Blogging since putting AKB48 on the Idol Blacklist has been such bliss.
Summer also helps. Still, it is so nice not having to worry about writing about the Senbatsu election or typing up a review for whatever dreck Aki-P regurgitates for them next. I can take the time to write about all the groups I actually like! And one of those groups includes Nogizaka46, AKB48's rival group whom after a year of mediocrity proved to be formidable rivals!
I'd like to think that the cover for their latest single, Natsu no Free&Easy, is a representation of Nogizaka46 and AKB48. Nogizaka46 being Nanase, crowdsurfing and basking in glory, and AKB48 being the people beneath her. It reminds me of the way C-ute and Berryz Koubou were last year. Through some strange twist of fate, Nogizaka46 has been getting better as AKB48's been getting worse. Even their sales have been improving! And why not? Their last single, Kizuitara Kataomoi, was their best single yet. The music video was even better! Even before that, Barrette was another solid effort from Nogizaka46! And Girls' Rule was good enough to pique my interest in Nogizaka46 again, along with the music video! Last year, I held on to the (very likely) possibility that Nogizaka46's string of decent-sounding songs was a fluke. I had perfectly good reason to keep lowered expectations; disappointment is such an unpleasant thing to feel. But Kizuitara Kataomoi was a wonderful single, and it's made me realize that I'm ready to open up my heart to Nogizaka46. So what's their latest single bring to the table? Something better than Labrador Retriever, right? Well, whatever this new single sounds like, I'm certain this A-side is good!
...I may have spoken too soon.
Okay, so remember how I said that I liked Girl's Rule? Yeah, thing about that is I didn't love Girl's Rule. Certainly not enough to hear a summer song that sounds exactly like Girl's Rule. Okay, Natsu no Free&Easy isn't a total carbon copy of Girl's Rule. After all, Girl's Rule actually had a hook! I suppose Natsu no Free&Easy has a hook, but it's the equivalent of baiting a fish hook with cheese. It doesn't work at all! And I just don't get any sort of impression with this song. Well, I shouldn't be surprised. AKS summer songs all tend to sound... weak? Bland? Rehashed? I'm gonna go with all three of those adjectives. Yes, occasionally, they work like with Bingo! and Utsukushii Inazuma and Ponytail to Shushu, but as of late, all these summer songs sound like background music against a fanservice-filled bikini PV. Because let's face it, that's pretty much all they're for. Oh yeah, and to sell Senbatsu election tickets. But I'd have thought for sure Nogizaka46's summer song wouldn't fall into the pit of blandness! Hell, they don't even use bikinis in their sumer PVs! I'm not even sure if I can consider Natsu no Free&Easy an idol summer PV.
Back onto the song, Natsu no Free&Easy isn't terrible. I'd rather the song copy Girl's Rule over Sayonara Crawl or Labrador Retriever. Like the instrumental is okay. Very Girl's Rule sounding. But the chorus of Natsu no Free&Easy doesn't have any of the spirit the chorus of Girl's Rule did. It just kind of drags; the girls sound like they're being forced to sing it. Still, the chorus does manage to get in my head, in a whiny sort of way. The problem with Natsu no Free&Easy is a lack of anything memorable. The song is pleasant, and that's it. If you want my opinion on Natsu no Free&Easy, just read one of my other AKS summer PV reviews. Well, maybe not Labrador Retriever or Sayonara Crawl, but one of them! Because everything I can say about Natsu no Free&Easy can be found in my reviews of every other AKS summer song. I've come to expect that with AKB/NMB/SKE but not with Nogizaka46. It's a little disappointing actually. I really would have thought Nogizaka46 would have gotten a decent summer song. But no, it pretty much just sounds like your average AKS summer song. Well... if AKB48 released Natsu no Free&Easy, then that would be different. But I was rooting for Nogizaka46, placing trust that they would release another good song after so many good songs!
Perhaps that's what I get for raising my expectations. The same thing happened with AKB48, and look where we are now. What if now I've jinxed myself, and Nogizaka46 is doomed to nothing but remakes of Guruguru Curtain and Oide Shampoo!? Okay, that can't happen. Right!? Despite my pessimism, I'm not completely giving up on Nogizaka46 just because Natsu no Free&Easy is an average song. Like I said before, all the AKS groups are known for typically getting weak summer songs. Maybe that's just what happened with Nogizaka46, and their next single will have the level of quality all their previous singles possess! For now though, I'm left with an underwhelming summer song from Nogizaka46. Natsu no Free&Easy is a fun, perky little song, but there's nothing about it that grabs me. If you're looking for something to listen to while on the beach or at the pool, Natsu no Free&Easy is mindlessly happy background music. As for me, I think I'm just gonna go back to my lowered expectations for Nogizaka46. Maybe all those songs since Seifuku no Mannequin really were a fluke...
Well, Natsu no Free&Easy isn't enough to put a damper on my free and easy summer! Besides, there's still the PV! Idol summer PVs are always fun! Except... I'm not sure if Natsu no Free&Easy's PV counts as a summer PV. Why? You'll see what I mean.
Like every AKS summer single, Natsu no Free&Easy takes place on- wait! That's not the beach!
Oh look, cute dresses! I think these are my favorite Nogizaka46 single costumes.
So Rena spends all her time as a Nogizaka46 member managing the Apple Store...
Wow, that intricate choreography gives E-girls a run for its money!
I love the location of this shot! It gives off a very sleek, metropolitan vibe.
I like this location too! Even though it's not summery in the slightest!
Why exactly are they all wearing headphones?
Is it because they're jamming to Perfume's latest single?
Ah yes, the most optimal listening experience is lying on a floor in a barren room. I can't imagine why people don't do that more often.
Hey, where are your headphones? Get with the program!
A pool! See? I knew I was screencapping a summer PV.
Seriously, for a song called Natsu no Free&Easy, it's surprisingly lacking in summer stuff.
But listening to music is about as free&easy as you can get!
That and shopping! Actually, music and shopping pretty much sums up my summer...
Oh yeah, and reading. Lots and lots of reading. Not so much balancing books on my head.
I still don't know who half these people are. I'm just recently getting the front girls' faces down pat!
So nice to see Miona's no longer being kidnapped by evil prostitution lords!
And Nanase is very much alive and not a dandelion!
Maybe they're all having a silent disco. At a pool.
It's a little creepy how easily Rena blends in with Nogizaka46.
Now for the world's simplest dance break!
See? This dance break involves walking several feet. Very tricky.
What is up with all these upshots?
Here we have Nanase experiencing the power... of music.
Now all the Nogizaka46 girls are gathering the power of music into a circle!
Wait, why are they doing that again?
Can you imagine someone walking in on a bunch of girls in headphones standing in a circle for no apparent reason?
Maybe it's a ritual to suck out the quality of AKB48's singles!
I knew there was something behind those innocent little smiles...
Boom! Title drop! The end!
This is a summer song I'm reviewing, right? Now I can't speak Japanese, but last time I checked, "natsu" meant, "summer." Yet the PV for Natsu no Free&Easy doesn't really feel like a summer PV. If I were a new fan that knew nothing about J-pop and watched this PV, I wouldn't even connect it to summer. I guess I'm so used to seeing certain tropes in all the AKS summer PVs, like a beach/pool, bathing suits, fun summer activities, etc. Even Nogizaka46's previous summer PV, Girl's Rule, had a distinct, nostalgic summer vibe to it. They weren't even wearing bathing suits but still managed to work that in! What's summery about Natsu no Free&Easy's PV? Um... some shots feature a swimming pool? Other than that, Natsu no Free&Easy is pretty different from all the other AKS summer PVs I've reviewed. Actually, compared to Girl's Rule, Barrette, and Kizuitara Kataomoi, Natsu no Free&Easy is different. The most obvious difference being that there is not plot to Natsu no Free&Easy. There's a central theme that listening to music with a snazzy pair of headphones is awesome. But no story. Their last three PVs all had elaborate storylines, especially Barrette and Kizuitara Kataomoi. It's kind of a bummer because I liked all the stories in those three PVs...
Okay, so Natsu no Free&Easy has no story. But a good PV doesn't always need a story! And admittedly, the PV for Natsu no Free&Easy still has enough in it to be a pretty good PV. Like I said before, there are headphones in this PV. Lots and lots of headphones. That seems to be the connection between all these random locations. Because there are many different places in this PV from stores to cityscapes to bookstores to dance studios to other miscellaneous areas I'm not going to mention. But I love how different these places look, yet all still have this fresh, modern look to them. Even if this PV doesn't have all the tropical flair a beach PV would have, the city locations works great. Since I live in The Sticks, I love seeing city locations, especially the variety Natsu no Free&Easy shows. And did I mention the colors? I love the different color contrasts in this PV. Like the neon-green in the dance shot and the more toned down colors in the bookstore. All around, the PV for Natsu no Free&Easy is working a really good color palette. Everything looks bright and cheerful, which fits with the song. Times like these, I remember how nice it must be for idol companies to have money to make nice-looking music videos. I can tell that was put into good use for Natsu no Free&Easy!
I'm left with conflicting opinions. As a PV alone, Natsu no Free&Easy is pretty to look at (and that's about it). But as a summer PV, it's... not... summery. At the same time though, I'm not sure if Natsu no Free&Easy needs all the obvious summer stuff in it like beaches and swimming to be a summer PV. Because let's face it, not everyone spends their summers at the beach all year. But I do know that for many young people, summer is free and easy. There's no school, the burden of adulthood hasn't made its presence known yet, and those three months of freedom seem like forever. Watching all the girls of Nogizaka46 in this PV, I noticed that they all looked happy and carefree. Listening to music can ease just about anyone nerve's if you play the right song, and as someone who loves music, I identified with the whole headphones thing. Even putting the headphones aside, all the girls are still doing fun activities like shopping, reading books, hanging out with friends, etc. And isn't that something many young people do in the summer? I know those activities are much more fun when I don't have to worry about midterms. I'd like to think of Natsu no Free&Easy as an urban summer PV for those people who can't get near the beach.
So that's my take on Natsu no Free&Easy. Overall, I think it's a good PV, but I didn't like it as much as Kizuitara Kataomoi or Barrette. I even liked Girl's Rule a bit better. I do think that watching the PV for Natsu no Free&Easy makes the song more enjoyable. Alone, I still think the song is a lackluster effort for Nogizaka46. Even the PV is a little lackluster compared to their previous stuff, but still pretty good. If you're looking for something easy on the eyes, then you'll like Natsu no Free&Easy. The locations and cinematography really are the best part of this PV. Also, I have no explanation for the giant circle the girls made at the end. I'm sticking with my quality-sucking from AKB48 theory. At least the colors in that shot were pretty too! When I think of Nogizaka46's disastrous early PVs, it does broaden my opinion a little bit. Natsu no Free&Easy is such a step forward compared to Oide Shampoo. It's like I'm not even looking at the same group! Still, I'm remaining wary toward Nogizaka46. They have the potential to sour at any minute, and I do not have time to deal with that disappointment. But I'd prefer if they came out with something awesome over the former...
After much contemplation, I am gonna end up giving Natsu no Free&Easy three apples. The song is one of those songs that just exists. It doesn't really contribute anything to the world, but it's out there. The PV for Natsu no Free&Easy is much better, but a little less than what I was expecting from Nogizaka46. This entire release is a little less than what I was expecting from Nogizaka46. Oh well, I'll cross my fingers and hope for a better single next time.