Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Retro Idol Smackdown!!!

Welcome back to the idol smackdown, where I pit idol groups against each other and see which group comes out on top! Ladies and gentleman, I want you to put on your heart-shaped sunglasses, grab your record player, and step into a DeLorean because we're going back in time...

Well, kind of. I've yet to build a time-traveling DeLorean or acquire a blue police box to travel across dimensions. But that doesn't mean we can't look back on history and appreciate it. I enjoy learning about history very much, especially the cultural aspects of it. I just think it's amazing to see a nation's culture grow and evolve over the years. For that reason, I really like old things. Not like 2 month-old loaf of bread type of old but... antiques. Relics from the past! There's the expression I'm looking for! I love going through little antique stores full of all these objects and clothes and magazines made in a time period long past. It's like going in a museum and being able to touch everything! I think doing that has given me a certain fondness for "retro" things, particularly American media from the 1920s to the 1970s (even the 1980s but that's bordering on retro more than the other decades I listed). That and watching a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but that's beside the point. I should clarify that just because I have an appreciation for the pop culture of the 1920s-1970s does not mean that I want to live during that time period. Believe me, I'm very happy that I'm alive now instead of during say, the fifties. There are still a lot of elements of this era in history that I don't like. I don't like the racial discrimination, the inherent sexism of the 1950s and 1960s, the threat of nuclear meltdown prevalent throughout the Cold War, the spike in drug use that occurred in the 1980s, and many more events that you can ask your local history teacher about. My point is you can't look at history through rose-tinted shades, okay? Just like now there are both good and bad elements of history and society that will always be prevalent as long as human nature exists. However, I can still appreciate the aesthetic of decades gone past, and that is where retro media has its appeal for me. Visually I find it to be a very interesting and different time period.

With that in mind, how in the hell does my little history spiel relate to idol groups? Well, I'm not the only person in the world who has an appreciation for retro things. Retro concepts have been thoroughly explored in music, in countries all around the world, including idol music. From groups like Morning Musume to groups like AKB48, taking styles and visuals from music of the past is a popular technique that I personally find very charming. Hence the two songs I'm comparing on today's Idol Smackdown both explore the theme of retro-ness. One in the song, the other moreso in the PV. So today on this Idol Smackdown, I'm pitting a song from the biggest idol group in Japan right now...


...against an idol group so lacking in information I'm not even sure it's considered an idol group.


Makes perfect sense, right?

But hey, I always seem to review groups that may-or-may-not be classified as "idol" groups depending on who you ask. The group you see above is Jusyo Futei Mushoku or Jusho Futei Mushoku depending on whom you ask for the correct spelling. And contrary to what you'd think going off only the cover to their latest album, this group actually consists of four members! It's just that they added another member just before the release of their next album, Gold Future Basic, so I guess they just wanted to give her a feature on the album. Her name is ℃-want you! and unfortunately, she's the only member whose name I can even find. Yeah, it's that obscure of a group. The information I have found on Jusyo Futei Mushoku is very scarce, but from the few music videos and shady discography websites that feature them, I can at least gather they're an idol band. Maybe. Look, they all play instruments, with one of the four members solely playing the instrumentals in their songs with the other three girls splitting the vocals. Or two when their were only three members in the group. I've also gathered that Jusyo Futei Mushoku is a group that leans toward the retro pop-rock music of the sixties; even one of their songs is called I Wanna Be Your Beatles! What caught my eye about Jusyo Futei Mushoku was their PV released for In Da Gold, the promoting track off Gold Future Basic. I immediately realized that I wanted to talk about the PV, but I didn't know if I wanted to take on another PV review or do something different. Then an idea came to me. Why not knock out the review of Koisuru Fortune Cookie lingering at the back of my review list and take a look at this group at the same time? And what a better way to do that than with an Idol Smackdown where two idol groups will fight it out to see which one succeeds in one aspect of a song or PV. So today's Idol Smackdown features one retro song from an immensely popular group and another retro song from a ridiculously obscure group. Which one will come out on top? Only one way to find out! Let the Smackdown commence!

Round 1 - The Styling

Warming up the Idol Smackdown is the styling! Were the outfits cute? Were the album covers decent? Did they match the tone set by the song? Did each group look like a cohesive idol group? All these questions and a little bit more are covered in Round 1! Although personally I find this to be the most trivial of the three rounds it nonetheless is vital in determining who will come out on top as winner of the Idol Smackdown!

AKB48



So the first challenger is AKB48 because I'm doing this in alphabetical order! I guess technically I have two sets of outfits to judge for Koisuru Fortune Cookie: the ones used on the covers and the ones used for most of the PV. I remember way back when shaky photos of the outfits used in the PV shooting were first leaked onto the web, before we'd even heard what Koisuru Fortune Cookie sounded like. My first impressions were... mixed to positive. I thought the red, white, yellow, and blue outfits were very bright and colorful, and none of the Senbatsu members looked bad in them. But they also looked kind of circus-y. Not to mention that they're styled the way many of AKB48's performance outfits are. They look like the "school uniform with a stylish twist" kind of outfits that have become a staple with AKB48. They're a lot like Iiwake Maybe's outfits only with less plaid. So yeah, they're cute, but I've seen this look before. In fact, I've seen this look a lot of times from AKB48, along with a lot of groups ripping off said look. And then there are the other outfits used on the covers for the single. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of these outfits. I think they look really tacky, and don't really match with the song at all. If anything, they make the girls look like walking Christmas ornaments. I guess in comparison, these outfits aren't the worst I've ever seen, but they just don't work with a single like Koisuru Fortune Cookie. I might like them a little better if the other aspects of the covers worked but honestly, these covers are pretty bad. The Photoshop is painfully evident, and the color schemes used for each cover look kind of nasty. I don't know, something about the shading doesn't strike me as very appealing. Ugh, for such a loaded idol group, you'd think AKS would put some real time and money into making some nice-looking covers for their group's singles. I guess not! Overall, the styling for Koisuru Fortune Cookie is iffy at best; the only outfits I really like are the ones used in the PV, but even then those aren't that original. Everything else is pretty tacky, especially for AKB48.

Jusyo Futei Mushoku


So the styling for Koisuru Fortune Cookie was just about as retro as the "retro" section of the yearly Halloween costume catalog. Does Jusyo Futei Mushoku fare any better? Let's take a look. I have no idea what kind of budget Jusyo Futei Mushoku has, but I'm willing to bet that it's not a very large amount. Still, there are plenty of idol groups with small budgets that manage to make creative visuals and concepts with what they've got! And I think Jusyo Futei Mushoku does a pretty decent job of creating a retro look to promote their album. Three of the four members are all wearing pastel-colored dresses that you'd swear were stolen from the set of Mad Men. But I think they're really cute! Like I said, I enjoyed many aspects of the culture of the 1920s-1980s, especially fashion! I really like how simple but elegant the dresses look, even if they are on the rather simple side. Besides, the accessories help keep the outfits from being completely dull! Like the hats and the jewelry are absolutely adorable; they look like something I'd be able to find at an antique store! I particularly like how the lacy gloves they're wearing match with the dresses; it just adds to the classy rock vibe I'm getting with the visual style for In Da Gold. Of course, I'm not sure how you can play an instrument with gloves, but I'm just speaking as a piano-player. Speaking of instruments, I really like the ones featured in this promo shot. They all look very old-timey, and I like that they're different colors too! Actually, I really like the entire color scheme used for In Da Gold. The colors are all very bright and different and help each girl stand out, even if I don't know the names of any of these girls at the moment. There's not really a single cover for In Da Gold since it's just a promo track for the Gold Future Basic album, but I can at least take a look at the album cover! The cover for Gold Future Basic is pretty minimalistic; I guess you could look at it from one perspective and see it as pretty retro. It's a classy but stylish cover, matching well with the style that was used for the promo shot!

And the Winner Is...

I think I can pretty easily go with Jusyo Futei Mushoku for the winner of Round 1. They really encompass a retro style with their outfits, and I really dig the accessories they used. They look very much like an all-girl rock band you'd see in the late 50s or 60s!

Round 2 - The Song

Of course, even the best dressed idol group is nothing without good songs. The most pivotal and important of the three rounds is how the song sounds. And whether Koisuru Fortune Cookie and In Da Gold hold up as good songs will determine just what kind of lasting values they'll have on my iPod.

AKB48



All right, as many of you already know, I've had a... somewhat critical opinion towards AKB48's musical output regarding their A-sides since last year. In fact, the Gingham Check, last year's Senbatsu single, was the first in a bland string of generic A-sides that continued throughout 2012 and into 2013! Bottom line is I've gone on and on about how AKB48's leading songs have basically sucked since Acchan's graduation. However, Sasshi winning the Senbatsu Election meant a change in center, and considering Aki-P purportedly writes his songs around their centers, I had a small glimmer of hope still overshadowed by my storm cloud of pessimism. And so Koisuru Fortune Cookie came out; or KFC is you want to snicker about that abbreviation. Amazingly enough, Koisuru Fortune Cookie is probably the first A-side from AKB48 that I've liked since Manatsu no Sounds good! I will admit, the song took some time to grow on me. I thought the first live performance of the song was rather lackluster, but the studio version turned out to be much more lively! It's still not straying towards anything terribly creative in terms of idol music, but at least Aki-P finally tried a different sound from that "cheerfully bland" song-type he's been defaulting to lately. KFC has that retro late 70s, early 80s feel that made me decide to pair it with In Da Gold in this Idol Smackdown. To be fair, this isn't the first time that AKB48's explored an older-sounding musical style; Virgin Love and Korekara Wonderland also had the same feel KFC has. Especially Korekara Wonderland and by the way, you guys should totally listen to Korekara Wonderland if you haven't already because it's an awesome song and kind of the only reason I really got into AKB48 and yeah I'm getting off topic. Personally, I think Korekara Wonderland explored that retro sound much better than KFC does, but KFC is still a pretty fun song to jam to. It's got a smooth beat and a simple but catchy chorus, and my own personal love for retro media probably contributes to my opinion towards this song.

Jousyo Futei Mushoku



Up to challenge Koisuru Fortune Cookie's retro-ness is In Da Gold! Which kind of sounds like "indigo" if you say it out loud. Just a fun fact. Like with any group I listen to for the first time, I was a little worried as to how In Da Gold would sound. Like what if it sucked? Well, my first impression of In Da Gold was what the hell does "Get up and tiny warping!" even mean? My second impression was... mixed to positive in a nutshell. When I was first listening to the song and the vocals came in after the drum beats, I noticed how... distinct the vocals were. Which is a nice way of saying they were a little off-key. Like very off-key. At least the opening vocals were that way; the vocals got better as I heard more. But as opening notes, the iffy vocals of Jusyo Futei Mushoku could turn you off from the song. I think it's kind of like jumping into a cold lake; once you get over the shock and get acclimated to the temperature, you find said lake is much better than you thought in the first place! That being said, the vocals are still overall the weakest part of In Da Gold. The rapping bits are probably my least favorite parts of the song, because the members of Jusyo Futei Mushoku aren't exactly the best at rapping. Then again, I've noticed that most idol groups suck at rapping. I really think if you're split on In Da Gold on your first listen, play the song a few more times. That's what I did and much like with Koisuru Fortune Cookie, I found myself liking In Da Gold the more I heard it. That or I could have just been brainwashing myself into liking the song. That's what I have to do when listen to Momoiro Clover Z and Dempagumi.inc! In Da Gold is a lot groovier than Koisuru Fortune Cookie, and definitely has a lot more hooks. It's just very rough around the edges; with the right polishing, In Da Gold could be a really awesome. Even in its current state though, I still find something very endearing about the song's flaws; I think the members sound like they're having a lot of fun, especially in the rapping bits. So while In Da Gold has its flaws, it still makes me want to get up and tiny warping! Whatever the hell that means...

And the Winner Is...

I gotta go with Koisuru Fortune Cookie, and I think it has to do with production values. AKB48 is a highly manufactured idol group, but a highly manufactured group with a very smooth sound. In Da Gold is fun but just a little too unpolished for me to really get into it. KFC encompasses that fun, retro feel of the 70s and 80s while also being the first AKB48 A-side I've liked in over a year. 

Round 3 - The PVs

AKB48


Much like with AKB48's musical output this year, I've been a little underwhelmed by their PVs this year too. So Long! was pretty dismal and cheap, and Sayonara Crawl just didn't do it for me. Considering last year's Senbatsu PV was freaking awesome and I gushed about how awesome it was, Koisuru Fortune Cookie had quite the standard to achieve. In fact, all the Senbatsu PVs have had a track record of being really distinct, with visuals both entertaining and appealing. Hell, Heavy Rotation is AKB48's most (in)famous PV!

So did Koisuru Fortune Cookie's PV follow in this tradition? Nope. Not even close.


I can't believe I'm saying this about an AKB48 PV, but this PV bored me. Like really bored me. This wasn't a bad PV by any means; the camera work was nice and the settings were well-done. There's just nothing I can talk about with it. Even with the bad PVs by AKB48, they've always been entertainingly bad, in ways that I can mercilessly poke fun at them. But Koisuru Fortune Cookie wasn't even a PV that I could really talk about or make fun of. I wasn't sure if I could even make a PV review out of it. And technically I didn't because this is an Idol Smackdown instead of a normal PV review...


So where does the PV for Koisuru Fortune Cookie fall flat? The PV is pretty much a dance PV with a few close-ups thrown in of the girls. Does that sound familiar to another well-known idol agency that starts with Hello! and ends in Project to you guys? Same here. Where Koisuru Fortune Cookie deviates from the H!P formula is that there are shots showing the girls teaching the dance to civilians of all ages along with shots showing various people performing the dance.



And in my opinion, the dance is one of the main elements that makes this PV so dull. This is such a simple, slow dance that even I, someone who dances like a tree caught in a hurricane can learn it. Do you know what other dances share the distinction of being so simple a five-year old could learn them? The Electric Slide. The Cha Cha Slide. The Cupid Shuffle. Do you know what all those dances have in common? They're more fun to do than watch.


The dance for Koisuru Fortune Cookie shares that characteristic. I think this was more of a fun PV for the people who were in it than the people who watched it online after it was filmed and edited. Because everyone does look like they're having fun in the PV. But it's the bland, generic kind of dopey fun you have when you're dancing to a song so easy you could probably do it in your sleep (but I don't recommend trying that out). This might not be so terrible were it not for the fact that Koisuru Fortune Cookie's PV is pretty much based around the idea that this dance is going to be entertaining for five minutes.


There are a few ideas in this PV that could have worked well under the right circumstances. Take the idea of using a giant mob in the background for the main dance shot. That could have been really cool if the song matched the tone a giant mob could set. SKE48's Banzai Venus perfectly executes the mob-setting for their dance shot because Banzai Venus is a freaking energetic song that makes a crowd wanna jump up and down. Koisuru Fortune Cookie has a much more laid-back, swinging rhythm. Not exactly the kind of song that gets a crowd going.


I do need to at least touch on the subject of Sasshi as a center. Because the big deal about any Senbatsu PV is always the center. Hell, the "battle of the centers" theme has been prevalent for three of the Senbatsu PVs. But if you were to show this PV to me without me knowing it was a Senbatsu PV, I'd have no idea. It doesn't feel like Sasshi's being highlighted or emphasized as a center; she's just there. I don't think it's her fault since she's makes a fine center; there's just no focus on her, no emphasis saying "HEY! Look at this victorious idol who clawed her way to the top of Senbatsu!" that I found in previous Senbatsu PVs.



There were a few fun shots like Yukirin's weather forecast and a few civilian shots were a little entertaining, but for the most part, the PV for Koisuru Fortune Cookie left me extremely underwhelmed. Funny how the first kinda-not bland song AKB48 gets since last year is the first song to get a surprisingly bland PV... Look, I don't know what else to say about this PV. There's not much with lasting entertainment value, and in comparison to Senbatsu PVs of the past (and AKB48 PVs in general), Koisuru Fortune Cookie got saddled with one of the most boring PVs I've seen from AKB48 in a long time.


How this giant mob of people managed to look like they were having a boatload of fun is beyond me.

Jusyo Futei Mushoku


Well, maybe Jusyo Futei Mushoku can spice up Round 3! Keep in mind that the PV for In Da Gold is basically the entire reason that I wanted to make an Idol Smackdown featuring Jusyo Futei Mushoku in the first place. So you can probably deduce that I this PV at least managed to catch my eye enough to make me want to write about it, which is a huge feat. And yeah, personally I think this is probably one of the neatest and quirkiest PVs that I've had the pleasure of viewing this year!


In Da Gold embodies the concept of a retro PV. I almost wish I had just done a full PV review for In Da Gold because my god, there is so much to screencap in this PV. I feel a little guilty just showing you guys only a few shots from the PV...



In case you haven't noticed yet, this PV wasn't exactly one with a lot of budget. But a cheap PV does not always equal a bad PV. Unless it's Hello! Project. But anyways, what the PV for In Da Gold does is splice a combination of clips from old movies and television shows of the 40s, 50s, and 60s along with cheesy green-screen graphics and visual motifs for the shots Jusyo Futei Mushoku is in. So yeah, there are many parts where the special effects are blatantly fake, but I honestly think that just adds a very endearing appeal to the PV for In Da Gold.



I think it's because a lot of old movies, especially B-movies, weren't made on big budgets either. They were filmed off of shoestring budgets, with special effects that could probably be duplicated by a bunch of ten-year olds with a handheld in today's times. But the way the effects are done with In Da Gold is the girls of the group are shopped into these old movies clips in a paper-doll kind of effect. They clearly don't match with the rest of the set, but personally, I think that's very charming. It reminds me of all the bad green screens they used back then (and some poorly done green screens are still used today, as many an H!P fans knows).


The special effects for In Da Gold actually remind me of the effects used in the PV for Mizuki Nana's Cosmic Love. Since I'm wagering a lot of you guys have probably never seen that PV, here's a link to it. By the way, you should totally watch it because it's awesome and Mizuki Nana is awesome. Both PVs use a lot of green screen and in a very similar way too.


The only shots in the PV that don't feature any green screen are pretty barren, but these shots are usually edited with little text bubbles and random pictures at various points in the PV! While not as eye-catching as all the vintage movie clips, these shots are nice too. The girls' outfits all look very bright and happy, and I like the disco balls! I do wish they'd actually done more than just held onto the disco balls, like maybe tried to hang them on the ceiling or... I don't know, just something else!


I really don't have anything to comment on with this shot other than the fact that it's totally groovy and I freaking love it.



Here's some of the effects I was talking about earlier. The other non-green screen shot shows the girls playing instruments in a room full of balloons. What amazed me most about this shot was that none of the balloons popped! And the "Get up and tiny warping" text is overlay in this shot. Another little fun thing that added to the retro nature of In Da Gold was when about halfway through the PV, the girls started dropping a bunch of rock bands in the song from The Clash to Paul McCartney, with each band logo appearing on the screen. I thought that was a really cool nod to some really influential and famous bands of the 60s and 70s; there were even a few band references that I didn't catch!



Just some other fun shots with the band members edited over them. I really wish I knew the names of all the band members of Jusyo Futei Mushoku. They all seem like a group of pretty cool people, and I'd really like to just find out more about them. Maybe someone in the comments section will descend like an angel from above with information about them!


Check it out, a title drop! I do hope I'll be able to listen to Gold Future Basic when it comes out. I'd really like to hear more of Jusyo Futei Mushoku's material, even if the vocals of the group are a little shaky.


Something to note is this shot is from one of their older PVs back when the group still only had three members. This was the PV for I Wanna Be Your Beatles. I just wanted to mention that I watched this PV too when trying to find other music videos from Jusyo Futei Mushoku, and I liked it! It was a fun PV, and I liked that it was shot in black and white. Of course, the font edited over this shot definitely gives the PV a splash of color! Pretty groovy if you ask me!


Ending the PV for In Da Gold is yet another retro effect you'd see at an old movie theater. I really wish I could have shown you guys more of this PV, but you can always check it out on Youtube! And trust me, if you're into retro media, I'd totally take a look at this PV.

And the Winner Is...

I think it's pretty easy to tell which of these two PVs I preferred. While Koisuru Fortune Cookie was a better song, In Da Gold have a PV that was right up my alley. Sure, it had really cheesy effects, but there were also a lot of references and clips to older bands and movies and celebrities. It was really cool seeing Jusyo Futei Mushoku combined with said clips in such a paper-doll style, and I really wish I'd see this visual style more explored in idol music.

Well Jusyo Futei Mushoku won two of the three rounds of the Idol Smackdown. But AKB48 won Round 2, what I personally consider to be the most important of the three rounds. What to do, what to do... Well, after much debating with myself and consulting the highest professionals (which happened to be my dog), I have concluded the group that I find to have been the most victorious!

And the Winner of the Idol Smackdown Is...

This is mainly because I was basing this Idol Smackdown on how well each of these two idol groups pulled off a retro concept. Jusyo Futei Mushoku completely excels in their retro look, both musically and visually. I admit, it might have been a tad unfair pitting AKB48 against a group whose whole schtick is doing retro-style music, but AKB48 has had its fair share of retro-sounding music too! Korekara Wonderland and Virgin Love are two songs that come to mind, and I'm sure a lot of their stage songs do as well! It's just that for today's Idol Smackdown, In Da Gold won against Koisuru Fortune Cookie. Although I do at least have to commemorate that Koisuru Fortune Cookie was the first AKB48 song of this year that I've actually liked. It gives me hope that AKB48's A-sides haven't completely spiraled downward into perpetually bland and unoriginal idol music. While In Da Gold as a song definitely has its flaws and can take some getting used to on the first listen or two, I think it's also a really fun song. The "Get up and tiny warping" hook is a lot of fun, even if I have no idea what it means. And what really enhances the song is the PV. I can't emphasize how strongly enough that you should totally watch this PV, and that you're missing out if you choose to ignore the advice of the great and powerful Nia. There are a lot of really fun moments and clips in this PV that I didn't get to point out to you guys. The editing is corny and cheap in the most entertaining way possible, and the low budget of the PV only adds to its charm in my opinion. I don't know if I'm ever going to review (let alone find) anything else by Jusyo Futei Mushoku, but I'd really like to keep an eye on whatever they're releasing next, be it an album or a single! And again, AKB48's Koisuru Fortune Cookie really doesn't fare badly; the song just had the misfortune of getting a really lame and lackluster PV. Overall, I'd check In Da Gold out for the PV and listen to Koisuru Fortune Cookie if you're in the mood for a laid back and funky retro song. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm in the mood to go dig through an antique store!

4 comments:

  1. Name of the member of Jusyo Futei Mushoku ...

    *YURINA* Main vocal, Guitar & Drums
    *YOKO* Bass guitar & Vocal
    *the ZOMBIESCO* on Guitar & Drums
    *℃-want you!* on Keybord, Guitar & Vocal

    Jusyo Futei Mushoku means people without a house and work in Japanese.

    I regard them as very lovely....

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    1. Ah, thank you, lovely Anon! Now I can match names with faces! I like what I've heard of them so far!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Interesting read, but isn't it sort of a stretch to classify JFM as an idol group? I would consider them more of a pop-rock group than anything else.

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