Posted by: Leek | April 11, 2014

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! Best of Album – Calendar Girls

If you tend to look into my statements in articles or on the radio show you might have noticed I have a thing for music. I’m always looking for new music to listen to and buy. It’s the one habit I can never really escape from. And for awhile I’ve been wanting to start a new little thing much like I do with eroges where I throw out a short little overview and thoughts on my music purchases. They’re not to be taken as complete reviews (despite the fact REVIEW is in the title) but it’s more just an assessment of how I feel about the purchase. I don’t plan to attach scores and I’ll just talk about the CD and you can figure out from there if it interests your or not.

There’s not much intro other than to skip right to the business. So let’s click away and get right to it.

General Overview
For those not aware, Aikatsu! is Bandai’s recently running series and individual take on the idol boom that’s still running it’s course through Japan. All music for the series is circulated between the game itself (the original core of the franchise) and the continually running anime. The writing of the music itself is handled primarily by various members of Studio MONACA (Lantis handles distribution) and is performed by the members of the idol unit STAR☆ANIS where various members have been attached to sing the parts of the various characters.

Calendar Girls itself marks the first compilation album for the series and assembles all tracks from the first season of the show covering 3 singles and 3 mini-albums. The album itself is priced at around 3000 yen (so essentially $30 US) and holds 23 tracks spread across two discs. The Aikatsu! CDs have always been priced fairly standard and Calendar Girls is no exception to that rule. With the exception of four tracks on the album, you are essentially getting what you got on the singles/mini-albums and more. So it is generally a best buy if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise’s music and were hesitating to buy all the individual CDs. Or if you were forcing yourself to only buy a few, this might be the overall best option to get some real bang for your buck.

The only points you need to be aware of are that Calendar Girls does not include the off vocal tracks (which majority of the singles/mini-albums do) and some of the tracks have been altered to contain different vocalists or reduced to solos. So be sure to make sure that if you liked a particular original mix of a song that it wasn’t one of the few to get altered. In the case you own all or a large amount of the original singles and mini-albums it’s completely on your shoulders whether you want to make the purchase. If you’ve bought all the music up until this point I imagine you’re enough of a fan that you’ll appreciate the alternate vocals provided on various tracks.

The packaging itself for Calendar Girls is well done and naturally the theme of it takes from it’s namesake song. The album itself it encased in a plastic slipcase (which has the actual title) while the holding case itself is a thick book styled paper case. This can be folded open to reveal the inner jewel case that hold the two CDs and the far left slip has the entire tracklist for the album. The remaining three sides contain various artwork done in the ending animation style that depict various and well known events that occurred through the Aikastu! anime. It gives the album a good sense of history (with respect to the first season) and will sit well with longtime fans. The CDs themselves are simple in design and have portion of the Calendar Girl lyrics written on them reading “EVERYDAY AIKATSU!” at the very end.

But while the overall theme of the design is very cute, it suffers from one very practical flaw. The case itself has no place to hold the CD booklet and it’s simply sandwiched within the book style case. This is fine as long as you are smart enough to keep the the album in it’s slipcase but generally upon opening (or even just tilting it slightly) you’ll be unpleasantly greeted by the booklet sliding free and falling. It just feels like a general oversight and having to sandwich the book back in every time you open and close the album is a little annoying. Just be careful when you open it to so you don’t rough up the booklet too much if it drops.

If you happened to be one of the early orders and made the first press bonus you not only got the usual Aikatsu! cards but also a handy 18.2 x 18.2 cm, 2014-2015 calendar. If you’ve collected or seen any of the album art you’ll probably recognize that it’s using the artwork from the fourth mini-album. The calendar itself doesn’t feature any new artwork and actually just uses enlarged versions of the various singles and mini-albums that the CD covers. It does make it feel like a kind of cheap bonus (but a bonus is a bonus) but it is still a cute collector’s item. The fonts for all the months are even chosen to use the same font style as the single/mini-album pictured. Since the CD itself was released in April it does span from April 2014 to March 2015 so you can use it for a full year. In the center of the calendar is a image of Ichigo, Aoi, and Ran together with the same lines printed across the CDs. Overall, it’s not an amazing bonus but it does do a decent job of celebrating the discography of the first season of the Aikastu! anime.

Music/Track Progression
Due to it’s entailment of the entire collection of Aikatsu! music, Calendar Girls contains a good variety of styles and gives a lot of different sound. So it’s hard to say you’ll get bored listening to the album. Due to the fact that it is music gravitated towards an idol group, ballads are limited to essentially two tracks and pace is generally slowed around these tracks by songs with lighter instrumentation and simpler sound. The only real outlier on the album itself is the presence of the bonus track provided by the male rock/pop group Rey. Being a rock song performed by a male vocalist it sticks out and, while I have no personal issue with the track, it just simply feels a little odd stuck at the end of the first CD. I can’t say whether it would have fit better if it was embed within the first CD but it does provide an “interesting” transition to the second CD.

Bonus track and the flow in and out of the ballad aside, there’s no real “progression” on the album. I couldn’t say I really expected one and, in general, the styles of the music would more or less make it a difficult task. Instead, the staff opted to style the CDs using two methods. The first of those is to simply ensure that each CD opens with one of the two anime opening themes and ends (sans the bonus track) with an ending theme. This isn’t necessarily anything “new” for any soundtrack or compilation for an anime but the entire album ending on Calendar Girl is probably the biggest justice that needed to be done.

Other than that, the CD itself is divided up mainly via solos and duets. Despite the presence of a few outlying tracks on each CD, the bulk of the first CD is solo performances while the second switches over to various duets. This allows each (and most) members of STAR☆ANIS to get some spotlight and fans of the series will probably be able to pair each song with each respective girl. I can’t say every girl and character is given spotlight, but it’s the best effort that one could expect them to give.

Track by Track Breakdown
In this section I’ll break down the various new and arranged tracks and give my short opinion on how they stack up with the originals. In case you were curious as to whether they’re worth you’re time you can check here. If you don’t care then you can go ahead and skip to the wrap-up at the end.

Disc 1:
Move On Now ~Mizuki Solo Ver.~
– The first of the “new” tracks on the CD. Just like the anime, the staff did allowed Mizuki (Remi) have first blood on the album as this follows right after the opening track (Signalize!). In general, it doesn’t feel too different from the original as Remi already had been given the foreground to begin with. Rather, it just feels like the “real” version of the song as it was generally written off as Mizuki’s song. So I can’t say whether it’s an improvement over the original as much as what the original should have been to begin with. This is probably one of the tracks you really don’t have to worry about not having the original of as it’s more or less what you would have gotten.

Trap of Love ~Ran Solo Ver.~ – Rounding up the last of the solos for the three mains, Ran (Sunao) was naturally given Trap of Love due to it’s use during the fashion show arcs. Of all the “new” tracks this is easily my favorite as I believe it really grants the character to the song that was needed. The original presence of Waka and Fuuri really pushed Sunao’s vocals to the background and it was a bit of a waste as her softer vocals are what give Trap of Love the perfect sound. If you generally had an issue with Trap of Love before I feel that this version will be the one to really turn it around for you.

glass doll ~Yurika Solo Ver.~ – Much like Move On Now, glass doll was a track that was essentially written for a single character. The original featured Sunao along with Moe but there’s no doubt that Moe had stolen most of the spotlight. Again, it’s another track that you don’t have to worry about missing the original of. The solo version has the same sound and appeal and just generally feels like nothing major was really lifted from it.

alice blue no kiss – This is the bonus track I had mentioned earlier. Fans of the anime may have to double check to remember but this was the track performed by Naoto’s band More Than True on various occasions. It originally surfaced on the CDs via the soundtrack as a TV size but someone was convinced that it would make a good first season compilation bonus. It’s a good song and I can’t say I have any issue with it other than it being a goose among a paddle of ducks. The only better position on the actual CD for it would be next to Yurika’s solo as they both match genres but the male vocalist sets it apart nonetheless.

Disc 2:
Wake up my music ~Ichigo and Ringo Ver.~
– The track that originally got me excited about the Calendar Girls release that did not disappoint. So let’s do a history lesson first. Wake up my music has had an interesting history within the Aikatsu! franchise and has been handled in a way to aid the Masquerade image. The song itself was first performed fully on stage by Ichigo and Aoi (Waka and Fuuri). The latter performances of it would be handled by the original Masquerade pair (Risa and Eimi) which would follow the actual release of the song on CD. The fourth mini-album (which held the track) was given to Risa and Eimi but would be a different recording than what was used later in the anime. This effectively creates a distinction between the younger Masquerade recording (featured on the mini-album) and their reunion performance (the edit which would only appear in the anime).

The track on Calendar Girls (which goes back to the scene with Ichigo and her mother) is handed over towards Waka and Eimi as both reprise their usual roles. However, it is recorded according to the timeline so that Eimi performs the song to fit Ringo’s age. This effectively resembles how she sounds in the anime only Masquerade performance. In this sense, it’s a wonderfully thought out process and allows fans to hear Wake up my music along the timeline. There’s no doubt this is the version of Wake up love I’ve wanted to hear the most since the Ichigo and Ringo scene but seeing the effort put in to create the timeline was really something. It’s also among my favorite songs (if not my favorite) in the series so I can’t pronounce whether it’s better or worse than the original. This is probably the lone track that I’d advise you pick up the fourth mini-album for just so you can set them side by side and appreciate them.

idol katsudou! ~Ichigo Solo Ver.~ – Wrapping up the album before Calendar Girl kicks in, idol katsudou! makes one last appearance on the CD. You know, what else can you say? Everything in the first season of Aikatsu! begins and ends with Ichigo so it’s only right to give her the last say, right? And what better song than the one that you hear the most and is really the heart of Aikatsu! music? The track’s existence and it’s position on the CD basically speaks for itself.

Wrap Up
I won’t say that Calendar Girls is the best CD I’m going to buy in all of 2014 but it’s probably going to remain one of the best deals of the year. With the volume and quality of music you get on Calendar Girls, there’s really no reason not to buy it. And if you’re a fan of the Aikatsu! franchise it’s probably one of the better collector’s items you could own (especially if you get the calendar). It really celebrates the history of the first season and listening to it all the way through really takes you on a ride through the series. All the new takes on tracks are either on par or better than their original cuts so it’s really hard to say you’re missing anything by buying it and nothing else.

So if you’re a fan of Aikatsu! or even just idol music in general it’s an album worth picking up. I feel as if different people will get different things out of it but that doesn’t stop it from being a incredibly well constructed and well thought out album release.


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