This article will finish out this series on the career of Mano Erina in Hello! Project. At the time, I was feeling some Mano fatigue. To this point, her career is best categorized as “uneven.” When she was on her game, her singles were the kinds of singles that brighten a sad wota’s day. Erina’s smile got her a free pass on her weaker singles, but this was wearing thin.
Single 10 “My Days for You”
There’s no good way for me to describe this single other than magical. Everything just works well. Like the best of her singles, the track features an inspired live instrumentation. The drum work and the bass work are top notch without going over-the-top. The drums are particularly wonderful as fills climax into rhythmic accents on the hat. The piano lightly tracing out the chords in conjunction with a nice acoustic guitar during the verses. The bass sounds deep and full as it punctuates its lines with slides and melodic fills (listen to the way he plays the bridge!). Strings, background singers, and an excellent understated guitar solo bring this song to another level of idol music.
Mano’s vocals are also perfectly played in the single. Whereas I criticized Mano for the lack of emotional punch in her vocals, “My Days for You” delivers a subtle emotional yearning that leaves my teary-eyed (really!) even without a strong (or any) Japanese language foundation. Mano’s simple voice makes the message more believable as she purely pines for “you”.
The PV is a deceptively single camera piece that follows Mano Erina around an empty city as she reminisces about a lost love. She is fashionably styled in a long dress and incredible heels, but not sexed up in any way. Mano stops and takes pictures through an old film camera, seemingly trying to find her memories through the lens. Along the way, we are treated to Mano in mundane, yet important places like bicycle stalls, playgrounds, apartment complexes, the edge of a river, and a smokestack (which is the closest we will get to a boy in this PV- clearly symbolic of her old flame). I just adore the tracking shots of Erina on the playground apparatuses. In particular, I love the playground slide shaped like a nautilus shell. In the end, Mano stares up at the sky with a setting sun behind her, perhaps symbolizing Erina moving forward.
This PV and song are Mano Erina at her best. If I haven’t gushed enough for you, please leave a comment and I’ll do more. I love love LOVE this release.
Single 11 “Doki Doki Baby/Tasogare Kousaten”
For a change of pace, Mano Erina released a double A-Side single as her followup. I’ll give each of them a fair shake here.
“Doki Doki Baby”
To my eyes, this song plays like the sequel to “Genkimono de Ikou!”. It’s not nearly as hyperactive as “Genkimono”, but it is similarly upbeat and catchy. Mano finishes each chorus with a chant of “Doki, doki, doki, doki baby!” much like the chanting in the “Genkimono”. The chorus contains a call-and-response that didn’t particularly grab me, but is memorable enough. Generally speaking, this song left me with the “doki, doki” in my head more than any other part of the song.
The PV starts with Mano under an umbrella in alone in Akihabara. As would be for the rest of Mano’s PVs, a significant portion of the shots are filmed on location- Akihabara in this case. The girls in geisha dress that serve as her background dancers show up midway through the PV when she passes them on an escalator. We see the geishas take a photo with a tourist. When the PV ends, Mano passes the girls on the street one more time. The yellow geisha and she exchange glances, Mano smiles, and end scene. It’s a fun romp, but ultimately didn’t stick with me as much as the other A-Side.
My first impression of this song was that it was a rehash of “My Days for You”. Truthfully, there are many similarities between the two songs. The two songs share a very similar arrangement, and probably also the same musicians working in the background. That’s great for me- you will remember how much I loved “My Days for You”. For this song, I especially love the way the arrangement ends the chorus with half-note accents.
Mano Erina replays her her “yearning” character again in this PV. This time, the whole PV plays like a drama with additional characters (the boy), flashbacks (everything with the boy), and a short interlude with spoken dialogue (hug – “daisuki!” – melt). In contrast to the emptiness of “My Days for You”, this PV is so brimming with people that it is partly filmed at the famous Shibuya intersection (I think). Mano remembers accompanying her boy to the train station for his commute, playing basketball with him, and waiting for his return from work. The physical distance between the two lovers becomes an emotional distance, and Mano is alone even though she is surrounded by people. The twilight intersection in the songs title is either the place where the two lovers meet or is a metaphor for the intersection where their love falls apart. I prefer the latter, since I imagine this song and video as the prequel to “My Days for You”.
Single 12 “Song for the Date”
Mano flirts with electronics for the last time in her penultimate single, “Song for the Date”. Like I mentioned in past songs, I don’t believe that this sound is best for Mano. Her limited emotional delivery tends to get lost in the busy instrumentation. That said, she does a better job with this release than past releases. Erina is helped with a particularly strong chorus melody in “Song for the Date”. The titular date seems to be the date that Mano broke her relationship with the other person. The video hints that the “other” in this relationship is her idol-self.
Mano tries her hand at drama again for this PV. There are two Erina’s running through the abandoned seaside set of “Song for the Date”: ManoEri black and ManoEri white. Black dress Mano seems to be harassed by white dress Mano. Black Mano begins tied up in a spiderweb entanglement while White Mano taunts her with a poster of her smiling self. Black Mano breaks free and chases her doppelganger around. Along the way, Black Mano tears posters of her white self off the concrete walls. White Mano wears the trademark smile like a weapon in desaturated sequences. When White Mano literally wipes her smile off her face (to sometimes laughable results), color briefly returns to the frame. Black Mano sees White Mano projected onto the wall- seeming to symbolize the ephemeral true nature of White Mano. Black Mano sets fire to the posters of herself and finds White Mano’s empty dress and shoes caught in the same spiderweb.
I find the themes of this release quite complicated. At its surface, it’s another lost love song. Everything else associated release indicates that this song’s real message is a disassociation of Mano the person from Mano the idol. The real Mano feels trapped by her idol creation. I can see how being the upbeat and smiling Mano Erina can feel oppressive to a young woman like Erina. Mano Erina tells us she is more than the smiling face we see in the videos and magazines and posters.
The deep, multi-layered release “Song for the Date” was unsettling. On the one hand, I appreciated the new transparency for this idol. Mano Erina was no longer the little girl that started her career playing piano and smiling incessantly. On the other hand, Mano Erina was telling us that she didn’t want to be an idol anymore. This is how we knew the end was near.
Single 13 “Next My Self”
Mano Erina ends her career with the kind of song that I love. Of course, knowing that it is her last release heightens the song’s poignancy The live instruments are back, and she smiles her way through the PV while thanking her supporters. Although the verse is too repetitive for my taste, the bright, memorable chorus makes this song a classic. Mano’s voice sounds shines like her smile throughout the song. Even if the song is a goodbye, Erina doesn’t want to be sad. Mano brings joy to her fans, and this is her last opportunity to do her job. When Mano sings “Next My Self” in the bridge, I can’t help crying with joy.
The PV is her last masterpiece. Now sporting short hair, an older plaid-wearing Mano daydreams herself wearing a wedding dress and dancing together with her fans. She thanks them for their support in bows, waves, and smiles. Although Mano had background dancers for most of her career, she acknowledges that the people who really backed her up were a group of enthusiastic red-clad fans. The fans get their chance to share in the choreography of Mano’s life for the last time. When the wedding dress Mano exits the scene to a mosaic reading “NEXT MY SELF”, the real Mano appears and smiles for us one last time.
As Mano Erina begins the next chapter in her life, I can’t help but cheer for her. Erina made a singing career from nothing but desire and a million dollar smile. I always consider how difficult it must have been for Mano as a solo artist among groups of girls. Unlike most of the Hello! Project girls, she had no generation-mates to pick her up when she was down. I really hope that she chases her dream with the same determination and honesty she brought to her idol career. As much as I am going to miss her releases, I’m glad I had a moment to dance with her like the fans in “Next My Self”.
To the reader: thanks for reading this and my other articles. Having just started this blog, I never got a chance to write anything about Mano Erina; I felt this might be my last chance. I will always remember the sheer joy that she brought to her releases. I admire the way she approached her career without pretension or cynicism. Hopefully, I can bring the same enthusiasm, love, and honesty to this blog. Mano Erina daisuki!