Disc 1: Dance Mode, from the Hello! Project 2015 Winter Concert Blu-ray set, is one of the best winter concerts H!P has done in years. There’s a whole level of new energy and excitement as a total of ten new girls join in on the action. (And there were four missing due to illness, along with one regular member, Haruka from Morning Musume.) I counted a total of 55 performers onstage in the ensemble numbers, surely a record for a winter concert, and five were absent! And, for the first time ever in a winter H!P concert, there were no pre-9th Gen members of Morning Musume included in the ensemble. (A 6th Gen’er would appear in a separate act later on.)
The very first complete song by one of the main groups, “Taiki Bansei,” by Angerme, is one of the best H!P songs I’ve heard in years and the best song by this group since “Samui Ne,” back when they were called S/mileage. It was my first exposure to this song. It’s a rousing, fast-paced, high-energy number and the kind of song that makes these concerts so exciting.
Two of the new Angerme girls were there, Rikako Sasaki and Mizuki Murota, and they totally rocked the house. I don’t think I’ve seen a new girl hit it out of the park their first time out in a Hello! Project concert tour since…oh, maybe Meimi Tamura from the same group or Riho Sayashi in Morning Musume. “Taiki Bansei” is such a catchy song that I’ve been humming it to myself since first watching this disc and I’ve since located the lyrics and started teaching it to myself. This was the first show stopper in the concert. Here are Rikako and Mizuki:
My big problem with “Taiki Bansei,” however, was the way the production crew shot and edited it. The usual bad camera angles and cutting away from the good dance parts. We hardly see the new girls and we hardly see Meimi either, who’s really on fire here. Yet, this song is included in the extras with the third new girl, Maho Aikawa (absent from the main concert), and it looks great—totally different crew, lighting, editing, etc., like this:
We get to see the new girls and Meimi a lot. I don’t get why it’s so different from one show to the next.
Angerme’s 3rd Gen (L-R): Maho Aikawa, Rikako Sasaki, Mizuki Murota:
The concert proper starts with a medley that begins with the girls doing stretches.
Then, about four minutes into the medley, they start doing acrobatic leaps and back flips and such. The cameras don’t show us all of the girls who do this, but I did spot the following:
Erina Ikuta, Meimi Tamura, Maimi Yajima, Ayumi Ishida and new girl Miki Nonaka:
Can you imagine earlier generations of Hello! Project stars doing this? For some reason I can’t envision Yuko, Kaori, Nacchi, Aibon, Mari, Yassi, Sayumi, Koharu or Melon Kinenbi or Coconuts Musume doing this? Rika, Aya, and Miki maybe, because they were so athletic and competitive, but few others. No acrobatic turns from this bunch:
Berryz Kobo’s “Love Together” and “I Miss You,” by C-ute, were also new to me and I really liked both of them. They were slower, softer, more deeply felt than the other songs in the show and perfectly fit the older performers singing them. (Of the twelve members of Berryz and C-ute, all but one are over 20 and that one, Mai Hagiwara, turns 20 next February.) While the newer girls are exuberant and high-spirited, the older girls are beautiful, polished, elegant and classy. They are, of course, now in the position the Elder Club was once upon a time. And, of course, Berryz won’t be back next year, having disbanded earlier this year.
Morning Musume sings “Tiki Bun,” which I’ve seen performed before. Haruka is absent, but the four new girls are there, although they have yet to make much of an impression, other than Miki Nonaka’s back flip earlier in the show. I still can’t identify the new girls when they appear onscreen. I only knew it was Nonaka doing the back flip because I asked who it was on MM-BBS. This concert tour marked the 12th Gen’s first full concert performance.
What struck me about Juice=Juice this time was how good Sayuki Takagi has gotten. Karin’s always been my favorite, but Sayuki is rapidly becoming the most dynamic performer in the group.
And Tomoko is still the most beautiful:
Country Girls is a new group, anchored by Momoko from Berryz, and they do a rousing number that sounds like 1960s American rock ‘n’ roll, “Itookishute Gomen Ne.”
Then we get a really special number, all ten of the new girls present at this concert doing the special unit classic, “ZYX! Fly High.” It’s great to see them in this. The two new Angerme girls come off best in it, while the others still have work to do, but it’s such a spirited song and they’re clearly having fun with it.
And then comes a true show-stopper, the real highlight of the concert and a full-blown ensemble number, the rarely performed Morning Musume song from 2000, “Say Yeah!~Motto Miracle Night~.”
Masaki Sato does the monologue that it took two girls (Aibon and Nono) to do in the original.
It’s one of my favorite Hello! Project songs and a perfect song for an ensemble number by a grouping this big.
LoVendor, a rock group headed by Reina Tanaka, comes out and does two songs. Reina is the only member of pre-9th Gen Morning Musume to make an appearance in this concert.
Another new group, Kobushi Factory, made up of eight Eggs (Hello! Pro Kenshuusei), two of whom were absent here, comes out to do another high energy song, “Onna no Sono.”
Two more songs from Juice=Juice, in nifty new costumes:
And some nice emoting from Sayuki, Karin, and Tomoko:
And two more from Angerme:
3rd Gen rocks it:
Akari’s T-shirt is funny:
The next big highlight of the concert, and the third show stopper, is the Hello! Project Station Dance Club, where ten of the best dancers in H!P come out to do a vigorously choreographed dance number. For some reason, Meimi, who clearly belongs in this select group, is not included. The ten are three from MM (Riho, Ayumi, Mizuki), two from C-ute (Maimi and Saki), one from Berryz (Saki), one from Angerme (Akari), two from Juice=Juice (Sayuki, Karin) and one from Country Girls (Manaka Inaba).
The dancing is great and the choreography forceful, but we can hardly tell thanks to the horrible camerawork, editing and lighting. I just don’t get it. There are too many quick cuts and shots like these:
Why can't they just lock the cameras down in three complementary angles, one from the front and one each from the sides, and, after turning on more lights, just shoot with no camera movement and minimal cuts between the cameras so we can actually see the girls dance!
The main groups come out in new costumes, with two songs from Morning Musume, two from C-ute and then a three-song set from Berryz just before the finale.
Kanon Suzuki sits off to the side, thanks to an injury:
Do you like the Day-Glo look?
“Wagamama ki no Mama ai no Joke”:
Not crazy about Berryz in plaid:
Although Risako manages to look good in it:
Overall, though, the costumes throughout were pretty awesome. As you can tell from several of the above numbers (esp. Juice=Juice and C-ute).
“Cha Cha Sing,” a Berryz song, is the last number here, the big ensemble finale, which concludes with the girls going out into the audience.
The two oldest group leaders are the last to leave the stage:
The credits are only in Japanese and only list the group members and nobody else.
That’s quite a change from normal practice, where the credits are all in English and list everyone involved in the production.
There are no solo acts here. And only one mix-and-match number, where representatives from the different groups are put together for a single number, and that’s “ZYX! Fly High.”
This show just may have the most even balance of seasoned performers and new additions in one show. I don’t think I’ve seen a Winter Concert with this many new girls at one time: 10. And there were more in other shows on the tour, one of which is represented by eight numbers included as extras on Disc 1, where we get to see the missing member of Angerme (Maho Aikawa, seen on the left here):
…the missing member of Country Girls (Mai Ozeki):
(Isn’t she adorable?)
…the two missing members of Kobushi Factory (Minami Nomura and Rei Inoue):
And the missing member of Morning Musume, Haruka Kudo:
The extra eight songs raised some questions.
Why is Risako’s hair longer here than in the main concert?
And why is Tomoko’s hair shorter here than in the main concert?
I’m assuming the extras took place at an earlier show, so I can understand Risako cutting her hair between one show and the other. But if that’s the case, how did Tomoko grow her hair so long in that short amount of time? Someone on MM-BBS suggested hair extensions, so I guess that’s it. D'uuhhhh!
An even more important contrast provided by the extras is the visual look of the shoot. The extras look more video-like, as the H!P concerts used to be shot, while the main concert has that film look that was adopted a few years ago. Compare for yourself:
I prefer the video look because it has greater immediacy and offers more detail, especially in high-def. Why couldn’t the concert that these extras were taken from have been the main concert on the Blu-ray and not the one we got, which is missing five members? For one thing, the numbers seen in the extras are all better-lit, better-shot and better edited.
I also watched Disc 2: Happy Emotion. It was somewhat anti-climactic after all the high points of Disc 1, The song selection is much weaker, there are no show stoppers and few highlights. So I’m going to hold off a week or two and watch it again to see if it improves with distance and offers anything worth writing about.
Finally, I've been remiss in neglecting the hard-working young ladies from Hello Pro! Kenshuusei, 14 strong, who do a magnificent job providing backup to the other groups and excel in their own numbers as well: