Bandai Toy Company
ere in Japan, there is a recent trend in which various companies have been dredging up old recordings and re-releasing them on miniature CDs. In the case of Bandai’s Okashii-D series, for about $3 (US) you get a red package containing a mini-CD single and a single, lonely-looking piece of candy (Okashii is the Japanese word for treat, or candy). Unfortunately, it’s like baseball cards: you never know which CD you are going to get—you have to keep on buying them until you find all the ones you need in the series, or until you run out of money.
Each mini-CD in the series has a single track on it—the theme from an anime TV show from the 1970s or 80s. They are packaged in a mini-reprint of the original 45 single’s art and the actual CD is designed to look like a little 45 single. Helpfully, the inside of each sleeve provides information on the anime series.
So, despite my incredibly limited knowledge of the Japanese language, allow me to proceed with this review.
No. 1 – Kamen Rider, 1971
This is the first version of Kamen (or Masked) Rider, an anime series targeted at children. Like other popular anime series of the past, it has been rehashed again and again for children in Japan, although the characters and situations are changed and updated. The most current version is Kamen Rider 555, which is currently a huge hit in Japan with kindergarten-aged boys.
This track begins with a huge horn hit, which clears the way for a rollicking march-like theme. The instrumentation is phenomenal, with unexpected thumps from tympani, string swells, surf guitars, farfisa, big tom fills, and real old delicious spring reverb. The solo vocalist’s tenor exhorts each of the masked riders (Red, Green, etc) to do various painful things to those who break the law: “Go! Go! Let’s Go! Rider, Jump! Rider, Kick! Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider! Rider: Rider!!”
You know, I’m old and jaded and I have heard a lot of cheesy TV soundtracks, but this one somehow manages to remain powerful. The recording quality and musicianship is excellent, especially considering the time period in which it was recorded.
No. 2 – Devilman, 1972
Thunderous and excellent in every way! This is one of the best tracks in the series, echoing many of the conventions that Kamen Rider reinforced. The instrumentation is similar, right down to the tympani and reverb-drenched vocals. Although the lead melody is sung here by a male chorus, rather than a soloist, there are even similar lyrics: “Devil-Chop! Devil-Kick! Devil-Cutter!”
It’s the composition of this track that makes it stand out. I love the soaring instrumental washes, the spooky breakdowns and the irresistible, inspirational sense of melody. I play this song at full blast at 6 AM, while chewing caffeinated Black Black gum, guzzling sports drinks, punching the air and shouting like a barbarian. And I’m allowed to. It’s that good.
No. 3 – Kesshan, 1973
I hate to sound repetitive, but this is another anime about a crime-fighting superhero that’s aimed at children. And again, it has an orchestral score with a melodramatic male vocalist.
The orchestration is almost identical, except that the guitar is distorted. Still no sign of synthesizers, but lots of tom-toms. I would say that this track best serves to put the others in context. Unfortunately, the most forgettable of the series.
No. 4 – Megu-Chan: The Witch Girl, 1974
With this disc, our series heads in a new musical direction. This anime revolves around a magical girl named Megu and her family (or at least what she thinks is her family!). The lyrics for this track are truly bizarre: essentially, they read “Megu looks like a child, but she has breasts, so she must be a woman. She doesn’t wear make up but everyone’s attracted to her. Her tears are like pearls.” Allow me to add: WTF? However, it’s even better when the female vocalist sings “sha-lum-la-la-lum, sha-lay hey hey hey: sha-lum Lum!”
The music here is bizarre and funky. It’s not an energetic, testoterone-filled march like the last three. Instead, it’s kind of go-go, with a drumbeat that sounds like a primitive drum’n’bass rhythm. There are the ever-present sweeping strings and horn section accents, but there’s also a weird surfy guitar, and a bleepy analog synth. It’s not the catchiest song ever, but the instrumention and the “sha-lum-lum” part make it one of the oddest in this series. And it ends with the vocalist saying something in a sexy undertone, followed by a comedic pitched-up tympani. Gold.
The series’ album covers
No. 5 – I-kyu san, 1975
Here’s another unique track. It’s upbeat, friendly, not funky at all. It’s children’s music, sung by a child vocalist and a children’s chorus. There’s a simple walking bass, followed by a silly hornline, a cute but predictable violin section, and a weird bridge with someone banging on a woodblock and imitating Buddhist meditation.
The last one is not entirely out of place: the anime is about a Buddhist acolyte named I-kyu, who likes doing various good things like helping people. He’s not perfect. The lyrics explain that “his problem-solving is first rate, his helpfulness is first rate, but his fighting is third rate.” Later, the underhanded compliments get even more personal, asserting that “his heart is first rate, his shaven head is first rate, but unfortunately his face is third rate.” Well, it sounds a lot funnier in the original. Overall it’s a cute, silly and impossibly catchy song.
No. 6 – His Mother Is 3000 Kilometers Away, 1976
Here’s a strange soft song, downtempo, with no percussion, and a minor-key melody. This is my least favorite song of the series. It has some nice moments: it begins with a nylon-strung guitar, a clean female vocal and a flute-like synth line. I like that part. But then all these mandolins come in, and weird warbly flutes and recorders that I guess are trying to emulate South American pan pipes. It doesn’t work.
The “exotic” instrumentation is supposed to evoke South America, where Marco, the hero of this anime, lives with his adopted family and his pet monkey, Amedio. Marco’s on a quest to find his birth mother who, as you can tell from the title, is very far away.
But yeah, I don’t have much else interesting to say about this one. I like the cover art. But the music, like I-kyu san’s face, is third rate.
No. 7 – Zubat is Coming, 1977
With this song, we’re back to the manly marches that began this series. Actually, I’m not even sure why this show was included in the series—the cover art shows actual people dressed up in silly costumes like Power Rangers or Ultraman or something. Is it even an anime? I’ve never seen it, so I can’t say for sure.
“Zubat” is one of the hundreds of onomatopoeic words in Japanese: that is, it means what it sounds like. Essentially, it equates to a punching sound like “thwack” or “biff” in English, although it can also be used for the sound of slicing things. And punching and slicing is what Zubat is into. He’s going to hell, looking for revenge, the vocalist informs us.
Musically, this is more funky marching angry fighting music, using similar instrumentation, and cheesy 70’s beats. The one really distinctive thing about this track is that every time the vocalist sings “Zubat is Coming!”, there’s a crusty, reverbed, ancient pluck on a shamisen: it’s perfectly timed, and one of the few times actual Japanese instruments are used in this series.
No. 8 – Galaxy Express 999, 1978
This anime, unlike all the others, might be familiar to modern anime fans. I’ve never seen it myself, but it’s currently available in both official and fansubbed versions. It tells the story of a boy who saw his mother die, and therefore doesn’t wish to die himself. He rides a space train called the Galaxy Express, hoping to find a planet called Andromeda where immortal bodies are available. Along the way he is assisted by a beautiful android named Meteru…
But I don’t want to go on too much about the series itself here—you can read all about it on the net anyway. What’s truly striking is the music. It’s funky, but in a more sophisticated way than Megu-chan’s theme. The first time I heard this track I was instantly reminded of the Strange Games series, which I adore. After a harplike flourish and a drum fill, gliding magical strings and a subdued 16th-note hi-hat rhythm appear. These are followed by a tenor vocalist, who in turn is joined by a female chorus and a set of tubular bells before—the breakdown. The vocalist descends into a place where there is only a bass and the shards of strings before tinkly chimes summon his band again.
I don’t want to say too much about the series itself, having never seen it, but based on what I know of the plot, the music is eerily accurate, almost perfect. There’s a magical, spacelike, fantastic gilt to the arrangement of this track, entirely appropriate for a show about a magic space train.
No. 9 - ?, 1979
Sorry, this is the only mini-CD in the series that I didn’t get (not counting the two secret ones). I’ve already spent so much money collecting the ones I did get. So I can’t buy anymore. Unless they go on sale, or something.
No. 10 – Muteking, 1980 (incidentally, that’s pronounced “moo-tay-king.” He isn’t mute.)
The last song happens to also be the best one.
It has the most perfect sound. After a short intro, the main verse begins. It’s a guitar playing a simple chord figure, a basic rock drumbeat, and—a sound—a sound like no other—a perfect sound. It’s anold analog synth playing an unpitched bendy bubble-like sequence. It comes back again and again, especially when the female backup vocalists sing “Do! Do! Do!”
This song sounds like something that Quentin Tarantino forgot to include in one of his movies. It’s kitschy as hell, but really excellent in it’s own right. The production quality is very high. It might have been made in the 80s, but it sounds more like the late 60s. The bridge is amazing, with the drums kicking it up a notch. “Nice Nice Nice!” sings our proud drunken tenor vocalist. “Muteking Punch! My heart is beating, beating in my breast, waiting for the … MUTEKING CHANGE!”
Of course, that’s the part where Takoro, the magical flying space octopus, changes regular Japanese boy Rin into MUTEKING, the No-Enemies King, so he can fight the evil Black Octopus Brothers who came to Earth to kill Takoro. I wish I was joking. I really do. In fact, I think that bubbly synth sound I love so much represents the sound of Rin changing into Muteking. Or is it the sound of Takoro’s flying octopus skill? I have no idea. But I love it.
In conclusion, this series is one of the best examples of pop culture repackaging I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to be a fan of anime to enjoy the music—but it would be better if you’re a fan of kitsch. I love anime, but I’ve never seen any of these shows whose theme songs I now own (and love).
Remember: America may export the most culture in the world, but Japan exports the best and strangest. It’s a medically proven fact.
Reviewed by: Francis Henville
Reviewed on: 2004-02-20