Bleach music: Kenichi Asai

Tom Smith on ‘Mad Surfer’ Kenichi Asai

Kenichi Asai

“Try ‘n boogie, guns n’ tattoo” – there’s no greater embodiment of Kenichi Asai’s work than that opening line. As the words are dragged across the bluesy, rock n’ roll riff of Mad Surfer – the Japanese rebel’s song used as the 20th closing of Bleach – it’s difficult not to imagine smoke filled bars, motorcycles or leather jacketed misfits sporting hairdos your mother wouldn’t approve of.

Kenichi Asai is all of the above. He is rock and roll personified, and regarded amongst Japan’s most iconic rock stars and youth culture idols. Asai found his way into rock music like a true juvenile delinquent; by trashing his motorcycle and taking the next few months off of school to fix his broken bones. Immobile and bored out of his skull, he took to art as a way to express his imagination; first with paintings, and later through music after teaching himself guitar.

Skip forwards a few years and Kenichi is working shifts in construction while partying like an animal at the weekend in downtown Nagoya. During his usual rampage through the clubs and bars he notices an equally cool cat going by the name of Toshiyuki Terui, who keeps showing up at the same joints. Soon they would pair up, find a dummer named Tatsuya Nakamura, and form a band that would define the very essence of 90s alternative youth culture in Japan; Blankey Jet City. But first they have to get noticed.

Long before X Factor, Japan had Ikaten, a variety show where a panel of judges would tell hopeful contestants why they shouldn’t quit their day jobs. It might not be very rock, or all that roll, by today’s standards but the trio auditioned anyway, and smashed it – just check out how ecstatic they were with the judges’ verdict.

The appearance had several major labels chasing them for a record deal, though it was Toshiba EMI who won after offering them studio time in London – a mecca for Japanese rock fans, and a place where guitar legend Tomoyasu Hotei would later become a local of (who coincidentally invited Tatsuya Nakamura to come and play drums for him at his high profile show in London last year).

Skip forwards some more and Kenichi Asai’s managed to knock out more than 50 albums between his work with Blankey Jet City and several other bands following Blankey’s break up in 2000, including six under his own name as a solo artist. Bleach’s Mad Surfer can be found on his album fourth album Sphinx Rose.

Bizarrely the only release available from Kenichi in the UK is a maxi single entitled Devil (found here on iTunes). It’s bizarre because it seems to be deleted from his discography according to his record label, and there’s no mention of it on his Japanese Wikipedia entry, despite it being released two years before his supposed ‘first solo single’ Kiken Sugiru. Perhaps it’s a special gift just for England? After all, when Blankey Jet City played in London in the 90s, their poster sneakily had ‘No Japanese allowed’ plastered across it in their mother language – maybe this single’s the same…

Bleach Series 12 Zanpakuto: The Alternate, featuring Kenichi Asai’s ‘Mad Surfer’ as its closing, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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