Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 5

There are now 211 groups confirmed for this year’s Tokyo Idol Festival, which means I have my work cut out for me! Also when I started this post it was 181. God help me.

Idol Choho Kikan Level 7 

Their name means Idol Intelligence Agency Level 7, and their concept/gimmick is that they are idol spies, which I think is just about the best gimmick I’ve seen from an idol group in a while. The fans are the “boss” and the members go on “missions” to infiltrate idol activities (variety, gravure photos). Right away I absolutely love this gimmick, and I think it’s super clever.

Level 7 (which is their much more commonly used name) was formed in 2014, but they haven’t done all that much yet – while they perform around the Tokyo area, their only website is an Ameba blog, and they’ve so far released two singles officially and one venue-only single. So while this gimmick is great, they don’t have all that much stuff out there. Their YouTube has quite a few long (over 30 minutes) digests of their concerts, so if you’re interested in them that can help. That said, this seems like a tough group to follow for foreign fans. Taking a look at their live videos, though, their music is a lot better than it has a right to be. Their music all has a “cool” feeling to it, not always rock but not being the typical cute idol pop. Strawberry Trap in particular is very catchy, but I also like Taboo and Bravery. So I’d definitely check them out. They’re a small group without much out there but their music is better than it has a right to be and the group has a great energy while performing.

atME

atME is a four member unit that formed in May of 2016 so just about a year ago. They want to promote having strong visual appeal but also strong performances as well. The thing I find interesting, though is the fact that while this is what they say on their TIF profile, on their (not linked) website they specifically point out that they’re a “next generation” idol group aimed at the yutori generation (basically a younger generation seen as getting lenient education), emphasizing them as rebellious and passionate in a way that makes me wonder if I’m missing something from my limited Japanese translation.

They don’t have a ton of music or live stuff out, but they seem like a fairly standard idol group with a more hard rock sound than most. Still, their debut song Paralyzer is solid and they seem like the members are pretty talented. I’m not sure how much their next generation theme really does anything, except for influencing some lyrics, so it’s hard to say if this will actually result in much. Their most recent video on their YouTube channel is from August 2016 so they aren’t terribly active, but if you like a rock sound with your idols and have explored more conventional options atME could be something you check out.

Iginari Tohoku San

The first Stardust unit I’ve covered this TIF! Iginari Tohoku San is a unit based in Tohoku and is considered a “Lesson unit” so they’re more of trainees than anything. Formed in 2015, Iginari Tohoku San is very much just getting started. Because of this, there isn’t much – they’ve released one single (another coming in a few weeks) but it’s only for sale at events and at HMV Japan. They’ve also released a single with Sakura Ebi’~~s, the Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku trainee unit, who they did a concert with as well. That said, since they’re produced by Stardust it’s easy to anticipate that they will grow with time and that their standard of production will be high, so while there isn’t much yet it’s easy to expect they won’t just fizzle out – all of their singles have been released within the last few months. If you’ve been wanting to follow Stardust idols from the start of their career, this is your chance. Like other Stardust groups they’re a ton of fun and energetic, so I am excited to see where Iginari Tohoku San goes!

Iketeru Hearts

Iketeru Hearts is a sister group to Afilia Saga. Formed in 2014 they were originally trainees with some members being promoted to Afilia Saga before they were all promoted to being full idols in 2015. In 2016 they made their major debut with “Let’s Stand Up,” which was written by Tsunku – so far they’ve put out four singles in total. Their goal is that through their singing, dancing and smiles they’ll make negative people positive.

Unfortunately a lot of their videos are region locked, which is a shame for foreign fans. Curiously, the leader of the group, Arata Yuyu, has a YouTube channel that’s pretty active and possibly your best window into Iketeru Hearts if you’re not willing to use something to get around the region lock. Since the group has performed in France and Singapore it does seem like they want to expand internationally, so hopefully their label will work to get their videos out of the region lock.

They seem like a pretty fun group – if you like Afilia Saga then you’ll probably like Iketeru Hearts who have a similar vibe, considering they’re sister groups. They’re upbeat and fun, and if you’re interested in a group like this then Arata Yuyu’s YouTube might be a fun look at the group. They’re a little tricky to follow as a foreign fan, so they will probably appeal mostly to foreign Afilia Saga fans, but if you like upbeat energetic groups they are definitely ones to check out.

Ichigo Milk iro ni Somaritai

I did a serious mental debate as to whether I should post this post or not. I almost had a “well, I’m done with this TIF coverage” moment when I saw this group pop up because I did not want to talk about them at all, but I feel like it would do a disservice to not present the idol industry as it is, warts and all, so here’s the wart – a group I’ll just call Ichigo Milk.

To be absolutely fair, this group has a decent amount going for it. It’s produced by former Otome Shinto leader Takahashi Yurika who created the group and their aim is the Budokan, in part because Otome Shinto never made it there. So in many ways it’s her passion project, which I really enjoy. The group is specifically very girly and pink.

Honestly my biggest issue right now are those pacifiers. They show up in the group’s promo images and it’s infantilizing and uncomfortable more than most other idol stuff I’ve covered for this blog. Lots of idol groups appear, act or are young, that’s no secret. And while I’m not a huge fan of a lot of this (I wish more groups would take a mature approach), it’s OK to have idol groups to be cutesy and I like stuff like this. This is blatantly taking an idol group and presenting them as infants. And I really don’t like that. It’s not fun or silly, it’s kind of gross in a way. A lot of you may feel like I’m overblowing this, but this is sincerely very offputting to me in a major way, to the point where it made me feel like I didn’t know how much more I wanted to follow TIF or indie idols. Or idols for that matter. And while I’m sure I’ll forget about this group for the most part and go back to liking my other idol groups, right now this is not a great look.

For what its worth their first song and video, Lollipop, is solid for the most part. Not great but a catchy enough song and a pretty fun PV until the end. But until they drop this part I can’t in good faith recommend them at all.

Response: This Exists’ Anti- Idol video

The other day I was looking around for a video to watch on YouTube when I saw that one of my favorite channels, This Exists, made a video about idol culture, specifically the anti-idol / underground idol scene. As a long time viewer of that channel, which explores strange and interesting subcultures, this felt like a great mix – the channel has covered music genres before (the video about vaporwave helped me become a fan of the late great Especia) but the one thing I’ve always loved about This Exists is that it tends to keep an open mind. As someone who follows a lot of the foreign press about idol culture, you tend to see it all devolve into some of the same arguments and just fundamentally miss the point about a lot of things (The recent BBC-aired documentary, “Tokyo Girls,” about idol fans calling handshakes an inherently sexual act will go down in infamy among other idol fans).

Since I was so excited to see this pop up on my YouTube feed, I thought I would write a response here rather than in the YouTube comments, in case any of my blog readers are interested as well!

First off, I have to say I’m actually quite impressed with the research that Sam did in this video by citing Yamaguchi Momoe and Onyanko Club as progenitors – while there were other groups I’d consider to be idol groups (Pink Lady, Candies) they’re not really the same thing. Onyanko Club was really the originator of the “more is more” philosophy that so many idol groups have today. So many journalists tend to see idols as a new phenomenon or a new trend (we saw that even in “Tokyo Girls,” which showed idols as something new rather than a continuing trend). It’s clear that actual research and deep dives were done, which is a refreshing change from some of the journalism I’ve seen surrounding idol culture. Seeing an actual look at the more underground idol culture and flat out looking at more than the first hit for AKB48 on YouTube (which for years was either Baby Baby Baby or Heavy Rotation, before the YouTube Red thing).

All that being said, while his analysis is really great and explores idol culture in a way I’m surprised to see, I’m not sure things line up quite as neatly as they do in this video. Throughout the video he points to Momoiro Clover Z paving the way for anti-idol groups, and while I do think that Momoiro Clover Z’s influence has been a big one I’m not sure I’d agree it was as big as it was. Babymetal had its origins in 2010 as a subgroup of Sakura Gakuin, and BiS was formed in 2010 as well. This all coincides with the start of the idol boom, which I would argue started at the end of 2009 with AKB48’s River hitting #1 on the Oricon charts (but I feel like most people would agree was in full force by the end of 2010 after AKB48’s Heavy Rotation was released). So considering Momoiro Clover Z didn’t add the Z until the middle of 2011 and it took a while for their simultaneous rise in popularity and strangeness, I’d suggest that while they definitely influenced later groups and the popularity of later groups, that the influence is more on the end of the idol culture existing as more of a subculture and also the content creators themselves.

While pop music in American culture and a lot of cultures tends to be mostly popular culture, idol music has for quite some time existed with nerd culture – fans of idols are ‘otaku’ in the same way that anime/manga fans are ‘otaku’ (though most Western idol fans tend to prefer to refer to themselves as wota). While I’m not sure where this shift happened (it may very well have been with Onyanko Club), idol fans are often nerds – these are the people that have carried idol groups throughout the years when popularity wanes, and also the people that are fans of the smaller groups. Being able to aim music at a smaller demographic allows for more demographics to pop up within idol groups, and also offers idols the opportunity to exist on an underground music level. Idol music is in many ways subculture more than it is mainstream, though it certainly is mainstream. This also allows for collaborations between other more underground groups – Babymetal’s collaboration with Kiba of Akiba works because of their connection to Akihabara, nerd culture. It also allows for Miri of hip hop idol group Rhymeberry to go freestyle at hip hop events and gain some experience that way.

The other thing that I think is so weird and interesting about idol culture and frankly has kept my interest in this for so many years at this point is just how the dedicated fanbases can prop up some of the weirder stuff. Music does matter, but there are so many other reasons to buy a single. Physical sales still matter a lot in Japan, and to bolster these singles often include other items, often a ticket to an event of some kind or a photo. Fans are highly incentivized to buy a copy (or multiple copies) of every single, which allows groups to get a bit more creative. Morning Musume, for example, put out Mr. Moonlight ~ Ai no Big Band~, a big band-inspired track inspired by the all-female Takarazuka theater troupe, and they could do that because they knew the hardcore fans would buy their single. While this has allowed for some laziness in some groups, it also allows for inventiveness in others. At the height of its popularity Morning Musume changed musical styles almost single by single, and they knew they’d keep their fans.

I’d also emphasize the songwriters as being a big part of how idol music has hit creative gold, musically. My favorite idol songwriter, Maeyamada Kenichi, got his start remixing video game and anime songs online but then was recruited to write music for groups like AKB48 until he wrote Momoiro Clover Z’s most popular song and became a well known name. Narasaki, another songwriter for Momoiro Clover Z and Babymetal, started out with a band Coaltar of the Deepers. The people writing music for idol groups today got their start writing music for other subcultures and moved over to idol things. And these names are well known among the hardcore idol fans – I’ve seen groups like LinQ advertise when they have Maeyamada write them a song, because he’s well-known among idol fans. Morning Musume’s longterm music producer, Tsunku (who recently has taken on a much smaller role due to cancer) is also well known, though a big part of that was that he has been a public figure (and Morning Musume was formed out of the runners up to an audition to find a vocalist for his band, Sharan Q). Someone I frequently see pop up is former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, who provides guitar riffs for idol songs and has had decent popularity in Japan. There’s a lot of people with varying experience writing all these songs.

I’d also say that like with everything else the ease of production of music allows for more opportunity for creators to make their mark. While they’ve moved to another agency, the group Osaka Shunkashuto originally had one person who was their manager, the staff, the songwriter, doing literally everything for the group, and they found an audience. Magical Ban Bang is another group that manages and formed themselves – they all met doing dance covers online and decided to form a group together. This also happened with Ayumikurikamaki, and there are several other groups that formed because of one producer or the group themselves deciding to do it. Due to the increased ease of production and the ease of marketing using YouTube, Twitter and other platforms like Showroom, groups no longer need to appear on TV to promote themselves. Culture in general is becoming a lot more niche and idol msuic is no exception.

Another thing is that while the idol world in general has strict rules, they’ve been eroding on heir own for quite some time – it’s all a public front that most people would acknowledge as a front. For example, one of the most popular and well known members of Morning Musume, Abe Natsumi, was caught spending the night at an actor’s home at the group’s peak in 2000, but she played it off as being there “playing Playstation” and nothing came of it. The most popular member of any of the AKB48 groups (currently in HKT48) Sashihara Rino was potentially helped in her rise to popularity by a dating scandal, where an ex-boyfriend sent pictures of her to a tabloid. While her move to HKT48 could possibly be considered a demotion, it allowed her to gain a lot more popularity and get a lot more attention than she would have in AKB48. Other members of AKB48 and other idol groups have been “caught” doing something that would previously gotten them kicked out, and most of the time they get a slap on the wrist, if even – it’s often ignored. Some idols have even laughed it off. It’s still a public rule but more than anything it’s become “don’t get caught.” This is just a long tangent to say that while the whole idol aesthetic is a squeaky-clean one, it’s very clearly a facade that most people can see through.

Popular groups are also starting to become more ambitious, musically. While AKB48’s music has gotten stagnant, one of their “official rivals,” produced by AKB’s producer Akimoto Yasushi, has reached mainstream success with singles like Silent Majority and Fukyouwaon being essentially protest songs. Momoiro Clover Z’s sister group, Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, released an album called “Anarchy.” Granted, all of this is under the same model of idol-ness and is still highly controlled by their various agencies and publishers, so it’s incredibly manufactured, but what sells is shifting in an interesting way. Momoiro Clover Z sells out the biggest arenas and just last year released two concept albums essentially about life and death with Amaranthus and Hakkin no Yoake. While Momoiro Clover Z has done a whole lot, popular tastes are shifting. While Nogizaka46, another official rival, initially started out having more traditionally cutesy idol songs, they’ve shifted their style to be more contemporary.

Idol culture is endlessly fascinating, and while I do have my quibbles with the This Exists video they’re small ones at best, and not the giant ones I usually have when someone covers idol culture elsewhere. It leads me to wonder if there’s any easier way for those of us who have experience with idol music and culture to get our thoughts ought there or at least collectively make a primer to share with the next Babymetal or with the next Ladybaby, whenever that may be. I try to do that with Happy Disco but I know I don’t have a very wide reach. This Exists does a lot of great deep dives into things with research, but the next time the Wall Street Journal decides to do an article or a video on this I’d prefer it to not just end up with “it’s Japan and it’s weird!” Food for thought, I suppose!

And, to end this, I find it kind of hilarious that one of the first examples Sam gives in this video about more gimmicky groups is a Baseball-themed group, because of course Japan has a baseball-themed girl group and their song Diving Catch is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 4

I took a month to finish my C-ute tribute post but I’m back working on my TIF profiles again!

Icle Girls

Icle Girls is a local group based in Iwaki in Fukushima that has been active since 2013. While they initially started with more members they currently have six, and their theme is that they’ll carry their smiles and energy to the rest of the country, so even though they are a local group they have nationwide aim. In 2016 they actually won the U.M.U Award, a major award for local idols, which is a huge get for them. That said, they seem to be fairly active in the Iwaki/Fukushima area, appearing on local television and having their own radio program, so they’re definitely a group that’s easier to follow there.

They’ve released six singles so far, including their most recent one “Tokusanka ~welcome to Iwaki~ / JyakkanΣ” (a double A-Side), and one album so far.  Their most recent singles don’t seem to have any MVs or any specific videos, unfortunately, but their YouTube channel has several full-length concerts or nearly full-length, so it’s very easy to watch their live performances. Musically their music seems to be pretty standard cutesy idol pop music – nothing really stood out to me but it’s catchy enough. The members seem pretty fun, so if you are located near Iwaki OR want to watch some full length idol concerts I definitely suggest checking out Icle Girls. If not, while I personally prefer other local/ indie groups, if you’re looking for a cute group with some pretty standard idol pop music then maybe check out Icle Girls!

i☆Ris

I*Ris has consistently been a group I’ve thought should be a bigger deal with foreign idol fans than they are. This group is a joint voice acting unit and idol group, with all the members doing various voice acting activities while being an idol unit (they voice act and do songs for PriPara, to give you an idea). The group is produced by Avex, so they have a generally high quality of their music and production – I’d consider i*Ris to be one of the better produced idol groups vocally, so if that’s something you’re interesting then I*Ris is definitely for you. Last year they had their big 4th anniversary concert at the Nippon Budokan and, if the video posted on the Avex YouTube is any indication, it looks like it was well attended.

i*Ris is well produced, the members all seem great, so why don’t I follow them more? Honestly, their music doesn’t do that much for me. I mention it every year, but their song Gensoukyoku Wonderland is one of my favorite idol tracks, but a lot of their singles are fairly generic anime songs. Which is fine, I like upbeat generic anime songs just fine, but none of them are particularly catchy or interesting in a way that grabs me. Their music is all pleasant but for the most part kind of same-y, which is kind of a shame. This is very subjective so I think most people should check out i*Ris, but I just wish I liked their music more – they deserve great music. I recommend Gensoukyoku Wonderland and their single Ready Smile is my favorite recent i*Ris track.

@17

@17 is the idol group of @Home Cafe, a popular Akihabara Maid Cafe. Last year  @17 made their TIF debut – however, this year they reformed in May with 20 new members, so it’s mostly a new group at this point. Their website is totally barebones, no pictures, just reference to the one single they put out last year, so this is really not a group you can check out before going to TIF.

Looking at some old performances, it looks like in the past @17 focused on maid outfits and cutesy songs. So if that’s something that interests you then @17 might interest you, or it might interest you if you like maid cafes. Otherwise, there’s pretty much nothing from this group to check out yet.

Up Up Girls (2) 

As I mentioned in my Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) write up, these are the five members added as Up Up Girls (2) (Also known as Up Up Girls Second or Up Up Girls (Kakko Nikki). It was initially announced that Up Up Girls (2) would be the second generation of Up Up Girls but they’re really more like their own thing, albeit also providing back up for Up Up Girls. For example they are back dancers in Up Up Girls’ latest single and appear at Up Up Girls shows in that capacity, but they also perform on their own as their own group. So while they have a closer tie to Up Up Girls than, say, Angerme has to Morning Musume, they’re also somewhat their own thiing.

I feel like if you’re an Up Up Girls fan you should like Up Up Girls (2) and if you’re not I’m not sure why you’d bother. The members seem really great, from what I’ve seen – I watched the first appearance of the members and their introductions and they seem like a fun bunch of oddballs. They also have a nice, energetic appeal to them in the way that newbie idols do – they seem genuinely very excited to be singing Up Up Girls standards like Up Up Typhoon. But at this point it doesn’t seem like they have any original songs of their own, so if you disliked Up Up Girls’ music you’re not going to care for Up Up Girls (2). That said, if you like Up Up Girls but have been putting off checking out Up Up Girls (2) for whatever reason, these new members seem like good eggs, and after watching some of their videos I want to follow them more.

ANNA☆S

I’ve been aware of ANNA☆S for years but this is their first TIF, so first profile. ANNA☆S  is a group formed of Anna, Yuna and Suzuka, two sisters (Anna and Yuna) and one childhood friend (Suzuka). They’ve been performing together since 2010 and, as far as I can tell, haven’t had any lineup changes which is pretty impressive. When they perform with Wakita Yoshino, a support member, they perform idol rap songs as the unit Udon Kyoudai. Recently they’ve released some best off albums and started putting out solo music in addition to their music as a group.

I really like that the group has been around for so long without any change in lineup – I think this is leads to a great rapport between members, especially considering the members have known each other for years before forming the group. Anna’s voice in particular is very solid, too. Ultimately, for me, there isn’t quite enough there after them being around for 7 years. They have released music, sure, but the music is all just OK – the best song I’ve found is Set Me Free but for the most part their music isn’t great, just pretty straightforward idol pop. I think if anything I’ve mentioned appeals to you you should take a look at ANNA*S, but, while I like the personal ties of the group, they don’t seem to appeal to me.

℃-ute: Over 10 years in One Post

In early 2015 with Berryz Koubou disbanded (or, sorry, went on indefinite hiatus), I wrote a post that made a quick review of every Berryz Koubou single song (so, all the songs promoted as singles, no B-Sides or album-only tracks). It took a long time and ended up as an incredibly long post. I thought that would be the only time I would make something like that, but then C-ute decided to disband, and it would hardly be fair to make such an effort for only one half of Berikyuu.

C-ute has never been my favorite H!P group, but has been pretty consistently middle of the road for me, and I certainly preferred them to Berryz Koubou. Similarly to Berryz, they have a very interesting career almost by virtue that the membership was pretty stable over 10 years – three members left, but C-ute hasn’t added members since Arihara Kanna was added before their debut. Yajima Maimi has been one of my favorite Hello!Project members for years at this point, and I’m also fond of Nakajima Saki. C-ute has gone from being the most junior group in Hello!Project with very young members to being the most senior. They’ve gone from H!P in mid 2006, with the Elder Club still kicking, to the current resurgence of Hello!Project.

Similarly to the Berryz review, what I’m going to do with this post is focus solely on the major single songs, so all the songs that were promoted as singles. I’m going to look at their early indies and all of their major debut singles. I won’t look at album tracks, collaboration singles (so no Berikyuu or Mobekimasu) and I won’t look at their later indies (their Rakuten Eagles single and their musical-only single). No B-Sides, either. Just the main, promoted tracks. This time, I’ll also be taking a quick look at the PVs, though, fair warning, since this post is going to be long each song and each PV won’t get an in-depth treatment.

Indies 1. Massara Blue Jeans

Honeslty, as far as debuts go Massara Blue Jeans is the way to do it. While Berryz Koubou’s Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai is a solid song, it’s also kind of an awkward song and doesn’t really feel like it fits the members all that well. A lot of Berryz’s early tracks aren’t exactly songs that would normally be performed by the adult members of the group except for the nostalgia. All of this is to say that Massara Blue Jeans holds up – it’s a song that fits with C-ute when it was formed and it fits with C-ute now.

Massara Blue Jeans has a great melody, a great energy to it, and it features its members really well – I especially like that the background vocals are relatively quiet, allowing the members of C-ute to sound great. Airi and Megumi in particular shine vocally here.

While I still have an issue with some of the choreography in the video, musically Massara Blue Jeans is a great start for C-ute as a group. It’s a ton of fun and it’s still a song I listen to very regularly. 8/10

Indies 2. Soku Dakishimete

When it comes to C-ute’s indies singles, Soku Dakishimete is probably the least discussed and honestly it probably deserves that. Soku Dakishimete is just fine – the melody is pretty catchy but doesn’t have the same energy and power that Massara Blue Jeans has. It has a very workman arrangement that’s FINE but not standout. It’s for the most part a solid song, but isn’t as catchy as Massara Blue Jeans or the other two C-ute indies singles. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s never the C-ute song I have stuck in the head nor the song I turn to when I want to listen to C-ute.

The biggest thing of note with this is how great Murakami Megumi sounds as the lead singer. It’s such a shame she left as early as she did – she had a lot of potential as a singer, and is the clear vocal standout in Soku Dakishimete, to the point where the song would have thrived more as a Megumi solo.

Soku Dakishimete is good, but no where as good as C-ute’s other early singles. 6/10

Indies 3. Ooki na Ai de Motenashite

If you asked someone what the cutest song in Hello!Project was, there’s a decent bet that Ooki na Ai de Motenashite would fit the bill. It doesn’t hide the fact it’s just nothing but cuteness, pure saccharine bubbly idol music. It’s one of those songs where, if I shared it with people who don’t like idols, they would almost certainly just not get it. Yet, this is the type of song I would absolutely freak out being able to see in concert. It is catchy, infectious, and will worm its way into your head. I can totally see this as being a song you either love or despise, and I do love it.

There’s no finesse in Ooki na Ai de Motenashite. It’s pure upbeat pop music. It’s not particularly interesting in any way, but it doesn’t have to be. Ooki na Ai de Motenashite is just fluff and fun fluff at that. Hopefully a new H!P group can start performing this regularly, as it’s too fun to go away when C-ute disbands. 8/10

Indies 4. Wakkyanai (Z) 

The only of these early C-ute singles to not get a PV. Even though it was the 4th single this was actually C-ute’s first original song. It’s a weird situation, especially given the fact that Wakkyanai Z is just utterly charming.

Again, it’s not a particularly interesting or inventive song, but it has a really great melody and, I’d argue, the best arrangement of these early indies singles. I also like the back and forth of the lines within the chorus. Every element works really well in this melody and the arrangement. This is also a song where Murakami Megumi sounds really great, so I’m still bummed out that she didn’t spend more time in Hello!Project.

Wakkyanai Z is a bright gem of a song. Its slightly jazzy instrumentation and its standout melody make it one of my favorite C-ute songs. 9/10

1. Sakura Chirari

This is the start of C-ute’s major debut era and they debuted a song that’s just fine? I mean, Sakura Chirari isn’t bad at all, but it’s not extraordinary – I think there’s a reason there was a period of almost five years it wasn’t performed. It’s a cute song, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not a song I’d seek out at all if I wanted to listen to C-ute songs, no matter the era.

Again, it’s not a bad song. The melody is perfectly fine, the members sound great on this. At points the arrangement is a bit empty/quiet, but it’s not terrible. I think its biggest issue is that after the four indie songs, Sakura Chirari feels a bit restrained. It’s cute but it doesn’t have anywhere near the energy of something like Ooki na Ai de Motenashite or Wakkyanai Z. Idol songs that survive on being cute should have a good energy and pace to be fun, and Sakura Chirari for th most part doesn’t get there.

The instrumentation at points is good, however – there are some interesting sounds and the melody is good. But I think the most emblematic part of the song is Hagiwara Mai’s spoken “Sakura Chirari” near the end. It’s not shouted, nor is it whispered. It’s just spoken, and it’s just there. There’s an energetic “hey! one more time!” at the end but it’s totally at odds with the song. I understand that it’s a spring / cherry blossom themed song, and it might not be the most energetic, but there are other places they could have gone with it. 5/10

2. Meguru Koi no Kisetsu

Meguru Koi no Kisetsu is one of those songs where it’s hard to be objective about it because it’s genuinely one of my favorite C-ute singles. And I stand by that. I think the thing about it is that it has the energy missing from Sakura Chirari. It’s a brisk 3 minutes of fun, upbeat guitar-driven pop. Meguru Koi no Kisetsu is the platonic ideal of what a Hello!Project Kids song should have been in the early days – it’s a fun song, one that utilizes the energy of the group, but is also a song that wouldn’t sound out of place years later.

Meguru Koi no Kisetsu is the gold standard of early C-ute songs. 10/10

3. Tokaikko Junjou

Man, Tokaikko Junjou is just good. It’s the first really cool song for C-ute, and I think the biggest indicator of where the group would go. The melody is great and I like the rhyming lyrics in the chorus. A lot of the arrangement is very dated to the point where it feels very much like mid 2000s H!P but it is nostalgic in that regard. I also really like the audio mixing – the layering of vocals when they sing “don’t stop” is just great. It’s polished.

While this song features Suzuki Airi and Hagiwara Mai, it’s Yajima Maimi’s spoken monologue at the start that sells the song. The way that the monologue moves into the rest of the song is one of the best parts of everything.

Tokaikko Junjou holds up as being one of C-ute’s greats. 9/10

4. Lalala Shiawase no Uta

While the PV costumes win the award for ugliest C-ute costumes, the song is just OK. Back in 2008 – 2009  I was a part of doing online karaoke covers of mostly H!P songs, and this was one of my least favorite songs to do because of the “lalalala” at the end.

This song half works for me and half doesn’t. The chorus is so catchy that even people who don’t like this song can hum along after listening to it once. The melody works well, and I love the cute feel of it. That said, the instrumentation is often pretty substandard and empty. The repetition of the chorus and the “lalalala” repeats at the end move past being cute and catchy to being annoying. And while I’m normally OK with some of the background vocals Tsunku provided, here having a male voice in the background occasionally shouting things like “let’s show time!” isn’t fun, it’s just distracting.

Lalala Shiawase no Uta has a fun song at its core, but the overuse of repetition, a substandard instrumental and some weird background vocals make Lalala Shiawase no Uta go from charming and sweet to kind of unpleasant. It’s a song where at the start of it I went “oh yeah, I actually like this!” and at the end just wanted it to stop. 5/10

5. Namida no Iro

I feel like Namida no Iro is one of the most forgotten of C-ute’s earlier singles, which is a real shame because Namida no Iro is generally quite fantastic.This is a song where I’d say that the instrumentation is one of the big draws – the mix of acoustic, Spanish guitar, piano, background vocals works really well with the melody and vocals. This is a well produced song.

I also love the feel of this song – it’s not overly sad sounding, but has a melancholy feel – it’s about sadness but it’s not a total dirge to listen to. I don’t know if I’d consider this to be one of C-ute’s best, but it’s a really well produced, well written song that doesn’t get listened to enough. 8/10

6. Edo no Temari Uta II

I absolutely love idol songs that balance a traditional sound with idol music and Edo no Temari Uta II does a great job of this, with lots of references to Edo. The song was actually written for an enka artist who also allowed C-ute to do it (hence why it’s Edo no Temari Uta II). The enka influence can be heard in the vocals for this, where you can clearly hear that parts of this song were meant for an Enka singer.

That said, it’s kind of remarkable how well this song works as a pop song. In addition to having that traditional enka feel it also mixes in hip hop and jazz sounds to make a really unique, interesting song, mixing shamisen with jazz piano and electronic sounds. I love songs that blend and mix genres and Edo no Temari Uta II does a great job of it.

This song isn’t one I listen to all that often, but revisiting this I’m not sure why – it’s a great song that has a lot of interesting ideas and does a lot of interesting things. 9/10

7. Forever Love

Now we’re getting to the singles that were new when I first got into Hello!Project, which is kind of fun. Forever Love is a really fantastic song that, while not quite as inventive as Edo no Temari Uta II, works really well. While the song is primarily focused on Airi and Maimi, all the members of the group get something to do in the verses, and the chorus of back and forth lines between Airi / Maimi solo lines and group lines works REALLY well. This is a pretty stellar chorus.

This song has a serious energy to it, with a steady percussion beat throughout the whole song. The song doesn’t let up at all, which is great. The guitar line is also super great. The entire instrumentation works really well.

Forever Love is just a nonstop fun song. I love the back and forth of the chorus, the energy of it, and it just works so well. 9/10

8. Bye Bye Bye

Bye Bye Bye came out as I started my first part time job after I graduated from high school and I listened to it nonstop on the way to work then. So it’s a very nostalgic song for me. But beyond that it’s just GOOD. It has a lot of similar energy to Forever Love in that it’s just nonstop energy, but it also has a great funk sound to it as well, which is definitely something I’m into.

I love all the performances of the members of the group – there’s plenty of harmonies, Nakajima Saki’s repeated “Odorimashou” line is GREAT, and I love all the back and forth of this. With all of this the arrangement is great, too – it has a very electronic feel and sound in its arrangement but it fits the song so well. The song isn’t just arranged this way to cut corners, it’s very justified.

Bye Bye Bye is easily one of C-ute’s best, most fun singles, and one I revisit very frequently. 10/10

9. Shochuu Omimai Moshiagemasu

Shochuu Omimai Moshiagemasu is a cover of a song by the 70s group Candies, and it shows – there wasn’t much done to modernize the song and it’s pretty a clearly Showa era idol song. That said, that’s totally fine because it’s a great song, and I love the classic feel. While it still has that classic, Showa era feel to it, the arrangement is great, with a great piano sound and some great guitar sound as well. It’s modern in that it has a great production, one of the better C-ute production qualities, but it’s not overly modernized.

This is a good song choice for C-ute and it was done incredibly well. This is a classic song that has become classic C-ute. 9/10

10. Everyday Zekkouchou

C-ute’s last song with more than 5 members, Everyday Zekkouchou is an incredibly underrated one. I started writing this review after getting some bad news, and the lyrics were very moving. These are the lyrics I love in idol songs, the idea of being positive through difficult times, and it’s one of the things I love most about this genre of music. Everyday Zekkouchou also backs these lyrics with a genuinely sweet, upbeat song that has a very refreshing, fresh feel to it. It’s not hurried or rushed but it’s instead just the right tempo. There aren’t a lot of songs that feel like this in idol music, and the song perfectly encapsulates what I like about the lyrics. Everyday Zekkouchou is an underlistened C-ute classic that you should check out if you haven’t. 9/10

11. SHOCK!

A lot of people have issues with SHOCK for pretty obvious reasons – this song is essentially a Suzuki Airi solo with very occasional vocals from the rest of C-ute. Personally, while I was a bit nervous about the precedence this set when SHOCK first came out, I don’t mind it in hindsight, and that’s not going to affect any ranking.

That said, while I like SHOCK’s melody a lot and the general feel of the song, especially during the sections without singing, the song ends up sounding empty when Airi is singing – at points the instrumental sounds like a karaoke track. It’s never terrible, but it makes me wonder on the execution of SHOCK. The melody is catchy, and Airi does well at the solo (considering she’s one of the better singers in Hello!Project that’s no surprise), but the arrangement and execution falls flat. It’s not a bad song, but it’s a shame the execution couldn’t do it justice. 6/10

12. Campus Life ~Umarete kite Yokatta~

Campus Life is another C-ute song that is forgotten all too often, and I think part of that is because it is forgettable. It’s not bad – it’s a pretty cute song with a cute melody, but it’s not the most catchy of melodies and the instrumentation is, like SHOCK’s, a missed opportunity. More than anything Campus Life feels like it should have been an album song rather than an actual single – it doesn’t feel substantial enough to be an actual main single. That said, listening to it is pleasant and it’s not a bad song – it’s just a song I didn’t expect to see as an actual single because it’s just not strong enough to stand on its own like this. It’s a feel good song, so if you’re in that kind of mood then Campus Life could be good, but it’s not the strongest of C-ute’s discography. 6/10

13. Dance de Bakoon!

One of the things I think is interesting is looking at how many times songs are performed. Dance de Bakoon has had steady performances since its release, unlike, say, Campus Life, which I think in part shows just how fun Dance de Bakoon is. It’s a fun, upbeat song with a funk feel and, of course, a dance feel to it. It has a lot of the same problems as other H!P songs of this era – the arrangement isn’t quite as good as it should be, for one. But ultimately Dance de Bakoon is just one of C-ute’s most fun songs, with a great tone to it, great performances by C-ute, and the energy can’t be beat. 9/10

14. Aitai Lonely Christmas

While I personally tend to listen to happier fare around Christmastime, Aitai Lonely Christmas is a song that gets in my head right around that time of year, without fail. It could be the catchiness – it’s usually the chorus of “Aitai no ni etc” that gets stuck in there. But I think it’s a genuinely pretty good Christmas song with a great melancholy feel and one of the more decent arrangements of this era in Hello!Project – the guitar in this is great and there’s some solid piano work too. Aitai Lonely Christmas is a bit melodramatic, but I think that’s part of the fun – it’s the song that makes you want to belt out about being lonely. It’s not a song I listen to a lot, but I listen to this at least once every Christmas season. 8/10

15. Kiss Me Aishiteru

Kiss Me Aishiteru is pretty clearly the “we’re not the kid group anymore” song – it’s the first time they’ve had a single that genuinely wants to portray the group as adults. Coincidentally (or not?) it’s also C-ute’s most viewed video on YouTube by far. For being C-ute’s most viewed video, it’s alright? It’s not terrible, but it desperately feels like “look, we’re grown ups!” when they really weren’t old enough for it.

The song itself is solid – it’s catchy, and the repeated sections in the chorus are mostly good. The arrangement isn’t extraordinary but it’s solid and the background vocals work well. I generally like the feel of the song and the melody is just fine. It just doesn’t seem to suit C-ute at that moment in time very much. 7/10

16. Momoiro Sparkling

Momoiro Sparkling on the other hand does suit C-ute VERY well. It’s got a cute feel, a classic feel, and while it’s one of C-ute’s most outwardly cute songs I love just the tone of the whole thing. Sometimes Momoiro Sparkling feels a little too cute, a little too light after something like Kiss Me Aishiteru, but that’s secondary to just how good Momoiro Sparkling is. The production of this song has a great retro, classic feel to it with a very catchy melody. This is one of the better produced songs of C-ute’s during this era, something I very much appreciate. Momoiro Sparkling feels like a love it or hate it song – if you don’t have a high tolerance for cutesy idol pop I doubt it’s something you’d like, but if you do it’s something you’ll likely love, and I love it. 8/10

17. Sekai ichi HAPPY na Onna no Ko

I reviewed this song back when it first came out, over five years ago (which is a bit of a trip to think about!) and credited it as the first H!P song I full blown LOVED in a while. While revisiting some of the songs of the era has made me appreciate certain songs differently, Sekai Ichi HAPPY na Onna no Ko remains a highlight of C-ute’s discography. In fact, if you asked me to name my favorite C-ute song ever it might very well be Sekai Ichi HAPPY na Onna no Ko.

It has just about a perfect tone for an idol song – it’s upbeat and happy while simultaneously feeling a little more mature than something like Momoiro Sparkling. The pacing of the song is just about perfect, and I love the phrasing of the verses – the melody is just about perfection all the way through. The production is just about flawless as well. Sekai Ichi HAPPY na Onna no Ko is a gem of a song that shows off the best of C-ute and Hello!Project. 10/10

18. Kimi wa Jitensha Watashi wa Densha de Kitaku

After hitting the highs of their last single, C-ute decided to lose me almost completely. To be fair, a lot of that is my own personal preferences – if you know me you know that, for the most part, ballads are not and have never been my thing. I personally think ballads only REALLY work if you’ve got a vocalist that can back it up – Matsuura Aya’s ballads, for instance, work for me because she does well with emoting with her vocals. C-ute has some solid vocalists but I don’t know if anyone was at the level of making me feel this was justified.

That said, as a ballad it’s not bad – the melody is fine, for instance. The verses don’t stick with me, but the title drop in the chorus will forever be stuck in my head. The arrangement works pretty well with acoustic guitar and electric guitar both being used to good effect. Occasionally the instrumentation feels a little too busy – I don’t know if ballads like this really need several instruments going on at the same time, when a more simple arrangement would work just as well.

However, my biggest gripe is the weird production going on with the vocals. I’ve listened to a couple of the solo versions that were released with this and they don’t seem to have a problem, but the main version has a weird reverb on the solo vocalists that is kind of off-putting. Instead of improving the vocals it makes certain sections sound strange and just unpleasant.

At its core Kimi wa Jitensha is a solid ballad – not my type of song but solid. That said, the overproduced instrumental and the bizarre production on the vocals makes the song one I do not revisit. 4/10

19. Aitai Aitai Aitai na

To be perfectly honest this might be the first time I’ve listened to Aitai Aitai Aitai na. I’m not entirely sure why, but the next few singles are almost unknown to me, given how much I’ve listened to them. In general, I wasn’t paying that much attention to C-ute around this time so it’s kind of fresh.

Aitai Aitai Aitai na is an interesting beast because exactly one section of this song is great and interesting, and that’s the bridge about 2/3’s of the way through the song. The organ mixed with choir-styled background vocals melding into a guitar solo is just inherently cool. It’s genuinely so interesting that I just wish the rest of the song lived up to how great that was.

The majority of this song is pretty dull. The melody is OK but not at all memorable – I’ve listened to this song several times just now and couldn’t sing you a line. That said, it might be more memorable if the rest of the arrangement was any better. There are some hints at choral vocals in the background (faint but there) but it’s almost baffling how a song with such a killer bridge could just have nothing else. There are some hints at a great melody, at a great arrangement, at a great song, but for the most part Aitai Aitai Aitai na doesn’t do much for me. 5/10

20. Kono Machi

This is a cover of a song by Moritaka Chisato, which I generally prefer a lot to the C-ute version. This is in part because I love Moritaka Chisato as a performer and she does great at this song, and because I think the song works a lot better as the upbeat original than C-ute’s ballad. Moritaka Chisato’s version feels positive, thinking about her hometown, whereas C-ute’s version is more melancholy. C-ute’s version changes the feel of the song so dramatically that it feels like a different song, which I always appreciate in the cover, and so I think that preferring one or another is all up to personal preference.

For C-ute’s credit the arrangement is really solid, if a bit cheesy at time (the cymbal rolls are a bit played), and in general it’s a solid ballad with a great melody and the performances are solid. I also like the spoken monologues at the end – they work really well. It’s just that if I’m going to listen to Kono Machi that this isn’t the version I’m going to listen to, and as such I don’t listen much. 6/10

21. Crazy Kanzen na Otona

C-ute’s next foray into “look we’re adults” after Kiss Me Aishiteru, this time all the members are all a bit older. Does Crazy Kanzen na Otona work better for me? I mean, a little – it still feels a bit like they’re playing at being more mature than they are, but the members are a bit older and a bit more confident.

Crazy Kanzen na Otona is the clear follow up to Kiss Me Aishiteru, down to the repeated words in the chorus. I feel like Kiss Me Aishiteru has a bit of a better, more memorable, melody but Crazy Kanzen na Otona’s beat and production is a bit better – I love the electronic sound of this and how much it leans into being a dance song. Despite being awkward, though, Kiss Me Aishiteru is the more memorable song and the one I turn to more often. 6/10

22. Kanashiki Amefuri

Here we are at the first of C-ute’s double A-Side singles with Kanashiki Amefuri. Kanashiki Amefuri feels a lot like a continuation of trying to make C-ute the cool group and it generally works better than Kiss Me Aishiteru or Crazy Kanzen na Otona at that point because it doesn’t feel so much like they’re trying to be adults but it feels fitting to their ages at that time in their lives.It’s mature sounding without being cartoonish about it.

As for the song it’s just fine? It took me a few listens to get into the melody which I’m still not sure works with the chorus – the melody is much slower than the arrangement wants it to be. It’s the type of song where it could very well be a ballad if slowed down and arranged differently. I kind of like this disconnect after a few listens, but it’s a bit jarring at first. The arrangement is fine, though. This is a pretty solid song, but not one that makes particular impact – I’ll probably not think much about it after this. 6/10

22. Adam to Eve no Dilemma 

This isn’t a song I’ve listened to all that much and it’s a perfectly fine song. It’s keeping with C-ute’s upbeat, more mature feel but this might be my favorite one yet, even if it’s not my favorite C-ute song ever. It has an electronic arrangement that works really well. The verses aren’t something I pay much attention to, but the chorus is pretty great – I LOVE the phrasing and the repetitive “Adam to Eve” “Otoko Onna” and “Kimi to Watashi” lines. It’s well written, and it works really well.

This isn’t an extraordinary C-ute song, and it’s not one I revisit a lot. However, I do love those lines in the chorus and the arrangement is pretty solid. 8/10

23. Tokai no Hitorigurashi

This is one of C-ute’s best modern singles, one of C-ute’s best singles and in general one of my favorite Hello!Project songs. I love the feel of this single and one of the later single songs, and wish C-ute would have more songs like this – songs that are mature and feel like the singers are actual adults but not necessarily equating that with being provocative. Tokai no HItroigurashi feels familiar to me as an adult woman living alone in the city and trying to figure things out – it’s a song that feels familiar to people living in their 20s, which is not something you see a lot with a youth-obsessed idol industry. I want more groups within Hello!Project that have that sort of adult mentality.

Beyond the lyrics, the melody is fantastic and I love the light funk feel to it. The song is easy to listen to, pleasant and well written. It’s just plain charming. The only thing I really wish is that Hello!Project would have sprung for real horns and better instrumentation – I don’t expect it from them, but I think a song like this would benefit from some real instruments instead of the electronic instruments used. Still, that’s a small complaint as Tokai no Hitorigurashi is fantastic. 9/10

23. Ai tte Motto Zanshin

Ai tte Motto Zanshin does a weird thing where the entire song is pretty cool and then the chorus just goes off the rails. For the majority of the song Ai tte Motto Zanshin succeeds in giving C-ute a cool image and having a great, darker sound. The verses are great, and I love the sections with the repeated “tabun” lines – it works really great. The arrangement is great too, and the verses build up a lot of great tension and sound like they’re building to a phenomenal chorus and then it just fizzles. The chorus on its own isn’t terrible, but it feels like it’s from an entirely different song and loses all of what the song builds up throughout the rest of it. Which is a shame, because for the most part this is a great song, but it’s kind of amazing just how much it loses at the chorus. 7/10

24. Kokoro no Sakebi wo Uta ni Shite Mita

This song is just not all that memorable. Kokoro no Sakebi is a song I’ve heard multiple times before, but, when I pulled it up again for this review, I couldn’t remember anything about this song. Which is a shame, because this is a song I’d love to love – the arrangement is charming (the pizzicato strings are very nice), and I love that this is a cuter song by this older C-ute. It’s the type of song that feels like more of a B-Side or album song than a major single – it’s cute and pleasant to listen to, but I’m not sure there’s enough there to really make it a major single. The melody is fine, though not at all memorable. I think it just need a bit more energy – it can still be a bit laidback but do something interesting with the melody. A lot of this song sounds like it could be an excellent 80s throwback song, for example, but it never goes there. This isn’t a bad song, nor do I regret listening to it, but it’s just so ephemeral and unmemorable. 6/10

24. Love Take it All

Love Take it All is more of C-ute’s aim at being mature and this is where I think it works. It helps that the song is just great – I love the funk feel of the arrangement. It’s this arrangement that makes Love Take it All work so much better for me than a lot of C-ute’s other songs. It’s not something I’ve listened to very much but I might now. The melody is solid and good, pretty reminiscent of some of C-ute’s earlier mature songs, but the arrangement is great and I love how much energy Love Take It All has. 8/10

25. The Power

I kind of adore The Power. I’ve always found it to be the more energetic sibling to Momoiro Clover Z’s GOUNN – both have that kind of appropriative Indian feel to it. That said, while GOUNN is more emotional, The Power is more, well, powerful. It has a lot of energy and I love the melding of this more traditional sound with EDM / dubstep instrumentation – this blend works really very well. At points the instrumental is a bit quieter and doesn’t have the polish I wish it had, but that is a small quibble – The Power is one of the more fun songs of C-ute’s discography. 9/10

25. Kanashiki Heaven (single version)

Previously a B-Side, this ended up being one of C-ute’s singles. I have a confession – Okai Chisato’s voice mostly does nothing for me. That said, she sounds fantastic in Kanashiki Heaven, which is mostly a duet between Chisato and Airi. One of the things I wish idol groups would do more is utilize the fact they have multiple singers through use of harmonies like this.

That said, the harmonizing isn’t the only thing great about Kanashiki Heaven – the melody is memorable and well written and the arrangement is one of C-ute’s best in a while at this point. The strings, acoustic/spanish guitar, all of it works well. At points I’d like a little more bass sound to balance everything out, especially in the chorus, but that’s a small issue – Kanashiki Heaven is unlike much C-ute had done to this point, and works really well. 9/10

26. I Miss You

I don’t know if I’ve heard this song before this review (at least, I don’t remember listening to it) which is a shame because this has very quickly become one of my favorite C-ute songs.The big draw of I Miss You is that it fully utilizes all the members of C-ute, going back and forth with the vocals in a great way. I MIss You is one of the songs which justifies the existence of a pop group, using members vocals back and forth and has harmonies and background vocals. Every member feels utilized even if Airi and Maimi have the only solos. The melody is gorgeous too, and I love the instrumentation. I Miss You feels like the type of song that C-ute was meant to perform, and it’s just beautiful. 10/10

26. The Future

The Future is a song that feels like it has a lot of potential as a song but in general doesn’t quite hit the mark. There are individual elements I like – the song as has a bit of a swing feel to its melody, there’s some decent electronic instrumentation, there’s a guitar solo near the start and end that I can’t quite tell is a real guitar but it’s a cool solo. The Future should be a great song but I feel like all of these elements are mostly half-baked. The melody sounds a little awkward and the only memorable bit is the “The Future!” at the end of the chorus. The guitar solo never quite gets as good as some other memorable idol song guitar solos, and the instrumentation is just OK. The Future should be great – the more I listen the more I hear elements I like. That said, it needs a lot more polish and perhaps more resources put in it. 6/10

27. The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~

This single is the first C-ute single without as much Tsunku writing on it – he wrote the lyrics for The Middle Management but the composition and other songs were by other people. The Middle Management interestingly has five songwriters listed as composing the song, and while I was worried this might be a busy song with that kind of a songwriting team working on this, The Middle Management is VERY solid and very unified. It’s a pretty great electronic/dance focused song and feels polished in the way that The Future didn’t feel polished. While I do like songs that do weird, interesting things, having a song like The Middle Management is great. It doesn’t quite inspire me in the way that something like I Miss You does, but it’s a really catchy, solid song. 8/10

27. Tsugi no Kado wo Magare

Written by Nakajima Takui and performed on his album, Tsugi no Kado wo Magare has a great feel to it. It feels truly mature, like C-ute has grown up. The melody is fantastic (I especially like the repetition of the title throughout the song) and the arrangement sounds beautiful with the strings. This song feels very polished and it truly feels like C-ute has matured. This song isn’t one I return to all that much, but it’s one that I really like, and one that I think shows C-ute’s potential as a group. 8/10

27. Gamusha Life

With this and Berryz’s 10 year anniversary song, I’m pretty convinced that as soon as a group sings a song about how long they’ve been idols that tehy’re going to disband soon. Which is a shame, because I think the last two years of C-ute really show how impressive the group ended up, and I wish we’d had a bit more time with C-ute as legitimate adults.

This song is a bit cuter than the other two on the single but I do like it a lot. It has a sweet sound to it and has a just perfectly nostalgic feel, looking positively at the past and the future. Just like the other songs on this single it’s polished well, has a great melody, and I particularly like this song’s lyrics. This is a really sweet look at a long-lived group. 9/10

28. Arigatou – Mugen no Yell

With this and the latter Mugen Climax, I feel like C-ute really latched on the concept of endless, neverending. Which is kind of a bittersweet sentiment, considering their disbanding, but I like the feeling nonetheless.

This song isn’t my type of song – I’m not terribly fond of ballads, as I’ve mentioned earlier. That said, this is a particularly good one – the message is nice, the arrangement is good (the electric guitar solo in the bridge is great!) and the melody is just fine (though it’s not terribly memorable). If you’re a fan of ballads, this is a good one and C-ute sounds great here. It’s probably one of the better idol ballads I’ve listened to, given the high production value and C-ute’s superlative performances. But it’s just not my thing, so even though it’s pleasant to listen to it’s not one I turn to a lot. 7/10

28. Arashi wo Okosunda Exciting Fight!

After making a ballad for their other A-Side, Arashi wo Okosunda Exciting Fight is another type of song that I don’t typically gel with in idol music, which is the idol rock song. I listen to a lot of bands when I’m not listening to idol music, but I don’t know if this typically works well. However, this song works completely well with C-ute, so even if it’s not my type of idol song it works really well here.

The entire song has a great energy to it and the members perform this well – rock suits C-ute so well that it’s a bit odd that they haven’t done many songs like this before. The arrangement is pretty standard idol rock but it works well – there’s a pretty solid bass line at times, though, and I wish it was louder. This song isn’t one I revisit a lot, but for the most part it’s great and fits C-ute very well. 8/10

29. Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou?

Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou is a song with a big jazz/gospel feel that I generally really like – there are some good horns here and the background vocals work well, though I do wish that C-ute would do more of their own background vocals. The entire feel of the song is a little trite, a little cheesy, but well-meaning – I like the message, but having a song be “why do people fight?” is just kind of cheesy, especially in this day and age.

That said, this continues C-ute’s trend of having some excellently written and produced music. While the whole thing feels a little cheesy, I can’t help but admire how much the entire production value for C-ute improved within a couple of years. This song isn’t one I revisit all that much but it’s definitely a solid song. 7/10

29. Jinsei wa Step

Every so often I see one song off a triple A-Side have much more buzz than the others, and that’s Jinsei wa Step with nearly double the views than the other two songs on this single. And honestly, that’s really justified – Jinsei wa Step is a standout track at every turn. The song has a great, jazzy feel to it which is reinforced by some solid horns in the instrumentation. The melody is a total standout throughout, and I love how it often jumps all over the place. I also weirdly like the percussive tap dancing solo. This is also one of the best songs for vocal performance by C-ute as everyone sounds their absolute best here. I do wish there would be a bit more sound in the background instrumental during the chorus, but that’s a very small thing – Jinsei wa Step is fantastic. 10/10

29. Summer Wind

Summer Wind is an interesting song in that it’s the only song that doesn’t have a retro, jazzy feel to it. Instead it’s a mid-tempo pop song with some EDM/electronic influence to the arrangement. Summer Wind is mid-tempo but it has a melody that feels like it could or maybe should be a ballad – it’s a fairly slow, melancholy song that rarely picks up. The melody is good – I like the chorus a lot, but at times I don’t feel like the arrangement really suits it all that much. The arrangement feels like it’s trying to make a melancholy, slow song more interesting and exciting. That said I do like parts of the instrumentation – there are some occasional moments that are punctuated with a piano that work really well. Summer Wind is a song I feel like it’s good but it’s two different things at once. I like the melancholy feel, and I like the EDM/electronic stuff, but I kind of wish it would stick more to the melancholy feel and let everything serve that. It kind of works for me but at the same time it’s not really my thing. 7/10

30. Mugen Climax

This song samples and remixes part of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata which reminds me a bit of Berryz Koubou’s Jiriri Kiteru, which sampled Chopin. I generally really like this utilization of classical music in modern pop music and Mugen Climax does it very well. Written by singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko, Mugen Climax is a great mix of dance/EDM pop with classical music including a great piano solo throughout and some strings. The entire thing has a cool, intense feel to it that I think only C-ute could really pull off in the current Hello!Project. While I feel like the instrumentation kind of drops out at the chorus, Mugen Climax is an intense interesting song that reminds me of why I love idol pop. 9/10

30. Ai wa Maru de Seidenki 

I love this song. I love this song so much. If I could have a Hello!Project group that did stuff like this all the time I would be a huge fan. Ai wa Maru de Seidenki has a great retro idol pop feel to it while simultaneously being cute and mature at the same time. It feels like a group of adults performing a cute, retro pop song. Every element of Ai wa Maru de Seidenki works so well for me. It sounds great, the melody is incredibly catchy, it’s produced well. It’s probably my favorite C-ute song in years, and considering how great Mugen Climax, Jinsei wa Step and other recent C-ute songs are that’s a big thing. 10/10

30. Singing ~Ano Koro no You ni~

The lyrics to this make me cry. This song was released after C-ute announced they were planning on disbanding, and was written as Tsunku. While it’s not on their last single, I can’t help but believe this is in response to their announcement. More than anything on their final single, this feels like closure to me, covering the years C-ute has been around.

Musically, Singing is my least favorite song on the single. It’s not bad at all – the strings throughout work well, and while I don’t really like the laughter sprinkled throughout I do like almost every other element (I think that shows just how fantastic this single is). It has a great beat and the melody is solid, though at points it’s a bit awkward and kind of stumbles to try to fit in specific lyrics that don’t really fit. But the real star here are the lyrics about making decisions, about looking back to the past and future. No one can really know how the five members of C-ute felt when deciding to disband, but this song feels accurate, it feels like what it must have felt. For that, Singing is a really solid song that feels like C-ute’s big finale, despite the existence of another single. 9/10

31. Final Squall

The entire final single feels themed for their disbandment, to the point where, along with Singing, there are four songs that really encapsulate the end of C-ute. I’m not sure if that is excessive or not, but it is a lot to say goodbye. Final Squall is really excellent, though – an upbeat rock-inspired song with a killer melody and some gorgeous strings. There’s a lot of energy, and it’s generally one of the most upbeat of these ending songs. That said, this is possibly the one that’s affected me the most emotionally – while all of these songs carry a ton of emotion from the members and songwriters, the lyrics of Final Squall about always being with you hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though this is upbeat and a genuinely good listen it’s such an emotional song, which is a really interesting contrast. 9/10

31. The Curtain Rises

The Curtain Rises is a much more dance music, electronic take on the C-ute grad and it’s just OK, which is kind of a bummer because it would be great for this entire single to be excellent. The melody is OK but not particularly interesting, and while the instrumental is good at times (there’s a really solid, pounding beat throughout) it’s inconsistent. The rap break is just OK but not particularly great – none of the members of C-ute seem to be particularly great at rapping nor is it something they explored all that much before so it just feels unnecessary. When The Curtain Rises works it totally works but it’s not as polished as something like The Middle Management or Mugen Climax. I don’t dislike The Curtain Rises and I always enjoy some of it but it’s not a particular favorite of mine. 6/10

31. To Tomorrow

To Tomorrow is probably the most traditional idol song on this single and is appropriately written by Tsunku. For the final song it’s fine. It’s not particularly a memorable melody, and if this was any other single I wouldn’t really be interested. The production is good, the vocals are good, but the melody is just OK. But I do like the lyrics, and this has a definite feeling of it being an end. I really like all the lyrics in this and in Singing, though, that focus on the fact that they might be nervous, or that there is uncertainty. It would be easy to pretend that this decision (whatever it may be) was an easy one, but there’s no way it could be. This song reminds me a bit of Everday Zekkouchou, but I do prefer Everyday Zekkouchou a fair bit.

To Tomorrow isn’t a particular favorite of mine and I don’t know how often I’ll revisit it, even when I’m at my most melancholy or most nostalgic. But it’s a solid end to a solid group, and even though they’re not my favorite C-ute songs I’m glad Tsunku wrote this and The Curtain Rises. It feels fitting. 7/10

Overall: C-ute has had a varied, interesting career spanning over ten years and with several great singles. Considering I don’t think any of these songs are horrible they had an excellent track record. Despite some growing pains as they got older, C-ute made the transition from the youngest group to the oldest group admirably. I wish we had more time with mature, grown up C-ute – I think their last few singles prove just how much potential C-ute has as a group and I wish we had gotten more of that. But as someone who became a fan of C-ute and Hello!Project almost ten years ago myself, it’s been a great time to watch C-ute grow and mature as a group. I wish all the members the very best as they go on to their new ventures, and I sincerely hope Hello!Project keeps performing these songs, to keep the spirit of C-ute alive. Thank you Team C-ute!

Favorites of Mine:

Massara Blue Jeans
Wakkyanai (Z)
Meguru Koi no Kisetsu
Bye Bye Bye
Dance de Bakoon!
Sekaiichi Happy na Onna no Ko
Tokai no Hitorigurashi
I Miss You
Jinsei wa Step
Ai wa Maru de Seidenki

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 3

Ueno Yuuka

Ueno Yuuka is a soloist under King Records. After winning one of the major awards at King Records Presents Dream Vocal Audition, she begun her career with an immediate major debut with King Records. She recently released her 8th single, Tomodachi Gokko, and has also released an album and a mini album earlier this year, Sweet Dolce. Her singles don’t tend to rank very highly on the oricon (often around the 50 spot on the weekly charts), but her songs have been used for movies, TV shows, and CMs, and Yuuka herself is aiming to be an actress in addition to being a singer, appearing in some movies and TV shows.

Musically, Yuuka feels much more of an artist than an idol. She has some beautiful vocals, and a lot of her music reflects how great of a singer she is. She does quite a few ballads, laidback songs, though she has some more upbeat fun stuff. Her music doesn’t really appeal to me, as I’m not a big fan of ballads myself. However, if you are into ballads and like quality female vocalists, Ueno Yuuka is totally someone you should be following. If you’re looking for a more talented idol who feels more like an artist who is starting to do more non-music work, Yuuka is definitely someone you should check out.

HKT48

I feel like if you’re an idol fan you probably know if you like HKT48 or not, and if you’re interested in them you know how to follow them. HKT48 is one of the sister groups of AKB48, the most popular idol group in Japan and one of the many local 48 groups including SKE48, NMB48, NGT48 and STU48 (not even mentioning the international groups). HKT48 is based in Fukuoka and has their theater based there. There are as of right now three teams (Team H, Team KIV and Team TII) that perform in their theater as well as ten trainee members. Like all 48 groups they separate their activity over the various theater performances, TV appearances, radio appearances, singles, and concerts. They just released their latest single, Bagutte Iijan.

If it sounds like a lot, it is – there is a lot to pay attention to if you like the 48 groups, and it’s possible to spend a lot of time watching 48 content. Currently, I’m not a huge 48 follower – all of my major favorites have since graduated (my favorite HKT48 member and original AKB48 favorite, Ota Aika, just graduated in April), and I’m not a huge fan of their current music. I also wish that HKT48 would get an original stage for their theater performances. Still, HKT48 tend to be an energetic bunch and one that I liked following when I did – it’s a bit old, but HaKaTa Hyakkaten is one of my favorite 48 TV programs. Their older singles are still very fond for me – both Suki Suki Skip and Melon Juice are two particular favorites of mine.

If you’re an international fan and want to get into the 48 groups, it can be a bit tricky as a lot of 48 content is region locked on YouTube. However, there’s a pretty strong international fan community, so if you want to be a fan of a very popular group that has a TON of music and a lot of members, HKT48 isn’t a bad option. Even though I’ve mostly moved on as an idol fan (though I do like Kato Minami in NGT48 and I’m looking forward to the debut of a member in STU48 who used to do dance covers on YouTube), I do miss my 48 fan days – there’s just so much to follow, it can be a lot of fun.

X21

I feel like I have to make the same tired joke every year, but no they’re not X-23, the X-Men character, they’re X21. X21 was formed of finalists from the 13th and 14th Japan Bishoujo Contest, a fairly long-running beauty contest there. Formed in 2013, the group made its major debut with Avex in 2014 where they have stayed since. Last year they put out their 9th single, “Kagami no Naka no Parallel Girl” and they just put out their second album, “Beautiful X,” earlier this year. They tend to do OK on the charts (Kagami no Naka no Parallel Girl got #12 on the Oricon Weekly), but not spectacularly so, so they’re still relatively small – they’ve performed some shows at Harajuku Quest Hall which holds about 400 people.

That said, despite being a relatively smaller group, they have some great production values and their music is largely pretty great. I think it could be easy to write off X21 as just being about looks, considering their origins, but I recommend you don’t do this as their music is largely fun, polished, and generally well-written. It reminds me of classic 48 group music, in the best possible way. The songs are largely sung in groups of members (solo lines aren’t really a thing with X21), they have a mostly upbeat sound with a lot of polish. I don’t know if I’d say they’re exactly the same (certainly not), but I can see following X21 more to fill that 2008-2011 era of AKB48 that I still miss. The group doesn’t have any of the same gimmicks, but they fill that gap.

X21 is a really solid group that I’m honestly surprised isn’t bigger. I don’t know how much I’ll actually end up following them on a regular basis, but they are a really appealing group you should probably check out. Their most recent music has all been great, but if you want another song to listen to last year’s “Yakusoku no Oka” was one of my favorite songs of 2016.

Erabareshi

Erabareshi is a subgroup of Bakusute Sotokanda Icchome, which I’ll be talking about later, that performs as a part of the Akihabara Backstage Pass cafe. Since Bakusute is a group comprised of all the employees of said cafe, there are a lot of members. Erabareshi is a group with a static lineup, and as such is a lot easier to remember, especially if you can’t actually go to the Akihabara Backstage Pass cafe, so if you’re interested in that cafe and Bakusute, Erabareshi is a good possibility for you.

Formed in 2016, Erabareshi has since released three singles, including the latest being Basket Queen. Unfortunately they’re region blocked on YouTube for me, so if that matters to you it’s pretty tough to follow them. Honestly, following Erabareshi internationally seems pretty tough in general. Bakusute and Erabareshi seem like interesting groups to follow if you are interested in idols, living in/near Tokyo, and you have enough money to regularly attend the cafe. If I was in Tokyo I would eat up the entire Bakusute gimmick and would probably frequent that cafe. If that was the case, Erabareshi would appeal to me. However, I feel like while these groups have some good music (I like Bakusute’s two indie singles, Produce and Yoropiku Pikuyoro a lot and Seishun Chronicle is good), so much of the enjoyment would come from going to the cafe.

That said, musically their songs are definitely solid. Basket Queen was written by noted Hello!Project producer Tsunku, so if you’er a Tsunku fan in particular checking out Erabareshi could be useful. The B-Side to this was used as a theme song and is particularly catchy. While I personally don’t think that the music distinguishes them enough to put in the effort if you’re not actually based near Tokyo, if you’ve been looking for a way to get into Bakusute then Erabareshi is a good option.

Osaka Shunkashuto

Osaka Shunkashuto was known in its indie years for being managed by only one person, Soezimax, who did everything (songwriting, PV, business, etc) relating to Osaka Shunkashuto. While they have moved on from this, now operating under Fujiyama Project Japan, they still have a big selling point which is the quality of performance. Osaka Shunkashuto is GOOD, and while all the members are good the vocals of the lead singer Maina are some of the most powerful, quality vocals in idol music today.

They recently released their new single, New Me, after not putting out any new music in 2016. While a lot of people prefer their older music, and I agree that Chameleon Shoujo and C’Mon are their best song, New Me is fantastic and definitely worth checking out if you liked the Soezimax era stuff but have been reluctant to check out their newer stuff. Most of their music is more rock-influenced, but New Me is a bit of a departure, having a bit more of an old-school feel to it. The group is generally pretty fantastic about performing, and while Maina is the lead vocalist all the other members seem really fun too. I haven’t explored this group much more than musically, but if this music sounds up your alley then you should listen to some of their songs.

Osaka Shunkashuto is well worth checking out, and I definitely recommend you give some of their music a shot.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 2

Appare! Harajuku

Appare! Harajuku is a pretty new group joining the TIF lineup. They made their debut in July 2016, so about 10 months ago, and just recently put out their first single, “Kono Saki e.” So if you like following an idol group from the start, Appare! Harajuku should be of interest to you. This six-member unit is, as noted by their group name, based out of Harajuku and as such focuses a lot on Harajuku fashion (every member has their favorite brand listed on the website. If you like the cute fashion of Harajuku, this may be a good group.

Honestly, Appare! Harajuku has had a really solid start with their album and single. They have some decent music (though nothing’s particularly excellent, mostly solid), and their performances seem fun. Their YouTube has a lot of performances, and a lot of them seem like they’re a slightly more mellow Dempagumi.inc, in a way. They seem like they’re a fun group and I like a lot of what I’ve heard so far, so if you’re looking for a new group to follow I’d suggest checking out Appare! Harajuku.

Afilia Saga

Another familiar group for following TIF! Afilia Saga was originally Afilia Saga East and they were formed in 2008. All the members are “magic students” that work for the Afilia Group of cafes and restaurants. All the members also have magical sounding stage names like Nana Dorp Bijoux and Raymee Heavenly. They’ve put out 3 albums and 19 singles and have done well for themselves, their most recent singles tending to rank at around #6-8 on the Oricon weekly singles chart. So they’re doing well for themselves. They do anime / video game music, so if you’re into anison then you should already be paying attention to Afilia Saga.

Personally, I always wish their singles and videos would do more with the gimmicks they have. Their magic user schtick is a cute idea but they don’t go anywhere near far enough with it. They have one song that I particularly love (Neptune Sagashite, which I still listen to very frequently) but the other songs I’ve heard have been pretty middling and haven’t done all that much for me, personally. That said, they do have a very anison sound / aesthetic, so if that’s your thing and you aren’t following Afilia Saga I suggest you check them out. Unfortunately their YouTube activity is region locked but some videos are still available elsewhere. They aren’t the easiest group to follow abroad, but if they sound like they’d be up your alley you should try to find some of their stuff.

amiiinA

amiinA is a group of two girls, Ami and Miyu. The group was formed in 2012 and named after the two members at the time, Ami and Miina, but Miina left in early 2016 and Miyu joined shortly afterwards. So the name is now an acronym (awake mind into ideal naked Avalon) rather than being a combination of names. Since this they’ve put out their 4th single, their first album, and this year will bring their first mini-album. So while Ami and the group have been working pretty steadily since 2012, 2016 is when they’ve started to pick up some speed and momentum. They’ve also, interestingly enough, released a version of their first album, Avalon, that’s just an instrumental version and they’re releasing a 12-inch LP later this year too.

Before  writing this post I had never heard of amiinA and was ready to spend about 10-15 minutes researching them and forget about them. But man, groups like amiinA are the reason I absolutely love doing these TIF posts, because I’m so glad I’ve heard of them now. Above all else, their music is fantastic.Their summary on the TIF website mentions they do post rock and electronica influence in their music, but while they do some genre bending I think that sells short just how high quality their music is. Their first album, Avalon, is available on US iTunes so I’ve listened to most of that so far and it’s all interesting and all just great. Beyond that, watching some of these videos, Ami and Miyu seem to both have a flair for performance which makes their concerts look like a ton of fun.

Their music isn’t terribly idol-y. If you want your idols to mostly do pure idol music, amiinA might not be for you. But if you like good music, you should definitely give amiinA a shot. They are just fantastic, and are now immediately going on the list of groups I follow just because of how much I love this music.

Ange☆Reve

Ange Reve is a group from the Arc Jewel agency that produces idol groups like Lovely Doll, Doll Elements, Luce Twinkle Wink, etc. The group’s name means Angel Dream, and currently has seven members, growing from previous numbers. Their big goal was a major debut, which they have achieved as Pony Canyon is their new major label. Since moving to Pony Canyon they have released three DVD singles, the most recent being “Colorful,” and just this past week put out a mini-album, Lumiere, which has two different versions that have completely different setlist. So they’ve been busy, and slowly climbing up the charts.

At this point I’ve mostly been familiar with their indies singles, as both Yuukan na Koi no Serenade and Kiss Me Happy are particular favorites of mine. I don’t think their major debut songs are quite as catchy, but they’re still really fun, upbeat idol songs. Stare is particularly good, and the new songs they’ve previewed off of Lumiere are fun too. Personally, I don’t love their music enough to go seek out both versions of Lumiere, but that being said if you like idols doing the cutesiest of cute idol music, Ange Reve is probably a good choice. All the members seem fun, so if this is your favorite type of idol music I recommend Ange Reve.

Ayumikurikamaki

I feel weirdly proud of Ayumikurikamaki. Formed in 2012 as just Kurikamaki, they first went to TIF when they were just formed by themselves and putting out videos of them in one of their bedrooms, and now they’ve gone legit. The group originally formed as a DJ unit where they performed wearing bear costumes, but added Ayumi, a singer, and have since done away with the bear costumes. Since their formation they’ve done well for themselves – their music is distributed by SME, they put out an album last year, and regularly put out singles.

While I tend to favor their single “Jet Kuma Star,”  their music I’ve all heard is all solidly produced. Despite its origins DJing, it’s not a hip-hop unit – instead their music is mostly solidly – rock inspired. That said, it’s all really solid music, and I definitely recommend checking them out if you like solid idol music with a rock twinge. While they don’t do too much with the DJ thing anymore, at least from what I know of their videos (Kurika DJs but steps out from behind the booth pretty frequently), their music is solid and their live shows look like a ton of fun. I’d definitely check them out if you like rock music or you just want to go to what looks like a good live show. Their newest single, “Gomas Slipper” (or is it “Gomas Ripper?” I’ve seen it both ways) is pretty fantastic.

 

Review: Morning Musume – 4th “Ikimasshoi!”

2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.

To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.


4th Ikimasshoi comes after two years and multiple changes in Morning Musume as a group – in part because Morning Musume’s first best of album came out in between that featured several singles. Even though I’m not reviewing that album (way too much overlap between it and my previous three reviews), all the singles that are only on that album are great, and the original song, Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night is genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best.

4th Ikimasshoi comes after the 4th and 5th generation members have been added. While 3rd Love Paradise still had some more experimental, interesting tracks that were reminiscent of Morning Musume’s start, 4th Ikimasshoi comes out when Morning Musume is fully a pop idol group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if I was pressed to name a favorite Morning Musume album it would probably be 4th Ikimasshoi. But it’s definitely a shift in style.

While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s biggest track, I’d say 4th Ikimasshoi is Morning Musume’s golden era album. It still features both Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki, is mostly pop-centric, and feels like Morning Musume at its peak, even if realistically it’s Morning Musume just slightly below its peak.

1. The☆Peace!

Starting it off strong – The Peace is a great album opener. It’s energetic, upbeat, and a feel good song. It’s on the level of something like Love Machine that, even if you’re not a Morning Musume fan, this is still a great song. Last May a friend of mine and I went out to do karaoke together. Near the end of our karaoke time one of the employees came in to tell us our time was almost up while we were singing The Peace together. The employee ended up joining in for some of the “Peace Peace” bits at the end, that’s just how infectious this song is.

Arranged by the one the only Dance Man, The Peace is a jam from start to finish. There’s an energy throughout the song that’s great, and it doesn’t let up. I might just be a biased fan here, but even Ishikawa Rika’s spoken monologue has a decent energy to it as well.

I also really love the lyrics to The Peace – a lot of them are nonsensical and jump from one thing to another, sure, but that makes it true to life. It takes small ideas about not being able to choose what size pizza to order or signing up for English conversation classes and elevates them. The idea is that being with someone you love elevates these small things to becoming major, to becoming important, and I love how it works in The Peace.

The Peace is one of my favorite Morning Musume songs ever. It is a nonstop joy, and if you’re one of the five Morning Musume fans who don’t know it then go and listen immediately. 10/10

2. Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan

This isn’t one of the more well known songs off of the album, but it’s kid of an underlistened gem for me. It has a great 1950s pop sound that is just happy and pleasant, which is created by a great melody and a great Dance*Man arrangement makes this song work. It’s perhaps not quite as ambitious as some of the other songs on 4th Ikimasshoi, but that doesn’t detract from this.

One of the things that strikes me about Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan is the vocal mix – the vocal production and overall sound of this song is super polished and works really well. At this point Morning Musume had a decent mix of performers who could sing well (Abe, Goto, Yasuda) and those who weren’t as great at singing (Tsuji, Konno, and yes, Ishikawa), but all the voices sound great here and mix well here. The actual instrumentation and arrangement work well too with strings, background vocals, what sounds like a glockenspiel, etc. This is a really well put together song.

I don’t know if I’d consider this a personal favorite song of mine from the album because there are so many greats and Ii Koto isn’t one of the more memorable songs. That being said, I think it shows the overall quality of the era to have such a well put together song not be the memorable one. 8/10

3. Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ (Long Version). 

The Peace was technically the Complete Version, because the end of the song got to the end rather than fading out. Instead of something like that for Mr. Moonlight, there is now a roughly 3 minute spoken skit at the beginning with all of the members. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s mostly extraneous. Some of the members have some funny bits (Yoshizawa Hitomi hams it up and it is just delightful), but it’s a bit long and not gold all the way through – there’s a bouncer at this party who inexplicably has a lot to say. It’s fine, but if I just had 4th Ikimasshoi I’d fast forward through this after the first few listens, as it doesn’t add much of anything.

The rest of the song is classic Morning Musume gold. It perfectly incorporates a big, brassy, big band sound (hence the title) while also being a tribute to the Takarazuka theater. The arrangement is lush and fantastic – obviously the brass is the star here, but there’s a great bass sound to everything, the drums are particularly good, and everything works well with that. The performances are great by the main three, not being afraid to ham it up a little but being appropriately suave. Yoshizawa Hitomi was a perfect star of Mr. Moonlight, and her performance works very well here.

Mr. Moonlight is musically fantastic – every note, every element works perfectly. I’m not a huge fan of the extended intro for the long version, but the original is one of the absolute greats of Morning Musume’s discography. 9/10

4. Hajimete no Rock Concert

The most immediately noticeable thing about Hajimete no Rock Concert is that there’s no real rock sound to it – aside from a short electric guitar note near the end of the song, there’s nothing about this that feels like rock music at all. It’s much more late 90s / early 2000s r&b than anything. This isn’t bad – I actually really like Hajimete no Rock Concert as a song, but there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between the title / subject matter and the actual music.

The song works really well, and I like the mix of electronic sounds and strings – the more classical strings are great here, and I like whenever they’re more pizzicato. I also really like the dark feel of the song. It’s not the song that’s aged the best out of this album, but it’s still a fun listen.

This is a unit song, with only six of the members of the group on it. I actually really like how many small units are on this album – I think that’s something more idol albums should do, actually. The only thing is, while most of this group sounds great, Tsuji Nozomi’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb. I get they didn’t want all of 4th generation on Densha no Futari, the other small group song, but I’d rather hear Kago’s voice on this than Tsuji’s. Her part is pretty short, but it takes me out of it whenever I hear her. That said, all the members sound fine, and Ogawa Makoto’s spoken monologues work really well here – she’s a member who I really think should have gotten a better shake within MM.

Hajimete no Rock Concert is probably my least favorite song off 4th Ikimasshoi, but that’s not a bad thing – it’s a solid r&b track with some good strings and good performances. I think more than anything that shows just how solid of an album 4th Ikimasshoi is. 7/10

5. Otoko Tomodachi

Four albums in and we still need to have an Abe Natsumi-driven song on every Morning Musume album. That’s not a bad thing, though, because Otoko Tomodachi is so great. In fact, the lyrics make me feel like this isn’t a song that could be done as a group – the song lyrics are very specifically about one person and are focused on this one person’s experiences. Natsumi also performs it pretty perfectly and, beyond her being the lead singer of the group, it fits her perfectly. So even though some Morning Musume fans at this time felt something of a Nacchi fatigue, I don’t think this would work quite as well with Goto Maki, Takahashi Ai, Yasuda Kei, or any other member of the group – Nacchi’s vocals and vocal performance carry Otoko Tomodachi.

The rest of the song is relatively simple, rock-inspired pop song but it works because the melody is so great, the performance is great, the lyrics work, the background vocals work. Everything about this is the ideal standard pop song – it might not be breaking ground in the same way something like Mr. Moonlight does, but instead this feels like a carefully, well-constructed song with a catchy melody and great vocals.

Otoko Tomodachi is a classic, and a deserved one. 9/10

6. Souda! We’re Alive

I recently wrote about Souda! We’re Alive for my Song of the Day posts, but I’ll say it again – Souda! We’re Alive is underrated. Not because it’s unloved or disliked – it’s not. But I think it’s genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best tracks ever and is genuinely pretty perfect, blending a variety of genres and sounds to make something really special, I’d say even on the level of a Love Machine or Renai Revolution 21 in terms of quality.

More than anything I’d say this is one of Dance Man’s finest arrangements – the bass sound adds to the funk feel of much of the song, and he handles how much the song changes with panache. My favorite part is definitely the great bassline, but the entire song works.

If you’re familiar with current idol composers this feels in many ways like a proto-Hyadain song in the best way – there are various sections in this song that feel completely distinct (the sung/shouted “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines, the sweeter chorus, the funky verses, the vaguely Russian/funk bridge), but despite how much things change over the song it all works together well. It also has a ton of energy – the repeated “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines build up really well, as do the rest of the verses, and I love how the pay off to this build up is the sweet, poppy “shiawase ni naritai” chorus. The tone of the song varies, but the energy is always solid and I love how different the song sounds throughout.

Souda! We’re Alive is a masterpiece, and one of the best songs Morning Musume has ever done. 10/10

7. Dekkai Uchuu Ni Ai Ga Aru (Album Version) 

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru is a fairly simple song, not quite as strange as a Souda! We’re Alive, but it still is a good one and comes in at a good place in the album – after an off the wall, strange song like Souda, having a more subdued (but still upbeat) track be the middle track of an album works really well as a little breather. The song is mostly sung in unison and has been performed during some charity events because of its relatively uplifting / positive lyrics. I think it fits this role really well – it’s supposed to be a heart-warming song but it doesn’t veer into being too cheesy or saccharine. I also like how upbeat the song ends up being – it could easily be a slow dirge of a song but it works well at this tempo.

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru isn’t as original or interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a very well put together, solid pop track with a great instrumental. It’s not a song I turn to a lot, but when I do I end up liking it. 7/10

8. Ikimasshoi!

After the relatively restrained Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru comes another more upbeat song with Ikimasshoi. Ikimasshoi is pure energy, even more so than the other songs that have been featured on this album. While not quite as well written or as interesting like something like Souda! We’re Alive, Ikimasshoi is like eating pure sugar. In a good way. In many ways, Ikimasshoi feels like the start of a lot of current Hello!Project, emphasizing energy over refinement. The song is great, to be sure, but the arrangement in some ways leaves something to be desired, as it mostly seems to eschew real instruments for whatever they can do electronically. This works a lot here, but I wish that there were some real strings at the start of the song rather than the computer approximation sometimes. It works in a song like Ikimasshoi just fine, but it feels like the lesson from 4th Ikimasshoi was that this would work for most songs, which it really doesn’t.

All that being said, don’t get me wrong- Ikimasshoi is pretty wonderful, and it does what it sets out to do well. It’s supposed to be high energy, the song to pump you up – this is a song that would be so much fun at a concert. I’m not sure it set the best precedent for H!P, but it’s still a great song. 8/10

9. Densha no Futari

The second small group song after Hajimete no Rock Concert, Densha no Futari works a little bit better. It’s one of those songs where I’m surprised at the restraint – Abe Natsumi is in this and yet she generally takes a backseat. The style of the song also works well with making the lesser vocally talented members like Ishikawa Rika and Konno Asami work well, often having a more breathy sound to their vocals.

Densha no Futari is one of the more underrated tracks off of 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a shame because it has a great, almost darker sound to it. It’s fast paced, but it’s much more subdued than something like Ikimasshoi, which gives it an interesting energy. I’d say there’s more tension than pure energy in Densha no Futari. It also has a pretty solid arrangement, with melding electronic sounds, a solid beat, an acoustic guitar.

If you haven’t listened to Densha no Futari, check it out. It has a really interesting sound, makes good use of all of the members on the track, and every element works well. 9/10

10. Honki de Atsui Theme Song

This is the other majorly underlistened track on 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a total shame. This is yet another collaboration with Dance*Man, and as evidenced with his other songs it works really well. Honki de Atsui Theme Song also had a separate arranger for the brass/horns, which is a good sing for me liking a song. And it works here, there’s a lot of brass sound throughout which works well. That said the entire arrangement works well – there’s a great guitar solo near the end, there are some great background vocals throughout as well.

Honki de Atsui Theme Song is a funky, upbeat song that I’m surprised didn’t catch on more or that wasn’t used more. I love how energetic it is, but I also love just how this song needs to be sung with a lot of passion. And all the members do a great job of infusing it with this level of energy and putting a lot of effort into it.

All that being said, the melody is great as well, and this song further cements just how great the collaboration between Tsunku and Dance*Man was. Honki de Atsui Theme Song is one of those songs where you should absolutely give it a shot if you haven’t yet. 10/10

11. Suki na Senpai

Suki na Senpai is one of those songs where I don’t know if I can easily separate the song from what it’s become. Rather than just being a pretty standard pop song, it’s become a Hello!Project institution, sung by new members of Hello!Project groups fairly regularly. I’ll do my best, but Suki na Senpai is one of those songs that is kind of bigger than the actual song itself.

Suki na Senpai is generally a pretty solid, standard pop song, but I think it stands out in the lyrics and performances. The first line sung by Konno Asami about loving to sing even though she can’t do it well just feels real in a way that not a lot of idol songs feel – even though the song is theoretically aimed at someone in a school, the lyrics are all focused on the questions and worries of someone new to something. This is the perfect song for new members of Morning Musume, as it feels like it leans into the insecurity of being a new member to an established girl group rather than pretending things are going just fine. I think there’s a reason that this still gets performed very frequently.

Suki na Senpai is, on its surface, a pretty standard pop song, but is elevated by the lyrics and performance. 8/10

12. Renai Revolution 21 (13nin version)

I feel like this goes without saying. While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s best known song, I believe that Renai Revolution 21 is Morning Musume’s best song. It’s a perfect mix of a catchy melody, fun performances, and one of Dance Man’s best arrangements. Renai Revolution is epitome of classic Morning Musume and classic Hello!Project’s disco pop sound and it does it near perfectly. It’s also the type of song I’ll never get sick of. Over the past 9-10 years I’ve listened to Renai Revolution 21 countless times and it still pumps me up every single time.

There is nothing I can say against Renai Revolution 21. Every element works well together perfectly. One interesting element is that with all the various parts sung by the members of the group and all the vocals, the song almost always has vocals on top of the instrumentation. However, it’s one of those things I never really think about because all the various layers of vocals and instruments work just perfectly.

Every element is perfect. All together this song is perfect. Renai Revolution 21 is perfect. 10/10

13. Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You

I actually don’t listen to this version of the song that much, because I honestly prefer the version performed as a cover by the group v-u-den. That said, this version is still solid. It has a good melody and I love the feel of this song. While this isn’t necessarily as upbeat or as interesting as many of the other songs on the album, this is a pretty nice way to end the album, with a warm, positive feeling. It’s maybe not the song I would have chosen (I might be inclined to end 4th Ikimasshoi with Honki de Atsui Theme Song), but it’s a nice song.

The song starts off in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s aged well (it feels very 90s and not in a great way), but as the song progresses and more members start singing it works very well. It has a heartwarming feel in general, even if it’s a bit cheesy with it. I still think that v-u-den’s version is a bit better, but that’s partially virtue of being released several years later and it not feeling as dated.

Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You isn’t the best song on 4th Ikimasshoi but it is a very solid way to end this exceptional album 7/10

Overall: 4th Ikimasshoi is a pop music masterpiece. Every song is great, and there are several songs on this album I would consider to be Morning Musume’s finest. The songs are well written, well arranged, and this group of members performs them well. After listening and reviewing 4th Ikimasshoi I have to say that I stand by my insistence that it is Morning Musume’s finest work.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 1

That’s right, everyone’s favorite Happy Disco series that takes way too much time is back, the profiles of every group appearing at Tokyo Idol Festival 2017! This year should prove to be bigger than ever, with HKT48’s Sashihara Rino as the chairman of festivities and the festival continuing to be over three days.

AIS‐All Idol Songs-

AIS – All Idol Songs is a group that was formed in June 2016 as a sister group of Idol Renaissance, with the idea that they’d cover 21st century idol songs. So while Idol Renaissance tends to do either older songs or non-idol songs, AIS does a LOT of idol songs from the 21st century, some which you may be familiar with. Taking a look at AIS’ youtube channel they’ve covered Matsuura Aya, Berryz Koubou, Watarirouka Hashiritai and others. Their first single is the fantastic “Doki! Kou iu no ga Koi na no” by Canary Club (which you may know from the game Rhythm Heaven), with Tomato n’Pine’s “Captain ga Kimi da” as the B-Side. A group like this is much more fun if you’re versed with idol music, as they have a pretty interesting and eclectic mix of songs.

Unfortunately, their YouTube channel is region locked, so it’s going to be harder to follow them as a foreign fan. From what I can tell, while the group is definitely still rough around the edges (considering they’ve only been around for less than a year this isn’t surprising) they could be a lot of fun. And since Idol Renaissance is such a great group themselves, AIS seems like they could be worth it to follow, especially if you like idol music and want to hear a fun group cover some familiar music.

Idol College

Idol College is one of the mainstays of the Tokyo Idol Festival so it’s great to see them back again! I’ve covered them for several years so it’s always interesting to check back in. Formed in 2009, the group was originally B.L.T Idol College, for the magazine B.L.T. However, they reformed with totally new members in 2010 as Idol College. Their theme is personal growth as idols (hence college), and they seem to be doing well – one of their singles reached #6 on the Oricon Weekly, so they seem to be performing well. They put out some singles within the last year and an album, with their latest single “Pantastic” coming out on April 10.

Despite having followed them for TIF for years, Idol College has never really grabbed me. They’ve always given me the impression of being pretty fun to follow in person but not really that fun to follow overseas. That said, they have put out some pretty great music over the years. I mostly tend to like their cooler, dance music more than anything – I frequently listen to 2015’s “Tokonatsu Joshi Kibou” and their 2016 single “Niji to Tokimeki no Fes” is pretty great. Their production value and quality of performances seems to only be going up, so if you are looking for a new group to follow I definitely recommend checking Idol College out.

Idol Renaissance

Speak of the devil, here’s AIS – All Idol Songs’ sister group, Idol Renaissance! Over the past few years Idol Renaissance have started to make a name for themselves and it is totally deserved. Formed in 2014, the group’s theme is performing classic songs, meaning that they perform exclusively covers of songs that are considered classic/masterpieces, regardless of how old they are or their genre. That said, Idol Renaissance has a really classic idol feel to them, and despite only performing covers they’ve managed to have a unique style and feel to the group. They’re putting out their first original song in June of 2016, which should be exciting!

This year they put out a joint single with the hip hop idol group Lyrical School as Lyricalnaissance with a cover of Base Ball Bear’s “The Cut” and it is genuinely one of my favorite songs of the year. Idol Renaissance has been doing a lot of collaborations and members have appeared doing other things (one of the members showed up in Up Up Girls’ PV for “Party People Alien”), which makes them an exciting group to pay attention to.

Honestly, the only thing that is difficult with Idol Renaissance is that they haven’t embraced promoting themselves worldwide – their music is unavailable on iTunes and their YouTube account is region locked. However, if you can get past all that (they do have a lot of performances on YouTube), Idol Renaissance is well worth following. They are one of my top groups I wish I had the money and time to follow, and if you are going to TIF I would definitely check out Idol Renaissance.

 

Akishibu Project

 This is the fourth time I’ve covered Akishibu Project for this series, I believe! Formed by former BiS member Rinahamu, Akishibu Project aims to combine the cultures of Akihabara (among other things idol culture) and Shibuya (more fashion-focused / trendy), hence Akishibu. The group has had a solid year, noting on their TIF profile that they sold out a solo at Akasaka Blitz and held a solo show at Zepp Tokyo, which is a pretty solid venue for an indie act. In 2016 they put out an album and a single, their single reaching 9th place on the Oricon weekly chart, which isn’t a bad ranking for a new indie group at all.

While they say they’re combining Akihabara and Shibuya, everything I’ve seen of theirs tends to err on the side of Akihabara. Their first single, “Summer Summer” is very catchy idol pop and their concerts seem to have mostly an idol fan audience, at least as far as I can tell. Still, they seem to focus on fashion enough that if you were interested in that you could follow Akishibu Project. They also seem to be relatively ambitious – they performed some songs with a live band during their Zepp Tokyo show, which I always like to see.

I don’t know how much Akishibu Project really meshes Akihiabara and Shibuya together, but they have some fun songs, their members seem to be energetic, and they seem like a fun group to follow. “Summer Summer” is super catchy, and if you like that the group has plenty of videos posted on YouTube about their Zepp Tokyo show. Their music has been a lot of fun and upbeat lately so I know I’ll keep listening to some of their music after this.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

Up Up Girls is another mainstay of TIF, and one I’m betting a lot of readers of this blog are familiar with! The group formed as a group of former Hello!Project trainees (Hello! Project Eggs) that had not been put in a group themselves, so they initially started to perform as a KPop cover group called UFZS (which they kept up with) and then as their own Jpop group called Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari) starting in 2011. Since then they’ve released quite a few singles (both as an indie act and after they made their major debut), three albums, and have been a very active group performing live. They recently added five members as Up Up Girls (2), initially as second generation members, but they’re kind of doing their own thing now, performing as back dancers for Up Up Girls’ latest single. Two of the members, Sengoku Minami and Sato Ayano, are planning their graduation soon, so if you wanted to see the whole group then TIF is an option for you.

Lately the group has found a groove of their own with more dance-focused music. Last year’s Party People Alien was a definite success, and this year’s Upper Disco is proving to be one of the best idol songs of 2017. Their music has consistently been good, but the past couple of years of dance/EDM driven music has been increasingly good for UUG, finding a niche for themselves. They are a fun group to pay attention to and I wish I paid them more attention. They have fun, high quality performances with solid music, and you should definitely give them a shot if you haven’t yet.

Song of the Day #100: Mano Erina – Next My Self

Here we are, the 100th consecutive day (almost) of idol blogging. And it’s time to say that this is going to be my last entry in this series before I put it on hiatus. While I’ve found blogging about a different song every day to be an interesting and fun challenge, it’s gotten to the point where it’s taking up a lot of my time, and more importantly it’s getting in the way about blogging about other things. I’m planning on reviving a blog series here that I wondered if I could even do with my daily posts, which I feel is the opposite of what I wanted to do here. I’ve enjoyed making these posts a lot, but at the end of the day I want to be able to blog more about other things on this blog and on my other blog (whatmenthinkwomenwant.com).

When thinking about my last post before this series goes on hiatus, Mano Erina’s last single Next My Self came to mind immediately. While I was never the biggest ManoEri fan, her music is often underappreciated and Next My Self is pretty wonderful. The reason it came to mind was because it’s her last single before her graduation as an idol to go on to be an actress, and even though this 100 day blog series is hardly the same as a several year idol career, it felt fitting. The song has a heavy piano song (an ode to her early songs where she played piano) and has a really nice feel to it – it’s not happy nor is it sad, but it makes moving on feel like a fitting move.

Perhaps I’ll start this series again, which is why I’m saying hiatus, but farewell for now!

Song of the Day #99: Merry☆GO☆Lands -Genkai ketobashite

Here’s another group I discovered while looking through new YouTube idol music videos. Genkai Ketobashite is Merry Go Lands’ first single, and the opening song for an anime, and it’s remarkably good for being a new group and a relatively indie production. The vocals are strong – they’re deep, and at times almost sound operatic. The vaguely Japanese sounding beat that is clearly trying to evoke a more traditional vibe works really well with the rest of the song and doesn’t get in the way of the more modern idolness of it. I love idol music that tries to balance more traditional sound with a contemporary pop song and Genkai Ketobashite does just that.