Monday, November 11, 2013

Buddhism and MomoClo

Ah, there's nothing like kicking back and looking at some stuff from the token weird idol I review on this blog! You know, Kyarypamyupamyu! Or BiS. Or Momoiro Clover Z. I seem to have a small handful of "weird" idols I like to review!

Well, depending on who you ask, MomoClo ain't anywhere near as weird as they used to be.

I always cringe a little every time I hear someone utter the phase "X isn't as good as they used to be," or "X's older music was so much better than their newer music." I think that's mainly because it's such a common criticism that's in my opinion very carelessly thrown around. It's one of those statements with very flimsy justification behind it. I've heard it with Perfume, Morning Musume, AKB48, any idol group that has been around for more than two years has probably had this criticism thrown at them. You can also apply this to television shows, novelists, just about any long-standing artist will receive this criticism at some point or another. That or their career can be tragically cut short and everyone can wax poetic about how the little amount of work they produced was a god-given gift to the world. All I'm trying to say is that although this criticism is inevitable, I die a little inside every time I hear it.

However, that does not mean that this cannot be a valid criticism. There are lots of artists in general whose current work isn't as good as their older work. And I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't mention that even I have slipped up and used this criticism before, although I try my best to explain my reasoning behind it. And so that brings me back to Momoiro Clover Z. I've noticed that a lot of reviewers have been lamenting MomoClo's toned down current music that apparently isn't as wacky or spontaneous as their earlier work. Is this a valid observation or jaded ramblings? I wasn't sure, especially when I still hadn't listened to a lot of their older music. Like I'd listened to none of their Battle and Romance material, let alone any of their Momoiro Clover songs. However, now I have listened to Battle and Romance, which I had not done when I reviewed 5th Dimension and Saraba, Itoshiki Kamitachi-yo. And listening to it (which by the way it's an amazing album), I can kind of see where the criticisms about MomoClo's more recent music are coming from. There's something very... exuberantly youthful about the Battle and Romance-era music, like a little kid coked up on pixie sticks.

I still think the sound of their 5th Dimension work still has a lot of quirkiness, but it does feel a little more subdued and mature. That doesn't mean they've turned into Tokyo Girls' Style 2.0 though! Although wouldn't it be crazy if MomoClo got a TGS-style song and in turn TGS got a MomoClo-style song? Actually, that'd probably be the idol equivalent of crossing the streams... And still, hasn't MomoClo gotten some pretty well-regarded songs post-Battle and Romance? Like Mouretsu Uchuu no... eh.. Mugen no Ai! I've yet to meet a MomoClo fan who dislikes that song! And it's not like 5th Dimension was a horrible album either! Sure, songs like Roudou Sanka and Otome Sensou are kind of divisive, but I still think MomoClo retains a lot of energy and spontaneity! They've just kind of mellowed out since Battle and Romance.

Besides, is it better for them to perpetually stick to one general sound than attempt to grow or evolve? It's kind of a double-edged sword. If they go the Perfume route and barely have significant changes to their sound, MomoClo will get criticism for not having enough variety to their music. If they change too much, they'll have a constantly divisive fanbase who will constantly bemoan their kaleidoscopic changes in musical direction. Really there has to be a balance. That brings me to Gounn, their first single after 5th Dimension. Not only has Gounn been released seven months after their last album, it's also their first single in nearly a year! Being the first new material in several months from the group kind of sets the bar high, along with the fact that it's the single that will kick off whatever their next album era is! Although I'm not the hugest follower of Momoiro Clover Z, I'd be lying if I didn't say I was at least a little intrigued to see what direction their next single would take. What was interesting about Gounn in terms of promotion is that we didn't even hear the song until a week before the release date when the PV was finally unveiled. I don't know if that's what MomoClo's always done for their material, but the abruptness was kind of jarring!

Still, how does Gounn sound? When the promotional pictures were revealed, I deduced that the the song would have an Indian feel to it. What do you know, I was right! I know, I'm just the Sherlock Holmes of the idolsphere, aren't I? Yes, I can definitely hear the Indian influences in the song, and I do like when songs take inspiration from the sounds of other countries. Why else do you think Berryz Koubou's Cha Cha Sing was such a great song? Gounn oddly enough reminds me of Perfume's Handy Man despite the fact that the two songs are in two different genres of music. Both have the same general sound though. Of course, I like Handy Man better because... it's flipping Handy Man! That was like the best B-side off Level3... Okay, okay, we're focusing on MomoClo, not Perfume! Despite the fact that I do like that Indian sound in Gounn, I'm actually not super enthusiastic about the song. I don't think this is a bad song or anything, I'm just not really feeling it that much.

I think part of the reason is because Gounn is a little too calm than it needs to be. There are parts in this song (like the build-up after the verses) where it sounds like this songs is going to get a little bit more hectic, then go back to a more subdued sound. I would have been all for that, I think the spastic dips in energy would have made for a really call, quirky-sounding song. But Gounn is much more melodic, and Momoiro Clover Z has never been a group that excelled in melodic songs, even when they didn't have the Z. I'm not saying they can't pull off melodic songs, but it's never been one of their strong suits. Just like vocals aren't one of their strongest aspects either! There are several parts in Gounn (mainly Kanako's solos) that needed to sound stronger than they really did. I think the girls tried, but there's only so much they can do. The long notes were particularly weak, but again, that's not just not one of MomoClo's stronger points. Gounn is a very pretty song, but it doesn't leave much of an impact. Maybe with the right tweaking it could have, but in its current state, it is simply an all right song.

But that doesn't mean the PV is! Gounn is a single that was inspired by Buddhism, and that influence really shows in the PV for Gounn. The problem is I'm don't practice Buddhism. So I could have either gone into this PV ignoring the Buddhism side of it or attempting to research the symbols used in this PV. Being the studious little blogger that I am, I opted for the latter. And that required much use of Google to essentially take a bunch of shots in the dark and hope I hit something!

Seriously, this is what my browser looked like while I was trying to figure out what the PV for Gounn meant. I wanted to at least try and do justice to the religious imagery behind this PV, even if my findings are a little jumbled and I may be completely wrong. Nonetheless, let us approach this screencap with caution.

The PV opens with the Dharmacakra, which represents the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism.

And I don't think this next part has any symbols. It's just whisking us away to the mystical world of Momoiro Clover Z!

Kanako is sitting in what looks like a pool of blood in the same way the Maitreya is.

Okay, so I think this is the Akashic records? I'm going off this image.

That looks... uh... symbolic! Very symbolic and full of symbolism. Yes. Much symbolism.

Momoka sits on a tree wrapped in fabric holding a spool of thread herself.

Aarin is in what looks like a mouth (see the teeth?) holding what else? A toothbrush!

So these parts of the PV show a variety of designs spiraling outward very much like a wheel.

I think they're supposed to mirror the designs found on Buddhist mandalas.

Here's one for comparison. Something to note is there are a lot of different mandala designs! And each one is supposed to be a representation of the universe!

Shiori sits in a hand that positions in one of the Mudr√Ęs of Buddhism (the flowing-holding one).

On closer inspection, Reni is sitting around hair which explains the hairbrush she has.

I think the spiraling mandala-esque designs are my favorite part of the PV.

There's something very... entrancing about how smooth and fluid the transitions are.

Have I mentioned the costumes yet? Because they're absolutely beautiful.

And detailed too! I found an article about the design process for making the costumes here. It's very informative and interesting!

If I had the time, I'd love to through and cap every different spiral design I see!

Sure, it might take awhile but they're really pretty. And colorful too!

Shiori is holding what appears to be a gravy boat. Trust me, I'm Southern, I know these things.

It took me forever to realize Kanako is holding a syringe and not a pen! The syringe makes much more sense!

I like that MomoClo's trademark member colors are incorporated into the PV!

I don't ever think I've seen so much blood in an idol PV look so very pretty...

Aarin's twirling her giant golden toothbrush! Because honestly, how can she brush her teeth with that?

I noticed a lot of emphasis on Kanako in this PV. I guess because she's the leader?

More spiraling. It's quite relaxing to watch, I highly recommend!

More lovely editing. That's another technical thing about this PV that's good!

There are some parts where I forget this PV is mostly green screen...

A nice upward shot showing the Akashic records.

This is probably my favorite mandala-inspired design in the PV!

I'm not sure how many times I can "This is sooooo pretty," before it becomes repetitive...

And with one final pose, the PV comes to an end and I can stop wracking my brain over the religious imagery. Phew!

Oh man, that has got to be the most nerve-wracking screencap I've ever done! Seriously, I know little to nothing about Buddhism, beyond a few basic ideas about it. But because the PV for Gounn is heavily influenced by Buddhism, I felt I'd be cheating my readers if I at least try to look into those influences. How much I succeeded is probably debatable but I can at least get an E for Effort, right? I've got give credit where it's due though because I'm honestly just parroting the research gathered from other websites from people who are much more informed in Buddhism than I probably am. Main thanks goes to the Momoiro Clover Z international forum particularly users Saint, Momomofu, Grey Face, and Monkey Pop. Those are the people that deserve the real credit for all the information I gathered in this review, and without their input, I don't think I'd know quite near as much about the PV for Gounn!

Still, I'm happy I'm not getting graded on this review! I'd get major downgrades for my lack of proper MLA-format citations! Even if reviewing this PV required a little more effort than usual, I'm still glad I did it! I learned a lot more about Buddhism than I did before; the American school system is exactly keen on teaching religion pre-college so this was quite the eye-opening experience! Like I didn't know how intricate Buddhist designs are, especially the mandalas. I think it's really amazing how these representations of the universe are so exquisitely designed, and the sheer number of different mandalas! One of my favorite parts of the PV was the incorporation of the mandala-concept. Honestly, I'm  overall very impressed with the details incorporated into the PV for Gounn, especially regarding the Buddhist imagery. I think whoever directed this PV put a lot of effort into the concept, and it shows. Gounn is probably one of the most artistic PVs I've ever reviewed. Say what you want about Momoiro Clover Z's music, you can't deny that they get some pretty cool PVs, and part of the fun of reviewing MomoClo's material is watching the PV!

So let's talk about the religious imagery in Gounn. Or let's at least make an attempt to. Because so much of this PV is tied in with Buddhism, there are a few things in the PV that I need to elaborate on. Mainly the individual shots where the girls are wearing white robes and holding miscellaneous objects. When I first watched this PV, a lot of the symbolism went right over my head. It probably didn't help that the sheer lavishness of the PV was overwhelming, and I thought those shots were really pretty to look at, even if I wasn't sure what to make of them. Doing the screencap and trying to figure out what everything meant was an arduous task that I probably couldn't have accomplished without looking to external sources. In particular, I just couldn't figure out how a syringe, a gravy boat, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and thread tied to Buddhism.

However, there is an explanation behind the seeming randomness of these objects. And crazily enough, that explanation is conveniently linked to the member colors of Momoiro Clover Z! So the five members of Momoiro Clover Z each have their own signature color: Kanako is red, Shiori is yellow, Aarin is pink, Momoka is green, and Reni is purple. These also happen to make up the five colors of Goshiki. Well, it's a bit of stretch since pink is not one of those five colors. However, the Goshiki consists of red (Kanako), yellow (Shiori), green/blue (Momoka), purple/black (Reni), and white/crimson (Aarin). The fact that there are five "main" colors in this PV is also important; the number five in Buddhism is extremely significant and appears in a lot of other concepts. One of those concepts is Tathagata, the ultimate state of enlightenment in Buddhism. Each object in the PV for Gounn relates back to Tathagata: the syringe represents Tathagata's blood, the gravy boat represents Tathagata's body color (a gravy boat is also used to serve curry in Japan, and curry symbolizes yellow and gold), the toothbrush represents Tathagata's teeth, the spool and thread represents Tathagata's robe, and the comb represents Tathagata's hair.

I'm sure there's more Buddhist symbolism that I didn't catch, but I will allow someone who is more well-informed in Buddhism than I am to decipher it. That's the best I can do regarding the imagery in the PV for Gounn. As you can see, Gounn is a PV that is very rich in symbolism, surprisingly so for an idol PV. I always enjoy an idol PV that I can pick apart, even if this one was really challenging. On the technical side, the PV for Gounn has top-notch production. Like I said, I'm blown away at how much detail was put into this PV. Every shot looks so beautiful, and it all flows so smoothly together. The song actually sounds faster when I listen to it in the PV, which is good because Gounn is a song that needs to be faster. By far my favorite parts are the spiraling designs. I love how different they all look, and watching it is very mesmerizing. The individual shots too all look very nice as well, even if you don't take the symbolism into consideration.

The PV for Gounn overall had this very elegant aesthetic. I think part of that comes from the Buddhism inspiration. I don't know if this is a superficial statement to make about a religion, but visually Buddhism has some beautiful imagery. Everything looks so intricate and colorful. The Buddhism-inspired concepts translate so well into this PV. Honestly, this really isn't a weird PV from Momoiro Clover Z. Crazy, huh? The weekend space pirates have a PV that's actually sane! There really isn't anything quirky or audacious about the PV for Gounn, and if you're a fan looking for that in MomoClo, I would skip this PV. However, the lack of weirdness isn't a bad thing at all, especially when Gounn is such a beautiful PV to look at. Overall, I am very pleased with the PV for Gounn. It's probably one of my favorite Momoiro Clover Z PVs, and makes up for the rather lackluster song. It's a PV steeped in themes and imagery from a very interesting religion, and the execution is wonderful. I love the outfits, the sets, the special effects, there isn't a single thing I would do to try and improve this PV. Because why on earth should you try to improve something perfect?

Gounn may not be the best MomoClo song in the world, but the PV is absolutely beautiful. So I'll collectively give both four out of five apples (three and half for the song and five for the PV!). I really liked the overall concept of this single. As for the Buddhism part of it, I sincerely apologize if I've mixed up or flat-out skewed any of the concepts. If I have please tell me and I will fix it right away!


  1. This review is, certainly, one of the best you made this year! Strong point of view, information, and that humor that made me fall in love with your reviews.
    And for me,this single is representing the ascension of MCZ in their career. Did you know that the female favorite idol group in Japan is Momoiro Clover Z? That's a huge step for a group that have 5 years in the music market.

    1. Thank you! I feel like I worked really hard on this review in particular so I'm really happy you noticed!

      I hope that MomoClo can continue "ascending." It'd be nice if there was another big female idol group besides AKB48. And I didn't know that MomoClo is Japan's favorite female idol group! That's really cool, and I'm sure the girls are honored!

  2. I love how many reviews you've released recently! I know this is demanding but if you can keep up this rate, it would be absolutely fantastic ^^

    1. Thanks! I guess I'm just on a writing kick as of recent... and there are just a boatload of November releases I need to review! It also helps that college applications are done for me! I'll try and keep this rate up, but with final exams in December, I might have to throttle back a bit. Still, I will do my best!

    2. Awesome ^^ good luck with your applications!