THE KING OF THE ANIME SINGERS! Ichiro Mizuki on His Live-Action Tokusatsu Tunes!

Ichiro Mizuki, singing one of his classic anime songs. Photo © Ichiro Mizuki.

Ichiro Mizuki is often called The King of Anime Singers for his various contributions to the world of anime, but Vantage Point Interviews readers will know him as The King of the Superhero Singers. Mr. Mizuki’s singing credits include: the opening and ending themes for Kamen Rider V3 (1973-74), Kamen Rider Stronger (1975), and Akumaizer 3 (1975-76), “Hakaider’s Song” for Kikaider (1972-73), among many others. Mr. Mizuki answered Brett Homenick’s questions in a 2008 interview translated by Rieko Twigg.  

Brett Homenick: How did you become involved in the music industry?

Ichiro Mizuki: I have loved to sing since I was very little. I grew up listening to jazz and standard vocal artists. I made up my mind to be a singer when I was only five. When I was sixteen, I passed a major audition and became the winner of the singing contest for a famous jazz club. This gave me an opportunity to sing American pop songs onstage. I released my first record when I was 20 years old. This year will be my 40-year anniversary since I started to sing professionally.

BH: How did you get involved in live-action superhero TV shows?

IM: At that time, no one was singing only “animation” or “live-action superhero TV” theme songs.  Such a genre was not yet established. The record companies were looking for a singer who will be perfect for such a genre, and I was discovered then. My first animation theme song was Genshi shonen Ryu (the work of Shotaro Ishinomori), and after that I got offers to sing the theme songs of live-action superhero TV shows such as Henshin Ninja Arashi (1972-73) and Choujin Barom One (1972).

BH: When singing songs for live-action superhero programs, what sort of approach would you take?

IM: There are so many important messages such as love, friendship, justice, dreams, and courage in the theme songs for animation and live-action superhero programs. I tried to sing clearly so that little children can understand such messages while also trying to understand the superhero’s emotion as I wanted to convey their sense of value to my listeners. For example, I will try to carry the sadness of the superhero who was born under the fate of perpetually fighting for justice. I want to tell the listeners that it is not just about being strong.

BH: Do you take a different approach to singing opening themes as opposed to closing themes?

IM: My approach for singing opening and closing themes is exactly same. But closing songs are usually mellow and slower ballads, so I usually sing gently about the hero’s romantic view.

BH: How much freedom did you typically have when singing songs for live-action superhero shows?

IM: There are a hundred ways to sing a song if there are a hundred heroes. To sing of each hero’s sense of the world is for me not to be restricted but rather to create a greater, wider sense of joy.

BH: Were you typically involved with writing theme songs to live-action superhero shows?

IM: I usually concentrate on being a singer, so I only accept offers to write music or lyrics on special occasions. I have written animation songs in the past, but I have not yet written any live-action superhero songs. I would like to try if there is an opportunity.

BH: What do you remember about your involvement with Kikaider (1972-73), singing “Hakaider’s Song”?

IM: Probably, this was the first song I sang about a villain. To be honest, I was more impressed with Hakaider’s life story than Kikaider’s, so I thought I was lucky when I got to sing this song.

BH: You sang the opening and ending themes to Kamen Rider V3 (1973-74), a very popular superhero program. How did that come about?

IM: There is my version of the opening theme of V3, but in the actual TV show, the song was sung by Hiroshi Miyauchi. Because I taught him how to sing at that time, he is a great friend of mine. My first song broadcast in the Kamen Rider series was the closing theme, “Shounen Rider tai no Uta.” Since then, I have sung the most amount of songs in the Kamen Rider series.

BH: What can you tell me about singing the opening and closing themes for Akumaizer 3 (1975-76), which is a popular Toei special-effects program?

IM: For both songs, my recording session was completed within the first take. I can record songs quite quickly, but it is quite rare to get an OK on the first try. I fondly remember both songs very well.

BH: You sang the opening and closing themes for Kamen Rider Stronger (1975). Do you have any memories of your work on this show that you’d like to share?

IM: Of the many Kamen Rider themes, I personally think Stronger’s theme is the coolest. As how it was named, I try to sing with a slight tone of a growl to express the strength of the character.

BH: What about Kamen Rider X (1974)? You also sang the opening and closing themes for that program. What are your memories about this program?

IM: I think this was my first record on which my picture was shown on the record jacket. I was so happy about that, so I made a stage costume with the “X” letter on it and toured around Japan with it.

BH: Inazuman (1973-74) is another popular superhero program, for which you sang the closing theme. What can you tell me about your work on this program?

IM: I actually appeared on Inazuman F (1974) in a cameo actor role. I did not sing the opening theme of Inazuman F, but I sang the closing theme “Inazuman Action.” The previous show Inazuman‘s closing theme song, “Chest! Chest! Inazuman,” is one of my personal favorites.

BH: You appeared as an actor in Choujin Barom One (1972). What are your memories of this show?

IM: It was a very important role in which I save the main character from danger. It was supposed to be a regular character, but the role was deleted from the second episode. Because of a scheduling conflict, the voice-over was done by someone else, so frankly I did not feel like I was on the show.

Music-wise, there (was) plenty onomatopoeia such as “Brorororooo!” and “Zubabababaaaan!!” in the lyrics of the theme song, and that was revolutionary. The song became the origin of my signature shout which is called “Otakebi.”

BH: Another show you appeared on as an actor was Dimensional Warrior Spielban (1986-87). What do you remember about this experience?

IM: I learned a lot about acting in this show. I was performing the role of Spielban’s father “Dr. Ben,” as a regular. The most memorable scene for me was that in which Spielban, father and son, and all his comrades were lined up and walking together in the desert. In this scene, everyone was supposed to stop the step at the same time, but I was the only one who slipped on that step. The scene was broadcast as it was, so please check that out when you have chance to see it.

BH: For any live-action superhero show you’ve worked on, did you have any ideas for an opening or closing theme song that the studio did not like?

IM: There were no songs that we did not like. If I was to think about the song that was tough to record, it was the first time I tried shouting during a song, like in the theme song “Bokura no Barom One.” There was a note on the part of the shout such as “Bulolololoooo!” But suddenly I was directed to just shout out at that part. It was difficult at first. You can actually hear my hesitation in my voice on the record, but as I began to sing this song on the stage, and subsequently so many times, I started to shout freely. Now I can shout so well that people actually say, “Otakebi (shout) is equal to Ichiro Mizuki.”

BH: What do you think about the live-action superhero genre in Japan?

IM: I think the live-action superhero genre is necessary not only in Japan but also in the whole world to convey important messages such as courage and justice to people. For the children who are growing up, they can learn a lot from these shows. Recently, I sang Juken Sentai Gekiranger‘s (2007-08) theme song “Tao,” and the song also has a message to train and learn and look for your own “way” (Tao). When people grow up and look back on the shows from their childhood, people sometimes are surprised by the social critiques and warning messages that ran deep in the show.

BH: Do you have any closing comments?

IM: I started to sing as I was inspired by the influence of American pop songs, but now my songs are accepted around the whole world in Japanese. Someday, I wish to see the readers and sing together. Please enjoy the Japanese live-action hero theme songs forever.

Ichiro Mizuki Profile

In 1971, Ichiro Mizuki’s first animation song Genshi shonen Ryu was released. Since then, he has been singing many animation and live-action hero theme songs such as Mazinger Z, Babel 2-sei, and “Bokura no Barom One.” Ichiro Mizuki has released more than 1,200 songs, and he is called The King of Anime Singers “Aniki” (meaning big brother in Japanese).

In 1999, he succeeded in singing 1,000 songs in 24 hours. As the singer who sang the most amount of songs at one time in Japan, he made history. Also, he worked with the famous DJ Dimitri from Paris and released a re-mix of  “Bokura no Mazinger Z” (black version) in 2003, and “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” in 2005.

He sings the ending theme of the new Sentai series of Juken Sentai Gekiranger called “Tao.”

He has been singing to give hope and dreams to children for 40 years. His challenge will be to continue to spread this great treasure, “animation songs,” to the whole world.

Special thanks to Matt Twigg.

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