Friday, October 31, 2014

Time Capsule Reviews: Beginner

So we meet again, AKB48. Fine. Let's do this.

What has AKB48 been up since I so callously put them on the Idol Blacklist? Their usual spiel it seems. Kokoro no Fortune Cookie- I mean Placard came out about a month ago, their next single is coming out soon, they're making more money than I ever will in my lifetime, nothing new. Because that aforementioned single will be released in November, that made AKB48 eligible for an October Time Capsule Review for the first time since their formation! So how did they fare? Well, of the 35 votes on this month's poll, Beginner got a whopping 22 of them. So yeah. Pretty easy win there. As nice as it's been not writing about AKB48's stuff, I am more than open to writing about their past releases that were actually worth talking about. And since the last day of October is a lovely Halloween, what a more fitting music video talk about than the nightmarishly violent Beginner? To think that now Beginner is four years old. Four years ago, I'd just barely gotten into idols... strange how much has changed since then. Or tragic seeing how much AKB48's changed since then. Just look at the main cover of Beginner: three of the four people featured on it are no longer in AKB48.

But let's go back to 2010, when Acchan was undisputed center and fans' heads were spinning over the music video for Heavy Rotation. Such a time 2010 was the start of a new decade, and the start of a new formula for AKB48. I'm sure you're all familiar with AKB48's five-songs a year formula: sakura song, summer song, Senbatsu song, fall song, and Janken song. Started in 2009, the formula became fully developed in 2010. In 2009, AKB48 released River, their first fall song. AKB48's fall song was meant to sound more serious, maybe darker musically and visually compared to their other singles of that year. Serious didn't always translate to better, but I liked a few of AKB48's fall songs. Beginner, however, remains the best of them. River isn't too far behind, but the other three songs fail to reach the level of quality Beginner has. Maybe because Beginner was a refreshing change in sound for AKB48. Or because Beginner is such an amazing song that none of the other songs could carry the momentum. I'm thinking a combination of both.

Really though, why is Beginner such an iconic song in AKB48's discography? It wasn't their first serious A-side; River came out the year before and was just as serious-sounding. Seifuku ga Jama wo Suru and Keibetsu Shiteita Aijou were also downright melancholic serious songs. I love all three of those songs, but I also think Beginner's a little different from them. While Beginner is a serious song, it has more of a dance sound than AKB48's previous serious songs. And I mean a hard dance sound, like a weird blend between idol pop and EDM. The beginning of the Beginner, Takamina yells "In your position, set!" then the song starts loud and it stays loud. The intensity of Beginner kind of a jarring turn, especially in comparison to AKB48's last single, Heavy Rotation. Most of the girls singing in Beginner sang for Heavy Rotation, yet the contrast in their voices is mind-blowing. Magic of editing I suppose! Still, it's editing I can 100% get behind, because the girls of AKB48 sound badass in Beginner. If they hadn't sounded so powerful, I don't think Beginner would have worked anywhere near as well as it did. A strong backing instrumental helps.

I don't just love the dance sound of Beginner; the lyrics are great. Beginner's theme is the familiar "Do your best and don't give up!" theme AKB48's used in many a song. Not a bad theme in my opinion, but hearing it multiple times can get tiring. Luckily, the theme totally works for Beginner. The first half of Beginner is very desolate and hard-hitting, talking about failure and the burdens of the past. But then the chorus encourages the listener to break free, with the energy building each time the chorus is repeated. Then after the second chorus, Beginner takes a turn for the triumphant. Listening to Beginner makes me want to revolutionize the world and start things anew. And Beginner was a revolutionary song for AKB48. In the days before UZA, this was their dance song, and it is an incredible one. I've already gushed about Beginner in my Top 20 AKB48 Songs, but gushing about it again is not a difficult feat. All I'll say more about the song is that Beginner lives up to the hype. If you only listen to one AKB48 song, make it this one.

The same statement can be applied to the music video as well! Something to note is that the music video I'm reviewing is not the one on AKB48's Youtube channel. That's the shitty rehearsal version they decided to promote because the real one was too violent. What's that? Too violent? How violent could an AKB48 video possibly get? That's what I thought many moons ago when I was just getting into AKB48. Today is Halloween after all; I think reviewing something horrifying is just the way to celebrate the holiday!

The PV starts out innocently enough with some Engrish-y instructions.

And we see some old faces practicing the choreography!

Shall we play a game?

Appropriately, Takahashi Minami's unnervingly blue eyes captain the game.

Notice how each letter type matches the surname of each idol?

Stepping up to the challenge is Player I Shinoda Mariko! Go Mariko!

Her opponent? The ball version of Sashihara Rino! Who will prevail? Let's see!

Mariko's doing well! She truly is-

Oh no. Well, it's just one hit, I'm sure she'll be fine!

Former idol and fashion model Shinoda Mariko just had her skull crushed. In an idol PV.

B-but... it's okay! Because Watanabe Mayu can win! She's won the Senbatsu!

Or not... holy shit.

Why do they have to show us up close and personal Mayuyu getting impaled from all sides!?

This game approaches death with the same cheerfulness of a Pokemon game.

Here comes Kojima Haruna... maybe she'll die mercifully and painlessly?

...that does not look merciful and painless.

That was not a merciful and painless death.

I scoffed at AKS choosing not to air this PV, but they might have had solid reasoning.

Somehow the unrealistic blood doesn't make Oshima Yuko's death any less painful-looking.

At least in the real world (or the not-game world), Maeda Atsuko's gaining self awareness!

Unfortunately, her game counterpart is getting impaled. In one of the nerviest places of the body too.

And shit's about to get real in three... two...

While the audience clutches their palms in pain, things look pretty awful for Acchan.

Luckily, Yuko is only mostly dead.

And because Yuko is just that awesome, she frees Acchan!

But the Big Bad Gaming System doesn't like that, and Yuko's about to be fully dead.

Honestly, nothing from here can top Haruna's endgame scene. Still, ouch.

But what's this!? Acchan's unplugged and back in the real world!

Naturally, she reacts like any sane person who got stabbed in the hand would.

So what does game!Acchan do? SHE RIPS HER FUCKING HAND OFF.

And then like the friendly idol version of the Terminator she gets a badass weapon!!!

And then she stabs the Big Bad Gaming System right back!!!

Then Jurina shows up and I'm not sure why and it's kind of pointless but at this point things are too awesome to even question that!

But look! They're breaking the game apart from the inside!

From here on, it's a gaming revolution. Everyone's breaking free!

Even the people who died in previous levels get new lives!

This is great! The game is off, everyone lives, and the players are all free from control!

...except Takamina.

But she can still be saved through the power of friendship!!

See? Yuko's alive and saving even more people because she's just that much of a quality person!

Damn right the game is over! And never to be played again!

With the last wire unplugged, the players are all free to go... somewhere! Back to the theater?

With one final kick, Yuko sends the last of the game literally bouncing off the walls.

Which leads to one final badass shot.

Now this is how you do a music video. I'm not saying that just because Beginner is violent and edgy. I know I have tendency to be biased toward those kinds of music videos... No, Beginner is an amazing music video because of it tells a story and it tells a story well. What do you need in any basic story? Conflict. You need a resolution to that conflict, and an exposition for it. Beginner has both, and with some excellent pacing, it has an excellent story. When I watched this video for the first time, I was invested. Did the plot make much sense? No. But that didn't matter because the stakes were raised so high that I was too busy wondering what would happen next. Watching this video for the first time is a shock to the system, especially if you go in not knowing what it's like and having a perception of AKB48 as an orthodox idol group. And while their 2014 music videos may lead you to believe that, Beginner is ruthlessly violent. Whenever one of the members died in this music video, it was like having the floor drop beneath my feet. Not because I didn't see the deaths coming, but because of how cold and merciless the deaths were.

And the deaths in Beginner are brutal. By idol standards, the manner in which some of the girls die is downright disturbing. I think without a doubt the worst one is Haruna's death. It would have been one thing to just slice her head off, but the bland cut right through the middle of her face. That simple shot of her body slumping to the floor with her upper head still above the blade made my stomach lurch. While Acchan may have avoided death, that closeup of her impaled hand made me squeamish too. Said squeamishness was only amplified when the PV cut back to the "real" world. Acchan's always been an iffy actress, but those screams gave me chillbumps. The deaths of Mariko, Mayuyu, and Yuko were hard-hitting too. Mayuyu's endgame was pretty gory too, even if the blood bursting out of her mouth was obviously synthetic. I can see why AKS decided not to include this music video with the single. I can't believe they even let the director of this PV get away with the concept. I'm happy they did though, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten this awesome PV.

The violence of Beginner isn't what solely makes this PV awesome. Like I said, Beginner has a tightly paced story. The conflict of this PV is engaging and makes the viewer root for the players of this twisted video game. The payoff comes from the turning point, when Acchan's hand gets impaled. From their is a chain of events: Yuko saves Acchan at the cost of her own life, Acchan goes unplugged, all climaxing into her game avatar ripping her hand off and growing a new weapon. From there, it's all uphill. Acchan defeats the game, with a little help from Jurina, and saves every other player who was plugged/enslaved into the game. The biggest payoff comes from Yuko hugging a still-plugged Takamina, thus breaking the last bit of control the game had. Watching the girls pull that last plug out is such a satisfying conclusion to the story. Then that last bit in the dance shot where Yuko kicks the ball and it ricochets around the room is like the cherry on top of the most deliciously violent sundae. Beginner is a violent wave of emotions and disturbing scenes, but that last shot makes the entire music video worth it.

Beginner not only has a great story but also a great atmosphere. I love sci-fi. Especially that sleek, polished looking sci-fi like the one used in Beginner. The setting of Beginner is simplistic, like an early-era video game, which I think makes the violence even more effective. I love the little touches the editors put into this music video. There's a lot of little things you need to pause to see, in both the text and the weapons. Like a lot of the opponents/monsters have the names of other AKB48 idols on them, like Sashihara Rino and Minegishi Minami. I'm not completely sure why they're in there, but touches like that only add atmosphere to the music video. The almost-cute cleanness of the music video also makes the deaths even more dissonant. Like when the text pops up saying "OMG!! Damage!!" It sounds so cheerful on text, which makes the violence even more nightmarish. And the girls all look amazing. The outfits for beginner match perfectly with the tone of the setting. I especially love the uncannily blue eye contacts the girls all wear in the "real" world.

To say I love the concept for Beginner is an understatement. I would watch a movie about this. Hell, I'd read a story. Someone novelize this music video! Beginner at heart tells a simple story that's been done in other media. But the execution and the fact that this is AKB48 we're seeing make that story stand out. The music video pulls no punches in showing violence (in fact, I think it held back considering how far it could have gone with some of the deaths). To see the Senbatsu of AKB48, who last music video were prancing around in lingerie singing about love, get so quickly disposed of is a huge shock. And that shock value makes Beginner an even greater music video. AKB48's always pushed the limit with some of their music videos in the past, like Seifuku ga Jama wo Suru and Keibetsu Shiteita Aijou. But Beginner was their first foray into science fiction, and it was a memorable one. I don't think AKB48 could ever replicate the same effect they had with Beginner. Considering the current state of the group, I don't even think I'd want them to. For me, Beginner's music video is the one that made me realize that AKB48 was more than just a generic idol group. They could be dark, they could be edgy, and they could make a damn fine music video.

Five freaking apples. One for each death in Beginner plus Acchan's impaled hand. And also because Beginner is an amazing song with an even more amazing music video. Beginner is definitely in my top 10 idol music videos. It's edgy, violent, and pushes boundaries for an idol group. Looking back on Beginner gets me nostalgic for the AKB48 that was... and makes me try to forget the AKB48 that exists now. Go watch Beginner if you haven't done so already and see what I mean.

The Coolest and Creepiest of Idol Costumes

It's the spooooookiest time of the year! Midterms!

I'd take AKB48 over my criminology midterm.

Of course that's not! Midterms are pretty close, but nothing compares to Halloween! The costumes, the scares, the candy, Halloween is the one day of the year where anything (legal) goes! I hope you're all having a wonderful Halloween this year, whether you're dressing up, giving out candy, or just sitting at home watching a horror movie. I had a costume planned out, but now I have to spend Halloween as a sick person! Yay for strep throat! While that's a bit of a bummer considering how excited I was to experience Halloween in college, I'm trying to make the most of it! While I can barely talk, I can type just fine! So I thought why not do a little Halloween-themed post on the Wonderland? Then I realized finding idol-related Halloween material is a bit harder to procure. I could probably scrounge up some spooky idol PVs, but 90% of those PV would be either BiS or Bellring Shoujo Heart PVs. So I had to broaden things out.

And what's one thing idols and Halloween have in common? Costumes.

For someone with zero sewing skills, I really love costumes. The more elaborate they are, the better! And when I was eleven years old watching Perfume's Chocolate Disco, part of the appeal was the costumes they were wearing. Now they look totally cheesy and dated, but at the time, all that shiny latex looked hip to me! While the schoolgirl uniform is a popular style of idol groups popularized even more by AKB48, there are still other idol groups that come up with some awe-inspiring costumes. Groups like, Momoiro Clover Z, BiS, and Babymetal are just a few examples of idol groups with a distinct visual style meticulously incorporated into what they wear. Even more orthodox idol groups can get mind-melding, fantastic costumes. So on a day where everyone is dressing up, I thought I'd take a look at some of the coolest idol costumes, along with a few of the creepier ones. These costumes all bend the rules of idol fashion, ranging from elegant and eclectic to strange and outlandish. The common thread is that whenever I look at these costumes, I think, "Wow. Someone made that."

Before going into the list, I do want to clarify these are costumes not outfits. The difference between an outfit and a costume is you can wear an outfit in public and attract little to no attention. Costumes in contrast are clearly meant for the stage.

For example: this is a costume. This is an outfit.

There are idol groups that wear very cool outfits, but they do not appear in this list. So let's travel into the space where idols and couture meet starting in... the fifth dimension. I swear this blog needs theme music.

5th Dimension - Momoiro Clover Z

I couldn't find a high quality picture of my favorite 5th Dimension outfit, but luckily, all three outfits used in promotion of the album look pretty cool! Conceptually, I loved MomoClo's second album, even if musically, the album was a bit choppier. But just look at those spiked masks! Equal parts creepy, strange, and surreal, those masks are what I expect from Momoiro Clover Z. The outfits not pictured with the tulle and rhinestones are my favorite. Maybe they're a little costume-y, but costumes are the sort of thing MomoClo excels in!

BiS Kaidan

You guys ever dissect a frog? Because the costumes for BiS Kaidan make me think of that. It's BiS; of course they're gonna do some weird shit when collaborating. Their latest trick for this noise album was wearing white schoolgirl outfits and having their guts literally gush out of them. Creepy? Yes. Weird? Totally. Creative? Absolutely.

Edo no Temari Uta II - C-ute

Hello! Project is more notorious for their tacky costumes, but every once in awhile their styling department does something right! For C-ute's first and only enka-inspired single, they combined funky with traditional with some pretty fun results. I love the variety in each member's costume, and no one got saddled with anything unflattering. My favorite outfits of the bunch though have to be Airi, Saki, and Erika's costumes. Airi's little hat is adorable, along with Kanna's. All the different patterns and details in each costume made 7nin C-ute as a whole look amazing.

Fashion Monster - Kyarypamyupamyu

With Kyarypamyupamyu, it's more like what costumes of hers are not cool. There are tons of insane outfits she's worn over her career. I could probably have just made this post all about Kyary's costumes. Still, my personal favorite is the outfit she wore in Fashion Monster. I love the stripes and the tulle, and that bat hairstyle is equal parts weird and impressive. Also there are a ton of amazing cosplays of this costume. If I were a talented individual, I'd dress up in this costume!

Fly - BiS

I've always found it kind of ironic that the costumes were based around cockroaches and not flies given, you know, the song title. The main part I like about the costumes for Fly are the goggles. Those antennas attached to them add to the insect-like look the outfits have going. I don't care for cockroaches, but BiS pulls the look off!

Future Diver -


I may have a love/hate view of, but their knack for good costumes is definitely on the love side. The costumes for Future Diver are one of my favorites! The bottom picture isn't the costumes used for Future Diver, but the shoes are featured in the cover art. And I had to include those shoes. I mean, look at them! I don't even know how the girls could walk in those things, let alone put them on, but they look awesome! The dresses themselves look cool too; I wonder what material they're made out of.

GAME - Perfume

Perfume has had many stylish outfits, but a lot of their later stuff hasn't gotten very costume-y. Their indie and early major label days, most definitely. But that was more tapping into their quirky Shibyua-kei electro group image. One of my favorite Perfume outfits from their earlier work though were the outfits they used for GAME. I love the variety in each one; the girls look edgy and stylish but also like technopop idols from the future. The GAME costumes are a weird blend of styles, but they make for some exquisite outfits.

Kindan no Karma - Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

...I do not speak of Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku on this blog. Look, one Stardust group is enough of a handful for me. When I did attempt to get into Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku, I found the music video for Kindan no Karma. The song was okay, but the costumes stood out to me more. They're kind of cheesy, but I love a good ol' vampire costume!

Liar - Tokyo Girls' Style

Remember in 2011 when Tokyo Girls' Style's outfits were solely Lolita-styled? That was awesome. The most Gothic of those outfits were the ones for Liar. The dark makeup matched with the white skirts made for a nice contrast. In fact, the covers for this single don't do the costumes justice. Here's a closer look at the makeup. And the best part? The skirts are rip-away! So if the girls got tired of wearing fluffy tutus, they can wear shorts instead! Elegant and convenient!

Love & Hate - Vanilla Beans

Like with Perfume, Vanilla Beans has some stylish apparel but nothing overtly costume-y. The closest they get are the costumes for Love & Hate, and that's mainly due to the chainsaws. Of course, their jaunty berets are also cute, and the latex-looking fabric creates for a very neo-idol look. It's like they're idol lumberjacks from the future!

Megitsune - Babymetal

Babymetal gets some pretty cool costumes. They are a metal idol group after all; they've gotta have clothes to match the image! A lot of their costumes look very rigid and hard, like they're little metal soldiers who are really good at headbanging. The costumes used in Megitsune are much flowier and softer. I love the red tulle skirts, and the way the robes billow out. And the masks match the theme of the song!

Mugen no Ai - Momoiro Clover Z

The world needs more space pirates. Luckily, MomoClo is on the job! I would have loved to see a whole album based around this concept, because Mugen no Ai was an awesome single. The outfits for Mugen no Ai looked spectacular in the music video and the promotional cover art. There's something about the shiny plastic mixed with the pirate regalia that makes these outfits look so distinct. And I like that they worked in MomoClo's colors!

Radar Man - Togawa Jun

If there's one thing my blog can never have enough of, it's Togawa Jun! Jun pulled a lot of crazy antics in her idol years, a trend which followed the rest of her career. My favorite Jun outfit though is the robot arm she used for Radar Man. Keep in mind, she wore that in 1984. And it looks fantastic. I'm all about science fiction, cyborgs, the future, etc. so the sheer intricacy of that arm has me in awe. I wonder if she kept that robot arm...

Spring of Life - Perfume

Speaking of science fiction, here's Perfume! What will always be Perfume's pinnacle of costuming is Spring of Life. They're light-up dresses. Light. In dresses. How awesome is that!? I know they've also dabbled in projection mapping which is just as cool, but from a design aspect, Spring of Life's costumes are fantastic. Think of all the wiring the designers had to put into each different outfit. Seeing them wearing these outfits live is an even more impressive feat!

Tsukema Tsukeru - Kyarypamyupamyu

I put this on here mostly for the skirt. The shirt is nice too! I like how Kyary's boobs are highlighted by the titular fake eyelashes. Kind of trashy, but that skirt is made of trash. Kyary makes the outfit look adorable regardless, and I really do love all the different candy wrappers on that skirt.

So what are some of your favorite idol costumes? Image links are much appreciated!