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Tom Smith on Bleach’s primate-loving girl group, Chatmonchy

Chatmonchy

“Please don’t go anywhere” Eriko Hashimoto begs from behind her guitar. The fragile plea has unwitting followers. Her message rings out in the twelfth ending theme to Bleach, but loyal fans have already pre-empted her cries. After all, it’s in its seventh series on DVD in the UK and those who have followed Ichigo’s exploits this far show no signs of going anywhere. The red-headed hero still has Orihime Inoue to rescue and a heap of other tasks to complete – not to mention another 200 episodes worth of antics to accomplish before he’s up to speed with his Japanese adventures. In other words, there’s plenty more action left to prevent people from wandering away from the series – but thanks for your polite request anyway, Eriko.

Hashimoto-san is one half of Japan’s all-rocking grrrl duo Chatmonchy, who are amongst the country’s most loved female groups. They’ve enjoyed phenomenal chart success since going major in 2005, with all four of their albums rocketing up the top ten, tours that include dates at the mighty Nippon Budokan, as well as the opportunity to break out of Japan last year by perform at America’s South by Southwest festival.

MonchichiLike many of life’s best bands, their name has absolutely no meaning. In an interview with the Japan Times, Eriko revealed that their barmy moniker wasn’t even dreamed up by the band’s current line-up. Back in the second year of Japan’s high school system, she formed the first draft of the group with two classmates, one of whom insisted the unit’s named captured the imagery of a playful chimp, much like Monchichi, a famous Japanese monkey doll which also had his own American and Japanese cartoon shows.

They cut his name down to ‘monchy’ in the Roman alphabet), and decided one more word was needed to complete their title. And so, following the tactics employed by countless musicians before them, they randomly flicked through a dictionary until they found a word they liked. And Chatmonchy was born. Kind of.

After graduating, the girls went separate ways and Chatmonchy became non-existent until Eriko enrolled in the Light Music Club of her college. Thankfully for her, the members she found there were nothing Yui of K-On! and didn’t require cake in order to focus. Soon the band completed their line-up with the aid of bassline-basher Akiko ‘Acco’ Fukuoka and drum-beater Kumiko Takahashi. And that’s how it remained since the band went major in 2005, a three-piece.

After a successful career, where the band was able to accomplish more than they had ever imagined, Kumiko was left feeling unable to contribute anything new to the band. On September, this year, she left and Chatmonchy become a twosome. But not without playing one of the biggest shows in their career; the girls shared a stage with some of Japan’s best at TV Asahi’s aptly named Dream Festival – featuring music heavy weights such as L’Arc en Ciel, Tokyo Jihen, GLAY, Pornograffiti, Perfume and many more.

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So what’s all this got to do with the song in Bleach? Well, the track quoted at the start, entitled ‘Daidai’ (meaning ‘Orange’ – the fruit, not the colour of Ichigo’s hair) is a result of all of the above. Although recorded with all three members of Chatmonchy’s most recent line-up, the song was originally written by Eriko during high school. She named it ‘Daidai’ because it reminded her of climbing up trees (and it really wasn’t her who pushed for the monkey named band?), plus she liked the kanji – it was easy to write. The song’s lyrics are even the same as they were back then, which, she says, is the reason for the poor grammar in the English parts. All in all, if there was ever a song that captured the timeless spirit of Chatmonchy, from their roots to mainstream success, this is it.

Bleach: The Complete Series 7 box set, featuring Chatmonchy’s ‘Daidai’ single, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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