animefringe march 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
The Newbie Guide to J-Rock

Ah, so you're a self-confessed neophyte of the J-Rock world. Confused by all these strange crossdressing bands? Don't know the difference between Hide and Hyde? Want to bluff your way through a room full of cosplaying J-Rock fans? Well, you're at the right place. Starting this month, Animefringe will bring you the online newbie guide to the J-Rock dimensions!

This month we'll start with the bands everyone knows (or at least, they should!).

Item #1: Only new-age stone bakers with toe fungus don't know X Japan.

So which rock have you been hiding under?

This band is legendary. Oh yes it is. Considered as one of Japan's most successful and well-known J-Rock bands ever, X Japan lasted seventeen years (1980-1997) and spawned 5 major albums: Vanishing Vision, Blue Blood, Jealousy, Art of Life and Dahlia. X Japan was led by Yoshiki, the band leader and devil on drums, followed by vocalist Toshi, guitarists Hide and Pata, and bassist Heath who replaced the original bassist Taiji in 1992. X Japan's music ranged from heavy head-banging metal to tearful overly passionate ballads. Some of their better-known songs include Forever Love, which was the theme song for Clamp's X/1999, Art of Life, which is 29 minutes long, and Tears, penned by Yoshiki for his father.

Some random facts: Yoshiki owns Extasy Records, which picked up bands like Glay and Dir En Grey. Hide had a successful solo career after X Japan's break up. He died on the 2nd of May 1998 after being found hanging by his neck from his bedroom door.

Item #2: Ryuichi Kawamura of Luna Sea can screech like a cat during mating season.

Yeah, that guy can really screech. Started in 1989 as Lunacy, the band changed its name to Luna Sea when their record was picked up by Yoshiki of Extasy Records. Luna Sea consisted of Ryuichi on vocals, Sugizo on the electric guitars, Inoran on rhythm guitars, J on bass and Shinya on drums. They released five albums from 1989-1997, after which the band decided to go on a hiatus. They then regrouped in 1998, and released their album Shine. Their last album Lunacy was released in 2000. The band broke up in mid 2000, after a massive two-day concert in the Tokyo Dome in front of 100,000 fans.

Luna Sea started out as a pretty heavy band that slowly mellowed over time. Most of their songs aren't very graphic or dark, and they tend to edge towards lighter, fluffier stuff. Some of their better songs include Rosier, Genesis of Mind, Providence, I for You and Tonight. They also did the theme song, Breathe, for the Japanese version of Disney's Mulan and Sweetest Coma Alive for the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Some random facts: During the 1997 hiatus, Ryuichi embarked on solo career as a *gasp* J-Pop artist, and was offered leading man roles in J-Dramas. After Luna Sea broke up, Ryuichi continued his solo career, and is now a successful J-Pop artist. Although he has a few memorable songs like Ne and Glass, most of his other songs can only be described as overfried fish and chips. Also, Teru and Sugizo of Luna Sea are drinking buddies.

Item #3: Mana of Malice Mizer should win an award for best crossdresser in the history of J-Rock.

Started in 1992 by Kozi and Mana, this band lasted for ten years and in its lifespan, had three different vocalists and two different drummers. Originally Malice Mizer consisted of Mana (guitars, keyboard), Kozi (guitars), Yu~ki (bass), Gaz (drums) and Tetsu (vocals). In 1993, Gaz was kicked out for frequent absenteeism. Tetsu was kicked out in 1995, right after their first album Memoire, for not being able to mesh properly with the musical style of the rest of the group. Yu~ki then introduced Kami to the band as their new drummer, and their second vocalist was the now infamous Gackt. The band then released their two most popular albums, Voyage sans Retour and Merveilles. Gackt left Malice Mizer shortly after these to concentrate on his solo career. His departure marked a downturn for the band, and brought away most of its female fanbase. That was not the end of bad luck for the band, unfortunately. Kami, their drummer, passed away soon after, due to arterial blockage in his brain. Not beaten yet, Malice Mizer then took on a new vocalist, Klaha, who would remain with them until they officially broke up in December 2001. Malice Mizer's music range from gothic, to rock to surreal pop. Some of their more famous songs include Le Ciel, Au Revoir and Beast of Blood.

Some random facts: Malice Mizer is absolutely visual kei. Each member has a specific color assigned to him. Mana defines Malice Mizer as having the meaning 'human nature'.

Item #4: Quit saying that Glay's Takuro is ugly -- it's not his fault, okay?!

Ah, the ever unclassifiable Glay. So are they J-Rock or J-Pop? Who knows, who cares? Formed in 1988 and still together even now, Glay is Teru on vocals, Jiro on bass, Hisashi on guitars and Takuro who plays the keyboard, the guitar, and is the main composer. Glay's foray into the J-Rock world was, suffice to say, arduous. In the beginning, the band members had to take on extra jobs just to continue singing and recording. Takuro even did construction work. However, their luck took a turn for the better when they were spotted by Yoshiki, and in 1994 he released their first single Rain under his Extasy Records. From then on, their popularity blossomed, and to date, they have 8 albums under their belt: Hai to Daiyamondo, Speed Pop, Beatout!, Beloved, Pure Soul, Heavy Gauge, One Love, Unity Roots & Family Away. Some recommended songs would be Rain, Survival, Koko de wa nai doko ka e to and Winter, again.

Item #5: Someone get Hyde (of L'arc~En~Ciel) a nicotine patch!

Formed in 1991, L'arc~En~Ciel would emerge as one of the more internationally well-known and successful J-Rock bands. Many of their songs were used in commercials or anime series. In fact, their song Spirit Dreams Inside (both English and Japanese versions) was one of the theme songs of the 3D movie Final Fantasy. L'arc~En~Ciel, or Laruku as they're better known, are made up of band leader and bass player Tetsu, Hyde (pronounced Hai-do) on vocals, Ken on guitars and Yukihiro on drums. Yukihiro is a more recent addition to the Laruku team, having had to fill in the shoes of former drummer Sakura, who left in 1997 after a bout with drug problems. Laruku has released 8 albums to date. They are currently on hiatus with band members each concentrating on their own solo careers. Laruku's music can be defined as progressive rock. Their songs are not very heavy, but not as pop-like as those of Glay. A few of their more popular songs are: Fourth Avenue Cafe and Niji, used in the Rurouni Kenshin TV series and movie respectively; Blurry Eyes, the theme song in the anime DNA2; and Heaven's Drive which won the Best Single in NHK's 14th Japan Gold Awards.

Some random facts: Hyde and Ken are considered the most hentai of the band. Hyde is currently doing a movie with Gackt called Moon Child.

Item #6: Dir En Grey's Embryo is a song about incestual rape.

What can you say about this band? While most bands have mellowed, disbanded, or taken off their gears, Dir En Grey is still as visual as you can get. If you want happy songs, then this sure isn't the band for you. Most of DeG's music and lyrics (if not all) are extremely dark, graphic, or just plain weird. Take the song Embryo for instance, which is about incestual rape, or The Domestic Fucker Family the lyrics of which are 90% fist-pumping chanting of "Fucker Fucker Radical Fucker". The DeG lineup consists of: Kyo on vocals and lyrics, Die on guitars and composing most of the music, Kaoru on guitars, Shinya on drums (not to be confused with Luna Sea's drummer who is also a Shinya) and Toshiya on bass. DeG started out in 1997 when the band added Toshiya to their line up. Their first album was called Missa. They were then spotted by Yoshiki and taken under his Extasy Records. DeG then went on to release Gauze, Macabre, Kisou and their newest album Six Ugly.

Random fact: Crossdresser of the band? SHINYA!

Item #7: Siam Shade -- the band that can't come up with inventive album titles?

Ten albums they had under their belt. Ten albums. And how were those albums titled? Siam Shade, Siam Shade II, Siam Shade III, Siam Shade IV... all the way to Siam Shade X. You'd think these guys have no creativity whatsoever, but ladies and gentlemen, you have erred in judgment. However, they weren't as great as X Japan or Luna Sea, they aren't as visual as Malice Mizer or Dir En Grey, and unlike Glay, they are no longer together. Siam Shade is Hideki on vocals, Kazuma on guitars and as backing vocals, Daita on guitars, Natchin on bass and Junji on drums. Their most famous song would probably be 1/3 junjou no kanjou, popularized by the Rurouni Kenshin TV series. Some other notable songs would be their first single Rain, Never End and If~Hitori Goto~.

Some random facts: Siam Shade really looks like a boy band. Daita is an anime fan.