Yukueshirezutsurezure: The End of Not Secured, Loose Ends – Memoir of a Gunjo

I have been having a harder time than anticipated processing the disbandment of Yukueshirezutsurezure on January 2nd. I had previously survived the graduation of Shidare and, just over a year ago when Komachi, the final remaining original member (and my long-time kami-oshi), disappeared for over a month without a word, I assumed that she was nearing retirement herself. So, almost a year ago, I had begun emotional preparations for this prospective eventuality. Apparently I was not as effective as I thought. 

This is primarily due to when, half-way through 2020, Tsurezure released Paradox Soar, their freshest and most progressive album in years. On it, they explored new musical genres and, I thought, had well positioned themselves for a post-Komachi Tsurezure under the extraordinarily capable leadership of Mei Yui Mei. That album, on my short list for Best of the Year, buoyed my expectations for the group. These mislaid hopes meant that, when the imminent dissolution of the group was announced at the end of November, the crash of disappointment was from a much more traumatic height.

But before I go on, I need to make a bit of an apology: 

While I certainly draw upon my subjective aesthetic preferences and biases when I blog for this site, I do try to avoid any personal experiences that are too individualized. I believe that everyone has a unique, personal relationship with the artists (and, especially, idols) that they like, and that my experiences are no more special, relevant or interesting than anyone else’s. What follows here is one long, self-indulgent exception to that loosely held rule. I feel like I have walked a lengthy and meaningful road with Tsurezure, and these are just some of my memories from that journey. 

Ittekimasu

I took my first ever cheki with Mare A. Komachi. Not, “my first with Yukueshirezutsurezure”, my first idol cheki ever. And she has been my kami-oshi ever since. 

It was during the September, 2016 edition of Tokyo Calling, an annual three-day festival held in live houses across Shimokitazawa, Shibuya and Shinjuku.

I was in Japan for the BABYMETAL shows at the Tokyo Dome, but this festival was running concurrently and I was heavily interested in seeing a number of the bands on the itinerary (BAND-MAID, Silent Siren, Charisma.com and vivid undress, to name a few). A couple weeks out, Tokyo Calling announced an idol track to it’s festival for the first time ever. At that time, other than BABYMETAL, I had never been to an idol show before, but I suddenly held tickets to see a bunch of hardol units that had been claiming more and more of my interest: Fruitpochette, Shina Pikarin, PassCode, Himekyun Fruit Can, DEEP GIRL and, most significantly, Yukueshirezutsurezure.

Ever since Tsurezure had dropped their first MV, “Kyousoukaichinari”, they had been noted as something special. While they were not the first unit to dabble in harsh vocals, most units who had so far embraced elements of hardcore had employed them as a shocking contrast, or “gap”, with kawaii. Tsurezure, however, were using harsh vocals to accentuate discomforting and emotionally complex themes in a style of delivery they were calling a “weakness based theater system”. There was no public footage of their live shows out there at the time, but the rumors of their intensity intrigued me even more. 

The day of their appearance at Tokyo Calling, I stepped into the lobby of Shinjuku’s club SCIENCE after DEEP GIRL’s set to find Tsuyame and CoCoCo running the Yukueshirezutsurezure buppan table. I had randomly run into an acquaintance from the BABYMETAL fandom just prior to DEEP GIRL who I had told about my eagerness to see Tsurezure. He practically pushed me into the buppan line and asked me, “who are you going to do cheki with?” Until that moment, I hadn’t even considered the idea. I came from the generation who believed that wearing the t-shirt of the band you were going to see was a supremely uncool act, so the idea of cheki was instinctively alien. Still, I thought, this may be my only chance to get my picture taken with an idol, so I reluctantly snagged a cheki ticket along with an armload of other merch. After Tsuyame got CoCoCo to help her add up my purchases and give me correct change (which was adorably hilarious), I was directed to the cheki line just as Komachi and Shidare appeared. 

It pains me to admit it, but at this time I didn’t know much more about Tsurezure other than I liked their music, MVs and artistic direction. When I was asked which member I would like to take cheki with, I had to point at Komachi because I had yet to learn any of the members’ names. The subsequent act of getting my very first cheki was initially awkward but somehow fun. Komachi asked in gestures what pose I wanted to do. I put up the metal horns because that’s about all I knew which she seemed to find hilarious. As we waited for the polaroid to develop she summoned enough English to tell me she liked my hat. Then there was nervous silence. It was my first experience being in the unreality field that idols can generate that can make otherwise uncomfortable moments feel somehow charmingly natural. 

Those few short moments hooked me in. I no longer felt averse to spending a few dollars for a polaroid and a short, awkward conversation with an idol. A few minutes later, when DEEP GIRL took over the buppan table, I was the first one in line to purchase cheki with Non.

While the cheki experience had a small influence on me, the show itself made for a much more dramatic change. I had staked a spot in the second row from the low stage. I prefer experiencing a show from the front row, but I had been to a handful of idol lives by now and learned that you shouldn’t take a place up front if you don’t know the mix. It’s better to be in the second row, and then you can just follow along with the person in front of you. As the show was about to start, someone pushed through the crowd beside me. I looked over to see Non, now in street clothes and wearing a bulging backpack. The crowd noticed her as well and offered her a spot in the front row so she could put down her backpack. This is how I got to experience Yukueshirezutsurezure for the first time alongside an enthusiastic Non.

The show itself was thirty minutes of intense ritual and revelation. I don’t remember too many specifics, but the emotional memories of that show still strongly resonate. I do distinctly remember Shidare throwing herself offstage directly at my head. Luckily my old punk instincts were intact. My arms reactively shot up to catch her and, with those around me, crowdsurf her back to the stage.

After returning back home from Japan, I talked about those thirty minutes with Yukueshirezutsurezure as much, if not more, than the two nights of spectacle that was BABYMETAL at the Tokyo Dome. When I heard soon after that Tsurezure would be visiting Canada to perform as part of Next Music from Tokyo in May of 2017, I didn’t hesitate to book tickets to fly north. It was on this trip that Maniac recommended that I meet up with someone named Papermaiden who has since become one of my best and dearest friends.

I just revisited my contemporaneous account of the first Canada show at Toronto’s Rivoli. Yes, it was just as exciting as I tried to make it sound. This was also where I first experienced the power of an idol’s memory. I assumed that Komachi would have forgotten me and our brief encounter at Tokyo Calling, but she was the first to staff the buppan table at the Rivoli and she definitely remembered me. Or, at least, she remembered my hat. By this time, my reservations regarding cheki had vanished and, during those two shows in Toronto, I attempted to get as many as possible with the members individually, in pairs and with the whole group. 

I had made some ultramarine can badges to hand out to fans with the Tsurezure cross juxtaposed next to a small Canadian maple leaf. I was able to give some to the members as well and Tsuyame and Shidare wore them on their costumes for long after the trip ended.

I was (and am) always cognizant of and diligently adhere to interaction-with-idol rule #1: do not make physical contact with an idol unless they initiate it. It has been a very difficult rule to remember with Tsurezure because (other than Komachi) I’ve found them to be an incredibly touchy-feely unit. After finishing their two shows in Toronto and following them to Montreal, I was stunned upon entering the venue when Shidare rushed out from behind the buppan table shouting, “Daemon!” and ran over and gave me a hug.

The show at Montreal’s Divan Orange was particularly memorable. I had finally staked a spot in the front row and it proved to be the one and only time a member (CoCoCo) handed me one of their ceremonial “suicide notes”. I diligently ripped it up and tossed the pieces upon the stage. There was a monitor just to my right on the knee-high stage which the members took to climbing on for their harsh vocal parts. As they stepped up on it, they would reach out to me and grip my hand for balance and support as they shouted and screamed to the audience.

During cheki after the Montreal show, Shidare asked if I was following them to Vancouver. I told her that I wasn’t able to, but promised that I would come and see them in Japan. She asked, “When?”, and I very confidently told her, “November”, which was my plan at the time. (As an aside: If you are ever debating what time of year to visit Japan, I highly recommend November. The fall colors are just spectacular, as are the winter lights and decorations. As an added bonus, the humidity is barely noticeable in the cold, crisp air.)

For various reasons, I wasn’t able to make it back to Japan that November and I felt unreasonably guilty about that. Whenever I got to feeling too bad about breaking my word to Shidare, I would reassure myself that there is no way that she remembered the promise, much less the fan who made it. I did finally get back to Japan in April of 2018, but Tsurezure only had a single gig scheduled during the window of time I was in the country: an in-store live on the rooftop stage of Tower Records, Nagoya. (Another aside: if you ever get an opportunity to see a performance in this incredibly unique venue, do it.) Frigid wind storms were hitting the city, and yet Tsurezure still performed in bare feet.

After the show, they were doing cheki on the low stage itself, bringing the fans up one by one. I opted for a single cheki with the whole group to save time as I was running late to see BiSH half-way across town. As I climbed the short steps, Shidare yelled out, “Daemon!!”, ran across the stage and threw her arms around me. I was stunned speechless as she led me by the arm over the rest of the group saying (in English), “We have new member”, and personally introduced me to Mei Yui Mei. At this point, I remembered some rudimentary Japanese and stuttered out, “Daemon desu. Hajimemashite.” Something about my delivery or pronunciation was apparently hilarious, as the whole group had a very good laugh. They then began saying the set phrases of English that they knew, such as, “Nice to meet you”, and “Have a nice day”, until Tsuyame blurted out, “I love you!” The members all went silent for a beat, turning their heads to Tsuyame who visibly blushed as she realized the meaning of the words she just inadvertently delivered to a wota. Then everyone burst into laughter.

This was my last meeting with Tsuyame, so I am glad it was a joyful one. The whole encounter was only a few minutes, but it is still a shining memory.

The next time I saw the group was in February of 2019 for Shidare’s graduation. I had fortunately put aside savings for my next Japan excursion when she announced her retirement, so I was able to fly over quickly and catch her final performance. I was also able to meet up again with dear friend Papermaiden and we were able to lend support to each other through this emotionally turbulent event. My contemporaneous thoughts on that extraordinary night can be found here.

At my final cheki with Shidare, she once again called out, “Daemon!” and gave me a big hug. She didn’t let go until the very last moment when she signed that little Polaroid with tears in her eyes. I was astounded, again, that a seldom-seen fan like me could hold a place in her memory, much less (seemingly) in her heart.  Idols are noted masters at making fans feel like there is a unique and meaningful relationship between them. I have never felt that more acutely. 

Immediately afterwards and still shaken, I got in the cheki line for Komachi. She was looking more sullen and distant than usual, but as I approached her she actually lit up and, for the first time, said my name. It was, again, a shock. She had not seen me in almost a year, and yet she remembered my name. I had assumed that, if she remembered me at all, it was as “that guy with the hat.” The moment proved to be an unexpected salve on a heart aching from Shidare’s departure.

(Last aside: Over the years, I have encountered other amazing feats of idols with demonstrating near-photographic memory. But these acts should really not be all that surprising. Idols need to memorize the lyrics and choreography to dozens of songs in multiple arrangements, so having a good memory is part of the job description.)

I saw Yukueshirezutsurezure for what would turn out to be the final time one day later when they held their first post-Shidare performance and Mei Yui Mei stepped into the role of center.

Afterwards, while in line for cheki with Komachi, one of the Japanese Gunjo who I had met when they travelled to Toronto for Next Music from Tokyo came over to say, “hello”, and we spoke in a combination of rudimentary English and Japanese. He asked me who my favorite member was and I said, “Komachi.” “Really?” he asked. “Hai”, I replied in my Japanese 101-drop-out-level language skills, “Komachi, ichiban.” He seemed surprised and amused and, as we had gotten to the front of the line while talking, he turned to the staff member taking cheki, pointed at me and said, loud enough for Komachi standing a few feet away to hear, “Komachi wa ichiban desu!” Komachi looked away, seeming to pretend that she didn’t hear, but not fast enough to hide her smirk.

In this way, my final cheki with Komachi turned out to be much like my first: silent and full of embarrassed awkwardness and smiles.   

I had full-fledged plans to travel to Japan in late March, 2020. My airline tickets were purchased, hotels reserved and I even had reservations to attend the kick-off of Yukueshirezutsurezure’s Unknown Dogma tour. As I mentioned back at the beginning of this piece, I had a feeling that this would be Komachi’s last year and, perhaps, my last chance to see her perform. When the COVID crisis hit and I and everyone else on the planet had to make dramatic adjustments to our plans for the year, I rightly feared that I had lost that chance.

We have been fortunate, however, that Codomomental quickly and aggressively moved the delivery of their groups’ performances to the medium of livestreams. Even if I couldn’t be there in person, I have gotten to witness more Yukueshirezutsurezure lives in the past year than ever before. Still, the abrupt ending of this group has been bittersweet and tough to process. 

I am sure that is why I felt compelled to pour my brightest memories of the group out in this writing. Yukueshirezutsurezure was a peerless group that channeled a fierce energy through idols of immense talent, warmth, grace and humor. Again, I apologize for the self-indulgence and, to anyone who has read this far, thank you for letting me share these memories. 

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