When it was announced that Kago Ai would return to the H!P stage as part of their 20th Anniversary celebrations in 2018, speculation for her future was rampant. Was this a one-off? Would she take part in future OG Musume? Will we get a W reunion? W’s finished, yet unreleased, 7th single and 3rd album had become the Holy Grails of H!P fandom after Kago’s seemingly permanent exile from the company. W’s confirmation as performers at this year’s Hina Fest gave fans the first bit of hope ever that both of these Grails were within reach.
What we got was basically 75% of what we wanted: a 5-song EP featuring both songs from the cancelled 7th single and three tracks from the cancelled W3:faithful album. All are covers, save for what was to be the single’s B-side “Choi Waru Devil”.
“Choi Waru Devil” immediately transports you back to 2006 with it’s whimsical and deceptively complex arrangement. The famous motif from Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (you know it even if you don’t know where it’s from) makes appearances under both the verses and the bridge, and fits perfectly with the frenetic nature of the chart. The catchy chorus is pure J-idol fun, and it deftly ties everything together. This is the sort of crazy pop that H!P was able to pull off for years due in large part to the very existence of TsujiKago, and it’s a treat to hear some prime new-old-stock 13 years on.
The 7th single A-side was to be “Dou ni mo Tomaranai”, and it’s bread-and-butter W: a great up-beat oldie, modernized but with just enough retro-feel retained, and arguably besting the original. “Koi no Vacance” is the blueprint, and they follow it here like a fucking Frank Lloyd Wright construction crew. Kago, especially, seems to shine on these tracks, and she does not disappoint this time, either. Of all the versions of this song I’ve heard, this phenomenal recording is my favorite.
W’s reading of Akiko Yano’s “Harusaki Kobeni” is mostly faithful to the original, although the updated arrangement actually feels more “classic” than Yano’s now horribly-dated 80s recording. This is breezy light pop driven by a spirited drum performance, and very reminiscent of Melocure in both the arrangement and the abundance of infectious melodies. The vocals require a lighter touch than either Kago or Tsuji are capable of really nailing, although there are a few moments of magic in the verses.
“Kojin Jugyou” falls a bit flat with an arrangement that sits somewhere between the original Finger 5 70s-shuffle and misono’s mid-aughts rocker, and the result feels a little bit try-hard to me. Both girls take a stab at some soulful melisma, but neither are quite up to the task, although it’s possible the clunky arrangement just threw them off of their game. misono’s tight, focused arrangement (minus the ridiculous funk interlude) and easy, confident performance is superior.
The EP closes with a fun arrangement of “Uchi ni Kagitte Sonna Koto wa Nai Hazu” (originally recorded by H!P fave Moritaka Chisato) that suits W well. The “cool sampling”, choppy jitter effects and overall quirky nature of this make if feel more like a remix than a proper release, but this is the charm of J-idol music in general, and H!P in particular. I could easily envision H!P having done one of their hyper-cheapo MVs for this featuring cut-outs of Kago and Tsuji over rudimentary animation, and loving every minute of it.
Up-Front finally came through with the goods, or most of them, anyway, and for that they should be applauded. Sadly, this is a digital-only release, and fans outside of Japan can only purchase the lead track. This is stupid, and for this UF should be put in the Cone of Shame. The best way to motivate UF to release more W material is to show them that doing so is profitable to the company. Making only one track available to the bulk of the world is short-sighted, because if pirating is the only avenue you leave for fans to consume your product, guess what fans are going to do, matey? That said, what we’re getting with the return of Kago is far more than anyone expected by this point, so I’m just going to savor every moment of W that H!P gives us, even if all of this should have happened years ago.