Books Are Pretty

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Para Para Max: The Moves 101.

I have to confess I know virtually nothing at all about anime. My kids were too little for the Pokemon mania, so the most exposure I have to it is watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. This is a little like saying I’m qualified to review movies because I watched Citizen Kane once.

This means I had to do a little research, and I do mean little, about the subject so could at least get a working definition of what is a huge, already much-discussed topic. When poking around on the internet, I learned that anime dancing is a huge industry in Japan, and most of the A list musicians record music for Japanese cartoons, which in turn becomes a big part of Japanese pop music. It doesn’t really seem too dissimilar from, say, Radio Disney, which plays Nathan Lane singing “Hakuna Matata.” It’s just that there’s a lot more focus on that sort of thing in Japan, it seems.

Because of that, it isn’t a surprise that special club dances were created for anime music, and that’s where Para Para Max comes in.

The Para Para dance craze swept Japan around 1999-2000, which means I’m at least six years behind in my Japanese pop culture knowledge. This is fine, because you would expect a fat Midwestern housewife to be exactly six years behind any popular trend, so reviewing an instructional DVD for a dance craze that was peaking more than half a decade ago sounds just about right.

In Para Para dancing, there are specific, preset movements for each song that everyone does at the same time. Wikipedia makes the comparison to line dancing, which is true, but it’s slightly more complicated. It’s sort as if “Achy Breaky Heart” had its own dance with unique hand gestures signifying homage to the mullet, and all of Toby Keith’s songs would include a simulation of giving Karl Rove a blowjob.

Para Para Max: The Moves 101 slowly leads the viewer through four songs performed by pop star Yoko Ishida. The dance instructors, Mike and Randy, take turns breaking each song down to distinct parts, each with its own terminology.

The first option you can select has Mike and Randy facing the viewer, which makes it slightly confusing when you’re trying to learn the moves and have to remember when it’s time to use the right arm and when it’s time to use the left. Fortunately, they also offer a mirroring option. Getting the arms right is important if you’re going to bring your mad Para Para skillz to a club, but since my performance was going to be restricted to my living room, I didn’t really care.

We popped in the DVD and tried to learn the first featured the techno pop song “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis.” I stood in the middle of the group, with the three-year-old on one side and the six-year-old on the other. We worked on the moves for about an hour, with a lot of rewinding and repetition, and let me just say this: OUCH.

Oh my god. Ouch.

An hour of holding your hands up over your head and waving them around in different patterns hurts. The kids did a lot better than I did, of course, but for me it was a serious upper body workout. (The lower body gets toned with low impact aerobics, since in Para Para dancing, you either don’t move your feet, or you limit yourself to stepping side to side.) Don’t believe me? Try this first lesson.

When Steve came home from work, we all lined up and made him sit next to the TV, (to better keep an eye on the Para Para Dancing Girls) and performed our “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” dance moves for him. He was a very appreciative audience, I must say, even though he declined an opportunity to watch us again.

The next day when the kids asked if we could do Para Para Max dancing again, I was all for it. I think if I follow the DVD every day for a month, not only will I have the dance moves of a thirteen-year-old Japanese girl, I’ll have the ass of one, too.
Para Para Max: The Moves 101
distributed by Geneon
DVD, 1996

This review originally appeared at TARGET="_blank">J LHLS.

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