Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: Mekakucity Days, Records, and Reload
edited by Pat/Burrito of Feels
The defining work of Jin, a.k.a. Shizen no Teki-P, is a big multimedia mess with beautiful Vocaloid music at its very core. Its light novels and manga are a stack of supplementary flashbacks pretending to be stories, while its anime is also a big and non-sexual piece of fanservice exclusive for the established follower, but the Vocaloid music is where the actual stories are, even making all those adaptations and supplements bearable for the imagination.
Something I had never thought about so deeply before: Why would the Vocaloid producer named Jin be called “Natural Enemy-P”? The answer I have in mind: He showed Miku getting killed by the bored and fickle human user she criticized in his debut track “Jinzou Enemy,” and then that story was outfamed by Takane “Ene” Enomoto and Shintaro Kisaragi. For a community which cares a lot about the mascotry, treating the synthesized singers as tools like that would be a mutiny. Yet that mutiny became Shizen no Teki-P’s defining work, a franchise that, for one, allowed a chance for a Vocaloid singer to perform for a TV anime. But that chance actually seemed more like a flex of status than an exercise towards worthwhile progress. The Vocaloid music and its accompanying visuals can be considered mind-boggling, but they function that way to inspire. Meanwhile, the adaptations function less like pictures of human experiences and more like manuals of struggling pandering, with the whole “The adaptations are time loops” thing being the lowest point of that redundant decadence.
That redundant decadence even shows in how “Kagerou Daze” became the face of the Kagerou Project, the multimedia franchise Jin’s defining music grew into. Such sweltering heat and straightforward shock tactics were also worked like tools even more cynically than how Jin worked Miku in “Jinzou Enemy.” But none of that ever registered to me when I first came across the series during the Children Record EP era as a high school kid years ago.
“Kagerou Daze” and its clones (e.g. “Headphone Actor,” “Konoha no Sekai Jijou”) certainly had my initial attraction, but what made me stay were Jin’s improved attempts at human connection through music. That was best shown to my younger self through “Souzou Forest”/”Kuusou Forest,” which showed Jin going soft with his sound for the first time in his history as a Vocaloid producer. The summery heat was still there, but it stopped with the surprises for the sake of surprising. In hindsight, it all seemed like a glimpse of what pieces of good were left within the broken humanity of Mary Kozakura, the weary grown-up mastermind trying to be eternally youthful by not only telling but also living a story about lost kids being lost.
To my Filipino self, Mekakucity Days, Jin’s first major full-length, reminds me of all those prolonged prologues teleseryes typically love to put up during their first episodes. With “Kuusou Forest” as the exception, the album was also stuck in a limiting binary, especially without supplementary writing and media: Either it was a story of aestheticist chaos that went “Woe is me” or formed edgy smoke over some blazing shreds, or it was a heartstring yanker that also went “Woe is me” or ended up predictably bright with the lighter sounds. It even showed in the newer MV-supported tracks he released in promotion for the album, “Kisaragi Attention” and “Konoha no Sekai Jijou.” If anything, the album mostly benefited from the powerful exhibitions of IA’s vocal potential, which are best heard through “Kuusou Forest,” “Ene no Dennou Kikou,” and “Toumei Answer,” “Kisaragi Attention,” and “Shinigami Record.” But other than that, it all worked like an ongoing serial hungering for an audience, its critical significance yet to be fully established as it wildly spilled its guts out for attention.
And then came Mekakucity Records, which is the biggest reason behind my great faith in the whole franchise and its makers. Maybe he found himself confident enough in his status as one of IA’s most known users, maybe he stopped caring about how he was perceived by the public, but whatever the reason, Jin wasn’t sounding like someone trying to be popular anymore. IA’s borderline glassy-eyed voice gave a clearer form to the difficult navigation involved in growing up, showing how blurred the line between maturity and immaturity can be. Jin’s mood whiplash tracklisting also made a cast showoff that ended up revealing Mary as the repenting mastermind, which then allowed the whole Mekakushi Dan’s growth at the end of it all. A striking example of that work can be found in “Outer Science,” which has a music video that reinforces its image of being the most easily identifiable villain’s song, but with IA’s voice and certain video details, that apparently flat devil figure gains more significance when you see its personality reflected in the tiredly cynical Azami and the stubbornly naive Mary, who both appeared in the music video and had learned about love long before, showing humanity in a twisted way. It even forms a powerful juxtaposition with the preceding track: “Gunjou Rain,” the mother Shion’s song to her daughter Mary.
Another shining example of the stellar work that Records did can be found in “Otsukimi Recital,” which got the rare chance to be a Vocaloid track serving as an insert song in an anime, but even that can’t replace the Records version (and not even any of the other anime takes can replace the songs they covered or added to). I do consider the anime version of “Otsukimi Recital” freaking beautiful, especially with those smoother IA vocals and that grander instrumental arrangement, but the way it fits better as an assisted Momo’s diversion plan against the possessed Kenjirou’s forces also makes the Mekakucity Records version stand out as the version sung by a more awkward Momo working more on her own to cheer up a sullen Hibiya, the music video even synchronizing with the song’s breakaway from that limiting binary found in Days. And if that doesn’t seem strange enough, it should be known that “Otsukimi Recital” comes right after “Outer Science” in Records. In other words, while Mekakucity Days would’ve prolonged the madness of “Outer Science” just for show to cover up a lack of maturity, Mekakucity Records used such madness to help establish the idea that Mary and all her loved ones can truly mature through and despite the suffering. Basically, Days is immature, while Records is youthful.
It’s hilariously awesome, then, that Jin even managed to achieve the feat of avoiding sequelitis in his Vocaloid album releases again with his third full-length, Mekakucity Reload, letting that bridging youthfulness naturally turn into inspiring maturity. I wouldn’t call it a restart, as it’s actually the establishment of how KagePro sticks around way better than someone trapped in the Heat-Haze Daze, even as the franchise itself also manages to send its audience into something similar to the Heat-Haze Daze. Sure, Reload’s tracklisting hearkens back to Mekakucity Actors, the independently released album from early 2012 that shares its name with the franchise’s 2014 anime and gained its expanded version in Mekakucity Days, but while Reload applied the growth formula Records had into the storytelling, Reload is actually a side story collection that shows how matured Jin has become, giving more interesting looks on the undercharacterized and some cleanup of loose plot ends. For example, the implications of Ayano’s eye power are made more detailed, Kido’s femininity gets more focus, Haruka actually gets a song of his own, and Mary gets some more personal character development. Miku also serves as the album’s sole vocalist, the sharpness of her more childlike voice now utilized for something beyond evoking angst and shock for the heck of it. And for a release born out of rage, it’s pretty impressive that tracks like “Shissou Word,” “My Funny Weekend,” “Lost Day Hour,” and “Remind Blue” make up a lot of the album, as they bring to mind various senses of ordinary times we tend to take for granted, especially when life’s greater pressures hit us. By the end of it all, everyone has already accepted the passing of time and cherishes what good it can give despite the bad it can offer. Why are the adaptations around, again?
Overall, Jin’s Vocaloid albums show him as a truly maturing guy, complete with the inevitable and cynical try-hard moments we need to shake him out of. Thus, it’s hard to identify Jin’s calling card and cash cow franchise without having known its origins in Vocaloid music, which is niche within Japanese pop culture, something that is also niche to Western-dominated pop culture. On top of that, if fans rooted in the first boom still dominate the community, then Jin is even more niche within it (and to give you more of an idea about that, there’s a satirical song against rabid KagePro fans calling every other Vocaloid production involving hoodied characters a KagePro ripoff). If you wanna go crazier about it, he’s also that guy who did a more audacious Russian reversal on the anisong genre and a more developed take on the “monster becoming human” theme, outdoing legendary first boom pioneer ryo’s “Black Rock Shooter” and fellow second boom proponent kemu’s “Rokuchounen to Ichiya Monogatari” with a strange multimedia franchise powered by three (and maybe more) increasingly beautiful Vocaloid albums (and their makers all get along even now, believe it or not).
Even with the development disasters that happened, may happen, and even may be still happening, the Kagerou Project is undeniably one of my biggest inspirations, especially with its music-powered storytelling. Indeed, the defining work of Jin, a.k.a. Shizen no Teki-P, is a big multimedia mess with beautiful Vocaloid music at its very core. Its light novels and manga are a stack of supplementary flashbacks pretending to be stories, while its anime is also a non-sexual yet still big piece of fanservice exclusive for the established follower, but the Vocaloid music is where the actual stories are, even making all those adaptations and supplements bearable for the imagination. If you think Jin put you in the Heat-Haze Daze through KagePro, then the snake that’ll help you overcome that senseless pain is the franchise’s Vocaloid music.