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Tom Smith on the rising Dead Monster girl, LiSA

Salarymen to the left of me, shoppers to the right. And here I am, stuck in the middle with otaku. Well, more accurately I’m frolicking with them, in Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall, a concrete amphitheatre that’s dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo’s business district to the west, and high-end retail haven Ginza to the east. Between the two is the venue, hidden in the peaceful Hibiya Park. Peaceful, that is, until 3,000 anime fans descend en masse, clutching chunky glow batons, wearing identical shirts and all waiting for the latest lady-singer that tickles the tastes of otaku to hit the stage; LiSA.

Born Risa Oribe, this 24-year old singer is probably best known to anime fans as Yui, one of the two vocalists from Girls Dead Monster, the fictional girl group of Angel Beats!.  The animated band has had very real success too. All three of their singles ranked top five or higher in Japan’s Oricon single chart, and their first and only album Keep The Beats! was awarded gold by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.

A band linked to a 13-episode anime will naturally have a limited life span, and once Girls Dead Monster had gone as far as it could, Oribe-san started work on her next musical project. Recruiting help from some of the indie band members she used to hangout with before her anime fame, she formed LiSA, an acronym for Love is Same All – not to be confused with the completely uppercase J-pop singer LISA. LiSA’s recently released full-length album LOVER“S”MiLE, debut EP Letters to U and her maxi single Oath Sign, are now available digitally from Amazon and iTunes stores across 20 countries, including the UK.

Staying faithful to her fans, ‘Oath Sign’ continued in the anime vein by featuring as the opening to the series Fate/Zero, the prequel to MVM’s Fate Stay Night. And her debut EP also had stars working on it from Japan’s doujin, popular with the crowds of Comiket – a festival celebrating all things fan-made and self-published. Her latest appearance on the radar of UK fans is singing “Crossing Field”, the first opening theme to Sword Art Online.

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What all this means is that her fans are a very different type than those of typical pop stars, idol singers and the like. They’re the type of devoted fans Akihabara is famous for, and LiSA’s record label knows it! After all, they gave shops in the area exclusive LiSA posters to give away with every CD sale.

These fans are out in force today, away from their natural habitat and sizzling under the sun. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve experienced all sorts of live shows in Japan, from super arenas to hidden underground live houses and everything in-between – but I’ve yet to see fans as devoted as these. There’s tears, there’s cheers, there’s the waving of glow sticks in perfect unison like some kind of tribal dance. And they’re doing it from start to finish – everyone. Even at the end of the show fans refuse to go home and begin singing LiSA songs in full, a cappella style – and I’m not talking about the bits before the encore. Or even right after the encore. The crew are out dismantling the stage and still the fans refuse to go home. It’s all rather endearing.

Will fans outside of Japan appreciate her music in quite the same way? Only time will tell, but with her releases now out worldwide, and a show in the pipeline for America this summer, the time to find out may not be that far away.

Sword Art Online, featuring the opening theme “Crossing Field” by LiSa, is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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