Tsubaki Factory — “Ishiki Takai Otome no Dilemma / Dakishimerarete Mitai” single

The sixth major single from Tsubaki Factory is so Tsubaki Factory, and I mean that in a positive way. Sure, they’re channeling “Teion Yakedo” on “Dakishimerarete Mitai”, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering both were written by the same team (Kodama Ameko and Ohashi Riko), but “Dakishimerarete Mitai” is more subtle and restrained in terms of both composition and arrangement. “Dakishimerarete” is less immediately satisfying, but the longer journey is ultimately as fulfilling, or nearly so, anyway. I doubt it will ever eclipse “Teion Yakedo” in my ranking, but it’s a worthy addition to the TF catalog.

“Hey. You in the center. You’re in my spot. I know I’ve been away, but that’s MY spot.” —Asakura Kiki

The lead track, “Ishiki Takai Otome no Dilemma”, cribs the chopped-and-stuttered piano effect from a trio of Morning Musume songs — “Toki wo Koe Sora wo Koe”, “Ima Koko Kara” and “The Vision” — all arranged by Okubo Kaoru, so you’ll not be shocked to learn he is the creative force behind this arrangement, as well. “Dilemma” is better than all but the first of those MM songs, and his signature effect works better here than any of them, as the staccato rhythm of the piano is buttressed with synths and bass flling the empty spaces. The verse and bridge definitely have a Morning Musume ’15 vibe, but the chorus is all TF, and overall this sounds less like MM than “Just Try!” from their debut single does.

“Dilemma” also features a beautifully shot video that takes the girls out of the studio set and into the real world. They all look suitably troubled/conflicted to fit the song, and they all look great. It’s as aesthetically interesting as it its pleasing, and that soap bubble pop at then end of the first chorus is dynamite. I’m not buying the dance during the musical break, though, because outside of Kishimoto, none of these girls can pull of “intense”, so those hard, intense dance moves just look ridiculous to me. Something interesting about the video is that it was filmed in 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the now-standard wide-screen 16:9. A commenter at YouTube suggested they were going for a retro style, which based on the  70s TV color grading of the outdoor shots seems like a decent theory, but I think it’s something else. Most of the shots are close-ups of one thing or another, and the 4:3 aspect ratio allows the focus of those shots to fill the entire viewing area and appear even bigger and bolder. It also forces the director to be a bit more creative with the in-studio dance shots. Whatever the reason for it, the results are great.

Add it all up, and Tsubaki Factory has delivered another winner. That’s six-out-of-six plus an outstanding long-player for arguably the least talented group in the current Hello! Project stable. H!P has done a good job of not asking TF to do much more than what they are capable of, and what they are capable of is delivering conventional J-idol pop in a way that is both enjoyable to watch and listen to. While I would rank this single in the lower half of the Tsubaki Factory catalog, that’s more a function of just how good their catalog is than anything else.

We are long past the point of wondering when Tsubaki Factory is going to trip over their collective feet, as the bitter scent of their forgettable indies run has given way to the refreshing fragrance of their now six singles-deep majors career. This flower was picked the optimal moment and has stood out and enlivened a collection of often intense and serious releases from their sister groups in H!P. Being a conventional J-idol group has afforded Tsubaki Factory an opportunity to stand out in the Hello! Project, and so far they’ve made the most of it.

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