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.

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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)
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“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


Hibari-sensei’s best of 2013

Since I don’t delve as deeply into Japanese media as I have in the past, I’ve combined my year-end recap into one post, hitting upon the big points.  The theme this year seemed to be “girl power” with unconventional girl groups,  exist†trace coming to town, and well-written female leads.  Of course the guys still get their nod, but for once there’s an anime series devoted to showcasing fanservice for straight women.  Before we get started with my list, have you seen my picks for Best J-Rock and J-pop Album Covers on JRock247 and NekoPOP?

Single – “Girl Digger” by FAKY
On top of being a clever turnabout on a sexist term, “Girl Digger” features a much-needed amount of attitude from a girl group and powerhouse vocals.  The song is catchy and a fantastic girl power anthem.

PV – “The Assassin’s Assassin” by Shiina Ringo x SOIL & “PIMP” Sessions

Yuichi Kodama has managed to create a film noir that’s under three minutes long.  There’s costume eye candy and lot of action with a parting shot that is sure to haunt you for the rest of the day.

Album – Ciao, Fake Kings by WHITE ASH
It’s easy to write off this album as typical alternative rock, but the versatility and polished sound is definitely worth noting.  Plus there’s no denying the overseas potential with the bilingual tracks.

Artist – BiS
2013recap1 photo 2013recap1_zpsb6229d18-1.jpg Photo from FAN48
In the past couple of years, Brand-new Idol Society has challenged the aesthetic of idol groups.  With new members, they’ve continued to shock and rebel with outfits that would make Lady Gaga jealous and videos that are absurdist commentary on beauty and J-pop.  They’ve even teamed up with noise rock group Hijokaidan.

Live-action Character – Mako Mori (Pacific Rim)
Despite the large number of Japanese actors starring in overseas productions this year, many played second fiddle.  Not Mako Mori.  She was the true star of Pacific Rim, a character who is strong yet still maintained Asian values of respect and filial piety,  and the new face of feminism in film.

Actor – Yuga Yamato
Casting a former Takarazuka otokoyaku was the best thing Pretty Guardian Sailor MoonLa Reconquista could have done.  Tani’s training has allowed her to capture the nuances of Mamoru, Tuxedo Mask, and Prince Endymion while melting every single lady’s heart.  In addition to the musical, she’s made her TV debut as a female vampire in the drama Higanjima.

Drama – xxxHOLiC
2013recap2 photo 2013recap2_zps344756b3.jpg  Photo from xxxHOLiC Wiki
Darker than the original manga and anime, this drama eliminates all the kawaii fluff to provide an allegory to real-world struggles, particularly those of adolescence.  Every episode ends with a moral without coming across as preachy, and Anne Watanabe is perfectly enigmatic as Yuko.

Film – Strawberry Night
This movie cleverly reverses the gender of archetypal noir characters.  Reiko Himekawa is both fearless and fallible, and her crusade for truth and justice is a rollercoaster ride fulls of unexpected turns.

Anime Character – Levi (Attack on Titan)
While he’s an utter badass and the embodiment of stoicism, “humanity’s greatest soldier” is a neat freak who looks like grumpy cat most of the time.  It’s these little quirks that make Levi endearing. Plus he seems to have a sadistic streak that’s fun to think about.

Anime – Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club
 photo 2013recap3_zpse7dacf79.jpg Photo from Crunchyroll
It was a tough battle between Attack on Titan and Free!, but the swimming anime won out for defying expectations.  Past the eye candy and bromantic (romantic?) moments, there was complexity in the characters and story.  Tidbits like Makoto’s goldfish sucker punch you in gut with all the feels.

Series to Cosplay – Sailor Scouts
This is technically not a series because I don’t mean Sailor Moon.  While there were plenty of the original Scouts, there’s been a ton of other characters, particularly those from Western comics and animation, reimagined in the easily-recognizable and nostalgic serafuku.

Listening to: “NEXT STAGE” by Gacharic Spin

Best of 2012 – Music

Compared to my past recaps, 2012 appeared to be a sleepy year in music. Very little caught my attention. Could it be the recession? The singles and videos that did make me look and listen more than once were strong contenders for the various categories, and I had the pleasure of reporting on three very different but equally exciting concerts for Purple SKY (I also got my first chance to do concert photography and boy was that an experience).

I would like to mention again that I am writing for JRock247 and NekoPOP. Most of my music-related articles will now be posted on those sites. Also, check out their best covers in J-rock and J-pop.

I wish I could be a part of this epic Halloween party. Hyde and company really went all out with their costumes, and it’s fun to discover who’s behind the make-up and masks. The video has a Tim Burton sort of dark whimsy that makes it really fun to watch.

Coolest outfits – “UZA” AKB48
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While I love their official “UZA” outfits (they do naughty gothic school girl well and I’m jealous), it’s their other outfits in the PV that are really awesome. You’ve got goth, Victorian, steampunk, Rococo, and even ballet. Of course my favorites are Jurina and Mayuyu’s dark pin-up steampunk ensembles. Top hats are always cool.

Most bizarre PV – “Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!” by BABYMETAL
A schoolgirl receives a neckbrace from the metal gods, and she suddenly move like she’s possessed. This PV captures the creepy cute weirdness of a heavy metal idol group, but hey, if it gets more people over on the “dark side”, who am I to complain?

Best album – She Loves You by various artists
YUI is awesome for producing this cover album. Not only does it get to feature the kickass talent of various female singers and bands, but it also provides a reinterpretation of her greatest hits. Why re-release your old music when you can help others explore their abilities and give fans a fresh perspective?

Biggest tearjerker – “Koishikute” by Koda Kumi
The title says it all: “I miss you”. Despite being a typical orchestra-backed ballad, Koda’s singing is so heartfelt and passionate that it’s hard to not feel her pain.

Catchiest song – “Ghost Train” by Shonen Knife

Leave it to Shonen Knife to create something that gets stuck in my head for days. The chorus simple (“Ghost Train, oh yeah”), and it chugs along to the next verse.

Best single – “Stigma” by -OZ-

-OZ- skillfully blends electronica and hard rock with screeching guitars and a combination of death and melodic vocals. If you want to headbang in your car or at your desk, this is the perfect song to do it to.

Outstanding live performance – Ayabie’s “Kakusei Sprechor” at A-kon 24
I used think “adorkable” was a ridiculous adjective, but it really suits Ayabie. They were silly and endearing, and the dance Yumehito had the audience do with him during “Kakusei Sprechor” embodied that. What really made them stand out though was their ability to engage the audience while technical difficulties were being resolved.

Most disappointing news – Versailles’ disbandment
Although this was not completely unexpected, the news was still disappointing. Some of my friends were introduced to visual kei through Versailles, and they had been hoping that they would play another U.S. show. Plus there just really isn’t a band as decadent as Versailles, but with the talent they have, we’ll be seeing more of each member.

Most noteworthy debut – DOLL$BOXX

I love female rockers and anybody who can play keyboards. DOLL$BOXX’s members are no stranger to the J-rock scene, and it shows through their polished sound. They bring a lighter (but still rockin’) look and sound, and their dual vocals add an extra punch to their powerful melodies. I’m excited to see more from them.

MVP – Hayato (DuelJewel)
Most of the time, the entire band would go on hiatus if the lead singer was facing health problems. Not DuelJewel. Korean rocker Kim Sehun has stepped in and recorded a full length album with the band. Hayato has praised him and even joked about new fans not knowing who he is when he returns. I don’t doubt that it must be hard for him to step back, but he’s being a great sport.

Artist of the year – FLOW
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FLOW has continued to work hard since their major debut in 2003. The past year saw them release two singles and their seventh album and playing shows in Texas, France, and Singapore. They also participated in the Act against AIDS event, held a New Year’s Eve concert, and began celebrating their 10th anniversary with a five-day festival. If that wasn’t enough, they worked on their anniversary album and planned to extensively tour Japan in 2013.

Musical artists who will be missed in 2013:
• Hikaru Hayashi – opera composer, pianist, and conductor
• Sadao Bekku – classical music composer
• Nejiko Suwa – violinist
• IKÜZÖNE – bassist of Dragon Ash
• Shiro Miya – enka singer