Tom Smith on the turn of fate that saved KOKIA.
Karma – it’s a funny old thing. One dastardly deed and somewhere down the line the repercussions will bite you on the backside. Likewise, karma can also bring great rewards. The concept is one with which Japanese songstress KOKIA is all too familiar – not least because it’s the title of her single from the opening of Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom.
It also defines her career as a musician. She had been involved in music from the tender age of two-and-a-bit, when her instruments of choice were the violin and piano. Later in life she had stints at music school in America and Japan before being snapped up by a major label while still at university. She provided the theme to a PlayStation game, and her first few singles had been penned by the same team behind one of the biggest hits from the previous year. If that wasn’t enough, the singles had also found their way into dramas and anime. Yet, even with such a large amount of backing, exposure and her own extensive musical background, her releases barely made the top 100 of the Oricon chart.
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Yet, karma wasn’t going to let all the hard work go unwarranted. As if by divine intervention her fourth single ‘Arigatou…’ made her a star. Though, not immediately. And not in Japan. In fact, KOKIA’s debut album failed to chart in her home country at all. Fortunately for her, its release in the rest of Asia was an entirely different story and can be credited to Hong Kong’s super star diva Sammi Cheng. She released a cover of ‘Arigatou…’ the same week that KOKIA made her Asian debut, catapulting the Japanese singer to the stardom she was unable to achieve back home. KOKIA’s original version was eventually awarded third best song in Hong Kong’s Best International Song Awards. Suddenly, her career was back on track.
And thank goodness. Without Sammi Cheng’s success, a second major KOKIA album would have been highly unlikely. And without a second album, her continued career in the world of the anime-song would have probably died as well. The opening to Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino would not exist as we know it, the ethereal and haunting vocals that set off the beginning of Origin: Spirits of the Past would simply not be, and a whole line of yet-to-be- anime would have very different theme songs.
Her relative success outside of Japan, particularly Europe, has come from the exposure anime has given her voice. In 2010 she conducted her first world tour (and by ‘world’, she clearly meant Europe and Japan) which included dates in London and Ireland, the country which inspired the creation of her seventh studio album Fairy Dance – it also includes three covers of traditional Celtic songs. The album, along with seven others are available digitally from the iTunes UK store courtesy of Wasabi Records, yet both singles taken from Phantom (‘Karma’, as well as closing theme ‘Transparent’) remain unreleased in this region.
KOKIA’s ‘Karma’ and ‘Transparent’ feature in Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom. Part 2 of the series is out on 12th March on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.