Fujiko-chan is a four-member Japanese rock band formed and based in San Francisco, consisting of one female vocalist and three male musicians, two on guitar and one on drums. They incorporate a wide range of styles—punk, heavy metal, hard rock, and a form of Japanese pop called mudokayo (moody blues)—but have achieved a reputation based on their affinity for covers of anime theme songs. Their name comes from Fujiko, the comely, naughty, often duplicitous female lead from the Lupin the 3rd anime series. They’ve done songs from such anime as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nana, Death Note, Lupin the 3rd (of course), and the 2009 anime series, K-ON!, which happens to be about an all-girl Japanese high school rock band. Most of the vocals are in Japanese, yet the group has performed exclusively at conventions and events in California and Nevada, including Fanime in San Jose, ChibiFest in Las Vegas, and KinyobiCon in Hayward, and they hope to expand to any gathering on the anime circuit that will invite them.
I had the opportunity to watch Fujiko-chan perform as one of the intermission acts during the Masquerade Contest at this year’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles and then interview them the next morning. They put on a rousing 15-minute, four-song set that had the audience (restless from two-and-a-half hours of increasingly mind-numbing cosplay skits) jumping up from their seats and running up towards the stage to dance. Vocalist naoko Mine came out with splashes of red in her hair and sang in a driving, aggressive rock style, while lead guitarist Koichi, adorned in a green military-style overcoat and officer’s cap, with white face paint, wowed the crowed with his virtuoso guitar riffs. As vocalist naoko put it in the interview:
<blockquote>“We’re fan-based. A lot of times, the fans are really having fun with us. Obviously we’re not a professional technique-based band. We’re more of a fun, fan-oriented band. We love convention fans. They are the best fans, cheering, dancing, always making our gig much more fun. We really appreciate it. We’d like to come back to Anime Expo and any other anime conventions.”</blockquote>
The band members, naoko, Koichi, Yuji, and K, have all adopted “Mine,” the family name of Lupin the 3rd’s Fujiko, as their stage surname. They are all from Japan, but live and work in the Bay Area. The band originally formed six years ago with 30-somethings Koichi and naoko and another bass guitarist and drummer, both of whom have since left the group. When new members were needed, Koichi recruited them through online boards aimed at Japanese living in the Bay Area. 20-something Yuji, a guitarist by training, was eager to try drumming, so when the band needed a drummer he asked to do it and was accepted in 2005. College student K, the bass guitarist, joined in 2008. What brought them here from Japan? naoko came to San Francisco in 1993 to visit a friend on vacation and liked it so much that she wanted to stay, particularly because it was “a great experience to be away from my parents.” She now works for a U.S-based anime distributor and is responsible for licensing anime. Koichi came in 1998 and works for a trading company. Yuji works for a Japanese bank which acquired an American bank and sent Yuji to the San Francisco office in 2004. K came in 2006 and is a student at San Francisco State University.
Koichi had played in several bands in Japan. naoko had previously only performed with a high school band in Japan. Yuji had played guitar in Japan and was playing in another band in the U.S. when he asked to join Fujiko-chan. K had experience with several instruments as a high school student in Japan. While the band does a lot of covers, Koichi and Yuji both write songs, Koichi in an older Japanese pop/rock vein, Yuji in a westernized rock style influenced by heavy metal/hard rock and such bands as Judas Priest, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.
They all speak English, but they pointed out how frequently fans at conventions come up to them and speak Japanese to them. Yuji says, “We are trying to speak English. They want to speak Japanese. We say ‘thank you,’ they say ‘arigato.’” naoko adds, “Less and less I have to speak English to the fans.” What this also means, as Koichi points out, is that, “We can’t really talk about bad things in Japanese anymore. Someone around you can understand what you’re saying.”
Koichi related how he came up with the name of the band:
“We were searching for the name of the band for the first gig. I just said, ‘How about Fujiko-chan?’ I love Lupin the 3rd. Everyone loved Lupin the 3rd at the time. And some fans already know it’s the name of the girl. So if someone sees it in an ad and thinks, ‘Oh there’s a Japanese girl performing,’ I thought we may gather some fans. And naoko is sort of a Lupin the 3rd type character or image so I thought everything worked just fine.”
They’re all anime fans, with Koichi expressing a special regard for Go Nagai and Devilman, saying he has a whole shelf of Devilman figures at home. He’s also a big fan of live-action superhero shows like Kikaider and Hong Kong kung fu movies as well. Yuji is a fan of Mobile Suit Gundam and laments not being in Japan in July for the unveiling of an 18-meter (59-foot) high Gundam replica on Tokyo’s Odaiba Island. K likes sports anime and manga, especially Slam Dunk. Naoko likes horror manga by Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Tomie) and considers Galaxy Express 999, by Leiji Matsumoto, a special childhood favorite. “That’s my bible,” she says. I asked her about recent Japanese films about female rock musicians and she admitted to liking the first Nana movie very much and was pleased when I told her that she reminded me of rocker Nana (played by Mika Nakashima) in the film. However, she finds the Nana manga “too realistic…too much drugs, sex, violence” and said she prefers manga to be a “dream land.”
Fujiko-chan played at the same Anime Expo that saw the American debut of J-pop sensation Morning Musume, the all-girl nine-member singing group which performed on the same stage as Fujiko-chan a day earlier. naoko said it was a great honor to be there with them and the others agreed. She elaborated:
“I watched Morning Musume…They’re so energetic and fun and everything and super famous. I think they project a lot of Japanese pop culture these days–fashion, singing–it’s a really good opportunity and interesting mixture….Our band is based and born here, but presenting Japanese pop culture. So it’s interesting to perform on the same stage with real pop culture from Japan. We are doing it here, so there’s big exposure from being on the same stage, of course.”
Arriving a day earlier than the others, naoko came to AX and cosplayed as famed anime director Hayao Miyazaki, accompanied by a friend who dressed as Ponyo from Miyazaki’s newest film, Ponyo by the Sea. “I dressed up with glasses, beard and a wig. And I had a friend dressed as Ponyo. We walked around together. We got pretty good recognition. And we took a lot of photos.” I asked how many had recognized them. “Around ten. Half of them seemed like Japanese from Japan. The others seemed like local people.”
Asked if they’d like to stay in the U.S., they all said yes. Koichi said he’d like to “stay as long as we can as a band with these guys.” K wants to stay after graduation and continue to play. naoko said she’s here to stay. Yuji wants to stay as well, but said that if his company says “Go back to Japan,” he has to follow their order.
Anime and music fans can do their part to keep Fujiko-chan in the U.S. by supporting their music and attending their events. The band has a four-song EP called “Himitsu,” featuring “Noirozer,” “Dare no Sei?,” “Onikiri,” and “Luques.” “Luques” is currently being used in an on-line promo for the manga magazine, IKKI. If Fujiko-chan comes to an anime convention near you, make sure you go hear them. And if you’re running an anime event, make sure you invite them. The fans will love you for it.