Saturday, November 17, 2012

Author Interview- Dan O' Brien

It's been a long while since I reviewed an author. Here's a new author interview from an upcoming fantasy writer, Dan O'Brien whose novel 'The Path of the The Fallen' has received rave reviews on amazon.


TRIVIA


Favorite color- Blue

Favorite author- Ernest Hemmingway

Favorite book- Les Miserables

Zodiac sign- Libra

Place of your dreams- Mendocino Coast

Your motto- "There are no limits, only mountains you are unwilling to climb."

On to the serious questions....

Is the life of a writer as you imagined it to be?
When I first started writing and publishing over a decade ago, I had very different ideas about what being a writer was. Now, it is as I imagine it to be: a joyful struggle tempered by a will to succeed. I love writing and I love sharing what I have written with others.

What genre do you write and why?
I write in a variety of genres; the only genres I have yet to write in are romance and Westerns (though a Western is the works). I love to write fantasy and science fiction, though horror can be fun as I end scaring the daylights out of myself.



What inspires you the most?
People who do more than is expected of them, or what they are told they can achieve. Despite the content and endings of my novels, I like when there is a happy ending, though it has to be believable. Life has too many unhappy endings as it is, so I love to watch or read something that pushes the limits of the human experience and then believably overcomes the obstacles.

What kind of characters/ settings do you like?
I love any book as long as it is well written, though I do love fantasy and science fiction the most. Lost worlds and distant realms top my list of settings that I love. Characters who are not predictable or push the boundaries of an archetype are by far my favorite, with antiheroes and villains topping the list.

As a reader, what is your favorite genre? What is your least favorite and why?
Fantasy would have to be my favorite, though I adore historical fiction. Romance would be at the bottom. I never really got into them and I imagine I am not the target audience.



Have you ever suffered the dreaded writer's block? How do you deal with it?
I generally don't get it because I have so many books going at any particular time. If I reach a point in the book where I want to contemplate where it is going, then I simply jump to another novel I am writing.

What message would you like to give to your fans?
Support of indie authors makes this whole process so rewarding. Leave reviews and tell your friends, as indie authors need that word-of-mouth. Be sure to visit my on blog (http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/) to stay up-to-date on what is going down with my publishing schedule.

Thank you and wish you all the best for your latest novel!


You can find information about Dan's other books here: http://www.amazon.com/Dan-OBrien/e/B0079T7TCC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
You can purchase his latest book, The path of the fallen here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Path-Fallen-Volume-1/dp/1470177900/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348514673&sr=8-1&keywords=the+path+of+the+fallen+dan+obrien
The kindle version can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Path-Fallen-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B009D2PNIU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1348514673&sr=8-2&keywords=the+path+of+the+fallen+dan+obrien

Friday, November 2, 2012

Zard Golden best ~15th Anniversary~ jpop album review part 2

Sorry for not posting anything in almost a month. I will try to be more regular in November. Anyway, here is the review of CD 2 of Zard's Golden best. I already reviewed the first CD in the previous post which also contains information about the album like sales etc. Here is the CD 2 review

1. My friend- The lyrics of this track are heartwearming and the bittersweet relationship between friends is expressed in an optimistic way by the cheerful tune accompanied by brass instruments and a cheerful instrumental. This was the ending of Slam Dunk and sold more than a million copies. Agin, ZARD's vocals sound happy as she remembers her childhood friend. Sakai reaches some really high notes on this track with effortless ease.
Rating-5/5

2. Kokoro wo hiraite- My friend is followed my another upbeat track. It strts out a slow tempo acoustic track. Then it explodes into a cheerful chorus while still retaining its feeling.
Rating- 4.3/5

3. Today is another day- This also starts out slow with just a piano intro then the guitars come in along with the brass instruments to create a lively atmosphere. There is something very feel good about this track. As Sakai sings the verse, there is a feeling of just riding a bike in the wind. This song seems like a tribute to everyday. The chorus is not high but flows well with the song.
Rating-4.5/5

4. Don't you see- As most ZARD songs, ZARD sings the verse to an accompaniment of piano and guitar. It has a calm and mellow atmosphere, but the energy level keeps building up. Even though there is nothing special about it, it is just an uptempo pop track, it's chorus is very powerful and Sakai's clear vocals are the highlight. \
Rating-4.2/5

5. Eien- Unlike most songs on this CD, Eien is a pure slow, acoustic ballad. The background instruments are kept to a minimum to ensure that ZARD's voice shines. It sounds like a ballad that plays in dramas at the scene when the main character is looking back at memories. It is a very relaxing track.
Rating-4.3/5

6. My baby grand- A typical ZARD uptempo acoudtic track. Not as good or catchy as some other tracks on this album. But it is not bad, either. It is something that could keep playing in the background and you would never notice.
Rating-4/5

7. Unmei no Roulette Mawashite- This has a darker tone. It also has heavier guitars. It sounds a bit like Ai ga mienai. It is fast paced and could almost be a dance track. The beat is strong.
Rating-4.5/5

8. Get u're dream- Another track with a dance feel. The instrumental has a retro feel to it. The verse is mellow but good. The beat is very rythmic. ZARD's singing shows a lot of dynamics on this track.
Rating-4.7/5

9. Motto chikaku de kimi no yokogao miteitai- The chorus, if it had a different arrangement would be an epic ballad. It has a japanese feel. The chorus is very loud and powerful. In contrst, the verse is almost like mumbling. It has a very mysterious tone. Listening to the track, a strong feeling of longing takes over.
Rating-4.8/5

10. Kyou wa yukkuri hanasou- A track that has some folk elements. It flows easily and is accompanied by a bright arrangement.
Rating-4.2/5

11. Hoshi no kagayaki yo- An average pop track which doesn't have anything unique. The chorus sounds like an anime song, it's fast paced. It has chime instruments which make it sound like stars after the chorus.
Rating- 4/5

12. Natsu matsu sail noyouni- Clearly the most mediocre track on this album. It's too laid back to be good, and even though it is uptemp, the melody fails to make an impact.
Rating-3.4/5

13.
Heart no hi wo tsukete- It has a clapping kind of rhythm, which make sit easy to listen to.

Rating-4.1/5

Overall, Golden best is a must buy, whether you are a new fan or an old fan. It contains ZARD's best tracks in a great sequence. Even though some of her amazing new songs like Tsubasa wo hirogete and Shoujo no koro modotta mitai ni were not on it, it is neverthless the best ZARD compilation till date. All other complation, even from the same time period don't contain all these great single tracks together.

ZARD's brand of pop is easy listening, but not boring. It has a lot of emotion (especially songs on CD1) and most melodies are very catchy. CD 1 was slightly better in my opinion because of variety while CD 2 was also great but was filled with very similar upbeat, uptempo pop tracks. ZARD's lyrics and voice will definitely mersmerize you. It might sound a bit oldish to some people, but you will start loving it after a few listens.

Overall rating-4.9/5

Friday, September 28, 2012

J-pop album review ZARD Golden Best ~15TH Anniversary~



ZARD is one of the highest selling acts in j-pop history with music station ranking them at #8. ZARD started out as a band but slowly because Izumi Sakai's solo project. ZARD songs are usually acoustic, easy listening pop tracks. All lyrics are written by Sakai herself and according to me, are a high poit of ZARD's work because her lyrics are really good.

This album has 2 CDs. Usually, I review albums as a whole, but I haven't had time to listen to the second CD so I am just reviewing the 1st CD for now.

CD1

1. Goodbye my Lonliness- This was ZARD's debut single. The use of piano is prominent, but there are guitars as well. The song has a melancholic and 'rainy' atmosphere, which reminds one of lonliness. ZARD's vocals are crystal clear and sharp, but they sound too happy for such a sad song. There is a saxophone part towards the end which is really good. The instrumental part of this song (into, outro, saxophone part) are all really good.

Raing-4.8/5

2. Nemurenai Yoru wo Daite (Embrace the sleepless nights)- This follows a somewhat generic pattern of 80s pop, but doesn't sound as oldish. ZARD hits some pretty high notes in this song. It is basically an acoustic pop song. It does tend to get boring at times.

Rating-4/5

3. In my arms tonight- The instumental intro is very melodic and somewhat jazzy, like a slow dance song. ZARD's voice is full of nostalgia and yearning in this song, which suits the song perfectly. I think this is my most favorite track on this album. There is just something about this song- the extremely melodic chorus, the nostalgic verse, but it all comes together brilliantly in the end to produce a very emotional track. The lyrics are very fitting.

Rating- 5/5

4. Makenaide (Don't give up)- This is ZARD's highest selling single. It sold more than a million. It is an upbeat and bouncy track with optimistic vocals. The lyrics are wonderful, and the melody perfectly matches the spirit of the song.

Rating-4.8/5

5. Kimi ga Inai (You're not here)- This track starts off badly. I didn't think the chorus was all that good, but the verse is nice, even though the transition between the verses and chorus is jerky. This is an alright track, nothing spectacular. Before trying this album, I was hesitant to try something from ZARD because I thought that most of their songs are just generic acoustic pop songs with mediocre melodies. This one supports that kind of thinking perfectly.

Rating-3.5/5

6. Yureru Omoi (Trembling feelings) - The chorus is high and catchy. The verse is more easy listening, but what this song showcases is Sakai's vocal ability. This was another million seller for ZARD. I don't like the lyrics so much, because it's full of meaningless description, but the song is good.

Rating-4.3/5

7. Mou Sukoshi Ato Sukoshi (Just a bit more, just a bit longer)- The lyrics are heartbreaking about a love that has ended, but Sakai wants to hold onto it desperately. The melody is quite melancholic and mysterious. It has a good flow and captures the feeling very well. The arrangement is also minimilastic and supports the song well.

Rating-4.8/5

8. Kitto Wasurenai (Surely, I will not forget)- This is a happy pop track with guitars, drums and all.

Rating-3.9/5

9. Kono Ai ni Oyogitsukaretemo (Even if I get tired of swimming in this love)- This song sounds mysterious. It is different from the kind of tracks ZARD usually does. It starts off with almost no instruments in the background and increases the speed and adds more instrument as every verse passes by. The lyrics are about love when it gets hard. As always, the lyrics are realistic and optimistic at the same time.

Rating-4.8/5

10. Oh my love- This is a spring pop tune. It sounds a bit like In my arms tonight. I like it when ZARD uses english words in her song. It gives them a somewhat jazzy, modern feel. This song is a great easy listening track.

Rating-4.8/5

11. Konna ni soba ni iru no ni (Even though I am this close to you)- Some ZARD songs have really long titles. This sounds more like a disco song from the 70s, even though the beat has been toned down a bit. ZARD shows her versatility by singing a different tupe of song. It has a dark tone.

Rating- 4.2/5

12. Anata wo Kanjiteitai (I want to feel you)- This is a cheerful pop song with chimes and stuff. ZARD's vocals sound powerful on this one, but the melody is not very remarkable.

Rating-4/5

13. Ai ga mienai (I can't see the love)- This song starts off  like a dance song with a strong beat. The melody sounds minor and moody. I really like the lyrics, which speak about how everyone is caught up in the rush of life and becomes lonely and about how love slowly fades and bcomes discord. I think the lyrics are different from ZARD's usual positive lyrics, as if she is reflecting on life. As always, the melody is a perfect fit for the lyrics.

Rating-5/5

14. Sayonara wa ima mo kono mune ni imasu (Goodbyes remain in my heart now)- This finishes the first CD perfectly. It is a breezy, easy listening track with a somewhat summery feel.

Rating-4.5/5

ZARD had their own brand of pop, which while not catchy, is easy listening with great repeat value. Sakai's vocals and lyrics are the the best and bring out the full potential of every song. Definitely try out this wonderful artist.

Best j-pop dance songs

Like all other industries, danceable songs are really popular in the j-pop industry as well. There are a lot of groups that do dance tracks and some of these songs (as well as their choreography) is brilliant. Here is a list of dance songs that I think are the best. Obviously, I have not heard every dance song, so feel free to comment with your favorites.

The songs are in no particular order of preference and are not rated.

1. Give me a shake by MAX- MAX is a group from Okinawa. The girls used to be part of Super Monkeys with Namie Amuro but are now a separate group. MAX has high-impact, powerful choreography and are nothing like the cardboard-cutout cutesy idols. Most of their songs are really well written. Give me a shake is one of their most popular songs and features really powerful vocals for a dance song. Its rhythm is easy to follow.


2. Feel so Right by MAX- This is another song by MAX. It also features great dance moves and has a strong beat. It features low parts which showcases MAX's vocals. It is a song that will get you addicted on first listen. It was the ending theme of captain tsubasa.


3. BODY FEELS EXIT by Namie Amuro- This was Namie's debut single and is still one of her most powerful singles. The vocals are a bit high pitches and nasal, especially compared to Namie's current vocals, but the song has a strong melody with a latin-like atmosphere. Namie has also done a lot of good dance tracks. UNUSUAL, a collaboration with Yamashita Tomoshisa as well as some other tracks on her CHECKMATE album are really good too.


4. Can't stop Falling in love by globe- Tetsuya is a famous dance music producer and his own band globe has a great wealth of good dance songs in its discography. Can't stop falling in love really stands out in my opinion because of its mellowness even though it is a dance track.


5. Beginner by AKB48- This is a techno-dance track by girl group AKB48. The dance moves are quite good and this song is different from what AKB48 usually does. It is quite unique for a dance song because it features comparatively girly vocals with multiple vocalists. I think Seifuku ga jama wo suru by AKB48 is also a good dance track, though it might sound a bit oldish.


6. Computer City by Perfume- Although perfume is an electropop group, their songs are seriously danceable. Polyrythm, Love the world and chocolate disco are some of their other tracks which are very good.


7. Realize by Nami Tamaki- This is a dance song with strong vocals. IIt was used as the ending for Gundam seed and has a somewhat 'superhero anime' feel. But it sounds mysterious in the chorus.


8. Angelus by Hitomi Shimatani- This is a latin-inspired song by Hitomi Shimatani. She usually does crossover songs with a strong dance element. Out of all her dance songs, Angelus stands out most because of the energy in the song. It starts with a brass intro and choppy verses accompanied by Hitomi's fluid vocals.


9. The boys by Girl's generation- This song is seriously addictive. The more you listen to it, the more addicted you will get. Girl's generation is a relatively new act in the j-pop scene and they are rapidly gaining popularity. The beats are strong and the girls' voice has enough attitude to pull such a song off smoothly. The dance moves are beautiful and will keep your eyes glued to the screen. A flawless track but it takes a few listens to stick on you.


10. TABOO by Koda Kumi- This is a club dance track by Koda Kumi. Her sandpaper like gruff vocals just take this song to another level. There are no high parts, but teh main highlight of this song is Koda Kumi's voice, which is perfectly suited for dance tracks. She has produced many other great dance tracks in her career like FREAKY, JUICY and SHAKE IT. SHAKE IT is a really good album track with arabian elements, so you may want to give it a try.

So that ends my list of teh best dance j-pop tracks. Hopefully, as I listen to more amazing dance songs, I will add them to this list or make another list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jpop album review- EXILE Ballad Best


EXILE has become quite popular in Japan with their string of million sellers earning them a coveted spot among the best-selling jpop acts of all time. Here's a review of their ballad best which was a million seller.


1) Ti Amo- This successful million seller hits off in the right direction with the intriguing Spanish influenced Ti Amo. This song has bounce and rhythm while managing to incorporate a deep sense of pain and mystery. The lyrics automatically come across as sad and painful. Atsushi and Takahiro’s vocals are at their best here with both of them singing one emotional sentence after another. The beat and melody are probably the strongest point of this single. Ti Amo starts the album with high expectations.

4.8/5

2) Lovers Again- A karaoke favourite. Lovers Again follows the rhythm of Ti Amo while incorporating a wintry feel. This happens to be the biggest difference between the two. The chorus carries on in a typical EXILE style with a strong beat and emotional vocals.

4.6/5

]3) Your eyes only ~Aimai na boku no katachi~- Your eyes only is a popular EXILE ballad. This song sounds very similar to Lovers Again but with a little less ‘wintry’ feel. Falsettos are liberally used especially in the beginning and end. The chorus moves onto a higher plane. This song has slightly less beat than the previous two but manages to be a decent track.

4.4/5

4) Song for you- Song for you breaks a little bit from the mold with an elaborate orchestral intro. The airy and bouncy vocals slowly come in till the song reaches an emotional climax. This song is a lot less emotional compared to the previous three. It has a breezy atmosphere with a pinch of melancholy. The chorus is airy and R&B-ish.

4/5

5) We will ~Ano basho e~- This song has a lot less beat than any other song. It starts off with a quiet verse devoid of any drum beats. The chorus has a classical/orchestral feel that adds to the value of the song. After the breezy Song for you, We Will manages to sound quite dramatic.

4.1/5

6) Unmei no hito- Starts off with a jazzy piano introduction and follows in the style of the orchestral We Will. It is an emotional track but does not bring in anything new to the album. It is quite similar to We will and lacks a beat as well.

4/5

7) Holy Night- This is probably one of the most unique and experimental songs in the album. Holy Night is an acapella song that lets Atsushi and Takahiro’s powerful vocals shine through. Acapella is not very common among pop artists. EXILE took a risk with this one that paid off. The chorus escalates in power till the main vocals and harmonies form a perfect balance. This gospel track manages to be a stand out track and one of the most powerful ones on this album.

4.5/5

8) Last Christmas- Begins in the style of Holy night with bare harmonies and flows into a bouncy beat. This is a cover of Wham’s hit Last Christmas. It follows well after Holy night. It was released as a single as well.

4.2/5

9) Tada....Aitakute- Tada.....Aitakute is the best selling single of EXILE’s cover. For that, it is quite unspectacular. Tad......Aitakute is a wintry ballad devoid of beat. Atushi and Takahiro do their best here to bring out emotion. Tada Aitakute is nothing great but manages to stand out after the bouncy Last Christmas.

4/5

10) Boku e- Boku e is a piano ballad devoid of beat. Frankly, it offered nothing special to the album. The emotion, melody etc. Were all there but this track doesn’t stand out after Tada Aitakute which was quite similar.

4/5

11) Kawaranai mono- Kawaranai mono picks up the typical EXILE style of ballads with beat and sadness. It is a little different from Boku e but the chorus is quite weak. Definitely not one of the better tracks in this album.

3.8/5

12) Michi- Michi has a mix of beat, piano, orchestra and emotional vocals. However, it doesn’t take away the monotony of the album which seems to be setting in at this point but rather reinforces it. Despite being a good track, this offers nothing to the album.

3.7/5

13) One love- One love is a piano ballad that is quiet and lacks beat or any other instrument. Since this song comes towards the end, it fits the mood well. In terms of emotion or high notes, one love is mediocre.

4/5

14) Love, dream and happiness- For the ending tracks, this song is quite upbeat and breezy. It has a strong easy listening vibe to it that kind of reminds me of Koda Kumi’s Wind. The chorus is airy and R&B/Hip hop influenced. Quite a typical song coming from EXILE. There are some female vocals in the end.

4/5

Overall, EXILE Ballad best, though not wildly original is an album that has a lot of re-listening value. Atsushi and Takahiro’s vocals are powerful, emotional and consistent throughout the album. Some songs like Lovers again, Ti amo and Holy night manage to be quite distinct and leave an impact. The album easily falls into easy listening because EXILE’s vocals are easy on the ears and their ballads have beat. EXILE’s ballads are no power ballads but they shine in their unique style. What the album lacks the most is originality. The tracks are similar sounding. For EXILE fans, this is a great album to buy. For others who enjoy ballads but are new to EXILE’s style, this can prove to be a good try. Some of their songs have a western styles and can probably impress western singers and music judges.

Pros

Vocals
Style
Songs
Re-listen value

Cons

Repetitive
Best- does not contain many new songs





Wednesday, September 19, 2012

J-pop album review- Cover You by morning musume



Cover You is a cover album by popular j-pop idol group morning musume. It contains songs written by the late lyricist and novel writer Yu Aku, who is the highest selling lyricist of all time in Japan followed by Tak Matsumoto and Tetsuya Komuro.

1. Nagisa no Sinbad (Sinbad of the beach)- I had already heard this song on Pink lady best album and also reviewed it, but this time the vocals are by morning musume. There is hardly any variation from the original. It just sounds cuter and more girlish due to morning musume's much more high-pitched and sugary vocals. It is quite a short song but extremely catchy. It is a breezy pop summer song.
Rating-4.8/5

2. Dou ni mo tomaranai (Just can't stop it) - Originally by Linda Yamamoto but I have never heard her version. Morning musume's voices sound a bit more mature and oldish here than the previous track. This song is like a disco samba tune extremely reminiscent of the 80s.
Rating-4/5

3. Izakaya (Pub)- This is an enka song. This song is a real gem. It has a smooth and rythmic arrangement. Right from the opening instrumental, it draws you in. It is a duet with Itsuki Hiroshi, a famous enka singer who also sang the male parts in the original. Takahashi Ai does the female parts. Her voice sounds nothing like an enka singer, but its mellowness fits well in this song. This song is brilliant from start to finish. A real standout enka song.
Rating-5/5

4. Pepper Keibu (Inspector Pepper)- I really like the lyrics of this song. Like Nagisa no Sinbad, I have already listened to this song on Pink lady's best album. Morning musume version is more like karaoke, because they have altered nothing in this song.
Rating-4/5

5. Shiroi chou no samba (Samba of white butterflies)- An okay song. Sounds oldish. Morning musume's voices did nothing for this song. The verse repeats a lot of times in the song.
Rating-3.8/5

6. Seishun Jidai (Youth)- This song has some rock elements and there is use of electric guitars. It is different from morning musume's usual style.
Rating-4.5/5

7. Ringo Satsujin Jiken (Apple murder case)- Seriously, I don't like this song. It would have been an alright song, except that annoying 'funifunifunifuni' part just gets on my nerves. Morning musume's high pitched voices sound really nasal on that part. As soon as that part comes in, I really feel like skipping this song.
Rating-3.8/5

8. Romance- This is definitely 80s sounding. That sharp 'ting ting' sound (I don't know what instument that is) is quite prominent in the arrangement. It's verse sounds like it's part of some dance song. It is much like the verse of many MAX songs. But the chorus brings it back to pop. Quite an interesting song that sounds a bit melancholic.
Rating- 4.8/5

9. Machi no Akari (Streetlights/Lights of the streets)- A very easy listening ballad. This song could best be described as 'mellow'. It has a haunting atmosphere and really makes you feel like you are standing in the middle of a cold street with streetlights on at night.
Rating-4.7/5

10. Koi no dial 6700 (Love's dial 6700)- I actually think the concept of the song is quite good. A number to dial for love. There are all kinds of telephone noises in the beginning and thoughout random parts of the song. The lyrics are also cute and about being unable to express love.
Rating-4.5/5

11. Pin Pon Pan Taiso- This is a really unique song because it is a children's song (at least I think it is). If you read the lyrics translation, this fact becomes evident. It is full of amazing tigers, crocodiles and such things. It also seems like an exercise song, because of the part division. It's structure is not like that of most pop songs. It talks about a different creature or event in each verse and the melody is also different.
Rating-4.1/5

12. Watashi no Aoi Tori (My Blue bird) - A nice easy listening ballad, but seems a bit monotonous compared to the other songs on this album. It has no high vocals parts or anything to make it seem special.
Rating-3.8/5



13. Johnny e no dengon (Letter to Johnny) - It has high parts which Morning musume manages quite well. It is also a ballad, but I found it stuck in my head after a few listens. It has a 'leaving town' atmosphere and that's what this song is about anyway.
Rating-4.5/5

14. UFO- Another Pink lady classic. This song has interesting lyrics and an 'extraterrestrial' sounding arrangement. Morning musume has once again, not changed the arrangement or anything else about this song.
Rating-5/5

Overall, a good album where you can listen to many older j-pop songs which you might not have a chance to hear by various artists. Morning musume did not alter any of the original structures or arrangements significantly so this really sounded like a karaoke session. But not too bad.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

J-Drama Review- Kaeru no Oujosama



I have been watching this drama for a while now (and it's over). Kaeru no Oujosama has the alternate title of The princess and the frog and from what is narrated in the drama, the story has a slightly different japanese version.
Kaeru no Oujosama is a musical drama that is an aural treat for all the jpop fans, especially those who like or want to hear older songs. The drama is quite recent (2012) but gives an oldish feeling because most of it happens in a small town.

Kaeru no Oujosama is the story of a city choir, the Chansons, who try to save the town's music hall from being scraped to build a waste treatment plant. Chansons, which was a four memeber female choir holds auditions and accepts new members to make them better. Amami Yuki plays Mio Kurasaka, the Chansons' coach from Broadway who is originally from Yume town. She helps everyone improve their lives and overcome their problems with music. Roughly, one episode is dedicated to each member's story with Amami Yuki, Yuko Oshima and the male lead (Zeruel) having more than one episode.

I like the drama because it is very touching and shows how music can make ordinary lives seem extraordinary. Amami Yuki is the driving force behind the Chansons and the drama. Her character and personality were certainly unique.

The Chansons start of as an amateur choir with no experience in singing or dancing but Mio trains them hard and keeps spotting gigs for them, making them quite good by the end of the show. There are instances when her Broadway past comes up but it keeps going underground again.

The best part of the drama is probably watching the transformations which can be very touching and inspiring. Through music, The Chansons give everyone in the choir as well as the town hope and teach them to believe in miracles. After watching the drama, I felt that music is such a powerful tool in bringing about positive change. These days, the music industry has become totally commercial with songs being released only to earn profits and achieve fame (not so much in Japan as in other countries). In these times, the drama shines more and makes us remember the true meaning of music.

The actors do their part well mostly because they need to sing more than act. Amami Yuki definitely remains the star of the show. Her experience in acting shines through here. The personalities of the characters in the choir was distinct and each came from a different background, adding to variety in the drama. Yuko Oshima's acting was a little bland but her singing was fine.

Kaeru no Oujosama kind of reminds me of GTO, I don't know why. It has the similar feel of one student discovering their potential in each episode under Onizuka/Amami's guidance. More than that, each GTO episode was a tear-jerker just like each Kaeru no Oujosama episode. This is a drama that has made me cry in a long time.

If you love j-pop, you'll love this drama. I knew a lot of songs in the drama but when I heard them in the context of the drama and the episodes, their meaning became clearer to me and I can appreciate them more now. The prime example of one of such songs is Dreams Come True's Nando Demo. I have heard this song so many times but when it features in the sixth episode, it brings a new meaning and angle to the lyric interpretation that I did not focus on. Other songs that I recognized included Momoe Yamaguchi's This is my trial, Playback, Imitation Gold, Yokosuka story, Yumi Matsutoya's Hello my frind, Chage and Aska's Yah yah yah, , Kome Kome Club's Romantic flight, Princess Princess' M, Sugar's Wedding Bell and some others that I am forgetting. A lot of the songs are from the 80s, 70s time period sung in show choir style. Songs I liked but hadn't listened to earlier were Kaze ni naritai (which I found better than the original), Miagetegoran yoru no hoshii etc.

The story wasn't wildly original or anything. We've seen these kind of stories many times. But, the interpretation and script stood out. The songs were appropriate and well-placed. Character development was the strongest point of this drama. The characterisation was strong as well. The setting was a little bland and quiet. I know it is a small town but there are hardly any people on the streets (a total contrast toTokyo). The script, in fact was well done. The ideas, development and lines were crafted well to appeal emotionally to the audience- japanese excel at these kinds of things.

Before I wind up, I want to mention the tale of the princess and the frog. As far as I know it, the princess kisses the frog and it transforms into a prince. But in the drama, the princess calls the frog to the palace but repulsed by its ugliness, slams it on the wall. That instant, it becomes a prince. This kind of behavior is often comapred to Mio Kurasaka's harsh words that actually help the members become better.

Overall, I quite liked the drama probably because I like j-pop. This year, there have been a lot of mediocre releases and Kaeru no Oujosama seems better to most. I am watching Rich man, poor woman currently and I'll review it sometime in the future when it ends. Despite the good plot and acting, the drama did not have stellar ratings or anything. Nevertheless, for anyone looking for inspiration or wanting to break the monotony of romance dramas, Kaeru no Oujosama is a welcome change. Needless to say, it is a must watch for j-pop fans.

Story-4/5
Acting-4/5
Script-4.6/5
Music- 4.6/5
Overall- 4.5/5

Pros

Refreshing
Touching
Amami's acting'
Character development
Music

Cons

Typical story
Some actors lack experience/ do not act all that well

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review- Sophie Kinsella- Can You Keep a Secret?


Sophie Kinsella is the Queen of Chick-lit. I've read most of her stand-alone books and a few in the Shopaholic series. Can you keep a secret? follows her style of clumsy/clueless heroine and a funny plot. Here's the synopsis from her website:

Emma is sitting on a turbulent plane. She’s always been a v. nervous flyer. She really thinks that this could be her last moment. So, naturally enough, she starts telling the man sitting next to her – quite a dishy American, but she’s too frightened to notice -all her innermost secrets. How she scans the backs of intellectual books and pretends she’s read them. How she does her hair up like Princess Leia in her bedroom. How she’s not sure if she has a G-spot, and whether her boyfriend could find it anyway. How she feels like a fraud at work – everyone uses the word ‘operational’ all the time but she hasn’t a clue what it means. How the coffee at work is horrible. How she once threw a troublesome client file in the bin. If ever there was a bare soul, it’s hers.


She survives the flight, of course, and the next morning the famous founding boss of the whole mega corporation she works for is coming for a look at the UK branch. As he walks around, Emma looks up and realises…
It’s the man from the plane.
What will he do with her secrets? He knows them all – but she doesn’t know a single one of his. Or… does she?

Can you keep a secret? is one of the few interesting books I've read recently. The heroine is clumsy but pure hearted and tries to find something for herself. She is crushed by her family and uber-successful cousin but keeps going. Emma is a heroine almost every woman can relate to. She's lies about her weight, is clumsy, doesn't understand technical terms and wants true love. The fact that she has so many secrets also makes it easy for anyone to relate to her because everyone has secrets.
The hero was a little one dimensional compared to the heroine. He was too secretive and didn't have any prominent personality trait. But, this is a chick lit and not a romance (though romance plays a huge part). The chemistry was fine because the hero was alpha

The supporting characters were quite interesting. Jemima, Emma's roommate with a ruthless apetite for vengeance stood out quite a bit. She was charged and funny. Her other roommate was relatable.

The plot was good for a chick lit. Although many events were predictable. Emma has so many secrets that she comes across as a liar at some point.
Sophie Kinsella's writing style is the strongest point of the story. She makes the story humourous and easy to relate to. Her character's internal monologues are distinct and funny.

Overall, Can you keep a secret? is a very good read. I definitely recommend Sophie Kinsella to everyone. I like her stand-alones more than her Shopaholic series. Can you keep a secret? is a funny novel that is as good as entertainment gets.

Characters-4.5/5
Plot- 4/5
Dialogue- 4.5/5
Enjoyment/entertainment- 4.5/5
Overall- 4.6/5

Pros

Stong main character
Strong supporting characters
Dialogue
Humour
Sophie Kinsella's writing style
Idea

Cons

Hero
A litte weak towards the end

Book review- Romancing Mr. Bridgerton


I have been wanting to try Julia Quinn for a long while. I read her book To Sir Philip, With Love long ago but got bored halfway. This time, I tried to try the fourth book. I've been reading so many romance novels that I don't have the time to review them. II read the first book in the Bridgerton series- The Duke and I before this. I suggest reading at least one book that comes before this one in the series to fully appreciate the character of Penolope and Lady Whistledown in this book.

So far, this is the only Julia Quinn book I've finished reading beyond the epilogue- that must say something about it. Penolope was an interesting character from the beginning. She makes her first appearance in the first book as a debutante in a ball. She's dressed by her mother in unflattering colors that make her look like 'an over ripe citrus fruit' in her own words. While her mother believes in her sisters' beauty and ability, Penolope seems to be destined to be a spinster. She fails to attract even a single marriage offer season after season and grows old as a spinster with her dear friend Eloise Bridgerton. Since she is Eloise's friend, the Bridgertons treat her as a part of the family and the Bridgerton mother forces her sons to dance with her year after year during balls so that she does not feel left out. However, Penolope knows that she's not any more interesting than the furnishings in the room.
She has always been in love with the third Bridgerton son, Colin (They're named alphabetically) because he is always kind to her. But she knows that this unrequitted love is not going to ever bloom because she hears him telling his brothers he doesn't want to marry her. Also, he's travelling all over the continent throughout the year and is rarely home. The book starts with news of him returning and thus, their love story begins.

The story takes place eleven years after The Duke and I. A certain Lady Whistledown, a daily gossip columnist seems to have gained a lot of notoriety during that time for her candid observations of London Society and first hand gossip. Much of the book revolves around finding the identity of Lady Whistledown because of a prize money to the person who discovers her identity. This sometimes seems to detract the focus from the main romantic plot. Mrs. Whistledown's observations appear in the first four books.

The hero, Colin Bridgerton is a 'charmer' who seems to be popular with the ladies. However, he is looking for meaning in his life so that he does not end up being 'an airheaded charmer'. Colin is well travelled and seems to be easygoing compared to the other two. His characters shows a few inconsistencies when his temper flares without reason but Julia Quinn somehow manages to still make him 'charming'.

The characters had chemistry especially in personality. Penolope was an interesting heroine who appears pitiable and lonely on the surface but has her own secrets- she's like a diamond that needs to be cut to shine. During the course of the book, Colin looks beyond the image that was created by society and discovers the true Penolope. Colin was good as a hero but paled compared to the first two(Simon and Anthony) and the heroine. His jerky transitions to an alpha male add a certain amount of inconsistency to his character.

Julia Quinn's dialogue has its own pros and cons. On the sunnier side, it is witty and humourous but on the dark side, does not keep in theme with the Regency era and sounds too short and 'modern'. The portrayl of manners suffer from the same problem- it is not purely historical-there are some things which were not considered acceptable at that time. Julia Quinn's strength lies in her characterisation and main plot. Unlike some authors who drastically alter the personality of all males in the series to make them alpha males in their own books, Julia Quinn keeps most of her character's individuality. Also, her heroines are not always beautiful or smart or feminist. They're all different. Wit however seems to be a part of all the heroines- maybe a side effect of her writing style.

Overall, the book was quite decent and a good read from the Bridgerton series. Julia Quinn is a good author to try. Begin with her Bridgerton series. I was sad that Mrs. Whistledown would quit writing in the end.

Characterisation- 4.5/5
Plot-4.2/5
Dialogue- 4.3/5
Emotion- 3.7/5
Overall- 4/5

Pros

Characters
Main idea

Cons

Drags in the end
Inconsistent

Jpop album review- Mika Nakashima- Love


Love is Mika Nakashima's best selling album and the first I'm hearing from her. I've heard many of her songs but this is the first complete album I've heard from her. Love sold more than a million.

1) Venus in the dark- Venus in the dark begins with siren-like electric guitars and then transitions into a bouncy jazz rhythm with backvocals and brass instruments. As an opening, this track was quite good. It opens the album energetically. Mika's vocals are tight and sophisticated just like always. The chorus is accompanied by brass instruments and backvocals much like the intro. The song is a little too long.
4.2/5

2) Love addict- Love addict is a single track which sounds a lot like a James Bond theme. It has a heavy presence of strings throughout. The atmosphere is old and mysterious- like James Bond jazz. The chorus is fast paced and the catchiest part of this song. The lyrics are sensual and brought out well in Mika's performance of this song. My only complaint is, this song, like many others on this album stretches beyond six minutes (more than seven) and becomes repititive. The lyrics are probably the best part because they go well with the music.
4.4/5

3) Aroma- My favourite album track. Aroma has the cozy feel of sitting in a cafe. It is purely jazzy with Mika's controlled falsettos and backing chimes. The verse drags on a bit but the ambience of this song was a good fit on this album. Aroma is the kind of jazz song you'd hear in high class restaurants. Mika's vocals are soft and airy here. Warning- this song runs beyond six minutes.
4.5/5

4) Yuki no hana- Mika's well known winter ballad. Yuki no hana seems to be a favourite cover song among artists. It is primarily piano led and not jazzy. It sounds fragile and cold. Mika's vocals transition from breathiness to power here. The chorus comes a little late but stands out. The arrangement was well done. Mika delivers emotions well.
4.7/5

5) Resistance- One of the most confused tracks. I've heard the original version and since then have come to appreciate this track. It has music box, guitars, beat- everything. I'd place it in rock if not for the arrangement. However, Resistance offers something new to the album and does well after Yuki no Hana.
4.2/5

6) Find the way- This song was an ending theme to one of the seasons of Gundam. Find the way, again, is not jazzy but purely orchestral. It lacks beat- something that's common in Mika Nakashima songs. Piano and strings are the primary backing instruments. Mika's vocals are polished here. I quite liked Find the way- it shines in its quietness. This was the only track I liked in the first listen.
4.6/5

7) Marionette- This has to be my least favourite track on the album- maybe because I tend to compare it with Ayumi Hamasaki's Marionette. It is more like a light hearted puppet show with a very sugary arrangement. It is jazzy but has a very artificial sweetness.
3.8/5

8) Seppun- Literally means 'kiss'. It's a cover song. The arrangement was well done here. Seppun has a reggae feel to it. Mika's vocals were again, classy here. It runs a little too long.
4.2/5

9) You send me love- A typical jazz track that can be compared to many American jazz songs. You send me love begins with backvocals and goes onto a typical jazzy verse and weak chorus. The saxophone does some good to the song. The deadly trio starts here
3.8/5

10) Be in the silence- The intro runs very long. It is very similar to the previous track minus the backvocals. Not really anything special.
3.8/5

11) Love no cry- Reminds me of Koda Kumi's Wind and Someday. Has an optimistic orchestral into accompanied by back vocals. The chorus is again, brassy and optimistic.
3.9/5

12) Aishiteru~album version~- Aishiteru is one my favourite songs by Mika Nakashima. I was eagerly anticipating the album version. It was fine but the saxophone arrangement destroyed the emotional appeal of the piano. Surprisingly, this track didn't stand out. It is a jazzy love song with Mika's emotional vocals. Most of the lyrics seems to be filled with 'aishiteru' but that's not necessarily bad. This song was a disappointment since I've heard the original version. The ending seems to be filled with backvocals.
4.4/5

13) Last Waltz- Last waltz is typically something you expect in a high class ball. It has a jazzy, danceable feel but is melancholic. Mika's voice is airy and controlled here. It feels like the sun is sinking when you hear this song. A good ending to the album.
4.4/5

I'm surprised that Mika Nakashima is so successful because she's a jazz artists and there isn't much audience for jazz in Japan. Many jazz singers don't sell well at all but it's not hard to see why Mika Nakashima is successful. The album has many different varieties of jazz. I haven't heard her other albums to compare but this was quite good. The album runs quite long though with many tracks exceeding the six minute mark. If you want to experiment with jazz, try this.
Mika Nakashima's voice doesn't strike as particularly spectacular but she conveys emotions in her own quiet way. She uses a lot of breathiness and falsetto. Her voice fits jazz well since it's low and smooth. Lately, her albums have become more pop and ballad influenced so, this is a rare gem.

Overall- 4.3/5

Pros

Genre
Vocals
Variety
Good single tracks

Cons

A few weak album tracks
Not a popular genre (jazz)
Cover

Jpop Album Review- Yui- FROM ME TO YOU


I've heard all Yui albums now and after reviewing I loved yesterday, I'm reviewing her debut album.

1) Merry go round- An energetic summer themed track that mixed rock and acoustic folk. The chorus stands out and the song has a positive feel. A great opening to this album.
4.4/5

2) Feel my soul- Yui's first major single. It begins with only guitars and progresses to a powerful chorus. It has the same tone as Tokyo. It feels like Yui moving from a small town. The chorus was the high point of this song. Yui manages to make the song pleasant and optimistic. The whole album seems to have a mellow, pleasant tone. From me to you is more relaxed than her other albums probably due to lack of heavy rock tracks.
4.6/5

3) Ready to love- Ready to love has the acoustic feel coupled with some electric guitars. This tracks sounds typically like something that would come from Yui. Despite its predictability, it is quite good. So far, I'm liking the album tracks.
4.3/5

4) Swing of Lie- More rock influenced than the previous track but keeps in theme with the album's 'mellow' mood. It has a rather sad feel. The chorus is powerful and blasts off suddenly.
4/5

5) Life- Life was a Bleach ending. I've liked this single for a long time. Yui's unique vocals do the song a lot of justice. It is again an acoustic track with rock elements.
4.5/5

6) Blue wind- Things step down quite a bit with Blue wind. It has a melancholic feel and not very clearly segregated chorus and verse. It is a little monotonous but Yui's vocals keep us going. The song is quieter and more jazzy than other tracks. It was a nice change of pace in this album.
4.3/5

7) I can't say- I can't say has a different kind of melody than many Yui songs. There are a few accidentals that are usually not so pronounced. It is mostly acoustic with a rather weak chorus.
4/5

8) Simply white- My least favourite track on the album. It is very typical and predictable. The chorus is rock influenced like most other songs.
3.8/5

9) Just my way- Yui's jamming. Just my way is edgier than other album tracks. Yui's voice seems a little forced at some places but the track is a good rock track in the album. The chorus is fast.
4/5

10) Tomorrow's way- A single track. Tomorrow's way is a Yui ballad with primarily acoustic guitar. Yui's voice shines here. The chorus is long and powerful. Tomorrow's way is one of the very good ballads in Yui's career.
4.6/5

11) I know- Now, the album tracks are starting to get repititive. But still nowhere near the monotony of the rest of her albums. I know has a bittersweet feel. The chorus is downright optimistic.
4.1/5

12) TOKYO- The most meaningful song in Yui's career. Tokyo is acoustic and mellow- this album's theme. The chorus seems to be on the same plane as rest of the song. Yui sings of her move from her small town to Tokyo to pursue her career. There's a translation of this lyrics in the 'best lyrics' post on this blog. The lyrics carry a deep meaning that anyone can relate to. Yui evaluates her choices and remembers the things he left behind.
4.8/5

13) Spiral and escape- After the mellow Tokyo, Spiral and escape is rather upbeat. This is s good song if you can stand the annoying engrish in the chorus. Not the best ending to the album.
4.3/5

Overall, I quite liked From me to you. This may be because I got used to her style over three albums. This album had better album tracks than all of her albums put together. Right now, this is my favourite album from her though it is not her bestselling. Yui has artfully portrayed her emotions and changing musical directions in this album. None of the tracks screamed 'filler' or 'boring' like her I loved yesterday and Holidays in the sun. The album has a melancholic, mellow vibe which appeals a lot to me. The folk influence was also a good addition to the album's style.

Overall- 4.5/5

Pros

Good album tracks
Strong single tracks
Consistency
Variety

Cons

Arrangement
Needs time to get used to

Jpop Album Review- Nobuchika Eri- Nobuchikaeri



I've been reading a lot of praise for Nobuchika Eri, a new SONY artists in many forums on the internet. She's is produced by Mondo Grosso, a nightclub music artist. Nobuchika Eri has quite a lot of artistry, though commerciall unsuccessful. Here's a review of her first (and currently last) major label album.

1) Forest of Dreams- A mellow instrumental which manages to be enigmatic.

2) Lights- Eri Nobuchika's debut single. It beings with melancholic piano chords in a black and white PV and transitions into a disco/nightclub beat in the chorus. I'm new to Eri Nobuchika's style of music but I found this song intriguing and powerful. The video, though bland, goes well with the song. The chorus is powerful and suddenly erupts into a heavy beat. The verse is emotional and mysterious. Though the verse and chorus were very different, they flowed into each other. Lights is quite a good song and offers something new. There's orchestral backing and a melancholic tone is prevelant throughout.
4.6/5

3) Sing a song- Sing a song follows in the style of Lights. It starts off with disco beat which drags for a long while before beginning. It follows the same formula as Lights. The verse is low and balladish but the chorus is heavily trance influenced. Sing a song was good but I felt it didn't have the emotional depth of Lights. Following after lights, it was a little disappointing.
4/5

4) Sketch for summer- Sketch for summer is a total ballad with a piano background. Eri Nobuchika displays her low, emotional voice here. I actually like her voice- she has emotion, power and tone. For a happy theme like summer, this song was a little wet like a rainy day in summer. What makes this song different after the previous ones is that it has no beat for the first half. It keep it bare with just the piano and Eri's voice. Beat and orchestra join the song in the second verse but it never manages to be a nightclub/trance/disco track. I don't know how to define her music.
4.2/5

5) Kutsu wo naraso- This song follows the style of the previous song- the songs seem to be placed in pairs. It is again, a ballad without beat. Eri Nobuchika's music cannot be defined by one genre and that's a good thing- she is a true artist. Her voice is easy on the ears. This song has the 'rainy day' feel of sketch of summer- I can almost smell the damp soil. I haven't read the lyrics but that's what the song reminds me of. Compared to Sketch for summer, it again fails to stand out. These two tracks could've been merged into one since they're so similar sounding.
4/5

6) Inner Glow- Inner Glow is an album track that has a lot of english lyrics (I think all of it). Eri Nobuchika's engrish is evident but the song still manages to shine. At more that six minutes long, it is the second longest track in the album. Inner Glow was my favourite album track despite the engrish. Inner glow begins without beat but picks up. It has a metaphysical vibe (that's the only way I can describe it). In more human terms, it reminds me of a forest at night, lit by fireflies. I like the fact that Eri's music creates imagery in my mind. This track keeps the album's flow more than standing out.
4.5/5

7) I hear the music in my soul- After the ephermeral Inner glow, I hear the music in my soul rains on the parade. It wakes the listener from a beautiful dream. This is my least favourite track. It is a disco themed instrumental that doesn't offer anything special.

8) Voice- Voice is a single track that begins with guitar intros and trance beats. It is a pure nightclub track with the sad undertone. The chorus manages to be powerful. Voice is another long track. It flows fell from I hear the music in my soul. Eri displays her powerful voice here.
4.1/5

9) Koudou- Another single track. Koudou is very different from voice. It is a beatless piano ballad that again, runs long. Eri has a lot of space to display her emotional voice here. The chorus took off but wasn't anything spectacular. The beat joins in with a brass band in the chorus. Her album tracks are better than single tracks.
4.1/5

10) Desert of Dreams- Another distant, ephermeral sounding interlude. It picks up with a beat but the tone remains the same. This album has so many instrumental tracks.

11) Yume no kakera- Begins with an arabian themed violin solo and falls into the nightclub mold. It had some of the 'lonely desert' feel, probably that's why Desert of dreams was placed before it. I really can't tell the difference between any of her nightclub tracks or any of her ballads. They're similar sounding but less intense in the emotion. Yume no Kakera has powerful chorus with Eri holding notes for long. The bad part is, it is more than seven minutes- wow!
4/5

12) Hidamari- Hidamari puts the album to a peaceful end. There's lot of squeaking while changing guitar frets in the intro but Hidamari manages to shine in the end. It is again, a guitar ballad with no beat. This one doesn't even have a chorus. It is a pleasant ending.
4.4/5

In the end, I dont know what to say. The album could just be playing in the background all day and you'd never realize. But, it has a calming effect on the mind. It is hard to define the genre of this album, the closest I can get is a mix between new age and trance. The underlying melancholy is evident in every track but the intensity of emotion differs. When I first heard this album, I was confused. I didn't know where to place it. Over time, it has grown on me. The album appeals to the soul rather than the ears. It is a musical near death experience. To summarise- Nobuchikaeri has the spiriual appeal of new age, power of trance and pain of solutide.
Nobuchika Eri is a talented vocalist. Her low, gutsy voice transforms into powerful belts and falsettos but she never sounds commercial. It is easy to hear the album and say it'll never sell because it is so avant garde. It definitely has emotional appeal. It fixes a subconcious feeling of sadness that's too subtle to notice. Compared to mass manaufactured emotions prevelant in popular music, this album is a welcome change. If you're looking for true artistry or something new, try Nobuchikaeri.

Overall-4.4/5

Pros

Spiritual experience
Uniqueness
Vocals
Variety
Emotion

Cons

Cover
Too 'avant garde' for some
Too many instrumental tracks (3 out of 12)

Jpop Album Review- Girls Generation- Girls Generation


Girls Generation is a kpop group that has achieved immense fame in Korea and debuted in Japan in 2011. There are nine members and they are managed by SM Entertainment. I've been into a lot of Korean music these days especially SNSD's (another name for Girl's Generation). Here's a review of their first japanese album.

1) Mr. Taxi- SNSD knows how to be catchy. They use this formula without fail in every single track. Their choruses are strong, dance moves are fluid and singing ability is better than average. Mr. Taxi has a strong beat and follows the catchy formula that other SNSD songs follow. The chorus is the strong part but it has a different tone compared to the chorus. Mr. Taxi is a great opening to their million selling debut album.
4.8/5

2) Genie- Genie remains SNSD's most popular song in Korea. The synchronised leg movements are well done in the PV. The song has a synth background and falls easily in the dance pop genre. The chorus is again strong with a few spoken lines. SNSD synchronises vocals and dance well in this track (like all others).
4.7/5

3) You a holic- You a holic is a little more mature sounding than the previous two tracks. It also has a powerful beat. 'Fallin, fallin...' the chorus is catchy- SNSD's signature style. It follows well after the first two tracks which had promotions videos. Actually, this is an album track.
4.7/5

4) Run Devil Run- One of my favourite SNSD songs. It is a cover of Ke$ha's song. I felt SNSD did a better job here. The song is catchy and the chorus is liquid and mellow. This song showcases an edgier side of SNSD which is amplified in The Boys (unfortunately not on this album). The rap, though pale when compared to Ke$ha, flows with the song. The dance was well choreographed and Taeyeon and Seohyun had their power moments. There is quite a lot of attitude in the track that makes it catchy. The repition in the 'run, run....' also helps.
5/5

5) Bad Girl- Bad Girl is quite repititive. Lots of autotune can be heard in the track. It is nothing different from the other tracks. It keeps up with the high quality though the chorus was a lot weaker than the preceeding tracks. The verse stands out more than the chorus. The title is included in the lyrics just like all SNSD songs.
4.5/5

6) Beautiful stranger- Beautiful stranger has a stronger rock feel than Bad Girl. SNSD is high on edginess here. 'Are you a good one? are you a bad one?' explains their dilemma on seeing the stranger. The chorus, following from bad girl was weak. Still, the strong rock influence kept it going. SNSD has better vocals than most believe. Their singing actually makes this song catchy.
4.4/5

7) I'm in love with the hero- I really didn't understand the theme of this song but it takes a balladish feel much like Mai Kuraki's Best of hero. The chorus sounds like a marching band. There is a little disconnect between the chorus and verse but it's subtle. I couldn't understand the purpose of this track.
4.3/5

8) Let it rain- Again, big on synth and beat. There's some orchestral feel here. Let it rain is one of the more mature tracks from SNSD. The arrangement doesn't seem to match the song but it still manages to be fine. Frankly, this is the song I remember the least on the album.
4.4/5

9) Gee- This was one of their first successful sings. Despite that, it's not one of my favourites. The song in japanese words is 'kawaii'. 'Gee, gee gee gee..' seems to repeat in every third line. The chorus is not clearly defined. SNSD is trying hard to be Kawaii here. I don't remember any other cutesy song from them. Despite its faults, Gee still manages to be a decent track.
4.2/5

10) The Great Escape- Great Escape has a good chorus but doesn't particularly manage to be outstanding or catchy. We've heard nine derivatives of this song above and at this point, it's existance doesn't matter much.
4.2/5

11) Hoot- Hoot is another cover song that SNSD sung better than the original artists. It has an 80s vibe with jazzy vocals in the verse. The chorus, though disconnected, stands out a lot, especially 'trouble, trouble, trouble' and 'shoot, shoot, shoot'. This song would be a disaster if not for the chorus. I quite like the dance routine of HOOT. Compared to Great Escape, this was quite good and stood out.
4.8/5

12) Born to be a lady- Born to be a lady is a good closing track. It is a dance pop song just like all the others but is a lot slower and balladish. It is quite pleasant and closes the album well.
4.6/5

Overall, with repititve choruses, edgy rap lyrics, infectious dance moves and synchorisation, SNSD has derived a successful formula for commercial success in the music industry. Their songs are 'addictive' and scream 'commercial' (not necessarily a bad thing). Don't expect great artistry or uniqueness from SNSD, you'll only be disappointed. Expect what they do best- great dance moves and catchy, repititive dance songs. I should say, Girls Generation has great composers. In the cut throat competition between catchy tracks in the Korean industry, SNSD clearly emerges as a winner because of their composition.
Girls Generation strikes the perfect balance between powerful vocals, fluid dance moves and catchy melodies and that's led to commercial success worldwide. I am totally addicted to their songs these days and can't stop with only one listen. The PVs and lives are worth watching too.
Shoujo Jidai's (japanese name) first album definitely carved a name for them in Japan. It was certified million by RIAJ, a rare accomplishment in the slow economy. I definitely urge you to give them a try and move your feet to the music. Their recent single Paparazzi also entered the charts at #2 and sold well. Too many catchy songs on this album become an overdose but still, worth buying. The repackaged album seemed a lot better though with The Boys and Time Machine.

Overall- 4.5/5

Pros

Catchy
Consistent
Replay value
No filler tracks
Addictive

Cons

Overdose of 'catchy' tracks
Lacks uniqueness/ artistry
Formulaic

Monday, August 6, 2012

Drama review- Otomen



Otomen is a drama adapted from the manga by Aya Kanno. It covers the story up to volume 9 or 10. I have read the manga too and it is currently ongoing.

Otomen centres around Asuka Masamune- a high school boy who looks manly on the outside and is also the captain of the school kendo (a type of martial art with wooden swords) team and kendo champion. However, his real personality is nothing like this. He likes to cook, sew, read shojo manga and loves sweet things (I don't think this is a feminine attribute though) and sparkly and cute stuff in general. When he instantly falls for the transfer student Miyakozuka Ryo, his secret is in danger of being exposed. Since the name of the story is Otomen and not otoman, strangely all of Asuka's friends are otomen. Juta Tachibana, his close friend and playboy is in fact a shojo manga writer who writes the love story of Asuka and Ryo. The manga is a superhit and both Ryo and Asuka are fans (they don't know it is about them). His kendo rival Tonomine is an otomen with interest in makeup. Another member of his kendo club is also an otomen with a feminine appearence.



I have to say, there is hardly any romance in this drama. Ryo does not feel romantically towards Asuka until very late in the drama. There is no kiss and the one hug that happens is in the last scene of the last episode. (Sigh) This drama is mainly about friendship and the problems affecting otomen in Japanese society and in a sense, Asuka, rather than Ryo is the main character.

I really loved the characters who have so much depth.  Most characters also look like their manga counterparts (especially Tonomine- perfect casting). They stick together with each other and you find such unlikely friendships blossoming (like Tonomine-Tachibana). The episodes are quite interesting and it is difficult to get bored, just don't start watching expecting a drama with a lot of romance. The relationship between Ryo and Asuka for most part remains friendship.

The main thing was that while these guys have some slightly unusual interests, they did not seem girly to me in any sense. I mean how can cooking, makeup and liking sweet things classified as girly? So many cooks, makeup artists and pattissers (okay, I don't know the spelling) are men. No one accuses them of being girly.



There are funny parts and touching parts in this drama. This is a great watch is you want some light comedy or just something interesting. The episodes are short and there are not too many.

Ratings-

Story-4.7
Acting-4.3
Direction-4
Visual- 4.1

Pros
Short episodes and tight storyline
Interesting characters

Cons
Kaho was a really bad choice for Ryo (there is no physical similarity and she was just too feminine to be a tomboy. I didn't think she acted too well, either)

Anime Review- Peach Girl



Peach Girl is a 25 episode anime about the love life of Momo Adachi, a girl with tanned skin and bleached hair who is often misunderstood and thought of as 'easy'. The reason for her tan is because she was on the swim team and practiced long hours in the sun. Her best friend Sae Kashiwagi is just the opposite. She is pale skinned, beautiful and thin and popular among guys. Sae is also jealous of Momo and will do anything to sabotage her relationships. Momo is in love with Touji- a baseball player since middle school and wants to confess her feelings to him. Joining the love triangle is Okayasu Kairi, a playboy who was saved by Momo from drowning at a beach and has feelings for her.

The first few episodes focus on Momo and Touji's relationship. Kairi is just a friend at this point. Sae's scheme to destroy Momo and Touji's relationships are really annoying and Touji is a really naive. Touji's character is really quite stupid and naive in the beginning and at this point, I had a clear preference for Kairi, who is able to see through Sae's lies and helps Momo.

Around episode 11, things turn around and due to one of Sae's schemes, Touji breaks up with Momo. From here on, it is Momo and Kairi's relationship.

Then around episode 20, things turn around again. Ugh. Unless you are really patient, you should just skip some episodes.



First of all, characters- Momo is a nice girl and quite strong opposed to many weak shojo heroines. Touji really seems like a cardboard cutout with no personality in the beginning but is able to redeem himself to the point that I actually thought it would be okay for Momo to choose him in the end. He has a caring side but is usually straightfoward and taciturn. Sae described dating him as 'watching paint dry' or 'counting the hairs on one's head'. I really found that hilarious. Speaking of Sae, she is quite an interesting character, who like most characters in this anime, goes through changes and ultimately emerges more likeable. After the first 15 episodes or so, her own love story is funny and she really turns around.

Kairi started out as my favorite, mainly because he was always there to help Momo when she needed it. He is more talkative and flirty than Touji but he also has a caring side.

The relationship development for both the pairs (Momo-Kairi and Momo-Touji) was quite good. In the end, if I was Momo, I would never have been able to choose among both of them. Both of them are quite similar- good-looking, care for Momo, and generally kind-hearted.

Peach girl will put you through a lot as you go from joy to heartbreak to anger in seconds. A few plots were also somewhat repetitive (like Ryo, who is just like a male version of Sae. I mean we've already had enough of that) and standard in the shojo genre. But overall, it will have you emotionally invested once you get past the sixth episode or so.



A great anime to watch with beautiful visuals, an unconventional lead and a complicated love triangle. The manga won the Kodansha award for Shojo.

Ratings

Plot-4.7
Characters-4.9
Visuals-4.7

Pros
Characters are engaging
Unconventional female lead
Both romances are realistically developed
It is quite short (this is a pro because I don't have the time and patience to watch all episodes of long anime like Detective conan or One piece)

Cons
Sae's character is totally unrealistic (though somewhat funny)
Both the male leads were too similar

NOTE- Images do not belong to me and were taken from Google image search.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jpop Review- Namie Amuro- Best Fiction



Namie Amuro set a record of selling a million in three decades with this album. Best Fiction is the best Namie Amuro has produced in a while. After leaving Tetsuya Komuro, she wandered a bit but with this album, she finally seems to have found the right direction. Here's a reveiew of this rare million seller-

1) Do me More- Do me more, as portrayed in the PV, is heavily influenced by the 'Alice in Wonderland' theme that is manifested through the fantasy feel to the arrangement comprising of brass instruments. Do me More is a new song, sung especially for this album. Namie contributes power and cooleness in equal proportions to this track, making it a great opening track.
5/5

2) Wishing on the Same Star- Wishing on the same star is the cover of an english song by Keedy. I felt Namie Amuro pulled the song off well, bringing out a powerful climax in the chorus. She has shown us a part of her that is not commonly seen. Namie Amuro is not a ballad singer. Nevertheless, she did a good job here. The song is quite an average ballad that stands out plainly because it is one of the few ballads in this album.
4.6/6

3) Shine More- Another powerful track that Namie sings well. The heavy string opening gives a mysterious feel to this track, distinguishing it from the other tracks. My only complaint is the weak chorus. But, this track still stands out.
4.6/5

4) Put em up- Put em up sounds very much like an american hip hop song with copious rap and not much vocal ability displayed by Namie Amuro. It is catchy but continues in the same tone as the other tracks.
4.3/5

5) So crazy- So crazy has a relaxed feel but still carries the beat of R&B. Namie's vocals are quite airy here. The song follows well after Put em up.
4.4/5

6) Alarm- This track has a more forceful beat and feel compared to the previous easy tracks. Alarm feels like something from her Play album even though it is not. The chorus was quite weak, not one of my favourites.
4/5

7) All for you- All for you is an epic string ballad that is a rarity from Namie Amuro. Namie Amuro unleashes her powerful voice combined with gospelish back vocals and makes this track quite special. Namie Amuro experimented something new and different with this track and I quite liked it. It is more than six minutes long. Namie Amuro's voice seems quite matured here compared to her older ballads.
4.8/5

8) Girl Talk- Girl Talk begins with a stringed intro but moves onto an easy listening hip hop beat. Again, a weak chorus but the track still manages to be refreshing. Namie Amuro uses the typical words associated with girl talk like 'sex and city', 'he and his and her' etc. It reminded me of new look minus the sixties feel.
4.3/5

9) Want me want me- I really couldn't understand want me want me. It had an indian/arabian arrangement but the vocals were quite low and lacked sensuality. The track does fine but appears a little confused. The catchy element was luckily intact.
4.2/5

10) White light- One of Namie's rare christmas songs. I really can't recall any christmas song except this that she has ever song. White Light has a relaxed and cheerful feel complemented by a slow beat and chimes. Namie's voice seems relaxed here as well. I thought she'd put violet sauce in the album but she ended up putting this instead. A good choice, though.
4.5/5

11) Can't sleep, can't eat, I'm sick- The arrangement is unique. I've heard this track on her Play album and I've liked it since then. Can't sleep, can't eat, I'm sick is an airy, cool hip hop song with some rap. It's quite catchy actually.
4.6/5

12) Baby don't cry- This single was her best selling in the Play era. Despite that, I don't quite love it. It is a pleasant balladish R&B song but doesn't bring out anything special from Namie. The chorus goes on well after the verse and all the song does is carry the album forward without disruption.
4.2/5

13) Funky Town- Funky town is a summary of her style in the best fiction era. It sounds somewhat like Can't sleep, can't eat.... minus the pleasant vibe. Since it comes from Namie Amuro, who is one of the few old artists producing quality work, it still has a high standard compared to average jpop releases.
4.4/5

14) New Look- This is a new song from her 60s70s80s single. For a best album, Best fiction has quite a lot of new tracks. New Look is filled with engrish but manages to be quite catchy. Namie's makeovers in the PV made the music video pure eye candy. New Look, the first song representing the 60s manages to be quite catchy. I really like danceable songs.
4.9/5

15) Rock steady- My least favourite from the single. It is good though. The verse is fast paced with a lot of rock influence. The chorus is weaker than the verse but Namie Amuro saves it with a lot of catchy english phrases and belting.
4.3/5

16) What a feeling- The rap in the beginning was a little dumb but this track is quite catchy. From the 80s era, it is quite a catchy disco song. The song makes you want to dance. The chorus is the high point of this track.. The echoes and back vocals remind me of her Tetsuya Komuro era. What a feeling is the perfect song for a disco night.
4.8/5

17) Sexy Girl- Sexy girl continues in the trend of the previous tracks without bringing anything new. A good ending track though. The danceable beat was the saving grace (and Namie's vocals). The chorus is the weak point. Actually, my least favourite track on this album.
4/5

What can I say? Namie Amuro is truly the queen of jpop and if you doubt it, just listen to this album. Namie Amuro is in her thirties now (considered the retirement age of entertainers) and still manages to be fresh and cool. Her quality of music, if anything is improving. That really shows in her sales. While the idols of her era have waned and even those after her are losing popularity, Namie Amuro manages to stand at the peak of the jpop industry. Year after year, she is still setting new records. Everytime she releases an album, it becomes one of the bestselling female singer albums for that year. Namie is still  taking risks and they're paying off. Most stars have completely stopped experimenting and releasing new music. Just give fiction a listen. This album is the best that has been released in quite a while now.

Overall rating- 5/5

Pros

Catchy, danceable tracks
A best- contains many single tracks
A wider view of Namie's artistry
No filler tracks at all
Namie Amuro's improved vocals
Consistency
Quality and quantity
The cover

Cons

May become repititive after a while

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Japanese Heartbreak Songs

So, after listneing to a lot of emotional ballads, I decided to compile a list of a few songs based on heartbreaks. I have tried to include more pop songs than enka because the whole genre of enka is based on heartbreak and sadness. Also, I have chosen songs where the singer projects emotions of sadness through his/her voice prominently. These songs are mostly about a love that is over or holding onto a dying love.

1) Nanpasen by Akina Nakamori- This song is as emotional as it gets. No one but the Queen of tragedy could do this song justice. The composer who usually doesn't give her songs to others believed that only Akina could pull this off and gave it to her. No doubt, Akina did a great job. Nanpasen (shipwreck) is considered one of the most emotionally draining ballads in Japan. Akina's love life was going through rough patches when she realeased this song and that helped her sing it with more emotion. Liar is another good sad song from Akina Nakamori which was based around the same relationship.  Here are a few lines from the lyrics:

It's only love. It would be good if I forgot about it.



I only want to cry while crying.


Before my eyes is a love that's changed.


Maybe I didn't see it coming and


To show that kind of courage, I said that


In order to forget about you.


But it is so lonely, like I'm breaking.


I am the shipwreck of love
 
2) Ai no Uta by Koda Kumi- This song has one of the best lyrics in Koda Kumi's discography. It speaks on one sided love that is gradually fading. Koda Kumi puts a lot of power and emotion into this song and makes it shine. It has a typical ballad structure with an orchestral and piano arrangement. The chorus is strong and powerful. Here are a few lines:
 
Even if there was only a vague relation between us



Please, be gentle as always


and don't tell me the truth


I can't accept the fact that I wouldn't be able to see you again anymore.




...I felt that I could go back again tomorrow as always


and I looked up the sky


Never say good-bye


The night sky is falling in my dreams, too
 
3) Eternal Snow by Changin' my life- Changin' my life is another band that has a lot of sad love songs. Eternal Snow is a wintry ballad brimming with emotion. Myco sings of a painful love that she can't cope up with drawing references to the cold weather. The arrangement is particularly good and Myco brings out the emotions in the song well. Here are a few lines:
 
Like the snow, they just



Quietly keep accumulating



Hold me tight- if this is how it feels



I didn't want to know


What it was like to be in love with someone


I love you- my tears won't stop


And so I wish


That I had never met you

4) First Love by Utada Hikaru- No heartbreak song list is complete without this song. It was used in the emotional Majo no Jouken drama and was the title track of Utada Hikaru's debut album which is currently the best selling album in japanese history. First love is a bittersweet ballad in which Utada thanks her first love for the feelings he gave her and even though she has moved on, she'll never forget him. The simple arrangement coupled with Utada's emotional voice works well here. Here are a few lines:

You are always gonna be my love



even if I fall in love with someone once again


I'll remember to love


you taught me how


you are always gonna be the one


it's still a sad song


until I can sing a new song...


tomorrow, at this time


I will probably be crying


I will probably be thinking about you

5) Doushite Kimi o Suki ni Natte Shimattandarou?- That's quite a long title. This Tohoshinki/DBSK ballad was a #1 hit that consolidated DBSK's position in the japanese industry. The title actually translates to 'Why did I fall in love with you?'. The PV brings out the emotions in the song well. It is an R&B ballad with a slow beat. Here are a few lines:

Why did I fall in love with you?



No matter how much time passes


I thought you would always be here.

...I'm not the one being blessed at your side



I'm supposed to say farewell?




...But you are still being taken from my side


And I still wish for your eternal happiness


No matter how lonely (no matter how painful)


6) Saigo no Ame by Nakanishi Yaushi- This ballad became a signature hit for Nakanishi Yasushi. It translates to 'Last rain'. It has been covered by popular artists like Atsushi of EXILE and Koda Kumi. It speaks of a love that is leaving the singer and he wants to hold onto it. Nakanishi Yasushi's voice is powerful here and filled with longing.

I’m not going to love someone so much it brings me to tears



If it’ll just be forgotten


If you’re under someone’s spell


I want to hold you so tight that I crush you

...Even though the love that can save you tomorrow



Isn’t mine, I’ll still keep gazing at you like this


...I can’t put my love into words



I can’t connect to you with words


My love for you has nowhere to go, but it won’t stop



7) Last Song by Gackt- The Seventh Night unplugged version is a masterpiece. I have said this in the review of his album Crescent too. You should go and watch the Seventh Night Unplugged Live. It shows what kind of emotions a song is capable of stirring and is one of Gackt's most powerful and emotionally captivating performances. He literally cries out with pain. Anyway, the track version with the guitars is pretty bland when compared to that. The title itself has a painful and sad tone to it. The chorus is the high point because of increased power. The verses are barely audible in the track.

In the ephemeral nature of the changing seasons



Tears overflowed without any reason


"Even now I love you..."

...We held each other close don't forget that warmth



Even if you love someone else


I'll never let go of the sound the last I heard of your voice

...Before this body disappears now, if my wish reaches you



"Please hold me tight just once more..."
8) Kanashii Sake- I decided to finally include an enka song. I have reviewed this song earlier in Akina's Enka. I am talking about the Hibari Misora version now. Kanashii sake is performed brilliantly by Hibari Misora. Through the volume is low, there is a gripping emotion of pain underlying the lyrics.


(I) tasted the tears of farewell

The face that (I) wish to drink and forget

emerges in my drinking glass as I drank

Ah- Leave you heart behind as you leave

I still can't forget that person's face

...Sake why oh why

That person....

If only I can give up on him


That's all for now. If you have any other songs in mind, write them down in the comments section.