Saturday, September 29, 2007

honeycreeper received!

Just a heads-up that I finally got my honeycreeper CD, so a full review will hopefully be coming this weekend. We'll see how it goes - I do have other things to do :)

Oh, and I also got the t-shirt.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Sign up to be on "Music Lovers" with Puffy

I wrestle sometimes with how much news to post here that only applies to Japan, given that this is an English-language blog. But on otherwise slow days, I guess I'll just post whatever I've got. This is one of those days.

Puffy will be appearing on the Japanese TV show "Music Lovers", and they need 200 people to be in the audience. Once they've got 200 people, that's it - so hurry! You can sign up here.

Remember, this only applies to Japanese residents.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New video on Puffy's web site

Well! It looks like the t-shirt announcement wasn't the only "special" Puffy had planned after all. There is a new video of Ami and Yumi up on the official Japanese site (the English site "special" section is still "under construction"). I can't say I understand a whole hell of a lot of it, but they're obviously introducing the honeycreeper album and no doubt trying to entice you into buying it. And hopefully, with success!

Visit their web site and click the "special" link, or just go directly there. Unfortunately, they're still stuck on using Windows Media only, but hey, we can't win 'em all, I guess.

honeycreeper on the Oricon charts

Well it ain't #1, but top 20 still ain't bad. Puffy's new album honeycreeper debuted on Japanese sales tracker Oricon's daily album chart at #17. It's now settled back to #18. There's a lot of competition this week - a whole mess of new albums with 9/26 release dates on the chart - so it's just a crowded field out there. I've screen-capped the current chart itself for posterity, since I know at some point the link above will be out of date:

I implore my Japanese readers to get out there and buy the album if you haven't already. Let's get Puffy back up in the top 10. I do believe export sales are also counted like any other on this chart, so overseas buyers can show their support as well.

Still, I think any artist would be happy having a top 20 album, so Puffy should be pleased with this.

Update: Now out of the top 20. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The honeycreeper t-shirt

If you're in the western world and wondering what you're missing, or maybe you're in Japan and curious if it's still worth tracking one of these down, a user named りー (Rii) on the Japanese community site Mixi has posted a photo of the honeycreeper limited edition t-shirt that's being given out as a freebie at select retailers:

The kana just says "honeycreeper" in Japanese. The card/sticker is apparently just something to let you know that this is the ltd. edition t-shirt for the album.

If you have a Mixi account, here's a link to the original thread containing the photo. Unfortunately, it's very hard these days to get a membership there if you're a westerner and don't already have one.

The shirt is probably one of those love-it-or-hate-it designs. I personally kinda like ultra-simple, sort of obtuse designs like this, but I would also bet that the main reason for it in this case was haste in putting this promotion together. I don't doubt that some people will probably think they're not missing much by not getting one of these.

As for myself, the collector in me has got to figure out a way to get my hands on one. Puffy, if you're reading this, pretty please send me a shirt?!

UPDATE: At least some people are reporting receiving this shirt in the US through import retailers. If you got the shirt with your order, help us out and leave a comment letting us know which retailer you ordered from.

Official English site redesign

Looks like Puffy took one bit of my advice and redesigned their official English site. (Yes, I'm being facetious; I'm sure this has been in the works for a while.) And guess what? It looks just like their Japanese site:

I think this is great, for two reasons:

1. The old site was a monstrosity that took forever to load even on a fast connection. The new site loads quickly and is easy to navigate.

2. It brings their western marketing more in line with their Japanese marketing. The English-language market is not the same as Japan and the marketing won't always be interchangeable, but in this case it's just about promoting an image. And I've always advocated for us getting the "real" Puffy over here.

Also, I find it hard to believe that they'd push honeycreeper so hard on their English-language web site if there were no plans for a release in the west. I could be wrong - they did promote Hit & Fun on the previous site - but not to this same extent. Given that Sony has worked so hard to discourage importing of CD's into other territories (Puffy's own 59 was region-protected when played on PC's, for example), I take this as more evidence that a US release for the album is coming.

One thing's for sure: Puffy's staff have been busy people lately.

btw, yeah, I am posting this at 4:23AM on a Wednesday morning. My body still thinks I'm in Japan!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

honeycreeper release day!

It is, right now, early morning on 9/26/07 in Japan - honeycreeper release day. I've yet to see any real fan reviews popping up, but then I don't imagine many stores are open yet either. So if you're in Japan, now might be a good time to remind yourself to hit the record store on your way to work or school. You never know how long those free t-shirts are gonna last!

My copy shipped yesterday. I imagine it will be a few days before I receive it here in New York. I'll be posting a full review myself after I've had at least a little bit of time to absorb all the songs, but in the meantime I'll link here to any others that I find.

New image on ANA's web site

At least, I haven't seen this before:

The text appears to just talk about Puffy's recording of "Oriental Diamond" for the commercial and "Fly! Panda" campaign. (I can't read all of it, but I can read the kana, at least.)

Their fashion choices lately are sometimes a little funny. Ami appears to be wearing some sort of one-piece as a top with the bottom on the outside.

The page on ANA's web site can be found here.

honeycreeper comes with a free t-shirt (while supplies last)

Puffy updated their official site today with news that the initial release of honeycreeper will be accompanied at select retailers by a free limited edition t-shirt. This announcement is included in the "specials" section of their web site, so it's likely that this is the special we've been waiting for - no wallpapers or videos this time.

Unfortunately, it looks like you're going to need to be in Japan to take advantage of this (argh! I just got back yesterday!), but as I do have a lot of visitors from Japan here, I thought some of you might be interested. Those of you not near one of the retailers do have the online Sony Music Shop available as an option.

You can find the full list of participating retailers at Puffy's site here.

I'll post a photo of the t-shirt itself as soon as I come across one. If anyone wants to send a photo of their shirt in via email, I'd appreciate it.

By the way, I'm reading through some Japanese forums and community sites right now hoping to see some photos of the shirt, and fan reaction to this announcement seems to be mixed at best. A lot of Japanese fans are pissed off that they preordered this CD through other retailers and now their orders have shipped and they won't be getting a shirt. I didn't even think about that; the timing of this announcement was either just really unfortunate, or worse, it was calculated to basically rip off the loyal fans who had already ordered the CD and could no longer cancel those orders. This is Sony we're talking about, after all.

Anyway, if you follow the Sony Music Shop link above, you'll also read the first info that I've personally seen about the first-pressing 28 page "special booklet" that comes with the initial run of CD's. This should be available at all retailers, import or domestic. There's also a photo of the back cover jacket, which I'm reposting below:

Kind of an odd choice, that back cover. It pushes Puffy way down in favor of... a chandelier?

UPDATE: Here's a higher resolution photo of the back cover jacket:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Puffy Japan sightings - larger than life in Shibuya!

Today was the last day of our Japan trip (and yeah, I'm pretty bummed right now), so we went out and did some shopping. As part of that, we visited some record stores and I got to see how Puffy's being promoted in Japan these days. And the news is actually pretty good!

Just outside of HMV in Shibuya, I saw this:

It was running a loop of clips from both "Oriental Diamond" and "Kuchibiru Motion" PV's. Pretty cool to see them up on a big screen.

For my western readers not familiar with Tokyo, Shibuya's one of the main hangouts for young people not just from Tokyo, but from cities all around the area. These video billboards are all over the place there, advertising many of Japan's most popular artists. They're not just visual, either - there's audio as well. (As you can imagine, it's a pretty loud and obnoxious area.) It's a pretty important way of marketing artists in Tokyo, and it shows that they're still relevant.

At HMV itself, they had the single available as selection #1 at one of the prime listening stations (the first one most customers will come across, in fact). Nice! Of course, there was a giant stack of Kimura Kaela's new live DVD right next to a couple of puny rows of "Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion", but that's not unexpected these days.

They also had pretty much Puffy's entire back catalog still available in a dedicated section (including their last four or five singles), along with an album of Puffy covers that I didn't know existed. I was tempted to buy it, but held off. I'd visited Yodabashi Camera in Akihabara a few hours earlier and they had literally two Puffy CD's of any kind. So it was nice to see HMV still showing some love.

Also! After seeing nothing on TV in the past week, I've now seen two of the ANA commercials starring Puffy in the past 24 hours - one on TBS, the other on a JR Yamanote Line train. The latter is arguably more important, as it's CCTV on a loop for a captive audience that numbers in the hundreds of thousands every day.

(There are also the obvious orchestrated TV appearances they've got planned to coincide with the honeycreeper album release, but I'm more interested in seeing how many times they show up by chance. That's probably a better gauge of public interest.)

There are times when I start to worry that Puffy might be slowly losing their power in Japan. But while it's obvious that "Puffy-mania" has been over for years, they actually seem to be doing better now than they were in the Nice/59 era - at least in terms of the exposure they're getting. They're still mainstream. And that's great to see.

By the way, I picked up a couple more used CD's at BOOK*OFF in Harajuku - solosolo I needed just for the Obi (my current copy had none), but "Planet Tokyo" is a single I'd been without until now.

I'll be back in New York tomorrow (unfortunately). So I probably won't have honeycreeper for a week or two still - wish I was going to be here two days from now! But watch for my review as soon as I can post it, and I'll be updating again on a regular schedule in the meantime.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

First 2007 North American Tour Dates Announced!

Well, Puffy made good on what we had all suspected. North American tour dates this November. This time, it's you guys on the west coast getting the love and us back east getting the shaft. Well, only for now, hopefully... although I do seem to recall that the west didn't get a visit at all last time around. Maybe it's time for us to repay the favor.

UPDATE: Puffy's staff blog and MySpace page now refer to these dates specifically as "West Coast" tour dates, which wouldn't be necessary if this was the extent of the US tour. I'm sure that there are more dates still to come...

Anyway, here are the announced dates (edited now with pricing info from Puffy's site):

Richards on Richards @ $30.00 ADV / $35.00 DOS
1036 Richards St.
Vancouver, BC All Ages

Moore Theater @ $35.00 ADV / DOS
1932 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA All Ages

The Fillmore @ $25.00 ADV / DOS
1805 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA All Ages

UPDATE: this show has been moved to Slim's at 333 11th St. in San Francisco.

Key Club @ $25.00 ADV / $28.00 DOS
9401 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA All Ages

House of Blues @ $22.50 ADV / $25.00 DOS
1520 S. Disneyland Dr.
Anaheim, CA All Ages

I'm really not sure why they need to play Los Angeles and Anaheim, but what the hey. Kinda like playing New York City and Yonkers.

Astute readers will note that this is only one week. They had six of them free in between Japan dates. So I'm hopeful they've still got some east coast - and maybe even some middle America - dates in the works. We'll see.

This also raises the prospects of a US honeycreeper release pretty dramatically, I think. So good news all around, even with only the west representin' right now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Magazine Photos and Japan Haul (so far!)

Well, I told y'all that I wasn't expecting much, Puffy-wise, on my current Japan trip, but I've definitely got a few things to show you guys.

First, let me just say that it would be a lie if I said I'd stumbled upon any of this. Puffy is definitely not everywhere in Japan like they used to be. On my trip last year, it wasn't until the last day when I had my first chance encounter with them - their music being used as background to a TV game show. This trip, nada so far, even with the upcoming album. No ads anywhere for the album, not even in the record stores I've visited. No commercials, not yet at least. So I've had to seek them out.

My haul so far:

Read on for the rundown, and a nice extra surprise...

Left to right and top to bottom, that's the Rolling Debut Revue DVD, AmiYumi and Spike CD's (had 'em already, will explain in a minute), Puffy no P.S. I Love You for PlayStation, and the Clips DVD. The two DVD's and the game came from Yahoo auctions; the CD's were both found in the "discount" section at BOOK*OFF, Japan's largest used book store.

I'll review all of these for you eventually, and I already have some opinions on many of them. As for the CD's, I had AmiYumi already but for 250 yen (about $2), I bought it again strictly for the obi that I was missing. Yeah, call me a collector. I also have the domestic US version of Spike, but the Japan version's got a different cover and different photos on the inside - and honestly, I hadn't seen them before. Both Ami and Yumi are 100% blonde, and while I'm not usually big on blondes, they both look fantastic. I might scan these photos once I get home - they look probably better than they ever have on this CD. I don't remember there being photos this good with the US version.

I also picked up a copy of PHAT PHOTO on a whim, a photography magazine that they're featured in this month. It's a neat feature, going behind the scenes of their recent "Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion" photo shoot. Is it just me, or do they look even better in the candid shots here than they do in the official photo for the single?

More Puffy from Tokyo (hopefully) coming soon! Don't forget to check out my full trip report on my blog Alphabet City if you're interested in reading more from Japan than just Puffy stuff.

Hello from Japan!

Just wanted to let you guys know I'm in Japan right now - which is why no updates for the past few days, including missing Ami's birthday! Happy birthday Ami, hope you had a great day yesterday. And I know I speak for all of your fans when I say we can't wait for another year of great music from both you and Yumi.

I was without internet access until today; we're finally in a hotel in Tokyo. I can't promise daily updates, but I'll post when I can.

Oh, and this trip was planned long before any news of the honeycreeper release date, so I'm unfortunately going to miss it by two days. Oh well. I'll just have to wait for my copy in the mail in New York.

I'll post again soon! We're out for some night life right now.

By the way, I'll be writing about my general experiences on this trip over at my regular blog, if you're interested. I'll be posting Puffy-specific stuff here, though (and there's already some coming! So check back).

Friday, September 14, 2007

New Photo from the "honeycreeper" Shoot!

Puffy today updated their English language staff blog (and not the Japanese one, at least not yet) with this photo:

It's the same photo now serving as the background to their official site. Nice to see us getting some goodies over here first for once!

By the way, honestly, I can't figure out what Yumi's even wearing there. It looks like some sort of plastic bag. And is it just me or are her feet actually tied around the back of her neck? She looks great - they both do - but what the hell is that outfit?

Introducing... Kimura Kaela!

To my Japanese readers, this post isn't going to be telling you anything you don't already know. But for westerners that don't go around calling themselves "otaku" and listening to j-rock as a matter of course, it's a different story. So those of you in Japan, bear with me on this one. And westerners, pay attention! I'm going to introduce you to Japan's current top rock star, Kimura Kaela.

Wait, Kimura Kaela? On a Puffy blog? Hold on, I'm going somewhere with this. Back in 1996, when Puffy came along, the Japanese music charts were dominated by Avex dance acts and their copycats. There were some long-time rockers still on the chart - the B'z, X and the like - but especially for a younger generation, the most attractive artists were the Japanese equivalents of Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. (In other words, Japan's music industry was a lot like here.)

Puffy came in and changed all that. Suddenly, rock music was cool again, and not just music for "old" and stuffy 30- and 40-something salarymen. Teenagers and twenty-somethings were drawn back in. It was genius, really, because the man behind the whole thing - Tamio Okuda - was himself one of these 30-something rockers. He'd found a way to re-inject his music back into the mainstream through Puffy, creating a whole new generation of fans.

Fast forward ten years and the whole cycle is repeating itself, and in much the same way. Puffy's fans have grown up with them and are now (according to articles I've read in Japanese newspapers) mostly in their 30's. Current teens have largely never heard their music - not a big surprise when you consider that most of them were barely kindergarteners when Puffy debuted. In Japan, every generation of kids wants something new.

Puffy "graduated" from Tamio Okuda's influence sometime around 2000 or 2001, as he felt they'd grown into being able to better manage their own music. I'm not sure what he did for the next couple years, but in 2004 he found a new muse: "Seventeen" model and budding musician Kimura Kaela. (She's also since "graduated" as Okuda's protege). And while she's still little-known in the west, she is today the top rock artist - and at least among the top artists overall - in all of Japan.

Her last album Scratch hit #1 on the Oricon chart and stayed there for several weeks. Her two previous albums also both broke the top 10. Like Ami and Yumi, she's got that rare combination of model looks and a great street-style fashion sense alongside a powerful voice (especially for such a tiny girl) and a rock sensibility. And like Puffy before her, she's showing all these dance and R&B wannabes how pop music is really done. She is in every way Puffy's contemporary.

I myself was never a huge fan before, but that may change after seeing some of her new live DVD entitled Live Scratch. I've always believed that the measure of whether or not a band or artist is for real is how good they are live - if an artist is no good live, then it shows that their music is nothing but a bunch of studio tricks. With that in mind, here's a sample of Kaela's music - this is "Beat", a 2005 song from Tamio Okuda. (Watch the whole thing; like a lot of his songs, it takes a while to get going. But eventually, it really soars.) I think you'll hear the similarity to a lot of Puffy's music:

Kimura Kaela - BEAT - DVD LIVE Scratch - Special Edit

Kaela's a great performer and she's also not a bad guitarist. She writes most of her own lyrics and some of her music as well, though, like Puffy, she also employs a lot of guest songwriters. They've even shared a few (including Okuda and Linus of Hollywood).

Anyway, don't worry - this isn't going to turn into a Kimura Kaela blog, and I'll always be a Puffy fan first. But as they share a lot of the same lineage, I think she might be someone that westerners who might not know about her - and especially Puffy fans - would want to take a listen to.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Run! Puffy! Run! Video! And! Book! Review!

Going waaaaaaaaaay back now to Puffy's first-ever long-form video release. The year is 1996, and AmiYumi (both the girls and the album of the same name) have only just taken Japan by storm. As part of a massive media blitz, Sony released the 39 minute Run! Puffy! Run! as a marketing vehicle for the girls, obviously seeing the chemistry that had already developed between them. It marked the first-ever trip to the United States for Puffy, as they transport themselves across the country through various vehicular methods. Along the way, they experience all that this great nation has to offer for the first time, along with many of its pitfalls.

I'm going to do a little something new with this review and assign some letter grades at the end. I'm not a big believer in boiling down reviews to single scores, but other people seem to like it and I'm all about giving you guys what you want. Read on...

I actually have the laserdisc version of this release, if you can believe it. Now that's hardcore! So if the screenshots you see here aren't the best, it's because the analog video's been digitized/captured and compressed once, then re-compressed to make it smaller, then compressed again into a jpg screenshot. I'm sure the DVD looks better, and of course these days, pretty much the entire thing is available on YouTube if you just want to go and watch it.

But laserdiscs are what all the old-school cool kids play. They're the vinyl records of video.

As part of the all-out push to crown Puffy the reigning queens of all media, a companion book was released in early 1997, going by the same title but with an expanded focus. It's got a lot more detail on their trip, including bios of various people they meet, whole scenes that didn't make the cut on the video, and a huge number of great photos. It's also got a few scenes of Puffy in other countries (not just the USA) as well as a few sort of collector extras in the back of the book. I'll talk a bit more about it further down the post.

The Video
The video begins with Puffy in New York City, where they visit the Statue of Liberty, ride the NYC Subway (my "1" train!), go to the top of the Empire State Building and take the Roosevelt Island Tram - no doubt annoying a whole bunch of New Yorkers with their rowdiness in the process.

I gotta just mention that there's a shot of the World Trade Center right at the beginning of the video, and I only bring it up because it's kind of strange how things eventually always seem to come full circle. In 2006, almost exactly 10 years after this video was shot, they played live (for free) just a block away from the World Trade Center as part of the River to River Festival, which was set up to help bring people back to lower Manhattan after 9/11/01. I'm sure when they made this video, they'd never in their wildest dreams have thought they'd be playing live there at all (and attracting huge crowds!)... much less for that reason.

While in New York, they also visit the home and office of Rodney Alan Greenblat, the talented US-based artist who used to paint all of their album, video and CD single covers and who's responsible for all the iconic little caricatures of Puffy that you used to see everywhere. (Side note: I contacted Rodney and asked him why he no longer does Puffy's stuff, and he explained it was Puffy's manager Kaz's decision.) While they're there, they launch into the music video for "Asia no Junshin", their first single and still one of their most popular songs.

After visiting New York, Ami and Yumi head into the depths of the hell that is Penn Station for a trip west on Amtrak.

After riding high speed shinkansen trains all their lives, I wonder what that must have been like for them, especially being greeted by a surly cafe car attendant whose first words are a barked "what kinda pizza?!" aimed at Ami. Throughout the video, Ami acts as translator for Yumi - it's pretty obvious that Ami spoke at least some English prior to joining Puffy. Yumi, probably not.

Puffy make what seem to be a quick run through Philadelphia before heading to Chicago and Cleveland, stopping at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame along the way and staying in some super-cheap motels. It's pretty hilarious how bad some of the hotels they stay at are, and while I'm not fluent in Japanese, it's obvious that Ami spends a good amount of time complaining about their living arrangements.

They ditch Amtrak after Philadelphia and pick up an old Cadillac convertible to continue west. Bet you never thought you'd see Puffy pumping their own gas! Well, you do here, and this is one reason why they're popular. Think you'll ever see Ayumi Hamasaki pumping gas? Utada Hikaru? Doubt it. But Puffy are regular girls, and they want you to know it. Though it's still pretty funny watching Ami pick up the gas pump and ask, "soshite?" ("Now what?")

They don't have much luck with their transportation, either. I personally think this was all set up to make the American auto industry look bad, but two separate classic cars break down on them. The Cadillac I can believe, as it literally goes up in smoke - though the camera was obviously in a pretty fortunate position to capture it. Ami makes probably the cutest comment on the video when she tells a passerby in English, "our car is broken."

Later, in the Mojave Desert (who the hell drives directly across the Mojave Desert?), their Corvette seemingly runs out of gas.

There's a scene of them supposedly hitchhiking (yeah, right) and actually getting picked up! Somehow I doubt the authenticity of all this. :)

As if that weren't enough, Ami gets pulled over by a cop while on a motorcycle for looking too young to ride.

Along the way, we're treated to a couple more music videos (including the excellent "Tokusuru Karada" and "Yuki ga Furumachi", a b-side that I'm actually not otherwise familiar with) and pretty much the rest of the AmiYumi album played in the background. While walking through the desert, Ami and Yumi apparently feel the time is right to decorate probably the worst Christmas tree that I've ever seen.

And once they finally reach the west coast, they sit down for what looks like a nice meal in a restaurant, only to have the camera pull back and reveal that it's all a set. Finally, the grand finale - the "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" video, which was shot all throughout their trip, as they found time to mouth the words to little bits of the song here and there.

It's kind of a strange experience watching this video for the first time as an American fan, especially so long after it was made. They were very, very different then than they are now, in both look and attitude. This was obviously intended as an introduction, so it's almost like looking back into a time capsule seeing it now, and also from the perspective of a westerner. I don't think a video like this could really exist in this country.

The Japanese music industry is obviously a lot different than ours. Pop acts like Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson can be pre-packaged, supported by a team of songwriters and producers and overtly marketed here, but rock bands generally can't - with a few big exceptions (e.g. the Sex Pistols). Rock bands need street cred. And as popular as they are (especially back then), Puffy are a rock band. But it apparently is done pretty often there - rock bands can be just as manufactured as pop bands, and no apologies are made for it. Everybody knows Puffy was basically Tamio Okuda's music with two young girl singers in front of it, and that was just fine as far as the Japanese public was concerned.

This video is an intro to the girls personally, not really their songs. The whole point is just to show how cute and funny they are. Apparently, this helps sell albums in Japan.

But hey, I'm convinced!

Final Grades (video)
Content: B-
Performance: A
Production: B-

The Book
Just a few additional words about the book and some photos to illustrate. This is really a great book to have if you're a fan of early Puffy... though the same caveats apply as they do to the video. This is not the Puffy we know today, at least in superficial terms. But as its own production, the book is really packed with some great content, and while there are some dense sections of Japanese text, most of the book is just filled with photos and graphics (along with some pretty bad English).

The book, like the video, begins by chronicling Puffy's trip across the USA, with many of the same scenes represented, but a few extra areas that aren't seen on the video:

Near the back of the book, there are some extra sections shot in Asia:

Probably my favorite part of the book is a funny section of several pages showing how apparently difficult it is for Yumi to keep her eyes open during photo shoots:

No, this is not the polished, professional, mature Puffy that they've grown into over the years. This is Puffy at their most raw, more like a couple of goofy kids that won a contest than anything else (and that's not far from the truth). It's a Puffy that probably pre-dates most of their western fans' knowledge of them, seeing how we weren't introduced to them at all until 2000, and not really nationally until 2002. Some western fans probably wouldn't see the early appeal - I didn't back then, and I probably still wouldn't if not for all that came later. I can enjoy this now in the context of their full career, but I'm not sure how I would have felt about it in 1996-97.

Final Grades (book)
Content: B+
Performance: N/A
Production: A-

Puffy Official Site Refresh

Puffy today updated their official site with imagery and a track listing for the upcoming honeycreeper album. It's actually a fairly minor and fully cosmetic site update, but! They do promise a new "special" coming soon. That usually means wallpapers, videos and the like. So watch out for that.

I notice their misspelled "mail service" button - which they had fixed - is now back on the site. Hey girls, if you need somebody to proofread your site for you, I'm always available.

PUFFY on "SONGS" - US TV Appearance

NHK's web site hasn't been updated yet, but according to PUFFY's official site, they'll be appearing on NHK's program "SONGS" on 10/3. Why does that matter to you if you're outside Japan? Well, this show is featured on TV Japan, which is generally available on cable and satellite networks across the United States. It is titled differently in the listings, though, so if you can't find it under "SONGS", look for "Songs of Our Generation". It's on Thursday mornings (Wednesday nights) from 12:10-12:40AM Eastern time. I'm not sure if they're 100% up to date or if they're a week behind, so if you don't see PUFFY the week of the 3rd, just check back the following week.

Oh, and watch for another of my monster reviews coming tonight!

Monday, September 10, 2007

New Blog Feature - Post Summaries!

Some of you have probably gotten used to seeing my full, sometimes looooooooong posts here on the homepage. So I thought I should let you know - so you don't miss it - that I'm now moving towards homepage summaries for longer posts with a "CONTINUED >>" link below that takes you to the full post page. Scroll down to the Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion Review post to see this in action. You'll also see this on my upcoming Run! Puffy! Run! review.

This is custom code that's not part of any Blogger template, so it could be a little buggy. I know if you click "older posts" at the bottom of my homepage, it shows "CONTINUED >>" for everything. That's a known bug, but I can probably live with it. There are some big advantages both for me and you in doing summaries like this. You'll get a much faster-loading homepage, and I'll get higher placement in search engines (since they won't think I'm duplicating content and spamming the search). This is also more in line with what most other blogs are doing these days.

Puffy ANA TV Commercials - Finally working!

Putting this back up at the top for tonight because it seems ANA finally fixed their video links sometime in the last couple days - so now you've got full access to four more ANA TV commercials starring Puffy. They're actually pretty cool, featuring Ami and Yumi walking around China with camcorders, shooting footage and playing "host", something they're really good at and that we haven't seen since last year's "Hi Hi Puffy-bu" on TV Asahi. ANA even mixes in some of Puffy's camcorder footage, and of course, the campaign song "Oriental Diamond" is played throughout.

Aviation buffs will also be interested in the third commercial, which has a lot of footage of the "Fly! Panda" 767 itself, painted in full panda-inspired colors.

Click the photo above to go straight to the Puffy CM selection on ANA's web site.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion Single Review!

The second single for the upcoming album honeycreeper has now been released, and it's an expectedly strong introduction to the album.

Track listing:
1. "Oriental Diamond" (lyrics: Yosui Inoue/music and production: Tamio Okuda)
2. "Kuchibiru Motion" (lyrics/music and production: Kazuya Yoshii)
3. "Neji Potion" (lyrics: Ami Onuki/music: Nargo [Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra])

Two of the three songs involve long-time Puffy collaborators, with the third coming from a well-respected Japanese rock musician. This single's got J-rock and Puffy pedigree written all over it, in a way that their previous single ("boom boom beat") didn't. And it's got the sound to match.

Tamio Okuda was, of course, Puffy's main songwriter and producer through all of those early years, when they were such a national pop culture phenomenon in Japan. He's since gone on both to produce new young artists like Kimura Kaela as well as returning to his own music. But lately, at least, he's been contributing about one song per album to Puffy's recent releases, and whenever he does, it's about as close to the "old" Puffy sound as you're gonna get. "Oriental Diamond" is no exception - in fact, it sounds like a pretty natural progression from the straight-ahead, somewhat simple rock tunes of early Puffy albums like AmiYumi and JET to this, a more layered and melodic but still straightforward rock song.

Okuda's recent songs for Puffy have also had an almost majestic quality to them that was not usually present on his earlier productions. "Oriental Diamond", like Splurge's "Moguralike", begins with a simple single-chord strummed riff and builds from that to a crescendo that actually gave me goosebumps the first tim
e I heard the song through a proper set of headphones. That's one thing about all of these songs - they really don't come across through a lo-fi source like YouTube.

"Kuchibiru Motion" shares the limelight as the single's second A-side. And in style, it's a bit different - I have to say it didn't grab me immediately in the way that most great Puffy songs do. It's a less-accessible song, with more of a driving beat to it and less of a melodic chorus (and no real crescendo). The music video, released about a week before the single, also showed a much different side to Puffy than we're used to seeing - not a bad thing, but unexpected. I will say I think the song actually works better on its own, without the visuals. You're a bit less, uh... distracted, I guess. And you feel it more; this is one of those songs you need to feel to really get it. It's the kind of song you listen to while out on a mountain highway somewhere with your convertible top down, radio turned up full blast, driving much too fast for the road.

The third track, "Neji Potion", is a ska track that's in the same vein as all of Puffy's collaborations with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and its various members. This track will not be on honeycreeper, so it's really the main incentive for buying the single if you don't care about having the other two songs a bit early. I do think it's maybe a little similar to "Hazamu Rizumu" (as some others have said), but then that's why it's called a "B-side" after all. It's an up-tempo song with a nice melody and a satisfying chorus, but it feels like a bit of a retread, and it's not a strong enough song to make the album. Still, the horn section's a little strange in this song, in a way that's hard to describe - like rejects from some demented oompa-loompa band. That actually makes the song a little bit more interesting and endearing.

Generally, this is a really impressive single in terms of composition and production, but there are a couple trends popping up in Puffy's latest work that I'm finding a little worrying as time goes on. The first is the reversal of the advertiser/musician relationship. Previously, Puffy would record an album, and if an advertiser liked a song on it for one of their products, they'd ask for permission to use it. It at least preserved some sort of illusion of artistic integrity in the process. Now, though, advertisers are comissioning Puffy in advance to record songs for their ad campaigns. Both "Oriental Diamond" and "Kuchibiru Motion" were recorded for specific ad campaigns - the former for ANA's "Fly! Panda" Japan-China promotion, the latter for Lavshuca/Kanebo cosmetics. These songs are essentially commercial jingles, however good they may be.

The second and admittedly much more nitpicky issue is the way the girls are actually singing some of their recent songs. Over the years, Puffy has developed a reputation in Japan for "happy" music, even though it's not always true, and in fact some of their most popular songs are actually a little dark. But they seem to be intentionally playing to expectations on some of their recent songs in a way they never used to do, singing in a kind of "mousey" voice that's nothing like the way I know they really sound. That's definitely true of at least "Neji Potion", and I hear it a bit in the others as well. (Go back and compare the singing on an early song like "Tokusuru Karada" to any of these.) It could be their new producers coaching them a certain way, or it could just be their own current preference, but they're definitely singing a little differently than they used to. Of course, I doubt most people will notice, and of those that do, there's probably a good number of fans in Japan who actually prefer this newer singing style.

I have to say also that I neither speak nor really understand Japanese very well without a whole lot of effort, and I haven't put that effort in for this single. So I can't tell you if there are any deeper meanings to these songs than what's on the surface; I wish I could. But getting back to the positive, regardless of their origins and regardless of any nitpicks with the girls' singing style, these are still some straight-up great rock songs.

Despite my issues with YouTube's compression of the audio in these songs, and my comments about "Kuchibiru Motion" notwithstanding, here are the two music videos from this single to give the uninitiated a taste of the songs themselves as well as to make this post complete:

Oriental Diamond

Kuchibiru Motion

Friday, September 7, 2007

Puffy Autographs

I'm basically biding my time until I get my copy of Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion in the mail, and there hasn't been any further Puffy news since the honeycreeper album cover was released, so I thought I'd just spend a post showing off the couple Puffy autographs I've managed to procure over the years. The second one you might have seen already, but this one you haven't:

This one I've already posted once, in my July 11, 2006 NYC show report:

They always use the same signature. If you can't read it, it says "Puffy", with Yumi signing below left, and Ami below right. (I think Yumi might actually be writing her name in shorthand hiragana.)

Puffy autographs are actually pretty easy to come by, at least in the United States. The poster above was a freebie given out to the first 150 people who purchased the "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi" soundtrack through Sony's online store (and because I'm a dork, I had mine framed), and the CD was given to the first 50 purchasers at all of their 2006 US tour dates. They've also appeared at various conventions where they sign anything you want them to sign, although I don't think they've done this recently. My guess is there are probably a couple thousand Puffy autographs floating around the United States.

Personalized autographs are rarer - most of their autographs are signed in advance and just given out to anybody. I'm a little jealous of this girl, who managed to get a "To: Jen" on hers. That's a badge of honor! That's an in-person autograph, which mine unfortunately aren't.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

honeycreeper album cover revealed!

Is this the honeycreeper album cover?

Sure looks like it.

Now that I've found a slightly larger image than the one I originally had here, I'm more able to judge whether or not I like this cover. And while I don't think it's got the creativity of a cover like Splurge, I think it captures their current style pretty well - and that style's sort of a mashup of stuff that seems like it's still in the process of coalescing. It's an interesting look, though, combining a bit of both 70's and 80's glam with some definite 60's influences.

I gotta say I kinda miss the indie rock/punk look of the Nice-Splurge era, though :)

But Ami and Yumi never seen to retain the same style for very long. It's all about those Japanese fans wanting to see something new every few years, I guess.

Thanks to BilliePPE for sending this in! I'll keep updating as I find larger versions around the net.

Site Notes

This isn't directly PUFFY-related so I probably won't leave it at the top for long, but I've got a few site notes that you might find mildly interesting and/or informative.

First, just a heads-up that I will be in Japan for vacation later this month, so there may be a period where you see some less-frequent updates. I will still have internet access, though, so you may not even notice a change (or even know exactly when I'm there). Once I get back, I'll post an update on whatever cool PUFFY swag I find. Honestly, though, I'm not expecting that much beyond what I've already won on Yahoo Auctions. I've got some trips to BOOK*OFF planned, though, so you never know.

Second, I'm a stat-junkie myself and I thought some of you might want to see how well this blog is doing traffic-wise since I launched it just last month. (Yeah, there are posts older than that here, but they used to be on my other blog.) Here's a snapshot of my traffic over the last 30 days:

You can click on that if it's hard to read. You can see all the lines trending upwards! That's a good thing. Still not a huge amount of traffic, but I've only even been in Google for a short time now. Hopefully I'll continue to attract more and more readers and get more of the PUFFY word out to the world. But this is really not bad for a blog that's only been live for 3 weeks. Still, be sure to tell all your friends about this site!

For comparison's sake, my other blog, which has been up for about 6 years now, only ever got about 100 hits per day. I'm already there with this one, and hopefully I'll double that within the next month or so.

Here's another interesting graph that shows the countries that my last 500 visitors are coming from (I know it doesn't seem to add up to quite 500, but I'm not sure why):

I'm actually a little surprised to see that Japan is #1! Welcome, guys and girls from around the world. I hope that my writing at least makes some sense to non-native speakers. But it's nice to see that PUFFY really does have worldwide appeal.

Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion release day!

Today's the day that the Oriental Diamond/Kuchbiru Motion single hits stores. Mine's been on the way from Japan since the 3rd, so watch for my mini-review coming soon!

We've already seen and heard two of the songs on the single, but there's a third as well - and it deserves a listen before I set down my thoughts.

The single's definitely getting a bigger promotional push from Puffy than "boom boom beat" did, so hopefully it'll do well on the charts.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Some unsolicited advice for PUFFY and their US staff

This is a post I've wanted to write for a couple years now, though I've never been quite sure where to even start. The takedowns of the "Kuchibiru Motion" videos on YouTube last week, though, kind of forced me into action. Somebody needs to finally say something about the way Puffy is being promoted in the west. (And having a long weekend with the wife at work has finally given me some free time to do it.)

I have no idea if Puffy's management or their record label(s) read, or have read, this blog. But it seems like some unsolicited advice is in order. I'm writing this not just as a fan, but as someone who's helped market more than $1 billion worth of products, and helped create brands (Rockstar Games, the Grand Theft Auto series) that are now worth billions more. I know good (and bad) marketing when I see it.

First, a little history of Puffy's entry into the US for those of you out there not connected with the band and who may not remember or know all of it. They debuted here at SXSW 2000, playing as part of a night of "Japanese All Stars" at the yearly music and arts festival. From what I've read elsewhere and heard from those who were there, the show was well-received. They were signed to Epic Records, a major label subsidiary of Sony Music. I'm not sure of the actual arrangement, but indie label Bar/None Records was in the mix as well. Their first US CD release was Spike, quickly followed by An Illustrated History as Epic and Bar/None made a fairly major push in the US for a Japanese band. These releases were supported by the "Rolling Debut Revue" tour in 2002, Puffy's first nationwide North American tour. At that point, they were in their "indie rock" phase and beginning to cultivate a college-age crowd.

Puffy on 2002's "Rolling Debut Revue" tour

After that, things get a little weird. They released Nice in the US in 2003, more or less concurrently with the Japanese release - though with a different cover (as with Spike). I've always thought this was strange, as the Japanese cover actually has a style that seems more in tune with the US fans they were trying to attract at the time, and this was a Bar/None release:

The John Lennon-inspired US cover of Nice

And the much more indie-rock original Japanese cover
(If you can't read it, Ami's shirt says "Hi-Standard", a Japanese punk band)

In 2004, they were recruited by Sam Register to star in the cartoon "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi", which seemed to take a chunk of their time, sidetracking them a little from their music. They released an album in Japan in 2004, 59, which never made it over to the US. Instead, we got the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi soundtrack, another "greatest hits" compilation only 2 years after An Illustrated History. (My guess: Bar/None was initially going to handle Puffy in the US, but had the rug pulled out from under them by Epic. Bar/None released An Illustrated History; Epic released Hi Hi.) It's worth noting that 59 is probably their weakest album, with only six "original" songs, one of which is a Jellyfish cover. That may have figured into Epic's decision not to release it here. (To be totally fair, Ami had also recently become a mother, so I really don't fault them for being a little preoccupied with things other than music.)

59 - the "lost" album for US fans

With the cartoon still going strong and Puffy touring in the US to support Hi Hi, their relationship with Epic abruptly ended, taking with it all that marketing muscle that only major labels can provide. I don't have the story on who dumped whom, but they were then signed to the small niche label Tofu Records, an upstart specializing in localizing J-pop and J-rock acts for the US market. It seemed like a good fit initially, but the marketing budgets had obviously shrunk in the transition, and Tofu was a young company that wasn't entirely stable. Moreover, it seemed to pigeonhole Puffy as "J-pop"; Puffy's status on Epic and Bar/None had given them more of a global status combined with real indie street cred.

Meanwhile, Puffy lip-sync'd their way through the girlie-girl "Friends Forever" during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005, in what the Cartoon Network probably thought was a marketing coup for "Hi Hi". It was quite excruciating for me to watch, and probably for other US fans over the age of 9 as well, especially having seen how amazing they can be at a proper live show just a few months before.

"Hi Hi" was quietly cancelled in 2006, having started out strongly but never really catching on with the college hipster crowd that Cartoon Network (and Puffy?) had only half-jokingly said they secretly hoped would adopt it as a cult favorite. The little kids that proved its main audience turned fickle and faded fast. In the span of 2 years, Puffy's American presence had gone from a major label artist with an exotic Japan cool factor, the promise of a new TV show and a seemingly bright future, to a niche label artist with no TV show and an audience that thought they were childrens' cartoon characters.

But Tofu Records did initially do some good things. They released Splurge in the US with the same cover as its Japanese release (a Puffy first), they tried to get it college radio airplay, they faithfully maintained Puffy's MySpace page, they uploaded interviews and promotional videos to YouTube and featured a long text interview on their own web site. They seemed to intentionally avoid any link to the "Hi Hi" cartoon.

But after the initial push, Tofu as a whole seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. Their web site was gutted in March of 2007 and has not been updated since. Hit & Fun, Puffy's Japanese "best of" album, has not been released here. In fact, there's been no word on any further US Puffy releases.

That brings us more or less up to date. At this point, there's a lot of confusion in the US fan community as to what Puffy's status here actually is. This is no way to promote a band. The shame of it is that Puffy could have had (and probably can still have) a long and successful career here, assuming that's what they want and assuming they're willing to do what's necessary (e.g. touring, photo ops, etc). They seem to have done their part, but they've been let down nearly every step of the way by their management and record label(s), who don't always seem to have a clear idea what sort of demographic they should be going after here, or how to reach them.

At this point, after several months of growing cobwebs, both their English-language official site and their MySpace page are being updated again - though seemingly by Japan staff, not US. There is no US news at all, at least not yet. Meanwhile, what little US promotion they're getting through fans is often being stifled, ie. the aforementioned takedowns of Kuchibiru Motion videos on YouTube. Here's a little tip, guys: when fans are doing their best to promote your artist, it's probably not a great idea to try and stop them. Maybe in Japan you can exercise that level of control, but this is the wild west. We do things a little differently here. Taking down a bunch of promotional videos just gets you less promotion.

Here's my advice to Puffy the band, their management and their record label, whoever that ends up being in the US:

PUFFY: Don't do whatever your management tells you. I know they made you superstars in Japan, but you probably know the US better than they do at this point. Think everything through and weigh the pros and cons. You need to cultivate an audience, which is difficult in such a large country. That means staying consistent, and not looking like an indie rock band one day and a lip-syncing kid's show the next. And it means a long-term commitment from you - remember that your record label is only after short-term profit. I know your career in Japan took off on day one, but that's not the way it usually works here. Be patient. Don't look for short-term gains at the expense of long-term success.

HIT&RUN: The US is a lot different from Japan. Things that are considered cute in Japan are often just considered dumb by many people here. The act that Puffy sometimes puts on in Japan is neither necessary nor really helpful here. Let them be real. It's much more about the music in the United States. At this point, you're starting with nearly a blank slate again - probably a new record label, no TV show, not a huge fan base. Take the opportunity to refresh their image here, and give us the real Puffy.

I don't know whether it's you guys or Sony that's updating the English-language web sites again, but that's a good start in reopening the lines of communication with the fans. Please give us some word on what their status is here, though. Put an end to the wondering.

RECORD LABEL: I'll summarize first. Puffy's audience is neither 7 years old, nor exclusively girls. Take a good look at who goes to their concerts:

Click on that photo. Study it. This one too:

These are Puffy fans. This is the demographic you should be catering to. This is who Puffy appeals to.

Epic was doing it right at first, before the cartoon persona took over. But Puffy is a band that could hit it big with the right song, provided it's in English. Why not try for a home run? "Security Blanket" is that kind of song; get it playing on the K-Rocks across the country. If that doesn't work, keep hammering colleges. Keep hammering YouTube. Make Puffy accessible. Get the fans involved and encourage them to evangelize. Start a Facebook group and keep it updated. Make sure you're hitting the right demographic. Puffy was starting to build an audience in 2002-2003; go back and look at what they were doing at that point.

Release all of Puffy's back catalog here. Update the covers to some of the early releases if you feel the need to. And it's gotta be said again, release a DVD. People need to see what the live Puffy experience is all about. That's always what convinces any of their fans that they're for real.

Do us all a favor too and fix the US web site. It's excruciatingly slow even on a fast computer. (Clear your cache and load it fresh.) This is your primary interface with Puffy's US fans - you really can't allow it to be such a monster. (UPDATE: This one is done!)

Lastly, I have a feeling this is going to be my most controversial statement (and dealing with it a real long shot), but I think the name "Puffy AmiYumi" is a problem. Stand up to Sean Combs - especially as he's now going by "Diddy" - and take back the name that is rightfully Puffy's. Think about it from the point of view of a true newbie (and we are talking about expanding past the existing fan base here). If you're an American unfamiliar with Puffy AmiYumi's music, you're either going to associate them with a cartoon or you're going to have a hard time even pronouncing the name properly. Same deal with radio - you're never gonna get on commercial radio with that name. Push through a change back to Puffy. Ami and Yumi won't care, their fans will be happy and you'll have a better and more marketable name going forward.

There's obviously a language barrier here that's just never going to be fully overcome. I'm not saying I think Puffy could be the next U2. But they could be the next Donnas or Go-Gos or Bangles; these are (or were) female-led rock bands with long careers supported by a loyal fan base (of both men and women) that occasionally scored top-40 hits.

Well! This was certainly cathartic, and a nice time-killer on a boring holiday morning. But I do hope to see Puffy better-promoted in the US. I think their music does appeal to a broad range of people here; they just need a little more street cred and a little more marketing savvy in order to get their message across properly.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Or send me an email and we'll chat.