Well, I’m back, and having returned with a rather embarrassingly large backlog of material that needs to be reviewed, I figured it’d be only appropriate to get to actually reviewing some of it (what a thought!). First up on the list is the new Eiko Shimamiya single WHEEL OF FORTUNE (Unmei no Wa), theme song for the live-action Higurashi no Naku Koro ni film and Eiko’s third maxi-single for Frontier Works.
Eiko Shimamiya (島みやえい子) – WHEEL OF FORTUNE (Unmei no Wa) (運命の輪) (2008, Frontier Works)
1. WHEEL OF FORTUNE (運命の輪)
2. ディオラマ (Diorama)
3. WHEEL OF FORTUNE (運命の輪) Instrumental
4. ディオラマ Instrumental
When I first found out that it would be Kazuya Takase rather than series mainstay Tomoyuki Nakazawa composing the theme song for the new Higurashi no Naku Koro ni movie, I was more than a bit worried. After all, Nakazawa’s gorgeous themes for the anime adaptation of the (in)famous mystery-game series ranked with the best work I’ve has ever put out, while Takase’s output over the last few years has been nothing but inconsistent: it seemed like I’ve was making some sort of grave error with this release, trading out a sure thing for someone more than likely to fuck things up on a massive scale. Of course, it was probably Takase himself making the decision – owning your own music production company has some perks, after all – but either way the risk was there. But, luckily for us I’ve fans, the potentially boneheaded move actually paid off. Sort of.
By no means is WHEEL OF FORTUNE a worthy successor to Naraku no Hana, I’ll say that much for starters. But, in many a way, it was never supposed to be. The aforementioned Nakazawa-produced gem was made for a largely bloodless mystery show that just happened to be the sequel to a horror anime: WHEEL OF FORTUNE, however, is meant to be more beastly. A return to the menace and horror of the original Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (theme song and anime both), WHEEL OF FORTUNE is far from the most subtle song Eiko’s ever done but uses its viciousness expertly; Takase’s beloved heavy-metal guitars once again providing a genuine edge to a song instead of merely covering up a particularly uninteresting arrangement as they’d been doing for too long. And Eiko’s vocal performance… That part of the review really writes itself. Shimamiya’s singing never disappoints (note that I said “singing” here. Atashi wa Melon et al. doesn’t count) and her angelic voice guides the listener through the dark forest of Hinamizawa just as ably as it did the last two times, but with a bit more of an edge to it this time around: your guide out of the darkness may not want you to leave.
However, if the A-side doesn’t quite stack up to its predecessors, the B-side makes this single undoubtedly Shimamiya’s best. Tomoyuki Nakazawa’s “Diorama” is one of those rare songs that words seem altogether insufficient to summarize, every second carefully crafted to make the honestly rather good A-side sound really, really dumb and clunky by comparison. Beginning with synthesizers more reminiscent of Shimamiya’s fantastic album “O” than anything she’s done for her anime themes before coming to a brilliant electronic climax (and riding that climax up and down for a thrilling few minutes), Diorama could easily be considered the crown jewel of Nakazawa’s already stunning production portfolio: sounding better in both the slow build-up and the noisy parts than even his work for Mami Kawada on this year’s similarly-brilliant SAVIA, every bit of it sounds like the work of a true master of his craft. And it’s a true solo effort, too: his usually-present production assistant Takeshi Ozaki is nowhere to be found, and it may just be all the better for it: Ozaki’s guitar work may be a load of fun when it’s needed to be, but with a song of such beautiful subtlety such additions could quite effectively ruin it.
All in all, WHEEL OF FORTUNE isn’t the best title track, but its glorious B-side sets it in a class of its own amongst Eiko’s recorded output, and has it keeping company with very few amongst I’ve releases in general. Highly recommended, and probably the last single this good we’re going to hear from Takase & Co. for quite some time.