My Problem With the Anisong Industry: An Overwrought Analysis

PREFACE: Yes, I know that I’m complaining about not liking something, when two of those very somethings- nano and MYTH & ROID- are my 1st and 4th (respectively) favorite Japanese music artists of all time as of 12/31/2019. I’ll get to justifying that in the body of this post, so please be patient.


The original topic of this post was going to be: “Top Five Japanese Music Artists I Stopped Liking,” as my J-pop tastes have changed wildly over the course of the few years I’ve been seriously into the genre. However, I noticed a bit of a consistency in most of the people I’ve abandoned… that they’re all a specific type of singer called an “anisong” singer. Based on what I understand, these artists exist mainly to be commissioned to perform the OPs and EDs of any anime that might come into existence. Like with many, these people are the ones who got me into Japanese music as a whole, and yet… I’m not exactly sure they can survive on my playlist after I’ve expanded my horizons. 

If you’ve watched anime, you know of certain songs and artists. The word “anisong” immediately brings particular thoughts to mind: Guren no Yumiya by Linked Horizon, Re:Do by Konomi Suzuki, Sign by FLOW, Crossing Field by LiSA, Error by GARNiDELiA, Hacking to the Gate by Ito Kanako, and more. For years, watching illegal full YouTube uploads of these tracks (or the occasional official full music video) was my only gateway into Japanese music. I always wanted to listen to more of these, but due to the expensiveness of international buying, it was not easy when I didn’t have a job. Konomi Suzuki’s Life of Dash, and MYTH & ROID’s eye’s were all I could manage. But then… I got Apple Music. That was all it took to suck me into a rabbit hole, full of Japanese music artists who don’t do anime. I found BAND-MAID, Crossfaith, Memai Siren, Hysteric Panic, Mili, Queen Bee, and an unhealthy amount more. 

Not only that, but I could also listen to the full discographies of those anisong artists I mentioned before. But… it wasn’t exactly a fun experience. Konomi Suzuki’s 2019 album Shake Up!… I only liked three songs on it. Asaka’s debut album Heart Touch… I only remember two songs on it at all. As for Ito Kanako, the freaking Hacking to the Gate lady, I only like six other songs by her… across two whole studio albums. Compared to the other bands that have been growing on me like parasites, something felt empty about these, even in the best case scenario.

“Well, don’t listen to anything besides the hits, ya idiot,” you tell me. I’m sorry, but that’s not how I roll. For me to consider myself a devout fan of a music artist, I must go through at least 50% of their whole discography; all (or most of their) albums, cover-to-cover. When it comes to the “normie” bands that I’m a fan of, I always end up liking AT LEAST half of every track per album, and that’s just the worst case scenario. For example, I have all but two tracks of Crossfaith’s 2013 album, Apocalyze, in my favorite Crossfaith songs playlist, and that’s just that album alone. This is why I’ve been having a hard time juggling the different people I like, but them’s the brakes. I’ve been working on a Top Fifteen Favorite Music Artists of All Time post, and it’s not going to be ready for at least a year, because I have to catch up with a lot of bands in order to satisfy the condition of “at least 50% of their discography”. So, basically, because I can’t find myself liking more than “the hits” of the anisong artists, I can’t like them, period.

But I’m not going to throw shade. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s their fault. I don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain, but I can use my intuition to infer what my issues with them could be. One thing is that the artist- the pretty face you see- doesn’t necessarily songwrite (I know nano does, but like I said in the preface, we’ll get to that). It’s definitely something that can happen. One example is an article on Anime News Network I read back when Infinite Dendrogram’s anime was being produced. It said that a certain individual (forgot their name) was going to compose the OP for the show, but Aoi Yuuki was going to perform it. So, I’m not crazy, circumstances like this can happen; there’s proof on the Internet. This is definitely one explanation for why the quality of their stuff varies so wildly. 

Another reason that comes to mind is that the medium is too creatively restrictive. They generally need to conform to a catchy beat, with an intro, first verse, and first chorus able to last exactly ninety seconds, as well as lyrics to fit actual story themes of the show. That’s a lot of stipulation. I remember reading a couple of interviews from nano, and IIRC, she said something to the effect of the songs made for anime specifically- with Kemurikusa in particular- being among the hardest for her to compose (don’t quote me on that, though).

The final reason- more so a nitpick- is that they seem to put out waaaaay less music than otherwise. “Quality over quantity, motherfu-” Hang on, I gotta cut you off there! Yes, I get that the quality is what matters the most. But the “normie” bands I mentioned don’t just put out higher quantity releases, but higher QUALITY releases as well. It’s uncanny. For example, nano… man, I love her music to death, but eight years in the industry, and we only get three studio albums and a best-of album? BAND-MAID put out double that in six years; do the math. I don’t know how it works- it’s definitely on a case-by-case basis- but the general idea is that they can only put out new singles when they’re doing an anime OP. That’s not much, honestly.

Of course, of course, there are definitely some exceptions. Obviously, I love nano and MYTH & ROID. These two are definitely much more experimental, and I like their albums (well, album in the latter’s case) much more consistently, even beyond the hits. As a fan, it makes me sad that they’re working under the stipulations of anisong that I mentioned before, and it makes me wonder what their music would be if they were free to work their full creative juices. I’m also fond of UVERworld (at least their newer stuff)… but it’s very hit or miss. I actually abandoned them until I Decided (haha, pun because that’s one of their songs) to try out Unser (which ended up meeting expectations). Two more artists technically fall into the exceptions category, and that’s two of the Bang! Dream bands, Roselia and RAISE A SUILEN. They only count as anisong because their singles get integrated into the Bang! Dream anime, but those two bands at least put some extra oomph into their stuff (even if RAISE A SUILEN is basically Roselia but with Crossfaith’s instrumentation). On a final note, here’s praying that Morfonica doesn’t suck when their first single comes out.

Another thing that I’m probably going to get called out on is the rare time that one of my so-called “normie” bands actually, on one occasion, do an anime OP. I don’t get how this happens sometimes… but I have a couple of things to say about it. First off, the aforementioned stipulations can make someone put out something vastly different from their established style, like with the 2nd OP of My Hero Academia, Peace Sign by Kenshi Yonzeu; he sounded like some unremarkable mainstream J-rock boy, and not the more eccentric style of his usual stuff.

Honestly- and I’m saying this out of jealousy- those “normie” bands don’t get the honor often enough. Well, I say that I’m saying this out of jealousy, but I’m also saying this from a thematic perspective. Listening to some of these guys makes me imagine their songs in anime OPs, and some of them suit certain anime thematically more than the actual person who did it (like I said, the lyrics are supposed to suit it thematically, but it’s not exactly something that a non-Japanese-speaking person can pick up on). Hysteric Panic’s dirty thrashy sound, along with the guttural growl of their backing vocals would’ve been perfect for Dorohedoro. Memai Siren’s melancholy dreariness would’ve suited Re:ZERO. And yeah, even though the song that YURiKA did for Land of the Lustrous was good thematically, Mili would’ve done an infinitely better job at the same thing.

It also doesn’t help that the bands I like can get the short end of the stick. It’s funny that Mili is an example again, for they apparently did the OP of Goblin Slayer, of all things. I haven’t heard Rightfully yet, but however good it might be, it was definitely overshadowed by the controversy of the show; a complete waste of talent. To make matters worse… they also did the EDs of Gleipnir (which will likely be criticized for being too edgy and fanservice), as well as Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 (which is going to be criticized a LOT for obvious visual-themed reasons). And who in God’s name decided to hire Wagakki Band- of all people- to do the first OP of Twin Star Exorcists (which was also highly criticized due to Studio Pierrot being themselves), when the show, historically, isn’t set in a time where their musical style would be thematically relevant? Sure, once in a blue moon, there will be a great combination, such as- once again- Kenshi Yonezu, but instead performing the ED for Children of the Sea (which I might never get to SEA thanks to the coronavirus). I heard the song at least, and since I already read the manga, I know that Yonezu’s out-there musical style fits Children of the Sea PERFECTLY. I hope Mili does the Otherside Picnic OP… that would be really nice.

In conclusion, I don’t hate these anisong artists; after all, they made me who I am now. But after my horizons have been expanded, they are sorely lacking in the almost everything department. Sure, I still play Re:Do and Hacking to the Gate sometimes, but I can definitely live without those songs. Well, if I ended up expanding your horizons with this post, then you’re welcome. If you don’t agree with my post, then leave some feedback as to why (or maybe explaining how this music industry works). I’m all ears!

WeebRevues Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists

As much as I love Japanese music, I admit that nothing’s perfect. There are many artists that I’ve had to abandon, but mostly because I listen to too much music, and I just couldn’t squeeze them in. But sometimes, I straight up don’t enjoy the music itself. This list will showcase the Japanese music artists that I couldn’t enjoy no matter how hard I tried. Now you’ll get to see how much of a contrarian I am, for most of these artists are among the most popular Japanese singers in the world.


5) sakanaction

I really wanted this to be BABYMETAL, which would’ve made all five entries contain mainstream artists. But my feelings for them ended up being extremely complicated, so I resorted to sakanaction instead for fifth.

Normally, I love weird bands, and sakanaction is one such band. They’re more or less the Japanese Pink Floyd, and I don’t exactly like Pink Floyd. The band’s music tends to be very surreal and mellow, which isn’t my favorite combination.

But to be honest, it’s the vocalist who made me drop sakanaction. The actual song compositions do create some very unique vibes, but the moment that he starts singing, it all feels dissonant and messy. For some reason, I just cannot stand his voice! Maybe the dissonance is on purpose, or I just don’t appreciate some hidden nuance in the band. I’ve started getting into King Gnu and Queen Bee lately, who come off as better versions of sakanaction, and have more emphasis on rock.


4) MIYAVI

I started with someone more obscure. But noooow, you’ll start seeing some actually popular people.

“How dare you hate MIYAVI, you curr!” you exclaim (assuming you’re a fan of his), “This man’s helped refugees from all over the world!” Sorry, but, the music’s got nothing to do with that. In all seriousness, I did want to love MIYAVI’s music really badly. He seems like a really good person, based on what he posts on his Twitter. But no matter how great of a person he is, I can’t enjoy his music.

MIYAVI’s music comes down to very basic groovy beats with a side of synthesizers, and an admittedly sick-sounding electric guitar. The production and mixing of the music makes it sound really bee-bopping and loud, but it’s neither of those things upon closer inspection. His music’s not the worst ever, though… not by a LONG shot.


3) Hikaru Utada

You might not know who this Utada person is as you read this post… until just now, when I told you that she’s done songs for Kingdom Hearts. “Oh, she’s that person who did that song! But… I love that song!”

Thing is, Utada’s apparently got more to her name than Kingdom Hearts. She’s got over three million Twitter followers for a reason! But I don’t know what those three million people see in her music that I don’t. Most of it is very slow and… slow? Boring, too. Nothing of what I heard from her ever stood out to me.

But if there’s one thing Utada does right, it’s the process of singing. She’s got a seriously lovely voice; deep and soothing. I was also told by an associate that she does all song composition, production, and mixing herself. If that’s true, then Utada does earn at least some respect from me.


2) Perfume

I’m kind of cheating on this one, for Perfume was one of the first non-anime J-pop groups I ever tried to get into… like, eight years ago. I’m a different person than I was at that time, so I can’t authoritatively state how I’d feel about Perfume if I tried to listen to them now, especially since I only watched the official music videos then and didn’t have Apple Music. But based on what I remember, I can be DAMN sure that I would wholeheartedly dislike Perfume to this day.

Perfume is a chill techno group and that’s that. Their music is full of catchy beats and sci-fi atmospheres that I find to be very bleh for whatever reason. It’s not “ceaseless dribble”, but it’s not something that I’d particularly enjoy. There’s not really anything else I can say about them other than that.


1) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

It’s one thing to not like an artist. But I cannot STAND when the marketing behind someone is a straight up lie! Kyary seems to be one of the most popular Japanese singers in the world, and I can only scratch my head in confusion. 

One look at any of her album covers or music videos will likely elicit a reaction to the effect of, “Holy crap! This chick’s so wiggety-whackin’-weird! I love it!” There is a lot of… er… otherworlldly imagery associated with Kyary. It helps promote her content while also establishing an identity to make her stand out from the rabble.

But imagery is imagery, nothing more, nothing less. What I mean is… her music is the exact opposite of her image! To be fair, I only listened to half of Kyary’s best of album… but I felt like it was enough. Despite how “weird” she is, the music itself is mainstream. So disgustingly, by-the-book mainstream. The songs are basic, with simple, catchy beats and no variance. All of this is dressed up by her unusual choice of lyrics, as well as the production of the music videos.

Call me a hipster, but I also dislike Kyary because I’m jealous that she’s more popular than one of my favorite pop groups, Dempagumi.inc. Dempagumi is what Kyrary says she is; wild, eccentric pop music. As I mentioned in this post, Dempagumi addles with the brain’s pattern recognition by always switching up the tempo to constantly keep you on your toes. Kyary doesn’t do any of that crap! The only good version to come from her is nano’s cover of Ponponpon eight years ago (that video is still up by the way, highly recommend checking it out)!


I don’t want to be a troll. I went into listening to all of these artists with full intention of enjoying them. But I simply didn’t. What do you think about the people I introduced here? Do you enjoy them, and if so, why? You probably have found some way to appreciate them that I failed to notice. Who are your least favorite J-pop artists? Feedback is welcome!

Tokyo Godfathers Movie Review

PREFACE: There might be a… slight difference in portrayals of certain things in the old Japanese audio and the new 2020 English dub of this movie. Being the weeb that I am, I watched it subbed. This is a review of the subbed version.


If there was any good part of my decision to watch Ride Your Wave, it was seeing the preview of Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film, Tokyo Godfathers. I traveled uncomfortably far from my home in the ungodly hours of night, because that’s where the nearest theater happened to be. Was it worth the hassle?

In Tokyo Godfathers, three homeless bumpkins go dumpster diving and *play Zelda jingle* find a baby. Since they’ve got nothing better to do, they set out to find the darn thing’s birth parents.

One thing that any viewer will notice, at least a viewer who’s used to current anime, is the movie’s rather unconventional portrayal of Tokyo. Instead of the bee-bopping, fun utopian metropolis, we are shown the less lawful underbelly of Tokyo that Japan’s tourism industry doesn’t want you to see. It’s much more “realistic”, which is something that you might enjoy over those battle shounens.

But Tokyo Godfathers is a satire, and that means it’s not all underbelly. In fact, no matter how dark or emotional the movie gets, it manages to never take itself too seriously. There’s tons of witty banter throughout this movie, but unlike most anime, the humor is much more- *Fmuh!*- nuanced (if you don’t know what that Fmuh means, check out the 1968 movie The Odd Couple). You’ll need to pay attention to the mannerisms of the characters, as well as crap happening off in the background in order to be able to understand how Tokyo Godfathers works its magic.

In terms of the narrative structure, Tokyo Godfathers follows these people throughout the crowded streets of Tokyo as they get involved in all kinds of antics with the baby. This includes getting invited to a party with the Yakuza, and narrowly avoiding a Terminator-style vehicular accident. But every so often, they break the ice with tidbits on their backstories, until they finally form a cohesive whole.

So who are these bumpkins anyway? Tokyo Godfathers stars Gin, Miyuki, and Hana. Gin is an old, cynical drunkard who became those things because he ran away from his life issues, Miyuki is a bratty and spunky teenage girl (and a loli, in case any of you modern fans cared), and Hana is a retired drag queen. These three have tons of Laurel and Hardy-esque banter with each other, but in terms of individual strength, Hana takes the cake. She is extremely eccentric, and behaves very flamboyantly, providing a bulk of the comic relief. But when something needs to be done, she’ll damn well do it. I can imagine that the animators had the most fun with her mannerisms.

The music also helps sell the screwballiness of the movie. The music pieces, when they’re not Christmas music, are intentionally dissonant and jarring, and sound like a song by King Gnu even though they didn’t exist at the time. 

It all comes together in the movie’s fantastic visual presentation. Normally, I’d write off great visuals as fluff, but here, it’s just as important to the plot as the plot itself. Most of us modern viewers have come to assume that anime are simply incapable of depicting themes like dreariness, suspense, and general negativity. But in Tokyo Godfathers, the desaturated colors and clever use of limited lighting effects conveys the mood wonderfully (it’s like they actually had funding to make it or something). Small details, like the various and creepily hyper-realistic adverts posted everywhere, make the underbelly of Japan feel otherworldly in its own way. Something so hideous has never looked so beautiful!

In addition, the animation is marvelous as well. Not a single frame is wasted to bring Tokyo Godfathers to life. It is most prevalent in the main characters, who tend to morph into completely different forms at times. This level of expressiveness is something that no live action actor can achieve.

There are TWO brief instances of… ahem… “nips” in the movie. You have been warned. 

Final Verdict: 9.4/10

If you wanna be one of those people who thinks that older anime are better than newer anime, then Tokyo Godfathers makes a great example. It’s a weird and wonderful movie that takes a bit of open mindedness to enjoy. At the time of this post, it’s the best anime feature film I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes satires such as The Odd Couple.

Ride Your Wave Movie Review

Recently, I’ve realized that anime feature films are where Japanese animation puts its best foot forward. By a long shot. So, I decided to go against my gut and see Ride Your Wave, a new romance film from the studio Science SARU. Were mistakes made that day?

Can’t answer that question without a brief rundown of the premise first. A cute surfer girl named Hinako Mukaimizu moves from Chiba to a new town. One night, her life almost- literally- goes up in flames when her apartment catches fire. She is saved by a young fireman named Minato Hinageshi. They fall in love immediately and live happily ever after. Nothing goes south whatsoever.

Spoiler alert, it goes south. No, this isn’t even a spoiler, because if you’ve seen ANY romance for teens, or Up, then you likely figured what was going to happen just based on that last paragraph. What happens is that Minato drowns.

But don’t worry, this is magical YA-land! In the aftermath of his death, Hinako starts seeing Minato in bodies of water. You know, like you do.

There are three reasons why I wasn’t even remotely invested emotionally in Ride Your Wave. First, I never fell in love with a real life human ever, so I can’t relate. Second, as someone who’s been a teenager, I KNOW that love at first sight is the most BS thing ever; merely just some hormones going off in response to primal urges and other stimuli. Third, and most importantly, it is incredibly cut and dry (despite being water-themed). I even spent more than half of the movie thinking about the movie previews that they showed, and I was still able to follow Ride Your Wave‘s plot without missing a beat.

Ride Your Wave is basically your typical YA novel, except with that touch of anime whimsy. I can’t really say anything else about the story, because there isn’t anything else to say. The characters are all typical teen templates, too. I’m probably going to forget all of their names after completing this post.

The music, though, is the absolute WORST aspect of the movie. While half of it is pretty harmless BGM, the other half is the freaking overused song: “Brand New Story” by GENERATIONS from Exile Tribe. I had seen the band’s name come up occasionally on Apple Music’s Similar Artists tab, but I never got around to trying their music. Because of how it’s used in Ride Your Wave, I was not given a good first impression. While it’s not the worst song by itself, it is a plot relevant song in the movie. This means that you will have to hear it ad naaaaaaaauseuuuuum! Blech.

But hey, the visuals are all worth it, right (*sarcasm*)? I’m sure a lot of people will go gaga over Ride Your Wave‘s bright, Wind Waker-esque art style and fluid animation. I’ll admit that I might’ve silently gawked at a couple of shots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to serve any purpose to the story’s themes.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 6.8/10

Ride Your Wave is nothing special; it’ll likely be forgotten when the next “pulse-pounding, break-your-heart-and-put-it-back-together” thing comes out (especially if it’s directed by Shinkai). I only saw it because the anime movies that I’ve seen have consistently maintained a higher standard than their TV counterparts, and despite all the salt, Ride Your Wave does the same. I can’t exactly recommend it, mainly because it was one-night only. So if the Blu-Ray comes out, borrow it from a friend, since there’s no such thing as a movie rental store in this world. 

WeebRevues Top Five Japanese Music Artists

I’ll always love the classic rock of yesteryear more than anything. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve realized the unique greatness of contemporary Japanese music. In this blog I’ll discuss my favorite Japanese music artists.


5) Hysteric Panic

This spot was originally going to ONE OK ROCK. For all intents and purposes, ONE OK ROCK’s members are very talented, and very experimental-two qualities that I seek in bands. However, just going off of the sheer percentage of discography that I loved, Hysteric Panic is way better than them in my book. So why do I like this basically unknown J-thrash band so much?

I love Hysteric Panic because of their energy. They more or less only play thrash, but they’re so darn good at it that I can’t even complain. They also have a wide range of vocals, from a high-pitched, Axl Rose-sounding guy, to a guy who sounds like a constipated alligator. Regardless of if it’s multiple guys or the same guy, this wide range of screams makes Hysteric Panic stand out as a thrash band. Give them a whirl if you love Metallica or others like them!


4) MYTH & ROID

Led by TomH@ck of OxT, MYTH & ROID was originally my favorite Japanese band, and was in 1st on early drafts of this post. Although they are a solid prog-rock band that has more of an identity than most people in the ainsong industry, I realized that I find the artists in the Top 3 more irreplaceable. I don’t know if it’s because MYTH & ROID has way less discography or what, but them’s the brakes.

But hey, they’re still in Top 5 for a reason. MYTH & ROID has managed to craft a distinct style that basically allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they maintain one consistency: MAKE. IT. AWESOME. Out of all the artists on this list, I have always exclaimed “WTF?!” with every song of theirs the first time I heard it.

Recently, I have been exposed to music from the bizarro minds of truly eccentric people, such as DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu. But at the time, I remember when I threw on Styx Helix because it was a Re:ZERO song, and thought it was a decent techno-chill song. I later noticed that they also did OP 2 of the same show. I put on that song, Paradisus Paradoxim, and it completely blew me away with how different it was. I fell in love with MYTH & ROID right then and there… and then fell slightly less in love with them over time.

While they are no longer my favorite, they are still a great band that stands out from the rest. I recommend giving them a listen if you’re tired of that mainstream crap.


3) Dempagumi.inc

Didn’t expect a pop group, did you? And an IDOL group on top of that?! Well, this entry was originally going to be the jazz-pop duo, ORESAMA. As great as their music is, their record label, Lantis, seems to not want anybody overseas to be able to support their artists, so I basically grew out of them. 

However, one MyAnimeList article helped fill the ORESAMA-shaped hole in my heart: The announcement of Dempagumi.inc member, Mirin Furukawa’s, marriage. I immediately had to know what a band with such a weird name was, and sure ‘nough, they’re on Apple Music! One greatest hits album later, and I found myself- for the first time ever- unironically in love with a pop idol group.

Dempagumi’s gimmick is that they are otaku. A lot of their songs are about Akihabara and… well, I don’t know what else because they’re singing in a language I don’t know very well. Additionally, their singing reaches such outrageous tempos at times that it just HAS to have been artificially sped up in post! 

Speaking of the tempo, Dempagumi’s main musical style is fully caffeinated J-Pop with tons of synthesizers and videogame sound effects. They try to get you hooked by messing with that pattern-recognition area of your brain that made you bee-bop to Gangam Style. What they do is start off with a fast, catchy beat, and then arbitrarily and abruptly shift into a different, faster tune altogether. This is best exemplified in W.W.D., one of my favorite songs from them. Since their style is designed to mess directly with your brain on a nueral level, you can’t not be caught off guard even if you’re expecting it. It’s science! They’ve been around for over ten years, and they still bamboozle me even during their newest songs. The only flaw with Dempagumi is that there are some songs that are a little more mainstream, and while those are nice and la-dee-da, they aren’t the Dempagumi that I love. 

Seriously though, this group should be monopolizing the idol industry! I doubt that any of the members themselves are involved in the creative process of their songs, but whoever is involved… is a freakin’ genius. I highly recommend Dempagumi.inc to anyone who wants a twist to mainstream pop. Start with their greatest hits album: WWD Best Demparyouko, since, like I said, they’ve kind of been active for over ten years…


2) BAND-MAID

This is a band I literally found out of nowhere. Although they’ve grown substantially more popular with their most recent album, I was a fan since summer 2019- snug within the range of “before it was cool.” When I made the life-changing decision of subscribing to Apple Music, one of the first bands I got into was- no, not BAND-MAID- but Passcode. Passocde’s great and all, but in the similar artists tab, I couldn’t help but notice BAND-MAID. And the rest is history.

BAND-MAID, whose claim to fame comes from their maid cafe-like attire, is a hard rock band that skirts the line of metal, and a damn powerful one at that. One distinct feeling I get from their music is not something I ever feel in any other J-Rock bands: Classic Rock. Yeah, I know it’s an oxymoron, but a lot of their stuff reminds me of AC/DC, Van Halen, Dio… basically, all the rock bands of yore that I love. “You only like them because they’re mimicking Western culture, you traitorous lech!” you exclaim. Well… it’s true that they do come off as Western, but they’re excused because they still manage to have some sort of identity, despite how much they emulate those aforementioned artists.

If I have any concern, it’s that I don’t know what direction they’re headed in. Despite the fact that their newest album is objectively their most successful and important one, I feel mixed about it. It sounds a bit… lighter than previous records (I’ve only listened to the first half of it, though). I won’t fault them for trying stuff; in fact, I love it when artists try stuff. But I don’t know if they’re merely trying stuff, or if they’re trying to pander to the masses. If it’s the latter, they’d likely abandon the metal music identity they’ve spent the past five years building. 

But for the time being, BAND-MAID is a ludicrously good group. Apple Music doesn’t have their very first album, but it has everything else. I personally started with their third studio album, Brand-New Maid, but you can honestly start anywhere.


1) nano

It shouldn’t surprise me that Japanese-American singer nano wound up being first on my list. After all, she is one of the few people in the anisong industry who really has a true style that is entirely their own. 

nano generally does very aggressive hard rock and metal tracks, but also throws in electronic, or even in the case of one particular song, combines rock with traditional Japanese instruments. I find her older stuff to be rough around the edges, but from her album, Rock On, and onwards, she’s gotten better and louder. Her albums are one of the best showcases of the evolution of an artist that I’ve ever heard. A lot of credit goes to whoever produces and mixes the music in order to bring out the best of her powerful voice and the instruments that her buddies play.

nano’s music is divided into two distinct types: Regular J-rock that’s used as assets for anime and such, and straight up Western-influenced hard rock. The latter is typically used in albums, as the designated filler songs. However, I find those to be some of the best filler, and often times among nano’s best songs. I recommend going through all of her albums, or at least starting with Rock On and going chronologically from there.

Overall, Japanese music is freakin’ great, and I don’t get why it’s not more popular. I get that the Japanese generally like to keep to themselves, culturally, but most of this stuff is as easily accessible on big-name streaming service as their Korean competitors! It’s… it’s THERE! Well, whatever. Hopefully, this post will raise just a little more awareness for the stuff. I highly recommend you follow these artists, and whoever else you find interesting, on Twitter. Most of the Tweets are in Japanese… but… it takes only two clicks to translate their Tweet… so just follow them already! 

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Honorable Mentions: Passcode, RAISE A SUILEN, Burnout Syndromes, ASCA, ONE OK ROCK

The Tale of Princess Kaguya Movie Review

Cropped out the poster of the movie

Just in case you haven’t read my profile, I’m gonna let you in on something: I’ve been intensely studying Japanese culture since earlier this year. And as such, I already knew how Ghibli’s adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, titled The Tale of Princess Kaguya, would turn out. And thank Jizo that I did! You’ll see why later in this post.

To sum it up, it all begins when an old bamboo cutter finds a baby girl inside a bamboo stalk. Since this is a Shinto story, he doesn’t bat an eye whatsoever at this find, and decides to raise her. Before we know it, bamboo stalks start oozing gold and his daughter is in the lap of luxury! 

Normally, I’d discuss visuals last. But since the paint-like art style of Kaguya stands out so much, I gotta talk about it first. My first instinct is to chalk it up as gimmicky. However, the implementation of the different textures of the brush, as well as colors, helps the movie convey mood and motion better than most modern TV anime. The simplistic designs also help make characters super expressive and movements to be consistently smooth and fluid.

But the question becomes: “If you took away the unique artstyle, is the movie still any good?” Narratively speaking, Kaguya is more-or-less a family drama of the “Kid just wants to be a kid but gets all of it yanked away from them on account of their dumb, money-grubbing parent(s)”, a la Citizen Kane. I personally don’t care much for family dramas as a narrative theme, and I only chose to watch this movie because of my familiarity with the original story.

And I made a good call, because otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve liked Kaguya otherwise. At two and a half hours, this adaptation of a folk take that takes about five or ten minutes to read takes its sweet time. Despite how she’s supposed to be rapidly growing, it takes about the first hour for her to actually become a teenager and for the core narrative to start in earnest. Leading up to that, you end up deathly curious as to what her origin is (well, you’re meant to at least), but find yourself just watching a kid just bumbling around with other kids for a while. As admittedly boring this first act is, I greatly prefer it over the alternative, which is to have the sh** go down within the first five minutes before you can acclimate yourself to her childhood. Because of this, it actually feels emotional when the aforementioned sh** goes down.

But the thing is, despite how expressive the characters are in the animation, most of them are very unremarkable. The titular character, Kaguya, is probably the only one you’ll remember over time. Like in the story, she’s a real rambunctious rascal, and merely wants to live out that Cindi Lauper dream of girls just wanting to have fun. Watching everything crumble around her is pretty darn engaging, as sadistic as that sounds.

Her parents are polar opposites, with the “bad” parent being the dad. He starts as this jolly old fart and becomes an utter ass in his hunger for glory. Fortunately, Kaguya’s mom still gets her daughter, but she can’t do much. Time period and all that. Most other characters, besides Best Girl Chubby Loli Servant, aren’t that interesting.

The background music is nice. It’s obviously traditional, old school Japanese classical instruments, and it’s very beautiful. I noticed, in the opening credits, that the music is by the same guy that did Children of the Sea (if only it premiered in American theaters *glares at GKids*).

One big issue I can see viewers having with Kaguya is its final act. I can’t even imagine what audiences thought when they first saw it. I mean, this movie spends almost two hours building up this big family drama, and just when it’s about to go down… from straight outta left field… POW! Sudden new development! But there was no way around it. Here’s a fun fact: that ending is canon. I’m not joking; this movie’s ending isn’t Ghibli taking any serious creative liberties; they are following the source material. From a narrative standpoint, it is a very BS note to go out on, but there ya have it. Maybe someday, Disney will do a fluffier adaptation and retcon it like they did with the Grimm brothers, but for now this is what we get. I would’ve been livid if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, that’s for sure.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s slow-paced, relatable, and cynical; no wonder it was so successful in the West! In all honesty, despite how good The Tale of Princess Kaguya is overall, I can’t easily recommend it. It is very slow, nuanced, very cultural, and that ending… Hoo boy! For all intents and purposes, this is probably the best version of her story. But movies are an inherently bigger investment than a cute little folktale, so the crotch-kick at the end hurts more than reading the original. It all depends on what medium you’d prefer. I’d recommend Kaguya if you want a reprieve from the cheapo anime that they churn out like Jeff Daniels in that disgusting scene of Dumb and Dumber, or if you’re studying Japanese culture and want to know about one of its famous folktales.

Three J-Rock Debuts of 2019 That you Should Keep an Eye On

Left to Right: Mayu Maeshima’s album, “From Dream and You”; EXiNA’s album, “XiX”; Dual Alter World’s album, “Alter Ego”

I’ve really gotten into Japanese music lately (‘cuz I’m a weeb). There are sooooooo many artists out there, all with varying styles. In fact, there’s almost too many of them, and it doesn’t help that new ones keep coming out of the woodwork every year! In today’s blog, I’m going to highlight three who have peaked my interest, and could end up being really awesome in the foreseeable future.

NOTE: Finding information on REALLY famous Japanese people is hard enough on the English-speaking Internet, so I can’t even imagine finding info on these more obscure people. As such, I’m mainly going to talk about the music, please do not take anything I say about their backgrounds as gospel.


Mayu Maeshima

I’ve recently come to realize that the anisong industry- the market of people, like Konomi Suzuki, who perform music used in anime- isn’t all that great. A lot of those artists kind of sound similar to each other, the exception being the J-prog-rock band, MYTH & ROID. Mayu Maeshima is their original vocalist, and she left the band last year. In April of this year, I found a music video for Mayu’s solo debut: Yellow. 

And that song bamboozled me. It was slow, strange, outright depressing, and if it wasn’t for me recognizing Maeshima’s voice, I would not have thought that she was in MYTH & ROID. A couple months ago, she released her first album, From Dream and You, and with this she cements the style of her music.

Sad. As. F***.

Maeshima’s music is what I’d call “sad ReoNa.” It’s mostly acoustic-based, with a folksy style, and really sad lyrics. “Hang on, Mack, you don’t know Japanese. Did you somehow learn the language fluently since your last post?” No, it’s just that Maeshima sings in English. I don’t know why she does it, but she still sounds good doing it.

I do have a couple of concerns with Maeshima.  Based on the first album, I fear that she might become one of those artists who’s only liked for their hits. Yellow and When You Went Away have noticeably more oomph than the other stuff on there. I’m not saying that the other stuff is bad per se, but if there’s not a solid enough consistency moving forward, she’ll kind of have a Tears for Fears situation where people associate her with two popular songs and nothing else. Also, I haven’t caught a whiff of a single live gig since she debuted, which I’d interpret as bad. But hey, whatever happens with her, I hope she’s happy and that she becomes super popular!


EXiNA

According to information on this young woman’s social media, she had a career as Shiena Nishizawa before becoming EXiNA. I don’t know anything else because, like I said, finding information on these people is hard for a non-Japanese like me.

EXiNA is basically an angstier nano. Her songs generally have a gritty, electric-punk-rock-with-hard-rock style. Her voice is also surprisingly deep and very angry-sounding. To quote the second track of her first album, her music will make you “crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy!”

Unfortunately, the licensing for her seems to be a bit shaky, at least here in ‘Merica. None of her first singles came out over here, which isn’t really a big deal since their all on the album, which we do have. However, her subsequent single, Jesus Knows, came out over here a couple weeks late, her newest single (at this time) is unaccounted for, and an article I read about a recent gig mentioned songs I hadn’t even heard of. I’ve also checked a friend’s Spotify and confirmed the same case there too. It’s a miracle how much Japanese media has been unleashed worldwide, and you never know when it’ll be gone. So, check out EXiNA while you still can!


Dual Alter World

I only found out about this duo, consisting of voice actress Kotori Koiwai and RYU, the guitarist of Blood Stain Child, on Apple Music’s New Music Mix playlist. They looked interesting, so I gave them a whirl. 

And WOW, what a band! DAW is like a fusion of Kanako Ito and Passcode; with the cyberpunk atmosphere of the former, the sheer chutzpah of the latter, and the potential to surpass both. So far, they only have one album, Alter Ego, and it’s lit. The big problem, however, which is only for non-Japanese speaking people, is it’s a concept album. Each track, for the most part, alternates between an ambient spoken track and an actual song. It’s not a problem for me because I never know what’s happening in concept albums anyway. Overall, the album is really great, and the way it ends is disturbing and reminds me of Queensryche (the classic, OG lineup of course). That’s not a vibe I expected a modern band to have at all.

In conclusion, DAW is great so far and has the best potential out of the three. If they continue to evolve and experiment over time, they could become really powerful. Hopefully this isn’t a one-off thing or I’ll look like a real idiot.


I know I’m a puny little blogger. But hey, anyone who likes this post is another potential customer for these artists. It’s all free advertising for them!

March of the Wooden Soldiers Retrospective

Promotional artwork for the movie (on IMDB)

Holiday movie traditions have been a thing since television. But over the years, I’ve come to question the quality of some of these “classics.” On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a modern look at a Laurel and Hardy favorite: March of the Wooden Soldiers (or Babes in Toyland, originally), a Thanksgiving tradition on the East Coast that started since 1963, when WPIX11 would broadcast this film every year since then. There will be spoilers.

So, the premise (even though we should all know it already). In the fantasy world known as Toyland (that was built right in front of the gates of hell. Great location, guys), the local tax collector, Silas Barnaby, is more than willing to evict the Old Lady who Lives in a Shoe from, well, her shoe, unless she sells her daughter, Little Bo Peep, to him. Well, not if Stannie Dum and Ollie- Ah, screw it, we never call these two by their character names. They will always be Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and they set out to stop Barnaby!

The movie starts out with Mother Goose singing the most cynical opening ever about how adults lose all semblance of childhood without exception as a big book opens up and introduces the cast of characters. The little video-pictures give a good visual clue of what each person is like, but it gets undermined by captions like “Barnaby’s the meanest man in town, just so you know, in case you were too stupid to tell from the fact that he’s an old hunchback creepozoid.”

Man, this movie was sure state-of-the-art for the time period. I’m sure the kids these days are watching this and being all like, “Wow, the CG was really bad back then!” Well, guess what, movies back then were filmed on “sets,” which means, a physically existing site, where they- yes- had to BUILT all of this crap. I always admired when people actually had to make magic with science back then, instead of just doing it on a fancy machine. I’ll never understand the appeal of those films that are done entirely with a green screen.

Watching this movie again really shows how unremarkable most of the actors are. Key Word: MOST. Similar to Hocus Pocus, we put up with all this crap (like that cringe-inducing Tom-Tom and Bo Peep subplot) just to see the actors that were on the poster, with this case being the irreplaceable Laurel and Hardy. Any scene that doesn’t have these two in it is really boring, but unlike Hocus Pocus, these guys are actually in most of the movie. It’s really amazing how well their humor holds up, with scenes like Laurel’s amazing pee-wee skills, to him dropping a rock on Barnaby and telling him to look out, and- of course- “So far, so good.” “It wasn’t so far!” “Goodnight Ollie.” “Goodnight Stannie- OOohhhhhhh…”

Out of the actors besides Laurel and Hardy, Barnaby’s actor really takes the cake. People were still coming out of the Silent Era, and this guy’s expressive mannerisms help make Barnaby a real conniving mo-fo. Well, okay, maybe there are better antagonists in more modern works, but he’s still a fun character (Side Note: The real bad guy is that stupid toymaker. Screw that guy).

Speaking of other actors, I wanna bring up the cat and the mouse. Screw the bogeyman; THESE are the stuff of horrors. The fur on the cat is just not fluffy enough, plus- GAH!- he still has his human eyes. Wh-why?! The less scary of the two is the monkey-mouse. This is perhaps the first instance of riding on someone else’s success that I personally have experienced in cinema. It was 1934, and Mickey Mouse was just starting his world conquest (with Snow White three years away from following suit). So, the most logical move for competitor M.G.M. was to take a monkey, dress it up as Mickey Mouse, and pander to the kiddies. Since the costume sucked, the creature looked just derivative enough from Mickey so that it wouldn’t violate whatever copyright laws existed at the time, but still looked enough like Mickey so that the kids would think it really was him. On a side note, the Three Little Pigs also look really creepy. The bogeymen that we were all scared of still look scary in a way, but nowadays it’s more of a “It’s scary that a design team actually gave the okay on such bad-looking costumes.”

Let’s also discuss the background music next. I think truly good background music had sort of died, with John Williams and the peeps at Disney seeming to be among the few who actually know how to make it work. The whole “sound” thing was still new, and at this point in time, music had to convey everything, and March of the Wooden Soldiers is no exception. I’m sure you still have an earworm playing Laurel and Hardy’s “doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-DOO,” or Barnaby’s “duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duh, duh-duh-duh-duhduhduhduh.” It’s such a good example of show-don’t-tell, but that’s also undermined by the captions in the picture book in beginning.

I’ve discussed a lot of the positives, but since the analytical process has skyrocketed to such heights in recent years, it’s impossible to not notice some issues in March of the Wooden Soldiers. It is a lot of small suspension of disbelief stuff, but it stacks. Why is the King such a dictator and an idiot? Why is the toymaker an ass? Why are there TAXES in such a peaceful kingdom? Why does attempted larceny result in ducking and banishment to Bogeyland, but kidnapping and murder- a far worse crime- result in just the banishment? And WHY IS BOGEYLAND RIGHT NEXT TO TOYLAND?! If it’s symbolism of the adult world (“Once you cross its borders, you will never return”), then- geewillickers!- this is such a dark movie! Other issues also include Tom-Tom and Bo Peep. Uuuuugh… I’m pretty sure nobody liked their chemistry, and it still sucks today (but hey, it’s still a better love story than Twilight). And why oh WHY did Tom-Tom think that falling asleep in that hellhole was a good idea (yeah, I know the sandmen did it but he started serenading Peep way before then)?!

But in all honesty, the movie’s biggest flaw is probably its age. The movie is still great and all, but the evolution of cinema and entertainment in general has transcended March of the Wooden Soldiers. I also don’t enjoy movies as much anymore; I’d rather read manga or play videogames. Also, the climax of the film isn’t really as cathartic to watch anymore, in comparison to something like an epic One Piece moment. It’s still a good scene, though, and it’s at least foreshadowed properly. The only real flaw is that it makes no sense that it showed the first soldier only being able to walk forward, while the others are perfectly autonomous golems that can easily fight off an army of hairy old men.

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After All These Years: 7.5/10

March of the Wooden Soldiers is still a good movie, but it’s not an indisputable masterpiece. Heck, I don’t even think it’s the best Laurel and Hardy movie (that one’s called Way Out West). It doesn’t hit like a cannon full of darts anymore, but out of all Thanksgiving traditions, March of the Wooden Soldiers still beats that parade in New York by light-years (especially if you’ve seen a Disney parade, like me).