Monday, February 28, 2011

Music Spotlight: Chihiro Onitsuka

 Chihiro Onitsuka belongs in my top three list of favorite Japanese female artists (though I admit it changes from time to 
time.) I was first introduced to her during the "Watashi to Waltz o" era, which was the theme song to the third season of the popular Japanese drama "Trick," starring the beautiful Nakama Yukie and Hiroshi Abe. The song was immensely popular with my Korean friends who were not necessarily J-Pop gurus and can be arguable one of her catchiest songs. "Infection" and "Watashi to Waltz o" were repeated on my playlist during Arc 3 era of New Trials. In fact, Chihiro Onitsuka's albums have been consistently been on my playlist for the past 5-6 years while writing New Trials. There are songs that I get addicted to because they are new and trendy at the moment, and there are songs that I will always return to listen to years later and find them just as amazing as when I first heard them. That's the kind of artist Chihiro Onitsuka is. I read some time ago in a CLAMP interview for Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle that Ohkawa Ageha-sensei listens to Chihiro Onitsuka as well. She mentioned that when she was writing the wing scene for Sakura, Chihiro Onitsuka's "Sign" was constantly on replay, so I dug up the lyrics and really found how the lyrics could relate to that scene and Sakura. (Ohkawa-sensei also said she listened to Da Pump's Wadachi while drawing Kurogane's past, and likewise, I hunted up the song and it was on my workout playlist for a while; the song's great, it's "oriental-inpsired" with a cool beat and masculine lyrics befitting our favorite ninja. Somehow, when I read about Ohkawa-sensei's music sense, it made me feel closer to understanding her (she who insists on gouging eyes and severing limbs). After all, music is such a big inspiration for me when writing, and it makes me feel like I'm on the right track with New Trials when my music taste seems to coincide with CLAMP's (aka Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno)! 

Chihiro Onitsuka's songs to me bear a level of heart-rendering poignancy that I think is difficult to find in artists anywhere in the world. She is an artist whose songs and lyrics seem to come from a burden in her soul, and when she sings, she seems to urgently transmit this immense energy unimaginable coming from such a small, frail body. Many of her songs seem to convey a quiet sort of desperation that seems to build up and up and explode with her chorus. She holds the complete package: composition, lyrics AND voice. Not to mention she's a beautiful woman as well, though there are times when she has been dangerously skinny due to an ongoing battle against an eating disorder amongst other events troubling her life.

Shine (Album Version). Shine was Chihiro Onitsuka's debut single. I prefer the Album Version to the Single Version because the Album Ver. is more stripped down and raw with just a piano accompaniment, whereas the Single Ver. is almost deceivingly upbeat; the beat sounds very Nineties J-pop and a bit jazzy to me. The song is perhaps her most depressing songs and very resounding. Chihiro Onitsuka's forte is piano ballads, and I really don't think I've heard anything like this and this song grew on me the more I listened to it over the years. She displays the full extent of her alto, slightly husky powerful voice. Again, I don't know how such a deep, strong voice comes from a tiny woman. 

 Infection. This might be my favorite Chihiro Onitsuka song because it was one of the first ones I ever listened to and it's very haunting, the way the song starts out softly, quietly and just seems to grow and grow and explode into her full vocals in the chorus. The piano and soft strings accompaniment is all that is needed and simply highlights Chihiro Onitsuka's voice. The lyrics are full of poignant imagery, especially in the chorus:

An explosion has ripped apart the shattered fragments of my heart
And although now all I see are glittering lights all around me
When, I wonder, did I become this weak?

Chihiro Onitsuka as a child is said to have started writing poetry before she got into music-writing, and you can tell. She is one of the rare musicians who has mastered artistry in the triple-field: vocal, music composition and lyric composition. She doesn't sing your cookie-cutter love songs. Her songs carry strong imagery and symbolism and are "poetry" that have meanings as opposed to random compilations of words used to match the music. I do appreciate songs that use such such subtle mechanisms as opposed to in your face lyrics or catch-phrases popular in the industry today. And the beauty is, you don't have to understand the language or the meaning to be able to understand her song; she conveys it simply with the strength of her voice and music alone, but it's a bonus when you understand the lyrics as well. She received a lyric prize for "Memai," a subtley uplifting song that is needed to cheer you up after you listen to some of her darker songs. Onitsuka Chihiro's songs 

"Gekkou" or "Moonlight" is the song that catapulted Chihiro Onitsuka to fame and is her best-selling single to date. Here, you can see Onitsuka's Christian roots with the religious imagery in the lyrics "I am God's child, set down upon this decayed Earth/ How do I live on such a field?/ This isn’t why I was born..." This was the theme song to the first season of the subsequently popular "Trick" franchise, and it's a poignant song. I am not sure if I prefer the Album Version or the Single Version. I do like the simple piano and soft guitar accompaniment of the Single Ver., but the Album Ver. starts out with a beautiful acapella vocal accompaniment. She sounds even more awesome in the live version, where she starts off acapella, and the intensity of her voice just blows you away. 
"Watashi wo Walz o" is the song that introduced me to Chihiro Onitsuka and made me wonder "who is this woman with such a powerful voice." The song reminds me of a surreal foggy bluish ballroom in a swirling Cinderella-esque scene. It's the theme song to the third season to "Trick." I thought "Gekkou" was very befitting to the drama's theme, but I personally haven't figured out how this song relates to the theme of "Trick." When I first heard the song, I thought it was from a different decade, from an older, veteran artist. Onitsuka definitely does not have a typical "J-pop" voice. Her "Gekkou" lives are more powerful, but the instrumentals in this live version was awesome.

I have to admit, Chihiro Onitsuka's pre-hiatus (circa 2003) songs are a bit stronger. Since then, she went through a throat surgery, changed record labels and recovered from an eating disorder and went through a two-year hiatus until she made a comeback in 2007. She has mentioned that "Everyhome" is a song she believes will remain through time as her representative work. Truthfully, it didn't make much of an impact on me the first time I heard it, especially since some of her earlier songs were so powerful, but this is a song that grows on you with listening and becomes really resonant. The lyrics rather remind me of Kai. It's sad that Chihiro Onitsuka's voice doesn't have the same level of control from before surgery, but it's still powerful and beautiful (albeit not autotune, computerized artificial-perfection). I love my standard pop and rock but Chihiro Onitsuka seems to bare her heart in her songs, especially if you listen to her live performances, and I know I will be listening to her songs for many years in the future. I hope her the best in her future works!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Trials Fanwork

The artwork is by our talented Selenity Shiroi who has illustrated a scene from the latest New Trials chapter. I'm so excited she drew it, because it's a scene I wanted to be drawn! 

As you all know, the readers of New Trials of CCS are a very talented bunch. Artwork, songs, spin-off fics; there have been numerous artwork (in a very liberal sense of the term) inspired off of Card Captor Sakura and also as a response to New Trials. I think Chapter 67: Sacrifice has had a very good response in terms fan response. Ever since I began writing New Trials. I love, love, loved all the fanart, fanfics, spin-offs, projects, etc. that people have emailed me about. Some of the compiled artwork can be found in the New Trials Devianart group kindly put together by Amethyst Beloved; if you type in "New Trials of Card Captor Sakura" into deviantart, you'll find a plethora of awesome New Trials related artwork. Below is my favorite Meilin + Kai fanart, also by Selenity Shiroi

Similiarly, there have been quite a few New Trials AMV made on youtube. I should probably make a New Trials youtube channel to compile all the videos. Check out Winxc1ub's version of Jinyu dancing the infamous internet meme "Caramelldansen." It's oh so hilarious and wrong, yet so right. I can never look at Jinyu the same way again. 

on the New Trials Yahoo Group today. It's hilarious, check it out! And finally, the Yahoo Group itself is a grounds where numerous people have shared their talents, ranging from singing, (check out Hazuki Goldair's "Syaoran the Waiter Boy" if you haven't already), artwork, found in the Files section, to professional photoshoots such as those of the lovely Melanie Mackey inspired from the Veil Card artwork I did of Syaoran and Blindfolded Sakura. I absolutely adore how the photo shoot turned out, and Melanie made a cameo in New Trials Chapter 63: The Joining of the Circle as the model "Malanie." I just wish I did a better job of compiling and documenting everything from the beginning. But I'm horrible at computer organization. But sometimes I just have fun googling "New Trials of Card Captor Sakura" and seeing all the fun stuff that pops up. 

Anyhow, thank you to all you talented artists, writers, musicians, singers and readers. You all are inspiration to me!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day: "Syaoran the Waiter Boy" AMV

Everybody knows how much I like Broadway. Hazuki Goldair from the Yahoo Group posted up her rendition of Kristin Chenoweth's "Taylor the Latte Boy" aka "Syaoran the Waiter Boy," lyrics written, sung and recorded by herself. First off, I've loved Kristin Chenoweth since Wicked, and I love cabaret-style songs. Kristin Chenoweth oozes awesomeness, and I just love her versatile voice and sense of humor. Hazuki Goldair's rendition of "Syaoran the Waiter Boy" is brilliant as well; the lyrics are witty and hilarious, yet sweet because it's Sakura's POV, a perfect parody of "Taylor the Latte Boy," and it's amazing how well the lyrics fit in with New Trials (I especially love the reference to Chapter 49.5: The Words We Couldn't Say with the white chiffon cake. And I can't shower enough praises on how well Hazuki Goldair sang the song; her voice is beautiful with enough nuance of humor as well for the song. I like it better than the original version, though I guess I'm Syaoran-biased. Sorry Taylor!

After finishing Chapter 67, I had been working on a New Trials Valentine's Day Special Chapter because I realized that I haven't done a Valentine's Day special yet (not a good reason, I know.) Either way, "Syaoran the Waiter Boy" fit in so perfectly with Chapter 67 and the not yet completed Special, and I was inspired to make an AMV out of it, with the permission of our singing math whiz Hazuki Goldair. I swear there are so many talented people on the Yahoo New Trials Group. The lyrics, courtesy Hazuki Goldair, are below. Coincidentally, her birthday is also on Valentine's Day. Happy Birthday!

"Syaoran the Waiter Boy"
Lyrics and song by: Hazuki Goldair from the Yahoo New Trials Group 
Inspired from Kristin Chenoweth's: "Taylor the Latte Boy"
Composed by: Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich
"Syaoran the Waiter Boy" Lyrics

There’s a boy who works at La Seine
Who is very inspirational
He is very inspirational because of many things.
I come in at 4:11, and he smiles and says, “How are you?”
When he smiles and says, “How are you?”
I could swear my heart grows wings!
So today at 4:11
I decided I should meet him
I decided I should meet him
In a proper formal way.
So today at 4:11 when he smiled and said, “How are you?”
I said, “Fine, and my name’s Sakura.”
And he softly answered, “Hey.”
And I said, “My name is Sakura, and thank you for the extra soy…”
And he said his name was Syaoran,
Which provides the inspiration for this poem.
Syaoran, the waiter boy
Bring me stir-fry, bring me joy
Syaoran, the waiter boy
I love him, I love him, I love him…
So I’d like to get my nerve up
To recite my poem musical.
He would like the fact it’s musical
Cuz he plays violin.
So today at 4:11, Syaoran told me he was playing
Tokyo’s symphonic orchestra; he could probably sneak me in.
And he brought out something extra, saying, “Compliments of your chef.”
But I knew he’d made it for me, and he didn’t think I knew.
But I saw him decorate it with pink spun sugar blossoms
And I knew that white chiffon cake meant that Syaoran loved me too!
I said, “What time are you playing? And thank you for this tasty cake…”
He said, “8 PM tomorrow,” and I saw him blush before he ran away.
Syaoran, the waiter boy
Bring me stir-fry, bring me joy
Oh Syaoran, the waiter boy
I love him, I love him, I love him…
I used to be the kind of girl who’d run when love rushed toward her.
But suddenly a voice whispered, “Love can be yours if you sit down at the table and order!”
Syaoran, the waiter boy
Bring me stir-fry, bring me joy
Syaoran, the waiter boy
I love him, I love him, I love him…
So many years my heart has waited,
Who’d have thought that love could be so complicated?
Syaoran, the waiter boy
I love him, I love him, I love him.
I love him, I love him, I love him.

I had fun making this AMV; it's much easier to make a narrative AMV, because I knew pretty much which clips I wanted to use. "Syaoran the Waiter Boy" has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it, and I'm sure all of you will find it very addicting. Originally, I intended on just using original art, but knowing BOTH CCS and TRC had "waiter" theme episodes, I couldn't resist using them. I wanted to make a story within a story within a story. Well, three parallel existences of Sakura x Syaoran FTW.

I also had fun drawing the Valentine's Day fanart for the ending theme to the AMV to the Card Captor Sakura Season 3 ending theme, "Fruits Candy" sung by Kojima Megumi. I always thought "Fruits Candy" was a very catchy song, and it fit the theme du jour quite well. I never saw the lyrics translation before, and hey, it fit perfectly with the waiter theme! Bad news is, I didn't finish writing the Valentine's Day Special. I didn't expect myself to, because two weeks to write even a short chapter was too ambitious for even me. Maybe by White Day...

Check out the original version of Kristin Chenoweth's "Taylor the Latte Boy." The Rebuttal Song is also hilarious as well. Thanks to Ellie (lunalove101) from the Yahoo Group for pointing it out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

xxxHOLiC Rou Final Chapter: Chapter 213... The End?

Well, following the route of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic seems to an abrupt end. I wasn't expecting it at all. I actually haven't been following xxxHolic that faithfully these past 8 years though I think it might be one of CLAMP's most unique works. I finally caught up with the last couple chapters. Spoiler warning...

So, I think that xxxHoliic ended along the lines of what I expected. The last chapter was very symbolic with minimal dialogue. The artwork was beautiful as usual, with great use and of black and white space, and I think I never found Yuuko more beautiful before. I am glad we are able to see her again, even in a dream state. Truthfully, I was pretty sure Yuuko will never come back. Watanuki would have been able to come to a new level of growth if he was able to "let go," but I think it's poignant how he shoes not to let go and continue caging his heart up. I was wondering who Yuuko reminded me of this chapter, and I realized it was Ruby Moon, especially with the butterfly obi tied in the back and the hime-haircut. Also, Watanuki looked strangely more like Eriol this last chapter, especially with the Western clothes in the dream, the Clow magic circle and the strangely more round glasses.

I think xxxHolic Rou has tragic yet somehow poignant in that Watanuki is stuck in the same spot as the world around him changes. I was a bit shocked when I heard that Himawari has married. And the most shocking part about this chapter was the fact that a century had lapsed and Doumeki is not Doumeki. I had been counting on xxxHolic to tie up the loose ends of TRC, but so much for that. Time flows differently in the TRC-verse, and since Watanuki is finally released from being bound to the store, I wonder whether Tsubasa!Syaoran can finally return to Tsubasa!Sakura. Or maybe they're all dead already as well. The last time we heard of the TRC crew, it had been 520 days since Tsu!Syaoran had returned back to Tsu!Sakura in xxxHolic Chapter 204.5 whereas over a decade has passed for Watanuki. So almost two years to every ten, if time is constant, which I doubt it is. Twenty years to get back to Sakura, if he ever did make it back. Poor Syaoran. Poor Watanuki, watching all his loved ones grow old and die, leaving only him behind. And he's still stuck in an infinite loop; it's the makings of a great sorcerer *coughClowReedcough*

I followed Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic less for the plot and more for the characters, and as with TRC, xxxHolic was a good study of Clow Reed for me. Why Clow Reed? I know that Clow doesn't equal Watanuki as many people theorized earlier on, but I do believe that the analogy between Clow Reed's wish/obsession to keep Yuuko alive with Watanuki's desire to see Yuuko again is pretty blatant. It's sort of the trinity of Tsubasa!Syaoran, Clone!Syaoran and Watanuki with the trinity of Clow Reed, Fei Wong Reed and Watanuki, with Watanuki Kimihiro being the intermediary force between the two entities. He's sort of like the Void Card of the Card Captor Sakura Movie 2, the null between space and time dimensions. And I think he is the loneliest of all CLAMP-dom characters. He's not even angsty or angry at his fate; he just is. Doumeki-Watanuki shippers shouldn't despair though; I see their relationship sort of in a Shuichiro-san Kohaku sort of way. Obviously, in the CLAMP world, if you reproduce, your offspring is a clone of you. And Himawari turned out to be just about the most insignificant CLAMP heroine ever. Anyhow, it's obvious that after Watanuki finally dies, they'll all be reincarnated into Horistuba Gakuen. Or maybe Horitsuba Gakuen is heaven. 

Fanart is a quick doodle I did of Yuuko after I finished reading Chapter 213. If xxxHolic had a happy ending a la Card Captor Sakura...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year! Happy 7th Anniversay Yahoo Group!

Cheerleader Kinomoto Sakura by ~wishluv on deviantART

Happy 7th Anniversary Yahoo New Trials Fan Community! The New Trials Ring was launched on February 4, 2004 by the amazing Kirei Blossom and is the biggest active Card Captor Sakura fanfiction Yahoo Group (yes, very specific) on the internet (I think). (And did I count right? I get confused sometimes.) This fanart is dedicated to all of you awesome members of the Group who have provided me endless entertainment, awe and inspiration for the past seven years. It's a shoujo love triangle, and oddly enough, my first "published" fanart of Sakura, Syaoran and Eron together in a fanart. It's about time, right?

Also, Happy 2nd Anniversary started on February 3, 2009! I guess February's a pretty eventful month in the New Trials-sphere.

Happy Lunar New Year 2011!!! Can you guess who this it? It's the Black Dragon. Li Jinyu looks brooding and solemn as usual. I'm sure Jinyu's not the best person to celebrate Lunar New Year with, but I made a really rough colored doodle of him the other day. I do have a bunch of concept sketches that I should post up eventually.