Jan 29, 2015

    The art of fusing anime and song

    I SAW something impressive at Japan Expo Sud in Marseille, France, in October 2010.

    I happened to find the word "karaoke" on a programme of a hall there. Curious, I entered the hall, where I saw about 1,000 young French people singing anime theme songs together in Japanese, as videos of the anime's openings appeared one after another on a screen.

    These people looked as if they were having a wonderful time singing songs for popular anime such as Fullmetal Alchemist and The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya. A few of my friends and I were probably the only Japanese there. I wished I could have broadcast the event live in Japan.

    In the 20th century, Japanese anime were broadcast in France after changing their titles and theme songs in French ways. For example, City Hunter, which is still popular in France, was aired under the title Nicky Larson.

    Times have changed. Today, anime theme songs are aired in the original Japanese. Fans overseas use the word "anison", a Japanese word meaning anime song.

    Anison are very important for anime works, as each anime's world is reflected in the songs. Each song also has to be an individual finished piece of entertainment in its own right.

    How do artists working in the anison world create songs that can measure up to such tough requirements?

    "People often say to me: 'Your songs are very suited to anime stories.' But I don't try to suit my songs to stories, actually. I can't write them unless I take the viewpoint of a character in an anime or game," said Chiaki Ishikawa, a singer-songwriter and creator of anime and game theme songs.

    "In other words, I become an anime character in my mind to create my song from the character's perspective. I've worked this way on all my anime songs, such as Mobile Suit Gundam (Seed) and Sengoku Basara."

    She also said that, when working on Sengoku Basara, she imagined visiting the Sekigahara battlefield and wondered if such killing was excusable.

    "I think at this point (the song) becomes suited to its story pretty well," she said. "However, it's like I have another self who's viewing the battle on Earth, as if from space. I make anime songs by taking both a close look and a far-off look at the story. The author of an ongoing manga series once said to me: 'Your song seems to have predicted the ending of my work.' "

    Ishikawa has many enthusiastic fans. Some of them enjoy anime together with her songs, while others just like to listen to the songs.

    "Even if the story is set in the Warring States period or some other unusual situation, listeners probably find something universal in their daily life connected to my songs. It may be loneliness, or something sentimental," she said.

    Many young people around the world project themselves on anime characters. People have many facets to their personalities, so I can well understand their attraction to Japanese anime characters who cannot be explained simply in terms of good and evil.

    "I think Japanese anime depicts many delicate shades of emotion," Ishikawa said. "Somebody is happy now, but who knows about tomorrow - depicting incompleteness may be one of its characteristics."