Idol Thoughts: Saying Goodbye to Sayumi and Idol Leadership

Earlier this week Morning Musume’s current leader Michishige Sayumi
announced her graduation from the group. This news isn’t terribly
surprising; Sayumi joined Momusu in 2003, has spent nearly 11 years in
the group, and she has the longest tenure of any Morning Musume
member. If Michishige Sayumi would graduate was never the question; it
was always a matter of when.

At this point, this feels like a really logical time for her to
graduate. The 9th generation members now have already been in the
group for three years, with Fukumura Mizuki having more Egg
experience. She has seen the group through grow and improve and reach
the heights they are currently, doing the best they have done since
before Sayumi was a member. If she stayed much longer, she might even
outstay her welcome. Morning Musume, for all it is, is not about being
stagnant. It is a constantly growing and changing group. Ai no Tane
era Musume is vastly different from Platinum 9 Disc era Morning Musume
which is vastly different from Colorful Character Morning Musume.

This graduation probably won’t affect the sales, at least not that
much. I have already seen alarmist fans worry about this, but this is
just not true. Kamei Eri was arguably the most popular member while
she was in the group, and while sales dipped when she left it wasn’t
the end of the group. Same with Takahashi Ai, Niigaki Risa and Tanaka
Reina leaving. Tanaka Reina left after Brainstorming, and sales soared
with Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke. This isn’t against Reina; she was
a really popular member. But I do think it suggests that sales are not
as dependent on the front girls as one might think, and that Morning
Musume tends to be greater than the sum of its members. Sayumi fans
may leave, or they might decide to still follow the group, and fans
might find whoever is in the 12th generation really appealing. ‘

Sayumi leaving has me thinking of idol leadership. With her gone, 9th
generation MM is now the senior generation. Which is weird! But now
Fukumura Mizuki and Iikubo Haruna are taking on leadership within the
group, which has me thinking: how much does a leader do, really?
They obviosuly don’t make business decisions; Sayumi being the leader
can’t be the cause of their recent au CM tie-in, for example. But a
leader does have a purpose within the group, and I would argue that
it’s almost completely symbolic and related to the members of the
group.

My basic thoughts about the job of a leader are as follows.
Essentially, an idol’s job is to draw attention to herself. This is
reductive, but it’s not inaccurate; an idol’s job is to draw sales
based on her own personality, performing skills, etc. A leader’s job
is to tie that group together. An idol’s job is to promote herself,
whereas a leader’s job is to put the group first. Now I’m not
necessarily certain that this is how all idol group dynamics work, but
it’s the impression I get from a lot of the great leaders of idol
groups.

One anecdote I always think of is a long interview with Berryz Koubou
and C-ute when they did their joint concert together. The girls were
talking about their early times in the H!P Kids and Arihara Kanna, a
former Egg, seemed to be left out of the reminiscing. Yajima Maimi
focused on Kanna, and asked her questions about joining C-ute after
H!P Kids were a thing. It’s a small moment, but it is one I think of
when I think of idol leadership.

Takahashi Minami is always the person who I first think of when I
think of a compelling idol leader. Whenever you hear Takamina talk,
you get the sense that she loves AKB; not just being an idol, but
AKB48 on its own. That’s an important distinction of what makes a
compelling leader. Takamina also has strong leadership skills, which
certainly helps, but I think AKB members really rally around a leader
who clearly puts the group first.

I think the most compelling evidence that being a leader is tough is
that idols have left being leader; Takagi Reni was the original leader
of Momoiro Clover, but chose to step down and Momota Kanako was the
leader. While they might not be making any decisions, it’s pretty
clear that there’s an additional element of stress associated with
being a leader as opposed to the existing stress of being an idol.

Of course, this isn’t to say that being a leader in an idol group is
only relegated to the members who have that title due to seniority or
age; there are plenty fo idols I would consider leaders without that
title. Washio Miki is no longer the leader of Rev.from DVL, but I’d
consider her still a major leadership force within the group. Mitsui
Aika was considered a big influence on the 9th generation of Morning
Musume, and took opportunities to help her juniors. A lot of the H!P
Kids looked up to Ishikawa Rika, who from day one acted in a
support/leadership role in the 4th generation of Morning Musume. I’m
sure there are many more examples, but these are the first that come
to mind.

Michishige Sayumi, for insisting on her cuteness and whatnot, seemed
to slip into a leadership role in her later years in Morning Musume. I
do think the younger members admired her, and will have to work to be
able to move past this shock of her leaving. That said, I’m pretty
excited to see this new Morning Musume past her graduation, and I
think that they are ultimately ready.

Review Monday: Rev. from DVL – Love Arigatou

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been a fan of Rev.from DVL for a while. As such, I’m really excited about their major debut single. In this single, they do songs they have been doing for a while. Do these live up to the hype?

Love Arigatou

Song: This has been Rev.from DVL’s big song for a long time. And honestly, even though the new arrangement is cleaning it up a bit and making it better for an idol fan audience, I prefer the original Rev version. The thing is, this song is a cover of a song that isn’t that much of an idol song. It’s upbeat and happy, but the phrasing doesn’t always sound like a typical idol song. The song involves a lot of sped through lines and has to be sung with a level of jazziness, especially in the section before the third chorus. This new version, while keeping the melody, feels a lot more like a typical idol song than I would have liked. The arrangement is a bit too cutesy for the song, as well. If you read this blog you know that I do not have an aversion to cute idol music, but it feels overdone here.

That said, at its core it’s still Love Arigatou, and Love Arigatou is a favorite idol song of mine. It’s not always a typical song, it has a good melody, and it’s generally well composed. It is the type of song that almost always suits my mood; it has an idol feel to it, but is easy to differentiate from the rest of the idol crowd of music. It’s pretty easy to tell that it’s a cover of a song from a non-idol artist, and I suppose that’s why I like it. It manages to be cute and fun with not sounding completely derivative.

PV: One of the chief complaints I’ve seen about this PV is that it focuses on Kanna too much. Which is understandable, because Kanna is there. A lot. But really, as a Rev fan, it was more exciting just seeing the girls I know and love. Really, it could be worse, is all I’m saying. Every time the focus is on Kanna too long I get distracted by a closeup of other girls I like more. The balance is skewed in Kanna’s favor, by a long shot, but other girls get some spotlight.

lovearigatou2And by spotlight I mean the lighting of this PV, which is way too heavy on the light. It’s almost distracting, how bright everything is. I feel like this should be directed by J.J. Abrams.

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The above image was slightly edited by me. Only slightly. Still, I know what they’re trying to do; they’re trying to make it seem heavenly, that Kanna was sent from heaven to give us handshakes or something. Many PVs try to go heavy on the lighting, washing out the girls, to the point where the lighting is overexaggerated or just boring flat lighting. The rest of the PV is lit fairly competently; the dance shot is a pretty standard flat lighting, and some scenes seem like they’re lit fine but just have unfortunate brightness added in in post.

lovearigatou4

 

Other than the lighting, the PV is fairly basic. It’s a collection of closeups and dance shots, mostly, except for a couple of shots of them meandering through a forest or some trees. It’s the tried and true Hello!Project method of PV creation; it’s not creative, but serviceable. Other than the lighting the elements are all fine; the set looks nice, the scenes are shot well, and the editing, while focusing in on Kanna, works. I’m glad they chose to eschew green screen (the filters make it look fake, but I’m fairly certain they’re actually outside for the outside scenes); it may be simple, but there’s no laughably bad CGI.

lovearigatou5

 

As for the PV introducing the group, it introduces Kanna pretty well. If you’re watching it for Kanna, you will be pleased. If you’re watching for another girl, you will probably see her, but you may have to look out for her. That said, this PV is personally what got me interested in Hashimoto Yukina as an idol, because you can see her at specific instances in the PV.

All in all, aside from some shoddy lighting work, Love Arigatou is a serviceable PV and introduction to Rev. It’s not Rev at its best, but for a major debut it could certainly be worse.

Ai ni Kinshai

Song: Criticizing Love Arigatou, I found that while I love the original song the new arrangement didn’t live up to my hype. However, I have the opposite problem with Ai ni Kinshai. I liked the original song, but it didn’t live up to other Rev songs. However, the new arrangement elevates the original to new heights. The whole song has a lot of energy with a fast paced beat behind it. The vocal mixing has been improved, as well; there’s something with how the vocals sound in the chorus that gives the song a lot more emphasis.

This song is, frankly, a lot more fun. Love Arigatou feels like it takes itself seriously; Ai ni Kinshai is a goofy song that invites people to Fukuoka. The pacing of the song is pretty perfect, and its arrangement doesn’t get bogged down with a slow section like Love Arigatou kind of did.

This song isn’t that unusual of a song, but it’s fast-paced and fun, and a great start for this group.

PV

Even though Love Arigatou is the top billed song on this single, I would rather new fans see the PV of Ai ni Kinshai first. It feels like a much better representation of Rev.

kinshai1

 

While Kanna is still the focus, the other girls get a lot of screentime, relatively. There are long, extended sequences where you don’t see any Kanna at all. I like Kanna, but this PV is a lot better for getting to know the other Rev girls. They’re all having a blast with this PV, and it’s fun to see.

kinshai2The lighting and production is a lot better here; everything looks natural. There are still some overlit moments (on the bus, for example), but they’re few and far between. Honestly, this PV seems better produced. There’s a lot more interesting things going on, the lighting’s better, the editing is just as good. It feels like this should be the primary PV for the single.

kinshai3The PV features a lot of different locations and scenes; much more than even big, mainstream groups get. This makes the PV rich and exciting.

kinshai4

 

The PV focuses a lot on Fukuoka; understandably, given that that’s the subject of the song. Still, I’m glad they actually got to go places, as well as using some limited green screen technology. It’s a solid advertisement for the city as well as being a great PV.

Ai ni Kinshai might not have much of a storyline (Kanna running late?) but it does a great job of showing off the members individually and a group. The wide variety of scenes make this a really fun one to watch!

 

Idol Thoughts: Rev. From DVL

One of the things I’ve come across lately is discussion about Rev.from DVL that focuses on Kanna. Which is totally fair. I mean, look at this face. One in a thousand year idol indeed.

lovearigatou1

But seriously, I understand why this group is being regarded as being overhyped, or, when people review the group, they are just reviewing Kanna. She is really big on her own. However, as the resident Rev.from DVL fan (at least, from what I know of the international idol communitY), I would like to give my case for the group and why I think they’re more than a flash in the pan group.

Before 2ch and Kanna

One of the things that I found out just as I was writing this post is that Rev.from DVL has been around much longer than you guys probably think. The group was originally just named ‘DVL’ and was formed in 2003. Yes, not 2013, 2003. There is one member left from that original lineup, and that’s Rev’s former leader and one of my favorite members, Washio Miki.

But most of the current members have still been around for a long time. There are thirteen members in the group, and nine of them joined before 2011, which is when the group became Rev. from DVL. But still, the fact that this has been an active group for so long is fairly remarkable, and has allowed all the girls to hone their skills (mostly in dancing).

The songs featured on Rev’s recent major debut single, Love Arigatou, are all songs that have been done by Rev for some time. Before this single, Rev actually put out two local only singles, Love Arigatou and Ai ni Kinshai. Love Arigatou in particular was the big signature song for Rev. from DVL, at least since the name change, so it’s notable that they kept this song (even though there is a change in arrangement).


But even though the group has been around for a long time, most of what they did was perform locally, doing lives on the street and doing things for local events. They were supported by their agency, Active Hakata, but they were very indie. In fact, much of their success is traced to self-promotion. I found the group through Miki, because she followed me spontaneously on twitter. While the group has been around for quite some time, the individual members are very active on social media, through blogging and twitter (each member has both a blog and twitter).

In fact, one of the prevailing theories about how Rev blew up online was that the original poster of Kanna was someone from the agency or someone related to the group itself. This is just a wild guess, but it’s an interesting one at that.

Kanna and Rev’s present

Just a recap: Rev from DVL hit the national idol scene when someone posted pictures of Kanna on popular site 2ch. Since then these pictures spread like wildfire and Kanna has gotten a lot of attention, through the news, CM deals, and so forth.

One of the things that I’ve seen people wonder is how the other members view Kanna, since she’s getting all this attention. Which is a fair question. However, I don’t think there’s a lot of animosity. First, Kanna was always the most popular member of the group. She was certainly not known to the degree she’s known now, but Kanna got a lot of attention before hand.

Rev from DVL made an appearance on Hey!Hey!Hey!, and they actually asked something along those lines. The answer the members gave, which is what I was thinking, is that because Kanna blew up, the group was able to get a lot further. They could have a major debut single with a sizable budget and they could perform on national TV. I’d imagine there is some level of jealousy, but I think, almost more than anything else, there’s a feeling of gratitude for Kanna. She became popular, but she chose to stick in Rev from DVL instead of going to another group or even going solo.

In fact, I’m pretty pleased with how much other members are being focused on. Hey!Hey!Hey! specifically allowed for other members to get some focus. This Music Dragon performance gives a lot of close ups to other members. There is a lot of focus on Kanna in the PVs and on these programs, but they make it clear that Kanna isn’t the only member, which is gratifying.

Rev’s Future

So now that Rev from DVL has made their major debut, what’s the future for them? Well, Love Arigatou just came out, so it’s hard to tell. However, they did just receive #3 on the daily Oricon charts, selling 6625 copies. Which isn’t terrible, for an indie group’s major debut with two main versions. There are a few more web versions sold via Chara-ani, so it’ll be interesting to see where the group ends up. I imagine that the total final sales will end up at around 10000, which is a very respectable debut.

Beyond that, while I don’t know if Rev has ability to be the next big group on the level of AKB or MomoClo, but I don’t think that they’re going to go away any time soon. The group has been around for over 10 years; they deserve a bit of time in the spotlight.

My Thoughts

Honestly, it’s hard to describe why I love this group so much. Since the group has been getting a lot of hype, it’s hard to justify it. However, here’s my basic thoughts.

When I found the group, they were very indie. But, for an indie group, they had a very strong performance level. Love Arigatou was a really catchy song to hear from such a tiny group, and I was really impressed by the group’s dancing and singing skills.

This is the first performance I really watched, and I was immediately impressed by the level of performance of this group, and the subsequent performances I’ve seen. The biggest thing that draws me to an idol is a genuine love and excitement for performing, and I got that from all the members of Rev from DVL. They’re all just really excited to be idols, which is what made me happy as a fan. If you pay attention to all the mmebers, you’ll see a lot of enthusiasm,

Yukki

Since their major debut, I’ve continued to be impressed by them. While I prefer the original arrangement of Love Arigatou (I plan on reviewing the two PVs for this single on Monday…), all the things I was impressed by have only magnified. I really enjoyed their appearance on Hey!Hey!Hey! and I hope they get more variety exposure, because that could be a big strength for this group, as shown by that appearance.

While Rev from DVL might seem like a flash in the pan, I see a group that has been around for a long time and is finally achieving success after ten years of growth. I honestly can’t wait to see more from them.

If you are interested in any particular member or aspect of the group, their website (rev.jp.net) has a solid site. Otherwise, feel free to ask me any questions because I love this group!

Tokyo Idol Festival 2014 – Intro

Alright you guys! Tokyo Idol Festival 2014!

Seriously, it feels like I JUST ended my TIF posts from last year, and now the first announcements of Tokyo Idol Festival 2014 have been made! At least they haven’t announced that many idol acts yet….

tir2014

Oh.

So, I’ll probably start my TIF profile posts in the next few weeks. But, here are a few of my basic thoughts/predictions about this year.

There will probably be somewhere around 111 acts. The past two years there have been exactly 111 acts each. I can’t see TIF choosing to have significantly fewer than that; that would show that they’re not as strong of a festival. I also can’t see them having many more than that 111 number, because they have the logistics down for these events. They’re still having it in Odaiba, presumably at all the same venues/areas (Zepp Tokyo etc.) so I can’t really see them choosing to expand much more beyond what they’ve done in the past.

X21? What’s that about? X21 is one of the first acts named, as well as one of the nine acts to be featured in a photo. However, that’s along with very established acts like Sakura Gakuin and Fudanjuku. Acts that seem more established, like Kikkawa You and Weather Girls didn’t get that picture. I might be overthinking things, but I’m just a little confused.

Will there be a 48/46 act there? I’m not sure. I seriously doubt that AKB would go to TIF. SKE48 was there in 2012 and HKT48 was there last year. Both were announced pretty late, so I doubt we’ll know about the 48s soon. However, since only sister groups have gone, I’m assuming that the aim of a TIF appearance is to promote the smaller groups. HKT48 has since released two singles (though they performed Melon Juice at TIF) and has a bit more experience under their belt, so there isn’t really a 48 group (or 46!) that would fit this profile. My wild, out there theory that will probably be wrong? They send AKB48 Team 8. But that’s just my guess.

Most of the acts seem like the normal ones at TIF Idoling, Up Up Girls, LinQ, Passpo, Dorothy Little Happy, these groups are almost all TIF veterans. It’s a little comforting to see, really. But it doesn’t look like TIF is losing its old guard of performers.

I’m weirdly happy to see that Sexy All Sisters are still showing up. I don’t get why this group still kicking makes me happy, but it does.

A quick question: Do you guys want to see anything different with my TIF profiles/coverage this year? Is there something you wish I’d mention or cover? Please let me know so I can make this a useful series for you guys.

Review: Aso Natsuko – My Starlit Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcement: Big Changes to Happy Disco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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