Welcome back to the second edition of Visual Kei&Anime! It’s only in retrospection that I realize perhaps the name of the band is in poor taste for current state of events. I promise it’s not intentional, and had been decided before current events got… bad. Anyway, moving forward let’s jump into Penicillin’s (the band’s) history!
Penicillin is a band that was formed in 1992, Tokyo. Their original line-up once recording started was Hakuei on vocals, Gisho on bass, O-Jiro on drums, and members Shaisuke and Chisato on guitar. The group actually took their name from the fictional band “Penicillin Shock” in the manga “To-y” by Atsushi Kamijo. Shortly after the first record, Shaisuke left the group. The group is currently a 3 member line-up with Hakuei on vocal, Chisato on guitar, and O-Jiro on drums. In their most recent live performances they typically use a support bassist if needed. In their 28 year long career (and still going!), they have released 33 singles, and 26 albums.
So, as a staple Visual Kei band the group has surprisingly only done two anime tie-ins. However, they have a bit of a surprising history with anime and manga, which we’ll get into after the anime. Their first tie in was with the detective series, “Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo”, which originally aired from Spring 1997 to Fall 2000. The title of their tie-in being “Ultrarider”, which was used from episodes 129 through 147 the conclusion. Of course, a description of the series is as follows;
“Haijime Kindaichi, is by all means an average high school student. However what sets him apart is that Hajime is the grandson of one of Japan’s greatest detective’s, with his own slueuthing skills. Together with his best friend Miyuki Nanase, and Inspector Isamu Kenmochi, Haijme travels to some of the world’s most hostile environments to uncover the truth behind various types of dangerous mysteries the world has”. (Paraphrased from the MAL entry)
Now the atmosphere of the song is a bit goofy, at least in the music video. You just don’t see too many Visual Kei bands stomping around a kid’s car mat pretending to be Godzilla in their music videos. I would argue we need to bring this side of Visual Kei, that 90’s blend back just a little. The casual kei, i.e. reduced make-up and less emphasis on stage costumes suits the song and era a lot more.
Because there’s no doubt that when this song came out, that there were some doubts about the group’s direction. They were in a bit of a record label limbo, and during the late 90’s, early 2000’s the more casual kei was becoming a thing. Or the worst thing; trading in VKei to just become… JRock….
That’s neither here nor there. Even in this less serious release, PENICILLIN kept their roots and produced this song. I have no idea if they were releasing the track and were approached to have it be a tie-in from the beginning, or vice versa and it really doesn’t matter. “Ultrarider” still fits into the overall sound of the group at the time, and holds a certain amount of presitge, being the final ending theme for a long running and well loved within Japan, series.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of tracks from this era of Visual Kei. They’re significantly more approachable for non-fans given the blending of VKei punch, but JRock roots. It’s also just an easy song to give you a bit of hope at the end of a long day.
We then jump forward in franchise, to “Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoi Yo!! Masaru-san”, which was released Winter 1998.
(Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either. And no it’s not a hentai surprisingly.) Penicillin sang the opening theme “Romance” for the track. Of course, the description is as follows;
“Transfer student, Okometsubu Fujiyama has a new goal at Wakame High School; to make 100 friends. Something that was going pretty smoothly until he meets the weirdo Masaru Hananakajima. Masaru is a mortial artist whose expertise is in the “Sexy commando” form, and even has a club based around this ‘art’. As the club attracts a variety of interesting characters and interlopers, shenanigans ensue”. (Paraphrased from the MAL entry)
(You can also just listen to the song officially here on Spotify)
I really can’t much other then it’s a staple of Penicillin’s discography. There’s a reason the track was considered a best of the 90’s and would get covered in a Visual Kei Anisong cover album, in addition to being added to the band’s 20th Anniversary album. It’s a song that even 22 years later, holds up.
Firstly, is they just don’t compose them like they use to. The simple instrumentation of guitar/drum and vocal can’t be beat. There’s that distinct flavor of 90’s VKei that can’t be replicated. Complete with a sick as fuck guitar solo by Chisato. The fact that O-Jiro plays a pattern that has just a bit of pop to it that’s really distinct to me as well. The lyrics are reptitive, being guided into the refrain with “Ai ni kiduite kudasai”, which is probably one of the better planned ear worms of all time. Additionally, I’m incredibly biased and I would argue that Hakuei has one of the more timeless voices in Visual Kei. 90’s to now, his delivery hasn’t missed it’s mark yet.
So remember how I brought up that Penicillin got their name from Atsushi Kamijo’s manga “To-y” in the beginning? Well, they did a little more then that since Pencillin’s first album “Penicillin Shock” was also an homage to the band within “To-y”. The relationship from the band to Atsushi-Sensei doesn’t end there either!
On March 18th 2015, the band released their first cover album entitled “Memories ~Japanese Masterpieces~”. Which of course, was pretty dope in and of itself but also the first edition cover, was drawn by Atsushi Kamijo!
It’s just nice to see that all the love Penicillin has towards Mr. Atsushi was reciprocated as well. It was a fun connect to discover while researching as well, because I had thought for the longest time that only Miyavi had the honor of a manga artist rendition. I’m curious to find out what other bands have been given such treatment as this series progresses!