Japanese culture in the United States is pretty much hit or miss. Either you love it or you know nothing about it. Not too much gray area. Besides that, a lot of Japanese cultural elements are stripped out of popular anime like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, to Americanize them. Names get changed, the theme songs get replaced with English ones, and really bad ones at that. Thanks a lot, 4Kids. Consider this video:
When you have to change rice balls to sandwiches or donuts or anything BUT rice balls, you are totally ruining the Japanese-ness of the show.
So where does L’arc fit in to this rant?
Listen. If you like anime, you’ll at least know about Fullmetal Alchemist. If you know about Fullmetal Alchemist, you’ll know L’arc. Maybe I’m being disgustingly linear, but for me, L’arc was the band that introduced me to Japanese music through FMA. Shows like Fullmetal and InuYasha were ones that didn’t entirely lose their original themes when they were dubbed and brought to the U.S. Sure, Fullmetal cut down their ending themes to 30 seconds and lost two out of four openings when shown on TV, and InuYasha never had opening music on TV, but at least you got that tiny snippet of Japanese music somewhere. That made all the difference.
One August day in 2005, I was in my local record shop buying Pocky. I noticed they had a small bin of CDs labeled “anime.” Curiously, I looked through and saw soundtracks from popular shows like DBZ, FLCL, and some others. Then, I spied a copy of L’arc~en~Ciel’s SMILE album (lots of people didn’t like this album, but it is my favorite!) with a big sticker slapped on the front reading “FEATURING ‘READY STEADY GO’ FROM THE HIT ANIME FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST!” I bought it.
My experience with SMILE was gradual. At first, I played “Ready Steady Go” over and over and over again. Then, I eventually accidentally hit the shuffle button instead of repeat, and the song “Revelation” played. I adored it from the first listen. My interest was piqued, and before long I had listened to every track and learned every lyric.
I thought, “hey, this is really good. I bet there is other really great Japanese music out there too!” I began to research popular music and order albums from the big names like Ayu and Utada. Loved ’em. I discovered all kinds of music, even the superindie stuff that I’m so hardcore about these days. All thanks to L’arc.
I can’t call L’arc my favorite group, but I will always credit them as my jumpstart to loving and appreciating not only Japanese music, but international music as a whole.
In this way, L’arc~en~Ciel will always be the most enduring Japanese musical act to me. I also think they will endure because they are everywhere. Besides Fullmetal, they have tie-ins all over the place, and Hyde himself is one of the most recognizable figures in Japanese pop culture.
Maybe this rant makes little sense to my readers, but I wanted to take some time to thank L’arc for bringing their music and culture to a nation where a lot of it is silenced and diluted.
Reader Question: What was your first experience with Japanese music?