+VK+#3 Visual Kings

The most extreme levels of visual expression in Visual Kei probably have to, per mercy rule, be ceded to the drag-gang and “Manpires” of Youshikibi, the beauty of form aesthetic sub-culture.  But, although it is extremely popular, youshikibi is indeed a sub-culture, and is not for everyone.

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Therefore, next up in the VK series: The sort of over-all, all-encompassing, original scope of Visual Kei; the most abused by Youtubers posting Jrock videos, and Wikki-woks BSing their way through a new Wikiwrong.com page, and probably the most well-known style of Visual Kei– normal Visual Kei.

Yes, I just used those three words in the same sentence.

Visual Kei gets difficult, and you can understand why we’re still all arguing about what is Visu’all right’ or Visu’all’ wrong, because it does have a very wide genre range, from pop to Gothica. The reason I refer to this particular style as normal Visual Kei is because it does not fit distinctly into the Youshikibi, Oshare, or Gothic sub-cultures of Visual Kei. It’s where everyone else goes. This aspect of VK culture was more or less founded by the PS.C company (which pretty much owns all the popular VK bands anyway). PS.C currently “owns” Alice Nine, the GazettE, Kra, Kaggra, among others. It was previously known to have found a home on shelves for eccentric idol Miyavi as well, but in late 2009 Miyavi founded his own label and flew the nest to join EMI Japan.

Although historical elements and androgyny are indeed present in normal Visual Kei (hereby referred to simply as “Visual Kei”), it is more likely added as accents and themes, as opposed to entire ensembles of dandy glory. Cross-dressing and drag is practically non-existent, although in a few cases it can get a little border-line.

The idealism theme is much less apparent as well, although androgyny still reigns supreme. In VK this is expressed in a general “prettiness” of the rockers. However, don’t let their porcelain profiles deceive you. These guys may be glamorous, but they can tear up venue turf with some serious tunes.

Reita of the GazettE

It’s not punk, it’s not Goth, but it’s not the kind of stuff GACKT and T.M. Revolution wear. It’s classy- flashy. It’s Visual Kei. These outfits are visual, without being costumes. The point is to be flashy, to stand out, to be Visual rockers. But these bad boys aren’t putting on dresses and prancing mutely around like our gothic youshikibi friends. This is it’s own genre of fashion entirely, and it’s difficult to describe exactly where it came from.

Duel Jewel

Because this is a bit of a melting-pot of styles, fashions, and genres, the musical sound qualities are allowed to vary liberally from band to band (unlike Youshikibi, which has much more of a set genre). The most common styles are probably hard-rock and metal, but the pendulum swings in a wide arc from hardcore (D’espairsRay, the GazettE), to pop (Ayabie, Duel Jewel, The Kiddie)….With pretty much everything in between. The interesting part is following images or videos which depict hardcore or gothicy looking bands, which end up playing upbeat, pop-ish music.

In the end, Visual Kei is about creativity. The best way to learn more about the different genres, where they come together and where they separate again, is to listen to the music, look at the bands, and immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible.

NoGod

Visual Kei is flashy, badass, sometimes a bit intimidating, and elegant all in one. Argue about it all you want, but those, at least, are total, irrevocable, facts.

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Youshikibi~ Prince & Princess [Part 2]


Rococo-period portrait

In the era of the 2nd generation Visual Kei (’90s-early 2000’s), pioneers of the Visual beauty-aesthetic goth-opera band Malice Mizer introduced a heavy historical, classical-opera look into the Visual Kei aesthetic. They took imagery and aesthetic views from the French rococo period, and added unique Jrock sentiments, mixed the two together with some pretty serious gothica, and gave us the aesthetic of 2nd and 3rd generation Visual Kei: essentially, youshikibi, the beauty of form.

Mana, Versailles era (MM)

The silhouette and fashion statement became much more costumey and elaborate, pinching no pennies in design and construction. Lace-up, corseted dresses with full skirts, enough lace to wrap around the world 7 times, and elaborate hair-dos topped with massive headdresses were the staples of this style.

During this era, drag and androgyny took form. This is interesting to note, because the majority of Visual rockers are male (the majority– but in the past few years some female bands have sprung up as well), catering to a primarily (but certainly  not entirely) female fan-base.

The concept of “drag” was begun by Mana, founder and guitarist
for Visual Kei bands Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois. Despite being decidedly male (although you would never know by looking), from the very beginning Mana dressed all in elaborate Gothic Lolita and Rococo-inspired fashions, wore women’s makeup and hairstyles, and refused to speak (although he claims that the only mode of expression he needs is his guitar, it’s probably because once he accidentally spoke on a live broadcast interview, and revealed his ultra-manly, deep voice. Oops.)

Although this was “fathered” by Mana, it branched off after the end of Malice Mizer and became its own sub-genre of Visual Kei in its own right. Many of the later 2nd generation and 3rd generation bands sprung from this well-spring of fashion, most notably Versailles ~ Philharmonic Quintet.

Like Malice Mizer, Versailles is an all-male band, however Mana’s concepts of fashion and style were highly appreciated, and the entire band assumed a very historical appearance.

HIZAKI

Homage was especially paid by two members, guitarist HIZAKI and bassist Jasmine-You (who passed away on August 9th, 2009) . Both men assumed the dress and attitude of women, although neither went so far as to refuse to speak in order to hide their voice/gender. In fact, HIZAKI has been known to speak quite readily on occasion, proving that this is not about trying to be women, but about being free to wear and act as they choose.

Jasmine-You

The look was also readily adapted by vocalist KAYA (ex-Schwartz Stein), who was, mysteriously enough…, one of a few of Mana’s known proteges. Kaya sings now as a solo artist, and is perhaps one of the most shocking and mind-blowing of all of the aforementioned personalities in this post. Unlike Mana, HIZAKI, and Jasmine-You who silently thrash on guitar/bass, Kaya has no choice but to flaunt his manliness, being solo as a vocalist.

When you first start listening to a Kaya song, it’s electronicky pop-rock, with a decidedly popular-type Jpop male type voice. So you’re expecting to look up images of this swashbuckling, handsomely-voiced male suspiciously named “Kaya” (sounds fishy to me, anyway) and see:











Results will actually yield the shocking– beautiful, but shocking– true face of Kaya:

To be honest, although I’m a long-standing fan of all of Mana’s work, and although I am no stranger to his level of drag and gender-bending, the entire concept of Kaya is still a little bit difficult for me to wrap my head around. I can’t tell if I really like it, or if it is still mildly disturbing.

Video: Kaya’s Chocolate

Guide to Images: Mana, guitarist for Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois. HIZAKI of HIZAKI GRACE PROJECT and Versailles~ Philharmonic Quinet. Jasmine-You [Versailles P/Q]. Insert image: normal male, idol boy Kamenashi Kazuya from the Johnny’s group Arashi. Kaya (Schwartz Stein/ Kaya).