Critical Theory: what’s the value of Visual Kei, some core value and an opinion on how to hestimate a visual artist’s value

No true research starts without letting the reader know why it is important to research on such topic and I want to do the same: Visual Kei must not be studied as the Japanese version of glam rock, but it can’t be defined worthy of research just because it is a peculiar genre of Japanese music.

I think that its research value is its capability of transforming and adapting traditional as well as foreign values into a product different from the starting point and presenting it to a young audience in an underground/indie context. To give some examples, 9Goats Black Out quoted greek myths and philosophy as well as european art in their works, Kiryu pretty much re-wrote the image of many characters of medieval and classical Japanese Literature, D and Kamijo wrote something like a vampire-legend giving an extremely original take on the figure of the Vampire taken from European folklore, Dadaroma (and especially Yoshiatsu) started portraying themselves as a joker heavily inspired by the figure of Stanczyc, the jester who became the symbol of Polish culture during a specific time in Poland, and much, much more. With such a lively scene, literature students would be surprised of how much this figures have been adapted to Japanese culture, maybe to an extent that nobody could even imagine, and made somewhat coherent. It’s the paradise of comparative literature and presentist research. Researchers out there, your paradise is here!

Now, going deeper, there is much more to research. For example, how did the Visual kei scene become like this, how it is perceived, how much influence has and receive from the not-underground culture and so on.

In order to research on such topics, one must find some sort of orienting point throughout Visual Kei that really deserve some attention: that is the evolution of the “Mask”.

Seeing how it started just as a simple style (maybe a hair style) and evolved into characters, then images and kept going on for almost 30 years, how the punk image has been partially tamed in some years, how it has been strongly pushed forward in other times: all these are topics which are strictly inherent to Visual Kei  may offer extreme depth if researched focusing on the development of some individual artists throughout various “eras” of Visual Kei. For example, the mask of Gackt is extremely interesting: just imagine how difficult may be to translate your character from the vampire born in the 15 th century to the one of an idol-like artist which dances with other dancers in a band called “Yellow fried chickenz”. Also, when some critic will finally acknowledge the literary value of Visual lyrics, it will be extremely interesting to study the evolution of the lyrics of Nightmare and their oscillations in the years, showing the literary growth of their themes (especially the ones brought up by Ruka).

And finally, a personal opinion, what I consider the core potential of Visual Kei and, potentially the main concept with whom I tend to judge Visual bands: how masks can be adapted to themes without losing coherence. For example, a band I consider as one of the best in do such a thing is R指定, everytime I’m stunned by the quantity of new masks they can produce without getting out of their own boundaries of music and aesthetic. To put it in a simpler way, I love bands that never stop on the same theme or sound and stretch the personality of their masks towards genres and words that were never experimented before.

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ポイドル (Poidol) – 粛清エレジー (Shukusei elegy) Translation

Kanji-Romaji

Translation

Title: Elegy of the Purged*

 

Whenever you are ready, any time is fine!

You, boy who shows off in the face of the pain of the people,

you who moody, self-proclaimed sadist,

where will your tomb be?

Somewhere else you may be good at curry favour to people,

but I can see through your sophist discourse,

Look, around me and you

so many people are disappearing, can’t you see?

 

They have been purged*.

 

This is elegy I’m giving to you won’t reach, I guess?

We are all victim of this era,

but still, I won’t forgive you.

Why do you remember of the city you only use to make a living?**

It is a false paradise, you are dancing in a dream,

that is your shameful, shameful happy ending.

 

Selfishness everywhere,

you have the freedom to mistake one thing for another,

Your tip of the tongue, saying fancy things,

I would like to cut it away, clip, clip***

Incomplete sentences are dangerous

Flirty hearts have two sides

Incomplete sentences are dangerous

Flirty hearts have two sides

 

Only those who speak empty theories are doing fine,

insincere laughs to unlaughable jokes,

with openly bias ideas they cynically criticize everything

and with such ostentation and lust they devour everyone’s dream.

To those who strike back, they use the iron hammer of personal feelings:

“now now, what are actually good and evil?!

To have the premises for a dialogue, that is the right path,

but those fools who gave up their own selfishness…

 

…have been purged*.

 

This is elegy I’m giving to you won’t reach, I guess?

We are all victim of this era,

but still, I won’t forgive you.

You better consider me, the last days of this treachery

are a false paradise, are the rightfulness of depravity,

yours is just a shameful, shameful happy ending.

 

Selfishness everywhere,

you have the freedom to mistake one thing for another,

Your tip of the tongue, saying fancy things,

I would like to cut it away, clip, clip***

 

Notes and Other

*=specifically, politically purged.

**=while it may not be so common in western society, in Japan, going far away from one’s hometown to a bigger town (mostly Tokyo) to find a better job, but still the strongest bond remains the one with the hometown. Just wanted to give some context.

***=I tried to replicate the sound of scissors. If you have better suggestions, let me know.

It is interesting how Visual Kei, playing the role of the emarginated musical genre, may give space to political criticism froma different perspective. Poidol are of course not the first one to walk this road, but surely they are doing it in their own way.

ポイドル (Poidol) – アイオライト (Iolite) Translation

Kanji-Romaji

Translation

 

Shine, Iolite*!

 

Just like always, “this” or “that” give colour to these days,

but there’s no such thing as truth, there’s just bullshit,

how many people have told you that such things are “confidential information”?

The talkative me has been stained by such lightness of words.

 

It’s a today in which we have no choice but to play innocent.

Wanting to run away but unable to do so, I wonder if “Future too will be so sad”.

In this map in which we are trampled down,

I don’t know where I am

and my blurred out voice go…

 

… “I’m alright”, no way I am!

I lost sight of my heart,

Everytime I gulped down my voice, I killed my own self.

I’m just talking about the dream of cowardness,

to you it may be a pipe dream

looking like a lie, I guess. But while you make fun of us saying that we are too impulsive,

we are being robbed of our reason to live.

 

Almost to the point of choking because of the vomited out exhausted gases,

being stained by such a world is disgusting, annoying.

Unable to find the fault into the voice of those who kick down someone

and while looking down to him ridicule him, I held my knees.

 

No way it was worse before!

It is becoming more and more oppressive!

Don’t ask anything from me!

 

I endure while being unable to say even what I would like to say,

There’s no salvation for the ugly us.

We forgot about the most important thing, to hold each other hands

and we have been broken.

 

It’s a today in which we have no choice but to play innocent.

In a past which I can’t erase even though I wished to, I wondered if “The future would have been secluded to us”

Just like kids,

we were afraid of our own shadows and cried,

my blurred out voice go…

 

… “I’m alright”, no way I am!

I lost sight of my heart,

Everytime I gulped down my voice, I killed my own self.

I’m just talking about the dream of cowardness,

but to me that is everything,

I don’t sing to be alive, I live to sing.

 

I’m alright”, but even if I show off my courage,

so that it reaches, so that it comes true, I murmur this so many times,

Will the words of the answer

be awarded or be stolen?

Our lives are not long enough to find the meaning of the eternity,

but there’s no thought that shines without being ridiculed.

 

I set off to the usual today,

the scar which pierced me won’t go away today as well, but

I’ll follow the path music which will never stop ringing!

Almost as to say “Let it be happiness in this life”

the iolite* shines.

 

Notes and Other

Words in Italic are in English in the original lyrics.

*= iolite is a pretty average stone, but in the past people thought that it could always the position of the sun even when not visible, as some kind of guiding stone.

Interesting song, very critical toward society. Compared to other bands’s songs, the lyrics appear more “conspiracy theory” oriented and I guess this could be one of the characteristic of this band, but I don’t know enough to say that for sure.

lynch. – JØKER Translation

Kanji

Translation

 

MAKE UP

 

Welcome to this sweet REALITY

such an unrealistic TRICK

 

On the red lips a sweet smell lingers,

a destructive MAD aesthetic

 

I licentiously stretch out my harm, I can turn you into a beast,

a saliva-dripping trash.

 

Come on, let’s start!

Love and Hate*

 

DOWN DAWN DA DI TI

Love me, more, sweetly

 

My precious DOLL for my sexual slavery PLAY

Supplicate (WITH) ME

My precious DOLL, PRAY for your sexual slavery

Supplicate in front of my eyes

 

I AM JØKER, WE ARE FAKERS

 

Stimulate the tip of my tongue, I want to pierce you right into your forehead

you saliva-dripping trash.

 

DOWN DAWN DA DI TI

Love me, more, dangerously

 

DOWN DAWN DA DI TI

Make me wet, more

Make me go mad, more

Love me, more, sweetly,

I’ll eat you, sweetly, licking you with my tongue!

 

Notes and Other

Words in Italic are in English in the original lyrics, sometimes I modified them to make them more comprehensibile to a Wester audience.

*= in this line “love” and “hate” are read in a very similar way, making it difficult which is which.

Classical playful visual kei song, lynch. this time tried something relatively new compared to their usual, granitical, works. Lots of sexual innuendos in this one, but this is not something new in their lyrics.

己龍 (Kiryu) – 無垢 (Muku) Translation

Kanji

Translation

Title: Purity*

 

One, two, three, four…

every time a never ending beginning,

that thing** that drips down drop by drop,

no matter how many times I count it, I see it and pretend not to see it.

 

A thousand times, a million times, a billion times,

towards an end that has no beginning,

in that thing** that drips down drop by drop

we wander around without ever finishing to count.

 

We greatly ache because of the seeds*** screwed into ourselves by our uncontrolled violent words,

even though we may embrace that thing** in which we devour, destroy and crawl out, is that love?

 

In this current life, in the midst of the presage of rain

the crowds of wet human beings laugh,

they applaud to the black rainbow spanning in the intervals of clear sky,

like the disgusting sight of a bloomed cluster Amaryllis****

 

Purity* gets violated and (the sins) spread out in speckles making purity appear as just black,

that time, with what expression did you see that thing**?

Ah, anyhow,

The speckles open their bottomless mouths and everyone applauds.

 

If you tear off both of your eyes, the last colour burnt into your memory

would be “white” or “black” or a “rich and vivid colour”?

 

Tell me, what colour do you see?

 

The mask reflected on the flowing water surface laughs, but in the same way,

in the instant in which it sways, it shows a mask full of memories with a make up of tears.

 

In the boundary line between purity* and stain, the silhouette of every kind of evil appear and disappear,

such is the difference between “keep surviving” and “keep living for a long time”,

ah, we are born,

but if you wish to for the meaning of living just to die, then…

 

… “stop this finger”*****

 

If you tear off both of your eyes, the reality burnt on your memory

is that our lives are nothing but a shadow play******

 

Tell me, what colour do you see?

 

Notes and Other

*=there are many ways of defining purity in Japanese, this one in particular indicates the abscence of sin or stains. It is linked with buddhist idea that the torment life (which is the eternal circle of dying and being reborn again) will end once every stain from the previous life will be erased.

**= in this song, I think this word can be read with meaning of “life” or “existence”. The decision of expressing this concept in such a way is due to the fact that the writer himself is not sure about what truly is life: a curse we are forced because of our sins, a hard path to find purity or just a pure illusion.

***= again, in many buddhist writings, the sins commited in the many lives in which we are reborn again and again are seen as seeds which get planted into our “soul”, corrupting our spirit until we, slowly, take them out with pure actions.

****= an unlucky flower in Japanese culture, often associated with death and misfortune. You can read more in this beautiful article I found while researching on it.

*****= I’m really not sure about the interpretation of this line. I think it may be one way to say “stop me”, or even “stop me from writing this things”. Any suggestion is very welcome.

******= a traditional form of entertainment play in feudal Japan. The image conveyed in this line is that we are nothing but fleeting shadows dwelling into the existence.

While on one hand Kiryu’s song may appear too complex, filled with reference from Buddhism and classical literature, they are actually a treasure box for anyone wanting to see how this values can be revalued and re-utilized in a modern era.

Me, being quite a Buddhist nerd, can’t help but to write lines on lines over every concept in these song. Sorry for that, but I hope this may make the song more interesting to you. Enjoy!

摩天楼オペラ (Matenrou Opera) – Invisible Chaos Translation

Kanji

Translation

 

If I could keep looking at the sky just like a sunflower,

I wouldn’t be weakened by this rain of darkness, right?

I wouldn’t see anything to hate, you wouldn’t see anything.

 

Even though I close my eyes, I plug my ears, I can’t escape, I can’t escape this pulse.

 

The savage lands are getting bigger, I’m about to explode, I’m about to explode!

The sun is blaming me, I want to throw up, what is what I want to throw up?

 

If I could keep looking at the sky just like a sunflower,

I wouldn’t be weakened by this rain of darkness, right?

I wouldn’t see anything to hate, you wouldn’t see anything.

 

Let me understand! It’s definitely someone’s fault! Is it my fault? It has to be me…

 

The savage lands are getting bigger, I’m about to explode, I’m about to explode!

The sun is hot today too, I want to throw up, what is what I want to throw up? I can’t see anything.

 

From inside the shelter I dug down, dug up covered in sweat,

even today I indulge in laziness.

 

The place I want to go is not this! Let’s go towards the sun!

 

Pierce through, pierce through, the life that blinds my eyes

cut open, cut open, cut open my chest

and makes me understand the pain which tears me apart, but still…

 

I’ll open my eyes, listen closely and stretch out my hand, and even if I taint my own footprints with plenty of blood,

if really this is an existence in which I lost what I grasped,

it would be better off struggling on, towards the sun!

 

Notes and Other

A song about the inner a chaos we feel when we cannot find the strength to get out of our laziness, a silent chaos binding our eyes, making us close inside our one-side-minded thinking.

Personally speaking, while I was kinda intrigued by the melody, the lyrics left me a bit of delusion after taste, may be because I really struggled to translate them, but still, they are a bit too plain for my tastes. Hope you enjoy anyway!

sleepyhead – Hopeless Translation

Kanji

Translation

 

I don’t need anything, anything, anything at all,

please, erase everything!

This is such an empty world full of harshness

so rescue us!

 

We’ll always bad at saying “I’m sorry” and “Thanks”,

we won’t be able to turn the bond between us that let us the emotions on our face into our place to be.

 

I don’t need anything, anything, anything at all,

please, erase everything!

If actually this is such an empty world full of harshness

please deceive me with a prettier lie!

 

I spit out so many times words like “Farewell” or “I love you”

and even if hate being all alone, I can’t choose to be together with someone…

 

The more someone embraced me, the more it felt like I was going to be lonelier and lonelier,

Why someone can feel love for a body that has a different warmth than one’s own?

 

I don’t need anything, anything, anything at all,

please, erase everything!

I just crave for something that can satisfy

my empty, weak heart pretending to be strong.

 

No matter how much I hurt and disgrace someone else, the scar you left me won’t vanish,

the people who are reborn as the aggressor are always the weakest.

 

I got it wrong, I got it wrong but even so I kept searching,

but even if I got an answer in my hands,

it is still an ordinary sample answer*.

 

It would be better if you created your own reality with your hands.

 

It was a long way around to say that, right? If we could laugh together, than would be just fine.

 

Notes and Other

*= it’s the kind of answer you can find in a text book for exercising at writing short essays, very common in Japan.

A sad song about the impossibility of creating a true relationship with anyone: the title really says a lot about the point of view of Takeru on the matter. One thing that I want to point out is that the works of Takeru with Sleepyhead give a lot of perspective on his previous works in SuG: whereas SuG was positive oriented, always trying to put suffering towards a positive goal (SICK’S is a great example of this), in sleepyhead the positive note at the end looks a lot more like some kind of compromise between unsatisfaction and sadness. I think that anyone willing to dig through the link between the works of Takeru in SuG and the ones in sleepyhead may find some really interesting stuff.