Posted by: Leek | August 24, 2015

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! 3rd Season Mini Album 1 – Joyful Dance

So I could give you some long spiel about why this never made it out on the usual release week pattern, but rather than that, I’ll just say the short version. Things happen. It’s really been on my to-do list forever, but it’s been awhile since I could sit down and look at it again. And, yes, I’m aware the second mini-album comes out this week. Don’t remind me.

General Overview
Despite the amount of music we’ve had this season, it’s hard to believe this is only the second insert song comprised CD this season. But it is a big one and another is just around the corner, so you won’t be going long before the next wave of music. The release schedule has been very different across the three seasons, but I will admit this season might have restored what I loved first season along with letting me get more for less (though I kind of like having a ton of mini-singles).

If you’ve stuck around for all my reviews, you know my complaint about every single mini-album that comes out. It gives you a ton of tracks at once at the cost of losing all the backing tracks. And I’m sure that some of you read that complaint and think, “Nobody cares about that except you”. But, as it turns out, I might not have been alone. Staff heard my cries of pain and decided to release this season’s mini-album with all backing tracks included. That’s right. If you ever wanted value, it’s really hard to say you’re not getting it this time around. I’ve never felt like buying any of the mini-albums has been a waste of money, but this time around there’s very room to shake a stick at.

So breaking the usual number, there’s 16 tracks on this release (8 actual tracks and 8 backing). If we can expect this as the new formula for all the mini-albums, well, you’re easily getting your money’s wroth if you enjoy Aikatsu music.

Design
You know, I’m really wondering what we’ll have to do to get a design like Cute Look again. I think I was generally fine with the somewhat consistent designs when we had chains of mini-singles, but it definitely feels like the mini-albums should have a little more oomph. That aside, Rin and Hinaki land themselves on the cover of Joyful Dance and, as you might guess, it’s got a pretty darn colorful scheme to it. Actually, I don’t hate it overall and I probably like the design of it vs. the previous insert song single that came out so many months back.

The members of AIKATSU☆STARS! land themselves on the back this time, but the perk is that it’s not a generic full body shot like last time. In all honesty, this is probably the best design decision they made this time around. I felt like the straight photos they had on the back didn’t really match up with the rest, but it legitimately feels like they worked it in with the theme this time. So we’re improving and tweaking something this time at least.

Music/Track Progression Musical Overview
I really wanted to give a lot of credit to the music selection this time around outside of one thing. The entire list of music this time actually fits the “Joyful Dance” title pretty darn well. The entire list is fairly upbeat pop tunes to get your body moving. So what’s the problem? There is just one track that managed to sneak it’s way onto the album that just kind of upsets the entire balance. And the funny thing is, they didn’t even have to include it.

At this point in time, it seems they wanted to include the bulk of the unit songs that recently debuted in the show as well as the drama insert songs they hadn’t released yet. However, it did leave the awkward spot that Miyabi’s solo song (which has been unreleased for awhile) hanging until the next album. And honestly, it would have been a better fit on this album than one of the drama songs they did choose to include. I feel the strength of Aikatsu! albums is either to just let the variety flow or find a theme. And, since they were really pushing the theme this time, I feel like the choice to put in one awkward track was kind of upsetting. I don’t think it ruins the album, but it easily kills the buzz and slows down the album right at the end.

Track by Track Breakdown

Pretty Pretty – There’s really not much to Pretty Pretty outside of being that cutesy pop song that you’d really expect from every idol group. There’s not much to it, and it’s not a particularly amazing song. However, it does do a pretty good job of what what it’s out to do (be cute). But don’t let my lack of words make you think it’s a terrible song. It really isn’t doing anything wrong, but it’s just generally overshadowed by about everything else on the album. This is also the only case where an actual seiyuu (Shino Shimoji aka Akari) gets to show up in a song.

Blooming♡Blooming – Blooming♡Blooming is technically a song that was written directly for Akari (her first and only at that). On this album there feels like there are three varieties of the Pop/Jazz mix that we’ve heard a number of times in the Aikatsu library. Blooming♡Blooming is that sort of middle ground that falls between the two other songs in the area. I think what really sets it apart from those other two two is that it’s not too busy instrumentally and is just backed enough to make sure the vocals are the center of the song. It’s also one of those songs that really embodies the title of the album spot on. I think Blooming♡Blooming is a great example of one of those songs in the Aikatsu! library that you wouldn’t be able to place as coming from a show for little tots.

MY SHOW TIME! – The follow up to Blooming♡Blooming drifts away from the former genre typing and more so towards the dance. MY SHOW TIME! is embodied by a cool sounding synth pop and, honestly, will feel very familiar to most people. It’s a sound that you’ll be pretty accustomed to, and that’s not always a bad thing. Slated as Rin’s character song (and solo performed by Nanase on top of that), it fits it’s intention well, just like Pretty Pretty does at the start of the album. I really don’t think it’s sound is particularly innovative, but I’m kind of a sucker for the style MY SHOW TIME! is done in. So if you’re like me you’ll probably really enjoy it. I think it’s a sound that doesn’t show up frequently (if ever) in Aikatsu! so it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.

Lovely☆Bomb – I guess someone in the Aikatsu! staff really felt like they wanted to do a song song Cutie Honey fashion, and that’s how we got Lovely☆Bomb. I’m kidding. But it’s hard to say that any other song pops into my mind when Lovely☆Bomb comes on. Other than that, it does go back to Thrilling Dream from the first season with the sexy/powerful sound. I think what really just gets me about the song is how I haven’t really noticed until now (or it’s just this song) that Miho sounds almost exactly like Juri. Aikatsu! is pretty infamous for the vocal counterparts being fairly removed from the usual character voice, but I feel like Miho matches up pretty darn well with Juri’s standard character voice in Lovely☆Bomb. On another note, I feel like the first drama song to show up every season is always a huge hit with me: Thrilling Dream, Shin Chocolate Jiken, and now Lovely☆Bomb.

koisuru mitaina caramélisé – One of the next of the three real pop/jazz mixes to show up on the album and the one that really falls on the pop side moreso than anything else. “koisuru mitaina caramélisé” is just one of those upbeat songs that comes on and makes you smile. It’s cute, it’s catchy, it’s just good. And, opposed to the other two I’ve grouped it with, I feel this is the one song where the vocals contribute the most to the track. Interestingly enough, this is the one song on this album (and of recent) that was passed entirely back to STAR☆ANIS and not AIKATSU☆STARS! Since Eri and Remi both fill the vocal roles of Kokone and Miyabi (respectively), it just ended entirely in their hands. I honestly wish I had more to say about the song, but it’s really just good.

Poppin’ Bubbles – “Poppin’ Bubbles” is one of those songs where they seemingly pull a composer out of nowhere and it just works. Oddly enough, I hadn’t recognized Mito’s name until I looked it up and realized I knew him better than I thought as the bassist of clammbon (a band worth checking out if you’ve never heard of them). It also explained a lot of where the bass line in “Poppin’ Bubbles” probably came from. All that aside, it’s just a cleanly done song and one that really fits into the Aikatsu! library because a huge chunk of early Aikatsu! music was famous for the strangely amplified bass lines (more or less placed on Hidekazu Tanaka). “Poppin’ Bubbles” is just a mainly synth pop song that, wait for it, will make you wanna get on your feet and get moving. It’s almost like the word dance was in the title of the album or something.

miwaku no party – Oh NARASAKI. I honestly never thought “Signalize!” was a bad song but, after that, NARASAKI has yet to turn something out that actually changes my opinion of him to positive. I still tried to find some merit in “tarte tatin” back when “Beautiful Song” was released. But “miwaku no party” doesn’t do a job, at all, to fix the problems I found in “tarte tatin”. It’s the same kind of mess where it feels like someone just wrote a song without any concern for their audience or vocalists. I am positive there’s a place in this world for NARASAKI. But you probably wouldn’t want to hang abstract art in a children’s art museum. There’s plenty of weird anime out there (and NARASAKI has done music for a few of them) so I would enjoy if we didn’t have to have this conversation again next season. If you couldn’t guess, this is the song that probably had no business being on this album. It’s not joyful and it makes want to run rather than dance.

Hello New World – The second song to show up the album by one of the MONACA crew, and there’s hardly room for disappointment. “Hello New World” is the third song in that list of pop/jazz and the one that falls more on the jazz side (as well as having a very dominant instrumental). You can’t just listen to “Hello New World” for the vocals, and you really need to immerse yourself completely to appreciate it. I feel there are a few select songs every season that really blow me away, and Hello New World is definitely one of the few to show up in the third season. It just has all of it’s elements really done to perfection.

Pretty Pretty OFF VOCAL – “Pretty Pretty” is a song that’s pretty much driven by it’s vocals, so it’s hard to say that much comes out of listening to the off vocal of it. I know I don’t seem to be giving the song much credit (if any), but it really is just nothing out of the ordinary. I think when it comes to Aikatsu!, I just expect a little more than just cute. I don’t feel like “Pretty Pretty” is unwelcome, but I definitely feel like it needs a little something more to put it nearer to my standard.

Blooming♡Blooming OFF VOCAL – I think “Blooming♡Blooming” is just one of those songs that you really need to turn on the instrumental to gain some appreciation for. I think what really got me about “Blooming♡Blooming” is just how it slowly builds up over the course of the song. From that soft piano intro on, the instrumentals just slowly build up to match the power of the vocals, and it’s a bit easier to take note of when you turn on the instrumental. And, even if it’s short lived, it is one of the very few songs to have a dedicated section to put some focus on the percussion. Actually, “Blooming♡Blooming” might just have one of my favorite instrumental breaks of any Aikatsu! song. I feel like it sits on the album with a lot of powerhouses, but “Blooming♡Blooming” is no doubt a real treasure as far as the series goes.

MY SHOW TIME! OFF VOCAL – Even moreso than “Pretty Pretty”, “MY SHOW TIME!” is a song that really doesn’t go too far without it’s vocals. If you really like the song and want to leave on some minor background noise and get really distracted by vocals, then turning on the off vocal might be your thing.

Lovely☆Bomb OFF VOCAL – While it is missing a lot without it’s vocals, it’s easy to overlook a lot of what’s going on in the back of “Lovely☆Bomb”. They’re not major but there are a lot of small elements peeking in here and there that are worth breaking down if you’re really into it. But it is, by nature, a song you’re gonna want the vocals on to get the full appeal.

koisuru mitaina caramélisé OFF VOCAL – Ishihama has turned out a lot of amazing tracks for Aikatsu! and I feel I’ve always pinned him for his clean and simple instrumentals. I think this is probably one of the more extreme cases where the instrumental is really just meant to reinforce all the way through. And, you know, depending on the person they would consider him potentially better by ensuring that vocals are always taking over. But I’ll admit there is a part of me that will always go for songs like “Blooming♡Blooming” and “Hello New World” that really manage to create that perfect balance.

Poppin’ Bubbles OFF VOCAL – Let’s be honest here. The one reason you’ll turn on the instrumental of “Poppin’ Bubbles” is so you can enjoy the bass line even more. But it’s actually so prominent that it’s hard to say that you really need to do so. Much like “Lovely☆Bomb” though, “Poppin’ Bubbles” is a song that has a lot of small things snuck into it hear and there that you can miss hearing with vocals on. I still don’t think you’ll be picking this over the vocal version unless you really just want some bass in your life. Not like that’s a crime.

miwaku no party OFF VOCAL – I will admit removing the vocals probably does help “miwaku no party”; mainly because it just removes one chaotic element from the formula. And, yes, that’s really not saying much. It’s basically removing noise from a room. I really think there are potentially good ideas in the song (the chorus). I just wish those damn hits didn’t exist in the song (which I’m pretty sure are recycled from Bowser’s Castle from Super Mario Kart). This song would really take me going through every second of it and picking it apart to really explain why it drives me nuts. If you ever run into me and want the full story feel free to ask. I will gladly sit down and listen to it with you so we can do the play by play.

Hello New World OFF VOCAL – “Hello New World” and “miwaku no party” do share one thing in common. They are both songs that require me to really pick each second of the song apart to explain what really makes it what it is. It really doesn’t matter if you leave the vocals off “Hello New World” or not. It’s still a really damn impressive piece of work. And I can probably confess that after listening to the entire album, this was the first track I went back to. I brag a lot about Aikatsu! music and this is probably something I would directly pull up of an example of what sets it apart from other series that it would get grouped with. I really don’t know what else to say. Keigo Hoashi just blew me away this season.

Wrap Up
I don’t think there’s any argument to not buy “Joyful Dance”. Even if the off vocals weren’t included, it would still have some of the best music that the third season had to offer. In fact, I think you could easily sneak away with just buying this and not even having to buy the Best of Album in the coming year. It’s not that I don’t think there are other great songs from the season, but this is really some of the best that you could hope for. I think the only other mini-album that comes close to this quality is “cute look” back in Season 2, and I’m willing to say that “Joyful Dance” still easily comes out on top in my book. If you were to stick me with only a select few Aikatsu! CDs, this would definitely be on that list. If you haven’t purchased it yet then do it. Just do it now.

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