Sunday, June 17, 2007

Megumi Hayashibara - Midnight Blue

Megumi Hayashibara - "Midnight Blue"

Megumi Hayashibara, if not the most prolific voice actress in the world, is most likely the most beloved seiyū of our time.

I realize that this statement would be completely meaningless to almost everyone I know, and that only a few people in my social circle could even begin to piece any of its individual parts together to make any sense of it. Then again, I'm pretty sure that no one in my family, or most of my friends for that matter, would recognize characters like Rei Ayanami, Faye Valentine, or Lina Inverse, let alone titles like Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, or Slayers. I'm not pretending that I'm onto some real underground shit here that no one else knows about, just that I've never had any chances until recently to share my fondness for anime with anyone else who wasn't, or wouldn't be, completely freaked out by it. Never mind what 130 million Japanese say, or how the once-impenetrable world of anime is now almost as good as completely mainstreamed in America. To most of my friends, it's just kids stuff. And maybe they're right. I've yet to meet more than a handful of anime fans my age who aren't completely batshit insane.

My apprehension over the social implications of all this began in college, when I would watch Digimon episodes in the afternoon before dinner (usually alone, sometimes with others who probably thought I was watching bad TV shows just to be funny, as sarcastic twenty-somethings are supposed to enjoy doing, I guess) and Serial Experiments: Lain DVDs on the weekend when no one was around. One weekend during my senior year, when roommates were out and I had nothing to do (besides studying, which I regularly neglected and now pay the price for every day), I had an urge to watch more anime and headed out to Blockbuster. Yes, I know that's quite possibly the worst destination I could have chosen, but I was nearly broke and hadn't the patience to seek out and download anything online. Their selection was, as it remains today, hopelessly slim, but I picked up what looked like a fun movie: Slayers - The Motion Picture. Blockbuster had just discontinued their plain blue and white cases -- customers could now take home their DVDs in cases with their movie's artwork on it. Needless to say, I didn't want any of my roommates to find this laying around, especially with a suggestive "Youth Restricted Viewing" sticker on it, as all of their unrated products automatically received.

It wasn't half as provocative as I expected, with most of the sexual content consisting of typical fanservice and predictable jokes. It was a fun movie, though, and the theme song in the credits... how can I begin to explain "Midnight Blue" without reducing it to a corny, poorly-produced joke? A steady diet of Western pop music, even if only absorbed passively, doesn't prepare anyone to understand what's going on here without assuming that everything has just gone wrong. Slayers wasn't even ten years old (when I first watched it, I mean), so it wasn't exactly "dated," and there was no inherent "Asian-ness" that I had to get over. If only it were that simple.

I've had people try to explain to me what MIDI is, but I just can't wrap my tiny, technologically-challenged mind around just what it does and how it works. But I've always associated it with a kind of sound that's usually described as having an inorganic, overly-programmed quality. Maybe its use is still permissive in the world of pure electronic music, but I suspect that MIDI is looked down on everywhere else in the same way that ProTools is, usually by people who think every track in every song should be recorded straight to open-reel tape. I don't know if "Midnight Blue" employs MIDI or not, just that the brass sounds kind of canned, and the drums and bass sounds seem really fake. The first time I heard it, it reminded me of music from another fine 1995 export from Japan, Sega Rally Championship. Later, I'd wonder if this sound was a big influence on Max Tundra or not. Anyway, if you hate the musical interludes and the guitar solos here, you hate fun.

I'm not saying that the song sounds bad, but that it hardly fits the traditional mold of what a pop song is "supposed" to sound like. I'm probably placing too much importance on the arrangements, since it's probably meant to be nothing more than an upbeat background to showcase the vocals of Megumi Hayashibara. (Or Hayashibara Megumi, if you prefer. I suppose either arrangement works fine, though putting the surname first, as they do in Japan is probably the correct way to do it. "Megumi Hayashibara" gets almost five times as many Google results as that, though, so I really don't know what to do. I just want to tag my mp3s correctly. That's right, I don't own any of her music on CD. I mean, I'd love to, but import prices are unbelievable.) Of course I have no idea what she's actually singing, but she has a beautiful voice that I enjoy regardless of the language barrier. The chorus is what hooked me, and still sends shivers down my spine. I wish I could explain why.

Megumi Hayashibara also played Lina Inverse, the lead character in Slayers, though roles in other series have brought her much greater fame. Whether she's better known as a voice actress or as a pop singer in Japan, or if there's even any true distinction between the two, I don't know. "Give A Reason," also from Slayers, is just as worthy of being posted here. So is the under-heard "A House Cat" from Nuku Nuku Dash. I could probably list a dozen songs of hers that are probably modern J-pop classics, and I don't even keep up with the genre nearly as much as I'd like to. I know some people might want to write all this off as bubblegum or as mere worthless, disposable products of Japanese synergy, but those are the same people who'd probably scoff at manga, anime, or most Japanese culture in general. At least in the past decade, America has yet to produce any pop music bursting with such vitality and ebullience as this.

Megumi Hayashibara also plays the lead role in Paprika, the latest film from Satoshi Kon. It's finally out in America, and hopefully it plays outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, because watching it in an actual theater really adds to the experience in a way that's going to be lost once it comes out on DVD.

No comments: