J-POP OVERVIEW

Frienger - Ai Otsuka

Frienger
Released Date: 2006.04.12
Debut Ranking: #2
Label: avex trax
Product: AVCD-30916
Extra: 5 colour CD jacket

“Frienger”, Ai Otsuka’s (or intimately referred to as “Ai-chin” by her hardcore fans) 11th single, was released on April 12, 2006, approximately 7 months after the release of her 10th hit single, “ Planetarium“. For those of you who are curious about the title, “Frienger” is a word combining “friend” and “ranger”, which relates how a friend is like a ranger who will always fight for you whenever you’re in trouble.

A preview of “Frienger” was first heard when au mobile MUSIC-HDD W41T used it as a TV commercial song. The B-side of this single, “Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri”, which translates to “Taste Those Sweet Feelings Boldly”, was also used as the commercial song for music.jp, a popular music download site for Japanese mobile phones.

While many anticipated this single to be one of her best selling singles to date due to the upbeat A-side (her upbeat singles usually sell extremely well, i.e. “Sakuranbo” and “SMILY”), the sales of “Frienger” unfortunately did not meet fans’ expectations and achieved a rather mediocre first week sales figure of 70,414 copies. It seems that not even Ai-chin’s nationwide concert tour, “ LOVE COOK [99] Tour”, could help to promote this single too much either.

The cover of “Frienger” features Ai-chin on a scooter. According to what she revealed in an interview, the scooter is too cool and fashionable to be not on the cover! “Frienger” is the first single from Ai Otsuka that does not offer first press special, but instead the CD jacket comes in 5 different colours that represents the 5 rangers from the PV. The CD+DVD package comes with a DVD that shows you a short clip of behind the scenes and the full length “Frienger” PV.

1. Frienger

This upbeat song was picked to be Ai Otsuka’s spring single this year. While it’s not as wild as her past spring singles such as “Sakuranbo” and “SMILY”, “Frienger” still manages to deliver a very catchy tune accompanied by Ai-chin’s usual funny yet adorable lyrics. This song starts with a very simple electric guitar solo with drumset accompaniment. Just before the vocals come into the whole picture, we get to hear a distinct yet familiar “Fight!” yelled by Ai-chin, which is one of the very important ingredients that was used to tie the whole song together, especially the whole “friend” and “ranger” theme.

For those of you who are familiar with “U-Boat”, a song recorded for Ai-chin’s 3rd album, “LOVE COOK”, “Frienger” does show some shadows of it in terms of arrangement and special effects. However, I believe “Frienger” still stands on its own as proof of how Ai Otsuka is capable of delivering an upbeat spring single that pumps you up to embrace the arrival of a new season. Funny and adorable lyrics such as “stuffing my face with milk bread, I also reach for the chocolate pie” really makes this song a very approachable one, and it doesn’t fail to show us once again how simplicity in lyrics works when it comes from a singer called Ai Otsuka.

It is interesting to note that the PV of “Frienger” was shot in Taipei, Taiwan and the whole PV conveys the idea of “ranger” quite well, though not so much on the “friend” part. Still, it is always pleasant to see Ai-chin acting all goofy in front of the camera, and shooting this PV in Taiwan does add a very unique oriental feel to it. I am quite satisfied with the PV and I think it does do the song justice in terms of bringing the image of this song to the audience.

Rating: 4.5/5

2. Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri

The song starts with Ai-chin’s girly vocals accompanied by a very soft acoustic guitar, which brings out the soothing effect of this song. Ai-chin stated that this song was specifically composed to couple with “Frienger”, and personally I think it does flow very well with the A-side, giving this single a more complete feel. The melody is simple and catchy despite being a mid-tempo song, and as a contrast to “Frienger”, the harmony was done in Ai-chin’s voice instead of using male vocals, which really showcases the sweet and feminine feeling of this song. This song also makes use of very well fitted harmonies at several parts, such as my personal favourite, the line where she sings “amai kimochi maru kajiri”. It all adds to the fullness of the melody which would otherwise be very empty due to the limited amount of instruments used in the arrangement. The same line of lyrics that started this song was also used to conclude the song. To me, everything just ended in peaceful harmony and it leaves you feeling a desire for more.

The lyrics speak from a girl’s perspective on how she wishes to become stronger and how she feels thankful for having her lover who always stays beside her and watches over her. Just as how Ai-chin put it, this song is very girly and it blends perfectly with “Frienger”, which is more on the strong and tomboyish side.

Overall, this is definitely one of her best B-sides to date, and it really shows how her composition skills are getting sharper over time since this is one of her latest works in 2006. “Frienger”, on the other hand, was composed 2 years back when she first debuted.

Rating: 5/5

Conclusion: Despite the bad single sales for some unknown reason, I really love this and I believe it is yet another quality single from Ai Otsuka that is worth buying for everyone who enjoys upbeat spring songs. If you are one of those people who heard songs from Ai Otsuka before and didn’t really like what you heard, I don’t think this single is groundbreaking enough to change your mind. Still, it does not mean she hasn’t grown musically but rather she continues to do what she does best in. Compared with her other singles similar to this one such as “Sakuranbo”, “Happy Days” and “SMILY”, “Frienger” is a more toned down song that will probably appeal to a wider audience, especially those who just cannot withstand the sheer hyperness in her previous upbeat hit songs. In my opinion, “Frienger” does strike the perfect balance between “absolutely crazy” and “moderately happy”, making it her best executed upbeat single to date.

1. Frienger
2. Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri
3. Frienger (Instrumental)
4. Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri (Instrumental)
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