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Tom Smith on the late, great Eri Kawai, lyricist on Bamboo Blade.

Responsible for some of the most memorable jingles and themes to hit Japanese television, Eri Kawai recorded and wrote everything from catchy commercials, to the opening songs of countless films, dramas and anime, including music featured in the comedy classic Crayon Shin-chan, the live action version of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and her most popular track according to last.fm, ‘Almateria’, the beautiful opening from the Tales of Symphonia anime.

Bamboo Blade was amongst her final projects before she lost her struggle against cancer on the 4th of August, 2008. And while her haunting vocals are absent from the series, her spunky, charming lyrics live on in the title’s opening and closing themes, ‘Bamboo Beat’ and ‘Star Rise’.

Both of the themes are composed by Koma2 Kaz – the creative force behind a string of J-pop hits, including many arrangements for the Japanese man-boy trio w-inds. – and feature the vocal delights of Bamboo Blade’s Japanese cast as they sing Eri’s lyrics, which capture the essence of the series and the traditional kendo mindset.

These same lyrics caught the attention of Japan’s online anime communities, but not for their lyrical links to the traditional way of the sword. The closing song begins with the English line ‘I’m calling past star rise’, which sounds suspiciously similar to ‘anko iru pasuta raisu’ in Japanese, meaning ‘red bean paste with pasta rice’ when translated back into English. This culinary take on the lyrics has since appeared on forums across Japan and appears to be the preferred take on the lyrics if Japan’s video sharing sites are anything to go by.

If you’re still not entirely convinced that Eri Kawai is a big deal in the anime world, then it’s clear you haven’t picked up either of her Animage albums. Both CDs are packed with her cover versions of anime’s most popular series – everything from Evangelion to Cardcaptor Sakura, Laputa and many, many more. And that’s without including her original work in the Aria franchise, Utawarerumono, Air: The Movie, D.Gray-man, Romeo x Juliet… and the list goes on.

Sadly she did not get to see the release of her final album, Kaze no Michi e (To the Way of the Wind). Five new songs had been recorded for her new album prior to her premature death, including ‘Toki no Kisha’, written by famed video game and anime composer Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist, Ico, Zelda: Twilight Princess). But, instead of opting for a five-track mini-album, her record label decided to create a fitting farewell full-length album by combining those songs with tracks from her early 1997 EP Ao ni Sasageru, and throwing in two bonus tracks for good measure. The album is available outside of Japan via HearJapan and, as a final tribute to the star whose voice graced so many fantastic anime, all proceeds of the record go to Eri’s family.

In the words of the fallen star, banbuu biito wo narashite – let the bamboo beat ring out.

Bamboo Blade is available now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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