Chess – 10th anniversary review

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Welcome to the final post of 2022!
This year was my 10th anniversary as a BUTAOTOME fan, and to end this celebration in grand style, I’ve decided to review an album that is extremely important to me, and that turns 10 today.

“What is your favorite BUTAOTOME album?”
This question returns from the Kyou ga Saigo no Ichinichi 5th anniversary review. I mentioned that my answer, covering the entire discography, was Chess, ever since its release. And it’s finally time to talk about it.

You are the King, I am the Queen. BUTAOTOME’s second original album.

There won’t be a concept section since original albums don’t seem to have it, and there is also nothing to discuss stuff like “original theme choices”. So have something else instead!

Backstory

The year is 2012, and I was a little Violet who entered the world of Touhou vocal arrangement and started to enjoy stuff that wasn’t IOSYS (speaking of which, there is a fun story, but maybe I will tell you another time). Ranko caught my heart and I was just obsessed with anything that had her voice (and pretty much following Buta just for that, so what is a Nekokenban?!?!?!?). I searched for anything that was sung by her, and track down everything possible, using sources such as the works page on the old BUTAOTOME website and VGMDB, and crossing the shady seas. One of my personal favorites was the song Akubi, from the compilation Kuusou Katsugeki 3 by Voltage of Imagination. It was an original song, and it just stood out to me for not sounding like any ZUN melody. It was great, and to this day, it’s still my favorite song in their entire BUTAOTOME track catalog. So when Bowling was first announced in August, I was very hyped. It was an original album, fuck yeah! (also, oh, that first track is the song I found mentioned in some tweets but never listened to it!) While I loved the album (my personal Comiket 82 winner), none of the songs was as good as Akubi.

Fast forward to December, there were plenty of Comiket 83 albums I was looking forward to (it was also common to have various releases with Ranko as a guest vocalist at the time), but I was particularly excited for Chess since we were going to get more original material. I’m fairly sure I’ve first listened to it in 2013, I also remember that the first song I listened to that year was ShibayanRecords’ Clockup Flowers (random).

Design

I’m a big fan of the general design of BUTAOTOME’s original albums, it’s brightly colorful and very recognizable! The five albums of the doujin era, being named after games, also incorporate elements of their titles into their artwork.

When I think of chess the game, I think of this album black and white. This album mainly uses the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), while still using black for details such as the chess pieces. I especially like the red background of the tracklist page inside. It kind of matches my personal vision of BUTAOTOME’s “original world” being a weird city where everything could happen, and also reminds me of the last track.

Music

I have to admit, with BUTAOTOME’s original albums is hard to pinpoint a specific music direction tied to a unifying theme (except for maybe one album that perhaps will get a review next year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of one of its songs). They are just full of pure BUTAOTOME-ness, and they are great because of that.

A little fun fact about Chess is that it’s one of the very few albums that got all its tracks played live at least once. Other albums that share this distinction are the two major albums (Furubokko and Trauma Recorder), TRASH BOX, Kouseki Radio, and the first five Touhou vocal albums. Chess and Kouseki Radio (minus instrumentals) are the only albums that also got all their tracks played during the good old Utau Namahousou back in 2014-2015!

Lyrics-wise, this album is a mixed bag (with 3 songs written by Ranko and 5 written by Comp), but I overall enjoyed all of those lyrics, maybe because I’ve translated all of them into both English and Italian. It’s a collection of different emotions. There are WTF lyrics, depressing lyrics, and happy lyrics with amazing imagery… Circus and Kudaranai Hibi are among my favorite Comp lyrics of all time!

1. Show Loop
“Tomorrow and the day after, nothing will change and the day will continue”
As soon as the intro started, I was immediately amazed and dragged into the world of this album. It’s simple, yet effective. Definitely one of the best intro tracks in the whole discography, it sounds so engaging. Also, I just love how the first thing we hear from Ranko is “Is it a dream or a reality? What is left, what is right? I dunno”, it has such a great impact.
btw this song has the most painful Ranko lyrics I ever translated. She said they are about “thinking about various favorite bands and how we will all regret it if we don’t see them when we can” (truly relatable, write me in the comments your favorite artists that you regret you weren’t able to see live and/or you discovered too late), but they are quite abstract…

2. Circus
““What is ‘everything’ to you?”
If I were asked that question
I would answer you without hesitation
Even if it’s only for now”
I have fond memories of when Buta had this live called Circus. When they posted the setlist, I noticed it had a new song, with the same name as the live. So when I first listened to Chess’ XFD and read the tracklist, one of my reactions was “hey, it’s that song!”.
I love all the tracks in this album all for different reasons, but if I have to pick one favorite, and one to represent it overall, I choose this one. It has such a huge “lead track” vibe, and it definitely deserves some more promotion (karaoke release? Rhythm games? PV?!?! A live-action video with the four three members playing in a circus would be amazing, but it will remain a dream). The jazz-rock sound is so delightful, and I really love the lyrics, especially the stanza featured in this review and all the circus imagery in the refrains!

3. Gudon
“I don’t think I’ll ever be happy about something that seems like nothing, but the sunrise is so beautiful that I’m still going to live.”
After two energetic tracks, we need something calmer. Love that intro, it sounds so otherworldy and gives the feeling of drowning in the abyss of stupidity. Heavy Moonstone vibes in the rest of the song, but moodier. But also a happy ending. Even though people’s stupidity can make us wish to live on another planet, some little good things in life are worth to go on living.
By the way, the way the lyrics are written in the booklet is quite interesting, I would love to see atypical lyrics formats more often, as long as they don’t become unreadable Diao ye zong-y messes.

4. Yubi Shaburi
“I’m having nightmares, even as awake
Invisible walls remain invisible”
This is another fun tune, with an extremely catchy melody… The live version has Ranko singing it with a cute tone, and the acoustic version sounds more childish even in the arrangement, I would love to hear a studio recording of it… (original rearrange album when?!)
Some parts of the lyrics are really… Comp, WTF?! Your smile resembles America?!?! I suddenly want ochadzuke?!?!? 🤌 And I thought the melted mousse in Kanzen My Way was so memey… and it’s gonna get worse with the next song

5. Kaimenkasseizai
“Let’s use surfactant and fall in love all together”
Kaimenkasseizai. Don’t ask questions.
…okay, I wanna be honest: I don’t mind this track, and I would rather listen to it over Bad Apple. It’s short, trolly, and can be mindless fun at the right moments, even outside of the album. I always imagined it as the interlude break before the second part of the “story”.
(btw, I will never forgive Paprika for picking this song over everything else from this album back when she had the piano corner during the old livestreams)

6. Souji
“I’m sure you’ll die without even noticing
The flowers blooming beside you”
That guitar intro gives a desperate feeling that something is wrong, and the entire song just has this negative atmosphere. I wouldn’t really consider it a “ballad”, but it’s certainly a dark track, and Ranko’s expressive vocals help keep the mood. The bridge part gives the feeling of flying in the air, perhaps reaching the afterlife. Also, the lyrics are so bleak and depressing that… Ranko, were you okay? :comforts chibi Ranko:

7. Ikkaishoubu
“More “joy”, more “anger”
More “sadness”, more “fun”
I want to live because I want to feel them”
This song totally fits its title! I like how it contrasts with the previous track. Souji was long, depressed, and mentioned discarding emotions and living like garbage, while Ikkaishoubu is short, playful, and mentions wanting to live to feel emotions. Two polar opposites, like black and white… like the main color of chess.
Anyway, Ikkaishoubu is such a lovely tune. My favorite part is its fake ending before the final stanza!

8. Kudaranai Hibi
“Even though we know that the end is not the answer
We wander in fear of the end. We’re such creatures
With such lives”
It’s the end. The game is over. As our protagonist walks in the sunset, they contemplate life. That was the image I’ve always had of this song.
Slow ballads are my favorite type of album closers, and Kudaranai Hibi is one of the best ones in the whole discography, it does its closer job in a masterful way. The whole final part is simply beautiful, I love the final stanza, the climatic riff, and how the song bookends by repeating the intro.

End Notes

When I first listened to this album, I thought it was good, better than Bowling (still no song was as good as Akubi), and I felt the need to listen to it a second time. After that, I better assimilated the tracks. And after my third listen… I just fell in love with it, it was one of the best things Buta has put out. Back in January 2013, I listened to this album every single day, and it overshadowed basically anything else that was released during that Comiket. Don’t worry, I gave some love to other C83 releases eventually, and I have other favorites from that event (maybe I’ll talk about them on Discord)!

I personally consider Chess to be my favorite album of all time. It’s certainly not a technical masterpiece, not an album that will make history or even the best album in the Buta discography. But it’s one of those works that were extremely impactful to me, it was the album that made me realize that Buta was just more than “a simple circle I love more than others, just a phase”, and I think personal feelings are what matter when it comes to art. Do you have an album that it’s very important to you? Let me know in the comments!

Chess, along with the other original albums, has recently been made available to digitally purchase on BUTAOTOME’s BOOTH, so you can easily buy a copy there! There are no words about a digital release on Spotify and friends, but assuming they will only release the original Best (to be physically released tomorrow), that will mean Circus, Yubi Shaburi, and Kudaranai Hibi will be there. They are great tracks, but the full Best is simply top tier so I highly recommend checking it out and giving the originals the love they deserve! Physical copies of this album are still available somewhere, check the buy links listed on its page.

As an extra, here is a playlist of rare footage from the old Utau Namahousou livestream back in 2014, with short acoustic versions of every song from this album! I don’t have any video of Gudon, so get double Show Loop instead… but audio-only recordings can be found in the Media section.

Now, I want to end this post on a more personal note. And… I’m not sure if BUTAOTOME members will read this review, I don’t expect them to do so, but I want to dedicate an open letter directly to them.

Dear BUTAOTOME

How are you? By the time this will be published, you are probably sleeping, preparing for Comiket 101 in a few hours. If you’ll read this, the event will probably be over. In that case, well… お疲れ様でした。Also, happy new year!

So… it has been 10 years since I’ve become a fan of you. Where did all that time go? It feels like 5-6 years at max to me! Looking at my shelf (with nearly every album and stuff you put out) and my messy digital archives of things, makes me realize that yeah, a lot of time has passed.

It’s amazing how much I’ve been following you non-stop. I’ve kept a constant eye to your activities ever since that fateful day, and supporting you as much as possible. Many songs I’ve listened, many lives I’ve watched, many news I’ve read, many tweets I’ve saw, many emotions I’ve felt. There have been things I loved, things I loved less, the golden age, the dark age, but despite everything, I was still there.

Paraphrasing a certain game both me and Ranko have recently played, I feel like these 10 years have been a journey to find my own treasure, and you were the soundtrack of that. You have been a huge influence in my life. Thanks to you, I’ve met so many people, including my very special person and some of the best friends I ever had. I’ve also discovered myself, and perhaps what my actual interests are. I’ve started to seriously supporting the doujin scene, I’ve learned Japanese and a few other skills useful in life. My tastes in Touhou have been heavily influenced by you, and you certainly helped keeping my interest in Gensoukyou, and everything surrounding it, alive.

So… I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the great time.

I don’t have much dreams and ambitions, I just want to be happy and in health for the rest of my life with my special person. However, one of my dreams is still to meet you and have you sign my copy of Chess. But personal issues and Covid have been major obstacles to it. Maybe in 2024, I will be able to visit Japan and it will become reality. But in any case, I will keep watching over you until the very end, from my remote corner of Italy (perhaps America in the future).

Please keep doing your best!

Violet (tiramiseさん)

If you managed to read until the very end, well, thank you! Since I won’t make a separate post for the end-of-the-year roundup, here is a short version of it with some disconnected thoughts, as an extra.

Touhou songs: 26 (including the rearranges, and the Retake+ songs)
Originals: 3
Instrumentals: 1
Total: 30
Ranko songs with other arrangers: 0
Comp songs with other vocalists: 1 (tho it will be officially released next year) (wtf, no lol 2hu lost world?!) (and NO, he doesn’t make arrangements for Lost Word MV project songs unless they are “Touhou Lost Word feat. Random VIP x BUTAOTOME”)

Juushin was a really good album, not among my favorites, but it added some amazing tunes to the track catalog, and Buta’s Touhou World! Still wish it would have got a bit more promotion, but hey, we finally have Ranko’s commentary (translation to be published on January 2).
Retake+ was the album ever. While I expected Buta to eventually do re-recordings of old songs at some point, it was quite disappointing to have this album as the only release of the big Comiket 100, and even though some of the tracks are better than the originals, I ended up not caring that much about it (the afterword book was great, but event-limited ヽ(ಠ_ಠ)ノ).
Anata ni wa Miete membrane was okay, Hakuma was a really good single that I will always treasure, and Houkiboshi is shaping up to be the best release of the year, I’m very excited!
Original songs are still pretty rare, and while Konnichiwa Byebye (for Chrono Circle) felt particularly weak, Noumiso de Koujou (for pop’n music) is simply amazing (OST in 2027, long version in 20never), and I can’t wait to hear Delicate (from the upcoming original best) in its full glory!
While Touhou Arcadia Record might be a controversial game, it still gave us some of the best Pig material, Doukei is the best Touhou gacha song they have made, and Seijaku na Yume is a good instrumental that takes me back to Cannonball.
Ranko’s activities are just Buta nowadays (tho, this is the first year she has done absolutely no non-Buta songs), but I’m surprised we didn’t get much stuff from Comp this year… Looking forward to Kanako Ito’s album being released at the end of January!

Buta unrelated: it’s amazing that this year we got two vocal arrangements of Enigmatic Doll made by big circles, perhaps one day we’ll finally get a Buta one… #MuseDeservesHerButaSong (hah! You thought I would write a post without that!)

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