Visual Kei&Anime – SID Part I

For the first, but not the last time in this section, we have a two part discography dive! Whoo! We’re jumping forward in the stream of VKei, but into an era of anime that should have a lot of readers reminiscing about the good old days. Of course, we’re talking about none other than SID!

SID started back in 2003 with Mao as the vocalist, and Aki the bassist joining together after quitting bands Shula and Ram Rem. The duo recruited two support members, Shinji as a guitarist formerly of Uranus and Yuuya as the drummer, formerly of Shula. Together they recorded and distributed a demo-tape called Yoshigai Manabu 17-sai. Shortly after this demo tape was released, Danger Crue Records signed the young unit.

After signing, SID had the quickest rise to fame that any Visual Kei band has seen. In January 14th 2004, the band confirmed that both Shinji and Yuuya would join SID fully. Thus, that date is seen as their ‘official’ start. After releasing another single, the group would head abroad for the first time to perform at the Anime Central convention in 2004, instantly garnering them an international audience. The group had high demands of themselves, promoting themselves constantly on the street with flyers and megaphones, joining tours and playing at taibans.

During this early era, SID made a point to curate songs that had wide-standing appeal outside of Visual Kei. This choice made it easy Sony Records to pick them up for a major label debut in 2008. The backing would prove successful as multiple songs, albums, and even DVD’s cracked Orion charts Top Ten spots. SID would embark on multiple live house, and major venue tours, including several stops at the Nippon Budokan through out their career. By straddling the line between indie and major in terms of promotion and sound, SID would be included on several tribute albums including those of Kuroyume and Buck-Tick in later years. The group (as of writing) has released an insane catalogue of music including: five digital singles, thirty-seven singles, sixteen albums, and much more. They’re easily considered one of the most commercially successful post-90’s VKei bands of all time.

Of course, there is some contention in the VKei fandom if SID is still considered ‘Visual’ Kei. While they clearly debuted within the scene, their latter performance style and sound would stray further from Visual Kei hallmarks. Despite this, I personally still consider them Visual Kei, and have decided to include them in this section. Especially since their quick rise and early introduction to the western anime fanbase that SID have some extensive anime tie-ins over the years!

What would kick start SID’s major label debut, and their first anime tie-in was their single “Monochrome Kiss” which was used in the first season of Black Butler, and it’s recap episode as the opening theme. The single would be the only opening theme used with the series, and become a cult-classic with fans. Of course, we need to preface this section with a Black Butler synopsis:

“Black Butler tells of Ciel Phantomhive, i.e. “the Queen’s Guard Dog”, who takes care of the troublesome events in Victorian era England. He is aided by Sebastian Michaelis, whose one hell of a butler, and seemingly inhuman. Which isn’t too far off, considering in his darkest moments Ciel made a contract with Sebastian, a demon, in exchange for seeking vengeance against those who wronged him, while carrying out investigations ordered by the Queen along the way.” [Paraphrased from the MAL Entry]

If there’s anything I can give “Monochrome Kiss” is that it’s a distinct and iconic. The opening notes of Shinji’s acoustic guitar, and the flute is impeccable. Having Mao’s voice introduced to lead into the full band is a brilliant choice. There’s a lot of smart choices of when and where Shinji’s guitar, along with the flautist come into play throughout the track. Overall, the composition is impeccable with a balance of what the band does, but with respect to Black Butler‘s aesthetic as well.

This song also builds on a lot of important elements that will be re-occurring throughout SID’s ventures into anime tie-ins. The first, is making songs that capture the heart of Visual Kei fans lyrically, while also relating to the anime it ties into. Secondarily, they built a song to last. All these years later, this song cracks their top five listened to on Spotify. Not to mention that the opening notes leave no doubts for fans of the anime or the band, as to what’s coming next: a timeless crowd pleaser at it’s finest.

In April of 2009, SID would be recruited for another tie-in. This time being a double request for none other than the beloved Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. They would perform the ending theme “Uso” for episodes 1-14, and then the opening theme of “rain” for episodes 52-62. “rain” would also be reprised as an ending theme for episode 63. Of course, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a title that most are familiar with but in case you aren’t-

“Alchemy’s core principal is that for something to be obtained, something of equal value must be lost. Something learned by young alchemists Edward and Alphonse Elric when they attempt forbidden alchemy of human transmutation. Their bodies are destroyed, Al’s nearly entirely lost aside from his soul which Ed manages to bind to a suit of armor, Ed losing a literal arm and leg. The only way for them to perhaps return to their original bodies is by Ed becoming a state sponsored alchemist, the Fullmetal Alchemist. The boys after three years of trial and error, seek the Philosopher’s Stone, with help of their military allies, but with something powerful enough to allegedly overturn the Law of Equivalent Exchange, they get caught up in several conspiracies’ along the way…”[Paraphrased from the MAL Entry]

I have to say listening to this back-to-back with “Monochrome Kiss” that there’s the development of a formula for making a good anisong starting here. Both songs use a technique of of a soft build up, with non-Visual kei elements to launch into the full band. What separates these two is “Uso”‘s own bag of tricks, since there’s significantly more emphasis on expressiveness, and Aki’s bassline. If you really focus in around 1:30, you hear the piano and bassline start to bounce off each other, and even into Shinji’s guitar solo. It’s a really slick delivery that I personally adore a lot. The bass and piano coupling during the chorus has to be one of my favorites as well.

As prior mentioned, I was really impressed with the expressive nature of this track. I think a fair amount of this does lie with the lyrical delivery curtesy of Mao. The chorus hits differently each time it’s used, and really ties the song together without coming off as repetitive. Mao has a really solid delivery that shifts the tone of the song throughout, without having to change the pace or time signature to do so. I have to say, the biggest shock is around the half way point, Mao’s delivery really makes you think that an echo/reverberation effect is going to be used, but isn’t which threw me for a loop. It has the impact of such an effect without actually using it.

Of course, now we get to jump into “rain” since it’s from the same anime!

With a title like “rain” the acoustic guitar lead in to the full band makes sense. I’m just glad that the start leads quicker into SID the set unit, rather then combining them right away with other performers. Of course, this changes direction later when the string section is brought on as back-up. This tonal shift does keep the moving, and ties in well thematically.

I do like how the bass and drum break about 1:30, since it really does replicate the idea of the skies opening up and dumping rain suddenly. One of the only patterns in SID’s anisong that’s a bit repetitive is Shinij always getting a solo towards the latter half of the song. These songs are built in referance to those that came before SID, so it’s a standard at this point. However, I would have loved to hear an Aki solo, or even a Yuuya solo for a change of pace.

The one thing I will give this track is right after Shinji’s solo, the song immediately pulls back everything to really let Mao’s vocals and the lines he’s singing, “Will the rain ever stop, I wonder? For a pretty long time now it’s been cold” [translation from Jpopasia user Nuimee]. While that’s part of the chorus prior referenced, hearing it with only Shinji accompanying is a really powerful feeling.

Also in 2010 SID would be tapped to join BLEACH for the 13th ending theme of “Ranbu no Melody”. This would be produced a mere few months after Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, with “Ranbu no Melody” hitting TV for the first time in October 2010. You are most likely familiar with BLEACH, especially since kouhai band ViViD was also a contributor to the soundtrack right after SID was, but here’s a brief synopsis if you are unfamiliar:

“Ichigo Kurosaki is a ordinary high schooler, until he and his family is attacked by a Hollow, a corrupted spirit that seeks to devour human souls. Ichigo meets a Soul Reaper named Rukia Kuchiki, who is injured by the Hollow attempting to protect Ichigo’s family. Ichigo accepts Rukia’s offer to temporarily become a Soul Reaper.However, Rukia is unable to restore her powers and thus Ichigo must take on her duties of a Soul Reaper. Due to Ichigo’s insane amount of spiritual energy, he creates allies and attracts others that have their own specialities and abilities. As they begin to figure out their new duties, they come to realize that Hollow’s are the least of their problems in the human world and beyond”. [Paraphrased from the MAL Entry]

Ironically, “Ranbu no Melody” is the most typical anisong, sounding song that SID’s produced in their anime tie-ins. It’s for that exact reason that “Ranbu no Melody” stands out so much in this part of SID’s discography. It’s a break from all their more ‘moody’ prior selections, most likely due to BLEACH being a shonen battle anime. And SID delivered on making a song that fits into that genre.

Stylistically, this song also leans the most into their Visual Kei roots so far. There’s a lot more emphasis on the technical skills of the members. We hear a lot more of Aki’s bassline work, and more technical tricks that Shinji has outside of his solos, although he does have one in this track as well. It’s also important to note how much Yuuya’s drumming holds this song together. There’s always a danger with a song like this to get out of control unintentionally, but as always Yuuya holds the band together. It’s a really exceptional showing of his prowess.

SID would have a brief break from anime tie-ins, returning in October of 2012 with “V.I.P.” the first opening of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic for episodes 1-12. Without further ado, a bit of a summary of the series as per usual.

“Around the world, are mysterious dungeons containing labyrinths are said to be created by Magi, have amazing amounts of treasure within them. Djinns are the supernatural beings that rule these dungeons, and grant successful conquerors access to their power, and potentially even chose them to be candidates to rule the world! Aladdin is one such young magician whose accompanied by Ugo, a djinn he summons with his flute. Of course, in the beginnings of such an adventure, misfortune befalls Aladdin where he must conquer his first dungeon and his adventure begins!” [Paraphrased from the MAL Entry]

After a two year break from anime tie-ins, I was expecting something a little bit different from the group. So that soft lead in opening on the flute, almost disappointed me. However, literally reading my plot synopsis above that nod to the series is too well done to disappoint. Especially since immediately after, holy fuck does Mao just let the words soar. I’ve looped this song too many times to count, but each and every time despite knowing it’s coming I always get shivers. It’s the first time in their tie-ins that Mao really got to let his vocal prowess be displayed. This is also a song that I would totally bust out in karaoke if I had a better command of Japanese, and better vocals.

But what I think what really stands out about “V.I.P.” is that this was clearly a song where SID were handed the outline of Magi and told to build a song around it. There’s too many subtle nods in composition and the lyrics to deny it. Normally with songs like this, the band phones it in for the check (which they deserve) but there’s not a ton of passion behind it. No matter how many times I’ve listened to this song, and in different moods, “V.I.P.” really does sound like a song where SID got to keep full creative control, do something a little different in terms of tie-in content, and had fun making this track. And that’s the reason why “V.I.P.” has probably snuck into my top ten Spotify wrapped playlist, but I can’t confirm that just yet.

Since this is going to be a two-parter I noticed some reoccurring thoughts I had when putting this together. Re-reading the same thing over and over again gets tedious so I’ve decided to summarize those thoughts here. The first being that for a band that isn’t an anisong band*, SID at this point do have a formula to putting together anime tie-in tracks. They clearly take notes from what other bands inside and outside of their scene are doing so they’re on trend, but put their own spin to it. This leads to a certain amount of repetition; a lot of softer openings leading into the full band, Shinji always gets a solo towards the latter half of the song, etc.

What separates the group is that they lyrically straddle the fine line of making a song that appeals to the Visual Kei scene, and to fans of the anime so both audiences connect to the lyrics. It’s something that I noted for nearly every song, and worth checking out yourself if you’re interested. Since that ability to connect is really important when transitioning from indies to majors. SID managed to avoid being called sell-outs because they always pushed outside of VKei, but still connected back to it.

Another point, is that the band has a formula for these songs. That does, when looping all these songs back to back, does come off as repetitive but in the grand scheme of getting new deals, is a more a positive then a negative. When producers are looking at bands to do an anime tie-in, they’re more likely to book the band that has a successful formula and consistent musicianship over a newbie group that’s all over the place stylistically. This repetitive nature is only reflective on their tie-ins and not their overall discography.

I apologize for the length, but with a band with as much longevity as SID there’s a lot to cover and condense. With next month we’ll be able to jump in more directly since the introduction will be out of the way. Needless to say, I always encourage you guys to check out their catalogue outside of anime tie-ins which you can find on Spotify, and official music videos here on their Youtube. I will be finishing their anime tie-in section next month! Stay tuned for this thrilling sequel!

*anisong band: In my own terms, an anisong band is a band that exclusively creates music to be used in anime. Their discography exists entirely of anime opening and ending theme music, and one or more members might be a voice actor as well. Some examples being Funta, SCREEN MODE and fhána.

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