Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Girls and Guns and Barrettes

Well, Nogizaka46, your time has come. Your time of judgement. I made a promise that I would return to review whatever song you released after Girl's Rule. And now that the release of Barrette draws nearer and nearer, I have every intention to hold up on that promise.

To say that Nogizaka46 has increasingly surprised me over this past year is an understatement. The rate at which they've improved is utterly surreal. Around this time last year, I'd pretty much given up that Nogizaka46 would ever be an interesting group, let alone competent rivals for AKB48. And yet while AKB48's music has gotten shittier, Nogizaka46's music has gone in the other direction. Seifuku no Mannequin was a promising start, and Kimi no Na wa Kibou and Girl's Rule were both enjoyable songs. Maybe not my favorite songs but still a whole lot better than what AKB48's gotten for the past year. And so much better than Nogizaka46's first singles. Not only did this "rival" group seem to be improving musically but stylistically as well. I thought the outfits for their first single were god-awful, and I abhorred the entire Oide Shampoo PV. The dance, the outfits, everything. And Hashire! Bicycle didn't do much for me either. This year though? The two singles Nogizaka46 has released this year both have nice outfits that don't look like Gunny sacks from the Great Depression. And the PVs for each song are pretty nice-looking; I especially liked the PV for Girls's Rule.

It's quite incredible, how quickly Nogizaka46 has redeemed themselves. I don't think a group I've been so thoroughly disappointed with has 180-ed my opinion of them over the course of merely a year! After Girl's Rule, I really began to hope that the string of decent Nogizaka46 songs wasn't just a fluke and that they were genuinely improving. And so that has brought me here, ready to review Nogizaka46's latest single and raise the hammer of judgement. Nearly four months after the release of Girl's Rule is their last single of 2013, Barrette. When I heard the title for this single, I wasn't the impressed. Come on, Barrette? Like the hair clip? That has got to be the lamest title I've ever heard! I'm starting to think Aki-P has a fetish for idol hair. Considering his other two hair songs weren't exactly eargasms, I hesitantly approached Barrette, prepared for a bland-sounding song at the worst.

What did I get instead? Something that sounds like an older AKB48 song!

Like wow, talk about a blast from the past. Or... you know, 2007. Hey, that was still six years ago! If I had to compare Barrette to an AKB48 song, I'd say it's a mix of Skirt, Hirari, Virgin love, and a little bit of Dear my teacher. Of course, I don't think the lyrics to Barrette talk about fluttering skirts, sexual inexperience, or teacher-student romance. The opening notes of Barrette are what really give me old-AKB48 vibes, particularly Skirt, Hirari. Hell, it even reminds me a little bit of Onynako Club's music. While Skirt, Hirari, Virgin love, and Dear my teacher were all very upbeat songs, Barrette is much more downbeat without having the playful energy of those three songs. Does that mean it's bad though? After all, I'm an advocate for songs with energy; but I think the less energetic nature of Barrette actually works well, especially when you watch it with the PV. Speaking of which, I heard the song only when I watched the PV, so unfortunately a few parts of the song are a bit softer than I'd like them to be.

Despite the fact that I haven't listened to a clear rip of Barrette, I still really want to talk about the song. The sound of Barrette really surprised me when I first heard it, because I was expecting a much happier song. You could categorize Barrette as a more "serious" song but not necessarily in the same way the Seifuku no Mannequin, Kataomoi Finally, or Beginner are serious songs. Barrette mostly reminds me of a much slower, melancholic Kimi no Na wa Kibou. The arrangement is rather somber, but considering the mood of the PV, I'd say that works well for this single! Barrette is by no means a ray of sunshine, but it is a very relaxing song. I will admit, it's one of those songs that you can tune out pretty easily, especially if you're in the right mood. But I still like it, and I like that it sounds like older AKB48 music. In a weird way, that older sound if kind of refreshing to hear! Barrette might be too slow for some people, but I actually enjoyed the slowness of the song. It added this feeling of moodiness permeating throughout the entire song!

So the real question about Barrette is whether or not it is a continuation of actually decent music from Nogizaka46 or a relapse into their bland, vanilla-sweet songs of 2012. Personally, I really liked Barrette, a lot more than I thought I would. Is it my favorite AKS song? No, but I still like it, especially compared to some of the other A-sides from AKS this year! Dare I even say this is my favorite AKS A-side from 2013? Surely I don't! I mean, come on, how can a Nogizaka46 song end up being my favorite A-side from AKS this year? Unless AKB48's Janken song with the impractically long title blows me away (which it won't) then I think Barrette may be my favorite AKS A-side this year. I seriously can't believe I just typed that. But after thinking about it, I really do think Barrette is my favorite. AKB48's A-sides this year have ranged from mediocre to absolute crap, NMB48's two A-sides this year were listenable but neither really grabbed me. SKE48's three A-sides were nice-sounding, but none of them are my favorite. And HKT48? Well... their A-sides this year were endearingly happy, and that's all I want to say about them.

Yeah, I think I'm gonna stick with Barrette as my favorite AKS song of 2013. The song is serious, and I have a tendency to like the more serious-sounding AKS A-sides than the cheerful ones (of course, that doesn't mean I dislike all their happy songs; just the bland ones). Barrette is a very serious, subdued kind of song. The low, downbeat energy of the song might not appeal to everyone, but in my opinion, I think it works to the song's advantage. So yeah. Barrette's my favorite AKS song from this year. Have I finally lost my marbles!? Or has Nogizaka46 just been getting better music this year? I'd like to think the latter. And if that is what's happening, I hope the improvement of Nogizaka46 continues in 2014! I had little to no faith for this group in 2012, but their music this year has given me hope for them! Kimi no Na wa Kibou, Girls' Rule, and Barrette were all good songs; maybe next year, Nogizaka46 can release some great songs.

But while we're still in 2013, the only thing I can do is look at the PV for Barrette! And even though the song is rather serious, I'm certain the PV for Barrette features lots of adorable, whimsical imagery featuring cute little Barrettes and idols prancing around and being happy! Right, guys?

So the PV starts off... pretty scary. One of the members of NG46 has been kidnapped.

And I can honestly say the guy responsible for the kidnapping terrifies me.

This whole setup is very frightening because of the way it's portrayed. There's nothing fun about it, and this opening scene is terrifying to watch.

But something about that one guy's performance really creeps me out. He's way too gleeful.

I think what also scares me are that her screams sound so genuinely terrified.

And ugh, I really can't emphasize unsettling this guy is. His whole demeanor is just slightly off throughout the whole PV.

So I'm guessing whatever was in the syringe paralyzed her?

I say that because the PV cuts to what looks like a men's club full of frozen idols. Creepy to say the least.

To make matters even worse, it looks like Miona is being auctioned off.

Luckily though, help is on the way!

In the form of idols. Not sure how idols can defeat illegal prostitution lords, but okay!

It does make me wonder how the girl was able to communicate with the rest of them though..

Ah-ha! A hidden cell phone! Very clever!

And so Operation: Barrette is a go!

But seriously, how are they gonna fight their way past all those-

Holy shit.

Idols and guns, huh? Well, this PV just got a whole lot cooler!

So this shot kind of looks like the promo pic for a murder-mystery series. Not sure why. Just does!

All right! Four idols with weapons...

...versus a bunch of older men also carrying weapons. What could possibly go wrong?

I hope they at least nab that creepy guy!

So these shots are kind of random but they're really pretty...

They do kind of match up with the lavish feel of these shots though!

Okay, I swear I have seen that set used in a Morning Musume PV.

Onna ni Sachi Are anyone?

And Dream Morning Musume's PV! Is this just like the go-to club to film idol PVs?

Nevermind, back to the action!

I have to admit, the fight scenes in this PV are... pretty well-handled.

The fights are brisk, fast-paced, and highly entertaining.

And to be honest, there's something about violence in idol PVs that always entertains me.

Sure, there are a few inaccuracies, like the fact that your brain doesn't have the cognition to fire two guns at once.

But do they take away enjoyment of the PV? Absolutely not!

Yay, more pretty imagery that adds nothing to the PV!

When you consider the fact that they're dancing at a men's club the dance shot gets a little awkward.

Luckily, more fight scenes distract the viewer!

AKS dances are never exactly spectacular but this one has a few interesting moves.

I'm not sure how a katana trumps bullets, but I'm just gonna roll with it!

Butterflies!! Okay, back to the PV!

All right! Finally it's time to take this creepy slimeball out!


You know what I just noticed about this PV? A lack of barrettes.

Oh well, at least they finally rescued Miona!

Now everyone can go home and this PV can come to a happy ending-

Oh no! Who shot Maiyan!? And more importantly, why!?

Surely it couldn't have been one of the girls, right? Right!?

Miona!? But why!? Dammit, I wish I spoke Japanese so I could figure this out more easily!

So with only one option left, this PV comes to a bleak, bleak closure, with the sound of a gunshot.

Wow. That was uh... pretty hardcore. I think it's the first AKS PV since Beginner that raised the stakes and the tension so high. In fact, I think the PV for Barrette is scarier than Beginner. You heard me: a Nogizaka46 PV is scarier than the AKB48 PV that wasn't even released with the single because the producers were worried it was too frightening. What makes Barrette a scarier PV for me than Beginner was that when you're watching Beginner, you know it's meant to be fictional. It has the girls in a science fiction environment playing a video game where they're all killed off. Granted, it's still a pretty freaky PV, but in the back of my mind, I could never get really scared because I knew that could never happen. Not in my lifetime at least. The PV for Barrette however displays a much more realistic premise: being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. That is a scary concept because it can and does happen in everyday life, all over the world. That is why the opening of this PV scared me so much. It's not played for silliness like in NMB48's Ha!

This is a brutal way to open an idol PV, and it doesn't help that everyone performing in the opening bit is terrifying to watch. Especially the guy who (presumably) runs the whole operation. Whoever played him was having way too much fun in that role; it made for a really unsettling and creepy performance. The girl kidnapped in the opening was also very convincing, and really added to the tension of the situation. My heart just about broke when she was paralyzed and placed with all the other girls for sale in the club. I was watching the opening of Barrette with my hands over my face, peaking out between my fingers only to see what happened. In fact, I was secretly hoping that the Barrette was a happy song just to take away some of the heaviness of the dark opening of the PV. Despite the fact that the opening for the Barrette PV was pure nightmare fuel, it did set the stage and tone for the rest of this PV. And I am someone who loves getting scared, so for an idol PV to scare me is quite the impressive feat!

Even if you're not scared by the concept of this PV, Barrette still holds up really well. The PV is around 10 minutes, but the pacing is perfect. The tension just keeps building and building up in this PV, and I was genuinely invested in what was going on. I wanted the girls to save Miona, I wanted them to defeat all the pervs in the club, and when that sucker punch of an ending happened, I felt like my stomach had just dropped out and plopped onto the floor. I will admit at first I had a bit of hard time figuring out why Miona shot Maiyan at the end of the PV. Then I thought that maybe the shadowed girl in the opening was Miona and that she was secretly working for the men who ran the illegal sex club. And that she was being used as bait to lure out the rest of the girls in Nogizaka46. However, when they came to rescue her they ended up overpowering the men meant to capture them. So when they finally got to Miona, she shot Maiyan in a panic! I also think this explains the dead-eyed look on her face throughout this entire PV.

Sure, you could just rationalize that as Miona taking her role as center with the same amount of dignity and grace as Maeda Atsuko. However, I'd like to think she was brainwashed and/or traumatized into working under the men in the illegal sex club, her mannerisms in the PV being a result of that. Then seeing her friends in there coming to her rescue, Miona got morally conflicted leading to her shooting Maiyan. And thus we come to the bleak ending of all the remaining members of Nogizaka46 pointing their guns at Miona, with the screen going black right before the sound of a gunshot. Yeah, kind of a downer ending for an idol PV... But I should point out that the ending did not feel like a cop-out to me. Sure, it was unexpected, but not in a way that felt like a cheap twist. Although it did make the PV for Barrette a whole lot more depressing. And we never did see what happened to all those other girls in the club... Were they killed? Shipped off somewhere else to be sold? The more you think about theories for Barrette, the gloomier the PV gets!

Nonetheless, I still think the PV for Barrette is awesome. Sure it's gritty, sure the ending is dark as a storm cloud, but the execution is what makes this such a good PV. I always love watching idol PVs that have some kind of plot, and the plot for Barrette has so many layers (for an idol PV at least). Even if the plot is rather complex, I can still figure out what's going on despite not speaking Japanese. I also love seeing stage combat, especially in idol PVs. And to see all these idols in seifukus toting guns and swords and kicking ass with them is so cool to look at. And I liked that the people they were fighting were more than just generic bad guys. The opening explains who these men are and what they do, so the viewer can sympathize with the idols' plight. You want them to win and rescue Miona! And even though the ending is a little twisted, the journey to get to that ending is still a thrill ride.

And the fight choreography isn't too shabby either! I always go into an idol PV with reservations towards the quality of any fight scenes. The ones in Barrette actually look pretty good! Maybe not Kill Bill levels of good, but still! There were only a few overly exaggerated moves that stuck out to me; for the most part, I found the fight scenes in this PV to be one of the many highlights of Barrette. The setting was perfect, just the right combination of stylized and realistic to come off as not too hokey. I will say I didn't pay that much attention to the dance shot, mainly because I was so invested in the plot of this PV. However, the dance is all right for AKS, and there's nothing particularly odd or awkward about it. I do think it's kind of funny that the place where it was shot was also used in two different Hello! Project PVs though! Overall, the fault I have with the PV for Barrette are little more than nitpicks; this PV rocks. The plot is solid, the acting is good, I was invested, I can't believe I'd ever say something like this but Nogizaka46 got the best PV from AKS this year. Typing that feels... surreal. Have I actually fallen down a rabbit whole into an actual Wonderland!?

Do I dare give a Nogizaka46 song and PV five apples? Is doing that even possible!? I can't believe I'm doing this, but the quality of the song and PV for Barrette leave me no other choice but to give it five apples. As I said, the song is my favorite AKS song this year. The PV is where Barrette really packs a punch though... literally. It combines some of that good ol' violence with a taut-paced, intriguing plot that's not only disturbing but fascinating to watch. Nogizaka46, you have redeemed yourselves. Now let's see if you can keep up this quality next year!


  1. The butterfly shots are a reference to a line in the refrain ("A big butterfly stops"). At the end Miona says something along the lines of, "I have no other choice"

    1. Ah, thank you! Now the butterflies are pretty AND they make sense! Miona's dialogue makes a lot of sense, and it adds to my personal theory about her role in the PV so that makes me a happy duck!

  2. Jeeez! I've only just ventured into the world of AKB, but I am DEFFO checking out this PV! I did watch the PV for Beginner a couple of weeks ago, but I think I might have watched the wrong one... it was a dance shot coupled with behind the scenes shots. :S I'll keep looking for the other PV as that sounds so much cooler.

    1. Look no further! Here's a link to the original PV:

      The reason you see the edited dance version on AKB48's channel is because at the time, that was the "official" PV for it. In my opinion, it doesn't even compare to the original. Definitely check the full PV out when you've got time!

  3. Like a lot of Japanese storytelling it appears to be a mashup of ideas from the west. I can see influences from Taxi Driver, Lethal Weapon, Taken, French Connection and The Manchurian Candidate.

    Man, that baddie did a great job of making me hate him. What a sleazeball!

    Thanks for the review, Nia. I'm not sure the song is one I'd care to spin regularly but I did admire the quality of the songcraft.

    1. Now that you mention it, I do see a lot of elements from Western crime films in the PV. Pretty cool in my opinion; Taxi Driver and French Connection are two of my favorite movies!

      I never get much of an impression from villains in idol PVs, but I totally agree, the guy in this PV was such a sleazeball!

      No problemo! The review was fun to write! I like the song a lot, even if isn't the best AKS song I've ever listened to...

  4. Dang... Nogizaka46 is hardcore about how they graduate their members.

    1. I know, remind me never to join Nogizaka46!

  5. The PV theme, with the guns and all that could have been a play on the word "Barette" and the fact that they pronounce it as "Baa-re-ta' which sounds like "Beretta" (a firearm manufacturer)

    1. Beretta's a firearm manufacturer? Wow, you learn something new every day! And the PV makes a lot more sense now. Thanks for the fun fact!

  6. I wonder what your thoughts are on Keyakizaka46, both their songs as well as a group.