Review Summary: 4 queens・1 empress
MAPA’s debut 四天王
has already aged so gracefully as an easygoing comfort jam that I have to remind myself they’re a fresh project, let alone one entitled to idol sparkle and sensation. Its enjoyment is face-value, unraucous and remarkably noncontingent on a wider group image; as anyone with eyes upon its artwork can testify, this is perhaps fortunate. 四天王
is full of moments that feel pitched for euphoria or novelty, but its pleasures are so familiar and easygoing you’ll swear you’ve been hearing them for years.
For some of us, this is practically the case. MAPA was formed by Seiko Oomori (producer-writer) and Megumi Koshoji (performing idol; ex-Maison Book Girl), and rounded off by three debutantes (Mayo Ushiro, Yusura Shiou, Emu Jinzai) and Oomori’s arrangement wizard Sugarbeans. While Koshoji’s involvement is unaccompanied by her former group’s idiosyncratic math-pop, Oomori’s songwriting trademarks are absolutely all over this thing, to the point that this can essentially be considered her album as much as her roster’s. There’s a lot to love here for anyone fond of her feisty interplay between catchy jingles and hair-tearing throwdowns (“Koi wa baka no suru koto”), overwhelming spoken word barrages (“Idol wo yameru hi”), and ecstatic choruses built on near-desperate heights of openheartedness (“Ladies Clinic”). These tracks all sound like warm revisions of past triumphs - hell, “Idol wo yameru hi” references an iconic bridge from Oomori’s 2013 solo debut in full-on fan service - but the MAPA girls do a respectable job of making these highlights their own, and there’s nothing quite like idol’s plasticity for smoothing over creative expectations.
The core quartet are noafterthought; their performances and chemistry are well-rounded by idol standards, making dynamic work of talents that would doubtless seem more modest showcased individually. “Idol wo yameru hi” is a clear standout, tightly coordinated in its shifts from spoken word to singsong to raw mantras, the group seamlessly navigating shifts of individual focus, tempo, emotional resolve and dynamics. No doubt this track will prove integral to their live show. The same can be said of other cuts for less flattering reasons: “MAPA Ouen Uta” is the kind of are-you-really-into-this
cheerleader-analogous chant predestined for either ditsy adoration or peak scorn; I’m sincerely sorry to anyone who cares, but I just can’t
at this point. The title-track kicks off in the same territory for a worrying length of time; I’m still treasuring my joy and relief from the first time I heard it pivot halfway into an unmistakably Oomorine skytoucher of a chorus. Freshly-annexed heavens be praised, it stays there.
Wonderful as that moment was, 四天王
’s more enduring delight has much more to do with its user-friendly happy-strolling tone of Great Ease. Shrill chants aside, this record rarely, if ever, feels like a struggle, and it winds up replayable far beyond the sum of its parts as such. Shrewd genre play deserves credit here: its take on pop-rock triangulated between ‘90s alternative, jazz and funk palettes is flashy at points, but most times it goes down too smoothly to posit anything ostentatious. Sauntering grooves and occasional jazz-pop chord choices add quaint yet unobtrusive flavour to the kind of hooks whose gratification should never be anything less than effortless.
As a counterpoint to this, it bears to remember that MAPA were founded as a sister group to Oomori’s original idol project ZOC, opening the doors to fanbase piggybacking and a little lowkey collaboration (ZOClette Nodoka Shizume reportedly plays trumpet here somewhere). However, the main takeaway - and relief - here comes through contrast. For both internal drama and perplexing restructuring reasons, it’s been an exhausting few months to have kept tabs on ZOC; much of this skirts the group’s aggressively independent charter and edgy image, hovering decisively around Oomori’s near-hubristic levels of personal involvement on- and off-stage. ZOC would be nothing without [stylistic] volatility, but MAPA’s perkiness and bittersweet charms rest on a refreshingly stable foundation, one that affords all participants a reasonable sense of role parity and scans as a direct antidote to everything draining about their sister project.
Contrary to ZOC’s subversion marathon PvP
, nothing about 四天王
bears overthinking and it feels perfectly complete as such. It may call for an attitude more casual than critical, but it’s both craftful and infectious enough that this rests on well-placed faith in probably the most reliable songwriting matrix in pop today. Few artists make such inspirational work of simultaneous head-and-heart–ache as Seiko Oomori, but for once it’s a joy to see her hand over the mic and conjure something carefree. At this point, it’s easy to imagine she needs it as much as the rest of us.