Review: Kenichi Suzumura’s “Shiroi Karasu” Single

J-Network team has recently covered various concert appearances and events by this very prolific seiyuu-singer, Suzumura Kenichi, ranging from his stunning performance at Lantis Festival 2015 to his full-length two-day Manten Live concert in Japan. Suzumura has also just concluded his last day of AD-LIVE 2015 yesterday on Sunday, 18th October, in Osaka with fellow seiyuus Fukuyama Jun and Shimono Hiro. His latest single “Tsuki to Taiyou no Uta” (Song of the Sun and the Moon) released earlier this year in May signals that his music career is only going to get more exciting moving forward from now!

Many of our readers and fans would likely remember him from the two anime theme songs he has performed, Asunaro from Heaven’s Memo Pad (Kami-sama no Memo-cho) and Shiroi Karasu from Code:Breaker. We present to you a review of his single Shiroi Karasu, comprising three excellent songs from his discography that showcases his vocal abilities and range very well and are music hits that should definitely not be missed by any Suzumura fan or casual listener of Japanese anisong fare for that matter.

shiroi karasu cover

A brief introduction to the single

Released on the 17th of October in 2012 (exactly three years and two days ago!), Shiroi Karasu – the title literally translates to mean “white crow” – is Suzumura‘s ninth single, placing 16th on the Oricon Charts. The single comprises three songs, two of which were subsequently released in his best-selling VESSEL album two years later, while the last song is exclusive to the single. The title song itself is probably familiar to many, including anime viewers who are not active Suzumura fans, because of its appearance as the ending theme of the Code:Breaker anime series.

What makes the single stand out in particular, amongst others, is that all three songs in Shiroi Karasu are frequently considered to be the most vocally challenging songs in Suzumura‘s discography. Shiroi Karasu itself is a frequent concert staple, while the other two songs are sung by Suzumura during special concert events, much to the amazement of the audience as they witness his vocals first-hand. Coverage of Suzumura’s concerts at Lantis Festival 2015 in Singapore, Manten Live Day 1 (~luna~)  and Day 2 (~sol~) by our reporters share a common sentiment: the singer’s vocals are impressive enough recorded, but shine far better in a live setting and certainly does not disappoint. Many have commented that Suzumura‘s live performances can make them enjoy even songs which they do not normally prefer from his setlist. There is also a strong rock theme in the single, which we believe a significant segment of Suzumura‘s fans as well as general anisong listeners will enjoy. From talking to members of the audience, our reporters can confirm that this group forms a significant portion of the fanbase and will likely sit up and remember these three songs from the Shiroi Karasu single.

Track 1: Shiroi Karasu
The song is relatively fast-paced, requiring strong control on the part of the vocalist and a firm pacing in order to pull off the intended effect and bring out the feeling embodied in its lyrics. Suzumura has no difficulty doing this, balancing the demands of the song with a particular aptitude in executing both the short notes in rapid succession and the long, ending notes which many fans point out to be one of his strongest suits as a singer.


Official video from Lantis’ Youtube channel

The nature of the instrumental and the tempo of the song fits the image Suzumura seeks to help listeners mentally portray very well, and the harmony almost sounds at some points like it is asking the listeners questions, providing synergy with the portions of its lyrics which are, unsurprisingly, questions indeed. The variation in softness and loudness of volume at appropriate junctures, such as in the choruses and the bridge, further facilitate the process of making Shiroi Karasu what is arguably an extremely effective and enjoyable single that very well showcases Suzumura‘s vocal prowess and is an excellent first-time song for listeners new to Suzumura‘s music.


Video with lyrics in English and romaji

It is also worth pointing out that given enough listens, Shiroi Karasu is accompanied by a rather memorable tune that has come to characterize many of Suzumura‘s most iconic songs – amongst them all-time favourite pieces like INTENTION, CHRONICLE, and Becoming, Hanasaka, Rocket flying faster than light, Asunaro and SHIPS, for instance. It is difficult to fault Suzumura for not producing songs that people can remember – as a pop-rock artiste, he demonstrates in Shiroi Karasu the defining trait of his music career, that he does not need to rely on producing easy-listening, “ear wax” type songs that stick in your head purely because of a very simple and repetitive melody. His most iconic songs are both complex and intricate, and yet still memorable and easy to identify with Suzumura‘s own music style. We believe it is a reason not just to get into Suzumura‘s music, but into Japanese music in general – this element is far less noticeable in the saturated and sometimes overly commercialized Western pop music industry.

Here is one interpretation for an English lyrical translation of the song which we have put together to make Shiroi Karasu easier to sing for those who intend to cover it in English. In writing the lyrics, we tried as far as possible to retain the original theme and spirit of the song and recapture the vivid imagery of the white crows which Suzumura has used as the title and main concept of the song. We have also kept in line with Suzumura‘s style of directly linking such imagery that forms the identity of the song to abstract concepts and fundamental existential questions he seeks to provoke his listeners into contemplating further about. For those who enjoy songs which contain a deeper meaning beyond the conventional pop music fare, Suzumura is certainly one artiste to listen to.

“The Other Side” (English Lyrical Adaptation of Shiroi Karasu)
Original Song by Suzumura Kenichi

Maybe one day, it will become apparent
Why the white crows have all gone into hiding
Far away in a place we cannot see
Flying high above the town

We hope to, discover what we live for
Because we feel ashamed of, the emptiness inside us
Should we really continue pretending norms are holy truth?
Even if they don’t make no sense, why then do we stay content?

Every day, we are reminded of our vulnerability
Our faces turn away, to avoid reality

For we chose the path we take, and it’s our choice alone
To tear the mask away, we make it a point to get up again
Our purest aspirations help us soar into the sky
Cast the doubt away, we open our wings and away we fly

There’s nothing to fear; though it is dark here
The light’s on the other side

What the world, considers to be right and wrong
Dictated by incumbency defining what is normalcy
Why should the majority get to decide what we should be?
If they remove our right to stay, how can we live another day?

Why do we insist on wanting everybody to be the same?
We should never formulate, our ideals based on our dreams

Every time we try to fly, passing others in the sky
Focusing on, the next altitude where we want to be
Wave goodbye to all the skeptics, they are too afraid to try
It’s time to set out, to shatter every barrier within our reach

It’s our turn now, to demonstrate how
Diversity is our pride

Dawn approaches, and you will see the white crows
Gazing up at the light from the sunrise
As they take in a silent breath of air
Breathing hope into our skies

For we chose the path we take, and it’s our choice alone
To tear the mask away, we make it a point to get up again
Our purest aspirations help us soar into the sky
Cast the doubt away, we open our wings and away we fly

There’s nothing to fear; though it is dark here
The light’s on the other side

Maybe one day, it will become apparent
Why the white crows have all gone into hiding
Understanding, the tears they shed away
Concealed from our sight

Track 2: Ao

We wish to state first that Ao is the song we mentioned which is not part of the VESSEL album, so if you wish to hear this amazing song, do get your hands on a copy of the single itself!

This song is one of Suzumura‘s masterpieces which can singlehandedly make a concert audience stop silent in its tracks and pay full attention, completely absorbed in listening to his powerful vocals at their finest. (Unfortunately, it isn’t performed as frequently as many fans would have hoped and so only the most dedicated concert-goers may be able to catch a glimpse of Suzumura performing this piece live!) Compared to the title song Shiroi Karasu, Ao is certainly a lot slower in tempo, and in that respect just as challenging a song to perform but for different reasons.

Style-wise, the instrumentals are probably the closest thing Suzumura has produced to a hard rock song, with the strong guitar riffs and drums a defining trait of the song. Suzumura also has a penchant for putting a bit of a metal twist to this song in his live performances of it – a rarity in his music style, and definitely one to catch if you can. The melody has the ability to both send a consistently powerful and bold feel which characterizes the genre without being overly aggressive in nature, and provokes a sort of bittersweet, reflective mood in the listener which ties in very well with the concept behind the song. Suzumura‘s vocals in this song feature some of the highest incidences of long-stretched notes and demonstrates his vibrato techniques in a way few other songs can, whilst also encompassing both the lower and higher ends of his vocal range. It is thus frequently cited by many fans as possibly the hardest Suzumura Kenichi song to sing – and naturally a favourite of many. We regret that this has not been used as the ending theme to some anime series yet – the nature of this song would fit perfectly well into some and many of our readers might agree to this proposition!

We credit and thank the blogger behind the blog Strawberry Whispers for very kindly providing us with the original Japanese lyrics and the romanized version for reference here. To accompany this, one of our reporters has also painstakingly put together a rough English translation of the song’s lyrics, which we attach below and which we hope will facilitate our commentary of the song:

For how many light-years it drifts
the light of an azure star

How many billions of lives scatter
Just how many eyes seek that sight

The desert streets pray for rain
The streets of conflict crown a champion
All (those) circulating thoughts, to reality they… (become)

Surely, everyone wishes for peace and happiness
Yes, that – the song of love – though transient it never stops
(as it) continues to climb to the sky

Like the maze of glasswork
Before our eyes, likewise they cannot be touched

Travellers push forward, without looking back
Those who see (them) off, wait quietly for the time
Circulating thoughts link, by instinct

Surely, all things that have form shall disappear one day
But for sure, the song of love, though transient, will never stop,
(as it) continues to climb, to the sky

The azure light of the twinkling star… yes…
(By the) Pulsing beats, (by the) synchrous song of love,
(shall) one day unite (our/all the) circulating thoughts

From here, one can see quite evidently that the lyrics hint at a compelling theme which strikes directly at a fundamental element of the universal human condition: hope. The notion of a hope for a better age is something that Suzumura presents here as a shared aspiration throughout all species, illustrating with clear example the people living in various challenging circumstances and wishing for what would in their contexts be the representation of a better life.

The “azure star” he speaks of is almost a symbol of this hope, and Suzumura sings of how its light reaches all beings and how these same beings seek the light so dearly. The choruses link this directly back to the overarching concept of “the song of love” which Suzumura intends to paint a mental picture of for us – it is noteworthy that this concept is no stranger to us, with Suzumura consistently touching on deeper issues such as these in many of his songs. Fans have commented on his frequent spoken use of the word “kibou” (hope, wish) and it is thus no surprise that Ao follows staunchly in this classic tradition as part of Suzumura‘s never-faltering efforts to inspire his audience in a more meaningful way beyond just simple enjoyment of his songs, hoping to use his music as a way to touch people’s lives.

Indeed, this is a trait that endears Suzumura to many – his rare ability to combine an impressive set of vocals, an enjoyable musical composition, and an inspiring and timeless theme and message. His promotion by record label Lantis has sometimes led to the perception of Suzumura being an “idol”, but unlike most idols, this is probably where Suzumura differs – his personality reflects very clearly in his own songs, and his performances in a live setting make no attempt to conceal this from the audience. It is in fact no secret that Suzumura personally prefers a small-to-medium-sized concert setting that will not obstruct his ability to reach out directly to the audience and give them a feel of what he is as a person, beyond just the image. His possession of a substantial amount of artistic autonomy which some others may not have the privilege of having, coupled with the consistent nature of the songs he write, has helped in allowing his public image to remain as authentically close as it gets to the real Suzumura Kenichi as a person and not as a singer.

 

Track 3: ALL GREEN

Once more, we credit and thank Strawberry Whispers for including the Japanese lyrics as well as its romanized version in their blog here.

Together with the title song Shiroi Karasu, this song is also released as part of the more recent VESSEL album in 2014, which saw Suzumura Kenichi‘s best sales position with the album placing a very commendable 10th on the Oricon Charts. For a rather impressive and diverse album like VESSEL from which fans have picked out their own favourites from the various tracks in the album based on their own personal preferences, ALL GREEN is one of those songs which has been on occasion described as both an underrated piece and as possibly “the best track in the album”. And we probably know why. The opening of this song reminds listeners of a blend between two of his other most iconic songs, namely messenger and INTENTION, with the guitar instrumentals in the background. ALL GREEN is also his longest piece in the single, and is worth every second of the listen. His opening vocals immediately showcase the same trademark demonstration of his versatility and control we witness in his previous number Ao, with a mix of gentle and powerful syllables and the long notes exhibiting his vibrato, not to mention some very high notes which may prove challenging for other artistes to cover should they attempt to do so.

Every portion of the song flows seamlessly and effortlessly into the next, and blends almost perfectly with the instrumentals. Suzumura does not lose out on the “rock” feel of the song either, and indeed his vocal technique is probably at one of its finest in this piece. And we add, on what is perhaps a more personal note: Suzumura’s singing in ALL GREEN is one of those moments which pulls at our heart strings  (aside from, of course, his song Tsuki to Stove, which is reputed to make near entire audiences shed tears of emotion at live concerts without fail). The consistency of the piece reminds listeners of the many reasons why Suzumura Kenichi is able to hold his own even in an increasingly crowded field of male seiyuu-singers emerging more recently, many of whom do not fail to shine either. Even with other singers, Suzumura remains one of the more popular male artistes in anisong  and was rated in a public poll as the third best in vocal ability amongst popular male seiyuu-singers. We hope this single will give our readers a reason to listen to his works.

At the time of publication, however, we have not yet put together a translation of the song nor our “sing-able” interpretation of it yet. Readers can await to see this in the future, so do continue checking this space!

Acknowledgements

Credits for lyrics go to the blogger at Strawberry Whispers.
Credits for videos go to Lantis’ official YouTube channel.
Credits for translated versions go to members of the J-Network writing team.

Featured image screencapped from in my space Music Video

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