Interview: Otaku Artist Shoko Nakagawa [2/2]

Interview: Otaku Artist Shoko Nakagawa [2/2]

According to Shoko Nakagawa, Shokotan, “The current age of otaku culture is a lucky time.” Wrapped with strong feelings of love and gratitude toward otaku content, Shokotan is an otaku idol that Japan is proud of who shows that anime songs (anison) have just as much value as eating and sleeping. Together with BEAMS, this famous, multi-talented girl has how launched her own fashion brand called mmts comprised of T-shirts and goods designed with her own illustrations that have released as new spring items. However, her main occupation is singer, and in addition to her new album 9lives releasing in Japan on April 2, she will also be performing in July at the anison festival Japan Expo in France, so she has her hands full. Here, we present the second part of our interview with this otaku artist!

If you haven’t read the first part of this interview, you can do so here.

Shokotan’s Profile:
Shokotan is a Japanese singer and talent. She is active in both TV and radio and has gained a worldwide fanbase due to her abundant knowledge of anime and manga and her sincere personality. She is highly regarded as a singer as well, and was in charge of the opening theme to the anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Her best-of album Shokotan☆Best--(°∀°)--!! ranked at No. 1 on the Hong Kong HMV chart under the JK-pop category. In 2012, she held a successful 4-city, 5-stop Asia tour. She is also regarded for her drawing ability and debuted in a commercial magazine as a manga artist in 2007.

TOM: What kind of performance do you want to give on stage at Japan Expo?
Shokotan: Well, I want to sing my entire repertoire of anime songs. Since I also do covers of other anime songs, I want to sing these as well so everyone can join in and sing along. But, I think I’ll focus on the anime songs and game theme songs on my new album.

I also like French chanson, so I think I’ll listen to them between concerts. I also secretly dream of becoming a chanson singer…! But for this concert, I’ll stick to anison.

TOM: What were your previous overseas concerts like?
Shokotan: Of course, it’s amazing that I have had opportunities to sing overseas because of anison. After living my life, I realized that “I get to sing anison and work overseas?!” It was quite a shock. I’m glad I was able to have a solo concert in Hong Kong.

Performing on my Asia tour and at Anime Expo, having a solo concert in Hong Kong, they were each difficult battles. But it’s interesting that there have been different responses in each country. There is a wide range of what Americans cosplay as, from the Going Merry crew (from One Piece) to those who actually make a 2-meter-long replica of Sephiroth’s Masamune (the name of the sword used by the antagonist in Final Fantasy VII). When I was in America, I was staying at the Westin Hotel. They were collaborating with Anime Expo and I was surprised by the amount of Japanese characters that were in the lobby. There was Sephiroth and Aerith (from the Final Fantasy series) being chummy and Asuka fighting with Rei (from Evangelion). It was chaos.

On my Asia tour, I had the chance to sing songs from Saint Seiya Omega, which is popular in Asia. Even though the lyrics were in Japanese, everyone was shouting and singing together. From everyone singing in chorus in Japanese, I got the feeling that anison is a bridge to world peace; it’s magic.

I feel that anison isn’t just a word, it allows us to face everything with boiling excitement in mind through courage, friendship, and love. It can light hearts on fire in an extremely positive way. It’s a living thing that hides an amazing power. I’m extremely grateful for it. Since before it was my dream to enter the entertainment world, I had a strong desire to become an anison singer. Now, that dream has come true. Through my efforts, I have been able to sing the theme song for the anime Gurren Lagann, “Sorairo Days,” create hit songs, and perform on the year-end Kōhaku 1. Even to this day, I have been able to capture the hearts of the audience even when I perform someplace for the first time thanks to “Sorairo Days.” But now I dream of coming across even more anison. Anison is a righteous magic that crosses borders and makes people smile in an instant. From the point of view of children, they’re a form of emotional education. World and space are packed within each song. Anison can be liked even if you haven’t seen the anime, and the same is very true for me. However, I’m not content with just liking them, I want to sing them as well.

TOM: You’re new album 9lives released on April 2. What thoughts did you put into this fourth album?
Shokotan: It’s covered in cats. I created it with my conviction of gratitude toward cats, love toward cats, and repayment toward cats (Shokotan loves cats. She even owns 10.). I’ve regularly released anison cover albums, mini albums, or best-of albums, but it’s been roughly four years since a full album (of original songs). I want to hold a live tour every year, and this feeling is even stronger since I was finally able to release a new album. During creating this album, I was busily doing a variety of things every day including holding concerts, doing on location photography for shows, performing on the radio, and drawing.

Cats are my friends, family, and partners. It’s almost like the relationship between Ash and Pikachu in Pokémon. So, for this album I thought about wanting to somehow make it living proof of cats, and I tackled it with the intention of creating a fossil in the form of an album. I did everything the way I wanted to, from the jacket to the music video. For my video for “9lives,” which shares its name with the Aerosmith album, I included the interesting concept of having 9,999 cats.

Cats are truly loved by people all over the world and are wonderful creatures that live together with humans all over the world. The fact that cats exist is a miracle to me. Perhaps cats are exclusive to this planet and can’t be found on any other. But we have cats. Just for this reason, that makes us winners. In the music video are cats, some crossbred and some feral, with a variety of expressions. I gathered different looks at how cats try to live for the sake of living. They’re cute and cool, and I’m moved when I see their presence and the love they give us.

The songs on the album are mainly rock, but there are also lyrics like “Cats have nine lives.” Similar to this type of proverb, I wonder what it is to live and to love. Though you can’t see it, you can feel it in your heart. Though wounded along the way, I have put what I found into song to be a signpost for the present and future. The songs on 9lives are positive and express my wanting to strongly live like cats together with cats from here on as well. Of course, I’ve also included gratitude toward my ancestors and messages to my descendants as well as gratitude toward cats, so I hope you all listen to it.

TOM: One more question regarding cats. Does your fashion brand mmts allow you to reflect your own thoughts in a way that differs from anison and cosplay?
Shokotan: That’s right. My otaku roots are in Nakano Broadway in Tokyo. Nakano is where I was born and raised. There are many who probably think of Akihabara when they hear otaku. Akihabara is packed with the future and various cutting edge things. But Nakano Broadway is filled with a peculiar type of atmosphere in which otaku components of the past are in high demand and retro toys and strange things have amazing value. It’s truly like a dungeon from a video game. I always hoped to guide Nakano Broadway to be an amusement spot for foreigners. I love Nakano, and I was finally able to open a shop there. I thought that if I was going to develop my brand, I wanted to give form to the things I like, like cats and space, and I have been able to bring many things to fruition.

This plain white T-shirt with a cat print on it was drawn by me. I’ve submitted tons of cat drawings and been given ideas by BEAMS that I couldn’t come up with myself like having my reflection in the cat’s eyes, so I’m filled with gratitude toward BEAMS for helping me create original ideas.

I also drew the cat drawing on this rock T-shirt. BEAMS also arranged this for me with a rock aesthetic. The concept behind this is a portrait of the members of the legendary cat rock band, mmts. On guitar and vocals is Mamitasu. Maru-chan is on the bass. On the drums is Chocolat (all the cats are Shokotan’s pets). The concept is that Pearl-chan was adopted and had left the band, so they were looking for new members. And they ended up breaking up because they couldn’t find anyone (laughs). It has a vintage look.

I’m happy that in the past two or three years in Japan there has finally been a boom in fashionable cat-themed items. Drawing cute cats is really difficult, and BEAMS has helped me express from many angles the cuteness, strangeness, and wonders of cats.

Even the parka I’m wearing has cat eyes on it. It’s a bit scary, like the eyes of a 100 ghosts. But I think I hit the bull’s eye with this unisex design that is even easy for men to wear. Of my new spring products, I especially like this rock T-shirt and parka.

TOM: There are likely people who want to learn more about Japanese otaku culture, people who don’t know much about anison culture, and people who have only enjoyed otaku content through the Internet. Please give a final message to all these people all over the world.
Shokotan: There is a constant stream of new anime and anison being created. Because there is an overflow of content, it’s hard to know where to jump in at. However, masterpieces of the past will continue to shine and be timeless. Truthfully, the charm of anime and anime music, which fills these 2D worlds, is love, courage, friendship, hope, and dreams that transcends words and rattles the soul. To me, a person who has been touched in many ways by it, it’s a loved world that is a necessary part of my life. It is thanks to my feelings of love for anison that I was able to grow up and meet so many people. And it is thanks to my dream of continuing to sing (anison) that I have held concerts abroad.

Therefore, I think that otaku culture is a very wonderful culture that creates fateful meetings and connections between people. I will continue trying hard from here on in order to have chances of meeting all of you and to be able to have concerts not just in Japan, but abroad as well. First up is July. I want to be able to jump and sing with everyone in France. Until then, I will train even harder and give it my all as a singer.

^1^ The shortened name of NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, a singing competition started by Japanese broadcasting channel NHK in 1951 that is split between male artists (White Group) and female artists (Red Group). The program is broadcast every New Year’s Eve and has become indicative of New Year’s in Japan. Shokotan appeared on the program in 2007.

Shoko Nakagawa’s Official Site, Shokotan Net

Shokotan's new album is on sale now!
9lives Pre-Order-Only Limited Edition
9lives First Release Limited Edition
9lives Regular Edition

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This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Shoko Nakagawa - 9lives
Shoko Nakagawa - *9lives*
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