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BURNOUT SYNDROMES Talk About Writing and Singing Anime Theme Songs

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Zach Bell

Fans of , , and are most likely already familiar with BURNOUT SYNDROMES through their anime theme songs. With the recent release of their new album, The WORLD is Mine, Anime News Network was able to sit down with all three members of the band—guitarist and vocalist Kazuumi Kumagai, bassist Taiyu Ishikawa, and drummer Takuya Hirose—to talk about their origins, their thoughts on making anime theme songs, and their interactions with international fans.

The band formed in 2005 when Kumagai, Ishikawa, and Hirose wanted to perform at their high school’s cultural festival. As Kumagai put it, “Our school had both a junior high school and a high school, so we were not allowed to participate in the festival until we became high school students. But when the long-awaited day of the cultural festival arrived, there was a flu outbreak, and the festival was canceled.” Despite never accomplishing their original goal, the group kept playing together and eventually found success in the decade that followed.

Now, each member of the band has a different goal they are aiming for. Ishikawa wants to perform on all seven continents, as well as in some of the larger island nations. Hirose, on the other hand, would like the band to become so popular that they can embark on a world tour. As for Kumagai, his dream is even bigger: “I would like to win a Grammy, even if it takes 10 or 20 years.”

Of course, they were anime music fans before becoming anime song singers. “Anime shows with big hit songs like and were on TV when we were in elementary school—and they still have many fans today. I think all three of us greatly admire anime songs,” Hirose explained.

However, even with their love for anime music, it was pure luck that their first major hit song was an anime tune. “We grew up listening to a lot of anime songs, so naturally, we wanted to sing them. However, it was purely by chance that the opening for was chosen for our major debut. I wrote the song as part of a competition,” Kumagai explained. “But I never thought it would be chosen. I was very lucky—I feel that I was able to write something good.”

When it comes to writing music, it becomes a personal journey for Kumagai when creating original songs. “I have to face my inner self and my own story, which is quite painful,” Kumagai shared. However, when it comes to anime music, the process takes a different approach. “If there is some kind of source material, I read it carefully, and then I try to understand not only the story but also what the story is trying to convey to the readers.” Kumagai explained, “Japanese manga do not just tell a story; they also have a strong message inside. I would read the manga until I understood the message, and once I understood what the author wanted to convey, I would start working on the composition.” From there, the decision lies in whether to follow what came before or to blaze a new path. “Sometimes I’d use the tone of the previous artists who had worked on the anime as a musical reference other times I’d try to change the music in a way that would be new and interesting.”

However, writing anime songs also involves a collaborative element that can complicate things.

“I just have to create the kind of music I want to listen to, and in that respect, I can easily come up with something I’d like to hear like rock or electronic music—or ‘a shamisen sound that would be great in an anime like this,'” Kumagai said. “But towards the end, there can be input from the animation side—like them asking to make things a little more exciting. The further it is in production, the more difficult it becomes—or rather, the more difficult it is for me to incorporate various other people’s opinions.”

Interestingly, Kumagai even had the opportunity to compose a variation of the same basic song twice for : once as “Good Morning World” and once as “Good Morning [New] World.” While “Good Morning World” is a rock song with all the expected instruments, for “Good Morning [New] World,” Kumagai wanted to establish an even deeper connection between the song and the anime’s events. “I was originally approached by people on the anime side of things to do a remake of “Good Morning World” for the Ryusui special episode [of ], which would be centered around the sea. I suggested something similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, with pounding taiko drums to invoke the image of the ocean. […] And if you add more natural sounds, such as the voices of a human choir, non-electric strings, or the sound of taiko drums, the song becomes more epic.”

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that some people prefer “Good Morning [New] World” over the original version—including some of the members of the band. Ishikawa, in particular, enjoys the remake because of how it handles the bass line: “The bass in “Good Morning [New] World” is difficult, but it’s fun. I think it is interesting that there is no normal bass drum in it—it gives the song a floating feeling.” The taiko drum line also makes Hirose enjoy the remake more than the original. “When I listen to the drums in “Good Morning World,” I get the feeling that they’re just one part of the song. But in “Good Morning [New] World,” the drums are what the song is all about. […] Even if you listen to just the drums all on their own, it’s fun and exciting—so I like “Good Morning [New] World” better.”

However, Kumagai prefers the original—not just for the song itself, but for the process he went through while composing it. “It was the first opening song of ‘s first season. […] I couldn’t refer to a previous artist or the musical atmosphere of a previous season. […] It was a new experience for me. I had to read the work and compose the content and sound from scratch. I have strong memories of that.”

Over the past few years, BURNOUT SYNDROMES has become increasingly well-known internationally, largely thanks to their anime songs. However, there is often a stigma among musicians associated with anime music. “There are some rock bands that don’t like to be called anime music bands.” Kumagai explained, “I understand their feelings, but I am proud to be called an anime music band.” Ishikawa agreed: “I am very proud of it, and I think it gets people overseas interested in the Japanese language—and I think that contributes a lot to Japan.” Hirose was quick to add his thoughts as well, “I don’t really mind [being called an anime music band]. I think it’s amazing that we can share our feelings with everyone in the world through anime songs.”

Last year, the band even held their first live show in America. They were struck by the differences between a Japanese and an American audience. “I’m in charge of eliciting callbacks from foreign fans,” Ishikawa began, “But even before I call out to them at live shows, they do what we want them to do.” This is in contrast to Japanese fans. “Japanese people are very disciplined,” Ishikawa continued, “so they don’t shout unless they are told to shout, and they don’t raise their hands unless they are told to raise their hands.”

Kumagai expounded upon this thought, “I feel like everyone is more individualistic in America—in a good way. […] The hall is filled with an atmosphere that allows you to scream and shout when you want to scream and shout but also allows others to do the same as well. […] In Japan, I feel that there is a strong sense of respect for harmony—to not let anything get in the way of that harmony.” For Hirose, it was simple: “I feel that American people really enjoy concerts and shout from the bottom of their hearts—and I really like that.”

To wrap things up, we asked the band if they had any anime, present or future, for which they would like to do the theme song. For Ishikawa, the answer wasn’t a specific series but rather the desire to do something they had never done before. “I’d like to do a short-form anime opening—a 20-second song for one of those 5-minute anime.” Hirose didn’t even have to think about his answer. “Because was my first anime, it’s always been a dream of mine to do a series song.”

As for Kumagai, he had two answers. “There is a Japanese manga called . It’s a manga about the Naginata martial art, which is like Kendo—but it’s practiced mainly by women. If this sports manga were ever made into an anime, I’d like to do a song for it.” Kumagai also liked Hirose’s idea of doing a song. “I would also like to work on anime in a genre I haven’t done before—such as or some other dark science fiction anime like —because the songs would be completely different [from what we’ve sung before].”

In closing, Kumagai had this to say to anime fans around the world. “We love anime just as much as you do. That’s why we are so happy to be able to perform at anime events. […] We will continue to produce a lot of great anime songs and, in our recently released album [The WORLD is Mine], we also have many non-anime songs that experiment with lyrics, sound, and more. We hope you will enjoy them along with our anime songs and come and see us at our live performances!”

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