TIF 2017 Recommendations

The time is nearly here! Frankly, I initially thought Tokyo Idol Festival was the first weekend of September so I thought I’d have a bit more time to work on TIF posts. But, while I still have a ton of groups I’d love to profile and cover, here are some recommendations for the lucky people who are planning on going to TIF. Please note – I haven’t seen most of these groups perform live so I can’t really speak to the live experience, and the TIF experience may vary even further (as a festival). That said, these are some of my favorites that are going to Tokyo Idol Festival!

Idol Renaissance

I feel like Idol Renaissance goes under the radar for a lot of foreign fans but they are absolutely a group I need to follow more and you should too. While the vast majority of their music is covers (their first original song is coming out this year) they choose great songs and their performances are solid. Their album is now on American Spotify and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately – both YOU and Funny Bunny are two favorites of mine. They’re a remarkably solid group and one that deserves more attention.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

This is almost 100% a recommended group because their latest single, Upper Disco, is easily one of my favorite songs of 2017 and they are almost certainly going to perform it at TIF. But Up Up Girls is a solid group with members who have been at it for years and years and some really solid music in their discography. While they aren’t a group I follow all that much they are a group that reliably puts out some new great music every year and has solid performances. Up Up Girls (2) is also an option if you want newer members performing Up Up Girls songs (and probably smaller crowds).

AmiinA

This group is such an unexpected surprise of my TIF posts – their music is uniformly interesting, dreamy and unlike most other idol groups. I have been listening to their music since discovering them and have been really enjoying amiinA as an unusual group. I’d definitely check out their music before seeing amiinA because I feel like if you’re not into the music you may not be into them, but I think they have some really solid stuff.

S*Spicy

While S*Spicy doesn’t put out that much music and isn’t too active, they are a really fun group with a great vibe. The older sister unit with members in their mid-late 20s, S*Spicy is goofy and entertaining. I wish they were active and promoted more, but if the idea of an older group with a very Stardust sensibility then I’d recommend S*Spicy.

Osaka Shunkashuto

While some people would argue that Osaka Shunkashuto went downhill after they got bigger, I respectfully disagree. While songs like C’Mon and Chameleon Shoujo are the best the group has been, this year’s New Me is just fantastic and shows how great they’ve gotten. The main vocalist Maina is a powerhouse and the other members are great dancers/performers. If Osaka Shunkashuto isn’t on your radar it very much should be.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

This is another surprise. They have some excellent music they perform and are completely energetic. If you’re looking for an energetic fun group that might have a smlaler crowd then I’d give KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!! a shot.

Kikkawa You

Kikka’s always had a solid solo career with some great music and great performances, but her latest work,specifically her music written by Oomori Seiko, has been fantastic. Yuu seems to be going more towards an indie sound and presentation, and if you know any of Oomori Seiko’s music you’ll know if you should be interested in Kikka. But I think she’s doing some great stuff and would love to see more from Kikka.

Keyakizaka46

Yeah this is going to be a tough act to actually go see if you’re at TIF. But Keyakizaka46 is easily my favorite 46/48 group right now and they’re backing it up with some great music – Silent Majority took the idol world by storm last year and their singles have all been great, with this year’s Fukyouwaon being pretty phenomenal. With their popularity actually getting to see Keyakizaka46 might be a tough ask, but if you’re thinking of seeing one of the 46/48 groups I’d go with Keyakizaka46.

Sasaki Ayaka

Yeah OK, this recommendation is painfully obvious. But Aarin is genuinely a wonderful person and performer AND is starting off her solo career this year with her first solo single. The entirety of her solo concert from last year is really great performances and I would expect nothing less from her TIF performance. Aarin has great stage presence and performing skills and should be really fun to see at TIF.

GEM

GEM is one of my favorite of the Avex idol groups – while opinions might vary on which Avex Idol Street group you like best, it’s pretty undeniable that they have strong performances and production value. GEM has a lot of personality and some great music – their single from 2017 “Sugar Baby,” which is almost certainly guaranteed to be performed at this year’s TIF, is addictive and wonderful.

Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

While following Ebichu has been difficult for me in the wake of Matsuno Rina’s passing, they are undeniably a great group – they have some great performances and phenomenal music – their music is often not necessarily traditional idol music but well written and well produced. Ebichu should definitely be a group you follow at TIF and beyond.

Zettaichokkyuu Joshi Playballs

Yeah I had no idea I’d be interested in a baseball themed group but here we are. Playballs is a new interest of mine but they are incredibly fun, have some great music and seem like a fun group to see live. Their 2016 song Diving Catch has been one of my most listened to songs of this year, so I wouldn’t miss the chance to see them live at TIF.

Sora tob Sakana

Sora tob Sakana is one of the groups I’d like to follow most in the future – they have some really interesting music I’d compare to amiinA’s on this list, in a way – it’s very unusual music for idols and tends to have more of an indie rock / post-rock feel to it. The group often performs with a live band, which is something I love, so if you’re looking for a group with interesting music that doesn’t have an idolly feel I’d check out Sora tob Sakana.

Takoyaki Rainbow

Yes, another Stardust recommendation. Takoyaki Rainbow is one of the many Stardust promotion groups, but this time they’ve made their major debut with Avex which gives them some great production value. Quite a few of their songs have been written by Maeyamada Kenichi, my favorite songwriter, and they have a ton of energy in their live performances. Takoniji is a group that combines fun and great music so they are definitely a group that deserves attention.

Team Syachihoko

Another Stardust group, but of course I’m going to recommend Team Syachihoko. They have excellent music, members, and are incredibly fun to watch. They are an energetic group that puts on a really great show and my favorite idol group.

Chubbiness

Yes, Chubbiness is Avex’s chubby group. While I wish that more idol groups would have some body diversity, I know that’s not necessarily something that’s going to happen. That said, Chubbiness is a whole lot of fun. Their debut song Manmadeiya is really addicting and they have a lot of fun idol songs. I wish Avex would promote Chubbiness more because they’ve assembled a fun group of girls who are fun to follow.

Tsubaki Factory

If you told me this was the year I was going to become a Tsubaki Factory fan I would have probably laughed at you. However, after two stellar singles and a major debut I am hooked. Their singles this year have been really great, the members are all really fun, and this seems like a great group to follow. They’re still a relatively new group but that’s also fun too – it’s exciting to see where Tsubaki Factory goes. They are on a great path, though, and are making immense progress over a very short amount of time.

Tsuyogari Sensation

This group is almost 100% on this list because their 4th single, UG Stepper feat. MIZ, is one of my most listened songs of the year. But Tsuyogari Sensation seems like a great group with some great rock idol songs and some powerful vocals. UG Stepper is my favorite of their songs, but with a little publicity and some more polish Tsuyogari Sensation could go places.

Niji no Conquistador

Niji no Conquistador has become one of my favorite idol groups over the past couple of years. I think they hit a really great sweet spot where they have interesting songs, are a bit weird, have energetic performances and also do fun idol songs. Nijicon is a pretty indispensable group for me and one you should be following if you aren’t already – they are such a fun group that I know they’ll have a great showing at TIF.

Batten Showjotai

OK, yes, I am recommending yet another Stardust group, but Batten Showjo Tai fits in a niche I had no idea I was interested in – ska idol pop. Quite a bit of their music, including the wonderful Osshoi, is ska-inspired and it is just delightful. Aside from that they have the energetic performances and quality music Stardust has come to stand for. Batten Showjo Tai is still fairly new but have made a splash with their major debut singles and are very much worthwhile.

Band Ja Naimon!

In many ways Band Ja naimon is essentially another Dempagumi.inc but really more Dempagumi.inc isn’t a bad thing. Band Ja Naimon has some great music and great, energetic performers. I definitely prefer Dempagumi.inc but Band Ja Naimon has become a solid group in their own right, worthy of attention on their own. They’re a  group I want to follow more and one I’d recommend checking out.

Philosophy no Dance

I discovered Philosophy no Dance because someone sent me links on twitter saying they thought I’d like it. I don’t know if I just have super obvious taste but Philosophy no Dance is super fun – they have some great, funky retro music that is just a lot of fun to listen to – I’m After Time is really fantastic and definitely one of my favorite songs of 2016. They’re a group I pay more attention to the music to than anything else, but if you’re into music like Especia or any other group with retro sound I’d check out Philosophy no Dance.

RYUTist

RYUTist is a local Niigata based group which has some great music and even better performances. They’re really a music-focused group more than anything else. I was lucky enough to see them when they came to the US in 2014 and their performances blew me away. They are an incredibly sweet group and one I feel very lucky to have met and seen in person – I definitely recommend RYUTist.

Lyrical School

‘While I’ve always been more of a Rhymeberry fan when it comes to idol rap, Lyrical School is a great group (featuring a former member of Rhymeberry!) that’s more active and tends to be a bit more polished. They did a single with Idol Renaissance (a cover of Base Ball Bear’s The Cut) that is one of my favorite things from this year so far. Run and Run is also one of my favorite recent idol songs. Lyrical School is really good at what they do, which is idol rap, so if that’s something you’re interested in then you should follow Lyrical School.

Wa-suta

The World Standard is the platonic ideal of cutesy idol pop. Their music is upbeat, cheerful, but also often strange and bizarre. They really lean into the cutesy side of being idols. If you’re into that sort of thing, you will like Wasuta. Part of Avex’s Idol Street, they have well produced music and videos, and specialize in cute but strange things. They are a bit off the wall at times which is why they are a great group.

While this is a bit of an abridged list, these are the groups I would definitely try to make time to see if I was lucky enough to be going to TIF. Apologies if your favorite group isn’t on this list – there are plenty of groups I thought about putting on (LinQ, HR, i*Ris, etc) that I chose not to. There are a lot of other groups that I just don’t know about, so if you’re at TIF I urge you to explore the indie idols and groups that are present. If you’re into alt/anti-idols, I’d recommend checking out Gang Parade and BiSH, though Gang Parade and BiS have gotten kicked out of TIF before so these audiences can get a bit rowdy. There are a ton of great groups that I didn’t mention, so let me know if there’s a group I have to know about that’s going to TIF (or one I should cover on my blog sometime).

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 10

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru is a five member unit based in Harajuku. Their aim is to be both cute and energetic, and just by looking at this image I say they’re on the right track.Formed in 2016, KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru has several original songs but no singles as of yet, so hopefully they’ll put something out soon. Their songs have some notable songwriters, the most exciting to me being KOJI oba who cowrote Momoiro Clover’s Hashire and has written or arranged for Hangry & Angry, Hello!Project, Band Ja Naimon! and others. So while they’re very indies they have some good songwriters working with them.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte Kuru seems just really fun. They have the Dempagumi.inc / The World Standard style of being just completely off the wall in terms of style and energy. Their music is fun and their performances are really exciting. I really hope that KAMO ga Negi goes places because I’d love to see what they could do. They are a really fun group with a surprisingly high level of music and performance, given how new and how indie they are. I definitely recommend checking them out if you like Dempagumi.inc, The World Standard, Band Ja Naimon or any other groups in that vein.

Kikkawa You

Kikkawa Yuu (often styled as Kikkawa You) is a former Hello!Project trainee for several years after being a Morning Musume audition finalist. She performed as a part of Milky Way, the group for the Kirarin Revolution anime and was generally a fan favorite as a trainee. In 2010 she left Hello!Project and became a solo artist in 2011. Since then she’s been relatively active, putting out 3 studio albums, one cover album, one best of album and 11 singles over the years.

While Kikka started off doing pretty standard idol fare (the excellent Konna Watashi de Yokattara being one of my favorite idol songs), she’s since moved on to doing more indie, experimental music. Hana, her single from 2015, is a whopping 17 minutes and 25 seconds, aiming to be the longest idol song ever written. Her two singles released since then, Ha wo Kuishibare and Sayonara Standard, were both written by singer songwriter Oomori Seiko, who has a definite style to her music. While her sales haven’t been astronomical (which is a shame), Kikka has a style all her own and it’s been really fun to see – I hope she continues the path she’s on because Kikkawa You is doing some really great stuff you should be paying attention to.

Kimi iro Project

Kimiiro Project is brand new – they made their debut on March 25 of 2017 so they’ve been around for just about four months. They’re so new they were just added to the TIF site and don’t have any real info about them. They’re doing their first solo live in August so things are moving pretty fast for Kimiiro Project- they’re also doing the idol festival circuit and won a space to perform at TIF.

They have a YouTube page but there’s mostly only videos of introductions / solo videos of all the members. So if you like Kimiiro Project you should be able to learn about the individual members. Watching some of their live videos, they still feel really green and inexperienced. Which, to be fair, is expected after a group’s been around for only four months. All the members seem eager and energetic, which is fun to watch, but the vocals are pretty poor and the music is generic. It would be interesting to see a group like this after some training and some higher production values because I do like just how energetic they all seem – they’re just not there yet as performers.

GANG PARADE

Gang Parade is a part of the big surge of anti-idol / alt-idol groups that have popped up in the wake of groups like BIS and BISH. Co-founded by one of the former BiS members Kamiya Saki (who’s interestingly enough temporarily back with BiS until September), Gang Parade is a group with many names – first they were Pla2me then PoP and now Gang Parade. It’s interesting to see them back at TIF – back in 2015 when they were still PoP they got kicked out of TIF for their lives getting too rowdy.

I feel like at this point you know if you’re into the whole anti-idol / alternative idol scene or if you’re not – either it does something for you or it doesn’t. I kind of lie in the middle – I admire a lot of these groups for breaking the idol mold and want more groups to try this but the sound and the aesthetic of these groups is so far from what interests me. That said, Gang Parade might be the group that breaks through if you’re interested in this scene but are like me and don’t really gel with groups like BiS or BISH – a lot of their music seems straight up accessible. FOUL, a recent single, is very listenable, but Beyond the Mountain, their latest single, is genuinely fantastic and could very well end up one of my favorites of the year. If you’ve been thinking of getting into one of these groups but can’t get into something like BiS maybe give Gang Parade a shot.

Candy Zoo

Boy oh boy I feel like it’d be hard to find a group that contrasted with Gang Parade more than Candy Zoo. Candy Zoo made their debut in 2013 and their name is to represent that they want their personality to be like candy but also want to be watched like a zoo – while i don’t know if a zoo is what I want to compare idols to, it’s a cute name. They also used to wear animal prints but I’m not sure if that’s obsolete now.

I honestly  wasn’t expecting much from a group like Candy Zoo based off of their name and image but I was pleasantly surprised – the song and video for their song Kesshou is surprisingly great. While the other songs I have heard from them aren’t quite as good as this latest single their other songs are solid and seem well-produced. The group overall seems fun and while I don’t think they’ll wow everyone I think if you like cute groups you might be pleasantly surprised by Candy Zoo.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 9

Shoujo Koukyoukyoku – Girls Symphony

Girls’ Symphony (as I am going to call them because the Japanese part of their name literally means Girls’ Symphony) is a unit that was formed in 2015 but debuted in early 2016. Their aim is to have seven members who are all active doing their own thing (gravure, modelling, etc) but then come together to be in Girls Symphony. They put out their first and only single last year, Mahou wo Kakeru yo. Please note: There is a pretty popular Wake Up! Girls song that has the same name as this group, so if you search for this group make sure you aren’t actually checking out Wake Up! Girls.

Girls’ Symphony doesn’t have a ton of stuff out yet, besides some concert videos, so they’re very new. However, Mahou wo Kakeru yo is a good song and they cover some decent idol songs when they perform, such as NMB48’s Hoshizora no Caravan (one of my favorites). They have a really great classic idol appeal that might be a big appeal to some. If you’re looking for an idol group with a classic appeal / aesthetic I’d go with Idol Renaissance, but if you would prefer a group that does more idol songs then you might want to check out Girls Symphony.

KATA☆CHU

KATA☆CHU is a unit that was formed in 2016 with the theme of unrequited love, since the Kata in their name is kataomoi. So this unit’s goal is to support people who long for something or who have unrequited love. Since a lot of people go to idol music for comfort this is a very cute idea. KATA CHU also prides itself on having unique music that would be interesting to fans.

That said, they don’t have very unique music, at least not from the songs I’ve listened to on YouTube. They have some decent songs but they’re pretty standard idol pop in construction and performance. If you like standard idol pop KATA CHU is a fun group still firmly in the indie idol phase, but that’s where they are – pretty normal.

Kapushikigaisha Hyper Motivation

This is an office / company themed group formed in 2016 where the members aim to be cheerful, energetic and have high motivation. Each member has a “title” like if they were in a company, such as being the public relations department, human resources department, etc. and in general aims at office workers. This is a really cute gimmick,and I do wish that more idol groups would have themes like this, mostly as an office worker myself. Unfortunately, Hyper Motivation hasn’t put out any singles yet, but do have some videos on YouTube.

While I like the concept I’m not just seeing it from Hyper Motivation – their energy level doesn’t seem to be that high in performances and while some of their music is solid it doesn’t seem to fit this theme. With more time and effort I could see Hyper Motivation become the group they say they are, and I do think there’s some potential here – none of the members are bad at what they’re doing. But for a group that prizes energy and motivation I’m not getting it from Hyper Motivation.

Kamiyado

This is a five member unit based in Harajuku – their name has a few different meanings but KMYD, part of Kamiyado also stands for Kawaii Max Yell Dream, which is super generic idol phrasing but I kind of love it. They were formed in 2014 and have released 10 singles and one album since then, so they are a pretty active. That said, their first 8 singles all were limited to 500 copies so they’ve been very indie, though their most recent two singles are available for purchase online and are on a different label.

I like Kamiyado – they are still very indies but they seem to be aiming to be an indie group in the vein of MomoClo or Dempagumi.inc. Their music isn’t at all polished but it’s fun and has promise. Despite the lack of polish the music and performances are really fun and I can see big things for Kamiyado if they keep this up. I’m going to try and follow them more in the future and you should check them out.

Kamen Rider Girls

Kamen Rider Girls is the official girl group for the Kamen Rider tokusatsu series. Formed for Kamen Rider’s 40th anniversary in 2011, they perform theme songs for Kamen Rider series and things. Each member used to represent a protagonist from a Kamen Rider series, though for the past couple of years they’ve no longer done that. They’ve released several singles and are putting out a new album in August.

I feel like this group really most likely depends on if you are a fan of tokusatsu / a fan of Kamen Rider. As someone who hasn’t watched that series I’m not sure if Kamen Rider Girls are for me, really, especially since so much of their activity centers around Kamen Rider. Their production is solid and professional – since they’re partially produced by Avex that is to be expected. They do have some songs that aren’t used for Kamen Rider, so there is a possibility you might like them if you aren’t an existing Kamen Rider fan. but I’d mainly recommend them to people who like Kamen Rider already.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 8

elfloat

elfloat is a 3 member unit formed in 2014 by Blue Forest, a music video company. Their theme is fairies and they generally have that sort of elfin, fairy theme to their look and their presentation. Their first single “Tokioki Mermaid” was released this year and sold over 20,000 copies, but they’ve had some original songs for years as well as music videos, so they have other stuff to check out. They also recently did a solo show at Zepp Tokyo so elfloat is a group on the rise.

That said, even after watching several videos I don’t know if I really get it. They seem like a decent group, but I think the biggest disconnect is their stated theme and their actual impact. Musically they seem like they should be doing Armor Girls music – Irish inspired pop, while they have some decent rock music in their repertoire. Their videos are fun (Like a Tinker Bell is kind of goofy and pleasant) but don’t really fit either. Musically I like some songs but after listening to several none really stick with me. The group seems fun but not one that’s particularly memorable.

Elfoat is definitely a group to check out if you like rock-inspired idol pop but they don’t do much for me.

Electric Ribbon

Electric Ribbon was formed in 2007 though they’ve had several member changes since then, so this year marks Electric Ribbon’s 10th anniversary. They recently added several new members so that this group now has six members, and they recently released their first single with this lineup, “Twinkle in you,” though since this group has such a history they’ve put out several singles before that. Their goal is to have a girly, electric sound, so both electronic and cute/idol.

Personally, Electric Ribbon doesn’t particularly excite me all that much, but they do have some solid music – Twinkle in You is good, Eyeline is good. They have some solid upbeat pop music with an electronic flair, to the point where I don’t know why I don’t listen to Electric Ribbon more. They’re a very indie group but since they’ve been around for 10 years at this point I’m not seeing anything to indicate that they’ll be stopping anytime soon.

Okai Chisato

After doing my C-ute review post this is a familiar face! Okai Chisato was one of the members of the Hello!Project group C-ute which just disbanded earlier this year. Chisato over the years got more and more vocal parts and focus to the point where she was a main vocalist in many C-ute songs. While I’m not a huge fan of Chisato’s voice, she gained a big reputation for her vocals.

Chisato also has a flair for variety appearances which seemed to be where she was headed post C-ute. That said, appearing at TIF might mean more of a vocal career in her future? Time will tell. But if you were a fan of C-ute, you know who Chisato is.

Otome Brave

Otome Brave has perhaps my favorite idol group concept / gimmick ever – they’re RPG idols, where each concert they gain experience and level up. I wish that whole concept would shine more in their music and performances (at least the ones that I’m watching on YouTube), but it’s a really cool idea that feels pretty true to form in that performing more does mean they’d gain more experience.

Otome Brave has so far released one mini album back in April 2016 so they aren’t a terribly active group in terms of putting out new music. However, what music they do have is pretty solid – nothing extraordinary but Mikansei Braver is very fun and Yakusoudokukekishou, their main track of the mini album, is very catchy. There’s not a huge amount about Otome Brave out there, so it’s hard to follow them internationally, but they seem like a really fun group with a fantastic concept I’d love to see more from.

On and Go!

Formed in 2016, On and Go is a group based in Osaka formed of four members who went to the same high school. On and Go is one of the biggest groups I’ve wanted to follow more after last year’s TIF because the clips I saw of them were really fun, however there’s not a whole lot about On and Go online.

Earlier this year they released a self titled mini album as their first music release, with two different versions (with all different songs) so they have put out music. Unfortunately, even though the group is a lot of fun they just don’t have much out there for foreign fans or fans not based in Osaka – they currently have two concert videos on the YouTube channel of their agency so you can see why I like them a lot and like their music a lot, but that’s about it. Which is unfortunate because On and Go seems like a lot of fun.

If you are OK with investigating a group and not finding a lot I recommend on and Go, but be prepared to be annoyed with how little you find for them.

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 7

= LOVE

Pronounced “Equals Love,” =LOVE is a group produced by HKT48’s Sashihara Rino.that is aiming to be a group of both seiyuu and idols, working with Yoyogi Animation school. = LOVE is brand new – the member profiles on the = LOVE website were posted in June and the photos were posted just days before this Happy Disco blog post. So if you’re looking for a group at the start, = LOVE could be an option, especially if you’re a fan of Sasshi.

Since = LOVE is so new there isn’t much about them out there – the members have done some streams on Showroom but that’s about it for now. So it’s hard to say what sort of music they will do or what kind of an idol group = LOVE will become. But if you want to follow a group from its inception this could be for you.

SKE48

I feel like every time a 48 group pops up I just have to say you either like them or you don’t, and you probably know that by now if you’re reading this blog. SKE48 is the first sister group of AKB48 and is based in Nagoya, Japan. Since SKE’s been kicking around for nearly ten years at this point, they are releasing their 21st single soon and have almost as storied a history as AKB48. There was a while where in my opinion SKE had the best music of all the 48 groups (their singles from 2010 through 2013 are almost all fantastic songs I still listen to regularly), so if you’re looking for a 48 group to follow musically SKE might be a good option. I haven’t been terribly fond of the songs I hear from them recently, though, so I can’t quite tell if they’re still at that level. Their single from 2016, Chicken Line, seems to be fairly popular and a lot more interesting than a lot of AKB’s recent singles.

Again, if you like SKE you probably know already – I doubt any of the 48 groups will convince you to like them if you dislike the rest. SKE has a big history, though, so if you’re looking for a 48 group that’s not AKB then SKE isn’t a bad option.

S★Spicy

S★Spicy is a unit that most people aren’t terribly aware of but do have a history. Formed in 2009, it’s a two member unit that’s actually a big sister unit to the other Stardust Promotion groups, so Momoiro Clover Z, Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, etc. The group has had various name changes over the years, starting with S★Spicy, then S★Spicy-1 when they had one member, S★Spicy-2 when a new member was added, and then going back to S★Spicy.

That being said, it’s kind of funny because they’ve had just about as many name changes as they have singles. Despite being around since 2009, S★Spicy isn’t prolific, with only five singles and the most recent one being from 2015. That said, they really just keep on kicking year after year, so if you want to follow a Stardust group with some staying power but also is very much and indie group (and seems to be staying that way), S★Spicy could be for you. I also like that both members are older than your average idol.

Since they are still relatively indie there’s unfortunately not a lot for  S★Spicy out there. That said they are a really fun group and so if you’ve been thinking about getting more into Stardust’s indie idol scene I recommend checking out  S★Spicy!

STU48

Another 48 group! Again, I feel like you probably know if you like 48 groups or not, but STU is a pretty interesting case. For one, they are super brand new – the first generation members were announced in March and they have one original song, so if you’re looking to get into a group from the ground up STU48 might be for you. They also have an interesting idea in that while most 48 groups have a home theater in the city they’re based in, STU48’s theater will be on a cruise ship instead and travel between six different prefectures. Their theater has yet to open, but this will be interesting to see in the future.
Ultimately there’s not much to see from STU yet – they have their original song, Setouchi no Koe, and the members tend to frequently do streams on Showroom. Their first single is set for November. Again, if you like the other 48 groups you probably already know if you want to follow STU, but it is always interesting to follow a group from their absolute start, and that’s where they are with STU48 now.

NGT48

OK, more 48 groups, here we go. NGT48 is a newer 48 group based in Niigata. They debuted in 2016 and in 2017 got their first single with Seishun Dokei. Of the three 48 groups in this single post, NGT48 is the middle group – they have nowhere near the experience of SKE48 but have been around for longer than STU48. So they might be a fun place to join in, especially since they already have a single and some songs.

Again, you know if you’ll like NGT48. Personally they’re the 48 group I’m most excited about, but that’s mainly because, due to all the graduations from the 48 groups, front girl Kato Minami is possibly my favorite 48 group member. But considering you probably know your feelings about NGT48 already I won’t spend more time on them.

 

Tokyo Idol Festival 2017 – Part 6

Uijin

Uijin is a four member unit that was formed in December of 2016, so still very new. The group’s concept is centered around a fictitious city of neo tokyo, which is a pretty common name for a futuristic Tokyo in anime and games. They recently released their first full album which includes lyrics written by the members of the group. Their style musically is idol pop with healthy helpings of electro and rock sound.

For being such a new group and for not having ties to other groups (as far as I can tell) Uijin seems remarkably good so far – their music is simultaneously interesting,  underground idol music but it’s well written and accessible. The members seem like solid performers and their live videos look super fun. If you’re looking to explore more of the underground idol scene, Uijin could be an accessible in. If you’re looking for electronic, futuristic rock with an idol bent, you have some specific tastes but Uijin might be your jam. Their song Meltdown I particularly like (and parts of it remind me a bit of Hangry & Angry’s Reconquista), but their other songs on their channel are good. Since they are so new they don’t have a ton out yet, but you should definitely keep Uijin on your radar.

AOP

AOP (written as A応P but I’m simplifying it here for my sake) stands for Anime Ouen Project, or Anime Cheer Project, basically a group built around cheering on anime. AOP  doesn’t only cheer on anime, with members that like it, though – they’ve been doing theme songs for anime. AOP hit it big in 2016 with doing the opening theme songs for the popular anime Osomatsu-san, which made Zenrokyu Batankyu do very well. Unfortunately their other singles or albums haven’t done quite so well, but they are a fairly prolific group – they’ve put out two singles, a mini album and an album this year and last year they put out an album, a mini album and four singles. So if you like anime music and want a group that’s constantly churning out new stuff, AOP could be up your alley.

While last year’s Cotona Mode is an ultimate guilty pleasure of mine (it is pure idol fluff), I haven’t been able to get into AOP much myself. More than anything they come across to me as a less polished i*Ris. Which isn’t a bad thing – most groups don’t achieve the polish of i*Ris and the anime theme is pretty fun. The members seem like fun and some of their music is great  – their latest single, Jitensha ni Hana wa Mau is pretty solid and last year’s “Ano ne, Kimi dake ni” is great. But if this group sounds like they’d appeal to you I’d check out both i*Ris and them. AOP is a bit less polished so if that appeals to you more than the highly polished i*Ris I’d check them out.

AKB48 16th Generation Kenkyuusei

I feel like this needs no explanation, but I’ll give one in case you’re unffamiliar with the AKB48 system. This is the 16th generation of AKB48 members, who passed the audition and debuted as research students late last year at the end of 2016 and will be in training until they debut in a proper AKB team. That said, this generation has been doing a lot of performances on their own – they had a big concert on their own at Tokyo Dome City Hall in January and have since performed in the AKB theater on their own as well.

I mean, if you’re into AKB you should probably follow them, if you’re not into AKB you won’t. This group isn’t likely to change any minds, but if you’re an existing 48 fan you can follow the future of AKB48 if you check them out.

AKB48 Team 8 

AKB48’s Team 8 is kind of an oddity that I’ve never been quite sure what to make of. Formed in 2014 by an audition for all the members, the concept is that they are comprised of a member from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures (though they currently have 44 members), who aim to travel to each prefecture, where they are idols who will go to meet you. They’re also sponsored by Toyota. So while they’re a part of AKB48 and some of the members of Team 8 are also cocurrently members of other AKB teams, Team 8 is kind of its own thing – a team but not a team in the sense of A, K, B and 4. They’ve so far visited 38 prefectures which is a pretty solid number.

Again, if you’re not into AKB48 I doubt Team 8 is going to change your mind, unless their theme or their Toyota sponsorship is somehow really interesting to you. They kind of do their own thing, and I think their theme is clever, but they’re AKB48 at their core. Either you’re interested in that or you’re not.

HR

HR is a unit from Fukuoka with their name standing for Hakata Reboot. HR is a bit of an odd duck in that they seemed like they were on the rise but have gone in odd directions – this group has had a LOT of members shuffle in and out over the past years since they’ve debuted in 2010, and while they’ve done some things I don’t think they’ve hit the heights I thought they were. The group made their major debut in 2015 and have since put out four singles, but in many ways I’d say their peak was in their indies days in 2014, with the release of their single “Evolution da,” album release and their subgroup Splash Revolution. That said, their single sales have been solid, so that might be my personal perception. I am interested to see how many members they end up with – they’ve always had a fairly large lineup, so seeing three members be HR is a little weird.

Since HR has very recently lost almost all its members, it’s hard to recommend going back to older videos because I don’t know how relevant they will be to future idol fandom. They have some fun, solid idol music – Kimi ni Spark, their first indie single is a favorite of mine and I actually own a physical copy of Evolution Da I like that single so much. Their style is pretty standard idol, so I’d say they’re mainly of interest if you are located in Fukuoka and want to support a really solid local idol in the local scene. I really liked them in years past until my oshimen, Kobayashi Mayu, graduated. They’re a bit hard to follow as a foreign fan, especially as they are victim to region locking, but there’s quite a few fan recordings of their concerts around Fukuoka. I’m a bit conflicted on HR, honestly – there’s a lot to like in their history but it remains to be seen where they go from here.

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