Monday, June 23, 2014

The Two Faces of Kikka

Is me reviewing Kikkawa Yuu's releases once a year going to become a tradition? Because I feel like I'm headed in that direction.

This time it's not my fault though! It really has been a year since Kikka's released anything. Okay, she released a compilation album and collaborated with some band I don't know or care about. But she hasn't released a single since that triple A-side from January 2013. Not even Perfume's taken such a long gap between two singles to release something. Don't get me wrong, Perfume's come close, but not to one year and five months. When I last listened to any new Kikka material though, the results were mixed. Her triple A-side from over a year ago was mostly forgettable, and her subsequent album Two You was almost as forgettable save for one or two songs. I've never been able to figure out what sort of image management has tried to pin on Kikka, particularly in her last few releases. At first, she's a Vocaloid-style electropop singer, but oh wait, now she's your girl-next-door idol! I'm all for chameleon-like changes in image and music as long as they make some sort of sense. My interest has definitely waned in Kikka since her debut days, but I enjoy her voice enough to keep a weary eye on her release activity. And since it has been ages since her last single, I figured I need to give Urahara Temptation/Ii jan a shot! Who knows? Maybe Kikka's back with a vengeance!


It's a good thing that the quality of a single's covers doesn't always effect the quality of the actual. Because hoo boy... I've definitely seen better covers. I will say there are elements of the Urahara Temptation/Ii jan covers that I like. I like the pop art color scheme and editing. But these covers are kind of an eyesore. There's way too much going on in them yet at the same time they look incredibly cheap. Both covers show two different Kikkas, a lighter, happier Kikka and a darker, sexier Kikka. Think of the Two You covers only fifty times busier. I think the producers might have been going for something a little retro with these covers, but they end up looking kind of cheap. Of the two, I prefer the LE version (featured in this review) over the regular.

Urahara Temptation

After the lackluster triple A-side last year, Urahara Temptation is a much-needed energy booster for Kikka. Urahara Temptation is kind of different for Kikka. Kind of. The covers for this single indicated two different Kikkas, a mature, sexy Kikka and a sweet, innocent. Urahara Temptation presents that first Kikka. Funny enough, the song actually starts out kind... underwhelming. The verses aren't bad, they're just a little forgettable. Don't worry though, the pace picks up very quickly after the verses! Urahara Temptation kicks into overdrive with a chorus that instantly grabs you! And then the rest of the song is... weird. At times it's a good kind of weird, like the chorus. The chorus is the catchiest part of the song, and the strongest one I've heard from a Kikka song in a long time. Other parts of the song are hit-or-miss. Like for instance: Kikka raps! And it... kind of works? It wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would turn out! There's also a good deal of Autotune in this song, but nowhere near overt as the A-sides where Kikka dabbled in electropop. I do think they could have laid off the Autotune; Kikka has a good voice that doesn't really need to be covered up with Autotune. I think it was stylistic, but at times, the Autotune comes off as a tad bit forced.

Despite criticisms, I like Urahara Temptation! In fact, I think Urahara Temptation may be my favorite Kikka A-side since Konna Watashi de Yokattara. Even the chorus of Urahara Temptation reminds me a little bit of Konna Watashi de Yokattara, just in tone. However, Urahara Temptation isn't as good as Konna Watashi de Yokattara; Kikka's yet to broach that level of quality again. It is the song that has come the closest so far. The structure of the song is a little messy, and as I said, the Autotune I could have done without. However, Urahara Temptation still has energy and a chorus that grabs you. That's more than I can say about some of Kikka's past A-sides. Urahara Temptation gives me hope that Kikka isn't doomed to a mix of mediocre electropop songs and bland pop songs for the rest of her career. So no, this is not the best Kikka song I've ever heard, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. Not every creative decision works in Urahara Temptation, but I still have to give props for at least trying to do a bunch of different things and mash them into one song. Overall, if you liked Konna Watashi de Yokattara or Darling to Madonna, I'd give Urahara Temptation a listen!

But of course, how can I forget about the music video? First of all, when did Kikka starting getting shitty English subtitles on her videos!? It's bad enough having to deal with them on Hello! Project's music video's. I hate that Kikka's management jumped on that bandwagon too! Oh well, I've ranted enough about subtitles in the past. Besides, there's a subtitles-less version on The PV for Urahara Temptation is... minimalistic. Which is my nice way of saying it looks freaking cheap. The PV was shot on plain white backdrop, which is just about as cheap as you can get with a music video. Even the outfit Kikka wears in the music video looks cheap. I think Kikka's style team failed to realize that making something red does not automatically make it sexy. I mean the sequins and the tulle make her look like she's wearing a dance costume. Admittedly, not every part of the music video looks tacky. I think the production team at least tried to do something with the budget they were working with. There are a plethora of special effects used in the PV for Urahara Temptation, ranging from visually pleasing to looking about as low-budget as a B-movie.

The better-looking visuals are the geometric shapes used as transitions. Think Morning Musume's Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe or Yamabe Miyu's Butterfly. These are pretty simplistic, but they're nice and clean. Most of the color schemes are also pretty good. There are some black and white shots, other filtered shots, and a pretty blue main backdrop. But then... there are the really poor effects. Or mainly the one I like to call "Attack of the Multiplying Kikkas." During several parts of this PV, Kikka appears multiple times in multiple sizes and multiple angles, one right on top of the other. I don't know what it is about this effect, but it's really weird. And not in the fun, Kyarypamyupamyu kind of way. It looks so awkward, with all the different sizes and awkward layering. Even the multiple Kikkas in Konna Watashi de Yokattara looked less forced than the ones in Urahara Temptation. And beyond that one special effect, the other special effects all look like they're compensating for the low-budget nature of this PV. I think the creative team did their best to make it interesting, but there's only so much they can do. So yeah, not the best PV I've seen from Kikka. But hey, not the worst either!

And the music video has no affect on how many apples I give the song alone! I was flitting between 4 and 4.5 apples, but I'm gonna go with 4.5 apples for Urahara Temptation! There's a little too much going on in the song at parts, but overall, I enjoyed the song! I think it'll be one of the newer Kikka releases I listen to more than once!

Ii jan

So the other A-side is Ii jan. I heard a preview of Ii jan awhile ago, alongside Urahara Temptation. Of the two previews, Urahara Temptation grabbed me much more than Ii jan. The preview of Ii jan just sounded very dull. Like it was a generic happy idol song. And... yeah, Ii jan is on the generic side. But I like the song a lot more than I thought I would! Because yes, Ii jan borders on bland, but there's enough energy in the song to prevent it from sounding completely forgettable. I think this song is one of those that sounds more energetic when the chorus hits. The sound is similar to Kikkake wa You! or Hapirapi ~Sunrise~ but I think Ii jan handles that happy idol sound much better than either one of those two songs. Come to think of it, Ii jan also reminds me a little bit of Sweetie (a Kikka B-side). Ii jan doesn't have as much flair as Urahara Temptation, but there's still something likable about the song. Maybe it's the way Kikka sings it? She doesn't force a cute voice as much as she has on some of her other happy songs (I have Hapirapi ~Sunrise~ in mind). But she still manages to convey a very cheerful voice! And there are some really cute backing vocals in this song.

So Urahara Temptation was the Sexy Face of Kikka, hence Ii jan takes up the role of the Innocent Face. I mean, that is how the covers promote it. I like the contrast between Urahara Temptation and Ii jan. Ii jan is a very cute, lighthearted song whereas Urahara Temptation is a little more serious and playful. Neither A-side is a rehash of the other! And I like that Ii jan doesn't Autotune Kikka's voice! I think that would be really out of place in a song like Ii jan. At its core, Ii jan is simply a bright, happy little idol song, and it doesn't try to be anything else. Sometimes, I just like to listen to a happy idol song! As long as said idol song is not bland. And Ii jan turned out to be a lot less bland than I thought it would be! I think if wasn't in the right mood, I wouldn't be able to enjoy Ii jan. But I'm a little ecstatic right now (thanks to a certain trio finally coming to the US), so I'm loving Ii jan! I will say again though, it's kind of a bland song. Likably bland, but still bland. But if you like the more idol-y, less Vocaloid side of Kikka's music, you should give Ii jan a listen!

Then there's the PV for Ii jan. Like Urahara Temptation's PV, the PV for Ii jan is low-budget. Unlike Urahara Temptation's PV, the PV for Ii jan looks good. Ii jan is the cuter of the two PVs, even down to what Kikka's wearing. By the way, the white dress and crown she's wearing look adorable. Like the song, the PV for Ii jan is simply cute. It also features a plain white backdrop, but in this PV, Kikka gets to do more than just stare sexily at the camera. Ii jan's PV utilizes a bunch of special effects, mainly visuals that look like drawings. And then Kikka herself draws a variety of different things from hats to flowers to fishies and a bunch of other really cute things! The best part is all that art was done by Kikka herself! She's obviously not going to be the Monet, but her drawings look really cute and add a lot of character to the PV! I like how the visuals effects are a constant; there isn't a single shot where Kikka's just singing or dancing in front of that plain white backdrop. There's either some writing, one of Kikka's drawings, or some other miscellaneous visual in the background! And all the visuals look so adorable; they're all bright colors or and cute drawings that match perfectly with the song.

Kikka herself is really adorable in the PV for Ii jan too! Like I said, she did all the drawings in this PV, and she does a ton of faces that match perfectly with them. There's even one point where she draws a gun and then an actual gun materializes! It works better in context. The drawback with doing more mature songs is that it doesn't give an idol a chance to act happy and have fun. I mean, it's possible I guess but not in the same way. Kikka is part of what makes the PV for Ii jan so much fun to watch. She's bubbly and smiling and making these hilarious facial expressions all throughout the PV. So yes, of the two PVs on this single, I prefer Ii jan. I think it had probably about the same budget as Urahara Temptation, but the PV has much more popping visual effects and less awkwardness. The best PV I've seen all year? No, but probably the best low-budget PV I've seen all year. See, UFP? If you could make a PV like this for Kikka, how hard would it be to do the same for Berryz Koubou's Futsuu Idol 10nen Yatterannai Desho!? Okay, I'm veering into a different subject entirely. Still, I like Ii jan's PV!

I will give Ii jan four little apples! I like Urahara Temptation better, but Ii jan definitely got the better PV. And really, the song is quite pleasant to listen to! If you're looking for something happy and upbeat (and don't mind something a little generic), then I'll enthusiastically recommend Ii jan! Because that's what I think makes Ii jan work: the enthusiasm!

The Verdict

There's still hope for Kikkawa Yuu! Seriously, this single was so much better than her triple A-side... and Darling to Madonna... and Koko Kara Hajimarunda! Maybe working with that other band gave her producers some inspiration. I have noticed that this single's kind of scant compared to her previous singles. I mean, there are the two A-sides and... that's it. I mean understandably, it is a double A-side. But even her first singles had three different B-sides. Oh well, I guess since there are only two editions of this single, that doesn't leave room for a B-side. I'd have more of a problem with the small tracklist if one of the songs on Urahara Temptation/Ii jan was outright bad. But lucky for me, I think both songs are pretty good! The strongest songs Kikka's ever released? No. Urahara Temptation has a messy arrangement and some unnecessary Autotune. Ii jan is a safe, but slightly bland, song. But I think the good outweighs the bad with this single. And I'd rather have two good songs than one great song and one terrible song. Or even worse... two bad songs. Urahara Temptation and Ii jan are both good songs, and I like listening to both of them. I can remember how both songs sound.

I think the producers were trying to play up those two different images of Kikka for each one of these A-sides. So which one works better: Sexy Kikka or Happy Kikka? Musically, Urahara Temptation is my favorite of the two A-sides. It's her most memorable song I've listened to since Konna Watashi de Yokattara, and the energy flow is just great. Even if the music video looks kind of cheap and sloppily edited, I can still enjoy the song. As for Ii jan, just because that's the lesser of the two A-sides doesn't mean it isn't worth listening to! There's something irresistible about how infectiously happy Ii jan sounds. Ii jan's your basic happy idol song, but there's enough charm and energy to keep the song from sounding like a bore. Overall, I think these two songs compliment each other. Alone, both are solidly in good-but-not-great territory, but together, they make for a good single. I mean, for the first time in ages, I'm actually interested in what Kikka's going to release next! Kikka, you've redeemed yourself. I eagerly look forward to whatever you're planing on releasing next. As long as it's not Vocaloid electropop again.

My overall rating of Urahara Temptation/Ii jan is four apples. It's a good single, and if you've been skeptical of Kikka's music these past couple years, give this single a shot. Both songs on it are a decent listen. So why not give in to that urahara temptation and check this single out?

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