Song Review: Naniwa Danshi – Ubu Love

Naniwa Danshi - Ubu LoveThe emergence of a new Johnny’s group will always be exciting. It was exciting in January 2020, when Snow Man and SixTONES made a dual debut, and it’s been even more exciting watching these groups go on to dominate the idol industry and usher in a new era for Johnny’s.

When Naniwa Danshi’s debut was announced over the summer, I was quite surprised. They’ve had a relatively short tenure as a junior group, though some members have been in the agency for much longer. I’ve used the ensuing months to bring myself up to speed with their history and have come to understand why Johnny’s opted for such a quick debut.

Naniwa Danshi hail from the Kansai region, which has always been associated with comedic appeal when it comes to agency-seniors Kanjani∞ and Johnny’s West. However, Naniwa are carving a new path and debuting with a much more traditional idol concept. And by “traditional,” I mean full-on “jumped out of an anime with glittery outfits and perma-smiles.” It’s about as far from trendy as imaginable, and I fully expect this approach to mystify (or outright repel) those unfamiliar with J-idol tropes. It’s very specific – down to the exaggerated vocals — and that’s what makes it worth discovering.

Beyond acting as their official debut song, Ubu Love (初心LOVE) serves as a soundtrack to the delightful Kieta Hatsukoi, a drama co-starring member Michieda Shunsuke and Snow Man’s Meguro Ren. That context is important to fully enjoying the song’s exuberant energy. Its melody swoops and soars in classic J-pop fashion (that guitar-driven pre-chorus is gorgeous), building toward a head-rush hook that sinks its teeth in stronger each time you hear it.

Writing about J-pop (and Johnny’s in particular) is so different than covering K-pop. Affectations that might otherwise feel cloying become endearing, and that’s down to attitude and approach. A song like Ubu Love is deadly serious about delivering its fizzy pop hooks, but it doesn’t take itself seriously.

Instead, the group’s earnest, jovial character almost neutralizes criticism. Ubu Love is unabashedly fun, with a sense of humor and a distinct viewpoint. It’s not above a good key change, and its embrace of awkwardness compliments the age of the members. In other words, it’s pretty much what you’d expect from Johnny’s. Naniwa Danshi are game for the schtick, and that enthusiasm is infectious. But, it’s also a reaffirmation of a dynamic agency history that’s just now finding greater reach through digital platforms.

(* as usual, the youtube version omits the second verse of the song, which drives me crazy. The performance below captures the full song)

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 9

18 thoughts on “Song Review: Naniwa Danshi – Ubu Love

  1. I knew you would like this, but I could tell even from the YouTube version that this would not be for me. That said, it is a fine song, the hooks are strong, and the instrumentation plunges along neatly, strong for Christmas. I’d give it a strong 8.5 or something, especially if I ignore the tryhard cutesy outfits, which are way worse than the song lol.


  2. Et tu Nick.

    JK. I think I already got rather tired of this one after the watching the umpteenth teaser for Hatsukoi on Asahi TV. ‘sides, here I’m partial to Meguro Ren and the Snowman song’s chorus. But I agree with you; the drama’s great and unlike what the Koreans have done so far, I don’t think it’s ever got saccharine. It’s just funny and occasionally cute 😊


  3. I’ve been waiting for you to review this. I like the song, but it feels a bit like lower quality material that they didn’t give to King & Prince.

    I actually shared your surprise that they chose to debut naniwa over the mega popular hihi jets, the mega pushed bishounen and the mega veteran travis Japan. Also, at first glance I thought they resemble Kinpuri quite a bit in image; and it hasn’t been that long since K&P’s debut. I know some of the members like Daigo and Michi are really popular and some have been around for a long time (Fujiwara now holds the title of longest serving junior who managed to get a CD debut). But, after getting a bit more acquainted with them, I feel that they’re actually much closer to Sexy Zone, and SZ as a group has moved on so far away from their debut day image that this debut doesn’t feel overshadowed by them. I’m just amazed at how much Johnny’s manage to maintain such distinct image and identities for all their groups, and they have quite a large collection of groups. I feel like kpop should learn a thing or two on that from them.



    • I had similar feelings about the song the first few times through, but after hearing it so much it really has sunk its teeth in.

      I’m just amazed at their sales. They already surpassed Kinpuri’s debut in two days, and Cinderella Girl was such a smash. I’m so happy for the success of this new generation of Johnny’s groups.


    • Wait wait wait wait. So over the short time I’ve been watching Japanese TV semi assiduously, I’ve either watched or seen ads a Snow Man x Naniwa Danshi drama, Snow Man members, SixTones members, Kento Nakajima and his Miman Keisatsu co-star (who thanks to Nick I now know is another idol) on variety shows all over the place, a sort of mini ISAC competition show between Hihi Jets and Bishonen, documentaries/travel shows or some such with Kanjani, Travis Japan and Impactors, not to mention commercials. In short, everyone you’ve mentioned.

      And now you mean to tell me that *all* of those groups are Johnny’s groups 😲?

      Now that I think of it, the only group I remember seeing on TV that I know for sure isn’t Johnny’s is the The Rampage 🤔 Just what kind of a stranglehold do these people have on the Japanese idol market…?


      • They have a serious stranglehold over Japanese media, and have for decades. When it comes to male idol groups, it’s almost like a monopoly. That’s been changing a bit in recent years, which is good because it forces them to remain competitive.


    • Although there may be some people who are surprised by the decision to debut Naniwa Dansi over other popular groups, the decision is not quite surprising if you look at the statistics. Naniwa Dansi wasn’t part of the Johnny’s Jr. Youtube Channel until January this year (2021), however, the number of views of the videos that Naniwa Dansi are in are more than twice as much as the views that Bishounen, Travis Japan, or Hihi Jets have. On top of that, their ticket sales for their concerts even before their debut were extreme, in the sense that there were 70 times more people who applied for the tickets, which demonstrates their popularity.

      And yes, some may resemble King and Prince with Naniwa Dansi, however, that is partly due to the fact that the Ubu Love was written by the same composer as the person who wrote many songs for King and Prince. We should not say that these groups are identical to each other because of their distinct histories and individual personalities, and sure, their songs may be similar, but should we categorize them only after one or two songs?


  4. I’m a Kpop fan but thanks to this blog I discovered my new favorite Jpop group, M!LK, and now I like this one just as much. This is literally the first time I hear Naniwa Danshi, but I’ve read about Johnnys a couple of times. Is Johnny’s like AKB48, and Naniwa Danshi is like, let’s say, what NMB48 is to AKB48, but in the Johnny’s world?

    Anyways, I really want to listen more of their songs but so far Spotify isn’t helping. I guess sticking to YouTube is my only way of listening more of their material. A little bit inconvenient, but still better than nothing.


    • Glad you like them!

      Johnny’s is just the agency, so Naniwa is to Johnny’s as SHINee/NCT/EXO/etc is to SM. Johnny’s has actually been in the idol business since the 60’s, and is often credited as an inspiration for K-pop agencies like SM.


  5. I still don’t really have a feel for the J-pop world as much as the K-pop world, but I find myself enjoying a lot more J-pop than K-pop nowadays. Admittedly, I mostly listen to anime openings and endings, but there’ s some really good J-pop bands to be found there. J-pop seems more unafraid to embrace symphonic and dramatic or sugary sounds and that’s what I like to hear.

    Yeah. I like it.


    • I’m so glad folks on this blog are enjoying this!

      I always wonder how these will be received, especially when I rate them high. The music is often so different from K-pop, and enjoyable for very different reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This song is catchy & cute and I’ve been listening a lot these days
    Snow Man’s Secret Touch is also good but I liked this one a lot better! By the way, Nick, are you watching Kieta Hatsukoi? Do you intend to write about dramas again?


      • Just wanted to add that I’m also looking forward to reading what you have to say about Kieta Hatsukoi. I got to know the show thanks to Naniwa Danshi, and I got to know Naniwa Danshi thanks to you, so in a way you made me a fan of Kieta Hatsukoi. :p


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