(2015/3/14) Only Love Hurts–Tower Records Shinjuku Acoustic Concert

Only Love Hurts (ex-Omokage Lucky Hole) made their first appearance of 2015 in a very understated fashion. After their big show in October, the band came out of hiding with low-key acoustic show in the middle of Shinjuku’s Tower Records.

The stage was tiny, and surrounded by loud displays for more popular acts like Perfume (I can dig it) and Sekai no Owari (This, not so much). I arrived about 20 minutes early, and the immediate area was already bustling with fans, with roughly 70 people in total gathering in the end. A man with slicked back hair and a nice suit–looking as if he walked straight out of the 1950s–appeared next to the stage to announce the momentary commencement of the show. The selections from ~Greatest Hits~ that had been playing in the background faded, and the band made their appearance. Being an acoustic concert in a small space, the band was at half-capacity with only six members–keyboard, Cajón, acoustic guitar, sax, chorus, and aCky.

aCky stepped upon the stage backed by the tango riff from Senaka Moyou, and with a “let’s go!” the band immediately launched into the set which was composed of PachinkoOnaji Tokoro DeCompassBeer, and Koushien.

I had initially set my expectations low for a free OLH show with the band at half-strength, but they did a stunning job of modifying their compositions for the format, resulting in really interesting takes on their well-known tunes. The inclusion of the keyboard and sax helped the songs retain their swagger, and matched against the Cajón and guitar, the whole set had a slight Bossa Nova twist to it.

Songs with more subdued compositions–Onaji Tokoro DeCompass, Beer–fared very well in the acoustic format. The low-key backing allowed for the vocals to stand out, carrying the songs’ drama in a fresh way. Okamotsu’s sax played a big role in the show, more or less filling in for what is typically an entire horn section. She also performed during all the instrumental breaks, once again adding a new–at times Bossa Nova-esque–flavor the songs. Fast songs like Pachinko and Koushien worked fine matched to the acoustic backing, but without the band’s full compliment, they lacked their edge.

The band made the most of the venue, playing off of it during songs and MC sections. During the morbid Pachinko, aCky would chime in after particularly grizzly lyrics with, “THIS IS LIVE ENTERTAINMENT, PEOPLE!” He would then point upwards to non-existent balcony seats and say, “C’mon, people in the balcony!” He greeted the audience with, “good afternoon, we’re Sekai no Owari,” mocking the displays for the band of the same name surrounding the stage.

During the call and response routine, aCky berated the audience for not cheering loud enough, “There’s no way the Oshmans downstairs can hear you!” Later on, aCky made everyone say “moral harassment”–Japanese-English that means “verbal abuse”–and referenced Lupin’s voice actor, in light of reports of Kurita Kanichi not being very nice to his wife. Acknowledging that they were performing in a public place in the middle of the day, the band made attempts–at times hilariously obvious–to keep the routines clean. During one performance, aCky made a reference to “grass,” but would later on go on say, “you know, like grass in the park or something.” Sharp pokes were also made at the audience, “Thank you all for being here during another busy end to the financial year–but of course none of you have anything to do with that since you’re here today, right?” And of course, the band made reference to the incessant inquires about their new name, “Only Love Hurts–people usually ask us why we changed the name–and we’re sick of hearing it, please stop.”

The show then closed as it opened–with the tango riff from Senaka Moyou–and the event transitioned to an autograph session. I got to meet face to face with aCky for the first time in a while, and he had this to say to me, “You know that Analog Housou thing you write? Keep doing that! Take us global, man!”

Well I try, albeit always two or three months late.

And on that note, the band has another concert–this time with the full compliment of members–at the end of this month, so you can look forward to a review of that some time in August or September.

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Lupin the IIIrd: Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou: Koike Takeshi Wins the Lupin Game

Lupin the IIIrd: Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou, is exactly the sort of thing I’ve wanted out of the Lupin franchise since I started digging into it years ago. While I really love Lupin III, in each and every Lupin work I’ve seen, there’s always been a lot of stuff I loved, but few things that could have been done better. This is not the case with Jigen Daisuke no Bohyou. It’s perfect. If it had any problems, it would be that at two episodes, it is entirely too short.

The story is exactly what you want out of a Lupin thing: It opens with a heist, expands into a bigger conspiracy, but in the end is all about two guys trying to one-up each other. This time around, the heart of it all lies with Jigen and assassin Yael Okuzaki trying to earn their place as best gunman in the world. Between the heists, conspiracies, and rivalries, every story thread comes to a neat conclusion, but Bohyou is very fast and loose with most of the details: Yes, they stole a mysterious book. Yes, it will most definitely effect these two countries at war. And yes, because of Jigen’s past jobs, he is being targeted by a big, crazy assassin, who prepares graves for his targets in advance (while making insane sex robots on the side.) Things like the original heist, its associated political intrigue, and the unique nature of Yael and his assassinations provide just the right amount of spice to season the rather simple story of a rivalry between two gunmen, resulting in a film with a variety of very strong and delicious flavors.

But rather than story, Bohyou sucks one in with atmosphere first and foremost: It’s cool and brutal; intelligent and stupid. Its approach to the material is very compelling, taking the edgy atmosphere of the original comic, streamlining it with sensibilities from the TV series, and adding its own spin. A strong odor of machismo permeates throughout the piece, and is a big part of what makes it work. Seeing as it centers around a battle of prowess between egotistical men, the work has an outdated Charles Bronson brand of rugged manliness one wants out of Lupin.

People punch each other hard, bullets rip through objects (animate and inanimate) vigorously, cars ram into each other at full speed, all with detailed shots of Fujiko’s exposed breasts dispersed between. More specific examples of brainless machismo include: Yael buying a giant steak after a job and eating half of it in one bite; a pianist from the Pervert Club freaking out and punching the shit out of Lupin for showing up uninvited; and Lupin and Jigen sharing a smoke in their car right at the end. There’s also a part where the camera hangs on a meticulously detailed shot of a gunshot wound for longer than it needs to. While this macho motif is old fashioned–and by nature stupid and sexist–it grants Bohyou with a healthy amount of compelling kitsch one looks for in old James Bond films, and what I happen to look for in Lupin III.

Among the several hats he wears throughout this production, Koike Takeshi is mainly on character design and direction, setting the tone with his sharp visual acumen. The characters look more or less the same as they did in Fujiko–a happy mix between Monkey Punch, Green Jacket, and Koike’s original style–but lack the crudely executed sketchy pencil look of Fujiko, this time rendered cleanly and clearly to bring out the full flavor the designs. Guest bad guy Yael has a design that is appropriately larger-than-life, and very cool. He’s big, imposing, and has large hands that can break people’s faces, but he just happens to prefer bullets. His biggest charm point is likely his individually drawn teeth, which make him look especially predatory and beast-like.

The film also impresses with keen color design, with Lupin donning a striking turquoise jacket, Jigen sporting a deep red shirt, and Fujiko rocking loud and orange gradient hair. This acute sense of color design also does well to establish atmosphere, from the warm colors of Lupin and Jigen’s hideout, the cool colors of the graveyard at night, to the dank gray of Yael’s dwelling.

The world the characters occupy in this outing is rich with much of the ornateness present in the Monkey Punch original, given a cleanup and streamline by way of Koike. Several objects at first glance seem like frivolous design elements, but actually actually play key parts in the story. Notable examples include the gargoyles present throughout Doroa, and the design on the one bullet in Yael’s arsenal that he saves for his final shot.

Stretching his Redline muscles, Koike’s Lupin is filled with flare, but retains a lot of the spirit of old Lupin. Early on in the film, Lupin and Jigen knock out two men in a car to assume their identities. Much like the old TV series, it cuts to a humorous shot after the fact with the two guys tied up in their boxers. However, rather than simply cut between shots like the old TV show, this film opts to show us a long shot of Lupin and Jigen getting away in the car, quickly zooming in on the two guys after the car goes off–appropriately struggling while tied up in their boxers, natch. This technique is also used effectively in serious moments: The camera immediately pulls out when Queen Malta is shot, revealing her corpse in the dead-middle of the opera house spotlight, emphasizing the shock of everyone in the vicinity; and the camera pulls in super-close on Lupin’s eyes to underscore his anger when he’s about to settle the score with Yael. Complementing Koike’s occasional camera games is a strong eye for dynamism throughout the entire work. Eyes are kept busy with energetic layouts, that work perfectly with the film’s lively animation. Character movement is top-notch throughout, with Lupin and Jigen flailing around like they always do, while Yael’s movements are efficient and speedy. As alluded to earlier, action scenes are animated to convey convincing force in the violence, and gunplay and car chases flow very well.

Shimoji James, who also penned the score to Koike’s Redline, enhances the film’s sleek visuals with a similarly sleek lineup of hot tracks. But rather than sounding like Redline, the music calls back to Red Jacket Lupin, particularly in the down-key moments. Much like in old Lupin, talking-head scenes are matched to very simple jazzy accompaniment–usually just a keyboard, and maybe some drums–adding the slick layer of cool that characterizes the franchise. Shimoji takes things in his own direction for action scenes, opting for a more blues rock flavor in the film’s intense, fast-paced action scenes that works very well. The ending theme sung by one “Gary Stockdale,” carries on in the same blues rock direction, closing out Bohyou with a bang. The lyrics and delivery call back to old James Bond, and the song’s composition is used as a leitmotif throughout the film’s soundtrack, reinforcing its already-strong musical identity.

I really want more of this. The film ups the ante at the very end with a scene featuring a glimpse of Zenigata, along with a certain villain that Lupin has not met since the 1970s. While the new Lupin series they have in the works with Miyazaki designs looks good, I would more than welcome a hard-edged series just like this film.

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The Star of Cinderella Girls

I wrote about the original iDOLM@STER anime back when it first aired, but never came back to it when it finished. For the record, I thought it was all good–good enough to convince me to partake of other parts of the franchise, like the current TV adaptation of THE iDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS.

The first one is better, no question. The cast is more interesting, and their circumstances are closer to the ground. While the original focuses around a bunch of girls struggling to get their careers underway at a small-time agency, this one is the opposite–a bunch of no-names start from scratch at a big, established company. I’m sure both situations exist in reality, but the setup this time around is taken too over-the-top. This goes for the characters as well–compared to the original lineup, the Cinderella Girls have more extreme cartoon personalities, and the weird romanticized agency they work for is a touch too fantastic. All in all, it seems the moe and fantasy knobs were turned a few notches higher in this one. I don’t hate it, but I prefer the original down-to-earth cast in their old, dingy office.

However, with the steady hand of A-1 Pictures to guide the series, each weekly installment guarantees a watchable and entertaining 25 minutes. The core of the series–the trio of Uzuki, Rin and Mio–are the best of the Cinderella Girls, probably because they’re the most realistic and relatable.  The manner in which they come to know each other at first and their regular interaction is organic and genuine. While some of the other girls’ antics can test my patience to a certain degree, the above-average scripting that underlies the main three also helps to portray the rest of the cast decently. Presentation-wise, A-1’s direction and animation are rich with character, and keep these eyeballs stuck to the screen.

But enough about all that. Mr. Producer is the real star.

The Producer left an immediate impression when he first popped up with his imposing stare and monotone voice. The thing about Mr. Producer is that his manner of speech and approach to human interaction make for the perfect picture of a salaryman who’s really bad at his job. When confronted with questions like “When’s our debut?” from the girls still unsure of their professional future, he responds with a business-like “It’s currently in planning.” His Japanese is very polite and vague–the exact manner of speech that is pivotal to the typical escape tactics salarymen must rely on daily when confronted by the work place’s constant and harsh inquisitions.

Producer’s clinical business-talk brings things to a head in episode 6, injuring Mio’s ego after the turnout at the unit’s first concert betrays her overblown expectations, with his words going on to turn away Rin as well. As he realizes his mistakes, he learns that speaking is human interaction, and not just a tool required to move on to the next task. Once back with the whole gang, the girls request that he refrains from using teineigo when talking to them to build a more friendly rapport.

It goes without saying that the default way to go in Japanese is to speak politely–especially in the work environment–but many Japanese office workers use teineigo’d apologies and excuses as a shield to excuse themselves for their mistakes or poor work ethic. So long as one can apologize nicely or have a polite excuse prepared for when a co-workers throw a fast ball, the salaryman can continue maintaining the middling status quo. This is Producer-san, along with legions of other real-life salarymen at their 9-to-11s.

Between weird developments like idol boycotts or tours about the label’s palatial offices, what Mr. Producer represents, and how he develops, stands out. Will his scary eyes become softer? Will he be able to speak in tameguchi to girls who are younger than him? Neither has really happened yet, but at the very least he seems to be getting an idea of where his girls are coming from, which is a promising start.

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