Once upon a time (it was about five months ago!), I was showing ye olde website to a friend. You see, IRL Maniac isn’t always Maniac IRL, and not everybody in the social orbit is aware of this joint’s existence. I don’t exactly hide it — I’ve introduced myself at parties as “owner of North America’s finest J-pop website about punk rock girl groups” on several occasions — but nor do I flaunt it because, well, I know a lot of boring-ass people and choose to not cast my pearls before swine.
In the context of the tale, Friend in Question had heard me talking about a group* and was curious about the description, in response to which I ultimately produced my phone and did a little tour of the Ultimate Homicidol Playlist. As I expected, the original sheen of excitement wore off after a few minutes, but then this particular Kamen Joshi MV popped up and her enthusiasm was suddenly re-piqued.
She wanted to know why the members were dressed the way they were, why the masks, why the song sounded like “something from a Disney Channel movie,” etc. I answered the best that I could, which was interesting because I easily had the least to say about Kamen Joshi than about any of the other groups that I’d showcased. Friend in Question noticed: “You sound like you don’t like this one as much.”
“You know,” I said, “they’re kind of one of those things that you either feel strongly about or not at all.” Continue reading →
Good morning! I feel just the tiniest bit badly about not posting at all yesterday — it’s not that there wasn’t anything, it’s that I had some other things to do, intermittently, and frankly didn’t have the energy … to … type? in the in-between. I regret nothing, though, because it gave me more time to get things together coherently.
For instance, our pal Char T Saki, Alice Project source extraordinaire, had been referring me to fresh summertime tracks from the three entities that comprise Kamen Joshi. Here are —
The Mask Girls, Kamen Joshi, are not only 2016 Homicidols Corenament Final Four participants; they’re becoming a bigger deal all the time. Topping the charts is one way to do that, but so is getting how this whole idol thing can work for you, being visually compelling and musically addictive. Reader Tara44DD has been loading up Kamen Joshi’s profile comments, so let’s share with everybody and see if they aren’t prevalent in even more places right now.
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.
What they sound like
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’ll like them if
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.
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.
What they sound like
Dance music for everybody. Uncomplicated synths, catchy hooks, just enough programming to gain entry into a DJ competition.
You’ll like them if
Disney teen movies are one of your guilty pleasures. That’s not a joke.
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).
What they sound like
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’ll like them if
You have room in your heart for Wagakki Band, Tyr, Hank 3 and Negicco all at once.
It doesn’t need a lot of introduction — in late November, after months of building on the success of “Genkidane,” the Alice Project booked a big ol’ show at Saitama Super Arena for Kamen Joshi, and … it was pretty big!
I’m really happy that the narration was in English. But why was it in English?
Cool that now that “Follow Me” video has some context.
It’s tempting to compare this to what Babymetal did at SSA last year, or even BiS’s farewell at Yokohama Arena, but let’s just line up apples with apples here: Babymetal is a project of one of the largest talent agencies in Japan and seem to have a very liberal budget; BiS was saying goodbye forever, had Avex Trax behind them and definitely weren’t going down quietly; so to be disappointed that a kinda-indie that’s supporting a huge lineup and its own theater and on and on doesn’t have a tremendously elaborate set and ridiculous visual production is kind of sour grapes.
Take it for what it is: A supergroup that’s kind of the apotheosis of underground-idol-culture-meets-rock-music did a really big performance at a really big venue, and that’s a very good thing for this kind of music going forward.
Hot off the heels of their big performance at Saitama Super Arena, the Alice Project’s Kamen Joshi is apparently ready to conquer the damn world:
I love love LOVE these hokey videos
I never thought I’d be a tiny bit afraid of Tachibana Anna, but there you go. Does anybody have any insight into what this is all about? Will I be able to buy tickets to their stadium show in a city near me?