Rurouni Kenshin was one of the two anime chiefly responsible for kindling my passion for Japanese music (the other was Gundam SEED). Thing is, even back when I started watching RK (about ten years ago) it was already fairly old — it aired in Japan from 1996 to 1998 — and the OP/EDs would have been released up to ten years before that. Some of the artistes behind these songs weren’t even active anymore. But I loved the songs, and some of them are still counted among my favourites to this day. Good music never really gets old.
That leads us to the point of this “Throwback” series. I basically needed an excuse to talk about old songs, ah ha ha. But, seriously, I feel there’s a lot of good J-music that came out in the last couple of decades, many songs that are far too good to be forgotten just yet. So I want to give them some attention.
Rurouni Kenshin‘s OP/EDs were, as I later realised, a pretty good introduction to the more popular artistes of that time. Some of them, while no longer active (such as J-Rock bands The Yellow Monkey and Siam Shade, who did reunite for a while) are considered legends. A few of the others (like L’Arc~en~Ciel, T.M. Revolution, Bonnie Pink) are still going strong.
I’m not going to talk about all the OP/EDs, just the ones that I like best. So, here goes, in no particular order:
Sobakasu — Judy and Mary
Rurouni Kenshin is an anime about a former assassin seeking to redeem himself by continuing to fight for those who need defending, while abiding by a vow never to kill again. So a song called “Freckles” does not, to me, seem like the most fitting choice for the show’s first OP. But it is a rather catchy and cute song, and one remembered fondly by fans of the show. Lead singer YUKI (who is still performing solo) has a voice that a few may find annoying, but I think it’s rather charming, especially paired with the upbeat punk/pop/rock sound the band has.
Tactics — The Yellow Monkey
I love this song so much, although it took a few years after first listening to it for me to fully appreciate it. The Yellow Monkey is a great 90s J-Rock band, and Tactics is a great example of a 90s J-Rock song. Passionate, powerful, sensual, a little dark…A better fit for the show than Sobakasu, definitely. I love the lead singer’s powerful and somewhat gravelly voice.
1/3 no Junjou na Kanjou — Siam Shade
THIS SONG IS SO AWESOME. Catchy and rocking, yet emotional. It’s hard not to want to sing along. Great musicianship throughout too. Lead singer Hideki’s voice really suits the band’s style; somewhat higher pitched, powerful and just a little rough. Siam Shade was pretty popular during its time, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Fourth Avenue Cafe — L’Arc~en~Ciel
I used to love L’Arc~en~Ciel, and this was the song that made me a fan. I don’t love the band so much now, but I still find this song wonderful. I’m kind of a sucker for rock songs that incorporate piano, just so you all know. And it works so well, along with the brass section, to create a wistful, romantic feel. And while Hyde’s voice grates on me a little these days, I think he sounds really good here. It’s just…it’s a pretty song all around.
Trivia: This song end up being used as the ED for only a few episodes. L’Arc~en~Ciel’s then-drummer, Sakura, was arrested on drug-related charges, and the ensuing scandal prompted the band to halt the release of The Fourth Avenue Cafe‘s single. The single was only officially released nine years later, in 2006.
Heart of Sword ~Yoake Mae~ — T.M. Revolution
Feast your eyes and ears on 90’s T.M. Revolution! That video hurts my eyes, actually. This was pretty much TMR’s breakout hit, especially for overseas anime fans. This song is lighter on the synth than most of his later work. He’s come a long way since Heart of Sword, but it’s still a pretty enjoyable song, not to mention nostalgic.
It’s Gonna Rain —Bonnie Pink
A wonderfully mellow ED. Great arrangement; I love the drumming (sounds like blues-style drumming) and the brass. Bonnie Pink sounds a little nasal here, but I quite like it.
Kimi ni Fureru Dake de — Curio
The video is…um, nothing NSFW but whenever schoolgirls appear in a J-Rock video…Well, let me just talk about the song. It’s very lively, with a prominent brass arrangement — I don’t know if Curio described themselves as a ska band but this sounds like a very mainstream-friendly ska song. Catchy, and really fun to listen to.
Other OP/EDs (They’re worth a checking out too)
Some of these songs are still available in the Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan Best Theme Collection CD, which you can get from CDJapan.
If you have any feedback on this first installment of “Throwback”, do let me know in the comments! ^_^