Picking up where I left off, Mano Erina’s graduation prompted me to take a good look at the career of the idol who I have seen grow from indie releases to idol graduation. At this point in my story, I am on an idol high from Mano Erina’s “Sekai wa Summer Party” release.
Single 4: “Kono Mune no Tokimeki o”
First, this is another ballad. I hate to give the impression that I don’t like ballads. I didn’t like this song too much when it was first released- too much of a downer. The song has a 50’s ballad sound that doesn’t grab me very much. “Kono Mune no Tokimeki o” has many things going for it: the song is played in a 12/8 time signature which I usually enjoy; the song avoids the short repeated melodies that annoy me; and S/mileage are back. The set contains a gorgeous piano decorated with fall leaves in a chandelier lit room flanked by staircases and a grand wooden door. In fact, the song and PV contains many of the things that should make this release stand out. There’s even a candle lit hallway that reminds me off “Wrapped Around Your Finger“. What’s missing here is an emotional vocal delivery from Mano Erina. Listening to it not, the song plays just fine. It plays great, even! Unfortunately, the vocal liability killed the song at the time.
Single 5: “Love & Peace = Paradise”
After the downer of “Kono Mune no Tokimeki o”, Mano returned with an uptempo “Love & Peace = Paradise”. The PV contained many cute elements; chief among which were Mano’s oversized, fuzzy earmuffs and beret, a pink pixelated background, and the ever-present S.mileage. So, yes I enjoyed this release more than the previous release. The chorus of the song was instantly memorable for the over-edited “pa-pa-pa-parapipu” line. Mano smiles cutely through the whole PV which was enough to impart a pleasantness to me. This song did actually serve to cheer me from my seasonal affectation disorder that year. Even though this release was pleasant, I began to feel the staleness of her singles creep. This song was a tweak on “Sekai wa Summer Party”, which was already a tweak of “Hajimete no Keiken”. Did Mano Erina only contain one good trick in her magical suitcase? I should mention that a “Hello Kitty” version of this song was released along with the single, but I chose to not listen to it. As far as I know, the “HK” version never made it to my iPod.
Single 6: “Haru no Arashi”
This single was the change of pace. While still upbeat, “Haru no Arashi” is a melancholy song. The arrangement is planted in electronica with percussive synth beeps and drum machine snares. I wouldn’t call this a dance song since it is too moody for that designation. This song matches Mano’s voice better than “Kono Mune no Tokimeki o”. Visually, Mano does lots of arm dancing in this PV with a new set of girls (two future Up Up Girls, one future S/mileage, and one future Morning Musume). For the elisive PV plot, Mano moves into a barren room and brings affectations of spring into the emptiness. Something like that. The song feels like a transition between the poppy young girl of her previous singles, and the woman who will inhabit her later singles.
Single 7: “Onegai Dakara…”
Picking up where “Haru no Arashi” left off, “Onegai Dakara…” is an improvement on the formula of the previous single. The single shows us a more mature Mano Erina wearing a short miniskirt in front of her background dancers. her dancing still consists of mostly arm movements, but for some reasons, they seem to work elegantly in this PV. The dance cuts are intercut with backstage footage of Erina as she goofs around wearing cheerleader outfits, fairy outfits, sailor fuku, a Chinese dress, a maid outfit and more (this sounds like Erina is transforming herself into otaku bait). This should be a mess of a PV, especially since the mood of the dance shots do not match the playfulness of the backstage footage. Yet, for some reason I think it all works together nicely. It is as if Erina is saying to us, “I am a serious artist, but I am still a playful, cheerful girl- I am all this and more”.
Single 8: “Genkimono de Ikou!”
And then Mano decides to give us another upbeat number complete with embedded wotagei. I enjoyed this song, although it never became one of my favorites- I was a bit turned off with all of the cheers. As I listen to it now, I am impressed with the instrumental track: the awesome TB player made his way back into this Mano single. It is not often these days that live instruments are used in Hello! Project songs, and listening to “Gekimono de Ikou” reminds me that idol music can (and often does) have nice live instrumentals. That said, the song still feels like it is one solid melody away from being too generic.
Let’s talk about this PV. You will notice that there was probably a casting call for all of the background characters. It’s also hard to ignore “red guy”. The set looks like bleachers from the set of an elaborate game show with bright red striped walls, lanterns and spot lights. Hello! Project, in an almost unprecedented move, brought in an outside director, Tsutsumi Yukihiko for this project. To further the randomness, the director’s cut of this PV implemented a comic book style and played like a commercial for an energy drink. Naturally, “red man” plays a much bigger role in this version. Really, check out this version of the PV- you will be met with Mano wielding a whip and harassing a salaryman’s household in the middle of the night. It’s a party, it’s freaky, and possibly the weirdest Red Bull ad ever committed to film.
Single 9: “”Seishun no Serenade”
The song begins with a persistent “la la la”. Mano is wearing a short cut red jacket with zippers in odd places (like Jacko around “Thriller”). Why is Mano dancing in a classroom? I dunno- I don’t really agree with the costume choice for the dance shots in “Seishun no Seranade”. Thankfully, the dance shots are intercut with Erina pensively wandering through her old campus. While Mano looks through her high school artifacts, a thick layer of Vaseline on the lens gives a nostalgic look to the footage. When she reaches the auditorium, Mano plays a single key on a piano located on stage. Instantly, the song ends. The piano note is the death bell to her childhood.
“Seishun no Seranade” looks to me like a goodbye to the old style of Mano Erina. It’s clear that she is reminiscing fondly on her past in this song. I think she is saying goodbye to her piano at the end of this PV. I’m still not the biggest fan of this song- it’s too much in line with the upbeat songs of her early career. Like most things, the song sounds better in retrospect.
At this point in her career, I was suffering from “Mano fatigue”. I didn’t feel that her songs lived up to the pure joy of “Sekai wa Summer Party”, and her attempts at introspection were thwarted by the limitations of her voice. Even though I enjoyed songs like “Onegai Dakara” and “Gekimono de Ikou…”, I felt that Mano Erina was in danger of stagnating in a puddle of half-baked Genki-ness. Just when I was about to write off Mano, though, she releases the best song of her career next.