Friday, 22 February 2008

断然電波: momo-i's Famison 8-bit series

Widely regarded as one of the most recognizable Japanese celebrities, Halko Momoi (aka the "Queen of Akihabara") gave denpa fans a heart attack when she announced in 2004 that UNDER17 would be no more. The other member of the quintessential denpa/jpop/jrock duo, the notorious Masaya Koike, would later go on to collaborate with MOSAIC.WAV. But she made honorable amends in 2007 when she released her two famison CDs. They feature 8-bit remakes (think NES and Sega Master System) of old anime theme songs from the 70s and 80s. Now you may be thinking: "8-bit music huh? That must sound awfully boring." Well, classic gaming sound effects are a staple of denpa and evoke nostalgia feelings for a large number of people in their 20s and 30s. Not to mention that the musician behind the chiptunes is none other than Shikura Chiyomaru, who has a large number of game themes to his name. The arrangements are surprisingly complex and offer a refreshing new take on some otherwise timeless tunes.

The first volume came out in March 2007 and was met with critical acclaim. While most songs are highly enjoyable, some stand out more than others. For example, ラムのラブソング (aka Urusei Yatsura's OP) shamelessly uses sound effects from Super Mario Bros, and I love it. タッチ (touch) is highly melodical and features some FX reminiscing of the Zelda II intro. 裸足のフローネ evokes memories of Adventure Island and is equally enjoyable. In fact, none of the tracks come out flat. They are all accompanied by shorter karaoke versions.

Momo-i went ahead and surprised everyone by announcing a second volume, which came out in July 2007. I remember that at the time, "Famison" sounded like it was going to be a one-shot affair. I guess that momo-i and crew had a couple more aces up their sleeves and wanted to keep it a secret. Now, while the first volume is absolutely classic, it pales in comparison to this second release. They went with a very strong opening track, ペガサス幻想 (aka Saint Seiya's OP). Coffee's got nothing on this song in terms of waking me up in the morning. It is absolutely brutal; I can feel my blood boil as I turn into a henshin superhero. In fact, take a break from reading and watch this flawless hot-blooded intro.

Allright, allright. Not to discredit the other songs, but this one track finds itself in constant rotation here at the World of Denpa headquarters. The transition to 8bit was amazing; I'm sure the band Make-Up would approve. Other greats include 薔薇は美しく散る (some of the most enticing momo-i vocals ever recorded), 新オバケのQ太郎 (crazy arrangements which remind me of Contra/Mega Man), すきすきソング (100 times more insane than the original) and finally, バナナの涙, which might as well be the Star Tropics opening theme.

Of interesting note to non-native speakers of Japanese; all of these songs feature simple, and I do mean extremely simple vocabulary and basic grammar. Anyone shooting for a JLPT4 should check out these songs. If you're not at ease with the words that you hear, you might consider working on your 日本語 skills a little bit more. Of course, this is directly related to the fact that most anime produced in that time period was destined specifically for children. Computer hacking and political conspiracies weren't exactly common themes back then.

Halko Momoi performing live @

Since the release of both albums, momo-i has performed some of these songs at various events. There are no indications that a third famison volume is forthcoming, but momo-i has personally stated that she would like to work on a 16-bit sufamison follow up, so that is definitely something to keep in mind. By the same logic, the anisongs covered would be from the 90s era, so this should appeal to an even broader age spectrum. On the other hand, much as I love games of all kinds, the 16-bit sound is definitely not as distinct as the 8-bit kind. But with Shikura Chiyomaru behind the music, there's nothing to worry about.

The official famison website features a wealth of reading material from the people involved in the making of the records. Furthermore, it offers a highly detailed 8-bit jukebox which you can use to sample all of the songs from Vol. 2. When I first heard about famison, that jukebox had songs from Vol. 1, but not anymore. Should you want more Haruko Momoi information, allow me to redirect you to, by far the best English-language momo-i fansite the internet has to offer.


Anonymous said...

Great coverage, but I was disappointed that you didn't mention Koi no Jumon wa Suki Tokimeki to Kiss - definitely my favourite of the set, and also what would be my cell phone's ring tone ifmy phone actually supported the use of custom ring tones.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm have been away from the net for a while, lots of interesting things to read :D Now I've to look up for momo-i's stuffs :3