Tom Smith on a band that’s anything but their namesake.
Whack your speakers to 11, position the cursor over play on the video below, and prepare to rock out to some classic-styled metal from one of Japan’s longest running noise-making outfits. They’re known as LAZY, and the video that follows is their 2011 single ‘Reckless’, the theme song behind Manga Entertainment’s supernatural mini-film series Towanoquon.
Reckless by LAZY
Pretty rocking, right? Now compare that to the same band’s debut single ‘Hey! I Love You!’, released in the summer of 1977. It sounds like an entirely different band. No electronically extravagant guitars, no raspy rock’n’roll vocals… so what happened? Between three decades, breakups, solo projects and the frontman becoming dubbed ‘Mr. DBZ’ as well as ‘the Price of Anime’, an awful lot. Let’s start at the beginning.
LAZY formed when classmates Hironobu Kageyama, Akira Takasaki and Hiroyuki Tanaka wanted to start a heavy rock band in the style of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake and Deep Purple. In fact, they liked the latter – who were once the globe’s loudest band according to the Guinness Book of World Records – so much that they named themselves after the group’s song ‘Lazy’. By Hironobu’s 16th birthday, LAZY had picked up a drummer (Munetaka Higuchi) and keyboard player (Shunji Inoue), but more importantly, they’d also picked up a major record contract from RCA (a division of BMG Japan). Unfortunately, the timing was not the best for Japanese rock music. It would be another ten-or-so years until the likes of Tomoyasu Hotei and his band BOØWY would revolutionise domestic rock in Japan (read about it here), for now, the bigwigs in control didn’t believe in the power of rock (the blasphemers), and instead provided LAZY with middle-of-the-road, safe, watered down pop-rock songs to croon along to.
By 1981 the boys had had enough of toning down their music and decided to call it quits on LAZY, instead embarking on solo careers, side projects and other music-based works – all heavily influenced by metal, of course. LAZY’s guitarist, bass-player and drummer (Akira, Hiroyuki and Munetaka) went on to form LOUDNESS, Japan’s first heavy metal group to sign to a major American label. It proved a little too loud for Hiroyuki, who soon left the group in favour of a career writing anime songs with his own band Neverland.
Vocalist Hironobu decided to go one step further than his bandmate Hiroyuki and dived headfirst into the world of anime and television. He went on to record track-after-track for anime and high-energy (and high-kicking) tokusatsu shows. Even after LAZY decided to reform in 1998, Hironobu stayed true to his inner-otaku and continued writing anime songs. To date, he’s recorded so many themes, including the first opening for Dragon Ball Z, ‘Cha-La Head Cha-La’, and countless others with his supergroup JAM Project (the first part standing for Japan Animationsong Makers), that fans went on to call him by some of the names mentioned in paragraph two.
‘Reckless’ sees Hironobu combining his love for anime, and his love for his original band together in perfect heavy rockin’ harmony.
A WILD DANCE OF CHAOS! In the not-too-distant future, children are being born with special powers, marvelous and remarkable abilities. But what would seem like a wondrous gift turns out to be a dangerous curse. For the world is now run by The Order, and these miraculous deviants are hunted down-and killed. But Quon and his group of Attractors are out to rescue these children before The Order's elite squad of ruthless cyborgs detect them. From their hideout beneath a popular amusement park, the Attractors use high tech gadgetry and their own remarkable abilities to save these children, and teach them to harness and control their powers to overthrow the very powers that seek to destroy them. With spectacular animation, stunning fight sequences, and richly detailed characters, Towanoquon is destined to be an anime classic and must-have for any animation fan's library.
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’.
Andrew Osmond turns an anime eye on a new history book
If the past is truly another country, then Modern Japan: All that Matters suggests the average Japanese youth may be as remote from the land of shogun and samurai as Britain is from today’s Tokyo. Jonathan Clements’ new book is a concise history which focuses on the country’s last seventy years, from Japan’s surrender in 1945 to the present.
The word hihokan is usually translated as ‘sex museum’, although most are best described as indoor sexual theme parks. Imagine that an anthropological collection has been bought by the London Dungeon and put on show there by the owner of a strip club with a degree in engineering and a penchant for voyeurism. The result would be the hihokan: a garish combination of serious museum and soft pornography in a bizarre and often haphazard blend.
It’s a truism widely acknowledged in the anime world that so many Japanese cartoons are obsessed with fantasy figures of 15-year-old schoolgirls because they are aimed at audience of desperate teenage boys. But Sharon Kinsella’s latest book, Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan, points to a wider media malaise...
Jonathan Clements on Jackie Chan and the Garden of Gardens
Jackie Chan’s films have often smuggled in the odd political nudge and wink behind the tomfoolery, but Chinese Zodiac puts it all front and centre. Rather nobly, it shies away from issues of race or one-sided nationalism, making greed itself the great unifier – ensuring that Europeans and Chinese can be found on both sides of the battle.
Fans who are fully up-to-date and casual viewers and newcomers alike can both enjoy the One Piece movies! Each is entirely self-contained, with entirely new plots not found in Eiichiro Oda’s original manga, but are every bit as enjoyable.
Remembering the anime master who shunned the limelight
Toshio Hirata, who died on 25th August, might be reasonably said to have avoided publicity. Over the course of his career, he did gather a number of credits for directing, as well as storyboards, key animation and lowlier tasks, but he often obscured his own achievements by using the pseudonym Sumiko Chiba. In some cases, such as for his work on Azuki-chan, he simply asked not to be credited at all, claiming that his contribution was not really worthy of recognition.
Elizabeth Coombes cosplays as Madame Sharley, the sharky mermaid to be found far off in the 500s of the One Piece anime. Also known variously as Shyarly and Shirley -- even the subtitles sometimes change their mind. Shirley some mistake?
Turning Point offers invaluable peeps at Miyazaki’s mind at work, including the way he grows his imagery out of lyrical ideas. “I am experiencing old age for the first time in my life,” he comments at one point, managing to be both wise and dotty at the same time.