Hibari-sensei’s best of 2015

Ah, gomen nasai.  This post is way overdue, but it’s here now.  I’ve been growing increasingly out of touch with Japanese media.  However, the good news is that 2015 gave more cross-cultural opportunities.  Western rock bands collaborated with idol groups; VAMPS toured U.S.  Katana appeared on TV and will be hitting theatres, giving two Japanese actresses a kickass role.  Our beloved George Takei made his Broadway debut with Allegiance (although sadly, the musical’s run is not very long).

What about Japan?  The trend of music-related anime continued.  Metal could be heard in other genres, and it seemed like feminism was taking off, albeit in an artificial manner.  Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see idol groups that aren’t just full of well-behaved, skinny girls and to have media tackle issues like body shaming and sexual harassment.

As we do every year, JRock247 and NekoPOP writers shared their favorite album covers of 2015.  Click on the links to see what my picks were.  Now onto more bests…

Single – “Rebellion” by DIAWOLF
This new project by Shou and Tora of A9 was a little reminiscent of the band’s old days with “Rebellion”‘s heavy riffs and growling vocals, but the electronic elements showed a different side.  The song’s energy made me excited for more from this duo.

MV – “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina” by Momoiro Clover Z vs. KISS

This was an odd pairing, but the trippy anime style was a good middle ground for these two groups to meet.  It was very amusing to watch the cute Momoiro Clover Z duke it out with rock legends.

Album – Yasou Emaki by Wagakki Band
The question with Wagakki Band was how they would fare with original songs, and this album was an excellent answer.  They already mastered the blend of rock with traditional Japanese instruments, but this time they slowed down to really highlight their musical prowess.

 photo 2015FestivalBigPic_Babymetal_Live_LeedsFestival2015_6__AH170915_zpspad479en.jpg
By Andy Hughes. From NME
BABYMETAL continued to gain momentum in 2015, touring the world and collaborating with members of Dragonforce.  They won several awards, ranging from Vogue Japan‘s Women of the Year to Kerrang!‘s Spirit of Independence Award, and even got their own Funko POP! figures.  Their “kawaii metal” style has inspired new 2015 acts like Ladybaby and BiSH.

Live-action Character – Ren Shimosawa (Heroes Reborn)
After annoying Miko and the audience in the first episode, Ren Shimosawa (played by Toru Uchikado) grew to be charming in his willingness to help others.  His gamer lifestyle was his greatest strength, a refreshing change in a genre where martial arts experts and super-powered individuals are usually the ones winning the fights.

Actor – Rila Fukushima
 photo Volantis-Red_Priestess_zps7hvr4e7v.jpg
From Games of Thrones Wiki
In 2015, Rila Fukushima took roles that counted.  She wrapped up Katana’s heart-breaking storyline on Arrow and then moved onto another hit U.S. TV show, Game of Thrones.  Japan got to see her in Gonin Saga.  Trying to conquer both sides of the ocean isn’t easy, but Fukushima seemed on her way.

Drama –Mondai no Aru Restaurant
A drama that was pitched almost comedically as a battle of the sexes turned out to be a very eye-opening series about the rampant misogyny in Japanese society.  Some of the scenes were gut-wrenchingly difficult, but those moments when paired with the optimism and fortitude that this team of women display made this drama one of the best.

Film – Princess Jellyfish
Technically Princess Jellyfish came out in 2014, but I’m counting it as part of 2015 since the date was December 27.  The film captured the hilarity of the manga/anime’s protagonists without distracting from the story.  Plus it had some honest moments that championed non-conformity and finding confidence.

Anime Character – Saitama (One Punch Man)
 photo woo-chul-lee-_zpsl808x3cj.jpg
“Disaster Level ‘SAITAMA'” by Woo Chul Lee
Saitama was the hero we didn’t know we needed.  He was an ordinary guy who trained hard to become a fighter so strong that he is now steeped in ennui.  If the premise wasn’t ridiculous enough, his awkward appearance shattered all stereotypes and preconceived notions of what an anime hero should be.

Anime – Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
A lot of people had been clamoring for a magical boy series, and did this show deliver.  It stayed true to the genre while parodying it, and it had the most menacing-sounding yet cute villain ever.

Series to Cosplay – League of Legends
From Anime Matsuri 2015
I didn’t always recognize the characters, but League of Legends cosplayers had some of the most well-done outfits in 2015. I’ve actually learned more about the game just from seeing the cosplays.

Listening to: “Akatsuki no Ito” by Wagakki Band


Flashback con report: Seikima II Press Conference at A-kon 21

Here’s the last of my unpublished A-kon 21 articles for Askew: the Seikima II press conference.  My colleague Mai Koua Thao and I were both present, but we split up our reports such that she wrote about the concert from the previous night while I did the press conference.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, heavy metal band Seikima II reunited and embarked on a world tour.  The first stop was Dallas, Texas at the anime convention A-kon 21.  The day after their high energy concert, referred to by the band as a “black mass,” they held a press conference to answer questions about their music, goals, and efforts to spread both Japanese and akuma culture.

Your site says that you have returned with a new mission.  What is your new mission?

Demon Kakka:  To propagate ourselves throughout the world.  We decided to have a reunion to see how the seeds of world domination have grown.

What made you decide to reunite and spread music to the U.S.?

Demon:  There have been many offers, including collaboration with anime.  We decided to use the popularity of anime to check out the scene in America.

Even though you claim to be devils, you seem like saints to me.

Demon: [in English] Devils, angels, saints, and Buddhas…I wonder what the difference really is between them.  It all depends on what you think which is which.

Why did you choose to propagate Japanese culture?

Demon:  The Japanese have a fascinating culture, but the people are not able to go out to spread it.  If more Japanese could go out to spread their culture, there would be better communication.

Your songs have very vivid images and ideas.  When you are writing lyrics, do you begin with an image, feeling, or story in mind?

Luke Takamura:  A keyword is important.  From there, the story comes.  Sometimes, the melody comes first.

Jail O’Hashi: [in English] Recently I have been writing with Demon as a team.  We think about what are things that can be expressed as Seikima II… pinpoint social and economic problems.  Those things are important to be expressed in rock music.

Demon: Sometimes the melody is made and the lyrics come.  Other times, I start with a story or notes.  The ideas can from anywhere even people on the bus or train.  When I’m riding the train, I’m in my human disguise so I can write lyrics without anyone knowing.

You are all very talented and can do many things.  What made you choose to portray yourselves as devils?

Demon: As akuma, this is all we know how to be.  So let me rephrase your question.  If I were a human, would I choose to portray myself in this manner?  No.

Luke: I am in another band so I am not always like this.

Demon: [in English] He is holding down two jobs.

Raiden Yuzawa: It’s more about what group of guys I want to play with.

Xenon Ishikawa: The visual element comes after I improve my craft.  We had wanted to create something as memorable as The Beatles.  It was fate that I ended up with a band that played in the same style.  The most important thing is what kind of music is played.

Jail: Everyone wants to be the best player.  If you want to do so, you have to be with the best players.  Style of music is not a big issue because I can only be myself.  I can do anything I want.

What are your thoughts on playing Japan Expo in France?  Where else would you want to perform?

Demon: I thought there was a difference between audiences in the U.S. and France, but after last night’s black mass, maybe the same type of people will show up.

Jail: [in English] I want to go anywhere with a loud audience.

Luke: Dallas again.

How may a human enter the akuma society?

Demon: [in English] Humans can’t become akuma.

Luke: [in English] Never!

Demon: [in English] But you can participate in the society through black masses.

There are many Japanese who have to suddenly move to America.  Their children often have difficulties with the language.  What is your message to them?

Jail: [in English] My humanic sister is living in North Carolina.  My nephew and niece are in the same situation.  Children have chosen their family so I wonder if it is a bad thing.

But what would you say to encourage them?

Jail: Hang in there.  This will be a good experience

Xenon: You might think things are hard, but after a couple years, you will speak English.  Think of it as a plus.

Demon: 100,044 years ago, I was in the same situation.  Not everything in life is full of happiness.  Some day, this will be an advantage.  You’ll realize there will be people who are worse off.

Heavy metal now is very different from what heavy metal was when you began in the 1980s.  How is your music evolving, and how do you meet the demands of new disciples?

Jail: [in English] I am living in the moment so I try to react naturally.  For me, metal is still the same as it was in the 80s.

Xenon: There is a cyclical return and exchange.  The essence of the music is the same.

What is the origin of each of your names?

Jail: [in English] I don’t remember.  [laughs]

Demon: Our names are in akuma language.  They can’t be pronounced by humans so we find a close approximation.

Xenon’s full name is Doctor Xenon Ishikawa.  What is he a doctor of?

Demon: Miscellaneous studies.

What is in the future for Seikima II?

Demon: On July 28, we will release a new CD in Japan.  Its name will be Akuma Relativity.  The new songs will be on iTunes in the beginning of July.  We don’t know the date.  Does our manager know the date?  [Manager shakes his head.]  He doesn’t know either. [laughs]

What is the key to your success throughout the years?

Jail: [in English] What the bands that survive have in common is love of music.

Demon: [in English] But I don’t love music.

Jail: [in English] And the fans.  They love music and the fans.

Raiden: Stubbornness.  Someone who wants their style to pierce through will succeed.  You have to have the will to push your style forward.

Luke: Economic survival is necessary.

Demon: What a cool response!

Luke: You have to be a musician who believes in music.

Demon: We’re looked at as people who put a lot of effort into what we do, but it actually doesn’t feel like a lot of work.

Thank you to A-kon, Cure Media U.S.A., and Seikima II.