Reread Dune – Quick book impressions

It’s been… I want to say 20 years but possibly more since I last read Dune by Frank Herbert, a classical work of science fiction. I still remembered a lot of the main points of the story but the finer details had long since been lost to history. After watching several anime series with overpowered main characters (Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, etc) I decided to return to a much earlier example just for kicks. Go on, Paul Muad’Dib Atreides, show those amateurs how a real Gary Stu does it.

BlurbSet on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

It IS indeed a stunning blend of adventure, mysticism, environmentalism and politics. For once the blurb did not lie. I stayed up to like 3am reading it and continued the next day until I finished. There are plenty of hair-raising will-they-make-it adventure sections, way too much BS psychological mysticism, enough environmentalism to make you develop an interest in desertification and its reverse and, of course, politics up the wazoo. The politics was the most interesting part IMO, there should have been way more of it.

So is Paul really a Gary Stu? You betcha! He’s sooo smart and sooo strong, and sooo psychic, he can do at age 15 what thousands of predecessors have failed to do, he learns everything so quickly, and on and on and on. There are suggestions here and there of the probability that he might fail at something, but of course it never comes to pass and he always sails through just fine and comes through even stronger.

That’s okay with me in the earlier parts of the book. It’s justifiable to have a super-strong, super-perfect character if the alternative is certain death. Of course he’s strong, if he weren’t strong he’d be dead. It’s the later parts of the story where he’s no longer in any danger but continues to get even stronger and even more perfect to the point where almost nobody in the whole universe can hold a candle to him physically, psychically or mentally that made me think, oh brother! Frank Herbert really laid it on thick.

To his credit, the negative side effects of his perfection do trouble Paul quite a bit. He gets fear, worship, reverence, fanatical devotion and even love in spades, but all he really wants are friends. He’s also worried by persistent visions of a universal jihad caused by his followers – an eventuality he seems to stop fighting after a while because, *shrug*. Dunno why, he just does.

It also bothers him how little he feels even when tragic things happen. Or so he says, anyway. Frank Herbert was probably trying to soften the super-perfect, super-competent image on Paul, but it backfires a bit, IMO. It just makes it much harder to get under his skin or relate to his feelings as he gets more and more prefect. Which is kind of the whole point of his dilemma so it works and yet doesn’t work at the same time. Very… complicated.

I also enjoyed the fact that Dune doesn’t start out focusing exclusively on Paul Atreides. Sure it’s his story, but there’s plenty of time spent developing characters like his doomed father, his mother, retainers like Thufir Hawat and Gurney, and even side characters like the geologist Liet. When you watch anime or play games about a prince taking back his kingdom, the kingdom is usually lost pretty quickly. Sometimes it’s lost even before the story starts. Dune, on the other hand, takes the time to sketch out the previous status quo and show how and why things went wrong. It’s very enjoyable stuff and I’m a little sorry other series haven’t imitated that approach since.

So, as I’ve bseen saying all along I had fun rereading Dune. It’s not a perfect book, though. When I was younger I found the swashbuckling adventures in the desert to be the main point of interest. This time I enjoyed the social and political intrigue and found the geological and ecological details to be far more interesting than the “Paul does something awesome yet again” parts. If I had to find fault with anything it’s that there wasn’t half enough attention given to those sections as there should have been.

For example Herbert portrayed Baron Harkonnen as a sneaky, wily, highly competent foe early on, but then the character vanishes for a while and the next time we see him he’s just a fat buffoon. There are attempts to build Feyd Rautha up as Paul’s ultimate rival but not only is he out of focus for most of the book but when we do see him he’s just a spoiled brat. Same goes for the emperor, who is never given a chance to show us what, if anything, qualifies him to rule the known universe. The supposedly powerful Guild is yet another example. It’s not that they aren’t all powerful in their own way, just that Paul is portrayed as so much stronger and smarter and more determined that they might as well not bother. I would have enjoyed a bigger focus on all of them, but it wouldn’t affect the ending in any way so I guess it’s all the same in the end.

Long story short, Dune is a great read/re-read for fans of overpowered main characters. There’s a lot of new terminology thrown around but you can usually figure it out from the context without referring to the glossary. And the story is just plain interesting and easy enough to follow without being simplistic. Good books are just good, you know, Gary Stu or no Gary Stu. I’ve never read any of the sequels because I hear it’s all downhill from Dune Messiah, but I’ll give it a chance anyway. Looking forward to it!

Sword Art Online II – Second half and overall impressions

I did another marathon session of the Excaliber arc of Sword Art Online II and a third session for the dreadfully boring Mother’s Rosario arc.

Excaliber arc: Short and sweet and everyone got a chance to shine. Klein used to be somewhat cool when he was the leader of his own guild in Aincrad, now he’s largely reduced to a ronery joke character. But his chivalry (or horniness) in the face of all common sense was the only thing that let them beat the boss so all’s well that ends well. Kirito was being Kirito as well, but characters like Tonkii, Sinon and Freyja all played their part to save the world of ALO from the evil frost giants.

Maybe it’s just me but I find arcs set in ALO disappointing because there’s no threat of permadeath. SAO and GGO have spoiled me. Still the light, fluffy mood and the fact that even if the frost giants do win and destroy ALO they can just move to another game makes Excaliber a nice sandwich arc between two heavier ones. And of course Kirito would end up with the most powerful sword in the game…

Mother’s Rosario: Long and bitter and too much about Asuna. When the show turned to focus on her I realized I don’t like her as much as I thought I did. Sinon for best girl again! I’m still all for the Kirito x Asuna pairing (like I have a choice) but as an individual Asuna is kinda of boring.

My problems with the arc: first, it could have been done in half the time. A lot of time was wasted just sitting around crying and moping and beating around the bush instead of talking about stuff. How many times did we have to see Asuna climbing down the stairs or staring at her mom? Or watch Siune and Yuuki covering things up instead of sharing their little secret? By the time they finally got round to the reveal I honestly didn’t care any more.

Furthermore the whole “guild of dying kids” thing was way too overwrought. It was trying way too hard to draw out tears by hook and by crook. “Oh look how sad it is, poor Yuuki, don’t you feel sorry for her? Hmm? Don’t you?” That’s why it wasn’t enough for them to just give her AIDS, they had to kill her mother and her father and her twin sister and have her house scheduled to be torn down juuuust for that extra little bit of tragedy.

Yeah me neither, SAO II.

I must have a heart of stone but I really didn’t care. Episode upon episode of “poor little Yuuki” was annoying to watch because I didn’t care about her in the first place. It’s one thing if an existing cast member gets stricken with something, or at least someone we’ve known in the show for a while, but introducing new characters so you can kill them off to developing other characters isn’t going to wring any tears or feels from me. Ho hum, was my general feeling throughout the arc.

The most excitement I got was from imagining at first that Asuna’s “fiance” Yuuya might be Yuuki in disguise, but that went out the window when she called Asuna “nee-chan.” Not to mention Asuna’s name and avatar look exactly like her so there’s no way her “fiance” wouldn’t recognize her in-game. So instead it’s just some random character brought into the game to teach Asuna that it’s important to talk to your mother by making her play a video game…? Or something like that was the moral. Anyway it worked and Asuna’s mother agrees to let her stay in her current school instead of transferring.

Honestly I thought Asuna’s mom was on the right track with a lot of things, especially with how much time Asuna spends in the virtual world versus the real world and the importance of studying hard and getting in a good college. Even the tightest group of online friends won’t last forever. In the end you still have to come back to real life. That’s why it’s good that they didn’t make Asuna-mama out to be an out-and-out monster. Just a little stubborn and quick to turn away from what she doesn’t want to see, just like her daughter. And in the end she doesn’t make a 100% sudden turnaround but is just a little bit softer towards Asuna. That’s nice. We really could have gotten to that point in 4 episodes instead of 7 but still nice Bad arc with a good end, more or less.

Overall: Just like the first season, Sword Art Online II had a cracking good first arc and then the second half of the season was just meh. Gun Gale Online is probably my favorite game in the show. As a bonus it introduced best girl Sinon. Good drama, action, even a bit of tragedy (poor Pale Rider) and a set up for future arcs. The second half was meh but had some character development for Asuna. And those of us who were disappointed at how chickified she had become since SAO got to see her actually do some stuff for a change. It was a good watch, an above-average show, more or less. I don’t know if I want to watch any more or not – I’m certainly not interested in the reading the light novels – but we’ll see.

Sword Art Online II – Watched Gun Gale Online arc (spoilers)

That’s episodes 1-14 of Sword Art Online II, if I recall correctly. It started a bit slow but picked up dramatically and was a great arc overall. A few niggling flaws here and there, but it managed to recapture much of the tension and drama of the very first Aincrad arc.

SummaryIt has been nearly one year since the Sword Art Online incident, and a new VRMMORPG known as Gun Gale Online has taken Japan by storm. One day, a cloaked man calling himself and his weapon “Death Gun” fires a bullet another player’s avatar. A month later, Kirito meets Kikuoka Seijirou of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Virtual Division, who reveals that Zexceed’s user was found dead of acute heart failure a few days after his avatar was shot. Kikuoka, believing Death Gun is specifically targeting professional GGO players, asks Kirito to infiltrate Gun Gale Online and investigate what is causing the victims to die. 

Of course the whole Kirito as unstoppable overpowered MC trope is taken even further in this arc where he becomes the very best player in the game within two days of starting it, all while using a sword instead of a gun like everyone else in the whole game (Silly Kirito, taking a sword to a gunfight). Nobody in the game is able to stand up to him so the ultimate conclusion of the arc is never in any question, but there’s still a lot of interest and intrigue and drama to be found in speculating about who exactly Death Gun is, how he kills his victims and what his motive is.

Spoilers: I suspected Shinkawa from the start. I had no choice because despite the fact that the hero is in a committed relationship, Sword Art Online is still a harem show. That means no heroine is allowed to fall in love with anyone except Kirito. That means Shinkawa was either the culprit (and he acted plenty suspicious) or he would end up dead. It’s really too bad he became evil because I thought he stood a real chance with Asada Shino. Sure she was attracted to Kirito’s looks and confidence, but it would only be a matter of time before she found out about Asuna and gave up. Plus the look of joy and pure relief on her face when Shinkawa came to her door in episode 14 shows how much she liked and trusted him. Way to blow it, smart guy.

For a brief moment I wondered if Shinkawa might be Pale Rider and thus a victim of Death Gun as well, but no one expect Kirito is allowed to suddenly start/restart a game and still be totally awesome so that ruled him out as well. Sucks being a guy in the Sword Art Online world, eh?

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were some funny moments in Sword Art Online II too, because on top of his expanding female harem, Kirito also went with a feminine-looking avatar this time so now he has a lot of male fans as well. I laughed aloud at the point where he went “Everyone cheer for me, okay? <3” Oh Kirito-kun, will your Gary Stu-ness never end? :-DDD

Well probably not, Kirito’s gotta Kirito after all, But to his credit the author Reki Kawahara did put a lot of work into humanizing Kirigaya and showing that it’s not all brightness and sunshine under the hood with him. He is still tormented by the things he had to do (specifically killing others) to survive in the world of Aincrad and some quality time is invested in the arc helping him come to terms, at least partway, with the consequences of his actions to himself and others.

His own past also helps him to play therapist to Shinon (best girl? but I like Asuna too) and help her cope with her unfortunate gun-related past. Honestly this is something her mothers and counselors and the rest of her family should have helped her deal with long ago, but it’s not Sword Art Online if Kirito doesn’t get to save the day time and time again so we’ll roll with that. I thought it was very sweet – if a little cheesy and overwrought – for the woman whose life she saved that day to reappear and thank her personally. And it’s good that they don’t show her magically overcoming everything immediately but rather taking several small but important steps forward. It’s good, believable progress and quite touching to watch.

All that drama and character development almost makes up for the few petty flaws in the arc. Like Asuna and co. being reduced to wallpaper and cheerleaders yet again. And the slow bits of the show like watching Asuna watch TV (zzz) or the episodes Kirito and Shinon spent crying to each other in the cave – important for character development but still a bit boring to watch.

And of course Kirito barging into Shinon’s apartment to confront a murderer – unarmed, without backup, without a plan, nothing. And then being hit with a poison syringe but not dying because of all the spots on his torso the syringe could have hit, it hit the exact spot that was covered with an electrode from the hospital. Riiiight. *rolls eyes* And of course they sit around and cry some more after knocking out Shinkawa instead of immediately hightailing it out of the apartment to safety. What if he got up again and attacked them? What if he was faking being knocked out? What if he had an accomplice close by?

But still, it was a fun watch so I’m willing to overlook a few things. I’m glad I binge-watched it because it’s way more fun that way. And I’d better not praise the rest of Sword Art Online II too highly too soon, since it might turn out to be like the previous season with a great first arc and a mediocre second one. I’ll have to find to marathon the rest of it and then give my final thoughts.

Watched a few episodes of The TETSUWAN Dash!!

The TETSUWAN Dash!! (ザ!鉄腕!DASH!!) is a Japanese TV variety program that airs on Nihon TV and stars the members of Japanese boyband Tokio getting up to various hijinks. I say “boyband” but the member of Tokio are all past 40 by now and one episode even had two of them figuring out ways to burn fat and stay trim even in their late 30s.

How did I discover this program? Mostly by chance. I was browsing around some Japanese media fansites and saw a comment somewhere mentioning how much Japanese fans hate Taichi Kokubun, one of the members of Tokio. I browsed about a bit more and found a thread translated from 2channel about how much they hated him. TBH 2channel is just a bunch of trolls who shouldn’t be taken seriously and AFAIK Kokubun is actually one of the most popular members of the group. But long story short, someone in that thread mentioned The Tetsuwan Dash, I started googling around and quickly found this:

Lots and lots and lots of old The Tetsuwan Dash episodes! Yay! The video quality isn’t the best so some stuff can be a little hard to see sometimes, but it’s more than good enough for keeping up my Japanese while watching stuff that isn’t completely inane (i.e. doesn’t involve AKB48 or the likes).

As a bonus it’s actually a very educational show. Parts of it are a little boring and just have two members driving around Japan in a solar car ooh-ing and aah-ing over the local sights, but the Dash Village (Dash Mura) sections teach me a lot about small-scale farming. The first episode I watched taught me about cross-pollination as the team attempted to crossbreed two varieties of rice. It was a tremendous amount of effort, especially since one breed was growing faster than the other so they had to rig a hothouse over the slower one and transplant the faster one to somehow regulate the speeds, then they had to manually pollinate some of the rice and in the end a lot of the crop was still lost to disease, and on and on. Lots of very interesting, very educational drama.

In another episode I learned about how corn is pollinated – I always wanted what those long silky fibers on the end were for. Turns out each fiber is connected to a potential grain on the cob. The fiber absorbs the pollen, passes it down to the cob and then a grain grows on that spot on the cob. Fascinating stuff, I had no idea. Furthermore, the point of growing all that corn on the farm was to create silage. I know the term “silage” and I’ve seen silos on farms and stuff but I had no idea what was actually inside. They cut up the corn, put it in rubber bags, buried it and let it ferment, and then dug it up later and fed it to the goats. I learned so much from that episode alone.

Unfortunately it turns out that Dash Village was located in Fukushima Prefecture. It became heavily irradiated after the TEPCO incident in March 2011 and has been evacuated. Even worse, the knowledgeable old farmer who does all the teaching passed away in 2014 at the ripe old age of 84. That means no more Dash Village episodes anymore, awww :-< But I haven’t gotten that far yet. The episodes I’m watching date back to 2008 or so, so I still have a while left to get there.

The other variety parts of The Tetsuwan Dash can be hit or miss. The driving around in the solar car bits are usually quite meh. The reactions of the guys in the car are so fake, it’s pretty obvious that everything’s been set up in advance and they aren’t just randomly happening upon random fishermen who randomly take them out for fishing. How young do you think we are. But other segments can be fun, especially when the guys get involved in doing something physical like the exercise segments I mentioned at the top.

Overall it’s a very enjoyable program with likable hosts (even Kokubun!) and a high educational factor for both Japan/Japanese and general knowledge. And Kokubun isn’t as bad as the trolls make him out to be, even though he does seem to do less work and eat more than the others, haha. Give it a try if you’re looking for a (relatively) intelligent Japanese TV show to practice your Japanese listening skills, especially at the advanced level. If you’re a fan of Tokio, all the better!

58th Kohaku Utagassen rundown (2007 edition)

It’s been a year and a half since I did my rundown of the 57th edition. I really didn’t mean to let such a long gap elapse between posts, but that just shows how far my interest in Kohaku has dropped. The show has been losing ratings in Japan for a while, and there’s good reason for it – it’s gotten boring. It’s trying too hard to stay relevant and “entertain” with silly skits and interludes instead of letting good music (when they bother to have good musicians and not merely popular ones on) speak for itself. I still haven’t watched any of the recent ones or even downloaded the 2015 version, but maybe I’ll get round to it when I have time.

The 58th Kohaku Utagassen (2007) aired back when I still liked the show and was still quite crazy about Japanese music. I even did a quick post on it back in 2009, which you can use as a handy tl;dr because this is going to be quite a long post as usual. Expect a lot of gushing over beautiful kimonos and grumbling about dumb skits and very little else in between. Let us commence!

Introductory skit with Tsurube being his vulgar self and Nakai already showing signs of exasperation with him. Shortly before this show aired, Tsurube was in the news for an incident involving indecent exposure, so if you hear Nakai making any “porori” comments (like the sign on his fan), that’s what it’s all about.

Everyone’s lined up on the stage for the start of the show, the usual stuff. Introduction of the hosts and guests and stuff. Looks like Tsurube made a mistake in the introduction, though he could have done it on purpose. Annoying scene. Let’s start already.

1. Hello! Project 10th Kōhaku Anniversary Special Group – Morning Musume (10) Berryz Kobo (debut) Cute (°C-ute) (debut) – “Special LOVE Mix ~Shiawase no Heisei 20 Shunen Ver.~”

ハロー!プロジェクト10周年記念紅白スペシャル隊 – モーニング娘。(10)Berryz工房(初)℃-ute(初)-  Special LOVE Mix 〜幸せの平成20周年 Ver.〜

The last year Momusu appeared on Kohaku, if I’m not mistaken. Certainly the last year they were relevant in any meaningful way. I like Love Machine, so that’s good enough. So many girls on the stage I don’t even know which one to focus on. Are they lip-synching? Wait, of course they are. Haha, great scene of the judges looking bored. I sympathize, honest.

Berryz Koubou and Cute are definitely lipsynching. Hurry up and end already.

2. Kenichi Mikawa (24) “Sasoriza no Onna 2007”
美川憲一(24) さそり座の女 2007

Aghhhh, another rendition of Sasoriza no Onna from Mikawa Kenichi. A technopop version kind of thing? What a waste of a great voice. He of all people didn’t need to resort to playing dress-up to be relevant. Apparently the catch phrase of the year was “dondake” so he has some gay/transgender buddies show up to do some sort of dance or something. Mercifully short segment. Dondake!!!

3. Ichirō Toba (20) “Kyoudai Bune”

鳥羽一郎(20) 兄弟船

Last year’s Kyoudai Bune went down well, I suppose, so he’s repeating it again. I’m really happy. At least something I can sink my teeth into. I like this song. Akiko Wada is singing along, the rest are just clapping along politely. Ugh, my DVD is scratched ;____;  I like to burn episodes to DVD so I can watch and type at the same time. *sigh* Guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.

4. Miyuki Kawanaka (20) “Kanazawa no Ame”
川中美幸(20) 金沢の雨

A song about a married couple, which is why Nakai dedicates it to Jinnai & Noriko Fujiwara (before their subsequent messy divorce). More polite clapping except Akiko Wada again. I love her hair decorations. The kimono design is interesting, though for some reason the weave makes it look like a bathrobe ^.^;; I don’t think I’m going to get my usual kimono fix this year. Sweet but typical enka song.

Introduction of the guest judges. Ho hum. Jinnai and Fujiwara are there not for any achievement they made that year but because they got married and everyone made a fuss about it. Famous for being famous. Though I later discovered that Jinnai is actually a pretty funny comedian.

5. w-inds. (6) “Beautiful Life”

Aww w-inds, my Kohaku won’t be same now that you guys have disbanded. This is fun to watch, actually. The little kids are cute. And the song isn’t too terrible. In fact I rather like it. This the nil se bonum principle applied to a boyband, isn’t it?

6. Mitsuko Nakamura (12) “Danjiri”
中村美律子(12) だんじり

My first time seeing Mitsuko Nakamura perform, at the time. Very taut neck skin, alias facelift. It looks pretty uncomfortable, tbh. Interesting hairdo and outfit. It’s a bit hard to know what to focus on with all the gymnastics going on in the background. Nothing special about the song.

7. Takeshi Kitayama (3) “Oga Hantou” 北山たけし(3) 男鹿半島

More gymnastics. Nice sparkly tie, I want. Another song that doesn’t make much use of his quality voice. Hmm, just an okay song. Rawr, you have to be man, rawr, but watch these people teeter unsteadily on each others’ shoulders first. The gymnastic people are known as “Muscle Musical” or something like that. Brief, pointless performance.

8. Yōko Nagayama (14) “Jonkara Onna Bushi”
長山洋子(14) じょんから女節

I like this song and the vivid purple accents on her outfit. Go on Yoko, show that shamisen who’s boss! The backup players look a bit stagestruck. Powerful, passionate belting out of the tune, that’s what is needed to lift these standard enka songs above the ordinary. Full points to Yoko Nagayama, especially for that flourish at the end.

9. Exile (3) “Lovers Again ~Kōhaku Version~”

I’ve never seen the point of Exile, sorry. I guess they’re better singers and dancers than SMAP (even the frogs in my pond are better singers than Nakai). Apart from that. …Umm… They look kind of old to be prancing around like ballerinas like that. Umm… yeah.

10. Mihimaru GT (2) “Gazen Yeah!” (俄然Yeah!)

Mihimaru GT again! Don’t forget to “crap” your hands!! It’s a catchy song actually. Not as catchy as the dancers are trying to make it out to be, but a job is a job. Who’s that on the side with the flag… oh, she gave it to the singer. Ah so.

11. WaT (3) “WaT Kōhaku Selection”

Everyone keeps hurrying Tsurube along when he starts to talk. Even Wentz wants him to shut up so he can go stand by. Medley of WaT songs for those who like that sort of thing. Nothing in this for me.

Stupid, stupid skit backstage, but it’s interesting to see what things are like back there. Would have been better without Tsurube – I can only imagine the bashing he must have received from viewers that year.

12. Angela Aki (2) “Sakura Iro”
アンジェラ・アキ(2) サクラ色

Angela Aki has a few songs I like, like “Home” but this one is very forgettable. I have watched this Kohaku a few times, but I can’t remember this song for the life of me. Sit down and play your piano, girl. Then again I’m the one who advocated passionate performances and this is certainly one. Just wish I liked the song better.

13. Akira Fuse (23) “Kimi wa Bara yori Utsukushii”
布施明(23) 君は薔薇より美しい

Akira Fuse can really do a number on this song (in a good way) given the chance, but I’m guessing he’s performed it so many times on Japanese TV that they felt the need to spice it up with a jazzier instrumental and some “sexy” rather similar-looking ex-Takarazuka actresses. Both additions ruin the song, IMO. Also his boring black suit clashes with the fancy red evening gowns the ladies are wearing. Wear something more Vegas if you want to go that route. These are hardly love song lyrics, either. “You were really boring before but now you’re sexy so I want you.” Get lost, creep!

14. Kaori Kōzai (15) “Mugon Zaka”
香西かおり(15) 無言坂

Hold on, I have to mentally psych myself for the screechy “zakaaaa” at the end. Phew, okay, ready. The kimono and hair decs are both disappointing. And the girls in the background aren’t adding a single thing. Oh, the “zakaaaa” wasn’t as horrible as I was expecting. She must have taken singing lessons after last year.

Some interim voting for One-Seg etc.

15. Kiyoshi Maekawa & Cool Five (17) “Soshite, Kobe”
前川清(&クール・ファイブ)(17) そして、神戸

Moody Katsuyama must be one of those flash-in-the-pan celebrities who come and go in every showbiz in the world. I love this song though, so it’s cool. Nakai making fun of Tsurube for the 10th time isn’t though. Ooh, love this song. Koobeeee~ Not even Maekawa bursting into laughter at the end could spoil the performance. The subtle sparkles in his suit make everything better.

16. Kaori Mizumori (5) “Hitori Satsumaji”
水森かおり(5) ひとり薩摩路

Another long dress to hide the platform shoes. Very fancy stage with the dancers and wispy things. I like it. Typical heartbreak enka song though. Ooh, more wispy things in different colors. Nice and colorful!

Oshirikajirimushi Special Stage

Sekine and daughter + Taka and Toshi introduce the skit. Oshirikajirmushiiii. So cute! Kajitte kajiite kajitte nanbo! The kids are even cuter. Awwwwwwww~ Even Tsurube got in on the act. He seems to be having fun.

Results of the early voting. White team is ahead. Won’t these things influence the final score? Not sure it’s the best idea. Then some random conversation introducing the next performances.

17. AKB48 (debut), Leah Dizon (debut), Shoko Nakagawa (debut) “Nihon ga Hokoru Saisentan! Special Medley”
AKB48(初)リア・ディゾン(初)中川翔子(初) 日本が誇る最先端! スペシャルメドレー[12] (会いたかった(AKB48)、恋しよう♪(リア・ディゾン)、空色デイズ(中川翔子)、なんてったってアイドル)

New and hot on the scene, AKB48 make their first appearance. Little did anyone know what horrors had just been unleashed on the world, brr! Haha, actually I don’t care anything about them. Aitakatta, aaa itakatta, no! They’re just there to prance and look pretty while the song plays in the background.

Leah Dizon has yet to make a proper comeback. She’s not lip syncing, at least, I can tell because she sounds horrible. It’s hard for those body-promoting “singers” to last long because there’s always someone younger or cuter or willing to show more flesh. That probably why Shokotan decided to go after the loyal otakus instead. Okay enough already, next segment please. Haha, funny shot of Yui Aragaki looking totally baffled during the performance of Nante tatte Idol. Then again she always looks baffled.

18. Kome Kome Club (5) “AiKimi Roman”
米米CLUB(5) 愛君浪漫

Yay, Kome Kome Club! YEAAAH! Welcome back! I always like the ultra-exaggerated, clear way Ishii enunciates his words. It’s very good for learning Japanese if you’re working on that now. I love their music too. I like this new Aa Roman Hikou song too. Highly enjoyable stuff, almost makes up for the “idols” that came before.

More conversation between Ishii and Tsurube then interrupted by Nakai. No fun.

19. Ayaka (2) “Peace Loving People ~Special Piano Version~”
Rather pedestrian song. Then she’s joined by Kobukuro for a rendition of “Winding Road.” Dunno, don’t care. I should find something more to say… But I got nothing so let’s keep going. Okay, nice Steinway piano, I want one.

20. Porno Graffiti (6) “Link”

Tsurube has a bit of trouble pronouncing their name, but they don’t have any problem singing. This song didn’t make it into my top 5 of Porno Graffiti songs, but it’s not bad. Just seems a little generic. It sounds like something anyone could sing, if that makes sense. It’s a nice song though. The NHK Hall and the audience is surprisingly small for such a prestigious show.

Mogi Kenichiro released a game about brains or something and mutters about music massaging the brain or something. Some songs massage my brain but others molest it. Let’s see if I feel any smarter after this.

21. Sukima Switch (3) “Kanade”
スキマスイッチ(3) 奏(かなで)

Hmm, not really. Pretty standard song about parting and saying goodbye and stuff. Rather lukewarm reception from the audience as well, maybe because the song seems to come to an abrupt end.

22. Natsuko Godai (14) “Fune”
伍代夏子(14) 舟

At first glance her kimono seemed rather plain, but once she gets up on the stage you realize it helps he stand out from the girls in the background, so that’s good. Shokotan trying to steal some attention from behind is kinda cringeworthy, though. Tsurube even has a go at her. Forgettable song and performance.

23. Masato Sugimoto (debut) “Waremokō”
すぎもとまさと(初) 吾亦紅

One of the hit songs of the year, in the vein of an apology to a late mother from her faithless, neglectful son. Masato Sugimoto had been a singer for decades before Waremoko finally put him on the map. Nice, moving song, though it didn’t turn out to be the massive seller Tsurube predicted in his pre-performance spiel. Maybe a little too sappy even for sentimental Japanese listeners.

24. Amin (2) “Matsuwa’07”
あみん(2) 待つわ’07

15 years after they broke up they reunited for this performance. The lady on the left looks like an ex-coworker of mine so I like Amin a lot (lol). This song makes me break out in goosebumps, honestly. Even though I hate the “I’ll wait for you lyrics,” the harmony is just so perfect and simple, I love it. That “Matsu wa” with the echo is just too perfect.

25. Akira Terao (2) “Ruby no Yubiwa”
寺尾聰(2) ルビーの指環

Hasn’t been on Kohaku for 26 years. Ruby no Yubiwa was the No. 1 song for 12 weeks when it was first released. I myself have heard it several times, though not this funkified version which I quite like. This is the first time I’ve bothered to read the lyrics. Apparently his backing instrumentalists are all famous pro studio/session musicians, not that an amateur like me would know them. They all seem to be having a blast up there. My kind of show! *clap clap clap*

26. Ayaka Hirahara (平原綾香) (4) “Jupiter”

The song was a support song for a village/town that was destroyed a few years ago but has now recovered. I prefer the version of this same “Jupiter” tune by Gustav Holst that is set to I Vow to Thee My Country by Sir Cecil Spring Rice. Try to find a version sung by a mass choir at a funeral, I guarantee chills will run down your spine. As for Ayaka Hirahara’s version, it’s decent. Her performances usually come across as a bit lifeless  but she’s putting her all in this one, and that counts for something.

27. BoA (6) “BoA Winter Ballad Special”

They’re really rushing their introductions now, it makes me uncomfortable. I tend to like these simpler songs and performances so it’s nice that BoA was given a chance to shine. The song doesn’t do anything for me, though, and I think she’s screeching a bit on some of the notes.

28. Toshihide Baba (debut) “Start Line~Atarashii Kaze”
馬場俊英(初) スタートライン〜新しい風

Naito Daisuke invited to give some comments about perserverance because Baba started his singing career after being fired from his day job at 40. Naito says he tried twice to get the championship and succeeded the third time. Nice song. The teeth are his ‘charm point’ as they say in Japan, and I like his voice. He has a lineup of star backing instrumentalists from Kobukuro and kiroro and someone else, I think?

29. Masashi Sada (さだまさし)(19) “Birthday”

The theme song for a show by Tsurube and he talks on and on about his show and how 13 years ago he and Sada worked together to start the show until the producer comes and shoos Sada onto the stage. Nakai looks on pins and needles until Sada finally starts singing. It’s not that different from the “Kakashi” song he sang two years ago. Some scenes from their road trip or something. Hmm, not really necessary, the song is good enough on its own.

30. Fuyumi Sakamoto (19) “Yozakura Oshichi ~Ōmisoka Special~”
坂本冬美(19) 夜桜お七 〜大晦日スペシャル〜

Nakai forces the conversation to move on before Tsurube can start warbling and introduces Fuyumi along with a popular Noh actor of some sort. Saotome something. Yozakura Oshichi is my favorite Fuyumi Sakamoto song. She looks good in the delicately colored yukata, despite my preference for more dramatic outfits. An enjoyable performance despite the pointlessness of the crossdresser dancing in the background. Whoa, where did all the other background dancers come from? That’s cool. The sudden appearance, I mean, not those creepy hooded outfits. Nice flourish at the end. Sakamoto is no slouch herself.

More mid-way voting going on, something which doesn’t mean much in the long-term as far s I know.

Izumi Sakai Tsuitō Kikaku, Zard Film Concert Live stream, “Yureru Omoi” “Glorious Mind” “Makenaide”
坂井泉水追悼企画 ZARDフィルムコンサート中継「揺れる想い」「グロリアス マインド」「負けないで」

This was the year Izumi Sakai died after a bad fall suffered while undergoing cancer treatment. I was reasonably familiar with her music. She never performed at Kohaku so this is her way to show up, featuring never before released footage. Glorious Mind is the last song she wrote before she died, though she had about 300 other unreleased songs. Her producers are going to be rich! Someone reads a letter from her? …? Someone pretending to be her. It’s hard to die and have people write whatever they want to about you. Not that you care anyway since you’re kinda dead.

Okay, results of halfway voting appears. White team is winning. There’s a news break, but I don’t have that.

31. Sachiko Kobayashi (29) “Koizakura”
小林幸子(29) 恋桜

And now for my favorite Sachiko Kobayashi song. Preceded by young(er) SMAP all teasing Tsurube about wearing clothes this time. Quick shot of Gackt preparing for his stage, then some samurai is sent scurrying off… oh man, now I remember why I stopped watching Kohaku Utagassen.

But yay, Sachiko “Last Boss” Kobayashi singing Koizakura! I love this song. Love her shiny cherry blossom outfit too. I think I’m enjoying myself for the first time since I started this edition. “Anata ni chiritai~!” I wish she would sing the whole song, I like it so much. Whoa, that kaleidoscope behind her is truly blinding. Love it! Last Boss forever!

And then Tsurube and Nakai do something truly dreadful by going forward to try and study the outfit in more detail. That’s just not done, and they really shouldn’t be showing the stage going down and all that. It detracts quite a bit from the magic, which is just not right. I’m sorry, Ms Kobayashi.

32. Gackt (5) “Returner ~Yami no Shūen~Kieyuku Samurai e no Requiem~”
RETURNER 〜闇の終焉〜消え逝く武士(サムライ)への鎮魂歌(レクイエム)〜

Gackt as Uesugi Kenshin. He’s such a drama queen. A bad drama queen, but he seems to be having fun, so good for him. Man… what a drama queen… did I say that already? Whatever, this is fun bad drama. The whole thing is just a  long advert for that year’s NHK drama Furin Kazan. And I love Returner, easily my favorite Gackt song. I hope all these samurai extras got paid plenty of money. The double bass player seems to be having a little too much fun, lol. Lip synch away, Gakuto-kun!

33. Ai Otsuka (大塚愛) (4) “Chu-Lip”

Nakai quickly moving the conversation along before Tsurube can start rambling. Uh-oh, doushiyou, I like this song too! I like the part near the end where they go Nazo, Idenshi, Nazo, Idenshi. The crazy outfits just fit the crazy song and mood. Nazo, Idenshi, Nazo, Idenshi.

34. Tokio (14) “SEISYuN” (青春 SEISYuN)

This song was written by Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi, whose music I love. I remember liking this song, but let’s see if my memory was correct. Haha, they pulled out the Tokio leader’s picture from last year, I love that joke. ^_^ Oh yeah, I do like this song. It’s very Nagabuchi-like. The firey background makes it seem even more Nagabuchi. The only catch is, I really want to see Nagabuchi himself sing it. This guy’s voice is too nice (just like Nagabuchi’s used to be before he deliberately ruined it with cigarettes and alcohol, but that’s a story for another day). Anyway, fun song. Shinjiru no sa, towa to mirai to ashita wooooo! Wao, LOVE the flames in the back!

35. Noriyuki Makihara (槇原敬之) (2) “Green Days”

Aragaki Yui, whatever happened to her? Guess she’s still around somewhere. But she says she’s a fan of Noriyuki Makihara. So am I! And I’m a big fan of this song too. Wish they wouldn’t make it so obvious that they’re reading off the teleprompter. I really, really like this tune and his voice and the serious grey suit and the green background and everything. Looks like looking up at a forest ceiling. Very passionate, engaging performance Massugu ni, massugu ni nobiru~

Wahaha, Tomonori Jinnai and Norika Fujiwara back when they were still married. Lovely golden dress on Norika and nice hair and hair accessories.

36. Ayumi Hamasaki (9) (浜崎あゆみ) “Together When…”

“Together when” you stop divorcing them, Ayumi-chan! Simple dress and performance. Boring song and bad voice are the downsides. Aaaaagh, she can’t hold a tune. That’s one person who should really lipsynch. Honest, I don’t mind, please. She broke the chain of great songs I had going on. Boo, hiss. Let’s see if the next one can help get me back in the mood.

37. Kiyoshi Hikawa (8) “Kiyoshi no Sōran Bushi, YOSAKOI no Sōran Kōhaku Special”
氷川きよし(8) きよしのソーラン節 YOSAKOIソーラン紅白スペシャル

Okajima Hideki gives Kiyoshi some advice about working hard at age 30 and stuff. Pointless, I keep saying. Fun song, he seems to be enjoying himself as well. Dokkoisho! Dokkoisho! Whoa, talk about an energetic performance. I would break my back if I tried to dance like that! They do make Yosakoi look fun, don’t they?

38. aiko (6) “Shiawase” (シアワセ)

Oh, aiko. She seems so nice, but her songs are always so boring. I don’t think I have heard a single one I like. A delay in the setup means Nakai and Tsurube has to fill the gap with random chatter. Being a host isn’t easy. Shiawase is the Aiko song that comes closest to something I would listen to again, since it has a catchy beat. I like her hair too.

Some set up going on in the background that we probably shouldn’t be seeing. Tsurube and aiko reminiscing about Tsurube’s birthday party where aiko sang or something like that. They chat so long that Nakai has to interrupt Tsurube yet again.

39. Kumi Koda (3) “Ai no Uta”
倖田來未(3) 愛のうた

Kumi-chaaan in an unusually modest and understated outfit – by her standards, anyway. And I quite like this song too. What’s going on? The world is coming to an end, surely! But I’m happy I’m finally enjoying this show so it’s all good. Brilliant smile as always. I think there were rumors about Koda and Nakai dating that year, which is why Tsurube slyly comments about how cute she is afterwards.

40. Hideaki Tokunaga (2) “Koi ni Ochite -Fall in Love-“
徳永英明(2) 恋におちて -Fall in love-

Hideaki Tokunaga’s cover of Koi ni Ochite by Kobayashi Akiko, IIRC. I prefer the original especially since she doesn’t have to strain to hit the “te wo tometa” notes. She has longer, sweeter notes too, compared to Tokunaga’s shorter, breathier ones on the last notes of each line. Plus you’re not “just a woman,” Hideaki-kun! Look down! :-p Good song I listen to quite often.

41. Ataru Nakamura (debut) “Tomodachi no Uta”
中村中(初) 友達の詩

A man who had his genitals cut off and his gender “reassigned” in the mistaken thought that this would make him a “woman.” Tsurube reads a letter from his mother in a very dull, bland way. At least find someone who can put some emotion into the letter reading. According to wikipedia, Ataru Nakamura’s singing career was going nowhere until he came out about the sex change, then he got some brief attention and then went back to nothingness again. A shame because, criticism aside, it must be said that Ataru has a beautiful singing voice and this is a great song. The final “sore sura ayaui” line actually made me break out in goosebumps.

42. Ken Hirai (5) “Elegy”
平井堅(5) 哀歌 (エレジー)

Ooh, another song I like. As long as I don’t listen to the dark lyrics, that is. How long until Tsurube gets interrupted…? He really talks too much. He didn’t get interrupted, but he should have. It was funny at the beginning of the show when he said Hirai Ken would sing a song called “I am Japanese” though. He really does look Middle Eastern, maji de. Very enjoyable performance and great song. I normally watch it two or three times but this time I have to move on. Uuu, zannen.

Special performance: Misora Hibari x Ogura Kei “Ai San San” 特別企画 美空ひばり×小椋佳「愛燦燦」

Misora Hibari would have been 70 years old in 2007. Tsurube talks about how when he interviewed other stars they would always gush over Misora, then as usual Nakai cuts him short. Ogura Kei wrote the song Ai San San so he appears together with images of Misora in a sort of pseudo-duet. What a mess alcohol made of her life. Strong drink is a mocker, indeed. I love Ogura Kei’s soothing, steady, nasal delivery too. Beautiful, beautiful show.

The guest has hosted Kohaku before, I believe he said. More comments. Yakushimaru Hiroko is at Tokyo Tower. Very robotic recital of how special Tokyo Tower is to everyone or whatever. At the end of it, the tower will be lit in the colors of whichever side won, IIRC.

43. Saburō Kitajima (44) “Kaero Kana”
北島三郎(44) 帰ろかな

I like this version of Kaero Kana. The choir in the background adds some depth, so to speak. Why does Leah Dizon look so tearful? Does she somehow know she will fade completely from the public eye within three years of this show? Masaka. Sabu-chan! I’m a little surprised to see him this early in the show. Great rendition of a very moving song.

44. Yoshimi Tendō (12) “Chindo Monogatari ~Kizuna~”
天童よしみ(12) 珍島物語 〜絆〜

Hmm, a spiced up version of Chindo Monogatari? What’s with the “Kizuna”? Letter from her mom, She looks like her mother so much, lol. I see, “kizuna” means she lets everyone how powerfully she can sing by singing without backing before the standard instruments kick in. I’m impressed, I didn’t know she could sing like this. But I don’t know about this “exploding butterflies” dress…

45. Kobukuro (3) “Tsubomi”
コブクロ(3) 蕾

Blah blah, Tsurube says he wanted his old mom to see him on Kohaku, that’s why he accepted this job. Aw, Tsubrube, you shouldn’t have. No really, you shouldn’t have. He says he’s having fun, and so am I, when all’s said and done.

Tsubomi is the one Kobukuro song I almost like. Overwrought and melodramatic like all the others, but not bad, and hopeful in its own way. They wrote it in memory of one of their mothers, if I understood Tsurube’s spiel correctly. So I won’t be too hard on them.

46. Mika Nakashima (中島美嘉) (6) “Life”

Tired of of standing already? The hosts are sitting down. Even more talking from Tsurube about why he chose to host the show. He’s really boring. He wants to make people in poor areas happy when they see him on Kohaku. Nakai looks bored out of his balding little skull. Talk about a lack of chemistry.

Mika Nakashima standing straight up for a change. Nope, I was wrong, she’s stooping again. Very simple outift, okay song.  Meh. But I like the jewelry, the way the flashiness contrasts with the plain white shirt and sheer makeup. Me gusta. Ooh, the camera just wobbled! Someone must have bumped into the camera man.

47. Yo Hitoto (4) “Hanamizuki”

一青窈 ハナミズキ

Nakama Yukie! Wasn’t there a rumor of a relationship between Nakai and Nakama? Or something else? Yo Hitoto was in New York during 9/11 and was inspired by the attack to write the lyrics of “Hanamizuki.” Japanese sign language signers interpreting her song in the background. I wonder how it differs from American Sign Language? I’m not really playing attention to the song because that’s the only song Yo Hitoto ever sings so I’ve heard it hundred of times before. Signing the last few lines doesn’t change that, I’m afraid.

48. Masafumi Akikawa (2) “Sen no Kaze ni Natte”
秋川雅史(2) 千の風になって

His breakout hit from last year. I already gave my thoughts on it last time, so you can refer to the previous post for that. It’s even sadder that someone has written a letter in about how much they miss their late husband but are comforted because he’s now turned into wind… I’m sorry for your loss ma’am, but your husband hasn’t turned into anything, least of all wind. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Anyway, we’ll leave it at that this time. Akikawa sounds a little dull and muted this time. Or maybe he’s tired from singing that song 300 times a year. Is that door in the back supposed to signify the door of hope opening or something?

49. Dreams Come True (12) “A-I-SHI-TE-RU no Sign ~Watashitachi no Mirai Yosōzu~” (ア・イ・シ・テ・ルのサイン 〜わたしたちの未来予想図〜)

Miyazaki Aoi, stop staring so blatantly at the teleprompter. Brief introduction to all the concerts Dreams Come True held that year. Whoa, that’s a lot of people! I’m relieved they’re not singing Nandodemo this year… They seem to be having fun, though I don’t particularly like or dislike this song. S’aight.

50. SMAP (15) “Dangan Fighter Kōhaku SP” (弾丸ファイター 紅白SP)

I haven’t been waiting for this. They’re running out of time so again the announcer prods them to get ready for their performance. Well, whatever. Let’s get this over with. What are they wearing, vinyl sheets? No wonder they’re quitting being a boyband, lol. They start out lipsynching “Dear Woman” before moving on to Dangan Fighter… with extra vinyl sheets. And my DVD is skipping again. Oh, it’s fixed. Just when I’d found the perfect excuse to skip this performance ::_:: Boring, boring, song, boring choreography. The plastic makes me want to go on a picnic, that’s about it. Yo gotta power through this performance so you can get to the finale.

Yū Aku Memorial Corner
阿久悠追悼コーナー

Aku Yuu was a famous lyricist who wrote the lyrics of many classics of Japanese pop music in the 70s and 80s. I watched a documentary about him shortly after he passed away, which I thought I mentioned on this blog but I guess I didn’t. They did a good job of making Aku Yuu look good, but also made Yamaguchi Momoe look like a cold witch, to put it politely. Such a good job, in fact, that it took a while for me to warm up to her music.

For our last performances, we have 4 songs written by Aku Yuu, though honestly you could fill the whole show with songs by him, with very good results. Let’s enjoy these last few songs.

51. Akiko Wada (31) “Ano Kane wo Narasu no wa Anata”
和田アキ子(31) あの鐘を鳴らすのはあなた

She’s performed this song many times in many different renditions. I like this particular one, and the stark white dress and simple backing vocals that don’t drown her out – though you would have to wake up really early to drown Akiko Wada out. Those are the girls from Berryz Kobo and C-ute, aren’t they? No wonder they can’t make an impact.

52. Shinichi Mori (40) “Kita no Hotaru”
森進一 (40) 北の螢

Wooot! A song from Mori Shinichi that’s not Ofukurosan. An excellent song that features regularly on my playlist despite the dire but poignant lyrics. Hooo hooo hotaru, tonde yuke, koishii otoko no mune e ike. Pure and classic, no frills attached, none needed.

53. Sayuri Ishikawa (30) “Tsugaru Kaikyō-Fuyu Geshiki”
石川さゆり(30) 津軽海峡・冬景色

Aku Yuu really was the master of the “meikyoku,” and his lyrics were perfectly set to song by songwriter Miki Takashi. And then Ishikawa Sayuri interprets the finished song perfectly as usual. There’s no time for a real introduction, but she needs none. Interesting kimono, though I’m annoyed they rushed the start of the song. How many trees and how much paper was sacrificed to make that fake snow?

54. Hiroshi Itsuki (37) “Chigiri” (Promise)
五木ひろし(37) 契り

One of my favorite Japanese songs of all time. I heard it once many, many years ago and it haunted my dreams for ages until I finally found it again and could listen to it often enough to blunt the edge of the effect… or so I’d hoped, but it’s still as powerful as ever no matter how many times I hear it. Great song. Ai suru hito yo, sukoyaka ni. Makes me want to cry. Snf. Beautiful, beautiful.

55. Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana (世界に一つだけの花) → Hotaru no Hikari (蛍の光)

Tch. The show should have ended with Chigiri. SMAP is such a comedown from that. At least they shouldn’t have let Nakai sing. The white team wins and Tokyo Tower is lit… blue?? to celebrate. That final performance by Hiroshi Itsuki alone should have won them the night. But the red team had some good, powerful performances too. And the DVD is skipping again so… That’s enough then. Good show, everyone!

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