Kenshi Yonezu on the "Instincts" He Followed Making KICK BACK - Linking Chainsaw Man With Drum 'n' Bass, Morning Musume, and Daiki Tsuneta
Kenshi Yonezu has released his new song, KICK BACK.
KICK BACK was written as the opening theme for the anime Chainsaw Man. Kenshi Yonezu wrote and composed it, and Daiki Tsuneta (King Gnu/millennium parade) joined him for arrangement.
The song swept the charts - for instance, placing first on the Billboard JAPAN Hot 100 for October 19th - and had a major impact worldwide, marking the first time a domestic Japanese artist has made it onto the daily "Top 50 - Global" chart on Spotify.
We conducted an interview with Kenshi Yonezu, discussing the process of creating the song and his thoughts on Chainsaw Man.
— First of all, what were your initial thoughts when you were asked to create the opening theme for Chainsaw Man?
Yonezu: From the start, I was super eager to do it. Because ever since I read the Chainsaw Man manga, I'd been thinking I'd like to make a song for it in some form if it got made into an anime. When it was decided I'd actually get to do that, I was just plain glad. Even before I was contacted, I'd actually given some thought to what sort of song I'd make if it were me.
— What about Chainsaw Man appealed to you?
Yonezu: In the manga, devils are causing humans harm as an everyday occurrence, and cause some grotesque things in the process. It's an extremely serious world, and yet this Denji guy who's at the center of the story is, how to say... just a total moron. Denji's presence makes the dismal circumstances and serious story into more and more of a joke. I found that extremely pleasing. The kind of person who seems like he never even went to school tears all these things up with deadly seriousness. That's something I've never seen before, and it makes for such a thrilling manga.
— You said you were thinking what kind of song you'd make before being asked to. What sort of ideas did you start with when making the song?
Yonezu: At first, I wanted to do drum 'n' bass. There are still traces of that in KICK BACK now, but in the demo stages, it was more "now THIS is drum 'n' bass," with restless drums and long synth sections.
— How did you begin actually making the song?
Yonezu: It began with meetings with the director and animation staff, and I recall the director's order being "make a song that's like a rollercoaster." A song with numerous key changes, abrupt swerves from part to part, rises and falls steep enough that you're like "is this just a different song now?" They called for a song that you'd be tossed around by as you listened to it, then all of a sudden you realize it's over. At first I was thinking that was an extremely tall order; later, I realized that "key change" could have been referring to the musical term of changing key or the tone of the song changing, and I wasn't sure which one the director had meant, so I did both.
— I feel Chainsaw Man is a work that can be approached from a variety of angles, so what parts did you aim to express in the music?
Yonezu: The largest impression Chainsaw Man leaves on me has to be its grotesque parts. Denji making a mess of things, gruesomely killing devils - that bloodshed is my first impression of it. Since it would be the opening theme, I thought it'd be good to expand on that as a summary of the story. Also, Chainsaw Man has betrayal after betrayal, making for a series of chaotic twists and turns, but the mega-idiot Denji is at the core of that story, so it straddles the line and flips back into pop. I think it's a supremely thrilling manga, so I wanted to express that mood as well.
— The song quotes a line from the lyrics of Morning Musume's "Sou da! We're ALIVE": "hard work, the future, a beautiful star." Where did this idea originate from?
Yonezu: All I can say is that it was instinct. I don't really know why, but I wanted to do it, like seriously wanted to do it no matter what.
— That song was released in 2000; did you listen to it at its release?
Yonezu: That's right. It was that generation, so I listened to it all the time in grade school. In "Sou da! We're ALIVE," they sing "shiawase ni naritai [I want to be happy]" in the chorus. And they sing it like "shiiiYAwase ni naritai." That somehow really stuck in my ears at the time. Like, why "shiyawase" instead of "shiawase"? I vividly remember singing just that part together with a friend I played with back then. When it came time to make the opening theme for Chainsaw Man, I was reminded of that. It went fast once I made that connection. Listening to the song again after so long, I was like "it has to be this." I was convinced I had to sample it if I was going to make the opening theme for Chainsaw Man.
— The chorus also has the lines "filling up with "happy"" and "filling up with "lucky."" Was "happy" a key word?
Yonezu: Denji was born in really unfortunate circumstances, and in such absurdly sorrowful situations, I think people lose concreteness. Like "I just wanna be happy, y'know." Not even thinking as far as "well, what should I do to become happy?" So I felt it was necessary to build it with words like "happy" and "lucky" that are just sort of general and easily understood.
— You worked with Daiki Tsuneta-san on arrangement for this song. You've been deeply involved before, but what prompted you to make this song together?
Yonezu: When drinking with Daiki, we'd had conversations like "Chainsaw Man is nuts, huh. It's amazing." After I was chosen to do the opening theme, we had another chance to drink together, and I was like "Oh yeah, I'm gonna be doing Chainsaw Man, you want to do it with me?" It started very casually.
— What sort of essence did working with Daiki-san bring to the song?
Yonezu: I came away feeling "man, he really is amazing." I made my demo as stoic drum 'n' bass, but he boosted it up with a sort of delinquent feeling. I felt glad to have asked him to help.
— KICK BACK has already made an impact in Japan and abroad; what do you think about the song's influence, both on the charts and otherwise?
Yonezu: I'm grateful. Above all, I think it comes down to Chainsaw Man being fantastic. The opening animation in particular, I'd be willing to call it the best anime opening I've ever seen.
— I imagine there are even people overseas who first learned the name Kenshi Yonezu because of this. You've been greatly influenced by shonen manga/anime culture as an artist, and musicians like that making theme songs for anime is a notable feature of Japanese pop culture these days. Taking that into account, what do you feel you've taken and inherited from the culture of shonen manga/anime?
Yonezu: I'm someone who wanted to be a manga artist to start with. Rather than a musician who was influenced by manga, I'd say I'm more of a guy who wanted to be a manga artist and happened to become a musician. As such, there's still a grade-school, middle-school self inside me who's still saying he wants to be a manga artist. I was drawing manga back then, but I switched over to music, so I still haven't given in. I haven't been discouraged. If I had really gone and become a manga artist, I expect I would've brought it to an editor and been told things like "this part's no good" and thought "I've got no talent, huh," and had learning experiences like that. But since I didn't have any such experience, somewhere in my heart I still think "Maybe I could become a manga artist? Heck, maybe I'm more suited for that than music?" Instead of working as a musician influenced by manga, it feels more like I've been making music like drawing manga. So it's an extremely relevant thing to me.
— You drew Chainsaw Man yourself for the cover of the single. What kind of intentions were behind this illustration?
Yonezu: At first, there was also a version with the trio of Denji, Aki Hayakawa, and Power. But as soon as I saw it, I felt it kinda wasn't right. So I gave that up, decided I wanted it to have the visual of a movie poster, and it ended up like that. The composition with the hand was influenced by the poster for Parasite. On the Parasite poster, you can see just legs sticking out from the edge, and I thought that was a cool sort of ominousness. Unraveling that ominousness, coolness, and shamefulness resulted in the end product.
— What impressions do you have on the style of Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsaw Man?
Yonezu: Though I can hardly compare to him, we are of the same generation, so I feel like the things we've seen are similar. Part of me feels an extreme amount of sympathy. Also, he has a really amazing imagination. Like the two-page spread during the Darkness Devil fight where there are astronauts cut in half making a path - he has both the artistic ability and the wonder to properly output those sorts of creative ideas. There are things that only he can draw. It's a rare talent.