Ninjaman Japan

Art & Culture

Okonomiyaki scents thrill the nose and rouse an appetite. Nintendo video games glare from screens, tempting players to linger a while longer. On the far wall, kimonos hang begging to be touched and rifled through. Here and beyond, a swarm of cosplayers – Sailor Moon, Sonic the Hedgehog, the girl from the Grudge, equipped with her own TV screen to crawl from, a manly Belle of famed Beauty and the Beast, and much more – are interrupting steady strides. There are sprinklings of Lolitas, posing for self-portraits on their mobiles. 

Meanwhile, a visual kei act named Ninjaman Japan waits for me in a small white room.
Welcome to Hyper Japan. It is the final full weekend of November in Earls Court Exhibition Centre, and they've decked these halls with boughs of J-culture. 
I want to indulge my piqued senses – it is near impossible not to – but Ninjaman Japan demands full attention. 
While I’m not well versed in visual kei, I am intrigued. I push through the throng of amateur cosplayers and arrive outside the small white room. The door, slightly ajar, presents a teaser. I spy bits of pleather, buckles and metallic hues. Visual kei…
…Translated literally, visual style. This Japan-bred genre sounds like a mingling of glam rock, punk and heavy metal while it looks like whatever lies just beyond that door.
?I am told that Ninjaman Japan is noteworthy in their homeland. Apparently the group had walked past the lifts just a moment ago. Those that knew raised their brows and stifled a swoon. I was none the wiser, likely too enthralled by a medley of Japanese delights jumping at me and begging me to stay for a longer look or, at the very least, a purchase.
Two girls scuttle out the door exchanging hushed but excitable chatter, a picture of fandom. Now it’s my turn with the band.
They are talking amongst themselves but I feel six pairs of eyes follow me as I intrude onto a fold-up chair, place my handbag on the floor, and fish out my interview paraphernalia. When pen and notebook are laid safely on the table, I become doubly aware of Ninjaman Japan, my translator Gavin, and how quiet it is. 
“Is this your first visit to London?” I squeak.
Gavin asks in Japanese though there is no need for him to translate back; heads nod or shake in response. Small talk is laborious with a translator. I feed Gavin a lengthier question whilst I gather myself.
Before me is Pinky (drums), Sarino (vocals), Lida (guitar), Daishi (guitar) and Metal (bass). They are far more strapping in person, unlike their animated, ultra-feminine pictures. Their eyes are painted with smokey shades. Barnets are teased, tousled and sprayed with magic aerosol so strands remain in upright position or purposely flopped to the side. 
And they are clothed like warriors. Glam warriors from the 80s. Picture David Bowie as a Super Sentai  (also known as the original Power Rangers), but even more flamboyant.  
When performing, Ninjaman Japan is a Power Rangers scene brought to life. These men are acrobats as they kick, swerve and cartwheel across the stage – without their instruments, mind. Their choreographed fight scenes (usually Metal’s work) always conclude in good prevailing over evil, and then good rocking the fuck out. These triumphs are a feel-good ninja party with heavy-duty sounds.
 “We are servers of justice.” Metal spells out. “We destroy the bad guys turning up.” 
Ah, that explains the band in Super Sentai-inspired attire. 
“If (the bad guys) ever come attack you,” Metal promises me, “we’ll be there.” It’s hard to ignore how lovely that sounds, but it’s even harder to ignore how absurd it is of me to fall for it.
Recalling that Super Sentai featured different superpowers coming together as one superior group, I ask what they each offer to Ninjaman Japan. Metal weighs in, “Metal.” Unsurprisingly, he looks the part.
“Wind,” says Daishi with a whoosh. “Water,” Lida offers. “Fire,” Sarino says frankly. He’s the ginger of the group – I take note of how they bear some sort of emblem best representing their element. 
And Pinky, “Power animals.” He growls, clawing at the air. Metal pipes up in English, “Pet shop!” We all share a giggle though I’m not really sure why.
Something may have been lost in translation but I can appreciate that Pinky, with a pair of furry pom-poms protruding from his head, is considered the sweet pet of the group. 
I press further, wondering about problems with maintaining their stage persona – wind, water, fire and all. Gavin echoes in Japanese. 
They exchange looks before offering feeble answers, it seems, merely to appease my query. All of a sudden, I feel like I’m the only one in the room that doesn’t get it. Their politeness is even more telling. It’s a bit awkward.
“We play the characters as we are,” Metal throws me a bone. They are their characters. Of course. I redden, a bit embarrassed by having taken everything at face value, envisioning a literal Captain Planet reenactment. 
“Pinky tries too hard though,” Metal adds with a cheeky grin at the drummer. 
The chorus of laughter saves me but I stay with this notion of having constructed something that commands so much of you, it becomes hard to separate yourself from your own creation. 
Later, I go in for the kill. “Why…Ninjaman Japan?” I allow them, or Gavin, to interpret. 
There is a moment’s contemplation before Daishi answers. He brings up his affections for playing the guitar, composing songs and action scenes.
He is in Ninjaman Japan for the thrill of being able to “combine (his) three loves.” 
Now I have always associated ‘action scenes’ with ‘Bruce Willis.’ I repeat, “Action scenes?”
“Action scenes,” he confirms is the third of his holy trinity. 
All members admit to a passion for music and theatrics. That they also happen to be professionally trained in each brings them together to form Ninjaman Japan. How wonderful it is to combine all your talents into one mega job. Super sentai, indeed. 
I leave my conversation with Ninjaman Japan stirred. I don’t know how close I am to understanding visual kei, but I think I’ve discovered the band’s essence. Ninjaman Japan is an action sequence with a soundtrack; a five-piece visual kei act; a wonderful exploration in Japanese entertainment; a fine example of super sen— immediately I’m struck once more by Hyper Japan’s enticing sights, sounds and scents. 
I gobble the savoury pancakes – they haven’t a chance against my appetite. I pick up a sword or two. I refill my Pocky stock. I even help Lolitas take pictures of themselves. Before long, a surge of cosplayers carries me over to the sake tasting area where I promise myself to Japan.