Sakura Mankai in Hawaii

First, thank  you to Hello! SayuNii for hooking up a link to this version.  As I am writing this, I have yet to hear the version that was sung in Hawaii for the 2012 Fan Club Concert.  I’d like to express my feelings about this song- GAHHHHHHH.  More than anything, this is the one song that really made me a rabid fan.  Have you heard the original?  My God it’s gorgeous.  The instrumental is lush and filled with traditional (sounding) instruments (I’m not a Japanese music theorist).  The percussion track alone is worthy of listen- filled with shakers,  Taiko (sounding) drums, toms, cymbals, chimes, and bells.  Seriously, I could listen to the percussion work on this song alone.  It’s a damn orchestra piece all by itself.  I also love the bass guitar track- it’s melodic, deep, and adds to the song in ways that the best bass tracks often do.  The instrumental is filled with layer after layer of counterpoint melody and emphasis that builds into a whirlwind of a chorus complete with harp swells and glockenspiels.  Damn you , Tsunku.

Then there’s the girls.  The solo lines are breath-taking in their performance.  The way the composition breaths, the vocals of the girls are exposed in a way that their poppy dance numbers will never expose them.  We get to hear every vibrato, quiver and color of each girl.  Whenever I hear Kago Ai’s gentle vibrato  in the first verse, I shed a tear.  Even They deliver such an emotional performance that even if I don’t understand their language I feel the sentiment of the song.  I think it’s a masterpiece.  I don’t think I know of another Morning Musume song that delivers the raw, honest voices that Sakura Mankai offers.  If you don’t fall in love with the girls after listening, then I don’t know who hurt you ….

On to Hawaii.  Reading the member list, I get the feeling that MM is putting their best girls forward here.  We have Riho, Zukki, Mizipon, Haruka and (inexplicably) Haruna.  It is as if they know that these are their best singers, and they want to show them off a little.  Or maybe they want to get them some experience so that this song will really come alive in a bigger performance yet to come.

What strikes me immediately whilst listening to this recording is the lack of wota.  There is a general reaction when the song begins, and then they listen quietly to the song.  I don’t remember the last time I heard a live performance where everyone just listened.  To be honest, the performance is neither all bad nor all good.  It is what it is: a group of girls learning how to sing, and learning how to sing together.  Most importantly, the track is live without a preponderance of backing vocals- this is all them.  Riho starts us off with a strong sounding voice with s gentle vibrato that struggles a little to find her pitch.  Then we have Mizupon’s line.  She plays the rhythm hard and sounds very capable.  Next is Harunan sounding like the best version of Haruna, which is still a singer who hasn’t quite managed to get a handle on her voice.  Rounding out this part of the verse is Haruka.  She sings an identical rhythm as Mizuki, but doesn’t manage to sound as pleasing and, like Riho and Haruna, has a tiny problem finding pitch on her ending note.

In the transition to chorus, Zukki’s lines sound great.  She has really improved her singing from what I can hear on this take.  She handles the fifth interval much better than the other girls and has a pleasant tone whilst doing so.  After a short Riho line, the girls sing in unison.  This part is a bit of a mess.  Their unison does not match up very well since some girls are off pitch holding the last note before the chorus.  Thankfully, as the chorus progresses the girls get better (more practice is needed).  The chorus solo lines handled by Riho, Mizuki and Kanon sound decent enough.  Kanon’s habit of strangely cutting her notes and over-enunciating manifests itself in her line, Mizuki sounds lovely but without enough presence, and Riho sounds like she is forcing herself a bit.  In the end, I’m convinced that Riho needs to sound more like Mizuki and Mizuki needs to sound more like Riho.  Kanon needs to work on her phrasing, Haruka needs to work on her breath control and Haruna just needs work.

Reading over my comments, I think I leave the impression that I hated this performance.  Well, I didn’t hate it.  I acknowledge that this performance is nothing more than a dress rehearsal, and the girls sound like they are on their way.  No, it’s not anywhere near the perfection of the original version.  Just as an analogy, would you expect to go down to your local Middle School, collect 5 girls and expect them to sing and perform well without much practice?  I wouldn’t.  MM has a good set of girls that need to work on their performance harder than their counterparts at other agencies.  We need to expect more from Morning Musume.  There’s no shame in this.

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