Released to celebrate I’ve’s 10th anniversary (more or less, since the group was officially formed in 1998 yet their first recordings weren’t released until 1999), the Departed to the Future box set contains new singles and live recordings from each of the 5 members of Love Planet Five, as well as a DVD of the recently-made “Departed to the Future” film (which won’t be reviewed here). So, how does this new set fare? Read on to find out!
Various – I’ve 10th Anniversary “Departed to the Future” Special CD Box (2009, Geneon)
KOTOKO – snIpe
Close to me… -I’VE in BUDOKAN 2009 Live ver.-
MELL – 殻の蕾 (Kara no Tsubomi)
- 美しく生きたい -I’VE in BUDOKAN 2009 Live ver.-
- 殻の蕾 -instrumental-
島みやえい子 (Eiko Shimamiya) – Paranoia
- To lose in amber -I’VE in BUDOKAN 2009 Live ver.-
- Paranoia -instrumental-
川田まみ (Mami Kawada) – L’Oiseau bleu
- L’Oiseau bleu
- 風と君を抱いて -I’VE in BUDOKAN 2009 Live ver.-
- L’Oiseau bleu -instrumental-
詩月カオリ (Kaori Utatsuki) – end of refrain ～小さな始まり～ (Chiisana Hajimari)
- end of refrain ～小さな始まり～
- Senecio -I’VE in BUDOKAN 2009 Live ver.-
- end of refrain ～小さな始まり～ -instrumental-
Any set aiming to capture the length and breadth of the last 10 years with I’ve has a lot to live up to, and the idea of doing so by releasing 5 new songs with the current lineup of vocalists seems patently ridiculous at best. The set’s inclusion of live cuts from the 2009 I’ve at Budokan group concert makes some attempt to reconcile the core conceptual audacity mentioned above, yet even as such the decision to focus on live renditions of the girls’ debut efforts rather than the songs that represent them best strikes one as questionable.
MELL, for example, made her debut with I’ve’s first eroge Hakidame-trASH- (吐溜) back in 1999, and while the game’s cute ending theme Utsukushiku Ikitai is by no means a bad song, the Dancemania affectations and simplistic arrangement dates it considerably, rendering it more a quaint reminder of how silly so much of early I’ve was than a fitting representation of the original I’ve girl. Some effort is made to salvage the song in the updated live version, adding guitars to the arrangement and MELL upping the energy quotient appropriately, but as will be a running theme in this review it’s a case of “too little, too late”: the MELL who made that song was one still struggling to find her voice, easily outshone on early efforts by her more easily-recognizable peers AKI and Ayana.
On the A-side, MELL’s contribution to the set’s roster of singles ranks as one of the better in the box, and is indeed one of the few that truly achieves the goal of distilling a 10-year career into 6 minutes. Kara no Tsubomi begins with some of the cutesy vocals that carried MELL through much of her earlier awkwardness (and which would resurface in what was perhaps the only enjoyable bit of otherwise dire single Virgin’s high!) before building up to a song that would be perfectly suited as a theme song for a mecha anime. The C.G mix production doesn’t break any new ground, certainly, but the song has enough of a drive to make its derivative aspects far more easily forgivable than they might been. Touring guitarist Takeshi Hoshino joins in with the arrangement, and while it’s hard to detect much of a difference between Hoshino’s assistance and that of fellow I’ve contributor Takeshi Ozaki, Ozaki’s contributions have helped make some of the most memorable songs in recent I’ve history so the comparison isn’t at all a bad thing.
Eiko Shimamiya, however, doesn’t fare quite as well. Paranoia, while saved from comparisons to her recent solo failure Hikarinadeshiko thanks to being inoffensively bland rather than painfully bad, fails miserably when taken as the supposed representation of what Shimamiya ‘sounds like’ both now and as a retrospective. Lacking both the passionate tenderness of her ballads and the murky horror of her anime work, the song seems more than content just being. The song also suffers from Kazuya Takase’s newfound inability to craft a hook, its 5:37 runtime disappearing from the listener’s mind as soon as the next track starts up. But, seeing as generic unremarkable songs intended for anime series forgotten before the end of their season run seem to be the new way of business at big bad record label Geneon Universal, there’s little doubt that this bit of passionless dreck was just what the doctor ordered.
Doing much better with her B-side, Shimamiya’s “To lose in amber” is still a great song and the guitars added in the live arrangement liven it up nicely without becoming too overbearing as they could have easily become in a slower song such as this one. From the regal electric piano hook to the chorus sung with more heart than she bothered putting into the entirety of Hikarinadeshiko, the song was good back in 2000 and it remains so wonderfully. And interestingly, despite being more or less her I’ve debut, the song actually works as a forecast of what was to come for Shimamiya: the formula established with To lose in amber would carry her through many a compilation release, and even if it might not have been her best song it still shows who she is wonderfully.
Continuing on the mediocrity tip from Paranoia, we come to Mami Kawada’s embarrassment of a single. Straining too obviously to hit high note after high note, the piano-focused song seemingly plucked from the ending of some lamentable eroge-turned-OVA shows off brilliantly everything that Kawada is awful at. Firstly, while Kawada has proven herself more than capable of handling something with a slower tempo in the past, all of her successful songs in this vein have been ballads and L’Oiseau bleu is pronouncedly free of lament. In fact, the song is overflowing the kind of sickly-sweet obnoxiousness that made her recent songs My Friend and Aozora to Taiyou impossible to stand, and while Geneon saw fit to leave Aozora to Taiyou off the tracklisting for SAVIA (one of the few things I can genuinely say the label was right in doing), there’s no such mercy when it comes to the contents of Departed to the Future. Summery piano, light acoustic guitar strumming and fake strings all suggesting a bright, happy ambiance unbecoming of the girl who recorded JOINT, one would really love to hope that there won’t be too many more songs like this on her horizon. Or, if there are, if said recordings don’t end up sullying the good name of C.G mix as this one did.
Kawada’s live track, Kaze to Kimi wo Daite, was originally a good song (one of her few eroge tracks worth noting), but the live recording turns it into a great one. With Mami sounding far more sure of herself than on the original recording, the performance of the song can best be described as a ‘tightened’ version of the original. Shorter runtime, a better vocal and the welcome addition of electric guitars to the previously fully-electronic arrangement all contribute to one of the best live tracks of the set, and even if it isn’t necessarily all that indicative of Mami’s body of work it’s a welcome addition to the tracklisting.
Harder to analyze is the Kaori Utatsuki single, end of refrain ～Chiisana Hajimari～. The choice of Tomoyuki Nakazawa and Takeshi Ozaki as production team was something of an oddball selection, considering the comparative lack of history between the Nakazawa/Ozaki team and Utatsuki when compared with her more frequent collaborators Maiko Iuchi or C.G mix, and it doesn’t quite work. The song isn’t bad by any means, and unlike Paranoia it’s not too horribly dull to be remembered, but it sounds too much like Utatsuki treading water to truly be worth a recommendation. There’s nothing in the song that she hasn’t done before, and Ozaki’s guitars keep sounding like they want to break out and really rock the place, but they’re too polite to actually make good on their promise. Kaori may have more hidden potential than any of the I’ve girls, but at this rate it’s never going to be used for anything.
While the majority of the live song selections are fairly well-mastered recordings, the recordings from Utatsuki and KOTOKO both sound frankly terrible. Not too much due to bad performances, although KOTOKO’s is admittedly questionable, but through a general muddiness to the sound that renders both Close to me… and Senecio unpleasingly messy, instruments largely impossible to separate from each other and forming more of an unintentional ‘wall of sound’ feeling than the more distinct melodies of the original compositions. Neither track is anything to write home about, unless for some reason one really needs an example of how KOTOKO songs used to not be all that good.
And speaking of KOTOKO, her ‘snIpe’ has quickly proven itself to be the fan favourite of the box, and even with my long and storied prejudice against Maiko Iuchi I have to confess she did a good job with the single. Evoking in no small way her recent Mami Kawada single ‘masterpiece’, Iuchi produces a slick little number clearly intentioned as a reminder that, despite a number of recent missteps, KOTOKO is still the main attraction of the I’ve roster. Her vocals are strained, sure, but that’s more or less been how KOTOKO’s always sounded. The song, of course, doesn’t really tell the listener what KOTOKO is ‘all about’, of course, but in order for a song to truly accomplish that it’d have to mix I’ve’s trance style with industrial metal and denpa and who knows what else, and the prospect of such a freakish Frankensong makes me somewhat grateful that Iuchi decided not to try in that regard. A good song with a good hook, and it reminds you of her previous works (particularly the Prism Ark themes) without being openly derivative of any.
Overall, the Departed to the Future set suffers from a daunting price tag and an unnecessary packaging model (there was no reason whatsoever for the box to contain 5 CDs and 6 DVDs), but the actual music contained within, particularly the live tracks from Kawada and MELL, actually comes as a pleasant surprise for those who have come to expect only the worst from I’ve recently. Granted, it’s unlikely that any of these songs will live on as classics quite like I’ve triumphs like Re-sublimity or Red fraction have, but considering the apocalyptic anxiety surrounding the release, it’s failed to drive a stake through the heart of I’ve and sometimes that’s enough.