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.

Nyappy No More?

I find it pretty depressing, the fact that I can skim through my RSS menu and see a steady stream of “I’m sorry, I promise I still exist…I’m just locked in a closet siphoning off the leakage of my brain, which has been thoroughly nuked by the 9-5 and can no longer process basic functional commands such as eat/sleep/speak, let alone blog.”

As far as I’m concerned, blogging is a basic function. But as I have successfully sacrificed the precious luxury of more than 5 hours of sleep each night, I figure the lack of blog action is, thus, if not excused then at least explained. To my credit, October was an insane month. My personal life waged war on me like a bloody Spartan, and this week I am crawling out of the battlefield, nothing less than ravaged.

I admit there’s a certain sense of awkwardness in getting back into the flow of Visualism after being absent for a while. However, I’m interested by a lot of stuff I’ve seen show up on radar of late, which should inspire the onset of more frequent posting? Who can say.

Visual Kei is an industry – and like all industries, major shifts tend to occur at seasonal turn-overs. Each seasonal annex typically sees a new wave of trends, styles, and a great deluge of releases and tour announcements. Band looks change. Their sound alters, album covers begin to reflect the shimmery tinsel of winter, and so on and so forth.
After this arctic waste’s first snow flurry this week, it has hit home that, inevitably, the last tatters of autumn are fading into winter. We have reached another shift (so fast?), and with the snow, it would seem, already a new wave of noteworthy events and releases are surfacing in Visual Kei.

But before we get too carried away, I think I’ll take this opportunity to backtrack slightly to late September. I have been asked numerous times lately for my thoughts on a certain, somewhat controversial, turn of tides, and we should probably just get this on the table.

Lc5, the new artistic venture of Oshare-Kei AnCafe‘s vocalist miku (front center), is something of a touchy subject due to the fact that its advent followed closely on the heels of the much-respected AnCafe announcing their indefinite hiatus.

Not only that, but it’s not just miku starting a new un-needed oshare kei band following basically the same chord progressions with half the same members and a different name. I would put money on there being some fangirls who are having kittens right now because their favorite ryuusei rocket is actually branching out.

Now, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I wouldn’t touch the oshare scene with a twenty-foot pole. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, I just totally can’t jive with it. Although I’m familiar with most of AnCafe‘s work (know your enemies), I have to say that it’s been years since I rejected yet another teary-eyed fangirl trying to cry on my shoulder over Bou leaving the band, or cared enough to do any follow-through on the remaining members’ activities. However, when it comes to well-known bands up and going on hiatus and their angsty frontmen starting up rebellious, aloof classical-Visual Kei groups on the side, I guess even I’m enough of a drama whore to get wise to that scene.

You all can get wise to it, too, by checking out Lc5‘s debut PV for their single Loveless.

For one, Lc5 answers the ever-irritating question as to whether or not they actually sing like they have a head-cold naturally, or whether it’s affected. I did always  find it hard to believe that 1 out of 3 Japanese men perpetually sing through a stuffy nose; it just seems like it would make scheduling a major bother. miku seems to have recovered from his cold, as he has shed some of the nasal overtones he used to excess in AnCafe, and his vocals, while somewhat less striking, are, in my personal opinion, so much better off for it. The vocals are, I think, slightly underplayed and a little too lightly produced to really catch my attention. The vocal melody in Loveless is pretty good, though, which makes up (somewhat) for this slight discrepancy. Under-produced vocals are a serious pet-peeve of mine, and honestly I assumed miku would be egotistical enough to play it up a bit. All whining aside, miku does have a pretty unique voice, and it’s one of the virtues Lc5 should be working.

Single cover

It’s a relief to see that miku has actually shifted to the dark side of Visual Kei, moving away from his gaudy oshare roots and imbibing in some class. His look has matured, he dyed his hair, borrowed a wardrobe from GACKT, the works. Initially I had some concerns that he would deliver yet another unnecessarily peppy pop troupe and blow us all away with a profound leap into reiteration of mediocrity.

Although the title is less than innovative, and the song isn’t exactly the next best thing since Death Point, Loveless is definitely worth listening to, and I would absolutely recommend the single to AnCafe fans and haters others alike. All in all, although it is not epilepsy-inducing in its amazingness, my expectations for Lc5 were definitely surpassed. I look forward to seeing how miku takes his solo career forward, and I think that the group has potential to bring a breath of fresh air into the realm of uppity new rockers. miku has been successful in the Visual Kei/Oshare industry for a few years now, so hopefully he’s bored enough with what he’s been doing to actually put some creativity into his work. I will be anticipating future releases…maybe an album? Nah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Come to the dark side....we have miku.

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?


It’s Morphin’ Time

Yes, I know everyone who follows me on Twitter thinks that I’ve been being mischievous all day. After posting that faux KAT-TUN banner I just know we’re going to have trust issues. The purpose of this post is to inform you all, if you’re reading this, that all of my Tweets from this afternoon were entirely genuine. This is my new favorite song…

Ah ah ah, wait, wait, not yet….

A little backstory: I was killing time when I had no time to kill, watching a bunch of completely random VK videos that I found on this website through this PV bot that I follow on Twitter. (First of all, I was appalled at my own snobbishness. I think the sheer weight of my sighs stopped half the videos 53 seconds in…). This is how I used to discover most of the music I listen to, after all, so it’s not the uncommon to find me immersed in the endless oceans of Visual Kei PVs. In fact, sometimes I end up doing it without even thinking about it. Usually when I have something important to do, like composing important emails or writing business plans, or reorganizing my Netflix queue, I just sort of “come-to” on Youtube, clicking through suggested videos and playlists of the low-budget PVs of the lesser minions of avex’s ‘happy family’- well, if avex’s family is happy, then these guys must be the black sheep. The importance of how exactly I ended up there is always determined by the quality of the videos I discovered. On a scale of 1-5 (1 being the lowest) the quality of the discoveries made in the forty minutes I spent between writing non-diatonic chord progressions in the key of G and making dinner would have to be….wait for it. 5.

First of all, I thought it was from the ’80s. I had no idea PVs made in the ’90s were such poor quality… I mean, this is really…So yeah, anyway. The actual quality of the PV aside, it’s the content that we care about anyway. And I would watch this ten times in a row even if they took it back in time and remade it in 1948.

The artist is Chisato [千聖], the guitarist for ’90s VK band Penicillin. I’m not much of a Penicillin fan, and that’s my excuse for how I’ve been in the dark for so long. Initially, I heard Wake Up!, which was ok, but then scrolled down a little bit, and, like a young beggar on a cold night in the middle of the desert clinking two pieces of a jeweled scarab together, I parted the sands and there it was- the diamond in the rough. Chisato’s Cyber Rose.

Electronica that should only have existed in the 1980’s. Latin influences. The type of soaring melodies that laid the foundation for anime theme songs as a whole– the kind of melodies that, if we were Power Rangers, we would Mighty Morph and fight badly to-, and one of those voices that we stopped hearing after GACKT made the tenor go out of style in the year 2000.

The steady beat of the song could potentially be annoying after two minutes, but the chorus is killer, and I was totally digging the random (intentional?) Fur Elise clip that just sort of happens. The construction of the song is awesome, the licks are totally catchy, and the whole thing is just exuding raw character. The acoustic salsa-esque guitar solo steals the whole show…well, it might, were it not for the fact that Chisato is wearing a cowboy hat, which is so ’90s Jrock, isn’t it?

Cybernetic Axeman. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thanks to Dreamsprite.

Zen Visual Kei

I apologize for not being very active lately. Truth be told, I haven’t really been feeling inspired by anything enough that I would want to write about it/review it. Most of what I’ve been listening to this past month has been pretty much the same old stuff. To put it in internet layman’s terms: meh.

So, recently, instead of listening to tons of music, I climbed into the mountains to hear the sound of the birds, and live off the land, miles and miles from the nearest tub of Gatsby Moving Rubber, without a perm in sight…And while I was in retreat…I wish I could say something like “I became enlightened”, but unfortunately my realization was somewhat lesser. I realized that I’ve been kind of snobbish, mostly because I’ve become paranoid in recent days about the creativity involved in the recent Visual Kei (and Jrock at large) releases. Some of them have felt more than a little mainstream, and of late, I’ve been waking up from gloomy nightmares, the word Commercialism…commercialism…commercialism… echoing around the room.

However, thankfully before my threats of KAT-TUN rebellion actually resulted in the buying of best-of albums and switching my banner out for one of Kamenashi Kazuya with his hair knotted up in a pink hair-tie, I started thinking more about where things stand, not in regards to the music industry and commercialistic totalitarianism,  but in regards to being a Visualist, and the listening to music aspect of our fandom. (I made the new banner just in case though!)

Just being annoying...

I like the Japanese word “Hajime” 「始め」 which means “beginning”. What I like about it is the kanji because it’s an extremely common and simple character, 始, but it has multiple parts, which, in my eyes, kind of represents the causes and conditions that need to be in place for anything to “begin”. In Japanese, the phrase meaning “Nice to meet you/How do you do” is “Hajimemashite” 「始めまして」 which means, literally, “it has begun”. I like this sentiment because, unlike “Nice to meet you”, it has a feeling of continuity and progressiveness.

In the same way that a personal relationship has a “it has begun” moment, which then develops and progresses into a “now we’re bros” plateau of mutual acknowledgement, media and music has the same patterning (in fact, most things do). In this case, you’re hearing a song for the first time– that’s the “hajimemashite”. Then, if you liked that song enough to look into it further, you will continue to explore that artist’s works (music, movies, media), to the point that maybe you will even travel to foreign countries to see them perform live (is the personal-relationship equivalent engagement? just kidding).

A while ago I read a book called Zen Guitar, which, you guessed it, applied the concepts of zen to playing guitar. The format of the “method” in this book was that the “student” was supposed to think of playing the guitar in the same way you would practice a martial art. The first thing the author tackled was the “black belt” issue. People wanted to know what it took to become a “black belt”. Sparing you the sentiments about how “one will forever be a student” and all that (he doesn’t spare you, but I will), I did like his comment on the topic. He said (paraphrased, as I can’t remember it verbatim) that “in the way of Zen Guitar there is only one belt: the white belt. The student must always return to white belt, every time. The only way that you can attain a “black belt” is by practicing to such an extent that your white belt becomes soiled, and steadily, blackens from use.”

Now, taking all of this philosophy into consideration and then looking at the actual experience of this developing relationship with the experience of listening to certain music, there is no definite point of fulfillment, is there? And yet we rush (it’s a side-effect of visualist dementia– don’t worry, we all have it) forward as if there’s some sort of finish line, or black belt. Essentially, there isn’t one.  At least I don’t think there is– not for me, anyway. And yet it’s interesting to see how, even with something as circular in nature as the appreciation of music, impatience develops. We obsess over when new material will be released– forgetting that there are still songs on old albums that we haven’t even listened to properly.

Essentially, it’s hard to avoid becoming jaded to something. At first and for a while it’s exciting, but if you do something enough, live it and breathe it enough, it becomes a habit – something done without thinking. Even if new material comes out, are we really as excited about it as we were right when we first started listening to The GazettE? I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, or state that this is just how it is. But for me, at least, Visual Kei and Jrock isn’t just a “phase” or something that I will lose interest in after a while. I would never “break up with it” as it were, just because I’ve hit a flat area. These are the points in ones relationship– with anyone and anything– where it actually starts to take awareness and conscious action to keep something alive, strong, and healthy. When you stop appreciating something properly, the jadedness creeps in, lethargy soon follows, and then who knows what’s next– gangrene, maybe. Or even worse, you find yourself actually checking out DBSK albums on eBay (don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying I’ve done that. Not yet, anyway.).

What I’m going to do about it, to both help refresh my appreciation of Visual Kei, and bring some new material to SG, is go back through all of my albums/singles/DVDs/whatever, many of which are dated from several years ago and haven’t been reviewed (I won’t do repeats) yet. I will do my best to listen to them with a “white belt” ear, and review them. It will definitely help me get back in touch with the older stuff, hopefully it will help newcomers to VK check out some classics, and maybe it will send some of you vets back to your dusty collections. Who knows, right?

Nightmare Spills the Beans with Tell[All]Ism

Nightmare, or Naitomea as they are commonly referred to, will be setting out to blab all (musically, of course) on a decent Summer tour around– no, you guessed wrong. Not your country of origin.

NIGHTMARE 10th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL ACT VOL.2 re:START of TELL[ALL]ISM

7/10 (Sat) Misato City Cultural  Meeting Hall (Big Hall)
OPEN/START 16:30/17:00
info. Disk Garage 03-5436-9600

7/15 (Thur) Hiroshima Aster Plaza (Big Hall)
OPEN/START 18:00/18:30
info. Candy Promotions: 082-249-8334

7/17 (Sat) Fukuoka City Meeting Hall (Big Hall)
OPEN/START 16:30/17:00
info. Kyoudou Western Japan: 092-714-0159

7/19 (Mon) Osaka International Assembly (Main Hall)
OPEN/START 16:30/17:30
info. Kyoudou Information: 06-7732-8888

7/23 (Fri) Niigata Citizen’s Fine Arts Cultural Assembly Hall Theater
OPEN/START 18:00/18:30
info. Kyoudou Western Area Ticket Center: 025-245-5100

8/04 (Wed) Aichi Prefect. Fine Arts Theater (Big Hall)
OPEN/START 17:30/18:30
info. Sunday Folk Promotion: 052-320-9100

8/13 (Fri) Sapporo City Education and Cultural Meeting Hall (Big Hall)
OPEN/START 18:00/18:30
info. WESS 011-614-9999

8/15 (Sun)Tokyo Electron Hall Imperial Palace
OPEN/START 16:30/17:00
info. Kyoudou North-East: 022-217-7788

【Tickets】
All tickets appointed ¥5,500(tax in)
※Everone older than 3 years old must have a ticket. Everyone younger than 3 years old has to stay home.
General sales begin: 5/22 (Sat)

Image: gangrenka.pinger.pl

girugamesh summer single update

Not to say they didn't have issues in '08 *coughHOODIEScough*

Crabby emo wannabe-techno-rappers band girugamesh are due for a summer single, which will hit international postal services on July 7th. Out of all the singles that I’m anticipating this summer, girugamesh‘s is probably the one I’m looking forward to the most. As I mentioned earlier, after their latest full-length album NOW was rejected as readily as it was celebrated. Do to the iffy-ness of the album, I, at least, am putting a lot of pressure (psychologically, of course. After the perm incident I have a lot of faith in my abilities to use mental waves to influence the decisions of Jrockers, for better or for worse…) on  giru to release a real smasher.

girugamesh // “Title TBA” July 7 ’10

UNTITLED [w/ DVD, Limited Edition / Jacket A] / girugamesh

So the information is finally out: The limited CD+DVD version will feature 2 songs, and the DVD will show live footage from their January 31st live at Shinkiba STUDIO COAST. It will also come with a 60 minute tour documentation of their “This is “NOW” 2010 tour!” JPY 2,625.

The regular edition of the single will feature 3 songs, for JPY 1,260. You have to trade a song for all the generous DVD stuff. That didn’t win points with me. (Just kidding).

Something else that I’m really looking forward to with this single is a, I hope, style revamp for the guys. While I have no qualms with their choice of look from the neck down, it’s everything north of that that pushes just about every button available. I finally came to terms with Satoshi’s unholy perm after months of obsessing over it, and it’s true, I got down on my knees and thanked the higher powers when Ryo took out his cornrows…But then something happened to the two other members, Shuu and Nii. Shuu was obviously held at gunpoint and forced to don that horrible invention that should have been left in a certain Disney movie– that is, the harem pant. The second strange thing that occurred was that Nii was apparently overcome with a fit of horrific dementia which resulted in him attacking some miserable roadside tramp and stealing their dilapidated bucket-hat. As punishment for this rash behavior, the unfortunate guitarist was forced by his agency to wear the thing in public. We, as his fans, suffered with him.

Oh. And they put one more freaking toe-head kid on their album cover, and I will refuse to buy it.

Pressure’s on, guys.