Takara/Hasbro e-Kara Cartridges

Note: traditional MusicBrainz contributors need not apply, this is one for the weirdos :stuck_out_tongue:

So those of you that are into looking at weird music formats may have seen this recent video from Mat/Techmoan:

The second-half of this video had my interest piqued and I thought that after doing some work with the predecessor to the Hit Clip, Pocket Rockers, I thought maybe it would be nice to also make some entries for the e-kara.

I’ve stored this under General Chat for the minute because I’m not really asking for any help (although feedback is welcome, so long as it’s not “gah why are you not submitting CD’s/Vinyl/Cassettes/Digital Media” (to which I say, “I already do all of that!”) ) but more of a call to arms if people are wanting to investigate, also incase you’ve got an e-kara sitting in a wardrobe, attic, garage, etc.

It’s also nice to keep track of these fringe-y projects.

Before I get the questions, yes I think this fits the guidelines. From everything I can gleam an e-kara cartridge isn’t using anything like MIDI or any kind of “musical instruction” (like early video game cartridges) but instead includes full digital tracks (of questionable quality) that are simply played back via the unit. In the above video it is also conisdered that the “processing” power is coming via the cartridge, and not the connecting device (be that a microphone or other type of device). So for that matter it is no different to any other traditional medium we accept, just that it comes in a format that could be regarded as a toy.

Anyway back to the show, a bit of a search-a-roony after watching the video led me to find this page by David Haywood which is a pretty extensive list of all of the Japanese (“J-Pop”) e-kara releases with catalog numbers, track listings and some screenshots of the content.
David Haywood's Homepage | The e-kara Page (big page takes a while to load)

However there doesn’t really seem to be anything similar that covers the stuff released in western markets. After further researching on eBay it looks like there were cartridges released for both the US (and likely Canada) and for mainland Europe (at least UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Italy). These cartridges have different series name and the amount pales in comparison of that provided in Japan (which according to David’s page sits at around 85 releases in total). Many of these western cartridges contain the same music, but the sequencing on the volumes differs depending on the region. As I am most familiar with turn-of-the-millennium pop music I have started cataloguing those:

US/Canada: Karaoke Cartrdige - MusicBrainz
Europe: Hit Mix - MusicBrainz

As I currently don’t have access to an e-kara unit, I am working purely from any high quality photographs provided in eBay listings to seed the data into MusicBrainz.

For that matter, many of the releases will follow this general common style:

  • Title should be the series title as it appears on the packaging and then the volume number, if there is a stated theme (of which I have encountered precisely 1 so far) then that can go at the end after a hyphen
  • The performer is [unknown], this could possibly be changed to [none] but that’s up for discussion. The music presented seems to be produced entirely via some kind of digital synthesizer and sounds very similar to the quality that you may expect from a toy keyboard. I’d argue the chances of there being a genuine human playing the music are extremely low, and this music was originally sequenced on a computer which is then transferred into the final music stream that appears on the cartridge.
  • The status is Official, these were full branded products sold in various retailers
  • The release language for the ones I have submitted so far is English, and of course the Japan region cartridges will be Japanese
  • The script follows the language
  • The date will be the latest copyright or trademark date I can find on the packaging, this seems to tie in with a general release date of 2001-2002.
  • The release country will either be US, Europe or Japan
  • The label for the western releases is Hasbro, as they were the “local” distributors for the product in the US and Europe. I believe these were distributed directly by Takara in Japan (not Takara Tomy as that wouldn’t be for another few years)
  • The catalog number appears on the cartridge label regardless of region
  • The barcode only appears on packaging, not on the cartridge media itself
  • Packaging I have chosen Keep Case as the cartridges came in a packaging that is similar to that used later on with things like the 3DS
  • All release entities will have an annotation quickly explaining what an e-kara cartridge is
  • All release entities will have a disambiguation that this is an e-kara cartridge
  • No URL’s initially, but I’m sure I could find some old Amazon marketplace listings to get some accurate ASINs if that is valuable
  • Release/media format is just Cartridge, maybe we could add e-Kara cartridge but I think Cartridge works fine for the moment. It is very obviously a cartridge and not any kind of tape or disc.
  • Track listing is as it appears on the back of the packaging, which should also match the order it appears on the video output
  • No durations yet as I haven’t currently got the means to record the audio to provide accurate timings
  • Once submitted, the new recording entities are then all given a disambiguation of “e-kara karaoke version” so they can be easily identified when…
  • … all of the tracks should then be linked to their necessary work and given the Karaoke attribute. I’m still not sure if we need to do Karaoke + Cover but certianly not the Instrumental attribute
  • If identifable, add some release credits for the place of manufacture, who manufactured it (which for the most part appears to be Takara Co., Ltd.) and the distributor
  • Link it to the relevant series

I’ve managed to find a fair few so far, I’m missing a few which I’ll probably populate tomorrow. I’ve seen a few cartridges that appear to be “pack-in” titles that came when you bought a device but I can’t get any clear pictures on the catalog numbers/part numbers to see if they’re just re-distributions of pre-existing cartridge volumes.

So, there you go - consider yourself partially informed on e-kara and now if you see one in the database you can kind of know what it is!

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Cartridge has a different meaning not to be confused with ROM cartridge:

Name Date of creation Rarity* Details
Cartridge 1962 Rare? 4 track (in 1962) / 8 track (in 1965) / Quad 8 track (in 1970) – Analog, 1/4 inch wide tape, 3 3/4 inches/sec, endless loop cartridge. Quad: 4 Channel Stereo.

That’s a good catch, I have voted for this change in JIRA as it doesn’t look like it’s made it to production yet