We were bound to do one of these at some point (lol)
If you know you know (XD) But in the event that you don’t, and/or you haven’t been following the J-Music Exchange/Rate, it’s because me and Al are big into 2.5D idols (something you can even trace back in the individual histories of our respective blogs), but as always, I’m getting ahead of myself 😛
If it actually *is* your first time here on the blog ー
The Exchange/Rate is a tandem album review series held by myself and my good friend and fellow Japanese music fan Al from Omunibasu.Blog. Each month we both decide on a specific theme that will be the basis for an album that we will pick out from our respective music libraries. After which, we will then “exchange” our picks to one another so that the other person may then listen to and subsequently talk about it. This venture (now spanning over 70 reviews, which is absolutely wild) has been a great way for me and Al to both broaden our horizons so to speak in terms of what we listen to as well as giving us opportunities to learn to appreciate some of our favorite albums in ways we never would have thought of. I believe I can speak for Al when I say that it is our hope that this little project of ours does the same for you 🙂
Al and I take turns on who gets to decide the theme for the month and it is now once again my turn to do so. Going back to my preamble in the beginning there, I honestly do think it was only a matter of time before one of us went and suggested this (there’s a decent chance we might even rehash it further down the line) but yeah no, as some of you might have already been able to guess by this point, for this month’s Exchange/Rate we will be talking about albums by fictional groups/bands etc. Now, granted, either of us could’ve gone a different route with this as I didn’t really say “2.5D groups” specifically, but we didn’t (lol) and as a direct consequence we now have a nice 2.5D double feature in store for you guys so if that also happens to be your thing, then this month’s album reviews will be well within your guys’ interests 😀
I honestly didn’t think all that hard with this one as I’ve been wanting to have this album that I picked out to be talked about in the Exchange/Rate for a good while now because it is one that’s very near and dear to my heart. I am of course talking about AZALEA’s We’ll get the next dream!!! (go check out Al’s review here!). Al in turn sent me Photon Maiden’s 4 phenomena to go over with you guys.
Photon Maiden is a 4-member group under the D4DJ franchise; a massive multimedia project by Bushiroad. Debuting in 2019, the group originally consisted of: Tsumugi Risa, Maeshima Ami, Iwata Haruki, and Sato Hinata. In 2022, Maeshima “Amita” Ami stepped down from her role as Nijima Ibuki due to health reasons. The aforementioned role is at present voiced by Nanaki Kanon.
(＊Spotify link to the full album)
０１・We never stop
０２・A lot of life
０３・”What” are you ?
０４・Wonder Wonder Trip
０５・暁/akatsuki (fruits Mix V2)
０９・Here’s the light
１０・Into the storm
１２・4 Challenges – AMADEUS REMIX
１３・Be with the world – Getty REMIX
Ａ ｌ : In 2022, I had Leap review an album from the BanG Dream series. Fast forward a year later, and especially given the theme he suggested for this month, I figured that I’d convince him to jump further into Bushiroad hell- I mean, paradise and get in on the D4DJ craze this time around (lol).
All jokes aside though, D4DJ has been a really fun franchise to follow and the music featured in it has certainly been a major highlight. One group in particular, named Photon Maiden, has been my personal standout unit and for good reason.
Photon wowed me with some of their earlier tracks like “4 Challenges” and “Be with the world”, thanks to their incredibly solid expression of techno/trance, great song variety and even the heavy use of English in their lyrics. And when considering the overall “cool and stylish” and celestial space concepts that this group constantly reminds us of (from the anime or game dialogue), their songs have been super fun examples of that and sometimes can really make you feel like you’re going on a hype journey through the cosmos. Whether it’s the mellow nature of “A lot of life” or the fast-paced beats in “Wonder Wonder Trip”; many of the tracks on 4 phenomena are legit bangers, it has a smooth flow to it, and I believe the record has enough variety for someone to pick out at least one track that they find to be enjoyable (especially when hearing songs like “G.A.M.E.” with its funkiness or the aggressive hip hop-like sound in “Into the storm”). And as a cherry on top, fans of other Bushiroad franchises will get the opportunity to hear more fantastic vocal performances from some familiar faces, since all of the voice actresses who portray the Photon members have been featured in series like Love Live, BanG Dream and/or Revue Starlight
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０１・We never stop
If I were to, for the purposes of this review, try to condense Photon Maiden’s music in its purest form, it’s House/EDM with gratuitous (lol) use of English in its lyricism. …Now, while it sounds like I’m making fun with the latter half of that statement, believe me when I say that it’s very much an integral part of their group’s identity if not one of the more important elements to their songwriting. At the very least, there’s no point throughout the entire duration of 4 phenomena in my opinion where it feels out of place, which is quite honestly something that I don’t necessarily think I can say about a whole lot of other music acts that do the same thing.
I would attribute this to two key things; the first being that members Tsumugi Risa and Sato Hinata do have above average fluency in English, which I do feel manifests greatly in their delivery. Secondly, I believe it might also have to do with the genre being the way it is, with House and EDM in particular both first coming to prominence in the West thereby making English a natural fit. Of course, that’s not to say that songs being sung in a language of a country that didn’t originate but rather only adopted its music style won’t be as good. Like, the seamless switch to Japanese here in We never stop here is actually one of my favorite parts of the entire song.
０５・暁/akatsuki (fruits Mix V2)
Though I just got done saying all of that….. here I am now about to talk about literally the only two songs in 4 phenomena that are completey written in Japanese (XD) That has absolutely nothing to do with why I chose to highlight Akatsuki here and Hikari right after this, and it’s something that I only realized while making the final draft for this review. While I found it hilarious that it worked out this way, I actually do like both of the aforementioned songs for something else that they have in common, and that’s in them being the “slower” ones of the album. I’d even go so far as to say it’s in these kinds of songs that Photon Maiden might shine the most.
I very briefly touch on this when I did a review of HoneyComeBear’s HappyEND, but one of the things that HCB does so well with their take on EDM (a genre otherwise better known for its Club-ier applications) are these massive and emphatic breakdowns after a drop, which Photon Maiden are also able to do here. What’s interesting is that, comparatively speaking Akatsuki isn’t *that* slow (clocking in at like 150 bpm) but it’s actually the singing that gives it that impression, giving the song this sort of slow-fast/off-speed contrasting effect that I’m personally very much fond of hearing. A good example of this is BATTEN GIRLS’ Watashi, Koi Hajimetatteyo!
Hikari is the actual slow “slow” song of 4 phenomena coming in at exactly the halfway point of the album (if you don’t count the bonus remix tracks at the end) which does lend credence to a recurring notion here on the J-Music Exchange/Rate of the ordering of songs having some semblance of thought put into it. If you’ve been following this series for some time, or have caught at least a good number of the ones written by me, you’d know that I’m a fan of when albums do “rests” by slotting in slower tempo tracks somewhere in the middle, displaying a conscious consideration for people who (like myself) listen to whole albums from first track to the last.
The song also has that same kind of Electro panning that HCB does, especially when the chorus hits so again, huge fan of that. Another reason why Hikari stands out for me is that it’s one of the few songs in the album where you can really start to appreciate the individual singing voices of the four members of Photon Maiden. One of the minor qualms I’ve always had with “bigger” seiyuu idol/idol adjacent groups is that the more of them there are in a group the harder it gets to pick out who’s singing, where it all just starts to blend into a collective (which to be fair isn’t *bad*). To that end though, I do like the line distribution in this song to facilitate just that.
１０・Into the storm
What tends to happen whenever I get to talking about my favorite song off of an album is that it ends up being a combination of the different elements that I both like personally as well as what I believe are the strongest aspects of a group or artist’s sound if only for the album in question. In the case of Photon Maiden, while I do think Akatsuki or even 4 Challenges a little further down are objectively speaking better songs (you can even argue that they *could’ve* been the two best songs on 4 phenomena; more on this later), I gravitate towards Into the storm more because of how much it encapsulates everything we just talked about and then some.
Here’s a song that: leans heavy on the English lyricism; once the chorus drops it’s another one too that again has this slow-fast/off-speed paralleling of the singing that contrasts with the actual beat of the song; and it highlights the members’ individual voices fairly well. In addition to that, I love how the chorus in particular builds relative to the instrumentation, kinda giving Into the storm this “epic” feel to it – like you’re *actually* about to dive into a storm! (loljk). Lastly, and this is more out of personal preference, but Into the storm is also the only track in 4 phenomena that features any form of rapping of which I’m admittedly a sucker for so yeah.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ ４ ｐｈｅｎｏｍｅｎａ＞
In as much as I’ve referenced HoneyComeBear’s HappyEND over the course of this review, I would actually liken the experience of listening to 4 phenomena to when I went and listened to RAISE A SUILEN’s ERA also as part of a pervious Exchange/Rate (coincidentally, RAS and Photon Maiden do actually share a member in Tsumugi Risa). I had mostly positive things to say about ERA that do also ring true for Photon Maiden’s offering here in that it’s for the most part a fairly uniform and well-produced album, the latter of course being attributable to the group being a product of a massive multimedia franchise such as D4DJ.
One of the reasons why I suggested the theme that we have this month of “fictional groups” is that I wanted to be able to show that you don’t necessarily have to start fully immersing yourself into a particular franchise to be able to appreciate its products, seeing the notable uptick in “2.5D” over the years, Bushiroad’s D4DJ of course being chief among them. Talking about D4DJ, I do have to talk real quick about the overarching theme of this franchise, and how I think 4 phenomena may have actually… suffered because of it. Of course, I’m talking about the “remix” versions of songs present in the album, namely those for Akatsuki and 4 Challenges.
Now, I get it, right. Like, D4DJ is literally about DJ-ing so you kinda *have* to have remixes of certain songs in here to go with the entire theme of the franchise. But in doing so I do think Photon Maiden might have gotten the shorter end of that deal because the original versions of those two songs were iiiiinfinitely better in my opinion. Sure, the instrumentaion for the “fruits Mix V2” version is kinda tight, but the original Akatsuki just hits way harder (the drop is much more insane too). And as for 4 Challenges … dude, like, what happened here (XD). The “AMADEUS MIX” is Bop-y Club Mix which is cool but when the original is already such a GODSEND…
３.６５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
７.２５ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
To be completely honest, if 4 phenomena included the *original* versions of Akatsuki and 4 Challenges instead of the remixes that ended up getting in their place, I would have rated it much higher than I currently do now. Alas, that is not the case, and while I do think it’s a missed opportunity I don’t want to take away too much from what actually works in the album. In particular I find the entire back half of 4 phenomena to be really good, with tracks like OVERCOME and Here’s the light being absolute shut-out bangers in there own right. G.A.M.E. was my first real exposure to the group, having come across the song some time last year and it still holds up well as this nice funky tune reminiscent of a JRPG battle theme. Not sure how much this means coming from someone who’s not even following D4DJ, but it’s a fun album nonetheless.
Have you listened to Photon Maiden’s 4 phenomena? What are your thoughts on it? Lemme know down in the comments section! Likewise, what are some of *your* favorite albums by a fictional group? Drop us a link down there too and we’ll be sure to check them out 😀
Don’t forget to catch Al’s review of AZALEA’s We’ll get the next dream!!! over at Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet!