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.

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.

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).

Youshikibi~ A Visual Aesthetic (Part 1)

Youshikibi

all the angry, beautiful marionettes and marie antoinettes.

Now that we’ve been introduced to X Japan, one of the major figures of the First Generation of Visual Kei, let’s move on to what happened after the glamorous big-hair phase of the unholy and altogether wonderfully evil ’80s splattered across the windshield of the rockin’ 1990’s. Let me put it in terms everyone can understand: This crazy shit got pretty.

xaeron.net_Luna_seaAbove: First Generation Visual Kei (Luna Sea, ’80s) Below: Second Generation Visual Kei (Malice Mizer, 1996-2001)

f_malice8m_0d54d7f Youshikibi is a term I discovered while reading about the Third Generation VK group Versailles, who will be mentioned at a later date. The concept was, as far as I know, conceived by the Princes of VK (who have already been discussed at length here on SG), Malice Mizer. MM (as we will hereby refer to them) arrived on the scene as VK was turning a new corner. The First Generation was, in a manner of speaking, passing on the tartan. The term youshikibi means, loosely, the beauty of form, and is the definition of the VK aesthetic.

Unlike other sub-cultures of the rock movement such as Goth, Emo, Punk, etc, Visual Kei isn’t just a rebellion, it’s an aesthetic. It’s a culture, a style, a revolution unto itself. Visual Kei is, in short, about beauty and the appreciation of beauty. Beauty is in everything, and that is understood in the Japanese concept of wabi sabi and tea-ceremony. The basic concept of wabi sabi lies in a pure, unbiased appreciation of the natural beauty of the form itself. So, for example, a wabi sabi style cup or dish would be imperfect, crafted from something strangely shaped, usually with an inclination toward a natural, unsculpted form. Take that concept, flip it to the opposite extreme, and perfect it in the guise of hardcore punk culture, and you have, basically, Visual Kei as an aesthetic view.

Although you really can’t get any farther from wabi sabi than visual kei, that’s about where we’re at right now. Although I believe I glossed over this briefly in the Intro post, it bears repeating again here: the aesthetic of Visual Kei is an unbiased appreciation of beauty in any form. Whether that is expressed through gothic elegance, Lolita, or bondage and black nail-polish, if you find beauty in that, regardless of anyone’s perception of it or judgments, that is your source of inspiration, focus, and drive. That is your visual kei aesthetic.

BUCK-TICK_15

First Generation...

In the ’80s, everything was wicked loud and wild. In the ’90s, as we moved into the Second Generation of VK, a flip took place. A new wave swept in, and brought with them the influences of the classical opera, 18th and 19th century Europe, Marie Antoinette letting there be cake, mixed it up and blended it on High with a dash of goth.

Around this time, visual kei became about beauty, which is why you will often see a heavy emphasis on androgyny and effeminacy (talking from a perspective that most Visualists are guys…more on that later). Drag is another leading branch in Vis Kei as a fashion movement, however there’s a certain defining quality to Visualist drag and drag-drag. Visualist drag is usually a guy in a dress– they’re not trying to be women. They’re trying to say “I like this, and it flatters me, and that is all that matters.”

Cosplay #4 ~ the prince

Mana (MDM) by FallenAngel1973

Mana (MDM) by FallenAngel1973

Mana-sama, formerly of Malice Mizer, and currently leader and guitarist of “solo” project Moi Dix Mois, mentor to Lolita-rock rising star Kanon Wakeshima, founder of Elegant Gothic Lolita fashion label Moi Meme Moitie, and prince of gothic Visual Kei, is hailed as one of the most difficult cosplays to get right. You really have to have the natural physiology for it– a certain facial structure that makeup can’t alter. This Elegant Gothic Aristocrat version, done with roots in the MDM era, is pretty much spot-on. Check out FallenAngel1973’s page to see more Mana cosplays, as incredible as this one.

acce_main~Sources and Tutorials that may or may not help you achieve the perfect Mana Cosplay~

xxfullmoonxx’s makeup tutorial for a Gothic Lolita Bible-inspired Mana

Mana Wannabe’s Versailles-era inspired Mana makeup tutorial

and a few videos that may help you get the signature lips and hair down pat….

And remember…personality….is everything:

An Introduction to Visual Kei

01_MG_1927_faust

A shot from "Faust"

From the world of classical opera we learned that music has the potential to not only be an aural pleasure, but a visual one as well. Through lyrical theme, musical composition, costume and props, a greater theme or story can be expressed trough music. But it doesn’t stop in the opera house. Since the early 1980s Japanese rockers have taken pairing music and visuals to a whole new level. What started as an insane-seeming sub-culture movement became, by the mid 90’s, an established genre, and today, 30 years later, one of the-most-listened-to facets of Jrock.

That genre is what we refer to as “Visual Kei”.

Visual Kei band "Malice Mizer", circa 1997

Visual Kei band "Malice Mizer", circa 1997

Let’s start with the name. ビジュアル系[bijuaru kei]. Visual Kei is a term created by bringing together the English word ‘Visual’ and the Japanese word ‘kei’, which means ‘type’ or ‘style’. Nowadays the term refers almost solely to a genre of Japanese rock music— now that Visual Kei as a genre has become popular and more mainstream, I get the impression that a lot of Western fans want to single out the god-father bands as non-“Visual Kei”. Like how back when “punk” first began there was no “punk”, and now it’s a mainstream style full of posers.  But even at the very onset of Visual Kei culture, because of the nature of the genre and the way it effects and is affected by the term Visual Kei, the label existed upon advent.

Dead End: 1984-1999

Dead End: 1984-1999

You see, we’re allowed a sort of grace period by the Japanese language. Look at it this way—alongside sometimes-creepy Visual Kei, there is another Jrock sub-culture which is eternally cheerful, and that is referred to as ‘Oshare Kei’, [en.  Fashionable type]. In Japan, when you want to tell someone that they are fashionable, you say, “wow, you got some new boots! So oshare kei!” It would be silly if I got angry and said, “But I’m not the oshare-kei genre of bands and music. Ugh!” The genres happened out of the terms, in a way. Similarly, were you to remark that X Japan was “wow! So visual kei!” Would a true old-school fan scoff and say, “Ugh, Visual Kei? No they’re not. There’s nothing visual there!”?

X Japan

X Japan

Much the same as the early punk movement, true Visual Kei had and still has no “definition” nor set limits. It is important to understand that Visual Kei is first and foremost a means of expression not only through music, but through image as well. It is at the Visualists’s discretion how he or she chooses to express themselves. Visual Kei is an ultimatum in creativity, and one of its defining points is its lack of boundaries.

However, it is only natural that certain qualifications come into the picture… In the way of trends and obsessive-genre-ization-disorder of today, Visual Kei has found certain parameters and sub-genres exclusive to its scope. Like anything, there is the fluff and filler impossible to evict, ban, destroy, or avoid– but individual creativity and expression is still running strong among Visualists. In a way, the pre-sets and development of stereotyping has encouraged boundaries between what is Visual Kei and what is standard Jrock. Not just every Jrock band with a crazy look is Visual Kei—that’s genre abuse.

In this write-up, although I can’t tell you all the “is” and “isn’t”s of this boundless and extreme genre, I will do my best to sketch out the general idea, as well as define the boundaries that separate Visual Kei from what we know otherwise as Jrock and Jpop.

Luna Sea

Luna Sea

Visual Kei is a bit like genealogy in that it has generations. And as the generations became younger and younger, the look changed and developed. That’s why I, as well as many people who write about the Vis Kei movement, choose to differentiate between the generations. I’ve simplified it into a 3-category hierarchy of 1st generation, onward. We could be real jerks and break it down into the quantum level of Visual Kei Generations and Sub Movements, but for clarity’s sake, we’ll use the 3-generation rule here. If you want to get quantum with me, notice how I include release and activity dates in the artist information run-downs….

Back “before” there “was” “Visual Kei”, the pioneer band X appeared– the year…was 1982. For the purpose of disambiguation (due to the existence of the American ’70s band by the same name), they did the obvious thing and clarified who they were by a quick name change– by which they are immortalized: X Japan.

X-Japan

X-Japan

This was “the movement”, “the influx”. X Japan brought to Jrock the heavy yet melodious sound that we are so familiar with today. They brought the extremist fashion and 50% dedication to image. Yeah, they had freaking big hair. They made the glam-metal look popular (for an indie rock band, anyway) and exciting in the Japanese music scene– but they did what the Japanese do with everything they import: they, as one Japanese friend put it, took what Westerners made like monkeys and improved it. They Japanified it.

In the image to the right, you can see the powerful beginnings of what we know now as Visual Kei. The androgyny (especially in Jrock idol Yoshiki [center], the historic appeal, the extreme everything. These were the founding fathers.

They inspired everybody.  X Japan brought great momentum to this sub-culture of Jrock, which steadily infected a stream of other great bands. This was Visual Kei’s foundation, when it picked up speed and accelerated into pop-culture. The bands everyone know of as “true” Visual Kei appeared at this time– between 1982 and ’87: Luna Sea, Buck -Tick, Dead End.

This was the well-spring of Jrock. It began in the ‘80s, and it was a mash-up of imagery and ideas. These bands set the foundation for the use of visual components in Japanese rock music, veering off the beaten path and forging new roads.

Although the look and sound has developed, become refined, and more focused, there was one element that has remained the core spinal column of the Visual Kei aesthetic. This element was essentially ‘beauty for beauty’s sake’. Visualists would like what they liked, would dress how they liked, would act how they liked. They appreciated things as genderless, ageless, anonymous modes of creative expression. There were no concepts such as “I can’t dress that way, I’m a man.” or “We can’t play this song, we’re too hardcore.”
This aesthetic would later become the palette upon which the 2nd Generation would paint the defining portrait of Visual Kei, and sculpt it as an actual genre.

Buck-Tick

Buck-Tick

Sayounara

If anyone else is becoming scared of 2009– join the club. 2009 has so far seen the passing of several major pop-stars and idols– including Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett (totally irrelevant to this blog, but hey, they died, they get added…), and  Koakuma Ageha top-model Sumire passed away of a cerebral hemorrhage in June, and now, as of August 9th, Visual Kei band Versaille~ Philharmonic Quintet‘s bass player, Jasmine You, has passed away.

Not to focus on the negative, or anything, but hey, I’m just sayin’….doesn’t do to pretend it doesn’t happen.

0154c3c8e47aa0_fullOn August 3rd, Versailles~ Philharmonic Quintet‘s official website stated that bassist Jasmine You would be taking an indefinite break due to poor physical health. It was announced that the band would continue without Jasmine You in the production of their up-coming album.

On August 9th, it was announced that Jasmine You had passed away. The band stated that they had known nothing about any serious illness or condition that would have warranted such an abrupt passing. Few details are known, and the band is waiting for approval from Jasmine You’s immediate family before they can release information.

In the meantime, the band has asked that their fans kindly support them in their decision to indefinitely suspend all further activities, including the release of the album in production.

Jasmine You

Jasmine You

Known in Japan as Versailles, the symphonic-rock project of vocalist Kamijo (ex-Lareine), guitarist Hizaki (of Hizaki Grace Project [solo]) and bassist Jasmine You (ex-Jyakura) may be better known to non-motherland-fans by its American dub, Versailles~Philharmonic Quintet. The band took on this “alias” due to the prior existence of singer Versailles (it gets majorly confusing when you try and listen to Versailles radio on last.fm, I’ll tell you that much).

Although Versailles is a young band, having only kicked off in early 2007, it met with success world-wide, and is a promising facet of Visual Kei culture. The band carries on the proud tradition of powerful opera-rock as laid down by Visual Kei prince Mana, from the days of Malice Mizer. Following in the footsteps of MM, who popularized the style of VK called “youshikibi” (beauty of form), Versailles seemed intent on taking it all one, two, three, or ten steps further.

Let’s put it this way– at least Mana looks kind of, well, androgynous. 1st guitarist Hizaki looks anything but androgynous– the only reason we know it’s a man is because everyone says so (presumably he does, or has at one point as well). But you sure wouldn’t guess it by looking. Hizaki has perfected the “hime-gyaru” (princess girl) style with rose-colored lace panache, crowning it with a headful of creamy blond ringlets and a face to make ageha-ites weep.

Hizaki

Hizaki

Versailles made their western-world debut in 2008 with a tour in Europe and the US with Visual Kei band Matenrou Opera. 2nd guitarist Teru remarked that a performance at A-Kon in Texas drew a crowd of 3000, and a performance in L.A. sold out completely. Quite an international debut for such a young band. However, they have what fans want, it would seem. Their perfect visual appeal and symphonic heavy sound are aesthetically pleasing and aurally exciting– how could you resist?

In June, 2009 the band signed with a major label and on June 24th released their first major album, Ascended Master. To say sayounara to their indie days (which were shockingly short-lived), Versailles performed a nationwide Last Indies tour called The Fragment Collectors.

Although I hate to have to draw attention to the band under the shadow of Jasmine You’s tragic death, now is a good moment to feel excitement and anticipation for this band~ surely its members and their families will be comforted by the good feeling of support their fans send to them on rose-scented airways.


Versailles official website

Versailles official Myspace (English)