Kaikisen manga review

I don’t have the energy to read long volumes these days, so I turned my hand to a one-volume manga by the late Satoshi Kon. The blurb of Kaikisen goes as follows:

The legend has it that once upon a time, a pact was sealed between the Shinto priest of the town of Amide and a mermaid. Ever since, abundant fishing has guaranteed the town’s prosperity. This pact has always been honored by the priests of the Yashiro family. However, the legend has attracted both media and property developers, and the acting priest has acceded to their demands. Yosuke, youngest of the Yashiro family, has doubts about the existence of the mermaid, but will soon change his opinion as strange occurrences begin to unfold…

What I liked:

The art was clean but detailed. The story was short but action-packed, it felt a lot like an action movie especially near the end. Not too much happened, which kept the events simple enough to understand. The “big bad” was a little ridiculous in the lengths to which he would go to keep the egg, but the other characters in the story were believable and understandable.

The tension between the islanders who wanted to modernize and those who wanted to keep things the same was easy to sympathize with as well. The resolution was positive, but it didn’t magically clear way all the tensions that had existed in the town.

What I didn’t like:

I can understand the motivation of some of the characters, but that doesn’t mean any of them are likeable. The main character Yosuke in particular is just a chain-smoking unmotivated slacker who happens to do the right thing for once in his life. Kudos Yosuke, but that doesn’t make you any less annoying. His friend might as well have been air and his not-really-relationship with that girl who just came back from the city smacks of one of those relationships Hollywood throws into every action movie just for kicks.

That’s the main problem with Kaikisen. You’re not really rooting for anyone, except maybe the mermaid who stupidly entrusted a precious egg to those perfidious humans. The bad guys are given a treatment at the end that suggests they might not be so bad after all but given that their motivations were never really explored and the ‘good guys’ weren’t that easy to sympathize with either, it just smacks of Satoshi Kon trying to end things on a realistic note (bad guys aren’t killed) while not leaving a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. It… doesn’t really work IMO.

Overall:

Well whatever. That’s the beauty of a one-volume manga. On the minus side it might rush a few things and tie up some ends too neatly, but on the big plus side, when it’s over, it’s over. Kaikisen is a short, action-packed read with a good mix of modern-day realism and the supernatural. There’s a bonus, unrelated short story after that, but I disliked it after one page so I dropped it. The main story is worth a read as long as you don’t have to go out of your way to do so. Enjoy~

How fluent will you be after levels 1-10 of Talk to Me in Korean?

Talk to Me in Korean (a.k.a. TTMIK) is a website that teaches Korean to absolute beginners. It starts with stuff like “this” and “that” and “hello” and “goodbye,” the very basics of the basics. I’m not fluent in Cantonese yet, but I’m comfortable enough that I’m ready to start branching out into other languages. Besides, I’ve been watching a Korean drama lately that’s quite fun. I didn’t used to like the sound of Korean very much, but the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me, so I’ll be idly – very, very idly – learning Korean for the next year.

There was no special reason for me choosing Talk to Me in Korean, except people criticized it online for being too basic and I thought “That’s what I want!” Plus I downloaded a few other random resources and textbooks and they were all way too hardcore for me. My hardcore language for now will continue to be Cantonese. Korean will just be my bit on the side until I’m ready to dig deeper, so “too basic” is just perfect for me.

How’s my progress so far? Well I’ve learned all the basic Hangeul alphabet using a Memrise app for that (I used the Android version, not the website I linked, but it’s the same thing). It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Some people say you can go do it in 15 minutes, but for me it took about 2 weeks of repeated drilling for it to stick in my head. Now I can recognize most words after some study, and I think my recognition speed is getting faster by the day. Memrise is pretty handing for drilling stuff until you finally master it, more on it some other day.

After finishing the Hangeul, I’m now on Level 1 of the Talk to me in Korean lessons. I told you I was just doing the basics, didn’t I? Most recently I learned “It’s not me” and “That is not a cat.” I’m so fluent now… not! 😀 Baby steps. One thing I’m not doing is listening to the podcasts. I realized quickly they spend 95% of each lesson speaking in English. Besides, I don’t really like podcasts. I read much faster than I listen.

So what I do is, I read the PDFs under each lesson, then I drill them into my head using the corresponding Memrise lesson. Simple enough. It only takes about 15 minutes a day to go through a lesson so it’s not getting in the way of my other learning efforts. And since there about 265 lessons in the TTMIK curriculum, I should be done in roughly 8 months if I’m faithful and don’t skip too many days. I googled a lot to see how fluent I should be at that point, and the answer is “not very” but I want to see for myself.

I’m not affiliated with either Memrise or Talk to me in Korean, btw. Just recording what I’m doing and how it’s going. I’ll check back after… hmm… 3 months? If I don’t forget, that is. I’m also using Memrise to kick my Cantonese up a notch but I haven’t seen too much progress on that front yet. More on that story as it develops.

59th Kohaku Utagassen rundown (2008 edition)

Welcome to another lengthy rundown, this time of the 59th Kohaku Utagassen (第59回NHK紅白歌合戦). I’m trying to catch up to the most recent version by the end of the year so I should be doing these things more frequently from now on. Don’t hold your breath, though.

The 59th Kohaku Utagassen took place on December 31, 2008 at the NHK Hall in Tokyo. The introduction and our hosts: Nakai Masahiro, Nakama Yukie with Nozomi Oohashi of Ponyo fame as guest. Cute, child-like voice. Now come the performers. Nakai with a shoutout to Tsurube from last year. You hypocrite, after you acted all cold and cranky towards him.

I’ve seen this general announcer Matsumoto Kazuya before… I think from the year before the last? The one where DJ Ozma took his clothes off. The other announcer is Ono Fumie, high up in a blimp over the NHK Hall for no discernible reason whatsoever. Oh, Japan.

Btw, the number in brackets () next to an artist’s name is the number of times they have appeared on the program in the past. It’s considered to be an honor to perform at Kohaku so the higher the number, the greater the star. In theory, anyway. In practice a lot of popular and talented artists aren’t invited or don’t accept for various reasons, but that’s a post for another day.

1. Ayumi Hamasaki 浜崎あゆみ (10) Mirrorcle World

What are these guys wearing… Love it. This isn’t really dancing is it, it’s just kind of writhing around on the stage. Oh well, it’s too early to start complaining and the song isn’t too bad. The musicians don’t look like they’re playing live at all. Things got more lively once she took her clothes off. That tends to happen a lot in life…

 

2. Akira Fuse (24) Kimi wa Bara Yori Utsukushii (布施明 – 君は薔薇より美しい)

Ah, I saw a staff member run up to tell someone something. They need to hide this stuff better. Last year Akira Fuse did dancing Takarazuka gilrls, this time it’s just some random dudes in white suits. Yeah yeah. And now women flashing their butts while writhing on the ground? Cute blue dresses, too bad they’re just an excuse to flash more panties. Bleh. I prefer plainer performances of this song, this is just too busy.

3. Girl Next Door (debut) Guzen no Kakuritsu (偶然の確率)

Polite smile from the Girl Next Door singers at this attempt to cheer them up. Is there some reason for the England motif? Rather boring song, but the vocalist has a beautiful smile. The other members look kind of bored, TBH. The keyboardist looks a bit like Ekin Cheng, lol. Whatever happened to this band? Ah so, they broke up in 2013. Welp, that’s that, then.

4. Kenichi Mikawa (25) Sasoriza no Onna 2008 (美川憲 さそり座の女 2008)

Eww, IKKO. What’s he doing here. And Kenichi Mikawa is singing Sasoriza no Onna for the third or fourth year in the row. Ah, another running staff member! And yet another one. Come on guys, hide a bit better. I’m tired of this song already, and neither his outfit nor the backing performances are all that special. No wonder he’s been dropped from more recent entries. Ah. Haruna Ai. So this is a samba themed version? With accompanying chicken dance? Nah, I still don’t care.

Haha, another sneaking staff member. Time to introduce the guest judges. Nothing too interesting here. Keiko Matsuzaka is a very beautiful woman. Some comedy group called Hige Danshaku? Haha, they made me smile a little. Okay, I lol’d a tiny bit.

5. Natsuko Godai (15) Kyōto Ninenzaka (伍代夏子 京都二年坂)

Interesting kimono belt and lovely smile as always. She looks like she’s lost a bit of weight since last year. These enka songs sound the same most of the time. The Mikura twins starring in some show or another are here for… well, it’s not Kohaku without that kind of pointless performance. According to Wikipedia ManaKana haven’t done anything of note since 2011. That’s the entertainment world for you, hope they milked their 15 minutes of fame while it lasted. Love the kimonos.

6. Takeshi Kitayama (4) Kibō no Uta (北山たけし 希望の詩)

Now a tribute for Endo Minoru, a prolific songwriter who passed away in October 2008, by Kitajima Saburo and Kobayashi Sachiko, two artists he wrote classic songs for. Nakai keeps stumbling over his words. Stop talking so fast. Endo Minoru also wrote this song for Kitayama. Another soundalike enka song. Nothing special at all. All the enka singers are there to cheer him on. How does Sachiko manage to look so tearful all the time?

7. Fujimaki Fujioka and Nozomi Ōhashi (debut) Gake no Ue no Ponyo (藤岡藤巻と大橋のぞみ 崖の上のポニョ)

Nozomi Oohashi “retired” from the entertainment world a few years ago, once the Ponyo boom died off and the entertainment world had no further use for a not-so-young child with a not-so-good voice. In fact at her final performance I forget whether it was Miyazaki himself or Joe Hisaishi, but one of them said they picked Nozomi Oohashi precisely because she wasn’t very good. They said she sounded more like a normal kid trying to sing, which was the precise tone they were going for.

None of that has anything to do with this performance btw, which is also a look back at 25 years of collaboration between Miyazaki and Hisaishi. It makes me nostalgic for old Ghibli movies. I rewatched Totoro recently and it wasn’t nearly as boring as I’d thought the first time. Couldn’t they have used a higher quality video fro the background, though? It looks so old, blurry and pixelated. Stylistic suck? Lovely, lively segment though.

8. Tōhōshinki (debut) Purple Line~Dōshite Kimi o Suki ni Natte Shimattandarō? (東方神起 Purple Line〜どうして君を好きになってしまったんだろう?)

Introduced by the Blue man Group… for no good reason. I would have liked it if Blue Man Group themselves performed. I rather like them, but they didn’t really do anything and the audience really doesn’t know how to respond.

Don’t really care/know anything Tohoshinki or about boy bands in general so. I don’t remember what this performance was like either. …Ah, nothing worth remembering. Okay, moving on.

9. Kaori Mizumori (6) Wajima Asaichi (水森かおり 輪島朝市)

Lyricist Kinoshita Ryutaro who wrote some lyrics for her died that year so she’s singing this song to remember him. Yet another platform-hiding dress? Change it up a bit, lady. And what’s the point of crying even before you start? All these enka songs sound the same and the lyrics are similar too. I can’t believe I used to like enka. Or maybe I’m just not in a charitable mood today. Very nice performance and good voice but the song is just boring.

10. Aqua Timez (2) Niji (虹)

Used for the theme song of a drama called Gokusen. Like I care. Not a bad song though. I enjoy watching this performance but it’s not something I would listen to outside the program. Running cameraman spotted! I’d die if I took a shot every time I saw an errant staff member. It wasn’t this obvious in previous years I don’t think.

11. Yūsaku Kiyama (木山裕策) (debut) Home

Father of four, was an ordinary office worker until the age of 40, also got cancer four  years ago? Yikes! An inspirational story, though it seems they’re just using it for the shock/emotional factor. He has a nice voice though. And apparently he still works at his old publishing company even now? That’s cool. Ooh, his family is in the audience. All boys. So cute!

About the song and the performance itself… Nice soothing voice. Nice song, nothing too special. It’s good that they didn’t add any distracting backup dancers to a simple performance.

12. Junko Akimoto (debut) Ai no Mama de…( 秋元順子 初 愛のままで…)

The oldest person make a debut at Kohaku, Junko Akimoto at 61. Lovely letter from her daughter. I really like this song and she looks like a spunky old lady. Love her outfit and the chanson feel of this song. I think the viewers agreed because IIRC she was invited back the following year. I used have the mp3 so I listened to it quite often. And if you don’t want me to release an mp3 of myself singing this song in the shower, send me $1000 in unmarked dollar bills… >:D

13. Kimaguren (キマグレン)(debut) Life

Being a backup dancer is hard work… Lively song and the barefoot thing is… different. Without the subtitles I wouldn’t have a clue what he was trying to sing in English. Not really my kind of song, I guess, a little too busy for me. I hear it was used for a sports commercial and it certainly gives off that kind of vibe.

I notice they wrote the song together. I read a thread recently about how that’s the best way to make money as a singer in Japan. JASRAC is pretty diligent about collecting royalties, so you can live for decades off karaoke earnings if you’re credited as the songwriter or lyricist. And this continues even after the band has broken up (according to their official website Kimaguren held its final concert in July 2015). The more you know.

14. Ikimonogakari (いきものがかり) (debut) Sakura

Lots of debut performances this year. That’s great. IIRC Ikimonogakari broke up very recently. Or rather they’re on “indefinite hiatus”, i.e. “we’ll be back if we ever need money.” Staff member spot! Let’s see if their music is any good. I know them from Big Windup! at least. Hmm, not a bad song. Singer can hit the high notes very accurately. Very easy on the ears. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to it outside Kohaku, but no problems otherwise.

15. Kiyoshi Maekawa and Cool Five (18) Tokyo Sabaku (前川清(&クール・ファイブ)東京砂漠)

Announcer Ono in the air gets a chance to speak. Ah so. Yay, Maekawa Kiyoshi singing the first song I ever heard from him. 2009 was his 40th year in showbiz, wow! 40 years and your hair is still that black? Haha, you’re not fooling me! And remember when they said they were reforming Cool Five for one night only? Good song. Anata ga ireba, aa anata ga ireba…

16. Miyuki Kawanaka (21) Nirinsō (川中美幸 二輪草)

Mihara Tsunaki and the New Breed in another studio. Never heard of them. They’re playing the backing music for some of the songs, like this one. That’s a different hairdo to go with the kimono. I rather like it. The song is a nice one too, though it’s Kawanaka Miyuki’s signature song so I’ve heard it often. Brilliant smile as ever.

Special: Miyazawa Kazufumi in Ganga Zumba & The Boom “Shimauta ~ Celebrating 100 years of Brazilian emigration” 特別企画:宮沢和史 in ガンガ・ズンバ & THE BOOM「島唄〜ブラジル移民100周年記念バージョン」

According to Wikipedia, Kazufumi Miyazawa is the founder of the Japanese bands The Boom and Ganga Zumba. The latter band uses Brazilian, Caribbean and Latin American elements in their music, which is why he was chosen to headline this special segment commemorating the 100th year since 800 Japanese people emigrated to Brazil, ultimately leading to a population of approximately 150,000 Japanese-Brazilians today… If I got my math correctly. Must be wrong but whatever. Live link to Brazil to see a mochi-making festival and meet some emigres.

Ashiato no nai Michi sung accompanied by old photos of the ancient emigres. Then he launches into his signature song, Shimauta. Which I like, so it’s cool. Aren’t these livefeed people clapping out of tune?

17. Ayako Fuji (16) Akai Ito (藤あや子 紅い糸)

Ooh, it’s the always beautiful Fuji Ayako, singing my second-favorite Fuji Ayako song! Why do I have to go through a pointless performance by “chief cheerleader” Terry Ito to get to it? An omelette from a fan? Oh, the price we pay for stardom. Nakama Yukie’s laugh is just too fake.

The Saotome guy who performed with Sakamoto Fuyumi last year is here again, joined by some Hashi guy. Let’s ignore them and enjoy this lovely song and take in the beautiful Fuji Ayako. Even better, this doesn’t sound like the typical enka song at all. Gorgeous kimono, love the red strings in her hair. And the nail decs, so cool. I want a Fuji Ayako calendar…

18. WaT (4) 36℃

Uh, I don’t know this Sekai no Nabeatsu guy introducing them. Should I? Haven’t seen him before, haven’t seen him since. I don’t get what’s funny about his act either. And I don’t care much for WaT either. How did they ever get to perform/lip-synch at Kohaku so often when they weren’t even that popular? I sense a powerful agency pulling some strings. Staff member spotted running up the stage!

19. Mitsuko Nakamura (13) Kawachi Otoko bushi (中村美律子 河内おとこ節)

People stuffing their faces backstage while promoting the sponsor-provided food, it seems? These views backstage are always interesting. Unnecessary, but interesting. Tokio and Jero and Nabeatsu here to cheer Mitsuko Nakamura on. Because you have to do that kind of stuff if you want to be on Kohaku. More backup dancers forcing themselves to look jolly and excited. How many times had they practiced this? It’s a hard knock life indeed. As for the song… Meh. Lovely kimono and lively performance, but that’s about it. Next please.

20. Porno Graffitti (7) Gift (ポルノグラフィティ ギフト)

The Perfume girls are from Hiroshima prefecture, same as the Porno Graffiti guys. So they’re asked to come and say… pretty much nothing of note. Basically just buying time for the stage to clear and PG to set up. I don’t remember this song, but just from the bass line alone I like it already. Though again I mean-spiritedly wonder if PG is popular enough to justify their regular spot on the Kohaku roster… Waha! Creeping staff member spot! He just ducked behind one of the amps! Hmm, the song is okay, not quite as good as I was hoping for, but okay.

21. Ai Otsuka (5) Ai (大塚愛 愛)

Canned response from guest judge Satoshi Tsumabuki about the NHK drama he’s in the next year. Hai. I don’t like Otsuka’s outfit. Give your granny back her rugs and cushions! As for the song, meh. Actually it’s not too bad. Another singer whose agency shovels her in every year I bet. I’ve seen like three singers in this show with red nails, was that a fashion trend in 2009? This wasn’t a good year for Kohaku and me, no wonder I barely remember any of the songs.

22. Ken Hirai (9) Itsuka Hanareru Hi ga Kitemo (平井堅 いつか離れる日が来ても)

Whoa, it’s so obvious that they made Yoshida use that “sasaerareta” line on purpose. She just rattled her line off like she had memorized it, which she probably had. This is so cheesy. Hirai Ken! Improve my mood, please! Ack, he just came from working in his woodshop! Go comb your hair! I like this song well enough, but it’s not doing anything for me right now. The lyrics are too whiny, I guess. Like the singer should be getting therapy for his abandonment issues instead of standing around singing about them.

23. Fuyumi Sakamoto (20) Kaze ni Tatsu (坂本冬美 風に立つ)

Oya, Sakamoto Fuyumi was a softball catcher when she was a student? She doesn’t look it at all. That’s cool. And she actually caught the ball! Double cool! Nice rainbow kimono and flowery obi too. Now for the song… Taka Takashi again! Oh, I actually like it. It’s very Misora Hibari. Oh man, I can’t believe they made the softball guest judge hold a ball and mitt. Cut her some slack. Anyway, I like the song and I haven’t seen an errant staff member in a while. Things are looking up.

Next is some kind of message about peace. Basically a roundabout way of promoting some movie Nakama, Nakai were in and Joe Hisaishi wrote the music for. I like the cool piano music in the background, but these canned responses and fake teariness are boring. Even the audience didn’t want to clap. Wakaru~

24. Masafumi Akikawa (3) Sen no Kaze ni Natte (秋川雅史 千の風になって)

Third year in a row? Which means you didn’t release anything better in the interval. Welp, as long as you can live off this one for now. I’ve already given my thoughts on this song last year and the year before so we’ll let this one pass without comment.

Special: Enya Orinoco Flow 特別企画:エンヤ『オリノコ・フロウ〜ありふれた奇跡』

Interim voting. Pointless. Some environmental message, yeah yeah. Is Norika Fujiwara really tall or is this announcer really short? Enya… I don’t know anything about her. Waha! English is being spoken by some human beings! Don’t worry, my spoken Japanese is even worse than their English so I can’t criticize them.

Well, let’s just suffer through this music. Oh, I’ve heard this song before. Is this really live? She’s lip synching, isn’t she? I don’t care either way. Soothing music, though probably not what people should be listening to late at night on New Year’s Eve – what if they fall asleep?!

Results of the interim vote: White is about 12,000 votes ahead. Sounds about right, though IMO neither side has impressed me yet. News break.

25. Perfume (debut) Polyrhythm (ポリリズム)

Why are they bothering to pretend to sing? Just do your little dance. Whatever. They must have practiced this like 2000 times. In heels! I told you, being in the entertainment industry is hard work! I don’t mind this song, but again it’s not something I would listen to outside Kohaku. I used to have legs like those too, once upon a time.

26. Jero (debut) Umiyuki (ジェロ 海雪)

Ah, a song I like. At long last! And they trotted out his half-Japanese mother to cheer him on, how sweet.  I really like this song. Akimoto Jun of AKB48 fame/infamy wrote the lyrics. That guy must be seriously rolling in every expensive substance imaginable. Time to sing along. Maru deeeeee Umiiiiyuuuuki! Very good! Clap clap clap!

I hear Jero is still active in Japan, but the novelty of a foreigner singing enka has long since worn off so you don’t hear of him much. He’s doing well, but that hip-hop outfit is just… uck.

27. SPEED (4) White Love (ReTrack)

Speed, huh. I didn’t know them in their heydays and I don’t remember this performance making much of an impression on me, but let’s give them a chance. Lipsynch away, I don’t mind. Apart from that, both the dancing and the singing and the song are all boring. They need a less pixellated background screen next year.

28. Tokio (15) Amagasa (雨傘)

My favorite farming idols! They’re even dressed like farmers. Haha, the usual photo makes a appearance. This photo never gets old. Shiina Ringo wrote this song for them. I’ve heard her name but don’t know her music. Let’s give it a listen. Oh yeah, I remember hearing this one. It sounds like an anime theme song or something. Is it true that Kokubun doesn’t really play the piano? 😀 He does look like he’s randomly banging away at the keyboard. Anyway, another okay song I wouldn’t listen to outside of Kohaku. Shave that pit, Yamaguchi.

29. Thelma Aoyama (debut) Soba ni Iru ne (青山テルマ feat.SoulJa そばにいるね)

Tendo Yoshimi, so cute. I haven’t been able to listen to this Soba ni Iru ne song the same way every since I heard Jinnai Tomonori’s spoof version: Midoriyama Teruko’s Sobaya ni Iru ne. That skit made me laugh too hard. I didn’t like this song before that, but now I do. And I like Aoyama Thelma’s fashion too! Okay, I enjoyed this performance and it’s all thanks to Jinnai.

30. Yutaka Mizutani (debut) California Connection (水谷豊 カリフォルニア・コネクション)

Ooh, one of my favorites songs. He Yutaka Mizutani hadn’t sung in 22 years because his drama and film career have been going too well. Too bad, I just loooove California Connection, it’s such a smooth song. I listen to it all the time. He looks crazy nervous. Hahahaha, funny message to his wife, “I’ll be home after 12.” Hahahaha ^________^ And clever stalling for time with Motoki while setup continues. I saw a blurred out staff member behind Mizutani, yes I did.

Oho, the instruments are a little different from the one I know. This is cooler and jazzier. I like it~ Yay, this is awesome! I’m singing along with the lyrics. I should do this more often, it’s good for my Japanese reading and pronunciation.

31. Ayaka (3) Okaeri (絢香 おかえり)

Haha, the guy behind the radio team with the red circle is really acting it up! Ayaka wrote her own lyrics. Clever girl. The song is okay, I guess Kohaku just didn’t have a good crop that year. My sister has a bedsheet like Ayaka’s dress. Actually the song is kind of growing on me. Nothing I would listen to outside Kohaku, still.

32. Hideaki Tokunaga (德永英明) (3) Rainy Blue

Aah! A staff member scurried away like a cockroach! I like Rainy Blue. And Tokunaga’s blue suit to go with it. I heard a cover version from Jacky Cheung not too long ago, but it’s really Tokunaga Hideaki’s breathy voice that sells the song. And he wrote the tune too? Clever fellow, you know where it’s at! Rainy blue mouuuu~ Sing along with Tokunaga-chan!

33. Kumi Koda (倖田來未) (4) Taboo

Another flash-in-the-pan comedy character. Iroka Koijiro. Uh… yeah. I loled when Nakai swooned, so he got me I guess. Cute kimono but it’s obviously coming off in no time at all. Yup, I knew it. I like her ballads but her poppier songs do nothing for me. This was actually a waste of my time.

34. Hiroshi Itsuki (38) Itezuru (五木ひろし 凍て鶴)

Yay, Itezuru. I hear Itsuki Hiroshi always tries to sing something new every year at Kohaku but he repeated Chigiri last year to honor the late Aku Yuu and is repeating Itezuru to honor Miki Takashi, who was suffering from cancer and later died. I won’t mention the conspicuous black dye in Itsuki’s hair if you won’t. I like this song.

35. Angela Aki (3) Tegami ~Haikei Jūgo no Kimi e~ (アンジェラ・アキ 手紙 〜拝啓、十五の君へ〜)

I like Nakama Yukie’s new dress. They’re making like a K-drama and advertising lots of sponsors’ clothes, aren’t they? Meh, I don’t like sappy lyrics. The song is okay. What is this, the 20th song I’ve deemed just “okay”? It’s the truth I’m afraid. This Kohaku didn’t impress me at all.

36. Naotarō Moriyama (3) Ikiteru Koto ga Tsurai nara (森山直太朗 生きてることが辛いなら)

Moriyama got some flack that year for possibly promoting suicide through this song (the title of which means “If it hurts to keep living”). The first line is “If it hurts to keep living, you should just shrivel up and die.” But his point is to face life head on… or so the announcer claims. Let’s read the lyrics and see for ourselves.

Next line “Your parents and friends will be sad for three days then they’ll get over it.” Hmm… The first verse is pretty bleak. The following verses are slightly more hopeful but… nah, it’s not a very happy song. More like just hang in there till you can’t take it any more, after all your life doesn’t mean much anyway in the grand scheme of things. That’s not the kind of song I want anyone feeling down to listen to. Yup, he deserves all the flack he was getting.

37. aiko (7) KissHug

Stop worrying these judges with your pointless banter. Well, will this be the song that finally makes me like aiko? She wrote the lyrics and the song, so this represents her fully. Haa… I don’t like her voice, her singing style, the song is just blah… I’m sorry aiko. I really want to like you, really I do. *applauds politely*

38. Shuchishin with Pabo (debut) Shuchishin Kōhaku Special (羞恥心 with Pabo 羞恥心〜陽は、また昇る紅白スペシャル)

Shuuchishin! Shuuchishin! I kind of like this song, mostly because they don’t take themselves too seriously. Lipsynching is fine too. I wouldn’t buy their CD or anything and as for Pabo I don’t need to see them. Two, no three staff members spotted. They’re not even looking at the stage, lol. Colorful stage but that’s all I can say about that. More staff members and the whole “Hexagon family” whoever they are. Riiight… AHAHAHAHA! Ungirls! Nooooo >_< Okay they got me, I laughed. Someone’s stripping… WHYYYY. Ookayyy.

39. Kobukuro (4) Toki no Ashioto (コブクロ 時の足音)

Another act I feel I should like but can’t really get into. If the feeling is not there, it’s not there. But we will politely listen to their performance like good people. As an aside, hearing the MCs stumbling over their words makes me feel better about my own bad Japanese pronunciation. Because I’m a bad person. Why does the short Kobukuro always look like he wants to cry? Finished listening to the performance and I can’t remember this song for the life of me. Did it even have a tune? Ah so.

40. Ayaka Hirahara (5) Nocturne (平原綾香 ノクターン)

Tribute to Ogata Ken. I saw him in something quite recently, can’t remember what. Just realized I don’t really like Kimutaku’s speaking voice. Anyway, Nocturne was the song for the last drama Ogata Ken starred in before he died. What a convoluted relation. Whatevs. I know this Chopin song. … Sometimes I have to depend on the Japanese lyrics to figure out what she’s singing in English… Man, this is so boring. I won’t even clap.

41. EXILE (4) Ti Amo

Uwaaaa…. a live show from Sapporo dome. What a huge crowd! Can those near the back even see anything? Yup, this is the kind of look and dancing I expect from Exile. Wings flapping and spinning around like birds. I don’t really care for them much. Another polite listen. Actually I hear almost no singer sings live these days. These guys definitely aren’t singing. Sunglasses guy isn’t even pretending. Whatevs again.

42. Sachiko Kobayashi (30) Roran (小林幸子 楼蘭)

Last boss coming up. What’s the point of calling all of Tohoshinki out if only one person is going to make a brief comment? I like this song… where did I hear it from before? This show? No, I knew it before. Anyway, I really like it. And her outfit, what’s hiding underneath? Dokidoki… There’s nothing underneath. Disappointment galore. From desert to undersea. I like the song, though. Eh, there’s more to the outfit?! A spider?! Octopus? Palm tree? EEHHH? Wow, okay. Well, that was fun.

43. Saburō Kitajima (45) Kita no Ryōba (北島三郎 北の漁場)

The Shinjuku Koma theater was closed down that year so Kimimaro Ayanokouji is there to see the aftermarth of the final performance. Apparently Kohaku was held there in the past. They have a statue of Kitajima Saburo because he performed there around 1,800 times. Wow. Mr. Ayanokouji, please don’t read so obviously off the teleprompter.

Sabu-chan! Haven’t heard this piece in a while. Going fishing with SMAP? They’re standing there like they don’t know what to do with themselves. That’s Kohaku for you. Haha, this is too funny. Umi noooo otoko nya yooo, I like this song. This is so silly. But kinda fun compared to the other performances I guess. Umi nooooo otoko nya yooooo~

44. Yo Hitoto (5) Hajimete (一青窈 はじめて)

Some kind of environmental message. Staff member spot! Why didn’t you wait till the lights went out first. Something about saving power by lighting the hall with candles. Just a gimmick. At least we learned that Hitoto Yo has other songs and not just the one she’s been forced to sing every single time. Let’s see how this one goes. Not bad but kind of boring. I could apply that label to just about everything that’s been sung this night.

45. Mika Nakashima (中島美嘉) (7) Orion

Red nails again. Must be a 2008 thing. Another song that does nothing for me. Mika stooping and looking drunk again. Must be a Mika thing. The pixels are awful on that “starry” background. Staff member spotted in the dark.

46. Mr. Children (debut) – GIFT

They got the longest allotted time of the night, 7 minutes to perform. Apparently NHK bent over backwards to get them to perform. I don’t really know much about MisChil, I’ve heard a few songs here and there but nothing that really grabbed my attention. And there was something about a scandal involving the lead singer Sakurai? Not sure, can’t remember clearly. Wait, it’s bad to spread rumors without evidence. Let me Google first. Ah so, he cheated on his wife and left her for the other woman. -_- Tomoyasu Hotei and Glay’s Teru have company.

How’s the music? *shrug* It’s okay. Very noisy at the end with all those people standing around yelling Lalalala. Blah.

47. Sayuri Ishikawa (31) Amagigoe – Ichiro Version (石川さゆり 天城越え(イチローバージョン))

Another dress change for Nakama Yukie. The sponsors are getting their money’s worth. Ichiro liked Ishikawa Sayuri’s rendition of Amagigoe two years ago at Kohaku (Yukie says last year but it wasn’t) so much that he used it for his walk up music that previous year. Hence the “Ichiro version” in the title. Hmm, I quite like the hard rock intro with Marty Friedman. Oya? He disappeared halfway through the act. What’s the point of bringing in a guitarist of Friedman’s caliber and only using him for 30 seconds? Kohaku…!

Stellar performance as always from Ishikawa Sayuri, but the rendition from two years ago just can’t be topped. It was too perfect.

48. SMAP (16) Kono toki, kitto yume ja nai (Kōhaku Special) (この瞬間、きっと夢じゃない紅白SP)

Oya? Did Inagaki make a misstep early on? Doesn’t matter, me no care. His movements are definitely a bit off, though. Turn, step, twirl, sway back, turn… I’ve said it before but it must be really hard being in a boy band when you’re old enough to have grand kids in a boy band. I can feel the hours of practice oozing through. I just realized I don’t really like their music, but I enjoy watching SMAP on the stage. I’m gonna miss them just a tiny little bit.

49. Yoshimi Tendo (13) Tonbori Ninjō (天童よしみ 道頓堀人情)

The always cute Yoshimi Tendo singing her debut song to honor her late father. Another… interesting outfit. And the song is… Just another enka song. I like the lyrics, at least.

50. Shinichi Mori (41) Ofukurosan (森進一 おふくろさん)

Aiyaa, Ofukurosan again. And he has so many other good songs instead, like Kita no Hotaru and Erimo Misaki. I didn’t need the introduction. There’s no way to spice this old horse meat, so just serve it up already. Sora wo miageryaaaa~

51. Akiko Wada (32) Yume (和田アキ子 夢)

All the enka singers changed outfits just for this end scene. I like Sakamoto Fuyumi’s canary yellow kimono the best. It’s flashy like an entertainer’s outfit should be. Actually it looks like all the other singers changed clothes too. Uh, okay.

This was Akko’s 40th year in showbiz. Isn’t this the same dress she wore to perform Mother three or four years ago? The singer-songwriter Tatsuya Ishii – isn’t that the lead singer of Kome Kome Club? Must be a coincidence. Ufufu, more staff members lurking behind the stage area. They really needed a curtain for that side. The song itself is just okay, no big deal. What is it called, a power ballad? She certainly has a lot of power.

52. Kiyoshi Hikawa (9) Kiyoshi no Zundoko Bushi (氷川きよし きよしのズンドコ節)

Fun, fun, fun, fundoshi! Zureta! Last song of the night. I like this song. Sparkly sparkly. Hikawa looks like he’s struggling to control the tears. The fangirls must be lapping this up.

Results

White team wins. Both sides were very lackluster this year, but Kiyoshi’s ending performance was far more flashy than Wada’s. They were obviously aiming to give the victory to white. Welp, so much for that. See you next time for a rundown of the 60th Kohaku Utagassen!

Forgotten Japanese Singers – The OYSTARS

Another in the series on forgotten Japanese singers I started last time. The main requirements are that the band/singer should have sung at least one anime song and that they should have ceased activities or broken up at least 10 years ago. If they’re pretty well-known in the English world I might skip them, otherwise I won’t be too picky.

Today’s artist: The OYSTARS (ジ・オイスターズ).

Notable anime song(s): Nanka Shiawase (なんか幸せ) from Flame of Recca.

The OYSTARS were a Japanese rock band from Hiroshima. They were active in Japan from 1993 until 2001. The band’s main members were:

Osamu Funae/ Osamu (舩江修) vocals, guitar
Shuuji Oogushi / Shu-ji (大串修青) bass
Ryuuji Oogushi / Ryu-ji (大串湊史) guitar
Jun’ichi Hari / Harry (羽里潤一) drums

Formed in Japan in 1993, the Oystars first came to prominence in 1995 when they won a musical contest known as the “The 4th Music Quest.” They made their major debut in 1996 under Pony Canyon with the single So Serious ~ Gamushara na Koi” (SO SERIOUS~がむしゃらな恋~). They released their first album “a Ragbaby” and embarked on their first national tour in 1997. In all they released 7 singles and 4 albums.

They split up in September 2001 for unspecified reasons. Post breakup they have all continued to be active as singers, songwriters and producers. Ex-Lead singer Osamu Funae is the CEO of SAMZ Inc., an entertainment, events and dining company in Japan founded in 2003. They still maintain their official blog quite regularly if you want to follow them, though it has very little to do with music these days.

Incidentally, they chose the name “The Oystars” because lead singer Osamu Funae used to work on an oyster farm during their indie days. Oysters also happen to be one of the products their hometown of Hiroshima is known for, so they got a bit of representing in there as well. “Oystars” is NOT a mispelling – they deliberately spelled it that way to copy the way The Beatles are known as ‘Beatles’ and not ‘Beetles,” plus so they could call themselves “Stars” instead of shellfish. Now we know.

Their involvement in Flame of Recca seems like the usual “Agency gets them a tie up” deal so common in Japan. It doesn’t seem like they were specifically selected or that they wrote the song specifically for the anime.

Other songs by The Oystars

Hmm… TBH Nanka Shiawase isn’t really one of my top anime songs, so I’m not that into The OYSTARS either. I’ve read a few volumes of the Flame of Recca manga, but it didn’t grab me either. Still you never know what musical treasures are out there waiting to be discovered. And they do have music videos for most of their songs on their official website. Let’s try a few and see.

Thrill is just a generic j-rock song, I forgot it as soon as the song ended.
Her reply is clearly very Beatles-inspired, almost like a take on “She loves you.” Also forgettable.
Debut single So Serious is quite similar to “Nanka Shiawase.” It’s not half-bad, it makes a good one-time listen. Yuuki Wasurenai (勇気忘れない) is another boring one.

Okay, I’ve heard enough. The Oystars not really my cup of tea, sorry.

Forgotten Japanese singers – Sario Kijima

Welcome to a new occasional feature I’ll be doing on this blog. I’ve been listening to old anime songs I used to like long ago, some of which I loved before and still enjoy now. Every once in a while I’ll glance at the singer/band’s name and wonder what they’re up to now. At first it was just idle curiosity and I didn’t take it any further than that, but eh, if I’m going to do all that rooting around, I might as well share my findings.

Today’s artist: Sario Kijima (貴島サリオ)

Notable anime song(s): In the Night / Watashi ga Soba ni Iru (私がそばにいる), opening and ending themes to Key the Metal Idol OVA respectively.

Sario Kijima was born Saori Inoshita on February 19, 1974 in Handa, Aichi Prefecture. She got her start in show business after being scouted at a talent show. She picked the stage name by rearranging her name Saori to get Sario and mixing characters from the names of popular sumo wrestler Takanohana (the character 貴) and his Fujishima stable (the character 島) to get Kijima.

She made her acting debut with a role in Fuji TV drama “Alphabet 2/3 (アルファベット2/3)” (someone should do a blog about forgotten Japanese dramas) in April 1992 and her singing debut with “Akiramenai de (あきらめないで)” which was used for an Alpen commercial. She released other songs that were used for commercials, events and anime songs while appearing in a total of 5 dramas.

In 1997 she left her agency Pony Canyon and set up her own agency called Dubois. She also changed her name to Sally K briefly before returning to her birth name Saori Inoshita in November of the same year. She changed her singing style to a breathier R & B style and released the “inside” album you see on the right.

After a series of live performances in Shibuya, she stopped performing in 1998 and hasn’t sung professionally since. At the end of her career, her highest position on the Oricon music charts was #46 with Together光の中で (Together Hikari no naka de) in March 1994.

As far as her personal life goes, the internetz tell me she was married to singer-songwriter Yoshimasa Inoue at one point – he produced her “inside” album – and Japanese wikipedia says she is currently married to a graphic designer named Basil Findlay.

I was hoping to dig up more about how Sario Kijima came to sing the Key the Metal Idol themes and what she thought/felt about them, but it seems like this is yet another one of those “powerful agency was able to get her a tie up” situations.

Her music videos are very cute to watch, but her voice is nothing special. I wish she would have tried more ballads like Watashi ga Soba ni Iru, where the slight breathiness of her voice is used to good effect. If you liked the Key the Metal Idol songs, you can try some of her other songs. I spent some time listening to her songs as “research” and liked:

Misty Blue – a very lively, 90s-anime kind of song
Catching My Dream – very generic idol song, wouldn’t feel out of place as an anime opening song
愛が愛であふれてる (Ai ga Ai de afureteru) – rather boring, but reminds me of the Key songs

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