RETURNER ~ 闇の終焉
“End of Darkness“
I must say, if I had to choose a way to die, it would be like the armored Gackt of Returner: standing ghostly, alone despite the shadowy samurai thrusting their katana into one another, whilst arrows stab my heart, and murmuring the words “tsuyoku dakishimete…”
That is Gackt’s Returner~ Yami no Shuuen
Before this flurry of releases from pop idol GACKT this spring and summer, his latest single was released June 20th 2007. This single, titled Returner~ Yami no Shuuen [Returner- End of Darkness], produced by Nippon Crown, was released as part of a major project GACKT did with NHK [popular Japanese broadcasting company]. In 2007 NHK aired a period drama called Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan[“Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain”- jp: 不倫火山]. Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan was the battle standard used by the daimyo Takeda Shingen, which quotes chap. 7 of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.”
Taking place in the Sengoku period(15th century through early 17th century), the drama is based on Inoue Yasushi’s novel by the same name. Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan depicts the life of Yamamoto Kansuke, who is known as one of Takeda Shingen’s renowned strategists. Need I really say which role the aloof genius secured? Of course Gackt plays the villain, Uesegi Kenshin, and he talks in this really, really deep voice. Deeper than how he talks on talk-shows. Gackt of the endless octaves.
Admittedly, I only watched a few episodes before getting distracted and giving up. The episodes I had access to at the time were without subtitles, and at that particularly unfortunate time, my medieval-Samurai slang Japanese wasn’t so good. That sad point has, to be sure, been remedied.
Returner was released, as I said, in connection to Gackt’s performance in Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan. The song was in fact the OP to the show– I am known to have a rather unbiased opinion concerning the use of Gackt’s music as OPs, but here we have an exception to the rule. If a song was ever perfect for its show, it was a-this-a-one.
Returner begins with the eerie, melodic notes of a shinobue, a Japanese bamboo flute with a high range. Although the flute melody sounds uncannily like the one used in the less-commonly-known plugged-in-version of Mind Forest, it’s obvious to see why Gackt borrowed his own idea: Mind Forest will not begrudge Returner the use of the shinobue melody. The flute adds the perfect touch of traditional Japanese to stirr up the samurai in all of us before launching into heavy metal-style electric guitar. They break, the soft plucking of a harp: Gackt starts singing.
The use of the traditional Japanese flute and moody rock is a marriage in music that I think is truly epic, and Gackt pulls it off perfectly. The ghostly sound of the shinobue creates a flawless image of hopelessness in the face of katana-wielding foe. His beautiful lyrics and the incredible rhythm of the piece are exquisitely dark. Of course, for the first of his singles to reach #1 on Oricon’s weekly charts, this comes as no surprise to those of us who understand this sort of thing.
Aside from the opening flute issue, which really has ceased to be a concern, Returner is a portrait of originality. Although it has otherwise little in common with its preceding album, Diabolos, this single carries on the same ‘tude of Gackt’s darker side, as displayed in the heavy melancholy metal, balladic melody vocal line and the PV.
Interestingly enough, Returner is sung from a formal, likely female, perspective. Instead of the typical informal Japanese Gackt sings in, he uses the masu forms of some verbs, as well as the formal/female watashi and anata [informal male Japanese uses boku and kimi, respectively]. Presumably he sings from the POV of a woman whose lover has gone to war– apparently never to return.
Returner sets the scene for the complementing vocal tracks, Cube and Birdcage. In 2007 Gackt performed a tour: Training Days Live At Drug Party, where many of his classic titles, as well as a self-spoof were performed. Both aforementioned titles are live-recordings from this DP performance.
Low-key, dark, and moody Cube was originally published on the single Kimi no Tame ni Dekiru Koto. A real masterpiece of thought-provoking brooding, Cube somehow holds a sound closer to Western rock than Japanese. The verses are restrained, coming across as slightly flat and depressed. They seem to go on forever before the chorus begins, but once the chorus touches your ears, it will be difficult to escape the clutch of Cube. Along with Emu ~ for my dear, Cube is a real ticket for Gackt’s heart-wrench- bench, a sickeningly addictive and horrifyingly heart-breaking blend of hope and anguish.
In typical Gackt style (and a rather Japanese touch, at that), we are not left gushing bloody tears all over ourselves. Left dying after Cube we flow on into Birdcage, a gentle piece incorporating a lot of acoustic guitar. Although not one of his best, Birdcage is a nice complement to the two heavy and striking pieces we just bravely battled through to great crescendo. Birdcage cools down the thick emotion of its predecessors with soothing acoustic guitar and a mild feeling that will prepare you for a return to daily life.
The single finishes with the instrumental version of Returner.
So? Ready to get pumped? The single is a masterpiece that should not be missed by Gackt fans. New to Gackt? What better place to start than here? Well, I’ll leave you under the pale moonlight, with the soft whisper of cicadas. Tanoshinde kudasai.