Pink Panthers, Delicate Dragons, and Pop Poseidons: the disconcerting ratio of Sadie to SHINEE

Part I: The Set Up

So here I am writing from the farthest-most corner of the United States, some 4,000 miles north-west of my usual office, sitting in a bustling cafe attempting a record consumption of caffeine, flipping through the March 2011 edition of Arena 37c, front-cover: T.M.Revolution rocking hot military in distressed denim.

Since I currently reside in a less prehistoric city than usual, I’m located very close to China Town, the International District, and a little corner of Japanophile heaven—this particular patch of wonders being home to the unsuspecting Visualist’s den of colander-wallet syndrome, Kinokuniya books. It’s the one moment when I actually feel ‘at home’ in the US; the one place where I can find the CDs I’m looking for in the CD section, where I actually find magazines I want to (wish I could) read in the newsstand, and where names like YOSHIKI and AnCafe pop off the bindings of books. It’s a brief compromise between East and West.

It’s hard to stay calm. Especially when hoards of giggling, daisy-dukes-and-tights-wearing Japanese girls are hurrying past with armloads of Tohoshinki CDs and those 30-pound, $5 fashion magazines they have to Saran wrap and rubber-band just to keep the inserts, posters, and packs of makeup samples all intact for purchase.

image: cidbia.org

Although I, personally, tend to pre-order my CDs and singles months in advance via the internet, magazines are one product I want from Japan that I tend to stock up on once in a while IRL when opportunity strikes. My (exceedingly) infrequent visits to Kinokuniya rarely send me out with discs, but a few Shoxx, Fools Mate, and Arena37c’s usually find their way home with me (where they typically end up encased in plastic and stored carefully in an air-tight safe, hidden away from the dangers of fingerprints and dog-earing caused by ignorant mortals). With the yen-dollar + import mark-up on these publications, it’s clear I’m not saving for retirement.

As long as I could carry on singing the praises of the mystical waypoint, what I’m trying to say right now is not that I went to Kinokuniya and dropped bank on magazines I can’t even read yet, but more to do with the contents of said magazines.

First of all, I had a difficult time finding the content matter I look for. Is it the general fact that a lot of respected Visual Kei artists are playing it cool or on hiatus, or is classic Visual Kei just not front-cover news anymore? Whatever it is, the magazines that, in 2009 and 2010, were covered with abingdon boys school, D’espairsRay, The GazettE and GACKT, are suspiciously devoid of any of those holy names. Today’s issue of Arena37, featuring an excessively elegant yet somewhat lackluster main feature of T.M.Revolution, fills the rest of its pages with cutesy oshare-mania and WTF moments such as Jin Akanishi, Tohoshinki, and SHINEE. It’s nearly enough to make me feel more like a hardcore metal-head were I to buy Can Can Cream’s jumbo-edition featuring Koda Kumi’s latest eyelid surgery result story*. SHINEE….seriously? Is this what the Visual Kei industry has become? Spreads of The Kiddie making chocolate fondue and Jin Akanishi repping thug-life in a fitted-hat? On that note, who exactly is Jin Akanishi?

Also, what is with the interview on page 98 with a trio of guys dressed in white feather boas, calling themselves “Panther”, “Dragon” and “Poseidon”?

The most badass part of the magazine (aside from T.M.’s typical glitzy bride+groom-in-one shoot) is the back cover advertisement for SADIE’s newest releases and lives. Honestly, aside from the brief insert for The GazettE, it’s the only page reminiscent of classic Visual Kei.

The clean pastel tones of nude-gravure-fronted Shoxx promise a slightly more familiar lineup of content, including: The GazettE, Kagrra,, girugamesh, Vidoll, and heidi.. Mostly devoid of the collection of gawky 14-year-olds masquerading as promising Visual Kei musicians, Shoxx presented more interesting shoots of cooler looking people and better (in my opinion) bands.

heidi. still looks like a Visual Kei band, as do boogieman and TOON-FACTORY. The disappointments maxed out mercifully at having the same gravure of Sid as the Arena37 interview, and the shocking realization that Visual Kei stylists have outdone The Perm by instating the Goldilocks Regime. Page after page of tumbling gold ringlets unfold before my horrified Visualist eyes…

* Please note, Can Can Cream is not a factual magazine title, I invented it to serve my creative purposes, so spare your dignity any blows and don’t go out and try and buy it.. Also, don’t ever believe anything I ever say about Koda Kumi. I don’t even know who she is, let alone how much eyelid surgery she’s had or when.

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Takanori ‘Manicure’ Revolution

Taiko-drumming, dancing ninja. Tactfully sheer pants. Slow motion. Anime-theme-song god almighty T.M.Revolution, as my good friend and fellow blogger sakurayume would say, can truly do no wrong. Not only has the PV for part one of his latest double A-side Naked Arms/Sword Summit been released, I have even been able to find an HD version that will actually play stereo.

I don’t know what it is, but lately Jrock and Visual Kei PVs (and now apparently badass Jpop as well) have become really monochromatic. Perhaps it’s the promotional-video version of the custom of only ever wearing black and white (guilty as charged). Whatever it is, it makes everything look cool.

My only complaint about the Naked Arms PV is that I didn’t feel like it went anywhere. Finally T.M. just spontaneously combusted and returned to whatever divine realm he came from, and left the ninja to disrobe mysteriously off screen. Despite that, both the PV and the song were both satisfying and powerful. I am highly anticipating hearing Sword Summit (although out of the two it interested me the least when I heard the previews), and of course putting it all together as a complete single, which is where, when it comes down to it, the magic happens.

Finally, it’s not a T.M. PV without the extended manicure fan-service. Yes, T.M., you have the best nails in Japan.

Also check out the actual OP clip for the game Sengoku Basara 3 in which this plays:

TMR Naked Arms / Sword Summit / Nosebleed

Despite the crazy release schedule for this summer/fall in the world of Jrock, Jpop, and Visual Kei, I think that there’s a certain voice in particular that some of us, at least, have been missing. I’ll give you a hint: he can wail and warble like nobody’s business.

Well, get down on your knees and give thanks. T.M.Revolution will be gracing us all with his tremulous tenor talents on August 11th with the release of Naked Arms / Sword Summit. The song is being used as the second intro theme for the PS3/Wii game Sengoku Basara 3 (he has previously done work for this game with abingdon boys school) and intro theme for the anime take, Sengoku Basara 2.

Check out the CM preview for the single:

Personally, I think that TMR is looking better than ever. His outfit is cool enough to make the best-dressed out there feel like they’re wearing sweatpants and a jersey, and the tough sub-masculine image works wonders for the fashionisto.

The CM is quite cool. If Jrock PVs get any more aerodynamic and stylish I might have a nosebleed. The black and white themes all over the place are so clean and timelessly cool, and I am particularly liking it for TMR because a certain someone has a bit of a history for over-the-top flashiness and outrageous PVs. Now that he’s more of an ani in the J-music scene, I appreciate this more mature (yet still totally rockin’) image, and alongside GACKT’s recent styles, I have to say I think this is one of my favorite looks out there right now.

I’m really looking forward to hearing the full single, as Naked Arms sounded especially cool. I think it would be safe to say that we always know we can leave it to Nishikawa Takanori to always keep up the standard.

The single will be released in 3 versions:

Regular Vers.

This is my least favorite cover out of them all. Honestly, I think something about how it’s been shot is kind of unflattering.

Anime Vers.

This one, however, gets my approval 100%.

Game Vers.

This cover is also awesome. I really like how they steadily zoom in on his image and get gradually more flattering.

All versions first-press edition come with a poster (which is hopefully not of the regular version cover)– which I want, just throwing that out there.

Pre-order and get your poster (I didn’t list it first for any particular reason) and a sick new single: Naked arms / Sword Summit [w/ DVD, Limited Edition (Animation Ver.)] / T.M.Revolution

Video credit: test69rock

Image credit: TMRevolution official Twitter @TMR15

Visualist Dementia: Symptoms

If you’re a serious fan or follower of any type of media, from music to film to theater, then I’m sure you understand the level of masochism, devotion, and psychological confusion that aforementioned fans and followers deal with as a result of their fandom. As anyone who follows my blog knows by now, I prefer to refer to other followers of Visual Kei and Jrock, and be referred to, as “Visualists” rather than “fans”. For some reason the word “fan” has some negative connotations in my experience, and while I don’t refuse the word strictly, I work with it hesitantly.

In any case, whether you’re a fan, follower, devotee, acolyte, or Visualist, we all experience the same pain, and regardless of where you are, who you are, and how you express your appreciation for the (fill in the blank), we all share a common ground: appreciation. And pain, of course. With great devotion comes great capacity to suffer. At least, I hope you have a great capacity– otherwise I don’t envy you.

Now, it’s not that we just like something and can’t get enough of it because it makes us happy. But if you say it’s obsession then I’ll be offended- I don’t have some unhealthy mental affliction that needs to be rectified by luminous Vitamin B supplements. (Although I hear that a vitamin B [niacin] deficiency is characterized by ‘aggression, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and in serious cases may lead to dementia.’ Which means I should probably be taking it). It’s just…visualist dementia. I use the term ‘visualist dementia’ as an excuse for all of the erratic behavior caused by an acute devotion to Visual Kei. (Before you ask– yes, I have a highly advanced case.) The only Visualist that they’ve been able to ‘cure’ underwent severe correctional treatment involving brutal methods such as putting them into a padded room and playing Arashi at high volume for countless hours….something you and I can only fathom in our darkest nightmares… Particular symptoms of visualist dementia may or may not include: lack of sleep due to waiting for overseas tour announcements (however factual or fictional), lack of an ability to measure distance based on miles rather than love of a band, and strange lapses of musical hypocrisy.

Now, the misconception that many Visualists may or may not be under, is that Japanese record labels don’t know about visualist dementia. But in fact, they know. They know very well. And based on scientific research on the topic, they invented a form of psychological torture that is widely utilized to improve sales and overseas awareness of artists. This intense form of sadistic punishment….is called marketing. (Note: As of 2010 synonymous with Twitter).

It’s amazing how concentrated our dementia becomes the instant hopes for overseas activity becomes possible. I mean, how cruel is it for band PR to throw around the words “important announcement”? “Important announcement” in our language is synonymous with “overseas tour in our region”. I mean, come on, don’t they know that? (oh trust me, they do) And then they go and announce that it’s not a tour at all, just the release of  some single that we can already get direct from Japan, complete with pre-order bonuses. When that happens, we have no choice but to do our best not to drown kittens in a kiddie pool because no kidding we already got the single, with all of the pre-order bonuses, and don’t need the local version, because we’re saving for CONCERT TICKETS.

And then when they finally announce a tour in Location B, certain people cancel all of their plans with normal people using the excuse that “Sorry, I can’t make it to your event, because Band A will be releasing their tour announcement for my area, and I want to be there when they do so I can get tickets.” Your friends get angry and think you’re going insane, you stay up all night getting jazzed off NesCafe because you don’t want them to release the information at your 4AM which is their 5PM (next day) and have the tickets all sell out before you can get some.

I’ve been thinking about this because there’s been quite a lot of ticketing activity lately. Between MIYAVI, D’espairsRay, VAMPS, and then GACKT’s Europe tour (I know some of you hardcores from this side of the great blue are going), more than a few nerves have been frayed and fried over the past few months. I don’t know about you guys, but I sure got a psychological milking from D’espairs when they took like three months between the “US tour announcement to be released tomorrow!” and the actual promised announcement making an appearance. (For some reason I actually fell for that one.) In a way this is a perfect example of our rabid existence. We spend so much time whining about why won’t the bands ever come to us, and then they come to us and it’s like man, can our nerves even handle this? Can you handle this?


Takanori Makes New Single

It’s an inside-joke.

I want to move to Shiga prefecture when I move to Japan. Shiga, located a little north of Kyoto, is where amazing rock artists come from. Including, but not limited to, GACKT, Tetsuya (of L’arc~En~Ciel), and T.M.Revolution (Nishikawa Takanori). That’s a busy area for talentos in general, as Kyoto is also a regular outlet for major stars and idols. In any case, it’s T.M. we’re talking about today.


Being the biggest, most internationally renowned star to come out of Shiga (Tetsuya fans don’t hurt me– it’s true), last year Nishikawa was named the Cultural Ambassador of Shiga. In any case,  on March 3rd T.M. will release a new single, available only as digital download. The song, titled “Lakers” was performed live several times last year, and will also be used as the image-song for the 65th Biwako Marathon. Lyrics were written by Nishikawa’s personal friend, Inoue Akio, and the production was taken care of by Asakura Diasuke.

Biwako, (Biwa Lake) is a beautiful regional lake located in Shiga, and the new song, LAKERS, is dedicated to this regional natural monument. Nishikawa comments:

[Last year in September I was able to take a look at the landscape around Biwako during the Inazuma Rock Fes. During that time, the impressions of the Taiko-Drums and the sound of the wind have influenced the making of the song. I think the greatness of Shiga-Prefecture, including all the players, and its landscape can be felt, while the tempo is a little more daring. With the tempo of a lake without waves, the song is completely influenced by Biwako and its surroundings.](1)

On March 24th T.M. will also release the song Imaginary Ark, which will round off his collaboration for the T.M.R.×GUNDAM SEED SPECIAL PROJECT [X42S-REVOLUTION] for the 30 Anniversary of the GUNDAM Series.

(1) From MusicJapan+

School’s Back In Session

School’s back in session, but this semester we’ll be getting a lesson in serious rock– courtesy of Jrock’s best-kept secret, full-throttle super-group abingdon boys school.

Although they could be called a ‘kid-band’, as they only started in 2005, there is nothing kiddie about this hardcore Jrock group. abingdon boys school, fondly contracted to a.b.s by fans and the band alike, was founded by programmer and keyboardist Kishi Toshiyuki and vocalist Nishikawa Takanori– perhaps better known for his pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. They recruited guitarists SUNAO and Shibasaki Hiroshi, both of whom have worked closely with Nishikawa on his “Revolutionary” activities throughout the past decade.

However, let me say this: for anyone who came to a.b.s expecting more of T.M. Revolution’s futuristic sub-Gundam electro-pop, two words: Not. Happening. Seeing as three of the members have indeed (and do still) work together in the Mobile-Suit pop world, I think (yeah, I read the blogs too) a lot of people were surprised that this amazingly (absolutely no offense intended) fruity, and possibly the shortest pop-star in Japan, could front a project so dramatically opposite his solo work, as abingdon boys school.

Well you can put it in red marker and add a star-shaped sticker too, for the versatility of Nishikawa’s unbelievable vocal style. Whether he’s draped in supple snow-white  leather suits, or nerding out in thick-rimmed glasses and a private-school uniform, Nishikawa’s high, heady, terrifically strong wail is unlike any other. Honestly, I have to say that Nishikawa’s vocals are some of the most impressive, innovative, and mind-blowingly awesome in the pop/rock world.

Aside from the singular vocal talents of Nishikawa, the rest of the a.b.s lineup may be names you haven’t heard– but we can quite quickly decapitate that disturbance and move on, because the sooner you hear them, the sooner you’ll be thanking yourself.

Part of the problem may be that these are not blooming heartthrobs. Nor are they young, with the most-junior member scraping a mature 39. I mean– Nishikawa has this kind of aura of studliness, but let’s face it, it’s an aura. If you look at the aesthetic of today, and it’s being represented by Visual Kei hot-topics such as the GazettE and Alice Nine… and all those guys, they’re like puking good-looks. (BUCK-TICK’s early lineup was concerned about their vocalist being tall enough…they apparently never considered hiring Nishikawa, who maxes out at 5′3″.) Well, I’ll tell you, a.b.s may not look like much, but these guys know where and how to pack a helluva punch. These guys are deadly.

a.b.s is comprised of the aforementioned 4 members: Nishikawa (vo.), Kishi (keyboards, programming), SUNAO (guitar), Shibasaki (guitar). The other two necessary organs that make a band breathe and pump blood properly, drums and bass, are supplied by session musicians. And by session-musicians, I mean that these two musicians have a pact with holy deities so advanced and beyond us, that they can’t really officially join bands. Although these two backing members are mysterious strangers to most of a.b.s‘ non-Japanese fan-base, let me try and shed a little light.

Bassist IKUO, who can slap and pop so hardcore you practically want to die, is an extremely in-demand figure in Jrock. In summer ’09 he tore a hole of throbbing thick-stringed bass madness on GACKT’s Koakuma Heaven. And that’s just one name– wherever fame has been mixed with Jrock, IKUO has probably been at some point or another. Any guess as to where GACKT picked this guy up? Possibly on a certain [b]ass-kicking (forgive the inexcusable joke) album that rocked the custom-shredded socks of the Jrock kingdom in 2007…

However, the drummer, who incites the greatest rage of curiosity within, is carefully hidden, his face turned at every sneaky shot during TV performances and lives. You see a sharp cheek and some wild long hair, and that’s about it. His name is Hasegawa Kozy, and he has surpassed being “the drummer” and become “the drums”. Hasegawa Kozy has worked with pretty much every influential Japanese pop and rock band ever– and guess who has him now?

The mastermind behind the project, as it were, is really Kishi Toshiyuki, programmer and keyboardist, who splits most of the compositional duties with guitarist Shibasaki. ‘Programmer’ ‘keyboards’ yes– turn tables.

NO, just don’t even say it. Turn-tables in a rock band? Gundam-suited pop princes in a rock band? Yeah, I know. No, no, no, I’m not trying to rope you into some kind of weird sub-trance group…This is rock– no, this has transcended rock. Turn-tables. And rock. These oh-so-questionable turn-tables spin a.b.s into a whole new arena than the other rockers out there– turn-tables allow for incredible mixing both on stage and in the studio. Kishi adds layers of intense effects and remixing to the already heavy hard-rock style double guitars. You can hear the mixing, but Kishi’s taste is impeccable, and by the end of the first song, it’s all you’ll be talking about.

Not only that, but this is pioneer work as far as Jrock is concerned. Few to no bands up until this point have been interested in mixing turn-tables and rap elements with rock. However, since a.b.s has seen a spike in popularity in the past two or three years, many notable Visual Kei and rock bands have been inspired by them. This includes D’espairsRay who, in 2009 released FINAL CALL, which was produced by Kishi; and girugamesh, whose latest album, NOW is all rap and turn-tabled-out.

On top of the unique music, their image is incredible. However, it’s sort of like, what’s with the getup? What’s in a name? The name abingdon boys school comes from the name of the school in Abingdon-On-Thames, England. The story goes that Nishikawa, after some research, chose the initials a.b.s, partly because he likes sports cars and the initials corresponded to automatic-breaking-system, and partly because when spoken with a Japanese accent, the pronunciation (ee bii essu) is very similar to that of the word “Ebisu”, which is the name of the town where the band was founded.

Abingdon School

However, after some further research, they discovered the school, which is renowned for being the birthplace of famous British rock band Radiohead.  Since the four members [of a.b.s] would all be in the same year at school, they agreed that it would be a fun image to all be school boys together once again. Therefore the image is in keeping with this ideal– the members dress in private-school uniforms (with an a.b.s badge, of course), and one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them devoid of some good old tartan.

As mentioned earlier, the band is only 5 years old. Started in 2005, a.b.s runs alongside T.M.Revolution’s solo projects, to which Nishikawa, Shibasaki, SUNAO, and occassionally even IKUO devote time both in composition and touring aspects. So in all that time, what were the boys up to? Good question, really. It wasn’t until 2009 really that a.b.s took on a full-time project quality from the members. From ’05-’08 they had only released one full-length album and 4 singles, however, ’09 saw the release of 4 more singles, their participation in the major V-Rock Festival in Tokyo, and an intl. debut with their hit European tour. January ’10 saw the release of their new album, Abingdon Road, in March a DVD of music clips and documentary footage from the Europe tour, and a nationwide Japan tour.

As well as having done the OP song for the ultra-popular anime series D Gray Man, many of a.b.s’ singles have been used in shows and anime. This has been credited to a personal love of anime and video games by Nishikawa. Nishikawa claims that he’ll never make a song for a series he doesn’t like, but if he likes it, then the game is on. But it doesn’t stop at anime. a.b.s has been invited to work on several memorial albums– Nishikawa belted out stay away for fictional punk rockers THE BLACK STONES on the Love for Nana ~Only 1 Tribute~ album; their cover of Luna Sea’s Sweetest Coma Again was a hit on Luna Sea~ Memorial Album, and their cover of Buck-Tick’s DRESS absolutely stole the BT cover album: Parade~ Respective Tracks of Buck-Tick.

Check out the original:

a.b.s‘ discography may be relatively small, but it is growing as the band is expanding and growing themselves. Each song is a powerful tornado of musical experience that is, quite frankly, unlike anything else in the music scene today. Their utterly unique sound and image set them apart from the mainstream influx of 20-something cutie-boys, and their devotion to amazing music elevate them among the ranks of long-standing classic favorites. Do yourself a favor and pick up their hot-off-the-press album Abingdon Road, released January 27th ’10.

Class dismissed.

Official Website

Official Fan-club (A.B.S.F.C) [Japan only]

Further reading

For a full list of related links, click


SUNAO~ the Demon of a.b.s.

Guitar with warmth

Rush of passionate desire

Knife with a keen edge

Give it the gun

About sums up SUNAO, killer guitarist and composer from Tokyo. Born Sakurai Sunao, on April 28th, 1969, his blood type is B.

You may not recognize his name, or his face, immediately. But let me explain where you may have seen, or rather, heard him before. SUNAO is a session guitarist and support artists for many major Jpop and Jrock groups, working both in tour-support and recordings.

SUNAO has been officially active since 1998, when he did live support for Bluem of Youth, as well as beginning his career as one of T.M‘s revolutionary members with the TMR LIVE REVOLUTION ’98-JOKER TYPE 2- as well as other full-throttle TM projects. In 1999 he worked with a band called S-RAVE, which disbanded in 2003.

For at least ten years SUNAO has worked alongside Shibasaki Hiroshi and Nishikawa Takanori in Nishikawa’s outrageously illustrious pop-prince solo act, T.M. Revolution. Along with some compositional participation, SUNAO has also toured extensively with T.M. Revolution, and played on recordings.

In 2000-’01 SUNAO did live-support and arrangements for DOGGY BAG (Y2K), TMR LIVE REVOLUTION ’00 -SUMMER CRUSH 2000-, and a host of other TMR events.

SUNAO has also worked with artists such as Kinki Kids (recording), Sora Izumikawa (live support), Jade Kwan, Yuki Uchida, IKUO, Ami Suzuki, TRFJAM Project, and others.

In 2005, together with comrades Shibasaki Hiroshi, Nishikawa Takanori, and keyboardist/programmer Kishi Toshiyuki,  SUNAO set out on perhaps his most well-recognized venture, that of assuming his role as one of two phenomenal guitarists for destructive super-group abingdon boys school. Alongside fellow guitarist Shibasaki, the two of them worked as two guitars creating one feeling and melody, and as a result, some of the greatest Jrock on earth has been constructed.

Aside from being a complete powerhouse machine on guitar, SUNAO has an unbelievable stage-presence. In the a.b.s striped blazer, eyes darkly shadowed with makeup, head-banging and shredding beneath glimmering, poisonous-green lights in a crowded venue, SUNAO is like some kind of wild demon. Both elegant and refined, and yet completely unhinged at the same time, his wild, fierce energy is a great complement to not just abingdon boys school’s lineup, but to every group and artist honored by his collaboration.

Through middle-school and high-school SUNAO was involved in sports (volleyball and baseball, respectively).  Although you probably can’t imagine it now, he was actually made baseball captain in high-school. His charisma and leadership qualities were recognized when teachers recommended him as student-body president (a big deal in Japanese schools).

Aside from music, SUNAO has also done several radio slots on ゴチャ・まぜっ! a program through MBS Radio. Apparently he was quite the humorist, and told a lot of jokes and funny stories. Among these, he related that he worked for a year as a pizza home-delivery boy, and during this time, he had many encounters with ecchi (dirty)-manga like situations, such as women in their underwear, and so on. And yet he is now the guitarist for some of the greatest rock acts in Japan. See, there is still hope for the rest of us.

Because he is tall and has long hair, with an aura similar to GLAY’s Takuro, many of Takuro’s fans have mistaken the two of them. Which leads me to demand to know how there could be that many opportunities to make that mistake?! Is SUNAO just wandering around down-town Tokyo?! I suppose the chances aren’t that bad. After all, AnCafe‘s Miku did state that the chances of meeting him in Harajuku are actually quite high– there’s a spaghetti place he really likes there. So never lose hope, never give up, and head-bang to SUNAO’s mind-blowing riffs until you get a nosebleed.

++Associated Acts++

abingdon boys school (Jp.-sound)

T.M. Revolution (Jp., Eng. – sound)

++Sources++

SUNAO Official Website (JP)

abingdon boys school official MySpace