I will admit I am late to the party, but yes Majisuka Gakuen 4 has come to a close after 10 episodes. In the past we’ve seen Maeda Atsuko, Watanabe Mayu and Shimazaki Haruka fight their way to the top, now, it looks like Miyawaki Sakura wants a piece of the action. Just what is Majisuka Gakuen 4 and why is it one of AKB48’s staple shows? Well, let’s take a look.
Please keep this in mind that this review is through the lens of someone who submerged himself in AKB48 only a year ago, which means he hasn’t seen the first three with Acchan, Mayuyu and Paruru as the leads.
Also, major spoiler alert.
Rappapa, the wind Instrument Club, has taken over Majisuka High School solely through the strength of their fists. However, new transfer student Sakura, played by Miyawaki Sakura, aims to take the top spot of Majisuka High and is willing to fight in order to do so. To this end, she aims to defeat the head of Rappapa, Salt, played by Shimazaki Haruka. Before Sakura is able to get her match with Salt, she has to defeat the 4 Queens protecting Salt at all costs. Will Sakura make it to the top?
Well, the answer for you is no. Yes, Sakura goes through every episode with a simple formula: fight opponent, struggle for a bit, then defeat said opponent. There are times where she needs help to achieve this, but overall I had this feeling that Sakura was near invincible, no matter how much punishment she took during some of the fights. However, by the time we reach the end of the series, and the big Sakura vs. Salt fight, Salt defeats Sakura and the series ends. The near invincible protagonist simply doesn’t struggle enough.
There’s also a sub plot that ties in with Sakura’s aspirations for the top. A rival school, Gekioko High School, has a nursing department that has aspirations to take over Majisuka High. Led by Antonio, played by Yamamoto Sayaka. This sub plot involves Gekioko High’s plan of action and yet another fight against Salt. However, the entirety of the Gekioko High School plan gets scrapped by a not-so climactic final act when Antonio and Sakura face off with Sakura ending up the victor. If Antonio lost to Sakura, the Antonio vs. Salt match up that was somewhat hyped throughout the season would have ended in one or two punches.
In all honesty the plot is not that important: what is important is seeing your favorite senbatsu-caliber members of the 48G family in fight scenes.
I hope you don’t expect any of your favorite 48G members to be the next Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa or Ronda Rousey. But in all honesty the fight scenes are pretty decent. Yes, I had little expectation to see how idols such as Miyawaki Sakura, Kizaki Yuria, and my oshi Shiroma Miru, would do in a fight scene. The action scenes won’t stimulate you like kung fu action scenes would, but they do their part to make the series flow.
There are several characters in the story but obviously the two most important ones are Sakura and Salt. Sakura is…lacking. Her back story does not necessarily warrant the need to just beat up fellow students to get her way to the top. It goes like this: her father walked out on Sakura and her mother and left them with debts. Because of that, she will not give up her quest to make it to the top of Majisuka High. That’s really all I can say about Sakura. She does hit hard though, evidenced by her numerous fight scenes and by the fact that Sakura ends up besting everybody except Salt.
In terms of acting ability, Sakura is not exactly the best actress the 48 family has to offer, but she’s still young and there’s time for her to improve. The deepened voice that Miyawaki Sakura uses to portray her titular character is something that you may need to get used to. Imagine Christian Bale’s Batman in the form of a 17-year-old idol from Kagoshima. That’s the best example I can give you.
As for Salt, played by Shimazaki Haruka, she is a mysterious, eerie, intimidating head of Majisuka High. Shimazaki Haruka does a good job portraying Salt, but there are times where she does overact her role. Despite this, she makes for the best antagonist the show has to offer.
As for the Four Queens, only two of them have real rhyme or reason to be there while the other two were just there for the management push. Otabe, played by Yokoyama Yui, is the hardworking right hand to Salt and will protect her at all costs, while Bakamono, played by Kawaei Rina, has superhuman strength yet acts like an idiot most of the time. The other two of the Four Queens seem to be there just for the sake of being there. Yoga, played by Iriyama Anna, does not speak to anything Annin has done involving yoga. Magic, played by Kizaki Yuria, does not relate to Yuria’s “Peace” nickname, which was something she had in Majisuka Gakuen 3. It would have been better to make the Four Queens distinctive of what they are known for in AKB48.
Can the Four Queens fight? Yes, but again they are just there for Sakura to beat one by one without much of a real struggle. Perhaps if a fight lasted for more than one episode, we can actually take into account Sakura’s struggles. The sad truth is that at the end of the day, the Four Queens are not that memorable. I will give Bakamono some credit however, since she had the most hilarious antics throughout the season. Hopefully we’ll see something different on the next Majisuka Gakuen show.
A key fault to this season is the fact that there are far too many characters. It isn’t just Sakura, Salt, the Four Queens and Antonio. You have Kamisori (Kojima Mako), Zombie (Owada Nana), the five Team Hinabe girls, the rest of the girls at Gekioko High school and the numerous cameos you catch throughout. Put simply: Too many characters. Yes, I understand that this show is meant to push certain 48G members, but let’s be honest: the only characters you might care about are the ones you like or selected as an oshi. For example: the characters I paid the most attention to in the series were KY and Shirogaku. Why? They are played by Tani Marika and Shiroma Miru, respectively. I really like Tani Marika and Shiroma Miru is my NMB48 oshi now that Yamagishi Natsumi is gone. Yes, I should care for Sakura as much as a normal person would, being that she is the lead, but I was more excited to see how Shirogaku would whoop Sakura. Needless to say, Shirogaku was the one who got whooped. Whooped against a blind Sakura…
Let’s be honest here, this is a show for the wotas. If you want to see 14-22 year old idols beat the living hell out of each other, then by all means this may be the show for you, but to the casual viewer, this may not be your cup of tea. The show itself as a whole isn’t god awful, but there are many things hat Majisuka Gakuen 5 should fix once that season comes out. If you’re a Sakura oshi or a Paruru oshi, it’s a must watch. But if you’re, say, a Sayanee, Milky, Kojimako, Yuihan, Peace, Annin or Mirurun oshi, you probably don’t want to see your oshi get their ass kicked by HKT48’s finest. Do you?
I will say that these past 10 episodes were somewhat enjoyable, and I am already curious about the past three seasons (especially Majisuka Gakuen 2 since it has Watanabe Mayu as the lead). But again, there are other ways to catch your favorite idols, whether through variety shows, concerts, photobooks, and radio shows. Majisuka Gakuen 4 may not be one of them.
Two weeks ago, C-ute's 38th single (has it really been that long since their debut?) dropped. It's a triple A-side single titled, "The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~ / Gamusha LIFE / Tsugi no Kado wo Magare". This is the first single from a major, established Hello! Project group to have songs not written by Tsunku to be the solely featured tracks. That doesn't detract from it though, if anything it adds new life to a group that was already achieving something like a resurgence in popularity recently. After its release, the single went on to sale an impressive 60,000+ copies and hit a respectable #3 position on the Oricon charts. This is an interesting time to be a Hello! Project fan and there is lots to say about these songs so let's just jump right in!
Up first is "The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~". This song is amazing. That could be the end of the review right there, it is THAT good. I honestly thought that no C-ute song this year would top "I miss you", but I am pleased to say that I was wrong. This song is now the front-runner for idol song of the year in my book though I wonder if C-ute's next single will take that honor away. It's catchy, mature, edgy and has the kind of driving, danceable beat you expect from C-ute. With this said I must stop for a second and point out that this song may have amazing writing and production, but it is probably the most over-credited song in Hello! Project's catalog. It has five songwriters. This is a far cry from the days of just Tsunku or when just one person wrote the lyrics or music on any given track. I guess the song can't really be faulted for that, but I can't help but wonder just who to thank for this amazing song or feel that perhaps this song is good by way of over-production. This isn't so much a fault either, but I almost feel this song would have suited Morning Musume a bit more. I have no real reason for saying this except that it's something that I feel. Anyway, back to topic at hand. I mentioned the production values of the song and they definitely make their presence felt in the PV itself. While it still has the "budget" feel that one comes to associate with Hello! Project, there are some interesting locations used here and the bar was a nice touch. Shall we talk about the dance? C-ute has always been something of the "dance group" within Hello! Project and this song only serves to strengthen that notion. Choreography is spot-on here and the girls never miss a beat. Okai Chisato as center was an interesting choice too. Well, C-ute has grown up and it's nice to see them finally receive a truly mature song and PV!
Next, "Gamusha LIFE". This is one of those songs that I don't care too much for on the first liten, but will assuredly grow on me over the years. It's a nice fun song that has the kind of hooks that burn into you slowly. This song is written by SHOCK EYE, DJ from reggae band "Shonan no Kaze", and he delivers a powerful song that makes me hope that he contributes more to Hello! Project in the future. I mention the non-Tsunku songwriting a lot in these recent reviews, but that is to be expected as Hello! Project was practically defined by Tsunku for over a decade and it's interesting to note when a song comes along to fit the existing groups like a glove, but is written by a Hello! Project outsider. Back to my impressions on the song. Actually when I set out to write about this song I found it good, but a little forgettable on its initial listen. I mentioned a bit ago that I think it's a slow one to catch on, but as I sit here writing about it I am realizing what an amazing song it really is. The bridge in the middle is something that Tsunku never really tried before and brings back memories of some of Buono's later ballad material. There's something in the song that makes it feel like it'd be a good song for a graduation. The potential is there, but I am glad it is not being used for that purpose. It also strikes me as the kind of song that will be amazing to see performed live. The video is beautiful as well. It follows the simple Hello! Project format (which is basically a modified dance shot) but the location and setting are great and simplicity isn't always a bad thing. Dance is spot on here too, but it's the girls that really push the song forward and they look great doing it.
Last up we have "Tsugi no Kado wo Magare". I will admit that I am going to be very biased on this song right off the bat. This one is written by my personal favorite musician of all time, Takui Nakajima. This song (and ANGERME's "Taiki Bansei") were originally written and recorded for his latest studio album and exist in more rock-oriented versions there. In the past he's also composed "My Days for You" for Mano Erina and "Lady Mermaid" for DiaLady and I hope this is only the start of a long song-writing partnership between him and Hello! Project. With that in mind, you can really hear his style in this song, more so than in ANGERME's "Taiki Bansei". Very little was done to his original arrangement here. The song is an excellent choice for C-ute though and I almost wish this was the lead song on the single. It ties in well with the other two A-sides and helps give the entire single the proper "mature" feel that C-ute has deserved recently with being the current senior Hello! Project group. The heavier string section and additional layers in the vocals make this version unique from Takui's and I have to say that I think I prefer C-ute's version despite my bias. Let me add, that it's refreshing to have an idol song that a male fan can sing along to! Line distribution in all these songs is great and is fair here too, all the girls get a good amount of screen time and no one girl takes the spotlight for too long. Even though "Middle Management" has the catchy pop hooks and "Gamusha LIFE" is the song I want to hear live, this is the song that I feel truly stands out on the new single. It's subtle in its power and the message of its lyrics is just a notch above what you see in the others. Lyrically and thematically it's a fitting song for the new face of Hello! Project and C-ute. There have been many changes lately, Tsunku's career-ending illness, Berryz Koubou and Sayumi Michishige's graduations, S/mileage's image change and the addition of two new groups. If there was ever a time for H!P to be turning a new corner, it is now. Let's move onto the PV now. It's simple too, but the location here has a certain beauty in its simplicity and the way it's lit. The subtle play on colors is actually what makes this video unique. The variance of colors, from their complete absence to over-saturation, is something that most people might not be completely aware of when watching first watching the video, but it adds to the overall power of the song and video. Also, Kenshuusei in a PV in 2015? Truly Hello! Project is entering a new era! I'm sure Takui Nakajima didn't have a dance in mind when he wrote the song, but the one that we see here is perfectly fitting and it can't be a C-ute song without a strong dance. This song is the perfect way to wrap up the single.
There you have it, I remember just a few months ago raving about "I miss you" being the be-all-end-all C-ute song and here I am citing three that are equal, if not better, than that one! If you haven't checked out the single do so now, you won't regret it! Listen, watch and enjoy!
◆ Yajima Maimi (矢島舞美, Leader)
◆ Nakajima Saki (中島早貴)
◆ Suzuki Airi (鈴木愛理)
◆ Okai Chisato (岡井千聖)
◆ Hagiwara Mai (萩原舞)
It's the first Friday of the month and that means it's time for Featured Idol Friday! This time around we will look at former Hello! Project soloist, Mano Erina.
Mano Erina had a long career as an idol. She joined Hello! Project in 2006 at the age of 15. Initially she was a member of "Hello Pro Egg" (now called "Hello! Pro Kenshuusei") but quickly debuted as a member of the group "Ongaku Gatas". Ongaku Gatas was a group that contained members of the futsal group "Gatas Brilhantes H.P." and contained a wide range of members from Eggs to former Morning Musume members. Together they released several singles and one album. Mano Erina would only see two of those singles and the album before she graduated to a solo career.
Here is the PV for Ongaku Gata's second single "Yattarouze!"
It's this solo career that will be the focus on here. Her debut singles were penned by KAN and her early gimmick was that she was a piano-playing idol who would, and did, accompany herself both on record and live. This angle did not really last too long past her indie releases, but it is worth noting that all her concert tours featured a segment where she would play the piano with other her older songs or with more recent ballads. Her indie debut was "Mano Piano" released in the summer of 2008 and always stuck out to me for some odd pronunciations throughout the track that were not repeated in later lives nor in the song's re-recording on her first album.
Here's a performance of "Lalala Sososo" from the 2009 Hello! Project Winter Concert Tour.
Her popularity was slow to build and it wasn't until the following year that she saw her major debut with "Otome no Inori". This would come after two more indie singles "Lucky Aura" and my personal favorite "Lalala Sososo". Her initial PVs and lives were also unique in that she was often paired with them up-and-coming Hello! Project group, "S/mileage". Similar to the early days of "W" and "Berryz Koubou"'s joint lives and PV appearances, the effect of promoting both new artists worked well. Both her and the group (along with members of Morning Musume) would appeared in the drama "Hanbun Esper". Following S/mileage's indie, and eventual major, debut, Mano's concerts and PVs would still serve as a training ground for Eggs whose talent would eventually lead to a debut. These Eggs included future S/mileage member, Takeuchi Akari and future Up-Front soloist, Kikkawa You amongst others.
Here is the PV for "Sekai wa Summer Party" which features S/mileage.
In 2010 Erina took on dual starring roles in the horror movie "Kaidan" which saw a US debut at the "Club 2 The Max" event in Los Angeles that ran concurrent with that year's Anime Expo. She appeared at these premieres which also featured a short Q&A and a brief performance.
Below is a picture from the event.
While she would continue her career as an idol with much success (even winning the "Best New Artist Award" at the 2010 Japan Gold Disc Awards) she was just as prolific an actress. Besides the aforementioned "Hanbun Esper", she also appeared in the dramas "Tokyo Shoujou", "Minna! Esper Dayo!" and "Suugaku Joushi Gakuen". She also starred in many net dramas like "Koisuru Seiza", "Mano Spy" and "Death Game Park". She even took a lead role in the "Kamen Rider x Kamen Rider Fourze & OOO MOVIE Taisen MEGAMAX" movie which featured the rare addition of a female Kamen Rider. All these roles served to build her career, but also created some confusion as to what her main focus within the Hello! Project collective was. Something that would not be completely cleared up within her time there.
Below is the PV for "Genkimono de Ikou!" which features many familiar faces of Hello! Project, some cameos and some direction from Erina herself!
Movies and television aside, music was still a strong focus in her career and she would release thirteen major singles, and three albums, before she announced her graduation in 2013. The announcement did not come as a shock to many as her career had been slowly moving towards that of an actress for years. While the sales of her releases were somtimes sporadic, her career spanned many interesting singles from "Love & Peace = Paradise", the PV of which featured Hello Kitty, and "Genkimono de Ikou!", which featured Mano Erina directing segments of the video and would become a live favorite. This author's personal favorite single is the Takui Nakajima-composed "My Days for You" followed closely by "Tasogare Kousaten". Both songs are strong ballads that feature amazing music videos with production values one doesn't always see in Hello! Project. Following the aptly titled "NEXT MY SELF", Mano Erina's solo releases would come to an end.
Below is the video for "My Days for You"
Following the Hello! Project 2013 Winter Concert Tour, Mano Erina graduated and moved onto a career as an actress. Since this graduation, she's appeared in television dramas like "Kumokiri Nizaemon" and the "Minna! Esper Dayo!" revival. As for as film appearances, she has been just as prolific most notably appearing in the "THE NEXT GENERATION -PATLABOR-" movie where she also performed one of the insert songs. Her career is just as active as before and here's hoping it continues for many more years!
I leave with the video for "Tasogare Kousaten".
When Country Girls formed last year I was confused by many aspects of the group. Are they a revival of Country Musume? Are they going to be performing that group's back catalog? Will their releases be as sporadic? What exactly is Momoko's role in the group? Well, their first single dropped a couple weeks ago and I am glad to say that while very few of those questions were answered, Country Girls did pull off an awesome debut release!
You may recall that this single was originally going to be an indies release. That was of course changed and Country Girls get to kick off their career with a major debut. The group's talent is clear in this single as well as the fact that this single sold an impressive 45,000 copies its first week (Putting it in the #3 spot on the Oricon Chart). I admit that I always assume the worse of the younger Hello! Project members. I always assume they're vocals are going to be off-putting and their talent questionable. Well, Juice=Juice proved me wrong a couple years back and Country Girls do it again here. Before I continue let me state here that new Hello! Project lyricist, Kodama Ameko, has been doing an amazing job partially filling in for Tsuku's absence. This twenty-one year old woman has talent! The two Country Girls songs she penned are pretty amazing and let's not forget that she was also behind ANGERME's "Otome no Gyakushuu". While I lament Hello! Project's loss of Tsunku I am glad that people like her and Takui Nakajima are able to so effectively carry on the Hello! Project legacy.
Let's jump right into the single now. First up is "Itooshikutte Gomen ne" ("I'm Sorry For Being So Adorable"). I normally don't care much for songs like this, It's cutesy and has a tinge of that forgettable generic vibe to it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if this is where your tastes lie, it's just that these type of songs come up a lot in the course of idol groups and they can sometimes start to blend together. Let me stop there and mention that this song does not totally fall into that category, the chorus and retro-style melody save it in my opinion. It reminds me of some of the songs the old Country Musume line-up put out and also had me initially wondering if Takui Nakajima had a hand in its writing (He did not). The English parts are a nice touch too and the production quality itself is what you'd expect from a major Hello! Project release. I do not recommend this song for those that can't stomach the sugary sweet side of Hello! Project though especially when one watches the video! Then again is there really a fan of Hello! Project who can not at least tolerate the cuter side of things? That being said, I am pleased to note that Momoko isn't hamming up her Momochi personality in Country Girls. I know that that wasn't the purpose of having her in this group, but I initially feared that she would attempt to act in a fashion similar to the other girls who are much younger than her. This brings me to a question I asked earlier: What is Momoko's role in the group? She's their leader of sorts and performs too, but she operates in a strange position apart from the rest of the girls. I at first assumed she'd act like a borrowed member like Rika Ishikawa and Konno Asami/Miki Fujimoto did in the past. That doesn't seem to be the case as she's not only much more involved than they were, but she also has no other group to return to outside of Country Girls. I wonder if this is just a way to stall her graduation for another year. Anyhow, the song is catchy and the video is very cheerful without being too distractingly cute. The outfits in the video scream classic S/mileage to me for some reason though and I can't help but have that thought run in my mind whenever I watch the PV. There are worse things to compare a group to though aren't there?
The other A-Side to this single (Remember when Hello! Project actually had proper B-sides?) is "Koi Dorobou" ("Love Thief"). Remember how I mentioned the other video not being cute, but not too cute? Well this one throws that concept out the window and mixes in some pink. LOTS of pink. That was honestly all I took away from the video the first time. The fact that every aspect of it was tinged pink. PV aside, I actually like this song a bit more than "Itooshikutte Gomen ne". It has the same catchy vibe present in the original, but has a stronger driving beat complete with a catchy chorus and playful lyrics courtesy of the aforementioned Kodama Ameko. Gotta love the use of "love me do" in the song too, something that Tsunku used to add to several of his Hello! Project songs. I can't help but wonder if this was an homage to him. I might have to look that up. Back to the song, the song moves fast and this one also had me checking the writing credits to see if Takui Nakajima had a hand in it. He didn't, but the song is still really catchy. Try to not sing along if you can! If there is one song from this single that I'll probably still be listening to later on in the year, it's this one. Gotta love that "Oh my god!" at the end! I mentioned that the other song's outfits reminded me of S/mileage, well the ones here are reminiscent of something Juice=Juice would be outfitted in.
There you have it. Country Girls are apparently here to stay and this is not a bad thing! Hello! Project was sorely lacking in new groups and these girls fill that void very well. Being the first group to not have Tsunku-produced material did not keep them from surpassing not only this fan's expectations, but probably all those who didn't believe that a debut Hello! Project group could still command such impressive first-week sales. Be sure to pick up the single if you haven't already and check out the PVs I so graciously provide in this review!
Country Girls Are:
◆ Tsugunaga Momoko (嗣永桃子) (Play Manager)
◆ Yamaki Risa (山木梨沙)
◆ Inaba Manaka (稲場愛香)
◆ Morito Chisaki (森戸知沙希)
◆ Shimamura Uta (島村嬉唄)
◆ Ozeki Mai (小関舞)
◆ Rin Rigoni