Posted by: Leek | March 15, 2016

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! 4th Season Mini Album – Wonderful Tour

I’ve owed you guys this one for awhile, and I feel really bad it took me this long to get it out. I think the flood of news that’s been slowly coming out has kind of made it hard to focus on it, but it did help me in giving more points to bring up during the span of the review. I know taking a long time to review it may make it seem like I’m unhappy with the album or something, but it’s just been completely misc. events that drew me away from it.

General Overview
While there’s been a lot of excitement about the release of PHOTO on STAGE, I’ve been ready for this mini-album for quite some time. I do really miss the old release format sometimes just because the wait for music can feel a little painfully long sometimes. But it is really rewarding to get to set aside the half hour to go through the mini-album.

The mini-album to start off the year isn’t anything out of the ordinary and has basically the whole gang putting in their contributions to the album. So you get the usual mix of onetrap and MONACA alongside the few names that don’t belong to either studio. In other words, there’s probably someone working on the album that has your number. I almost want to say that composer wise that it’s the more colorful album to date. I may be wrong on that, and the name variety has varied a lot more ever since third season started (naturally carrying over to now).

Wonderful Tour retains the same formula as the previous and gives you 16 tracks to chew on. (8 standard vocal tracks and 8 backing). The eighth track on the CD is a bonus track this time, and it is kind of nice since it gives you a song that was otherwise digital purchase only (plus the instrumental). Oh buddy, the value.

Design
So as you could guess, there’s nothing really super new to say about the design of Wonderful Tour. The cover itself features everybody’s favorite fourth season NonoRisa pair as well as Akari because of main character perks. The rest of it is pretty simple by design, and I can’t say I really hate it for that. Each page of the booklet has the Aikatsu wagon just casually cruising along day and night through various locations. I won’t say it’s anything spectacular, but it’s cute, to say the least. I guess it helped they had more of a theme to work with this time around rather than the usual “random adjective and noun” titles of third season.

And, just like last time, AIKATSU☆STARS! get their little place to shine on the back cover. I feel like they might have heard me make fun of them all these times since they bothered to organize everyone’s poses this time around. And by that I mean they just had everyone do the corresponding pose of their respective character roles. Technically that means NonoRisa get left out, but I guess they got to be on the front cover for a reason.

Music/Track Progression Musical Overview
While the words don’t apply to every track, “Wonderful Tour” is a pretty mid-tempo album overall. The majority of songs sit around that mid-tempo range with a few exceptions along the way. I feel like most albums thus far have had generally upbeat and high energy tracks take up the majority, so it is a little bit of a break from the normal. Otherwise, it’s still the garden variety of genres we’ve seen before, just with a more standard pop line making up the majority.

Overall, it’s an album that you can’t speak much for in terms of selection. It contains all of the music from fourth season (outside of the OP/ED), so it’s not like that had other choices of what to or not to include. I think the only other big standout it that unlike some other albums, it feels incredibly vocalcentric. I realize some people will say, “But it’s idol music, isn’t it always vocalcentric?” You’re not wrong, but you’ll notice I usually go out of my way to break down tracks here and there from an instrumental standpoint. Even if I wanted to pick apart tracks on this album, I feel like there aren’t really outstanding examples to pick at outside of maybe one or two. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there might be people out there that like a bit more meat in the instrumentals and not just the vocals. And, in terms of delivering that, I can’t say this album is particularly outstanding at it.

Track by Track Breakdown

yakusoku carat – “yakusoku carat” is a fairly standard mid-tempo pop song that more or less sets the pace for the entire album. And what bothers me most about it is that I actually have nothing of real value to say about it. I don’t feel like it’s a particularly weak song, but it really just lacks any real outstanding features that allow it jump out. It is a cute song, but I feel there are other songs in the library that achieve what it sets out to do with a little more finesse.

lonely gravity – Macross and other mecha anime have existed long enough that we can consider space love songs a genre, right? If that doesn’t fly with you, then we can probably just go with “lonely gravity” being a mid-tempo techno pop song. “lonely gravity” isn’t exactly more complicated than “yakusoku carat” in terms of music, but it does have a lot more power when it comes to sound and vocals. There’s just enough more going on to really make “lonely gravity” that much more enjoyable, but I think it’s the strength in the vocal part that makes the song what it is. Ruka and Nanase both have the more powerful vocals out of the AIKATSU☆STARS! group, so it is a change of pace to hear them performing on the same song. And it’s probably the oomph they achieve from coming together that puts the spit and shine on things.

ibara no joou – If you’ve followed the reviews up until now, you’ll probably know the love/hate (mostly hate) relationship I’ve had with Sumire’s solo songs and moreso NARASAKI as a composer. But. But! This is actually the one time I have more positives to say than negatives. I’ve essentially bashed most of NARASAKI’s work for not appealing to Mona’s vocal strengths and/or being way too busy to even work a vocal part into the mix. I won’t say “ibara no joou” is perfect, but it’s hit a little closer to something that Mona can pull off vocal wise. And, instrumentally, it’s actually incredibly well constructed. In general, I still feel like the vocal part could be a lot cleaner. It still feels a little too over the place, and it still sounds like Mona is singing outside of her comfort range in a lot of sections. But when it does manage to hit those correct ranges, it does manage to generate that chill that propels the goth loli image they really wanted Sumire to have. To me, “ibara no joou” is just a few steps away from being perfect. And I am more than content to listen to it over every other song in Sumire’s solo music selection.

LOVE GAME – “LOVE GAME” is another song for the Dancing Diva girls and drifts a little closer to Rin’s character as opposed to Sumire. Rin’s “MY SHOW TIME” from Season 3 was a sound that had really been missing from Aikatsu for awhile (and even just Rin’s character type in general). So it’s nice to hear that kind of attitude that comes with the package brought back for “LOVE GAME”. The only real problem I have with the song is that the main guitar line that gets repeated over the chorus gets to be a little bit much. There’s a lot of powerful parts going on at that time, and I feel like it gets a little too overwhelming, especially when you consider the volume balance of everything. I think they could have opted for coming up with a different line that would have complimented the chorus a little better, but that’s just me.

mieru miel – If you remember the kind of sound that “Lovely Party Collection” had in Season 3, Ishihama brings it back quite a bit with “mieru miel”. And, like a lot of Ishihama’s music, the vocal part does a good job of playing along with the instrumental track. If there is a song on this album where I feel like the vocals aren’t occupying center stage by themselves, then it would probably be “mieru miel”. Otherwise, Ishihama hardly ever does wrong, and it’s just an overall cute song to listen to. It’s also just nice to hear Kana on a solo song again (and just in general). Both her and Nanase were introduced at the same time to fill in the parts of Madoka and Rin but, just like her character counterpart, Kana has had very few instances to shine vocally. I do think both Kana and Nanase are both impressive in their own respects, but I kind of wish they were given equal opportunities. I might just be miscounting, but it does seem like Nanase has gotten a lot more songs to perform on.

hello hello – “hello hello” continues the trend of somewhat mellow pop songs that make up the majority of the album. It is however much more energetic than the start of the album and sits a little closer to the pace of “mieru miel” before it. The most unique thing of “hello hello” is probably that it’s one of the few solo songs that Miki has actually received (and character wise Hinaki’s only true solo song). Miki’s vocal profile is probably the cutest of all the girls in AIKATSU☆STARS, and “hello hello” was written to go alongside that profile. I can’t say anything too special in regards to it, but I can definitely appreciate the cute factor of it. And if you’re a fan of Miki’s vocals, then you will probably eat this song up with a spoon.

shiawase houteishiki – Whether it showed up on the Christmas episode or not (it showed up an episode early actually), “shiawase houteishiki” is this year’s flavor of Christmastime song. And I think there’s a very limited extent you can say about Christmas songs. You write a fairly simple ballad, you make the lyrics fit the season, and then you add jingle bells. And “shiawase houteishiki” pretty much follows that formula to a tee. It’s nothing amazing, but Christmas music has never been an award winning concept. But, to be fair, Aikatsu only did original Christmas songs for two seasons (the one that was used for the first two being a cover). It’s nothing you’re ever going to listen outside of the season, but it might be nice for putting yourself in the mood when the time rolls around. Unless you’re not a Christmas person. In that case, this song will probably just make you curl up into a ball.

run run do run run! – For those not aware, “run run do run run!” is the radio song for the show that AIKATSU☆STARS! hosts. And in my long history of listening to various radio shows (mostly when I was younger), I’ve never been particularly impressed by a radio theme. I’m somewhat glad to hear that they haven’t changed, but that just translates into, “this isn’t the most exciting song ever”. Radio themes are what you play during the opening and ending (and sometimes between sections) during a show, and they’re likely to have the team talking over it. So they’re never meant to be complicated and they’re usually best seen as a dumbed down anime OP/ED if nothing else. I don’t think it’s a song I have anything against, but it’s nothing you’re going to go out of the way to listen to. It’s really nothing you wouldn’t hear from any other series, and that’s all there really is to it.

yakusoku carat OFF VOCAL – Like I said in the overall description, the mass amount of tracks on “Wonderful Tour” are pretty dry without their vocal parts. The backing track of “yakusoku carat” is incredibly simple, so there’s nothing you’re going to take away from listening to it. But if you feel like singing about jewelry with your best friend, then you might want to have it around.

lonely gravity OFF VOCAL – Even if it is a vocal heavy song, there is a bit more to talk about “lonely gravity” in terms of instrumentation. I think the key part I wanted to highlight is the really pronounced piano part that occurs in the lead up into the chorus. It’s something really minor, but it is one of those minor elements that helps add power to the song. I think that is one of the things that I do enjoy about very techno heavy pop songs sometimes. The standards instruments you mix in are few and far between, but they can really add a lot when you utilize them in certain ways.

ibara no joou OFF VOCAL – “ibara no joou” is hilariously, or maybe not so hilariously, the song you could probably break apart the most instrumentally. I think it’s the first time that NARASAKI managed to separate ideas and work them all throughout the song rather than having them all going on at once. Actually, without the vocal part, “ibara no joou” is actually a pretty damn cool listen. I mean this in all respect, but NARASAKI is probably really well fit to write straight soundtracks over vocal music. I have yet to be impressed with NARASAKI’s vocal utilization, but there’s obvious music sense in all of their work. I think the only place I need to call out is the electric guitar that shows up at the very end of the song. Whether someone thought it sounded cool or not, it really just creates the effect of some guy running into the studio at the last minute and deciding he wanted to melt some faces.

LOVE GAME OFF VOCAL – “LOVE GAME” is, outside of maybe the chorus, about as vocal heavy as it gets on this album. The vocals are really what gives the song it’s attitude, but if you wanted to check out the backing guitar that’s happening during the verses (and even during the chorus), it’s much easier to make out in the backing track. I think conceptually “LOVE GAME” is really cool, but I kind of wish they gave a little more to the main guitar line so that it didn’t get borderline obnoxious (kind of like during the chorus). The sense in the song is amazing otherwise, and it might have been more of a mixing miss than anything else.

mieru miel OFF VOCAL – Just like most of Ishihama’s work, “mieru miel” has that sound variety that still manages to maintain a great balance. Personally, I think the real charm and identity of “mieru miel” comes with the guitar line that occurs during the later verses. But otherwise the subtle bass, piano lines, and just about everything else really piece together well. Considering it’s styling is so close to “Lovely Party Collection” you might call it a bit of a comfort piece for Ishihama, but I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with that.

hello hello OFF VOCAL – Even if it’s not a complex song and the same vocal heavy theme we’ve seen across the album, I still do love the backing track of “hello hello”. I think it’s just the small elements and really gentle balance during the verses that stand out to me. It just does a solid job of conveying that cute innocence that comes from Hinaki’s character.

shiawase houteishiki OFF VOCAL – Outside of the synth elements, if you ever wanted to study what kind of instrumentation you want to use in Christmas songs, then this is probably a good instrumental to listen to. And, to be honest, those synth elements that are added are I guess the small way that Hoashi put himself into the song. What does make me kind of laugh is Hoashi has been put in charge of about every single major Aikatsu ballad that’s been written. So I do wonder if it was a, “you did the first one so you might as well do the next,” or it’s just a genre that’s in his comfort zone.

run run do run run! OFF VOCAL – Rather than go on further about how run of the mill “run run do run run!” is, let’s talk about how I’d love to have a couple of cute girls sing a theme for SUAP. While I love the music I play during the OP/ED of my radio, I’d love to have something as stereotypical as this to feel like the real thing. Maybe someday I’ll be big enough that I can realize my dream. Actually, I could probably just write a stereotypical radio theme myself and pull a few names aside to sing it for me, but it wouldn’t feel the same as if someone else did it for me.

Wrap Up
I feel like it’s somewhat mandatory to say that, “If you liked the songs you heard in fourth season, then you should probably buy this CD without hesitation”. And I say that mostly in regards to the fact that there’s a high chance you won’t see these songs in a Best of Album. On account 4th Season ran for only half a year, it only had half of the albums and releases. I’m fairly sure that all of the energy is going to be swiftly moved into pushing out releases for both Aikatsu Stars and Photo on Stage, and I really doubt they want to go back and make a Best of Album for one mini-album and an OP/ED single. That statement aside, Wonderful Tour is a great album on it’s own and packs the same variety as always. I don’t think I’d stack it as strongly against some of the other mini-album releases, but I feel like it has some tracks that you might really want to put into your collection.

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