Tokyo Idol Festival 2013: The Acts part 11

TIF is going on as I write! I’m going to finish all the acts while watching the footage coming out, and then write my thoughts on that.

Daiya☆Mondo

This is a local group hailing from Tottori prefecture! Their name has that star in it, but otherwise the name is Diamond. They’re a three member unit that, according to their TIF bio, debuted about a year ago. One thing they mentioned in their description which I think is really important is that they’re excited to come to Tokyo. A lot of the groups in TIF are local groups, who mostly perform in their own town or prefecture. TIF allows a lot of idols to get more recognition on a national (and, by extension, international) basis.

Daiya Mondo is made up of three girls, Haruhi, Kanako and Yurina. They all have blogs and twitter accounts, but I don’t see much of an official web presence for them. As such, I don’t think there’s much in the way of singles for them. However, there’s a surprising amount of stuff online about Daiya Mondo on Youtube, including 20+ minute live shows. And from what I’ve seen, I like them. Yeah, their name and lack of online presence makes finding stuff about them a little tricky. However, they have a really nice energy about them.

Daiya Mondo doesn’t have any big gimmicks, and they’re a bit tricky to follow as an international fan, as is the case with many local idol groups. But I really like them so far, and I hope to hear more from them!

Takokusekigun

It’s another group I covered last year! Takokusekigun means coalition forces in Japanese, and it fits; this is a group full of members who are half-Japanese, half-something else. One member is fully Japnaese, another is half Thai, and another is half Filipino. So while it’s definitely a Japanese idol group, Takokusekigun aims to be a much more multinational group, something I think is really interesting and that doesn’t get done too often. This is a three-member group with members around 20-years old. The group’s theme is ‘love’ (which is the case with many idol groups, really), but they do put either love or “ai” or something in their song titles. So they do run with it.

Even though you probably haven’t heard of them, they’re putting out their 7th single this week! It’s a double A-side, Ai no Kankyou Kenkyuu Center and Manatsu no Sora no Iro. While they do have a fairly generic sound, I really like Manatsu no Sora no Iro. The group has really improved in my opinion since last year’s TIF, which is a really good thing! Their live performance skills have also improved, though no one in the group is particularly talented at singing or dancing. They’ve come a long way since last year.

Personally, I still find them a bit hard to get into, mostly because of the music (being pretty generic) and that said music doesn’t really allow for really energizing performances from the group. That said, I love the concept that it’s full of international flavor, and I really hope they do well in the future.

Dancing Dolls

I’ve heard of them, but haven’t really paid them much attention! Dancing Dolls is a five member unit from Osaka, all childhood friends. They started performing on their own, writing their own songs and forming this group, uploading dance covers to Youtube and Nico Nico Douga. Last year they signed with Sony and have started releasing singles! So far they’ve put out three singles, with their latest, DD Jump, just out this week. DD Jump is actually a really good take on Morning Musume’s Love Machine; they took the basic song and completely remixed it to be more of a dance/club track. And I LOVE it.

This is one of my favorite things of the year so far. It’s catchy and a fresh take on a song that I’ve honestly heard way too many times, as a Morning Musume fan. This is really fresh sounding, catchy and fun. The PV’s really well made, and all the girls have a lot of charisma and energy. After seeing this, I immediately went to check out some of their other PVs, because I’m really excited about this group. Everything from how they were formed to their self-sufficient nature to just how strong performers they are. I’m really excited about this group, and I’m glad I investigated them through Tokyo Idol Festival.

I’m still new to Dancing Dolls, but you should definitely check them out. I can see bright things for this group!

Cheeky Parade

The other Avex iDOL STREET group! Cheeky Parade was formed in 2012 and has nine members. They put out one indies single, Cheeky Dreamer, and had to sell all 5000 copies of it before they could make their major debut. They made it, and have since put out two singles, Bunbun Nine9’and C.P.U!?. They’re putting out another single in September.

Whereas Super Girls is a very typically idol unit, Cheeky Parade has a bit of a rougher edge and are a lot more rock-inspired. They remind me a bit more of Passpo, if anything, just based off having a rock-inspired (but still very pop) sound for idols. Since this group is avex they’re obviously pretty polished, and have really good dance skills.

Much like Super Girls, while they haven’t quite grabbed me like other idol units, I recognize they’re a good unit. However, I really prefer Cheeky Parade over Super Girls. Maybe it’s that little edge they have to them, but they’re quickly establishing themselves as an idol unit, and I’m interested to see where they go in the future!

KiraLyra Heart

From what I can tell the full name of this unit is “Chou Animekei Bishoujo Unit KiraLyra Heart. This gives you a bit of an idea of their aesthetic, as they’re definitely anime-influenced in their look. They’re a three member unit… and it’s hard to tell more. Their website is honestly bizarre, demanding registration for basic things. If anyone can figure out their site, please comment; I’m having trouble here!

According to Facebook, they’re more centered around Nico Nico Douga, where they’re apparently a crossover unit with Miku Miku Dance. So they’re really going for an anime aesthetic here! They’ve put out one single, Hayate Girl, so far, and I think they’re a pretty new group.

If you really like the Vocaloid look, this may be a unit to look into. However, to me they’re a bit too difficult to put in this effort. Hayate Girl is a pretty good song, but I just don’t care enough about Vocaloid stuff.

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 8

HKT48

This was a surprise, recent announcement! Last year SKE48 showed up at TIF, and now HKT48 has been announced. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but here’s a bit about HKT.

HKT48 is the most recent addition to the Japanese 48 group. They hail from Fukuoka, with HKT48 coming from HaKaTa. Their most notable member is Sashihara Rino, who was transferred there after a scandal, though they had more members rank in this year’s AKB48 Senbatsu Election. They’ve released one single so far, Suki Suki Skip, though they’re set to release their second one soon. They’ve gotten some notice for their appearance on variety shows, such as their own HaKaTa Hyakkaten.

I really think this is a good move. Having a 48 group appear at TIF seems a bit odd, but at this point HKT is really only known for Sasshi, especially for people who don’t follow the 48 groups. SKE48 felt a bit odd as a TIF group, but this feels a lot more in line with the goals of TIF.

HKT48 is personally my favorite 48 group. One of my oshimen is there (Oota Aika), the members are all really entertaining and amusing, and they’re really fun to watch perform. If you aren’t into 48 groups, I’d suggest giving HKT48 a try. They’re really fun, and since they’re new a little easier to get into than the others.

Sakuragi Seira

Seira (or Seila or Seilah) is a soloist who fans of Stardust groups ought to know; she’s the one idol soloist in their Section 3B with MomoClo, Ebichu and Syachihoko. Seira is a 20-year-old singer who seems a lot more like an artist than an idol, since she plays guitar. She’s been active since 2008. Last year I noted that her last video was from 2011, so she hadn’t been doing all that much. However, since last year, she’s gotten an updated website and she put out her debut single this spring. She’s also gotten some magazine and radio work, and is doing more events. Since the only thing Seira had before was a live-only single and some Youtube videos, it’s great to see she’s gotten promotion.

Her first single, Amelia, is the theme for the TV Tokyo show Piramekino, so I’m happy to see her get some more exposure. Seira totally deserves this exposure. She has a lovely voice, she’s very pretty, and has a good presence. It’s great to see guitar-playing idols or female artists, so I’m glad to see her.

If you’re interested in Seira, unfortunately there’s not THAT much about her online. There’s her Amelia PV and some older things from years ago. So you’ll just have to enjoy her older stuff and Amelia. I really hope TIF this year can help propel her career further, because I like her a lot!

S★UTHERN CROSS

I don’t know much about Southern Cross except for their name! They’re a Kyushu idol group, located in Kagoshima, and I know them because this is the same island as Fukuoka, where a lot of idol groups I like are. Southern Cross was formed in 2011, and now consists of 10 members. They are also from Stardust Promotion, something I didn’t even know until now.

The group has been on one compilation CD and has released one single, “Chest! Genki no Shirushi,” which came out sometime in 2011. In addition, they have two other original songs, “I Will” and “Nagareboshi,” and they also cover AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, Momoiro Clover Z and Super Girls.

Despite being around for around two years, they’re still fairly new, and there’s not that much out about them. However, hopefully since they’re a Stardust group, TIF can get them more exposure and they can start doing more. They seem to be a fun, energetic group, and while I wasn’t initially impressed by their performance of “Chest Genki no Shirushi,” I really liked their performance of “I Will” that I saw. They’ve improved in that year, and hopefully they’ll improve even more.

The Possible

OK, I love this is romanized as “The Possibooooooo.”

The Possible was originally a six member group comprised of girls from the Hello!Project eggs, who were formed into a group (my favorite member, Ohse Kaede, has sadly left). For a while The Possible was a part of Hello!Project, but then they were brought over to be the flagship unit of Tsunku’s Nice Girl Project on his TNX label. They put out a lot of really great music (Love Message is my favorite, but I love Kaze no Uwasa too), and while their sales were alright, I doubt they were as good as Tsunku hoped. Around 2009/2010 their activity slowed, and I thought that they were done.

However, in 2012, they suddenly started releasing new stuff, putting out a new album (2 Shiawase no Akashi) and a new single (Nanja Korya). Suddenly, The Possible has been getting a lot of promotion. Recently they put out another single, “Zenryoku Banzai! My Glory!” and their sales have increased dramatically from Nanja Korya to Zenrokyu Banzai. While I thought that Nice Girl Project was pretty much over (to be fair, NGP doesn’t really have much beyond The Possible and the NGP trainees), The Possible seems to be shaping up. I’m not a big fan of Nanja Korya, but Zenryoku Banzai is actually a pretty good song.

Can The Possible become a big group? Not too sure. They’d have to work a LOT to make that happen, and I’m not sure that Tsunku can pull it off. However, they seem to be doing a lot better than I thought they would. They’re performing a lot, just released a solid single, and are appearing at TIF again this year. Personally, I don’t know how much I’ll follow them; I really liked Kaede, but now she’s gone I don’t have a personal attachment to the group. However, they’re all pretty good performers with nice voices. If you like Tsunku’s music and style a lot, you really should check out NGP stuff.

Sanspo Idol Reporter

Sanspo Idol Reporter is another idol group with an interesting gimmick. They were created by the newspaper Sanspo, specifically for the pachinko information magazine. All the girls thus had to be both idols and working as reporters for the Sanspo magazine. Thus, they had a radio show and that kind of exposure before they started their music career. Last year I thought they reported on idol groups, but now I think it’s more about pachinko. Still, it’s a pretty fun gimmick, even if I have no interest in pachinko.

Last year they hadn’t released much; however, now it seems they’ve released a few singles, a mini album, and now a bit single/PV “Power Chance Call” to promote pachinko. Despite being just a promotinal song, I actually really like it. The girls are really engaging in the PV, the song’s fun and catchy (with a bit of an epic feel), and I really like the PV in all its pachinko glory. All the videos I’ve sen of these girls show them to be interesting, fun and engaging idols.

They’re still fairly new; while they’ve released a decent amount in Japan, Power Chance Call is the only PV I’ve seen. However, if you like the gimmick, you ought to check them out. I love Power Chance Call a lot, and I’ve been convinced to watch out for them in the future!

On being an International Wota…

When I was a freshman in college, I lived with a roommate that I hadn’t met before. She was nice, and we got along very well, but we weren’t really close friends ever. One day, I got my first photobook in the mail. It was Tokunaga Chinami’s photobook, and I was very excited to get it. However, it prompted an awkward exchange, with my roommate asking me “How old is she?” and my mumbled “Seventeen…” as a response. I explained that she was a singer in Japan and that I was her fan, but it was still awkward.

The reason I mention this is because of a post HERE on New School Kaidan, where NSK’s Yoshi describes keeping his idol fandom a secret, to the point where it affects how he interacts with people. It’s an interesting read, and I’m sure  many can relate.

When I first saw this, at first I thought I couldn’t relate much at all. I’m fairly open about my interests with my family and close friends, and the people who know me well know about idols. I have idol-related things lying around my house, where I still live with my parents and sister, for example, and my room has idol posters up too.

However, the more I thought, the more I realized I could relate. One thing I’ve been glad about with my idol fandom is that I’m female. While male idol fans are the norm in Japan, the connotation is different in the US. While I think this is wholely unfair, and there’s nothing wrong about being an idol fan, regardless of your gender or age, it’s the truth.

Further, in a weird way a big part of why I blog and why I’ve done academics with idols is that it makes it easier to justify. Oh, I just spent a lot of money and time on idols? Don’t worry, I think about this stuff critically. I legitimately love blogging and I’m glad I spend my time on Happy Disco, Idolminded and now Pure Idol Heart, but I’d be lying to say it hasn’t helped me in this way. I also wonder, as I age, if this rationalization will become a bigger part of my explanation to people I meet. “I really like Japanese girl groups…. but it’s OK, I blog about them.”

Ideally, I want to say that people should like what they like. While being an idol fan has affected me in this way, I don’t regret loving idol singers, and I can’t see that changing any time soon, no matter what people think of my interests and my hobby. However, people do look at it differently, and so you might find yourself having to justify your hobby. It’s frustrating, but that’s the way it is, and I can’t see it changing any time soon.

On Otsuka Aina

This isn’t going to be as long as my normal posts. I wasn’t planning on covering this, because I’m attending a convention this weekend and I don’t really follow Juice=Juice all that much other than following their basic single stuff, but some of the discourse surrounding this announcement made me want to briefly write something.

If you haven’t heard yet by now, Otsuka Aina is leaving the new H!P group Juice=Juice. Chiima of Okay!Musume Time posted a translation from Hello!Online on her blog HERE, but the gist of the announcement is that there were some contract issues, and her family decided Aina wasn’t continuing on.

1. Aina’s parents aren’t the worst parents ever. I know there’s a lot of hyperbole thrown around surrounding this and you probably aren’t really wishing all these bad things upon them. At the same time, I just want to be the person to remind you that there are worse parents out there.

2. I know that graduations suck, especially ones without much notice. H!P’s had issues with that especially with the S/Mileage gradutions and now Aina. However, it’s not personally a decision made against you, it’s a decision made with Aina in mind. You may not agree, but we don’t know all the factors.

3. Being an idol is hard. I know Aina’s been an Egg for a while, but seriously, being an idol is time consuming, wearing on the body, and mentally taxing. While they’ve been easing J=J into it, now that they’re making their major debut I imagine they’re going to try to push these girls harder and harder, and some girls just can’t do it. Not at any fault of their own, but it’s just hard, with not that much financial gain (they don’t make THAT much, especially in relation to Western celebrities), and not much job security. There are a lot of benefits to being an idol, but it’s a lot of work and it’s just flat out difficult, and I don’t blame girls for graduating, even if it’s hard on us fans.

4. Speculation has been that there may be more than meets the eye, and I think that’s fair. I mean, let’s  be real, we don’t know everything that goes on. If they were unable to reach an agreement on the contract and it just ran out, that sounds fairly unprofessional on Up-Front’s part. If it’s about money, you pay money for your Egg training, from what I understand, so I doubt that it’s a big financial issue of not making enough. Also, you’d think they’d figure out contracts and things ahead of time, so you can have graduation events and things. With how hasty things have gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if something is behind this.

Not sure my main point, other than just be careful with generalizations, there might be more things at play, and you should think about the idol. That said, I’ll be sad to see Aina go because she was a really great addition to J=J, and I know she had fans who loved her a lot. I wish her the best in the future.

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

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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.

My Top 15 Songs of 2013 (So Far)

It’s hard to believe 2013 is about halfway over! And so, it’s a good time to look back on the year in idol music, as well as pick some of my favorite songs of the year.

The idol boom has been going on since late 2009/early 2010, and I keep expecting idol groups to suddenly start disbanding or fade into obscurity. However, things are going better than ever, all things considered. AKB48 broke records and sold massive amounts with Sayonara Crawl, Momoiro Clover Z keeps climbing up, and even Hello!Project groups are doing very well. Indie groups are growing more popular, and gaining traction. Groups are becoming diverse, with alternative acts like BiS, Alice Project and Babymetal growing in popularity. Honestly, I can’t think of a better time to be an idol fan, based almost entirely on how many groups there are out there. There are a lot of groups I’m not even putting on this list but are really good groups.

And so, my top 15 songs of the first half of 2013. Note that this is just songs that have been on a release through the end of June; Koisuru Fortune Cookie’s going to end up pretty high on my full list of the year. Honorable mention goes to Oomori Seiko’s Mahou ga Tsukaenai; not quite sure I’d classify her as an idol, but I love this song to pieces.

15. Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya – Juice=Juice

Can I put a song on this list for one sentence? If so, that sentence is “just listen to that saxophone!” Because seriously, I love every second that a saxophone plays in this song.

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure about how I’d feel about Juice=Juice. I didn’t follow any of the Eggs/Kenshuusei that made the group, and I hadn’t seen the hype about Karin. I thought (and still do) the name was silly to a fault. The early pictures had all the girls in white and it looked kind of boring. And while I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever be a super fan of Juice=Juice, I am a huge fan of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya.

While I was just being silly with what I was saying about the saxophone, that’s actually pretty close. The sound’s so unique, and I can’t think of another idol song like it. Underneath, Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya isn’t that unique of a song. It reminds me strangely of Melon Kinenbi’s Amai Anata no Aji but sped up. The structure feels kind of similar, as does the tune (though I definitely don’t mind H!P bringing back Melon Kinenbi songs). I don’t think Juice=Juice is anything like Melon Kinenbi, mind you, but the overall song isn’t completely new. However, the entire thing put together with the saxophone arrangement, it feels fresh and interesting.

So yes this song is pretty much on my list because of the sax.

14. Kawasaki Junjou Ondo – Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

As I’ll be writing a bit more about later, I love songs where there’s a lot of genre fusion. While I like standard idol pop songs, there’s something really interesting about putting together genres like that.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi is a group you probably haven’t heard of, unless you follow Tokyo Idol Festival and/or read my TIF posts religiously. But I found them from doing my TIF research posts, and was initially unimpressed by their concept of promoting Kawasaki, mostly because another group I wrote about had a very similar concept. However, Kawasaki Junjou Komachi really shines with their music and performances, the music being a really excellent fusion of traditional sounds with a modern pop sensibility, complete with a rap section. I don’t know Japanese instruments enough to tell, but it sounds like they’re using a lot of traditional instruments in there. In addition, it’s really catchy and fun to listen to and the vocals are really mature and lovely.

I think another reason I’m so impressed by Kawasaki Junjou Ondo is just how good it is for a local indie group. Lots of great music comes from indie idols, and I don’t want to put down indie idols. However, this is the type of song I would be very impressed if I heard it from a big, major label act. If KJK is able to continue this really great mix of traditional and pop and have this general level of quality, I predict they could grow and grow in popularity.

13. Brainstorming – Morning Musume

Late last year and early this year was when I first started to like Morning Musume again. I became a fan of Ishida Ayumi, I started liking (but not necessarily loving) the music, the other new members grew on me. I didn’t like the Help Me! PV, and the song was good, but I didn’t quite love it. However, because of Ayumi, I decided to listen to and watch Brainstorming as soon as I could. And I couldn’t get enough of it.

I think the biggest strength of Brainstorming is how fired up it works to get you. The instrumental works together with the vocals very well to make sure that there’s always something going on. Even in the slower solos (i.e. the solos Sakura does), there’s stuff going in the background. While Morning Musume has used dubstep influenced sound in Renai Hunter, and I really enjoy that song a lot, here the sound feels really integrated.

While I’m one of those people that misses old school Morning Musume a lot, really one of the strengths is in the arrangement. One of the biggest thing that makes me dislike a song is when the instrumental falls flat, and feels empty. Here, that’s not a problem, with so much going on in the back. However, nothing feels extraneous. There’s a lot going on throughout the song, but it feels warranted.

It’s also a great song for the group; it features a lot of the members doing shorter solos and mixed group bits. I don’t want to be one of those foreign fans who always complains about the line distribution, but varied groups like Morning Musume work at their best when everyone gets at least a little to do. Brainstorming really utilizes the members in a really great way.

Ultimately, this song is what brought me back and got me really excited about Morning Musume again. I actually preordered the single, because this is just that good.

12. Haste to Waste – BKA48

When I first heard there was going to be a unit of the members who scored low on the Mechaike special, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be something silly and not quite serious. And there are slightly silly parts. However, it’s a pretty standard mid-tempo song with a good deal of guitar and piano in there. A really good standard song, mind you.

Listening to the song and knowing the lyrics, though, it feels right that this is the BKA48 song; it’s silly, but it’s about being happy even if you aren’t necessarily smart. The thing that interests me is just how strangely epic the chorus feels. Perhaps it’s the lyrics mixed with the song, but it feels like it should be the theme song to the anime/drama about Kawaei Rina. Which I would definitely watch, by the way.

Honestly, this song isn’t necessarily the most interesting song on this list. But it’s solid, has a catchy melody, and I really love the lyrics. Especially the line that actually mentions Haste to Waste, taken word for word from the Mechaike special.

11.Sekaichuu ni I Love You – Rhymeberry

When most people got interested in the new Rhymeberry single, they really liked the song R.O.D.. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great song. However, I was really taken by Sekaichuu ni I Love You, just because of how different it is. It’s 30s era swing/jazz (not sure if this is sampling or not) mixed with rap. I’ve never heard something like this before, and if you know of any other songs even remotely similar please tell me.

The instrumental is really entertaining; I love hearing all the instruments featured, especially the clarinet (which I play), but the piano is really what shines here. Miri, Hime, and Yuka all shine and they are really improving their skills. They really sell the song, too, putting a lot of energy into it, which is a marked improvement from their last single (where the live version is a lot better than what was recorded). There are also some fun lines in here; I appreciate the Han Solo reference, and I always giggle at “Dope the shit!”

I think I mostly like this because it’s such an experiment. It’s fresh, new, and something I personally have never heard before, which is really rare for music.

10. Walk my Way – Yokoyama Rurika


Yokoyama Rurika – Walk My Way by oshiruka

I think every time I talk about Idoling!!! I mention that I want to follow them more. Which still stands. I think they’re a really solid, interesting idol group with some great music, but I just don’t follow them. I heard about Yokoyama Rurika getting a solo single, but I didn’t need to read it. One thing changed my mind. Hyadain.

When I heard that this was a new Hyadain song and that it was good, I raced out to listen to it. And oh yes, it is good. The thing about this song is that it really works because of Rurika’s really strong vocals. From what I’ve heard Hyadain really wrote a song for her strong voice, and you can hear it. Hyadain, like always, writes a really strong melody, but here it fits Rurika perfectly, and her strong voice compliments the strong instrumental, or rather the instruments compliment her. This isn’t a very subtle song; this is something that’s meant to be belted out. That’s why Rurika’s voice fits it perfectly.

Steve from Selective Hearing wrote a very good analysis of Walk My Way here, and I suggest you all read it because I’m not going to write something this great about the song. One thing I can say is that, as a Hyadain fan, I love almost everything he does. His music really fits my tastes. However, since he writes almost exclusively for idol acts, I rarely get to hear music by him from an artist with a voice as strong as Rurika’s. So this song is really a treat for me, and I know it’s something I’ll listen to quite a bit.

9.Maji Kansha – Team Syachihoko

If you haven’t noticed, I really love Team Syachihoko. I wanted to put all four songs from their latest single on here, but I was able to narrow it down so that I’d have a more varied list (though another one of theirs is coming up).

One of the things I really like about Stardust groups is just how energetic their songs are, but that’s a bit of a curse as well; there aren’t many Stardust group songs I’ll break down crying while listening to, whereas I’ve cried at many AKB48 songs. And while I don’t think Syachi is going to move into serious ballads any time soon, I have to say I love their first song that seems a bit more serious, which is Maji Kansha.

I’m a sucker for strings and idol music; it’s actually something you could probably notice in this list. So when I first heard the swell of strings of Maji Kansha during a livestream of a Team Syachihoko event, I was hooked. The thing about Team Syachihoko is that if you’re looking for a polished performance with strong vocals, you’d best look elsewhere. However, the thing that I personally love about Syachihoko, that you can definitely hear in this song, is that they really work hard and push themselves. Their voices might not be strong enough to carry a song like this, but they give it their all.

It’s a really lovely song in general, and one I think could become a favorite to perform at Syachi concerts. It’s definitely the most normal Syachihoko song, but that, in itself, makes it the most usual. In a really good way.
8. Bokura no Eureka – NMB48

The easiest way to describe NMB’s summer singles is in comparison to other 48 groups. Whereas Nagiichi was much like songs like Ponytail to Shushu; happy and upbeat, Bokura no Eureka feels a lot more like Manatsu no Sounds Good. It’s a bit darker, more serious in tone, but still retaining a summer feel to it. Bokura no Eureka is a bit slower, very strings heavy (yes I do love that), and it just works.

NMB has had more mature sounding songs before (i.e. Virginity), but I didn’t really expect this song when I saw that it was an NMB48 summer song. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so unexpected that makes me love it so much. It allows for something like their full PV, where the NMB girls are on a deserted island; even though it’s a summer song, and has fairly typical lyrics, it has a lot more emotion to it. It’s a bit darker, slower and more serious than I expected from this track, and I have to say I love it.

7.Megitsune – Babymetal

Babymetal keeps surprising me and taking themselves to new levels. Every time I hear a new Babymetal song it’s exciting, because I never know what it’s going to be like. Megitsune is a new direction for Babymetal, now incorporating traditional instruments and themes into their metal/idol pop hybrid. It completely works. It’s still one of the most ‘metal’ songs Babymetal has put out (though perhaps not as metal as Ijime Dame Zettai), utilizing Suzuka’s strong vocals and a lot of drums.

It’s kind of amazing, really, that all these elements work so well together. I’m constantly impressed by how innovative Babymetal’s music can be, in incorporating Suzuka’s voice, Yui and Moa’s shouting, the metal sound, while still being accessible to people who may not necessarily enjoy metal music. I know I never really listened to metal before Babymetal. And perhaps I wouldn’t be so fond of this if I was a metal afficionado. However, Babymetal does a really great job of creating accessible music for everyone that blurs the lines of genre in a really fantastic way.

6. Den Den Passion – Dempagumi.inc

2013 is shaping up to be the year of Dempa for me; I’ve known about them for a while, but I really got into them this year. Den Den Passion does one of the things I wish more idol groups did, and really plays off the fact that this is a group effort. Especially in the chorus, there’s a lot of vocal overlap, which fits really well. I really like what they did with the vocals in this single; the voices in the chorus often sound almost vocaloid-esque, or a high-pitched Perfume, but in a way that really fits Dempagumi.inc.

That’s the thing that I really love about this single. Everything about it fits dempa’s identity as a group, which, as a fan of the group, is something I love. The quick pace, the high pitched vocals, the focus on the group, the entire song feels very dempagumi. Even the rap section really fits the song (perhaps it’s the edited vocals in that section). Sometimes when writing reviews for this blog, as an exercise, I try to imagine another group tackling a song. This is a song that I can’t imagine anyone other than dempagumi doing.

It’s frenzied, energetic, and fun. While another song on this list convinced me to start following demmpagumi.inc (spoilers), Den Den Passion helped keep Dempagumi.inc as one of my favorite idol groups out there. It’s not one of their strangest offerings, but it’s a worthy addition to the dempagumi discography.

5. Te wo Tsunagou – Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

Who else has spontaneously started crying during an idol song? Because uh, that’s the first thing I did when I listened to Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s latest, Te wo Tsunagou.

Ebichu is another one of the Stardust idol groups a long with MomoClo and Team Syachihoko. However, for whatever reason, Ebichu hasn’t quite clicked with me in the same way as these other two groups. However, I can’t deny how great their music can be (especially since they work closely with Hyadain a lot), and Te wo Tsunagou is just incredible. Instead of taking the usual energetic route that Stardust group often does, Ebichu does a really great job with a sweet, heartfelt song (though they have done some of this before, to be fair).

The song starts off on a great note with the strongest vocalist in the group, Kashiwagi Hinata, singing a capella. She sounds really lovely, and is a really great start to the rest of this song. This song has a really great pace, helped out by the strong percussion in the background, but ultimately it’s just how earnest this song feels, both with the song, the vocals and the lyrics, that makes me really love it.

This song isn’t quite as unique as the others on this list. It’s not even as unique as the other song on this single, Kindan no Karma, which is a much darker song. However, this song does pretty much everything right in being a really lovely, heartwarming song. As groups search for the next gimmick or style, this proves that what you need more than anything is a good melody, charismatic performers, and a strong arrangement.

4. Ijime Dame Zettai – Babymetal

I remember distinctly the first time I heard this song. This had been a very long awaited song for Babymetal fans, so I was very excited. I was doing a project for a class (auditioning people to be in a project I was managing), but I had to listen to this as soon as I saw the PV had been posted. It was completely worth the anticipation. I sat alone in the room I was holding auditions in, mouth open, completely in awe of what I was listening to.

I’d argue that Ijime Dame Zettai is the most metal of the Babymetal songs; you could potentially make a good case for the song Catch Me if You Can, but I’d argue the chorus gets too pop-y. IDZ, on the other hand, is pure metal, without the pop influence of other Babymetal songs, and it’s just good. One of the things that I love about IDZ are the slower sections; the piano-heavy section at the beginning, the slower section right at the beginning of the second verse, and the section before the big guitar solos. These do a really great job of pumping up the more intense sections, and making them exciting. All the guitar solos in this are incredible, as are the rest of the instruments; they do a really excellent job of pumping you up, and having a lot of energy.

Suzuka’s vocals, while they’ve since improved again for Megitsune, made a really big leap from Headbanger to Ijime Dame Zettai. She sounds amazing here, her strong voice really fitting the great instrumental. Yui and Moa take a bit of a backseat from their already limited roles, but their presence mainly serves to remind you that yes, this is actually Babymetal you’re listening to.

This isn’t metal-pop. I’d go so far as to say this is just metal, with pop performers. Suzuka sounds great, the instruments sound great, and everything about this track is phenomenal.
3. Shuto Iten Keikaku – Team Syachihoko

Figuring out which two Team Syachihoko songs made this list was a bit of a difficult decision, because the whole single is pretty amazing, but it came down to Maji Kansha and Shuto Iten Keikaku. Let’s just get it out of the way: I’m biased towards Team Syachihoko. They’ve quickly become my idol group of choice, and I can’t think of a song they’ve done that I haven’t liked. However, this is because they have really high quality music, and this has continued with their national major debut single.

This song was cowritten by Japanese hip hop artist SEAMO, and that’s pretty obvious. Even if there’s only one actual rap section (done wonderfully by Haruna), you can hear the hip hop influence throughout the whole song, which features a lot of spoken parts and a whole lot of attitude. According to wikipedia, one of SEAMO’s influences was MC Hammer, and I do get a bit of an 80s/90s hip hop vibe from this. This is honestly not a song I expected to hear from Team Syachihoko, but they really put a lot of effort into this song, with Chiyuri rolling her R’s and Nao putting in a lot of energy. All the girls really fit in this well.

The lyrics are one of the most fun parts of the song, featuring Syachi’s plea to make Nagoya the capitol of Japan. It’s a silly topic and the lyrics are silly, but Syachihoko actually sells it pretty well. There’s a pretty good translation on the PV on the official Syachihoko channel, so I recommend you check that out.

Otherwise, all the parts come together for a really fun and entertaining song.

2. W.W.D – Dempagumi.inc

W.W.D stands for “worldwide Dempagumi,” a very fitting title given Dempagumi.inc’s recent announcement of performing at Japan Expo USA this August.

W.W.D is weird. And this is coming from someone who loves weird music. Can you guess who wrote this song? If you guessed Hyadain, yep you’re right. However, while some people may criticize W.W.D for being kind of disjointed, in actuality it really fits the group. The song centers around the group of six girls, their individual stories and how they all came together to become one group. Therefore, the fact that the song has so many different styles in it actually makes a lot of sense, because it’s reinforcing this narrative found in the lyrics. I’m really glad they decided to work with Hyadain to write this deeply personal song for Dempagumi.inc; Hyadain is the master of writing very eccentric songs that somehow work, and W.W.D is one of those songs.

Because this song is based off the histories of the girls in dempagumi.inc, they perform it really well. The girls all have an interest in Akihabara culture, and as such really play up the shouted parts well. Groups in the past have called themselves ‘otaku groups,’ but you really believe it with dempagumi.inc. This song is so weird, but Dempagumi.inc manages to sell the slow/serious section as well as the energetic sections. They do well with a song that I imagine would be difficult for most idol singers to get.

If you don’t like your music weird, I doubt you’ll like W.W.D.. In fact, I have a feeling it’s the type of single that would be very polarizing. However, I really like Hyadain when he’s at his wackiest, which he is here. Combine that with the personal stories of dempagumi.inc, and you have a classic idol song on your hands.

1. Hai to Diamond – Momoiro Clover Z

If you read my review of Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension, you’ll already know how much I love this song, so I’ll keep this brief. Hai to Diamond is incredible. It’s not necessarily the most idol-y song out there, but it’s a really beautiful song featuring orchestral instruments, many different sounds, and some really nice performances from Momoiro Clover. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, written very well and arranged even better. It’s gorgeous, epic, and has been an instant favorite ever since I heard it.

This is one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard, and I know I’ll keep coming back to it again and again in the future.