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Release date: July 20th, 2016

Tracklist:

  1. Overture
  2. Magikayo!? BiriBiri☆Punchline
  3. Koakuma Lesson 1・2・3 ♪
  4. Prologue wa Makafushigi
  5. Banriikku Rising Fire!
  6. Never Ending Punchline

After the disbanding of Fuji TV idol group Idoling!!! last year, most of the group members have been going in their own direction in show business, with some becoming full-time models, comedians, or radio/TV personalities, and some others going in the direction of a new music project.

In the case of 6th gen and Idoling NEO member Sato Rena, she started a new idol project of which she is the leader, and the project was built around her. Nearly one year later, we finally have the first release from this project, an eponymous mini-album called “Magical Punchline.”

The group has a magical fantasy theme, with lots of imagery regarding magic users, spirit animals, and a world of adventure, and the album carries this theme to an extent in the music as well. It contains 6 unique songs to explore, so let’s delve into them one by one.

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Review

First we have the “Overture,” which is exactly what it’s name implies: a stylistic instrumental piece to set the mood of the album, or the “show” that follows. Much like an opera or musical, you’ll hear a loose suite of the sounds that define the feeling or setting of the story.

This was a pretty unique choice for the opening track, giving it a bit of a theatrical and grandiose feel to get you interested in the album. There’s no vocals here, of course, but you get an idea of the themes that you’re about to experience in one short package, as this runs just over a 2 minute running time. It feels like a rare example of an intro track being used well on an idol album.

Next we have their signature song and first “single” from the album, “Magikayo!? BiriBiri☆Punchline,” which gives us a taste of what they’ll have to offer in their real songs. You can read along with the song and PV, which you can view here:

Starting with a dramatic “fantasy” intro featuring ambient sounds and piano, it soon bursts into a heavily distorted heavy metal palm-muted guitar section with pounding snare drum to back it up.

This only lasts a few seconds before bursting into the main chorus of the song, with fast-paced, cheerful idol-like melody with the backing track switching focus to heavy piano, strings, and bass guitar.

After a few measures of the chorus, we hear a dramatic shift in tempo, pace, and instrumentation to transition out of the chorus, and a few seconds later, yet another shift. This is where we get the notion that this isn’t going to be just another predictable cookie-cutter idol song; as this lends itself more to the eclectic, complex, and genre-bending style akin to some of the dempa artists on the scene today.

After these multiple shifts, the first verse starts, changing the sound again, to a jumpy, fun rhythm featuring jazzy piano and heavy slap bass, with some cute vocal passages where the members introduce themselves one by one and talk about the concept of the group to this adorable and energetic backing track.

After a few measures of the chorus, we’re shifted into yet another section different from everything that preceded it, going to a marching rhythm with cute synths and pianos backing them up. There’s additional appearances of the heavy guitar towards the end of this section, with an ascending chord progression.

This transitions perfectly into the next section, as the heavy guitar takes center stage and we get a head-banging metal section with double bass drumming, guitar pinch harmonics and some chanting vocals, then a quick transition back into the chorus we heard at the beginning.

We’ve finally reached the end of the main structure of the song, after going through 5 to 7 vastly different sections, and now we hear a repeat of the verse with slight changes in the instrumentation to stop from falling into the boredom of a cut-and-paste repeat.

This time, after the verse, we go straight into the heavy metal part, skipping over the marching section, for a little more touch of surprise in the structure.

Next is a bridge structure unique to the song so far, featuring lots of strings and piano, with a swaying rhythm before going back into the chorus one more time. Afterwards, we get a few more variations on previous sections and some unique transitions before the song comes to a close.

This song shows a level of variety and musical prowess that’s not often found in idol music, and I think it warrants a listen from anyone who appreciates that kind of variety and complexity from their J-pop.

For track 3, we have “Koakuma Lesson 1・2・3 ♪,” a jazzy and cute song with heavy piano and horns leading the backing track this time. The backing track here provides less variety than the previous song, but still has a very strong composition and structure, and it has a few surprises along the way, including a little bit of chiptune in the 2nd verse and a 1950s rock n’ roll guitar solo in the bridge.

The general feel on this one is another nod to old American stage musicals, but done in a more unique and interesting style than most songs of that origin. It’s another really strong track that keeps the flow and excitement of the album alive.

Moving on, we have “Prologue wa Makafushigi,” another track with similar feel and instrumentation to the last song, with lots of horns and piano at the forefront, and a jazzy overall style. The pre-chorus takes a jump into an interesting waltz section before ending up in the idol-like chorus with a happy melody and style.

The 2nd run through the main song structure features some small rhythmic and instrumental changes to prevent the song from being too familiar as it progresses. This is yet another solid track that keeps things from falling to the wayside, keeping the momentum going.

Next up is “Banriikku Rising Fire!” which is heavy metal-centric track with some strong folk metal elements as well as other elements you’d often hear in an opening for a fantasy anime, like orchestral and choral parts in the arrangement. This is full of heavy guitars, fast drumming, and strong, percussive rhythm, but has a set of melodies that range from strong and epic to cute and happy.

The song doesn’t repeat itself very much, like all of the songs on this album, and it keeps things interesting with variations on the instrumentation throughout. The whole track reminds me of a heavy metal fantasy anime opening, but with improvements or variations to the formula and added focus on the songwriting or being musically interesting, as opposed to just having a catchy hook for people to latch on to, which is where I feel most songs of that type meet their downfall.

Lastly we have “Never Ending Punchline,” another very loud and driving heavy metal track, almost sounding like BiS or an early Babymetal track (when Babymetal still had good production and eclectic songwriting.) This is a great thrash metal composition, with rapid-fire synth and guitar tapping patterns layered over the blistering guitars and drums throughout.

The pre-chorus and chorus have a perfect mix of the metal sound with cute and powerful idol vocal melodies, and after the first chorus, it launches into a unique sequence of passages, making for almost no copy-and-pasted repeat passages in the whole song. There’s also a dramatic key change near the end that adds to the emotion in the song, making for a great finale of the song and close to the album.

Conclusion:

This album keeps the quality and variety coming from start to finish, and leans much further into the heavy metal musical territory than I could have possibly imagined from seeing their very cutesy, clean image and general theme. I can’t stress how much of a compliment this is. This album exceeded every preconception I had about the group prior to listening, in the best way possible.

I’m glad the producers really took their time to make a unique musical package with lots of variety and consistent quality instead of taking the easy route that a good majority of idol producers do in this industry. It’s even better that this is a mini-album that stays consistent throughout, and not just a single with two songs.

This sets a great precedent that I wish more groups could follow and is an extremely strong start for Magical Punchline as a debut, making me excited for where they’ll go in their future music endeavors.

The album is available on iTunes around the world and you can purchase it for a low price in your native country and preview all the tracks, so I highly suggest checking this out, no matter what part of the world you’re in. If you’re interested in a physical copy (including one version with a documentary DVD,) check out the links below.

Magical Punchline (Altair Edition)

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Magical Punchline (Vega Edition)

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