LAST EDITED ON Aug-24-14 AT 03:30 AM (EDT)
(um... spoilers for K-On!, I guess?)
Art of Noise Field Scouting Report #3981
Subject: Hōkago Tea Time
Date Filed: Thursday, May 20, 2410
Filed by: Field Operative #24-381 (dv'IR NATASHKAN, Azalynn)
As requested, I've conducted a first-pass undercover observation of the band whose demo you received week before last. Following are my preliminary findings:
"Hōkago [After School] Tea Time" is the name of the band formed by the five members of the Light Music Club at Asami Sato Girls' Academy, a semi-private1 three-year high school in Sakuragaoka (which is a coastal city of the western United Republic in Dìqiú). At present, all but one of the members of the band are in the first term of their second (junior) year (n.b. the school year here begins on the first Monday in April). Their newest member is a freshman and so has been with the group less than two months.
In past school years, the Light Music Club has been numerous enough to field more than one band, but the club nearly died out last year when everyone in it graduated. Four freshmen (is that what you call them at an all-girl school? or would it be "freshwomen"?) signed up and saved it from being dissolved, and as mentioned above, they got one new member after the freshman welcome reception this year.
Here's a photo of them I snagged from the Student Council (it's going to be in this year's yearbook).
Yes, they play in their real school uniforms, and yes, they really are that adorable. (I love their tag. We should have one of those.) From left: Tsumugi Kotobuki, keyboards; Ritsu Tainaka, drums; Yui Hirasawa, lead guitar and vocals; Mio Akiyama, bass guitar and vocals; Azusa Nakano, rhythm guitar. Individual dossiers follow!
Members of Hōkago Tea Time
Lead Guitar / Lead Vocal; Lyricist
Instrument: Gibson Les Paul Standard2 electric guitar, Heritage Cherry Sunburst ("Gīta")
Date of Birth: Shiyiyue 27, 274 ASC (November 27, 2393)
Blood type: O
Notes: Often dismissed as an intellectual lightweight, Yui can tend to appear both silly and lazy to the outside observer. And, well, I have to admit there's something to that. She does love her leisure time, and she has a hard time focusing on anything that doesn't interest her (and a hard time not focusing on things that do.) She's the kind of person for whom phrases like "you'd forget your head if it wasn't attached" were coined, she's so honest she can be cruel without realizing it (sort of like Utena), she's clumsy and domestically inept (not like Utena), and she's a bit fuzzy on concepts like punctuality, time management, and personal space. (Keep in mind that these are things her friends said about her.)
On the other hand, her friends have to say those things about her because she doesn't have enemies: They also all say, and I can personally attest, that she's a totally beautiful person. She's relentlessly well-meaning, almost impossible not to forgive, kind-hearted and loving to a fault, cheerful and optimistic. I've only interacted with her in person a couple of times, but that was enough. I'm completely in love with this girl. (Don't tell Liza. What the hell, do tell Liza, maybe it'll motivate her. Just kidding about that last part. I don't really mean it in that way anyway. She's such a total innocent, I'd feel like I was defacing an artwork. I just wanna be with her. Isn't there a Japanese word for that? I can't remember. In Dantrovese we'd call it kha'thanva. Anyway! Uhh, back to work.)
Also - though she doesn't seem to realize it - she's a genuine musical prodigy. I'm told that before she joined the Light Music Club last year, she'd never even held a guitar before, yet in spite of that, her inability to read music, and her notorious powers of sloth, she took maybe half a school year to become a serviceable rock guitarist-vocalist. (She also has perfect pitch! Like you! So jealous!) Her genius is quirky - she claims she can only play her own guitar, and she still doesn't know what most of those knobs on it are for - but it's genius, all the same. And to be fair, the Les Paul really does have too damn many knobs.
Speaking of her guitar, I should note here that, on paper, a Les Paul is totally the wrong guitar for a girl like Yui - it's too big, too heavy, the neck's too fat, and she likes it with overgauge strings, to boot - and yet when you see them together... you just know it's right. It's kind of amazing. I've never seen a musician who has a tighter bond with her instrument than Yui has with Gīta. It's... it's like you and your sword. I'm kind of jealous of it, actually. I mean, I'm fond of my guitar, but I've never felt like it loved me, and Yui is completely convinced that hers does. And... in a weird way, I think she might be right.
Yui is not a bender, which is probably just as well for her own safety and the safety of others. She has a little sister named Ui (I know, right?) who is a year behind her at the same school, and who, I have to say, is also a total doll - but that's a bit outside the scope of this document.
Bass Guitar / Backing Vocal / Alternate Lead Vocal; Lyricist
Instrument: Fender Jazz Bass, 2-color Sunburst ("Elizabass" - this is a pun that makes sense in Japanese, and presumably Kokugo)
Date of birth: Yiyue 15, 275 ASC (January 15, 2394)
Blood type: A
Notes: Mio might be the girl the Smithereens were talking about in "Behind the Wall of Sleep", except that she doesn't wear her hair like Jean Shrimpton did in 1965 and she does wear colors other than black. She is tall and cool and pretty (pretty, hell, she's gorgeous), though, and she does stand kind of like Bill Wyman. Alone among her clubmates, she already looks like a grown woman, and she has an air of mature sophistication that makes her seem older than she really is, as well. She gets good grades in everything, too, but everyone assures me that she doesn't get all Miss Perfect about it. All the underclassmen, in particular, assure me in glowing terms that Mio-senpai is awesome. (She has her own fan club, separate from the one for the whole band.) The two most common adjectives used to describe her personality (as opposed to her looks) are "nice" and "cool".
My research into the Student Council's archives of HTT's performances last year seems to indicate that the "cool" part is kind of an act, though: in spite of being the most grown-up-looking of the group, Mio is painfully shy, timid, and self-conscious about her left-handedness. (I know, right? Preach it, sister.) I'm told she's occasionally paralyzed by stage fright, particularly if the circumstances are such that she has to sing lead. People seeing her in Hōkago Tea Time's music videos (which are brilliant, by the way, I've attached an assortment for your perusal, and I'm trying to find out who directed them) are always a bit surprised when, in person, she's nothing like the confident, badass rocker girl persona she presents in them (she can only do it because they're not recorded before live audiences). They tell me she became a bassist because she thought it was the least conspicuous position in the band. She can also be immobilized by scary or painful stories or the sight of blood.
She's a really good singer and a great bassist, though. I tooootally want to see her jam with Moose. You know that thing you and he do sometimes where you play a bass line on the piano and he counterplays it? That. I want to hear them do that.
Interesting note: Mio is an airbender, descended from one of the Harmonic Convergence airbenders who didn't join the Air Nomads. As far as I can tell, she has only as much training as was required to keep her from destroying the house, and generally doesn't have a lot of interest in that kind of thing. Which is just as well. If she shaved her head, it would be a crime against all sapient life.
Tsumugi "Mugi" Kotobuki
Keyboard / Backing Vocal; Composer
Instrument: Korg Triton Extreme (76-key) synthesizer/"music workstation"
Date of birth: Qiyue 2, 274 ASC (July 2, 2393)
Blood type: O
Notes: Oh, this one fascinates me. So many hidden levels. On the surface, Mugi-chan (as everybody calls her) seems like a proper little rich girl - poised, calm, elegant. She's one of those people who can speak formally without seeming pretentious, and seems to subliminally invite formality in return. I have it on excellent authority that she's studied classical piano since she was four, which would make her by far the most technically accomplished musician in the band, and yet the evidence shows that she loves to switch on her keyboard's cheesiest '60s electric organ voice and just wail on it. (I so want to hear her do the solo from "House of the Rising Sun".)
(As an aside, you would love her keyboard, Kate. It's a Triton Extreme 76, one of the ones with the vacuum tube for a little extra somethin' somethin', like the one I saw you fondling at Conroy's Vintage Music on Kane's that one time. Don't even try to tell me you're not fidgeting in your chair right now.)
Anyway, the thing about Mugi-chan is that I'm pretty sure there's still another level lurking under the Refined Rich Girl Turns Rocker thing. She grew up in a very wealthy household and didn't have many friends her own age until she got to high school and joined this band, and it shows in how completely devoted she is to her friends in the Light Music Club. I'm not even sure the others have ever really noticed how completely in love with them all this girl is, because she's very quiet and un-showy about it, but to me it's like a neon sign. It's not sad, slavish devotion (we've seen enough of that to spot it, you and I, haven't we?), but all the same, I know the signs. I find her really, really interesting.
(Also, this is not strictly relevant, but I'm pretty sure she's gay, or at least seriously bi-curious; she gets Very Interested when any two girls are up to anything the slightest bit intimate-looking when she's around.)
Mugi is not a bender, but she is improbably strong; there is no readily evident reason for this, as she isn't particularly athletically inclined as far as I can tell, but she's more than happy to lug that Triton around in a gig bag on her back with no trouble at all, and that sucker's got to weigh 40 pounds. Also, she's the only blonde I've ever met here. Must be some Big Universe émigré in there someplace? Hmm, I just realized she kind of talks like Kori. Maybe she's got a Tamaranian in her family tree someplace. That doesn't seem too likely, though.
Ritsu "Ritchan" Tainaka
Instrument: Yamaha Rick Marotta Signature Hipgig drum set, Mellow Yellow
Date of birth: Bayue 21, 274 ASC (August 21, 2393)
Blood type: B
Notes: Now this girl is a live wire. Outgoing, rambunctious, and a natural comedian, Ritsu is the life and soul of any gathering and the heart of Hōkago Tea Time. I've actually hung out with her, more or less by accident - she found out I was a "transfer student" and dragged me off to show me the town one afternoon when the others were busy with school chores of some kind or another. She's a fun date! Not too observant, though. I don't think she even noticed that I have six fingers, although she did remark on my teeth, by way of saying she wished she had a set like that so she could convince Mio she's a vampire. I think she thought they were a weird costume thing. Didn't seem at all fazed by it, though. She's a very whatever-floats-your-boat kind of girl.
Ritchan likes being in charge of things, but isn't always able to follow through (my contact in the Student Council tells me she's forever forgetting to file the Light Music Club's paperwork on time, for instance), and though she's a better student than Yui, that's... not saying much. Some people around here find her hard to take, particularly since she's a relentless tease, but she's such a fresh breeze and so clearly non-malicious about it that it's hard to resent even her most annoying jokes for long, and she is totally the kind of friend who'll help you move a body.
Here's a fun fact: She holds the late Keith Moon of The Who as her inspiration - not from his habit of destroying hotel rooms, cars, equipment, and himself, but because he was such an exciting and innovative musician. Drums-wise, she's a lot like him: wild and a little unpredictable, but so powerful and committed and completely into it that, as with her jokes and teasing, you just can't hold it against her. I'm pretty sure she could accurately bill herself as the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.
I am reliably informed (by Ritsu herself, in the course of our afternoon on the town) that Ritsu and Mio have been best friends since grade school (reading between the lines, I'm guessing Ritchan, being Ritchan, probably considered herself Mio's friend some time before Mio would have agreed), and as teenagers they have a girl-on-girl bromance thing going on, kinda like you and Utena. Judging by the looks Mugi gets on her face when they're on their game around her, she tends to reads more into it than I suspect is really there, but they're definitely thal'vai, and in Mugi-chan's defense they are a completely adorable couple.
Ritchan's gold eyes and generally restless, energetic personality are classic firebender hallmarks in these parts. She has a fairly solid grounding in the technique - she's by far the most athletically inclined member of HTT, despite her fondness for loafing - but with her friendly, outgoing personality and tendency to defuse conflict through humor, I figure she's probably never been in an actual fight.
Azusa "Azu-nyan" Nakano
Instrument: Fender Mustang electric guitar, Candy Apple Red ("Muttan")
Date of birth: Shiyiyue 11, 275 ASC (November 11, 2394)
Blood type: AB
Notes: The junior member of Hokago Tea Time, Azusa is a year younger than the others (and thus a year behind them in school). She joined up after seeing them perform at her freshman class's welcome-to-school reception, and several of her friends tell me she was more than a bit dismayed to discover how non-industrious they are in an off-stage capacity. To judge by the interactions I've seen between her and the others, she still hasn't really gotten used to it, but she's sticking it out because she knows that when they're all clicking together, they're a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline, and that's worth putting up with a few tea parties for. (More on this in a bit.)
The most serious musician of the five, she comes from a musical family (both of her parents play in a professional jazz band) and has been playing guitar since the fourth grade. She's more technically proficient than Yui, but lacks her mysterious spark (which I believe frustrates her), and she can't sing and play at the same time. She finds Yui irritating on many levels, yet admires her talent and, I'm pretty sure, can't help but love her for her big, open heart. (Yui, in turn, appears to adore her unreservedly, but then, that's Yui.) She also has a curious weakness for being hugged, however annoying she claims to find it. She goes all boneless, even while she's grumbling about how she wishes whoever's doing it wouldn't do that. It's pretty funny.
Azusa gets her nickname from an incident on her first day as a member of the Light Music Club in which she was cajoled into putting on a pair of cosplay cat ears and meowing, and her general tendency to react like a cat when petted or cuddled, whether she really wants to or not. She kind of reminds me of me in that respect. Yui really enjoys glomping her, and I can totally see why; she's the perfect size. (Me, well, you know I like a bigger target - I'd spend all day on Mio's back if I thought I could get away with it. I can't spell it, but I'm making that noise Roy Orbison makes in "Oh Pretty Woman" right now.)
A couple of notes on the band collectively: They're a straight-up five-piece rock group, sometimes wandering into pop-punk territory, not so terribly different from the way we were when we first started out. They don't lean on the "all-girl" thing, either, which is refreshing. Their songs tend to sound a little more cutesy than ours did, but that's mainly because Yui has one of those voices (kind of like mine when I was 16, but I don't think she's going to grow out of it like I did); the musical style itself isn't terribly poppy as these things go. When Mio (who sounds more grown-up than Yui) is singing, their whole sound gets more powerful somehow, and even with Yui's chirpy voice they're certainly no idol group - way too many chops.
Mugi composes almost all of the band's music, though the others make contributions to the arrangements when they get down to playing the songs for real. Originally Mio wrote all their lyrics, but Yui has also written a few songs.3 It's easy to tell which ones are by which of them. Mio's kind of an odd poet, much more preoccupied with romance and whatnot than one would expect to look at her, and she has peculiar taste in song titles (well, you remember from the demo - "My Love Is a Stapler", "Fluffy Fluffy Time", "Brush Pen, Ballpoint Pen"), whereas Yui's songs are... well, Yui's songs are about the things she loves, which include her guitar, her little sister, her bandmates, and food. She wrote the one about curry and rice. And the other one about rice. And the one about taking someone to bed on the first day that turned out to be about her guitar, which I have to say, having met her, is a surprisingly risqué little bit of metaphor coming from her.4
In their capacity as a school club, the Light Music Club are semi-renowned at Sato Academy for their lack of industry. They meet every day for several hours after school in their clubroom on the third floor of the main school building - they probably rack up more clubroom time than a lot of the school's more prominent clubs, come to that - but to an outside observer (or even an inside one, e.g., Azusa), it would appear that they spend most of it drinking tea, eating cake, and chatting. They jam a lot, but hardly ever do what a stricter musician would regard as serious practice.
And yet... I've seen this on video and in person: when they do play, they can blow the doors off bands ten times more diligent than they are. Because - maybe thanks to all that face time over tea and cake, and all the hanging out together they do away from school - they understand each other on instinctive levels that defy rational investigation. The four founders, in particular, don't need to spend all their time overthinking the details; if they did, chances are they would ruin their sound altogether. They're an instinctive band. I feel a total kinship with that, and I think you will too. They're a great band because when you get them all together, they have to be one. No other outcome is possible.
Get out here right now. Meet these girls. Hang out with them. Jam with them. Play some club shows with them. Book a bunch of studio time and cut four or five records with them, then bring them with us on our summer tour.
I'm totally serious right now, Kate. These five kids are total sweethearts and an amazing band and they deserve a gigantic break just as soon as it can be possibly arranged. Besides, I'm just aching to get to know the rest of them personally now that I've gathered all this intel on them. I had all I could do not to break cover yesterday. I wanted to just blow into their clubroom after school and say, "Hi, I'm not really a transfer student from the North, I'm Azalynn from the Art of Noise. You guys are utterly adorable. Will you all please be my best friends forever? Also, hands up, who likes pudding?" Oh, it was a lonely Terzayyl this year.
Oh, relax, I'm kidding about that last part. I know I'm too old for them, and anyway, they're not that kind of girls. Except maybe Mugi. But I'm too old for her, too. ... Alas.
1 It's a private school, but it's the only high school in its immediate area, and so is under contract with the city to accept all students in the area who pass the entrance exam and want to go there. The city school district pays their tuition rather than their parents.
2 Gīta is a model made before 2008, when Gibson changed the Les Paul Standard and made the version that had been the Standard the "Traditional" instead. How such a thing ended up in Dìqiú, much less fell into the hands of a high school freshman in a small western city of the United Republic, I have no idea. It must be fate. Do I even need to mention at this point that Yui has not the slightest clue how rare and valuable it is? She bought it because, and I quote, "it's cute."
3 I figure that Ritsu will eventually start contributing odd songs with long, rambling, only-tangentially-relevant titles, like early Fall Out Boy tracks. Ritchan would totally entitle a song "I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off" or "I've Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea that Says You Should Shut Your Mouth". :)
4 Though, that said, I totally believe that she sleeps with Gīta. I've seen her come to school in the morning with six-string bedface.