17 post after: laziness, Tokyo, luck…

Hi!

it has passed quite some time from my last post, I’m sorry. In this month, I realized how much of a lazy person I am when I struggle to find something to force me to stay concentrated. Realizing that I already turned 23 and having to cope with the new Italian Government’s bullshit kinda froze me into some kind of floating existence, stunned by the unbearable hotness and the heavy rains of this early summer. It’s not the first time I fall into this kind of state, I’d say it happens one time per year, and usually is a time in which I get carried by pure luck or misfortune. I consider myself as a person who sometimes is extremely lucky and some other times is extremely unlucky, so sometimes things can go extremely bad for me.

But not this time. I still struggle to realize this, but this time I was extremely lucky and feel some kind of sense of gratitude towards everything. I’ll explain everything.

My post of critical theory went way over my expectations: while I was already convinced that they will be kinda ignored because too long and nobody wanted to discuss what is for many just a hobby, it got a mild amount of views and some very interesting comments. That’s why, even though this kind of post require me a certain amount of effort and time, I’m planning to go on with such a project.

But mostly, the thing that mostly made me feel really lucky is that I’m going back to Japan, this time for 6 month. SIX FREAKING MONTHS. In Tokyo. I will be attending 6 months of courses in freakin’ KEIO UNIVERSITY. Like,what?! Me?! The strange guy who translates Visual Kei?!

I’m still shaking, I still feel that I’ve been too lucky and something bad is going to happen and make this opportunity disappear, but until that moment I’ll keep going on. Also, it’s Tokyo, the kind of Japan I only saw from afar the other times I went there. I’ve always been in the kind of quiet, full of countryside temple part of Japan and now I’ll be thrown into this chaotic metropolis full of languages, lights and people. It’s a different world to me and I’ll try to tackle it in the best way I know: with unending curiosity, diving as deep as possible in the unknown things of the city.

And finally, the cherry on top is that once again Polkadot Stingray saved my blog from being on a completely average level of views for this month. Thank you Polkadot and thank you Reddit! I’m still planning to provide some good translations for you all!

In short words, I’m back. I don’t know for how long, but I’ll try to post some new content while preparing for Tokyo. The first sleepyhead album came out and I’m a bit curious to dive into that and July is kinda full of releases of band I previously covered in this blog, like Kiryu, Dadaroma, Pentagon and so on.

 

See ya!

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ザアザア (Xaa Xaa) – 影 (Kage) Translation

Kanji

Translation

Title: Silhouette

 

Don’t laugh, don’t mind it,

I just tripped,

I don’t know where could it be, but today

let’s go see a far away sea.

 

When you pulled my hand, the noisy sound in my ears

suddenly disappeared,

everything is like that day, but the only that is here

is a world without you.

 

Of course I know, I understand,

but, while waiting at the traffic lights,

I happened to notice you, I followed you with my eyes

and kept going like that.

 

It felt like I heard your voice, but even if I turned back

you weren’t there,

it had your same smell, your same voice,

but it was different.

 

Fluttering, fluttering, the flowers scatter

but I, still clinging to your silhouette,

I’m waiting

for ever and ever for a future that won’t come.

 

I didn’t know

that the sky could be so high,

no matter how much I stretch out my hand, it won’t reach.

 

I hate the me

who leave things unfinished and is clumsy,

but you were the one

who accepted me for what I was and told me you loved me.

 

Fluttering, fluttering, the flowers scatter

but I, still clinging to your silhouette,

I can’t walk

because (tears) are softly, softly, starting to overflow.

 

Surely, surely, this Tuesday

has started with a quiet sky,

but if it melted, it melted and left your silhouette

it would be just like that day.

 

Notes and Other

A song about loning for a lost love. By just looking at the lyrics, one might say that the the composer is longing for a dead person, but being the song in the same album as Noroiuta, I’d say that he’s longing for a person which is still alive but dumped him. The casual encounter at the bus stop, in fact, shows that even if that person looks, smells, sounds the same, has become a different person inside. In this situation, the composer can only embrace the past image of the loved and feel the solitude in his heart.

ザアザア (Xaa Xaa) – 知らない知らない (Shiranai Shiranai) Translation

Kanji

Translation

Title: I don’t know, I don’t know

 

I don’t know, I don’t know.

In the end, the “others” will always be the others,

no matter how much we try to understand each other, that is so impossible,

but even so, for some reason, we hate solitude and midway

we create something we can call “friend”.

 

Even though I just want to be in peace,

I hurt and got hurt.

 

I don’t know, I don’t know,

I really don’t know anymore!

Is it just a name? Or a hobby? You

don’t even exist.

 

Overflowing

drop by drop,

for some reason,

we all know

sadness and solitude.

 

It just makes me wanting to hear gentle sounds,

I want to vomit out all the bad things.

Even though I just want to be in peace,

I got tired.

 

Goodnight

 

I touched and matured and got bigger and overcome and danced and burned and healed and got intoxicated

and then I wavered, melted, fell, got smaller, vanished, showing off my bravery…

 

I don’t know, I don’t know,

I really don’t know anymore!

Is it just a name? Or a hobby? You

don’t even exist.

 

Overflowing

drop by drop,

for some reason,

we all know

sadness and solitude.

 

Goodnight.

 

Notes and Other

A song about solitude. It is interesting to put this song in the same album with “Noroiuta”, showing a different side of the story.

ザアザア (Xaa Xaa) – のろいうた (Noroiuta) Translation

Kanji

Translation

Title: Cursing Song

 

I stab with small pierces,

I wear a white vest

and carry with my hands

this sharp love in abundance…

 

Your image will turn into straw,

so small to fit into a purse,

Every single night I rush out toward the forest,

I’m headed there.

 

Which tree shall we use?

Once I chose the support

the ritual will start,

start!

 

First, I embraced impurity,

by your right arm

I’ll confess this

just a bit…

 

One, two

Turn to straw! Turn to straw! Hate!Hate!

Three, four

I pierce

Five, six

Suffer! Suffer! Hate! Hate!

Seven, seven

How pitiful…

 

I’m so lonely, so lonely

that there’s nothing I can do to fix it,

I count my sleepless nights.

Since when, since when

I turned into a demon

and pierce one, two nails?

 

One, two

Scream! Scream! Hate!Hate!

Three, four

I pierce

Five, six

Cry! Cry! Hate!Hate!

Seven, seven

How pitiful…

 

More than anyone else, I served you more than anyone else,

voluntarily giving you all my own,

I won’t forgive, I won’t forgive you laughing and all the rest,

I won’t let you escape from this death sentence!

 

The pure love changes its form

into a state so ugly one can’t even lay an eye on it.

 

Cut the roots!*

 

Stop!

 

Quick!

 

For sure, this love is fading away for you,

but from my side, it is still clinging to me and won’t vanish.

 

I’m so lonely, so lonely

that there’s nothing I can do to fix it,

I count my sleepless nights.

Since when, since when

I turned into a demon

and pierce one, two nails?

 

If we keep hurting each other, if we can’t meet anymore,

then I’ll fall into the darkness

of the deep forest

at midnight,

as if I was never to turn back again…

 

Notes and Other

*=it sounds like “shine” which means “die!” but it’s written with the kanji for “stop” and “roots”, so I tried to guess a compatible meaning which could fit the lyrics. I’m open for other suggestion.

The song is about a curse made by someone to get revenge on the former partner after a broken relationship. Even though the ritual is done in the “traditional way” of making a small straw doll of the victim, fixing it to a tree and piercing it over and over with a nail, it doesn’t have that antique feeling, but rather sound similar to modern “reverse charms” popular in Japanese sub-culture.

Critical Theory: Who are the fans of Visual Kei?

In this article, I’ll discuss about the way Visual Kei is approached by the fan, the way in which fan are discussed and I’ll end up touching the topic of the infamous “bangyaru” (someone who can be considered, in the definition, a groupie of Visual Kei bands).

In order to become a fan, one must follow the band for something consistent from the band, something that can be called the style, or the concept. Generally speaking, the “concept” may be referred to the sound, to the lyrics, to the looks and to the attitude, but in the case of Visual Kei, sound, look and attitude are extremely close related.

This distinction is important when we think about the appeal that one Visual Kei band may have overseas (like America or Europe): while a Japanese audience can also be attracted by the lyrics, an Occidental fan is often attracted by everything else because he/she can’t speak Japanese (of course, this distinction is not perfect, but I think it is a quite good approximation of reality). Many times it has been said that this distinction is useless by declaring that the lyrics are unintelligible or just made up without any sense, but this conclusion to me seems too far-fetched: just by looking at the comments under the MV of the bands or in the obscure blogs, it is evident that there are even discussion about the lyrics.

This distinction is often accentuated if we think about the chances of joining the band’s “event” life: not just live-shows, but also following bandmen’s blog without translators, buying merch, attending “in-store events” and much more. Since Japanese fans have a closer network, they have a way easier life following anything about a band while on the contrary an overseas fan has to depend to many other factors making him/her way more susceptible to loosing interest or moving to something else. This distinction will come in handy in one of the following topic.

Introducing now, “the bangyaru” (or, in slang, bangya): pretty much a groupie, but with a “yandere” aura (simply speaking, is the type of lovers obsessed by the partner to the scary point to kill any other person daring to get too close to the object of their desire. Also, it’s a stereotype, so we are talking about abstract concept). The word comes from “band-girl” which, said in a slang-ish japanese becomes “bangyaru” and refers to the young girls attending Visual Kei bands’ concert.

Much has been said about the bangyaru from many different personalities, much of which I think needs to be a bit reconsidered.

According to the identikit made by some researchers, they are mainly girls around 16 years, concentrated in metropolitan areas. This is the identikit widely accepted, but based on what? I struggled to find some hard evidence on this in the researches I looked into, but it is not hard to think that it may be true: much of the video footage will show you such. But, this should make us be more careful to the identikit discussed above. For example, the identikit above tells us just a data about age and origin, while the word “bangyaru” carries a consistent amount of negative nuances. My skepticism is also motivated by the fact that there’s a tendency in Japanese studies to make extreme and stigmatize categories mainly consisting in young people (for example Neet, Returnee children, ganguro girl and hikikomori. About this, there is a super interesting book which is “A Sociology of Japanese Youth” by Roger Goodman, Yuki Imoto and Tuuka Toivonen).

One objection to my skepticism may be that this image is portrayed and even fostered by many bands over the years: in past years there was the case of “Mousou Nikki” by SID, later covered by many other VK bands, in more recent years there are plenty of songs like 0,1 no gosan’s “Yuugai hera hera girl”. While I cannot deny that, I invite you to think about the context in which Visual Kei has always expressed itself: Visual Kei, especially in indie phases, always portray itself (and therefore the fans) as the anti-culture. It is obvious how this kind of work may influence the fans, but I think that saying that Visual Kei created this kind of slave-like deviated young girls may be too much. And it sound extremely familiar to many assumption made towards transgressive trends in the past.

In conclusion, where is the truth? As always, in lack of concrete evidence, it stands in the middle. While it is true that Visual Kei bands rely on a system in which they create a circumscribed fandom (especially with exclusive appellative, for example, the “Gumin-domo” for Diaura) and, as many bandmen already declared, exploit fans through a recognition to some of “special relationship” between the members and the most loyal fans, one should also say that this kind of system is not specific to Visual Kei bands, but is actually common in pretty much every idol-like musical phenomenon. In this aspect, the word “bangyaru” is actually discriminatory if used to describe the majority of the fan base, but it is actually difficult as well that this kind of girls don’t exist at all: many are the artist talking about them and many are the songs about them, making many people think that even if they don’t exist, Visual Kei band created a sort of stereotype “bangyaru” which may be taken as an example by others. And VK bands, being the anti-culture, have no interest in denying such ideas. Also, using this work would actually exclude all the overseas fans, given the fact that most of them cannot access personally the system mentioned above.

Critical Theory: Is Visual Kei really Japanese?

This question may seem to have an obvious answer, but is, in fact, way more complicate than it seems. If, on one hand, one may say that Visual Kei is Japanese since it is sung in Japanese, it must not be forgotten that the inspiration for some of the first artist is american glam rock, without forgetting also the phenomenon of “Eurovisual” and the musical direction of some artist. Let’s analyze everything step by step.

One definition that may come in help in this analysis is the one of “smell” of a product, formulated by professor Iwabuchi in the article “Recentering Globalization” (2002): it refers to the way a product is perceived at first by the public. For instance, in this article we are going to see how much a Visual Kei product smells “Japanese”.

Let’s start with the very first famous Visual Kei bands: X Japan, Buck-Tick, Malice Mizer.

Musically speaking, all of the three bands are deeply indebted to overseas rock and metal and, especially in their early works, one would not find a distinguished “Japanese” melody in their works. Between these 3, Malice Mizer has had a more distinct sound, but it still is a western sound which may fall under some experimentation of progressive metal, but a person who wouldn’t pay much attention to the language spoken in the songs, wouldn’t probably say that they sound “Japanese”.

The make up as well (with the small exception of Malice Mizer, Lareine and similar bands which, anyway, represent the ending part of the first era of Visual Kei) has a close take to the one used by dark and new wave bands from England and America, mixing different styles together creating a general image in the mind of the public which has later become to identify visual bands, still this image is far from being visible to anyone as “Japanese”.

Perhaps, the most “Japanese” feature of early Visual Kei is the language, aimed to a young Japanese audience. One might argue that the lyrics often contain english words or even sentences, but they’re almost always un-intelligible when sung and sometime contain mistakes: English is mainly used to make a sentence or a word look cooler or unusual.

If we were to judge early visual kei by the notion of “smell”, we would have to say it doesn’t smell “Japanese” but rather as “Some kind of rock/metal sang in Japanese”.

But, as it has been explained in a previous article, “Visual Kei” is not just the early phases. It is in fact with the “Neo-Visual Kei” movement that the genre has started to have a more distinct “smell”. What brought to a more Japanised Visual Kei is the fact that the early Visual Kei did not become a worldwide hit (it hasn’t become a genre used in different countries like, for instance, hip-hop or dubstep) but did become an inspiration for the following generation of visual artists.

The music has become even more various, producing a plethora of different sounds, including some which really sound “Japanese”. Still, even if there are more and more exception every year, it is difficult to say that Visual Kei has achieved a sound that can be recognized worldwide as “Japanese”. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that Visual Kei has no defined sound: throughout the years an agreed “visual sound” has been developing and might lead to some interesting change in the musical aspect.

Visually speaking, “Neo-Visual Kei” has been one of the very few rock/metal movement at the time (early 2000) which relied heavily on the use of eccentric make up, giving it often an accentuated “Japanese” flavour. Perhaps, the way in which Visual Kei has become popular is by the simplistic definition of the “japanese rockers who dress up”.

The language has changed as well, becoming much more diverse and creating a big number of band which use different language patterns, from complete ancient Japanese to lyrics in English only.

In conclusion, while Visual Kei, musically speaking, has no mandatory Japanese sound to define it, on every other aspect has a strong “Japanese” smell, especially in the aspect of visual performance and aimed public.

There are of course some exception. One is the case of the artist which can be catalogued under the name “Eurovisual” such as Yohio, Seremedy, Cinema Bizarre and others. These artists have started their musical experimentation taking “Neo-Visual Kei” band as reference, imitating in their own fashion some of the aesthetics and sound of those bands. Forced to deal with an European public, they often sang in their native language while keeping a flashy aesthetic but ended up changing their sound to a more screamo-like version of Japanese Visual Kei to appeal to a broader public than the Visual Kei fans in Europe: as a result, they only kept the aesthetics, giving a “Japanese” smell only to noses of the Visual Kei fans, but losing any other Japan-ish smell.

One other exception, even rarer than “Eurovisual” is that of the Japanese Visual bands which start playing for a more western-oriented public such as Nocturnal Bloodlust (and a few others). This choice often leads to the composition of lyrics in English only and the conversion to a heavier sound, sometimes closer to hard-core emo, sometimes to black metal. But, since the conversion in this is way more difficult due to the hurdle of the language and the necessity to grow a strong local fan base in order to find the money to go abroad, these bands tend to sound more “Japanese” than the Eurovisual ones.

This, however, remains a still much unpursued road which can give us only few elements to analyze: if these phenomenon one day will grow bigger, it could be interesting looking into it with a more keen eye.

In conclusion, I’d say that Visual Kei has the potential to be picked up by any culture and becoming a global experience, but still struggles to do so mainly because of the barrier of the language and because a certain skepticism to promote Japanese Visual bands for what they are abroad.

As a consequence, Visual Kei continues being mainly a Japan-only experience and the developing of the genre is concentred in the very own country of Japan.

While proto-Visual Kei may be considered a Japanese version of an American genre(but it put the basis for the further experimentation), from Neo-Visual Kei (or maybe from Malice Mizer) and on, Visual kei has become prominently Japanese.

Critical Theory: What is Visual Kei?

Let’s start from the basis, from the actual meaning of the word: ビジュアル stands for “visual” in a very broad sense, while indicates some kind of affiliation to the word it precedes. According to this definition, then, one might say that a band or an artist can be called so if it uses “visual” elements in their performance.

This definition, still, present many difficulties as well. For example, is Marilyn Manson a visual kei artist? What about Wagakki Band? Or Lady Gaga? It is evident that we need more specificity if we want to isolate some kind of parameters in order to judge if a band is visual or not.

Let’s go a bit deeper, to the agreed origin of the word “visual kei”: “psychedelic violence-crime of visual shock”, the slogan written on the album “Blue Blood” of X Japan. An important element is added to the previous definition, that is “violence-crime”, underlining the aim of the visual aspect: to shock the viewers. What about the psychedelic, then? It may probably be some kind of remnants of American bands which influenced both sound and appearance of X Japan and other bands.

But, even though we may be able to identify more accurately what’s “visual” and what is not “visual”, with such definition one cannot distinguish between “visual kei” and “punk” or “glam rock”.

Looking at the context in which this last definition was created, one could argue that being “visual” was nothing but a trend to make things look cooler: one would actually be surprised of how many bands were formed and disbanded in few years which lived off mediocre music adorned with the “visual” aesthetics. In such a chaotic fervor for such a style, inevitably the genre has become more and more diverse, making it impossible to classify “visual kei” under a musical definition.

Still, if we were to accept such a definition, “visual kei” would only be used to refer to the visual band born in the span between late 80s and 1999, excluding other key bands like Nightmare, The Gazette and many others: unless one would want to over-simplify this genre, we cannot accept this definition.

Then, how can we identify Visual Kei?

I personally think that Visual Kei shares many elements with other musical genres but every visual kei artist has always tried to put himself/herself/themselves in contrast to that. I’ll try to be more clear.

A strong element in this genre is “idolization” (the phenomenon of using an artist image rather than the music as a selling point), something which is not exclusive of Visual Kei: there have been many male idol band even before Visual Kei, artist of this genre tried to create a different model of a pre-existing image. This element is clearly visible in the persona of Gackt, hide, Mana and many others. This mark a strong difference between Visual Kei and Punk, which emphasize “going against the rule” but doesn’t fit in the model of “idol”.

One other feature is “unusuality”, something that has become one way to express the “shock” of X Japan’s slogan: the stress on diversity which Visual Kei promotes is denoted by the number of different costumes/look the artists have produced in almost 30 years of the genre. This mark a strong difference between Visual Kei and Idol, which lives off the image of the artist but tend to be more political correct with their appearance.

There’s also a tendency in the genre to aim to a certain “performance aestheticism”, linked of course with the theme of the band and the persona of the artists. There is no self-declared visual band which hasn’t tried to create some kind of “ideal” in their work. This differ from industrial, black metal which tend to emphasize on the destruction of aesthetic rather than creating it.

These three element keep being interpreted in many different ways from time to time, but may represent the core of the genre with a certain degree of accuracy.

So, what do you think? Let me know!