Shiori Fujisaki is a name synonymous with Tokimeki Memorial. Considered the true heroine/”hardest-to-date” from the first game, her lasting presence makes her something of an icon for the entire franchise. As such, it should come as no surprise that Konami made multiple Shiori Fujisaki vocal albums. Now, what if the songs written uniquely for those vocal albums got their own piano collection?
And that’s how we arrive at this album.
The album is not entirely a piano solo album. Track 6, “I Can’t Forget You…,” features a flute performance by Mitsuru Soma, and then Shiori Fujisaki’s seiyuu (voice actor) Mami Kingetsu sings on the final track, “Wish.”
Otherwise, the entire album is arranged and performed by veteran Taro Iwashiro. Now, let me tell you why I love Taro Iwashiro. First, he arranged the Romancing SaGa 3 arranged album Windy Tale. Second, he arranged the first of the two Tokimeki Memorial Piano Collections (prior to Shiori Fujisaki or Tokimeki Memorial 3: Moegi’s Piano Collection). That album was a delightful surprise; few publishers make piano collections as well as Square Enix, but Konami got the right guy for the job. Taro Iwashiro is good at his craft.
Now, the arrangements aren’t all from the Fujisaki vocal albums. Tracks 1, 2, 6, and 11 are original compositions by Iwashiro, and tracks 7 and 10 are songs from the Tokimeki Memorial OST. The remaining tracks come from the various singles and albums in the Shiori Fujisaki series/brand.
The “introduction” and “Overture” pieces, among Iwashiro’s original tracks, do a fantastic job in setting the tone for this album. What style of piano arrangement should you expect? If the album art didn’t give you a sense for it, let’s rule out some styles that definitely aren’t part of the Shiori Fujisaki experience: bombastic concerto-style piano, baroque fugues, dirty-blues jazz, twelve-tone avant-garde/”modern” work. What does that leave? Soft, ever-arpeggiated, new age “healing” music. And no, I’m not making that last part up: if you’re unfamiliar, “healing” is a popular genre listing in Japan. That’s what we have here. Peppy sometimes, but healing always.
But as we transition from original compositions to “My Sweet Valentine,” it’s clear that Iwashiro has set into motion a continuous style in his performance: one that blurs the line between transcription and improvisation, as it may well be one or the other. It utilizes plenty of great ideas from the neo-romantic and jazz schools, but at the end of the day, it is a specific subgenre designed for the album. And it only works if the performer has incredible precision with all ten fingers: being able to balance dynamics not just between hands but also between fingers, at any time, is crucial. In all of the Fujisaki vocal tracks, and especially in tracks 3 and 4, you can plainly tell where the melody lies; this is in spite of at least three different musical patterns running between Iwashiro’s two hands. Bravo!
As an amateur/hobbyist pianist myself, I am envious of the way Taro Iwashiro arranges and performs. It feels so seamless, so effortless. Listen to track 9, “Graduation Album.” He maintains tempo during what ought to be difficult strains, and only uses rubato (time stretching) to accentuate the melody. I, on the other hand, would be using that rubato to get through the difficult parts and then playing the (relatively) easy melodic part in time. This is just one more example of how Iwashiro takes this music to new heights with just one instrument, and how it can be done without going all Rachmaninoff on it (that would hardly fit Tokimemo anyway…).
If you’re going to pick up any of the four present Tokimemo piano albums (who knows if they’ll ever make more games in the series? Silly, silly Konami…), I would recommend the first Piano Collection, and then this album after that. Piano Collection 2 and Moegi’s Piano Collection are not Iwashiro territory, and despite being decent albums, they do not really hold a candle to the Iwashiro albums.