Elegy of Fire and Metal: A Tribute to Mizuki Ichiro

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.”

“Gotcha!” and Pokémon Nostalgia, One Year Later

It’s been almost one year since Nintendo released their gorgeously produced Pokémon music video “Gotcha!” Even now, I find myself thinking about how amazing and emotional the short video is.

The song in the video, “Acacia” by Bump of Chicken, communicates a sense of both nostalgia and discovery; even on its own, its gentle and soulful sound makes it linger in my mind. When combined with the accompanying animation, however, it becomes something magical to those of us who have grown alongside Pokémon

“Gotcha!” features virtually every major and minor character from across eight generations of games, but I think it’s not merely the sheer amount of familiar faces that make the music video so impactful Rather, what it pulls off (with a sense of both elegance and down-to-Earth grit) is a celebration of what it’s like to make your way through one or more of the games—to capture those memories of triumph, accomplishment, and exploration.

With a big franchise like Pokémon, content is often traditionally made to celebrate what’s to come, as opposed to what has passed. There will always be new players, and while Pikachu and Charizard would remain popular even if you gave all existing fans amnesia, there’s a general aim towards a presentation that doesn’t delve too deeply into the lore and history of its world. “Gotcha!” defies that throughout its short timespan.

At one point, silhouettes of virtually every legendary Pokémon can be seen moving around the background, i.e. elements of the Pokémon single-player late game that are meant to communicate how far you’ve come in an adventure. These images then recede, and in their place are shadows of all the major antagonists from throughout the series—again, characters who are indicative of not the beginning but the end of these stories. The video then transitions to a gorgeously animated showcase of most of the league champions, whereas normally such characters would not be displayed in such close succession in advertising or merchandising. 

Later in the video, the remaining champions appear. Blue, the rival from the first generation, summons his six Pokémon while standing in front of a door and a couple of statues—portraying the moment after you defeat the Elite Four’s Lance and have to defeat Blue to take the title away from him. The attention to detail is notable, as all of Blue’s Pokémon are exactly the ones he would have if you picked Charizard as your starter: Pigeot, Alakazam, Rhydon, Gyarados, Arcanine, and Venusaur. The video then transitions to showing the battle on Mt. Silver between the player character from the second generation and the final boss of those games: Red, the player character from generation 1. In other words, this shift from fighting Blue to fighting Red conveys the passage of time through Red’s growth from player insert to final boss.

For those who don’t know anything about Pokémon, “Gotcha!” is plenty impressive, but what astounds me about the whole thing is that it just does an unbelievably good job of communicating and celebrating the nostalgia of Pokémon. It’s as if the music video captures not so much what happens in the games, but rather the memories that have been created through our experiences as players. It’s the sort of thing that can only happen with a series that has such a robust history and connection to its audience. 

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

First Train Home: Pat Metheny’s Been with Me All Along

For most of my life, I’ve had a theme stuck in my head. It’s a haunting, yet relaxing tune that I only knew as the “Community Calendar theme for Channel 9 in New York City.”

Eventually, YouTube became a thing. I decided to search for it, but at the time nothing came up. Being a song without words, I couldn’t exactly search for it by lyrics. Years later, around 2012 I looked again, and finally found it:

Have a listen, it’s really good. Much better than any “Community Calendar” music has any right to be.

I looked up the song’s name and artists, listened to the original a few times, and then promptly forgot it (and the name+band) again for a few years.

Recently, the song popped back into my head one morning, and I went back to YouTube. Again, I looked to the comments to find the names of both the song and the band, but this time around I knew I could never forget them.

The tune is called “It’s for You.” The musicians responsible are Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.

Does that first name sound familiar? That’s the same Pat Metheny responsible for “Last Train Home,” which I know as the second ending theme for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. If it wasn’t for JoJo, I would have never committed this tune to memory, and it would have just been “that song on TV from when I was a kid.”

Thanks, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Thanks, Pat Metheny. Also, I found out that there’s this vocal version by Japanese musician Yano Akiko:

By the way, did you know that Pat Metheny has his own official Q&A board? I keep hoping to see it filled with JoJo fans.


Mizuki Ichirou and JAM Project: The Voice of the Past

Thanks to One Punch Man, I’ve been listening more to JAM Project as of late. I love how JAM Project takes anime music so seriously, and their desire to create actual “anime music” about the shows they sing for is admirable. However, the more I listen through their catalog, the more I miss one of their original founders, Mizuki Ichirou.

For fans of anime music, Mizuki Ichirou possibly needs no introduction. The voice behind almost countless theme songs, his work in titles such as Mazinger Z, Babel II, Golion (aka Voltron), and Kamen Rider X earned him the moniker “Emperor of Anime Songs.” In 2000, he became one of the founding members of JAM Project, taking a less active role a few years later.

Other members have come and gone from JAM Project, namely Sakamoto Eizou, the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Anthem, and Matsumoto Rica, a singer who’s also famous for being the voice of Satoshi (Ash) from Pokemon. They also lent their own unique voices to JAM Project in interesting ways, but something about Mizuki Ichirou’s singing is different.

Unlike the younger members of JAM Project, Mizuki’s vocal style invokes a different era of music, culture, and of course anime. It’s deep, memorable, and reminiscent of a Frank Sinatra-style crooner, only he’s singing about Mazinger Z’s Rocket Punch. When you placed him alongside his fellow JAM Project members, it would add something unique, something classic, to their sound.

Above are two versions of JAM Project’s “Hagane no Messiah,” one without Mizuki and one with. I think hearing them side by side really shows what the “Aniking” added to the band.



[Apartment 507] One Punch! JAM Project’s Gateway to Western Success?

I’ve written a blog about the potential influence of One Punch Man‘s popularity on the anime super band, JAM Project. You can find it on Apartment 507.

Apartment 507 also sells point cards for Japanese services such as iTunes, Playstation, and Wii U, so if you’re someone who likes to play Japanese games digitally it might be worth your while to look at the rest of the site.

Welcome to this KRAZY! Time

I went to the New York Japan Society’s exhibition on anime, manga, and video games yesterday. Entitled KRAZY!, the exhibition explores a variety of artists and works, from Moyoco Anno to the guy who made Afro Samurai, from Shigeru Miyamoto to… Shigeru Miyamoto. The point is, this is totally about stuff that the kids like: ANIME AND MANGA AND VIDEO GAMES. As expected, it seemed to attract a young audience, something most museum and gallery exhibitions wish they did without it being just 20-something hipstrs.

Overall I didn’t get too much of a “HEY GUYS! ANIME!” vibe from the exhibition, and I liked what they had to say about the Super Mario Bros. series being a collection of simple rules which opens up a rich and complex world to interact with, but I couldn’t really tell who exactly the exhibition was trying to draw in. Passing by their video room filled with clips from Akira, Patlabor the Movie 2, Paprika, and Macross, I got this strange feeling that this is not what the kids these days see as “anime,” nor is it what they want. It’s kind of a baseless feeling, but when you see all those movies together and realize that the styles aren’t very “modern” (despite Paprika having come out recently), I think you might get the same impression. All I could think about was how others would handle the exhibition.

There was one blurb however that really pissed me off when I saw it. In one part of the exhibition is an area devoted to the music of Yoko Kanno. Now, neither Yoko Kanno nor her music anger me, but when the description of her music is prefaced by, “Prior to the late 80s all anime music was of poor quality,” then I have some serious issues! The emphasis is mine but they actually used the words POOR QUALITY. It’s as if no REAL music aficionados could POSSIBLY like ANIME music before REAL MUSICIANS like Yoko Kanno and her contemporaries graced the industry with their presences and sprinkled magic fairy dust and now ANIME MUSIC IS GOOD! WOW! Hey, wait to take a dump all over those hardworking composers from the mid-80s and before! Joe Hisaishi? Apparently the man who composes Studio Ghibli music is garbage!

There are apparently other things like this in the exhibition where it’s like a guy trying to convince REAL ARTISTS that anime is totally artistic too and making mistakes in the process. For better or worse, I didn’t notice any other glaring instances though.

All in all, it’s worth a visit at least once, just calm down when you visit the Yoko Kanno section. I hope the kids who visit this exhibition at least learn something.

Oh yeah, and I’m probably gonna go read Sakuran. Sounds interesting.

Move Over, Music

There was a time when I would download any and every anime song I could find, and scour P2P programs to find the most obscure songs possible, but at some point I fell off that wagon. Maybe it was that eventually songs became so easy to find that downloading individual songs made way for downloading entire soundtracks, and the fear that music would eat up hard drive space left me hesitant to just grab them all willy-nilly.

What ended up happening was that I felt there were giant holes in my song collection, and after a few years of this I decided yesterday that I should start to make up for it. So there I went getting songs old and new, trying to make up for lost time, and feeling out of place with people who download music like they drink water and don’t really have to think about it. It’s also then that I noticed something: silence. The funny thing about this silence is that once upon a time I’d have anime music playing whenever I was at the computer. It was a constant of my internet and anime experience, with Hayashibara Megumi never far away in the song list. What changed? It can’t be that I got tired of it, as I bring my mp3 player everywhere I go. At some point though, j-pop made way for the click-clacking of the keyboard. It sort of reminds me of a change I went through in regards to what I liked to draw on. Before college, I hated using sketchbooks but in college it became all that I used to the point that I even took class notes in sketchbooks.

I’m sure it’s all tied together. Most likely, the more new music I wanted to get, the more music I had, and thus the more I had to simply listen to, but I feel like I can’t really explain why the change occurred.

Let’s Discuss the Possible Future of JAM Project

JAM Project is a music band that stands for many things, but primarily they stand for what JAM stands for: Japanese Animationsong Makers. The philosophy that has brought together such musical greats as Mizuki Ichirou, Kageyama Hironobu, and Matsumoto Rica is a beautiful one: anime songs should be made for anime. In other words, while fine in moderation, opening and ending themes should not simply be a popular artist’s song tacked onto the head or tail of an episode. Anime music should be anime music.

JAM Project formed in 2000 and is currently approaching its 9th anniversary. Members have come and gone, so it’s only reasonable to think that as JAM Project continues along it’ll pick up new members. Keeping in mind the founding philosophy of JAM Project, I’d like to list possible future candidates for JAM Project, musicians who at least appear to understand what it means to make “anime music.” Keep in mind that the singer does not necessarily have to be known primarily for their anime music, or for them to have a large repertoire of anime themes. Former member Sakamoto Eizou is known more as the lead vocalist of hair metal band Anthem than anything else. They’re also chosen for how well I think their voices would mesh with the current members of JAM Project, and how well they sing live.

(In no particular order)

1) TM Revolution

While TM Revolution is more than successful enough on his own, I feel that I have to list him first. Listen to any of TM Revolution’s themes he’s used for an anime- it’s clear that the man knows what it means to sing for anime. Whether it’s Soul Eater or Rurouni Kenshin, his songs capture the spirit of the show. Lyrics make sense given the titles, the music is always passionate. Compare the appropriateness of his Gundam SEED work to that of the 4th Destiny opening by Chemistry. It’s really like night and day.

Sample: Invoke, Gundam SEED Opening 1

2) Mizuki Nana

The voice of Fate Testarossa and Hyuuga Hinata also frequently lends her vocals to the musical side of anime, and the results pretty much always make an impact. Say what you will about the quality of the Nanoha anime series or its fanservice, but there’s no denying that Innocent Starter, Eternal Blaze, Secret Ambition, and Massive Wonders all capture a sincerity for the show itself. Besides, she already has experience working with Okui Masami.

Sample: Eternal Blaze, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s Opening

3) Sakamoto Maaya

Like Mizuki Nana she’s both a voice actor and a singer. It’s not guaranteed, but I think that combination can lead a person to being able to better understand an anime and thus the music appropriate for it. She’s done a lot of work for some very different shows, and in every case, from Cardcaptor Sakura to RahXephon to Escaflowne to Lodoss, she manages to capture the tone of the show right in the opening.

Sample: Hemisphere, RahXephon Opening

4) Gojou Mayumi

One might say that the problem with a lot of today’s anime musicians making music specifically for anime is that they pull in primarily an otaku crowd, while a guy like Kageyama has much more mass-appeal. I think Gojou Mayumi, famous for her work on Pretty Cure, has this quality of being able to pull in those kids who just grew up watching anime and learned to love its music that way. Of course, that’s not the only reason I chose her. She’s got a nice, recognizable singing voice, and her recent collaboration with the other Precure singers for the Precure crossover opening shows that she knows how to collaborate to create even more powerful anime themes. The other Precure singers are also good potential members, but I think Mayumi makes for the best one.

Sample: DANZEN! Futari wa Pretty Cure, Futari Wa Pretty Cure Opening

5) Wada Kouji

Wada Kouji is the man behind every Digimon opening, and I think they bring him back every time for a very good reason. Like Mayumi, Wada Kouji is someone with more mainstream appeal at least as far as anime openings go, with the vocal strength to back it up. Each Digimon opening is very different from the previous one yet they’re all unified by Kouji’s voice. It can quickly go from soft to powerful, and leaves you with a sense that what he’s singing about matters. Also, if Matsumoto decides to return to JAM Project having the Pokemon AND Digimon singers on there would just be dandy.

Sample: Biggest Dreamer, Digimon Tamers Opening

As a last word, I want to say that I’m no expert on musicians, not even anime ones, so my list is limited. For that, I more than welcome your suggestions below.

I can’t promise anything~

In anticipation for a certain get-together at Otakon karaoke, I’ve taken it upon myself to memorize one or two anime songs. I don’t do this normally, and when I do it’s usually for some easy-to-sing Super Robot openings, so actually sitting down and practicing and looking at lyrics has been quite an experience in learning about myself.

1) I can’t sing. This is compounded by the fact that one of the songs I picked turns out to be quite difficult.

2) I think it might actually be easier to memorize the lyrics when reading the original Japanese and not the romaji. When written in romaji, the pronunciation is there, but the meaning of the lyrics is gone and makes it more difficult to keep in memory. At least that’s how I feel.

So I’m looking forward to it. As for what songs I’ve chosen, well I’ll leave that a secret for now. Except for Yuushaou Tanjou! because I have to do that every time.