With this RPG mindset as the big theme for this mini-album, Nobuhiko shows us a newly improved sound and image with something fans wouldn’t even expect from him. “Questory” is set to be Nobuhiko‘s flagship mini-album.
Let’s look at this mini-album with more detail.
Mini-album: Questory Label: Kiramune Release date: 25/11/15 Genre: J-Pop/Rock
1. Star Fanfare 2. HOLY HOLY 3. シンジルココロ 4. Lost universe 5. Want you 6. 君は一人じゃないよ
Track by track analysis:
1. Star Fanfare
In a RPG fashion we kick off this mini-album. “Star Fanfare” has an intro that will make you think that you’re starting a quest in a RPG game – resorting to core brass instruments, strings and harp in an orchestral, grandious way. Joined by strong guitar riffs and pounding drums, this tracks’ instrumental is one impressive piece. On the vocal side Nobuhiko is sounding a bit different than usual. He’s not singing high pitched as before, resorting to a deeper vocal tone – which we totally aprove of. A nice stepping stone for this mini-album. 4.5/5
2. HOLY HOLY
And what a powerful single “HOLY HOLY” is! 8-bit intro? Orchestral rock that seems to have been crafted by Two Steps from Hell? We’re so in on this one! Mighty guitar riffs, reverberating bass, timpani, strings, brass and splashy drums are just some of the main ingredients in a track that exceeds our expectations. It’s impressive, it’s magnificent, a total winner in this mini-album. With a perfect build up all the way to the chorus where strings battle it out with the thundering guitar riffs, exploding into an exciting chorus, “HOLY HOLY” really seems to have hit the jackpot. The bridge where the track best showcases how different and powerful this instrumental is, by far, the best one we’ve heard this year – the aggressiveness from the rock elements together with the gracefulness of the orchestral ones are to die for. Regarding the vocal performance: how much has Nobuhiko changed? This vocal performance fits his character so much. With a soothing, emotional and energetic deliverance, he managed to exceed our expectations. Once again with his mid-toned vocals things seems to sail smoother than ever. This is an instant hit no matter what people say. Jackpot. 5/5
A beautiful, haunting piano leads the way in this heartfelt ballad. シンジルココロ wins the title of best ballad ever featured in Nobuhiko‘s releases. Simply beautiful, surprisingly simple and totally focused around Nobuhiko‘s improved smooth mid-toned vocals. Strings join the mix in the first verse to give and even more emotional touch to the track. On the second verse guitars, bass and drums make their appearance adding more power to this already dominant performance. Dazzling performance. 5/5
4. Lost universe
Mixing orchestral elements with industrial rock, “Lost Universe” is the closest track you have to his long lost “pop persona”. With picturesque elements added by the sitar (that makes its appearance in the intro and ending of the track) blended with strings and synths you might mistakingly think that you’re listening to an OST for Uncharted or something close to it. Take this blend into consideration and add guitars, synthetic splashy drums and dirty synths in the pre-chorus to have this high throttle dance track – and surprisingly is not overwhelming at all for the listener. Energetic performance in one track that is here to excite us. 4.5/5
5. Want you
And just to make up for all the mid-toned, mature vocals galore that we got here comes a track to wink at Nobuhiko‘s trademark bright dance pop tunes. “Want You” is your typical overly hyped synth-driven track, with pouncing drum samples and all kinds of tricks to make you bounce of your seat or like us, to put on a straight face and endure it. Depends on the listener but taking into consideration that this mini-album was riding on a massive amount of momentum, it was kind of lost but this anti-climatic track. 3/5
And the first track ever penned by Nobuhiko is finally here. 君は一人じゃないよ (You’re not alone) is a track that is in the line between ballad and that kind of nice pop track that is always there to make you feel good. With the piano as the core of the instrumental piece, the track even features vibes, strings and flutes in the vast background. Vocally the track is on point and even surprises us with a children’s choir by the end of the track. Sweet and with inspiring lyrics, 君は一人じゃないよ seems to be a good ending track for this mini-album. 4/5
It’s been a while since we’ve heard Nobuhiko as the solo artist. It’s safe to say that his singing has improved a lot in these past few months between releases. He’s sounding deeper than ever before, giving a more mature vibe from his vocal performance than ever before – and it was about time. You might not think highly of his singing – and of course there’s way better singers out there in the seiyuu business – but he managed to impress us with his growth.
We also have some remarks regarding his sound. With a fully orchestral sound, putting aside synths and other elements that in later releases were the black holes in his music, Nobuhiko‘s instrumental tracks are stronger, more masculine and imposing. It was all fun and games with his previous songs, all up bright and funny, but this time the instrumental tracks really complete Nobuhiko‘s vocal improvements, making him shine in a better light.
We certainly weren’t expecting a great deal out of this mini-album – it 50/50 our bad and Kiramune‘s for our expectations -, especially when Kiramune/Nobuhiko chose this whole “RPG/Quest” theme for this mini-album. It seemed like we were getting more of the same old trick pony but no, we were pleasantly surprised by this mini-album as a whole (minus a track).
Why minus a track?
“Want You” just gave us the chills in a mini-album that was riding in an incredible amount of momentum, this mini-album was getting better by each track and could have been the best Kiramune release so far, if not for this track. It totally killed the fantastic run it was having and managed to put the mini-album in a strange place – far from the theme and completely out-of-place when in comparison with the previous tracks. The black hole in this release.
Putting that aside we need to say “wow” to the single track “HOLY HOLY” that is one of the best tracks released this year for sure, in terms of instrumental and vocal execution.
Orchestral rock in a Kiramune release is a first and Nobuhiko singing one of these tracks? Something that we’d never imagined.
The final result was this gem of a track, mixing the best of both worlds into a powerful masterpiece in Nobuhiko‘s repertoire. The rest of the album was incredibly homogeneous, with engaging instrumentals, surprisingly good vocal performances and we could really feel the “Fantasy” theme for this mini-album.
This doesn’t need to be argued: “Questory” is Nobuhiko‘s best release to date – props to both Kiramune and the team behind the making of this fantastic mini-album as well as Nobuhiko himself.
“Questory” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.