KISS goes J-pop with tween sensations MCZ 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 the least bit surprising.

The all-girl, anime-inspired teen group, best known in the U.S. for singing the theme songs to anime programs and movies from the “Dragon Ball Z,” “Sailor Moon” and “Pokemon” franchises, 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 on stage, and tongue-wagging guitar riffs.

MCZ, formed in 2008 and composed currently of Kanako Momota (20), Shiori Tamai (20), Reni Takagi (22), Ayaka Sasaki (19), and Momoka Ariyasu (20), fills arenas in Japan with screaming tweens, drawn to the colorfully costumed singers and their intricate choreography.

Yet, despite their differences, there is a connection.

“We liked MCZ's music — great pop hooks, great song structures,” Simmons said. “When the group performs live on stage, 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 and Stanley of KISS were scheduled to introduce Momoiro Clover Z at a special concert in association with the Anime Expo on Thursday.

It's the kickoff to AX, as the convention is also called, now in its 24th year.

Presented by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the four-day gathering will host more than 100,000 lovers of manga, anime and Japanese pop culture 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 Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation.

“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 was expected to 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 was to be presented to Simmons and Stanley at the Microsoft Theater prior to the start of the MCZ concert Thursday 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 didn't 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 — 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 on stage, you'll be blown away.”

“People asked us,” said Stanley, “‘Why are you working with MCZ? It's 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 — 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.

“Some people,” he added, “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.”

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For the record, 7:40 p.m. June 29, 2015: An earlier version of this post said that Akari Hayami is a member of Momoiro Clover Z. Though a onetime member, she is no longer with the group. Momoka Ariyasu has since joined the group.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

July 2, 5:40 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout.

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