As a long-time fan of Mega Ran, it’s great to see small releases like this in between full-length albums. To Japan With Love stemmed from Mega Ran‘s recent tour of the country with Doug Funnie and Mr. Miranda who also appear on the EP. Here’s a video the label released with some footage from the trip! After their visit, the trio were inspired to create some music dedicated to Japan and its nerd-friendly culture. With Tokyo’s Akihabara anime & gaming district and multi-floor arcade complexes, it’s not difficult to see how Ran would feel right at home. To Japan With Love is released via We Are The Future! Records in the gap between Mega Ran’s incredible endurance runs, touring the US and UK with MC Lars. So let’s jump into the music!
The EP opens with Unite, an introductory track that features Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from “The Great Dictator” over a simple Famicom backing that hits some nostalgic notes while the message sinks in. I think this track might have been inspired by more recent events in America rather than by Japan itself. It’s a powerful message but almost 3 minutes dedicated to the speech with no input from Mega Ran feels a little weird. Personally I think it would have suited sampling while Ran, Doug and Mr. Miranda elaborate on what it means to them or how it relates to this “love letter to Japan” collection.
The star of this release by far is Tokyo Hands, with a relaxed, down-tempo feel and all three rappers alternating lyrically with their experiences of the tour that inspired the EP. From Doug Funnie’s reminiscing about wanting to visit Tokyo since he was young to Mega Ran taking in the culture (and hitting the 5-storey arcades) and Mr. Miranda appreciating the opportunities the music scene can give, listening to this track makes me want to visit Japan for myself! As always, Ran is all about inspiring his fans to pursue their dreams and grab those opportunities. His verse in Tokyo Hands is a lyrical tour of Japan that really nails the richness of Japanese culture. Overall, this song paints a great picture of three friends on a great adventure to a new place and I can’t wait to experience the same feeling for myself!
Love Life might be a little short at only just over a minute, but Doug Funnie takes the lead to deliver a verse in his own style over a beat that reminds me of overworld music from a classic JRPG like Earthbound. He even manages to slip a reference to Earthbound into the lyrics so I wonder if there was some inspiration taken there. The lyrics carry a great positive message about growing as an artist and the experiences that open up with perseverance, fitting plenty of energy into the relatively short track.
Fittingly, the final track for To Japan With Love, Sayonara, deals with loss and goodbyes. More clearly inspired by 2016’s events than Unite, the track references the musicians and inspirational people who have contributed to the rappers’ lives. Perhaps taking in Japan’s culture allowed for some spiritual reflection, and it’s nice to see that the tour atmosphere can spare some room to reflect on the factors that made their careers work the way they have. The music is a little more traditionally hip-hop in feel though the simple pulse-piano and sine-wave bass keep some familiarity in tone. All three rappers are equally articulate about their heroes and influences and it’s refreshing to hear musicians talk about the people that inspired them this way.
Included as a bonus on the end of To Japan With Love, Manchester chiptune artist Jellyatrix contributes a Tokyo Hands remix that takes chopped-up vocal samples and applies them to a more melodic setting. The overall tone of the remix fits neatly with the down-tempo feel of the rest of the EP and really shows how Jellyatrix is progressing in skill over the relatively short time he’s been producing music. With subtle textural touches and a solid chord progression, it’s an interesting change of direction from Jellyatrix’s usual more dancey style. There are a couple of moments of clash between the melody and background chords but We Are The Future! did well picking an LSDj artist to add a little extra touch to the end of the EP.
Overall, I feel like To Japan With Love is kind of a mixed bag. Mega Ran, Doug Funnie and Mr. Miranda clearly wanted to get right on top of the inspiration that came from their tour of Japan and it’s all perfectly listenable, but I’m not exactly blown away like I was hoping for from a Mega Ran release. There are some great messages included in the lyrics, but I can’t help feeling like there isn’t as much Japan in the music as there should be. Tokyo Hands feels like the real “love letter to Japan” part of the EP, and I would have loved more of that but this is still a solid chip-hop morsel that hopes to inspire Mega Ran fans to keep following their dreams and I can’t fault it for that.
To Japan With Love is out now via We Are The Future! and available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play! Let me know what you think in the comments, and enjoy!