Album Review: BanG Dream! Dreamer's Best
Of course my triumphant (?) return to blogging would be with a BanG Dream compilation, this shouldn't surprise anyone.
Hey folks! It has been a little while, hey? But I am crawling out of the deep dark hole known as “job hunting” to offer you a fun morsel as I, behind the scenes, prepare my round-up of what I’ve been listening to since 2022 began.
You may recall that last summer I reviewed a bunch of albums associated with the BanG Dream! project. As I mentioned in that post, I’ve been a fan of the project for a good few years now, and it so happens that today is the fifth anniversary of the launch of their flagship mobile game, BanG Dream: Girls Band Party!. To mark the occasion, they’ve released Dreamer’s Best, a compilation album featuring tracks from all seven bands as well as some others that feature performers from multiple bands collaborating. As part of my ongoing mission to get more people to listen to these groups, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the album and talk about their selections!
Now, I’m normally very opinionated about sequencing. But because the tracklist was decided on by fan vote, and the tracks are just grouped by which band performs them, that’s not really going to be a consideration when I evaluate things here. Instead, I’ll consider each band’s contributions to the album separately and evaluate them both on how they are as individual songs and how well they represent the band’s work as a whole. If you listen, and like what you hear, hopefully this can help give you an idea of what to check out next!
“Kizuna Music” and “Returns” are highlights from PoPiPa’s discography for sure, with the latter in particular being one of the stronger songs in the project as a whole. The stripped-back feel of the verses, and how they then explode into the chorus, is really effective; it’s obvious they took a lot of care with this song (it’s used in a pivotal moment in the associated anime), and that work paid off.
“Initial”, like “Kizuna Music”, is used as a theme song for the anime series, but I don’t like it nearly as much. I’m glad there’s some representation on here of the band’s more energetic rock side, but I would have gone for “What’s the PoPiPa?” or “Hello! Wink!” over this if I were in charge of selection. I just don’t like the “Initial” prechorus very much, and the chorus proper is fairly bland. Kasumi Toyama (Aimi) sounds great on the verse though!
I really have no complaints here - “Y.O.L.O.!!!!!” is just an incredibly slick little piece of pop punk, and fantastically produced (I love in particular the interplay between the two guitars, immediately staking out territory distinct from most of the other bands). “Sasanqua” has a gorgeous melody and really effectively uses the electric organ, another Afterglow sonic hallmark. And “Hey-Day Cappriccio” shows off their ability to do a novelty/charm number while being a bit more interesting and harder-edged than something like “COMIC PANIC!!!” or “Jamboree! Journey!”. I’m a huge fan of the skittery piano line. These three picks are very close to what I would have chosen for inclusion.
I have something of a visceral negative response to “Tenka Toitsu A to Z ☆”, but that’s really not the fault of the song, which is not bad! It can be a little repetitive, but it’s enjoyably high energy and has a ton of character to it — it’s a real idol group number, and I’m glad at least one made it even if I prefer “Attsu Atsu Tokonatsu Love☆Summer” or “SURVIVOR Never Give Up!”. There’s a real argument “A to Z” is the single most iconic song for Garupa though, based on how often it’s chosen in gameplay, so I can’t begrudge its presence.
“Mou Ichido Luminous” and “Yura-Yura Ring Dong Dance” I have a much less complicated reaction to: they’re both great! “Luminous” has a superb keys part and a great melody, though as on many songs Aya Maruyama (Ami Maeshima) sounds a little vocally thin — contrast with the RAISE A SUILEN cover. “Yura-Yura” is a very fun duet though, and Maruyama’s low range pairs really well with Chisato Shirasagi (Sumire Uesaka)’s sound. The high-gloss synths and call-and-response with the rest of the band bring the whole thing together in a very appealing package.
Other Songs (Disc 1)
Every once in a while, Bushiroad find a reason to bring together all the lead vocalists, and the results are always interesting, if not necessarily the most memorable tracks. The three large multi-band songs included here struggle to carve out a sonic identity, since they’re bringing together representatives from such different groups, and end up sounding a bit bland. “CiRCLE THANKS MUSiC” is the biggest offender; thirty-five vocalists means there’s no space to give them each solo spotlight lines, but nor are there interesting vocal harmonies to justify what is essentially a choral track.
“Yume wo Uchinuku Shunkan Ni”, unlike the other three ‘extra’ tracks on this album, comes off quite well! It is actually a Poppin’Party song, but the addition of Yukina Minato (Aina Aiba) and LAYER (Raychell) adds some meaningful texture, while still allowing the song to be recognizably associated with the band who originated it.
So far, I’ve thought the “fan vote” system has done a reasonably good job at picking songs for this album — not always the ones I’d choose, but representative of the range each band has. Unfortunately, with Roselia, we begin to see the drawbacks. It’s not that any of the songs chosen are bad: I would have loved to see any one of them on the final tracklist. But they’re a bit too similar, when presented back-to-back like this, and don’t really reflect the full breadth of what Roselia can do.
Of the three, “Fire Bird” is the most iconic, and is a concert mainstay due largely to its explosive chorus, but I think I’d actually keep the other two. “R” has a great bass-forward groove (something of a rarity for the project in general, but a pleasure to see here), and “Ringing Bloom” has multiple excellent instrumental spotlight passages, particularly for Rinko Shirokane (Kanon Shizaki) on piano. It also, while not being a true duet, prominently features Shirokane as a secondary vocalist, and her tone compliments Minato’s extremely well.
I’d round out the three selections with something like “Yakusoku”, “Sanctuary”, or “Blessing Chord”, showing the softer side of the band’s range — but songs like those tend not to be crowd-pleasers in quite the same way, and I do see why the vote went as it did.
Hello, Happy World!
Gosh, Hello Happy World! are a fun band, huh? The three selections here do a great job of showing that off; both “Goka! Gokai?! Phantom Thief!” and “Kimi ga Inakucha!” play in the brassy big-band-inflected space the group often returns to, but they feel meaningfully distinct enough to justify the inclusion of both. “We Can☆Hurray!” is also a great cut, taking that same brass presence and applying it in a distinctly more video-game-pop context. I’ve jokingly said it sounds like a Rainbow Road theme from Mario Kart, if you gave one lyrics, and that’s an assessment I stand by — but fortunately that’s something I’m very here for. After the broody grandeur of Roselia, the HHW tracks are a bolt of sunshine at just the right moment on the album.
I’m not sure exactly when voting for song inclusion was done, but I suspect Morfonica were hampered by how thin their discography is relative to the other bands that are part of the BanG Dream! project. None of the songs included to represent them are bad, but “Daylight” and “Bloom Bloom”, in particular, suffer a bit for Mashiro Kurata (Amane Shindo)’s inexperience. Her singing is pretty, but doesn’t have enough force to hold her own against the production — a problem that is much improved in later releases, as the songwriters get a handle on how to write to her strengths. All that said, the violin parts alone justify Morfonica’s addition to the project; they provide a flavour entirely distinct from the other bands, and it’s an instrument I think should get spotlit more in pop & rock music just generally.
RAISE A SUILEN
When RAS started releasing original music, it was immediately, almost jarringly, different from what had previously been under the BanG Dream! umbrella. Despite a similar instrumental composition to the other bands, the way they use them is very distinct, with a much more synth-forward and eclectic production style. The three songs selected for Dreamer’s Best show off their range well, from the stabbing guitar ostinato of “EXPOSE ‘Burn Out!!!’” through the reverb-washed piano of “Beautiful Birthday” and the chiptune-indebted “HELL! or HELL?”.
I don’t always love CHU2 (Risa Tsumugi) emceeing, but these are good tracks for her, and while there are things about “Beautiful Birthday” I don’t love (the bridge is pretty weak), its wistful midtempo makes a nice counterpoint to the frenetic pace of the other two. My own choices may have been a bit different, but as with most bands here I can’t argue too much with the ~will of the fans~.
Other Songs (Disc 2)
Twice so far in Bandori history, the fandom has gotten a chance to vote on “shuffle bands”, hypothetical new groups made up of a recombination of members from the existing bands. In each of these, the winning band (“Heartwarming Part-Time Song Band” and “Last Boss Theme Band”) got to record a song, and both are included here!
“Hitori Janain Dakara” is a charming bit of throwback pop, with twinkling piano and a shuffle feel, and startlingly well-suited to Aya Maruyama on lead vocal, maybe even moreso than a lot of her work with Pastel*Palettes. “CATASTROPHE BANQUET” is, as the name might suggest, considerably more bombastic, and my feelings on it are a bit more mixed. The taunting sing-song interplay of the guitar and violin is great, and LAYER tears it up on the verse as she always does, but I can’t help but feel the concept isn’t strong enough to sustain the full four-and-a-half minute runtime. I continue to wistfully contemplate the Yukina Minato-led city pop song we could have gotten had things shaken out differently.
Overall, I am really pleasantly surprised by Dreamer’s Best! When I learned it was to be done by vote rather than a curated selection, I had some concerns, but overall I think it stands as a really solid introduction to the project’s music and certainly I plan to use it as such. With the exception of Roselia and Morfonica, I think it gives a good impression of the breadth of each band’s sound, and many of my favourite Bandori songs made it onto the tracklist.
This franchise has been a remarkably substantial part of my life for nearly four years now, and it’s been really great watching how it’s evolved over that timeframe — happy birthday Girls’ Band Party, and here’s to more to come.