Monday, December 31, 2012

Almost a happy new year + 2013 sneak peek!

2013 is only a few hours away here in the States!  2012 was a great year in the idol world, but I still hope this next year is even better.  And judging by some of the previews already out, I think it will do just that.  Let's check out some of what next month has in store:

Tasaki Asahi: "Tegami/Rolling Days"

Up-Front's new soloist will be debuting within the Satoyama Movement groups.  And so far, she's pretty amazing.  The full PV for "Tegami" was released earlier today through the official Satoyama channel, and it's pretty great.  But what's great about it doesn't have much to do with the PV itself, but with how amazing Asahi is.  Her voice is quite good--she has clearly had some training, and she also has a lot of natural talent to back that up.  She's not going to be blowing out any windows any time soon, but she is a solid singer.  

However, I was far more impressed with her piano skills.  People are already comparing her (and Miyazaki Yuka) to Mano Erina because of this; however Asahi is in a whole 'nother GALAXY compared to Mano.  Mano was and is a shitty pianist.  She really is.  She plays like a wooden robot, she has no sense of dynamics, and she has no feeling behind her music.  Asahi, on the other hand, is just damn amazing.  Every time she strikes a key, it's as if she's dancing with it.  The way she plays is incredible, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend this release.

CDJapan link:

Morning Musume: "Help Me!!"

I'm really excited for this release, if nothing because it's Sakura's debut and OSHINESS.  The song is solid, the choreography is amazing, and Mizuki is a badass.  However, the PV is already shaping up to be another typical cheap H!P POS.  The only reason I'm looking forward to the full release is to see Sakura.  That's it.  The PV is horrid.

And Riho sounds freaking awful.  Other than that, though, yay!

CDJapan link:

Kikkawa Yuu: "Sekaijuu ni Kimi wa Hitori Dake / Valentine's Radio / Chocolate Damashii"

Holy triple A-side, Batman!  Kikka's 6th single release is a really great compilation: all three of the songs seem to bring something different to the table.  IF I had to put an alchemical element to each one, "Sekaijuu ni Kimi wa Hitori Dake would be air, "Valentine's Radio" would be fire, and "Chocolate Damashii" would be earth. mixed-up disco...(I'M CLEVER, DAMMIT!!!)  I very much like Kikka's take of Ayaya's last single, too.  I personally thought the original release was kind of boring--granted, not much is being changed, but somehow Kikka's voice spices it up a little bit.  Her first live DVD will be released the same day as the single.

CDJapan link:

BABYMETAL: "Ijime, Dame, Zettai"

BABYMETAL's first major single release comes out in a week!!!  Hopefully this will not be the last we hear of BABYMETAL, as budding metal princess wunderkind Suzuka is rumored to be graduating from Sakura Gakuin this year.  I would argue that this release isn't quite as strong as "Headbanger!!!", but it's still a very worthwhile single for all idol fans and metalheads out there.

CDJapan link:

Cheeky Parade: "Bunbun 9nine"

If you guys are looking to start the year off with some serious cuteness, this would be the single to do that.  The PV is nothing special (more or less a dance shot), but the song is surprisingly fresh.  I'm looking forward to seeing more from this group this year--they've got some great dancers and a couple girls who could put Momota Kanako's dimples to shame.

CDJapan link:

BiS to Dorothy Little Happy: "GET YOU"

My favorite upcoming release of 2013 so far, and the release which threw me into the merciless iron jaws of Yuffie and Mari oshiness.  These groups have great chemistry together, even (perhaps especially) when playing the slap game. 

CDJapan link:

Fudanjuku: "Jinsei Wahaha"

Although I love Fudanjuku's concept and would love to keep up with them more, they are a pain in the ass to keep track of.  Nonetheless, their upcoming single sounds pretty damn great, and I'm definitely considering picking it up.

CDJapan link:

no3b: "Kirigirisu Jin"

Kirigirisu jin no3b by HDnakkyun

no3b has always been pretty hit or miss for me.  I loved "Kuchibiru Furezu" and "Kiss no Ryuusei," I hated "Answer" and "Pedicure Day."  And for me, this song is a miss.  The PV is okay, I guess, though it's more of the girls just doing a lot of what they do anyway.  The song sounds like another AKB48 B-side, which isn't really my thing.  But it's not terrible.

CDJapan link:

bump.y: "Cosmo no Hitomi"

The little group with big star power returns!  "Cosmo no Hitomi" starts off pretty slow and generic-sounding, but wait past the intro--it gets pretty good.  I'm not incredibly impressed with the choreography, but I love the telescope theme.  Basically anything involving space is awesome.  

And is it just me, or did Matsuri grow like a foot in the past year?  

(Edit: "And is it just me, or did Matsuri grow, like, a foot in the past year?"  Punctuation is everything.  Commas are important, guys.  Feet don't grow that impressively, but your grammar skills can.  KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!  :D )

CDJapan link: "Fuyu e to Hashiridasu!"

The Beastie Girls return with their cute rapping skills and neato PVs.  I'm a sucker for slice-of-life and self- filmed PVs, and this one kind of combines both of those styles.  This is a great song for you if you love the cuteness of 4-nin S/mileage and the cheeky energy of SUPER GIRLS combined with a little of the insanity of BiS.

CDJapan link:

Dancing Dolls: "Wangan Wonder Darling / Raspberry Love"

This song kind of seems like the lovechild of a lot of 80s girl power anthems and some iconic Studio Ghibli songs.  Weird, yes.  Intriguing?  Definitely.  The audio quality of this is pretty tinny, but after listening to it a couple times, I think I'm warming up to it.
CDJapan link:

I'm still eagerly awaiting PV previews from SKE48 and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, as they also are released this month.  GAAAAH SO MUCH AWESOMENESS!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!

....Now I shall go whisper sweet nothings to my wallet as it weeps softly in a corner.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ieiri Leo's 1st live DVD!! + fly in the f*ing wine is now a CDJapan affiliate!

(Busy Leo is busy!!)

On March 27th, Ieiri Leo will be releasing her first live DVD/Blu-Ray!  WHEEEE OH MY GAWD *happy dance*

The 120-minute DVD will include footage from her perfomance at Umeda Club Quattro in Osaka, as well as tons of clips from her fantastic free lives around Japan this past year.  In addition to that, it will include lots of rehearsal footage, backstage footage, and a mini-documentary on the 1st one-man tour.  More details are sure to come soon.

I'm so excited for this release, you guys.  Leo is a stellar performer, and her earlier single-included DVDs are amazing.  This is definitely going to be on my must-snag-in-2013 list....

....aaaaand speaking of snagging stuff,  fly in the f*ing wine is now a CDJapan affiliate!  So, if you are thinking of that something that you just have to get, come give me a click on the sidebar and it will take you right to CDJapan!  Chiima of Okay! Musume time and Idolminded is also a CDJapan affiliate, so give us some clicks so we can bring more awesomeness to you!

I'm going to be putting up my first album review soon, and I plan on continuing if you guys like them!   So, in lieu of a donation link, just click the CDJapan links on the sidebar!  It's like a donation...without money!  Well, sort of   :-D

And now for a Leo collection mini-picspam!  *heart*

Lovely Leos!!

Me + my "Shine" T-shirt!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Crazy best compendium of 2012!

Since last year's gigantic awards post was a huge success, I'm going to continue the tradition this year!  I guess this is also partly an attempt to make it up to all those idol groups I followed but didn't write about nearly as much as I could have.

So without further ado, here are the major winners (and some losers) of 2012!

Best major debut: BiS

In spite of losing one member, then gaining one, then losing one, then gaining two, this group hasn't lost a shred of staying power.  BiS is an incredibly refreshing group for a number of reasons, one of which being that I don't feel like my taste in music is utter crap when their songs come on.  Not only does BiS have a truly unorthodox and fun image, but their music is actually pretty decent, and not just by idol standards.  Their upcoming collaboration with Dorothy Little Happy, which I'm super stoked about, is more "idoly" than previous releases, but it's still very listenable in the long term.

And OMG, you guys, I need more Yufu in my life.

Runner-up: Cheeky Parade

Most Shocking Graduations:

Mitsumune Kaoru: AKB48

I was looking forward to seeing Kaoru on stage with Team K a lot. I really liked her--whether it was because she was hugely pushed or not, she really seemed like she had a lot of good things ahead for her in the 48s.  So when she withdrew with not a lot of explanation, I was pretty bummed.  I hope her career as a model still kicks ass, though.

Yagami Kumi: SKE48

Kuumin was the first girl in SKE48 whose name I learned, and the first one I noticed way back in 'Aozora Kataomoi.'  I'm still kind of baffled as to why she's leaving--she's quite popular and a great performer (like most everyone in SKE48).  These days, I can't help but roll my eyes when an idol graduates to "focus on their studies," but for some it's true, so I'm going to try to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Most exciting idol group: Sakura Gakuin

Sakura Gakuin is chock-full of great young vocalists (dat Suzuka, yo), good songs, and really creative sub-units.  As much as I love BABYMETAL, new "science club" unit Kagaku Kyumei Kiko Logica is probably the best sub-unit thing to happen to any idol group ever.  Science Girl▽Silence Boy has a great alt-rock sound to it--definitely a must-have single for idol lovers.  I am waiting with bated breath for the other units to release something as well.  In short, Sakura Gakuin is no longer just one of those quiet groups we can forget about.

Most forgettable group: Buono!

It's sad when an awesome group dies.  It's even sadder when we realize how long we've been in denial about it.  If Buono! is still active after this year, I will be surprised.  Their mini-album, "Sherbet," was nothing to write home about, and their most recent single release didn't even get its own disc.  This group was amazing, and it would be awesome if they could stay active, but as of now they are nothing special, and they're being run into the ground by UFA.

Trainwreck full of rubber clowns who forgot to take their Adderall award:

Just call them the Beastie Girls.  Though most hipster 90s kids I know would twitch in horror upon hearing's cover of "Sabotage," I found it delightfully, hilariously, tantalizingly bad.  It was so bad it was amazing.  And let's be honest here: they stayed true to the Beastie Boys' style.  I had a friend once who took the vocal part on a Beastie Boys song on Rockband, and he got 100% despite not being a super rhythm-smashing gangsta boy.  The secret?  He rubbed the mic on his pants the whole time. 

Every live performance I watched of theirs left me in stitches.  These girls are absolutely hilarious.  Sometimes I wonder why they don't just shed the idol label and start touring as a comedy group.

The "clutch my pearls" award: Nogizaka46

Panties and legs and concern for the children, OH MY!  Since apparently being a "rival" of AKB48 means that Nogizaka46's image is pretty hip with the euchre-and-hotdish-on-Fridays crowd, the risqueNOT, shorts-baring choreography in "Oide Shampoo" caused much ado about, well, nothing.  Akimoto Yasushi stated (with a Grumpy Cat-esque frown, I'm sure) that the production team took too many liberties with the single's image, and that it didn't fit the group's concept.

What I'm really confused about is what Nogizaka's concept is in the first place.  It seemed like they were starting out as a pretty retro group, but then "Seifuku no Mannequin" came out--a good, but decidedly NOT retro single.  I don't know...fuqitol.

AKB48 sub-unit I will miss most: Watarirouka Hashritai 7

After all the shuffling and scandals this year, it's pretty clear that the only sub-unit it AKB48 left standing is no3b.  But Watarirouka Hashritai 7 had been putting out some really great stuff in the past year and a half or so.  As someone who is much less inclined to like sugary releases, I was surprised when I started really liking WH7.  Their singles were definitely typical idol fare, but there was something about them that I loved.  And now that they probably won't be active anymore, I'm kinda bummed.

Goober McLazyBalls Award: Kasai Tomomi

Because leaving a show (or anything, for that matter) that you're contracted for with no warning, no reason and no cause is incredibly unprofessional.  It kinda makes me wonder what other lazy little dishonest habits she has.  I lost all respect for her after that incident because that reminds me of myself in my younger, dumber days.  I'm glad she's graduating next year.  I would much rather see someone like Umeda Ayaka take her place in senbatsu.

Most intriguing frontgirl: Shinozaki Ai (AeLL)


Shinozaki Ai is known primarily for two things, as pictured above OH WUT.  But the leader of AeLL has a pretty incredible set of pipes and some bitchin' stage presence as well.  I hate it when people say "oh, she's becoming a legitimate idol!  Yay!"  Seriously, what does that even mean?!  There's not much of a difference in what a lot of gravure idols do and the photobooks of, say, most 48 members.  In any case, Shinozaki has buttloads more talent than a lot of other idols out there, and I hope she and AeLL get more publicity next year so people know it.

Best Soloist: Ono Erena

I've gone into detail before as to why I think Ono is great. I can't think of any soloist more deserving than she.

Runner-up: Naaboudoufu@Nana

Best 48 Soloist: Watanabe Mayu

I'm not personally a huge Mayuyu fan, nor are her first two singles really to my taste.  But if Mayu does one thing incredibly well, it's staying in character--and that's what made her releases worth noticing. She may not be the best singer, but her songs fit her well, and her screen presence is immense. 

Runner-up: Iwasa Misaki

Top 3 Photobook releases

Maeda Atsuko "Bukiyou"

Maeda's last honest-to-god PB as a 48 member is definitely a keeper.  Shot in Paris, Bukiyou features Acchan in some beautiful settings and vulnerable poses. 

Yajima Maimi "Hatachi"

Maimi's 6th PB commemorates her coming of age this year.  It has a lot more variety than her past photobooks, and features some great local yukata shots.

Shinoda Mariko "Yes and No"

It's safe to say that if Mariko releases anything photobook related, it's going to be gold.

Honorable mentions:

Tanaka Reina "Kira Kira"
Tokunaga Chinami "Metamorphose"
Matsui Rena "Kingyo"

Least discussed, yet most awesome, single of 2012: PASSPO: Natsuzora HANABI

Ya know, I saw a lot of rave reviews for WING and Next Flight, but I didn't see a lot of buzz for Natsuzora HANABI?  Well, why the hell not, guys?   As part of PASSPO's "world rock" series, Natsuzora HANABI took on the Japanese punk angle.  And naturally, it did so very well.  I actually think this single is stronger than Next Flight.  The melody is great, and it really shows off PASSPO's vocal talent, especially that of Shiori, mah oshi :P  This was a really great single, but I don't think it was promoted as well as its counterparts.

Top 3 idol albums


Our resident paradigm-subverters' major debut was a bunch of genre-bending fun.  Featuring everything from headbanger techno to shoegazer to some calmer sounds, this is a must listen for all idol fans.
Favorite track: hitoribochi

Kikkawa Yuu: One for You!

One of two album installments by Kikka this year, One For YOU! solidly establishes her as a serious soloist.  Even the shakier tracks on here are still worth a listen, and the quality will make you even more thankful that she's not under the Hello! Project umbrella anymore.
Favorite track: Knight Flight

Tomato n' Pine: PS4U

Sadly, this trio is disbanding soon, which sucks, because this album is my favorite idol album this year.  It's a little retro-sounding, but it is still a very unique collection.  I wish these guys would stick around, but I wish them all the best in the future.
Favorite track: Tameiki ha Pink

Honorable mentions:

PASSPO "One World"
AKB48 "1830m"
Mano Erina "More Friends Over"

Top 3 H!P PVs

3. Kimi wa Jitensha... C-ute

"But which version," you ask?  Well, that's partly why this song gets it.  There are too many versions to count, and many of them are pretty awesome quality.  That, and each member got several versions ALL TO HERSELF.  I posted one of my personal favorites below, because everyone needs more Nakky in their life.

2. Loving You Too Much: Berryz Kobo

Love or hate the makeup, this PV was pretty great, especially by H!P standards.  Fun song, great dance, real set.  Can't get much better than that in H!P.

1. Tasogare Kousaten: Mano Erina 

Mano has been getting the best PVs in H!P since last year, and this one was beautifully done.  She is a very talented actress, and this PV showed her at home in that habitat.  Mano has a bright future, and it will be hard to see her go.

Worst H!P PV: Morning Musume: One Two Three/The Matenrou Show

Ugh, the song sounded so good, and the dance shot looked so promising. Then this piece came out.  Spazzy and seizuriffic, it was enough to give the most hardened bungee jumper motion sickness.  That and The Matenrou Show, which was arguably a better song, didn't really get a PV.  Just a dance shot with the same set AND THE SAME COSTUMES.  Some double A-side that was.  Gorrammit, UFA,  get your act together.

Top 3 48 PVs:

3. Kataomoi Finally--SKE48

Finally, an homage to the 48 family's darker, more topical days. It was the 48s' earlier material that got me interested in them in the first place, and I'm glad to see that Aki-P hasn't completely forgotten that.

2. Kitagawa Kenji--NMB48

Such a cute PV.  I'm not entirely sure why this is so addictive, but then again, does it really matter?

>1. Gingham Check/UZA (tie)--AKB48

I figured since both of these PVs were directed by Joseph Kahn, and since both of them were pretty amazing, it wouldn't be fair to give them their own spots, or not to include them.  Gingham Check was a pretty meh song, but the PV was artistic and dynamic, and ultimately helped me enjoy the song more.

As for UZA, I still can't get the image of tophat Jurina or Jack in the Box Yukirin out of my head.  And I really don't want to, either.  These PVs were amazing, and breathed some life into what was really a so-so year music-wise for AKB48.

Honorable Mention: Sugar Rush--AKB48

I want Yuko's glasses.  Because reasons.

Worst 48 PV: Nogizaka46--Hashire! Bicycle

(Because Nogizaka will never be able to separate from the 48s no matter how hard it tries)

I wanted to say "Eien Pressure," but that would have been too easy.  At least Eien Pressure doesn't remind me of the Pepto-Bismol-barf-tinted carpet I had in high school... "Hashire! Bicycle" starts out looking pretty interesting, but when all is said and done, it looks like dolls from the 70s hopping around in melted sherbet.  Not easy on the eyes at all.  The song is actually not bad, but the PV is awful.

走れ!Bicycle_乃木坂46(PV) by sparo-

Top 5 Idol PVs

5. Tokyo Girls' Style: Tsuioku

This calm, lilting single was actually my favorite TGS release this year.  The PV is really lovely and chill.  A PV doesn't have to be full of craziness to be good, after all...


...but it certainly helps.  Bitch, I eat people.

3. Momoiro Clover Z: Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimi-tachi yo

Though I don't follow Momoclo too closely anymore, I would be remiss in not mentioning them in this list.  Momoclo is still putting out crazy-awesome PVs, and there is just something so Lewis Carroll about this one that I could not help but notice it.

2. BiS: PPCC

Seriously, how great is this?  The only thing that would make it better is if they were painted blue and wielding spears.  If you get that history reference, you win the universe.

1 (tie). BABYMETAL: Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!

Thank you, BABYMETAL, for bringing awareness to the plight of the mosher.  Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join this neckbrace party. 

  (tie). Kagaku Kyumei Kiko Logica: Science Girl▽Silence Boy

 If this doesn't melt your heart (whether with love or with H2SO4), then I don't know what will.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 5 48 idols of 2012

I paid a lot more attention to individual girls in the 48s than I have past, and this was a really great year for all of them, in spite of the mass-graduation-a-palooza going on.  I also paid less attention to AKB than I did to its sister groups (especially NMB, who was arguably the standout this year).  I think this year marked a turning point for all of them, and there were some girls who stood head and shoulders above the rest for me.

Top 5 48 idols 

5 (tie). Nakaya Sayaka

I barely knew this girl existed before this year.  A third generation and original Team B member of AKB48, Nakayan has been around a while, but with limited presence.  It wasn't her performance skills, or even her entertaining antics on variety shows, that made me notice her--like many, it was her book, "Hisenbatsu Idol."  Whether the book was an honest telling of the experience of non-frontgirls, or whether it was a desperate grab for attention doesn't really matter to me.  It was really brave of her to be so frank about an experience that many girls in the idol world can relate to, especially in a culture where people are expected to keep quiet about their true feelings.  I gained a huge amount of respect for this girl, and I was really excited when she placed so high in the senbatsu election this year.

5 (tie). Yamamoto Sayaka

Sayanee is an old soul.  At only 19, she is taking care of an entire group with a kind of care and skill that rivals Takahashi Minami's.  NMB48 has been through many graduations this year, including a team ace, and Sayanee has weathered it all with grace and resolve to do better by the next generation.  This is a lot for one person, let alone one 19-year-old, to shoulder.  And no matter what the numbers say, I will always hold the opinion that she won the photobook battle, dammit!  Though I really want to pay attention to the other girls in NMB, Sayanee is my oshi in that group by a long shot.

4. Matsui Jurina

I discovered SKE48 before AKB, yet somehow I'd never really paid much attention to its perennial frontgirl until recently.  Even before UZA came out in all its steampunkish awesomeness, she was a standout dancer and actress in all of SKE's PVs.  I can't really speak to her singing skills, but that doesn't matter too terribly much anyway.  The fact that she's only 15 and can perform with such raw power (and has been able to for quite a while) is incredible.

3. Iwasa Misaki

What a gem this girl is.  I'd seen many 48 bloggers rave about this girl in the past, but thanks to my limited attention span with the 48s, it took her debut single coming out for me to really notice her.  I know enka is marketed to a fairly limited audience, and that was definitely part of the reason her debut started out low on the charts, but she stayed in the top 30 for a few weeks, and that's impressive for anyone.  I'm very excited for her next single, and I hope her post-48 career (when it comes) is as amazing as her debut.

2. Shinoda Mariko

Mariko-sama truly earned her nickname this year.  That speech, you guys...that speech.  Mariko basically took all those whispers about being past the expiration date for female idols and told them to suck it.  She's not going to retire without making her kouhai work for the ranking she has earned.  Massive respect knuckles.  Beyond that, she was a treat to watch in all her performances (and was arguably the only thing that made Eien Pressure's PV bearable to watch).  Tip of the hat to you, Mariko-sama!

1. Sashihara Rino

This year has been hell for Sasshi, but it has also brought her a lot of glory.  When the news of the stupid non-issue scandal broke, I was heartbroken for her.  Sasshi has been one of my favorite idols for quite a while now, and to see her career ruined by some malicious bastard just made my blood boil.  Her (non) case proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to me that female idols have absolutely no agency over their careers.  None whatsoever.

But Sasshi kept doing her thing anyway, despite calls from anti-fans for her to be suspended or fired, or at least hide away in the time-out corner and think about how she done goofed.  Her idol festival was a fantastic success, and both of her singles still did very well, all things considered.  It was obvious just by looking at her that the scandal affected her on a deep level.  Her HKT photo has no hint of the brilliant smile her past photos had.  She's not going to talk about this for a long time, if ever, but it's still going to show.

I'm hoping she still can do great things in the senbatsu elections next year, but even if she doesn't, I will support her.  She's a great girl with lots of ambition, and she deserves the rank she got this year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 5 H!P idols of 2012!

It's that time of year again! And man, now I even have an "I survived the eschaton" badge under my belt!  (Just a (very, very) technical note :P , it's not an apocalypse, guys--an apocalypse is a writing, not an event.)

Before my big huge awards post, I'm going to give out some smaller groups of awards to those who really caught my eye, starting with H!P.

Top 5 H!P idols of 2012

5. Mitsui Aika

Aika didn't have too many performance opportunities this year, especially after her graduation.  But the ones she did have, she made the most of. Green Fields actually turned out to be my favorite Satoyama unit, largely because of her amazing performance.  ..."Watashi no Miryoku ni" may be her signature song, but "Boys be Ambitious" fits her voice much better, and she sounds lovely.

However the major reason she stood out to me this year was because of her appearances in Hello! Satoyama Life and her blog.  In Satoyama Life, she was by far one of the most entertaining personalities on the show. She always took the lead in whatever she was working on, and her leadership skills really make me sad that she could not become an MM leader, but she is still quite cuddly with her kouhai.

Her blog is also incredibly entertaining, and shows off her amazing fashion sense. I'm very glad she is still part of H!P.

4. Tokunaga Chinami

This was totally Chii's year as far as Berryz Kobo is concerned.  She had so many opportunities to be an ambassador for the group, and she nailed it.  She was so great to watch on her trip to Bangkok, and some inside sources tell me she was amazing at Anime Next in NJ as well.  Thailand loves her, America loves her, and I hope Japan starts loving her more too, especially after that gorgeous photobook release.

3. Tamura Meimi

Ok, remember that squeaky girl from the S/mileage auditions last year?  Yeah, so...whatever happened to her?

For a while after "Please Miniskirt Postwoman," I thought she was destined to be the next Yuuka.  Cute, uneven smile with an equally cutesy voice. Turns out she's actually the next Airi: growing into an amazing, mature voice and gorgeous looks.  Go listen to Smile Blues, her duet with Kanyon.  It will blow your mind.    I'm looking forward to seeing more of this girl next year. (assuming S/mileage starts getting better promotion, that is *RAGE*)

2. Iikubo Haruna

I tried so hard to justify not picking Haruna for these awards.  She is, after all, one of my absolute favorite people in H!P, so I tried so hard not to play favorites.  But the girl is just awesome.  I couldn't live with myself if I didn't shout her awesomeness from the rooftops.

Haruna was far and away the standout of the new generation MM members.  She still isn't the best performer, but she has gotten so much better. But no matter how much more she improves on stage, her personality will always be her best asset (well, aside from those legs, those eyes, that hair, those EARS *dies*).  I hope she gets more variety/talk show opportunities this year.  She is still learning her way around them, but what she is able to contribute is gold.


1. Katsuta Rina

The Up-Front staff have great eyes for bloomers--the ones who bloom late are often the most rare and beautiful.  And Rina is a damn rose, guys.

Rina is growing up so beautifully, both outside and in. It's really obvious now that she has the best body in S/mileage, and she's still got time to grow. Dem legz go for milez.

I love that her sweet personality really shows instead of just being kind of a shy, passive quality.  She's no wallflower.  I am looking forward to hearing her in 2nd gen S/mileage's new radio show.  I have a great feeling about her.

And that singing voice.  I can see a future Miyabi in her in that aspect.  I'm really bummed that she's shoved to the back, because she's a standout performer in every way.  I think next year will be really great for her.

Congrats, Rina, you're now my S/mileage oshi, and I don't see you getting dethroned ever.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ieiri Leo wins Billboard's Best New Artist award

Today, Ieiri Leo got the best belated birthday gift EVER!  Leo, who turned 18 on the 13th, was awarded the coveted "Best New Artist" award by Billboard Japan.  And all I have to say on that subject is OH HELL YEAH!!!!

Frankly, I think I would have crapped my pants if someone else had gotten it. I am so happy to see someone with such amazing raw talent get the award.  I was really bummed last year when the ever ubiquitous Kaoru to Tomoki, Tama ni Mook got the award.  We all know that they got it for no other reason than people love to watch cute kids being cute.  In 2010, when 4minute won it, I was pretty stoked, but still not thrilled--even though 4minute is one of my favorite Korean groups (and the group whose Japanese releases I follow most closely), I frankly don't think idol groups should win that particular award unless they have a lot of creative input in their releases (like, say, Brown Eyed Girls or BiS).  Call me an elitist wench, but I think that's how it should be.

In any case, Leo is an amazing singer and songwriter, and I hope next year brings even more awards her way.  Congratulations, Leo!  I can't wait for your next single!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ieiri Leo: An obsession worth nurturing.

(Taku Takahashi, please step back from that ledge, my friend...)

I've been nothing short of obsessed with the gorgeously cat-eyed Ieiri Leo since I first heard eight seconds of Sabrina in an Oricon ranking video a million moons ago.  I still wonder why I didn't make a beeline for my laptop and blog the crap out of that single (and Shine...and Bless You...) right fuck that instant.  But then I think...I dunno.  I think being transported to magical shiny la la land every time I pop one of her CDs in is a good excuse, don't you?

Ieiri Leo has been immersed in music her whole life, participating in school choirs and music lessons from a very early age.  She began songwriting in her early teens, finishing Sabrina at only 15, saying that she was inspired by the difficult times she was going through when she began writing it at 13. It was shortly after she finished Sabrina that she knew a full-time career in music was what she wanted.

Ok, let's just stop there for a second.  15?!?  She finished that song at 15?!?!!  If you haven't read the translation of those lyrics, you shall now have the option!  (Of course by that, I mean...)

How many of you guys wrote poetry or songs at that age?  Probably most of you, right?  Yes, yes you did.  Now think for a second--what were you writing about when you were 15?  Though our adolescent lives were all pretty complex, they usually will boil down to several common experiences.  I know I can tell you what I was writing about...maybe you'll see a few familiar concepts...

*ripply flashback noises* there a god...more angst...oh the wub in my heart...why am I not in college yet...holy slutwaffles, there's a profound thought...OH MY GOD THERE'S TWO!!!...oh fuckballs moar angst...hey is that a duck?

*throat clearing*

Yep.  Yep yep yep.

At 15, this incredible girl was writing with more descriptive prowess than I could have dreamed of even as a junior in college.  She seems ancient, yet eternally youthful in her songs.  And the rest of her songs so far are just as well-crafted, some even more so.  I'm not going to lie, I almost thought great songwriting was dead in a gutter somewhere.

To compliment her lyrics, Ieiri holds nothing back in bringing her most powerful asset by far to the table--her voice.  It is very rare to hear such a soprano voice be so powerful as hers.  Normally when I think "high voice," I think squeaky "and/or nasal," qualities which don't dare show their faces in Ieiri's performances. She has a very unique, crystal-clear quality to her voice which shines (PUN NOT INTENDED I SWEARSIES!!!!) through even in her lives.  In my relatively short time being a fan of Asian music, I've heard very few artists who consistently sound as good or better than their studio recordings on stage (BoA, Gackt, Yeo Hee and lecca being some notable exceptions to that rule).

Whenever Ieiri performs or shoots a PV, she reaches beyond the pure, luminous sound of her voice to bring us lucky, lucky listeners to an emotional wonderland which many of us might otherwise trip over and miss should we somehow encounter it in the wilds of our own lives.  Though many of her songs released thus far have a serious quality to them, her more upbeat songs, like Colorful, manage to convey the same power without losing a shred of authenticity. For someone so young in mortal years to have such a gift is fascinating, and I think that somewhat spiritual magnetism is what really drew me to Ieiri's music in the end.

One of her free live performances this year was at Odaiba Mezamashi, to which she drew a sizeable crowd of all ages and genders.  Awesomely enough, the performance is still available to watch on the intertubes (though with Japan's charmingly fascist new law, that may change soon, so catch it while you can).

The first song of this performance is by far my favorite song out of her repertoire, "Last Stage," which is to be Track 2 on her upcoming album.  It has a bit of a Jim Croce/Simon and Garfunkel vibe to it, and the glorious cognitive dissonance that created for me made it an instant love.  In any case, the entire performance is very much worth watching. It's really a treat to see the normally fairly stern and professional Leo let down her guard a little bit to get her audience up and moving.  (And also a really good reason to buy the DVD versions of her singles, jus' sayin.)


For people new to Ieiri's music, I would suggest listening to her singles in the order they were released (for maximum addiction POWAAA, of course).  

Sabrina is the song that catapulted her into the public eye, and it was for a reason (beyond being Toriko's end theme, of course).

ripe is a very simple, lilting B-side which compliments the A-side quite well, and it is still a very popular tune at her live performances.  In my opinion, it is her weakest B-side, but still nothing I would skip over on my Ipod.

Shine is by far her most popular song still, and her strongest A-side, in my opinion.  Listening to it when you're feeling crappy will instantly brighten your day, I can guarantee you that.  I adore Ieiri's creative use of English in her lyrics--it is quite charming, and for me it brings new meaning to words which otherwise might sound too new-agey for me.

Hello is almost as popular a song despite being a B-side.  Like ripe, Hello is very laid back, but it is very catchy.

The third track, Colorful, is not typical Ieiri fare, but that does not diminish its value in the least.  Its staccato, upbeat sound is fitting punctuation in her powerful legato repertoire, and something I hope to hear more from her in the future.

This melancholy collection is actually my favorite of Ieiri's single releases thus far.  It shows a bit of an evolution in Ieiri's ability to handle complex song structures and keys.

Bless You is my least favorite A-side, but again, it's still a great, well-composed piece. It is a powerful song, and it is in one of the most complicated keys to compose in, A-flat minor.  I know that super-technical music geekery doesn't mean too terribly much to most of you, but it's just a quirk of mine--the more of the black keys on the piano used, the more I will ultimately end up liking the song for some reason.

Ijiwaru na Kamisama was used for a Pocky campaign, and from the clips Glico released, I didn't think it would be as awesome a song as it turned out to be. You gotta love a drastic key change in the middle of a song.

Kokoro no ka ta chi is my favorite B-side out of all of them so far.  I'm really not sure why, either: maybe it's the different structure, maybe it's the instrumental, but either way, it is a very strong piece with beautifully narrative lyrics.

Ieiri's first full-length studio album drops on 10/24, and the only B-side to be included on it is Hello, so it is definitely going to be worth purchasing.

CD Tracklist

  1. Sabrina (サブリナ)
  2. Last Stage
  3. Say Goodbye
  4. Shine
  5. Ashita Mata Hare Masu You ni (明日また晴れますように; Tomorrow As You Shine)
  6. Second Dream
  7. Kimi Dake (キミだけ; Only You)
  8. Bless You
  9. Fake Love
  10. Hello
  11. Mister (ミスター)
  12. Lady Mary
  13. Linda

Check out a few previews below!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tokyo Girls' Style unleashes another SweetS cover!

Today, Avex released a short PV for a new song from Tokyo Girls' Style--which happens to be none other than "LolitA Strawberry in summer" by SweetS!  this will most likely be a coupling track to their newest single, set to drop on 10/10.  I suspected that if the girls ever did another SweetS cover, it would be this one.  It is one of their more well-known songs, though, being SweetS' debut song, it wasn't one of their strongest.

Out of the two SweetS covers TGS has done so far, I have to say their "Love Like Candyfloss" cover was much stronger.  (I mean, that song is pretty much flawless/hard to mess up anyway, BUUUUUT...).  The sound of "Love like Candyfloss" fit more closely with the lyrics while not being a carbon copy of the original. It didn't please everyone, but that's going to happen with covers.

I'm going to avoid the "is it better than the original" schpiel and just say that it is different.  TGS is a very different group than SweetS.  While SweetS' music was much more dance beat driven, TGS' signature style is rock-infused pop.  I like the sound of it for the most part, but I have to say I do like the original better.

The PV is very cute and well done. GirlPOP's most recent issue featured a spread of the girls wearing the costumes their 3D avatars wore in the PV preview.  The cute plaid getups really fit with the song and how it was arranged for TGS. I always like to see girl groups being animated, and TGS animated PVs always turn out very well.  I'm not sure I'm all about the ab-flashing part of the choreography though.  Check it out!

And do see the original PV, please do!

If you want to learn more about the legendary girl group SweetS (which all self-respecting idol and Takimoto Miori fans should), the fansite SweetsDesu (formerly known as Mienai Tsubasa) is still up and running.  It doesn't update super-frequently, but anything Sweets related you could possibly ever want is here.

Question of the day: If TGS were to do another SweetS cover, which song would you like to see??

(I vote for "Sky" or "on the way ~Yakusoku no Basho e~")

Sunday, September 16, 2012


A photo from Haruna's blog. Sakura has really been getting on with her new groupmates. 
I kinda wanna frame this. *heart*

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ono Erena's escape from the 48s: the making of a truly modern idol


I did not follow AKB48 in real time until just after Ono Erena graduated, but during my survey of AKB48's older music about a year and a half ago, I heard her solo, "FIRST LOVE," and was interested in finding out more about her.  Though it was processed to the point where Ono herself did not and could never sing it live, it was a great song.  It was very well arranged, it showcased Ono's cute voice without emphasizing her flaws, and it was wonderfully free from the headache-inducing one-TWO one-FUCKING TWO cut-time percussion rhythms which seem to be the hallmark of most ---48 songs.  (Taku Takahashi, I feel your pain, buddy.)

From what I have seen, it isn't hard to see why Erena was popular for the most part, especially among overseas fans.  She was quite cute, very photogenic and had great onstage energy.  But like most of the ---48 girls, she didn't have much to offer in terms of real talent, which is one major reason keeping up with the 48ses remains a huge headache for me beyond the very popular members.

There are a lot of great personalities in the 48s, but very few of them actually had/have that spark onstage, including Ono.  Love them though we may, anyone with even a passing interest in the 48 empire must admit that the 48s Do Not exist to create honest to god musicians or dancers, and we are fools to wish they did.  They, like almost all idol groups, exist for four major purposes:

1) To prepare young women for a career in performance.

This is one of the things I actually really love about the Japanese idol industry specifically.  Idols in Japan, unlike those in Korea, are works in progress.  They are far from polished.  This is an industry in which literally anyone who really wants to can succeed.

It is often true that the most popular idols are the most conventionally beautiful (Michishige Sayumi, Yajima Maimi, Kojima Haruna, Yokoyama Yui), whether they have musical/physical talent or not.

However, there are tons of examples of this convention being broken.  Suzuki Airi was a very awkward kid when she first debuted, but she grew up to be an imperfect beauty with incredible charisma.  Nakanishi Yuuka is not very feminine looking at ALL, but she ranked in the senbatsu elections this year because fans saw her charms. (FYI, she is also my SKE oshi, so that was not in any way a bash).  And although she is more cute and cheeky-looking than fall-on-your-oshiri stunning, Oshima Yuko reigns supreme in the idol world right now.

In Korea, the most attractive girls (AND boys) with hints of talent are picked at a young age to train.  Those who have a good deal of talent but are not perfect-looking are "fixed" with surgery, something no one can deny with any credibility (e.g. Tiffany from SNSD).  So, while we get very professional, polished idols out of the K-pop industry who are always a pleasure to watch because of their mad, mad skills on stage, not just anyone can have that chance.  I love K-pop, but this has always and will continue to bother me.

It is so fun to watch idols grow up, get better, then fly away into the big, big world of performance on their own.  I love it.

2) To promote the creation of the perfect Japanese woman (read: wife, mother and home-keeper);

 Have you ever seen an image DVD that doesn't focus on showing the girls in a very personal way (by our standards)?  While it is really fun to get to know our idols like this, image DVDs serve a fairly unhealthy, non-progressive purpose in some men's fantasy lives.  Yes, men specifically.

I myself own quite a few image DVDs for 3 reasons: I find it fascinating to get a glimpse of the girl behind the camera, i like getting to know cultures outside my own, and chiefly, to support my favorite girls.  However, I am not in the target audience.  For better or worse, the target audience is young, single men just starting out their careers.  At this stage in life, Japanese people are traditionally expected to find a wife and leave their parents' homes.

Traditionally-minded men are going to be looking for wives, and thus be judging the worth of young women in the idol industry for their wifely qualities.  Unfortunately, traditionally-minded older women are also going to be doing this.  (Remember that talk show in 2009 where people went out and asked older women which Morning Musume member would make the worst daughter-in-law?  I can tell you right now that they weren't looking for smart young women with brains, ideas and successful careers)

Thankfully, this is changing slowly.  This is not healthy, and I would bet money that most idols are losing sleep over this kind of judgment.  This is not how modern idols should be made.  Is it bad for young women to enjoy things like cooking and cleaning?  Of course not.  I very much enjoy these things myself (except for the cat box--that's his job, dammit).  However, I do not want my worth as a person to be based solely on like qualities.  And I'm sure many idols don't either; but fuck if they're allowed to express that.

3) To promote ideal Japanese beauty.

As I mentioned before, the idol industry shows a great deal of acceptance and diversity when it comes to looks.  Literally anyone can be an idol if they really want to.  But the ones that get the most attention are the ones with the roundest eyes, the best bikini silhouettes, the longest, silkiest hair.  Erena did not herself fit all of these ideals, and while she was still very desirable for photos, she remained in that nebulous non-media senbatsu region that always seems to connote "popular, but not quite money."

Calling the idol industry a public eugenics exercise is a bit extreme, but in some subtle ways, the statement is completely true.  Aaaaaaaand writing that sentence wigged me out a bit.  Yuk.

4) To make old, disenfranchised men in fancy suits tons upon TONS of money.  For that gold-plated naked time room.

Seriously, "Flying Get?"  Well, at least Aki-P and co. were willing to out and out admit their capitalist pig-doggery with that one.  He, like Tsunku and friends, Nakata Yasutaka, and others, are pretty good at working out formulas.  They have staked out the best sidewalks, decorated their lemonade stands with pretty pretty colors, and put just enough crack in their mix to keep their customers coming back for more.

The idol industry is half entertainment, half money.  And most of that money goes not to the performers, but to the male CEOs, the Bobs, et al.  It's whack, guys.

Japanese society, like many other developed societies, is experiencing an identity crisis.  For millenia, men ran the whole show, from the lights, to the cameras, to the action.  Now that women have been in on the whole living life to the fullest and finding success thing for a brief spell, it's taken some people some time to adjust.  For the most part, there has been no difficulty in adjusting beyond wage gaps and women paying far more money for clothing.  But somehow, it's still okay to shamelessly profit from a gaggle of giggly girls.  (Girls Gone Wild, anyone?)

Again, I love what idols do and the performances they put out.  But I believe that the dollar signs in certain people's eyes has contributed a great deal to the 48s' (and the industry on the whole) decline in quality releases.  No longer do we see edgy, topical releases with great melodies like "Seifuku ga Jama wo Suru" or even genuine fun celebratory releases like "Namida Surprise."  No, those went for quality over quantity.  Instead, we get utter and complete shit like Gingham Check and Give Me Five, knowing that people don't buy it for the song, they buy it for the chance to be the only one in their oshi's eyes for a second.

Given the downward trend (fiery death spiral of death?) of the 48 releases, it's a good thing Ono jumped ship when she did, though there was no guarantee that she could find success.  I want to think that part of the reason she graduated was that she was fed up with the system.  But I have no right to place thoughts in her head.  All I know, all we know, is that she studied abroad, came home, and gave herself a new vision:

"About her hiatus, Ono commented, 'I could have gone wrong without this one year (of hiatus).  It was the important time for me to reconsider about myself.  Now, people say that my way of thinking got more mature.'  She continued, 'I would like to think positively about what I can do now, and would like to run my way at full speed if there is a fan who demands me.'" source

Like most 48 fans, I too thought she was lost to the ages until she came out of bum fuck nowhere and released Erepyon this year.  I gave it a listen for the funsies, and I was, oddly, pleasantly impressed.  It was an incredibly fun idol release with great musical quality--not a common thing in the idol world for those two to come together so well.

But I was even more impressed that Erena herself wrote the lyrics.

Ono Erena came back to the music industry with talent, polish and creative control, which is not something very many former idol group members can say.  The thing that impresses me most is not that Ono is now a lyricist, per se, but that she is choosing to stay within the cutesy idol genre while writing her own lyrics.  She clearly loves the fun style and the feminine theatricality the idol style offers, and it's great that she kept to what she knows for that reason. It's mind-boggling, but in a really refreshing way.

I was even more impressed when I caught the short PV preview of her latest, "Erenyan," to be released on 10/3.  It is rumored to be a remake of a Vocaloid song.  The concept is really fun--there are two Erenas, they have musical arguments in a bar, cat-eared hilarity ensues.  But what is really remarkable about this is the way she switches characters.  She uses two voices for this, one very cutesy and typical idol, and one with a really sultry jazzy quality.  Though she is rocking the danso, her deeper voice shows a depth that she simply did not have as a 48 idol.  I hope she shows more of this depth in the future.  The girl has gotten some serious skills, and for this reason, I am 150% interested in following her from here on out.

Ono Erena embodies a new kind of idol, a modern idol.  She has embraced creative control, though she still loves the musical style that shaped her as a performer and, to a degree, as a person.  The modern idol is not only a product, but an innovator, a creative process.  She is still a very new creature, but like all newly discovered creatures, I have faith that she will evolve, adapt, and spread her wisdom to others.

Check out the short "Erenyan" PV below.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Morning Musume 11th gen finalists! UPDATE: Yup, got my wish!

(Bad photoshop is the highest form of love.  DON'T JUDGE ME!!)

So, well, this seems kind of pointless now, but I'm over the moon that my hula girl is a Musume now.  I do wish a couple more had made it, but this totally works.  AND SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS I AM TOTALLY ALL WEEPY RIGHT NOW!!!!  *hearts*

It's about that time again, kiddos.  I've seriously never been this excited about an audition.  I have literally been refreshing my interwebs for hours (at work, no less) waiting for the footage.  It's truly sad.  But now that it's here, the nerdery is totes justified...right?

Our six finalists only get about 45 seconds of screen time, which isn't really enough yet for me personally to determine my picks for this audition beyond Sakura, who won my heart the second she showed up in the early stages of the S/mileage auditions last year.  But so far, I am very impressed with everyone in the finals this time around, and super stoked that my two favorite Eggs Kenshuusei made it in.

Hamamura Ayano, 12

It's like Yuukarin never left H!P, guys!  In all seriousness, though, Ayano has a very similar voice, smile and mannerisms to Maeda Yuuka.  And I'm totally digging it.  She's surprisingly polished and poised--based off looks alone, I would have expected her to have a more goofy personality like Nakanishi Kana or Sato Masaki, but sometimes I love it when I'm wrong!  I really like Ayano, and I can't wait to see more of her.


Yumeno appears to be a very earnest singer, which I'm excited about.  She is quite good at keeping to the same key in a cappella--a very good sign.  Looks-wise, she reminds me of a young Chinami/Kamei Eri mashup.  I get a good vibe from her, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of her.

Ichioka Reina, 14 (HER TOO!)

Another lovely long-haired dancer! (*the much the jellies*) I like that even though she's a very good dancer, she doesn't have the same aloof vibe that Riho and Ayumi did.  It's fresh.  She also seems to have a very upbeat and hardworking attitude. I really want to hear her sing now.  I do have the same concerns about her weight as I did with Haruna, though.

Ono Haruka, 16

This Nice Girl Project Kenshuusei is very cute and stylish.  She actually kind of reminds me of Kasai Tomomi (WTF, right?).  From what I've heard of her so far, I like her voice and her Kikka-esque moves.  I can't really say much more than that, though.  NEED MOAR VIDEO!

Oda Ultimate Utahime of teh wrolds Sakura for President, 14 

I am amazed at how Sakura has grown since last year.  She has blossomed into a beautiful young lady, she's become a wonderfully confident speaker, and her voice is even better than it was last year.  This girl has the makings of an Aichan-quality voice, and, clearly, the discipline to make it all happen for herself.  This being her second time being an audition finalist, I have every expectation that her efforts will pay off.  But anything can happen...

I'ma come unhinged if she doesn't get in though, seriously.  I will be like rampagey Miyamoto Karin fans after a drunken naked night of drunken nakedness.  AND THEY WILL FEAR MY WRATH.

Makino Maria, 12 (AND YOU!  COME ON OVER!)

The stupid narrator talked so damn much I could barely hear her sing.  But Maria is damn cute.  I kinda wanna squish her, actually.  GAWW!  It took me a couple of times to hear it well, but Maria does do well at keeping on pitch.  I really want to see more of her though.  Not enough time.

So there you have em!  The GirlPop interview happens on Saturday, so be watching!  In the meantime, who do you like best?

And here are the clips of Sakura's "induction" into Morning Musume!!!