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Visual Kei and Anime Tie-Ins

Some anime fans are fans of Visual Kei. And some fans of Visual Kei are fans of anime. This is quite likely due to a general interest in Japanese (pop) culture, however another explanation could be the use of “tie-ins” whereby songs by certain artists are used as the opening or ending themes for an anime in order to cross-promote the two products. The Japanese music industry has a great love for tie-ins be it with anime, drama, promotion of jewellery lines, ice-cream ads, you name it! However of interest to Visual fans is the apparent (from this author’s POV) increase in the number of anime tie-ins with Visual Kei artists. As a member of both fandoms, I’ll be taking a look at some collaborations that I have found interesting.

When people think “visual kei” and “anime” one of the first bands that would come to mind is Nightmare. Nightmare’s most well known tie-in would be “THE WORLD” and “alumina ”, which were used as the first opening and ending theme songs to the popular anime Death Note. Those who are familiar with the show would recognise the homage to a particular scene from Death Note in Nightmare’s THE WORLD PV which involves the blindfolding (and interrogation) of a certain character. During their time with the label VAP, Nightmare contributed theme songs to three anime, all with fairly serious (and violent…) storylines, quite befitting of their image (the serious part, not the violent part!):

  • Death Note (THE WORLD, alumina): follows a high school student disillusioned with the world and his fellow humankind, who gains possession of a notebook which allows one to murder a person by writing their name within its pages. He sets upon a mission to rid the world of criminals but loses sight of his original goal (and develops a God-complex) as he is hunted and attempts to evade the police.
  • Claymore (Raison D’etre): in a fictional fantasy world, young women discard their humanity by allowing the flesh of monsters to be implanted in them, in order to give them the abilities to protect the people of their world from the aforementioned monsters in what appears to be a losing battle with no end.
  • Mouryou no Hako or Box of Goblins  (Lost in Blue, Naked Love): a bizarre and intricate murder mystery in which the limbs of victims are removed from the corpse, placed ceremoniously within a wooden box and positioned in well frequented places for all to see. Has a truly horrific conclusion.

A  collaboration with a fair bit of drama behind it was the use of the GazettE’s “SHIVER” as the opening for Kuroshitsuji II. There seems to have been a rather angry response from some established fans regarding the likelihood of “otaku” becoming fans of the band. However, the decision of Sony Music Entertainment to tie-in the GazettE with Kuroshitsuji (literally “Black Butler”) was a very good one from a sales and exposure point of view. For those who do not know, Kuroshitsuji takes place in a fictional Victorian Era, a very gothic one for that matter. Hence, the target audience of the anime would consist of (mainly) young girls/women who have absolutely no qualms with the fashion in Kuroshitsuji, and therefore would be very much open to the visual aspect of Visual Kei. Considering that many people disregard Visual Kei musically due to the appearance of the bands, this was a very safe and (most probably) profitable venture for Sony. Furthermore, the first season of Kuroshitsuji resulted in a massive increase in sales of the original manga and placed the opening theme song “Monokuro no Kiss” by fellow Visual Kei band SID into the top ten of the Oricon charts, meaning that there was little risk in such a tie-in, minus the backlash from some existing fans (which wouldn’t have resulted in reduced sales anyway).

In 2008, the Visual Kei band SID went major by moving from Danger Crue Records to Ki/oon (a division of Sony), which is also home to the famous (and prolific anime theme contributors) L’Arc~en~Ciel. So it was of no surprise when it was announced that SID’s first major single would be an anime opening theme, namely the first season of Kuroshitsuji. Their next collaboration was with the highly anticipated Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Fullmetal Alchemist is an incredibly popular manga, being the 6th highest selling manga series in the year 2010. It was originally adapted into an anime in 2003, but as it was airing while the manga was still ongoing, it eventually diverged from the plotline of the original source and became a very different story. However, with the manga coming to a conclusion in 2010, a more faithful anime adaptation, subtitled “Brotherhood” was green-lit. SID contributed two songs to Fullmetal Alchemist: Uso (1st ending theme song) and Rain (5th opening theme song). The exposure SID got with their involvement in such a popular anime, along with their arguably “toned down” visuals would likely have caught the attention of the “mainstream” audience, with “Uso” even being covered by a member of AKB48 (for those who pay little attention to idols/the Oricon charts, AKB48 and Arashi are Japan’s top selling artists…by a mile). I’ve even had some guy friends, introduced to SID through Fullmetal Alchemist say things along the lines of “they look scary but I like their music” and “I don’t like Visual Kei but I like SID”. Other than Kuroshitsuji and Fullmetal Alchemist, SID have also contributed “Ranbu no Melody” to the long running anime Bleach.

Another Visual Kei band who has recently signed to Sony (subdivision Epic Records) is ViViD. Sony seems to be pushing the collaboration front pretty hard with this band, as their first two releases were used as the ending theme to LEVEL E and as one of the many openings to Bleach. The tie-ins were successful for both Sony and the band, with “Yume ~Mugen no Kanata~” (LEVEL E) hitting #6 on the Oricon charts, their first entry into the Oricon top 10. The Bleach tie-in Blue, improved on this position (possibly due to the larger fanbase of Bleach compared to LEVEL E and having already established themselves with “Yume ~Mugen no Kanata~)” reaching #4. I’ll be interested in seeing how the next Visual Kei band signed to Sony fares. Sony has always been big on promoting their artists through anime (many of which don’t make the top 10 of the Oricon, despite the promotion), but it seems that with the success of SID, the GazettE and now ViViD, that they may be looking into signing more Visual Kei bands. Although there may be mixed thoughts as to whether this is a good or bad thing for the scene.

A rather interesting tie-in between anime and Visual Kei would be the performance of the first opening and ending themes of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge (literally Perfect Girl Evolution) by Kiyoharu. Kiyoharu is apparently the inspiration for the main male character, who is so beautiful and has so many (crazy and obsessive) fans that he is both unable to hold a part time job, nor live his life in peace. From this rather humorous character description it is obvious that the author Tomoko Hayakawa is a big fan of Kiyoharu. In fact, Tomoko is a big Visual Kei fan, often detailing the concerts she’s attended in the author’s notes of her books. The other three main male characters are also based on some of her favourite men in Visual Kei, although I’m unsure exactly who. Rather amusingly, I’ve come across reviews of certain volumes of her manga wherein readers indifferent to Visual Kei have commented on the lack of plot development, speculating that maybe if she spent less time going to concerts and fan-girling and more time on her manga, the plot wouldn’t feel so aimless! I imagine however, that Visual Kei fans who read her manga would find the descriptions of her live experiences a lot of fun (and perhaps be a little jealous!).

I’m sure many people have heard of the very cutely (and aptly) named KanonxKanon project. Kanon Wakeshima is no stranger to anime tie-ins, her debut single was used as the ending theme for the very gothic shoujo (girls) anime Vampire Knight. Kanon from An Café has also been involved in an anime tie-in with his former band An Café, their first single after the departure of guitarist Bou was used as an opening theme for the anime Darker than Black. Kanon is also known anime fan, being portrayed as a stereotypical “otaku” in some of An Café’s early PVs. As a side project, there hasn’t been a great deal of activity from the pair, however, the two singles they have released thus far have both been tie-ins with anime:

  • Shiki (Calendula Requiem): a horror story set in a small remote village (aren’t they always…) revolving around vampires.
  • ·         30-sai no Hoken Taiiku or Health and Physical Education for 30 year olds (Koi no Dotei): a series aimed at 30 year old men who have not had a physical or sexual relationship with women.

A rather strange collection right? Which leads me to wonder if this joint project was created with the intention of writing songs for use in anime (regardless of subject matter or plot…). Definitely not a common modus operandi for a Visual Kei artist, but not the first of its kind either. The band Chrome Shelled was formed to perform songs for the anime CHROME SHELLED REGIOS. Chrome Shelled was another side project and consists of some familiar names of musicians who are part of currently active visual kei bands:

Vocals: Ricky (ex-R*A*P, ex-DASEIN)

Guitar: Takmi (Filter Fish)

Guitar: Ryouhei (Megamasso)

Bass: Karin (NoGod)

Drums: ReI (v-Neu)

Anime tie-ins are often (or rather definitely) used as a form of advertisement, fans of the anime will be introduced to the artist, and fans of the band may check out the anime in order to view a preview of the release. One indie band that has tried to utilise the fame of an anime without actually officially performing a theme song is A, or ACE (Anonymous Confederate Ensemble). The anime in question here is Evangelion, one of the most famous, critically and commercially successful anime series in recent times. Although originally airing in 1995, a series of remake movies have been produced (with sequels allegedly in production) which have brought the anime back into the spotlight. A (the band) have written and recorded a rock cover of the opening theme song to Evangelion’s “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” (PV available on their Youtube! ). In an interview with Rokkyu magazine, the members admit to never having seen the anime, yet acknowledge its popularity and in a very calculating move have attempted to utilise its mainstream appeal to show case their unique style of rock. The song is also available for purchase on Global iTunes, I wonder how many purchases are from fans of the anime who have come across this cover and bought it, not realising (or perhaps caring) that the band is Visual Kei?

 

Finally, I’d like to mention the role of Yu Gi Oh in the promotion of Visual Kei artists through tie-ins. Many people will be familiar with Yu Gi Oh as the massive (kid’s) card franchise. The original Yu Gi Oh was a manga wherein the main characters “battled” others via different (not necessarily card) games. However, with the start of the Duelist Kingdom story arc, the focus shifted primarily to cards, and a franchise was spawned. The interesting thing about Yu Gi Oh is the large difference in demographic to that of Kuroshitsuji (primarily female and in their teens or older, in other words very similar to the typical Visual Kei fan) or even Bleach (a large fanbase with a big proportion of female fans, tending to be teens or older). Yu Gi Oh is very much aimed at young boys, who generally are more interested in asking their parents to buy them toy related merchandise, and not CDs of artists who perform the theme songs to the shows they watch. However, a fair few Visual Kei artists have been involved with the franchise, including Kra, Alice Nine, Vistlip, Plastic Tree and more recently, Golden Bomber and DaizyStripper. I cannot think offhand what kind of benefit the labels of these bands find in such collaborations; I cannot imagine that they would garner much more attention, sales or even prestige from association with a franchise like Yu Gi Oh. However it is interesting, none the less!

And so concludes my very narrow look into the world of Visual Kei-anime tie-ins. I realise that there are some who feel such tie-ins to be demeaning and overly commercial (in other words “selling out”), but as a fan of anime, I get a warm fuzzy feeling and a sense of pride (perhaps misplaced?!) when I realise a band I follow is contributing to an anime. Even better if it’s one I’m watching! The scope of this article is limited by the types of anime/artists I watch/follow and the length at which I have been following the two (anime since 2004 and Visual Kei since late 2007). I’d be interested in hearing about any other unusual or interesting collaborations that have slipped past my radar. Feel free to expand in the comments!

 

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