Sawano Hiroyuki – &Z (Aldnoah Zero)

These days, I feel like Aldnoah Zero is remembered in very mixed terms – not hated and not forgotten, certainly, but rarely with any kind of love. At best, perhaps a mild intruige of possibilities offered but never fully realised.

 

But in one aspect at the very least, I feel it excelled – Sawano Hiroyuki’s stellar soundtrack – in many ways marking a transition from his ‘gateway’ trademark anime soundtracks for Kill La Kill and Attack on Titan, to when his focus started to become increasingly ‘song’ centric as opposed to purely soundtrack-based. Arriving at similar junctures, the bulk of works from both Aldnoah Zero and Seraph of the End both ended up filling out his ‘O’ album – and of them all, &Z – the 2nd OP from Aldnoah Zero – is by far my favourite.

 

I always envisioned the song very much within the context of the show itself – this soaring, quasi militaristic anthem-like paen to humanity at its best and worst. Full as it is with its references to keeping your chin up, the pointlessness of war, and the simple question: will it ever end? Building to this chanted, almost gospel-like majesty toward the end, &Z is the apotheosis of Sawano in full-on anthem mode. These sweeping odes to celestial future-topias would return in his OP for the retweaked Gundam Unicorn, and for my money, while his bombast is perhaps better seen in material like Kabaneri and Thunderbolt fantasy, it’s the hope and optimism here that holds some of his greatest charm for me as a composer.

Why are Dark Horse’s volumes of the Berserk manga so expensive?

Recently I saw a little factoid pop up on my Twitter feed claiming that Berserk was now Dark Horse’s single most best-selling title. Not just best-selling *manga*, but best-selling title overall, full-stop. A remarkable achievement, without a doubt – and no doubt swelled by the currently airing anime (and people perhaps wanting the ‘authentic’ experience vs. the CGI). But it also got me thinking about something that’s bothered me for a long, long time.

The price and availability of the Berserk manga.

In these bright, exciting times where we’re getting more and more manga released officially in English than ever before, Dark Horse’s attitude to Berserk in many ways seems woefully last decade. If you look on Amazon at vol. 1 of the Berserk manga, it is currently priced at £10.99, and even second hand copies cost a minimum of £5.99 – which for a manga so popular, implies that the stock of second hand copies is relatively low – most other manga of Berserk’s age would already be in £0.01 per volume territory second-hand.

I believe a core part of this is that a) the Berserk volumes are just too damn expensive, and b) hard to find ‘out in the wild’. If you walk into Forbidden Planet, you’re greeted with wall-on-wall of almost every manga series imaginable, including complete runs of all the big Shonen series. But for Berserk, I think I could only find perhaps, the first few volumes, and the most recent few – six different volumes, absolute tops. There seems to be a bizarre, artificial scarcity to the series – something I saw reflected at a recent MCM Comic Con where I could find only one stall selling the Berserk manga, and at a whopping £13 per volume!

Something is *keeping* the Berserk volumes at an artificially high price – perhaps much like Disney’s strategy of ‘maintaining’ value in the releases of their classic movies. And while Berserk may still be selling like hot-cakes, I can only imagine how many *more* copies it’d sell if it was available more cheaply.

This is particularly of issue for such a long running series like this where picking up 30+ volumes will set you back a serious amount of cash – and shelf space. Which brings us onto the second point.

Digital availability – or rather, lack of it.

When even Yen Press and Seven Seas are starting to make long holdout titles available digitally – Dark Horse’s Berserk release remains frustratingly physical-only. It’s no coincidence that Berserk remains one of the series I see most frequently referred to as pirated – with people commonly posting fan-translated screen-grabs to Twitter. No wonder when the series is ranked as *the* best-rated manga ever on MAL. This has to change – for there to be no legal digital means to purchase Berserk smacks of woefully outdated ideas of how people want to consume manga in 2017.

I can safely say that if Berserk was available digitally, and at a price-parity with other publishers like Viz, I would no-doubt have started reading it a long time ago. But as it stands, it remains perpetually on my to-read list. I’ve addressed this in another post, but I feel uneasy with the English-language manga market’s gradual shift toward a ‘graphic-novel’-style system where volumes become pricier and pricier compared to their Japanese counterparts. And the pricing strategy around Berserk lies right at the heart of that issue.

Is anime criticism becoming too aware of how it talks about itself?

Recently – perhaps over the past year or so – I’ve observed a real marked trend in the overall tone and feel of anime criticism; both written, and on YouTube. Driven by the work done by outlets like Sakuga Blog and the accompanying Twitter-sphere of ‘personalities’ well known in the online community, anime criticism as a whole has been shifting toward an increasingly intellectual, highbrow tone.

If you go back and compare ANN reviews from the early 2000s with reviews from 2017, the contrast in quality and writing style is shocking. The earlier pieces often read like they’ve come straight off of McRandom’s ‘my first anime blog’, regularly talking about how fans have probably seen the series being discussed via fansubs, and regularly inject a degree of objective ‘this is best’ knowingness. Fast-forward to now, and the reviews are distinctly professional and tone, regularly breaking out into multi-paragraph diatribes of deep thematic and psychological themes within currently airing series.

A new ‘style’ or mode of anime writing has coalesced, a kind of heady mix of quasi scholarly ‘fan-studies’ discourse and intellectual Tumblr-speak. And while I find many of the pieces highly stimulating and impressively well-written, I also feel I’ve begun to notice a certain divide or potential danger of elitism as a gulf begins to open up between the ‘informed’ cadre of professional/quasi-professional anime writers and the casual ‘everyman’ fan who exists in a separate bubble of online fandom.

Nowhere better signifies this split than the recent discourse around ‘animation budget / animation quality’. Until recently, the general line of thinking within fandom was that increased budget meant increased animation quality – hence the endless Unlimited Budget Works memes, and so on. An easy assumption to make, and one that has seeped *deeply* into a wider understanding of the medium – ensuring endless jokes in the comments section of YouTube when any given series starts looking off-model.

But recently, the sakuga community began to push a new line of discourse, backed up by interviews and testimonies from anime producers themselves. They described a situation where, in fact, most anime series actually worked with roughly similar budgets – and that budget didn’t actually make that much difference to overall animation quality. Rather, it was how ‘time’ was managed and allocated that determined the quality. ie. how well-managed the production of the series was – giving animators the *time* needed to invest quality in the given animation.

Suddenly, the anime Twitterati began repeating this new ‘truth’ of anime discourse – constantly catching themselves when they accidentally fell-back on the old ‘budget=quality’ line. No longer were you allowed to say ‘this looks expensive’, now it was ‘this looks like it had time spent on it’. The gulf opened – with the purveyors of this new line of discourse on one side. Those that – either through lack of wider reading, or refusal to change their understanding – stuck to the old ‘budget’ line slowly retreating back into their own bubble, views largely unchanged and unchallenged.

And all this got me thinking about whether current anime fandom has become too ‘aware’ of how it talks about itself. Aware of their ‘voice’ as authors, as it were. While the notion of correct knowledge pertaining to the medium is certainly important and valuable in terms of achieving a modicum of truth surrounding the process of production – within common everyday fandom parlance, there’s a sense perhaps that the more fans are removed from a free, casual discussion of the actual ‘enjoyment’ of the series itself, the more the wonder of watching as viewer instead of critic is removed.

This idea is furthered in a concept I’ve seen mentioned in regard to the wider anime blogging community, in that due to the volume of series coming out, it’s become impossible to ‘catch up’ with the pace of new series airing, because whenever you’re not *watching* anime, you’re *writing* about it – ad infinitum. Here, the sheer enjoyment as viewer is sucked away, replaced by the compulsion to ‘keep up’, because to fall behind is to fall behind the leading edge of fan discussion.

Claris doing ska is this season’s best OP theme

Of the anime series I’ve kept up with this season and haven’t dropped, Claris’ gloriously upbeat Hitorigoto (the OP to icky, but irresistible Oreimo clone Eromanga sensei) is coming out a country mile ahead of any competition. While I’ve come to generally favour the darker, more ‘epic’ OP themes over the past few years (ie. last year’s majestic Kabaneri OP), there’s something about the strut and brass-laden pomp of Hitorigoto that has me looking forward to it weekly more than Eromanga-sensei as a show itself, to be quite honest.

Because, basically, it’s ska-pop through and through – a genre you’d be hard pressed to say was common when it comes to OP themes. On one hand, Claris’ typical bright-hearted melodies and uplifting choruses are all present and correct, but there’s something in the presentation that lifts it above and beyond – a weird mish-mash of manic Specials-esque carnivalia with a soaring spirit that pairs perfectly with the floaty visuals of the OP. Much like the Oreimo OPs – I love the way characters are given a sense of three-dimensionality as they float past. Others have already talked about how Eromanga sensei seems to have had an above-average level of animation polish lavished on it, and the OP is prime example of that – a lush throwback to 2013 when Attack on Titan was airing alongside season 2 of Oreimo. Some things never really change…

I have to confess, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Claris’ sound since ‘Alice’ left the band and ‘Karen’ joined – and Hitorigoto is still some way from the majesty of their Madoka Magica-era singles. And yet… It grows on you, and grows on you.

Maybe, much like Sagari in the OP theme itself – it’s that sense that it’s a song you might secretly dance away to in your bedroom. But only when you’re certain no-one’s looking…

Dynasty Warriors is the ultimate ‘flow-state’ game

Recently, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of inducing ‘flow-state’ – a concept I’ve largely seen referred to in relation to video-games like No Man’s Sky, where a vast open-world environment and in-game processes work together to produce a kind of tactile player-game feedback system in which the systems of pressing buttons and creating feedback on screen eventually becomes so subliminal the brain in essence ‘switches’ off and the player begins to operate on auto-pilot, freeing up the higher brain functions to multi-task onto something else, whilst still being subject to the inherent feedback loop pleasures of the game itself. Or at least, that’s my experience of it, at any rate.

Think of walking to the tube while playing your favourite music on headphones. You’ve walked this same route every day of your life – so much so that you could do it blindfolded. Your body so in sync and so in time to the rhythms of both itself and the world that if you play the same album every morning, you can intuitively link up a particular chorus of a song x No. of songs into the album and your feet reaching a particular point of the pavement at a particular time. This, too, is flow-state. The feeling of reaching a place without realising how you reached it. Your mind has ‘moved on’ to a higher state – sublimating the rudimentary here and now away because it has become so routine it can be performed with almost 0% actual brain process.

Within flow-state, I’ve come to believe you can experience a very particular kind of meditative ‘pure’ happiness. A kind of ‘in the moment’ pure-pleasure which, whilst having little relation on wider life, has an inherent sense of ‘freeing’ which is almost fantastically cathartic and liberating in its capacity to offer relaxation.

And looking back at events of activities that have best triggered aspects of this flow-state, I’ve found the video-game Dynasty Warriors (alongside perhaps the Assassin’s Creed games) to be one of the best in providing this very particular sensation.

In essence, the game is set up on the easiest difficulty level and the audio muted, and you play through the almost mind-numbingly simple missions for an hour or two at any one time, whilst simultaneously listening to a podcast. This aspect of multi-tasking is vital, because to simply ‘play’ the game itself would put too much undue focus on the simplicity of the action of playing itself – it would become dull and utterly tedious.

But instead, the act of playing becomes largely secondary, a kind of soft, white-noise of tactile pleasure that is felt more through the fingertips and body than the mind. Meanwhile, the mind is occupied by the podcast – with spoken word as opposed to music providing a particular thrill of comprehension distinct from the activity of the game – your mind must alertly ‘follow’ the flow of conversation or narration, instead of perhaps ‘tuning out’ while music plays.

Particularly with headphones on, there is an immense sense of ‘enveloping’ when going through this procedure, with both mind and body occupied with respective – differentiated – tasks. Your thumbs intuitively know what to press – flipping between SQUARE and X with slipstreamed ease. And yet, the hours of ‘progression’ in game are matched with a ‘mental’ progression of learning about whatever you’re listening to – whether that by an audio drama or factual documentary.

There’s something very particular about the dumb viscerality of Dynasty Warriors – the mowing down of thousands of anonymous men by one, overpowered super-soldier. The concept is utterly ridiculous, and yet, in this – in its larger than life approximation of mass combat – it somehow allows the mind to process the game in a way quite distinct from say – the sharp focus of a strategy game. In Dynasty Warriors or Assassin’s Creed, it is almost as if you are no longer moving your character within the game world, but rather systematically mapping from Point A to Point B – ticking off and sweeping clean the game world and its objectives as you go – slowly reducing a crowded mini-map of objectives into an orderly, tidied completedness.

Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass – A sylvan fantasia reborn

Recently, spurred on by what I believe to be an utter homogenization of the Top 40 charts recently into an amorphous blend of tropical house, I’ve increasingly found myself seeking out increasingly outre, ‘alternative’ music of late. The kind of stuff five years ago I’d have dismissed out of hand as melody-less hipster music. I guess time changes us all…

Recently, with my interest in Japan, I’d found myself stumbling across a number of mentions in the Guardian – among other publications – of Midori Takada, a musician I knew nothing of. I filed the name away in the back of my mind and moved on.

And then, a few weeks ago, I saw that very same name resurface on YouTube via their scarily intuitive recommendation system. You see, I’d begun delving down the bottomless pit of Japanese City Pop music on YouTube, and with all its manifest links to the Vaporwave community and other electronic music fandoms, it wasn’t long before Midori Takada’s album Through The Looking Glass was shot right to the top of my recommendations list – something a number of articles on the album’s recent re-issue from ‘we release whatever the f*ck we we want’ records inform me isn’t an isolated case.

And what of the album itself? It all starts with the mystical, almost terrifying cover art. There’s something Dali-esque to the sheer surrealism of the painted, tropical landscape and bizarre alpaca/rabbit hybrid that lies at the centre of the composition; topped by a nude figure in a flowing white gown. I’ve always felt a certain draw towards these kind of richly coloured visions of exotique – spurred on by seeing the cover art of Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger as a child – the same swirl of dreamlike wonder – though a touch less surrealistic than the Takada album cover.

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Back to the music – the swell of gamelan plonkiness. The nocturnal sweep of owl noises and the overal, overwhelming darkness of it all. Dark I say – in the sense of a long, thickly humid nightscape. But bright too – in a kind of optimistic, uptopian biosphere of communion. One in which mankind has returned utterly to its roots as merely one of many beasts. Takada’s album is one to be drunk up – both by the ears and by the body whole-sale. I recommend putting it on as you go to sleep, lying as the twilight flows to full dark – letting it flow over you in a caress of increasing slumber.

After listening to the album a number of times, I went away and delved more into the background and legacy of the record – turning up frequent references to the work of Steve Reich – before promptly going and listening to his Music for 18 Musicians (a favourite of David Bowie I hear). Once again, I was utterly won over.

Takada’s album is one that offers more and more with each listen – a familiarity that grows whilst at the same time offering eternal wonder; the possibility that you’ll never *really* uncover all its depths. Like some primordial Amazonian rainforest, it keeps its best secrets to itself – only offering hints to its full wonder when the right occasion presents itself.

I’ve increasingly come to think of the most perfect junctions between listeners and music as instilled when a very specific auditory environment is created. Whether that be listening at a certain time of day, or at a certain loudness, or within a certain acoustic environment – I’ve started to find a new kind of magic in the *condition* of music itself as it enters the ears, as opposed to specifically the music itself. And Takada’s album – like those famous stories of people testing out their hi-fis with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – feels like a passport into that world of possibility.

Why we shouldn’t panic about Shonen Jump’s falling sales… yet

I woke up this morning to see a headline from ANN about how Shonen Jump’s circulation has dropped below 2 million. Bad news for everyone, right?

The answer, I feel, is more complicated than that. Because at the heart of this is the simple truth is that manga magazine sales have been falling across the board for years. While WSJ’s fall is perhaps the most noticeable and pronounced, its competitor Weekly Shonen Magazine has also experienced a similar fall – now selling less than a million copies itself.

The reason why I remain hesitant to classify this as inherently bad is that it feels exactly the same as what we’ve seen here in the UK in regards to newspaper and magazine circulations. In the past few years we’ve seen the likes of Time Out become freebies handed out at tube stations, while only a few weeks ago came the news that once final bastion of music mag sales Kerrang was to go monthly.

So when manga fans comment that Shonen Jump must ‘do’ something to arrest the sales fall and ‘climb’ back to its former glory, it misses the point to a certain degree. The horse has bolted – so to speak. Nothing – arguably – will reverse this trend; only, potentially, slow it. When people attach certain significance to individual series, ie. (if only Hunter x Hunter was to return!) or (if only Shonen Jump had serialized Attack on Titan instead of Kodansha) – it sees only a short term picture instead of the long term downward trend.

What, I feel, is of more significance here is what WSJ is *actually* doing to try and halt the fall. I watched an excellent video from one of my favourite anime YouTubers right now – Super Eyepatch Wolf – where he talks about how what WSJ needs isn’t a selection of moderately successful series (eg. Black Clover, Nisekoi etc.) but one or two MEGA smashes like My Hero Academia or Assassination Classroom.

Of course, not every series can be the ‘next One Piece’ – but WSJ can at least function in the hope of that, whilst all the while facing the reality that one day, inevitably, One Piece *will* eventually end, just like Bleach and Naruto before it.

But in the mean time WSJ is fast undergoing efforts to do absolutely everything in its power to manufacture another MEGA hit of – at the very least – Ass Class style proportions. In many ways, Ass Class is kind of a model series – burning short and bright, lasting only four years, but being all kinds of hot during those years.

By axing middling series and replacing them with a constant stream of new titles (from which the mediocre ones will again be axed) WSJ has essentially created a rolling conveyor belt – a veritable production line in service of creating the next hit; all via process of elimination. What of it if ten average series have to die in the process – having released only two or three volumes worth of material? If even one big hit (say current flavour of the moment The Promised Neverland, or the promising Dr. Stone) is created in the process, then they’ve ‘won’.

How English language manga is shifting toward a ‘graphic novel’-style market

One thing I’ve been pondering recently is the shifting state of the English language market – which right now, seems very much in a state of flux.

There are a number of key factors at work here – 1) The number of series being translated into English, 2) The average price of a typical volume of manga, 3) The formats – both physical and digital – that it is being released in.

In many ways, we are in a golden age of English language manga distribution – we are getting more and more series, sooner than ever before. The Weekly Shonen Jump digital edition is a masterclass in how to get things right – with a ridiculously cheap subscription fee, allowing fans to keep up to date with series day-and-date with their Japanese release (and in the original magazine-style compendium format of the original too)

And elsewhere, while Crunchyroll’s manga offering seems to baffle in the fact that it continues to update its existing series but not license any new ones – it remains one of the best places to quickly read through a number of big-name titles and get up to date on them; including standouts like Attack on Titan or Fairy Tail.

But what I mainly want to focus on here are individual volumes of manga – the stuff we see everywhere these days, whether it be a Forbidden Planet, or via an iPad or Kindle e-reader. In returning to those key three questions outlined above, I want to briefly elude to what I mean by a ‘Graphic Novel’-style market for manga.

The number of series being translated into English

Over the era of manga’s ‘rise’ to its current state – largely driven by first TokyoPop and then Viz Media (and more recently Kodansha) – the emphasis was on long-running series like Naruto, or countless other popular shonen/shojo titles that fans would eagerly collect volume-by-volume. The emphasis here was on cheap, affordable titles that could be quickly ploughed through, consuming the story as key point of value. In a pre-kindle era, buying the volumes was the only way to keep up (short of piracy or reading a Wiki).

But with many of the long-running shonen series now either ‘complete’ or approaching synchronicity with the Japanese releases, publishers are now targeting nicher markets. See Seven Seas cornering the market in monster girl manga, or the likes of Yen Press and Vertical mining the vaults to release lush new collected editions of Fruits Basket and Blame respectively.

It’s reasonable to say that ‘every’ taste is now catered for – but more significantly, by broadening this taste, the inherent by-product is that the market shifts toward a more ‘high-brow’ feel on the whole. Walk into a manga store five years ago and you’d be greeted by a wall of garish shonen jump spines – a wall of endless numbered volumes. Walk into a store now and it’s a panoply of colour and variety.

I feel the crucial factor here is one of taste – more and more, whether via podcasts or websites or the simple proliferation of the volumes themselves in shopfronts, there is a notion that the manga market is diversifying its taste (and by association, a perceived notion of ‘quality’), which dovetails nicely with the next point.

The average price of a typical volume of manga

But more recently, and I’d really just target this to the last few years or so – I think we’ve seen is a shift toward a market (related to what we’re seeing with collector’s editions in anime) where the prestige and quality of the ‘value’ of the physical edition begins to attain a value in its own right beyond the simple ‘story’ contained within. Physical editions of manga are becoming plusher and plusher – with price tags to match.

If you look at the Japanese version of Amazon and convert the Yen price into pounds – you’re typically looking at around £3 – £4 per volume. Ridiculously cheap, right? And while it’s to be expected that prices would rise in the conversion to English editions, once you factor in translation costs, graphic work, marketing etc. the simple truth is that here and now – in 2017, most English manga now cost anywhere between £6.99 and £10. Basically, more than double the Japanese price.

What this means is that you’re no longer buying a ‘manga’ – that portable, disposable medium of printed paper – you’re buying a ‘book’. A graphic novel. A thing designed to be kept. And this is reflected in the digital prices too – which are a veritable minefield in their own right.

While Shonen Jump titles typically remain at a sub-£5 cost per volume on Amazon (for the kindle edition), Kodansha seem to typically charge over £7 per digital volume. That’s right, £7 for typically under 200 pages of content. Bonkers.

And while we could sit here and argue about the state of the economy and the rising price of goods across the board, the simple truth is that the price manga is sold at arguably changes the perception and way people interact with it. And it is to this degree that we turn to the last (and in my eyes, most important point)

The formats – both physical and digital – that it is being released in

For me, this is the single biggest sea change affecting English language manga right now – and if one were to be cynical, it is even part of why prices are rising across the board. We talked a little earlier about a notion of rising taste / quality in the manga market – and I think central to this is the increasing introduction of prestige editions. A cursory look at Amazon’s most pre-ordered manga titles highlights titles like Vertical’s Blame edition, VIZ’s glossy new hardback Jojo’s edition, as well as their collected editions of Goodnight Pun Pun.

I think these three titles are standard-bearers for where the manga market seems to be going – titles that one could arguably say perhaps even ‘transcend’ the manga ‘ghetto’ and fit neatly into a wider graphic novel taste sphere. If you looked purely at the bright, ‘designed’ covers of the PunPun volumes – much like with Assassination Classroom, you might not even think they ‘were’ manga.

We’ve seen something similar happen with Tokyo Ghoul – arguably the single hottest manga in the English market right now. In the old TokyoPop / VIZ days, there’s no doubt Tokyo Ghoul would have been released just like Naruto and all the rest in a cheap tankobon style edition – but now, it forms part of the larger format VIZ ‘SIG’ (signature) edition (alongside other titles like Terraformars).

This larger format – while looking magnificent in your hands and on your shelf, arguably allows VIZ to jack up the price for what in the old days would have been sold far more cheaply. By adjusting the physical size and materials the volume is constructed from, the item is taken away from the petite, jacketed Japanese editions. This in itself doesn’t bother me – the English market has different tastes and norms after all. But more of question here is *what* exactly that change achieves in terms of long term market perception and trends. eg. In the future will *every* VIZ title become a VIZ ‘sig’ prestige edition because, hey, just because they can?

In Goodnight PunPun, Kuroko’s Basketball, Prison School and many other titles, we also now see an increasing trend of the ‘first’ English edition automatically being a bundled 2-in-1 edition. While this ostensibly saves money for the fan and allows the publishers to more quickly catch up on long-running / completed series, it again shifts the format toward a more ‘book’ like / graphic novel item – a hefty tome if ever you saw one.

It remains to be seen where exactly all this will head, and whether prices will continue to rise – but what I would like to at least suggest here is that the physical entity of manga itself (in English translation) has a profound effect on the market itself and the kind of perception and taste it entails. We saw this in the past as the market shifted from ‘flipped’ floppy singles to the accepted tankobon ports we all know and love.

Are we on the cusp of another long-term shift? One where a comic book store manga section will start to look more and more like its Western counterpart – choc full of collected ‘trade’ editions; weighty, hyper-glossy tomes far removed from the cheap, disposable volumes of old?

The best pieces on Japanese City Pop

If I were to sum up City Pop in a sentence, it would be as a kind of neon-dusted sound of sleek, luxurious metropolitan living in a Japan of the late 70s and early 80s. A world confined to classic anime series and fantastically rare vinyl records. A world of dazzlingly designed record sleeves which promised a tropical, Pop Art aesthetic that remains to this day impossibly cool in its chic-ness.

The closest English equivalent would be what’s classified as Post-Disco or ’80 Soul’ / ’80s Groove’ – but while the production styles are often similar (blending funky synthesized bass with a sweet mix of disco-esque strings n’ guitar riffs) I’ve found it’s never had quite the same resonance with English lyrics as it does in Japanese.

Most City Pop records remain frustratingly hard to acquire or even listen to legally in the UK – Spotify is practically barren when it comes to most of the most regularly cited artists.

In terms of recommendations, I’d definitely point people first in the direction of Tatsuro Yamashita’s For You and Taeko Ohnuki’s Sunshower as the most quintessentially ‘essential’ representative records of the City Pop sound.

So, for those looking to take their first steps into the hazy neon nights of City Pop, I’ve compiled below a list of some of the best English language pieces written on the sound:

City pop revival is literally a trend in name only | The Japan Times

City Pop: A Guide To Japan’s Overlooked ’80s Disco – Electronic Beats

City Pop (aka Japanese City Pop, City Pops, シティーポップ)

The Musical Almanac: Japan’s City-Pop | zZounds Music Blog

Light In The Attic dig up Japanese folk, city pop and new age rarities

Stream Loads of “City Pop,”

Don’t call it a comeback: Japanese City Pop

The Newfound Heian Period in Japanese City Pop ‹ ArtMag Blog

Yoshida Yohei Group Puts a Spin on Japanese City Pop Revival | KCET

See also…

Discogs

Wax Poetics