Hitomi Shimatani – SMILES

April 1, 2009 at 9:57 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 1 Comment
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Tracklisting
1. SMILES
2. Stay with me
3. SMILES -Instrumental-
4. Stay with me -Instrumental-

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 29th single and it was released on March 4, 2009. The single reached #27 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 5,509 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the movie Parallel.

SMILES is a simpler track compared to Hitomi Shimatani’s previous upbeat A-sides. While the song does come off as uneventful at first, it has a minimal yet pleasant sound that is reminiscent of the spring season. The arrangement is mainly acoustic based with some light beats added in, so the music is quite cheery. I have to admit that the chorus is pretty catchy and Shimtani’s vocals are wonderful as usual.

I enjoyed the B-side more though. Stay with me sounds a little bit like SMILES, but there is more emphasis on piano and strings, which I really liked. I also thought this song was more charming and memorable when it comes to overall sound. The looping vocals with the French lyrics (c’est la de pas du du fa sot) were a cute addition too.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Hitomi Shimatani – Flare

August 12, 2008 at 6:17 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 1 Comment
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The cover of the CD only edition

Flare is Hitomi Shimatani’s 7th album and it was released on July 16, 2008. The album reached #21 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 13,174 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

The first track is a cute song that gives off a 90s dance vibe. Heavenly is a little more reserved than I thought it would be but it’s actually quite charming. The music is a mix of vibrant strings and light beats set to a medium tempo. The instruments and musical rhythm really showcase an American 90s sound that is reminiscent of the lighter dance songs from that decade. It’s not too aggressive but Shimatani’s vocals make this song pretty catchy and more upbeat too.

The next track is odd to say the least. Start has an offbeat arrangement filled with aggressive piano chords and various synthetic sounds. I got that 90s vibe again but not the good kind like when I heard Heavenly. Shimatani’s vocal style is kind of strange too since she sings most of the song in her lower register, which probably wasn’t the best choice for her because she doesn’t sound as good. I think the song could have been better executed because it had the potential to be good.

This is a song that I find incredibly catchy and thanks to multiple listens, I have memorized the title! Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo is a breezy and carefree song with fantastic vocals. Shimatani really makes the chorus shine by singing the long winded title in an upbeat fashion.

Along with the 90s sound that some of the new tracks have, there are also songs that have a certain ethnic flavor to them. Dita isn’t one of the Spanish inspired songs that she does so well, but something else. The music is hard to describe but I think that it has a French or Mediterranean atmosphere. The laid back piano, percussion, and heavy use of the flute makes me think this. Then again, I also think this song sounds like elevator music because it’s boring too.

At least we get a temporary break from the slow songs with Shinku, a taste of the lingering crossover genre that Shimatani excels at. You get the powerful strings and thumping beats which are essential for the crossover sound, plus a strong vocal performance as well. For me, this was the best single that she released for the album.

I wasn’t expecting Nakitai Nara to be right after Shinku. I thought that the transition from a powerful pop song to a depressing ballad was a little off. I didn’t really like the song when it was released as a single but it has slowly grown on me since then. At this stage of the album, it’s not the boring ballad that I originally thought it was. It’s actually sung quite well and the string arrangement is extremely effective in creating the sad mood of the music.

Dear… is another one of those “French / Mediterranean / elevator” songs that I mentioned before when I examined Dita, but this one is actually pretty good. It has a nice and laid back sound with a crisp arrangement consisting of guitars and various percussion instruments. The song makes me think of a relaxing day at the beach…or something. Anyway, Shimatani pulls it off this time.

The album takes a turn for the better with what is definitely the best of the new tracks. Taiyou no Flare is a stunning pop song and it has a little dash of that crossover sound thanks to the inclusion of dance beats that go with the flowing strings in the background. I loved the chorus because it so uplifting and Shimatani shows off those stellar vocals when she performs that taiyou no flare line.

So I have said that some of the new songs on this album are similar to American 90s music, but WAKE YOU UP is a little different. The deep English background vocals, quick single notes, and electric guitar dominated bridge are all common elements of classic 90s J-pop. The arrangement is so quirky but I also think it’s very fun, especially during the chorus. It has now become one of my favorite songs on the album and I have been listening to it A LOT lately.

After we’ve been woken up, it’s now time to Shake it up! There is a nice, constant beat and it’s the most ethnic sounding track on the album. It’s also the only one to hint at a Spanish vibe since the bridge has this cool bottle tapping sequence and you do hear a man talking in Spanish under an echo filter.

Neva Eva provides some much needed variety to the album. The heavy brass arrangement really makes this song shine and along with the electric guitars and drums, there is almost a ska sound going on. Shimatani also gives one of her best most upbeat vocal performances as well.

I’m glad that Marvelous ends the album on a happy note. It’s an uplifting song with ambient piano chords and underlying synth. The chorus is very vibrant with its upbeat and catchy vocals too. Even though it still sounds quite similar to Camellia, it makes for a good ending track.

On the CD only edition, there is a new strings version of Ai no Uta that appears as a bonus track. I loved the original version and that only featured the piano but with the addition of strings, the song is even better. They actually don’t appear until about a minute in but they are absolutely gorgeous. Shimatani’s beautiful adlibbing sequence that makes up the beginning of the bridge was my favorite part in the original version and the new strings just solidified that.

I have to admit that Flare is a downgrade when compared to her last album PRIMA ROSA, but it still has its strong points. She will always be a chameleon when it comes to musical genres because she does some more experimenting on this album with songs like Heavenly, Dear…, and Neva Eva and I appreciate that. It also helps that she maintains her strong versatility as a singer. The biggest problem that I had with the album were the new tracks, except for Taiyou no Flare and maybe Heavenly. They could have been a little better and I wish there was some more effort put into them as well. As a whole, I felt that Flare wasn’t as cohesive as I would have liked it to be, but then again almost all of her albums have missteps when it comes to flow. Overall, I liked this album and there are a good amount of standout tracks too. While not as good as past albums, Flare still proves to be an enjoyable, yet relaxing listen.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. Heavenly
2. Start
3. Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo
     (雨の日には 雨の中を 風の日には 風の中を)
4. Dita
5. Shinku (深紅)
6. Nakitai Nara (泣きたいなら)
7. Dear…
8. Taiyou no Flare (太陽のFlare)
9. WAKE YOU UP
10. Shake it up!
11. Neva Eva
12. Marvelous
13. Ai no Uta Strings version (愛の詩) [CD only bonus track]

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Hitomi Shimatani – WAKE YOU UP / Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo / Marvelous

July 10, 2008 at 10:14 AM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 4 Comments
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Tracklisting
CD+DVD edition
1. WAKE YOU UP
2. Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo
    Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo
    (雨の日には 雨の中を 風の日には 風の中を)
3. Marvelous

CD only edition
1. Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo
    Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo
2. Ameoto -Ame no Hi ni wa
    Ame no Naka wo Zenya-
   (雨音 -雨の日には雨の中を 前夜-)
3. Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi 
    ni wa Kaze no Naka wo feat. GooF 
    from SOFFet (SMOOTH RAP version)
4. Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi
    ni wa Kaze no Naka wo (Instrumental)
5. Ameoto -Ame no Hi ni
    wa Ame no Naka wo Zenya- (Instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 28th single and it was released on June 25, 2008. The single reached #33 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 5,988 copies. WAKE YOU UP was used as the theme song for the drama Keitai Sousakan 7.

I thought the way avex released this single was kind of strange so I thought I would try to explain it the best I can. The CD+DVD edition is a triple A-side single with no instrumentals while the CD only features the song Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo as the main A-side with additional coupling tracks (it’s also labeled as a collaboration with Mitsuo Aida). The thing is, several online retailers list the CD only edition as a separate single but other places like the Oricon charts and Hitomi Shimatani’s official website consider them as one release. For instance, the Oricon charts combined both editions for the weekly total, just like a normal J-pop release that has multiple editions. So let’s go on to the review!

Starting with what’s on the CD+DVD edition, WAKE YOU UP kicks things off with an old school vibe. The song is very reminiscent of music from the 90s J-pop scene with its single note bursts of synth and English background vocals. When I think about it, this could have easily been a ZARD song. Anyway, even though the arrangement is very chaotic and sometimes unorganized, I really liked the high octane energy of the music and Shimatani’s vocals. The upbeat chorus is also extremely catchy as well.

The next track has a tongue twister of a title. Try saying Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo five times! Based on a poem of the same name by Mitsuo Aida, the long title makes a very catchy appearance during the chorus and I loved the way the lyrics rhymed for a great poetic effect. This is actually my favorite song on the single because it just grabbed me on the first listen. As for the music; it’s very sweet and serene. The light bass beats and reggae like riffs also give the song an island vibe.

I know that everybody who is a fan of Shimatani has said that Marvelous sounds like a watered down version of Camellia…and they’re kind of right. It has a similar piano and synth arrangement that’s pretty upbeat with a chorus of the same style as well. I wouldn’t say the song is bad, but it’s definitely the weakest of the three songs on the CD+DVD edition.

♦ ♦ ♦

Now we move on to the CD only edition’s coupling tracks. Ameoto -Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Zenya- is a very laid back traditional ballad with gorgeous piano chords and light drums. Shimatani’s vocals breathe life into the music, especially during the ethereal chorus where some gentle strings come in. Further into the song, starting at the second verse, the drums get a little faster. For me, this was another great B-side by Shimatani.

Also on the CD only edition is the SMOOTH RAP version of Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo Kaze no Hi ni wa Kaze no Naka wo that features GooF from the R&B duo SOFFet (they’re on avex’s Rhythm Zone sublabel). Most of you guys know that I don’t normally like rappers featured in songs but I’ll make an exception this time because the rapping is actually GOOD. GooF mainly raps during the song’s instrumental sections but the final chorus also has him rapping alongside Shimatani’s vocals.

 Overall Rating

 4½ stars

Hitomi Shimatani – Nakitai Nara

April 9, 2008 at 4:00 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 4 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Nakitai Nara (泣きたいなら)
2. Kuchizuke Shiyou (口づけしよう)
3. Nakitai Nara (Instrumental)
4. Kuchizuke Shiyou (Instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 27th single and it was released on March 19, 2008. The single reached #34 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 4,969 copies.

As much as I love Hitomi Shimatani, her ballads are one of her weakest aspects as an artist. Most of them always end up being TOO simple and less than thrilling in the end. This is what I felt about Nakitai Nara, a sleepy song that’s just plain depressing. The music just feels so drab and lazy to the point that I lost all interest. I don’t think slow ballads are for Shimatani and this song could have been better if it was a little upbeat. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me.

Which brings me to the B-side, Kuchizuke Shiyou. This song is also a ballad, but it’s a lot more charming and sweet. At least it’s slightly upbeat and I liked the romantic lyrics. The accordions in the background were a nice touch, oddly enough. The chorus is quite memorable too with its cute “soutou kuchizuke shiyou, sora ni hoshi ni yoru ni line.

Overall Rating

3 stars

Hitomi Shimatani – Shinku / Ai no Uta

September 15, 2007 at 3:34 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Shinku (original version) (深紅)
2. Ai no Uta (愛の詩)
3. Shinku (A.C.E.3 version)
4. Shinku (Instrumental)
5. Ai no Uta (Instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 26th single and it was released on September 5, 2007. The single reached #14 on the Oricon Weekly Chart and sold 25,019 copies. The first track was used as the opening theme song for the video game A.C.E.3: The Final, while the second track was the ending theme.

Shinku is like a crossover between two previous Hitomi Shimatani songs. It has the dance beats and strings of Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- and the electronic synth pop of Garnet Moon. The heavy dance beats in this song are very strong this time around, especially during the gorgeous intro. Shimatani’s vocals are powerful and she carries the song with grace and power. This is another great addition to her vast inventory of ‘crossover’ styled songs.

The next track is the mesmerizing Ai no Uta. Compared to Shinku, the music is a little lackluster, but Shimatani’s beautiful vocal performance more than makes up for it. This song only features the piano, but the melody is lovely and it sounds so nice when accompanied with Shimatani’s voice.

Track 3 is a shortened version of Shinku that is used during the opening sequence of the video game A.C.E.3: The Final. The only main difference is that it opens with an explosive orchestral ensemble. It seriously gave me goosebumps on the first listen because it was such a surprise. It quickly flows into the regular beginning of the song.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Hitomi Shimatani – Neva Eva

July 3, 2007 at 3:39 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 1 Comment
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Tracklisting
1. Neva Eva
2. Hakuchuumu (白昼夢)
3. Neva Eva (instrumental)
4. Hakuchuumu (instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 25th single and it was released on June 6, 2007. The single reached #22 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 10,749 copies.

Much like her previous single Dragonfly, Neva Eva showcases a new sound from Hitomi Shimatani. The song has a ska vibe to it because of its excessive use of the brass section. I also liked the underlying electric guitar throughout the entire song and there is a nice solo during the bridge. Shimatani’s vocals are pretty catchy and like her vocal performance in Dragonfly, she handles the quick pace of the song very well.

The B-side is the tropical sounding Hakuchuumu. Compared to the A-side, it’s much more laid back but still features a strong brass section. The song is not exactly an eye opener but it’s still pretty good.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Hitomi Shimatani – PRIMA ROSA

June 16, 2007 at 9:49 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | Leave a comment
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The cover of the CD only edition

PRIMA ROSA is Hitomi Shimatani’s 6th album and it was released on March 7, 2007. The album reached #16 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 24,818 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

The first track is the energetic Ramblin’. It’s a very pretty song with gentle electric guitar and percussion. Shimatani’s vocals are wonderful especially when she sings the fast paced chorus. It’s a great song that instantly sets the refreshing tone of this album. 

Track 2 is a continuation of Ramblin’ as it follows the same upbeat pop style. Kimi no Koe has a dominant string arrangement with gorgeous vocals. Shimatani reaches those high notes easily and she doesn’t strain her voice.

The final track of the album’s ‘pop’ phase is Hareta Hi wa…, a song that is pretty much a combination of the last two tracks. It’s nice but not as good as Ramblin’ or Kimi no Koe.

The album takes a completely different direction with the next track. Dragonfly, the last single released before the album, sticks out like a sore thumb since it has that strong rock sound and none of the other songs are like it.

I thought there was nothing ‘psychedelic’ about track 6, Psychedelic Future. It’s actually a bubblegum pop song with blaring brass and cutesy vocals. The carefree English lyrics of the bridge were fun and the bridge itself was definitely the best part of the song because it also has a incredibly catchy percussion solo. Compared to the rest of the songs on the album, this would be my least favorite simply because I thought the other songs were better and not because I didn’t like it.

I thought the new album version of Camellia was so much better than the single version. The new version is reminiscent of her past ‘crossover’ works because of the added strings and dance beats. A lot of the elements of the single version have been altered or removed and it’s a major improvement.

Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- is my favorite song on the album because it’s epic, grandiose, and extremely ethereal. The string and percussion arrangement is amazing and this is probably one of the best ‘crossover’ themed songs of her career.

I really liked the western European sound of track 8, Praha no Onna. The music sounds very festive with its ethnic strings and clapping. This song is 1 of the 3 ‘cultured’ tracks on the album (even though the other 2 songs are Spanish inspired).

I thought it was kind of odd to place Koimizu -tears of love- smack dab in the middle of all these upbeat tracks. This song is a very pretty ballad but it would have been better if it was placed near the end of the album.

The next 2 tracks are a nice return to the Spanish pop songs of her early career. PASIO has a very catchy chorus and a very noticable accordion in the background.

El Dorado is the more ‘ethnic’ track of the two because it actually sounds authentic. I didn’t like it as much as PASIO even though it followed the same style.

I thought it was a bad idea to place Haru Machibito at the end since it has that refreshing spring atmosphere that the first 3 songs on the album had. It’s still a good song but it should have been placed right after Ramblin’.

On the CD+DVD edition of the album, Brand new Dream is the final track. This is a beautiful and uplifting song with a simple but absolutely gorgeous string arrangement. I loved the light hearted nature of the song.

On the CD only edition, Futari de Iijanai is a bonus track. The song was a duet with Sony artist Masayuki Suzuki. This song was also released as a collaboration single on January 15, 2007 (by Sony, not avex trax). The overall sound of this song is VERY old school and similar to 80s mainstream pop. I’m not too fond of Masayuki Suzuki but he has a nice, deep voice. However, when they sing together, Shimatani’s voice totally overpowers Suzuki’s. I mean, you CAN hear his voice, but Shimatani dominates the whole song just by listening to the chorus.

PRIMA ROSA was my first Hitomi Shimatani album and I loved it on the first listen. There were a lot of memorable tracks for me and I thought Shimatani’s voice was one of the best things I have heard in a long time. From a new fan’s perspective (like myself), this is a wonderful album. When I saw the reactions from veteran fans who have listened to past albums first such as Tsuioku+LOVE LETTER, Heart & Symphony, and even her special concept album crossover, they didn’t like PRIMA ROSA as much. I could understand what they are saying though and I would probably feel the same way under those situations, but I don’t. For those who want to try out Shimatani’s music, this album is an EXCELLENT introduction to the various styles of music that she performs. You get the ‘crossover’ genre songs (Destiny -Taiyou no Hana-), the ethnic songs from the earlier years of her career (PASIO), as well as the pop songs (Ramblin’). Her past albums have had a consistant sound but PRIMA ROSA combines it all in one nice package. I would have liked it if they moved certain tracks because some of the songs felt really out of place (Koizmizu -tears of love- and Haru Machibito were the biggest examples of this). Aside from that, this is a flawless album.

Overall Rating

5 stars

Tracklisting

1. Ramblin’
2. Kimi no Koe (君の声)
3. Hareta Hi wa… (晴れた日は・・・)
4. Dragonfly
5. Psychedelic Future (サイケデリック*フューチャー)
6. Camellia (PRIMA ROSA Version) (Camellia -カメリア-)
7. Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- (Destiny -太陽の花-)
8. Praha no Onna (プラハの女)
9. Koimizu -tears of love- (恋水 -tears of love-)
10. PASIO (PASIO~パッシオ)
11. El Dorado
12. Haru Machibito (春待人)
13. Brand new Dream
14. Futari de Iijanai (ふたりでいいじゃない) / Masayuki Suzuki & Hitomi Shimatani
      [CD only bonus track]

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Hitomi Shimatani – Dragonfly

June 2, 2007 at 9:48 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | 1 Comment
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Tracklisting
1. Dragonfly
2. Bye-Bye
3. Dragonfly instrumental
4. Bye-Bye instrumental

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 24th single and it was released on February 21, 2007. The single reached #29 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 7,787 copies

Dragonfly is one of Hitomi Shimatani’s most unique works to date because it is completely different from anything she has done before. The song has a distinct, gritty garage rock sound that mixes in a odd synth loop. I loved the thumping and constant percussion beat and I thought the electric guitar solo during the bridge was awesome. Shimatani’s vocals actually fit into the song quite well and I surprised she was able to handle the music’s frantic, rockish pace.

The B-side is also pretty different as well. Bye-Bye is poppy, but has a nice jazzy vibe too thanks to the brass. It’s a pleasant song, but nothing special. I already know that Shimatani is an extremely versatile artist, but I love the fact that she is dabbing into even more categories of mainstream J-pop.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Hitomi Shimatani – PASIO

May 13, 2007 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. PASIO (PASIO~パッシオ)
2. True Blue
3. Tsuioku LIVE REC from
    Special Live “crossoverII” (追憶)
    [CD only bonus track]
4. PASIO (instrumental)
5. True Blue (instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 23rd single and it was released on November 15, 2006. The single reached #12 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 12,078 copies.

After all of those ‘crossover’ themed singles (which I still love), Hitomi Shimatani returns to her pop roots with PASIO. To be more specific, a lot of her songs prior to the release of her first best album in 2003 had a exotic, foreign sound to them. The song follows the same style as her other Spanish themed songs such as Fantasista, Ichiba ni Ikou, and Akai Sabaku no Densetsu. The entire song is incredibly catchy and I loved Shimatani’s fast paced vocals. My favorite part is the bridge because of it sounds so exotic and different. Shimatani does these kinds of songs exceptionally well because she has experience doing them in the past.

The B-side is the drastically different True Blue. The strings, piano, and organ are soothing to the ears and Shimatani’s vocals are nice and controlled. The song was used as the ending theme song for the final episode of the anime The Law of Ueki.

The 3rd track is a special live version of Tsuioku that she perfomed at the Tokyo Geiju Tsuge Kijou. It’s only available on the CD only edition. I just want to get this out of the way and say that this song is NOT Tsuioku+LOVE LETTER, an older song from her 4th album of the same name. It’s actually a cover of another song that she sang just for that concert. Anyways, Shimatani sounds AMAZING live and I was really impressed with the musical arrangement as well.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Hitomi Shimatani – Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- / Koimizu -tears of love-

March 30, 2007 at 9:43 PM | Posted in Hitomi Shimatani | Leave a comment
Tags:

Tracklisting
1. Destiny -Taiyou no Hana-
    (Destiny -太陽の花-)
2. Koimizu -tears of love- (恋水 -tears of love-)
3. Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- (Black Jack 21 Mix)
4. Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- (Instrumental)
5. Koimizu -tears of love- (Instrumental)

This is Hitomi Shimatani’s 22nd single and it was released on June 21, 2006. The single reached #14 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 26,858 copies. The title track was used as the first opening theme song for the anime Black Jack 21.

Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- blew me away with its captivating mix of classical strings and heavy dance beats. I have never heard a song like this before and I was simply amazed by its grand and epic sound. The song heavily relies on the complex string arrangment and once they blend with Shimatani’s mystical vocals, it’s absolutely spellbinding. I highly recommend this song because it’s extremely different from your average J-pop song as it combines classical and modern dance elements.

The other A-side is the calm and relaxing Koimizu -tears of love-. Shimatani’s vocals are gentle and very sincere and I loved the laid back atmosphere of the song. The song has a string arrangment as well but it is nowhere near as powerful and grandoise as the one in Destiny -Taiyou no Hana-. I thought this song was the perfect contrast to the first track.

The Black Jack 21 Mix of Destiny -Taiyou no Hana- is actually the TV size version of the song that is heard during the opening credits of the anime Black Jack 21. It’s shorter of course but follows a different structure and the background vocals have been removed.

Overall Rating

5 stars

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