Jacquie’s 2014 Year in Review – Music

2014 was unusual for me in that I didn’t listen to many singles during the year, to the extent that I will not be choosing a best single this time around, due to the lack of genuine contenders. There were, however, 3 albums that I really paid attention to. Here they are in order of release date:

A Silent, within The Roar, OLDCODEX

OLDCODEX released the strongest album of their career with “A Silent, within The Roar”, a very pleasant surprise as I found their previous albums to be disappointing, especially the last one, “CONTRAST SILVER” from 2012.

“A Silent, within The Roar” includes all their recently preceding anime themes, “Rage on” from Free!, “The Misfit Go” from Arata Kangatari, “WALK” from Kuroko’s Basketball S2, plus great new tracks which incorporate varied styles of music, such as metal, techno, and punk. Of course “CONTRAST SILVER” was creative and experimental too, but the songs from that record were much less accessible than these ones are.

My favourite song from all of 2014 is one of those album tracks: “wire choir”. I love the guitars and bass. And I love how the second set of verse and pre-chorus is different from the first set, and it’s so organic that you notice the change in feeling before you register the change in melody. It’s complex and heavy and melodic in the best way.

GALLOWS, lynch.

Compared to the OLDCODEX CD, “GALLOWS” by Nagoya-based lynch. is more heavy, more metal, but equally melodic. The individual songs don’t stand out as much from one another, but that also means there’s more consistency throughout the album. Like with OLDCODEX, I wasn’t expecting a lot going in, since I wasn’t that impressed with lynch.’s previous release either. Their “EXODUS” EP from 2013 had its moments, but I can’t say there was any track I really enjoyed all the way through. “GALLOWS” surprised me with how consistently good it is.

The best track, and my 2nd favourite song of 2014: “OBLIVION”. During the year, a few people might have gotten exposed to “GALLOWS” as a result of proximity to me or my car. To my surprise, just about everyone in that situation voluntarily expressed a favourable impression of “OBLIVION”. It’s that compelling.

The Revelation, coldrain

Early in 2014, coldrain, also hailing from Nagoya, signed on with an American music label, Hopeless Records. “The Revelation” is the resulting international debut release for the band.

This international edition, available on iTunes, has all the best songs from the 2013 Japanese album of the same name plus 5 additional tracks which were issued separately in their home country as part of the “UNTIL THE END” mini-album.

As with “GALLOWS”, there’s plenty of heaviness, screaming, and melody on display; and both records have a nice range of songs with varying tempo. But whereas lynch. tend more toward a visual j-rock sound, coldrain have a more western-style alt-metal sensibility.

“The Revelation” is a very well-rounded album, full of powerful, hooky melodies. Masato’s lyrics, which are all in English, are well-written, often featuring dark and angry themes, but at times reflecting hopefulness too.

It is actually difficult to select favourite tracks, since they are all so strong. It’s simply a great listen from start to finish!

Jacquie’s 2013 Year in Review – Top 10 Anime

Better late than never, here are my favourite anime shows of the past year, selected from the 45 or so titles I watched in entirety which finished airing in 2013:


#1. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) – This was the anime that really did capture my imagination. I looked forward to it week after week and it rarely disappointed. I was inspired to think about the mystery of the titans and to understand the motivations of the characters long after watching each episode. It also provided an ideal vehicle to showcase soundtrack composer Hiroyuki Sawano’s epic score, which was a perfect complement to the show.

The downside was that there was no conclusive ending; all the big questions remained unanswered at series-end. Also, at times the pacing was rather slow as some plot segments dragged on a little longer than necessary.

No sequel has been confirmed yet, but Attack on Titan enjoyed enough popularity, even beyond the usual anime fanbase, that we’ll certainly see one someday.


#2. The DEVIL is a Part-timer! (Hataraku Maou-sama!) – The series that got my highest rating of the year over at MAL, for its sharp humour, well-paced storytelling and lovable characters. The premise was pretty simple: Satan (Maou) and his subordinate found themselves magically stranded in modern-day Tokyo. They had no resources left to get home, so they had to do their best to make a life for themselves in the big city, including getting a job at MgRonald’s. It was brilliantly funny stuff.

The comedy wasn’t based on crazy hijinks, either. Instead, it was found in the day-to-day details that anyone who’s had to get used to a new environment or who’s had to work hard to make ends meet could relate to, with the added absurd spin that our protagonist was the devil himself, of course.

The negatives: no conclusive ending here either; also, the humour might work better on an audience with some prior familiarity with modern working class Japanese culture, with its references to 100yen shops and UNIQLO, for instance.


#3. Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club – My choice for the most rewatchable anime of the year. My sisters are Free! fangirls, so I have seen each episode several times, and you know, it really does stand up to repeated viewings.

Free! didn’t have the epic storyline of Attack on Titan, or the clever humour of Maou-sama, but it was very nicely animated, it had extremely well-developed characters and great execution overall.

Season 2 has now been confirmed and I couldn’t be more pleased.


#4. Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) – An intriguing story featuring a novel future setting, Shin Sekai Yori started strong in its first half. I felt it lost some focus during the second cour, but then the series came to a satisfying conclusion in its impressive final episode.

Along the way, the series’ faults were considerable: slow pacing in parts, inconsistent character art, weak main protagonist – I kept waiting for Saki to become the great, enlightened leader she was chosen to be, but it never happened.

Despite all that, the depiction of the darkness of human nature was a compelling theme. And this was a rare instance where an anime’s ending actually elevated my overall estimation of a show.


#5. PSYCHO-PASS – Some of the grotesquerie from the first cour was a bit of a turn-off for me. The show really picked up in the second half, though, offering interesting ideas and complex characters, including female lead Akane. All in all, the storytelling and pacing were good; and in spite of the dark theme, it was a fun series to watch.


#6. Chihayafuru 2 – I admit, I was not as enamored with this season as I was the first, but I found it solidly entertaining regardless. I loved the characters, and the series never bored me, even with the greater focus on Karuta gameplay.


#7. The Eccentric Family (uchouten-kazoku) – uchoten-kazoku featured a close-knit family of tanuki still coming to grips with things in the wake of losing the father, who died unceremoniously before the events of the series. Simultaneously magical, quirky, charming, and darkly humorous, the narrative was strongest and most heart-warming when the focus was on the very human characters (even though they weren’t human) of the main tanuki family.


#8. Valvrave the Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave) – Valvrave started out as an over-the-top action anime featuring a crazy mash up of mecha, high school, political intrigue, and vampire elements. It got away with a lot of ridiculousness by being clearly self-aware. But the story was never a joke. I think the show managed to achieve a good balance between the silliness and the seriousness.

In general, the large cast had impressively well-defined personalities. And L-elf was particularly entertaining, with his freakish smarts and unhesitating brutality, providing a good foil for main character Haruto’s earnest idealism.


#9. Kyousougiga – What made this series work were the great characters and their relationships with each other. Even though the setting and happenings were crazy and surreal, the show was grounded in the sympathetic members of the central family. The end result was a positive, life-affirming, feel-good experience.


#10. Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – This anime had a fair amount of satire and goofiness, much of it at the expense of the main characters, the members of Team Rabbits, AKA Fail Five. In particular, lovably dorky leader Izuru and boy-crazy Tamaki led the way for much of the humour. The show also featured a very convincing portrayal of GERD, and I felt for Asagi whenever his stomach acted up.

Ultimately though, Majestic Prince functioned reasonably well as a serious story about the protecting of humanity from alien threat. And finally, I can’t not mention the frequently impressive mecha battle sequences this show had; even a mecha-ignorant viewer such as myself could appreciate how good they were.
____________________________________________________________________

Biggest Regrets: Series that, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have bothered watching from beginning to end. Listed in approximate broadcast order with brief comment.

  • MAOYU (groan)
  • Love Live! School idol project (yawn)
  • RDG Red Data Girl (incomprehensible)
  • DEVIL SURVIVOR 2 The Animation (groan)
  • Arata the Legend (Arata Kangatari) (yawn)
  • GATCHAMAN CROWDS (incomprehensible)
  • BEYOND THE BOUNDARY (Kyoukai no Kanata) (whatever)
  • Galilei Donna (groan)

Jacquie’s 2013 Year in Review – Music

BEST SONGS:

01. QUIET, by the GazettE (B-side of FADELESS) – Early in the track, AOI’s pretty guitar riff and RUKI’s calm vocal melody are tempered by a few discordant, almost off-key notes from URURA’s guitar, signifying that all is not well. One can understand and come to accept that life and love cannot last forever. But no matter how prepared you are, that doesn’t make it hurt any less when the time comes to actually say goodbye. QUIET is a sad, sensitive song that could have easily been a ballad. But instead, the tempo is dynamic; and in the chorus, the percussion is just a little faster than you might expect, or want, as if to emphasize the merciless, inevitable passage of time. The result is visceral: so painful, but so incredibly beautiful too.

02. Out of Control, by Nothing’s Carved In Stone – Very catchy second OP of the PSYCHO-PASS anime. Nothing’s Carved In Stone’s music tends to be more raw-sounding than is my usual preference, and I think the connection with the anime probably helped me to open up to this song. I definitely warmed up to it. The awesome bass performance throughout is a stand-out feature.

03. REPLAY, by VAMPS – This progressive rocker was released as a tie-in for the “Dark Labyrinth” game, and I loved it from the first time I watched the fantastical game-themed PV.

04. TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, by the GazettE (from BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY) – Though stunningly good, it’s hard to compare this track with the other songs I’ve listened to throughout the year, since to me it’s so strongly connected to the album. In fact, the song doesn’t really seem complete anymore if it isn’t immediately followed by the outro CODA.

05. Nocturne, by Tomohisa Yamashita (B-side of SUMMER NUDE ’13) – My first, and I expect only ever, time to really like a Yamapi song!

06. Scarlet, by Alice Nine (B-side of SHADOWPLAY)

07. THE SWAN, by 12012 (from THE SWAN – EP)

08. BALLAD, by lynch. – Perhaps it was not very original-sounding in that lynch. have used this kind of melody and chords before. However, the result here was better than their usual.

09. THEATER, by ViViD

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides):


01. Rage on, by OLDCODEX (Rage on, Now I am, Swamp) – Rage on is angrier and harder than what might normally be expected from an OP of a cute Kyoto Animation series like Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. This single would have sold well simply from the association with the highly anticipated swimming anime. They could have half-assed the coupling songs, but they didn’t. Instead, Now I am and Swamp are great songs in their own right, and even heavier than Rage on! As a result, I feel OLDCODEX disseminated rock music to a potentially new, unsuspecting audience; and that’s consistent with my personal agenda.

02. Soukoku no Tsuya, by Sadie (Madara, Setsugekka, face to face) – Arguably, Sadie might have sounded a bit derivative on these tracks, channeling DIR EN GREY and the GazettE more than usual. Nevertheless, or maybe because of it, they succeeded in assembling a powerful single record with these 3 songs.

03. FADELESS, by the GazettE (FADELESS, QUIET, FORBIDDEN BEAVER) – While they’ve been considerably prolific with their full-length album releases, this was GazettE’s only release of a single in the past 2 years. FADELESS made for a sexy, compelling A-side, and QUIET was, of course, outstanding. Ah, but it wouldn’t be GazettE without some contrariness, so leave it to them to follow up with the unremarkable-sounding and rather vulgar FORBIDDEN BEAVER. Well, it’s a strong single nonetheless.

04. AHEAD / REPLAY, by VAMPS – There are only two songs on this double A-side offering, but they are the best VAMPS songs I’ve heard, probably ever.

05. Deeper Deeper / Nothing Helps, by ONE OK ROCK (Deeper Deeper, Nothing Helps, Kasabuta) – ONE OK ROCK’s music tends to be hit or miss for me. This double A-side single, from early in the year, was hit on all 3 counts.

06. BALLAD, by lynch. (BALLAD, CRYSTALIZE) – While BALLAD had a typical lynch. sound, CRYSTALIZE represented more of a departure, with the inclusion of dance-y, electronic sounds. All the while, it still managed to retain a heavy rock sensibility.

07. GREED, by CATFIST (GREED, Smile, REGRET) – This was my introduction to CATFIST. It inspired me to check out their previous work and to buy their subsequent releases. Good stuff.

BEST ALBUM:

BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY, by the GazettE

No doubt about it, the GazettE have done it again with this release which celebrates the twisted, miraculous beauty that is spawned when these five musicians combine their talents. Year after year, they’ve been very reliable with their releases, always expanding their sound, but never losing their identity; this was no exception.

Some of my favourite tracks: IN BLOSSOM, DEVOURING ONE ANOTHER, LAST HEAVEN, and TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, which blends seamlessly into CODA to close the record.

the GazettE have done an amazing job with both the intros and outros this time; and the way album opener MALFORMED BOX segues into INSIDE BEAST is also perfect.

(Honourable mention in this category goes to the Attack on Titan OST by Hiroyuki Sawano, which I’ve written about previously. Much impressed with this soundtrack. I spent many hours listening to it in the car during the summer and fall, even though it’s not exactly my usual J-rock music.)

Jacquie’s 2012 Year in Review – Music

While it seemed to me that there was a veritable dearth of good music in 2011, that certainly didn’t seem to be the case in 2012.  Maybe nothing sounded good in 2011 because I was too affected by the disbandment of D’espairsRay, and I just needed some time to open my heart to new music.  Whatever the reason, there were plenty of tunes that caught my attention in 2012 and kept me entertained.

 BEST ALBUM:

DIVISION, by the GazettE.  Despite the fact that the tracks were divided into a Rock half and a Digital half, the album played together as a very cohesive whole.  The band may have experimented with things like dubstep, auto-tune, and unusual time signatures, but they fully understood that the songs just had to sound good.

My top 3 favourite songs of 2012 were all from “DIVISION”: beautiful and painful Kagefumi, musically complex Kago no Sanagi, and sad and ominous Yoin.

BEST SINGLE (A-side & B-sides):

RADICAL HYSTERIA, with B-sides COBRA and IN CREATURE, by BORN.  There was no clear winner for this category, and I was reluctant to choose this, since it’s something of a re-release (RADICAL HYSTERIA was the B-side of COBRA in 2010.)  However, RADICAL HYSTERIA is one of the best songs that BORN has ever created, in my opinion, and it really did deserve to be released as a single.  The addition of the third track, IN CREATURE, made for a solid record overall.

Runner-up:  WE aRE, with B-side COLD CHAIN, by abingdon boys school.  This was a strong comeback single for abs, and it might have won if the band had included simple instrumental versions of both tracks.  Instead, there were multiple, useless karaoke versions of just the title track.  I took marks off for that.

Rounding out my top 20 songs, in alphabetical order by artist:

  • COLD CHAIN, by abingdon boys school (B-side of “WE aRE”)
  • Muyuu no kago, by AND
  • RADICAL HYSTERIA, by BORN.  Their “Stupid life clip” for this song was the most amusing PV I saw last year.  It deconstructed the band’s usual scary-sexy image and revealed them to be a bunch of goofs.
  • MISS TAKE –boku wa mistake-, by BUCK-TICK.  Ridiculously hooky, this is one of the best BUCK-TICK songs I’ve ever heard.
  • ATTITUDE, by the GazettE (from “DIVISION”)
  • DERANGEMENT, by the GazettE (from “DIVISION”)
  • DRIPPING INSANITY, by the GazettE (from “DIVISION”)
  • Ibitsu, by the GazettE (from “DIVISION”)  OK, I’ll stop now.
  • DARK SHAME, by GRANRODEO (OP of CODE:BREAKER)  The theme songs were the only good thing about that anime.
  • A FLARE, by lynch. (one of the lead-off singles from “INFERIORITY COMPLEX”)  I wasn’t that much into lynch.’s music before, but this song was just the kind of pretty-but-heavy that I’m a sucker for.  Because of A FLARE, I purchased the album as well as some of lynch.’s previous works and I was pleasantly surprised.
  • G.G., by MUCC (from “SHANGRI-LA”)  The first MUCC song I’ve ever liked.  Normally I can’t tolerate Tatsurou’s singing.  Not so with this song.
  • Munashiki Sei no Guui Shi no Shini, by NEGA (from “VANITAS”).  This 12-minute opus was an unlikely lead-off single for “VANITAS”.  Even songs that I consider to be good will usually lose my attention after about 3 minutes; this song didn’t bore me even after 12.  Anyway, I guess they knew what they were doing because I ended up buying the album.
  • CATALRHYTHM, by OLDCODEX (ED2 of Kuroko’s Basketball)
  • ZERO SATISFACTION, by ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D
  • S, by SID.  The first SID song I’ve ever liked.  They’re not usually this heavy.
  • 0 GAME, by SPYAIR
  • vanity, by ViViD (B-side of “message”)  ViViD’s recent singles had been so tame and generic-sounding that I almost didn’t listen to this track.

Jacquie’s 2012 Year in Review – Top 10 Anime

My favourite anime shows of the year, selected from the titles I watched which finished airing in 2012:


#1.  Fate/Zero – This dramatic telling of the events of the 4th Holy Grail War was a far-superior prequel to the awful Fate/stay night anime. The grand storyline, epic cast of characters, and impressive action scenes made for a thrilling watch.  I found myself being very engrossed in the characters and the story, even though the final outcome was already known.  It was always an agonizing wait between episodes, tempered by the dreaded anticipation that any episode could be the last for characters that I’d come to love.


#2.  Chihayafuru – Endearing characters, great storytelling.  I really cared about Chihaya and Taichi and their team.  The anime even managed to make the old-fashioned card game of Karuta seem exciting.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the new season in 2013.


#3.  BEELZEBUB – Consistently funny, creative, and good-natured.  There were some duds during its 60-episode run, but they were remarkably few and far in between.  It’s a real shame that this is no longer airing.


#4.  Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – The sort-of companion piece to Chihayafuru, UtaKoi featured the stories of the 100 poems from the Karuta game told in a way that was reverent and irreverent in equal measure.  The mature, bittersweet love stories really resonated with me.  I didn’t even mind the cart-race/talk-show episode.  Although I did find a few of the stories at the beginning of the second half to be weaker than the rest, the series came to a strong finish at the end.


#5.  Aquarion EVOL – I didn’t have any intention to watch this anime at first, due to the fact that I hadn’t seen the preceding Aquarion works and because I had seen supporting character Zessica’s fanservice-y get-up.  However, I was already watching the other 2 space operas (Moretsu Pirates and Rinne no Lagrange) to varying degrees of enjoyment, or not, respectively; and EVOL was often mentioned alongside those two.  EVOL turned out to be a blast!  Very over-the–top, with humorous fanservice and sexual innuendo (see, I don’t always hate on fanservice; I enjoy it when it’s funny) and a lot of heart.  And Zessica?  She became my favourite character.


#6.  Hakuouki Reimeiroku – I watched this because I also enjoyed the two previous Hakuouki series, of which this is a prequel.  It was a treat to revisit the Shinsengumi members and learn of the events of their early days.  The story as a whole may not have been amazing, and the new insert character was as useless as Chizuru from the original series; but the art, the recurring characters, the setting, and the way the events were based on actual history made the show really appealing to me, and I looked forward to watching it every week.


#7.  Kuroko’s Basketball – Watching this semi-fantastical sports anime reminded me of how I felt when watching the early seasons of BLEACH.  New characters were constantly being introduced as potential rivals for the main team, but they were interesting people, each with distinct personalities, and not necessarily “enemies”.  A new season was recently announced for 2013.  Looking forward to that too.


#8.  My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) – Ostensibly a romance, but this show was really more about the interactions between a group of friends.  Every episode managed to be entertaining.  Although every character had definite flaws, they came across as likeable people that I wanted to root for.


#9.  Jormungand – A bloody, thought-provoking, action anime about a group led by Koko Hekmatyar, an arms dealer and visionary who dreams of world peace.  The mostly serious subject matter was balanced out by just the right amount of levity to make it an entertaining watch.


#10.  KIDS ON THE SLOPE (Sakamichi no Apollon) – If I never loved this show, I did respect it for the convincing portrayal of its 1960s setting, the jazz music, and the friendship of the lead characters.

Special Categories:

  • Best Comedy (intentional):  BEELZEBUB  (runner-up: Daily lives of high school boys (Danshi koukousei no nichijou))
  • Best Comedy (unintentional):  CODE:BREAKER  (runner-up: GUILTY CROWN)
  • Best OP or ED:  “Gekkou symphonia“, by AKINO & AIKI from bless4 (Aquarion EVOL ED1)

Notable Drops: Because I like to complain, listed below are the otherwise well-reviewed and popular anime series that were not considered for my year-end list because I couldn’t finish them.  Number of episodes watched is in brackets.

  • Rinne no Lagrange (12) – unnecessary fanservice detracted from the story; I just didn’t care about the characters enough to continue watching.
  • Tsuritama (5) – unlikeable characters; it was about fishing.
  • TARI TARI (5) – too sentimental, bad storytelling, bad music.
  • SWORD ART ONLINE (15) – so much wasted potential; wish-fulfillment pandering written with the mentality of a child.
  • Say “I Love You” (7) – irredeemably cliché-ridden; most of the characters were not the sort of people I would want to associate with; seemed to imply that sexual harassment/assault is okay, desirable even, as long as the offender is good-looking and popular.  (Maybe I’m overreacting and this is often sadly true, but I raged.)