Tom Smith on one of Naruto’s most recognised bands
If you haven’t missed an episode of Naruto, then you’ll most definitely ‘GO!!!’ and ‘Re:member’ FLOW, the band behind the catchy and high-energy fourth and eighth opening themes. Well, now everyone’s got a little older, wiser and stronger as the story progresses through the Shippuden saga, the quintet have decided to return! Their 18th single ‘Sign’ is the sixth opening of the series, featuring in the episodes of box set 11 from Manga Entertainment, and it’s every bit as fun and bouncy as their prior Naruto-based efforts – hoorah!
FLOW’s success through Naruto, as well as from other anime such a Code Geass and Eureka Seven, lead to the eclectic rock band getting noticed across the world. In 2006 they were invited to perform at Anime Fest in Dallas, though, chiefly for Code Geass promotion than that of Naruto, which had only recently began airing in English on Toonami there. By the time the episodes with ‘GO!!!’ and ‘Re:member’ had hit America and the UK, FLOW already had a new album out with entirely new songs, and another ready to drop imminently. Keen to tap in on the group’s ever-expanding following overseas, their label in Japan, Ki/oon Records, decided to release their upcoming album, entitled MICROCASM simultaneously in 44 countries via iTunes (click here for the UK store’s listing).
MICROCASM not only includes ‘Sign’, from Naruto Shippuden, but also ‘CALLING’, the ending theme from HEROMAN, a series created by Marvel’s Stan Lee and produced by studio Bones, as well as 13 other tracks. It was also awarded Best J-Music Album at Japan Expo in Paris in 2011, and lead to the group being invited to the event the following year for their first European performance. Before that they had also returned to the States another three times to promote their music, the album and the anime they had been featured in.
As of the time of writing, Ki/oon decided against releasing FLOW’s follow up album BLACK&WHITE the same way. Released on February 2012, the album managed to peak at number 29 in the Oricon chart – 20 places lower than MICROCASM. Coincidentally, the record didn’t feature a single track from Naruto. Could that be the reason it wasn’t as successful? Were FLOW spending too much time concentrating on the global music market that it made their domestic sales suffer? Or has music consumption methods simply shifted in those two years, leading fans to purchase their music digitally now, as opposed to physically, which is where the data for the Oricon chart is gathered? Who knows for sure, but if you want to show the labels that the world outside of Japan has a place for Japanese music, the best way to do it is by supporting what little is released internationally, and in this case that would be MICROCASM, which is no bad thing, it’s a great album!
In two featured episodes, Tales of a Gutsy Ninja: Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls, go back in time to witness how the young Jiraiya meets his destiny at Mount Myoboku and trains to become the Toad Sage! Back in the present, Jiraiya successfully infiltrates the Hidden Rain Village and finds the hideout of the Akatsuki's Pain. But will he be as successful in discovering the secret behind the multiple Pains? Meanwhile, Sasuke heads for the Uchiha hideout, where his brother, Itachi, awaits. The amazing visual prowess of the Uchiha come into full play as the fateful battle begins!
Tom Smith on Aqua Timez, the band from the Bleach 6.2 soundtrack.
Many of the artists who perform the many themes of Bleach can attribute their entry to mainstream success to the famous anime series. And if not to Bleach, then to anime in general. That was until the five-strong pop squad Aqua Timez entered the scene.
Tom Smith reports on YUI, the all-caps rock chick.
It’s been suggested that Japan’s singer, song-writing guitar chick YUI is her country’s answer to Avril Lavigne. Amid an industry manufactured and micro-managed to levels that make England’s best pop efforts seem amateur in comparison, she stands out as beacon of musical delight. For teenage girls, she’s proof that you don’t need to buy into the squeaky clean, plastic smiles of sickeningly sweet J-pop to be a successful female musician; for guys she’s the girl next door, and for anime fans she’s composed and performed themes in some of the most prominent series of recent years, including Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Tom Smith on the band behind Bleach’s 14th Opening Theme
"The song is based on the singer’s own experiences of forming a band and the hardships endured while keeping the faith for a brighter future, with lyrics just vague enough that they could easily represent the struggles of Ichigo and pals, too."
It’s gratifying to see a generation of people so interested in hygiene – that must be why you’re lining up to buy a series called ‘Bleach’, right? If some orange haired janitor with a fancy mop (mop, magical talking death sword – whatever) excites you, hold on for these other heroes of the Japanese cupboard space!
“Try ‘n boogie, guns n’ tattoo” – there’s no greater embodiment of Kenichi Asai’s work than that opening line. As the words are dragged across the bluesy, rock n’ roll riff of Mad Surfer – the Japanese rebel’s song used as the 20th closing of Bleach – it’s difficult not to imagine smoke filled bars, motorcycles or leather jacketed misfits sporting hairdos your mother wouldn’t approve of.
Tom Smith on the band behind Bleach’s 21st Ending Theme
SunSet Swish held their first-ever live performance on Valentine’s Day 2004, at a small venue in Osaka Prefecture’s Hirakata city. A fitting introduction to the music world for a band whose claim to fame is having quite possibly the soppiest theme in Bleach history: ‘Sakurabito’.
Japan Underground's Tom Smith on how to rock and roll all nite in Tokyo
I wanted to see bands playing live music, experience local pubs and bar culture, and not get back to my hotel until it was light. Now, my nights in the city are as busy, if not busier, than my days. Here’s a quick look at some of the Tokyo hotspots worth hitting for music fans.
Babystars may want to change their name; Two of the remaining members are now pushing towards 40-years of age, making them more middle-aged than babies. As for being stars, a lot has changed since their debut back in 2002…
Paul Jacques' pictures from the best of London's Comicon...
It's taken a while to shift through the paperwork and read all your indecipherable handwriting, but we've finally managed to sift through the London Comicon cosplay pictures and pick out our winners from a fantastic bunch. And with no further ado...
Jasper Sharp on the anthology movie currently touring the UK
There have been three Japanese works nominated in the Academy Awards category for Best Animated Short Film over the past ten years or so: Koji Yamamura’s Mt. Head (2002), Kunio Kato’s The House of Small Cubes (2008) – so far the country’s only winner – and most recently Shuhei Morita’s Possessions (2013). For all that, it remains pretty difficult for most viewers who aren’t regulars on the specialised festival circuit to catch such examples of cutting-edge animation.
Mamoru Oshii's latest film, fresh from its Tokyo premiere
In his live introduction to the premiere of Garm Wars The Last Druid at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Mamoru Oshii called his film a "a precise recreation of the delusions in my mind." While the truth of that statement is only known to Oshii, Garm Wars is certainly embedded in Oshii-land, ticking off the staple themes and existential worries in his work, while finding a new kind of gorgeousness.
Ever since her debut, the heroine of Masamune Shirow's manga-turned-global-franchise Ghost In The Shell has been a high-end product. She's a cyborg combat specialist modified to look like a cross between a top fashion model and a porn star, in a world where most of the women we see are as objectified as in our own reality.
It’s a Japanese translation by Minoru Kume of the classic British children’s book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, with about seventy Tezuka illustrations in his characteristically cartoony style.
As Naruto ups the ante and swears to take on Sasuke alone in box set 18 of Naruto Shippuden, the team responsible for the encompassing episodes’ ending theme have also took it upon themselves to up the pace.
Bleach series 13 continues the clash between Soul Society’s Shinigami and Sousuke Aizen’s Arrancar army. It also brings with it a new talent in Japanese pop-rock: miwa. This fresh-faced female, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of upbeat pop-rock songs, provides the series’ twelfth opening theme, ‘chAngE’.
Fans of K-On! The Movie’s lovely and realistic vision of London may not be aware that in between that film and Steamboy’s loving depiction of a steampunk-era Manchester and London rests a show that is as accurate as either, and yet is also arguably the most English anime show ever made. Yet it still cannot be bought on DVD in the UK itself.