Visual Kei, JRock

We all can get pretty nostalgic sometimes, and the eighties was a great decade for rock music coming out of Japan.  Along with punk rock rising in popularity, a group of musicians began a movement toward visual kei.  New to the time, and probably new to you, visual kei is actually not a music genre but is more of a subculture and performing art/storytelling.  In a way, it is similar to the establishment of punk rock as a culture, but the two are not nearly the same.

Let’s take ourselves all the way back to the past.  Many of you may be familiar with Kabuki– a form of performing art that originated in Japan.  It stood out from anything else at the time because of the greater range in freedom of expression:  makeup was more vibrantly colored, the music was not conservative, and the costuming was nothing short of what we call pea-cocking today.  Visual kei draws much of its flamboyant and androgynous fashion and hairstyles as well as makeup from this period.

Today’s visual kei bands are often all male, but some female groups exist (such as Exist Trace.)  X Japan, a famous group, were also involved in the primary stages of visual kei but have since disbanded.  More modern bands that have gained noteriety are Malice Mizer, Dir en Gray, The Gazette, and Alice Nine.

Although mainstream rock bands may not be a part of the visual kei movement, some have admitted to borrowing influence from it.  Famous amongst anime viewers for their contributions to Full Metal Alchemist, Ruroni Kenshin, Final Fantasy:  The Spirits Within, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Nana, and more– L’Arc~en~Ciel actually got their start as a visual kei band.  Obviously since then, their musical influences have been evolving.

Some Favorite Themes from Anime Series

Even if you may not understand Japanese, most anime fans have a distinct appreciation for the value of a good and comprehensive soundtrack when it comes time for a program to open, or come to a close.

Have you ever heard of Yu Yu Hakusho?  If you like fighting animes and are feeling nostalgic, then this program is probably right for you.  Throughout its entire run as an anime adapted from a manga series, there is only one opening theme song.  With this opening track’s easy-to-follow and singalong vocals, Japanese singer-songwriter Matsuko Mawatari’s “Hohoemi no Bakudan (Smile Bomb)” has been reeling in giddy listeners since 1992.  The energetic brass sections and funky guitar beats are inviting but reminiscent of friendships and long journeys– perfect for the pacing of battles and funny characters in-between.

Maybe fighting isn’t your style though.  If you are more of the intellectual type looking for a great mystery to solve, then The Perfect Insider is just the fit.  From Hiroshi Mori’s novel in 1996, the cases of Saikawa-sensei and Moe-san have since been adapted into a visual novel, TV drama series, and anime series.  While the drama adaptation’s opening song is incredibly repetitive and catchy, the anime’s opening “Talking” by Kana-boon is a force to be reckoned with.  It begins with an infectious bass riff that keeps on building during the verses, and the androgynous vocals of the lead singer also make this song feel like anyone can dance to it while tuning in for this week’s new episode.