Friday, August 30, 2013

Sexy SKE48?

The year is 2011. A yet-to-start-blogging Nia sits at her computer watching the PV for SKE48's Banzai Venus. She comes across a comment saying how it would be hilarious if SDN48 and SKE48 switched styles. "HA!" Nia emotes out loud to no one in particular. "As if they could ever pull off a sexy PV!" She throws her head back and laughs before continuing to peruse SKE48's music, certain that of all the AKS groups, SKE48 will remain perpetually clean and adorable.

The year is now 2013. And Nia stands corrected.

What else is new? Hey guys, I heard the sky is blue! Pretty mind-blowing stuff, huh? I've learned over the years that any prediction I make about anything, idol-related or not, has the accuracy of a Magic 8 Ball. Really if I'd thought something along the lines of "Morning Musume will never dress up as chickens for a single!" then it would probably... oh wait, that did happen. Speaking of things I never expected to happen, SKE48 did a sexy PV! But I will get to the PV for Utsukushii Inazuma in a few paragraphs. For the moment, let's talk about just the song. Of course, I think in order to properly review SKE48's summer song of 2013, we need to hop into a time-traveling fish and take a look back at their past summer singles. Those summer singles being Gomen ne, Summer, Pareo wa Emerald, and Aishiteraburu! Wow... it just dawned on me that SKE48's been around for long enough now that they have a decent number of summer singles under their belt. Damn. Anyways, how have their past summer singles held up? While those three summer songs aren't exactly alike, they do have one common element: the tone. All four of those songs are cheerful, energetic and so gosh-darn happy you'll want to bob your head like a dork to them.

Of course, this is to be expected from a group like SKE48 of all the groups that make up the cash cow that is AKS, SKE48's is typically known as the "fun" group, the happy-go-lucky horde of smiling idols with A-sides that range from spastically energetic to teeth-rottingly sweet. Their B-sides don't always have to follow this mold of idol music; their Akagumi sub-unit proves that splendidly. But so far in SKE48's musical career, the group has never really strayed toward a more serious sounding song to lead a single. You could argue that Kataomoi Finally was a much more serious song than, say, Banzai Venus, but even then that song was still a tad bit on the upbeat side. Regarding just summer singles, I think anyone can agree that SKE48 always gets the light and cheerful summer song that sounds slightly less bland than AKB48's light and cheerful summer song.

Or... so I thought.

SKE48 really loves to play with my expectations, don't they? First Kataomoi Finally and now this... Utsukushii Inazuma, the fourth SKE48 summer single, is nothing like their past summer singles. And I'm not even talking about in terms of their PV. It's not peppy, lighthearted, childish, it sounds like something for NMB48. In fact, did SKE48 and NMB48's songs just get switched? Like maybe SKE48 was supposed to get the pleasant but bland-sounding Bokura no Eureka and add some energy to it and NMB48 was supposed to get the passionate and thrilling Utsukushii Inazuma. I mean, the song fits their image as a more mature group. But a song like this for SKE48? I think this has got to be the most serious-sounding A-side I've heard from them, even more than Tsuyoki Mono yo. I really wonder why Aki-P wanted to go this direction with SKE48. I mean, I'm not saying it's a poor decision, but it feels odd for such a normally cheerful-sounding group. Like did Aki-P just have an epiphany that SKE48's hit summer single had to be a serious song like Utsukushii Inazuma. I suppose I shall never know. But as long as I don't, the least I can do is give my own opinions of how well I think Utsukushii Inazuma worked for SKE48.

And honestly, I do like the song. It's not my favorite A-side from SKE48, but the serious sound isn't a terribly jolting change for them, at least after you've heard the song a few times. The song has a nice amount of energy and the girls do sound much more serious than in other sons like Choco no Dorei and 1!2!3!4! Yoroshiku! I do feel like I should also bring up the lyrics for Utsukushii Inazuma, since I was curious to see what the song was about. And Utsukushii Inazuma is actually a pretty passionate song lyrically, with lyrics such as "You are beautiful lightning blazing across my chest" and "If the sun had never risen, our love wouldn't have been set aflame either." Don't get me wrong, Utsukushii Inazuma is also a very melodramatic song in terms of lyrics, but it's the thought that counts. And I think the sentiments in the lyrics of the song are actually reflected pretty well in the way the girls sing it; they sound invested. Or at least as invested as a bunch of idols singing group lines can sound.

So overall, Utsukushii Inazuma stands well as a song. However, here's where my problem with the song comes in. I first listened to Utsukushii Inazuma when it was played in the short version of the accompanying PV. Had I not listened to the song knowing that it was SKE48's summer single, I'm not sure I would have made the connection. Utsukushii Inazuma does not sound like your typical summer single from any of the AKS groups, including NMB48. Had I listened to the song alone and not watched the PV or had any knowledge that Utsukushii Inazuma was SKE48's summer single, I would have thought this was a fall single. I think it's partly to do with the very serious tone it conveys; it's a stark contrast from all the other summer songs I've heard from. And of course, the lyrics are very summery, with mentions of beaches and the sand and other imagery you'd associate with summer. Still, being the language-challenged listener I am, I wouldn't have exactly known that either until I looked up the translation for the lyrics. So yeah, Utsukushii is a different-sounding summer song from AKS; that doesn't necessarily mean that's bad. I'm all for trying a new sound for a summer single, or a new sound in general.

For that, I have to give SKE48 props for at least going a musical direction that deviates from their past summer singles. It's a strange turn, but for the most part, it works. But as a summer song... I can't see myself listening to Utsukushii Inazuma very much in the future. Not during summer at least. You see, what I think makes for a great summer song (and what I've emphasizing throughout my summer PV reviews this year) is a song that has the ability to get me excited about summer. That's pretty the only reason why I listen to them. There's that feeling of exuberance and joy in a summer song that has the ability to get me pumped for a great summer lying ahead of me. Utsukushii Inazuma... doesn't really do that. It's fine as song, but as a summer song, it's not the most exciting for me. Still, the least I can do is commend SKE48 for going a much more mature route for one of their A-sides.

But enough about this song. I think we all know what I really want to dig into regarding Utsukushii Inazuma: the PV. The sexy PV for a group that isn't exactly known for being uber-sexy. Will they prevail in this PV for flop like fish? Only one way to find out!

Well, the PV opens with one impressive dance shot. Very fiery and tribal-looking.

So when the girls aren't dancing in this PV, they're posing seductively in a forest or beach! Get used to that, there's a lot of it in this PV.

See what I mean? And we're only 22 seconds in.

Well, my philosophy is if you've got it, flaunt it!

And believe me, the girls in this PV have... eh... got it.

This is kind of random, but I really love how this close-up cuts away before this ginormous wave crashes onto the girl in this frame!

I have to give the director props for picking some breathtaking locations to film this PV.

I accidentally paused the PV here and noticed that it kind of looks like Rena's about to spank Jurina...

Rena looks absolutely gorgeous in the PV. I think the styling really flatters her.

And it does wonders to Jurina too. She's blossomed very nicely since her debut days!

Oh hell, everyone in this PV looks gorgeous. The outfits are amazing, along with the rest of the styling.

The only thing that would have made this dance shot better would be some firebending!

Another pretty close up and another very pretty member of SKE48 whose name I don't know.

In fact, I really should learn the names of more SKE48 girls...

Just had an idea: what if the girls twirled the fire batons? I mean sure, it might cause some forest fires, but man alive, that would be awesome!

Oooh, another cool location! That tree's giving me Avatar vibes...

So do they just live in the trees? This PV doesn't have enough plot for me to figure it out.

I feel like I should poke fun at the over-the-top-ness of these close ups but they're just so pretty...

Like seriously, if the shots keeps looking this beautiful, this PV can go on for 10 minutes!

And the dance fits so well. It's all fierce-looking and intense...

...but with this air of grace and elegance too!

I mean seriously, what could go wrong with this PV!?

Eh... what is... are those... antlers?

Did this PV just cross over into an episode of Hannibal or...

Yeah, just bring the awesome dance shot back.

Who says fighting fire with fire can't bring forth wondrous results?

The key to the ideal sexy idol dance is to always have your idols drop dramatically to the ground at some point in the choreography (preferably during the instrumental break!)

Take it from C-ute. They've mastered this dance move!

Reaching dramatically for the stars adds to the sexiness too!

I think Rena's doe-eyed stare could knock buildings down if she tried hard enough...

I'm totally putting Utsukushii Inazuma under my Best Dances of 2013.

And I'd put them under Sexiest Summer PVs of 2013 but that category doesn't exist!

And so the PV comes to a fiery, sexy end.

Gosh, I feel like I've been transported back to Sexy PV Week! So much fanservice, so much sexiness... I'm drowning in it!

Except for the fact that I'm totally not because I'm typing, and I've tackled much racier, much raunchier, and much sexier PVs than Utsukushii Inazuma. Of course, that doesn't mean Utsukushii Inazuma isn't a sexy PV! It's just when you've reviewed the likes of Sexy All Sisters and G☆Girls, it's kind of hard to get fazed by something as tame as Utsukushii Inazuma. I guess you could say Sexy PV Week really desensitized me toward fanservice-y PVs, because honestly, I wasn't effected that much by Utsukushii Inazuma's PV. What surprised me most was not the fanservice itself but the fact that SKE48 got such a fanservice-y PV. You know, that sister group with a reputation of getting the cute and happy and bubbly singles? Hell, their summer single last year was Aishiteraburu! the most irritatingly energetic summer song from 2012. Even Pareo wa Emerald didn't come close to being as sexy as Utsukushii Inazuma. All right, to be fair, SKE48 isn't a solely happy-go-lucky group, they can and have tackled more serious songs and PVs. Their Akagumi unit basically just does this every single. And Kataomoi Finally's PV had very mature themes in it from sexual awakening to the pains of adolescence to loss of innocence. However, mature does not always coincide with sexy. And Kataomoi Finally, in my opinion, was too raw and serious with its subject matter to really be a sexy PV.

Utsukushii Inazuma has none of the heavy themes Kataomoi Finally possesses. It is a straight-up fanservice summer PV, and one of the few summer PVs I've seen that doesn't even try to hide it. In my years as an idol blogger and idol fan, I've noticed that there's this one element that a lot of summer PVs share, regardless of time period or group: innocence. Many summer PVs present fanservice, but it's done in a very carefree and innocent way. This can be conveyed through idols frolicking on the beach, splashing each other in the pool, very innocent activities that have fanservice added to them when you throw in the bikini factor that nearly every idol group is required to have in their summer PV. Despite the fact that Utsukushii Inazuma has no bikinis in sight (unless you count those green forest outfits), it's probably the sexiest summer PV that I've reviewed.

Now why is that? What does Utsukushii Inazuma have that places it so much higher on the scale of sexiness than so many other PVs, including the ones AKB48 and NMB48 have released? Well, I think that again, it boils down to the fact that Utsukushii Inazuma is lacking in that veil of innocence that producers use as a ploy to deliver fanservice to the demographic that enjoys it without it coming off as racy or blatant. In Utsukushii Inazuma, you can tell that they're not trying to hide anything. It is a fanservice PV and it doesn't try to be anything else. There is not plot, no ongoing story, just a series of shots showing the girls in various poses in exotic locations. The close-ups are sexy, the outfits are sexy, the dance is sexy, everything about this PV (minus the antlers scene) practically wafts sexiness. If you're looking for a substantial PV with a heartwarming message and an emotional theme running through it, Utsukushii Inazuma is not any of these.

So this is a pretty poorly done PV, right? It has nothing that I personally look for in an idol PV. It's all fanservice and no substance. And yet despite all this... I actually like the PV for Utsukushii Inazuma. When I first saw the preview for it, I didn't know what I thought of it. I even thought I might not like it up until the screencap. When I started picking the PV apart through my screencap, that's when I realized that, through some convoluted miracle, I kind of liked Utsukushii Inazuma. And it's not solely because the girls look hot and make sexy poses against crashing waves and sandy beaches. It's their commitment to doing that. What took me by surprise with Utsukushii Inazuma was the fact that SKE48, the typically cutesy '48 group, was taking on a PV that I could have seen NMB48 doing before them. In fact, I even wondered if SKE48 was supposed to get Bokura no Eureka and NMB48 Utsukushii Inazuma. How on earth could this bundle of adorable SKE48 idols pull off a sexy PV? But they did, and they did it really well.

You could argue that they're trying too hard, but personally, I don't think so. I think they all look really confident in Utsukushii Inazuma, and they look committed to what they're doing. And in a PV that's solely fanservice, that is a strong aspect to have. It's what prevents Utsukushii Inazuma from looking uncomfortable and awkward. I wouldn't have ever thought it, but through some miracle, SKE48 managed to pull off the type of PV that some idol groups don't even have the ability to do. For that, I commend them for it. Even if you can't get over the fanservice of Utsukushii Inazuma, you've got to at least appreciate the designs and styling put into this PV. The sheer dance shot has bursts of flames coming from tiki torches and backup dancers playing with fire. Isn't that at least a little bit cool!? I mentioned this before, but the costumes for Utsukushii Inazuma are amazing. Both the dance costumes and the close-ups.

I love the fabric and bright colors for the dance costumes, and they look very flowy and easy to move in. I liked that they didn't just use bathing suits for the dance shot either; I don't think that would have matched the tone of the PV. Then the close-up outfits are really cool looking too! They look much more nature-y, like something you'd see in an old sixties B-movie about sexy jungle women (and before you ask, yes, that existed). And don't even get me started on all the locations for this PV. I love how they're all so diverse and exotic, especially in the close-ups. I think my favorite shots were the ones on the rocks; the formations just looked so striking. I also liked the forest scenes... and the shore scenes... my god, it's hard for me to even pick a favorite they all looked so good. The only nitpick I have with Utsukushii Inazuma is, you guessed it, that scene with the antlers. It's not really a complaint, just... a question. Why of all things did the director feel inclined to include those shots? They look really silly and take away from the cool mood the PV set up. Beyond that, I have little to no complaints with Utsukushii Inazuma. Behind Bokura no Eureka, it's probably my favorite AKS summer PV from this year. And if you can get past the fact that it's solely a fanservice PV, I'd check Utsukushii Inazuma out.

I give the song and PV for Utsukushii Inazuma collectively four and a half out of five apples. The song is more serious in tone from your normal SKE48 fare, but it's decent as far as summer songs go. The PV for Utsukushii Inazuma is oozing with sexiness, but it pulls it off well. So maybe it doesn't reach the levels of raunchiness say, Heavy Rotation, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because Utsukushii Inazuma handles its sexiness with skill, and for that, I commend SKE48. You now have my respect and acknowledgement, that yes you are capable of being a sexy idol group!

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