Posted by: Leek | March 17, 2016

Music Purchase in Review: Aikatsu! Best of Album – Lovely Party!!

You know, as much as I love being able to talk about so many Aikatsu releases in succession, it’s a little tiring talking about so many Aikatsu releases in succession. Yes, I realize putting up the Wonderful Tour review so late was partly my fault (I wouldn’t say entirely), but it doesn’t change the fact that we are in the midst of an Aikatsu music dash right now. Anyhow, this week was a big (though not necessarily so big review wise) release for Aikatsu. That’s right. Another year has passed and that means it’s time for another Best of Album.

Am I ever going to be doing another one for Aikatsu (as in not Stars) in the future? I really doubt it. So this might be our last chance to jam one of these bad boys out.

General Overview
Lovely Party!! marks the third and most likely final best of compilation out of the original franchise. While they may virtually try and do something for fourth season, it feels like it would be a little awkward due to the lack of music selection (not to mention the release timing would be difficult). Just like it’s predecessors, Lovely Party!! keeps the usual 23 track for 3000 yen format. In other words, it’s giving you just as much bang for your buck as the previous installments. Third season was kind of marked as the rise of onetrap in terms of writing; so if you were a fan of what music showed up in the latter half of Season 2, then this might be your album as it has a lot more from those same names.

Lovely Party!! is a bit closer to Calendar Girls than Shining Star* as the roaring majority of tracks are preserved as their original recordings. There are still seven exclusive tracks to the particular album, but I feel like the particular arrange tracks they chose aren’t necessarily as significant as what was done for Shining Star*. With that being said, the tracks they chose to arrange also feature much less of the solo version idea we’ve seen previously. There are also no backing tracks present on the album, as usual. So in case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the same package you’ve come to expect over the past few years.

Design
The staff had more or less managed to perfect the design by the second Best of Album, so the same cardboard book style with built in booklet pouch makes it’s return one more time. The design of the flaps keep the usual ED theme artwork style and feature the third season girls as the cover image. And, just in case you didn’t want them to feel left out, the original big four (Mizuki, Ichigo, Aoi, Ran) all get to show up on the accompanying flaps for all the first season fans. The booklet itself follows a rather simple design and, rather than opting to have the CD cover image on it, it’s styled more as a party invitation with all the clean, simple fonts and frills you could ever want. The rest of the design is mostly filled with party foods. And we all know that food is all that really matters at parties.

The handy 18.2 x 18.2 cm. calendar makes it’s return this time as the special bonus from ordering from any of the announced stores to carry it. Even if I somewhat criticized the concept of it in my original review of Calendar Girls, I generally favored the idea a lot more post review. It really helped enforce the, “this is what happened over the Aikatsu year during this season,” feel that the Best of Albums are meant to create. And they brought it back again by having the album/single artwork show up to fill in for the various months. There were naturally a lot less releases during the third season compared to first, so, as you can imagine, they squeeze a lot more months together. The cute touch is that, outside of some significant Japanese holidays, the calendar is marked with the birthdays of the Aikatsu main idols over the years. So just in case you forgot the character birthday of your favorite from the series, chances are you can use this as a good reference. Overall, it’s a bonus worth grabbing even if you don’t need the calendar just because of the history it conveys.

Music/Track Progression
When you talk about Aikatsu, you’ll always bring up the music variety. And, just the same as before, Lovely Party!! hosts a good selection of genres to listen to. I don’t feel that anything in third season really dropped below mid-tempo, and there’s no real ballad that existed like in the first and second seasons. But I’ve generally said that all the ballads that Aikatsu has turned out (sans “kagayaki no etude”) are pretty darn average. So I think I drift more towards an album like this where it only takes down the tempo by so much. Unlike previous installments, I can’t say that there’s any real pattern to how the CDs are organized. The first CD contains the majority of what solos exist, while the second CD contains the roaring majority of the exclusive tracks to the album. Otherwise the only real pattern it kept was the first OP/ED showing up on the first CD and the second OP/ED set showing up on the second CD.

I brought it up a lot in the overview, but the more distinct thing that sets Lovely Party!! apart is it’s lack of solos. I believe the special tracks from each album was mostly summed up as solo versions of various songs, but the majority of the additional tracks this time around are to present a new coupling rather than focusing a single vocalist. Personally, I can’t say there’s a right way to go about things, but I do feel like the album could have used a few more solo tracks just for the sake of characters. While the majority of characters had solo songs naturally, I think they could have easily swapped one or two of the arranges they had in place for solos for some of the other characters. Still, everyone has different vocalists that appeal to the ear, so there’s a chance that there are people who will get more out of the exclusive tracks than I did.

Track by Track Breakdown

Disc 1:
Hello! Winter Love♪ ~Christmas Ver.~
– So let me be perfectly honest with you. The entire existence of this track pisses me off. When the track list of Lovely Party!! was put up, this stood out like a sore thumb that needed to be cut off. But I figured that I would wait until the release just in case they really did something with it. But it actually turned out that turning it into a Christmas version just meant adding Miho, Risuko, and Waka to the mix. The changes to the recording are otherwise very minor, and they didn’t add anything that I would consider to make it anymore Christmas-y than it was before. I mean, I was just expecting them to add more jingle bells throughout the entirety of the song, but they didn’t even do that much. I really have nothing against “Hello! Winter Love♪” as a track on it’s own, but I have something against it being misused to create a cop out extra track. I can’t even say I’d listen to it over the original because I think Miki being the main vocal of the song was kind of what gave it the extra flair.

Disc 2:
Let’s Aikatsu! ~STARS! Ver.~ – “Let’s Aikatsu!” is the real flagship song of the Akari generation, so it’s position to get a special version kind of goes without saying. And, rather than just making it an Akari solo, they decided to allow the whole AIKATSU☆STARS! gang to perform it. I’ve said it numerous times that I’ve never enjoyed mass vocals, but “Let’s Aikatsu!” is a song that can kind of get away with it. I don’t think it makes it particularly stand out, but I generally like the sound of it more than when they tried to pack a ton of vocals onto “Lovely Party Collection”. I find it cute because in the future it’ll be a fun way to remember the entirety of the Akari generation, but I don’t think it’s particularly special from a musical standpoint.

Chica x Chica ~Juri & Rin & Madoka Ver.~ – On every one of the Aikatsu Best of Albums, there has always been a, “you buy the album for this additional track”. If you were to make me pick the track for Lovely Party!!, then it would be the Vanilla Chili Peppers version of “Chica x Chica”. I really love “Chica x Chica” as a song, and it was completely transformed when it was performed by the Miho, Nanase, Kana pairing as opposed to the original Miho, Miki pairing. I don’t want it to sound like I’m picking on Miki or anything, but it’s hard to say that she could harmonize anywhere near as well as these three do together. The compatibility between the three voices is really off the charts, and it’s a song like this where you can just straight hear it without argument. There is a definite difference of flavor between the two versions of “Chica x Chica”, but I’d really recommend you get a sampling of the Vanilla Chili Pepper variety.

usubeni day tripper ~Miyabi & Sakura Ver.~ – Where I think there’s a really distinct difference between the two version of “Chica x Chica”, the difference between the two versions of “usubeni day tripper” feels a bit on the minor side. Personally, I don’t feel like there’s a version that I could put above the other, but here’s how I see it. The original version paired Remi with Miho, and the perk of this is that they both have that oomph in their vocals that gives the kind of power you want from a song like this. It’s meant to be cool, and it’s meant to be powerful. This version, however, swaps Miho for Remi’s fellow STAR☆ANIS member, Eri. So what’s the difference? Eri’s always had a really graceful voice and, while that doesn’t necessarily match the power of the song as much as Miho, it definitely gives it the vocal styling you want from the traditional sound it’s providing. So the decision of what version you like more may come down to how you see “usubeni day tripper” as a song. If you enjoy the power of it, then you might drift more towards the original version. If it’s the classical Japanese sound that draws you to it, then I feel like you’ll enjoy this version.

Poppin’ Bubbles ~Hinaki & Juri Ver.~ – This is yet another track that will more or less come down to vocal preference as opposed to anything else. And, much like “usubeni day tripper”, it’s on a choice of a more graceful voice against Miho. To be honest, I’m probably a bad person to talk about this track because there are very rare occasions where I would take another vocalist over Mona. So, let’s just get into a personal note. To me, Mona’s voice was too smooth and blended too well with Miki to swap out. I don’t think Miho is completely out of place on the track, but I think it’s hard to top the original pairing it had. If you were a fan of Jounetsu Jalapeño, then I can imagine you were wanting to have this track. But I feel like I can’t find a reason to pick this over the original otherwise.

emerald no mahou ~Sumire Solo Ver.~ – The only of the additional tracks that’s actually a solo version. “emerald no mahou” was presented in the anime as an original for Sumire, and it actually surprises me it wasn’t just released as a solo in the first place. I originally criticized the song for lacking a bit of oomph, so some people might think that I think it loses even more oomph by being reduced to a solo. But, the lack of oomph to me was never in the vocals. I don’t think removing Ruka from the song hurts it at all, and, honestly, I think it sounds a little cleaner with just a single vocal going on during the chorus. In all honesty, I’d gladly take the solo version of “emerald no mahou” over the original, if not for just being a Mona fan. But I really do think it just cleans up the song that tiny bit more to consider picking it over the original version.

Tutu Ballerina ~Sumire & Rin Ver.~ – I believe in my original review of the Lovely Party Collection single that I mentioned the Mona, Nanase version of “Tutu Ballerina” was already preferable to the original. To me, “Tutu Ballerina” was, and still is, in my mind not intended to be an ED theme for Aikatsu. But as an insert song for the Dancing Diva girls? Definitely. It’s a song that pairs with Sumire well, and the sound is fitting to Rin’s character. And, even without that in mind, the Mona and Nanase pairing just sounds so much cleaner on the song as opposed to the main trio. I just don’t think the style of song fits the vocal styles of Ruka and Miki even if they have the power potential for the song. Nanase is able to provide both the power and clarity that the song really needs, and she has just generally proven to pair well with Mona vocally. I’ve been generally waiting for the Dancing Diva version of “Tutu Ballerina”, and I’m glad they opted for it over the original version for this album.

Wrap Up
Just like the installments before it, it’s hard to find a better deal on Aikatsu! music than the Best of Albums. While I have an issue with a few of the additional tracks of Lovely Party!! and would gladly swap them for some other options, I am far from calling it a bad investment. I’ve generally come to understand that most people who don’t buy the standard releases wait for this time, but I figure I could speak to those of you who buy all the releases. I can’t say that I bit on many of the additional tracks like I did the other Best of releases, but I still feel like it has enough gems that you won’t want to pass up. Even if most of the versions aren’t superior, they more or less stand on the same ground as their original versions. And that is a perk of opting for alternate versions of songs over straight solos down the line. There were very few release in the Akari generation versus the first two seasons, so it’ll be a lot easier to go back and grab the original tracks you want from previous releases if you choose to do so. The only unfortunate truth is that they spread them so nicely across all the releases that you’d need to buy about everything if you wanted all the original versions.

Like I stated earlier, I have no idea what remaining releases they have planned for the original Aikatsu! series outside of the next set of Photo on Stage releases. But if there ever happens to be another compilation release planned down the line, then you know I’ll be around to review it.

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