JAM Project, an anisong unit that has been a force to be reckoned with for 20 years now, held a powerful performance at this AnimeNYC 2019 in Manhattan. The unit consists of five members in Japan and a special sixth member in Brazil. Among them, we find Hironobu Kageyama who is one of the most celebrated anisong artists today, most famous for his vocals on Dragon Ball’s theme song Cha-La Head Cha-La and One Punch Man’s THE HERO !!.
We were honored to be able to sit down and have a leisurely chat about JAM Project’s first performance in the US, their process of working with Ricardo on the second opening theme for One Punch Man, and the creative decisions and processes to creating an effective anime opening track, as well as asking what actually sets an opening and ending theme song apart!
This is your first time performing in New York, please tell us how you feel about the whole experience so far.
Kageyama: Since this is our first time here, we’re a bit nervous as we’re playing in front of a new audience, and also because we have this grand image of New York before coming here.
As excited as we were, there were still thoughts lingering in our heads like “How will it turn out?“, “What people would come to see us?“. Although, once it all started we instantly felt the good vibes! As we were last to perform, the audience was also already warmed up.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of JAM Project, how are you going to celebrate it? What kind of events can the fans expect?
Kageyama: Being a unit for 20 years, our mindset was “If we just keep going, we can do it”, but it’s obvious that’s not something everyone can do. We are kind of a peculiar group of vocalists, and we think it’s quite rare for us to be able to keep running as a unit for this long. We would like everyone in the world to know we are still continuing on as we have in previous years. For the year of our 20th anniversary, we plan to be doing a lot of live shows, and on January 1 we will be releasing a new album and a 20th Anniversary CD and DVD box set, so please keep a lookout!
Even outside JAM Project, when you first started out making anisong, it was relatively new to the western market. What are your feelings towards the current state of anime, the way it has grown and its popularity?
Kageyama: Both anime and games have been really popular even back in the days, but being liked by fans all over the world gradually as the years pass really makes us feel happy. At the same time, that is the reason why we are able to go abroad so often to do concerts.
Nowadays, anime is the biggest thing that connects Japan with other countries overseas. In older times, there were other things that were “the face” of Japan, such as cars or the city of Tokyo for example. But right now, the part of Japanese pop-culture that has been branded as “Cool Japan”, like anime, is the first thing that comes to mind when representing Japanese culture, and that’s awesome.
Is it surprising that anime has impacted so many lives and gathered such a fanbase in places you may have not expected it to?
Okui: I think we’re half surprised and half not. If you look back at the status or popularity of anime and anisong over the years, we are definitely surprised. But with anime theme songs, the content sung about is always touching positive things such as a person’s dreams, and generally, just really energetic songs. These are all themes that are essential to a person’s life.
Perhaps, if you were going about your normal day, it could be embarrassing to say you enjoy anime songs out loud to other people? But the positivity and striving towards one’s dreams is the main message in anime songs and that’s an important thing.
When a protagonist overcomes many hurdles or obstacles in an anime, in a way you relate to this and you feel happy for the character—this can be a very personal thing for a lot of people. In a day and age where society can wear a person down, the messages that are sung about in anisong really push one’s mindset towards more positive things, that might be the reason why anisong resonate so well with people and are more popular nowadays.
Earlier I mentioned I was half surprised and half not, what I mean by that is that we are surprised that anime and anisong have grown to be so loved, but we are also not because we think it is a natural thing that people resonate so well with.
Before releasing “THE HERO !!”, did you ever expect such an overwhelming reception? Especially overseas.
Kageyama: The first time we were asked to sing this song, we would never have expected that this song would be loved by anyone overseas. But because we were aware of One Punch Man’s original story, and we knew it was steadily growing more and more popular in Japan, we thought it would be a great chance for us to showcase both in Japan as well as overseas, but we never expected such success!
With the new season of One Punch Man, you introduced the opening song “Seijaku No Apostle” composed by Ricardo. Would you mind telling us more about this song and what new qualities or traits it brought to the table compared to “THE HERO !!”, from season one?
Kageyama: During the composition process, everyone in the group including Ricardo submitted potential ideas for the song and what it could be. Among those ideas, the one that was most attractive to us was the one submitted by Ricardo.
We all have a shared idea that songs representing the One Punch Man series must be powerful and rock-centric, but not as a standard style of rock, but one that has a certain characteristic to it, one that represents the essence of One Punch Man. “Seijaku no Apostle” isn’t like streamline types of hard rock, mainly because of its rhythm.
Ricardo said the approach he took was inspired by the music from the anime “Lupin the Third (Lupin III)” which features a very jumpy rhythm that snatches you immediately. With that approach, Ricardo decided that the song should sound reminiscent of older anime theme songs, but at the same time, “hard rock”.
The lyrics are also written by Yukinojo Mori who wrote the famous Dragon Ball theme song “Cha La Head Cha La”. Because we go way back, we previously discussed the possibility of collaborating once again in the future, we were always looking for an opportunity and with One Punch Man, we decided that this was the perfect timing to do so.
JAM Project created the opening and the ending theme songs for many “Super Robot War” games, are there any differences when it comes to writing ending or opening themes?
Kageyama: Yes of course! In Super Robot Wars, the first time you hear the ending song is when you clear the main story of the video game. When you clear the game, you feel a great sense of achievement. The players had to go through long and hard battles towards the end of the game, so with the ending song, we wanted to create something that eased the players from all that tension. Therefore a lot of the songs are ballads.
Most of those songs were written by Okui-san, but recently, Endo-san has also been participating in writing the ending songs. Although, when you write an opening song, it should sound something more like the start of a battle, for example. These kinds of songs were made to urge the players’ fighting spirit if you will, and that I believe is the main difference between the two.
We’d like to thank JAM PROJECT for allowing us to steal their precious time to make this happen. May the inspirational messages in their music carry on and their music continue to be heard by fans worldwide! Make sure to also have a look at their massive 20th-anniversary box which includes a set of 24 discs!
JAM Project 20th Anniversary Complete BOX
Buy at CDJapan
Photos: Lantis BANDAI NAMCO Arts