Full disclosure: I am woefully ignorant of the "professional" methods of reviewing a musical piece,
so what you will be getting in this review is a "pseudo-technical" analysis of the various elements of the song as rendered by an unabashed
Title: "Hoshi Furu Yoake" ("Starry Dawn")
Performed by: "Hino Rei" Kitagawa Keiko
Music by: Gary Newby
Track Length: 5:04
Part of the Album "Pretty Guardian Sailormoon Character Song SAILOR MARS
In my review of Sakura Fubuki, I had expressed surprise at the upbeat, J-POPish nature of the character song (which seemed at
odds with the reserved nature of Hino Rei, especially the PGSM version who seems based on the manga). Since that time, and having
reconciled myself to the fact that, as Pretty Guardian Sailormoon is a "Drama" show-- with all that entails-- I was not expecting
anything different from "Rei's" second image song, Hoshi Furu Yoake. Thus, rather than chronicle a sad tale of quasi-anaphylactic
shock at the tone of this song, I shall instead open this review with a quick "stream of consciousness" overview of the song as I first heard it:
This is slower, more mellow. Much. Still too emotive for Hino Rei, but not too chirpy. My ears bleed at that stretched syllable. Wait,
now it's like Teenybopper Angst Rock. Is she mailing this performance in? Now it's getting definitely 1960s, in a mellow hippie sort of
way. Must be the tambourines. Maybe she's making the only practical use she can of that new special item Artemis left in the hideout
last episode. What... here come electric guitars. Now it's mellow again. And back to Teenybopper, but more upbeat. Hmm, it's
done. I don't like it as much as Sakura Fubuki.
More Measured Reaction
As readers of my last review may have noted, I did not preface this review with the notice "I am now going to proceed to heap praise upon this song".
This is because I am not going to. I have some problems with this song that I did not have with Sakura Fubuki, mainly stemming
(unfortunately) from Kitagawa-san's delivery in this song,
Sadly, I got what I asked for in a sense. Last song, I had maintained that "Hino Rei" was acting too upbeat in Sakura Fubuki,
and that the next song should be a slower, mysterious, more reflective piece. Well, that's what I got (sans "mysterious"), and I must
say it's a step backwards:
In this song, Kitagawa-san goes for a quieter, more "mellow" song, with a style of delivery that requires her to drag out the ends of her
lines, and while the works most of the time, with some of the lines she ends up sounding somewhat off-pitch or "weak".
(I lack a better way to explain what I mean, but I shall try.) A lot of Kitagawa-san's lines start off with great emotive force--relatively
speaking-- but then when she has to end a line, she drags out the syllables whilst trying to be "soft" about it, and the end result ends
up either sounding like an irritating attempt to deliberately hit a high note without actually doing so (as opposed to trying
and failing) or collapsing in a tired fade-out (especially just before the music changes style). This has the unfortunate side-effect of making it
sound like she just isn't "into" some of her lines. (I'm sure this isn't actually the case.)
The way Kitagawa-san quiets down before "loudening up" for the beginning of a new musical segment also is something of an irritant,
as one cannot "settle in" to the "groove" of the song as with Sakura Fubuki... it's like constantly being lulled to relax and then being
jolted back into action (and vice versa).
On the positive side of things, Kitagawa-san synchronizes her voice with the background music exceptionally well, down to the
drum beats in the background (which is aurally impressive, at least to the likes of me). In fact, I wonder if her perfect sync with the guitars
isn't actually part of the *problem*...
This time out, I am fortunate to have access to the Karaoke Track of the song as well as the regular version, so I can take a closer
look at the musical construction of the song separately from the vocal track.
As my initial stream of consciousness reaction indicates, this is a musical story told in several parts. It starts off slow and mellow,
before picking up the pace in clearly defined "sets" corresponding to the verses, adding in (or subtracting) intensity, shifting the
music according to the mood. It uses Acoustic Guitars, Tambourines, Drums and Electric Guitars to create a varied, well-rounded
BGM that is as good as any J-POP I have heard (it reminded me of some L' arc en Ciel songs I heard a long time ago, in terms of style).
By way of comparison, after examining the karaoke tracks of both Hoshi Furu Yoake and Sakura Fubuki, I can say with
some confidence that while Sakura Fubuki is the more "energetic" of the two songs, Hoshi Furu Yoake, despite
whatever other misgivings I might have about it, is the superior musical piece. Sakura Fubuki is incredibly repetitive, using
basically the same beats for four minutes with only a few sprinklings of piano music and synth to vary it. (This is much less noticeable in
the regular song version-- and indeed I missed it-- because of Kitagawa-san's singing adding the missing dynamism to the piece).
Hoshi Furu Yoake, as I have detailed above, is a much more varied piece that sets out to use its music to help tell the story
as opposed to just being sonic wallpaper (although Sakura Fubuki is very well textured sonic wallpaper.)
Does it fit "Rei"?
As usual, I consider these songs in terms of the character they are supposed to portray-- after all, this is not "Keiko Kitagawa" singing,
it's ostensibly "Hino Rei". So, does the tone and mood of the piece fit her?
Without taking the lyrics into consideration, If this were just the manga Rei, the answer would be *perhaps*. (Anime Rei is an open question,
she seems to have a more cheery, extroverted persona, but PSGM Rei is basically the stolid and aloof Rei of the Sailor Moon Manga).
Putting aside the J-POP bubbly BGM which is mandated by the PGSM format, this "Rei" would be someone who, if forced to sing, would
produce a sound that was somewhat mellow and wistful. The song "feels" at first mellow, sad, then upbeat and hopeful. In that sense, it's
a close a fit as I think we're going to get.
Once one looks at the translated lyrics, I can say that this song *is* far more like something that would come out of Hino Rei's mouth (could
you see a Miko who is apparently very serious about what she does saying "There's no such thing as God" as she does in Sakura Fubuki? (All right,
given what's happened to her in her life it *is* remotely possible, but I doubt it.)
This song is about Rei having to proceed through life on her own, relying only on her own strength and hoping for the day when she can "unlock her spirit", something which I find to be perfectly
in character with the person we see on Pretty Guardian Sailormoon, who is initially cold and aloof, but gradually opening up to those
This theme also *perfectly* fits the mood of the music, which starts out quietly and ends on a very upbeat note, taking the listener through the
aural equivalent of Rei's journey in PGSM.
This song is *good*, but at least to my ears, the problems with Kitagawa-san's delivery detract from the overall experience. To my mind she
was much better in Sakura Fubuki-- I think because there she could "cut loose" with the full range of her vocal talents. In
this song, it almost felt like she was forcing herself to hold back, and overcorrected at some points... the result is a song that has feeling,
but not nearly as much as it could. The music is good in the J-POP way, though still not in character for as mysterious character as Hino Rei.
In retrospect, while I maintain that a proper "image song" for Hino Rei would be more along the lines of those spoken word poems as in the
"In another Dream" Sailor Moon R Image CD, given what I've heard of her vocal talents, if she is to sing, it should be in
"full throttle" mode as in Sakura Fubuki, where she acquits herself superbly, as opposed to this "forced quiet" style of singing,
wherein her vocal talents are arguably done a disservice.
So, in sum, I think that as a single this song might not be a good investment, but in combination with the excellent Sakura Fubuki it's certainly
something worthwhile of being in a playlist (though not on repeat).
The Diaries page has been updated, and some more pictures of Kitagawa-san are up in the Misc. gallery.
I must say her attack scene in episode 23 of PGSM was exceptionally well done, especially the heat effects in the air afterwards.
I've finally gotten around to compiling the Genvid.com translations of Kitagawa-san's PGSM diary entries into a unified collection, available on this page, which I have dubbed (cleverly enough) "The Kitagawa Diaries". I will be updating them as Genvid translates more. Enjoy!
Big thanks to site visitor Ten who pointed me to Kitagawa-san's new image song, Sakura Fubuki. (I can't link to it, because otherwise the Powers that Be would crush me like a grape, and also I want Kitagawa-san to get some cash for her hard work.)
Note: I am now going to proceed to heap praise on this song. It is NOT because I am a Kitagawa-fan-- I am, believe it or not, going solely on the merits of what I hear.
Upon first listening to this, I was momentarily stunned... after all, this is Hino Rei's image song, yet it was so...
so very... "upbeat". If any of you out there are fans of Dragonball Z I suppose a suitable analogy that you could use to accurately gauge my reaction would be seeing Piccolo-san suddenly getting up and dancing a jig. In a pink frock.
A more Measured Reaction
This song, to my mind, despite its seemingly out-of-character upbeatness (I was expecting something slow and serious), is a good fit for Kitagawa-san's voice, since it seems to rely on the lower-upper middle registers a bit more-- which in turn means she doesn't have to "reach" for notes. (Note my profound use of the technical jargon!)
Compare this to Usagi's image song, where at (an admittedly few) points, Miyuu-san is really pushing to try and make the highs (and to compound the problem, the sound is abruptly faded just as she's reaching-but hasn't quite made it- to the end of a high note). That being said, I do think Usagi's single more fits her persona, however--but more on that admittedly minor, non-technical gripe later.
Solid State Salsa Sound
Sakura Fubuki features what I would call a latin / salsa-esque beat in addition with all the standard synth and electropop sounds that one would normally expect an image song. Overall, it blends together to create a solid sound mix.
Indeed, as someone who has listened to TONS of J-Pop songs (not just anime related), I would venture to say this song is high enough quality to be a mainstream pop song in its own right. At the very least, for PGSM purposes, I would expect something like thisout of "idol" Aino Minako's character. (C'est La Vie is catchy, but it sounds too much like something thrown together with a metronome and some synths) This song has a very balanced, layered-- professional feel to it.
But does "Sakura Fubuki" fit "Rei"?
BEFORE I read the lyrics, which "Poor Japanese" so kindly translated on Genvid's PGSM Forum, this was the reaction I had written for this review, solely based on the BGM, beat and vocal inflections (I did pick up a few words, but not enough to make sense out of the song):
"However, all the good things aside, I can't help but think this would be an ideal image song for Kitagawa Keiko and not Hino Rei... it fits more with the "jolly" persona that Kitagawa-san is described as having, and not the stolid, almost ethereal presence of miko Hino Rei."
AFTER reading the translated lyrics, however, I am forced to somewhat revise my position given the *meaning* of the song. (Yes, I need to learn Japanese. I am suitably ashamed. Thank you.)
In this song, Rei sings of sensing the ethereal, lamenting her own weakness and wishing to go forward and become stronger, yet not become a full adult. It is a "deeper", more profoundly introspective theme that I would indeed associate with the persona of Hino Rei. In that light, the song becomes perfectly suited for its purpose as a somewhat upbeat, cheery insert song for a dorama.
Still, however, to my mind the song still presents a mixed message-- it's simply too cheery to generate the proper angst level needed to effectively convey the theme. It does have "mellow" moments that aspire towards subtly soft sadness, but then the guitars and the chorus engage, and the moments are lost. What results is a song that gives one a superficial glimpse into Rei's psyche without being as "impressive" (or should I say "grave") as it could / should be. It cannot evoke the proper mental state.
Technically, the song is more or less "perfect"-- I've listened to it on repeat for the duration of this whole update and it hasn't grated on me yet-- the sound isn't overpowering, and the tempo and scale are well-suited to the vocalist. It's a perfect vocal vehicle for Kitagawa-san.
Still, I think that even with the meaningful lyrics, the song misses the essence of the character it tries to represent. For the next "Rei" image song, I think if traditional instruments like the Koto and flute were be used in combination with a slower, downtempo (perhaps spoken-word?) vocal mix, an image song that perfectly encapsulates the esoteric, mystical nature of Hino Rei could be created. Kitagawa-san's voice is deep enough to make such a thing effective, I think.
It would be a nice experiment ^_^
Well, that's it for my totally subjective, non-professional opinion of Sakura Fubuki. Thanks for reading!
In other news, Starcat, a visitor over at Suburban Senshi points out that someone is sending out emails from firstname.lastname@example.org that seem to be virus-infected. (How despicable! Sullying the name of Kitagawa-san like that... perhaps it's a Dark Kingdom plot?
At any rate, no matter how big a fan you are, don't open that email! Repeat after me: Kitagawa-san is not actually e-mailing me. It's just a trick. A nasty, slimy, reprehensible trick.
But as Kitagawa-san herself might say, "It looks awful, but simply put that's not a problem at all" [as long as you don't click it].
In site-related news, I've added a link to plenTpak's Kitagawa Keiko Page, which features some very nice images of Kitagawa-san.
(A fake ad I did for a Genvid.com contest)
Once again, from the depths of the 'net, I bring you good updates!
I've uploaded a whole new set of images to the gallery, including some wallpapers by Akuryo ][, some images pointed out to me by itch, and some of my own Photoshop work, which has already been seen on this page before.
Sakaki-san has been kind enough to inform me that Kitagawa-san's new image CD will come out on March 31st, entitled "Sakura-Hubuki" (Sakura Snowstorm(?) - That's as close as I can get)
Ahh... description of the term as taken from this website:
The Japanese phrase means literally "cherry blossom snow" which I will never forget. As the wind frees the cherry blossoms from the trees the sun reflected in the gently falling petals. They resemble large snowflakes falling to the earth. Like snow, the light pink petals drift in the crevices and stairs of the pathway. I recall places where the "sakura hubuki" drifts were 6-10 inches deep. It seems hard to imagine, but the petals are almost more beautiful on the ground than in the trees.
Wonderful mental image...
Well, everyone, we will get to hear Kitagawa-san sing :)
Well, it looks like Kitagawa-san is going to be changing agencies soon... actually, tomorrow... (Today in Japan, actually!)
Sakaki-san writes in with the following information (Thanks Sakaki-san!):
"From 2/1, Keiko Kitagawa will transfer an affiliation office "NEUE." The office of a transfer place is a
star dust PURO motion." (I just got the pun, too-- "Pro-motion")
Sakaki-san points out that their website is here.
Are we witnessing the beginning of a meteoric rise? :)
The latest Genvid.com update has the following Mars Diary update from Kitagawa-san:
Recently, with my new years gift money, I purchased an electronic dictionary! In addition to English and modern/classic Japanese it also has Japanese historical and world historical terminology. Since this [kind of thing] is really convenient and useful [to have around] I found myself interested in it. Every day when I have some free time on the set I play with it by looking up the names of historical personages.
Then a clever little aside which says the following:
Here's the double-standard folks. This entry is going to cause [Dr. Xadium] to further go on about how she's just the most perfect actress ever and how interesting she would be to have a conversation with. Now, I do stuff like this too, but being male, this instead makes me a boring person. How many of you Jyoji fans would get really excited knowing he can explain to you how Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato's income doubling plan worked? We're just pieces of meat.
All I have to say is... the man is SO right. But he neglected one crucial detail... how exactly *did* Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato's income doubling plan work? I must know!! Kitagawa-sensei, the answer please:
"In December 1960, in order to bring Japanese standards of living up to levels comparable to those found in many advanced Western countries, ensure full employment and reduce the income disparity between rich and poor citizens, Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato announced an Double National Income Plan (kokumin shotoku baizo keikaku) intended to double Japan's gross national product in the course of the following decade.
Setting a goal of 7.8% annual growth during the decade 1961-1970, and utilizing economic plans aimed at
expansion of the industrial base, the plan employed "three pillars" of (1) tax cuts, (2) social security, and (3) public investment.
In this way, the latent energy within the private sector was skillfully activated and "miraculously" high rates of growth were achieved.
The plan proved exceedingly successful-- moreso than originally envisioned. Although Ikeda's plan had envisioned a growth rate of 9 percent per year for the first three years, actual results exceeded this as the economy expanded at a rate of 10 percent. Also, the target of doubling levels of personal income was reached in a little over four years instead of the ten-year period that originally had been thought would be necessary."
Thank you, Kitagawa-sensei.
This has NOT been a scholarly proclamation by Kitagawa Keiko, but rather an incredible simulation of same. Could Britney Spears give us an answer of this quality and caliber? We think not. (But we hear she has some experience in Nevada Family Law)