Posted by: Leek | February 10, 2015

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! Best of Album 2 – Shining Star*

If you happen to frequent this blog a lot you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Leek sure has been active recently”. It’s not that I’ve really been wanting to turn out all this stuff, but all of it just happened to fall around the same time. But I guess it’s cool since basically everyone who comes is getting a little something. I think the only thing people come here for that they might not get is an eroge review. And, honestly, even that is not beyond the realm of happening at this point.

But today I have the pleasure of covering the second best of album for the Aikatsu! series (and on street day too! a first for me). Let’s not discuss how I’ll have another CD to review from it next week (at probably the same time or so).

General Overview
Shining Star* is the second best of album to occur in the Aikatsu! franchise and, more or less, is the exact same thing that occurred a year ago. It’s an album that takes all the music from the second season (aka picking up where Calendar Girls left off) and stretching it up until the recent start of the third season. This means you’re once again getting 23 tracks (on 2 CDs) for the same price of 3000 yen ($25-26). Is that a good deal? Yes. If you haven’t gotten the idea from the numerous reviews I’ve put up, Aikatsu! music purchases are worth your time. And this is easily the best deal you’re going to score all year if you’ve been holding off.

Just like last time, there are no off vocal tracks present on the CD. If you happened to desire what ones are available, you’ll have to purchase the singles to get them. And, even more so than last time, most duets have been converted into solo performances. Since the best of albums are meant to showcase various characters, you’ll have to cope with that fact. In the case you happen to watch the anime, chances are what you get on the CD are closer to what you’ve heard. But if you’ve stumbled across the music somewhere you may notice a distinct vocal difference (aka lack of a vocal) when you put in Shining Star*. Is it a bad thing? Maybe for some tracks for some people. I’m sure plenty would argue (and I’ll talk about some) that it improves the sound of certain tracks.

Design
I had no issue with the design of the Calendar Girls album, but I feel that Shining Star* was just meant to improve on it in every respect. It’s technically the same idea. They used the same artwork style as the ending theme and heavily enforced Ichigo’s favorite Angely Sugar brand all over (the bear still frightens me). But what really gets me? The CD themselves are designed to look like a classic LP. It’s actually kind of sad they only decided to go with this idea when it was more fitting for the previous Calendar Girls album. But it was cute to see them implement it now as I think it really increases that sense of class that the album has.

Where they really improved is that they actually made a flap for the booklet this time around. If you remember, I complained rather openly that it was far too easy for the booklet to fall out when you opened Calendar Girls. Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who complained and they went and created a very simple solution to the problem. It’s almost unnoticeable so it doesn’t create any ugly business when you open the case. And, as long as you actually get the booklet centered in it, the thing is pretty snug. You’ll have to deliberately try to get it out, so no booklet randomly flying out of the case.

And just like last time, ordering it about anywhere (assuming they still have the bonus) earns you the 2015-2016 calendar. The difference this time (as you might tell I have no picture) is that they decided to not make an actual calendar. The “calendar” is a single page poster that contains the Shining Star* album artwork on top and all the months (up until March) at the bottom. It is actually really cute but I think the thing I loved about the last calendar is that it also painted history by having all the respective artwork for the singles. But, in it’s own way, I still really think the bonus this time is cute. It might just be that I really like the artwork.

Music/Track Progression
I feel like the second season of Aikatsu! managed to pack a larger variety into it’s genres than the first season (it also just had more music in general). Because of this, it essentially translates into a CD that will come at you from a lot of different directions. Is that a bad thing? Of course not. I’d wager that Shining Star* lacks the same presence of ballads that the first season did. I didn’t actually go and count the amount on each CD but I think Shining Star* has a greater volume of upbeat tracks to get you on your feet. And, unlike it’s predecessor, Shining Star* doesn’t house any new or real bonus tracks. The good of this is it doesn’t create that odd slot in the CD that doesn’t quite fit, but it was a bit of a pleasant surprise packed into the first CD that didn’t get to happen again.

The most important thing that you could say about the progression is that it follows much of what they went with on Calendar Girls. The first CD mostly contains the solos of various characters as well as songs that are more closely paired with a certain character. The second CD holds a larger amount of group and duets even if both CDs generally house a bit of both. The CDs also travel in relatively chronological order with it basing it on character introduction for the first CD and just a general appearance order on the second CD. It’s nothing special and doesn’t make transitions amazing, but it’s kind of a fun way to travel through the second season via the music alone.

Track by Track Breakdown

Disc 1:
idol katsudou! (Ver. Rock) ~Seira Solo Ver.~
– The beginning of the solo tracks (and by extension Aikatsu! season 2) on the album. I honestly have always felt a little indifferent towards the Rock version of idol katsudou! I can’t say I hate it, but I won’t say it ever made me excited because Seira never really got her own character song because of it. But the way Fuuri sings when she’s in Seira’s character is one of the few voices that can make this track work. How is it without Waka? I really can’t say removing Waka makes the track worse or better. It all comes down to preference because, honestly, Waka worked really well on the track in my opinion. But, in the case you only want the deeper voice of Fuuri on it, this might be your thing. I can see a lot of people feeling like something is missing without Waka on it though.

magical time ~Kii Solo Ver.~ – magical time might honestly be one of the solo tracks I legitimately feel completely indifferent about. As a solo, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. But it’s a song that definitely needs that duet sound to make it really shine. Remi is definitely one of the more recognizable voices in the STAR☆ANIS lineup, so I feel removing her is hard to not notice. But if you happen to be a really big Kii fan, then this might be your thing. Again, it really comes down to if you watch the anime and really liked Kii’s solo performance. But, from my standpoint, I think removing Remi from the song hurts it more than helps.

Arabian Romance ~Sora Solo Ver.~ – Originally, I felt that removing Waka from Arabian Romance would be a bad idea. After listening to it, I don’t know if I stand by that idea as strongly as before. I definitely enjoyed Eri as a replacement vocalist for Sora after Sunao left (I might ever prefer her). And she definitely is what makes the song shine, even if I felt Waka does add a certain sound to it that makes it really fun to listen to. In all honesty, I feel like this is one of those songs it wouldn’t hurt to own both versions of. What? You think I’m just baiting you into buying more Aikatsu! CDs? Why would I ever do something like that? I just honestly stand by that the solo and original versions of Arabian Romance feel too different to say one is better than the other.

aurora princess ~Maria Solo Ver.~ – When it comes to ballads, I’m not the biggest fan of duets. It really needs to be written as a duet to make the ballad not sound a little drab or awkward. Maria’s solo version of aurora princess is what the song needed to click a little more with me. It just feels cleaner and that’s the kind of sound a ballad needs to me. I feel like every solo up until this point on the CD could be said to have something missing when you remove the second vocalist. This is probably the first song where I don’t think you’re hurting it by doing so.

otona mode ~Mikuru Solo Ver.~ – Personally, this is the track you buy Shining Star* for. Nothing else. Ever since they premiered otona mode, it severely hurt me that the original version had Risuko on the track. I’ve talked about Risuko before. I don’t hate her as a vocalist, but she just has a bad tendency to overpower everyone on any track she sings on. And Mona is honestly the one new vocalist (and specifically her performing as Mikuru) that didn’t get enough spotlight. It’s really a waste too. otona mode to me is strictly meant to be a solo song and it is very hard to convince me otherwise. Don’t like it? Too bad. This version is completely optimized and I don’t see myself ever getting tired of hearing it.

original star☆彡 ~Ichigo & Akari Ver.~ – While Shining Star* doesn’t have any actual bonus tracks, this could probably justify as one. The pairing on this song was probably one that most people don’t remember happening (I had to really pick my brain to remember it). Waka and Ruka are kind of a unique pair though, and they both provide the same kind of energetic and really unique vocal to their respective generations. It’s hard to say that if Waka ever leaves STAR☆ANIS that anyone could actually replace her, but Ruka is probably the closest you’re going to come. And together, they really give this unique energy to original star☆彡. I won’t say it’s better or worse than the original version, but I think it is incredibly unique. This is easily the freshest of any of the exclusive versions Shining Star* has.

Disc 2:
Kira・pata・shining ~Sora & Ran Ver.~
– This is another one of those tracks that just kind of snuck up on me when the track list was announced. Sora’s original song was essentially the last real song that Sunao did during the second season (a shame I have a pile of issues with it), so it’s kind of something to make a deal about on the CD. There’s nothing really too much to say about this version though. Yes, it does have Sunao voicing both her different characters, but I never felt a huge difference between when she did Ran and Sora. So I can’t say I feel a huge difference in this version from the original. It does exist but it feels very minor compared to the other tracks.

idol katsudou! ~Akari Solo Ver.~ – I’m honestly not sure how many more times I’ll have to talk about idol katsudou! when reviewing an Aikatsu! CD. I guess while reviewing best of albums I should just expect to bring it up at least twice. Honestly, I was really hoping that they wouldn’t do it for Akari’s solo song. I realize it was her debut song but I felt like heart no melody really had impact in the anime because of her (Ruka’s vocals also completely transform that song). But if you happen to be a huge Ruka fan, then chances are you’ll enjoy this version. Personally, I feel like I’d still listen to the Ichigo and Akari duet from Pop Assort over this. Not that I don’t enjoy Ruka solo, but I think there is some additional charm to pairing the two main characters on this song in particular.

Precious ~Mizuki Solo Ver.~ – I kind of threw my two cents in on ballads earlier and how I feel about them being done solo versus multiple vocalists. And Precious really did feel like Mizuki’s song more so than anyone (particularly in the vein of the lyrics and the anime). I also already mentioned that Risuko tends to overpower everyone anyway, so it was basically her song to begin with. What does all that add up to? This is probably a better version of Precious. It’s cleaner and feels closer to intention.

SHINING LINE* ~ALL STARS Ver.~ – Calendar Girl was the image song they based the original best of album off of and SHINING LINE* was properly appointed as the image song for Shining Star*. And it’s probably appropriate they essentially created the Aikatsu 8 version (with 8 actual vocalists) for the album. This is also technically one of the few songs on the album that you can’t really get anywhere else (not even a short version). And is it nice? Of course. I’m not a huge fan of having too many voices on the same track, but it does work to an extent. I don’t think I’d ever listen to it over the original, but it’s not something I hate to have in my Aikatsu! music library.

Wrap Up
Just like Calendar Girls, this is probably the best deal you can get on Aikatsu! music. I’ve always feel the second season of Aikatsu! has the better music library and listening to it all over again on Shining Star* really convinces me that hunch isn’t wrong. If you’ve bought every Aikatsu! release up until this point there’s a chance you might not need to buy this, but I think it’s worth it. The tracks on it feel transformed enough to merit the purchase and, if you’ve bought all the releases up until this point, chances are you like the music enough to appreciate that difference. If you happen to be waiting for this release so you could get all the music packaged together, I don’t disagree with that decision. But, if there is a track that doesn’t feel complete to you, I wouldn’t advise against buying the corresponding single so you can get the original version.

Another really great release and another year full of great Aikastu! releases. And it looks like I’ll be back in 2016 to do another similar review. 2017, you ask? Who knows.

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