Come one, come all, and step right up~! (‘Cause, y’know, it’s a carniv-)
Welcome back once more to another (now more convincingly shcheduled) run of J-Music Exchange/Rate; the tandem album review series between myself and fellow Japanese music fan Al (from the newly-minted Omunibasu) where we trade each other albums to listen to and subsequently talk about in our respective blogs.
After the album exchange we ended up featuring in the previous month (which was, like, two years in the making, lol), Al and I were both in agreement in that we wanted our next one of these to come out sooner rather than later, so here we are (xD). We actually decided on a bit of a theme this time around too, as we went ahead and chose a specific genre of music first before we picked which albums to give to the other and, for this Exchange/Rate in particular we’re doing Japanese Pop!
“J-Pop”, and really just Pop music in general is a fascinating genre. Pop, by its very namesake, has the obvious connotation of it being popular and well-received. Which, when you think about it, is kinda weird in itself. Like, I’m pretty sure most of you would agree that not all songs that become popular are strictly Pop, for example. I would surmise that the genre simply has a certain sound to it that we all generally like to some degree, thus fulfilling its definition. Of course, that’s not to detract from how broad and diverse Pop can be, as you’ll come to realize with our reviews.
This time around I will be going over Shall we ☆ Carnival by the rising idol seiyuu hybrid group i☆Ris, and Al over on his end will be reviewing Remon no Toge by Pop/Rock artist Kuroki Nagisa!
i☆Ris is a six-member Idol Seiyuu unit comprising of Yamakita Saki (山北早紀), Serizawa Yu (芹澤優), Akaneya Himika (茜屋日海夏), Wakai Yuuki (若井友希), Kubota Miyu (久保田未夢), and Shibuya Azuki (澁谷梓希). The group was formed as a result of the Avex label’s Anison Vocal Audition back in 2012. They, both individually and as a vocal unit, have since garnered notoriety in Japan’s anime and games industry. Most notable of which is the group’s involvement with multimedia franchise Pretty Rhythm, with all six members playing key roles in the franchise’s spinoff series ‘PriPara’.
Shall we ☆ Carnival
*Spotify link to the full album
01 ハピラキ☆Dream Carnival
03 Endless Notes
06 Changing point
08 FANTASTIC ILLUSION
09 TIN TONE
10 One Kiss
Ａ ｌ : “While the seiyuu idol group i☆Ris is mainly known for their voice acting and character songs in the ever-so-popular PriPara franchise, their own separate discography of pop music is definitely worth looking into as well. Shall we☆Carnival, not only displays the group’s strengths that many long-time fans are aware of, but it’s almost like they took it up a notch for their most recent album release. Obviously as a pop group, they excel in performing idol-centered songs like their opening tracks “Happy Lucky☆Dream Carnival” and “Memorial”, with the latter being an ending song for the Idol Time PriPara anime. But rather than only doing super bright idol music, i☆Ris dabbles in many other styles, paces, and themes within this album such as “Utakata no Hikari” being a lot more sentimental or “FANTASTIC ILLUSION” and its fun, profound theme of stage magic. And even with all this variety, the members of i☆Ris do an absolutely fantastic job with changing their vocal styling, according to whatever kind of song is presented to them. I mean, when someone with an overly cute personality like Serizawa Yuu manages to fit into a more aggressive and dramatic song like “Changing point”, I think things like that show how talented these six ladies are. Overall, Shall we☆Carnival is an album that many idol/pop music fans can enjoy and is worth checking out.”
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
01 ハピラキ☆Dream Carnival
I feel like the opening track to any album is one that I always need to talk about whenever I attempt to review an album. It is such an important designation in so far as song placement is concerned, as it sets the tone for what the rest of the album is going to sound as. “Shall we☆carnival” starts us off with what would be the equivalent of a title track here in “ハピラキ☆Dream Carnival (Happy Lucky☆Dream Carnival)”, and as both the album and the song title would suggest, this song is chock full of whimsy.
The instrumentation is grandiose and theatrical with a sound much like one would expect to hear at a carnival. The vocals are very show tune-y for the most part with a lot of exagerrated pitch changes that make for just a quirky little number. I would imagine people who aren’t all that familiar with i☆Ris might already find themsleves surprised with the dynamic range of the members, whose voices largely skew deeper when singing, and remain a steady constant all throughout the album. The same however can’t be said about the instrumentation as the same sense of theatricality never really gets touched on again save for maybe “FANTASTIC ILLUSION” towards the end.
This may or may not come as a surprise to people who are familiar with my music preferences through my monthly roundup posts, but “Spending” is actually my most favorite track off of “Shall we☆carnival” by a HUGE margin, it’s insane (xD). At the very least, it’s the song I played the most during the month or so alotted for me to review the whole thing. Coming up at number five on the tracklist, and after three anison tracks in quick succession, “Spending” jumps out at you quite a bit considering how tonally mature and just overall different it is from the songs that precede it (which, for the most part, all follow similar song structures and instrumentations).
It starts out with a funky Dance Pop hook, until the beat drops, and the song just into a straight up bop with all the members having a bit of fun singing to a more Hip-Hop-y Club beat. There’s a break too right around the minute-twenty-five mark that slaps uncharacteristically hard (lol) which I personally find immensely pleasing each time I hear this song. On the whole “Spending” is a ways from what you would’ve already come to expect from the group four songs deep into the album (and in practice it’s more of an intermission track) but I dunno, this song just works for me.
06 Changing Point
I’d be remiss to not talk about any of the anison tracks included in the album. That being said, “Changing Point” is actually the first i☆Ris song I remember learning about and hearing, mostly in direct consequence of having watched Mahou Shoujo SIte, which used it as the show’s opening theme. The darker and more sinister themes of the series I feel helped inadvertently accentuate what I personally found to be the group’s main appeal as a more anison-centered idol unit in that the grim atmosphere of it all honed in on the girls’ warmer vocals. The group actually doubles down on this with the equally dark imagery utilized for the song’s PV below, but I digress.
Being already the fourth anison track just at the midway point of “Shall we☆carnival”, you’ll be quick to recognize the song structure that the majority of their theme songs predominantly follow as you listen through the album track-by-track. A textbook up-beat escalation leading into an emphasized chorus accompanied by a classical strings ensemble seems to be the sound signature that i☆Ris is going for, and for the most part it really does suit their overall singing style.
After a good couple of playthroughs of the album from start to finish, something I found a bit interesting to take note of is that there are at most three predominant music styles at play across all the tracks: there’s the theatrical arrangement of the tracks “Happy Lucky☆Dream Carnival” and “FANTASTIC ILLUSION”; the more conventional Idol Pop found in “Spending”, “TIN TONE”, and “One Kiss”; traditional anison progression for “Memorial”, “Endless Notes”, “アルティメット☆MAGIC (Ultimate☆MAGIC)” and “Changing Point”; leaving what I consider outliers in the remaining tracks “泡沫の光 (Utakata no Hikari)” and “夢中グラフィティ (Muchuu Graffiti)”.
“Muchuu Graffiti” is in itself a a standout track with its throwback Light Rock instrumentation, but “Utakata no Hikari” gets the special mention here from me at least for a couple of reasons. One is that “Utakata no Hikari” is the only ballad in the album. Not that I have a preference towards them specifically, but ballads are in themselves a rarity in Idol Music outside of solo artists, so it was nice to come across one here. The song also reminded me a lot of Kajiura Yuki’s handiwork for Kalafina if only for its song structure and subtle hints of Chamber Pop which I thought was really nice.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｓｈａｌｌ ｗｅ ☆ Ｃａｒｎｉｖａｌ＞
I remember reading a news article from a Japanese tabloid a year ago that said i☆Ris was the future of the seiyuu industry. The gist of what it said, at least to the best of what I can recall from it, is that seiyuu or voice actors are almost always being required to do more than just be a voice actor. The rise of the “seiyuu performer” in the last decade or voice actors and actresses who ventured into singing for instance is testament to this. i☆Ris, dubbed as a hybrid group of “idol seiyuus” represents the other side of the equation, as singers and performers primarily who delve in voice acting.
While I could go off about this further (as this dichotomy in the world of Japanese artists in the seiyuu industry is very interesting to me personally) the reason why I chose to bring this up here is that “Shall we☆Carnival” is very much representative of the two dimensions that i☆Ris resides in; that is to say, anison and idol music. It’s one thing to note that literally half the album is made of theme songs, but there is definitely a clear enough divide between the two that even without knowing which song was used on which show, one can easily pick out the anison tracks from the album originals just basing it off of the instrumentation and the overall song progression.
It’s not really a bad thing, and I suppose it doesn’t help that “Memorial”, “Endless Notes”, and “Ultimate☆MAGIC” ended up being all clumped together in the first half of the alum, but I suppose that’s the bane of being as active as they are in releasing as many A-sides as they have prior to launching the album. I just feel they could’ve made it flow better with how they arranged the songs or even just straight up making one section being all of the anison and another being all of i☆Ris’ more idol-inclined music which are, in my opinion, the better parts of “Shall we☆Carnival” that just ended up being a little too few and far between for my liking.
３ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
６．５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
I found it a bit funny that “Spending”, my favorite track off of “Shall we☆Carnival”, was sandwiched between all six theme songs present in the album. That, and getting to the rest of the album original tracks like “TIN TONE” and “One Kiss” meant going through all that anison energy first. Of course, I could just skip to them if I wanted to, but I would think even that is indicative of what I think about the album as a whole. I like those three tracks a lot, not gonna lie, but anison in general just wears on me fast. Not to say that all anison is inherently bad, but rather I just have times when I don’t feel like listening to it, so the appeal of an album that predominantly has them doesn’t end up applying to me more often than not. That said, it’s still very much a solid release, and is a good showing of what idol seiyuus can bring to the table.
Now, I did have to take some measures with regard to objectivity being that one of the members of i☆Ris (namely Kubota Miyu, as some of you might already know) also performs under the Love Live! banner (of which I am a fan of) as one of its idols by way of the franchise’s off-shoot entry, “Nijigasaki High School Idol Club”. That is to say I tried to keep some level of bias in check while making this review and I think I did a good enough job with that (xD)
So what do you guys think of “Shall we☆Carnival”? For those of you who have listened to the album prior to this review, do let me know what you yourself thought about it in the comments section below. If you have yet to listen to the album, lemme know your initial impressions of it based on this here review.
That’s it for me at this time. Again, don’t forget to head on over to Omunibasu and check out Al’s review of Kuroki Nagisa’s Remon no Toge.
Happy Listening~!! and we’ll see you guys in the next one 😀