A9 mini-album review and an important announcement

I’m going to start with my announcement first.  It’s been a long time coming, but I was waiting to finish up some posts that keep getting delayed for logistical reasons.  After I wrap up two long-term projects, I’m going to stop updating this blog.

My interested in Japanese pop culture has waned, and it’s been so long since I’ve been a JET.  As much as I want to keep promote about diverse representation and social justice, I’m tired of fighting about it on here.  I don’t have the time to maintain this blog along with others I run/contribute to.  I will still write for JRock247, NekoPOP, and Drama-MAX.  There just won’t be updates or original content here.  You can also find me in the other sites linked in the right hand column.  Like I said, I have a couple more original posts that I plan to write (once my brother and I finish our collaboration).  Once those are finished, I will make an official announcement along with where to find me.  That being said, I probably won’t look at comment here anymore.

In the meantime, please enjoy my review of A9’s (formerly Alice Nine) latest mini-album Ginga no Woto on JRock247.

The aptly-named first track, “Phoenix”, is a rock number with Hiroto’s skillfully-layered arpeggio’s and Tora’s hard-hitting riffs. Show’s voice balances the edge with a touch of gentleness and falsetto, and there’s a surprise acoustic section to show off Saga’s bass skills. “Spiegel” also contains fantastic hard rock guitars, accompanied by Nao’s rapid drumming.

Click here to read the rest of the review (and see the “Spiegel” video).

Listening to: “Nijikan no Dake Vacance” by Utada Hikaru feat. Shiina Ringo

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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.

Artist – BABYMETAL
 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
DSC_2012
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

Kinematograph review on JRock247

Visual kei band umbrella released a new mini-album earlier this summer.  Their single caught my attention, and I decided to check out Kinematograph and write about it for Jrock247.

JRock247-Umbrella-Kinematograph-review

The latest mini-album from visual kei quartet umbrella opens with the cranking sounds of an old-fashioned camera projecting film. Indeed the aptly-named Kinematograph does provide a glimpse into the past—the early 90s to be exact, when shoegaze was all the rage. Those hazy guitars float from the intro, “Lumiere”, to the very end, yet umbrella manages to break free from the wall of sound to have a modern rock sound.

Click here for the rest of the review.

Listening to: “Keihaku no Hito” by umbrella

Kinematograph / umbrella
umbrella

DISACODE Anime Matsuri 2015 live report at JRock247

Here is the final Anime Matsuri live report.   Performing for the first time in the U.S., DISACODE helped kick off a fantastic night of music.

AKIRA danced all over the stage—the kimono sleeves of her outfit swirling around. That motion perfectly complemented the traditional Japanese sound of “Mononoke NIGHT”. She also delivered drama with both her voice and body in “Sakura x Kuroku x Kuraku” while drummer Marcy banged away at the cymbals.

JRock247-DISACODE-Anime-Matsuri2015-4

Click here to read the rest of the report.

Listening to: ARCO∞IRIS” by DISACODE

Sakura x Kuroku x Kuraku / Disacode

Hibari-sensei’s best of 2014

My friend Risa shared this graphic on Facebook, and I thought it summed up the year pretty well.
 photo 2014recap1_zpseca70725.jpg
Joking aside, 2014 has offered a lot of queer representationand not just with boys.  When Marnie Was There and Sailor Moon Crystal both offered female queerplatonic (possibly veering into romantic).   The latest Sailor Moon musical brought that into live-action, and J-rock ADAMS returned with more homoeroticism.  Although Japan has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQIA rights and visibility and the yaoi genre contains a lot of problematic elements, 2014 seemed to be a year of oncoming change, especially when it ended with the news of Shikoin Temple offering gay weddings.

Of course, one theme cannot encompass at the past year’s greatest hits in entertainment so read on for my picks.  Also, don’t forget to check out JRock247‘s and NekoPOP‘s top album covers of 2014.

Single – “FxxK Boyz Get Money” by FEMM
With an in-your-face title like that, how can you not give this song a listen?  It evokes memories of early Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and is the perfect anthem for a party’s girl night out.

MV – “White Caress” by ADAMS

A lot can be said about ADAMS’ use of homosexuality as their central theme (I could probably write an entire essay on it), but it cannot be denied that they make a great team with director Ryota Sakai.  “White Caress” is a perfect example of the raw emotion and beautiful symbolism that makes their videos so hard to tear your eyes away from.

Album – Roclassick2 by BIGMAMA
Hard rock-classical music mash-ups are not a new thing, but rather than insert a classical sampling into an original song, BIGMAMA has done the opposite and created a fresh new take on old favorites.  You’ll never think of “Swan Lake” and “Pomp and Circumstance” the same ever again.

Artist – Wagakki Band
 photo 2014recap2_zps7979ae50.jpg From Rocket News 24
Although they debuted the previous year, Wagakki Band started to really attract attention in 2014.  They truly blend the past, present, and future with their rock-meets-traditional Japanese instruments covers of Vocaloid songs.

Live-action Character – Lynn (Black Butler)
The live-action equivalent of Mey-Rin turned out to be the epitome of moe.  Her clumsiness is more endearing, and she has one of the coolest fight scenes.

Actor – Fuka Koshiba
Fuka Koshiba is a fairly new face, but she’s making a name for herself.  First, she excelled in Kiki’s Delivery Service, carrying the whole movie on her shoulders as the eponymous protagonist.  Then her heart-breaking portrayal of a bullied student in the second season of GTO made her one of the most memorable cast members.

Drama – Boku no Ita Jikan
This show was raising awareness on ALS before the ice bucket challenge.  Not only that, it depicts a common struggle of today’s college grads: the often frustrating search for a job.  Haruma Miura deserves lots of recognition for his portrayal of a young man who discovers that he has ALS, and seeing him share the screen again with Mikako Tabe in a more mature role was really sweet.

Film – Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
 photo 2014recap3_zpsa6281074.jpg
I haven’t seen The Legend Ends (which was released late 2014) so I can’t comment on that.  While this one leaves the audience hanging at the end, it is still one of the most stunning anime adaptations that does not shy away from the gritty realism of war.

Anime Character – Shogo Senga (Love Stage!!)
How can you not love the idea of Daigo voicing a caricature of himself, created by his sister no less?  Shogo is also the only character who had enough sense to do something about his brother’s rape. While the seriousness is downplayed as part of his outrageous devotion, he is a rare voice of opposition that yaoi needs more of.

Anime – Sailor Moon Crystal
Even with the weird animation (particularly in the transformation sequences), this series deserves accolades for promoting female strength and friendship.  It’s inspiring a new generation of girls to overcome their insecurities and provides a breath of fresh air from all the reverse harems and all-male series.

Series to Cosplay – Attack on Titan
This anime made Kareshi, who doesn’t normally cosplay outside of my dragging him into couples costumes, actually work on a costume on his own.  The design is iconic and so cool that even my friends who don’t watch anime love it so this trend is going to continue past 2014.
DSC_2093 Overbeck as Dot Pixis

Listening to: “Swan Song” by BIGMAMA