Review Summary: Not just for otakus.
Visuals aside, anime doesn’t seem to have all that much going for it at first. You can typically boil down the plots of whole series to a couple words (“Boy in robot”, “Girl is princess”, “Chosen one”) or they’re so absurdly convoluted they don’t make sense after a season and everything is slathered in thick streams of angst that would only appeal to someone with a learners permit. So why does anime attract some of the most devote fans of any media on planet earth?
Anime builds and fosters firm relationships between viewer and the characters within and I’ve got thousands of cosplayers and convention attendees to back me up on that. Main and secondary characters alike go through huge arcs of growth through journey, adventure exists to further bonds and emphasize key traits in relationships. Nobody makes it out of a series without feeling a very real personal connection to the characters within.
So for a certain contingent of Fullmetal Alchemist fans, listening to Sol-fa
’s 3rd single “Re-Write” is going to feel like flipping through an old photo book. It was the final opening song used for the show and is the one fans hold closest. Sound tracking the opening of every episode of the shows final 10; it conjures up the nostalgic pull for people never met and places never seen. Landing an opening tune in an anime may not seem like a big deal but for a Japanese band it is. It’s the best shot at global exposure any band from the island has a chance at and it’s inclusion propelled Sol-Fa
’s global sales to 170,000 copies, great numbers from a band that sings only in Japanese.
It helps that it’s a kickass song. AKG’s not so secret weapon is and has always been their drummer Kiyoshi Ijichi. He plays with the energy of someone sitting down at a kit for the first time and with the precision of one who applied their Engineering degree to the mechanics of drumming. His rapid-fire fills on “Re-Write” are phenomenally on point, the way he thwacks the floor tom in the brief bit of breathing room between verse and chorus gives the hook a huge sense of lift. To the average American, lead singer Masafumi Gotoh may actually sound a little off key here, indeed Japanese voices tend to be a little on the thin side which can make for some pitch issues (He really scrapes the top of his range during the chorus). I find the effect to be endearing, the slight flatness making for another little hook. The songs verses may actually be catchier than the chorus’, dammed if I have any idea what he’s talking about.
It’s a killer song, one that sold quite a few copies in the States on domestic imprint label Tofu Records (Also responsible for bringing us the absurdly
good Polysics). Those who may have picked up this record on a whim would be pleased to find that “Re-Write” isn’t even the best song on Sol-Fa
, which is a solid collection of Japanese power pop.
Masafumi Gotoh’s key influences are American guitar bands like Weezer and Teenage Fanclub and Sol-Fa
would comfortably slot into a playlist featuring either of those. It’s easily a better record than anything the Japan obsessed Rivers Cuomo has put out in years. Opener “Shindōkaku” hits fast, sporting one of the catchiest melodies on the record. “Kimi no Machi Made” is upbeat and chiming. “Last Scene” has Gotoh flexing a little falsetto over power chord churn and distant guitar. Elsewhere the album plays fast and light with solid, if occasionally bland, power pop. Nothing too offensive but much of it might not grab your attention.
And then there’s “Siren”.
Easily the best song on Sol-Fa
and the best thing I’ve heard from Asian Kung-Fu Generation to date, it’s a head twister of a good song. It has that same nostalgic pull of “Re-Write” while containing an even more on point melody. It drives forward with remarkable urgency, every time the guitars step in to say what Gotoh cant at the end of the verses the thing takes off over the skyline. Ijichi jumps the tempo for the second verse as new harmonies begin to simmer excess momentum, resulting in a burn it all down chorus of gigantic Marshall stacks proportion. It climaxes in a twisting and dueling guitar bridge before roaring to a pop-punk close. It covers more styles and sounds in little over 5 minutes than most bands touch on whole records. If you only dip your toe into Japanese music once, it deserves to be this song.
Language barrier – smanguage barrier, big hooks transcend words and when the hooks are as on point as they tend to be on Sol-Fa
. Released in 2004, it was Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s big breakthrough in their native contury (They’ve been playing together since ’96) and as close to an American breakthrough as they’re ever likely to see. Fans stateside campaigned for its release after “Re-Write” hit our shores through Fullmetal Alchemists’ final run. Japanese bands have never gotten enough shine in the States so however you came to hear about AKG is fine with me. Whether you’re an devoted otaku or someone who is looking for a new power-pop fix, Sol-Fa
delivers the goods.