Thursday, September 12, 2013
Freshly Squeezed for a Major Debut
Well, after years and years of hard work behind the scenes as an independent idol group, I'm proud to say that Juice=Juice has finally worked their way to the big league of Hello! Project. It just warms my heart that such a persevering idol group has finally been able to achieve their dreams of majorly debuting after such a long time in indies- oh wait, am I getting Juice=Juice mixed up with S/mileage? Gosh darn it to heck! Yeah, talk about a short time as an indie group, huh? I count what, seven months? Look, I don't have much of an opinion on how much time Juice=Juice, Tsunku's shiny new toy, was around before their major debut. They've had their major debut now, and there's nothing I can do about it except give my two cents on how Juice=Juice's first single under a major label turned out. With Aina suddenly leaving the group, I was curious to see how her departure would effect the group's upcoming single, Romance no Tochuu. After all, the song had been recorded, the PV filmed, and promotional shots taken with Aina included. Having to redo the entire single without her was kind of a big deal for UFP. But the deed was done and Romance no Tochuu was transformed into a triple A-side, the two additional A-sides being "Memorial Edits" of Juice=Juice's first two indie singles. So does Juice=Juice still have what it take to be juicy? And more importantly... how many fruit puns can I make in this review? Only one way to know for sure... let's review!
Lemme go ahead and warn you, all six of the cover's for Romance no Tochuu epitomize the well-enforced legend that Hello! Project churns out some of the tackiest, cheapest, most poorly shopped covers of any idol industry. I mean... it's almost hilarious at just how utterly Hello! Project these covers are. The bright colors, the obviously photoshopped backgrounds, the sloppy editing, the fonts... The sheer gaudiness of all these covers is making me giggle like a six-year old! But in all seriousness, these covers are god-awful in that special way that only Hello! Project can make god-awful single covers. I mean, just look at the Limited A edition at the top of this review. Overly-bright blue background surrounded by a highlighter-yellow frame with five idols poorly shopped into the mix? I can't help but laugh at the over-the-top gaudiness of that! But that's not even the best of the covers for this single. I think the winner of the "Most Hilariously Terrible Cover" is split between the Limited C and Limited D. Such different types of tackiness, which one to pick from!? It's too overwhelming.
On one hand, Limited C has some weird "rainbow space" background awkwardly shopped behind the girls, but then Limited D looks like the opening of a shitty 90s television show for little kids. I think I will go with Limited D for the worst of these covers, mainly because of how overly simple it looks. The primary colors look childish, especially compared with the outfits the girls are wearing in the single, and the formatting looks hilariously dated. Of course, Limited B, Limited E, and Regular aren't exempt from this tacky cheapness! They have their fair shares of... odd stylistic choices. Like the groovy yellow background the girls were shopped in front of for Regular. And the basic primary-color backgrounds used for Limited E. Not to mention the blatant green-screen pastels for Limited B! Bottom line is, if you're looking for some good-old fashioned Hello! Project single covers to laugh at, the covers for Juice=Juice will provide much entertainment value.
Romance no Tochuu
And here we have the one new song on the single, Romance no Tochuu aka Romance Is on the Way! Even before Aina left, I was eagerly anticipating the sound of Juice=Juice's first A-side under a major label. Would it follow the same cool, hip style of the group's first two indie singles? Or would it follow in the unfortunate direction of the agonizingly bland Ten Made Nobore? I hoped not, and after Aina left, I wondered even more how this would affect Romance no Tochuu, if at all. So I've listened to the song several times now, and my overall impression that I've gotten from it is... it's funky. Not as funky as the majority of Tokyo Girls' Style's discography, but still pretty funk. One of the distinctive aspects of Romance no Tochuu that separates it from the two other A-sides from Juice=Juice's indie era is the sheer amount of funkiness radiating from the song. Because Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne and Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru were both songs that leaned toward a cooler tone than funky. Romance no Tochuu goes in the other direction.
I will say one common factor all three of these A-sides share is that they're all heavy on the brass instrumentals. Tsunku must be on a brass high when he's composing all of Juice=Juice's songs. The song that Romance no Tochuu actually reminds me of the most is Daite Hold on Me, a Morning Musume song from way back when 90s fashion was finally coming to a much-needed decline. I know that's a bit of a distant comparison, but listen to Romance no Tochuu and Daite Hold on Me back-to-back. Come on, you gotta admit they sound at least a little bit similar. Maybe not exactly, but at least in general sound! No matter what song Romance no Tochuu reminds me of, I honestly think this was a pretty strong song to majorly debut with. For the most part, I thought Romance no Tochuu played to Juice=Juice's image as a "cool" idol group very well. The song has a distinctly funky sound, some very catchy hooks, and not to mention lovely vocals from the lovely Karin (although Sayuki and Tomoko match Karin just as well too).
So the covers for Romance to Tochuu fell into the pitfall that is Hello! Projects stylistic budget. Did the PV fall victim to the same thing? Nope! You can pop out the champagne and throw on a party hat, because this is a Hello! Project PV that actually had effort put into it! Somewhat. If you know how H!P rolls with their PVs by now, I think you can figure out what I mean when I say "effort." We all know Hello! Project has... trouble with presenting their idol groups in music videos that are visually appealing and don't look like they had a budget obtained from the profits a 6-year old would get running a lemonade stand. On the spectrum of Hello! Project PVs ranging from "Hey! They had enough money to make a nice-looking PV" to "Yikes, it was one of those budget-scraping weeks when this PV was filmed, wasn't it?" the PV for Romance no Tochuu fortunately leans much more towards the former side of the spectrum. Sure, the PV still consists of mainly just dance shots and close-ups, but the editing is nice and the PV has the girls in different outfits, which is always a big deal for Hello! Project PVs.
Mainly because this means the directors took the time to film the girls in separate outfits and film separate dance shots and close-ups. There are three outfits the girls wear in this PV: the houndstooth print outfits featured in the covers, the simple, but pretty white outfits, and the... Saved by the Bell outfits? Yeah, I don't know what the costume designers were smoking when they decided the girls needed to look like extras for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But all the other outfits and shots in this PV are actually pretty elegant, and I like that the outfits give the separate shots more diversity. The set for the dance shot and close-ups reminds me of the gilded design used for The Great Gatsby movie, albeit more colorful. Which is my way of saying it looks fancy for a Hello! Project set. And notice that Juice=Juice must have swiped the chairs from C-ute's Kiss Me Aishiteru for their close-up scenes. In my opinion, Romance no Tochuu's PV fared well for H!P; it could have been so much worse but the PV we got actually looked very classy.
In the end, I decided to give Juice=Juice's first song as a major-label group four and half apples out of five. While maybe not as strong as the song they first debuted with, Romance no Tochuu is funky and fresh enough that I can get down to it in ways that only an awkward white girl can.
Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit)
Ah, Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne, the first taste of Juice=Juice we ever got. Now this is what you call a standout debut song. The bursting saxophone, the catchy chorus, the sheer amount of energy... I thought this was a great debut song, and even now, I still think it's one of the best songs we've seen from 2013 in idol music. So to find that it would be getting a remix (or "Memorial Edit") had me a little apprehensive. Best-case scenario was that this Memorial Edit would just feature re-recorded vocals to fill the solos left from Aina leaving Juice=Juice. Worst case scenario was... an actual remix. I'm not saying that Tsunku is bad at remixing songs but... look, you can't just add a few skips and sound manipulations and think that's going to make for a good remix. The process of editing a song is challenging, especially if the original song is already strong on its own. The remix has to compliment the original but also have enough twists and turns (and ones that work) to distinguish itself from the original. Producers like Yasutaka Nakata excel in making good remixes; Tsunku does not.
Hell, I think I've heard fans who can remix songs better than he can. The Memorial Edit of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne doesn't make so many changes you can't recognize the song, but there are enough changes that I was... disgruntled with. One of the biggest changes of the song that I had the biggest problem with was that ongoing saxophone solo during the instrumental bits. You know, that really catchy opening to the song, that set up such a great tone for the rest of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne? Yeah, that got completely butchered in the Memorial Edit. Overall, the changes made to such a strong song felt unnecessary. Like the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne was such a great song, and in comparison, the Memorial Edit pales extremely in comparison. I thought this was a sloppy remix, and I'm just thankful that not so much of the original song got skewed to hell for the Memorial Edit.
Due to reasons of Aina jumping ship, an alternate PV for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne was shot with the five remaining members using the Memorial Edit. Now I think we all remember the original PV. It was a shot a cheaply minimalistic set and half the girls in Juice=Juice looked like deer in the headlights instead of comfortable performers. So does the alternate PV fix all the problems I noticed in the original PV? Well... I'll say yes and no. The new PV for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne is nearly as cheap as the original PV. The girls still dance in an extremely barren white set, and the only other shots in the PV are the close-ups. I do think they tried to at least spruce up the colors in this PV though. The original PV was very monochromatic, with the only splashes of color being the bright jewelry the girls were wearing. The new PV isn't quite so colorless; the new outfits are very floral and keep up with the stylishly modern theme the members of Juice=Juice seem to get with every new single.
There's some nice shadowing in the dance shot, and the contrast between the white and colors aesthetically pleasing. The original close-ups were just pitch-black backdrops, but the ones used for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit) are different colors that match each girl's individual group color. Beyond those changes, there's not really much about this new PV that makes it stand out from the original. It all really just depends on your personal opinion, which style you prefer, and whether or not you like Juice=Juice with or without Aina. For me, I think this was an all right PV, but if it were never made, I wouldn't exactly be marching to UFP's headquarters and demanding a PV for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit). At this point, I have pretty low expectations for all Hello! Project PVs so by H!P standards, I guess you could argue this is a pretty good PV. In the end, my dislike for the Memorial Edit itself is probably not going to make me want to watch this new PV in the future.
This Memorial Edit only gets two and a half apples from me. I can't emphasize enough that the original Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishmenakya ne is so much better than this half-assed remix. I will admit this remix wasn't terrible... just very, very unnecessary.
Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru (Memorial Edit)
With Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne, I had a very strongly positive impression of it upon my first listen. When Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru came out shortly after, my response was... not quite as enthusiastic as it had been with Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne. Still, I didn't think Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru was a horrible song; by my standards, it can even be considered pretty good! But in comparison to Juice=Juice's first indies single, this second indies single just didn't pack quite as much of a punch. It was still a very catchy song and had a lot of that snazzy brass instrumentation! So after hearing the wreck of a Memorial Edit for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne, I feared immensely for how Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru was going to get butchered. A rip of the Memorial Edit for the song leaked online, and Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru pretty much got the same type of remix Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya did. Which really just means that the changes to the song were sloppily done by someone who is clearly not skilled in the field or song remixes.
But Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru didn't get quite the large amount of changes that Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya did. In fact, I think the only really prominent change made to this song, was the the opening trumpets were distorted. Sure, that made for a not-so-fantastic way to open the song, but beyond that, I don't think much of this song was touched beyond redistributing Aina's solos. And a plus about the new line distribution is that Tomoko got a few of Aina's solos! She kind of got the vocal shaft for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit) and she's kinda-sorta turning out to be my bias in Juice=Juice so yeah... I'm happy about that! I will admit, since the original and Memorial Edit of Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru are so similar, I'd rather a new B-side just have been recorded for this single. I do like Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru but I don't exactly need two versions of it to get into this song.
I get the feeling that UFP really wanted to sweep Aina's sudden departure from Juice=Juice under the rug, because Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru (Memorial Edit) also got a PV. And much like the PV for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit), the PV for Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru (Memorial Edit) doesn't really add much. The original was slightly less cheap-looking than Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne, with an attempt at making an actual set. And some close-ups showing rain cause you know, the song mentions rain and all. The umbrellas the girls used in the original PV were nice too, very bright and summery. So what's different about this new PV other than the obvious lack of Aina? Well, there are these mysteriously silhouetted trumpet players jamming out to the song in a completely separate shot! It's not the coolest thing since the Perfume's Laser Beam PV, but it's always nice seeing an idol PV featuring people besides the idols themselves.
The set used for the dance set in this PV looks much more like a stage than the original PV, especially with the spotlights in the background. I actually think I noticed the dance for Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru in this PV a lot more than I did in the original PV. Don't know why... maybe there was just more of an emphasis on the dance shot than the close-ups? One thing I forgot to mention while I was talking about the PV for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne is that the members of Juice=Juice look so much more comfortable in these new PVs. Like seriously, Karin and Sayuki finally figured out how to work their angles on the camera and stop looking like awkward monkeys! Beyond that, I have just about the same opinion of the PV for Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru (Memorial Edit) as I did for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne (Memorial Edit). I think the PV's all right, even if it's your standard H!P fare, but it's not exactly the kind of PV you need to watch to enjoy the song. I guess if you want to see what this song would have looked like without Aina, this gives a nice look.
Well, I can safely say that Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru (Memorial Edit) didn't get anywhere near as trashed as Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishmenakya ne (Memorial Edit), but I'm only giving this song three and half apples. It sounds so close to the original, I just don't see much of a point in remixing it and throwing it onto this single.
For a major debut single, I think Juice=Juice got a bit of a mixed bag. The "main" A-side, Romance no Tochuu, in my opinion, was the best of the three A-sides featured on this single. It was fun, funky, and had a distinctive feel to it. I think what surprised me most about this single was that there were no B-sides, and honestly, I would have liked to see at least one on there. I'd already heard Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne and Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru; would it have killed Tsunku to write just one more song to fill this single? I might not be complaining about that had the Memorial Edits for the other two A-sides on this single actually improved the songs they were remixing. As I elaborated on earlier, I found the Memorial Edit to be Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne to be particularly poorly done. Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru's Memorial Edit fared a bit better, but that's nothing spectacular.
In my opinion, these two A-sides included on the single just weighed it down. To be fair, I don't think Aina's departure was the reason for the lack of B-sides and re-recorded A-sides. Apparently before she'd left, Tsunku had already planned to do Memorial Edits for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne and Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru. Either way, that doesn't mean I'm going to suppress my wishes for a more substantial single. In all honesty, I'm probably just going to listen to the original songs in lieu of these Memorial Edits. One, because they're just better and two, there aren't enough changes in the Memorial Edits that I feel as though I can equally enjoy the original and the remix. It's not like Perfume's edge and edge (⊿-mix) where both songs can stand alone as really good songs. Overall, I guess my verdict for Romance no Tochuu/WgIMnDn (Memorial Edit)/SBgS (Memorial Edit) is... mixed to positive? If you really want to hear Juice=Juice's old songs without Aina, you'll probably like this single more than I did. For me, Romance no Tochuu was good, and I'm hoping that their next single will offer more new material.
I think Juice=Juice, despite being such a young group, has gone off to a very promising debut. Now the trick is to see if Tsunku can keep up the momentum and not get bored with Juice=Juice several singles into their career. For now, I'll give their major debut single three and half out of five apples and eagerly keep an eye out for whatever release the group is taking on next!