Hello and welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate review (back on schedule this time!). In case you’re not familiar with what this is all about: basically, me and my good friend/Japanese music fan Leap250 pick out an album from our libraries, exchange them, listen to ’em and later write a review about them on our respective blogs. Ever since we started this back in 2018, and later revived in 2020, this has been a great way for both of us to expand our horizons as fans of Japanese music. We both try to give each other new artists and albums, stuff we haven’t heard before, and I think it’s worked out well! And of course, we hope that this gives you, the reader, the opportunity to discover some new music as well.
And as always, Leap and I base each month’s album choices on a specific theme, and it was my turn for the month of October. And due to some… interesting events that happened to me recently, I was inspired to suggest the theme of idol disbandments. Fortunately, a lot of the idol groups I’ve been a fan of haven’t gone their separate ways yet but still: seeing a great Japanese idol group call it quits, or maybe a member of a unit you liked decided to graduate and move on; as a fan, it certainly feels bittersweet to experience that. I go more in-depth with this in Leap’s review but ultimately, I wanted both of us to showcase some very talented idol groups and their music, despite the fact that they’re no longer active. Because they shouldn’t be forgotten!
That said, here are our choices: Leap went ahead and gave me sora tob sakana’s third and final studio album deep blue, while I tossed over Rirune!Rirune!Rirune! by rirunede.
Let’s jump right in!
sora tob sakana was an idol group formed in 2014 by artist management company Flying Penguin and talent agency Theatre Academy. Originally made up of five members in Satou Mio, Teruaguchi Natsuka, Konishi Yuiko, Kazama Ray Malaika and Kanzaki Fuka; this group specialized in performing a much different side of idol music. Taking on a more alternative, math rock/pop-inspired tone, sora tob sakana has been praised for its expression of unique styles, innocent vocals and captivating narratives. In October 2015, they released their first single, “Yozora wo Zenbu”, and later went on to make their major label debut with their second EP, Alight. The group has also been in charge of doing the opening/ending themes for various anime series, such as the second season of DanMachi and most notably both seasons of High Score Girl. The latter of which gave them a ton of exposure and boosted their popularity among anime fans.
However in May of 2020, sora tob sakana, a three-member group at that point (which included the most recent addition in Yamazaki Mana), announced that they would disband later in the year. Within the six year span of this idol group, they released three studio albums, two EPs and five singles.
sora tob sakana – deep blue
- Shingou / 信号
- Crouching Start / クラウチングスタート
- Yozora wo Zenbu / 夜空を全部
- Mahou no Kotoba / 魔法の言葉
- Koukoku no Machi / 広告の街
- Mabushi / まぶしい
- Brand New Blue
- New Stranger
- Yakan Hikou / 夜間飛行
Leap’s Thoughts on deep blue
I first came to know about sora tob sakana through a band called Haisuinonasa. The band would be one of the first that I followed when I first got into the hobby of listening to Japanese Music, and is one that I just stumbled upon by chance as even as early as back then I was already gravitating towards Indie/Alt. Rock (lol). Wanting to hear more from them I looked up Haisuinonasa on YouTube one day and I ended up finding guitarist/composer Yoshimasa Terui’s channel where he uploaded studio sessions of the band. Curiously, one of the songs they were jamming was labeled as a ‘sora tob sakana’ song, which I would come to find out shortly after was the name of the idol group that Yoshimasa both produced and composed songs for. The idea was novel to me, that an Alt Rock band was making Idol Music, but they made it work. Moreover, it worked surprisingly well.
The band-oriented Alt. Rock compositions blended together with the light and airy singing of the girls of sora tob sakana creates this unique atmospheric sound that in my opinion was really ahead of its time. deep blue sees the culmination of Yoshimasa and sora tob sakana’s artistic version in a beautifully delivered final album. I especially love how they went and included a re-recording of “ribbon”, one of the key songs that really put sora tob sakana on the map early on, as the penultimate song of the album leading up to the heartful final track “untie”. The thematic imagery and connection of the two songs just wraps up deep blue so nicely that I don’t think you really need to be a fan of sora tob sakana’s prior to become emotionally invested in them my the end of the album.
Al’s Thoughts on deep blue
1) Experiencing a Different Side of Idols, Again
Whenever Leap and I talk about idols and such, it always fascinates me to see how significantly different our tastes/preferences are when it comes to the music of this whole culture. While I’ve stuck with the conventional, upbeat styles that most idol groups display, he has leaned more towards the ‘not-as-traditional’ and alternative side of things (as seen in another Exchange/Rate review when he gave me Yanakoto Sotto Mute’s Beyond the Blue). And because of his previous and related recommendations to me, I think they’ve really widened my perspective of idol music as a whole. As much as I adore my poppy, happy-go-lucky idols/oshis like Ogura Yui, TrySail, i☆Ris, and even the group I suggested to Leap this month, rirunede; hearing a much different side of idols, both thematically and in a musical sense, definitely made me realize that idol culture is most certainly not limited to the super kawaii representation most of us are accustomed to. Rather, it can be expressed in many, many different ways which ultimately can make idol content feel fresh and unique at times.
sora tob sakana and their third and final full-length album, I would say, is a good example of what I just talked about. In fact, I feel like this is one of those cases where you’d be surprised to hear that this group is considered an ‘idol unit’. Simply because, like I alluded to earlier, the music they express is significantly different compared to what is normally categorized as ‘idol music’. sora tob sakana takes on a much more subtle, low-key and interesting combination of math rock and pop which is certainly not that common, at least within the general Japanese idolsphere. I mean, there are only a handful of songs on this album that sound remotely ‘traditional’ in terms of what’s usually heard in idol music, such as “Brand New Blue” and it’s reminiscent vocal stylings and even “New Stranger” which could be more aimed towards the anison crowd since it was used as the opening theme to the 2018 show High Score Girl.
But on the other hand, it’s clear that they strived to convey a much different style with their music. I enjoyed the more mellow, mysterious-sounding mixture of post-rock and electronica in a lot of the songs on this album; not just as a fan of idols but as a fan of Japanese music in general. The use of quick electro noises and different paces were uniquely done in “Mahou no Kotoba”; the rock-focused “Mabushi” that also had a pleasant atmosphere to it, and same could be said about “ribbon” and it’s more upbeat vibe. It’s fascinating to see a concept like Japanese idols be combined with unusual genres like what’s heard throughout this album, since it certainly works.
2) Did the Music Take the Spotlight?
But due to the fact that sora tob sakana takes on a much different route, style-wise, I’d imagine that it would make some first-time listeners think that this is just a normal band or artist group making/performing music. Which made me wonder, “is the actual music in this album more prominent than the performers themselves?”.
You may think I’m crazy for saying something like that about an idol group of all things, but as I thought about it, there were certainly times where I was a lot more focused on the music side of things, rather than the ladies performing. Maybe I’m the only person who had this experience, but not being used to this specific combination seemed to make me more interested in the different kinds of compositions that they produced (plus, the past two J-Music Exchange/Rate reviews had some noteworthy instrumental performances so that could be a factor lol). Additionally, with how distinctive and complex-sounding the genres of math rock, post-rock and electronica can be (as shown in songs like “Mahou no Kotoba” and “Koukoku no Machi”), it’s hard not to notice the unique elements and aspects of these particular styles of music.
That said, I think they did a great job with all of these compositions. The various expressions of different instruments such as the combination of classic J-rock guitar riffs and mild synths were cool in “Crouching Start”, and the use of trumpets in “Brand New Blue” to inject some sunny energy into the rest of the song was a nice touch.
3) Giving the Idols Their Flowers
As an avid idol fan, what I talked about in the last section hurt me a bit, not gonna lie (lol). Main reason is because the idols, the actual members who represent the group’s entire image and appear on the album covers and perform centerstage, are usually the primary focus when digesting this particular culture. And for me to, kind of, set them aside and not consider them the most memorable or eminent feature of this group feels… weird.
Feelings aside, I did want to talk about these three ladies since they 100% deserve some recognition. One thing that stood out to me about them, and especially their vocals throughout this album, is how reserved they are. With idol culture usually having a spontaneous and lively image, it was interesting to hear the more low-key identity of Kanzaki, Teraguchi and Yamazaki’s voices. They’re not too flashy, nor do they sing in high pitches a lot, which fits the outlandish-ness of this album’s compositions extremely well. And like I sort of mentioned earlier in this review, I believe that this trio fits both the idol criteria and the general artist/music group criteria, when it comes to vocals. While I personally think they sway a bit more towards the latter, Kanzaki, Teraguchi and Yamazaki do a great job conveying both sides with their vocal performances. Especially in the final song on this album, “untie”, where they do a really pleasant-sounding acapella.
Lastly, I read that a lot of the songs on this album are old releases that the trio performed again. Tracks like “Mahou no Kotoba”, “Koukoku no Machi”, “Mabushii” and their debut single “Yozora wo Zenbu” were all songs featured on the group’s first self-named studio album back in 2016. And despite not knowing a whole lot about sora tob sakana prior to this review, I’d assume that deep blue was essentially a sentimental ‘look back’ at their careers and their final hurrah before ending their activities as a group, which… is very touching, I’d say. And I’m sure that hearing the newer versions of those songs really showed long-time fans how much Kanzaki/Teraguchi/Yamazaki have grown throughout their time in this unit.
This was a nice album.
I barely knew about sora tob sakana before writing this review, but just from listening to this album and learning certain things about it, I think I was able to gain a good overview of what this group was all about. Their unique approach towards music and not having the fear of deviating from the Japanese idol norm, the way they express themselves through their toned-down vocals and choreography, and just the fact that they re-recorded a bunch of their older songs and put it on this final record… I can tell that sora tob sakana was a great, talented bunch of ladies and this album represented them and their history well. It is a shame that they ended up disbanding back in 2020, but I’m glad I was able to experience their stuff regardless.
Aaaaaand that’s all I got for you today!
It’s always interesting to discover and listen to idol groups that aren’t necessarily ‘traditional’, and I think sora tob sakana is another fantastic example of that. Kinda makes me sad that I wasn’t a fan of them beforehand lol. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this review!
Now that you’re done reading this post, you should head on over to Leap’s blog where he talked about the album I gave him this month, Rirune!Rirune!Rirune! by the idol group rirunede. They’re a unit I’ve been listening to for the past month or so, and I’ve really enjoyed their stuff. Go check out Leap’s thoughts on it!
Thanks for reading!! 😀