Koda Kumi – Live Tour 2008 ~Kingdom~ [DVD Release]

December 31, 2008 at 5:18 am (Koda Kumi) (, )

kingdomtour

In 2008, Koda Kumi embarked on the Live Tour 2008 ~Kingdom~ Tour and delivered one heck of a show. One concert was released onto DVD, giving many of us the opportunity to see Kuu in action. From hot dancing to sweet and tearful moments to fun and cute Kuu moments, this DVD really shows how great Kumi not only as an artist but as a person.

Our first scene is the Opening Movie, introducing us to the first set of songs very nicely. In this little scene, a grandmother comes to read her granddaughter the story of Princess Kumi. One day, she meets a prince who comes by on a little boat and she falls in love at first sight. Kumi then goes to see the devil in order to plead that he spare the prince’s country. He agrees but only if she becomes a devil himself. Because she loves the prince and she becomes a devil, smoothly transitioning into the hot dark atmosphere of the next song.

The doors of the kingdom open and we see four male sorcerers conjuring up a spell. As the smoke transcends, the spell is activated and Kumi comes flying into the sky from underground and the music starts. She descends onto the stage, wearing a leopard print coat (matching her dancers’ outfits). As for the actual performance itself, it was a fantastic way to open up the tour. Her vocals are strong and smooth, matching the CD quality of the song. One thing that was a bit strange though was that she used a lower register for some of the lines on the chorus. It wasn’t bad and it probably would have been better if she stayed with the way that it was but it wasn’t bad by any means. I thought the dancing could have been a little better overall but then again, the PV for Under didn’t have much choreography so that was to be expected. That is for the part while she was singing. We get a nice little dance break that she newly adds to the performance to give it even more spark. During this part, her dancers and her all did a great job, really keeping in with the mood of the song. The set was absolutely fantastic for this song, featuring smoke and on the big screen at the back were bats and darkness and a woman with intense red lipstick to give it that devilish charm. Kumi’s performance of Under gets 5 stars and really is a memorable way to begin the tour.

Following is the second song on the setlist, FREAKY. Once again, Kuu delivers an energetic and fun performance of the song worthy of seeing. Because she was able to rely a little more on the backing track, the dancing was stepped up on this performance. Once again, we get a nice little dance breakdown and the stage goes darker so that only the dancers can really be seen. They did a really good job of bringing the energy and expertice needed to pull it off. Soon, Kumi is seen as she holds onto a rope-like thing that pulls her up onto the castle. She takes off the coat, revealing a blue Arabian style outfit and continues the performance. I liked how she continued to bring new and inventive ideas to the performances to make them more than just singing the song. One thing that I did really like about the set was that there was Kumi in a black outfit on that screen and she looked gorgeous here, portraying that dark element of this section of the tour. Once again, a 5 star performance that was very memorable.

Up next is the fan-favorite and always peppy song, キューティーハニー.  Because this performance is more of a sweet but quite flirtatious song, the dancers don new outfits to reflect that. Ditching the leopard coats, the girls now are adorned in hot black outfits and the guys are now shirtless and wearing black pants. As usual, her vocals were fantastic and there was not one mis-step in that department. One part that really stood out during this performance was the during the pure instrumental section following the first chorus, Kumi and the girl dancers do some really sexy dancing that is what this song is all about. Unfortunately, I found this performance to be a little bit of a let down. I remember back when the single first came out and around the time Butterfly came out, Kumi pulled off the performances of this song with perfection. I felt like there should have been more interaction with the guys like she used to do during those little moments of instrumentation before the chorus. Then we have another breakdown and it didn’t come off nearly as well as the others. Kumi shows us her pole dancing skills but just having this whole slow and mellow atmosphere doesn’t really fit in with the traditional sound of キューティーハニー. It was a nice idea but it just could have been executed better.

Well I didn’t expect there to be dancing in the next performance but I think it was well worth it for 秘密. The performance starts off with the dancers giving us a great little dance interlude that has a sort of ballet feel to it and there’s something about the dancing that tells a story like the song. As always, Kumi’s vocals were great, really telling the emotion of the song and you could tell from watching her that she was very happy as she smiled and waved to her fans. There isn’t much to say about this performance but it was absolutely wonderful, easily one of the best on the entire setlist. Again, the dancing was unexpected but very welcomed and it gave the song even more life than before.

She then performs the emotional love ballad, MORE. This performance is pretty simple as she stands and sings into a sparkling microphone that hangs from the sky. She delivered the song with emotional and beauty, just like on the CD so that was very impressive. Also having the fire burn behind her was a nice touch since it kind of solidified that romantic and intimate atmosphere that the song exutes. It’s a very well pulled off performance that really reflects the song’s meaning well.

Well I still think LAST ANGEL works better with both Kumi and Tohoshinki doing it together. Kumi should always do the first verse, the boys should always do the second verse and the third verse should be shared. That’s how a perfect performance would go in my eyes. It was by no means a bad performance because you could tell Kuu was having fun while she was doing it. Her smile was infectious and even the dancing was pretty good. It just felt weird not having Tohoshinki do the second verse. I did really like the Kumi on the back screen, who was wearing what she wore in the LAST ANGEL PV. That was a pretty good touch. Overall, it was an okay performance and she probably should have picked a different song to perform instead.

Next is the Interlude Movie 1, continuing the story from Opening Movie. In this segment, the prince frees Princess Kumi of the devil inside of her, returning her to her original beautiful state. The grandmother then says Princess Kumi embarks a journey herself, hoping that her song wil reach the prince.

Accompanied by a piano man, she rests on top of the piano for the great performance of 愛のうた. Dressed in a beautiful white gown and a matching white hat with what looks like a veil, she looked absolutely gorgeous and her actions actually make it feel kind of like the story of a song as if she’s looking for him but he’s nowhere to be found. As always, her vocals were great. The only complaint I have with this song was that during the chorus, when she sang the title of the song, she went softer on the last word rather than keeping the same power. On the one hand, it does have a certain fragility to it that communicates the song’s meaning but I think that the emotional presence of the song could have been expressed more had it been louder. One thing I will say about this song which made me adore this performance. While she sang the chorus, she had backing vocals and it’s hard to put my finger on why they make the song better but they just do. In fact, I think they should have had these backing vocals in the studio version of the song. Anyway, this was a fantastic performance, definitely one of the best of the entire night.

The performance for hands features Kumi and a guy dancing behind some smoke. However the guy is only an image so everytime she reaches for him, she can’t touch him or he disappears. I think this was an absolutely fantastic way to communicate the song visually and it made for one hell of a performance. This time, she stuck to the studio version in terms of vocals, managing to basically sound exactly like the song on the CD, which is very impressive. She wore the emotions on her face perfectly and the whole atomsphere of the song came to life before the audience’s eyes, which always signals a strong performance. Overall, she did a great job with this song and she should definitely be proud.

Truth be told, Someday has never been a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s my least favorite song on BEST ~second session~ but something about this performance was very likeable for me and it even made me like the song a little more. It was probably because Kumi just looked so happy and excited while performing it, that it made me smile. Generally, this performance allowed Kumi to see her fans more close-up as she walked around the stage, holding the microphone to the audience allowing them the chance to sing along. I really enjoyed the performance of Someday and think it was a very sweet and memorable one.

Surprise Surprise, she performed ふたりで…, which is always a nice chance from its leading A-side partner. The performance of the song was pretty simple, just featuring Kumi sitting in a chair as she sang the song. Maybe it’s just me but the song sounded even more fragile and doll-like to me than it usually does. Her vocals were really nice although there was a little too much adlibbing. I thought this was an okay performance, nothing that was really amazing or anything.

Following that performance, a member from the audience would be brought up to the audience and he/she would get to choose 1 from 5 songs and Kumi would sing that song. Yuko was lucky enough to make the DVD and she chose the emotional love ballad, you. The thing I liked about this performance was that you could definitely tell Yuko was honored to be sitting beside Kumi and the emotions were on her face the entire time. Vocally, this was an absolutely fantastic performance as her vocals easily matched the clarity and smoothness of the CD version. The only thing about the performance that threw me off a little was that the song is a very sad and emotional ballad but when she was singing it, it just didn’t have that same emotional presence that makes the song so unforgettable. However, excluding that one nitpick, it was amazing.

I think the most uninteresting performance of the night was 奇跡. It definitely wasn’t a bad performance but there was just no significant change or any story that came alive while she was performing it. She just sand on the couch, accompanied by the one backup singer and the two musicians. Her vocals were great although I didn’t much care for the live sound of the song as opposed to the studio quality, where there really is a magical feeling that suits the lyrical atmosphere much better. And once again, there was too much vocalizing at the end.

WIND has never really gotten any particularly amazing performance since it mainly features Kumi singing to the audience with a smile on her face and the audience singing along with a melody in their hearts. This performance was no different. Her vocals were good but I didn’t like the backing vocals because they felt pretty un-necessary. Again, not a bad performance, just not a very interesting one.

The next installment of the little movie, Interlude Movie 2 follows, transitioning us from the ballad section of the tour. She awaits her prince to return for her but he never does. So then she decides to search for him. Before she can finish the story, the little girl falls asleep and the grandmother leaves. We then see the story unfold further as we come into the little girl’s dreams. Princess Kumi turns into a flash of light and enters the picture.

We’re then perfectly set up for the adorable performance of the always cute and catchy Wonderland. Kumi comes popping out from the stage, strapped to a harness so that it can look like she is running across the lit up screen behind her. It is very reminiscent of the PV for Wonderland, even featuring a dangerously similar outfit so that was nice. Her dancers come back as well, providing some very cute and girly dancing that will make the viewer smile. Kumi’s vocals were capturing here, sounding just like CD quality. I think this was a great way to start off the kawaii segment of the tour.

Having a performance of It’s A Small World as a part of the tour surprised me and I suppose it was a nice addition because it does really fit in with this section of the tour. In fact, this was probably the most adorable performance because the dancing was just so cute and fun and everybody had a smile on their face. Also, I think Kumi’s pronounciation was pretty good here since I could make out everything she was saying. I also really enjoyed the little rap section because it was cutte but it maintained that Kumi attitude that shines through. Even though I was initially hesistant to have It’s A Small World included on the DVD, I think it was a good idea.

I absolutely loved the peformance of 恋の魔法, mostly because the dancing was adorable and reflected the song’s meaning strongly. Admittedly, the part of the song when she sings “darling you’ll always be my baby,” features a dance that is very strange but cute nonetheless. During the first verse, there’s a cool part where the girls and a one boy have a little love tug of war as they pull a heart on the screen back and forth. That was a great idea because it provides a little spice to the performance. Then there is the part where she fires an arrow of love that hits the boy on the screen. Overall, a very cute and strong performance worth checking out.

Within the cute section, the best performance is easily the one of anytime. Even though the performance of the song is very simple, it’s very effective in communicating the meaning of the song. Kumi swings back and forth on a giant swing, just singing her heart out. I think because there is more of an emotional presence behind this song, it stands apart from all the other cute songs she performed. The strings of the swing were really pretty, adorned by beautiful flowers and the bubbles that surrounded the stage were fantastic as well. Certainly one of the best performances of the night and one that shows cute Kumi perfectly.

I love Run For Your Life and I’m glad she performed it. The performance was adorable, really telling a story similar to the lyrics of the song. Her vocals were on point and the dancing was funny and cute yet again. We also get to see another Kumi on the screen, this time dressed very casually and fashionably. There isn’t much to say about this performance that hasn’t already been said but it’s definitely worth checking out.

I didn’t expect Come Over to make it onto the setlist and it’s not a bad thing that it did. The performance wasn’t anything that you wouldn’t have seen from the previous cute songs. Vocals were good as always and the dancing was cute as always too. But she looked like she was having fun and no matter how many cute songs she could have gone through, if she is having a good time then the viewer will have a good time as well. One thing I will say about this live version of the song is there is a slight instrumental change during that little part right before the hook and even though it may not be much, it definitely stands out, to me at least.

Of course the closing number had to be the crowd-pleaser, girls. With the energy and excitement of the performance, there is no way you could forget this song. Kumi’s vocals were strong as always and she even switched it up a little bit on that small part before the chorus with her singing technique. Truthfully, I prefer the CD version but this one has more fun spirited energy pushing it. We have Koda Gumi on the screen dancing and the lovely little dancing with the bags to just make this a very catchy and enjoyable performance. In my opinion, a great way to close the tour.

But wait! She’s not done yet! Now we delve into the encore performance, beginning with the Single Medley. I think this was one of the best singing performances of the night as she brought together some of her best songs. Newly dressed in a big blue shirt, shorts and overalls, Kumi starts off with Shake It Up. Her vocals weren’t much like they were on the CD and the music sounded very different, nowhere as good. Well this part was okay but it could have been better. Next we move onto the addictive track. BUT. She never delivers a bad performance of this song and this one was no different. Great vocals and the dancing was enjoyable as well. Once again Kumi, fantastic job! Then she moves into the (extremely short) part of real Emotion. This part was so short, that it was really surprising but she did a nice job on it. Next comes the chorus of hit song, Butterfly. Vocally, she did a great job although it would have been nice to have some dancing too. Finally we come to Crazy 4 U. I am in love with this song and was disappointed she didn’t bust out the moves from the PV but I could tell she was enjoying herself throughout the entire thing and that mkaes me love the performance. Also, how badass was the last part of the medley when Kumi licked her finger and put it up in the air? Genius. I loved this medley and the only thing that sucked was that all these songs would have been great if they were performed in full. However this is the Kingdom Tour so the new songs do get the focus.

Up next was my favorite part of the entire tour: the Dance Battle. So the boys teamed up against the girls and each gender troupe did their own thing. In terms of the boys vs. the girls when they were dancing together, that round goes to the girls no question. They provided sexiness and sass as well as a strong dance routine which made them stand out. In addition, each individual dancer got their time to do their thing. For this round, the boys definitely outshined the girls as they got some real talent. Best goes to the guy before Kaichou (I couldn’t see his name), who came out doing flips! He absolutely killed it and definitely made you want to see him do more. Kaichou did a great job on the girls side and I think she was really good because she did more than just be sexy, she had an actual fluid routine. Now of course, this is Kuu’s Tour and she had to have her own dance solo. I’m not exactly sure why but I laughed when her name came up on the screen. She did deliver a solid routine though that showed off that sexiness and edginess perfectly. Plus I love how the sirens go off when she’s performing, signaling she’s about to turn up the heat even more. Overall this section was perfect and you definitely don’t want to miss this. The music that ran through was so addictive; I hope she releases it as a song or something sometime in the future.

The next encore performance is of Moon Crying. Her vocals were very strong here, portraying the sorrowful emotion of the song perfectly. The magic of the song on CD came to life here and that’s always a good thing. Not much to say but it was a very good performance.

Finally we come to the actual closing performance, of a Kuu favorite, walk. Of course it’s a concert staple so it’s no surprise that it comes as the last song although I wish she would swap it out for something different. It was a good performance but not one that I would’ve chosen to end with.

Concert DVD Ranking: A +

Live Tour 2008 ~Kingdom~ had a multitide of reasons why you should buy it. Kumi was sexy; she was cute; she was beautiful.  The only one nitpick I have with the concert as a whole was the choice of songs. After all, this is the Kingdom Tour so where were Introduction For Kingdom, 甘い罠 (how is there gonna be an Arabian inspired outfit but no Arabian song?) or even 愛証? It was kind of annoying to have so many good songs left out but aside from that, it was a very strong tour. If you wanna see Kumi bring the heat, then buy this DVD.

Top 5 Performances

01. Dance Battle

02. Single Medley: Shake It Up, BUT, real Emotion, Butterfly, Crazy 4 U

03.  愛のうた

04. FREAKY

05. anytime

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Ito Christine – groovy x2 [Digital Single]

December 30, 2008 at 3:35 pm (Ito Yuna) (, )

christine

In order to further promote Ito Yuna’s latest single, 恋は groovy x2, she took on the alter ego of Ito Christine. She released an English version of the song, newly titled groovy x2, released digitally.

There really is no change between 恋は groovy x2 and groovy x2 except for the fact that the latter is in English. The music is exactly the same and most of the notes match up between both versions perfectly. However more vocalizations with more lasting power are noticeable in this English version. Also the “hey girl” in the original is now replaced with “all right.” It does sound a little annoying that she repeats “love is so groovy groovy” so many times in the chorus but overall, it’s a nice English version of the song. The Japanese version is definitely superior but it was a fun idea to have an alter ego record an English version.

In order to promote the single, a PV for groovy x2 was made. The video consists of an opening interview between Christine and Mr. Goobi. She asks various questions and he responds each time with “goobi.” The rest of the video is set up like a live performance of the song by Mr. Goobi and other scenes of Christine spreading the word about “goobi.” It’s a very very strange video but I suppose it fits with the fun light-hearted energy of the song.

Single Ranking: B

groovy x2 is nowhere as strong 恋は groovy x2 but it was a nice idea to have an English version as Yuna sounds vey comfortable and natural singing it. I think we will be seeing more of Christine in the future.

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Kuraki Mai – touch Me! [PV Review]

December 29, 2008 at 4:21 am (Kuraki Mai) (, )

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In order to promote Kuraki Mai’s upcoming album, touch Me!, a new PV was made for the album’s title track.

For some strange reason, Mai’s album promotional videos seem to always have a limited budget with not much going on (i.e. ONE LIFE’s title track PV) and this new one is no different. In fact, the entire video is like a live performance of the song so it’s not particularly interesting. The one thing about the video that stands out nicely is the diamonds, which turned out to be a nice touch. And she did look pretty, which is worth something. Overall, it’s a pretty disappointing video but if you’re familiar with her album PVs, then it doesn’t really come as any surprise.

PV Ranking: C

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Misia – Catch The Rainbow [21st Single]

December 23, 2008 at 5:02 pm (Misia) (, )

misia

Misia’s 21st single, entitled Catch The Rainbow, was released on 12.17.08. The title track was originally released as a digital single earlier in the year but was chosen to be released physically. The physical single includes various remixes of Catch The Rainbow as well as the B-side, Joyful Moment.

Catch The Rainbow is an addictively catchy pop number that catches the listener’s ear. The song begins on a great note as she sings “Baby Misia Funky Town” and then the pop instrumentation comes into play, prompting the listener to want even more. On the verses, there are many English phrases such as “it’s the show time” and “like a flower” and they really pop. But it’s the chorus that really makes this song stand out and Misia delivers even stronger vocals, keeping that fun atmosphere. Those final lines of the chorus sung in English such as  “you make me feel so good, ready go!” and “the way that you make me feel feels so good” sound great and really end the chorus on a strong note. The pure instrumental section allows for a nice dance break before the final chorus. The final line of the song is “I wanna tell you my heart feels so good” and she really hits that last note with grace and clarity. Then some pure insrumentation puts us at the song’s true end. Catch The Rainbow is a magnificent song and definitely one of Misia’s best ones to date.

Joyful Moment, a long song clocking in at over six minutes, is the single’s B-side. The song starts off with a radio station providing an introduction for the song and soon the fun and relaing instrumentation comes in. There is a chorus accompanying her and immediately, it does not make a good impression. However when Misia begins singing alone, it gets a little better since her vocals are smooth and pretty, supporting the prettiness of the instrumentation. The chorus just comes off as annoying because the chorus comes back in to provide backing vocals. Overall this song just isn’t nearly as catchy or memorable as the A-side. It might have been better had it ben cut by a few minutes and the chorus was removed.

Single Ranking: A –

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Shiraishi Nori – Fighter [4th Single]

December 23, 2008 at 3:08 am (Shiraishi Nori) (, )

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Shiraishi Nori’s 4th single, entitled Fighter, was released on 12.17.08. This comes as her first single under her new name (her original name being Shiraishi Kikyo).

Nori teams up with SPOCK for the title track, Fighter. The song starts off with a mysterious sounding instrumental with some exotic touches that excite the listener. Soon the first verse begins and Nori’s vocals sound very smooth here as they graze over it. The hook features SPOCK and Nori doing a little rapping together and it stands out because their vocals just go so well together. On the chorus, the instrumentation maintains its interesting notions and Nori gives some slightly stronger vocals. That last line “I can’t stop. Fighter!” pops nicely and allows for a strong finish. SPOCK has his own rapping section near the end of the song and he adds a certain flavor to the song that just belongs. Overall Fighter is a very enjoyable number that is a huge step up from her last single and one worth checking out.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Fighter was made. The video really takes cues from her first PV for BLACK as she dances in a parking garage with her backup dancers, all dressed in dark clothes. There is even some similar dance styling in this video. It’s a pretty good video because she definitely knows how to dance.

Single Ranking: A –

With a new name, Nori brought a strong single. I’m still not quite sure why the name change because this music isn’t that different from her material as Kikyo. Nonetheless, it’s another enjoyable upbeat number that can be enjoyed. Hopefully we’ll be hearing some album news from her soon.

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Natsumi Abe – スクリーン [11th Single]

December 22, 2008 at 1:34 am (Natsumi Abe) (, )

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Natsumi Abe’s 11th single, entitled スクリーン, was released on 12.03.08.

スクリーン, a relaxing pop number, is the title track. The song starts off with an upbeat instrumental that has a sort of cute vibe and an almost delicate feel to it, much like a screen. Then the first verse begins and Abe’s vocals are nice here and the instrumental is nice although it doesn’t have that spark that the listener hopes for. There is something more magical about the chorus that really works in the song’s favor. She has certain moments where her vocals really shine and these moments coincide with certain sparkling instrumental moments. On the pure instrumental, the instrumentation takes on a slightly different tone and while it is enjoyable, it was stronger when it was lighter. Overall though, it’s an enjoyable song worth the listen.

さよならさえ言えぬまま is the single’s B-side. The song begins with a very pretty piano, opening the listener to a very natural and relaxing atmosphere. Then the first verse starts and Abe comes in with some very pretty vocals, that just perfectly graze the instrumental. She holds this one note before the chorus and even though it doesn’t last very long, it’s definitely a standout part of the song because her voice just carries that magic. She portrays the emotions very strongly on the chorus as she gives a stronger vocal performance, especially when she sings the title of the song. The pure instrumental section is nice because the listener gets a nice spotlight on the guitar before being lead back into the chorus. This is an excellent song as Abe gives fantastic vocals that portray her emotions well over a very natural  and pretty instrumental.

In order to promote the single, a PV for スクリーン was made. The video is very simple with the primary scene being of Abe standing in a large room as the camera spins to catch her at various angles. There are a few other scenes where she looks very pretty as well. Even though not very much goes on, it’s simple and that fits perfectly with the song’s sound.

Single Ranking: A

スクリーン is a great single coming from Abe. The title track has a relaxing atmosphere while still having a catchy pop sound, which is a great combination for this song. It’s actually the B-side, さよならさえ言えぬまま, that is the single’s selling point. It really captures the natural emotions well and give them to the listener. She definitely did a good job on this single and it gives me hope for her in the future.

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Hamasaki Ayumi – Days / GREEN [44th Single]

December 14, 2008 at 5:02 pm (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 44th single, entitled Days / GREEN, was released on 12.17.08. GREEN was used to promote the Pasasonic camera. Much like her previous single, Mirrorcle World, this single features two songs re-recorded to celebrate her 10th anniversary: LOVE ~Destiny~ and TO BE.

Days is a beautiful emotional ballad that tugs at the listener’s heartstrings. Opening the song is a beautiful and soft instrumentation with a wintery feeling (somewhat similar to her previous song No way to say) and then the first verse starts. There is a real fragileness in her voice that stands out and supports the music perfectly. The chorus stands out as Ayu delivers slightly more powerful vocals that definitely bring out the emotions strongly. The pure instrumental section is very nice and there is a certain edginess to it with the guitar being spotlighted, further stirring the emotions. Following that section is the chorus and having the instrumentation become quiet like that connects back to No way to say yet again. Days is a fantastic song with an emotional presence that will make the listener cry.

GREEN takes traditional instruments to drive the fantastic instrumentation. The song begins with gorgeous instrumentation that perfectly captures the feeling of Shanghai. With such beautiful instrumentation, the listener is lead into the first verse. Ayu’s vocals here are strong, smoothly carrying over the music. The chorus stands out as Ayu provides even stronger vocals and the music becomes more diverse. Although the pure instrumental section was a little simple, it makes for a nice break and introduction into the chorus, which features softer music to put the emphasis on Ayu’s vocals. On the final chorus, Ayu holds the last note fantastically and it really is a standout moment in the song. GREEN is a wonderful song with interesting instruments to make it stand out in Ayu’s large discography.

daysIn order to promote the single, two PVs were made: one for Days and one for GREEN. The video is absolutely heartbreaking, featuring Ayu’s dreams of love. The first scene is of Ayu sleeping and she dreams about meeting Shuya outside and he gives her a helmet so they can ride together. Throughout this scene, you can clearly see the happiness in her heart. Then they reach a little table of jewelry being sold and Ayu sees a gorgeous ring but Shuya doesn’t get it for her (which makes Ayu feel really hurt). She then comes in late for a dance rehearsal to see Shuya already dancing with everyone, making her feel left out. Finally, she wakes up and goes outside to see Shuya in hopes that things can be like the dream. She waves to him but notices that he gives his helmet to another girl (who is actually wearing the ring Ayu picked out in her dream) and she walks away heartbroken. There are various scenes of her crying and they make you want to cry to because you can really relate to how she is feeling. Her friends then come to comfort her and the video ends. This is one fantastic video, primarily for Ayu’s strong portrayal of emotions.

The PV for GREEN is one of Ayu’s most expensive, featuring a clear visual representation of the song. Drawing on the feel of traditional Shanghai, everything is a throwback to the time. We first see Ayu walking on the streets and she gets through the crowd of people (this scene is pretty similar to the opening scene of Mirrorcle World). After that, she is seen performing alongside fan dancers as a woman watches her. Ayu is then seen in her dressing room with her dancers (Shuya makes an appearance for example and looks really hot) and after that, she dances with the girl. The video ends with Ayu walking away. The video is very visually appealing and definitely captures the essence of the song well.

Single Ranking: A +

Days / GREEN is a fabulous single. Both songs compliment each other nicely to make the package very memorable. While Days is the sweet love ballad that evokes the emotions easily, GREEN draws on traditional insruments to make an unforgettable instrumental. I’m very impressed by this single and look forward to seeing what Ayu brings next with Rule.

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Otsuka Ai – LOVE LETTER [5th Studio Album]

December 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm (Otsuka Ai) (, )

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Otsuka Ai’s 5th studio album, entitled LOVE LETER, was released on 12.17.08. The singles released before the album are as follows: ポケット, ロケットスニーカー / One × Time and クラゲ、流れ星.

The album begins with the title track, LOVE LETTER. She opens up right away with the chorus and it’s almost acapella because of the soft beautiful piano. Her vocals are wonderful here, hitting the higher notes with grace and ease. She then moves into the first verse and the instrumentation remains simple, perfectly supporting Ai’s vocals. Overall, the song is extremely simple with just Ai and the piano but the two form such a strong combination that the listener is introduced to the album on a strong note. Her vocals sound heavenly, really communicating emotion and it makes the listener anticipate what is to come next.

The second song on the album is ロケットスニーカー. This song was unimpressive when it was released as a single and it still maintains that same quality. It’s another one of Ai’s upbeat and fun songs but what makes this one different is that there is a certain laidback element to it. The verses are kind of catchy but the chorus really doesn’t out. It was nice to have a slightly different instrumentation from her other similar songs but unfortunately that doesn’t save the song from being boring.

loveletter1バイバイ is the third song on the album. A very nice and fun instrumental begins the song on a happy note and then Ai comes in with the first verse. Her vocals are very nice here and communicate that funness very well. The instrumental is quite interesting as it features the guitar and the piano coming together to form a very interesting sound. Ai seems to come back more to her cute voice on the chorus and that nicely seperates that section from the rest of the song. This song really has that “Ai” feel to it so it comes across as a little typical but it’s not a bad song.

The next song is クラゲ、流れ星. Opening the song is the piano, which introduces the listener to the beauty of this song. The string instruments also help to establish a strong instrumental foundation. Throughout the song, Ai’s vocals are so sweet and capturing that the listener just falls in love with it. It’s almost like a fairy-tale because of the combination of Ai’s vocals and the instrumentation. This song carries a bunch of emotion that makes the listener really fall in love with it.

君フェチ is one of the album’s sweetest songs. The song begins with Ai singing a line over a very calming and smooth instrumental. Ai’s vocals are very pretty here and they connect with the listener very strongly. The chorus stands out as the insrumentation is slightly different and there is a slight vocal push from Ai, while still keeping that pretty and natural vibe that makes this song so addictive. Around the three minute mark, there is a haunting feeling that comes through as the instrumentation sounds dark and there is a whispery effect on Ai’s vocals. This is a fantastic song and definitely one to listen to.

Following is the upbeat Creamy & Spicy. The song starts off the chorus and it’s very simple. Ai is supported by the guitar and soon a few claps come in. Usually, she hits her high notes with strength and beauty but when she sings the title of the song, it comes across very awkward, almost ear-piercing. The following pure instrumental section does sound really good though and gives a very fun atmosphere. On the first verse, Ai shows a lot of strong vocals but it would have better had she stuck to a lower tone because it would have suited the music much better. Overall it’s a fun number that could have been stronger but it’s enjoyable.

One of the more happy and poppy tracks, ド☆ポジティブ, is up next. The song begins with a pop-rock instrumentation loveletter2that has that traditional Ai sound before coming into the first verse. There’s actually a really cool atmosphere that comes from that opening instrumentation and when Ai comes to sing, it kind of changes tone to a happier feeling. Luckily there is something quirky and engaging about the combination of the instrumentation and her vocals that keeps the listener interested. This continues into the chorus as Ai gives a slightly stronger vocals. It’s hard to pinpoint just what part of the instrumentation so loveable but there’s something there that makes this song different from Ai’s usual upbeat positive numbers. ド☆ポジティブ is strangely addictive and stands out as another strong album track.

360°, one of the tracks used to promote the album, appears as the ninth track. This song is one of Ai’s more creative ones and it really does shine on LOVE LETTER. A piano sequence begins the song absolutely beautifully, creating a very dreamy atmosphere for the listener. Soon a darker atmosphere comes in the piano goes to a lower key. Having these two atmospheres follow each other actually mirrors the emotions of the lyrics, which speak about liking someone and hating them at the same time. The chorus features two words: 観覧車 and merry-go-round and the repetition of these words really stands out to the listener. The rest of the song features Ai singing with a slight whisper to her voice that is almost haunting. Before the final chorus, Ai shows us how vocal strength as she hits some of the highest notes I’ve heard from her. Again, there is a haunting quality about it that makes it really memorable. There is another chorus and yet again, she vocalizes, hitting the higher notes beautifully before the song comes to a close. This song is absolutely fantastic and definitely one of the album’s shining jewels.

シャチハタ is a track centering around a jazzy instrumentation. In fact the entire song is instrumntation save for a few scatting moments from Ai. Unfortunately, the scatting doesn’t even sound like Ai so it comes across as very strange. It would have been better had the track just been pure instrumentation in this case because the scatting just ruins it.

One × Time is the next song on LOVE LETTER. The piano begins the song before various other instruments come into the picture. Much like the A-side that accompanied on a single release, this song is relatively uninteresting. Ai’s vocals are nice but the lack of interest generated by the instrumentation just makes this another song.

loveletter3The album’s semifinale is ポケット, which was released as a single before the album. The song begins with the piano, which immediately stirs up the emotions in the listener and signals a very sweet rest of the song. Soon the first verse comes in and Ai’s vocals here are so calm and smooth, perfectly complimenting the simplicity of the instrumental. The chorus manages to stand out as the guitar makes its presence known more, diversifying the instrumentation and Ai’s vocals are a little bit stronger. Following the first chorus is a little pure instrumental section which might seem slightly out of place because it sounds pretty upbeat but it introduces the sweet second verse well. ポケット is a wonderful ballad as Ai evokes the wonderful emotions to resonate with the listener. It was great when it was released as a single and it hasn’t lost any of its magic.

The album closes with the personal track named after her own name, 愛. The song begins with a very pretty and natural instrumental, which twinkles in the listener’s ear. Then Ai comes in with the first verse and provides some very smooth and pretty vocals that melt over the instrumentation. What makes the chorus stand out is that each phrase begins with “愛” and her vocals on that one note alone make the chorus pop. Before the final chorus, she vocalizes a little bit and sounds wonderful here, showing the power behind her voice. The first line of the final chorus is sung acapella and Ai really busts out the emotions as her vocals communicate something very personally emotional to the listener. This song is absolutely gorgeous and is the perfect way to close this album.

In order to promote the album, three new PVs were made: one for ド☆ポジティブ, one for 360° and one for 愛. The PV for ド☆ポジティブ is pretty strange and simple. It features Ai (who wears an afro) rocking out with her band in the garage. There is a woman there who owns the place and she watches them. After the group finishes the song, they high-five each other and then walk right past her and leave. It was a bit hard to find a deeper meaning in it but then again, it might just be one of those fun PVs.

The PV for 360°  features a very simple setting. Ai wears a dress, accentuated by butterflies and piano keys as she sings the lyrics spinning around on a merry-go-round or just standing in front of a white background. There is such a strange atmosphere about this PV that strangely works with the atmosphere of the song. So although it might be simple, it compliments the song well.

There is a very personal connection between Ai and the song 愛 and the PV reflects that closeness. Scenes from Ai’s life are included in the PV such as scenes of Ai when she was a young girl, her parents’ marriage and her mother’s pregnancy. There are other scenes of children and couples, showing a love that can be felt by everyone. The other scene features Ai sing a crowd of people in a countryside setting. The video really fits with the song by bringing that personal connection for everybody to see.

Album Ranking: A

Ai really surprised me with this album so let her surprise you too by giving the album a chance! ロケットスニーカー and One × Time were misleading because they weren’t particularly memorable tracks but the new album tracks blow those two out of the water. 360°  is the best offering on the entire album, showcasing Ai’s versatility as an artist and as a vocalist. From the sweetness of 君フェチ to the naturalness of 愛 to the fun spirit of ド☆ポジティブ, Ai brings many different styles to LOVE LETTER, to make one strong package. Another noteable thing about the album is that Ai shows off her vocals on many of these tracks, hitting the high notes with ease. LOVE LETTER is certainly memorable and shows Ai still has that magic inside of her.

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Takasugi Satomi – Tears in the Sky [7th Single]

December 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm (Takasugi Satomi) (, )

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Takasugi Satomi’s 7th single, entitled Tears in the Sky, was released on 12.17.08. The title track was used as the theme song for the video game Genso Suikoden Teirkreis.

Tears in the Sky is a sweet upbeat number. The song begins with the chorus as Satomi’s vocals calmly wave over the very pretty instrumentation. She hits her notes nicely and keeps the listener interested. Following is a pure instrumental section that uses the violin to push its beauty. On the verses, her vocals remain sweet and they support the relaxing and pretty instrumental. What makes this song so enjoyable is the instrumentation, which is gorgeous and Satomi follows nicely with her vocals. Overall, it’s a very good song worth checking out.

It was ティアクライス ~希望のトビラ~ that made me take notice of Satomi on this single however. Her vocals are great here and really go with the piano and the chorus is the perfect example of this. She really brought strength onto this song and it honestly should have been the A-side.

In order to promote the single, a PV for Tears in the Sky was made. The video is very simple, just featuring Satomi wandering around, mostly in a forest. She is wearing the outfit from the covers and she looks nice but the video just doesn’t quite grab the viewer since nothing really seems to happen and it’s not one of those videos where simplicity just works.

Single Ranking: B +

It’s another nice single from Satomi. Tears in the Sky is quite pretty and is one of her more memorable tracks while the B-side was actually the stronger number. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep strength up onto her next album, which is due next year.

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[Part Seven] Artist Of The Year

December 13, 2008 at 5:56 pm (alan) ()

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We all wish we could be as talented as alan but sadly we cannot. However, we can celebrate the amazingness of this newcomer as I crown her “Artist of the Year” for Oricon Year 2008.

alan has been one busy girl this year. She’s released a total of six singles this year, each one showcasing the talents of this girl. The first single of the year was the sweet ballad ひとつ. At first, I didn’t really care for ひとつ but after the 5 Elemental Project started, I fell in love with alan again and decided to go back and give this single a chance. My opinion definitely changed. The title track is a beautiful ballad with alan’s vocals really supporting the music, as always. 君想フ空 and sign are really good songs and stand out as some of alan’s most memorable B-sides. I absolutely love the little instrumental section in 君想フ空 since there is such a natural and warm feeling behind it that I feel whenever I listen to it. sign has such a mysterious atmosphere to it and even though it’s basically an instrumental track, it’s definitely worth listening to. 東京未明 is a nice song although I don’t really listen to it that much. But it does compliment the single’s package nicely. This single was really good and it was nice to have four strong songs on one single.

alanartistoftheyearAfter that, she began the 5 Elemental Single Project. She released five singles for five months (one each month) with each single correspoding to one of the 5 Godai. The first single was 懐かしい未来 ~longing future,~ which was the Earth single. This single really got me interested in alan and I think that this single really represented its element well. The title track featured that signature alan wail that gives me goosebumps and the instrumental section sounds absolutely gorgeous with alan playing the ehru. Seed of Green is also a very nice B-side, complimenting the A-side and the overall Earth theme of the single well. So she definitely started the project off with a bang. Then things got even better with the second single, 空唄, representing the element of sky. 空唄 really stood out to me because it was an upbeat poppier song, which makes it special within alan’s discography thus far. alan still showed off her vocals and the instrumentation was gorgeous. My Stage was this single’s B-side and it’s one of my favorite alan songs to date. This song stands out even more for its cheery and light tone and even use of some English phrases such as “organization” and “summer vacation.” This song is absolutely perfect and necessary to listen to if you haven’t alanartistoftheyear2heard it yet. Without any doubt, this was my favorite single of the project. alan kept the momentum strong with 風の手紙, which represented the element of wind. Both 風の手紙 and かごめ were great songs that took on a rock vibe, similar to that of labelmate Hamasaki Ayumi. alan pulled that new sound perfectly and continued to show her versatility as an artist. 風の手紙 emerged as my second favorite single of this project. RED CLIFF ~心・戦~ was the next single and is currently her best selling single. This single corresponded to the Godai element of fire. The title track is a very beautiful ballad, certainly deserving to be the theme song for a movie. What actually grabbed me more from this single was 明日への讃歌 ~Orchestral Version.~ This new arrangement was absolutely gorgeous and while it wasn’t as strong as the original version, it certainly was worth the listen. Finally came 恵みの雨, representing water. I was really excited to hear this single and I admit I was a little disappointed because I was expecting something prettier. Overall, this project was fantastic and produced some of alan’s best songs. It also always kept me anticipating what she would do next, a factor which helped me be crowned “Artist of the Year.”

alan looks to be wasting no time with 3 singles to be released next year as well as her debut album, which is scheduled for a March release. The three singles to be released are as follows: Liberty, 群青の谷 and 久遠の河. All I know is the album better come out in March because I’ve been waiting too long for that album!

Well this has been the 7th and final part of our Oricon Year 2008 Review. Congratulations to alan and her accomplishment of being named Amai Wana’s Artist Of The Year! So I leave with you with the current blog stats. Normal reviews will be again tomorrow and will run until December 31st. After that, only reviews from Oricon Year 2009 will be featured.

Total Views: 85,292 Views

Busiest Day: 923 [December 2, 2008]

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