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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Song of the Week! 9 August 2014

As last week's Saturday Anniversary feature was about our faithful readers, this one is about the Taiko Time staff as a whole. We never really mentioned how I and the other contributors got together to begin with for this project in four years we're running the blog, so I hope that both today's triple feature and the following abridged story of how we met each other are enough to paint a bigger picture of Taiko Time's roots.

Many of you guys might already know the story, but the game that linked all of Taiko Time's staff members is osu!, a freeware rhythm game for PCs (and later smartphones and tablets) that makes it possible to create a chart and to play it with any song of your choice through a variety of game modes like Taiko no Tatsujin, beatmania IIDX and the software's origin, developer iNiS's Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan game series, which is the main game mode (unlike what is being misleadingly reported by Google's web/image search by displaying an image of the PC Guitar Hero freeware simulator Frets on Fire as the first result).

Of course, in one way or another, all of us really got involved into the Taiko aspect of osu!, gradually resulting in a massive gathering in a gargantuan topic on the site's forums called 'Aquabluu's Taiko Maps', where TT blog admin Aquabluu/pikaby periodically exposes the osu!Taiko community to the hardest official charts ever made for Taiko no Tatsujin, for all players to enjoy on their computers (the 'Taiko Trials'). Over the years, the board also acted as a sort of chat room for everyone who wanted to talk about authentic Taiko games in general (both past and current ones), resulting in over 2000 pages of comments being made in about 6 years! Some time after the board's surprisingly high popularity, the idea of a proper website for non-Japanese fans sparkled into pikaby's mind, and the rest is history.

Overall, when we really come down to it, the main reason of why this blog came to be in the first place is iNiS's Ouendan rhythm game franchise for Nintendo DS system, whose popularity managed to link all the current contributors. And since we haven't really digressed into said game series that much among our song features (even if we did already mention several J-Pop and Variety tracks), it's time to set things right by featuring one song for each of the original Ouendan trilogy of games games. Off we go!

 Guts Da Ze!! (ガッツだぜ!!) Ufuls -Old-
Taiko 3x3 (???)x4 (345) x1 (345)x4 (345)
Taiko 4x3 (152)x4 (200) x1 (345)x3 (389)
 Taiko 3, 4, Taiko PS2 2
-Taiko 3 Version-

-Taiko 4, PS2 2 Version-

 Guts Da Ze!! (ガッツだぜ!!) Ufuls -New-
Allx3 (226)x4 (226) x5 (226)x6 (226)
 Taiko 0 S (promo only)

The first game of this Nintendo DS series is called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (押忍!闘え!応援団, lit. "Yeah! Fight! Cheer Squad") which was released in Japan on July 28th, 2005. Published by Nintendo, the game is about the never-ending efforts of the local male cheer squad, worn with their distinctive black gaku-ran (Japanese male school uniforms) and red armbands, who set out to help many different characters by cheering them up with their energetic dances, resulting -if successful- into a stream of energy for the assisted ones.

In order to make the Ouendan boys' cheer powerful, players have to properly hit several markers on the lower screen: Hit Markers have to be touched, Phase Markers have to be followed by dragging a ball back-and-forth along the rhythm and Spin Markers have to be spun with quick stylus rotations on the screen. The three markers are also the basic gameplay mechanic to both this game's sequels and of course, osu's Ouendan-inspired game mode, with the only difference being using the cursor (either with mouse or tablet). Like the subsequent DS games, there are four difficulty settings, with each difficulty featuring either different Ouendan leaders or an all-female cheer squad.

Each of the game's characters is assisted using a cover of an appropriate popular J-Pop song to overcome their problems. With some notable exceptions, all of Ouendan's plot lines are wacky and lighthearted; in the case of Guts Da Ze!!, the cheer squad helps an out-of-shape horse to win an important race, while also chasing a thief in the process on both land and sea (video). That's a typical, over-the-top Ouendan scenario to you!

Speaking of the song itself, it is the 9th single and first real hit of Ufuls, a Japanese rock band from Osaka. Founded in 1992, this is a 4-man band whose name is derived from a misreading of the word "soulful," found on the cover of one of the band members' favorite records.With Tortoise Matsumoto as the lead singer, Ulful Keisuke on guitar, John B. Chopper on bass and Sankon Jr. on drums, Ufuls has made over 30 singles up to this day, also counting a change in their publishing pabel in 2007 (from EMI to Warner Music) and a hiatus that lasted from 2009 to February of this year. Released on December 6th, 1995, Guts Da Ze is the first single of the band which reached Oricon's Best 10 songs charts, peaking at 6th place. The Ouendan cover of the song is performed and sung by Hiroaki Takeuchi (竹内宏彰).

The Taiko debut of Guts Da Ze couldn't have been merrier, being the only new song for the 3rd arcade model to be playable on all difficulties (most songs had incomplete sets back then)! However a proper, diversified notechart set was used with the subsequent arcade release and the second Playstation 2 videogame (where the Muzukashii and Oni/Donderful charts aren't the same). However, one feature for the old Oni/Donderful mode stands out; unlike the other modes, the basic BPM offered is double the originally-intended BPM value for the other modes, as scrollbar speed changes were not a proper Taiko feature yet. Later the song has been revived for TV Asahi's special Sorairo arcades, for the Kanjani Eight variety show's featured songs; this time around, a shorter cut of the song has been chosen, featuring a different cover version from the previous games and -once again- the same notechart for all difficulties.

 ABC Jackson 5
TDM (USA)x1 (137)x2 (197) x2 (338)x2 (338)
TDM (JP)x2 (137)x2 (197) x2 (338)x2 (338)
TDM (2P)x2 (121)x2 (188) x2 (240/238)x2 (240/238)

Surprisingly enough, the second entry for this franchise wasn't the direct sequel of the first JP-only title, but instead the Western localization known as Elite Beat Agents, released in the US on November 6th, 2006 and in the Europe-Australasia areas the year after, respectively on May 7th and July 13th. After the booming success of the first Ouendan title and the surprisingly high rate of export copies being shipped around the world, the idea of an localized port for the original game came in mind to both the publisher (Nintendo) and iNiS, but lead designer Keiichi Yano (矢野慶一) opted for a fleshed-out separate game, as many of Ouendan's scenarios and characters are more akin to the Japanese culture.

Yano's proposal to the "Ouendan 1 in English" project' lead to the creation of a suitable title for the 'Touch! Generation' DS software line which was still faithful to the original idea behind the first title. This time around, however, the cheer squads all come from a fictional government agency lead by Commander Kahn, who seeks for the most hopeless folks in trouble around the world and sends out the eponymous Elite Beat Agents to support them. Removing all the J-Pop songs, the tracklist is instead composed of Western tracks, both classic and contemporary.

Many elements of Western culture helped shape the game's main characters, from movies (Ghostbusters, Men In Black, The Blues Brothers) to TV series (Thunderbirds, Charlie's Angels), as well as elements from the original Ouendan being adapted for some storylines. Some new features have been added as well, like the two player versus, the aforementioned new cheer squads (Elite Beat Agents and Elite Beat Divas) with different leaders and new unlockable content in the form of extra leaders and stages, which makes for a bigger song library for the game than Ouendan's (19 instead of 15).

One of these extra songs is TC Moses and Brittany Kertesz's cover version of Jackson 5's ABC, played in the game for the scenario of a cat trying to save his master's baby from danger at a construction site, in classic Tom and Jerry style! This particular stage is particularly relevant as it's probably the result of the very first stage presented by Keiichi Yano to Nintendo while developing the very first Ouendan game; said prototype stage never came to be in the original title, as the puppy that had to be saved in said demo actually dies if the player fails the level.

Now on to the actual song! As mentioned above, the song I'm talking about is the 1970 hit by the American family band Jackson 5 (or simply, 'The Jacksons'), highly remembered in musical history not only for being one of the first black American musical acts but also for being the first recording act which has climbed the Billboard Hot 100 charts consecutively with their very first 4 singles (with ABC being the 2nd one). Performing since their childhood, all the former and current members of Jackson 5 are brother and sisters from the namesake family (Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, Michael and Randy), each having a different musical instrument and voice, mostly with Jermaine Jackson as the lead singer. The band faced different hiatuses along the years after the Victory Tour in 1984, both due to Micheal and Randy Jackson leaving the band shortly after said tour, but the remaining members are currently active (both individually and as the Jacksons band) and also a will to honor Michael Jackson's death in 2009, both with the posthumous movie concert This Is It and the Victory Tour between 2012/2013.

ABC came out as a vinyl single  on February 24th, 1970, managing to outclass the Beatles's single Let It Be in the US Billboard charts. Curiously enough, the eponymous studio album of May 8th of the same year also came out in the same day of the Beatles' very last studio album, Let it Be. The song was one of the band's first soul pieces starring an 11-year old Micheal Jackson as the main vocal leader, with the other members assisting with the singing and instrumental support by Wilton Felder (bass), Gene Pello (drums), David T. Walker, Louis Shelton and Don Peake (guitars).

ABC on Taiko Drum Master is one of the easiest songs to beat on the disc, at 2* Oni on both the US version and the JP version. It could have been harder, but the song was meant to be enjoyed after all.

 POP STAR Ken Hirai
Taiko 8, Taiko PSP 2x3 (100)x3 (138) x4 (276)x8 (467/451/430)
Taiko +x3 (100)x3 (138) x4 (276)x7 (467/451/430)
 Taiko 8, Taiko PSP 2, Taiko +

Finally, the last game of this trilogy, released on May 17th 2007 as a Japanese exclusive, came to the land of the Rising Sun with the extremely long title of Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (燃えろ!熱血リズム魂 押忍!闘え!応援団2, lit. "Let's Go! Hot-Blooded Rhythm Spirit: Yeah! Fight! Cheer Squad 2").

After the first Ouendan game's events, the sequel takes place some time after the previous one in the same town, and added another town across the river of the first, which is led by another cheer squad. This results in the player having to take control of both the two different Ouendan teams to help the residents of the respective towns, with Ryuta Ippongi and his crew from the first game helping people in Yuhi, and newcomer Hayato Saionji has to lead the action in Asahi with his crew, whose uniforms are closer to a real life, full-blue military outfit.

All the new features from Elite Beat Agents make their appearance on this game, also adding some other features like the ability to skip both stage intros and endings for cleared stages and DS downloadable content from selected download stations (or Action Replay codes), allowing the selection of new leaders and the Elite Beat Agents themselves as extra characters for the game. The ability to unlock some bonus stages has been ported from the Western release as well, rounding this game's songlist to 19.

In Ouendan 2's Asahi town, a plastic surgeon is having a hard time when he is dumped on an island with eccentric requests from the people there, such as make hair grow out of an old bald guy, fix a malfunctioning microwave and even restore the muscular tone of a tired horse (the same one from Ouendan 1's Guts Da Ze stage!). The newcomer blue Ouendan team comes in to support and cheer him up with a cover of POP STAR, pop singer Ken Hirai (平井堅)'s only single for the year 2005 and also one of his greatest hits.

Born in the Osaka city of Hiayoshiosaka on January 17th, 1972, Hirai is also popular as a Japanese 'Rhythm & Blues' musician (R&B), as his musical career started in the last years of the Second Millennium with the release of both pop songs and R&B music. After a warm reception from the English audience for a musical event in New York's Apollo Theather, Hirai's works have are popular not only in Japan, but also overseas and Asia in general. Over the years, he made over 30 singles and 10 studio albums, with most of them getting a really positive reception in Japan. POP STAR, his 23rd single, is his fourth track who managed to peak Oricon's daily and weekly charts at the first place, resulting in over 240.000 copies sold worldwide and several cameos on the media of the time, being featured both in Japanese dramas (Kiken na Ameki) and rhythm games with the Ouendan, Taiko and jubeat franchises.

POP STAR is one of very few charts to have forked paths in the J-Pop genre, and there is a significant difference between all of them. Staying in Tatsujin path means dealing with a barrage of 5-note clusters at the chorus.

1 comment:

  1. Publishing this first, will get to proofreading and fixing the rest of the article tomorrow XD