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Tom Smith on the newest numero-enchanted musicians

Naruto has had more than its fair share of bizarrely named bands through the years. From the Shippuden saga alone there have been theme songs from the likes of nobodyknows+ (because everything’s better with a + at the end?),  NICO Touches the Walls (heaven forbid if NICO touched anything else), and SUPER BEAVER (the less said about that one the better). Episode 209 onwards introduces another, this one going by the moniker of 7!! – yes, with two exclamation marks.

Unlike those before them, 7!!’s name can be explained without too much hassle, or a PhD in Japanese. It might not look like it on first glance, but 7!! is actually a way of expressing the vocalist’s name without relying on any kind of alphabet or kana system. She goes by the name of Nanae, and in Japanese seven can be pronounced as ‘nana’, and when the Japanese are surprised, as if a giant imaginary exclamation mark just flashed above their heads, they have a tendency to exclaim ‘e!’ (switch any anime to the Japanese language track and you’ll likely hear it, a lot). So essentially, 7!! is just an unconventional way to express ‘Nanae’.

That explanation is far too simple by the standards we’ve met so far, so, to throw the proverbial spanner in the works, the band decided that 7!! won’t be pronounced ‘Nanae’. Instead, they decided to go for something with an Anglicised feel, and after much discussion settled on what they felt was the closest English translation of ‘nana’ and ‘e!’… the result? The official band name pronunciation becoming ‘seven oops’.

It may sound odd to English ears, but 7!!’s choice of pronunciation makes sense (well, a tiny bit of sense) when put into the context of where the band grew up; Okinawa. It’s an area that’s closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan, and one that’s had a heavy US military presence since the Second World War. These factors, among plenty of others, have had an affect on the cultural evolution of the islands, and one of the most evident examples can be found in local popular music scene.

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If you take previous songs from Okinawan bands from Manga UK releases, such as Orange Range’s ‘Viva Rock’ (Naruto, 3rd ending) or HIGH and MIGHTY COLORS’ ‘Ichirin no Hana’ (Bleach 3rd opening) you might notice a similar pattern in the construction of sound. The vocal patterns are distinctly Japanese, formed similar to just about every other pop song in the Oricon chart. The instruments, however, tell a very different story. They’re rougher in sound, more distorted and muddy than those often favoured by mainland musicians. I’d argue it’s a more western sound, possibly influenced from the American radio stations broadcasting there, as well as the club nights and bars playing music to accommodate western punters.

7!! are among the more J-pop side of Okinawan bands. Their track ‘Lovers’, taken from Naruto Shippuden box set 17 has all the hallmarks of typical Japanese pop. But listen closer and you may notice some western hints. Perhaps the overly energetic drums and chugging palm-muted guitar, a signature of modern punk, blended here with what is essentially a sweet, happy pop song.

Combine the above points with the title of their very first single, ‘Foreign Love’, and you’ll see why this particularly writer thinks that 7!! are desperate for love from non-Japanese listeners, from the band name right down to their songs and music. Conveniently, their music has been made available, so hopefully they will get some foreign love via iTunes after all, Click here for their iTunes artist page.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 17, featuring 7!!’s ‘Lovers’ as its opening, is out on 7 April on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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