Interview with bless4 at AFA SG 2015: Return of the Ambitious Anisong Blessings in Singapore

The year of 2015 was a year of change for Singapore’s largest multi-act Japanese-medium concert, the I Love Anisong (ILA) segment of the Anime Festival Asia (AFA) anime and Japanese-entertainment convention held from 27th to 29th November 2015 at the Suntec City Convention Centre. Marked as a Reboot year, the ILA saw a sharp change in performing roster, exchanging most acts predominantly featured in recent music shows in Japan and artistes with recent solo concerts in Singapore such as LiSA and Eir Aoi for newer faces.

Bless4 was perhaps one of the more anticipated and predicted by local anisong fans after their previous performance in Singapore two quarters ago, on the closing weekend of the Funan Anime Matsuri mini-convention on 13 and 14 June 2015. Fans present at the free-admission convention will probably remember with fondness resolving “they would definitely want to come back again this year” and this launched their fans into a chant of “A-F-A! A-F-A!” as the most likely candidate for their return performance, which was eventually proven to be true.

The quartet on hand is a soul- and power-pop- based sibling quartet with a comprising three – Akino, Kanasa and Akashi, with the former being highlighted as the vocal singer when they perform under the “AKINO with bless4” collective, well-remembered for contributing to the soundtracks of AQUARION series and more recently, that of the Kantai Collection anime and Amagi Brilliant Park. As can be expected, the born-in-Japan, raised-in-the-states Kawamitsu family were equally-fluent English-Japanese speakers, prompting an active half-hour interview conducted entirely in English on the morning of their performance on Friday, 27th November 2015.

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Apart from stock discussion on music style, the three siblings shared about their mentoring for performers and a first-time-explanation on the hiatus of their brother Aiki:

 

What are the different challenges that you have faced when going overseas especially when you have a number of overseas tours in recent years?

All: Time difference? Like the difference (in time zones between Singapore and Japan) is just one hour but it’s 7 hours between Japan and the States. So we get to watch like three movies during the flight so it’s not that big of a challenge. (laughs)

Akino: Sometimes you worry if you’ll get sick, like because of the weather, or if you have sufficient energy before the performance (to pull it off well).

Akashi: Not really that much in Singapore, because we can speak English (the language of administration in the country) and we can understand everybody here. But depending on the country, we may not be able to communicate with the audience to understand what they want, when the main thing we want to do is to make our audience enjoy our performances, and that takes some time thinking (in terms of performance forethought)

 

Your style is quite unique – sometimes you sing in ‘a capella’, and at other times, AKINO sings as the main vocals with the others as backup. Where do you get the inspiration for bless4’s performance styles?

Akashi: We get that from you. (All laugh) But really, yes, from the audience. It depends on the song and the anime that it is meant for. Sometimes we try to harmonize (vocally) in the song but at times it is difficult to do that and dance at the same time, so we just kinda make sure that we dance in the back. And as mentioned earlier we emphasize on doing that something that our audience enjoys, and we ourselves enjoy. Because if we don’t enjoy it ourselves, we know the the audience probably won’t enjoy it either.

Akino: And also, we’ve been doing Taekwondo in the States, so that might make a difference in our dance style. Some of our fans have described our dances to be like a poki-poki (onomatopoeia for sharp) kinda dance.

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The whole Kawamitsu family used to be part of a Taekwondo exhibition troupe called the “Flying Dragons” with other Taekwondo practitioners. Akashi and Kanasa were Arizona State Taekwondo Champions when they were in the States. (Source: Haru Kawamitsu Official Site)

 

(Akashi interrupts jokingly, “It’s so sharp that you have to stay away because you will be kicked.”)

Kanasa: Basically we like to have the performance well laid-out. So (permutation-wise) be it with it’s bless4, AKINO from bless4, Aiki with bless4… we think of that person’s (the main vocal or vocals) character traits, the song in general, and what the audience would like as a whole. That kind of influences when we should dance, when we should harmonize and when we should just go all out and sing.

Akino: We also like, and see our song and dance as entertainment, and to us, entertainment equals putting in more different things so that we can be seen, and thus we are open to challenging new things.

Akashi: Hence, we always like to mix it all up. We don’t want to just sing, we don’t want to just dance, we want it to be entertainment. We can only dance while we are young and I’m not really that young; the next 5 years is probably the limit I can dance so maybe after then, we will just be singing. So we are doing all that we can right now.

 

As siblings, how do you see yourselves as a family, and professionally as a performing unit?

Akino and Kanasa: As siblings, we are a family but at times, we feel like best friends instead, so we could talk about everything, such as our love lives and relationships. We do this not just with the girls but also with the guys and our mum and dad included, though we don’t include them sometimes. We’re really close.

Kanasa: As professionals, sometimes it is difficult to work together as a family because you get more of the sibling relationships instead of the professional relationships, so sometimes your feelings can go above your professional status. So if we need to admit something or cool down (after a row), what might take 5 minutes ends up becoming 1 hour. It is difficult sometimes but since we are siblings and we spend so much time together, we tend to think of the same kind of ideas together, and on stage, we both know what we are thinking…

Akashi: (Interrupts jokingly) Only you two?!

Kanasa: Okay, all four of us, so it’s like some kind of telepathy and psychic powers. (laughs)

Akashi: It’s something that we didn’t notice before – when we first debuted, we have different voices but when we started recording, our sound engineer commented, “You guys’ vibration waves are the same” and that is what makes our harmony sound well. It’s kinda true that when we fight before a performance, the harmony might be on but our voices will sound funny or strange, but if we don’t fight before the performance, everything goes well and. So if we don’t do a good job today you know why. (bless4 and the interviewers burst into laughter) Because we fought.

 

Bless4 was in Singapore in June to perform for the Funan Anime Matsuri, and you are presumably back here due to the fans’ demand. What are your thoughts on this, and so how do you feel about that and how did the June performance affect the way you guys came up with the performances tonight?

Kanasa: We’re so grateful for everyone’s reaction. We love Singapore and so having everyone say, “we want you to come back” was so cool, so thank you.

Akino: Everyone was like “AFA! AFA!”

Akashi: Just to make it clear, we didn’t pay anybody to say that, they said it for themselves. And about the set-list, we know some of the songs that the audience here liked so we tried to keep some of them inside. There are a lot of songs that we did sing before for the performance later, we tried to add a little bit more but we didn’t have enough time this time. We will also include Aiki, in video form.

 

What can we expect from Bless4 in the future?

Akashi: (In a ridiculous tone to other members’ laughter) We will be performing in space. Not that far in the future right?

Akashi: We are currently teaching classes in Japan right now in which some of our students are starting to perform as backup dancers and back chorus and we can affirm that they are getting very good, so very soon, you will see us as bless4 PLUS a lot of performers. We just performed at ANIMAX MUSIX last Saturday with 14 dancers behind us. So it’s not going to be just the 4, it’s really gonna grow into a very big group and we are trying to go all over the world. We’re trying to go for the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and other really big things together with our students. Space is after that.

 

10.27 What are the differences between anime songs and Disney songs?

Stitch is Coming, the Ending theme to the Disney animated series Stitch, one of bless4’s contribution to the Disney animated franchises

Kanasa: We’re surprised for no-one has asked this question before, and in fact, we were discussing this question on the bus ride here. Apart from language difference, anisongs have faster BPM and higher melody lines, whereas Disney songs tend to be more lovey-dovey, warm and passionate. They have many variations – cute, passionate, and give you the power to move forward.

Akashi: Anisong has changed quite a lot recently. They used to be a lot slower but nowadays, most of the songs tend to be at 170 BPM. It’s basically as the average they are going for right now so what they want is speed. As for “hype”, they want to use the main vocal’s hype. they want to make it as high as possible as it is what either makes or breaks the song. There are also a lot of words in the lyrics of a fast song (i.e. more packed). On the other hand, Disney songs tend to be more relaxed and laid back and easier to sing. It’s hard to compare but basically the speed, hype and tone are different.

 

Could you share the inspiration and story behind your latest single, Golden Life?

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Cover for Golden Life, released on 27th January 2016

Akino: We actually just recorded the song a week ago when we were really busy. It’s an fast, up-tempo piece at a 170 (BPM) and I think the song can give a lot of people energy. There is a lot of harmony in it as well.

Akashi: (Dittoes Akino’s comment) But we will not be able to sing it later today as it is not released yet.

Kanasa: We will be doing the photoshoot next week as well.

 

If bless4 were to open a theme park, what will it be like – what kind of attractions, mascots, food will it feature, how will you manage it? If not, you could talk about what you liked in Amagi Brilliant Park and what kind of changes you might make to a park like that?

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Visual for the Amagi Brilliant Park anime in which bless4 performed the opening theme Extra Magic Hour

Akashi: Actually, since you mentioned Amagi Brilliant Park, we really liked the anime a lot and was looking forward to watching the next season because in a way, we are doing the same type of thing. It’s not a theme park, but talking about the business and the meetings is kinda similar to it, like when I suggest something and they don’t agree with me and then they get mad at me. What we are planning is similar to a theme park with our students in which we train them to be not just good performers but also good at the back when they greet customers, so that they will be energetic and polite. What we try to teach and use as our motto and main image is politeness as being able to change the world, as per the intention of aitsatsu (greeting). Some people don’t believe it, but I think it could change the world. Through our performers, through our students, through everything that we do, to make everyone feel good at the same time.

You also have to be good at what you do, i.e. skill, it doesn’t have to be the best but it has to be at least YOUR best.

Akino: I think we like action-type stuff. Like performance-wise we need to have impact, you need to have some kinda scene where you want to cry, so we try to put all these stuff in the performances. Action, softness, that’s what we think when we think about a live. We try to put everything inside.

Akashi: Basically the six senses. Well not the sixth sense, but the 5 senses. The sixth sense is a little scary. (Laughs)

 

What novelties do you see artistes of non-Japanese or mixed-Japanese heritage and/or cultural experience as posessing?

Akashi: I think we have a pretty good mix of Japanese and non-Japanese. We are full Japanese but we have lived abroad overseas in the States. Originality is something that we want to go for.

Kanasa: We want diversity as well, which is why we enjoy traveling to many different countries and want to learn their culture and language and infuse them into our performances. Living in Japan and America, we kinda take the best of both worlds and mix them together.

Akino: The way you sing in Japan and America is different. In Japan, you tend to sing “high” but in America, it’s more low and comfortable. We try to mix both into our performances, having songs with a slow tempo but with the “high” feels.

 

18.45 Congratulations for your sell-out on the Decennia Album (in commemoration of the hitting the 10 year milestone). What are your plans now that the group has entered its second decade?

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Cover of Decennia

 

(Akashi repeats his wist for performing in space to laughter in the room.)

Kanasa: Decennia was a lot of fun – we had the concert, she (Akino) did the fashion show, we had 20 models walking during the songs wearing the 20 costumes that she made.

Akino: I sing, but at the same time, I make clothes, so I am aiming for a fashion show with my designs infused with our performance and fashion brand.

Akashi: We have been implementing what she said but we see this as different from a normal fashion show. Since bless4 is also dance-based group, they are not just walking but they have routines and formations, and it’s pretty interesting and fun.

Akashi: As for the next decade, since we already have students, we really want to grow and through teaching, we were actually able to grow and learn quite a lot. When we teach our students, we sometimes learn that we are not doing what we are teaching sometimes, and it drives us harder to do what we teach.

(Akashi then offers to digress and elaborate on the fourth member on hiatus.)

We didn’t mention this before but our younger Aiki went back to the States last year to volunteer for two years and will be back in August 2016. We all decided on this together but it turned out to be a very growing process for us since he left as he was our best dancer who makes all the dances and a good singing as well, and taking over his singing parts and covering for him was quite hard. We are quite sure that when he comes back, we would be a new team and become better than before.

Kanasa: This year, the theme is on AKINO with bless4’s 10th anniversary and bless4’s 12th anniversary. As we know, the horoscope goes round one cycle every 12 years so this year, we decided to go back to zero to fit with these anniversaries and with Aiki’s hiatus. We are trying to start from one for are skills and everything. It has been a really, really hard but cool learning experience.

A promotional message in which the active members of bless4 elaborate on their “back to zero”mentality

Akashi: In Japan we are trying to perform in smaller places, say 10, 20 people or maybe even street settings so it’s really akin to going back to zero and how we initially started out.

 

What kind of anime would you like to perform anisong for next?

Akino: We love DragonBall so I would love to perform for it and do the kamehameha in the singing! It would be crazy to have it inside.

bless4 using the CGI Kamehameha attack, a finisher energy beam iconic to the Dragonball series used by Goku

Akashi: There is also something that we are kind of creating, and we hope someday it would become an anime series. So were are thinking of a story, something original. Of course, we won’t be drawing it ourselves, but we’re creating everything from zero, from scratch and see how that turns out. We really want to do a project like this ourselves.


 

Sources: J-Network’s on-site interview, Haru Kawamitsu Official Site and NUS Ani-tan’s setlist for bless4’s performance

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