WARNING: I ramble on and on about idols in this review
Hello and welcome back to another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate segment here on the blog! In case you’re not familiar with what this is about, this is a fun thing I’ve been doing with my good friend/fellow Japanese music fan Leap250 where we pick an album from our own libraries, exchange them with each other and later review ’em on our respective blogs. We are nearing the two year anniversary since Leap and I revived this segment, and 48 album reviews later, we’re still going strong.
Which is the perfect segue to the theme for this month! Each month, we base our album choices on a specific topic or theme; some of the past ones being “fun summer-like rock albums” or “albums that revolve around romance” (cause it was February). I was in charge of this month’s theme, and I figured because Leap and I have been doing this for two whole years now and have most likely gotten a good feel of each other’s music tastes, I thought it would be fun to pick an album that goes in line with the other person’s musical preferences. An album that we think the other person would enjoy a lot, basically.
So that said, here are our choices. Leap decided to give me TEAM by the Japanese idol group TEAM SHACHI, while I tossed over Utada Hikaru’s latest album release BAD MODE.
Let’s jump right in!
TEAM SHACHI (チームシャチ) is a Japanese pop idol group currently consisting of members who are all from Nagoya: Akimoto Honoka (leader), Sakura Nao (sub-leader), Oguro Yuzuki and Sakamoto Haruna.
TEAM SHACHI (originally named “Team Syachihoko” before 2018) was formed by Stardust Promotion in 2011 and is a sister group of the agency’s other two idol units, Momoiro Clover Z and Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku. The group debuted as a six-person unit with the aforementioned four members, as well as Ando Yuzu and Itou Chiyuri. Their first in-person live event was in 2012 when they performed in the streets of Nagoya, and after numerous appearances at other concerts/lives, they announced that they would be releasing their first single under a major music label titled, “The Stardust Bowling”.
Since then, Team Syachihoko has released many singles, three albums and even one best album. The group also went through a couple member changes, as Ando Yuzu and Itou Chiyuri graduated from (basically, left) the unit in 2016 and 2018 respectively. After Chiyuri graduated, they rebranded and went under a new group name, “TEAM SHACHI”.
TEAM SHACHI – TEAM
- POSITIVE BEAUTIFUL! ~ Ushiromuki ma sengen ~ / POSITIVE BEAUTIFUL!～後ろ向きま宣言～
- Bankuruwasete GODDESS / 番狂わせてGODDESS
- Rocket Queen feat. MCU
- SURVIVOR SURVIVOR
- Kanata / かなた
- Kodama / こだま
- Rock Away
Leap’s thoughts on TEAM:
There were a couple of ways I could have gone about choosing an album to pitch to Al for this month’s Exchange/Rate. There’s choosing something that has a Blues-y Jazz/Pop sound to it, or an album by a seiyuu performer/idol seiyuu might have been a safe pick, but I ultimately decided to go a different route in what I think is a nice intersection of the kind of sounds that I believe he likes along with the kinds that we both like.
Going back to the well with our shared appreciation for Idol Music, TEAM SHACHI’s TEAM is in actuality a bit of a unique concoction of musicality that mixes in a very heavy brass section to their songs that feature a surprisingly strong vocal lineup that isn’t afraid to splash in a bit of Rap here and there. I figured the brass in particular might be a nice overlap for Al’s inclination towards Jazz/Pop while also being cute and fun-sounding akin to something you might hear in a seiyuu perfomer/idol seiyuu album. In relation to the latter, there are also some voices here too that interestingly enough sound a lot like some of Al’s favorite artists; namely TEAM SHACHI’s Sakura Nao sounds (to me at least) a lot like Saito Shuka both tonally as well as in the manner she hits certain notes and Oguro Yuzuki is literally Kobayashi Aika (Jk XD)
As always, this album review will be broken down into multiple main points. So yeah!
1) Experiencing a Different Side of Idols
TEAM SHACHI’s official concept/motto is, and I quote, “super tough strong energy positive exciting soul from nagoya”. And yeah. When it comes to the overall style and genre of the group and their music, I’d say that is a pretty accurate description.
As you can probably expect from a Japanese idol group, they perform really upbeat, fun and energetic pop music (for the most part). You immediately get a taste of it right from the very first track, “POSITIVE BEAUTIFUL! ~ Ushiromuki ma Sengen ~”, thanks to the lively electro beats and wind instruments throughout. Same can be said about the super cheerful songs like “HONEY”, “Kanata” and “Rainbow”.
And scattered throughout, they also express an intriguing variety of styles, ranging from rock tracks like “AWAKE”, or “HORIZON” with its more serious, EDM/dubstep-focused atmosphere. And what’s absolutely cool is that a large majority of these songs include a great emphasis on the wind/brass instruments which, as a result, legitimately brings everything together to make it a consistent-sounding album. It didn’t really matter if TEAM SHACHI performed a normal fun pop song or something much slower (like “Today”); the prominent trumpets, saxophones, horns, etc. paired well with any stylistic direction they decided to go towards. Hell, they did it with “Bankuruwasete GODDESS” and managed to combine brass with a deep-sounding electric guitar and loud drumming.
But one interesting thing I noticed when I was listening to this album is that this is the type of idol music that I’m not particularly used to. As you may know, if you follow the blog or my social media accounts, I am more familiar with and a fan of the 2-D idols and seiyuu hybrid ones. And given that those kinds of idols are connected to anime and such, they have more of an ‘anison’ style to their music, as a lot of the time, they perform songs that are featured in shows or games and pretty much catered towards its otaku audience.
On the other hand, ‘mainstream idols’, from what I’ve noticed, have a significantly different vibe. Now I’ve heard of and listened to some of these types of idol groups like AKB48 and =LOVE, but my experience with them is very, very limited. That said, groups like AKB48, Morning Musume, Nogizaka46/Hinatazaka46 and Momoiro Clover Z; they all have a specific sound and style that’s kind of difficult to describe (at least for me) but I feel like their music is a lot more appealing to the general public. They’re not overly cutesy and they’re not overly flashy like some seiyuu artists (as much of an Ogura Yui fanboy I am, I can imagine that her high-pitched voice and ‘kawaii’ nature isn’t particularly a lot of people’s cup of tea). They have a good balance of both which can fare well with most and I think the massive popularity of certain songs from some of the groups I just mentioned, proves that.
I would put TEAM SHACHI in that area of J-idols. Not only cause they’re directly related to other popular idol groups like Momoiro Clover Z, but they truly do a great job conveying that specific style/sound I was talking about in the last paragraph. Their songs, especially the ones on TEAM, have just enough excitement, energy and variety for the casual Japanese music listener to enjoy, in my opinion.
2) A Song About… Mega Man? (This is Real)
Usually whenever I listen to the albums Leap suggest to me, or even any album in general, there’s always one or two songs that stand out to me the most, compared to the rest. And I would say that “Rocket Queen” featuring MCU (the Japanese hip-hop artist, not the Marvel movie franchise) is one of those songs.
Mainly because when I first took a listen to it, right from the get-go, I was genuinely stunned to hear an actual part of a song from the popular video game Mega Man 2. Now I’m not what you would call a ‘gamer’; I just play a handful of games casually. But being around a family member who is a huge video game fan and just indulging in different game-related media (like on YouTube), I’ve gotten to know the overall gist of video game history and have certainly listened to iconic tracks from well-known franchises. So I was quick to realize that TEAM SHACHI sampled the ever-so-popular “Dr. Wily” theme from Mega Man 2.
When I looked further into this, apparently in 2019, TEAM SHACHI collaborated with CAPCOM (the company that created the game franchise) to make a Mega Man-based song… for some reason? But whatever the reason was, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
They did a fantastic job creating a song that is both authentic to the game series and fits well as a Mega Man-themed song. The combination of the old school, 8-bit music, MCU’s slick rapping and TEAM SHACHI’s usual musical style was nice to hear and surprisingly catchy, and I feel like avid fans of the Mega Man series would actually enjoy this interesting collaboration. The official, NES-style music video is also pretty amusing, where we see the TEAM SHACHI ladies go up against Dr. Wily, in place of a now-retired/old Mega Man.
3) TEAM SHACHI’s Vocal Variety
As I’ve learned and gotten into a good handful of idol groups, I’ve always enjoyed the differentiation between members. It’s great to see a variety in personalities, characters and even looks with these groups since you can notice/appreciate each of their unique traits, it makes things a lot more interesting and they don’t seem one-dimensional. A fantastic example of this, and kind of a bad one since they’re not an ‘idol group’ per se, is Perfume. Each member has a distinct personality, mannerism and they even have completely different hair and clothing styles (i.e. A~chan usually wears a ponytail, KASHIYUKA keeps her hair straight and long, and NOCCHi always rocks short hair). But despite their differences, all three of them mesh extremely well with each other, both from a personal and talent standpoint.
But another, more important part of that is the vocals. Being able to hear a variety of voices, cadences and pitches within idol songs is, for me personally, fun. And being able to see how well their vocals coordinate together is even more intriguing. TEAM SHACHI does a pretty good job expressing that.
To be honest, all four of them cover the whole ‘pitch spectrum’, if that makes sense. I’ll try to explain it as best as I can. If we’re going from lowest to highest: Haruna has the deepest voice out of the four (I think?), followed by Yuzuki, then Nao and lastly, Honoka with the highest pitch. And because they all convey those various pitches with each of their vocals, it gives us a nice balance between low and high, and you might be able to notice it in songs like “POSITIVE BEAUTIFUL! ~ Ushiromuki ma Sengen ~” or “MAMA” when Haruna or Yuzuki pair up with Nao or Honoka in certain parts.
Plus, as I said earlier, being able to hear and differentiate each of their vocals makes it a lot easier to know who’s singing at certain moments. Maybe it’s my idol fandom kicking in and my usual desire to learn who’s who in a group, but I really enjoyed trying to tell which voice matched with which person.
BONUS – Appreciating Live Action Videos
Obviously music videos are a good way of promoting an artist’s music but it can also convey a narrative that relates to a certain song or even just show off the overall atmosphere of it, all in a visual format. And because this is an idol group where singing doesn’t make up their entire identity (like I touched upon earlier, their choreography, looks and personalities are important aspects as well), I figured that looking at their live action videos would give me a better glance at what TEAM SHACHI is about and the kind of music they perform… and I totally didn’t include this so that I could try and figure out who my oshi is (lol).
In regards to their music videos, a lot of the tracks on this album don’t have accompanying MVs but for the ones that do, I had a ton of fun watching them. They did a good job conveying a similar/appropriate atmosphere for whatever song they were performing, with “HORIZON” being a great example. The more intense, EDM-style of that song was accompanied with a MV that had TEAM SHACHI in a darker warehouse, cool tech-like effects and motifs throughout and even the ladies holding guns (lol).
On the other side of things, TEAM SHACHI also did a music video for “Rocket Queen” where the four ladies, MCU and a high school marching band performed an alternate version of the song around campus.
All in all, similar to other idol groups and even music artists in general, TEAM SHACHI provides us with some fun and creative music videos to go along with their songs; plus you’re able to see their talents with dancing and how coordinated they are as an idol unit. I mean, I never expected them to turn the TEAM SHACHI members into 8-bit sprites and have them move and fight like in the actual Mega Man games but it was an incredibly cool idea to see. I do wish that they made MVs for certain songs that were worthy of having one but I digress.
With all of that being said… Yuzuki’s pretty cool 😛
If I’m being 1000% honest, I did not expect Leap to suggest me an idol-related album for this month’s theme. I’m not sure why I didn’t see this clear-cut, obvious genre choice coming but I’ll say that it was a perfect one.
Of course, certain things about TEAM SHACHI’s TEAM album stood out to me like the Mega Man-themed song and even the members themselves. But my absolute favorite aspect of this album was my personal experience of seeing a different side of Japanese idols. Being someone who’s so used to anison/seiyuu idols and being a fan of the Love Lives, the TrySails, the Ogura Yuis, the Uchida Maayas; TEAM SHACHI and what they showed off in this album was such a nice breath of fresh air. I can tell they do things differently as an idol group and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between them/the overall ‘mainstream idol culture’ and what I’m normally familiar with. Their varying musical styles, the consistent wind instrument element, their mish-mash of enjoyable vocals and just the fun and balanced energy of this album was a ton of fun to listen to.
I can wholeheartedly say that TEAM SHACHI’s made a fan out of me and I’ll be looking out for their future releases!
Aaaaand that’s all I got for you today!.
…this post was long 😅 But I guess that’s what happens when the topic of idols gets thrown into my face. I loved this album and I hope you enjoyed listening to it too!
Now that you’re done reading this review, you should head over to Leap’s blog to see his thoughts on the album I gave him, BAD MODE by the one-and-only Utada Hikaru! It’s a good one, trust me.
Thanks for reading!! 😀