Cardcaptor Sakurai

...I'ma just leave this here. 

Have a nice day, y'all


Shopping Service: 13th Floor Special

Today, This is NOT Greatest Shopping Service is please to bring you special new stock of Buck-Tick crap from your Most Favorite Tour Ever - 13th Floor!  Even in Japan, 13th-Floor-related items remain the most popular, difficult and expensive to track down. Every item on this list is rare and hard to come by. We're amazed we managed to come by so much of this stuff at the same time! If you're interested in any of these items, I recommend you contact me immediately, because once they're gone, they're gone. With the exception of the discs, it might take me quite a while to track down another similar item. But without further ado, let's take a look at the stash:

13th Floor With Diana DVD First Press

This ever-coveted item is a two-disc set housed in a beautiful hardcover cardboard case, and includes a full-color photobook full of photos of the band performing live. The first disc includes complete footage of the band performing all the songs on the Juusankai wa Gekkou album live at NHK Hall, with guest appearances by Becky Janik as The Ballerina, Gaetano Taro as The Clown, and Tony West as The Kid.  The second disc includes live videos of "Yuuwaku" and "Sapphire," and a multi-angle version of "Aku no Hana."  The particular copy I have on offer right now is not in perfect condition - its previous owner spilled something on it and there are a few traces of crud still stuck to the outside of the case (as you can see in the photo.) Therefore, I'm offering this at a slightly lower price than normal. The inside of the case and the photobook are in perfect condition, and so are the discs. This item is rare and out of print. 9000 yen.


Romance Single First Press

First-press copy of the Romance single includes the single mixes of songs "Romance" and "Diabolo," which differ from the album mixes. It also comes with a special cover illustration and a bonus DVD with a live video of "Love Me" from the Day in Question 2004. Includes obi. Perfect condition. Rare and out of print. 1800 yen.


13th Floor With Moonshine Tour Pamphlet A

This matte hardcover tour pamphlet is the size of a standard DVD case, and contains 64 full-color pages of studio photography of the band members waltzing around gothically, showing off their sexy tophats, and, in the case of Hoshino Hidehiko, leering up the ballerina's tutu. Widely regarded as Buck-Tick's Best Tour Pamphlet Evar. Extremely rare and out of print. Perfect condition. 6000 yen.

Hoshino Hidehiko checks out some ballerina booty.

Toll angsts over the fact that the tophat won't fit over his hair.

Acchan-chan is only holding this ballerina because he hasn't met Mary Sue yet, amiright???


13th Floor With Moonshine Tour Pamphlet B

This glossy hardcover tour pamphlet is the size of a standard DVD case, and contains 64 full-color pages of live photography from the 13th Floor With Moonshine Tour.  It was hard to photograph due to the glossy pages, so the sample photos don't quite do it justice, but really, this is a beautiful photobook. Aside from a small scratch on the front cover (visible in the first photo), it's in perfect condition. Extremely rare and out of print. 5500 yen.

Sakurai really gets off on putting scarves on his head.


NEWSMAKER 13th Floor Special

This softcover, 57-page magazine-style book published by Newsmaker covers the production process for the 13th Floor With Moonshine tour, from the concept art to the stage design to the costuming to the actual performance. This book will be of particular interest to fans who want to know more about the band's behind-the-scenes creative process.  13th Floor was the only tour for which Buck-Tick published such a book, making this book one-of-a-kind. Once upon a time it was easy to come by, but these days it's very rare. The copy I have on offer is in perfect condition. 6000 yen.


Tenshi no Revolver Tote Bag

Okay, so it's not technically 13th Floor, but the rose motif on this tote bag maintains the same romantigoth spirit that made 13th Floor special. The tote bag is made of highly durable nylon and has a flat bottom to accommodate a large amount of heavy cargo. You could easily use it to carry around textbooks, groceries, wine bottles, etc. It has never been used and is in mint condition, and is now completely unavailable, as it was only sold at the goods booth on the Tenshi no Revolver Tour and sold out from the Buck-Tick web shop years ago. The dimensions are 30 by 35 centimeters. 3500 yen. Leopard print rug not included.



If you're interested in buying or reserving anything, send me an email at themadaristocrat at gmail.  If there's an item you're sure you want but you need a few more days/weeks to scrape together the cash, I suggest you email me and request that I hold the item for you, otherwise, there is a possibility someone else will buy it first. I sell all items on a first-come, first-serve basis.  I'm willing to put items on reserve for up to a month.

Finally, a reminder of the other rare or unusual items I currently have available. Click on each item for more details.

Rock & Read Volume 42 (cover featuring Sakurai Atsushi)


Victims of Love: a history

Part III: Victims of Love.

“Victims of Love” is unquestionably the most re-worked song in Buck-Tick’s repertoire.  It is the only song they have recorded three separate times, in three separate arrangements (I’m not talking about live recordings here, only studio recordings.)  They’ve spent more time on it than any other song, both playing with it and actually playing it—played live, in its second iteration, it was edging up on ten minutes long, a record length for a Buck-Tick song.

I can only assume they keep coming back to it because they love it just that much.  And let’s be honest here—by “they love it,” I mean, “Mr. Sakurai loves it.”  If Imai loves it, too, I'd guess he loves it especially because he loves Mr. Sakurai.  One could even make the argument that this is one of Mr. Sakurai's defining songs, as a singer and lyricist.  Originally released in 1988 on Buck-Tick’s third album, Seventh Heaven, this was the first song for which Sakurai penned lyrics that began to show the glimmerings of the dark, sensual, arresting poetry he would later produce.  Both musically and lyrically, it was a head and shoulders more sophisticated than any other song on the album, or any other song the band had yet written at the time, yet at the time of its original release, the band members weren’t yet mature enough as musicians to fully do it justice.  The fast tempo of the original recording makes the song feel too rushed to be truly evocative of sex, and the dramatic break on the word “hanarenaide” is, frankly, a little cheesy.  Sakurai’s voice is still too light and youthful to summon up much darkness or despair, and the instrumentalists, while competent players by this point, haven’t yet mastered their instruments enough to let go into the flights of experimentation that characterized the second version of the song.  Here's the PV:

VICTIMS OF LOVE 投稿者 Samsungmiki1

Buck-Tick improved so dramatically as a band following the release of Kurutta Taiyou that not re-recording some of their older hits using their more mature and polished musical chops would have seemed a waste.  Thus, Buck-Tick’s self-cover album, Koroshi no Shirabe -This is NOT Greatest Hits-, was born.  Some of the new arrangements were more successful than others—“Hyper Love” was a lusciously raw, tribal-sounding bit of batcave till it fell flat on its face, tripped up by its own silly chorus riff and childish lyrics; the formerly understated “Love Me” dissolved into bloated, rubbery loops of way, way too much slide guitar—but “Victims of Love” was easily the star of the album.  With the tempo slowed to the speed of heavy breathing and the bass brought to the fore, just listening to the music began to feel like vicarious sex.  Just the bass line feels like it’s fucking you already, and that’s even before we get to the lyrics!

Sakurai, now singing in his mature baritone voice, has fully developed the erotic gravitas and emotional range he hadn’t quite mastered at the time of the original release.  This time, he really makes you feel what he’s feeling, and ohh baby it feels good.  By the time the instrumental break arrives, you’ve been fully sucked into a dark, delirious dream world, and you’re content to be swept along in the current of Imai’s progressive guitar-synth fantasies, as he tries out one synth sound after another.  If the second studio recording has one flaw, it's the abrupt ending—presumably meant to be an artistic evocation of the void left behind when the orgasm departs, instead, it always just makes me wonder if my stereo broke.

The live performance solved the problem of the broken ending, and like all of Buck-Tick’s best songs, this song was even better performed live.  Onstage, it seemed to take on a life of its own, shedding its skin each tour to reveal an ever bigger, longer, deeper, more extraordinary version of itself.  To my knowledge, there are at least three live videos of the band performing this second version of the song—This is NOT Greatest Tour; Climax Together, a large-scale concert Buck-Tick performed in Yokohama Arena for the express purpose of making a film; and the Darker Than Darkness tour final at the Nippon Budoukan.

However, before that, the band performed a show called Satellite Circuit, which featured the band playing in an empty TV studio without an audience. The show was broadcast on pay-per-view TV and also in various theaters around the country.  While the version of "Victims of Love" Buck-Tick performed during this show is really an extended arrangement of the original version, not the NOT Greatest Hits version, in the Satellite Circuit version, the song has already evolved well beyond the original recording, and is beginning to more close resemble Version 2.0, as seen below.

The Satellite Circuit performance was particularly noticeable for Imai’s stunning use of a cello bow on his guitar during the break, a stunt he only performed for a short while and has never repeated.  The other notable element in this performance is Sakurai’s addition of new lyrics at the end of the song—

Omae no sono karada wo
Kono boku no karada no naka ni
Tsukisashite kure

—which translates to "that body of yours/thrust it inside my body."  If that sounds more than just a bit gay to you, for what it’s worth, I’ll say that Sakurai has occasionally made oblique references to possibly being bisexual (as in this very early interview where he mentions having experienced romantic feelings for a man...perhaps you can guess who it was but there's no proof.) Anyway, the point is, there's no real reason to believe he’s singing from a woman's point of view here (he claimed to never have attempted singing from a woman's point of view until he performed a cover of Yuming's "Amaoto wa Chopin no Shirabe" for his solo project in 2004.)  I’m not trying to start rumors about the sexuality of any of the band members, but I do think it’s pretty cool that Mr. Sakurai was brave enough to make such a blatant allusion to sexual fluidity on live TV.

Does that mean he and Imai are gay lovers after all?  Sorry, fans, but I doubt it.  After all, everyone knows you don't sex your marriage partner and Acchan and Maimai have been married for going on 30 years now.  Does that mean you were right all along about making Acchan-chan the uke in your creepy sexfic?  Maybe.  How should I know, I’m just a tabloid journalist, after all :P  And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

The live version of the song continued to evolve with Climax Together, viewable below.

The Climax Together version further expanded the instrumental break, and Imai worked in the melody from the Japanese folk song "Sakura," played on a koto-like synth tone.  Again, Sakurai added a different set new lyrics at the end, which translate to,

“Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I’m bound and tied
Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I'm broken down
Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I’m bound and tied
I'm broken down
I’m beaten
I’m in pain”

At nine minutes, 53 seconds long, it was the longest version of the song the band ever performed, and arguably the definitive version, though the Satellite Circuit performance is a tough competitor. Watching these two performances side by side, in a way I get the sense that Sakurai was playing a different character in each.  In Satellite Circuit, he’s mysteriously androgynous, and his partner may be a man.  In Climax Together, he’s far more overtly masculine, and since his exclamation at the end this time is a simple English “Fuck me!” we can’t guess at the gender of his partner.

It’s hard to top Climax Together, but the band still wasn’t done with the song, and even by the time they got to the Darker Than Darkness tour, they still had tricks to pull.  Memorably, at the final of Darker Than Darkness tour, during the instrumental break, Sakurai actually played the saxophone live onstage (you can see it in the video below.)

To my knowledge, this is the only time he's ever played the sax in public, though he is credited in the Six/Nine lyric booklet with playing saxophone on the studio recording of "Itoshi no Rock Star."

After that, "Victims of Love" lay dormant for a long time.  But then, in 2010, just as I was thinking of it with nostalgia and wondering if the band were done with it for good, they wheeled it out again in an all-new tango-style arrangement on the first stop of Tour 2010 Go on the Razzle Dazzle (Cayce was there, read the report HERE).  The arrangement they played at that show was reasonably close to the studio recording that appears on Keijijou Ryuusei, though shorter, and lacking the input of Kokushoku Sumire—that is to say, there were neither violins nor backup vocals.  There was also no coda at the end. Instead, Sakurai finished the song singing in falsetto, repeating bits of the lyrics to the chorus.  The song became a staple of the setlist for the entire tour, and appears on film as part of the Go on the Razzle Dazzle tour DVD (clip below.)

It also appeared on the live CD which was included as part of the limited first edition of this DVD, but it never surfaced on an album or single, which seemed a waste.

Therefore, when Imai first began dropping hints on his blog that he was redoing an old song, I had a feeling it was going to be “Victims of Love,” and of course, we now know I wasn’t wrong. However, I certainly couldn’t have predicted that Kokushoku Sumire would have been enlisted as backing musicians.

Despite my personal feelings about the quality of their solo work, I had hope that the new recording would be good—Imai’s known for being a nitpicky tyrant in the studio, and I figured if anyone could make lolitas sound good, it would be him.  Yuka, vocalist of Kokushoku Sumire, detailed on the band's blog about how long and difficult the recording process was, how she recorded the backing vocals all alone in the largest room at Victor Studio, how very many takes she was asked to do.  She also mentioned that Sakurai was not present at the time of recording, so their vocal tracks were mixed together after the fact, and claimed, somewhat unnecessarily, that “Sakurai-san’s vocals are just sooo erotic this time! Like an erotic power-up!”

Since the lolita subculture tends to champion asexuality, I wasn’t sure I could trust a lolita’s word on this, but in the March issue of the Fish Tank newsletter, Sakurai himself said, "I feel that at last, I've been able to express this feeling naturally. At last, after twenty years, this song has become a song for adults, you know? (laughs)"

So…was he right?  Unfortunately, I’m not sure he was.  Overall, this new recording demonstrates all the technical prowess and depth that Buck-Tick are able to deliver as seasoned professionals with the best equipment in the industry at their disposal, and for his part, Sakurai’s vocals sound great.  He's never sounded better than he sounds now.  Still, I’m a little less sure about Imai’s guitar tone…it feels more clipped and crunchy than the tone in the Razzle Dazzle version, where a longer delay gave the guitar part watery depths the studio recording lacks, though this effect might also have been a product of the sound echoing in a large live hall, rather than a studio. Though the style of the new arrangement calls to mind the darkness, romance and eroticism of the French chanson and German art song, losing the original throbbing bass riff takes some of the sensuality out of the actual music, and I can’t help but regret that loss, at least a little bit.  On the other hand, now it’s a tango, which is just about the sexiest of dances, so perhaps this arrangement is more about musical foreplay than musical intercourse, and that's okay, too.

While the violin isn’t my favorite instrument, I have to concede that in the context of this song, it works quite nicely.  Artfully avoiding both squeakiness and saccharine sweetness (two of the violin’s worst potential faults), it harmonizes beautifully with the accordion to create a sense of old-fashioned melancholy.  Scratchy sweeps from resonant low tones to high mournful wails sound almost like crying, or sighing.  Props to Imai, for coaxing this depth out of Kokushoku Sumire, because I have not found it to be characteristic of their music.  The violinist, at least, was worth hiring (if you can ignore her stupid cupcake outfits.)

However, I can’t say the same for the backing vocals.  It’s not that they’re bad, exactly—like the violin, they manage to avoid the phony, affected cuteness that is one thing I so detest about lolita, though I credit this less to Yuka and more to Imai for ordering her around in the studio.

At the same time, the backing vocals don’t really add anything to the song.  Contrary to the usual expectations for backing vocals (that they should be harmonies over the main vocalist, or the second voice in a duet), in this song, Yuka functions largely like a human theremin, wailing out eerie legato riffs like moist silver cupcake frosting over Imai’s guitar, and occasionally over Sakurai's vocals. But in general, she's mixed down to such pianissmo levels that it's hard to take her vocals more seriously than the whining of a stray cat from outside the window.

The song begins with this wail, and while in the introduction, Yuka’s vocals do a good enough job of establishing a mournful, ghostly vibe, they're no more effective than the breathing-underwater synth sounds that served as the intro to the Razzle Dazzle Tour version. But once we get to the instrumental break, where Yuka sings over the entire second half of Imai’s guitar solo, I begin to wonder, what’s the point of her being there? A theremin could have done the job just as well, and more stylishly, too.  Yuka doesn't actually sing any words until the song's coda, an entirely new addition that appears only in this version of the song.  While I like the fact that Buck-Tick wanted to add some new lyrics and melody this time around to set version 3.0 apart, I can't say I approve of the choices they made in this case. Listening to it for the first time, I believe the words "what the fuck is this shit?" exited my mouth, causing my companion some alarm.

Here are the new lyrics:

Give me a kiss
On this, the last night
Now we two are victims of love
You are a dream
I am a dream
Ah love me, victims of love

Standing up on tiptoe
We shall dance with death
Now we two are victims of love
You are a dream
I am a dream
Ah kill me victims of love

Part of my outbust was just surprise, not haterade...but really.  I haven't heard anything this silly come out of Sakurai's mouth since "Doll"...and I'm pretty sure "Doll" was intended as nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek joke.  Given that in the "Victims of Love" coda, Sakurai uses the feminine particle "wa" at the end of his phrase "we shall dance with death," perhaps he means this as a tongue-in-cheek joke, too...but that interpretation would kind of seem to negate his declaration that this is now "a song for adults."  Frankly, this coda is pretty damn lolita, and the lolita's entire raison d'etre is to deny adulthood forever, if possible, so I just don't buy it. Paired with the raw, mature honesty of the rest of the lyrics, this coda seems like nothing more than contrived gothloli boilerplate.

Beyond that, despite the fact that Sakurai is ostensibly singing a duet with a woman, and despite the fact that this song is ALL ABOUT SEX, the end product of this recording couldn't be more chaste. As vocalists, Sakurai and Yuka's voices have no chemistry whatsoever, and they're not even equal partners in the duet - Yuka's still singing in the background, while Sakurai's voice is brought to the fore, so it doesn't feel like they're getting it on or even dancing around like Mana-approved marionette dolls - it just feels like for some reason, a whistling teakettle is singing along with Sakurai as he attempts a throwback to the good old days of 13kai.

Okay, that was overkill...but here, just as everywhere else in the song, Yuka sounds more like an anthropomorphic instrument than another physical person. She has less character than any other backing vocalist Buck-Tick has ever employed, including the lady who did that breathy panting snowflake stuff on "Dress," and ultimately, this is what disappoints me.

Why?  Because the lack of sexual chemistry between the two voices throws cold water on the eros of the rest of the song. Sakurai would have easily been able to carry the song on his own. He never sang it with a partner before, and it worked out just fine.

Therefore, to my mind, given the theme of the lyrics, the only convincing reason to include a second vocalist would be to make the song a sexy duet, with the second vocalist playing the role of Sakurai's paramour.  Whatever Sakurai's private personal preferences with regard to paramours may be, in a performance context, the choice of a soprano lolita is clearly wrong.

Why? Because lolitas, with their deliberately childish, virginal aesthetic, just don't fit with the kind of erotic ennui evoked by this song. Lolita subculture idolizes chaste, one-sided love. Lolitas like to admire their "princes" from afar. After all, if lolitas play at being little girls, pure and proper at all times, how can they claim experienced sexuality? It's not proper and it's not for children.

But "Victims of Love" is not about puppy love, and it's not about losing your virginity. It's not about romantic princes or happily-ever-afters. It's about that moment when you've fucked so much you don't know who you are anymore, and then you're done, and you and your lover become separate people again...your sweat dries and you realize you're cold without your clothes and you snuggle up to them to keep warm, and realize that no matter how close you get to that person you'd like to be part of, you can never actually be one. It's about the morning after, the day after, the week after...the way that even after the most passionate consummation, there's a way in which physical desire can never truly be fulfilled.  There's a way in which the sweetest moment hurts the most. Because you may be able to get inside that person's body, but you can't see inside their heart and mind, and when you're passionately in love with someone, that's what you want. You want everything about them, and it will never truly be yours.  

To pull of this song as a duet with Sakurai, a vocalist would need to have a significant level of erotic presence. She (or he, let's be fair here) would need to make you feel that need, that heat, that sensuality and pain, and she'd have to sing with him, not behind him. To my mind, we'd have to feel like she was panting on his face, just like the lyrics describe. Perhaps if Buck-Tick actually did this, it would piss off a lot of fangirls, but if it were done well, with the right vocalist, I think it would have been truly new, and potentially very effective.

As it stands now, version 3.0 is perfectly competent and listenable, but I think they could have ditched Yuka's vocal entirely and made it a better song. She's credited with playing accordion, too, and the accordion works well, so they wouldn't have to kick her out of the studio, if Imai's so desperate for frills.

Also, on the newness front...I'm quite sure it's a product of convergent evolution (i.e., a coincidence) but this song does sound an awful lot like Der Zibet's "Arurukan no Namida" ("Tears of Harlequin")...another song to feature insufferably frilly violinists (good gods are you telling me there are more of them???)  Yet somehow I kind of think Der Zibet pulled if off better.  I'm not sure why...perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mahito magically played the piano and the accordion at the same time.

And speaking of piano, why did Buck-Tick go to the trouble of hiring Ken Morioka to play keyboard and then mix it so you can barely hear him?  He did say he was nervous to be working with Imai, but it seems he needn't have been, since it seems he might as well not have been there.

Anyway, in conclusion: I have no doubt that if Buck-Tick decide to perform this song on the live tour, it will grow and evolve beyond the confines of the CD.  In the meantime I'll cross my fingers tightly against guest appearances by Kokushoku Sumire because please lord spare us.  But at the same time, I still think the Climax Together version was the best.  Because when it comes to Buck-Tick, more sax is always better.




P.S.  I still kind of think the title of this song comes from Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Cascade," the chorus of which goes "Love-lorn victims/Laughing in cascades." And now it occurs to me that if they'd gotten Siouxsie to do guest vocals on this song, it would have kicked some serious skinny bony Imai ass.


And, just for the hell of it, MOAR SAX.

Melancholia: an analysis

Part II. Melancholia.

As soon as I opened up the lyric booklet for this single, I could already see the fan criticisms lying in wait for the lyrics to “Melancholia.”  Artistic laziness!  Sakurai is using the same words again!  Angels, devils, blood, clowns!  He's losing his touch, like a touched-in-the-head-clown! (See what I did there?)

As a matter of fact, I have a confession to make...even I had that reaction the first time I read the lyrics. But I immediately changed my mind when I listened to the song, and the reason can be summed up in one word: reversals.

A reversal is a literary term for when the writer takes the expectations of the reader/watcher/listener and turns them on their head.  A reversal is a subversion of cliché. In the lyrics to “Melancholia,” Sakurai makes masterful use of reversals in the lyrics to convey a feeling of powerlessness and lack of agency, a very unusual mood for his lyrics overall—something that makes this song highly original and also deeply cryptic.

The first reversal in “Melancholia” comes in the first stanza.  In the first line, Sakurai (as the narrator) tells us he’s “acting a clown.”  We generally expect that acting occurs on a stage, but in the second line, Sakurai tells us that isn’t the case—the narrator isn’t on the stage, he’s in the audience.  In fact, he’s the only one in the audience, which is unusual in itself.  Sakurai’s written a lot of songs about performing alone onstage in front of large crowds (hmm I wonder why?)  But alone in the audience?  He’s never done that before, which makes the situation all the more confusing.

The second reversal comes in the second stanza, when he tells us about the person who IS on the stage: she’s a smiling goddess.  But instead of acting like we would expect a smiling goddess to act—benevolent, protective, beatific—she’s pouring blood into a glass.  Though the association between blood and the divine female conjures ideas of both childbirth and female sexuality as symbolized by menstruation, and the idea of a glass full of liquid conjures ideas about gratitude and optimism vs. pessimism (is the glass half empty or half full?), it remains a disturbing image.  It takes an awful lot of blood to fill up a glass… so whose blood is it?  Whether the blood belongs to the narrator or some unnamed third party, there’s an undercurrent of sacrifice or payment of blood debt, which just underscores the lack of agency we saw in the first stanza—narrator as spectator, passively watching.

The third and most important reversal comes in the second verse, when Sakurai sings of an angel with white feathers, dyeing the Devil red.  Wait...what?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t the Devil be beating up on the Angel?  This is a huge subversion of expectations and tradition.  Of course, we can’t be sure the angel is really doing anything bad.  Maybe he’s just using them feathers to paint the Devil’s naughty bits with red finger paint because that’s how Mr. Devil gets his jollies…but given the recurring image of blood throughout the lyrics, it seems pretty clear that “dyed in red” is a symbolic way of saying “stained with blood,” which in turn is a symbolic way of saying “guilty of violence.”  In that case, is the Angel punishing the Devil for his crimes?  It’s hard to tell, since as far as we know, according to this song, the Devil hasn’t actually committed any crimes, though perhaps being a Devil is crime enough.

The whole setup becomes even more complex when you consider that beyond the surprise of making the Angel into an aggressor, Sakurai’s given the Angel an awfully flimsy instrument of pain—a white feather.  How are you supposed to hurt a bad guy like a devil with nothing but a white feather?  Something about this smacks of a codependent abusive relationship—as if the Devil is just standing there, allowing the Angel to abuse him, or as if the Devil becomes guilty simply through the existence of the Angel.  As if the goodness of the Angel is what defines the Devil’s evil.  Either way, the Devil is passive, or at least passively complicit, which is an unusual state of being for a Devil.  After all, it’s the angels who are supposed to be meek and mild.

Sakurai’s written plenty of songs about being abused or punished—“Cain,” “Chikashitsu no Melody,” “Megami,” “Sacrifice,” “Hallelujah,” even “Gesshoku”— but even as a victim, he’s retained his agency, focusing largely on his own actions in response to abuse or punishment, rather than the actions of his tormentor.  In “Cain” and “Megami,” he actively embraces punishment (“Run till you die, at risk of your life/Tonight, I become you,” “I sin and long for punishment”).  In “Sacrifice,” he offers the sacrifice of his own free will (I’ll sacrifice to the devil/If you desire it/Sacrifice everything”).  And in “Gesshoku” and “Hallelujah” he takes on the role of torturer, at least in part—fangirls are going to hate me for this one but in fact, the words he repeats over and over again at the end of the live version of “Hallelujah” translate to “you know I’ll surely rape and kill you.”  For what it’s worth, I’m quite sure that the real-life Mr. Sakurai doesn’t actually want to rape and kill anyone, and that “Hallelujah” was really exploring a psychological dynamic rather than a physical reality, but the point is, in his own songs, Sakurai (playing the character of the narrator) is usually the one in charge, whether he’s the one inflicting pain (quite uncommon) or the one sitting there saying “please mistress, punish me harder” (a lot less uncommon.)

Having the narrator be a passive spectator rather than an agent makes “Melancholia” stand out from Sakurai’s other work.  Here, rather than embracing the role of victim, the narrator sits in the audience, watching events happen on the stage, seemingly unable to participate.  The feeling of powerlessness intensifies in the chorus, with the invocation of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  Things crumble into nothing and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

To make matters worse, the narrator is mentally compromised (“touched in the head”) or at least pretending to be so.  Beyond that, he’s a clown—someone to be laughed at, someone not to be taken seriously.  A caricature, not a real person.  We’ve seen this clown before—he was the main character in Juusankai wa Gekkou, and even longer ago in Aku no Hana.  Sakurai seems to use this clown to represent the way he feels objectified as a performer, the way he feels that no one can see beyond his stage image.  But while in “Aku no Hana” and “Doukeshi A” he seemed to mostly be wrestling with loneliness and isolation, in “Melancholia” when he talks about acting “a clown touched in the mind” we’re left to wonder if there’s a method to his feigned madness—is it a defense mechanism a la Stockholm syndrome?  Is it a way of denying responsibility in the face of something he feels is too big to take responsibility for?  Is he saying that somehow, he feels disconnected from himself, as if he were just playing a role?

This, I think, is where the title of the song comes into play.  Melancholia is another word for depression, and the defining feature of depression is a feeling of powerlessness and futility.  Feeling cut off from your life, as if you were watching it from the outside, going through the motions without any control.  Feeling as if your actions are pointless, a farce, something acted out by a clown.  Feeling caught up in the same thought loops, as if you were watching the same scene in a play over and over again.

If the song does have an agent, it’s the goddess/angel, and given their mutual divinity and the fact that they are both described as the actors on the stage, I get the sense they are really the same person, though it’s interesting that while the angel lacks gender, the goddess is gendered by definition, which brings a sexual power dynamic into play.  I also think it’s significant that no actual violence is taking place in the song, it’s all symbolic.  Neither pouring blood nor painting with blood is a violent act in and of itself.  Furthermore, the goddess/angel appears to be untouched by the blood.  The feathers are still white, not red, and the goddess is smiling.  There’s no indication that she’s even aware of the punishment she seems to be dealing out.

Couple that with the association between blood and female sexuality and I begin to wonder if the narrator is feeling tortured by her beauty and goodness.  She is inherently above him. She’s standing on stage, while he’s in the audience.  She is a supernatural, divine being, while he is nothing but a pretend-clown.  The glass of blood may even be a gift she’s offering to him—“here, drink this!”  Perhaps, just looking at her reminds him of his own faults, flaws, and sins.

Ultimately, “Melancholia” is an unusually obscure and cryptic song that could be interpreted in any number of ways.  What is it really about?  Is it about lingering feelings of inadequacy leftover from his abusive childhood?  Is it about regretting the ways he feels he failed a woman he loved to the point of worship?  Is it about feeling victimized or in some way cast as a villain against his will?  Is it simply a symbolic exploration of the paralytic state of being depressed?  To my mind, this open-endedness increases its artistic merit.  I just wanted to call your collective attention to the layered, ambiguous quality of the imagery here, before people start pulling out that self-plagiarism card yet again.


Keijijou Ryuusei: a freeform review

We're pleased to announce that translations and lyrics for all the songs on Keijijou Ryuusei are now posted over on This is NOT Greatest Site.  Please go read them before reading this review!  Everything will make much more sense!

In fact, I hadn't planned on writing a review for this single, but in the course of translating the lyrics I realized there were a few topics I wanted to discuss, one relating to each song, so I'm going to go track by track in order, over the course of three posts.  Today, I'm going to start with Track One, "Keijijou Ryuusei."

First of all, a picture of the promo display in Tower Records Shibuya:

Note the dimensional Constructivist rectangles made out of foamcore.  The Tower Records staff really went all out this time, let's give them a round of applause!  But the big question is written right in the middle: "WHAT is METAPHYSICS?"

Part I. Metaphysics and Politics.

According to Dictionary.com, metaphysics is "the branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology."  If that didn't help much...basically, ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being (what does it mean, to exist?), cosmology is the philosophical study of the nature of the universe (what is the universe? what is space? what is time? do we have free will or is everything pre-determined?), and epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge (how do we know we know what we know?)  In brief: "metaphysics" is deceptively simple questioning about Deep Shit.  Without metaphysics, you can't have any sort of study of philosophy, because metaphysics is concerned with defining the basic principles of your philosophy, and without basic principles, you can't build a logical argument.  But we're getting into nerd territory here.

Anyhow, the next question would be, "what is a metaphysical meteor?"  Looking at the lyrics to the song, I'd say it's wide open to interpretation, but looking at the single cover gives us a clue.  And that's the first comment I'll make about this single - the art direction is the best Buck-Tick has ever had.  Not only is the packaging for the CD beautifully produced, but the images in the booklet are directly related to the images in the lyrics.  The little boy vanishes into the mist in the first stanza, and as you open up the lyric booklet, the boy vanishes from the frame.  Wow, Such Art.  Very Symbolism!  

Seeing an image of a little boy brings to mind the lyrics to "Adult Children" and I sense some similar themes here...not in the sense that Sakurai's dealing with his abuse again, but more in the sense that this is a dialogue between an adult and a child, or between the adult self and the child self.  In the verses, the narrator addresses the "lost boy" mentioned in the first line, but the chorus feels more like first-person narration.  In Japanese, it's hard to tell, but it feels that way to me.  Saying "your heart is breaking and splitting open" sounds presumptuous, somehow.  And without the presence of an overt subject, usually we can conclude that the speaker is talking about himself.  In this case, how his heart splits, how beautiful it is, how he feels he's going to die, how he dreamed a dream.

But where is the meteor?  There's no mention of it in the lyrics, and this, as I see it, is where the metaphysics come in.  It's not a literal meteor, it's a symbol for something meteor-like, something inherent to existence, that can't be easily explained in words. Something that streaks across the sky in momentary, breathtaking beauty, yet that beautiful fire is the fire of its own destruction.  You could say that the meteor is just a metaphor for Life, but I don't think so.  If it were, why would the narrator of the song be observing its destruction and attempting to hold on?  If the meteor is Life, whose heart is left to break at the end?

As I see it, the meteor is not Life itself, but rather, the search for Meaning.  The search for something that sets all your senses quivering and fills your heart with burning passion. Yet such is the nature of desire, that the things that make us feel this way are so often out of our reach.  Or maybe, we don't realize how much they meant till they're gone.  Or maybe, we don't quite even know what they are, and keep searching for them as if blindfolded, dreaming of how wonderful they would be if they came true...and that's where the "I was dreaming" line comes in.

And these are the kinds of dreams we have most when we're young, because we don't know much about the world yet, and we're searching for something to live for. If Sakurai is indeed singing to his past self, perhaps he's telling him of the heart-splitting passion of life yet to come, telling him not to fear it, but to embrace it and reach for it, though it may hurt and may seem like a lie.  We may not be able to catch the meteor, but perhaps the meaning lies in trying.

A commenter on here mentioned that the red scarf could be a symbol for "dreams," but I ask you, do Buck-Tick really need to wear a scarf to symbolize that?  They sing about dreams all the goddamn time.  Buck-Tick themselves are a symbol for dreams, especially their most renowned dreamboat, Yagami Toll.  Nope folks, this scarf is something different, or the super-duper-fanfuckingtastic limited edition wouldn't include an actual red scarf as part of the goody package.  It could be a blindfold for your 50 Shades of Buck-Tick kinktastic roleplay.  It could be a fundoshi for you to wear to a Japanese festival.  It could be a not-so-secret sigil to mark you as a member of the Communist Party.  Or it could be a Red Flag warning you when dangerous fangirls are close at hand!  But if I had to guess on its symbolism in the context of this single, I'd have to guess it's the meteor itself.  Or perhaps, the flag flown by those of us searching for that meteor.  A symbolic way of wearing the passion in our hearts on our literal sleeves.


However, I do tend to think that with regard to this symbolism, the single is only showing us a little piece of the puzzle, and the rest will be revealed when the album comes out. There's no question that the imagery of the album is strongly Soviet-themed. I had this sense myself when I first looked at it, but speaking to some Russian Blog-Tickers has only made me more sure.  In fact, I recently received the following letter from a Blog-Tick fan in Russia regarding the new album cover:

Dear Cayce,

I guess red scarf goes for flag, and red flag goes for revolution, and red ties of USSR's pioneers, which the band's members are wearing in the PV...when I saw the cover of upcoming album and promo photo - needless to say I was surprised. Those pictures are like from childhood photo book of my parents. Those masks and flags came from New Year's celebrations, I swear they were absolutely the same shape and style. Those stars and space ship, oh, you know, there was a cult of space exploration in USSR. Even I felt its echo in my childhood, though I spent only 10 years in USSR, but I remember that in primary school we always painted space, planets and rockets. And every boy being asked what he would be when adult, surely answered that he would be an astronaut. And train, what boy doesn't like trains? I guess I could say that the whole room on the cover is about dreams of a Soviet boy. Even I feel some nostalgia when look at the album's cover.  Still, I rather think that they simpy liked the Soviet aesthetic, than refer to communists in a political sense. It doesn't bothers me either way though. :-) I was born in USSR and I don't have communistophobia.  I guess I'm just trying to say that if you like the image of epoch, doesn't mean that you share its political ideas.


So you don't have to take it from me.  You can take if from your Buck-Tick fan friends over in Russia.  But that last highlighted bit, my friends, is the point.  There is no question that Buck-Tick are playing with Soviet imagery here...however, that doesn't mean they're trying to get fans to join the Communist Party!  They're using the images to make some sort of point, and what the point is remains to be seen, but I'm doubting it's political propaganda.

On the other hand, it's hard to have anarchy without some sort of politics, and though Buck-Tick have largely refrained from making political statements, it's pretty clear that they're left-dressing high grade monkeys, if you catch my drift.  And I do find myself wondering, if you, as a fan, are made so very uncomfortable by the idea that they might be making a political statement this time around, what does that say about you?  Are you worried that they might make a political statement you don't agree with?  If you're worried about that, it suggests to me you've got some conservative leanings in you, and if that's the case, I just want to remind you: Buck-Tick are a new wave band. New wave came straight from punk. Punk came from the Sex Pistols. From the Sex Pistols came Anarchy in the UK. Punk has always been iconoclastic (see what I did there?)  If that rubs you the wrong way, I think you should take another good hard look at your political beliefs vs. your musical taste and ask yourself if there's a disconnect, and if there is, ask yourself why.  If there is none, embrace your discomfort - this is a highly fucked-up world we live in and if Buck-Tick is going to call bullshit I'm going to be the first one to stand up and cheer.

Also, I just want to make clear that I'm not picking on any commenters here. I value your input and I'm glad you're willing to share your ideas on here, and even if I disagree with you, I find that fan comments are a great source of inspiration for articles. So don't be afraid to comment!  I value all my readers.  You're the people I write for, after all.

We'll be back again soon with Part II, Melancholia.