Hollywood has had a tough go during the pandemic. Box-office profits plummeted, cinemas closed and at-home streaming providers made a mint. In October, though, the animated film “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” surprised everyone by breaking one box-office record after another — and LiSA, the voice behind its opening theme, saw new levels of success.
Having penned and performed the opening tracks for the “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” TV series, as well as the full-length feature follow-up, LiSA, whose stage name is an acronym for “Love is Same All,” has seen her fan base flourish as the franchise gains worldwide popularity. But that isn’t the only thing she has to celebrate.
On May 19, the Gifu Prefecture-native, whose real name is Risa Oribe, released a seven-track mini-album titled “Ladybug” (stylized in all caps) to commemorate her 10th anniversary as a solo artist. It features collaborations with high-profile musicians such as Grammy Award-winning B’z guitarist Takahiro Matsumoto, Yuzu’s Yujin Kitagawa and Avu-chan from pop-rock band Queen Bee (Ziyoou-vachi).
“‘Ladybug’ is tentо̄mushi in Japanese, so that seemed like an apt name for my 10th anniversary record,” LiSA, 33, tells The Japan Times. “It’s a playful album incorporating a variety of styles. If I were to pick out one song it would be ‘GL’ written by Avu-chan. The tempo’s fast and it features some rock and dance music in addition to me rapping. I just think it’s a fun track.”
LiSA decided to involve several popular artists on the EP to create something special to mark a decade in the industry. She says there were times in the past where she suffered from self-doubt, but now she’s proud of what she has achieved and has become more confident in herself.
That confidence was certainly boosted by the success of her fifth studio album “Leo-Nine” (stylized as “LEO-NiNE”), which came out Oct. 14, the same day as her single “Homura” (“Flame”). Both debuted at No. 1 on Billboard Japan’s Hot 100 simultaneously.
Soon after, “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” was released, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan’s box-office history on Dec. 26 and smashing America’s box-office record for the highest-grossing foreign-language film opening weekend. It has since surpassed $400 million in worldwide sales.
“Though I knew anime was one of Japan’s most popular exports, it feels like ‘Demon Slayer’ has taken things to another level,” LiSA says. “I fell in love with the manga and was blown away by the animation. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. The creators felt a strong sense of responsibility to bring this wonderful story to life and it was the same for me with the music. Being involved in something like that is an honor, but there’s real pressure that comes with it.”
LiSA’s involvement with the “Demon Slayer” franchise began with the TV series. Working with composer Kayoko Kusano, she wrote “Gurenge” (“Red Lotus”) for the show’s opening. The title is a reference to the anime’s protagonist, Tanjiro Kamado, who overcomes difficult circumstances to blossom into a hero, much like a lotus, which is a beautiful flower that grows miraculously out of swamps and symbolizes transcendence in Buddhist culture. “Gurenge” went on to become the first song by a female artist to surpass 1 million downloads on the Oricon charts.
“Homura” — the theme song of “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” — has proved even more popular. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2020 Japan Record Awards, it surpassed K-pop group BTS’s “Dynamite” to become the fastest song to accumulate 100 million streams and has more than 191 million views on YouTube at the time of writing. Written with Yuki Kajiura, it’s an emotional ballad about finding hope in the darkest of times, with the focus on one of the characters of “Demon Slayer,” Kyojuro Rengoku.
“He’s my favorite character,” LiSA says. “He’s cool, strong and sincere, like a true warrior. I wanted those characteristics to be reflected in the lyrics. I always go through the same approach when writing songs for anime. This time was no different. It’s simply a case of reading the original work and taking things from there. It always helps when you enjoy the story.”
LiSA has a history of writing for anime. Her big break in the music industry came in 2010 from “Angel Beats!,” a 13-episode series about a boy losing his memory in the afterlife. Alongside singer Marina Nakamura, she provided vocals for the series’ in-story band Girls Dead Monster. The duo released five singles, all of which were top 10 hits.
“That opportunity came around two years after I’d moved to Tokyo,” LiSA says. “In Gifu, I was in an indie band called Chucky. That was fun, but to truly progress in my career I needed a bigger stage. I did part-time jobs and performed in the group, Love is Same All, then ‘Angel Beats!’ came around. It was a big moment for me as it opened many doors.
“I’d watched anime as a kid but saw nothing as an adult because I was so focused on my music. When I got the gig with ‘Angel Beats!’ I started doing more research and got into many kinds of shows and movies. The best I saw was ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ by Makoto Shinkai. Visually, it was stunning. It made me realize how advanced the pictures in anime had become since I was younger.”
In 2011, LiSA released “oath sign,” the opening theme for the 2011 action anime series “Fate/Zero” and her first single as a solo artist, as well as her debut EP, “Letters to U.” She wrote the lyrics for all seven tracks and composed the opening song, “Believe in Myself.”
“Becoming a singer was something I’d dreamed about since I was a child, so to actually have my own mini-album coming out felt like I’d fulfilled a lifetime ambition,” LiSA says. “When I was younger, I was singing for me, simply because I loved doing it. My mentality changed while making that record, particularly with ‘Believe in myself.’ I realized I wanted to sing for others. My hope was that people would hear that song and gain strength from it.”
Even though she’s been a major player in the Japanese music industry for a decade, she’s surprised by how big things have gotten in the past few years, even despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, I appreciate the attention ‘Gurenge’ and ‘Homura’ have been getting, but what’s been even more pleasing is the fact that my other songs are now being recognized by people around the world,” she says. “It’s a great feeling knowing your songs are being listened to in different parts of the world. I can’t wait to tour overseas once the situation improves.
“The hardest thing about the past 18 months has been not being able to regularly perform live. The Record Awards was probably the highlight, though. When I received the award, the past 10 years flashed through my mind. I was overcome with emotion. It’s been a long journey and now I’m looking forward to the next 10.”
LiSA’s album “Ladybug” is now available on streaming services and in stores. For more information, visit www.lxixsxa.com/LiSA_10th/album.
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