2018/06/08

A Decade of Sentai Henshin Item Toys


Welcome back to the second part of my look at Super Sentai Henshin Items of the 2010s. Last time I declared an early winner and issued a challenge to Bandai to prove me wrong in 2019. This time I want to detail the decade-long decline of my favorite toyline. In order to do so properly...I have to go back just a little bit further...back to Engine Sentai Go-onger...

I vividly remember 2008. I was excited for the initial Go-onger toy line. Cars are my first love and outside of a trick Henshin Brace and some cool weapons, I don't think shows like Turboranger and Carranger did a great job of living up to their potential with the theme. Go-onger...actually did some things I really liked. The suit designs were pretty slick and the mecha really grew on me over time. The show itself sucked, but I tried.

So it was a case of a neat toy line with a lousy show? Well...no, not really. It was way worse than that. It was the beginning of the end of the ease of collectability of Super Sentai Henshin Items. Let's review, shall we?

Engine Sentai Go-Onger

While the Changers themselves aren't too bad, it did introduce the gimmick of interchangeable electronics to unlock new sounds and features. That's right, I'm talking about the dreaded Engine Souls. Each of the Changers came with a Change Soul that was unique to the group of character Changers, but they could also house individual Engine Souls.

Go Phone > DX Engine Oh, DX Highway Buster, DX Mantan Gun
Shift Changer > DX Birca, DX Gunpherd
Wing Trigger > DX Jetras, DX Tripter

That isn't the worst considering you could ignore Engine Souls and stick with the Change Souls. Bandai had gotten a taste of the collector's blood, though. People who would have otherwise completely skipped out on the DX Highway Buster now had to have one in order to get that damn BeaRV Engine Soul.


Samurai Sentai Shinkenger

Shinkenger's Henshin Items were actually spared the nonsense that Go-onger fans were forced to endure. You had the DX Shodophone which, despite it's faults (row of keys that are painted on instead of being actual buttons), is my favorite Henshin Item of the 00s decade. The Sushi Changer was pretty rad as well and only makes me hungry to think about...

It wasn't a bad year. Sure, the Hiden Disks were a thing, but outside of the one that came with the Sushi Changer, these were irrelevant to Henshin Item collectors.

Tensou Sentai Goseiger

What a mess this year was... You had the Headders AND flippin' Gosei Cards which were seemingly willed into existence whenever someone needed help. I don't know, it didn't take me long to abandon this series. The cards, though... You'd think it wouldn't be bad, but this just may be one of the worst offenders considering how much you had to spend to get the DX cards...

As far as I recall, these cards were only bundled with the soft vinyl figures. I looked up the receipt for my figures and realized that I spent a good $60 just to get the Pink, Blue, Black, and Yellow cards. Just for the Henshin sounds... Even then, the cards were only limited to the initial pressing of these toys. If you didn't buy them when the show first aired, you missed out. The Tensouder came with the Goseired card and a bunch of random shit cards I didn't care about. Out of the box, this toy was painfully limited.

Plus the forgettable DX Leon Cellular... Almost forgot you, but I didn't...

Fuck Goseiger, and more importantly...fuck 2010 Bandai...

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger

Ranger Keys. I might be in the absolute vocal minority, but I hate these goddamn things. When you buy the DX Mobirates, the only keys you get are Gokaired, Shinkenred, and Go-on Red. Heh, that sure is a kick in the pants to Goseiger. Are you only after the Gokaiger Ranger Keys? Well, here is what you need...

Gokai Blue > DX Gokai Gun
Gokai Yellow > DX Gokai Sabre
Gokai Green & Gokai Pink > DX Gokai Buckle

There was also Gokaisilver and his Gokai Cellular. It came with his Ranger Key, but if you wanted the Golden Anchor Key, you needed to get Ranger Key Set 5.

Given the nature of the show and the Ranger Key concept, there is a good chance you won't stop there. Getting DX Ranger Keys or just the reds is incredibly expensive. There were cheaper options, at least (Candy Toy, Gashapon), but the amount of money you need to spend to unlock the damn sounds that are already inside the damn toys is incredible. Not to mention, some series Ranger Keys look like absolute dogshit (Zyuranger comes to mind first). Clearly series were assigned out to different people with varying levels of quality sculpts.

Ranger Keys...yeah, not a fan. They've done nothing but clogged Yahoo Japan Auctions and probably will for years...


Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters

Go-Busters did us right with a legit Henshin Brace for a change. While Ranger Keys continued to burn along well into (and past) 2012, it freed up the series to skip the gimmicks and focus on spy tools. The Henshin Items were...

DX Morphin' Brace (Great)
DX Morphin' Blaster (Alright)

It was a good year...one that really looked back to the golden 90s.

Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger

Ugh. Back to this...

The Zyudenchi are lousy. If there is a rhyme or reason to anything in Kyoryuger, I don't care enough to know what it is. Batteries...that are bullets...that are used in a dinosaur gun...that requires dancing... I don't care.

While Bandai did show some restraint prior to Gokaiger, all bets were off with Ranger Keys. Zyudenchi are no different. These are millions of them for all I know. If you want the Zyudenchi to complete the core Kyoryuger Henshin, you'll need to get...

Kyoryured > DX Gaburivolver
Kyoryublack > DX Parasagun
Kyoryublue & Kyoryupink > DX Kyoryujin
Kyoryugreen > DX Zakutor

Kyoryugold also had the Gaburichanger and there was the Giga Gaburivolver for Kyoryuviolet.

Unlike Ranger Keys, there were other ways to get DX Zyudenchi, but I'm trying to kept what's left of my sanity intact trying to keep up with toy lines at this point. There were options to do this a little bit cheaper, but I'm still not convinced that these are a worthwhile gimmick.


Ressha Sentai ToQger

While I kinda dig the concept of the Henshin Items for this series, they are FAR too complex. It takes like five minutes to do the whole song and dance plus, once again, this is gimmick heavy. DX ToQ Changer comes with the Red Ressha and that's it. However, there was a set version that contained the ToQ Changer and DX ToQoh. Just get that set...it's easier that way.

The DX Applichanger was as basic as most Sixth Ranger Henshin Toys. Not much to report there...

Not the worst year for the Henshin Item collecting, but it did kinda force you to buy the stupid mecha. You could technically get it all in one box, though...


Shuriken Sentai Ninninger

I would very much like to forget this year. Not only is the DX Ninja Ichibanto utter garbage but the gimmick of the year, Nin Shuriken, were expensive. The DX Ninja Ichibanto came with Akaninger's Nin Shuriken, and the DX versions of the Nin Shuriken were also mercifully sold separately. In fact, I think that was the only way to get the Pink one if I recall correctly. Don't even bother with the DX Nin Shurikens that are packed in with other toys...just get the individual ones. Unless, of course, you want those toys as well... Just be prepared to pay.

At least the DX Ninja Starburger was kinda fun...

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger

I talked about this series main Henshin Item, the Zyuoh Changer, at a pretty fair length in my previous post. It's a great toy that does it all! It fits the theme of the show, has tons of sounds, and doesn't require an extra crap to work. It's a great toy that I think a lot of people overlook because "LOL MINECRAFT". So what? I like it. The other Changers are just as complete and fun out of the box. Zyuoh The Light is just that, a three-way light for Zyuoh The World. Zyuoh Changer Final is a boring repaint/update of the Zyuoh Changer, and the Whale Change Gun is a oddly technical changer/weapon. Yeah, I hate weapon changers...but I actually had fun with it while making my video.

I dig the 2016 Henshin Items. It was a good year to be a collector again.

Uchuu Sentai Kyuranger

What an awful, awful year for Henshin Items. Not only are there four of them (one being a Tamashii Web Exclusive for the first time ever) but two of which are horrible weapon changers and all of them use yet another overbearing gimmick. I have all of these damn toys and still haven't reviewed them. I have no desire to. I have no reason to. They're stupid. This show was a horrible waste. Toei/Bandai looked to America for input and only a year later finds themselves locked out of the damn country. Hasbro, meanwhile, is looking back at Go-Busters for 2019 Power Rangers. That's the same amount of time between shows are Kamen Rider BLACK RX > Masked Rider and Metalder > VR Troopers. Weird how this is happening to Sentai this time...but then again Shinkenger never stopped being adapted here...

Kyutama are the cancer of the year. If you want all of the DX Change Kyutama for the three main Henshin Items, you have to buy...

01, 03, 05, 07, 09 > DX Kyurenoh
02 > DX Sasori Voyager
04 > DX Tenbin Voyager
06 > DX Hebitsukai Voyager
08 > DX Washi Voyager
10 > DX Ryun Voyager
11 > DX Koguma Voyager
12 > DX Gigant Houou

This, folks, is what extreme greed looks like. Do you see now why I have zero fucking interest in this line? It wasn't appealing in the first place. I bought all that shit and never even bothered to open the shipping boxes they came in. They're just languishing...

Kaito Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger

This is the current Sentai series for 2018. In keeping with the current trend of too many fucking characters, there are two different Sentai in this show, but they both use the same Changer, the hideous VS Changer. The VS Changer comes with the Red Dial Fighter for Lupinred, but of course you'll have to buy all of the other Dial Fighters (Lupinranger) and Trigger Machines (Patranger) for the full Henshin line for both teams. The cost? ¥1500 each. There is always the DX Lupinkaiser and DX Patkaiser sets as well, but I don't think you'd be saving any money going that way outside of not having to buy a second Red Dial Fighter.

The X Changer is also happening, but yeah...snore.

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Bandai is not only losing me, but they seem to be losing a lot of others as well. Rather than focusing on making a handful of must-have toys per year, they are absolutely spamming the toy market with absurd quantities of gimmick-laden toys every year. It all started with Engine Souls, which seemed to work out well for Bandai. That then parlayed into Ranger Keys, which was a sheer jackpot. From there...the hits stopped coming.

I only want the best for Bandai, but their approach is absolutely the wrong one to take in this decade. Space is limited and parents are wise to their game since, well, they were kids too at one point. They know what to expect every year from Super Sentai and Bandai. Except...it's only gotten worse. Twenty years ago you could pick up a DX Ginga Brace, turn the dial, and get five different sounds for all five Gingaman. Now you have to buy an enormous gun and two different sets of mecha just for essentially the same experience. It's getting old...

People out there are going to disagree with me, and that's totally fine. I just want some justification for the extra spending. I understand the appeal of Ranger Keys, so that's cool. None of the other heavy-handed gimmicks have impressed me, though. It's just the toy version of downloadable content. I want the full experience out of the box...

-CC

2018/05/26

I'm Calling It Now. The Winner Is.....


Hello and welcome back to CCLemon99.com. How are you? Everything good? Awww shoot, I'm so sorry to hear that. What did the doctor say? I know it's a drag to apply ointment three times a day, but you'll be as good as new in five weeks. It'll clear up! If I may interrupt... It's time for another CCLemon99 Unpopular Opinion™.

I started my channel nearly eleven years ago with the goal of making reviews of Super Sentai Henshin Items. It was uncharted waters in 2007 and now you can find dozens of Youtubers tripping over themselves to be FIRST!!11! and try to make that e-peen just a little more impressive. Considering my one year anniversary on Youtube was also the time that I caught up to the current series, I have definitely moved on in the decade since. 2008 may have been peak Youtube, and coincidentally the internet just slingshotted forward through burgeoning innovations and the world becoming a smaller place as a result.

Every aspect of life has moved forward at an impressive pace since then, but some things have kinda fallen to the wayside. There is less room for smaller competition. Niche brands and items are falling behind to make way for tech. Toy makers have always tried their damnedest to add a sliver of new technologies to entice kids to keep on playing while also juggling things like price point and safety.

This brings me to today's topic. 2008 was the start of a new era in Super Sentai toys. The dreaded gimmick was born. I plan on talking about the entire decade of toys in the second part of this post, but for now I really want to focus on the one that got it absolutely right. This toy managed to do it all, to be it all, and to impress my icy heart. It ticked all of the boxes in a way that really had never been done before. This is the Sentai Henshin Item of the Decade. I know I'm going to get some hate for it, but I present to you..............






The DX Zyuoh Changer


I honestly have almost nothing nice to say about the series that it belongs to (the suit designs are decent I guess...) but this Changer won me over when it was released two years ago and has only made me fonder of it in the time since.

In my original review, I praised just about every aspect of it...including the packaging! Let's go through the wins.

-No additional gimmicks or add-ons. Right out of the box, it has the Henshin functionality of Eagle, Shark, Lion, Elephant, Tiger, and even Gorilla. There is even a great LED feature for each color of Zyuohger. The electronics are a wonderful balance of complete and simple, though the sound is a little bit too quiet.

-The cube-theme is well incorporated and incredibly less intrusive than the series mecha and weapons. Turning the block unlocks the different modes of the Changer. It's basic, and yet it turns into a discreet flip phone. Yeah, 2016...I know. Still, the design is a lot of fun and was carefully crafted to do the most with what is essentially a cube of plastic. Well done...


-The packaging is compact and colorful. My number one gripe with Henshin Items doubling as weapons is the annoying amount of space they take up. The worst offender by far has to be the Ninja Ichibanto from Ninninger. Ugh. It barely has a flat edge on it and is enormous despite the toy being woefully tiny compared to version used in the show. The Zyuoh Changer? I can get like four of them and they would take up just as much room on a shelf.

-The addition of the Zyuohger mini figures. While this kinda screams of insecurity on Bandai's part, they're a neat little addition. I genuinely think that they're so programmed into thinking toys need a gimmick that they went full ham and put these pointless figures in for good measure. Whatever, it does make the whole presentation a little more colorful if you display everything together.


I had some glowing words for it in 2016 and in 2018 I wish I gave it a better score. The two years since have been a complete drag. I don't know how well the Zyuoh Changer did, but the absolute double-down they've done on gimmicks in the time since doesn't inspire any confidence. There is collectability, and there is bullshit. Next time...I will be looking at the decade-long roller coaster ride of Super Sentai Henshin Items and the crippling effects of gimmicks...

For now... Do yourself a favor and pick up a Zyuoh Changer if you haven't already. I challenge Bandai to do something better in 2019...

See ya soon!

-CC


2018/05/08

AWFUL: Hikari Sentai Maskman BGM


While I am absolutely useless at deciphering song lyrics in plain English, every once in awhile a nugget sticks with me. The lyric that struck me today actually comes from a song that I don't care for, but I'll share it anyway...

"You know the good ole days weren't always good. And tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

That's from Billy Joel's Keeping The Faith. It's a line that's always stuck with me considering how much people moan about "good ole days" when it comes to cars, movies, television shows, and...music. They're only the "good ole days" thanks to a combination of how memory works and possibly a smidge of revisionist history. I'm not ashamed to say I dig new music every once in awhile if it's genuine--even when it comes to Tokusatsu. I've made it fairly known that I enjoyed the Kyoryuger soundtrack even before I realized the series shared a composer with Carranger/Ultraman Powered/Gingaman.

Today I'm going to talk about an example of a classic series having an absolute shit music collection: Hikari Sentai Maskman.

Musical tastes are subjective, but there is no denying that the Maskman music collection is woefully...incomplete(?). The almost complete lack of an orchestra really takes the punch out of the entire mood. Whatever the story was behind-the-scenes, composer Goro Omi turned in a collection of the most disjointed sludge ever to poison our ears.

The Good

Admittedly there are some worthwhile pieces of music. Hearing real instruments is extremely rare throughout this collection, but there are some nice dramatic tracks that feature some nice acoustic strings. That is about as traditional as this music collection got. Even the previous Sentai/Toku series that skewed heavily toward orchestral soundtracks would have some bare acoustic tracks for the heavier scenes.

The Bad

The best way I can describe the music from this series is like this... Tracks will feature a lone real instrument (horn, guitar, violin) and be absolutely ruined by a horrible synth tone and THE SINGLE WORST DRUM MACHINE IN EXISTENCE. This isn't even the first Sentai music collection employ the use of a drum machine, but whatever equipment they were using was at least four years out of date by 1987. Nearly every track is like this. If this is what was at Omi's disposal, that's rather unfortunate. The problem is actually deeper than that, however.

Omi cannot hold a rhythm. The music oscillates between teeth-shattering shrill to so herky-jerky that it could be some great break dance music with very little modification. That's great and all, but this is for a children's action show. There really is no great fight music, just this unnaturally uptempo noise. Some of the more hollow dramatic pieces featuring little more than a lone female vocalization are just cheap cop-outs. An example of a series that does this correctly is Gingaman.

If you're listening at home, the worst of the worst of this music lives on the Volume 2 disc. I don't think any of it was actually used in the show...at least I don't remember a lot of the wackier stuff being included. Mostly because I enjoyed this series and I think a lot of this music is enough to sink the show.

The Remedy

I can't really think of a series with a bigger disconnect between it's music and song collection. The saving grace here is that Omi didn't really have much to do with the vocal song collection, but he actually is behind the awesome Dashitemiyo ze! Aura Power. There are some pretty good tunes that really sound absolutely nothing like the music.

Ehhh...not bad.

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Part of the reason I spent the entire month of April posting those daily reviews of Akina Nakamori albums was to kinda force myself to *really* go back and listen to the music. I wrote about the Complete Super Sentai Music Collection series from the mid-90s some years ago and, embarassingly, it's one of the most popular posts on the site. I really want you to pay close attention to what I wrote about the Maskman music collections. I talked about how rare the CDs are and how eye-watering the prices have gotten, but did I talk about the music even a little bit? Nope.

My aim is swing back around and talk about these series if there is anything else to add and to give the CDs themselves their fair shake. This post here isn't so much a review of the CDs, it's just something that's been biting at me. I might not enjoy the blandness that some of the music from current shows has adopted, but the opposite of inoffensive is...offensive. Something like the Maskman music collection is likely a zero budget, slapdash effort gone horribly wrong. While things did get MUCH better the next year with Chojuu Sentai Liveman, I would hardly call that music collection perfect.

What do you think of the Maskman music collection? Do you think Toei did enough to kinda work with what was turned in? Am I criticizing what is surely a misunderstood classic??

Thanks for stopping by this week!

-CC

More CD Collection Posts

UPDATE: I posted this to my Twitter account for the uninitiated...

2018/04/30

Top Seven Favorite Akina Nakamori Albums


Welcome to the Top Seven list of my favorite Akina Nakamori albums. I've spent the entire month of April reviewing them and I suppose it's only fitting that I give my list of favorites. As I mentioned in the introductory post, this is my very first time listening to Akina Nakamori's albums in chronological order. It certainly changed the way I thought about a lot of albums. When you just go from something like CRIMSON to DIVA and then back to D404ME it's a little strange. I recommend doing it sometime if you happen to own all of her albums.

The only rule I made for myself for this Top Seven list is that I am covering the twenty five official studio albums only. This unfortunately leaves Cage and true album akina 95 best out of the running. Both are great, but if I include those, I would have to go through her entire side-catalog of cover albums and bring those in as well. Let's just stick to the twenty five official albums for this list...

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07. Femme Fatale (1988.08.03)

I know I was kinda down on this album in my review of it, but I kinda realized after that I listen to it way too much for it not to be considered a favorite. Songs like Reversion, So Mad, La Liberte, Heartbreak, and Jive keep me coming back.

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06. Cross My Palm (1987.08.25)

You might think I'm crazy for having this one on the list, but it's an honest album that really bridged a lot of Nakamori's past and future. She had been recording in California prior to this, but I think she may have taken a strong preference to recording in New York following this. If you can't get over Nakamori's broken English, you probably won't ever get into it. The effort is absolutely there, however. She carries herself well throughout and it's certainly a unique sound. I keep this album in regular rotation.

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05. la alteración (1995.07.21)

Of the five studio albums that Nakamori released in the 1990s, this one has always stuck out as the brightest. 1995 in general was an awesome year for Nakamori music. We had some great singles and the self-cover album. All work this year tended to oscillate between rock and jazz while keeping things upbeat. It has the balance that the appropriately ironically titled UNBALANCE + BALANCE kinda lacks. UNBALANCE + BALANCE is made up of some great songs, but is short and just a little too random. la alteracn gets it right, though.

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04. FIXER (2015.12.30)

After the somewhat lackluster DIVA and the subsequent alarming announcement that she would taking an indefinite leave for health reasons, Nakamori was BACK. This album is not only the strongest that Nakamori has sounded in years, but really takes her to the next level. I really can't get over how great Rojo -Tierra-, unfixable, and FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING- are. This album has so far proven to be a solid foundation that Akina and Cage were then built upon in 2017. All three albums are completely different, but it really is a treat to have Nakamori back in top form.

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03. BITTER AND SWEET (1985.04.03)

I think a lot of fans will agree with me on this one...what a great album. While I love all of the songs, I feel like it was somewhat neutered toward release. The version of Babylon is not nearly as bonkers as the version that later ended up on a single with the rejected first version of Meu amor e... and I also suspect the album cover was a last minute change. The whole Bitter and Sweet persona is explored more outside of this album than it was in it...

That doesn't really stop this album from being great. Contrary to my previous gripes, this does have two modes: Sweet and...Bitter, I guess. It's really the first album that Nakamori perfected her sound and it happened to line up with a great production. I also love it's follow-up, D404ME, and it's predecessor POSSIBILTY, but this album is just way more complete.

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(this may be #2, but it's definitely the #1 album cover)

02. Fushigi (1986.08.11)

Once the initial confusion of this album was washed away, it could only be destined to be a cult hit--even something of a curiosity that music fans outside of Japan had to check out. Fushigi is an album that never clicks on the first listen, but something that really gains appreciation when you're in the right mindset. A lot of historical reviews hit on something to take into consideration...treat Nakamori's voice as an instrument rather than vocals. Her voice is kinda woven in and out with slight variances in clarity, but only ever verge on being intelligible.

Major props go not only to EUROX for being the band behind the majority of the work, but also for Warner for letting their top selling artist try something so experimental and bizarre at their absolute peak. This album really needs to be heard to be believed. If you do decided to check it out, you're in for a treat.

 If you know the album and are left wanting more, I have you covered! Check out my Part 2 post that covers Nakamori's self-covers and even the self-covers that EUROX did on their album MEGATREND.

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01. Stock (1988.03.03)

Whenever I make these top seven lists I usually have the most difficult time writing about my number one pick. How do I justify something that gives me this visceral feeling?

I don't see as much love for Stock as I do for other albums, but that just makes it a set of ten perfect songs, just for me. I truly appreciate the harsh energy behind this album. FAREWELL, FIRE STARTER, NIGHTMARE, I WANNA CHANCE, and FOGGY RELATION are absolutely some of my all-time favorite songs from Nakamori on this album. The whole thing is expertly assembled into, really, the best forty-four minutes of music I've ever heard.

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So that's it! That's the end of this absurd experiment!

I started writing these reviews in February and I am typing this final post up the night before it is going live on the site. It's been a long ride, but I'm happy to have finally done it. I will be getting back into my regular wackiness on the site shortly. In the meantime, you can now read through all of my reviews without having to wait.

I hope I at least shared some wisdom in doing this. I feel like I've grown up a lot just by doing this, so hopefully that parlays into more interesting reviews in the future. I always had a nagging feeling when I summed up an entire album in a paragraph or two. Things should be different going forward...

Thank you for following along during this crazy month and I hope to see you again on my site!

-CC


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2018/04/29

BONUS: true album akina 95 best (1995.12.06)


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DISC ONE - WILD DISC

01. Kazari janai no yo namida ha (Renewal)

The fun thing about this album is that it features a lot of self-covers of Nakamori's singles and album tracks from her days at Warner with a mix of new stuff. The covers are all done in new styles to shake things up a bit. For example, this track is kind of a rockabilly version of Kazari janai no yo namida ha, a song I already love. This song gels well with the style of music.

02. Tokyo Rose (From 1995 single)

I'll get to this single someday...I promise. It's crazy cool.

03. TATTOO (Renewal)

Another rockabilly-jazz version of a song I already love so much. While I definitely love the original of TATTOO a thousand times more, this version is also still very good. If anything, I think this version is what inspired Demon Kogure's cover on the first GIRLS' ROCK cover compilation. His version is actually probably a little more rockabilly since it completely abandons what jazz is present. Check his excellency's version out while you're at it...

04. GAIA ~Chikyu no sasayaki~ (from la alteración)

From my review of la alteración...

"After a prolonged intro, the song finally kicks in...and it's a rockin' tune with a surf tinge to it. It's just another one of those things that makes more sense than it should. Akina Nakamori singing over surf music. You can give her any type of song and she just kills it."

It certainly fits in very well with this disc of this compilation.

05. BLONDE (Renewal)

This song keeps popping up, huh? It originally appeared as an English song on Cross My Palm and then a completely new Japanese version was released, this time called BLONDE, as a single that same year.

While this cover is great, this is where the album strays away from the rock tone to a more poppy one. The music is completely new, but it doesn't stray a whole lot away from the original version outside of the catchy intro.

06. Aibu (from UNBALANCE + BALANCE)

From my review of UNBALANCE + BALANCE...

"Yes! This is Nakamori's first collaboration with super-producer Tetsuya Komuro of TM Network/TMN/90s JPOP fame. I would also consider myself a super-fan of Komuro's work, so this is a match made in heaven.

TK provided a pretty solid dance track for Nakamori as well. Granted, his songs tend to sound alike a lot of the time, but I absolutely love this one. The funny thing is, the two of them made a TV appearance to perform this song...and it's somehow even better than this album/single version. The TV version is just a little bit more complete. TK even provides some backing vocals.

Goddamn...I wish Nakamori and Komuro worked more together. Up until very recently it could have been a possibility. Tetsuya Komuro announced his retirement in January 2018.

Seriously, this is a solid song. The beat is just so slick, Nakamori is her usual perfection, and it has the usual TK over-production. I wouldn't say that this is my favorite single of Nakamori's from the 90s (this was a Double A-Side with Kataomoi), but it's waaaay up there."

07. DESIRE -jonetsu- (Renewal)

One we make it past the lame intro, this is a solid cover of a favorite to many fans. It honestly doesn't stray too far from the original version of the song outside of adding some 90s elements (fake drums and horns). Nakamori matches the energy of the original, and that's absolutely best I could have hoped for. Such a damn good song...and this is a worthy cover.

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DISC TWO - WORLD DISC

01. Meu amor é... (Renewal)

This version kinda removes the pop element and makes it more of a pure Latin track. Remember that Long Intro version from D404ME? This is kinda the version of that song if the style of music in the intro kept going the entire duration. I love it. It's kind of the "what if" that doesn't disappoint. The singing is on-point here as well.

02. Gypsy Queen (Renewal)

Similar in style to the previous track, this cover of Gypsy Queen kinda has more appropriate music to the mood of the song. It's jazzy, but not as pop. I like it quite a lot. It might not be better than the original, but it definitely has a little bit more dimension.

03. Genshi, onna wa taiyo datta (from la alteración)

From my review of la alteración...

"Intensely catchy is a good way to describe it. There is probably a good reason for that as this track is heavy on the fast strings and faux-claps. Yep. This one is a Latin themed song. I love it! Nakamori has done some of her finest work with the genre."

The review also explains that the single version of this has different vocals. That's why it's from la alteración rather than the single.

04. TANGO NOIR (Renewal)

Great cover of another song from the time when Nakamori's singles were just on fire. While it isn't a slow song, it's just a tad less energetic than the 1987 original. This is mostly done through music, though. The singing is spot-on eight years later.

05. Gekka (from 1994 single)

I will have to cover this one someday as well. Do I feel a post on all of the 1990s singles coming on? Perhaps it will be coming soon......

06. Futari shizuka (Renewal)

I am sooooo happy to see this underrated single getting some love. Futari shizuka feels like it was kinda swept under the rug since it was released at the very end of Nakamori's time at Warner and when musical tastes in Japan were moving far away from the bubble-era.

This cover is done in a very similar style to the original, but the bass and guitar is what makes the cover memorable. I kinda wish some of the other elements of the song were produced a little better, but this is a cover that definitely doesn't disappoint for me.

07. Shangrila (previously unreleased)

I'm willing to put money down that this song was originally intended to be the introductory song from la alteración. The long intro that this song would be perfect to lead into an album with, but I think it may have just lost out to GAIA~Chikyu no sasayaki~ for being an awesome song that also sounds like an intro track. It definitely fits the style of the album better than any of her other albums during the MCA Victor years.

The song itself has a very chill intro that has a world sound to it (fitting considering what disc this ended up on) and doesn't start until after the three minute mark. Nakamori's soft singing is contrasted by some shredding that comes in to close the song out. I like it a lot, but I can kinda see how it was shelved. Considering how short some of her albums were in the 90s...you have to wonder what else never saw the light of day...

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DISC THREE - WHISPER DISC

01. Slow Motion (Renewal)

More of a softer jazz cover of Slow Motion, which was Nakamori's debut single in 1982. It's nice to hear a solid cover of the song considering how stiff her vocals were during her earliest years. That said, I can't deny the overall production of the original over this.

02. Second Love (Renewal)

A smoother and jazzier cover of the ballad that propelled Nakamori into super-stardom. If I recall correctly, this is edges out Meu amor é... as her top selling single of all time. This is a worthy cover it.

03. LIAR (Renewal)

One of the final singles from Nakamori's time at Warner, and one of the darkest as well. Following up with the theme of this album, it's a softer jazz version of the song. Some of the mystique is missing here, but it's sung in probably a more appropriate tone after being year's removed from the mindset she was in when the song originally came out.

04. Kagerou (from UNBALANCE + BALANCE)

From my review of UNBALANCE + BALANCE...

"This album kinda ends on the same note that it began. This is the only truly mellow song on the album, though."

Yeah, I didn't have much to say about the song, but you can kinda see what I thought about it if you can read through the context. I probably should mention that the hidden track was removed from this version.

05. Nanpasen (Renewal) 

This is a cover of a cover. Heh. I kinda explain the history of this song in my review of the single if you want to check it out.

As much as I enjoy this cover, it doesn't have the utterly haunting tone of her 1987 version. It's done in the same style, but is just a little more minimal and doesn't have any of the effects that are lightly spattered through the original.

06. Mizu ni sashita hana (Renewal)

Another somewhat neglected track from the end of Nakamori's time at Warner. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the original, but I've always enjoyed it's flow. This cover does a very nice job updated it just a little bit. It's only a smidge fleshed out, though. It certainly belongs on the Whisper Disc like everything else here.

07. Yokan (Renewal)

I suspect Nakamori is a fan of this song. It's originally from BITTER & SWEET and even there I pointed out that it was also included on her My Best Thanks mini album. I love this song in all forms. This cover has to be the biggest departure from the original version on this disc. Rather than the slow pop song that it was in 1985, it is now a light orchestral track. The singing isn't a whole lot different, however.

OVERALL: I felt that this was a worthy entry as the remaining bonus CD review for this crazy month of experimental reviews. I picked this one up out of sheer curiosity since it was really the first time Nakamori had covered her own work. She's done so many, many, many times since...but I wanted to hear how she was going to handle her Warner songs not long after she had parted with the label. You know what? It's great. I really don't even mind the "new" MCA songs being snuck in since they help establish tone for each disc.

That is probably the biggest praise I can heap upon this set...the consistency is excellent. The three discs each have a theme and each disc doesn't stray even a little. While the first disc kinda changes things up midway through, it still fits the bill of being the "Wild Disc".

Definitely pick this one up. The three-disc part is a little misleading since it's only twenty one tracks total, but the prices of used copies are incredibly low. I managed to pick up a non-rental copy that was only missing the obi for like $9 sometime last year. It's something of a forgotten compilation, but I think it deserves a listen if you're a fan of her singles from the formative years.

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NEXT: Top Seven Akina Nakamori Albums

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2018/04/28

BONUS: Cage (2017.11.08)


01. BE MY LOVER [Originally by La Bouche]

OH. MY. GOD!

Seriously. This album immediately wins. Nakamori's cover of this is absolutely the greatest thing ever. I mentioned waaaaay back in my review of Shaker that I would be revisiting a topic I brushed upon. Nakamori missed out on being the power house dance singer she was clearly meant to be. The energy of this track is unreal and totally crushes the original version of this song. Seriously, why didn't Nakamori give us an album of songs like this?? She clearly has it in her...

A few notes...and none of them take away from how much this kicks ass. One...Nakamori's singing is better, but not quite as intelligible as the Germans taking a stab at this English thing. Two, the male singer is absolutely better here and I never noticed how creepy those lyrics are ("Not like your brother, wanna be your lover"). Three...this song doesn't quite fit in on this album. Yes, these are all covers of old songs, but the following eight songs are all 80s and this is very much 90s. 1995, in fact.

Who cares, though. This song is flippin' awesome. It's on regular rotation for me.

02. VENUS [Originally by Bananarama]

Definitely not as fussy sounding as the original. The beat is a bit more chill but still poppy as hell. The lyrics are half-translated this time. This one is alright, but I don't see it ending up in a commercial for ladies razor blades any time soon.

Besides, we all know that Cruel Summer is the true Bananarama song. What does that have to do with this review? Nothing. I just felt the need to state that.

03. INTO THE NIGHT [Originally by Michael Fortunati]

OK, I can credit Nakamori for introducing me to the world of Michael Fortunati. Yeah, I'm not much into the whole Disco Italo thing, but this cover is a perfect update to a solid anthem. The lyrics are, again, half-translated. It also features that killer synth solo. I really like this one and am glad to have discovered the original version of the song through this cover.

04. CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU [Originally by Frankie Valli, but likely inspired by the Boys Town Gang version]

You've likely heard the 1967 original of this song...or at least one of the 87,000 covers of it. Ehhh, you might as well stick with whatever version you're familiar with. This is the only song on the album I can't seem to get into. The auto-tune is a bit too much and likely exists to hide some of the broken lyrics. The Boys Town Gang version that inspired this is a damn good listen, though. I used to hear it on the radio a long time ago, but I guess Japan is where it endured the most.

05. Give Me Up [Originally by Michael Fortunati]

Another Fortunati jam. Once again, I was introduced to the killer original version which even has a somewhat confusing music video. Really, this a great cover of a song that is just a belter. Whhhhhooooaaaaooooooaaaaa! Nakamori's version is a Japanese-English hybrid to keep in line with the previous Fortunati song. Catchy as all hell......

06. Dancing Hero (Eat You Up) [Originally by Angie Gold, but is a cover of Yoko Oginome's cover]

A cover of a cover. Yoko Oginome's cover of Angie Gold's Eat You Up gained a new title as Dancing Hero and MASSIVE success. It was one of those perfect storm things. The Japanese economy peaked alongside the release of Dancing Hero and the excessively upbeat song became the theme song of the Bubble Economy. Crazy. You know what, though? Oginome has been a total champ about this song becoming something of joke (and eventual meme once the internet became a thing). I don't really like Yoko Oginome that much, but I definitely appreciate this song and her sense of humor. This video with Tunnels sums it up perfectly...

So this cover? It's great! It absolutely nails everything there is to nail. The overbearing beat, the slick singing, the overall earworminess...it's all present. This song in particular is one I was stoked to listen to when I got this album. Nakamori covering a song from Japan that was a hit during her own peak. How fitting!

07. TWO OF HEARTS [Originally by Stacey Q]

I *haaaaaaaate* the original version of this song. I don't know, it's just one of those songs that irritates me for no particular reason. I suppose that it's popularity has kinda miffed me more than anything. That said, this cover is awesome. It's in the same spirit of the original song, but just a little more modern sounding. It's also a reminder that Nakamori has still got it down.

08. SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) [Originally by Eurythmics]

This is another one I was absolutely stoked to hear. This is actually a pretty faithful cover. The music is largely unmolested from it's original version and Nakamori just gets it. The vocals aren't quite as dead as they should be, but the cover as a whole is just perfect. Lyrically, Nakamori is probably the most qualified person on the planet to sing this song. Who am I to disagree?

09. CALL ME [Originally by Blondie]

While the first track on this album was clear outside the 80s, this one just baaaarely manages to sneak in with it's 1980 release. You know the original, and this cover is an excellent send-up to it. It's just as you know it, but with Nakamori singing instead of Debbie Harry and some minor modern trimmings added in. I couldn't have picked a better song to finish this incredible album with.

DVD - 35th Anniversary Memorial Image

I ended up getting the CD+DVD release of this album. For my troubles I received a bonus region-free DVD featuring a six minute and change video. The memorial video is made up of several 1-2 second clips spanning from the 1990s to 2017 and set to the single version of Hirari -SAKURA-. Lots of fun moments like this...


OVERALL: Blown away. This album is sooooo gooooood. As I mentioned in my review of Akina, this album was released on the same day but managed to peak higher on the Oricon weekly chart. It deserves it because this is just an excellent time start to finish. I can even over look it's relatively short run time. Maybe this could have been remedied with a cover of Haddaway's What Is Love or, if it *had* to be an 80s song, the anthem of a certain red-headed one.

Since Nakamori's cover albums tend to get sequels, we can only hope for Cage 2. Pleeeeeease! I so want this to be a thing every other year or so. So much untapped goodness to be had. For now, just be sure to pick this one up. The cover of BE MY LOVER is absolutely worth the price of admission alone.

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Standard release cover

2018/04/27

25. Akina (2017.11.08)


01. Merry Christmas -yuki no shizuku-

A well-produced ballad. While I may have criticized the previous album for it's lack of actual orchestra in it's ballads, this one puts it right on front street. Given the time of year that this album was released, it's only natural that it is a Christmas ballad. It has very little to do with Christmas outside of the lyrics however--just some very slight sleigh bells in the background. For that, I applaud it...I hate overbearing Christmas music.

02. Amar es creer

This one is a little tough to describe. I really dig the singing, though. It's kind of a ballad, but it does take off just a little bit. It's unique, but not in a weird way. Really, though...this is an excellent showcase of vocal talent. The flow is just so tight.

03. Amaoto

This song also has a great vocal flow, but is a much more intense song. It's a bit of a ballad, but has an edge of pop to it. Again, this one is very well done.

04. Maboroshi

Another ballad, but this one is more on the light rock side. The haunting piano gives it a teeny tiny bit of darkness to it. I know I made this point early on, but the production is fantastic on this album. It's all real music coming from real instruments. This one just has that nostalgic edge...kinda... Slow Motion like...

05. La.La.Bye

A nice mix of the classic ballad and 2017. It may not have a name like the next track, but it is closer to the Latin side. There is some more great singing as well. Nakamori has seemingly gotten into tongue-twisters and complex vocal streams.

06. Amore

Not to dissimilar from the previous track. This song is another ballad that moves along nicely and has a slight Latin sound to it. It isn't as memorable as the previous track, but I think I like this one better. The bass is really good.

07. Hirari -SAKURA- (Akina Version)

Oddly enough this is the B-Side track from the single for FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING- that was released way back in the beginning of 2016. It's a bit different from the single version, however, in that this is a ballad and the single version is a full-on pop song.

This is a grand sounding ballad with some killer strings and bass to it. Given that this song originally lived on a single to what is a really big song, it makes total sense that this song is hair out of place on this album. It's very good, though. Those strings especially... This one demands a good set of headphones to listen to. It's worth it for the little details.

08. fate ~Unmei no hito~

This is more or less the final track of the album. It's a softer ballad this time, and one that kinda revisits the Christmas theme. Actually, this one is probably more Christmasy than the actual song called Merry Christmas. Nakamori's breathy vocals are absolutely on it. Again, she is in better shape now than she was in the entire 2000s decade.

09. Merry Christmas -yuki no shizuku- (Orgel Version)

An instrumental Orgel/Music Box version of the lead track from this album. I was half expecting it to be just a small bit of the song, but this is actually over three minutes long.

OVERALL: While ballads aren't really my thing, this is the type of album I looooove to put on the background when I'm working on something like a toy review or just reading articles online. The last time Nakamori released an album of strictly vocals was 2003's I hope so. I likely had the same thoughts about that album as well. Though, I do recall that one having some more variety to the types of ballads.

The only real grief I can give this album is how short it is. Nine tracks, only eight of which are vocal. Now...this can kinda be forgiven as a second album of covers called Cage was released on the same day...but you had to pay full album prices for both seemingly brief albums. A tinier issue I have with this album is the lack of unique content on the limited edition version. While the limited edition came with a 2018 calendar, I prefer the cover of the standard version so I went with that. It's just a little more cheerful.

I'm happy to report that this album did really well upon release. It peaked at number nine while Cage simultaneously peaked at number eight. That's a pretty sweet achievement. While Cage isn't an official album...I suppose I should check in and see what all the commotion is about...

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Limited Edition Cover