Otaku USA Magazine
“One for YOU!” Debut Album by You Kikkawa

You Kikkawa (aka Yuu Kikkawa) is the latest solo artist to come out of Hello! Project, the J-pop organization responsible for Morning Musume, Berryz Kobo, C-ute and assorted spin-off groups and solo singers. She had auditioned for Morning Musume’s 8th Generation back in 2007 and although she didn’t make it, she evidently made enough of an impression to be put into Hello Pro! Eggs, the large assemblage of back-up dancers used in Hello! Project concerts. She was then put into the anime-themed Milky Way unit with MM member Koharu Kusumi and fellow Egg Sayaka Kitahara, giving H!P fans the first chance to hear her lovely voice. When Koharu graduated from MM in late 2009, Kikkawa went back to the chorus, so to speak, and we wondered if she’d ever get the chance to shine again.

One for YOU! is Kikkawa’s first solo album and solid proof that there is life after being an Egg. Not only did management like her enough to launch her as a solo artist, but they even contracted her out to a bigger music label, Universal Music, in the hopes that she could have the kind of larger success unknown to most Hello! Project artists. As an H!P fan, I actually would have preferred Kikkawa to remain in the H!P stable so she could grace H!P concerts as an equal with Erina Mano and the rest of the current H!P lineup (MM, BK, C-ute, S/mileage). Kikkawa has indeed performed at H!P concerts, the most recent being the one song she did at the H!P  Winter 2012 concert. It wouldn’t have bothered me a bit if she’d displaced Mano as H!P’s reigning solo artist. The album is certainly a lot like other H!P solo albums and the songs are certainly in line with the H!P house style.

Kikkawa has a decent voice and the songs are, for the most part, pleasant if somewhat generic J-pop idol songs, with the usual synthesized instrumental backing. She may not compare to such powerhouse solo artists from Hello! Project’s past as Maki Goto and Aya Matsuura, but she certainly stands out above Erina Mano and Koharu Kusumi. Her first three singles, “Kikkaka wa YOU!,” “Hapirapi ~Sunrise~” and “Konna Watashi de Yokattara,” are all included here. The third one is arguably the best song on the album and the one she sang at the H!P winter 2012 concert. It’s got a nice melody, a catchy chorus and makes a fine showcase for her vocal talents. Her first single, “Kikkaka wa YOU!” is another fast, upbeat song that she handles with great confidence.  “Sayonara Namida” is the kind of song that might have graced a Maki or Aya album eight to ten years ago and Kikkawa does a spirited job of it. The same can be said of “Arinomama no I LOVE YOU!”  “Time to Zone” sounds like an old Country Musume song—not a bad thing at all. “Hapirapi ~Sunrise~” is something Erina Mano might easily have sung and might even have done it well. Was it written for her and then shifted to Kikkawa? Some of the songs, like Track 9, “Hirahira Hoshi,” use too much electronic manipulation of her voice. I know that’s something of a trend in pop music now, but her voice is strong enough that she really doesn’t need it and sounds much better without it.

“Knight Flight” is the one really slow, gentle song on the album and she handles it softly, with restraint, for a very nice effect enabling it to stand out, for me, as the second best track on the album. This track and “Aitaku Nattara,” another one that’s slower than the others, prove that she can be challenged more on her next album, with a greater variety of song styles. While none of the songs are exactly great, none are bad either and I enjoyed the album consistently on repeated listens. To compare it to Erina Mano’s albums, I would say that Mano had two great numbers, “Hajimete no Ken” and “Lucky Aura,” on “Friends,” her first album, but several songs that were not so enjoyable a second time and nothing comparable on her second album. Kikkawa has a better voice than Mano and should be given better material. She also has a better voice than her former Milky Way partner, Koharu Kusumi, although I have to confess a peculiar devotion to Koharu and a special love for her albums, even when she indulges in her most lunatic songs, like “Papancake,” which never fail to fill me with utter delight. But I happen to be one of the few H!P fans who reacts to Koharu that way.

As I write this, Kikkawa is in Atlanta entertaining American fans at Anime Weekend Atlanta (Sept. 28-30). I can only be there in spirit and hope this presages greater success for Kikkawa and, most importantly, the release of more albums. She’s an attractive young lady, with a warm and engaging stage presence, and deserves a wider audience.