Tom Smith goes to the top of the class with lower-case popsters abingdon boys school
If Manga Entertainment formed a band, it would probably be something like Japan’s school-uniformed rock squad, abingdon boys school, and not because the last Friday of every month is school uniform day in the office (no, it isn’t – Ed).
The group is fronted by the 90s J-pop god, and long time anime nut, Takanori Nishikawa, which in itself would be impressive enough. But he’s not the only big name in the unit, as he’s joined by guitarist Hiroshi Shibasaki from Wands, a band responsible for themes featured in Slam Dunk, Dragon Ball GT and Yu-Gi-Oh!; keyboard player and programmer Toshiyuki Kishi, who has produced tracks for the likes of D’espairsRay and the legendary Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as the entire soundtrack for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai – Tenkaichi. And last but not least is guitarist Sunao, who despite lacking in terms of anime experience, makes up for it with over ten years as a support member of T.M. Revolution and other pop bands, including the massive J-pop duo KinKi Kids.
More than half of abingdon boys school’s singles have featured as themes to anime in Manga Entertainment’s catalogue; their debut single ‘Innocent Sorrow’ kick started each episode of the exorcism romp D.Gray-man, followed by ‘Howling’ in the supernatural thriller Darker than Black – a track regularly requested at the J-rock club night, Japan Underground.
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The recently released Soul Eater had a double dose of Takanori, with T.M. Revolution supplying the opening theme and abingdon boys school’s ‘Strength’ acting as a closing. Even Manga’s samurai brawler Sengoku Basara features the band, with the song ‘JAP’.
“We create theme tunes on a case-by-case basis,” Takanori explains. “For example, for ‘JAP’, we were playing it live and a games creator happened to be passing by and he wanted to use it in his current project.” The game was Sengoku Basara: Battle Heroes on the PSP, beginning a long relationship between the band and the franchise, with the song eventually included in the anime, too.
It’s not always down to chance meetings that their tracks find their way into anime and games, sometimes they’re influenced from the series. “There always needs to be a connection between what we do and what the animation creators do. For ‘Howling’ I found Darker than Black’s lead character really interesting, so I wanted to show his inner complexities [in the lyrics] – though the music itself was composed by our guitarist Hiroshi Shibasaki.”
“Our first single ‘Innocent Sorry’ was very much like typical Japanese pop,” Hiroshi adds. “So for our next one, ‘Howling’, we wanted something a bit different. At the time I’d been listening to, and experimenting with, heavier and harder music, so I decided to put those elements into it.”
abingdon boys school has had moderate success outside of Japan, including a sold-out show in London on the 12th of November 2008 as part of their first European tour. But if you’re a fan of their themes, you’ll be please to know that Gan-Shin Records released a European exclusive album from the band entitled Teaching Materials, which includes the group’s best-known tracks.