Opinion Prone

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Archive for the ‘ Review ’ Category

First Impressions: Ayumi Hamasaki’s NEXT LEVEL

August 21, 2009 Review Comments Off on First Impressions: Ayumi Hamasaki’s NEXT LEVEL

Ayumi Hamasaki’s 11th album
25th March 2009

Ayumi Hamasaki's NEXT LEVEL
It blows my mind how quickly Ayumi Hamasaki seems to come out with new music, especially considering the number of tracks she puts onto each album, the number of remixes on each of her singles, and her slew of remix albums (holy crap, this woman loves remixes). I first became a fan around when her Memorial Address mini-album was releasing and it seems not so long ago that My Story came out in 2004. Since then, I can’t say I’ve been very good about keeping up with her releases, partially because my interest shifted to j-rock and indie for a while, but her contribution to Dragonball Evolution piqued my interest again, even if I didn’t think Ayu had any chance of saving a destined-to-be-terrible movie. “Rule” was a pretty fun single, and I thought it suited the energy of the subject matter pretty well (or, well, it suited the source material). It wasn’t super impressive, but I think it was only a matter of time before I went and checked out this album. The name NEXT LEVEL is also pretty Dragonball-ish, don’t you think?

TRACK 01: Bridge to the sky
Calming intro for all of a moment, then an uprising steady beat that grows into an ensemble of various sounds backed by a nice techno beat. Lots of sustained vocals and a gradual crescendo seem to be leading into something big. The techno gets more pronounced and then– silence. Clearly, this is an intro track for the rest of the album. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of intro tracks because they’re awkward when you don’t play them with the rest of the album in album order (like when you put things on shuffle), but when you are listening to the album straight through, they’re pretty nice.

TRACK 02: NEXT LEVEL (Youtube it)
Starts off with a confident piano soon to be accompanied by keyboards and the stray guitar. Vocals start rather unimpressively and I’m kind of more interested in the background music than the lyrics or melody. Gets better as she leads into the chorus, which has some nice energy. I’m a sucker for when lyrics roll together smoothly, like there are no real breaks in between the words. Some nice keyboard and guitar in the break before the second verse. The beginning of the second verse is again less interesting, but it recovers faster this time. The melody for the chorus is definitely the best part of the song thus far, though I don’t think this is a good example of Ayumi’s vocal prowess; her voice sounds rather plain in this, honestly. Bridge and final round of choruses don’t change much — outro is the same piano, keyboard, and stray guitar, and it slowly leads to the end.

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Review: The Sky Crawlers

August 13, 2009 Review 2 Comments

I finally finished my review for The Sky Crawlers (MAL mirror is here).

The Sky Crawlers

I think definitely think it’s one of those movies that I’ll need to watch again to fully appreciate, but as usual, I like to convince myself that I don’t have the time. I will check out that book of concept art from the movie again if I get the chance though — a lot of the environments ended up not being as complicated as I remembered, though the concept art also included a lot of diagrams and floorplans for the outpost and things that might not necessarily have been animated. Funny thing about the animation though, for it being so important that the characters are perceived as young, I never really realized just how young we were really supposed to think they were. From appearances alone, I would place Kannami and Kusanagi anywhere between fifteen and mid-twenties, a good decade of leeway. Behavior-wise, they seemed closer to mid-twenties, I would think, but everyone insisted on their persistent childhood. How young is too young to fight an endless war? Is there really an age where such things are appropriate? When does anyone really stop being a child? I’m not sure whether the age ambiguity in the designs was intentional or whether stylized anime in general has just ruined my age perception permanently. Everyone always looks youthful.

RURUTIA’s 6th album
27th February 2009

RURUTIA's Seirios
RURUTIA is one of only a handful of artists that I wasn’t introduced to by the “usual means,” which are 1) exposure via anime or related media and 2) direct recommendation from friends. Until recently, I was so negligent of radio and other such random discovery tools that I only learned of new English-speaking artists via AMVs, which is kind of sad? Now that I’ve found a nice plugin to read in Pandora’s outputs into my last.fm (thus, satisfying my OCD), I’ve been giving that a spin, but that really has nothing to do with RURUTIA, whom I discovered on my own a few years ago. Though her style and genre is quite a ways apart from my usual rock, pop, and alternative, the mysterious quality of her music has always drawn me in.

The echoey ambience of RURUTIA’s voice is haunting and airy, perhaps other worldly; the emotion always feels very sincere, very innocent, very hopeful. Her melodies also have a lot of classical influence, which is always a huge plus for me. Unfortunately, I’ve only heard her first couple of albums, so I’m not sure how her style might have evolved over the years. The most recent album of hers I’ve heard is Meme from 2005, and I haven’t really been keeping up with her singles either. This should be interesting then, huh?

TRACK 01: Seirios (YouTube it)
Quiet, but dramatic, piano opening with electronic distortion in the tempo. Vocals are slow and eerie… every syllable is enunciated very clearly. Chorus picks up the pace and the sound is a lot more forceful, stronger, and very desperate sounding. Her pronunciation of “Seirios” is recognizable, which is kind of surprising since she doesn’t often sing in English (if at all?). Second verse echos the first, slow and haunting. It builds very steadily and the second chorus erupts really nicely from it. Ooh, really beautiful high notes here. The emotion is really touching; the melody is really awesome. This would be great music to accompany some kind of final struggle. There is no bridge or final chorus, but the outro is a quiet (but still dramatic) piano interlude with the distortion to keep you on your toes until it fades out to silence.

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You know, it’s funny. I went into this with the full intention of not taking the film adaptation too seriously so maybe I could enjoy myself for once. A lot of people who haven’t read the books tell me that the movies are fine, that they aren’t confused or lost, and that they completely understand what’s happening. I can appreciate that. I don’t really want to be a hater. In fact, I spent most of the previews making sure my brother was sufficiently calmed since he didn’t like the sixth book much at all and therefore probably wasn’t going to enjoy a movie made of it. Within the first ten minutes, our positions were swapped and it was him trying to convince me that it really wasn’t that bad. I try to shelf my purist fanrage. I really do! It’s just very, very hard for me (apparently).

(this review briefly mentions minor spoilers for HP1-5;
spoilers for HP6: Half-Blood Prince are contained under spoiler tags)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Review: Bitter Virgin

July 12, 2009 Review 2 Comments

A few nights ago, I asked for recommendations of “the most heart-wrenchingly adorable shoujo manga ever.” I was recommended Bitter Virgin and Usagi Drop, though I don’t think either of those are actually shoujo (the former claims to be seinen and the latter is josei), but ah well. I went with Bitter Virgin because it was shorter and finished rather than ongoing, though it only fit the “heart-wrenching” part of the request and not the “adorable” part. I’ll probably still end up checking Usagi Drop eventually, but for now:

Here is the review! (MAL mirror is here.)

Bitter Virgin

First Impressions: Yuna Ito’s Dream

July 11, 2009 Review Comments Off on First Impressions: Yuna Ito’s Dream

Yuna Ito’s 3rd album
27th May 2009

Yuna Ito's 3rd album: Dream
Sometimes I wish artists would come up with more interesting album names, but I guess this goes in perfect step with Yuna Ito’s previous two albums, Heart and Wish. Three singles were released ahead of Dream, but I’ve only heard “trust you” because it is one of my favorite theme songs ever. The second track, “今でも会いたいよ…” (“Ima demo aitaiyo…”),  is apparently an answer song to “今でもずっと” (“Ima demo zutto”) by Spontania feat. Yuna Ito, which I took the liberty of YouTubing before listening to this album, but that’s hardly enough to get a good impression of the duet pair and I doubt the fact that the second track here is an answer song will mean much to me. I’m more interested in finding out whether “love you,” “trust you,” and “miss you” will have any melodic or thematic relation to each other because that would be pretty awesome.

Anyway! First impressions, go~!

TRACK 01: love you
Very upbeat percussion intro! Vocals start off similarly perky and it doesn’t sound anything like “trust you,” lol. The melody sounds a bit haphazard and the transitions between Japanese and English don’t sound as smooth as they could be. The percussion is really repetitive and distracting, actually, and doesn’t fit every well with the vocals. The “I love you”s sound way casual and subsequently less meaningful. I really wish the percussion would let up — the drums are all over the place, there’s random bits of piano, and the cymbols kind of reset my train of thought every several measures. I’m having a really hard time distinguishing verses from chorus, which I only recognize from the haphazard “I love you”s. Bridge (?) slows down a bit, though the percussion doesn’t really let up. “I know you make me love you” just sounds incredibly awkward and Engrishy, which doesn’t fit since Yuna Ito’s English is generally very good. Song ends by fading away, kind of lame. Not a great way to start the album.

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Here it is, my review of Eureka seveN, which is a wonderfully obnoxious 2,000 words. (The MAL mirror is here.) The short version is that I didn’t like the series very much though it did have a lot of technical merits. As usual, the review is spoiler-free, but today, there shall be additional, spoilerific rambling in the rest of this entry, followed by some kind of epic fanboy/fanrage showdown in the comments because ghostlightning thinks there’s love to remember in Eureka seveN. How about that!

Eureka seveN

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Three months after this series finished, and I’ve finally finished the review for it. Finally.

I had such a hard time writing this. It’s hard to find a reasonable voice when all you can remember is everything that sucked. It isn’t an objectivity issue since you obviously can’t be objective writing something that’s completely opinion, but it’s still hard to fashion your opinion in a way that doesn’t make you seem like some fanraging idiot. After all, reviews are also supposed to be subtly persuasive, and it’s hard to be persuasive if you sound offended or butthurt about how terrible something is. It’s the same reason people tend to take the opinions of fanboys with a grain of salt. Don’t be overzealous. Write intelligently. Well, I tried.

Honestly, when this series first ended, I wanted to write a long, raging rant about how much I hated the ending and how terribly disappointing the entire thing was on a variety of different levels. But then I put it off and eventually didn’t feel like it anymore. I got the urge again as I was writing the review, and subsequently, the review spiraled into a bunch of sarcastic remarks. Some of them got edited out. Some of them didn’t. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much about it.

I do this for fun! This is fun, see? Fun!

I wonder if anyone’s actually polled the percentage of otaku that have at some point tried to learn Japanese. I wonder what a follow-up of such a poll would reveal about the percentage that actually attain some level of fluency. Anyone who watches subs on a regular or even semi-regular basis will be able to pick up a wide variety of everyday phrases and a decent slice of vocabulary. The observant ones might even be able to pick up some simple sentence structuring, verbs, and grammar. It’s a pretty awesome thing when you first realize that, hey, you know a bit of another language.

Undoubtedly, that’s why a lot of younger fans will insert bits and pieces of what they know into their speech or text online. It’s like a secret language, something esoteric to share between friends, and everybody likes thinking they’re special. Like Pig Latin though, the language is actually not so secret, or at the very least, the popular tidbits of the language that young fans like to parrot are not so secret, and they tend to annoy everybody over a certain age. Ostracized and mocked by the rest of the community, the young fans reach a point where they stop tacking -chan and -kun after all their friends’ names. There is a brief “maturing” period. And then they decide that they’re going to knuckle down and learn Japanese… for real this time.

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I Kill My Heart

Tommy Heavenly6‘s 3rd album
29th April 2009

Tommy heavenly6 is my favorite of Tomoko Kawase’s projects, followed by the brilliant green. I’m not all that fond of Tommy february6, though it kind of reminds me a bit of Nana Kitade. Sadly, all of Tomoko’s projects were recently dropped by Sony, along with a few other artists like Sowelu. Doesn’t make any sense to me considering the popularity of her numerous anime tie-ins (“Pray” for Gintama, “Paper Moon” for SOUL EATER, “Unlimited Sky” for Gundam 00), but whatever… business is business? Sowelu just signed with Avex, but no word on Tomoko yet as far as I know. I don’t really doubt that she has a lot of options though. Regardless, this album was the latest and last released by Sony in late April. I only just got my hands on it, but here we go~.

TRACK 01: Wait For Me There (YouTube it)
Distorted, kinda dark sorta intro. Vocals start plainly, but it picks up nicely — has a good beat. Some pretty awkward sounding Engrish, but Tomoko’s voice is confident and smooth. Sometimes I like to just pretend that she isn’t butchering a language she doesn’t know that well. The words become less important than the sound and the emotion, and this song has a very relaxed, feel-good mood to be. Did she just say, “Let’s have some tea”? Some interesting vocal overlaps in the bridge, though I don’t think this is her best example of harmony. Song ends as smoothly and plainly as it starts. All around not a bad go, but not all that interesting either.

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