Posted by: Leek | August 27, 2015

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! 3rd Season Mini Album 2 – COLORFUL SMILE

Technically, I was supposed to upload the next radio episode today and not this review. But once I get a CD it kind of takes any priority over anything else I was doing. It also was just one of those days where I preferred writing as opposed to sitting and editing for hours.

General Overview
If you’re one of those bargain hunters, then you’ll probably be happy that the format of last album was kept again for this one. Or if you’re like me, then you’ll just be happy because you get those juicy off vocals to peek more into the music with.

“COLORFUL SMILE” is that final album of the season where they don’t try and make any real deal out of the track selection and just throw everything that’s left that’s onto it. And, since they haven’t been doing a ton of releases this year, it turns into another CD packed full of music. There was technically more “new” tracks on the previous album so don’t be sad that only 7 of the tracks are something different.

Shooting a little under last time, there’s 15 tracks to listen to this time around (7 new tracks, 1 arrange track, and 7 backing tracks).

Skips! finds themselves on the cover this time around (weird since they never grouped any of the duets together until now). And other than that, there’s polka dots…LOTS of polka dots. I won’t lie in saying that I like stripes over polka dots, so I was generally more of a fan of what they did with “Joyful Dance” previously. What I’m actually trying to tell you is there’s nothing wow about the jacket design outside of the back and the front.

I realize that they’ve really started to push AIKATSU☆STARS! this season (including them getting a radio show starting next month). I always found it odd how they really pushed them into the back when it seemed like a lot of fans were mutually interested in them (and STAR☆ANIS). But I guess with them landing more live opportunities and, particularly, solo concerts it kind of merits that they nudge them a little more forward.

Music/Track Progression Musical Overview
As I said in the intro, “COLORFUL SMILE” is probably less of a well thought out compilation of songs and moreso one of those times when they just throw everything they have on a single album. Oh, and they put “Colorful” in the title to make seem like it was intentional. I am just pulling the staff’s leg even if that is probably spot on. I always say I love the Aikatsu! albums for their music variety, and this is definitely no exception to that.

“COLORFUL SMILE” finally brings in the long awaited CD release of Miyabi’s character song as well as some other gems from the Unit Cup that were left out of the previous album. And, if it’s any bonus, they gave a special arrange version of “Lovely Party Collection” just in case you wanted it. But, despite the fact I love the song, I feel like it was a pretty lackluster addition to the CD. I really don’t have anything against everything on the album (compared to “Joyful Dance”), but I’m not quite sure if I consider it stronger overall than it’s predecessor.

Track by Track Breakdown

Hey! little girl – I think “Hey! little girl” is a great example of my overall issue with a few of the tracks that show up on “COLORFUL SMILE”. As a guy who loves really old, classic rock it’s hard to hate the concept behind “Hey! little girl”. It’s just a matter of, does this song really fit your vocalists? I understand everything about this song was meant to replicate the style, and I really appreciate that. But as much as I love Ruka and Mona, I’m pretty sure they’re far from the style of vocalists that can pull this style off. It’s cute, but that’s about it. It’s one of those times you award the points for the effort, but it mostly comes off as bad karaoke. Harsh, I know. But you don’t step into the ring with me expecting to dodge every punch.

Chica x Chica – “Chica x Chica” brings us back a season to “Arabian Romance” with another Arabian influenced pop song. I guess they took note that I said Aikatsu! was missing them and decided they needed to another. But while “Arabian Romance” had been handled by Takao Nagtani, this time it was passed over to the ever capable Yusuke Naruse. But where I think “Arabian Romance” captured a certain archetype, “Chica x Chica” managed to drift to another side. So even if they fall in the same style, they are both unique enough to really stand out as individual pieces in the library. I really love the power that comes with Miho’s vocals and it’s a song that really does a good job of letting her go all out.

summer☆magic – Tomohiro Akiura first showed up a lyricist in the previous album but stepped up this album with not only one, but two works as a composer. “summer☆magic” brings a kind of stereotypical idol song with that summery pop feel. Yeah, I know that’s a mouthful. I don’t think the song is anything super fresh in terms of sound, but that doesn’t make it a bad song. I think it’s one of those sounds that you just kind of expect and Aikatsu! has probably run up a little short on really summery tunes. In fact, “egao no Suncatcher” might be the only real stunning example and just maybe “otona mode” to really fill the category. Whatever the case, it’s a catchy pop song to kind of fill in some gaps. I won’t complain, but I don’t think it’s a song that particularly blows me away.

usubeni day tripper – Ah, finally Miyabi’s solo song. Gimme. Gimme gimme. With a character like Sakura existing, it is a little weird that a song using classical Japanese instruments hadn’t snuck it’s way in earlier. So it’s a good thing Miyabi was introduced into the story. “usubeni day tripper” is just one of those songs that hits every nail on the head. The backing track, the vocals, the lyrics, and, especially, who they selected to perform it. I just wish I had something to complain about. It’s fresh. It’s well done. It’s just exactly that song Aikatsu! needed.

Sweet Heart Restaurant – If “usubeni day tripper” isn’t my love of this album, then it would have to be “Sweet Heart Restaurant”. Bringing in that lovely Pop/R&B mix, “Sweet Heart Restaurant” is just that cute song you just gotta love. I won’t go super far and say it’s a super unique song, but it’s just a sound I really love and something that Aikatsu! hasn’t touched on too directly yet. And whenever we get a breath of fresh air in Aikatsu! music (just like “usubeni day tripper”), I generally receive it very highly. It also just continues that high batting average that most of the drama songs (excluding a certain “miwaku no party”) have kept up. Just turn on the song and start swaying. It’ll make you feel better during the day.

emerald no mahou – “emerald no mahou” is a song mostly created for Sumire’s solo performance and handed off to the standard Mona/Ruka duet. And, since it is written for Sumire, it brings back that cool and heavier sound that Sumire inherited from Yurika (along with the Loli Gothic brand). However, unlike most of the songs directed towards Sumire, it leaves out the somewhat heavy techno vibe in place of more classical instruments. I actually don’t hate “emerald no mahou”, but I feel it’s really lacking some oomph to set it over the edge. In hindsight, I believe “eien no tomoshibi” would have fit in more with Sumire’s “style” and “emerald no mahou” could get passed back to Yurika with a bit more of a heavier rock vibe added to it. However, I do appreciate the fact it actually caters to Mona’s vocals as opposed to the bulk of what they had her perform for Sumire’s character songs (tarte tartin I’m looking at you).

lil’ beat lil’ wing♪ – “lil’ beat lil’ wing♪” is yet another track on this album that continues the “interesting idea, questionable execution” kind of pattern. I don’t mind the idea of doing a song in the style of a march, but it feels a little gimmicky to do it just so you can do a “Town Musicians of Bremen” ensemble sort of thing. Not to mention, this is being treated as the first big song for Luminas. And…that’s kinda sad. It’s not that I think it’s a particularly bad song, but every unit has had a pretty big debut song. I just feel like “lil’ beat lil’ wing♪” doesn’t even hold footing if you compare it to something like “Diamond Happy” or “Take Me Higher”. Not that I think Luminas was completely robbed, but they were kinda robbed.

Lovely Party Collection (STARS! ver.) – Oddly enough, this version of “Lovely Party Collection” beat out “Lovely Zombie Collection (STARS! ver.)” that was written entirely as a tribute to Nemesis from Resident Evil. Bad jokes aside, this is a bonus track that probably never needed to exist. This track is actually just “Lovely Party Collection” with a few more vocals added. And that’s it. I feel every other arrange track as of now has featured a real different turn for vocals that really helped change the flavor. This version of “Lovely Party Collection” adds absolutely nothing lovely to the party collection. Don’t take it as I’m saying it’s bad. It’s just not anything.

Hey! little girl OFF VOCAL – Remove the vocals from “Hey! little girl” and you kind of strip away what really brought it down. Given, the style the song was written in isn’t meant to be overtly complicated. I think there are a lot of female vocalists that could pull this song off really well that would lead me to really enjoy it, and listening to the backing track really reinforces that. It could have worked, but trying to replicate the old vocal style wasn’t the key. I think there had to be a middle ground created somewhere so it’d fit Ruka and Mona properly, or even just picking someone else from the AIKATSU☆STARS! group to sing it (I don’t think anybody is really fit to tackle it though).

Chica x Chica OFF VOCAL – I think what really gets me about the “Chica x Chica” instrumental and what really sets it apart from it’s predecessor “Arabian Romance” is the dominant string presence. Where I think “Arabian Romance” was defined by a more classic sound with a mix of strings and wind, “Chica x Chica” focuses entirely on strings (with very minor percussion presence). And it really gives the song both a impact on the instrumental level but is what really adds power to the vocals throughout the course of the song.

summer☆magic OFF VOCAL – Just like in a lot of the really pop cases, there’s very little reason to flip on the off vocal version of “summer☆magic”. The vocals are too powerful to leave out and there’s not too much to take away from the backing track. Admittedly, I do enjoy how the guitar part picks up in the latter half of the song. That’s about all I’ve got though.

usubeni day tripper OFF VOCAL – I think if you just listen to the start of the backing track you won’t be particularly impressed, but once that guitar part sneaks in you really start to feel it. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of standard bands that have tried to pull off this style and come out with mediocre results. And I think it just comes down to the delicate balance between making sure the vocals are powerful enough (to create that pseudo enka) and adding enough power to the classical instruments via less traditional sound. I don’t think it’s an easy balance, and it’s probably why I’ve heard a lot of mediocre attempts. But when they turn out great, they really are a treat.

Sweet Heart Restaurant OFF VOCAL – What’s a song like this without it’s vocals? Not incredibly fun to listen to actually. Well, it’s actually pretty enjoyable background noise in my book because I love the style, but let’s not get into that. It’s just meant to carry the vocals and it does a great job of that. Both of the songs that Tomohiro Akiura brought to the album were fairly unique to the Aikatsu! library, so I’ll gladly welcome him and Naruse to bring the best next season from one trap. If the MONACA boys are still missing, it’s probably one of the few ways to keep the fresh and consistent sound in the Aikatsu! library. Not that I don’t trust some of the other names they bring in, but it is incredibly hit or miss.

emerald no mahou OFF VOCAL – I have to admit the first time I ever heard “emerald no mahou” back when it showed up on YouTube, I didn’t like it. I thought it sounded really weak, and it really took me until the album release to give it more of the okay. However, I do wish the backing track had a bit more going on. Or, if not more going on, just to simply add a bit more power to the sound to really push it over that edge I’m looking for. I know Sumire is supposed to be graceful, but if you’re going to do a cool song like this you really have to give it that powerful sound.

lil’ beat lil’ wing♪ OFF VOCAL – I think the off vocal version of “lil’ beat lil’ wing♪” makes me appreciate it a little more, but it’s not that I have any real issues with the vocals. I don’t think they’re particularly unfit for the song, but I just think the song is just generally uninspiring when you add the vocals. They’re not bad, but they don’t add anything. And if you remove something like that from a song, it generally doesn’t get any worse. It just removes some extra noise that you might not have cared that much for. I really think it’s a cute idea. But I think the parts just don’t add up all that well.

Wrap Up
I think “COLORFUL SMILE” is a bit of a parting compared to “Joyful Dance”. Where I think “Joyful Dance” had a number of must have tracks, “COLORFUL SMILE” had less but didn’t have any real tracks that shot it in the foot. I really appreciate both mini-albums and the releases are so scarce this year that you really shouldn’t have a huge issue throwing money at it (especially to support the new off vocal track inclusion pattern). But, if you really must, the best of album is probably on it’s way in a few more months and you might find that more to your liking. But I do think the duet versions of a lot of these songs will be quite different from their solo counterparts so do take that into account before waiting.


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