KISS & Momoiro Clover Z at Anime Expo 2015
KISS, one of the most visually recognizable bands in the history of music, could easily be thought of as rock's most popular band of cosplayers, which would make its relationship with the Anime Expo and Japanese pop band Momoiro Clover Z not a surprising thing at all.
The all-girl, anime-inspired teen group best known in the U.S. for singing the theme songs to anime programs such as "Dragon Ball," "Sailor Moon" and "Pokemon" and the hard rockers who "want to party every day" are seemingly at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
KISS, formed in 1973 by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, brings to mind black-and-white makeup, fire onstage, and tongue-wagging guitar riffs. MCZ ó comprised of Reni Takagi, Kanako Momota, Akari Hayami, Shiori Tamai and Ayaka Sasaki ó formed in 2008 and fills arenas in Japan with screaming tweens, there to watch the colorfully costumed singers and their intricate choreography.
Between Feb. 23 and March 3, KISS performed to over 1.3 million fans during the band's tour of Japan (in Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Sendai), including performing a duet with MCZ at the Tokyo Dome to over 30,000 fans.
Yet, despite the differences, there is a connection.
"We liked MCZ's music ó great pop hooks, great song structures. When the groups perform live onstage, the fans in the audience do the same movements as the girls do. We love that. That's what KISS is all about. Connection," Simmons said.
Simmons and Stanley of KISS will be introducing Momoiro Clover Z at a special concert in association with the Anime Expo on Thursday. AX, as the convention is also called, is in its 24th year and is presented by The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation. This year, the show will play host to over 100,000 lovers of manga, anime and Japanese pop culture July 2-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
"If you look specifically at animation conventions dedicated to Japanese culture, we're in the top five, so we're rather large and have a lot of recognition by the Japanese industry," said Marc Perez, chief executive of the SPJA.
"Whether you want to be a passive attendee and just watch anime the whole weekend, or take part in it by dressing up in cosplay or learning more about Japanese culture through the workshops and cosplay sets area, there's just a lot of fun things to do."
KISS will receive the 2015 Commissioner's Award from Japan's International Short Shorts Asian Film Festival for the music video the group produced in 2014 titled "Samurai Son," in which the band appears with MCZ. The award will be presented to Simmons and Stanley at the Microsoft Theater prior to the start of the MCZ concert that evening.
"I think the feeling for ['Samurai Son'] was traditional Japanese, almost samurai. It's heroic. My intention was to capture that feeling," Stanley said. "Our collaboration with MCZ was a meeting of cultures. The entertainment value of what MCZ does is undeniable. So whether our music is different, to me it didnít matter. KISS is about breaking the rules and doing what excites us."
Stanley and Simmons say they've always appreciated Japanese culture, which is what drew them toward this collaboration.
"When we first heard about MCZ, we were very taken with the great shows they did and we also love that MCZ has great pride in being Japanese," Stanley said. "When we watched them dance, we saw geisha, sumo ó there is great Japanese tradition in what they do."
"A lot of the look behind KISS comes from Marvel Comics and Japanese culture. When we first came out over 40 years ago, people thought we were from Japan," Simmons said. "Japan has always been a magical place where the past and the present live side by side."
The bridge created by the band's willingness to record a song, its first collaboration with another band, is also not something that MCZ's camp takes lightly.
"What they have in common, I think, is we both create music to entertain the audiences at the concert. In fact, the fans for MCZ were excited to see KISS performance and vice versa," said Junnosuke Miyamoto, who produces MCZ's music and runs the record label Evil Line Records.
"I think that the elements of cosplay can be a juncture that bring KISS, MCZ and the fans of Anime Expo together, for sure," Miyamoto said. "When you see KISS and MCZ standing together onstage, youíll be blown away."
"People asked us, 'Why are you working with MCZ? Itís not your kind of music!' To those people we say, 'There are two kinds of music: good and bad.' MCZ is great at what they do ó with our collaboration we put two continents together with this music, and we got a No. 1 single in Japan out of it, so we were right, Stanley said.
"Some people said it wasn't rock 'n' roll to collaborate with MCZ. We are not rock 'n' roll. We are KISS. We're not part of a parade; we lead the parade."