Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Liebster Awards 2013

Admittedly, 2014 has already reared his curious little head but whatever - that's really not the point.

From what I can tell, The Liebster Awards is basically a way of promoting lesser-known blogs. Or just making people answer questions. Or something. I don't entirely get it but it's a nice idea.

There are a bunch of rules but they involve nominating 11 other blogs and...I don't even know that many. And the ones I do know were already nominated by the blog who nominated me to begin with so...I'll have that to skip that part.
However, I will link back to the blog who nominated me and answer the questions. Basically, I'm a suck for questionnaires and nothing can ever change that. End of.

Anyway, let's get to the point.
The lovely person who nominated me is none other than Chiima of Okay! Musume Time!
Her blog is basically what inspired me to get back into blogging (though I wound up abandoning it due to my computer being made of hate and pain and evil and the tears of kittens), and she has supported me the most. I'd like to take this moment to thank her for everything she has done for me, in terms of blogging or otherwise.

Moving along, I shall now answer the questions she provided. Here we go~!

1. How did you find Idols, and what got you into them?
Well, aside from a very short-lived interest in PUFFY as a child, sparked of course by Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi and Teen Titans (I still rather love the latter), the first Japanese artists I got into were Hirano Aya and Chihara Minori and, to a lesser extent, Sugiyama Noriaki. In other words, I liked Seiyuu. Eventually, I moved onto J-Rock, specifically Nightmare (thanks to Death Note). I got really quite into Visual Kei and J-Rock as a whole, with my favourites being Miyavi and GACKT. GACKT, of course, has remained my favourite artist (pfft, favourite person) ever since - GACKT as a living, breathing organism and a unrealistically lovely entity is very important to me, and has had a huge influence on me for the past five and a half years.
So, I went on like this for a few months until, as per my elder sister's recommendation (as she had been listening to Japanese music a few years prior to me), I started listening to Morning Musume - I had already nicked her MP3 Player on a few occasions just to listen to the two W (Double You) songs she had on her MP3 Player (Ai no Imi wo Oshiete and Robokiss). I actually remember the very first time I properly listened to Morning Musume too. It was 2008 and I had been putting music onto my MP3 player (a measly thing, only held about 250 songs - my current MP3 Player is full at 1973 songs)- I wanted a few more songs to fill up the space that was left after having filled the thing up with J-Rock and Animusic. I asked my sister for suggestions and, of course, she said Morning Musume and W (Double You) - I downloaded Onna ni Sachi Are and Koi no Vacance. Unfortunately, it turned out that there was something wrong with the W song so that kind of fell flat. But, I still hadn't listened to Onna ni Sachi Are - I was going in blind. You see, though, the reason I was filling it up was so that I had music for the drive to France, as we were just about to go there for a family holiday. Waiting for the ferry in the dead of night, I finally reached the end of the playlist and came upon Onna ni Sachi Are. From that moment forth, I was sold. So, basically, Onna ni Sachi Are and the ever glorious vocal chords of the grand Takahashi Ai are what got me into Idols. Even so, it was until a year later that I finally realised that Ai was my favourite female Idol.

2. How long have you been blogging for now?
Ooooh, let's see. On and off, I have been blogging since 2008 - I started with meagre little excuse for a blog, to which I downright refuse to link, though I promptly realised that it was nothing short of a disaster. So, that's a good five years. Though, I have never successfully managed to keep blogging actively for a significant amount of time - unless Tumblr blogs count. So, yeah, I basically have nothing interesting to say here. Oh dear.

3. Think of a random Idol song. The first one that pops into your head, what is it, and what do you think of it?
GIMME LUV by KAT-TUN, because I watched a new performance of it earlier and it has been stuck in my head since. Though, given that I'm in the middle of listening to Placebo, the chances of something less typical of myself popping up were already slim. Anyway, I do rather love this song but it's far from my favourite KAT-TUN song, and it's certainly not in my Top 3 for the Kusabi mini-album - which doesn't say much because it is an all-round very strong mini-album anyway. Though, it's sort of sad because, well, there's no Koki. The wound is still fresh! It's definitely the kind of song you would expect from KAT-TUN but maybe to a fault? That is to say, it's good but it's nothing particularly exciting. It didn't really bring anything new to the table, which is why other songs like FANTASTIC PLANET, PHOENIX and FIRE & ICE are the ones that stood out to be on the mini-album (and let us not forget MONSTER NIGHT, which is a work of pure genius, thank you Ueda).

4. Now think of your favourite Idol song! What is it, and why is it your favourite?
BIRTH or FACE to Face by KAT-TUN. Or 1582 by Kamenashi Kazuya. I've already written a post on why I love 1582 so much, so we won't be going there again (at least, not until I finally get round to writing a post on why I think it's totally about Oda Nobunaga and Mori Ranmaru totally being a thing, written in the voice of Mori Ranmaru - because the Sengoku Jidai is 10/10 fab go you and, also, because, face it, to think that this idol might have actually written a song from an entirely homosexual point of view is pretty interesting). As for the first two, I don't know what to say. Like, they're my favourite just because they are. Okay, no, with FACE to Face, I know why I love it so much. I love how dramatic it is, how it builds up and how the chorus hits. I mean, the chorus is gorgeous - there's so much going on but it's not messy. There's this sort of harmony that is made of all these different layers. The emotion and melody, too. Oh god, it's beautiful. As for BIRTH, I don't know what it is. It might be because it's the ending song to Yokai Ningen Bem (though, Tatta Hitotsu no Koi is my favourite drama, yet I prefer BIRTH to Bokura no Machi de). It might be because BIRTH is the first KAT-TUN single I ever had pre-ordered (not personally, since it was a birthday present). It was the first single for which I had the PVs on DVD. BIRTH's Making-Of was also the first one I watched the entirety of without subtitles. There's a lot of nostalgia tied in with this song. It's also become the song I test new headphones on because, somehow, it's a good song for that sort of thing.
If this was supposed to be my favourite female idol song then...well, whoops. Though, I will say that it's probably Onna ni Sachi Are or Fantasy ga Hajimaru by Morning Musume, or MY BOY or MIRACLE HAPPY LOVE SONG by Buono!. But I'm leaving it at that for obvious reasons.

5. If you could go to any country right now, which country would it be?
I really don't have a clue? I could go to England, London to be precise, but it's also 2AM so nah. But, obviously, I'm going to be an unimaginative little shit and say Japan. Though, I'd genuinely like to go to Japan, for reasons other than my interests. I'd prefer to go to Tokyo or Yokohama, though. Yokohama is gorgeous, okay? I'd love to see Minato Mirai 21. Even if I saw it from a distance, I'd be happy, since it makes for such a lovely backdrop. The Yokohama nightscape is definitely something I want to see at least once in my life. I'd like to go to Japan for various reasons. For one, I'd love the chance to see GACKT or KAT-TUN live, but there are other things as well. I'd love to see the castles - I genuinely love castles, no doubt because of my mum's own interest meaning that we were taken to lots of castles growing up. I've seen lots of English, Scottish and French castles, and they've all been really cool, but I'd like to see castles from a entirely different part of the world. The Japanese castles are a lot newer and Japan seem to put more effort into restoration than France (Britain are pretty serious about it, mind you), so they'd be really cool to see. I really love Sengoku Jidai stuff, as I have already stated, so it'd be cool to see if I could visit any castles directly related to that (Nagano Castle, for example). Also, the shopping districts in Tokyo are, based on photos and blogposts I've seen, pretty interesting places. I am absolutely not a weird Japan-fetishising weaboo, I will say that much - it's just a place I'd really like to go. I don't think I have skewed idea of what the place is like. Besides, it'd be a nice chance to practice my Japanese, I guess?

6. What was your favourite childhood cartoon?
Growing up, I was entirely addicted to cartoons - I didn't watch any of the live action shows on Nickelodeon and Disney because I only wanted to watch cartoons (I mean, when I was about 5 or 6, before that Blue's Clues was totally my thing...even though that's mostly cartoon - as a side note, if you didn't have Kevin, sorry, but you were doing it wrong). I loved cartoons above all else and that definitely stuck, given that I'm studying animation at University (and am generally a bit of an animation nerd).
However, that being said, there is only one answer I can give to this question and that is...
The Powerpuff Girls!!
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with that show. Like, well and truly obsessed. I've talked to people about it and they've been like 'Oh, me too, it was great', but I can always tell, based on how excited they sound, that they don't get it. Okay, maybe that's unfair but, no joke, it was my life. The first 5 years of my Primary School life (which lasted seven years) were defined by Powerpuff Girls and Spyro. Everyone I knew knew that I loved The Powerpuff Girls. There was no way I was letting them get away with not knowing. I used to get the magazine and I was absolutely gutted when they turned it into yet another generic magazine for young girls that focused on all the stuff I didn't care about (make-up, fashion, boys, so on and so forth - hey, no harm to those who did like those magazines but I never cared even for a moment). I wanted a magazine about a trio of little girls that bloody well kicked ass, not this drivel! Apparently...I've never quite been able to let that one go.
Aside from that, my favourites were Xiaolin Showdown, Teen Titans (as expected, based on what I wrote earlier), Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and Shaman King (does anime count?). And Naruto, when I was just getting into my teens. Again, I was obsessed. Irritatingly so. Naruto was, as it was for many others, the driving force behind all the embarrassing things I said and did when I was about 12. But, again, I was genuinely obsessed. I knew far too much about the series. This was obsession on a grand-scale.
My favourite character was Orochimaru, though, and, looking back on it, he's actually a really good character. Say what you want, make all the mindless Michael Jackson and paedophile jokes you want, I won't listen. Because, at the core, he's possibly the best character, in terms of writing, in the whole series. But that's just my take - I just find a lot of his psychology very interesting.
Also, if you think I'm being annoying and self-superior or whatever about the obsession thing...just search up special interests and that phrases connection to Asperger's Syndrome...that should probably explain enough.

7. Did you ever like Anime or Manga before you got into Idols?
I think there's already enough evidence in this post as it is to confirm that I did, in fact, like anime and managa before I got into idols. The anime I referred to in the previous answer were things I liked before I ever went anywhere near Idol music (after all, I listened to Sugiyama Noriaki because he voiced Sasuke). I know I'm not alone in this, but I've been watching anime ever since I was tiny. As is the norm, my first experiences with anime were Pokemon and Sailor Moon, though I remember occasionally watching Dragonball Z (my elder siblings were really into it, me not so much - I think I was too young to really get it). And, after that, there was Hamtaro and, eventually, Shaman King. And then there was Battle B-Daman, a lesser known series that my younger sister and I were addicted to. We watched it every Saturday morning at 10AM and were genuinely gutted when we went to France for the first time (not the time I mentioned earlier) and missed two episodes! No-one at school watched it so my sister was honestly the only person I knew that liked it. But we really loved it and we even got the toys for Christmas (she got Chrome Zephyr, her favourite character's B-Daman, and I got Cobalt Blade, the main character's Beyblade (I had asked for Lightning Khan, my favourite's one, but I don't think my mum (coughimeansantabecauseiwasthatage) could find it - I loved it dearly anyway). It was my Beyblade. My older sister loved Beyblade but I could never bring myself to care. For me, B-Daman was Beyblade but much better, because it was stupider and funnier and I liked the characters better. And, on top of that, I had a field day when I eventually realised (having liked it for a year or so) that most of the voice actors were in other things I had seen - I'm still not over Enjyu, the owner of the afore-mentioned Lightning Khan, being Kadaj from FFVII : Advent Children. Honestly, I watched Naruto and Neji having the same VA didn't bother me, but, even now, Enjyu just sounds odd because I keep expecting him to start crying about his 'mother' and Sephiroth any second.
Though, one of the greatest anime I ever watched prior to discovering J-Music was Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. Don't ask any questions. Just watch it. You won't be disappointed.
And, it's worth mentioning the anime that got me into J-Music - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. That series sort of represents a turning point in my life, I suppose.

8. What was your best subject in school?
That depends - primary or secondary?
Either way, the answer's are simple enough.
In Primary, my best subject was, without a doubt, story writing. We did it every Tuesday, except for when I had this one teacher who found it boring and would sometimes make us do PE instead. A lot of people loved this because they liked PE (since it was hardly PE in Primary) and weren't very good at story writing. However, I hated PE with a passion and loved story writing more than any part of school. Ever. And it was definitely my best subject. That, and reading. But, like, I got Star Writer (and you got this badge, it was great) quite a lot. I was one of the best spellers in my class and I was known for writing particularly long stories. Okay, they were never all that long, but they were normally longer than everyone else's. I know it's quality over quantity but I think that, at least when you're that age, it's impressive enough that you can get that many words down in a couple of hours. I mean, it was actually super rare for me to ever finish because I had (had? HAD? Let's try have) a terrible habit of going off on tangents. But I always really loved story writing. I actually remember the first story I ever got Star Writer for - it was a two-sentence long story about how I went to see The Emperor's New Groove. It was honestly something like 'I went to see The Emeperor's New Groove. I really loved it', with an awful little drawing of Kuzco as a llama. In Primary 1 you basically had to spell everything right in order to get a Star Writer and I think it's rather good for a four-year-old to spell Emperor, no?
As for Secondary, it's French. No doubt about it. I got an A in Higher despite only having studied the bloody thing for about five minutes. I'm not even exaggerating. I really like the French language so I just sort of picked it up and it stuck. And that's why I'm quite good at French and Japanese (I suppose, given that I'm entirely self-taught but know quite a fair bit of Japanese), but I could never quite get my head around Spanish. Spanish never interested me as a language in the same way. But, seriously, I'm really good at remembering French. One week, I didn't go into school because I needed to get these folios done for my Uni applications, while everyone had been told the date of the Higher French speaking exam (which is marked internally so it's separate from actual exams), which had been the following Monday. They all had a week to study while I, oblivious to this (I knew it was coming up sometime soon but not that soon), drew portraits of singers I liked and watched Tim Burton films. I came in on Monday and it turned out my exam was really early, as one of my classmates kindly informed me. I had to go there and explain that I hadn't studied it at all. The head of the department was really annoyed, saying things like 'I thought you wanted an A' and 'This isn't good enough'. Even so, they agreed to reschedule the exam for Wednesday - I only had a day and a half to memorise the entire passage, which was pretty lengthy (especially since I, queen of the tangents, had written it). So, how did that go? I'll just say that my individual grade for the Speaking Exam was an A, and, as I said before, my overall grade for the class was an A. I got, like, 90% on the speaking test, so, joke's on them really.

9. What is your favourite book? Have you re-read it?
It's a toss-up between The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick and every book in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Though, I've never re-read either of them. I did attempt to re-read the former earlier this year, not having read it in about three years, but got distracted halfway. But I do flick through it every so often and I still feel the same way about every scene as I did before. As for the latter, I only finished the last book this August, and the books were far too emotional to pick up again so quickly.
Currently, though, I'm reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and, even though I'm not far in, I'm in love with it. The Marquis de Carabas is bloody brilliant too. I have no idea but, in my head, he looks like a weird mix between Kefka from Final Fantasy VI and Zhang He (as he appears in Dynasty Warriors), only black (since the character is canonically black and I don't go for this whitewashing bullshit).

10. If you were in a Zombie Apocolypse, who would you ally with? It can be anyone, from fictional to real, to someone you do or do not know! Choose wisely!
Oh. Ooh. Uh. Zhang He (again, Dynasty Warriors version) because he could probably just hack half half of them to daft, spreading strangely optimistic anecdotes about beauty and grace as he went. Genesis Rhapsodos from Crisis Core : Final Fantasy VII because he's like GACKT but with the ability to set people on fire. Because I'm assuming he has his materia, obviously. Ichabod Crane (as he appears in the Tim Burton film), because you kind of need the archetypal nervous guy - but this one has survived the undead before, and seems to have read miraculous healing abilities. Major Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell), because she's strong, a great shot with a gun and, given that she's a cyborg, isn't susceptible to infection. Caius Ballad (Final Fantasy XIII) because, come on, he can turn into Bahamut and he's super strong. Also, I'm pretty sure he, like, doesn't die so, you know, he sells himself. And, I think that's probably it. But that's a bloody good team, if you ask me. And, yes, I have decided that real people aren't good enough for this. I could maybe give GACKT a pass because he'd probably do okay. And a world without GACKT is a silly, silly world.

11. Would you ever volunteer for the Hunger Games?
No. Na-uh. No way. I'd be dead in a second.

So, that's that, right? Well, now, I'm just going to take the opportunity to say that I'm going to try and revive this blog. But this is all for now.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Morning Musume and its Colourful Characters

All opinions are my own, so-on and so-forth. I don't think you should necessarily agree with them but I do, at least, hope you'll treat them with respect.
The group's most recent incarnation and the line-up responsible for this post's namesake - aside from Sakura, of course
So, over the years, many people have had their say on what led to the downfall of Morning Musume - if you could really call it that, considering the group only managed to slip out of the Top 5 singles during the entire Platinum Era - and the general concensus is that UFP's shoddy promotion skills are to blame. I'm not here to argue that point; in fact, though I do have faith that they're getting better at appealing to a broader market and I'm estatic that they finally realised the merit of alternate B-Sides (a bloody good sale pitch, if you ask me), I'd probably be one of the first to pin blame on the management.
 Though, in that sense, I'm one of the few who doesn't think it makes any sense to rant away, cursing Tsunku♂ despite his efforts. I'm sick of seeing people going on about how much they love Tsunku♂, only to turn and bite his head off in a fit of violent pique - it's a strange kind of hypocrisy. Tsunku♂ makes the songs, forms the groups and chooses the lineups, he doesn't control the promotion or the sales. Oh how I wish that people would finally understand that. Do you honestly think that one man could be in charge of all that. It's highly believable that he's an impressively prolific writer and composer - it's not like his songs are the cream of the crop anyway; I like them, a lot, but he's not some super talent who writes music of unrivaled power and meaning - because that can happen, people can do that. I just don't think the theory that Tsunku♂ is really in charge of everything makes sense. Because it doesn't.
Regardless, I don't think the promotion is the only issue. The promotion has gotten better, as have the sales, but there has been something else that the company have been making more effort to focus on that they haven't been doing in the same way for some time. This is something I've believed for quite a while now, actually, and I sort of feel like my point is being proven. What is this shining factor? Well, let's consult the title on that one.
That's right. 'Character'.
In the past, Morning Musume was a certainly a group known for their personality and emphasis on the one person. It really was a group of individuals fighting for the spotlight and there was something almost surreal but oh so very appealing in that. It was sort of like a Spice Girls thing, only less explicit in that you weren't expected to refer to the girls according to a bunch of assigned personalities rather than their actual names. And the girls of Morning Musume's characters were more influenced by the girls themselves - though it has been established that Yossie was never a tomboy to the extent she was marketed as one, they'd only given her that character once they realised it was far more fitting than the 'smart girl' character they had originally planned on sticking her with. There was a strange line between reality and fantasy but it became so blurred that no-one was really any the wiser. Whether or not the girls spent their lives acting (though I don't suspect they honestly did - at least not entirely), this was a fantastic gimmick for the group. It was sort of like a real-life cartoon, and you could pick out your favourite character. That was probably why they had such a widespread appeal in their time - that kind of marketing is ideal for younger children.
Minimoni played on this idea even further and saw great success with really little kids. The fact that they had formed this group for a very specific market and made the whole thing run according to these 'characters' worked extremely well. And, I mean, Minimoni certainly was like a cartoon come to life, a concept only aided by various Minimoni cartoons and guest appearances in multiple Hamtaro films. As far as Kiddy Groups go, Minimoni are also the least terrifying I have ever come across in my entire life. Normally these groups freak me out to no end, and are excrutiatingly cringe-worthy - The Wiggles, anyone? I mean, they were okay when I was really small but the octopus was never okay. I always thought it looked...just wrong. And, then, there was stuff like The Singing Kettle (which is a Scottish thing) - something about it always frightened me just a little, particularly the song about being eaten by a snake, or whatever it was. It kind of terrified me just a little.

Morning Musume kept this idea of each girl being their own character going for a while; the most obvious examples being Yuko (the woman from Osaka - which comes with its own stereotypical traits), Kaori (the spacey but caring one), Rika (the one who's cute and knows it), Yossy (the tomboy), Aibon & Nono (the 'double-trouble'-type pair), Ai (the girl next door), Konkon (the shy genius), Miki (the one with the sharp tongue), Sayu (the one who's cute, knows it and will never hesitate to tell you about it) and Reina (the yankii). In that sense, 4th Gen were pretty perfect in that they were the Generation with the most obvious characterisation. In the days of 6th Gen's youth as a Generation, they even had a song about it - the beloved Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari.

In fact, it wasn't until 8th Gen came and the last of 4th Gen left that this concept began to die away. This was mainly the result of the group's shift from a group of individuals singing cheery, energetic tracks into a seemingly united collection of girls singing tracks of a much more mature and demure nature - the character gimmick wasn't necessary. Of course, the way 8th Gen were presented was less than helpful. Mittsi was, pretty much, 'the boring one'. Now, I'm not saying she was in anyway boring. It was Tsunku♂ himself who said he chose her for her placidity. In terms of being a 'character', she was a lot calmer, a lot more refined, and that was supposed to work as a nice contrast to the personalities of the other girls (especially considering Kame, who had previously been yet another 'shy girl' type had evolved into this weird basketcase looney kind of person). And, of course, JunJun and LinLin, both brilliant girls in their own right - though, in terms of personality, I always found LinLin more appealing. In voice, too, actually. JunJun, yeah, I liked her. I liked her a lot. But she never really struck a permanent chord with me. Their problem was, however, the fact they were presented as 'the Chinese girls' - Chinese is not a character trait. And, really, after about half a year, the 'Chinese' novelty had worn off and the girls weren't given any thing else with which to market themselves, leaving LinLin's gorgeous powerhouse vocals shoved right into the back burner.

So, with the only girls in the group who had ever been in a lineup featuring any 1st or 2nd Gen members becoming mature adults for the sake of the group's new image, it was up to 7th and 8th Gen to mix things up and keep the group fresh. The group's character dynamic, of course, depends upon the constant changing of characters available. However, with 8th Gen's characters not working out as well as they could have, the onus was on 7th Gen only member to keep it going. Koharu was a perfect member in regards to having a specific character. She was this eccentric girl in a state of constant hyperactivity. Basically, she was the group's resident looney and rarely managed to blend in with the others when they were trying to appear sexy or mature. So many people who originally hated her grew to like her purely based on how genuinely nice she seemed to be - this hatred-hype hasn't existed for some time but, back in 2008-2009, it was a pretty big deal. She was the big Jedward-Marmite-type thing of the H!P fandom. Koharu always had this airhead thing going on and, to that extent, saying it how it is was just part of her charm. Unfortunately, this same trait, when removed from the 'character' has the potential to cause problems - as it did, when her honesty had the fandom burning up in rage (and while I do agree that she was out of place in terms of the whole Japanese culture of respect, I'd like to maintain that's she's no longer an idol and now has the right to say whatever the bloody fuck she wants - I might be alone in this but I sort of respect her honesty, but not her manners).

While Koharu seemed perfect for the group in this respect (I feel this is why she was the 'Miracle'), her Kirarin gig distracted from the character gimmick entirely. Because she had this solo career, she channeled the majority of her energy into that, and her character was promoted through it. Because there was no need to over-market her, Morning Musume wasn't gifted with the full extent of that. Koharu was a Miracle that was never really allowed to happen.

However, with the advent of the 9th, 10th and 11th Gens, and the release of an album seemingly in tribute of this character thing, the old glory seems to be returning somehow. Due to this, better promotion and, no doubt, a new musical direction, the group have risen up, getting two #1s on the Oricon Weekly in a row - a feat that hasn't be achieved since 2001 when the group managed to earn themselves 3 consecutive #1s. It probably helps that the group's current leader is also the most gimmicky of the lot. Sayu never once dropped the 'Ichiban Kawaii' act since the day it came to her and I honestly respect her for it. So, with Sayumi taking the reigns, it only makes sense to bring back that over-the-top characterisation the group was once famed for. Morning Musume's return to the spotlight comes now, just as I always thought it would (I mean, when they brought back the character thing, not when Sayu became leader).

((as far as character's go, I am again drawn to the tomboy character - Kuduu's my favourite in the group, if you take into account Reina's graduation))

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Nightmare of Franchising

All opinions are my own, and I expect you to respect them - but, whatever you do is up to you. Just don't be an awful git.
Okay, sure, for a J-Pop-orientated blog that hasn't seen the light of the day for a month or so, this is a bloody weird post to come back with but it is a thought that has been eating away at the back of my head for a bit. I've been studying Tim Burton's films lately, for school, so this whole situation, though it has nothing to do with any of the three films I'm studying, kind of came to my attention.
Anyone who's seen Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas will know it as the tale of a conflicted skeleton who is simply bored to death (oh, the irony) of doing exactly what is expected of him - I don't know, maybe that was supposed to reflect Burton's own feelings towards his work at Disney at the time of writing the original poem. The film is generally branded with this image as being a darker kid's film, due to his Hallowe'en-y theme and, doubtless, the fact that the protagonist is a skeleton. It's not traditonal kid's film fair, I'll give you that. But, traditional doesn't really mean anything. In terms of content, theme and tone, it's a family-friendly film - I've loved the film dearly since I was very small and I never once found it even remotely frightening, as the higher-ups at Disney seemed to assume children would. Take out the skeleton and the Hallowe'en, and you've got a charming story about a man, sick of forced expectations, trying to find his own in a whole new field - but you have to add the removed elements back in straight away or you've got no real plot. The theme, however, is entirely universal and is purely another example of Burton portraying the outsider trying to come into his own. That is the entire point of the film.
For those who may not know so much about the sweet stop-motion film, it follows Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and ruler of the quaint little establishment, Hallowe'en Town, and his newfound boredom in regards to being the man responsible for terrifying people year after year. Of course, being known for one thing and one thing only, and being expected to live only according to that image, is boring, that goes almost without saying. Curious to find out what the rest of the world has to offer, Jack comes across the dreamland that is Christmas Town, singing out in joy, 'Oh, I want it for my own'. He becomes immediately obsessed and devises an innocent-enough plan to 'kidnap Mr Sandy Claws', or Santa, as he is more commonly known, with the intention of taking his own stab at this whole Christmas thing. Naturally, this doesn't go entirely to plan and Jack is forced to overcome a number of obstacles, some pretty standard and some slightly bizarre, though what way round that works probably depends on your perception of things.
Jack's biggest obstacle - dealing with Oogie Boogie who is, admittedly, kinda creepy
The film has become somewhat of a goth cult classic, along with other Burton films (namely Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, though the idea of the latter being that baffles me too), because of its rich, dark visuals and the inclusions of various typical Hallowe'en ghouls and goblins. Jack himself has become a popular emblem of gothic tastes with young teenagers, with far too many of them wearing big-ass hoodies with his image smashed on top. It's all rather tacky, actually, considering the source. To me, this strange merchandising tool betrays the film entirely. Maybe I'm just being pedantic, but I feel like there's something wrong there. Something really wrong.
I mean, the whole point of Jack was that he was sick of being this scary, ghoulish guy - 'Yet year after year, it's the same routine/ And I grow so weary of the sound of screams' he sings, distressed that he seems to be stuck in an eternal cycle of terrifying children. The whole thing about him finding Christmas Town and being so fascinated was pretty important. It was his way out of that cycle. I don't know, the idea that his image is sold off like that seems to contradict the film's whole message. It's, like, 'Sure, it's good to go out and find yourself but your opinion isn't the one that brings in the cash so we're just going to go against your whole point'.
I haven't got a cue it bothers me at all. Maybe it's because I've loved this film since I was very small, because Jack's story was actually pretty touching. I mean, my life thus far has been a mix of me not getting stuff and people not getting me so (and not in a whiny teenager kind of way - I mean, I'm Autistic, that's sort of how it works), maybe, I could kind of associate with the situation. There was also this kind of purity that I saw in the film and it stuck with me. In my eyes, most of the merchandise is kind like a big, fat shit in the face of what I believed the film to represent.
That being said, I don't hate the merchandising as a whole - just those few naff lines of stuff. Some of the merchandise is actually pretty nice, particular the stuff that involves either Burton drawings or film screenshots. These don't really argue with what the film's about, I find. I mean, most of Burton's drawings of Jack depict a more pleasant looking Jack but, even if they don't, the right kind of tone is there. It's just a lot less...soulless, I find. I actually had a lunchbox once - a tin one with screenshots of the film on it. I think I had it in Primary 6 or 7, maybe, and I really loved it. I don't know where it is now, my mum probably binned it but I just remember really liking it. I actually remember that part of the reason for me liking it was the fact it was a lunchbox of the film and not this character that didn't really seem to match the image I had in my head of Jack. My best friend had some stuff, like notebooks and things, that were more like the latter, cause she had a stage where she was pretty into the film, but I still preferred the other stuff. It seemed truer to the source, I guess.
The lunchbox in question...I found the picture on Google, though
I think it's just a personal thing because I had this very specific idea of what the film was about. I think it's also probably to do with the fact that it kind of shows that people aren't, maybe, taking in the actual meaning of the film. It's to do with people's perception of things, I suppose. It's just that there is a deeper context to the film, without reading too much into it, that people seem to ignore. I don't know. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. I mean, Jack has a pretty nice design - he's a pretty distinct character. But, hey, who said franchising had to be good? Franchising is just a giant money-making scheme, that's the point. I mean, it's Disney franchising too. Why am I surprised?
I do have to say, however, Kingdom Hearts portrays Jack qutie well. I haven't actually ever manged to play a Kingdom Hearts game long enough to get to that level (my sister took the PS2, my DS is dying of death and it's not in the PSP game) but, from what I've seen, their depiction of him's quite honorable. He seems to have the right amount of optimism and cheeriness - they make him out to be a nice guy and that's what's important. He's got the right kind of hopeless Ed Wood-y optimism about him (though, that probably only makes sense if you've seen Ed Wood - I mean the Tim Burton film, not the actual guy) in that regardless of how much he fails, he's still this really positive guy. Oh, Nomura games, can you do any wrong? (seriously, though, Nomura and Burton - what a combo)
Oh, Goofy is scarier than normal

Monday, 11 March 2013

[FILM REVIEW] Romance and Robots, it's Cyborg She!

All opinions are my own, I don't expect you to agree. After all, your opinions are your own, too~

This is my 2nd film review, so, please, just bear with me~

Plot : 10/10

Characters : 9/10

Cinematography: 9/10

Humour :  9.5/10

Soundtrack : 8/10

Overall : 9/10

I was actually with Ashita no Joe, but this is actually a harsh ranking. That says a lot about how much I loved it.
This film, 'Boku wa Kanojo wa Cyborg' (trans; My Girlfriend is a Cyborg), known internationally as 'Cyborg She' and, in some cases, 'Cyborg Girl', is a sci-fi romcom, written and directed by Kwak JaeYoung of 'My Sassy Girl' fame. It stars Koide Keisuke (Koizora, Gokusen 2) and Ayase Haruka (Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, Hotaru no Hikari, Ichi), with the latter being my favourite actress, by the way. It's a really nice film with a unique take on a somewhat clichéd concept and bucketload of surprises.
Don't worry, her tears aren't a spoiler. This happens right at the start of the film. Actually, this scene is on the back of the bloody DVD Box!

 So, here we have it, your 100% been-there, done-that, clichéd to death, nerd boy meets his dream girl, she's cooler than him, more stylish than him and seemingly out of his league yet she, without any hesitation makes it clear she likes him too. Appearing out of nowhere on Kitamura Jiro, a typical, dorky university student,'s 20th birthday, 'Girl' (for she is not given a name througout the entire film) is a lively and outgoing woman, verging on the eccentric. But, there's a twist. She reveals she's actually from the future and then buggers off for a whole year, only, upon return, it seems that she's a cyborg, entirely stoic and seemingly unable to express any emotion. In fact, this new woman, modeled on the mysterious girl he had met a year prior, also remaining nameless the whole film, was sent into the past by a future version of Jiro in order to save and protect him, as well as warn him of some nondescript disaster soon to come. Of course, with this being a romcom, sweet hilarity ensues as Jiro learns to cope with living alongside a cyborg from the future and she learns how to live normally alongside ordinary humans.
Basic summary aside, this film is actually a lot better and a lot more original than it sounds. Now, it doesn't sound bad at all, I don't think but it is worlds better than I had expected. I feel like a proper twat for taking nearly a year after buying to watch this. Honestly, the plot delivered - it did not disappoint. I can't say too much but this film twists and turns in an unimaginable fashion, keeping you properly hooked from the sweet exposition to the touching finale. The plot is very well structured and, despite how the film may sound at first, is very clever. It's one of those films where you really have to think over what you've just watched upon reaching the end - this is a positive point, of course. It's one of those stories that lingers in your mind as everything finally sinks in.

Haruka being adorable with a lizard


The characters were really good and very likeable but they weren't anything new. That was their let-down. Sure, they were original, they were well-developed, but they didn't exactly wow me in anyway. They weren't characters that I'd hold dear to me forever more, allowing them a special, warm place in my list of favourite fictional characters. I think they were just a little too 2-Dimensional for that. Just a little. Though, I'd suggest that this was their sole let-down.

Kitamura Jiro

As already established, Jiro, played be Koide Keisuke, is your average, slightly nerdy Uni student, fed-up with the monotonously mundane life of loneliness and Uni lectures (the subject is never revealed but his interest in science combined with blackboards full of lengthy formulas suggest that it's some branch of Physics). Before meeting Girl from the Future, Jiro would celebrate his birthday alone, buying himself a small present and eating spaghetti (as his grandma told him this would guarantee him a longer life) at the same restaurant every year. Girl from the Future and Cyborh Girl both manage to disrupt this sysmtematic lifestyle of his, thus freeing him somewhat from the crippling restrictions of a world ruled by routine. Jiro is, pretty much, a guy taken from the pages of some peverted manga and made less annoying and misogynistic. Of course, he's less of a pervet but he's still pretty curious about women, clearly having had very little physical contact with them, leading to him trying to feel Cyborg Girl up on a few occasions, only to have his ass handed to him. Jiro is far from a perfect person but that makes him more likeable. He's a nice guy with a decent heart but he's not 100% goody-goody - he's really believable, making the story easier to identify with. He isn't a stunning and flawless Adonis amongst men nor is he a drooling, babbling idiot with a fetish for all things anime girl. He's a bit of a loser, likes comics and cartoons, but he's a normal guy, and a likeable one at that.

Cyborg Girl

Played, quite brilliantly, by Ayase Haruka, the Cyborg Girl is strangely endearing character, who starts off as a seemingly emotionless cyborg (who does not appreciate being called a robot) but she, slowly but surely, learns to express her feelings and interact with other people in a semi-normal manner. She's extremely powerful and provides for the vast majority of the action scenes in the film, even beating up some potential yankii rapists in a brilliantly visualised fightscene that seemed almost like a hint of wishful thinking on the part of women (I don't know, something like that). What I like about the Cyborg Girl is that, though she's mostly uncapable of expressing normal human emotion, she's still a character that's easy to understand and sympathise with. Even though her expressions do improve, they never get to the level where she's quite like a normal human, but her feelings are clear. She's sort of sweet but also badass. I like that! And, besides, she basically saves Keisuke's arse on several occasions, so she serves as a nice reversal to that worn-out 'damsel in distress' trope.


The other important character, played again by Haruka, is actually a lot more of typical of Haruka's normal acting roles, and closer to Haruka herself in personality. She's ditzy, happy-go-lucky and quirky - nothing out of the norm for a romcom heroine. Y'know, aside from the fact that she's from the future and all. The Girl is actually a pretty interestinc character, though it may not seem so at first. I mean, from the outset, she's likeable and funny, but there's a lot of stuff about her that makes zero sense until the end of the film. That's what makes her interesting. She's a total enigma until the end - I'd go into detail but a spoiler like that would actually take away from the impact of the film's finale.
I'd have to say, in terms of visuals, this film was pretty good. The colour schemes were well-selected and fit to the appropriate moods perfectly, the timing and sequencing was very effective and the special effects weren't bad at all. Actually, aside from the written content, the visuals was one of the winning points for this film. Image-wise, this film was very catching. There were a lot of big, dramatic scenes and action shots in this film but they fit in seamlessly with the more emotional and touchfelt scene, and a lot of that was to do with the effectively changing visuals. However, that being said, the visuals weren't the best out there, not at all, and the CG wasn't perfect.  They work with the story, though, so, really, it's more than forgiveable in that respect.

Oh my Glob, dramabomb
Other than the plot, the humour was the best aspect of the film. This film was not a laugh-out-loud-funny but, for what it is, the humour is strong. The humour comes mainly in the form of sharp or peculiar dialogue, but also in more visual scenes. The humour in this film is rather subtle and, if you like subtle humour, it's a hit - I for one am a fan. Well, I mean, it's not extremely subtle, but on the grand scheme of things...really, as far as humour goes, I'm not all that sure how to place this film but it is funny. It's not the most hilarious thing I've ever seen but it really fits in with the mood of the film and doesn't even take away from any more serious scenes. The funny bits of this film are integrated cleverly with the deeper parts and it works really well.

'da fuck is this shit' - Jirou's default emotion, apparently


Don't get me wrong, it was a good soundtrack that worked really well with the film. The music played a pretty big role in developing the mood of the film and it was pretty bloody effective. The only issue was that it wasn't particularly memorable, nor was it surprising in any way. It was a bit generic as far as movie scores go and it didn't seem overly stylistic. It was nothing I haven't heard before.

Overall Review

When I bought this film, I bought it for Ayase Haruka's role in the film. Granted, I'd seen trailers and I'd read a little about it, but, the main selling point was Ayase Haruka - that was mainly because I was in Fopp and I wanted to buy a film so I went for one with an actor I knew and liked in it. Somehow, when I bought the film, though I thought it seemed interesting, I didn't actually expect too much from it. I was convinced it might end up being kind of trashy. I was either going to love it or hate but, either way, I had this feeling it was going to be, on a technical level, crap - like a kind of cinematic pulp fiction. However, I watched the film and, despite my preconceptions and worries, it was really good and pretty deep. If this had been a book, it would have been a pretty good read, actually, and not pulp fiction at all. The plot was brilliantly structured and the visuals were stunning. I was very pleasantly surprised. Very.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Johnnies and Their Sparkles - what does everyone else see?

This post is, above all else, a bunch of opinions, so don't get pissed if they clash with your own.
And, don't allow yourself to be mislead, this is mostly a post about homosexuality and the world's perception of it.
My two favourites in KAT-TUN, sparkling away in typical Johnny's fashion
Any Johnny's fan knows what to expect, especially when  it comes to concerts - surges of sparkling sequins and glitter galore. It takes some fans longer than others to fully accept the blinding barrage of these glimmering get-ups but we all learn eventually. I, for one, was fully embracing of it all quite early on, but I already quite liked sparkles as a whole. Though, that being said, I've developed a stronger desire to have everything sprinkled with sparkles, naff as it potentially is. However, some people never really come to terms with it. Some brand the overuse of sequins as ugly, which is fair enough because, in many cases, it is, especially where Johnny's Jr are concerned. Honestly, I'm a Hyphen, and KAT-TUN get the easy end of the stick. The abuse of glitter in their outfits is often more tasteful than is the case with some other groups. But the problem lies in those who are put off for another reason. They are men.
This whole thing really came to mind when my friend, not a fan of Johnny's and an extremely casual fan of Japanese and Korean music, at best, insisted upon continuously ridiculing all the sparkles when I was, quite innocently, trying to watch KAT-TUN's QUEEN OF PIRATES and NO MORE PAIИ cons, particularly where Koki was concerned. She told me Koki was too punk or too goth in these concerts to be that sparkly, which is funny because I wouldn't say Koki was either of those things. Actually, during QUEEN OF PIRATES, he was still leaning towards the Yankii look and, from what I remember, those guys are pretty glammed up. However, what really irked me was her claims that Kazuya could get away with it on the basis that he looked kind of like a girl, because being pretty and feminine are now one in the same thing, but, more than that, he looked kind of gay anyway.
Yankii glam. Definitely.
Now, if Kazuya were gay, I, frankly, wouldn't give a flying fuck. I mean to say, it wouldn't change my view of even remotely, so I didn't take the comment as an attack on  him (I mean, I shouldn't care even if she had said something insulting, but y'know, he's my bias, my oshi, whatever you want to call it). Still, the comment made me feel like dying on the inside, just a little. And, why? Because it was actually pretty homophobic of her to say that. She's not a generally homophobic person but she's one of these people who spends their entire life being pretty nice about homosexuality and stuff but doesn't really get it enough to realise that making less than favourable jokes about sexual orientation isn't actually cool. She's the type who'll say something pretty insensitive and claim it's fine because she has friends who are gay. Now, I'm not trying to bitch about said friend here, not at all. What I'm saying is that this viewpoint is actually surprisingly common. It happens with all kinds of issues - people who 'aren't racist but-' , people who seem to think racism is limited to black people, people who are pretty nice about religions such as Catholocism and Judaism but don't trust Muslims, people who are nice to women but demand the right to be actually pissed off when they don't want to shag them. This is harsh, but people are stupid like that.
Basically, at least in Western culture, if a man 'looks gay', and by this I mean he fits into a stereotype created by narrow-minded idiots, he isn't attractive. Granted, there are quite a lot of people who don't care how 'gay' a man looks, if he's nice he's nice, but there are still a lot of people who think otherwise. Apply the situation to women who 'look like lesbians' and it's even worse, but this is an article related to an all-male entertainment company, so let's not get too out of hand here. A prime example of this split in views in British culture is a certain Rylan Clark. Obviously, he was the novelty act on The X-Factor, partially because of how camp he was, but mainly because he was over-the-top, he had a sense of humour about him and he fit the whole bill set by the recent Essex trend perfectly. Lots of people disliked him, some because he was the weakest vocalist in the contest (though, his pitching was probably better than District 3's, just saying), but many because he was so camp. Oh, and openly gay. However, he still had a fanbase. And, thanks to his gig on Celebrity Big Brother, people actually like him now, seeing as they've realised he is just that over-the-top and he's not just playing up the whole gay thing (cause people make these fucking stupid assumptions). Thankfully, Britain seems to be a country quite ready to embrace openly queer celebrities (okay, to an extent, I don't think we really stand that well on the whole trans and intersex issues), so Rylan has come out being well-liked. When he was in The X-Factor, though, he was hated. I don't know how other countries would handle stuff like that but I have a feeling that America would be less open. I'm not saying America's full of homophobes but there seem to be more homophobic attitudes there.
I'm guessing that, in Japan, that's not an issue. Actually, I'm quite sure it's not. If it were an issue, it wouldn't be fanservice when you get two boyband members having 'moments' on stage. This is pretty common with KAT-TUN. Honestly, for all Kazuya's jokey flirting, shoving his face in Koki's crotch, pretending to get it on with Koki, poking other members up the arse with his fingers, my friend decided he looked gay because his outfits sparkles (and because he does that whole hip thing). Really, though, you can't look gay unless you're humping another man or something. Or doing one of the above-mentioned things. But, in those cases, I'm quite sure that was the intention...except for the finger thing, maybe. That may have just been for the sake of being a total pain in the arse (I mean this figuratively, but I guess it works literally too). Well, whatever. If Kazuya does something that might actually look gay, he's sure to have a whole load of fangirls screaming excitedly at him. Same goes for the other members of the group...though, it's most common with Kazuya. Maybe because he's the most popular. Maybe because he gets shipped with everyone, so, no matter what he does, he's probably latched on to someone's OTP. Maybe because a lot of people genuinely believe he might be gay or even bi. I, however, have no real opinion on this. He is what he says he is and he has said in a recent interview that he's never had any feelings for someone of the same sex.
What looks gay in this picture? The sparkly trousers? Or could it maybe be the hand being shoved down one man's shirt and the shove that seems to be headed for the other's crotch? Hmmm
So, I do have a feeling some of this is to do with Western perception, or, at least, foreign perception. While Japan has no kind of protection of gay rights, I've read that there is little need for it. That is to say, little effort is made to deal with abusive and discriminative behaviour because there aren't, apparently, too many issues with it. Obviously, there'll be the cruel slander and offensive slang. That happens anywhere. Though, Japan is also a country with openly trans celebrities (known as 'Newhalf Celebrities', which is something few other places have. However, they do have Hard Gay, who kind of ruins the whole thing. Now, I'm not saying Japan are actually that good with homosexuality since it's not actually that widely accepted but it seems to be less the subject of ridicule. As such, a perfectly attractive man maybe 'looking gay' won't have the same effect it does over here. I mean, as long as we're on the topic of KAT-TUN, it goes without saying that Akame found its roots in Japan, where it's actually known as AkaKame. I've known Akame fans to get angry if you imply that Jin and Kazuya are anything but gay and madly in love with each other. Don't mess with an Akame fan. They're fierce. For the record, I think Akame is a load of bollocks, but that's just me.
Haruna Ai is a pretty well-known Japanese TV personality and singer. She won first place in the 'Miss International Queen 2009' trans beauty pageant. And, y'know, what, I love Ai. She's brilliant!
So, what is this stigma we have towards men in sparkles? I've never found that it takes away from anything. In fact, when I watch the DVDs, KAT-TUN seem to stay looking proper bad-ass even though they're glittering gloriously under the Dome's spotlights. Glitter is associated with girls, though, isn't it? This makes them girly, and, therefore, gay. Apparently. So, really, this whole idealogy is a peculiar blend of sexism and homophobia. But mostly homophobia. If you didn't realise before, yes, that's homophobia. Maybe you don't like sparkles and they put you off. Fine.  Put if they put you off because they look gay...well done, you're a homophobe! If not that, you're a bigot!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Who knew some simple Autotune could result in such nonense? - A quick look at the constant debate between J-Pop and K-Pop

These are just opinions and speculations - my personal views. Don't take them to heart, no harm is intended.
When J-Pop and K-Pop collide...that's right, Momoko and Seungri perform Momochi! Yurushite Nyan ♡ Taisou
I've heard more claims that J-Pop is trying to be K-Pop than I have the other way around and this is half the result of K-Pop anti-fans freaking out and half the result of K-Pop fans getting pissy. I don't feel either are justified, mind you. Being worried that J-Pop might sound like K-Pop might make sense if you just don't like the common style apparent in K-Pop, but, then, you should really say that it's because you don't like the genre K-Pop tends to deal in, not that you don't like K-Pop - a lot of the time, that sounds kind of bigoted. As for the K-Pop fans getting pissy...of course, not all K-Pop fans are like this, but, really, get over yourself. That sounds harsh, but, more often than not, these people seem to be angry Koreaboos who won't accept anything other than the belief that Korea is the home of perfection.
 It seems that the most common thing that has people throwing hissy-fits is the use of autotune. Yes, this is common in K-Pop and, yes, it's probably true that some artists started using it in their songs as a result of the Halyu wave. But, really, it's like everyone thinks that South Korea owns autotune or something.
But, really, let's consider the facts. Autotune wasn't common in K-Pop until 2008 or 2009 when it was popularised by artists like BIGBANG and, in their final years of relevance, SS501, yet people do seem to conveniently ignore that. Okay, granted, it was used prior to that but it wasn't something that could be associated with mainstream K-Pop. Most of the newer K-Pop fans joined their fandoms after the big autotune booms, though, and after SS501 lost relevance, so these details don't really come to light that often. Obviously, there were tons of fans before but, it can't be denied, in the last 2 years, K-Pop has hit it bigger than it ever has before.

 However, autotune has been present in J-Pop for much longer. Think about it, Perfume, who have been around since 2000, made their major debut in 2005 and, with a discography featuring robo-voice tracks galore, they've done extrememly well. Furthermore, several artists have thrown some occasional autotune at their songs. KAT-TUN's '12 o'clock', a pretty autotune heavy song, was released in 2008 as part of their 3rd album. This was before the K-Pop wave really hit off in Japan and the only artists with much relevance were Tohoshinki (or TVXQ, but they're still THSK in this case) and BoA. Of course, SS501 were fairly popular at this time, too, as I'm sure other artists were, but BIGBANG were the real catalyst in the Hanryuu chain reaction, and they didn't break Japan until 2009. Okay, that's not true, they did release an album in 2008 but that was all in English and I don't remember their being too many autotuned tracks (though, there are some). In the same year, though, Yamashita Tomohisa released 'MOLA' as part of NEWS' 3rd album, and, really, that song is extremely autotune-heavy. Actually, though it's not as true for the KAT-TUN track, if MOLA was released now, it would be a song quickly accused of having ripped off K-Pop. At the very beginning of 2009, GACKT released GHOST, which also features a lot of autotune, mainly to achieve a robotic feel. This song could never be classed as K-Pop, granted, but it's a prime example of autotune being used to create a specific image rather than to just copy Korea.

Changmin and Junno sit and look like each other, Ueda looks intrigued, Yoshie looks distraught and Maru looks he really needs to move his head cause he's getting totally in the way of Kame which just isn't on

A lot of the occasions on which I've heard people making these accusations involved Morning Musume and KAT-TUN, actually. Morning Musume have recently started applying a lot of autotune to their songs and, sure, maybe it was inspired by the Halyu wave but that doesn't mean much. Tsunku's clearly picked up on an aspect of today's music scene that is considered trendy by most listeners and, as a result, has decided to make songs using some of those elements. However, he's not copying anyone. It's pretty obvious that these elements have been taken and experimented with in order to make something that will be popular but also still sound like Morning Musume. And he succeeded. I'm sorry, but, what K-Pop group could you see singing Wakuteka Take a chance? Or Help Me!!? These two songs, the latter especially, have a uniquely MoMusu feel to them and I don't think another H!P group could even get that same feeling across. Actually, to be honest, even since 2009 (maybe earlier, I'm too lazy to look into it), MoMusu have been using autotune. Just listen to 'SONGS' from their 9th album. It hardly sounds like a K-Pop song, does it? Though, the other accusation for MoMusu is normally that they sound like VOCALOIDs. This also pisses me off because VOCALOIDs aren't autotuned. They're synthesised voices comprised of every syllable in the Japanese language being spoken by some seiyuu (or GACKT) that can then be edited according to pitch and tempo. Not the same at all. And it doesn't even sound the same. You do get autotuning that makes a person sound kind of VOCALOIDy but that's not the way MoMusu's autotune tends to sound.

Now, as for KAT-TUN, people only started pointing the finger with the release of 'Going!' and I feel that some of that was purely 5-nin hate. Some people honestly prefer KAT-TUN as a 6nin group, to the extent that they dislike 5-nin, and vice versa, and I respect that, but hating on the current group just isn't on. I don't remember there being much fuss with all the autotune in their previous single (and Jin's last, may I add), so, what's the problem? As for other people, I think it was more of a surprise than anything else. Some people dislike autotune and that's fine, some people wanted KAT-TUN to stay rocky, but others were just surprised. KAT-TUN hadn't really released any auotune-heavy singles prior to 20010 but they had released a good few songs like that as B-Sides and album tracks - take for example, LIPS' B-side 'MESSAGE FOR YOU', the afore-mentioned 12 o'clock, RESCUE's B-Side '7 DAYS BATTLE', the album track 'WATER DANCE'. It wasn't as recent a phenomenon as some people made out.

THE D-MOTION was  really autotune heavy

 One track that some people really got at (though, it wasn't a huge deal in the end) was 'RIGHT NOW' from their 5th album. I admit, it does sound a bit closer to K-Pop than other KAT-TUN songs (just a bit), but it was also produced by Steven Lee, who produces quite a lot of songs for K-Pop artists. He's American, but he's ethnically Korean, too. By god, how dare a Korean-American, who has worked in the K-Pop scene, create anything that sounds remotely like K-Pop! Besides, one of the first songs he produced was 'Never Again' from KAT-TUN's first album. He's also produced a bunch of other KAT-TUN songs, Kis-My-Ft2 songs and even a song for the Hello! Project duo, W (Double You). As for K-Pop, he's responsible for many SS501 songs, all but one track of HyunJoong's solo discography and even some SHINee songs. So, really, who cares if something he made sounds kind of like K-Pop?

It's SL Once Again!
Or so goes that song by Kim Hyun Joong

But, all that nonsense aside, autotune was initially an American creation. And, yes, before the Halyuu wave, I had a thing against autotune, though it was extremely brief. And, what was my problem? I thought autotune made things sound too Americanised. Not even that they were ripping American pop music off, though. Just that it sounded kind of like American pop music. I now realise that was a load of bollocks and thoroughly regret being such an arse. Actually, at that time, I had this idea that Western pop music was basically the devil. I'm a lot more tolerant now, though, I wouldn't say there are many artists I properly like, music-wise. Though, I have to say, I've developed a fondness for a few of Nicki Minaj's songs, thanks to my sister being obsessed with her. Actually, Nicki herself is hilarious, so, whatever. I actually think she's pretty cool in her own way. I'm not going to spend my life thinking she's a freak for dressing the way she does because 1) I love some of her outfits and 2) a lot of her outfits are inspired by J-Fashion trends, which I happen to love. Nicki Minaj actually uses a lot of autotune in some of her songs but she still just sounds like Nicki Minaj. It goes to show that autotune can be used and you can still sound like your own artist.

When I first got into K-Pop, though, I always thought it sounded Americanised because of the autotune as well. Again, that's something I quickly got past. Why? Because it doesn't make sense. Besides, K-Pop draws obvious influence from both Western and Japanese pop music. Actually, that's a well-known fact, even among K-Pop fans. Obviously, it has its own specifically Korean twists
 on it, in the same way that 'Western music' is a really loose term (for the record, I'm referring to American and British pop music, but, it is possible that Europop plays its part, too - it certainly seems to in J-Pop). It goes without saying that music from different countries will have a different sound. A different country means different people with a different cultural upbringing which, in turn, produces different tastes. I feel that's a given. As such, to say that music from different countries sounds exactly the same because of a voice filter is ridiculous. Actually, it's pretty ignorant, in my opinion, seeing as the holding of this view would require you to completely ignore the cultural influences on a country's music.

But, more than anything, this idea that J-Pop sounding Korean, or vice versa, tends to be a direct result of racist attitudes. Of course, some people just don't like the style of music most commonly associated with Japanese and Korean pop music, some people just don't like pop music, but many people seem to believe that the song is purely bad for sounding like it's from the wrong country. I think that's a disgusting way to think, actually.

Don't get me wrong, though, the point of this point is to prove that K-Pop is not a uniquely Korean thing (obviously), that autotune has reared its face in J-Pop plenty of times before, and not to prove that Korea is clearly copying Japan. Because it's not. Autotune is a global thing, quite clearly. Autotune does not make something sound like it's from a specific country. That's not how music works. No country is musically superior to another, so, please, anyone who thinks that, get off your fucking highhorse already~

When a fangirl meets her idols - Ai-chan & 2NE1 Edition

Monday, 28 January 2013

[BOOK REVIEW] Goodbye Tsugumi, Hello Amateurish Book Review

All opinions are my own, end of

Having developed the desire to broaden my writing options a little, I decided upon reviewing various examples of Japanese literature, should I get to read some. Obviously, thanks to school, writing about literature is not at all something new to me but I've never casually reviewed a book like this, so, hopefully, I won't cock it up too much.
Goodbye Tsugumi, or TUGUMI (pronounced simply as 'Tsugumi') as it's called in Japan, is the fourth novel of writer of Yoshimoto Banana, originally written back in 1989 before recieving an English-language adaption in 2002.
Goodbye Tsugumi is a novel dealing with people learning to cope with possible loss and saying goodbye, as well as accepting the fact that each and every person sees the world in a different way. Written in a first-person-narrative style, the novel follows the life of said narrator, a young girl of about eighteen years or so, called Maria (this didn't strike me as a very Japanese-sounding name, until I remembered that it could be written as '聖 ', which literally means 'holy' and is normally read as 'sei'. could be written another way, what do I know? But it is stated that she is named after the Virgin Mary, anyway), the Summer of her first year of University. She spends the Summer at her hometown, which she had left for Tokyo just before she started Uni, at her Aunt and Uncle's inn. The second most important character in this book is, in fact, her cousin, the youngest of the inn's two daughters - the titular Tsugumi, a girl who has been weak and frail since birth but, even so, has an extremely powerful personality and, as a result of her extremely brash attitude, she gets close enough to anything she so desires.
As far as plot is concerned, the novel doesn't pick up until much later on, with the majority of the earlier chapters building up a long-winded backstory. The entire novel appears to be written in retrospect so these earlier chapters actually work really well and don't detract from the overall quality of the novel at all. In fact, these earlier chapters are nothing short of vital in that they provide us with a clear understanding of Tsugumi's development as a person, allowing us to understand her a little better. Even later on in the novel, there are certains steps back into the past, but each is relevant to whatever was already happening and do nothing but add to the appreciation of the novel. In all honesty, the plot isn't actually that appealing in itself but it has to be noted that this is not a plot-driven novel by any stretch of the imagination. The novel is almost entirely pulled along by the chharacters and their emotions. The plot isn't bad, but it's a far cry from being anything exciting, so to speak. Above all else, I suppose that it's a slice-of-life novel, so the relaxed nature of the plot actually makes the most sense.

Like I said earlier, this novel is very much character-driven and, as such, the character development in this novel is one of the most appealing features. The characters are all pretty individual and believable. They are human. Pretty much all of the characters are likeable, at least the leading ones. Even Tsugumi, for all her obvious personality flaws. Tsugumi is presented in such a positive light that it's actually slightly difficult to hate her. Despite her needlessly harsh mannerisms, something about Tsugumi makes her an attractive character on whom you can dote. For me, personally, Maria was the best character, though, in terms of technical character development, it may have been Tsugumi. That being said, Maria was still very well developed, especially seeing as she was the narrator, and, on top of that, she was a completely genuine character. She was a normal person and she was really easy to identify with and feel for. I really loved how Maria was presented, along with her views of the world. Tsugumi's older sister, Yoko, was also a really lovely character. She was very real yet still ridiculously pleasant. Speaking of which, it's actually quite impressive how believable Tsugumi is, even with her almost eccentric personality. Despite the walls she so clearly puts up, thanks to Maria's sharp observational skills and understanding nature, Tsugumi proves to be a deep and interesting character.

Something else on which this novel thrives is the presenation of emotions. This is mostly important where Maria's narrative is concerned, but she does seem to have an emotional connection to everything. For Maria, nearly everything seems to have a deeper value and, as a result of that, we are provided with bits of absolutely beautiful description and narrative. Everything is just written out in this sweetly sentimental manner. Of course, it seems that some of text, through translation, has ended up a little stilted but, honestly, if you're already used to fan translations and all that, on the grand scheme of things, the prose in this seems pretty natural. And, even so, the images are still really vivid. In some cases, description like this may seem a little excessive but all of it is so skillfully linked to the overall plot through Maria's emotional connection to the world around her. Instead of getting bored of all the description, I just found myself really appreciating the natural images brought to mind by it all.

All in all, it was a good book. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, nor did the book find a place in my list of favourites, but it was, nonetheless, a bloody good read. I heard the book got mixed reviews, so it might be a hit-or-miss kind of book. All I can say about that is that was certainly a hit for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and I found it to be a relaxing read. It was moving but it was also pretty calm in its execution so it was really easy to just sit down and calmly read it. And, now, as much as I said the book isn't a favourite of mine, it's certainly gotten me interested in reading more of Yoshimoto's work, especially seeing as her other novels have gotten better reviews. This book's certainly worth a read, though, if this kind of thing appeals to you.