Tom Smith interrogates pop star Suga Shikao about his favourite anime.
Suga Shikao is an ambassador of contemporary Japanese pop. With his guitar fine-tuned in the ways of funk and pop-rock music, and a mind capable of writing some of the most thought-provoking, insightful lyrics to hit Japan, he left his job as a salaryman to take on the Japanese music world, and came out as its crowned king.
Suga has fifteen albums under his disco-infused belt, all of which have debuted in the top ten – a record for a Japanese male solo artist. His songs have become part of Japan’s national curriculum, and his lyrical and song making skills have powered hits for Japan’s biggest pop groups, including KAT-TUN, Arashi and SMAP. Throw in two sold out concerts in London and you can see that these strong words of praise are not unfounded, nor payment for having my large face plastered in the music video to Yakusoku (Promise), his latest single at the time of writing.
While Suga is no stranger to the charts, he also maintains a close relationship with anime and Asian film, with several of his songs finding their way into titles such as the Boogiepop series, the Death Note and Dark Water films, and many more. I caught up with the star during his busy schedule in London to quiz him on his absolute top three anime titles. After much deep thought he whittled his list to the following:
The xxxHolic series, adapted from CLAMP’s manga of the same name, follows troubled youth Kimihiro Watanuki as he contends with a daily curse; he can see spirits, and they’re drawn to him like he’s a piece of scrumptious human-shaped candy made especially for phantoms. Things get all the more bizarre when his path crosses with that of the owner of a shop that grants wishes.
Suga Shikao’s song ‘19sai’ acts as the opening theme for the entire first series – a track that initially put him on the radar for many Japanese music fans outside of Japan. Other Suga songs present in the franchise include ‘Sofa’, ‘Kazanagi’ and ‘Adayume’, plus ‘Nobody Knows’ from the currently unreleased second series; xxxHolic: Kei.
“xxxHolic contains strong Buddhist overtones,” states Suga. “I like that kind of theme, it’s not just for Japan, it’s something an international market can enjoy, too”.
Honey and Clover
While the United Kingdom has yet to see a release of the Honey and Clover anime series, manga fans can pick up all ten volumes of the award winning romantic comedy from bookshops and online retailers. The anime also suspiciously contains several Suga tracks throughout, and proved popular enough to spawn a live action film and two separate TV dramas; one Japanese, one Taiwanese.
Suga says that his reason for choosing this series is due to its representation of human emotion, and the very natural movement of it as the story progresses. He claims that very few anime captures it as deeply as Honey and Clover.
I already knew the final answer, his Japanese blog, hosted on Ameba.jp, had pictures of his shopping trip to London’s Forbidden Planet store. Or more accurately, pictures of his Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell addictions – in an entry showing his souvenirs purchased while in London was the usual memorabilia from Harrods, plus GitS: SAC and the Neon Genesis Evangelion - Platinum DVD sets – much respect.
“Evangelioooooonnnnnn!” he says before breaking into a laugh. “That last episode really kept us hanging, didn’t it”. It did indeed, and I have a suspicion that if Suga-san returns to the UK for a third (sold out?) performance, he’ll be snapping up Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone and 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance in an instant.
New Pilots, New Evas, New Angels The landmark anime Evangelion evolves, reaching new heights of intensity in the new feature film: Evangelion 2.22. In this explosive new story, brutal action and primal emotion clash as a group of young pilots maneuver their towering, cyborg Eva Units into combat against a deadly and disturbing enemy. In the battle to prevent the apocalyptic Third Impact, Shinji and Rei were forced to carry humanity’s hopes on their shoulders. Now, as the onslaught of the bizarre, monstrous Angels escalates, they find their burden shared by two new Eva pilots, the fiery Asuka and the mysterious Mari. In this thrilling new experience for fans of giant robot destruction, the young pilots fight desperately to save mankind – and struggle to save themselves.
Hideaki Anno, the director of Evangelion 2.22, knows the viewers are transitory, but fans are forever. It doesn’t matter if you call them true believers, or plain otaku. The fans are the twenty-somethings who sit in the cinema through the lengthy credits of Thor or Captain America, just so they can see the prelude to the next Marvel spectacular. In Tokyo, they’re the people who queue at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning at a Shinjuku cinema, as they did when the first bigscreen Eva reboot – Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone - opened in 2007.
Evangelion started as Neon Genesis Evangelion, a 26-part TV serial in 1995. It used a familiar Japanese plot template: the teenage boy who drives a giant robot (or in Eva’s case, cyborg), using the huge and frightening body to fight monsters and save Earth. The lyrics of the TV song express the myth. “Like an angel without a sense of mercy / Rise young boy to the heavens as a legend!”
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Asian-American animator Monty Oum passed away tragically on the 1st February this year at the age of 33. RWBY (pronounced Ruby, the lead character’s name, but also an acronym of the four lead characters) is his legacy, a fully CG-animated web series that is as close to anime as a series made outside of Japan can be, so much so that Warner Bros Japan have bought it to dub and release locally.