Otaku2 Interview: Kageyama Hironobu

PG: What are your hobbies?
KH: Riding my bike and collecting acoustic guitars. I love acoustic guitars, and when I see one I just can’t help but buy it! It’s a bad habit. I probably have about 10 now.

PG: A music man to the core. Are you into anime?
KH: As a kid, like all kids, I watched “Mazinger Z,” “Kamen Rider,” “Triton of the Sea,” there were tons of anime I liked. Even after I became an adult, before I sang for the “Dragon Ball Z” anime, I was reading the manga in “Shonen Jump.” I was so shocked when that job came to me! I’m a little behind the times, but I recently started reading “One Piece.” That’s a good one.

PG: What did you want to be as a child?
KH: My parents were barbers. Actually, all my relatives were barbers, too. Since all my cousins were going to become barbers, I just sort of assumed I would too. But, well, I debuted with my band and I guess my parents kind of gave up on me.

PG: Are you from a big family?
KH: Just me and my parents and little sister.

PG: All the pressure’s on you as the oldest son. What got you into anisongs?
KH: I was in a rock band as a teenager. I debuted with them at age 16. We were together for four years, but then broke up. After that, I went solo and made my own music, but didn’t have much success. When I was 26, from time to time I worked with Columbia Records, and a director from the section of Columbia Records that worked on music for anime asked me if I wanted to sing some songs for them. The first project was “Blitzkrieg Squadron Changeman” (1985). The same staff at Columbia was making anime and tokusatsu music, and right after “Changeman” I was approached with the “Spaceship Sagittarius” (1986) project.

PG: That’s right. Anisongs as a category includes both anime and tokusatsu music, right? Did you find it hard to shift from rock to anisongs?
KH: In truth, at the time I didn’t feel they were any different. The time I started singing was right at the time of a major change in the type of anisong singers. Those that came before me, “Sasaki Isao,” “Mizuki Ichiro,” like, I thought they sang really big, dramatic songs. But at the time I started singing, rather than that big style, people with a faster pace, like rock singers, were in demand. So, “Changeman” is a really fast song. The director at the time told me that this was going to be the anisong style from now on, so a rock singer like me was all right.

PG: Your anisongs have been so popular, but did you ever decide to go all anisong?
KH: Well, all along I have been doing my own original stuff, too. Emotionally, I felt like I was doing both and was satisfied.

PG: What is best about your work?
KH: In the end, it’s fun. You really feel alive when you perform on stage. It can be really painful and tough making music, but it is a great feeling when something good comes out of all the effort.

PG: What song are you most proud of?
KH: That’s tough, but I guess it would have to be “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA.” No matter where I go, people are happy when I sing that song.

PG: You’ve been singing anisongs for a while now. What is the appeal?
KH: I think after all the number one attraction of anisongs is their ability to make everyone happy. Within that happy, the type of anisongs we [JAM Project] sing are a powerful happy! They energize people. I think that’s the main thing.

PG: How do you feel about otaku fans? Some people say they can be harsh.
KH: Basically, I don’t feel there are any bad fans. I don’t look at 2channel. Some of the members of JAM Project do, though, from time to time. They say that sometimes even if we put on a really good concert there will be nasty comments, and it at times gets to them. But, well, I never see such comments, so really for me there has never been a time when I feel hurt by the fans. Rather, JAM Project has a lot of male fans, and seeing them get all worked up and into it excites us as performers. Strong masculine voices joining together is a powerful experience. I love the people society calls otaku. We’ve been together for decades, and I am grateful to them for that.

PG: That’s nice of you to say. For a lot of people, otaku isn’t such a nice word. Does it surprise you that people overseas identify this way? 
KH: No, I think it’s great. No matter what country I go to, people are shouting, “We are otaku!” They are waving bandanas and screaming. I think Japan should be like that.

PG: You’ve been traveling overseas a lot these days. How are the anisong fans outside Japan?
KH: I think they basically like anisongs for the same reasons. The stuff that is popular in each country is different, of course. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but in the Spanish-speaking world it seems that “Saint Seiya” is more popular than “Dragon Ball Z.” I really felt that in Spain and Mexico. It’s interesting. In Brazil, the Super Sentai Series of tokusatsu are so loved!

PG: Was there any place that surprised you?
KH: Maybe Brazil. I’ve been going there for seven years, and every time we do a live performance the crowd gets bigger and bigger. It’s a little surprising.

PG: Your appearances overseas have been on the rise, right?
KH: Basically, if I am called and my schedule is open I am totally going to go. More than work, it’s like fate or chance. The first time I went to Brazil [in 2002], I went together with Kushida Akira, but it wasn’t even a paying gig. There was no guarantee and we had no staff. I had a really strong curiosity to go and see how popular anime and anisongs had become in a country halfway around the globe. Even now it is really fun to visit a country for the first time. I recently just went to Thailand, and I was surprised by how many anime fans there were. I am really looking forward to going to Argentina later this year [2009].

PG: Which country did you first visit?
KH: I think it was the Philippines. “Dragon Ball Z” was still only halfway through its run on air. After that I went to Barcelona, Spain. Back then, I appeared overseas maybe once a year, if at all. But in the last five years or so, I go several places each year. If you include the tour with JAM Project last year, I visited 12 or 13 places.

PG: Incredible. Do you think things will continue to blossom overseas?
KH: I do. It seems that anime fans are increasing everywhere. But it’s not just anime or anisongs. Cosplay, doujinshi, something like Comiket, even that sort of culture is appearing overseas.

PG: There was doujinshi in Brazil?
KH: Yes! One fan gave me one where Goku goes around and brutally murders everyone. It’s like, “This is so awful!” In a good way.

PG: I suppose it’s called creativity, eh? When you see these fans singing “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA,” how do you feel?
KH: I’m really moved. I mean, even though they can’t speak Japanese, they memorize the lyrics to the songs and sing. That must be so tough. It isn’t just songs like “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA.” People will request some really hardcore stuff, stuff not even Japanese fans know, and they somehow know the lyrics.

PG: Why do you think they make these efforts?
KH: Above all, I am absolutely sure they love the anime. They’ve read the comics over and over and watched the video time and again.

PG: What are your dreams and goals from now?
KH: My role as a singer and songwriter for JAM Project is very important for me now. We are slowly beginning to gain popularity, enough to do a live performance at the Nippon Budokan in June, but we still don’t have a smash hit. So I want to sharpen my skills as a musician so that we can make a song like that. The sort of anisongs I knew as a child, you never forget those for your whole life. Like the theme to Kamen Rider. I was in grade school when I first watched it. I’m 48 now, and I still remember those lyrics. That’s the best thing you can hope for in an anisong. An anisong that remains in your heart even when you grow into an adult. Someday, I’d like to make songs like that with JAM Project.

PG: For me, “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA” is that kind of song. It has always been an inspiration for me. Thank you so much.
KH: Thank you.