Favorite PVs of 2005: #4, Zone’s “Egao Biyori”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

The news broke at the start of 2005; the final concert was on April 1st; the news of Maiko’s new band broke in October. And still – still the thought of Zone’s break-up makes me tear. If my main criteria for favorite PVs was emotional power, then Zone’s "Egao Biyori" would far and away be number one. It isn’t just a PV for a single, it’s a farewell and a tribute and a reminder of lost potential.

I’m not sure what would’ve been worse: if they ended with a bad single that would’ve left fans disillusioned; or if they ended with a good single that made us wanting for more. As it was, they ended with a great single – one of their finest ever. And that just made it hurt all the more.

I’ve always prefered the fast rock songs to the ballads – it took the final concert to make me finally appreciate the haunting beauty of "Secret Base" – and this single is propulsive, well-structured, beautifully sung. It doesn’t do anything different for a fast rock song, but the sweet idol vocals does set it apart from the pack.

As those who care about Zone know, it was Mizuho who precipitated the break-up. She wanted to leave to pursue other things – the kind of vagueness that inevitably spurs rumors of a pregnancy – and the others decided they wouldn’t continue as a trio. It’s mildly odd, if only because the girls replaced Takayo with Tomoka at the end of 2003. But Tomoka was basically waiting in the wings, so I guess they had no spare drummers they could tap.

Miyu had already started her solo career by this point – two R&B singles were released in December 2004 and the long silence after "Glory Colors" had some people worried, myself included. Turns out those worries were well-founded, but not for the reasons suspected. Oddly, there haven’t been any Miyu solo work in 2005. Has she decided to devote more time to her studies? Is she preparing new material? Miyu has one of the most subtly distinctive voices in Jpop – often powerfully plaintive in delivery, but also nuanced at times, rich in tone and emotion – so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before she resurfaces on the music scene.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll be a broken record: Tomoka was the onewho got the shaft with this break-up. She was proving herselfas the new member of Zone, shining more and more with each single… and she was already charming right from the start, with "Sotsugyou," so that was saying something. By this point she had the presence of a front person, someone who could lead her band on-stage with confidence and a verve.

And Maiko? Well, she had that radio show of hers – and now she’s got Maria. To me, she was the heart of the group. She was the best example of Zone’s charm: falling for Zone was seeing how beautiful and talented Maiko is, to realize these seemingly ordinary girls were anything but.

The PV is straightforward enough, but combines a great many motifs because of its multiple intentions. There’s the girls performing the song against backdrops with their faces; the girls posing solo behind the same backdrops, looking thoughtful as they hold their instruments (like Miyu, here)…

There’s a brief interlude with "real" lighting which looks like the girls simply hanging out and rehearsing. These scenes played on something the band could never be explicit about, but always struck me as part of their charm: that there’s a little bit of a garage band in Zone, a kind of DIY ethic that informed their music and their performances. Which on the face of it is patently ridiculous: an idol group is manufactured, the very opposite of the garage band’s organic roots and authenticity.

And yet, having an idol girl group take a stab at being a rock band seems so out of step, one can’t help but feel they had to have struggled with it. Like the Ramones, they were handicapped from the start by the diminished expectations placed on them. Asa result,it was so easy to imagine the girls of Zone hanging out somewhere and just jamming because they want to… Certainly, it was enough to inspire at least a handful of other girl bands to emerge with a true DIY ethic, as Zone became unwitting role models.

I remember a clip of preteen girls covering Zone’s "True Blue" that was so inspiring, if only because Zone did make a difference. Other girls went to auditions to become idols; these little girls learned some chords and plugged in speakers.

All of the motifs mentioned above were to convey: this song rocks.

But there’s also motifs that tie into saying goodbye to the band and giving them a proper farewell. Perhaps strangest – and most effective – is the girls gathered around a cake with four candles. It looks like a birthday, but they’re actually snuffing the life of Zone symbolically.

Make a wish. *sigh*

Here’s a great shot of Tomoka…

And an even better shot of Maiko…

The girls never tried to be glamorous, which is what makes them so beautiful. It’s less about freezing for a pose and playing up to the camera – which, when they do, comes across as good-natured horsing around instead of model-esque drama – but a stilling of self, allowing a moment of reflection to be captured.

Though I wish they had more bad-ass rock goddess shots in their portfolio. There was one for Oricon from their Takayo era which pointed to a whole other tack their image could have taken – more Runaways than bandol, if you will. 

To further the sense of tribute, interspersed throughout the PV are images from Zone’s history, in photos and videos. Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot from the filming of the "Sotsugyou" PV. That one has special memories for me, as it’s the first Zone song I ever heard (from a Valentine Day 2004 Pop Jam concert) and the first PV I ever saw. That was the same concert where they did "Love Machine" with Tsunku, Gocchin, Ayaya, and some others, including the Gets! guy, Dandy Saekano.

And considering the band in retrospect, Zone’s career in singles is pretty fucking strong. It’s easy to listen to the E album from start to finish – though of course, I tend to skip the ballads for the most part. What’s even more interesting to me is how the las
t four singles – the Tomoka era – maintain such a high standard. It took a while for "Glory Colors" to grow on me, but now that it’s awe-inspiring to consider how brilliant the band was in that single year.

They also made some incredible PVs, right from the beginning – "Good Days" is great fun and mildly clever – up to the classic "Akashi" and the dramatically powerful "H A N A B I". And yeah, I sometimes tear up when I watch those now, too.

I’ve said this before as well, but I don’t blame Mizuho. It’s impossible to hate her, just as it’s impossible to hold Miyu’s disappointing solo singles against her.

And I hope she’s not pregnant. Though by this point, the baby would’ve already been born, right?

The last candle blown out of the cake is heartbreaking, perhaps because it’s so symbolically powerful. A bit of Macbeth comes to mind, "Out, out brief candle" and all that. This is usually when I start to gush, or at least whimper a little.

The PV tries so hard to be upbeat about what’s going on, which is admirable I guess. But watching the third Zone Clips is satisfying because you see the tears, you hear Tomoka giving off a low wail as they receive gifts from the video crew – and you also see Mizuho still quite happy, clearly sure of her decision to leave at this time.

They had come such a long way, hadn’t they? You can go all the way back to when they were a bunch of early teens wanting to be an idol girl group – which is, admittedly, mildly cringeworthy, based on the clips I’d seen. But with their first real single, "Good Days," they had all the elements that were quintessential Zone – the goofy playfulness, the mix of upbeat rock and idol sensibilities, the distinctive vocals – but were so painfully young. When they dressed up as boys, it was cute without being sexy – they were still young enough to have that androgyny fit.

But over the years, they refined, grew up, and blossomed… But it was a case of blossoming into exciting young musicians, not sexy young ladies. Which, let’s face it, is the kind of blossoming expected from idol groups that don’t tote around guitars and drum sticks. Which didn’t mean Zone didn’t become ever more attractive, but somehow that seemed less the point than with the Momusu girls or, now, Berryz and SweetS.

So, there’s still the question: why did I spend most of 2005 crying over Zone? Where the fuck is Kubler-Ross to get me through the rest of the steps?

For Zone, the gap between their idol personae and who they seemed to be offstage seemed a lot less wide than with the other Jpop acts I enjoy. I’m sure much of it was calculated, but they seemed so much more girl next door than anyone in Hello! Project or the Avex Girl’s Box line-up. They didn’t wear costumes that played up their sexuality – if anything, they tended towards a kind of tomboy chic.

And there’s the fact that they played their own instruments. There’s something sexy and quite special about watching these girls perform. Mizuho has that way she flirts with the camera when she’s drumming, Miyu takes on an aura she doesn’t have otherwise (not even when she was doing her R&B thing, I should note). And there’s the way Maiko handles the bass – sometimes very intense, sometimes beaming that inimitable Maiko smile, sometimes letting it ride against her leg – that’s just… sexy.

There is the chemistry of the girls – as a band, the way their voices blend, and the way they interact off-stage for various shows and specials. I actually like Tomoka better than Takayo in that sense – which I know is sacrilege for more long-term fans of Zone, but Tomoka brought a sense of mischief and playfulness that just wasn’t what Takayo provided. I also think Tomoka’s hotter, so I’m sure there’s a bias speaking here.

And there’s definitely the sense of lost potential. Zone could have conquered the world, as far as I was concerned. Songs like "Egao Biyori" and "H A N A B I" and even "Secret Base" make that plain. And most of the girls were just turning eighteen when the band broke up. Imagine if Zone lasted until the girls were in their twenties – the experience and chemistry, combined with the exuberance of still being so damn young.

You can’t convince me that it wouldn’t have been incredible.  

I’m not looking forward to a Zone reunion anymore, it doesn’t seem as likely to me now… I’ve made that much progress, at least. (So can I cross "bargaining" off the list?) But it’s hard to say goodbye when I still play their music and singles so often. And I guess it didn’t help that I had the Zone calendar hanging up on my wall. It’s a cliche, but Zone’ll never die for me. Though maybe Maria will take some of the sting out of that pain…

Next: #3 renews my faith in an old favorite.


Comments (Comments are closed)

5 Responses to “Favorite PVs of 2005: #4, Zone’s “Egao Biyori””
  1. Alice says:

    It’s sad, but I miss Zone too even though I didn’t learn about them until shortly after they broke up. And your post hits all the high notes for things I feel about Do As Infinity breaking up this year as well.

  2. Chuck says:

    I hate asking this sort of thing, but do you know of any good Internet places to find Zone videos and/or music? I’m totally unfamiliar, but your article was very intriguing, so I wanted to hear what they’re like. But I can’t find a thing. Even their official site has nothing. So any help would be appreciated. Otherwise, sorry for the beg-ish question.

    (Then again, considering I’m still pissed that Cocco retired, maybe it’s good that I can’t find any more music by defunct artists.)

  3. The always-informative and well-written Channel-Ai has a couple of excellent pieces on Zone, along with downloads – I recommend “Akashi” and “Secret Base”.

    Fansubs of early Zone songs have appeared on the Hello! Online Tracker relatively recently, and I’m sure a request at Jpopsuki’s tracker forum would be happily fulfilled.

    Oh, and I’ve got “True Blue” on the radio blog for this site and I just added “H A N A B I” (which I was planning to put on later this week, but what the heck).

  4. Chuck says:

    Thanks a lot. I’ll check those out. (And yeah, I feel stupid for not noticing the song on your radio blog. I didn’t realize it could scroll!)

  5. einno says:

    I like Zone very much. But I late to know about them. I know Zone when they have disbanded at begining 2005. Thanks Zone, U’ve give me an inspiration of entertainment.