utomaru is an illustrator and designer who dishes out eye-popping color and dazzling line work. Powered by generations of Japanese subculture, ‘80s anime and manga, with a generous helping of American superhero comics, her work feels nostalgic, familiar, and contemporary at the same time. Maybe best of all, her portraits of imaginary cute girls come without cavets and are free of the pretention that sometimes bogs down otaku-inspired art from Japan. The big picture is that a new generation is inheriting and remixing the past, and the results are close to literal eye candy as you are likely to get.
I'm utomaru. I'm an illustrator and a graphic designer. Yuko Motoki is my real name but my friends call me utomaru. It's been my nickname since I was 15.
When did you start drawing?
Probably since I was 4 years old. I began to study illustration and graphic design in earnest and eventually went to art college and I began to do design for some minor rock bands from when I was15 years old.
I always think my best artwork is my newest one. Right now, I like my illustration of Iron Man (above) that was created for an event flyer. But it is hard to show off proudly because it is unofficial. Another one I like is an illustration of a girl wearing a rabbit helmet. I painted it for the cover of the book by my and finished it the day before yesterday.
My father was my biggest influence. He owned many magazines, comics, and movies from the 1960s to the 1980s, and they greatly affected me. He didn’t dare give them to me, but they were always put in a position where I could see them and handle them.
Do you have any favorite films, TV shows, or books you can mention?
It is a very difficult question. Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining” is special to me the way it is for many other people.
Also, I like the movie director Teruo Ishii. Often to relieve stress from school, I would go to Japanese grindhouse theaters and see his films. I also like flashy movies that have cruelty, monsters, and lots of explosions.
I know that American superhero comics are among your favorite things. Can you explain why you like them so much?
I think, it was slow. That is from 18 years old probably. I have read Japanese magazine about American comics called "MARVEL X", and also I have found "INFINITY GAUNTLET". It's soooo amazing! It was trigger. Few years later, I read Watchmen that has been republished to fit the movie then and I was shocked again.
A lot of movies and Comics in 1980s are very energetic, violently and flashy. (Is it just me or is it really so...? Probably some are sober but I love something extreme.) This are my favorite. I would like to recreate the atmosphere of those.
Why do you think you mainly draw pictures of cute girls?
Because it's cute! Cute girl is the best motif than anything else. But, to be honesty, I also like boys or old man. However I just have not had a chance to draw until now.
It's not a natural ability. I alaways make color selection mechanically based on hue, saturation, and brightness. Because I studied it in school. I think anyone could do it.
Please tell us about your brand Bangkillporn and how you are involved with it.
I began Bangkillporn in May of last year with another illustrator named Superlog. We are illustrators, but because we didn’t necessarily have a lot of work, we came up with Bangkillporn to be kind of an advertisement for ourselves.
The meaning of this word has become lighter now. But, but in the truest sense, it means few people who are familiar with everything. An extremely small number of them are around me.
What is your image of American otaku?
Everyone is good at First Person Shooters! Why? Because they have guns?
As the current Era of Warring Idols gathers momentum in Japan, it seeks out new hosts around the world, mutating and evolving like a hungry virus in order to survive. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the bizarre “B-pop” inspired shenanigans of Brazilian-Japanese idol unit Linda III Sei. Now, the girls of hy4_4yh (pronounced “Hyper Yoyo”) have set sail for Indonesia and a new frontier in hyperactive sound.
Safeguarding their passage into these strange lands is DJ Jet Baron, aka Mandokoro Takano, formerly of pioneering Japanese nerdcore group Leopaldon. Ever on the hunt for bad taste and Asian trash culture, DJ Jet Baron eventually tuned into the obscure Funkot (“funky kota”) scene happening in Indonesia based around terrifying 180 bpm music that some house music pundits have compared to Happy Hardcore. Back in Japan, Jet Baron became a prophet of sorts, holding sweaty Funkot parties at his Acid Panda Cafe club in Tokyo and getting the music out to the masses via appearances on TBS Radio. Funkot became something of an underground sensation and took up roots in Japan, which have now borne strange fruit and even stranger outfits...
Formed in 2005, Idol unit hy4_4yh (above) were already a crazy and borderline uncontrollable bunch of zany girls to begin with (their live gigs are particularly exhausting), but now they have sold their souls to Funkot in their new song and video “Ticckkeee Operation ~ YAVAY”, arranged by Jet Baron, and the results may just have you thrashing about on the floor and frothing at the mouth.
The song makes much use of the word YAVAY (which most people just Romanize as “yabai”, but whatever… ), which the official hy4_4yh ministry of propaganda claims, “is a new Japanese slang. It's an adjective which means more than CRAZY, COOL and ILL.” The video makes use of the only three known locations that can visually match the fury of the wild Funkot beat: the synapse frying Tokyo Robot Restaurant, the streets of Shibuya, and the Acid Panda Café itself.
Where Japan will go next in search of new sounds and gimmicks to mine is anyone's guess, but know this: the Era of Warring Idols has gone global and the prognosis is YAVAY.
Probably the best video I've seen come out of the Tokyo ROBOT RESTAURANT (besides mine, of course). Bonus points for screaming mascot at start...
Future generations will look back on the current Era of Warring Idols (アイドル戦国時代) in pure wonderment and stark terror. Maybe there will even be memorial buildings and military museums filled with hundreds of bizarre and sparkly girl’s dresses hung up behind bulletproof glass, along with galleries of autographed relics, and interactive “survivor’s tales” from fans and performers alike.
The war’s inevitability will be one of the major study points for visiting students, and how, short of going back in time to prevent the invention of the microprocessor, there really could have been no way to stop it: the Rise of the B-Grade Idols.
The flashpoint occurred the moment that indie producers latched onto affordable tech which made it cheap and easy to create idol music, idol promo videos, and, of course, idol groups. AKB48’s and Perfume’s marches out from the otaku underground into the mainstream helped to map out a new world, and “Idol Units” became the coins of the realm.
It’s been this way for years now: every month, a new indie idol group comes down the line, buzzes up the Japanese net for a bit, and gets a shot at either becoming some kind of next big thing (Momoiro Clover Z occupying that spot now) or remains stuck in idol limbo with regular gigs and maybe -- if they are lucky -- a TV theme song or two.
I’ll be writing up a piece about idol audiences later on (with a particular emphasis on female fans, who have been totally ignored in the Western dismissal of idol culture) but to these eyes, it’s like pro wrestling: you can either hoot and holler at the dumb show biz spectacle or take great offense to it. The line is drawn, and for some doubly so after the recent AKB48 “apology video” scandal, but most "Japan pundits" probably stood on the sanctimonious side of disapproval already. Even so, I have a sneaking feeling that history will sort it all out for us and get the last laugh. Pop eats itself, and in 20 to 30 years, people will be “discovering” old indie idol gems much in the same way that people continue to “discover” obscure kayokyoku singles today. But seriously, why wait for an expiration date when Linda III Sei is happening right now?
Pardon the long preamble and background set-up on B-grade idols, but I think it is necessary to try and explain how something as spectacularly odd as the new idol unit known as Linda III Sei (リンダIII世) could even exist in the first place.
Let’s look at what we got here: Linda III Sei is five girls, ages 11-14, bound together by their background as third-generation Brazilian-Japanese living in Gunma Prefecture. As a bonus to their presumably working class backgrounds (Gunma is one of Japan’s major manufacturing centers, and has a large, decidedly non-prosperous, Brazilian populace), they were hand picked by the fickle finger of fate to be idols performing near the exit signs at electronic stores like Yamada Denki in Ota city (below).
Their official bio claims that their sound is “not K-pop, not J-pop”, but “B-pop” influenced by Brazil’s Baile Funk party scene. But in truth, the group’s first release, “Future Century eZ zoo” (未来世紀eZ zoo) is an ear bending Frankenstein monster of auto-tune settings, 8-bit sounds, some English and mangled Japanese, that bravely remembers to include a full-on samba interlude on the bridge. The result is something strange and shockingly new.
The song’s stylistic mash-up is the sonic equivalent of the inexplicable outfits the girls are forced to wear: steampunk tops, medieval torture straps, tattoo tights, and sneakers. Again, we are in the realm of indie producers, and the ones behind the scenes here are said to have worked on songs for Johnny’s boy band V6 and some anime themes. But everything goes out the window once you see the video for "Future Century eZ zoo", which first erupted two weeks ago.
Linda III Sei look like they put together hours before the video was shot; dance like the choreography was taught seconds before. The sheep and chickens probably just wandered into the frame. I get the same feeling I get from Wassup Rockers, Diane Arbus pics and early Harmony Korine films: “I am gazing at something that cannot possibly exist, but the world is so fucking weird that I guess it must”. The only major misstep in a work of otherwise synapse rattling chaos, randomness, and literal darkness are the zombies. Is there anything more plebian and ordinary than zombies at this point?
Lots of questions begin to whirl about, and the group is so new that there’s just not a lot of answers. But decoding names can turn up some clues. As mentioned before, the girls in the group are third-generation Brazilian-Japanese, hence the name “Linda the Third”. Also, the girls have said in interviews that “they want to steal fan’s hearts”, just like anime/manga anti-hero Lupin the Third, and their use of a familiar-looking retro font for their official logo seems to hint at this connection. And would you believe that Terry Gilliam is also part of this goulash? His 1985 film is known as “Future Century Brazil” in Japan (未来世紀ブラジル), a reference that bonkura fans will immediately pick up when considering the title of Linda III Sei’s first single.
Either way, identity politics and outsider status are the key to Linda III Sei’s gimmick and could effectively be mined by academics for days. For others, the Brazil-Japan connection will be about as culturally enlightening as a drunken night out to a Philippine Pub. The Japanese net is intrigued for now, and their facebook and YouTube pages are swarmed with comments in Portuguese. While it is unlikely that you will see them on NHK's Red and White Singing Contest anytime soon, seriously, how often do you see Brazilian-Japanese people in the spotlight, even one as wobbly as this?
Call it exploitation, call it trash, call it pre-apocalyptic performance art. It's a motherfuckin' ZOO and future history will call them IDOLS.
The Lady Spade is not only one of the best indie idol acts working the circuit now, but one of the best unsigned music acts in Japan period. I admit that the sight of cute girls dressed in cosplay style uniforms may not seem particularly groundbreaking at this juncture in human history, but believe me, whenever The Lady Spade commands a stage, the difference is immediately apparent.
First of all, their music is really, really good. Songs like “You Must Obey Me” and “Wakaranai” are monster dance tracks that sound like chart ready J-pop (or K-pop) smash hits. Also, the ladies – ATG, Tiffany, and Lotta by name – give 100% in delivering this material with high spirited dancing and razor-sharp choreography. The end result is FUN, FUN, FUN!
Best of all, The Lady Spade is fully equipped to airlift their act overseas, and has performed on US soil several times…and is about to again!
The Lady Spade will be at Anime Matsuri in Texas from 3/29 to 3/31. For this occasion, I spoke with The Lady Spade’s mastermind, their skull faced DJ, composer, and producer known only as SLF!!…
How would you describe The Lady Spade to someone who has never heard of them?
Well, the world is at its end anyhow, so consider us your final gift! Magic spells and glistening artificial sweetener have been aggressively blended to create a confection like a powerful medicine…totally cute, totally fun, but a little sad, and a tad frightening too. I'm sure you'll like us. You'll like us, right? Riiight? Sooooo before you break down and stop working, before you fall apart, please listen to our songs.
Vulgar Display of Beauty
Magical Electric Doll
THE LADY SPADE
I guess this isn't enough for you to understand, huh? From the realm of two-faced girls — truly sweet, truly scary; sparkly, cute magical girls, the dark and sexy goth world — we're a unit that combines kawaii, sexy, otaku, anime, cosplay, fashion, art. We perform our electric sound high on teenage delusions.
At first we were using old anime songs and '60s spy movie themes from the West as our motifs, but about three years ago we added member ATG for vocals so the style changed to magical girls and the gothic world. We incorporated a club sound with electronic music and were largely reborn.
What are some of your musical influences and inspirations?
Lots of electro club music and anime songs. We're also influenced by a lot of other things besides music, like fashion and illustration, photography, other art…
How would you describe each member of the group? What are they like on stage and off?
ATG - Vocals
The 666th doll made for kicks by the 8 million gods.
She has an upside down heart that is pure black — the shape of a spade.
She was abused and violated by the gods for such an insanely long time that she became broken, and can't do anything except sing and dance.
TIFFANY - Dancer
A superior familiar who sees to ATG's needs. When she gets mad, she'll make you drink poison. Loves rock 'n roll, the Twist, and doing experiments on ATG.
LOTTA - Dancer
A robot from the 2-D world of manga. She is crazy about ATG, but always messes up and ends up torturing her. Loves doujinshi.
SLF!! - DJ, All Sounds & Design
The skull-mask wearing scientist who implanted ATG's upside-down, pure black heart. He's always tinkering with something in a dark place. Loves meat.
Thanks! We're so happy to hear you like it. ATG creates the movements and we all practice together. Instead of a band playing, we want people to enjoy a dance performance, so we take choreography very seriously.
The Lady Spade has performed in America before. What was that like?
We appeared at the “Sweet Streets” art reception in Los Angeles in April of 2011 and at the APAHA (Asian-Pacific American Heritage Association) festival in Houston in June of 2012.
Did anything fun or crazy happen when you guys were in the USA?
When we were in Hollywood, ATG was wearing a bikini so lots of people stopped to take pictures (of course young people and kids, but even old ladies!) and one of them was the art director for The Boondock Saints, whom SLF!! loves.
Also, we were surprised when Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins came to our signing event (although he may not have really known who we were *laughing*)
In Houston we were happy to see lots of cute Lolitas and young fans who were good at Japanese. I don't think we would have been able to tell from Japan that there were so many people who like anime and otaku culture even in Texas.
What do you think of American otaku compared to Japanese otaku?
I don't think there are that many differences! "Otaku" is a culture the world shares now, so we cross national borders and love everyone. If something is good, they call it good — I'm really happy we have this shared sense of otakuness. For example, "Striped panties are so cute!" *laughing* On the other hand, sometimes they interpret things in an ultra-fresh way, very different from Japan. We were really excited to find that out! For example, gyaru culture and otaku culture don't mix in Japan, but the idea that 'they're both are kawaii so I'll like both' is really wonderful.
In March we'll be at Houston's Anime Matsuri 2013 doing one kawaii show, one dark show, and also a maid cafe party. The maid cafe party is the event we put on Shibuya as "Spade Lounge."
Do you have any special message for our readers?
The things you like are wonderful things, crucial because they make you you, and at the same time crossing all kinds of boundaries to connect everyone. Let's spread otaku culture even further together by continuously making discoveries and meeting new people.
Going forward, we want to meet all sorts of people by doing shows in the states for starters, but also many other countries! First off, we’ll be waiting for you from March 29th-31st at Houston's Anime Matsuri 2013!
Fans of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu may already be familiar with Yun*chi, a model-turned-singer signed to Harajuku-based talent agency ASOBI SYSTEM (if you need a crash course, I wrote a big thing about her on my blog a while back).
Now, Yun*chi is set to release her second mini-LP, which like her debut, feature songs written and produced by kz of Vocaloid supergroup livetune. The first single, “Shake You*”, along with the psychedelic, dazzling, sometimes disturbing PV below, makes a stronger impression than Yun*chi’s debut "Reverb" did...at least to these eyes and ears...
The Shake You* mini-LP goes on sale on 4/17 in Japan and the clip bodes well for a mind-altering future ahead for Yun*chi and friends.