I was really interested and curious when, a few weeks ago, I discovered the existence of an English-language, bi-monthly Visual Kei magazine based in Portland, Oregon, USA. The magazine is called “FIVE for”, was founded in 2007, and is run by, as far as their website says, a group of volunteers from around the world.
At $8.50 an issue, or $10 flat rate including shipping, it was not a great risk to order a copy. Although there are 12 issues currently available, and a 13th in the works, I decided to not get the most recent, based on personal preference regarding the featured content. The issue I decided on is Issue #9 (March/April 2009). I recognize that this issue is already a year old, and I have not read the most recent issues, therefore I cannot vouch for any changes that have been made since the release of Issue #9.
In this issue: Vidoll * X-Japan * The Underneath * girugamesh * Hirasawa Susumu * Acid Black Cherry * PS Company 10th anniversary live, featuring Sug * Kra * Screw * Miyavi * alice nine. * Kagrra, * and The GazettE.
FIVE for ‘The Only Japanese Music Magazine You Need’, is more of a micro-zine, really. At a flat 40 pages (including front and back cover) with no pull-outs, posters, or inserts, it feels more like a flier than an authoritative periodical dishing out the goods. However, the quality is professional, especially for such a young zine, and the photographs are good quality.
The magazine kicks right off with a one-page report of the X-Japan New Year’s Countdown Live at Akasaka Blitz, featuring some chibi drawings of the band-members. This abrupt thrust into live-reporting lead me at first to believe that we were going to read about Jrock. However, after the brief concert summary, the magazine lulls into 4 pages of Japanese culture. A spread on Shinto culture followed by “BIG IN JAPAN” (who else is tired of hearing that title-phrase?), which, according to the caption, serves to bring whacky aspects of Japanese culture to readers. This issue was Japanese snack food, namely kit-kat products and the montage of seasonal flavor-marketing abundant in Japanese junk-food. The articles, which not inherently bad in themselves, were pretty much in line with the stuff you can read in any free Japan-travel brochure available at most self-respecting travel agencies. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything Japanese with every ounce of my being…however, I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure why “peach flavored Lipton iced-tea” is something worth devoting two pages to in a music magazine. Or any magazine, for that matter.
After that unnecessary distraction, the Jrock kicks off again. This time it’s a 4-page photo-spread and interview with cover-band Vidoll. The interview write-up mentions, briefly, “some changes for the band”, that “these guys are serious musicians” with “a sound like no other”. However, none of this is really discussed in the actual interview. 6 short questions are asked before launching into a “keyword game” in which the band-members answer random questions that were entertaining to read, but hardly what you would expect for the issue’s “cover artist”. The photographs, however, which were also used in the Japanese publication FOOL’s MATE last spring, are classy and cool.
After an informative, if over-polite, write-up about the PSC 10th anniversary gig, full of decent photographs and a pretty awesome full-page spread of Miyavi and alice nine., we’re on to the Acid Black Cherry interview. They talked about some conceptual aspects of ABC before launching into the superficial keyword game again.
The centerpiece of the magazine is an interview with anime-soundtrack mastermind and electronic-music genius Hirasawa Susumu, known best for his work on the anime series Berserk. A generous 3 page spread, the questions actually have purpose, and Hirasawa’s answers are enlightening, informative, and thought-provoking. The interview is, simply, kind of brilliant, and although I didn’t know much about Hirasawa outside of his music, I am interested and inspired by the concepts and attitude of this guy.
The rest of the substantial content included another unenlightening interview with girugamesh and (repeat adjectival modifier) interview with The Underneath‘s Tal and Ryo. Entertaining and humorous, but that’s about it.
Aside from some superfluous fluff, the magazine closes off with more Japanese culture articles: JMusic Fan’s guide to Tokyo, which was actually kind of interesting in that it gave you directions to Saitama Super Arena and gave a brief description of the venue and its extensive features; and the eternal column, “Repeat or Delete?” wherein one of the writers “reviews” Japanese tourist sites and concludes whether you should skip it or not on your trip. Quick reviews, contest, close the issue.
Overall FIVE for is a fun flip-through, but does not feel innovative or ground-breaking. The Japanese culture articles are distracting, and seem like a way of filling out a lack of subject-appropriate material. I’m bored with having to read about Ramune soda every single time I want to interact with Japanese pop culture.
There’s a certain sense of satisfaction in being able to read the superfluous interviews in English, and they feel like a copycat of the kinds of questions asked on random Japanese game shows and so on that serve to provide random tidbits of information without really expanding an intellectual understanding. That being said, the Hirasawa Susumu interview was brilliant, and the photographs were decent.
Perhaps the fact that it’s the only English-language Jrock-related periodical available (as far as I know) that gives it leverage, or perhaps it’s because I’m slightly spoiled, and have access to Japanese Jrock periodicals, but in conclusion, I have to say that FIVE for’s tag-line, The Only Japanese Music Magazine You Need, overshoots its capacity and authority by a long shot, and, if anything, created more of a need for information rather than a slaking of that thirst. ++
Bi-monthly magazine published by Mizu Nezumi media, LLC.
Note: the images used in this post are not images from the actual magazine.