Thursday, November 27, 2014
It’s hard to talk about Afilia Saga (アフィリア・サーガ, formerly known as Afilia Saga East [アフィリア・サーガ・イースト]), an aidoru group composed of maids from the famous Afilia Saga maid cafe chain, but I’ll try to get it done today.
The Afilia Saga girls, besides being maids, also incorpores a narrative in which they are magic students from the Afilia Kingdom. So, with maids and RPG as their main gimmicks, it’s clear that this group is aiming towards otaku culture. To make things even harder for the occasional listener, imagine a music style that seems like a fusion of AKB48’s blandest pop songs with Dempagumi.inc’s (でんぱ組.inc) or Momoiro Clover Z’s (ももいろクローバーZ) hyper-energetic and high-pitched vocals. There you are, you now have in your hands a typical Afilia Saga song.
Although the scenary I described above may not look very interesting or promising, I was able to select some nice songs from their not-so-big discography. One of them is “Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~”, and even though better songs could have been easily selected, this one showcases the typical Afilia Saga sound with noisy guitars and synths all at once.
In “Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~”, Afilia Saga’s magic students gimmick is as clear as ever. As we can see in the video, they’re studying magic books in order to “learn to fly”, which is also one of the catchy lines of the overly sweet chorus. And the video is an spectacle per se... being honest, no one needs big budget when working with almost a dozen of cute young girls smiling at the camera and trying to “learn to fly”, right? In the end, it’s almost impossible to listen to Afilia Saga without feeling somewhat embarrassed. It’s surely what people call a guilty pleasure.
“Hiko Jisshu ~Learn To Fly~” was the promotional song for Afilia Saga’s debut album, “whitism”, which was released back in June 2011. The album reached #46 on the Oricon charts, selling around 2,548 copies. Lyrics for the song were written by Haruko Momoi (桃井はるこ), while music was composed by Kohsuke Oshima (大島康祐).
Like most people, I remember of Ryoko Hirosue (広末涼子) mainly for her roles in movies (I loved “WASABI” so much that I even recorded it on VHS, and I need to watch the ridiculously entertaining “Bubble Fiction” [バブルへGO!!] once more), but she also had a successful career as a J-Pop aidoru singer. Not that the girl was a great singer, but her cute voice surely wasn’t a problem for an aidoru listener.
The one song I usually listen from Ryoko is “summer sunset”, a bright summer song with lovely “fake” strings (synths doing the job here) and an uplifting melody during the chorus. I almost hop a little while listening to Ryoko’s sugary delivery here. Thanks to this positive vibe, I usually listen to it while traveling to Rio de Janeiro in a hot sunny day.
“summer sunset” was released as Ryoko’s fourth single in May 1998. It reached #5 on the Oricon charts, selling 221,740 copies. Lyrics and music were composed by Kohmi Hirose (広瀬香美), while the arrangement was done by Takeshi Fujii (藤井丈司).
I had wanted to do this immediately after Hideo Murata's (村田英雄) 'Hana to ryu' to round off the 'Sannin no kai' posts with the aforementioned Enka singer's rival, but then the show with Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) came on and I couldn't possibly miss the opportunity of writing a post on an aidoru while I still felt like it... ... Well, but with that done, here's Haruo Minami's (三波春夫) debut hit 'Chanchiki okesa'.
Officially starting his singing career rather late at the age of 34, Minami struck it big with this song as it sold around an impressive 2.2 million copies. He would then sing it twice on the Kohaku, though only 23 years after the song was released (1957). And he even starred in a movie with the same name in 1958!
'Chanchiki okesa' definitely sounds more jovial and listenable than the somewhat severe Enka-Rokyoku 'Otone mujou' that came out 2 years later. Though I did end up liking 'Otone mujou' first since it was the first song that introduced me to the pretty much forgotten world of the narrative singing style that is Rokyoku.
But anyway, 'Chanchiki okesa' actually sounds like something you'd hear at a traditional Japanese festival of some sort and I can just see Minami in a bright kimono dancing around with two paper fans in his hands. This was all composed by Yoshiji Nagatsu (長津義司). As for the lyrics that Showa period lyricist Hachiro Kadoi (門井八郎) wrote, it basically is about the fellow missing his other half whom he had left behind in his hometown when he (probably) came over to the big city to find a job.
Apparently there's a plaque that commemorates this song in Minami's hometown of Nagaoka, Niigata where the bronze statue of him is. Aw man, I have gotta check it out sometime! Y'know after visiting the Hachiro Kasuga (春日八郎) statue and Hideo Murata museum... ...
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
A little over a year ago, I put up an article on one of Miyuki Nakajima's（中島みゆき）biggest hits, "Chijo no Hoshi"（地上の星）which started as the theme song for an NHK documentary series, "Project X" but grew into this epic anthem for all of the working class, especially for those entrepreneurs.
Well, on the flip side of that single is "Headlight, Taillight". The way it has been presented on J-Wiki, the song isn't a mere coupling song but a co-single to "Chijo no Hoshi". And I think it is an accurate representation. The more famous of the two songs might have that thrilling anthemic aspect with a spear-carrying Nakajima at the head of the group of salaried workers, but "Headlight, Taillight" is no less significant in that it sounds like a ballad representing that same working class.
As was the case with "Chijo no Hoshi", Nakajima wrote and composed this ballad which depicts the never-ending journey with all of its victories and defeats past, present and future. It almost sounds like a lullaby for the challengers as the car drives on that night road with the titular lights shining in front and back of it. I especially like the way that the two lines Nakajima are delivered in the chorus:
Tabi wa mada owaranai (The voyage isn't over yet)
It could almost describe the voyage of the USS Enterprise.
I've already described the just-as-epic journey that Nakajima's 37th single took in the years since its release in July 2000 so you can read about that on "Chijo no Hoshi".
I found out this morning that Nakajima is making her 2nd-ever appearance on the Kohaku Utagassen at the end of next month to perform the theme song from NHK's current morning serial "Massan"（マッサン）. Her first appearance was back in 2002 to perform, strangely enough, "Chijo no Hoshi". She performed that at Kurobe Dam. I wonder where she will sing "Mugi no Uta"（麦の唄...Song of Wheat）? Perhaps it will be in that field or distillery in Scotland.
I gotta admit that if it weren't for Chikuzen Sato's（佐藤竹善）smooth vocals, I would have thought that this song came straight from one of my American AOR compilations. "Try and Try Again" was the title track from Sing Like Talking's debut album which came out in November 1988, and Sato with fellow member and keyboardist Chiaki Fujita（藤田千章）were responsible for whipping this one up.
The song had actually been first performed at the Young Jump Song Contest in December 1986 which won the newly-named Sing Like Talking the Grand Prize. However, it would be almost another 2 years before it finally got officially recorded for release. City Pop may have been waning a bit in the latter half of the 80s but happily this band was still holding the torch. The album also has a lovely ballad, "Raining Blues".
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Alice's（アリス）"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Listening to the Steam Whistle in the Distance) only got as high as No. 51 on the Oricon weeklies after its release in September 1976, and the group was still more than a year away from their first Top 10 hit, "Fuyu no Inazuma"（冬の稲妻）. However, I really like this song by Shinji Tanimura and Takao Horiuchi（谷村新司・堀内孝雄）. There's something with the guitar and that piano that really gives this folk tune some anthemic oomph.
Tanimura's lyrics about trying to live through the trials and tribulations of each day and survive seem to be speaking to something that we can all relate to. The steam whistle that the band refers to makes me wonder whether Alice was trying to evoke that image of that manly man standing not too far away from a railroad track going to his small hometown as he remembered the good and bad times. The lyrics and delivery (with Horiuchi as the lead vocal) almost sound enka-like.
"Tohku de Kiteki wo Kikinagara" (Alice's 9th single) may have only done modestly on the charts originally, but some twenty years following its release, Horiuchi was able to perform it at the 1996 Kohaku Utagassen. And nine years after that, Alice was able to do it all again as part of a medley at the 2005 edition. By the way, the song is also on their 1976 release, "ALICE V" which peaked at No. 3.
If I ever end up drinking a beer outside on a hill when the sun is coming down, I know what the scene's theme song will be.
2014 couldn’t end without a new infectious Dempagumi.inc (でんぱ組.inc) single. Like I said in the “Sakura Apparition” (サクラあっぱれーしょん) post, even though I know Dempagumi.inc since late 2011, it wasn’t until this year that I became a fan of them. Based on that, I was scary that I could possibly dislike their new single “Dempari Night”, which, thankfully, didn’t happen.
“Dempari Night” is a very strong offer from the group, and this time they’re doing a Latin/Carnival themed song, which, as far as I know, is a new thing for them. Not that this theme is innovative, as every other pop act in the world has at least one Latin song in their catalogue, but, as I learned to expect from Dempagumi.inc, their songs are always well seasoned with some special twists.
Released in late November 2014, “Dempari Night” is a trip, in the best way possible. The Latin thematic is mixed with some dark-tinged parade touches and circus elements as well. Also, the whole song is very theatrical, something that is not a surprise coming from Dempagumi.inc. One highlight, for example, is when the frantic arrangement gives place to Nemu “green” Yumemi (夢眠ねむ) and Moga “purple” Mogami (最上もが) singing lonely and cold lines before the other girls, especially the incredible funny Eimi “yellow” Naruse (成瀬瑛美), appears and the whole hyper-energetic performance takes over again. It’s a good change of pace that breaks the overall stormy mood of the song and introduces new introspective elements... and again, that’s typical Dempa.
The chorus, as it’s meant to be, is also a special thing with all its dramaticity, a feeling that culminates in the redemptive fairy-tale-esque grand finale (it reminded me of the party thrown at the end of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. Click here for the scene). In the end, Dempagumi.inc just nailed this song and contributed to make 2014 a great year for aidoru music. I hope they keep things at a high level in 2015.
Lyrics, music and arrangement for “Dempari Night” were done by Tamaya2060% (玉屋2060%), but Shunsuke Tsuri (釣俊輔) also worked on the arrangement.