I woke up this morning, and Mano Erina was no longer a member of Hello! Project. This is a shame for a few reasons. Firstly, Mano was finally breaking out of the virginal idol image and looking like a smoking hot young woman. This may (or may not) be a loss to all of us. Second, Mano began her solo career right around the same time that my obsession with idols began. Seeing her graduate closes a significant chapter in my life. I may not have been the most vocal Mano Erina fan, but I did appreciate her looks, her enthusiasm, and her contributions to the idol scene. I have now seen the full cycle of an idol’s career.
I’m going to spend the next few posts going through Mano’s singles and PVs for old times sake. I am not starting with her tenure in Ongaku Brilhantes; I am starting with her first indies release: Mano Piano.
Indie 1: “Mano Piano” (Skip to 2:00 if you don’t want the intro)
I remember being underwhelmed. As a music guy, I liked her piano playing as a change of pace from the pre-canned music of most idol offerings (not that she was playing anything terribly difficult- she wasn’t). She had a limited vocal range, but a pleasant and clear tone that never strayed off pitch. I was interested in seeing more of Mano. She was a beginner who had her future wide open. A smile like hers could open all sorts of doors.
Indie 2: “Lucky Aura”
“Lucky Aura” was more to my liking. The single was more uptempo, had more instrumentation, and was generally more interesting. Mano was playing the piano, but this time came back with a lively, staccato rhythm. The chorus ends with an unresolved line- which is rare in Jpop. The half-note rhythms of the verses are contrasted nicely with her piano lines and the quarter-and-eighth note rhythms of the chorus. One unfortunate thing that I did notice was a tendency to stick to the same vocal range and the short, repeated melodic structure of the song- these became too prevalant in her later singles.
Indie 3: “LaLaLa-SoSoSo”
In her last indie singe, Mano begins to stretch her range a bit. She is still the piano girl, and like “Lucky Aura”, “LaLaLa-SoSoSo” features an uptempo arrangement. Her piano playing is distinctive in the verses with it’s 8-beat rhythm. Things start to seem calculated, though. Again we have long notes in one part of the song contrasted with short rhythms in another part of the song. Overall, “LaLaLa-SoSoSo” shares the same heart as “Lucky Aura”, but doesn’t have the sparkle. This song was Mano’s last indie effort. The next we see her, she is playing with the big boys.
Single 1: “Otome no Inori”
To be honest, I snoozed through this single. It had all of the trademark loveliness of a Mano release, but was uninteresting. There was an official PV, finally. In reviewing for this post, the PV is nicely shot with Mano in various outfits and with themes of spring, awakening, and youth. It just didn’t work for me.
Single 2:”Hajimete no Keiken”
Well, how much things change from release to release. “Hajimete no Keiken” is the kind of upbeat, cheery song that I wanted from Mano. The instrumentals play with disco high-hats, lively strings, and a magical sounding celeste. I can forgive Hello! Project for not writing Prince a check for using the “Manic Monday” piano line. The PV contained a variety of shots of Mano playing around with sea shells,baby turtles and waterguns. And, doesn’t she look incredibly cute with those pink heart sun glasses? For the first time, Mano Erina removes herself from behind the piano and begins to dance in the flailing limbs and “jazz hands” way. Also, this is the first time that Mano Erina dances with the future S/mileage as her background dancers. More skilled than Erina, the background dancers add a nice visual emphasis to Mano’s limited dance repertoire.
Single 3: “Sekai wa Summer Party”
This song was magical for me. In many ways, it is a refinement of “Hajimete no Keiken”. The background dancers (S/mileage) return again, Mano is playing around with a parakeet instead of a turtle, and Mano uses a magical suitcase and globe for her props. Mano still flails around, but this time she adds a Charleston to her dance moves. S/mileage plays a bigger role in this PV, and are almost in danger of stealing the PV away from Mano Erina! The song itself is upbeat and lively. The bass guitar plays a very melodic groove (TB Player- he’s a real hero on this song). The chorus saves itself from the over-repetitiousness of her other singles with a long, ascending vocal line. This is, by far, the best release of Mano Erina’s early career. I’m watching the PV now and just marveling at the greatness of this 2009 release.
This song also holds a special place with me, since Mano Erina performed this song when I saw her at the 2010 to promote “Kai-Ki: Tales of Terror from Tokyo” at “Club 2 the MAX” in Club Nokia in Los Angeles. I left that event with the impression that however good Mano Erina looks in pictures, she is 100 times better looking in person. Remember that!
See you soon for Mano Erina singles 4-9!