Sunday, June 30, 2013

Is This S/mileage or Tokyo Girls' Style?

What's that? You're wondering what in the hell a Hello! Project idol group and an Avex idol group could possibly have in common? Well, if you hear me out, you might be surprised...

I'll have you know reviewing S/mileage material was a lot easier when all their songs were cutesy and sugary and sounded similar. Now it's like they're the Hello! Project equivalent of a Magic 8 Ball. Since Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki, I never know just where the hell they're going both musically and stylistically. Will they do a ballad? A bland-ish song that sounds like a filler for a Super Girls album? A quirky and wacky ode to working hard? The possibilities are endless!

And today, the Wheel of S/mileage Music has spun to Atarashii Watashi ni Nare!

Much like Yattaruchan, the other A-side to the latest S/mileage single, I was expecting little to nothing from Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! Of course, that's probably because at the time I was cruising on the SS I Could Care Less when it came to S/mileage in general. But after the PV for Yattaruchan came out and to my surprise was actually a pretty fun and energetic S/mileage song, I began to take a little more interest in what the other accompanying A-side would sound like. I mean, not too much interest, but enough to keep an eye out for when the PV would come out. Could S/mileage possibly impress me twice in a row and prove that the chemistry that made Yattaruchan a success wasn't just a fluke? So time marched on and the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! came out, and my reaction towards the PV was... well... I'll elaborate on that in a few paragraphs. What immediate struck me about Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! was how different it was from Yattaruchan both musically and visually. Unlike Yattaruchan, which had all the quirkiness and charm you'd find in 4nin S/mileage, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is much more serious-sounding and intense. For a group that's typically much perkier and upbeat, this change in tone might seem a little jolting... if not for the fact that S/mileage has dabbled in some more mature music in the past year. It started with Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki, which straddled the line between happy and serious, with... mixed results. Personally, I thought the song was a step-up from the atrocious Dot Bikini but the song wasn't spectacular, and I too had a mixed feeling about the more mature sound of the song. Following Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki was Samui ne, a straight up ballad completely different from any other S/mileage A-side of the past. Like its predecessor, reactions to this A-side were also divisive, with some applauding the change in style and others deeming it an experimental failure. I wasn't terribly fond of Samui ne but I didn't think it was a horrid song either. And then there's Tabidachi Haru no Kita but I don't want to bore you with my opinion of that snooze of a song.

Bottom line is, the few times that S/mileage has experimented with a more serious sound have usually produced rather mixed results. Sure, X from their first album worked decently but strictly speaking about A-sides, their happier and more childish songs have typically worked better than their darker and edgier songs. So Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is no different from this pattern. Or it shouldn't be at least. After all, it is a very mature-sounding song for S/mileage, and that's not even taking into account the music video. This song has all the elements that have normally worked against S/mileage in the past. It's devoid of any of the stronger elements of S/mileage's music such as Uchouten Love, Suki-chan or even Please Miniskirt Postwoman. Yet despite all that... I think Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! works. Yeah, yeah, call me crazy, check me into the loony bin, but I still think that Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! pulls off that serious sound better than Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki and Samui ne. Is it the greatest idol song I've ever heard? Of course not. But I still think that Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! holds up fairly well on its own, better than I thought it would. It took me a few listens to really get into this song, but once I did, I started liking it. And then I started pondering what was it about Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! that made it work better than say, Samui ne? Or Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki? Both those songs were serious, but in the end, both those songs fell flat for me. It's rather hard for me to pinpoint the appeal of Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! but I think it has to do with the fact that it's a serious song and doesn't try to be anything else. It's not throwing in any randomly upbeat parts and vocally, the song is decently suited for S/mileage, unlike a ballad where strong vocals have to carry the song. Don't get me wrong, I could see this song working better for C-ute, but for S/mileage, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! still holds up as a decent A-side. Is it a different sound for S/mileage? Yes, but unlike some of their previous attempts, I think it's different in a good way.

And now we have the inevitable question: which A-side is better? The fun insanity of Yattaruchan? Or the serious intensity of Atarashii Watashi ni Nare? Well, as much as I love pitting A-sides against one another, I don't feel like I can really compare these two because they're so incredibly different from each other. You've basically got these two songs on two far ends of the idol music spectrum. Yattaruchan is fun. Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is serious. For that reason, it's hard to pick which of these two very different-sounding songs is better per say. I think it all boils down to your own personal taste. If your a fan of fun and wacky S/mileage and fun and wacky S/mileage only, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! clearly isn't going to be your cup of tea. But personally, I like that Yattaruchan and Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! sound so different from each other. I love Yattaruchan, I think it's a great song, but I also don't think it needs a mediocre ripoff that only has half the fun and energy. One of the problems I had with Morning Musume's last double A-side single (Brainstorming/Kimi Sae Ireba Nani mo Iranai) was that Brainstorming was such a good song that Kimi Sae Ireba, which was very similar in style, paled considerably in comparison. Both A-sides were too similar to be on the same single, especially to both be promoted. This S/mileage single, thankfully doesn't have that problem. I think the fact that Yattaruchan and Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! both have distinctly different styles makes this S/mileage single, in my opinion, one of their strongest since Yuuka left. Look at this from a food perspective (because let's be honest, everyone loves food). Would you rather have gourmet vanilla ice cream and gourmet chocolate ice cream or gourmet chocolate ice cream and expired dollar store chocolate ice cream? If you picked the latter, then damn, you've got some weird taste buds but anyways. Riding on my food metaphor, it's the appeal of sweet and salty that makes Yattaruchan and Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! work together.

But wait, there's more! Well, not much more, considering most Hello! Project PVs don't add much to their respective songs. And the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is no exception, however I still think it deserves a screencap. So away we go!

Well, there's not much to say about the title drop but hey, look at that lovely subtitles-less screenshot!

So is Dawa hypnotizing Rina into clinging to her leg like a koala or...?

Gee, 10 seconds in and already they're piling on the intimate girl-on-girl dance moves!

A wild Akari appears!

All these intimate shots of 14 and 15 year-old girls touching and embracing each other takes me back to the PV for Liar...

...then again, Liar was a tad more explicit. By idol standards, anyways.

I'm kinda iffy about the outfits for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! They're nice-looking but they also look like they belong in 2002.

Crap. Kanji. If only H!P had subbed the signs in this PV instead of the actual song.

I can't pinpoint exactly why but somehow this weird choreography feels out-of-place...

Actually, the choreography in general keeps whiplashing from sassy and kinda sensual to downright odd.

DRAMATIC CLOSEUP OF WORDS I CAN'T READ AGHHHHHHH Yeah, I should probably look up the translations...

1st Gen. S/mileage implores you to stop begging for Saki and Yuuka to return.

Maybe Kana's sign reads "Please give me more spotlight, UFP." And thus, Yattaruchan was born!

If you're S/mileage and you know it, clap your hands!

The power of Meimi's bite voice sends all the girls to the floor in fear awe.

I gotta admit, those shoes and socks are actually pretty freaking adorable...

Oh look, Rina's token moment of spotlight in this PV! You go Rina! Claim that spotlight!

But uh-oh, looks like Meimi's got her eyes on anyone trying to steal her spotlight... hee hee... puns...

I feel like if this dance were done by say, C-ute or Tokyo Girls' Style it might work better. But it's a S/mileage dance and the results are... varied.

You know, these close-ups kind of remind me of parts of Jiriri Kiteru.

Maybe because both these H!P groups have a hard time pulling off a mature image?

Oh hai, gratuitous leg shot!

Ha, it's funny because she's only fifteen years old!

Come to think of it, these shots are a tad bit awkward when you factor in the ages of the S/mileage girls.

Swish, swish... this might be a cute dance move if they had swishy skirts to swish around swishily!

Meimi on the prowl for potential victims to suck blood from- I mean, uh, posing for the camera!

Okay, is it just me or are these close-ups starting to give a stalker vibe...?

In fact, what if the whole concept of this video was the girls getting stalked!?

And what if the signs are really their distress pleas for help!?

Oh, who am I kidding? This PV recycled the set from Juice=Juice's first PV; I highly doubt there's any kind of "deeper meaning" to be found.

Well, S/mileage, you tried your damnedest to do a mature PV, didn't you?

Now you might be wondering, "What in the hell in this PV reminded Nia of Tokyo Girls' Style?" You also might not be, but for the sake of this post, I'm just assuming that you are. I know it seems like a weird comparison to make considering how different both groups are, but there are a few elements of the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! that struck me as familiar to the SweetS-reborn idol group that I'm such a huge fan of. Here are a few aspects of this PV that I made me think of TGS:
  • Simplistic but sleek looking sets
  • Flattering outfits that look a tad too mature but not "I'm calling the police" mature
  • Sensual dances performed by 14 and 15 year olds
  • Suggestive poses that depict the girls being intimate toward each other
Surely you see the connection I made, right? Right!? Okay, maybe the comparisons are a bit of a stretch... Still, I'd like to think that this is what would happen if Tokyo Girls' Style was transferred to Hello! Project. Can you imagine what would happen if S/mileage was transferred to Avex? Eugh, they'd probably just get a bunch of bland and generic crap like Super Girls does. Annnnyways, I might be the only one who sees any parallels between S/mileage and TGS, but the only reason I even did was because the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! looked so much more mature than what S/mileage usually gets. A typical S/mileage PV usually has bright and colorful imagery, cute outfits, and a variety of quirky props and gimmicks to keep the viewer entertained. But the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! instead goes for rather sexy outfits (as sexy as S/mileage can get anyways) along with a minimalistic PV that relies more on the dancing and the visual appeal of the girls to keep the viewer entertained. And if you're one of those kinds of fans (you know who I'm talking about), then I think you'll be very entertained by this PV. For me, I still get a few TGS vibes from this PV though, and I can't really pinpoint a specific reason as to why. Maybe it's because TGS is an idol group that often takes on rather mature and dark images despite the fact that the oldest member of the group is 17? Of course, TGS is also backed by an agency that actually likes to spend money on promotional videos. So I guess what I'm trying to say is Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! felt like the cheap equivalent of your average Tokyo Girls' Style PV. Minus Dawa and Kanon, the members of S/mileage are around the same ages as the girls of TGS, so maybe that's why my mind made the connection. And there's also the fact that the dance for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! did remind me of a dance that I could see TGS doing. Probably pulling it off a bit better too, but I'll elaborate on that in a moment. 

So comparisons to other idol groups aside, how does the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! hold up on its own? Eh... it's a bit of a mixed bag. What stands out the most with this PV is that it's for a S/mileage song. Not C-ute, not Morning Musume, but S/mileage, the group that dressed up like pigs. The sheer maturity Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is trying to emit feels a little jolting from a group like S/mileage. I'm all for experimenting with image, but that doesn't mean it'll always work. I will say, this PV worked better in terms of maturity than the PVs Suki yo, Junjou Hankouki and Samui ne. However, there's still something off about the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! I don't want to say it's the ages of the girls (although parts of the PV are somewhat awkward because of that factor). I mean, groups like Tokyo Girls' Style pull mature imagery like that all the time. I think what prevented Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! from working is that it didn't feel like the girls were invested. I always say that if you invest yourself into something hard enough, whether it be walking around wearing a chicken suit or skinny dipping, it just might work. The girls didn't give off a vibe of being 100% comfortable with what they were doing in the PV, especially during a few of the spotlight close-ups. I also feel like some girls (Kanon, Rina) were trying to convey a cuter image while others (Dawa, Meimi) were trying to convey a more mature image. That imbalance is why I think this PV didn't completely work. To sum it up, this PV was S/mileage trying to go for a mature look but falling flat partly because of their image, partly because of the members themselves, and partly because of general awkwardness. And if you personally can't see S/mileage doing a more mature style, then you're probably not going to enjoy this PV very much. If you are one of those people, then I'd suggest you stick with Yattaruchan. In my opinion, I don't think Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! got a terrible PV, but I think another group like C-ute could have handled this image and concept better.

Beyond that, there's not too much to talk about with the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! It's pretty much your standard Hello! Project PV with a dance shot, some close-ups, and something random thrown in to try and attempt to make the PV interesting. If you've been following H!P for awhile now, you know the drill. I've never really followed H!P for their visually captivating PVs so yeah... I will say, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! isn't the cheapest H!P PVs I've come across. Actually, I thought it looked pretty good, but that might just be because I've been exposed to H!P PVs for such a long time my standards have lowered. The camera work is decent, and I think it's somewhat creative to have handwritten signs scattered about the PV. Sure, I don't know what's written on said signs but it's probably some generic stuff that relates back to the song. Nothing that is necessary for me to know to continue living my life. The styling on the girls was nice too; like I said, the outfits are really flattering. Really, this PV could have been a lot worse, but as far as cheap PVs go, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! is decent. Unlike the PV for Yattaruchan, which was pretty blatantly cheap but still tried to throw in a few entertaining bits, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare!'s PV goes the artsy-simplistic route that is just as cheap but a little more tastefully so. I always say that the best thing to do when you're strapped for budget money is to go tastefully simplistic in lieu of ridiculously tacky. In that aspect, the PV holds up fairly well. Despite the fact that Yattaruchan got the tackier PV, I actually think I like it better than the PV for Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! But hey, that's probably because I think the image of that PV works for better for S/mileage, and that shows. Again, I'm not against S/mileage doing something different from their cutesy image, but if they're going to try something different, at least make sure it works. In the end, Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! and Yattaruchan are two very different songs and PVs. You may like one, you may like the other, or you may like both, but this S/mileage single definitely has something for everyone on it.

I'll give Atarashii Watashi ni Nare! four out of five apples. Not quite as good as Yattaruchan but still a pretty decent song and decent PV (by H!P standards at least). The PV doesn't do much for me, but luckily the song itself picks up any slack the PV has. I've got to admit, this S/mileage single as a whole was actually pretty good, probably the best one I've seen from them since Please Miniskirt Postwoman! anyways. Maybe S/mileage isn't completely beyond redemption for me!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Let's Talk about Nanda Collection

Wow, three singles and an album from Kyarypamyupamyu for 2013? Damn, and it's only June! You can slow down a bit, Nakata! Or you can spend some time making more music for Perfume... I kid, I kid, I'm happy that Kyary's getting another album, even if I'm a lot more excited about Perfume's album. I feel like I should point something out with Kyarypamyupamyu that I haven't really elaborated on in my pasts reviews of her material: I like her as a person. I think she has a very eclectic, amusing personality and I also think that she genuinely loves what she's doing. However, despite the fact that I think Kyarypamyupamyu seems like a very delightful person, her music has always been very hit-or-miss for me. I've never been able to get into her music the same way I got into Perfume or even MEG, despite the fact that she's also produced by Nakata Yasutaka. I've never been able to put my finger on just what it is about her music that doesn't do it for me the same way Perfume's does. It's not that her music is bad by any means but I've always found Perfume to be just... better. Is it the visual appeal? The music itself? I don't know, but I do know that I haven't listened to a lot of Kyary's non-single music. I haven't even touched Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, her first album. So I thought what would be a better way to look into Kyary's music than to review Nanda Collection? I've got my Apple Rating System ready and my headphones for listening so let's take a look at the technopop Harajuku icon that is Kyarypamyupamyu!

1. Nanda Collection

So I went in to this intro thinking it was going to be a full song, and when it abruptly ended after playing for only forty-something seconds, I was like "The hell?" You know, you have your expectation and when reality doesn't match up to that, you can't help but feel a little jolted. So, I listened to Nanda Collection again knowing the length of it this time around, and as far as intros go, it's all right. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the "instrumental opener" song intros that I've seen on many a J-pop album; I'd much prefer a full-length song. That being said, Nanda Collection, makes for a pretty fun intro song. It's very upbeat and it's even got what sounds like... bagpipes in it? I swear to god those are bagpipes, but I might be wrong. So you get this nice buildup and then it just... ends. Personally, I would have liked to see what this song would have sounded like as a full song rather than just an intro. I think it had potential... so much for that, I guess.

My Rating:

2. Ninjari Bang Bang

After that very, very brief opening, the album kicks off with the first A-side! I think that Ninjari Bang Bang is definitely a good follow-up to Nanda Collection, mainly because it has an intro that really grabs you. I still really love the opening instrumental to this song, and I wish it went on a bit longer before the opening chorus kicked in. It has this very cool, wonk-y sound to it, and I don't think the rest of the song really matches with the tone of that opening. It's like the song segways into typical, cutesy Kyary territory when the chorus kicks in, and while that's not a bad thing, I would have liked to see this song take an edgier route. Maybe a remix, perhaps? Hell, if Nakata can remix Fashion Monster, why not Ninjari Bang Bang too? I don't want to say it sounds like there are two different styles that don't work in this song, because they do, but I feel like Ninjari Bang Bang could have taken more risks. Still, a pretty decent A-side!

My Rating:

3. Kimi ni 100 Percent

Next is another A-side! But don't worry guys, this is one of those A-sides that gets the promotion of a B-side. Think of Kimi ni 100 Percent to Furisodation as what The Matenrou Show was to One Two Three. All right, all right, to be fair this song was used in a children's cartoon called Crayon Shin-chan that Kyary guest starred in. That is the name, right? My wifi's out while I'm typing this so I can't exactly find out at the moment... I actually kind of forgot this A-side existed when the Furisodation PV was released, and I only listened to it once before starting this album review. Listening to it more intently, I can definitely see it being used for a children's show. Kimi ni 100 Percent is very cutesy and has a nice little upbeat melody that kind of makes me want to bob my head. I feel like if I were in a bad mood, I'd loathe this song, but overall, I think this is a pretty sweet and harmless song. Not very interesting, but still a cute song.

My Rating:

4. Super Scooter Happy

I actually contemplated listening to the original Super Scooter Happy before listening to Kyary's cover. You know, to see if I wanted to compare the cover to the Capsule original or go in judging the song alone. In the end, I did decide to listen to the Capsule version first, and I'm glad that I did! I really liked the original song, and I think it's cute enough and energetic enough that Kyary has the style and ability to cover it! And cover it she did! I honestly couldn't make out many differences in the original Super Scooter Happy and Kyary's cover, save for the vocals (well duh) and a few other little instrumental things. But yeah, this is one of those song covers that I actually like listening to! If I had to pick, I'd probably prefer Capsule a bit more since I like the vocals a bit more, but I still think Kyary's cover works very well to her advantage. Super Scooter Happy is such an energetic song, and probably one of my favorite songs on the album.

My Rating:

5. Invader Invader

After that brief interlude of a non-single song, the A-sides invade again! See what I did there? Ah, sometimes I think I amuse myself more than my readers... Anyways, Invader Invader, the wacky alien-themed A-side from the most recent single of this era, is an all right A-side to me. Like a lot of other Kyary songs, I like it but I don't love it. It sounds like a pretty normal Kyary song with a very up-tempo beat, cute vocals, and a catchy chorus until you hit... the break. Oh yes. You know what break I'm talking about. The Dubstep break. Yeah, I don't care how many times I listen to Invader Invader, I don't think I will ever grow accustomed to the sudden Dubstep break after the second chorus. I mean... what's the meaning of it? Does is symbolize some musical statement beyond my listening perception? Meh, Nakata's probably just on a Dubstep high. Beyond that, there's not much to talk about with Invader Invader.

My Rating:

6. Mi

Oh hai, original song! So Mi (a name to call myself!) is the first completely original song on Nanda Collection and it... bothers me. With Kyarypamyupamyu, her songs always seem to border a line between endearingly cute and obnoxiously cute to my ears and Mi falls into that latter category. I think it really doesn't help that the introduction is so repetitive, and the way Kyary hits the notes grates on my ears. Then after all that repetition, there's this static break that goes on a little bit longer than it should be before the verses start. And from there, the song just flips back and forth between fluctuating levels of annoyance. I really think it's just the chorus that gets to me. I can't only take so much of "Mi" being repeating again and again and again and again and... blagh, even writing about it is making me go crazy! Mi might be for some Kyary fans but for me I doubt this will be an album track I'll be frequently listening to.

My Rating:

7. Fashion Monster

Back to A-sides! After the annoying clusterfuck that is Mi, Fashion Monster is a comforting change of pacing. I reviewed the song and PV for Fashion Monster back in late 2012, and I gotta admit, this song has grown on me. I don't know what it is, but somehow all the elements of this song work. Maybe it's because I listened to it more around October... as weird as it sounds, this is a really good Halloween song. I don't even the lyrics are about Halloween but something about this song gets me excited for Halloween the same way Go Go Summer! gets me excited for summer. What I like about Fashion Monster is that it has a really distinct hook in the chorus that really pulls you in at the start. The rest of the song maintains and atmosphere of quirky fun that simply works for the song. Looking back at all the A-sides of this era, I think Fashion Monster has got to be my favorite.

My Rating:

8. Saigo no Ice Cream

Ooh, a title with the word "ice cream" in it? I like this song already! In all seriousness though, Saigo no Ice Cream is one of the better album tracks for me. I like that this song has a more... vintage sound (especially in the opening). I know it's weird to call techno vintage-sounding but it just does to my ears. What I also like about Saigo no Ice Cream is that it the sound isn't quite as cute as the other tracks on Nanda Collection. Don't get me wrong, it's a still a very sugary song, but it isn't annoying. In fact, it sounds like one of the most fluid new tracks on the album. I like it when Kyary gets a song that isn't quite as cute as say, PonPonPon or Kimi ni 100 Percent because it's refreshing. I didn't think much of Saigo no Ice Cream when I first heard it, but like a lot of Kyary songs, it's grown on me! If you're looking for a less diabetes-inducing Kyary track, I'd recommend this one! Even if the title does have the word "ice cream" in it...

My Rating:

9. Noriko to Norio

Hoo boy, another repetitive song. I have a lot of the same problems with Noriko to Norio that I did with Mi. On the up side, there are a few parts of this song that don't annoy me like... eh... the verses! And a few parts of the instrumental... yeah, I'm not really feeling this song. The chorus to this song really gets on my nerves, mainly because it drags. Actually, it's not just the chorus that drags. A lot of parts in this song feel really low in energy because of that odd tempo. Despite the fact that this song is only a little over three minutes long, it feels so much longer. Combined with the fact that the vocals don't sound pleasant to my ears, listening to this song is a lot harder than you'd think it would be. Again, if you like Kyary's cuter and more repetitive songs, I think you'll like Noriko to Norio, but I have a certain level of tolerance for cutesy repetition, and much like Mi, Noriko to Norio crosses that line just a little too far.

My Rating:

10. Furisodation

Okay, is it just me or did the tempo on this song get faster? Eh, it's probably because I haven't listened to this song in awhile. That being said, why in the hell have I not listened to this song in awhile!? I forgot how awesome this song is! Like Fashion Monster, Furisodation is a song that somehow grew on me from the time I reviewed it to now. What I love most about this song is the sheer enthusiasm in it. The song is meant to be a celebration of turning twenty years old and becoming an adult and it sounds like it. Furisodation has such contagious joy that it makes me excited to turn twenty! Or twenty-one since that's more celebrated in the US... I could listen to this song over and over again and not get tired of it! The PV for Furisodation is also pretty awesome but I have a PV review that elaborates on why that PV works so well. As a song alone, Furisodation still holds up incredibly well, even more than it did when I first listened to it!

My Rating:

11. Kura Kura

Okay, another short song. Gee, I wonder if this song will be fast-paced and repetitive? Just kidding, this song is totally a ballad, guys. Are you starting to see a pattern with what kind of Kyarypamyupamyu songs I like and don't like? Yeah, Kura Kura is way too cute for my tastes, though I will admit it kind of sounds like a song you'd hear in a very techno-y version of The Nutcracker. Or the circus. Or The Nutcracker being performed by a circus. Take your pick! It's not that Kura Kura is a bad song (in fact, I think the instrumental sounds pretty neat); in terms, of musical style, this song isn't aurally pleasing to me. Just look at my past comments for Mi and Noriko to Norio and you'll get the gist of my opinions of Kura Kura. I can admire the work put into the song, but stylistically, it does not appeal to me. Eugh, I feel bad for coming down so hard on all these new album songs. Maybe the last song will win me over?

My Rating:

12. Otona na Kodomo

Luckily, yes! Otona na Kodomo is one of my favorite tracks on the album! It's also the longest track on the album, but I like that. Funny how I seem to always prefer the longer Kyarypamyupamyu songs. What makes me like Otona na Kodomo is that like Saigo no Ice Cream, it's not a particularly "cute" song. The instrumentals are rather smooth (or as a smooth as a Kyary song can get) and the tempo is fairly slow. The song still has energy, but it doesn't feel as spastic or rushed as Noriko to Norio or Kura Kura. I also like that the melody is very straightforward; there's not a lot of vocal manipulation in Otona na Kodomo beyond the normal vocoding in Nakata songs. You get some nice background vocals that flow with the instrumental very nicely too! There's even some xylophone thrown around in Otona na Kodomo, and it works very well! I think Otona na Kodomo was a nice-sounding song to close the album!

My Rating:

The Verdict

So I'm really glad that I decided to review Nanda Collection, because I think doing so has made me figure out why I can't get into Kyarypamyupamyu the same way I got into Perfume. Unlike Perfume, who seems to have a kaleidoscopic range of different musical styles that all retain a style of polished technopop that I really enjoy listening, Kyary's songs are very hit-or-miss. I think that's mainly because her image and style is just so... kawaii. I hate using that word on my blog, but that style is really what Kyarypamyupamyu embodies both visually and musically. And personally, I have a rather low tolerance for cuteness. I can take a certain amount but there's a certain level of cuteness that I just don't care for. With Kyarypamyupamyu, her music is either above or below that amount, and usually above. It just doesn't appeal to me because cuteness is a style that I am not a huge fan of, at least not in large doses. Why else do you think my favorite idol groups are Tokyo Girls' Style and BiS instead of Super Girls? I follow a group or artist primarily for the music, and unlike Perfume, an artist whom I consistently like save for a few songs, I never know the next Kyarypamyupamyu song is going to appeal to me. That being said, a big part of my own personal taste is why I have a very 50/50 opinion of Nanda Collection. I think if I were a bigger fan of Kyary's music, I would be down with this album more, but I'm not. I'm a fairly casual fan of Kyarypamyupamyu, but I'm a fan of Nakata's music, so I still like to give her songs a listen and see if they're any good. The A-sides featured on this album are strong for the most part, especially Fashion Monster and Furisodation. Even though, there are a decent amount of A-sides on this album, they're not so many that there aren't a lot of new album tracks unlike JPN and yes, I'm still mad about that. Of the six new album tracks (excluding Nanda Collection because it forty-seven effing seconds long), half I like and half I can live without. The thing is, I dislike Mi, Noriko to Norio, and Kura Kura for all the same reasons: the style doesn't appeal to me, the vocals are too repetitive, the songs are too annoying, you get what I mean? However, I like Super Scooter Happy (which is a cover anyways) along with Saigo no Ice Cream and Otona na Kodomo because they tone down the cuteness that was too overwhelming in the other tracks on Nanda Collection.

Based on my own personal enjoyment, I will give Nanda Collection 3.5 out of 5 apples. So yeah, clearly not my favorite album of 2013. In the end, how much you like the cuter side of Kyarypamyupamyu's music will determine how much you like this album. For me, it's a mish-mash of tolerably cute and oh-my-god-get-me-a-toothbrush-to-wash-out-this-sugar cute. As for now, Nanda Collection will tide me over until the release of Level 3 in the fall.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How BiS DiEd

Yeah, I refuse to put those nightmare-inducing single covers on my PV review... promo pics, it is!

What's that Brand-new Idol Society group been up to lately? Dying of course! In a sense at least. As you can tell by the picture above, the BiS we know and love looks a tad bit different. They got new haircuts, didn't they? I knew it! All right, all right, it's old news by now, and many BiS fans know that the group has gone thorough yet another phase in which some of their members graduate and the group holds auditions to replace them. This time around, two girls said "Sayonara" to the BiS way of entertaining and three girls came in! In hindsight, I probably should have at least commented in a news post about all the pretty drastic lineup changes to BiS, but I guess I was preoccupied with other posts of more importance to me. Such as Perfume. I guess it just didn't dawn on me at the times of the graduations and auditions just how big this news was for BiS. I mean granted this isn't the first time the unconventionally fantastic idol group has lost/gained members. The member lineup for BiS has already changed seven times since the group was formed in 2011. Yeah. Pretty crazy, huh? In perspective, for an idol group with such a small amount of members and short tenure, BiS has gone through a boatload of lineup changes.Maybe not Morning Musume or (god forbid) AKB48 levels of change, but still quite a lot. Well, what's done is done and I can't change the fact that both Wacky and Yufu have long departed BiS now, even if Yufu was my favorite member of the group... As sad as their graduations were, I couldn't help but get interested to see who would be added to the group and how it would change the group dynamic. And so auditions passed (and Nia continued to be a lazy butt and not write about it) and three new members were added to BiS: Kamiya Saki, Tentenko (surname was not specified), and First Summer Uika. You think that last member is using a stage name? And for what is essentially a "rebirth" of BiS, what a better song to debut the new members with than a song about death?

Like any single that debuts new members of an idol group, I was excited and intrigued to find out what BiS' first single with the new members would sound like. Would it somehow be as awesome as PPCC? Hardcore as Idol? The possibilities always seem endless when it comes to a group like Brand-new Idol Society, simply because they're just one of those idol groups that never seems to stick to one genre. And you all know that's why I freaking love their music so much, hence my excitement to hear what their next single would sound like. When the single title was announced as DiE, I was... intrigued. Frankly, I had no idea what kind of direction a song with a title like that would take. Would the song sound melancholic? Gritty? Wistful? I mean, the song is called DiE. How cheerful can a song with that ray-of-sunshine of a title sound, you know? I really had no idea what to expect for DiE, which isn't surprising since I never really know what to expect for any of BiS' songs. I'd be pretty pleased with whatever genre the song took on, as long as it wasn't metal. Not that metal is a bad genre of music, I'm just not a metalhead. I wasn't a huge fan of Idol or Idol is Dead for that reason. When I first heard the song via the PV, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the DiE was thank god, not a metal song. It is, however, still a pretty dark-sounding song. The instrumentals are pretty hardcore (as hardcore as an idol group can get) and the song has a general feel of just... grittiness. You guys know the song Primal? Another BiS song, and one of their indies, it's one of my favorite BiS songs and one of my favorite idol songs in general. I feel like DiE and Primal sound very similar. Both songs have that very unpolished, almost grunge-y sound, and the idol vocals provide for a nice (but not stark contrast). Even the pitching in both songs is very similar. Despite the fact that DiE sounds a lot like Primal to my ears, that doesn't really subtract any of my enjoyment towards the song. If anything, it makes me like DiE even more! What? If a formula for a song works, I don't necessarily mind if that formula is replicated in another song by the same group...

That being said, DiE isn't by any means the best BiS song I've ever heard. It's still a very good song and a nice breather from all the pop music I review on this blog, but it's not perfect. I think DiE is better than BiSimulation but it's not quite as good as PPCC. What I like about DiE is the general sound of the instrumental, but I'm not so keen on the vocals for this song. Well... I'm not so keen on the key the vocals are sung in; it's a tad bit too high for the girls. It's a little nitpicky, but I feel like had the song been sung a key or two lower, it would have worked better. I also wish DiE was a little bit longer and a little more clearly structured. When I first listened to the song, it all kind of sounded like a giant mash of choruses and verses and instrumental breaks thrown into a giant melting pot. Now that I've listened to the song a lot more, I've thankfully gotten a hold on said structuring. And that was when I realized that I would have liked this song to be just a little bit longer. DiE is only about three and a half minutes long, and I think the song could have been a minute or so longer. Like the instrumental after the last chorus of the song is way too short, and abruptly ends before you can even register that the song is over. That's getting a little nitpick-y, but hey, I'm only nitpicking because I love BiS so much! The only other thing I can really talk about with this song are the lyrics... or I could if I could find a translation. I know the song is about living your life and not wasting it, but I would like to know what the song is specifically singing about. Unfortunately, I guess BiS is too obscure to get a lot of song translations. It's a shame because the Google Translate version of the lyrics sounded promising, or as promising as a shitty translation can get. Language barriers aside, I really did enjoy DiE as a song, even if it may not be my favorite BiS song ever. I think it has some nice guitar and it's a nice continuation of the alternative sound that keeps me coming back to BiS. It also introduced the new members nicely, and if I were going to debut in an idol group, I wouldn't mind doing it with DiE!

So this is the part of my typical PV review when I post some screencaps with my own commentary that ranges from witty to corny. Well... with the PV for DiE, I don't feel like I can really do that. I mean technically I could but I don't think it would make for a very substantial PV review. It's not like the PV broaches too sensitive of subjects that I can't make quips about them, but I'd rather just take a handful of shots from the PV and just... discuss them. In more than 1-2 sentences per picture, at least. The shots in this PV need to be talked about, and I feel like I can more easily talk about them during the screencap rather than when I'm reviewing the overall PV. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that my screencap for DiE is more... detailed? Analytical? Call it what you want, but let's dive into this attempted analysis of a rather strange idol PV from a rather strange idol group.

Already a tone for this PV is set with the opening shot. Pour Lui, lying topless on a bed, staring at the camera with a desolate expression on her face and the title scribbled onto the shot. It's not out-of-place for a BiS PV, considering the girls have dabbled in nudity on more than one occasion, but it's still a rather jarring shot, mainly thanks to how eerily still Pour Lui is.

After the opening shot, the PV immediately cuts to an upward shot of Pour Lui, this time with darker lighting. It almost looks like she's having sex in this shot, but since you only see it from her angle, you never find out. Whatever she's doing, it looks like she's just given up and resigned herself to whatever fate's entailed for her. She may not be happy about it, but at the same time, it feels like she doesn't feel like there's any point in trying to object to it either.

The PV then cuts to Tentenko, one of the new members, leaning against the wall in a red kimono and pigtails. She'd actually look rather adorable if not for the traumatized expression on her face. Now that I bring it up, you never do see any of the BiS girls smile in this PV, let alone look remotely happy. They all look sad or frightened or devastated, like they've all been crushed by something and they're too devoid of hope to try and get back up.

Something I noticed very quickly about this PV was the lighting. I know it's kind of a weird thing to point out in an idol PV, but I feel like it's important to what the PV's trying to convey. Almost every shot in the PV shows each girl sitting in the dark and either being illuminated by a ray of light or looking out towards light. They never make an attempt to go towards said light, only staring into the distance, thinking about god-knows-what. I'd like to think that the light represents something to be desired, or perhaps even a sense of idealism that can no longer be reached due to the events surrounding each girl.

The next close-up focuses on Saki, crouching in her closet, very clearly hiding in her clothes. But we never find out what she's hiding from. But it's like she's retreated into her own little world, trying to take solace in an environment that's familiar to her but not being able to do so because of something that's painful enough to effect her so profusely. I'd say her shots in the PV have the least amount of light, maybe because she has the least amount of hope?

I think what really drew me into this PV was that it felt like each different close-up in it felt like a different story. Or rather, it felt like a story had just ended and we were getting to see the after effects. It's like you catch the girls mid-reaction, at the moment when they're the most emotionally vulnerable, and it's rather poignant. You don't know what happened to them, all you know is that they went through something that led them to this point. I think that not showing the events before only makes these shots more powerful. It's up to the viewer's imagination to determine just what happened and try and put all the pieces back together.

A different shot of Pour Lui, wearing a towel in lieu of being topless. Like Mitchel, she's also sitting in a dimly lit area, but she has a mirror to her back/side. Part of me wonders if the mirrors in all the different shots are meant to be a motif similar to the lighting, but mirrors don't appear enough in the PV for me to be able to come to a definite conclusion.

And here we have Uika, another new member, staring off into the distance with only a little circle of light illuminating her closeup. In this shot, she's extremely still, with only her lips moving a lot. The numb stillness of the rest of her body is a bit unnerving. Like with Mitchel and Tentenko and Nozomi, it left me wondering just what had happened to Uika for her to reach such a state. Some traumatizing? Depressing? Painful? Who even knows?

The next shots in the PV are all images of the girls feet. I feel like this collection of shots symbolizes something... unfortunately, I'm not sure what. I think a key detail to notice is that all the feet give off distressed body language, as if the girls are all nervous or afraid of something. Saki's feet are shaking, Mitchel is drawing her feet away, Nozomi is shaving her legs... it's almost like they're all trying to get away from (or get rid of) something. What that is, I can't say. Of course, the alternative explanation is that the director really had a fetish for feet, but I'd like to think there's something symbolic behind the back-to-back series of feet shots!

Another shot of Tentenko, but this time her kimono's in disarray, as though she'd taken it off and hastily thrown it back on. I think the fact that absolutely no context was given for the change in her clothing is a little creepy, since it leaves the viewer to guess what might have happened. Was it sex? Assault? It could be anything... or nothing at all. The small space she's in also gives off a vibe of claustrophobia, as though she's trapped.

Here's another shot of Mitchel still staring off into the light. I like how in this shot the light's more focused around her head. I also like that this shot of her is further away than before; I think it gives off a vibes of isolation and loneliness.

I think Tentenko looks very doll-like in this PV, and her delicate nature only makes her close-ups more harrowing. You almost feel sorry for her because she just looks so... broken. Like she needs a hug! In fact, I think everyone in this PV needs a hug... and some clothes...

Saki came off as the most emotional in this PV to me. Unlike the other girls, who are all very passive and numb throughout the PV, every shot of her shows her doing more active things, both physically and emotionally. She's a lot more expressive, and you can very visibly see that she's going through something distressful. Saki provides a very nice contrast to the other emotional states depicted in this PV, and she does a pretty good job giving off that borderline-hysterical vibe. I mean, she won't win an Oscar or anything, but for an idol PV, her emotions feel very genuine!

Speaking of distinct emotions, around this part in the PV is when Uika starts getting more visibly emotional. Again, the contrast between her very numb, disconnected facial expression and her much more raw facial expression is what makes this shot work.

And now Uika is lying on the floor, with that very listless expression back on her face. Something I noticed is that she's almost in the same position Pour Lui was in at the beginning of the video, except with her towel still wrapped around her body, albeit a little more carelessly. I don't know if it means anything, but I still thought that was rather interesting.

The rest of these shots are pretty short and only last a few seconds, but a few of them stood out to me. Such as the one I screencapped above! Kind of obvious but still! Really I just noticed in this (very brief) shot that another mirror popped up. I wonder if maybe the mirrors are supposed to represent the each girl's own self-reflection, along with her inner contemplations. Just a crack theory, but I just wanted to throw it out there!

You know how I was previously talking about how Uika went from very passively emotional to very actively emotional and how that really worked? Well, Saki has the reverse transition, and it works just as well! It's almost like Saki finally got past one stage of trauma (an outwardly emotional stage) and entered another stage (a more inward but still visibly scared stage).

Another lighting shot, this time showing Mitchel standing behind an brightly lit window, but still somewhat in the dark. It's almost like she mustered up the courage to move closer to the light but couldn't bring herself to go completely into it.

I really liked this shot, even if it was a really fast, just because of the expression on Nozomi's face. Up until this point, she's had a very neutral facial expression, but under the shower, she's a lot more expressive. You can visibly tell she's in pain, and the imagery feels very raw.

And finally the PV ends the way it began. With Pour Lui, lying down and staring into the camera.

A word of advice to anyone watching the PV for DiE on Youtube: don't read the comments section. Unless you want to lose your faith in humanity and general respect of the human race. Okay, you've been warned. On to more important things! A lot of you already know that while I'm a huge fan of BiS' music, when it comes to their PVs, they're always very... hit-or-miss. Sometimes they get really well-done PVs such as My Ixxx and PPCC and then they get PVs like... Mura-Mura. In other words, their music is sometimes more appealing than the PVs that accompany them. Luckily, this time around the PV for DiE falls into the former category of BiS PVs! When I first saw this PV, I really wasn't sure what to make of it. Then again, that had been my same reaction to several other BiS PVs. But I also felt a little uncomfortable when watching DiE. Not because of the nudity (lord knows BiS has done that before) but just about the way it was shot and the stillness of each shot. I kind of felt the same way towards the PV for Primal when I first watched it, but for a few different reasons. What made me so uncomfortable about the Primal PV was how intimate the shots were; I mean, the girls were shoving cameras down their throats. The fact that the PV was shot on a cheap video camera only added to the sense of discomfort, and most of the shots were so jerky and shaky I could barely tell what was going on. DiE feels much like an inversion of Primal. There's still a very grainy, home-video type of atmosphere to the PV for DiE, much like Primal, and the shots are just as intimate and uncomfortable. However, these shots are also very long and very still, taking several seconds to focus on each girl before cutting away. Where Primal succeeded as a PV was the fact that it was so fast-paced you could never really grasp what you'd just seen. With DiE, that same effect is achieved because the shots are so drawn-out, and what the viewer is presented with are a series of odd images showing the girls in variously discomforting and emotional situations that aren't ever really explained.

On the subject of showing but not explaining, there's a lot of that going on in this PV. As I touched on in my screencap, what I got from this PV was that something had happened to each member of BiS and this PV was meant to show the after-effects of whatever event that was. Tentenko and Uika dealt with said events by retreating into a state of numbness and detachment. Saki was much more visibly emotional, spending much of the PV sobbing and burying her head into her knees. And then towards the end of the PV, all the girls start crying. Clearly something happened, even if that something is never shown. So what the viewer isn't allowed or doesn't see leaves them only to speculate and pick up the pieces to try and come up with an explanation. And the only hints available were the ones that could be found on the screen such as the setting, the atmosphere, and other various visuals. What worked with the PV for DiE is that it took very simplistic visuals and added just enough discomfort and unease to leave the viewer wanting to know more. I felt like the PV for DiE was trying to convey something... I just couldn't put my finger on exactly what. That's one of the reasons why I'd like to know what the translation of the song is about, to see if it has anything at all to do with the themes and visuals presented in this PV. I know the main theme of the song is not letting your life go to waste, but I'm still trying to figure out how that theme is presented in this PV, if it is at all. Then again, maybe the images in this PV were just meant to be shock value; BiS has done plenty of shock-value PVs before, Primal included, so it's not that implausible. But I don't want to dismiss this PV has a cleverly calculated ploy to generate shock from the audience, because I can't shake that nagging feeling that there's something more presented in this PV. If only I had the abilities to pick apart this PV more. I'm not exactly an expert at visual analysis in media; hell, I'm only seventeen.

Even if all these themes I'm speculating about are complete and total bullshit and the producers were just trying to find shocking visuals to draw in a certain demographic, I still think the PV for DiE is very well-done. What I liked about the PV was that it had a lot of atmosphere to it, and I think what contributes to said atmosphere is knowing that the PV was filmed in the house/apartment of each member of BiS. It gives the PV a more personal and intimate edge. Like most PVs, DiE had a pretty gritty feel to it, but not quite as gritty as the Primal PV. Still, I found both those PVs similar on a visual level. I touched on this aspect of the PV in my screencap as well, but I'm a huge fan of the lighting used in the PV, and the use of shadows. Again, it adds to the atmosphere and the general mood of the PV; keeping the girls mostly in dark and dimly lit areas builds a layer of despair and loneliness. What also adds to the sense of melancholy perpetuating throughout the PV are the girls themselves; they actually do a pretty decent job of showing emotions such as sadness in different ways. I mean, there were parts of the PV, where I actually felt genuinely sorry for the members of BiS, even though obviously the context of the PV didn't effect them in real life. I also like that this PV does a very nice job of showcasing the new members of the group, just like the song alone does! I don't know much about the new members yet, but they all seem to fit into BiS pretty well. I just hope that they'll all be able to stick around longer than Wacky and Yufu did, and that all the members can at least try to get along. In the end, how much you like this PV probably depends on how much you like BiS and how much you're willing to look beyond simply the images presented in a video. I found DiE to be a very thought-provoking PV, and it made me ponder about what this PV was supposed to mean, if anything. Still, I'd like to believe that there was a message trying to be conveyed in DiE, even if I don't have the analytical skill to quite figure out just what that message was meant to be.

If you're looking for a darker and grungier idol release amongst the wave of happy-go-lucky summer songs, I'd give DiE a listen. It's not the best BiS song I've ever heard but it's still nice. Like any other BiS PV, the PV for DiE one isn't for everyone, especially if you like your idols fluffy and adorable. I personally found the PV to be very thought-provoking and a nice shift from all the bikini PVs I've been screencapping lately!