Sunday, April 25, 2010

Beyond Bubblegum Pop

The first AKB PV's I was exposed to were Aitakatta and Baby! Baby! Baby! Personally, I wasn't very impressed, they were too bubblegummy, and I didn't find the lyrics or the song themselves interesting or creative enough. Then I saw their JCB Hall 2008 and NHK Hall 2009 concerts, then I fell in love with the group. Besides the impressive theatrical merits I could mention another time, one more thing I loved was the variety and quality of songs they performed. From then on, I exposed myself to more of their songs and found even more variety, from rock to hip hop, love songs and songs about different aspects of life, light, frivolous songs and dark, serious ones. I knew I didn't just like them just because they were cute when I started listening to their mp3's on my player; I love them so much that I don't need to see their cute faces and great performances to enjoy their cool music.

I'm one of those guys who may not like the song released first for an album, but I might absolutely love a track on the same album that will never get played on the radio. The ones usually played on the radio are meant for a mainstream audience, which makes sense since they would like to appeal to as many people as possible, but sometimes I find many of these songs just boring.

Singles aren't very popular in the Philippines, albums are, since they contain around a dozen songs, but in Japan, where a single can contain 1-3 songs only, I can imagine very little variety. But another great thing about AKB is that their songs aren't only the ones in singles, which they release around four a year, which would mean very few songs, but rather they have 12 or more songs for their stages (stage performances at their theater), and considering different teams have different stages, and stages change every so often, that means a huge number of songs, which allows them to do so many genres and so many themes. So chances are, if you dislike one song, there are so many others you might like. AKB likes to push the envelope too, with a lot of daring songs with daring lyrics and performances, and yet perform such encouraging songs such as Yuuhi wo Miteiruka? and River. Aki-P, Akimoto Yasushi, the producer and creator of AKB48, is also great at writing original lyrics at various points of view, which you could see with songs such as Renai Kinshi Jourei, Tsundere!, Itoshisa no Defense, Kioku no Dilemma, Dakedo..., Squall no Aida ni, among so many others. One of these days I'll give a list of sorts about the various genres and themes that they do.

I originally didn't give much credit to Aki-P's creative lyric writing with Aitakatta and Baby! Baby! Baby!, but after hearing way over half of the over 200 songs he has written for the AKB family, I am quite impressed. My first love with Japanese music was another creative lyricist, Utada Hikaru, I believe Japan's most successful recording artist. I first fell in love with Hikki's music with the song First Love, (although I loved Automatic way before that, I just didn't know it was hers that time), but my favorite from Hikki is Distance. The variety and quality of her lyrics was superb. The only thing about Hikki is she releases albums so infrequently, around once every two years. (Of course, Hikki is a totally different genre.) But since AKB fans don't only rely on singles for AKB's music, we get tons of new songs each year, from the released tracks and additional tracks of singles, to subunits and stage songs, we get quite a good dose of fresh tracks pretty much throughout the year.

And if you're thinking I like AKB because I like Japanese stuff and Jpop in general, you're wrong. I once got a hold of hundreds of different Jpop songs from various artists from a Japanese girl I know, and discovered that I only liked maybe ten of the songs. I think many of the others were bubblegummy or plain old uninteresting for me. So actually, I'm not into Jpop in general, I like AKB, Hikki, and only a few others. I actually don't even watch anime nor read manga either.

So if you're kind of like me and you're quite sick of the generic "I love you, I need you, my heart wants you," kind of lyrics, take a listen to AKB's stages and concerts. There have been AKB single cover songs that I'm not really crazy about, but like I said, these single cover songs are to attract more audience and is set to mainstream, but if you want fresh and true alternative (not the supposed alternative rock that is actually quite generic and mainstream now), AKB's got them in their stage songs, many of which they perform in their concerts too. And if you do like the generic "I miss you, I want to cry, why did you hurt me" lyrics, well, they have those kinds too.

Even if you don't understand Japanese, you might like the songs anyway, as they're musically great even if you don't understand the lyrics, especially if you expose yourself to the various genres and themes. And once you read a translation of the lyrics, you might fall in love with the songs even more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Top 25 Favorite Moments and Surprises in the Shibuya AX Request Hour Setlist Best 100 2010

A friend and I agreed not to read anything about the Shibuya AX Best 100 2010 so that when we watch the video for the first time, the thrill of seeing everything that's going on will be similar to as if we were at the concert itself. Watching the videos and learning the rankings only then was fun! I probably won't do that again.

Even beyond the song rankings, the Shibuya AX Request Hour Setlist Best 100 2010 is a great concert. I think 2009's version is better, then again that was an exceptional concert, but this was nonetheless a great concert.

Before I get to the good stuff, excuse a one paragraph rant. Where are my SKE songs?! Only 6 made it... And where are my SDN songs?! Only 2 made it, and Black Boy didn't even make it. And where are my B3 songs?! Most of the team songs dropped out. That's the freshness factor I spoke of in a previous post ( affecting it... Also, where are the other graduates?! Many Team A and Team K graduates were back, but where was Nakanishi! Mocchi filled in again for her, and although Mocchi is great, Chocolove is not the same without Rinatin. Team K's Yu Imai wasn't at Kurukurupaa either, where she used to be. AKB48 original Yuki Usami wasn't present either, although Hoshi no Ondo didn't make it anyway, and neither did any of the songs or units of Michiru Hoshino. And where are the Team B and Team S graduates?! Why weren't any of them back?! Not that Naruppe or Kirara Suzuki had any songs they could perform there anyway. And although Heart Gata Virus is a great song, and I love the lyrics, I don't think it's the best stage subunit song. A lot of my favorite songs dropped out as well, like Aisareru to Iyu Koto and Hisatsu Teleport, just to name a few. It’s also ironic that while the rest stayed, it’s my three favorite Acchan subunits that dropped out of the Best 100, Nage Kiss de Uchi Otose, Idol Nante Yobanaide and Hajimete no Jellybeans.

Now that I finished with the rants, there were a lot of great moments in this concert series. I’ll limit my top 25 to what the attendees of the concert actually saw on stage, but make sure to check out the hidden features of the DVD as well. The Takamina murder case is a fun watch, especially for those like me who miss Ikemendol and are still blindly hoping for a second season; Mocchi trying to kiss Takamina Kai was pretty funny too; Take Akimoto to Wimbledon was silly, please shuffle her!, while Hayami the makeup artist shows us that Mayuyu takes no crapola from anyone. Another thing you may notice is that Harugon is friends with everyone. I mean everyone. She can be with anyone and they will look like they’re close. See Harugon with Jurina. Harugon with Yuttan. Harugon with Nacchu. Harugon is so friendly, she must be great to hang out with! Oh, and she needs to be shuffled to Faint.

Now, on to my top 25, and see what other cool things happened in the concert inside and outside of the best 100 rankings!

#25 - Infinity Skit

After Kimi wa Pegasus, Nakayan and Tanamin join Sayaka and Sae as their characters in Infinity, the first major AKB play. Sayaka and Sae, of course, played the same character as the lead male character of the play. This was a short but fun reminder of such an important event in AKB.

#24 - Top 7 Senbatsu Version of Skirt Hirari

It’s another top 7 Senbatsu (based on the first Senbatsu election) version of Skirt Hirari; the last time I saw they did this was at the August 2009 concert at Budokan. I used to not like the song Skirt Hirari very much, but now I dig the tune. And having the top 7 Senbatsu perform such an AKB classic is remarkable, pats on the back for Acchan, Yuko, Mariko, Mayuyu, Takamina, Haruna and Tomochin! Another interesting thing, this song actually rose in ranking, from #89 last year to this year’s #78! Not bad for a song that’s been around since AKB’s very first stage.

#23 - CinDy and Yukarin MC

Again, it’s so disappointing that none of CinDy’s stage subunits made it to the Best 100 this year. And I really liked B4’s Tengoku Yarou, much more CinDy’s older subunits. At least she got to MC on the final day of the concert, albeit short, with fellow AKB original and also SDN48 teammate Yukarin. Of course, CinDy has to have a funny entrance, CinDy is so lovable that way. Much respect to one of the most hardworking troopers in AKB!

#22 - Majisuka Rock n' Roll Skit

It’s Majisuka Gakuen, AKB’s TV series at the time of the concert, on stage! How can I not like that?! And the way it started was so cool too. At the time of the concert, they were only into their third episode, so many of the characters were not portrayed yet, but Acchan turning into the “push-over” Maeda was fun to watch, and so were the other girls portraying their characters! You may notice how Rena underplays her character as looney Gekikara has not debuted on the show that time.

#21 - SKE48 Performances

SKE was not as successful as I wanted, but they got six of their songs in there, which is good nonetheless, Glory Days (#92), Wimbledon he Tsureteitte (#58), Ame no Pianist (#31), Chime wa Love Song (#86), Tsuyukimono yo (#51), and Te wo Tsunaginagara (#27). It was disappointing that my favorite SKE song, Dai Suki, didn't make it, along with many other very good SKE songs. Expectedly, Team KII wouldn't be able to perform this concert since they didn't have an original stage yet (although the AKB Kenkyuuseis did perform), but one of the reasons I loved SKE's performance in this concert even more is that selected members of KII performed with Team S, which included my favorite KII girl Anna Ishida! Anna is not the center of KII, so I'm glad when she gets breaks like this. Sure, I'm glad to see the regular Team S cuties, but I see them more often, they do have their own monthly TV show, but I rarely get to see KII, so seeing Anna perform with Team S on a concert like this is a treat!

Tsuyukimono yo

Anna Ishida

Anna Ishida in Te wo Tsunaginagara

#20 - Kurukurupaa Comes Back

After being the butt of a very funny joke in last year's Best 100, it was a pleasant and funny surprise that it made it back in this year's Best 100, at #80! This is also the only song that was in the first Best 100 (2008), then drop out in 2009, but come back in the Best 100 2010. Way to go, Kana! See, fans do love you!

#19 - Kenkyuusei and Former Kenkyuusei Versions

Normally, I'd be angry that Tadaima Renaichu (#96), my favorite Team A team song, Glass no I Love You (#88), and Tanpopo no Kesshin (#69) was not performed by their original performers, but instead performed by research students, but I totally understood what was happening. Members of Team A had too many songs in the first day, while that was the case with members of Team B on the second day, and there would have been an imbalance in teams performing if the original performers performed them, and the performers themselves would have been too tired, and the costume changes too time consuming, since their performances ranked one after the other. So instead, Tadaima Renaichu was performed by old generation Kenkyuuseis, most of which have been promoted, Glass no I Love You by current generation Kenkyuuseis, and Tanpopo no Kesshin by later generation Kenkyuseis, a few promoted at Budokan. Well, the Kenkyuuseis were actually pretty cute. Of course, most knowledgeable AKB fans are already quite familiar with promoted old generation Kenkyuuseis. Another thing I liked about this is that AKB Management is showing the world that AKB is in good hands if and whenever the original members decide to eventually graduate (which I am hoping will not happen for several more years).

Tadaima Renaichu

Glass no I Love You

Tanpopo no Kesshin

#18 - Some of My Classic Favorites Stayed

I was very happy to see Team K's Nounai Paradise stay, and even gain rank, from #97 last year, to #90 this year. And although one of my favorite AKB songs, Kioku no Dilemma, experienced a huge drop in rankings to go from last year's #12, to this year's #72, I'm glad that it at least stayed (It would have been nicer if Yukirin filled in for Maimai, as she has done before, as Mocchi's voice was too low for the lead of the song, but I like Mocchi, and they made this a pure first era Team K version too). I was glad my favorite song, Yuuhi wo Miteruka? experienced only a slight drop in rankings, from last year's #41 to this year's #48. Also glad to see other favorites stay like Renai Kinshi Jourei (#40), Bingo! (#39) and Tenshi no Shippo (#23). Also, my favorite subunit, Tsundere!, gains rank from last year's #29, to this year's #14! Also glad to see others stay, like Squall no Aida ne (#79), Confession (#83), Himawari (#83), Blue Rose (#52), Junjou Shugi (#46) and Only Today, going strong at #18. Also happy to see Nagai Hikari finally make it in at #71, being absent last year as a very new song. Interestingly, Takeuchi Senpai ranked better, from last year's #96, to this year's #56, while Tonari no Banana has been improving in rank for the three years of the Best 100, #67 in 2008, #46 last year, and #36 this year.

Nounai Paradise

Kioku no Dilemma

Yuuhi wo Miteiruka?


#17 - Tobenai Agehachou Makes It in

I do love the original Undergirls, and I was very happy Tobenai Agehachou made it to the Best 100 at #67.

#16 - Nacchu MC

She’s at it again! Who needs co-MC’s? When Nacchu comes out, everyone seems to have a good time.

Nacchu victimizes Akicha again

Harugon and Nakayan turn the tables on Nacchu

When Nacchu makes a joke, everybody falls down. That's Sayaka rolling all the way down, by the way.

#15 - New Stage Songs Make it

Of course, there are more and more songs eligible every year, making it harder and harder to get in, but I was glad many of my favorite songs from the stages that started last year made it. My favorite B4 song Sobakasu no Kiss made it to #87, Idol no Yoake was at #85, another of my favorite subunits, Dakishimeraretara ranked #59, and Kuchi Utsushi no Chocolate predictably ranked all the way up in #16. One more thing I like about this is that most of these new stage songs have not been performed by the original performers in a big concert stage, making this the first time most of us get to see these outside the Akihabara theater. Although I don't think much of the performance of Zannen Shoujo (#17), I must say that the song fits Mayuyu's vocals exceptionally well, and I have never liked it before I heard Mayuyu actually sing it herself, so I think Mayuyu's version is cool. Also worth noting are Wagamama na Nagareboshi (#56), Mushi no Ballad (#54), Saka Agari (#41), Itoshiki Natasha (#39), Kataomoi no Taikakusen (#22) and Endroll (#20). I said in a previous post ( that Team A was the only old team that didn't get a new stage last year.

Sobakasu no Kiss


Wagamama na Nagareboshi

Mushi no Ballad

Zannen Shoujo

Kuchi Utsushi no Chocolate

#14 - Team B Series

Second day was Team B day; if there was only one concert I could attend out of the four in this series, if I knew the setlists in advance, I would attend this! My favorite team is Team B, of course. Seven songs performed by Team B or its members were performed consecutively (granted, as I said earlier, Tanpopo no Kesshin was performed by Kenkyuuseis, it is still nonetheless a Team B song). It started with #70, with Watarirouka Hashiritai's Shiroi Tulip. When #69, Tanpopo no Kesshin was performed by Kenkyuuseis, I knew this was going to be a big Team B day, much like what happened when Kenkyuuseis performed two Team A songs the first day. Next at #67 was Tobenai Agehachou, almost half of the performers of which are from Team B, and tied with it is a Team B standard, Wasshoi B!, getting Team B together, followed by #66, another Team B team song, Minasan mo go Issho ni. #65 and #64 were Watarirouka Hashiritai's Hatsukoi Dash and Yaruki Hanabi, consecutively, similar to the performance they gave at NHK Hall 2009, although this time, they performed longer versions than the ones performed in NHK Hall!

Wasshoi B!

#13 - Subunit Songs Make It

I'm very happy that all the cover songs of the two eligible singles of my favorite subunit, Watarirouka Hashiritai, made it to the Best 100, with Hatsukoi Dash at #65 and Yaruki Hanabi at #64. I have nothing against AKB's cousin group, I think Idoling!!! has a lot of cute girls, but I enjoyed the all-AKB version of Chu Shiyouze! (#63) more. And although I don't think much about the song (it's an ad), I do love the girls performing Nattou Angels (#30).

Back to back: Hatsukoi Dash and Yaruki Hanabi

Chu Shiyouze!

Nattou Angels

#12 - Shonichi Still Top Team Song

I doubted that Shonichi (#8) would retain last year's #1, but I'm glad that it is at least still the top team song. Two years in a row would be way too much to hope for, but #8 is not bad.

#11 - Kimi no Koto ga Sukidakara Ranks #2

I like Kimi no Koto ga Sukidakara, but I didn't think it would go so high as rank second best! I actually do like River more, but Kimi no even beat the cover track it accompanied! This was a big surprise! Just goes to show the quality of AKB singles these days, even the accompanying tracks are huge hits!

#10 - Iiwake Maybe Ranks #1

When Iiwake Maybe sold less than the single before it, Namida Surprise, I thought fans didn't like my second favorite AKB song. I'm glad that I was wrong and that Iiwake Maybe ranked #1 on its first year in the Best 100. I also just realized that CinDy is the only girl to have been part of the original performance and recording of all three songs that hit #1 in the first three years of the Best 100, the original Sakura no Hanabiratachi, Shonichi, and Iiwake Maybe.

#9 - Graduates Come Back

They were lumped together in a few subunits too! And we had them at the first two songs! Team A graduates Kayano Masuyama, Hitomi Komatani, Risa Narita, and Tomomi Ohe appeared in their original subunit with Maeda Atsuko, 7ji 12fun no Hatsukoi (#100), while Mai Oshima, Ayumi Orii, and Shiho Watanabe rejoined Mariko Shinoda and Yukari Sato at Namida no Shounan (#99). After that, Team K graduates Hayano Kaoru and Ayana Takada rejoined Kana, Meetan and Natsumi for Kurukurupaa (#80). I'm guessing Yu Imai is still studying in the U.S. and couldn't make it back so Maachan filled in for her, though it would have been nice to see her back again. It's also interesting that the Takada sisters were finally able to perform in a big concert like this on the same day (Ayana Takada is the older sister of SKE's Shiori Takada). When I thought we were done with the graduates, Risa Naruse rejoins Team K in Sasae (#48), and as I should have expected, Hana Tojima and Nozomi Kawasaki rejoin Tomochin in Faint (#43). Seeing graduates come back and perform is one of my favorite things about the Best 100, and the way this was executed was excellent.

Risa Narita, Hitomi Komatani, Kayano Masuyama and Tomomi Ohe

Ayumi Orii

Mai Oshima

Shiho Watanabe

Ayana Takada and Hayano Kaoru

Risa Naruse

Hana Tojima and Nozomi Kawasaki

#8 - Because Some Graduates weren't Back, Some Interesting Shuffle-Like Performances

I don't know why Rina Nakanishi wasn't back, but Mocchi filled in again for her, this time in Ashita wa Ashita no Kimi ga Umareru (#50), so I missed her in Chocolove. Maachan filled in for Yu Imai in Kurukurupaa so I will guess she's busy studying in the U.S. I don't know why none of the Team B and Team S graduates came back, but Nakayan filled in for Yuki Matsuoka in Junjou Shugi, Krisu filled in for Reina Noguchi in Tenshi no Shippo, as she has done before, and Masana Oya filled in for the one-month-graduate-at-the-time Moe Yamashita, for Ame no Pianist. Most noticeably, though, was the absence of Mika Saeki; Akicha filled in for her, and did a great job. Aki has one of the most beautiful voices in AKB, making her a great replacement, coupled with a great figure and a pretty face, Aki was a pleasure to watch in Temo Demo no Namida (#12). Since Mai Oshima already performed the first day, Sae this time filled in for her in Bird (#10), and Sae does a great job as usual. It's interesting since Sae isn't even in Team A. Same with Heart Gata Virus (#7), MaiMai and Nozomi Kawasaki had already performed, so they were filled in with Kitarie and Akicha, usual replacements for them during stage performances before they graduated.

Aki Takajo performs Temo Demo no Namida

Sae Miyazawa performs Bird

#7 - Subunits' Singles' Additional Tracks Make It

Even the additional tracks of No Sleeves' and Watarirouka Hashiratai's singles made it! This is quite a feat, especially considering more songs were competing this year. I don't think there were even performances for these additional tracks, and if that was the case, then the performances were specially made for this concert and were performed for the first time. And they weren't bad performances at all! One of my favorite No Sleeves' song, Girls' Talk, additional track of Relax!, ranked #89, while Watarirouka Hashiritai's Shiroi Tulip, additional track to Yaruki Hanabi, ranked #70. Ren'ai Athlete, another additional track to Yaruki Hanabi, didn't make it, though I like it as much as Shiroi Tulip, and neither did Aoi Mirai, additional track to Hatsukoi Dash. Either way, watching Girls' Talk and Shiroi Tulip performances for the first time on a big concert like this was such a treat!

Girls' Talk

Shiroi Tulip

#6 - No Sleeves and Its Many Personas

Persona is my favorite boy band! They're the handsomest boyband I've ever seen! Ok, they're not really boys, they're characters in a former AKB TV series Ikemendol, which I loved, and seeing No Sleeves suit up again as Persona and perform the two songs of Persona on a big AKB concert is a huge treat, especially for those of us who miss Ikemendol. No Sleeves Girls' Talk made the first day at #89, and at day 2, Persona started with Christmas Present, at #61. Takamina, Haruna and Miichan had to change costumes quickly as they had to become their regular female selves as they had to perform Bye Bye Bye right after, at #60, a song they performed even before they became No Sleeves. Day 3 had them perform Junai no Crescendo, at #35, another song they performed even before they became No Sleeves, and then came Tane, a No Sleeves' single, at #28. Final day had my favorite non-stage subunit song, No Sleeves' Relax!, at #18, which was also the theme song of Ikemendol, and they suit up again to become Persona to perform the original Persona song, 3 Seconds, ranking high at #9.

Christmas Present

Bye Bye Bye

Junai no Crescendo



3 Seconds

#5 - First Love Ranks High

An additional track to Namida Surprise, and theme song of an Anime, Erena Ono's solo First Love is one of my favorite AKB songs. Erepyon performs it so beautifully too. I was very happy that this not only got in the Best 100, but ranked very high at #26.

#4 - Jurina Performs Wimbledon he Tsureteitte

At first, I was happy that Wimbledon he Tsureteitte, one of my favorite subunits, made it to the Best 100 at #58. Then, I was disappointed that they didn't bring back Tsukina Takai. I so wanted to see her back and perform this again. But, I was happy that at least they replaced Tsukina with Jurina; if there was only one girl they could replace Tsukina with at Wimbledon, the only acceptable replacement would have been Jurina. And Jurina hardly missed a step! She did great! Granted, she was taller than Kumi and Sayuki, but since she is the youngest of the original Wimbledon girls, she still fit. It was a treat to see Jurina with Kumi and Sayuki perform my favorite SKE subunit, and it was a great performance.

Jurina and Sayuki


#3 - CinDy and Nacchan Rejoin Team A for Dear My Teacher

Just when I thought I'd never see CinDy perform with Team A again, AKB Management throws this treat! And what a sweet treat it is! CinDy and Nacchan, original members of AKB48, rejoin their original team to perform this AKB classic, that's been around since the first stage, and is the additional track to their very first single. Interestingly enough, it also gained rank from last year's #68 to this year's #42. It was #5 in the first year of the Best 100.



#2 - Everyone Starts Dancing to Minasan mo go Issho Ni

In the first day, as was with the previous Best 100, the girls sitting at the back would normally just sit, and the most they would do would be hand movements of the dance, along with singing with the song, if not just watching or chatting. But on day 2, it started with Wasshoi B! (#67) The part where Team B sits down and jumps up to cheer Wasshoi, some of the girls at the background started jumping along! Right after Wasshoi B! was Minasan mo go Issho ni (#66), and right at the beginning, who stands up and dances to the crazy song? Team K captain Sayaka Akimoto! She sits for a bit, but not for long, soon enough Sayaka is dancing crazy again, and everyone is standing up and dancing! After this, the girls in the back danced to many other songs in the rest of the concert series, but it started with Minasan mo go Issho ni! It was so fun, I wanted to be there! I would have been dancing along too! And I don't dance! It's so fitting too, Minasan mo go Issho ni, when translated to english, means "All Together Now".

Girls in the background start jumping with Team B in Wasshoi B!

At the beginning of Minasan mo go Issho ni, Sayaka stands up and starts dancing, seen in the background still wearing her Kimi wa Pegasus costume

Soon enough, everyone is standing up and dancing

Sayaka just having fun!

#1 - Meetan Kisses Kasai on Video During Oshibe to Meshibe to Yoru no Chouchou

I know Meetan's character, and that she likes to kiss the younger members, and I've seen the fun pictures, but this is the first time I've seen her do it on video! I don't know if the kiss in Oshibe to Meshibe to Yoru no Chouchou (#62) was ever real, they always cover it up so I believe the kiss is always faked, but this time, the camera was in the right angle to capture the kiss on video, suggesting this kiss was very much planned. And was it awsum! That's why we love Meetan! I get the feeling that Oshibe to Meshibe will not drop out of next year's Best 100. And I wonder what stunt will Meetan pull next year! And I don't know if it was scripted, or if Meetan did something to her, but Kasai's giggle in the end was an excellent ending!