As soon as I saw the black masks, that was it.
— 立花あんな:仮面女子 (@anna_tachibana) May 12, 2016
The adorable horror.
I was cruising around Japanese Twitter one day and caught a photo shared by I’m pretty sure Ohmura Takayoshi (from Babymetal’s Kami Band). It featured all of these idol-looking young women — little skirts, rainbow-colored super-Uggs, somewhat matching tops — wielding ridiculous prop weapons and wearing hockey masks.
“What in the ever living–?” I started to ask, as if I should have been surprised by anything at that point.
Not long after, I learned that what I’d seen were Alice Juban of the Alice Project, and then I started to see these photos of weapon-bearing horror movie characters in idol outfits just everywhere under the name Kamen Joshi, and I knew that I probably had to look them up.
How is this so epic? Also the first indie single to reach #1!
And thus began one of those three-day binges that really aren’t healthy.
Properly speaking, Kamen Joshi is a supergroup of … the Alice Project, hence the name of the profile. And this Alice Project stuff, despite being three primary groups and a whole bunch of minor-league-like units and subunits and one-offs and OH SO MUCH MORE that all performs as a regular daily thing at their very own PARMS Theater in Akihabara (that’s the nerdy district of Tokyo) and has a Daily Alice channel FFS (you can get a lot of it in English from this brilliant YouTube channel), has way more in common with itself than it does with anything else, so … it’s all going into one profile. Sue me.
Here’s Kamen Joshi in their much more natural environment.
I’ll cop to having a really difficult time figuring out the actual orientation of the Alice stuff, what with members promoted and demoted and a mass defection in spring 2015 that led to huge lineup shuffles up and down the Alice roster, and that’s okay. I’ll just keep listening to their music.
Let’s cut to the chase:
The Mask Girls, as translated. Made up of the full membership of Alice Juban (Alice 10), Steamgirls and Armor Girls. There are like 18 of them, so I’ll keep it very simple: They make music that almost couldn’t be a more perfect mashup of the somewhat simpler mashups done by each of their constituent groups.
They’re exhausting. But great.
The mothership, so to speak. In the Alice Project hierarchy, if you’re in Alice Juban, you’re at the top of the heap (unless you lead one of the other groups … can I please stop trying to explain this?); if you lead Alice Juban like Sakura Nodoka does, that makes you the #1 Alice or something, so she’s accordingly also the leader of Kamen Joshi; likewise, if you’re the center of Alice Juban, you’re the center of Kamen Joshi like Tachibana Anna — that’s why she gets to wear the red mask and scare the crap out of you while leading a mass synchronous headbang.
Alice Juban is visually probably the most metal, what with the hockey masks and swords and chainsaws and whatnot; while their choral melodies are nice and reliably J-pop, they also veer pretty hard into some borderline power metal stuff.
Like a band that Avril Lavigne might have imagined back when people still thought she was cool and edgy and original and she probably had dreams of doing a metal band but definitely couldn’t because she was, is and always will be Avril Lavigne.
That sounds a little too damning-with-faint-praise. Let’s start over: Pop punk meets positive power metal meets a slasher movie.
You like Avril Lavigne! Seriously! Or, like, Switchfoot, or any one of those other post-Blink-182-we’re-punk-we-swear pop rock bands (stop being so disparaging). Fine. Do you like awesome, kind of heavy but still catchy music? That’s why you’ll like Alice Juban.
The above, but more certain to come.
Leader: Sakura Nodoka
Center: Tachibana Anna
If Alice Juban is kind of like the music that you play while pretending to work on your car on a hot June afternoon so that cute special someone who just moved in across the street can see how awesome and cool you are, Steamgirls is what the two of you dance to when you go to U-18 night at the club.
But while Alice Juban goes straight for the horror movie vibe, Steamgirls is, fittingly, all steampunk, going with full-face gas masks and carrying literal smoking guns in their shows. The music is very similarly themed, with kind of a soft techno sound that blends together with the kind of metal that you play for your mom. It’s actually super enjoyable to listen to while exercising.
Dance music for everybody. Uncomplicated synths, catchy hooks, just enough programming to gain entry into a DJ competition.
Disney teen movies are one of your guilty pleasures. That’s not a joke.
Leader: Kamiya Erina
Center: Kurose Sara
Given that the Alice Project includes groups that are themed around the Wizard of Oz, milk, green slime and all kinds of weird stuff (I HAVE to see their theater in Akihabara one of these days), it should come as no surprise that one manager or another was probably sitting around one day and thought, “Hey, you know what we don’t have yet? A European folk metal idol group that dresses in armor and carries big fucking guns on stage.”
And thus was born Armor Girls.
I’m having a tough time finding live video of just Armor Girls (here’s kind of a crappy PV), but I think the music largely speaks for itself (they use part of the melody from “Ode to Joy” in here, plus what sounds like a banjo and fiddle … seriously). It’s … how to explain this song? How would you explain this to a person who could not possibly ever get YouTube? Bluegrass meets Celtic metal meets the end credits of an anime? They call it “forest rock,” which I guess isn’t inaccurate, but … ?
Basically, you can’t resist it.
A little (lot) more Japanese, but I’m sure that Wagakki Band is not pleased.
In baseball terms, Armor Girls fits within the Alice Project hierarchy like a WAR 1.5 utility infielder; they’re actually perfectly fine on their own, but there are more important parts of the team. But that’s how they’re positioned within Alice — coming at this from a “I like metal” perspective, they’re not second place to anybody, just doing things a little bit differently, like how you might love the crap out of Liv Moon sometimes and then want to raid a monastery while listening to Amon Amarth. And as utility infielders go, they’re honestly kind of a Josh Harrison or Chone Figgins, filler guys who wind up turning in MVP-caliber seasons (I am weird).
Honestly, this is like the most logical conclusion of the term “folk metal” possible, in that their songs are kind of metalish takes on folky tunes, notably from European and Japanese traditions, but I’m sure there’s more and I just haven’t heard it yet.
You have room in your heart for Wagakki Band, Tyr, Hank 3 and Negicco all at once.
“Kokoroido” up there. What a song. Also this:
Leader: Kuroki Hinako
So that’s the Alice Project in a nutshell. They’ll be all over the blog, I’m sure, so we’ll all get to learn plenty about them.