It’s poetic coincidence that the man who sang the Mazinger Z theme would die the same year as the man who composed it. Mizuki Ichiro, aka Aniki, the Emperor of Anime Songs, died at age 74 after a bout with numerous health issues. It’s especially sad that what took him ended up affecting his greatest gift: his voice. But rather than dwell on sorrow, I think it’s important to celebrate what made Mizuki one of the all-time elder statesmen of anime music: the undeniable passion that he imbued in everything he sang.
I’m not going to cover his life and history because that’s already been done elsewhere. Rather, like with Watanabe Chuumei, I want to explore my own history with the songs of Mizuki Ichiro.
I can remember exactly how I first heard Mizuki’s 70s singing: On a VHS fansub there was extra space at the end, and the fansubber had placed some old anime openings. And among them were Mazinger Z, Combattler V, and Steel Jeeg. At the time, my appreciation for retro stuff was a bit mixed, as I found all those songs to be varying degrees of hoaky—though the intensity of Mazinger Z in particular stood out. If anything, I at least preferred the music from the then-modern sequels such as Shin Getter Robo Armageddon and Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo. Of course, Mizuki was also a singer for those OVAs as well, and I think something clicked in me as a result. He was one of my gateways into classic anime.
I gradually transitioned into having a greater love of old school anime songs, and I remember watching videos of live concerts that featured Mizuki alongside greats such as Sasaki Isao, Kageyama Hironobu, Taira Isao, Kushida Akira, Horie Mitsuko, and MIQ. And while Mizuki wasn’t as prolific as in his heyday, he could still deliver. When paired with Horie in particular, the two could make some real magic, such as in Dangaioh and Godannar.
It was also around this time that I learned about one of Mizuki’s greatest creations: JAM Project.
There are two basic strains of anime music: Songs made for anime and songs placed into anime. Neither means a tune is automatically good or bad, but in 2000, the art of making theme songs dedicated to the anime had long been an increasing rarity. After all, using a 90-second opening as a commercial for a new single has its practical uses. But Mizuki is one of the greatest examples of the first style—the kind where you shout the robot’s name and all the attacks and talk about how they defend justice—and he formed JAM Project, a band that still celebrates anime songs meant for anime. Though members have come and gone, including Mizuki himself, the roster over the years is a veritable Justice League of anison: Kageyama “Dragon Ball Z” Hironobu, Matsumoto “Pokemon” Rica, Kitadani “One Piece” Hiroshi, Endoh “Gaogaigar” Masaaki, Yoffy from the band Psychic Lover, Fukuyama “Nekki Basara” Yoshiki, Okui “Utena” Masami, Brazilian singer Ricardo Cruz.
And even among these younger singers whose styles were more modern, Mizuki could hold his own. In fact, whenever I listen to the JAM Project songs featuring him, I’m struck by how his old-fashioned sound added an extra layer of depth. Whether it’s “Soul Taker,” “Hagane no Messiah,” or “Koutetsushin Jeeg,” Mizuki’s voice provided a sense of history like only a handful of people ever could. Additionally, although he wasn’t part of JAM Project by the time Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 came out, the game made him the voice of the ultimate enemy, Keisar Ephes. I think that says so much about the respect given to him for his contribution to anime, tokusatsu, mecha, and so many parts of Japanese pop culture. I eventually got to see JAM Project at Otakon 2008, but by that time, Mizuki had long been out of the group. I regret not being able to see him in concert, but am grateful that I could experience his music at all. Playing Super Robot Wars 30 this past year, I found myself continuing to listen to his iconic themes.
Among my manga tweets and retweets about Mizuki is an abbreviated translation I did for Nagai Go’s message to Aniki. I think I’ll leave off with it, as it sums up everyone’s feelings well.
“We owe Mizuki for guiding the Mazinger Z theme song to becoming such a big hit.
Through 50 longer years of Mazinger Z, its continued popularity was ensured thanks to Mizuki. Every time, he would never let up, singing the theme with love and soul—that was his power.
He was someone who always went all-out, bringing out high spirits. This was the case for his stage performances, of course, but even when we got together normally, he was cheerful and humorous.
He cherished his fans, and he’d always bow his head from how he felt.
Thank you, Mizuki Ichiro. I pray for your passage into the next world.”