Ai Otsuka’s “Ai am BEST”

Ai Otsuka / Ai am BEST / March 28, 2007
♫ 01. Momo no Hanabira / 08. Cherish
11. Neko ni Fuusen

When Ai Otsuka first crawled into the world of Japanese pop music in 2003 with the release of her debut single “Momo no Hanabira,” many critics immediately hailed her as the next queen of pop, or well, princess, at least. With her cutesy image, innocent lyrics and what many had seen as an opening spot between the recent sale plummets of Ayumi Hamasaki’s records and Hikaru Utada’s short-lived respite into the world of American non-break through, Otsuka seemed the ideal candidate to steal the spotlight. However, while she failed to amass the insta-sensational status of artists like Hamasaki or Utada, she still managed to gain quite a phenomenal following with the release of her eighth single and second album, both her first releases to rank #1 on the Oricon charts.

Otsuka’s discography ranges from quirky kid-pop songs like “PONPON” to serene and almost heart-crushing love ballads like “PLANETARIUM.” After the release of her third album, LOVE COOK it was clear that Otsuka’s bubbly personality and talent for musical composition were the basis of her popularity, at which point, it was time to release the dreaded “best collection.” As Otsuka’s first compilation, it’s actually a rather poor representation of her work, with mostly singles and a huge dollop of ballads. The collection starts off with some of her more tamed-down pop numbers like “Momo no Hanabira” and “Happy Days” before abruptly switching gears and deluding the disc with her most famous ballads, “Kingyou Hanabi,” “Daisuki da yo,” (a sugary sweet love song) and “Cherish.” Instead of adding any of her really upbeat, sometimes rockish influences, the compilation plays it safe by sticking to songs like “Biidama,” failing to show an aspect of Otsuka’s career that she relies heavily on: the almost neauseatingly hyper-sweet. Otsuka’s vocals, are, as always, high-pitched, annoying, and seldom evolve anywhere on the disc. Probably the only props the album gets is for its optional DVD combo, which features all of the accompanying promotional videos.

While this is a great introduction to some of Otsuka’s best songs (both “Neko ni Fuusen” and “PLANETARIUM” are on the disc), its basic fault is that which each best collection must demurely embrace: it’s a singles collection, thus leaving out plenty of Otsuka’s better album songs and b-sides (”Natsu Sora,” “Sensu,” etc.). Particularly noticeable is the lack of tracks from her latest releases (”Frienger,” “Renai Shashin,” and “CHU-LIP,” her last three singles) which fail to make an appearance entirely, all which could have easily fit on the sparse thirteen track compilation (not counting the hidden tracks). This is probably best for hardcore fans looking to own said hidden tracks on disc, or for those who haven’t had the opportunity to buy her last three albums. In the end, it’s quite disappointing for a best collection, but then again, when are they ever not?

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