on Earth who probably want to destroy their hard-earned thirteen plus years of work in a single statement, intentionally or otherwise. And for the record, I have literally HUNDREDS of gay friends, and many of them who I showed this article to said they had absolutely ZERO problem with what A-chan said, both with the GIRLFRIEND comment and also with the whole NEITHER thing. They found it simply a misunderstanding and some were actually MAD that the couple put A-chan in a position where she had to comment on another couple’s relationship…something she couldn’t POSSIBLY know anything about. Meh.
One final note…I will be at the Tokyo Dome supporting Perfume on Christmas Eve AND Christmas night. I am flying 15 hours and spending over 6 thousand dollars just to see them. I’ve saved up so much money for this once in a lifetime experience. I love them with all my heart and have been a fan since 2006. I know I don’t know them personally, but I feel in my heart I can honestly say that this comment by A-chan was taken WAAAAY out of context and also completely misunderstood. And I bet if you asked A-chan today how she honestly felt about gays and lesbians, she would smile and say that she LOVES THEM JUST AS MUCH AS SHE LOVES EVERYONE IN THE WORLD. I would bet my life on it.

First off, while I definitely agree that I don’t think Perfume is in anyway being malicious or hateful, that it is possible to be homophobic while still spending time with gay people and the LGBT community. That’s why you hear a lot of people going “oh, I have a black/gay/etc friend;” it’s so easy to use this to assume you’re progressive (when you’re not). That said, the case is a little different in Japan, where things still have a long way to go on the LGBT front, so it is a bit of a victory if Perfume is in fact being openly supportive of those individuals.

I also don’t think they would intentionally commit career suicide, but I was a bit surprised at how blunt they were able to be. That said, since the article was originally published in English, I do wonder how much of the meaning was lost. It’s the type of thing where it makes me inclined to be willing to give Perfume the benefit of the doubt. I was surprised at their bluntness, but if I read the Japanese I wonder if I wouldn’t consider it blunt at all.

As for the saying coming from aiko, I agree that does give it a lot of perspective. That’s why I linked those Perfume City posts; it was something that made me think, beyond what the other English-articles had been saying. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily an excuse. For example, I love comedy. I follow some comedy podcasts, and I watch stand-up for comedians I like. But say I repeated some jokes that had homophobic undertones, especially if I didn’t immediately cite the source. It would be easy to go “Oh, so and so said it first,” but it doesn’t change that I said it, or that I implicitly agree with it. I mean, it’s a tenuous situation at best, and I do think that aiko and A-chan both mean well with using it. I just don’t see “aiko said it first” as an argument I agree with.

Another thing is the whole concept of intent. Yes, I agree that they both intended the best. Does that necessarily mean that they’re “off the hook?” I would argue no. I could go on for hours and hours about authorial intent in regards to fictional works (I identify pretty strongly with New Criticism, which almost entirely disregards what the intent of an author is), but I’ll keep things simple here. Intent speaks a lot about the author, or what aiko/a-chan meant, but not a whole lot about what was actually said. I could say something I thought was in support of the LGBT community, but if I used a homophobic slur in place of a more acceptable term, it would still be a pretty bad statement. That said, the thing that makes me accept this the most is the fact that gay Japanese fans have embraced it. I still think using “neither” is a bit suspect, but if it’s something they can embrace it makes it a bit better for me.

As for halfie, I think it’s a bit different. Racism is still very prominent in Japan, though I would argue that racial tensions are highest between Japan, South Korea and China. I’m a lot less familiar with the term “haafu” in context, but, according to wikipedia, ” The label emerged in the 1970s in Japan and is now the most commonly used label and preferred term of self-definition.” That last thing is the most important thing to me. Preferred, I’m assuming by other biracial people. It reminds me of the use of the word ‘queer’ in Western LGBT circles. While it originally had a negative connotation, it was reappropriated and is now a very common, acceptable umbrella term for people who identify somewhere in the LGBT world.

I agree that there are cultural differences, and that the US is hardly better. I’d LOVE for there to be more diversity on primetime TV, and I don’t think the US does have that great of a track record on the subject. One of my favorite shows, Once Upon a Time, recently introduced the first LGBT character on the show, and people freaked out. My heart broke a little when I heard that an actor I like, Sean Maher (from Firefly) was told he couldn’t be openly gay in Hollywood because it would hurt his chances of getting some leading man roles. I also think that Japan has surprisingly good laws for trans* people. There’s good legal precedent, but there is also a very big stigma. But that’s true with the US as well. In criticizing Perfume, I don’t think anyone is saying that the US is much better. I don’t think the Japanese entertainment world is that open to LGBT people, to be honest, but things are very slowly improving in both Japan and the US.

Ultimately, though, thank you for your comment. While I don’t think we necessarily saw eye to eye on everything, I do think we agree on the basics: that A-chan didn’t mean anything negative; she had good intentions.

Your Thoughts: Bias and Blogging

This week’s comment came from BeForJess of Happy Go Lucky! Thanks for commenting again!

It’s nice to see articles like this that illuminate facets of the idol blogging world!

I’ll be totally honest – it actually confuses me that so many people feel the need to preface their blogs with statements about how it’s their opinion… Simply because I feel like that’s the very essence of a blog. To get your opinions out there.

What a boring blogging world we’d have if nobody spoke opinion and talked about the things they are biased towards or against. Some of the best idol blogs out there are ones where I don’t even agree with the writer’s opinion nine times out of ten… But I like to see someone else’s perspective.

Generally speaking, the furthest I’ll ever go is to preface something particularly polarizing with a phrase like, “in my opinion”, or something similar. For all the high praise and low blows I’ve dished out on my blog, I haven’t really dealt with anything in the way of backlash. I’m not too worried about my biases showing and affecting others either – in fact, if my love for someone can influence someone else to love that idol too, all the better. Even with a negative bias, it can be comforting to know that even though the whole world loves idol X, you can’t stand her and you’re not alone.

As far as Happy Disco goes – I think you do just fine! Don’t move towards censoring your opinions to cover your bias, because you have your bias for a reason, and if you share your love, you might convince someone else to give them a try too. :)

I agree with what you said. I do think it would be boring if bloggers were expected to be completely unbiased and not share what they like and dislike. I mean, that’s the point of a lot of blogs. I also agree that I like reading opinions different to mine. I enjoy a wide variety of discourse, because that helps inform my own ideas and opinions.

As for prefacing blog posts, I generally tend to use language like “in my opinion” and “I think” just to erase all doubts that Happy Disco is just Serenyty’s realm of idol thoughts. I do wish it was less necessary to say something, but people can get a bit defensive of their favorites. I know that Chiima of Okay! Musume Time, for example, got some flack for writing critical things of Berryz Koubou. I’m not saying you have to agree with everything I write, but I would like to avoid internet rage (until I start reviewing video games or something like that). But I do try to share my feelings in general, even if I err on the side of caution.

The one statement that really resonated with me for this is “you have your bias for a reason.” Because that’s true; bloggers so often go to defend themselves with saying “I have a bias for this” when really, that’s just a personal taste that informs your opinions. I have a bias towards Team Syachihoko, but that’s because of the group, not because I have a bias there.

Thank you for your excellent comment, I appreciate it!

Idolminded’s Ray wrote a fairly long response to my last post on the Rec Reading post, so I decided to post that here too! (I know I get a lot of my views from Idolminded, but if you don’t visit Idolminded you absolutely should. I write there too!).

For a while, I’ve noticed a lot of younger bloggers seem more self-aware and pro-active about making sure their opinions are taken as opinions, a fear of backlash if that was not clear enough. I come from a pre-Internet tradition of pop-culture journalism, and so I always assumed my readership knew where I stood and that my writing would reinforce that stance. I wonder if this current self-awareness about biases and opinions is something that comes with growing up in the Internet age, where flame wars and willful misunderstanding of authorial intent is so common.

All that said, I have a general disdain for the notion of an absolute objective journalism. The idea that all opinions are equally valid is intellectually dishonest: some people are better informed, have thought out issues more, and are more articulate than others. Those opinions should be valued more than unreflective, off-the-cuff controversy-mongering. (And historically speaking, the notion of journalistic objectivity was not an attempt to provide better news but to sell papers to a wider audience – playing both sides of the fence, as it were.)

There is a great tradition of partisan and advocacy journalism, and I believe one can write in such a manner that one’s biases are understood to be in the service of honest intellectual inquiry. There’s a difference between trying to make people believe your opinions are the only right ones, and using your opinions as a starting point for a more extensive discussion. If you write as if you’re trying to win a shouting argument, you’re probably doing it wrong.

What matters is not objectivity: what matters is awareness of one’s biases, an innate respect for other people’s opinions (there’s a huge difference between respecting opinions and saying they’re equal), and a natural curiosity willing to test one’s values (and those of others) in the quest for greater enlightenment. Which may all sound kind of lofty, but in today’s media maybe we need such reminders once in a while

I honestly don’t have much to add, because I really like what was written and I want everyone to read it. However, I do have to say that as a somewhat younger blogger, I do think growing up online has a part of why I have to think about this. I was born in 1991 and I can’t even remember not having internet (since my dad’s pretty tech savvy). I spent a lot of my teen years involved on forums and in fan communities, and I’ve seen lots of anger and rage over fairly benign/pointless opinions. This has caused me to be slightly defensive in my writing style, I think mostly because of the nature of the internet and its instantaneous feedback. I haven’t had too much issues with Happy Disco and being an idol fan as a whole, but experiences of mine have informed how I write, for better or worse.

I do think there is a place for objective journalism, but I don’t think it’s somehow more valid than biased journalism, nor is it easy to achieve. While journalism/news wasn’t a major facet of my undergraduate education in media studies, there was one section in my Television-centered class on televised news. We analyzed news clips from American news outlets like CNN, and even if they’re trying to be unbiased in wording and opinion, there’s still a matter of what you present, how you present it. For example, American news media generally ignores stories that don’t have as much of a visual content, or stories that are ongoing (i.e. not “breaking news”). Because really, most news networks need viewers more than anything. When I studied abroad in the UK, it was refreshing to watch BBC news because the lack of commercials means that they aren’t focusing on ad financing. Since the BBC has always had education as a core focus, this improves their news quality.

That said, I absolutely agree that not every issue has equally correct people on both sides. Just because an issue has two sides doesn’t mean that both are right and that both are equally valid. Perhaps objectivity isn’t the correct word, and honesty is? I think that there’s a lot of good in sharing your opinions, but at the end of the day I still want journalism to attempt honest reporting.

The last paragraph is my favorite, though, and I absolutely agree.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2013: The Highlights

Last week I finished my profile of every act performing at this year’s Tokyo Idol Festival. 111 acts in all. This might be daunting for a lot of people, so I decided to make a list of the groups that I personally found to be the most memorable. These are the groups that I personally am following more now that TIF is over. Note that not every quality group at TIF is on this list; this is just the groups that stood out to me. This is also focusing on the lesser known groups; I’m taking it as a given that you might know Up Up Girls, Idoling!!!, Sakura Gakuin, Super Girls, etc. These are groups/idols you may not know. But you should know them. If you like the groups I mention here, they all have longer profiles I did of them!

KAGAJO☆4S

OK, Momoiro Clover Z, Team Syachihoko and Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku. These are the big three groups of Stardust promotions, and they’re starting to promote Takoyaki Rainbow up there too. But honestly, I adore everything about KAGAJO☆4S. If Stardust groups aren’t your thing, I ask you give KAGAJO☆4S a shot. For one thing, all the members have very listenable vocals. This might be the best Stardust group in terms of overall vocals (even if some individual vocalists are better). Another thing is that they’re a bit more subdued and less strange. Another is that they play their own instruments live, sometimes. That’s right, a Stardust group that performs their own instruments. While all the early Stardust groups feel very similar, KAGAJO☆4S is unique and a different group entirely. KAGAJO☆4S might not be popular and they haven’t done that much, but I have very high hopes for this group.

HR

Seriously, what is up with Fukuoka and idol groups? Whenever I hear that an idol group hails from Fukuoka, I know they’re amazing. HR is no exception. Their music is all pretty good, but their energy in performance is really where they stand out. Kimi ni Spark is a fantastic song, and, performance wise, HR is up there with some major groups. If you like your groups energetic, definitely check out HR.

Oomori Seiko

Oomori Seiko isn’t an idol. Not really. She’s more of a singer-songwriter. But she’s very talented, loves idols (her covers of H!P songs are some of my favorite things ever) and definitely deserves recognition.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

This is another regional group. Probably the biggest trend of this year were groups representing their home prefecture or city. Kawasaki Junjou Komachi does it well, though. They have an almost early Momoiro Clover feel in their embrace of traditional Japanese-inspired costumes and songs, and they do a great job of it. Kawasaki Junjou Ondo is one of my favorite songs of the year for that reason; it combines traditional sounds with modern idol music to make a very catchy song. I hope that KJK can start expanding as a group, because they are one of the top unknown local idol groups.

Dancing Dolls

Dancing Dolls honestly blew me away. First off, the fact they formed themselves and took initiative to form a group says a lot to me. Next, their three first singles, all covers/remixes, are excellent takes on their original song. Finally, these girls are all very talented. There’s a very high level of both vocal and dancing talent here, all while the girls themselves seem personable, fun and energetic. I can see Dancing Dolls getting big; they certainly deserve it. This is one of the best groups I profiled this year.

Tochiotome25

Do you want hyper energy with some catchy songs? If so, Tochiotome25 might be your group. They’re a local group to Tochigi prefecture, and while they might not be as talented as some groups they certainly make up for it in enthusiasm and spirit. Add to this some truly catchy songs (Ichigo Hakase and Gyoza Party, notably) and you have a really fun group to keep an eye on. I know I certainly will stay a fan of these girls.

Vanilla Beans

While I love the style and concept behind Vanilla Beans, their music has never quite grabbed me. That said, I generally pay attention to them in case they suddenly impress me. And that they did with Please Me Darling. I don’t know if it’s enough to make me go back and re-evaluate their previous efforts, but Please Me Darling is Vanilla Beans at its very best. Suddenly their style and concept and music go together and form a unique and lovely group. I’m very impressed by this song and PV and hope that Vanilla Beans’ next stuff is just as fantastic.

bump.y

When I first heard about bump.y being a group of aspiring actresses, I wondered what they had to offer an idol group. Then I watched their stuff. They have good music, a diverse bunch of members and lots of charisma. While I’ve been listening to Gotta Getcha since I wrote my initial profile, they have a fairly diverse body of work and an interesting member base. While I’m interested to see them grow into young actresses, they are a great, high quality group that deserve your attention.

Babyraids

Babyraids was a group I’d heard hyped up a ton, and yet they were able to live up to the hype. Formed by an idoling!!! member, this group does fun, rock-inspired music without being a “scary” rock-inspired group like BiS or Alice Juban. They’re a nice change of pace if you want some different music with your idols, but they still resemble standard idol groups. They have a lot of energy and a whole lot of potential, and I strongly hope to see more of them soon.

Bellring Shoujo Heart

I still haven’t looked as much into Bellring Shoujo Heart as I should. But the one thing that really sets them apart is the music. Their music, which is 60s inspired, is unlike any other idol music I’ve heard. And I love it.

Rhymeberry

I love Rhymeberry. While Lyrical School also does good idol hip hop, Rhymeberry takes the cake for me. All their songs are just so fun, yet show off how proficient the girls are at rapping. Sekaichuu ni I Love You is one of the most interesting and unique songs I’ve heard recently, because it mixes 20s-30s era jazz/swing with hip hop and adds an idol flavor to that. Rhymeberry is one of the two groups that I have to buy every single release they put out, because everything is so good. They are a fantastic group that needs more support!

RYUTist

That website, man. Seriously, though, these girls seem really adorable and fun, they perform some good music (including interesting cover songs). Oh yeah, and best idol website ever.

LinQ

OK, TIF didn’t get me into LinQ, it was my friend who loves them. Still, LinQ is good. They have really high quality music (see: my review of their first album), lots of great members (watching live LinQ performances is a treat) and they’re just a whole lot of fun. A lot of fun backed up by fantastic music. This group is a really high-quality idol group, and one you should definitely be following.

Idol Thoughts: Idols in America

This is the first of my new series, idol thoughts, where every Wednesday I write something I’ve thought of recently and I invite guest responses! So please comment and I’ll include it in next week’s post.

A while back I was alerted to the new project by former *NSYNC member J.C. Chasez, Girl Radical. This is a currently 12 member girl group that he’s said was inspired by AKB48; on their official website it even states that it’s “Inspired by the trend of giant girl groups in Japan.” So it’s fair to say that, even if this isn’t the words that he’s directly used, that this is trying to be an idol project in the US.

Needless to say I’ve been intrigued. KPop has had an interesting relationship with the US (what with everyone thinking it was the next big thing and that just not happening yet), but JPop isn’t something that’s been attempted. I was actually a big *NSYNC fan back in the day, but girl groups have rarely had much pull in the US. Sure there were the Spice Girls, but they were a British group and one. I personally was a big fan of the girl group B*Witched (OK did I like asterisks or what?) but how many people actually remember them? Female pop stars are still really huge in the US, but is there room for girl groups? I’ve only seen skepticism for this group.

As an idol group, I actually think they’re doing a pretty good job of emphasizing personality. All the members have twitter accounts, there’s a Facebook page, and there’s a youtube channel where they’ve done some webisodes to try and show some of the members’ personality. This basically feels like a Japanese indie idol group would; they don’t have a TV show (and really, I doubt any American music act is going to get a show like AKBingo, since variety TV isn’t a big thing in the US). They don’t have much up yet, but I think it would be good if they kept it up.

Really, the biggest thing they absolutely need right now is some radio time and a good song. They only have a cover of No Doubt’s Just a Girl on their Youtube (as a No Doubt fan as well, I’m really surprised at how many of my interests converge here). Some news outlets are starting to write a little about this group, but until they have a big, popular song I don’t think people will much care about this group.

I’m a bit pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen so far, but I still don’t know how the idol concept will translate to the US, if at all. I’d like to support more girl groups in the US, but I’m really not sure if they’re going to take off.

What do you think? Do you think girl groups could take off in the US? Could a group based on AKB48 in the US be popular? Should this even be attempted? Comment below!

Tokyo Idol Festival 2013: The Acts Part 10

SUPRE★POWER

Supre Power is a unit with the concept of “Asian Beat” that was formed in 2010. The first thing I thought of with this group was “KPop” and apparently that is part of their goal: performing internationally. Jinny, the center member, has apparently made a solo debut in South Korea and has done a lot of traveling. Supre Power as a group has performed in Taiwan, so they’re aiming to be more of an Asian pop group rather than a JPop group.

Currently the group has four members: Rin, Anna, Jinny and Sarah, who are all in their early-mid twenties. They’ve already performed on TV and done a solo live concert already, which makes them a fairly accomplished group. However, I don’t think they’ve put out any singles or albums yet.

I like them; the few performances they have online are pretty good, and there’s a lot of potential. I personally don’t listen to a lot of KPop and can’t see myself following them much more, but if you’re really into the Kpop style of music and performance, this could be a group you might like.

SUPER☆GiRLS

I’ll be brief with Super Girls, since I’ve talked about the rest of the Idol Street groups. Basically, Super Girls is the flagship idol unit from Avex’s Idol Street, which really was a pretty unprecedented move by Avex. Created in 2010, Super Girls was created as a direct competition to AKB48; at their first press conference, they talked a lot about trying to compete with AKB. Currently they have 10 members, after one graduated and the other left in scandal.

Super Girls is definitely up there in terms of well-known idol units; I’d say they’re the next on the list after 48/46, Hello!Project and Stardust. Their latest single, Tokonatsu Hightouch, sold over 75000 copies in its first week, an impressive number. They’ve really made a name for themselves as a successful idol group backed by Avex. While Tokyo Girls’ Style, Avex’s first idol unit in years, has maintained a lot of the style I’d expect from an avex group, Super Girls are pure idols.

Personally, I have some issues with how the group is run and with how the younger girls are presented within the group. However, these are personal issues, and Super Girls stands as a really solid group with a high production value. If you haven’t already checked out Super Girls by now, you may want to check them out, because they’re becoming a force in the idol world.

Spangirl

This image already got me interested; if their TIF profile pic is this wacky, imagine what the group itself will be like! Spangirl is a five member unit from Gunma prefecture, and it sounds like their goal is to promote Gunma as much as possible. By looking on their website (http://spangirl.com/) it looks like they have a very strong social media presence, which is a really great asset for many of these indie idol groups. The girls themselves are all on twitter as well, so that’s helpful for international fans! They’ve released one single, Yukemuri Bishoujo, which they put out last winter.

They’re still a fairly new group, but I like them; I have a soft spot for local idols, and this seems like a fun, silly group. Yukemuri Bishoujo’s a pretty good song for such a small group, and I really like this group’s vibe. I’m actually planning on linking the PV making of, because I think they’re really at their best when they’re silly and fun.

Ultimately, it’s a bit tough to tell right away about a group. However, my first impression of Spangirl’s a really good one, and I wish them the best.

Through Skills

I follow a lot of people on twitter. One of the biggest reasons is because I tend to follow every indie idol act I come across. This group might be the biggest group to follow as an active twitter user; Through Skills was formed via twitter. All the members are active on twitter, and it seems to be an internet savvy group!

Unfortunately, their twitter participation is where their internet savvy ends. Their website is barely functional and finding more stuff on them online is very difficult. Which is unfortunate, because I’m very intrigued by the little I’ve seen.

I think tif they could get their act together, Through Skills could be a good unit. But it’s just a matter of getting it organized well, and I don’t trust that that will happen.

Sexy All Sisters

OH MAN IT’S THAT TIME.

I don’t know why I love talking about Sexy All Sisters, but something about the group intrigues me. It’s mostly just how blatant they all are; they’re a fanservice group. They know it, their fans know it. There’s nothing subtle about Sexy All Sisters; they’re going to sing about boobs, and do so with gusto.

However, I don’t know how the group is going. Last I checked they haven’t put out stuff in years, and this year’s TIF pic is only one member, not the multitude of fanservice groups we know and love. Their website is defunct, as well. What is the fate of Sexy All Sisters? 🙁

Since I don’t know, I’ll link my favorite song by them and hope that news comes soon.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2013: The Acts part 9

Sun-μ

Sun-myu is the idol group from Sun Music (clever, I know) with the concept of the “first pure idols of the 21st century.” By pure they mean that they want to have more of a showa era idol appeal, which is great for people who miss that type of idol. Formed in 2012, the initial concept of Sun-myu was that they were a beginner group, airing a lot of their training on their Nico Nico Douga channel (though now they’re discovering more of Youtube). This is a really great thing for people who like brand new/indie idols.

Recently they released their latest single, a cover of the JITTERIN’ JINN classic Natsu Matsuri, which is pretty much one of my favorite songs of all time. And they actually do a really good job of it. Watching their PV preview, they don’t seem like pure beginners, but do a really good job at this song. At first this seems like a standard arrangement of the song, but actually deviates in a pretty good way. I don’t think this will ever beat the original, but the original is so good that this is good by default.

I don’t see quite as much on Sun-myu’s stuff about being pure beginners anymore, but I’m assuming that’s because they’re surprisingly polished. The performances I see in Natsu Matsuri are very good. It feels a bit too polished for a beginner group. Still, if you want to go back, it may be easy to see their growth. They posted a lot HERE on Nico Nico Douga and on their YouTube (which I will link later). This is more footage than a lot of indie acts get!

I like them. They’re not the most interesting group, but there are eight really cute, now polished members who performed one of my favorite songs. I’m going to keep an eye out for Sun-myu in the future!

JK21

JK21 stands for Japan Kansai 21, with 21 being the 21st Century. This group has been appearing at TIF since I started covering it. They formed in 2008 and made their major debut in 2010. Currently they have 7 members, which means that there are some new girls since last year! Probably their biggest claim to fame is being the group to do a Hanshin Tigers theme song “Win! Win! Tigers!” so if you follow baseball at all JK21 might be the group for you.

They haven’t put out anything new since last TIF; their most recent single came out in March 2012. However, they’re putting out an album on July 30th, “Lucky Tripper ~Sorezore no Natsu~” so they’re clearly pretty active. Other than that, there’s not too much else about them. They’re pretty cute and have solid music, despite their inactivity. If what you want is a pretty standard idol group it might be good to follow them, but there’s nothing that extraordinary about them.

GEM

Here’s a group I’m sure a lot of you should be pretty familiar with! GEM stands for Girls Entertainment Mixture and they’re the third group to come from Avex’s iDOL STREET, and is made up of former Idol Street Sei trainees. They’re a fairly new group that was formed late last year/early this year and their only release has been on a Street sei album (I’m taking this from the avex site; if I’m wrong please correct me!). They have ten members whose ages range from 14 to 20, so much Super Girls this is a pretty varied group, age-wise.

Other than that, they haven’t done all that much. They officially confirmed their members in June, have a few original songs but no singles yet, and are still new. However, since they’re avex, it’s reasonable to expect a good group with high quality releases. Personally, I don’t follow any of the iDOL STREET groups all that much and I don’t seek out avex groups. However, both Super Girls and Cheeky Parade are solid groups, so GEM should be, as well.

From their first big video “Speed Up” it looks like they’re going for a polished look, with a cooler feel. There’s definitely both dance and vocal skill here, and for being so new GEM is pretty polished already.

Personally, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to get into them, all things considered, but if you’re a Super Girls or Cheeky Parade fan this is a group to follow.

G☆Girls

G stands for Gravure. So right off the bat you know what you’re getting into with them. An idol group by the gravure magazine FLASH, G Girls’ goal is to bring the charm of gravure into their singing and dancing. So for anybody who’s really into gravure idols, this may be a good group for you. To be honest, I don’t follow the world of gravure all that much, so I don’t know how recognizable these girls may be. They have people who entered the Miss Flash Grand Prix contest in 2011 and in 2013, so they may be well-known. As of last year when I covered them all the girls were over 18, and thus wanted to do a sexier, more adult performance.

Last year there were 9 members; now there are five. I don’t know if these girls are all new (at least one has joined, and she’s the first profile listed), but it appears there’s a pretty big turnover rate. All the girls are very pretty, as you would expect from a gravure-centric unit. They’ve released one new single since last TiF, Tik Tok (Ke$ha?), which came out right around last year’s TIF, so I don’t know how many of them are still in it. Tik Tok is a pretty enjoyable track, if a bit forgettable, which is focusing on being a cooler single than their first one.

Ultimately, with this group you know what you’re going to get. Like gravure? You’ll probably be cool with this group. If you don’t care about gravure? It’s probably not for you.

Shizukaze & Kizuna~KIZUNA~

Take one duo unit of Shizukaze, add sister unit Kizuna ~KIZUNA~, and you get Shizukaze & Kizuna! One thing this group is very proud of is that they’ve gone to every TIF since 2010 when it started, a pretty impressive feat given how relatively small TIF 2010 was. (this is also the unit that has the C-side Yellow Fuckin’ Idol, which may be one of the best idol song names ever).

They’ve put out three singles as Shizukaze & Kizuna; their most recent one, Tsukushinbou, had two song versions: idol version and rock version (since Shizukaze & Kizuna is a self-proclaimed rock unit, this actually makes sense. Last year I noted that their vocals didn’t sound the greatest live, but on the recorded version of this track they actually sound really great. I actually really like Tsukushinbou (rock version); it’s a really nice track, and the chorus sounds really great with some harmonies. This song/PV really makes them feel like rock idols as opposed to an idol group with rock inspiration.

If you like rock  music or if you like idols with different music/sensibilities than typical idol stuff, you really should check them out. They’re really growing on me as a group, and have improved a lot over the years.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2013: The Acts part 7

Ayaman Japan

Ahh, Ayaman Japan, we meet again. This picture may look innocent, but Ayaman Japan’s performance at last year’s TIF club night was probably the most explicit NSFW performance at the show.

Ayaman Japan is a unit of around 100 girls, who perform at party events only if you know a member. All the members were brought in by the Ayaman director, who is the girl in the center of the above picture. In the past, only three girls did media appearances, but now there are five in that picture.

While Ayaman Japan does those party appearances as their primary thing, they’ve released three singles and one album, in 2010 and 2011. They haven’t put out anything recent since last year’s TIF, but perhaps the promo image suggests they’ll put out something else? A lot of their songs seem to be almost playing off the idol genre, singing cutesy-sounding songs while insinuating lewd acts. Their third single is clearly a parody of AKB48’s Heavy Rotation, for example. While they’ve done more songs, their first single ‘Poi Poi Poi Popoi Poi Popiii’ is their most famous song.

I personally find them pretty amusing. They’re not trying to be taken seriously as idols, but they’re poking fun at the genre and also subverting traditional gender roles, which I’m all for. For everyone who might be worried about Ayaman performing with younger idols, last year they pretty much just showed up at the late night adult-themed show, so no worries.

Izukoneko

Izukoneko is a soloist, who is described as an “idol-like artist,” meaning that she’s categorized more as a solo artist rather than an idol. Which I would say is pretty accurate, given the fact she doesn’t sound much like a traditional idol.

Since last year she’s been a fairly busy singer. Last August she put out her first album, she put out a new EP this January and in March she put out a live CD. Last year for my TIF post I noted that Izukoneko came across much better live than in her PVs, so this seems like a really good move.

I like Izukoneko a lot, but I think whether you’ll like her or not depends a lot on what kind of music you like. Did you like the music that I posted from Oomori Seiko? If so, you may like Izukoneko. She has a very different voice from Seiko, but there is definitely a really great indie sensibility to Izukoneko’s style and music. Live, Izukoneko shines. She looks really confident on stage, has a lovely voice, and even leads the audience in an Izukoneko-version of the standard wota MIX.

So if you want some music that’s not your usual idol music from an energetic and strong performer, give Izukoneko a try.

X21

?

No, it’s not the X-Men character (I’m so sorry, I really had to make that joke). These are 21 girls (average age of 14) who were finalists for the 13th National Beautiful Girl contest, a fairly well-known pageant. So if you like girls who are considered to be beautiful by Japanese standards, you might want to take a look at this group. These girls debuted as a group in January, and since then have started getting radio and television appearances already.

Since they’re so new, there’s not all that much about them. Their website already has a good deal of information; profiles of the girls, details about various events they’ve had, fanclub information, etc. They’ve clearly gotten this group up and running really quickly, so it’ll be interesting to see how far they can go. The leader, Yoshimoto Miyu, has already released her first photobook, so it seems like they’re really going to focus on the gravure/photobook route, which makes sense considering they’re a group centered around a beauty pageant.

They don’t seem to have any singles out or any performances online (from what I could find), so if music and performance is important to you you might want to wait on X21. However, if what you want is adorable girls being adorable, X21 is definitely an option.

Kotone Mai

Mainya! Kotone Mai has been an idol since 2009 when she moved alone to Tokyo, and is one of the most hard-working girls in the business. She’s performs about 300 times a year, which is something that has drawn in fans. She’s put out six singles, and since the last TIF she’s put out her first album. In August, she’s making her major label debut with her single ‘Bang Bang Koteki Samba’, which is a really excellent move for Mainya. I admire her work ethic, so I’m excited for her. A famous comedian, Gekidan Hitori, has said Mai is going to become popular soon. This news about her major debut shows that she’s working towards that goal.

If what you value is work ethic and idols who love idols, Mainya might be your girl. If vocal strength is what you value, you may want to look elsewhere. Mainya has a high pitched voice that could be polarizing to many. However, she’s improved a great deal and has nice vocal control. In addition, she’s a great performer, considering all the practice she gets, so if stage presence matters to you, you might want to check out Mainya.

All in all I’m very happy for her major debut, and I want to follow her more in the future! Her work ethic and enthusiasm for what she does is inspiring, and is definitely worthy of attention.

Sakura Gakuin

Here’s a group many of you should know! While many people know Sakura Gakuin as “that one group Babymetal came from,” they’re a really strong group you should be paying attention to, metal subunit or no.

Sakura Gakuin is a middle-school themed group, with their albums featuring their many subgroups as “clubs.” There’s Babymetal, there’s the science club, the cooking club, the tennis club, etc. Every year they release a new album in the spring, and because of these subgroups the albums are varied in style.

The middle school theme goes beyond these clubs; they’re a group that enforces graduations when the girls leave middle school. This means popular members like Babymetal frontgirl Nakamoto Suzuka have to graduate once they get to be too old. Personally I’m not very fond of this rule; my favorite member in Babymetal and Sakura Gakuin is Mizuno Yui, and when she graduates I don’t know how interested I’ll stay in Sakura Gakuin. However, for those who prefer younger idols and like the middle school image of Sakura Gakuin, it’s a good thing. So really, it’s up for you to decide whether you like this system or not.

Regardless of this system, Sakura Gakuin is a very good group. The members are entertaining and talented, and Sakura Gakuin’s music is very nice. I’m particularly fond of Verishuvi and Wonderful Journey, but their latest single was My Graduation Toss, a rock-inspired song. I honestly think the only thing holding me back from being a more serious fan of the group is the enforced graduation rule. However, if you can get past that, you really ought to be following Sakura Gakuin.