I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ARB/Triple H -- Rock Over Japan/Hai-iro no Suiyoubi (灰色の水曜日)

As I was plowing ahead with this blog last year, I was also getting re-educated in the world of anime, thanks to my longtime friend of 25 years' standing. We have our well-worn custom of getting together once every couple of weeks for a combination of anime-viewing and hitting various restaurants (usually in northeastern Toronto). During my time in Japan, I never actually got into anime there due to the time and energy spent on my job....and of course, kayo kyoku.

One of the more memorable anime that I came across was "Mawaru Penguindrum"輪るピングドラム). It was an epic mindbending late-night anime which spanned 24 episodes from July to December 2011, but which I managed to run through within a few weeks. It could veer wildly from wacky comedy to very dark suspense, although the latter began to dominate in the last half of the series. But one of the regular sequences from episode to episode was the henshin sequence in which the keystone of the show, the young and innocent Himari Takakura transformed into the snarly dominatrix, the Princess of the Crystal. The sequence was accompanied by this frenetic tune by the in-series aidoru unit, Triple-H, which had included Himari as a member. And it went like this:

Yep, the above was one of the more bizarre versions of the sequence. In any case, what struck me about the tune was that these girls were screaming in their high-pitched voices: "ROCK OVER JAPAN!"...with all the linguistic hangups involved. The song may have been aidoru, it may have been techno, but rock....?

Then, my friend informed me that a few of the songs that come on the show were actually covers of songs performed by a 70s/80s rock band by the name of ARB, which was originally a short form of Alexander's Ragtime Band (yep, just like the century-old jazz ditty) before it became the official name. Another surprising fact was that the lead vocalist was Ryo Ishibashi(石橋凌), now and for a long time an actor in a number of gritty crime movies and the star of the horror-thriller, "Audition" directed by Takashi Miike(三池崇史)in 1999.

This is the original version of "Rock Over Japan", and it was the title track on the band's 10th album since its debut in 1978, released in June 1987. Written and composed by Ishibashi and guitarist Hisashi Shirahama(白浜久), the original has that sound of a honky tonk group, and an especially cool hot rod just revving it reminded me of the original band on the American comedy-variety show, "Saturday Night Live" back in the 70s.

One of the other songs covered on "Mawaru Penguindrum" was "Hai-iro no Suiyoubi"(Ash's actually been translated as "Gray Wednesday", but seeing that today is indeed Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church, I think a little leeway is OK). This was a track on ARB's 9th album from November 1986, "One and Only Dreams". The creation of the song was also at the hands of Ishibashi and Shirahama, and the lyrics try to push a discouraged man out of his a time before Blue Monday had arrived, let alone Ash Wednesday. The words may come across as pensive and introspective but the beat keeps an urgent pace. According to J-Wiki, ARB's efforts were an inspiration to later bands and singers such as Masaharu Fukuyama, Unicorn, Jun Sky Walkers and Hiroto Koumoto from The Blue Hearts. But I also think Ishibashi's voice has more than a passing resemblance to that of the charismatic Koshi Inaba(稲葉浩志) from B'z.

(cover version by GUMI and MEIKO)

Triple-H (voice actresses Miho Arakawa, Yui Watanabe and Marie Miyake as Himari, Hibari and Hikari respectively) covers "Hai-iro no Suiyoubi" as a straight piano ballad with all of the sadness inferred. Considering how much of an existential hole the main characters of the anime were falling into, I think this version was quite appropriate. It popped up here and there throughout the series and was used as the ending theme for at least three of the episodes.

I have to say that "Mawaru Penguindrum" is probably the only anime that I've encountered that dealt with psychological horror, child abandonment, sexual abuse and subversion, Takarazuka set pieces.....with cute penguins....and probably other angles I have yet to discover.


  1. Thanks for the info and the links. I ended up here while looking for Mawaru Penguindrum. I'm happy that somebody not into anime liked it, as the anime medium has such a strong code that not everybody can enjoy it, and I think MP is one of the most interesting things I've seen recently. By the way, your blog is quite impressing and detailed, I didn't know much about Japanese rock and it's nice to have this space here, congrats! 灰色の水曜日 in its original form is very nice. Andrea (Italy)

    1. Hi, Andrea. Thanks very kindly for your comments. MP was definitely a mindbender....still trying to wrap my head around the Child Broiler. I'm not sure if you've seen it, but I also enjoyed the dark events of Madoka Magica.

      Yep, I've been happy doing this blog for the past several months with the help of some fine guest contributors. But actually, I have to confess that I'm not a real big expert on Japanese rock per se...I'm mostly in the Pop/City Pop domain. There are a lot of rock musicians in Japan that I have not touched simply because I just don't know about them. But if there is anyone out there who can help out in that area, I'd sure like to talk with him/her.

      Nice to talk with you!


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