Youshikibi~ Playing the Part (Final)

More than just a bunch of complicated ideals and aesthetics, however, Visual Kei is a social stage upon which we are all acting out a role we have created for ourselves. It’s not just looks; it’s about playing the part.

Traditional Kabuki makeup

Having discovered Jrock and Visual Kei after already having a basic understanding of traditional Japanese culture, my first thought when I started watching videos of Visual Kei bands was This is Kabuki, if it was put on by a French opera company played out by metal-bands. I was surprised to find that Tiffany Godoy, the author of the photo book Japanese Goth took the same approach. There is no doubt about it: Visual Kei is a descendant of the Noh and Kabuki theaters of traditional Japan. Only instead of acting out a play with a script, the bands are acting out scenes and characters with their costumes, personalities, and music.

Versailles~ Philharmonic Quintet (3rd Gen.)

Each member is using costume, makeup, and personality (whether natural or affected) to play out a particular role, within the band as well as within the music itself. This is perfected in the affected personas of idols such as GACKT (ex-Malice Mizer), who says that he is a Vampire born in the 16th century, and Mana (Moi dix Mois, ex-Malice Mizer) who dresses entirely in Gothic Lolita and refuses to speak, claiming that the only modes of expression he needs are that of his music.

Gackt, Mizerable era (1999)

This “role playing” carries over into the topic covered in the “Manpires” post, where many of the vocalists and frontmen for Visual Kei bands assume a role of a protagonist or hero figure. This “hero” is often depicted as being the ideal man, repeat: like a character out of a historical romance novel. This role-playing and literal acting of the part selected, is part of what creates the allure and attraction around these rockers. They are like a palette onto which you can project whatever ideals you have, and your dreams will never be crushed, nor fulfilled.

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Youshikibi~ Manpires (Part 3)

In the last installment of the Visual Kei series here on SG we talked about the Visual Kei subculture of drag and androgyny within the VK sub-culture of Youshikibi . Today we will talk about the non-drag male aesthetic directions of Visual Kei, which I affectionately refer to as: “Manpires”, the tortured aristocrats.

Versaille's KAMIJO

As I mentioned already in Prince & Princess, the 2nd generation of Visual Kei began developing heavy androgyny themes. Although this ran to extremes with the drag styles of Mana etc, it carried over into what the (normal) men were doing as well.

Although they weren’t putting on dresses, the more masculinely-attuned Visualists were tapping into their more elegant, feminine polarities, developing a physical aesthetic of androgyny, playing into the Japanese concept of the “bishounen”, or pretty-boys. What I mean by “physical aesthetic” is that the aesthetic here has more to do with how the man looks physically, rather than projecting the aesthetic onto the clothing (in my own experience, the dragsters tend to draw the persona from the clothing [as in the case of Mana and Kaya], whereas with the male Visualists, the clothing seem to draw the aesthetic from the personality itself, if that makes any logical sense.).

The ideal man...?

The desire to appear as androgynous and bishounen-beautiful as possible seemed to spring from a particular fantastical and fetishistic concept within the Japanese psyche surrounding Vampires and Vampirism. We all know how, through literature and film, throughout the past 100 years or so, the idea of Vampires went from ugly demons, to a sensuous mythology. The male-vampire image swallowed its monstrosity and became an exquisite seducer who used his beauty and cold charms to get at that delicate white throat.

This concept is personified in the artwork of Kojima Ayami, the concept-art mastermind who developed the character designs and cover work for the prolific, Dracula-hunting Castlevania Nintendo games. (In fact, one of her pieces for Castlevania‘s Dracula character has a striking resemblance to one of Gackt’s Mizerable era outfits.)

A Kojima Ayami vampire

Kojima’s artwork depicts coldly exquisite vampire males, with snow-white skin and aloof facial features. They are strikingly effeminate, and yet with a decided air of manliness at the same time.

This is the aesthetic of the Manpires, the tortured aristocrats.

This aesthetic can be further analysed, however, as one ponders its popularity. The majority of Visual Kei fans are reported to be women– interesting fact, seeing as the Visual Kei aesthetic is one of prettiness and elegance. Shouldn’t these men be hulking out, wailing their ballads from 12-inch-thick Hokuto no Ken throats, flexing and exploding their rugged t-shirts mid-concert?

Apparently not. The aloof, beautiful Vampire figure is more or less an archetype of the “ideal man”. The perfect blend of manly and effeminate, both elegant and yet strong. Gentle, but dangerous. These Visual rockers are personifying this archetype. They are untouchable beings from a realm of fantasy– they can say that they are Vampires from past eras, and if you look at them long enough, eventually it will begin to make a lot more sense than that they went to high-school in Yokohama.

Klaha, ex-Malice Mizer

While Mana and friends were becoming princesses in their own right, the male personalities (I realized a few paragraphs ago that I can’t refer to Mana, Kaya, and HIZAKi as not-men, because they are men. But after watching Kaya videos all evening, I have to admit that I no longer even know what any of these words mean. So I’m groping for some way of defining genders that are extremely undefined. Bear with me.) were also finding their niche. In the realm of fantasy that is youshikibi, this was the tortured aristocrat.

But which aristocracy? Take your pick. Ex-Malice Mizer vocalist Klaha drew his inspiration from the Gothic-Lolita subset of “dandy” and “gothic aristocrat”, which was inspired by the sleek, streamlined suits and funerary attire of 19th and 20th century Europe.

Also-ex-vocalist of Malice Mizer, Gackt played on his affected persona of being a Vampire born in the 16th century, and dressed to impress in elaborate, classical European-opera-esque costumes and vaguely 18th-century French outfits. By 1999 and the 2000s (after he had left Malice Mizer), he was donning full-throttle ensembles that would have made Dracula drool with wardrobe-envy.

Gackt, 1999-2000 era

Kamjio, vocalist of Versailles~Philharmonic Quintet, who is featured in several images above, also plays on the “hero” figure that was adapted by Gackt and Klaha, as well as many other Visual Kei vocalists. This style of “character portrayal” is especially popular in the youshikibi subculture, where the historical themes and stylistic elements often have a story-telling air. You can almost imagine these men as characters out of historical-fiction romance novels. And, for all intents and purposes, that is what they are, and that is why they, and not Kenshiro, are the archetypal personifications of the “ideal man”.

Notes: Hokuto no Ken is an extremely popular manga and anime series from the ’80s. The characters were all extremely manly, with massive, hulking muscles and thick-necks. The aforementioned Kenshiro is the main-character of the series. Interestingly enough, the story was recently re-told by a female manga-ka, who took the original concept work and drew the characters as bishounen. Funny, that.