Rena Uehara WA2 songs interview

—This year marks your fifth as an active musician. What are your thoughts, looking back?

Rena Uehara-san: It really was the blink of an eye. When I debuted, I had no idea what I was doing, and the fact that I was able to sing tie-up songs like this, and even put out a best-of album… I feel I have everybody to thank for being able to make it this far.

—In August, you released your first best-of album, The Brilliant Best ~Tie-Up Collection.~ How was the response?

Uehara: I myself never imagined that I would be able to put out a best-of album in five years. The fans themselves seem to have been pretty surprised that it was happening already. (laughs) A lot of people congratulated me, and there was a surprise celebration at the event for its release, so I felt a renewed sense of joy, and a reminder that I really have been at it for five years.

—With two discs and a total of twenty-four songs, this is an album that gives a good picture of your history.

Uehara: The songs are compiled in order on the two discs. The first disc is from around the time I debuted and was singing songs for ToHeart2, so it’s full of songs that are sweet, lively, and poppy. The second disc compiles a lot of songs from White Album 2, so it has a slightly more mature feeling. Since the first and second discs differ in vibe and color, I feel like the album gives me a sense of my own evolution and growth.

  • Differences between rearranged and re-recorded anime theme songs and their original versions?

—The fact that the best-of album includes “Todokanai Koi” and “closing,” the original game versions of “Todokanai Koi ’13,” the opening theme of the White Album 2 anime, and “closing ’13,” the ending theme of episode 2, is very interesting.

Uehara: “Todokanai Koi” was released as a single in 2010, but I never thought I would get to sing it again in a new arrangement three years later. “Todokanai Koi ‘13” is pretty close to the original in vibe, but I hope people will hear and feel the way that it’s evolved.

—Listening to “Todokanai Koi” and “Todokanai Koi ’13,” do you yourself notice any differences?

Uehara: I always do my recording at a studio in Osaka, not just for “Todokanai Koi,” but I recorded this single in Tokyo, which means someone else was directing me, so the approach was different. Also, “Todokanai Koi ‘13” has a stronger band-like feeling compared with the original version, and I made an effort to sing with more power and a stronger attack to match the grinding of the guitar.

—When I listened to each one and compared, I felt that the emotions were shown more clearly in the new version. It seemed like you had grown as a singer.

Uehara: I’m glad to know traces of my growth are present. (laughs) I’ve had a lot of opportunities to sing “Todokanai Koi” lately, at my own shows and events, and at the “White Album 2 Live” concert held this year, so I think the changes that have naturally occurred over the course of those performances is reflected in “Todokanai Koi ’13.”

  • Next matter of interest: the ending of the anime, and admiration of the timing of the ending theme song!

—What were your thoughts when you watched the anime of White Album 2?

Uehara: The popularity of the game was high, and I personally loved it, so I was sure that if it became an anime, it would have to be interesting. When that actually came to be and I watched it, I was struck by the extremely high quality. The art was beautiful, and the attention given to musical side of things, the BGM that showed up midway, was also really wonderful. Also, this was my first time being in charge of an anime opening theme, but when I heard about the anime adaptation, I remember thinking it would be neat if I could sing the theme song. I had felt for a while that I would like to sing an anime theme at some point, so I was very glad to get that opportunity with this one.

—It seems like telling your friends and family, “Watch this on the TV!” would be easier than saying, “Buy this game!”

Uehara: To say nothing of how bad I would feel telling people to play the game all the way to the end, in order to hear the game’s ending theme. (laughs) Now I’m advertising it like crazy to everyone I know, like, “Watch the anime! Do it!” (laughs)

—The first episode begins suddenly with Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa facing each other, hinting that something serious has happened.

Uehara: It does! As with the game, Fumiaki Maruto-san was in charge of the composition and scenario of this series, and Maruto-san said that this is his first time doing an anime, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way at all. I was very impressed.

—The performing cast themselves praised the way the ending of every episode keeps you hooked.

Uehara: The endings leave you dying to know what’s going to happen next. The timing of the ending theme and the way it lingers are very well done, too.

  • Attention to the depiction of the characters’ emotions, and finely detailed story devices!

—This is a story about Haruki as he approaches the high school festival concert, but we catch flashes and glimpses of Setsuna and Kazusa’s own feelings for Haruki.

Uehara: You frequently see characters’ emotions coming out in the smallest scenes. Even secondary characters, like Haruki-kun’s best friend, Takeya-kun, have their feelings depicted in detail. I’ve played the game and know the ending already, but I still end up wondering what’s going to happen in the anime.

—I always thought of it as a male-oriented work, but it seems like something women can get hooked on, too.

Uehara: I agree. It’s sort of a love story, it’s easy to empathize with the characters, and no matter whose point of view you look at it from, there’s a lot to think about. Each character gets hurt, but none of them is a bad person.

—And I imagine that, from a guy’s point of view, Setsuna and Kazusa are both appealing, so it’s not so bad to have to choose one. (laughs)

Uehara: But Haruki-kun can’t choose between them. I mean, as a woman, I would rather he did make a choice… (laughs) But the fact that they’re both so appealing must be what causes him to waver.

—What else would you put forth as highlights of the anime?

Uehara: Every episode has its own dramatic, heart-shaking scenes, and I think that if you go back and rewatch after finishing the whole thing, you’ll make new discoveries. There are all kinds of devices set in the little details. I also would say you should watch all the way to the end in order to see the outcome of the love between the three of them.

  • ”Todokanai Koi”: a long-beloved signature song

—Your latest single release contains three songs: “Todokanai Koi ’13,” the opening theme, “closing ’13,” the special ending theme for episode 2, and a new song, “Sayonara no Koto,” which is the ending theme from episode 3 on—a rich group of songs. It’s rare these days for one person to sing both the opening and ending themes of an anime.

Uehara: Shortly after the anime adaptation was announced, I was told that I would be singing a rearrangement of “Todokanai Koi” for the opening theme, but the matter of the ending theme wasn’t settled until the last minute. Since the work has music as a theme, the director was very fixated on the music, an attitude that passed to the staff as well, and making music that fit tightly with the work was the top priority. I also did my utmost to meet their expectations.

—Setsuna and Kazusa are the heroines of the anime, but after being involved with the work for so long and playing such an important role, couldn’t we say at this point that you’re the third heroine?

Uehara: Sorry, I’m going to break in here. (laughs) I never imagined that I would be involved this long, starting with the game, through “White Album 2 Live,” and all the way to the anime. I have a feeling it’s going to remain my most representative work, and always be memorable—I would love if it got to a point where fans associate me immediately with White Album 2.

—Regarding “Todokanai Koi,” what do you think is the charm that has made it so beloved for so long, to the point of being used as the anime’s opening theme?

Uehara: It’s a popular song in concerts, too. I think it’s all in the moving lyrics, and the melody line and arrangement that fit the work so well.

  • An arrangement that fits the work, and lyrics that realistically depict the troubles of women in love

—Within the story, “Todokanai Koi ‘13” is performed by the three main characters as a three-piece band, with Setsuna on vocals, Haruki on guitar, and Kazusa on keyboards. As might be expected, the song itself features both guitar and keyboards as one of its characteristics.

Uehara: The sound arrangement is very fitting for White Album 2. It was composed in such a way that, while it follows the work, even people who didn’t know the work could find it a great song, and I was thrilled to be able to sing it, surrounded by such incredible musical professionals.

I feel like I can understand Setsuna’s joy at being able to sing with an expert pianist like Kazusa. Also, the opening sequence has a scene of the three of them playing live, while the song has that band sound, so I would recommend listening to the song while watching that scene.

—The sound of the guitar and the piano melody tug at the emotions themselves, but the lyrics are even more emotional. For example, the chorus—“My love may never reach you, but will the day come when it starts to show? Until that hazy answer comes into view, this love still can’t go anywhere.” You have someone you like, and you know you shouldn’t give up, but you also know you couldn’t give up, even if you wanted to—that kind of circle.

Uehara: It’s full of the hopeless emotions and conflicts of a girl in love. Listening to it while watching the anime boosts its explosive power even more. (laughs) I also think it’s nice that the point of view of the lyrics allows for a variety of imagined scenarios and interpretations. But even people who aren’t watching the anime can substitute their own experiences in love while they listen. It was written for this work particularly, but the lyrics and melody are realistic in such a way that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a drama, either. I think it could pierce pretty deeply if you listen to it while dealing with unrequited love or a broken heart. (laughs)

—And yet, even though you’re singing about a maddening, painful love, the melody is extremely catchy, which produces something of a strange effect. By the way, do you have any favorite lines?

Uehara: I like how the bridge—“How can I make my heart reflect in the mirror?”—represents the heart’s complications. In the bridge for the second chorus, it becomes, “How can I make myself reflect in your heart?” The lyrics may not be all that wordy, but they’re polished from corner to corner, and I think that comes through.

  • A song that pierces the heart regardless of generation, through bittersweet language and nostalgic sound

—The fact that no English words are used is also something rare and valuable in today’s anime opening themes.

Uehara: There’s a certain nostalgia in both the lyrics and the melody—a Showa kind of feeling. I think it could be popular with people who were fond of kayōkyoku in the eighties. It might reawaken memories of the music you used to listen to, or reach latent areas of your heart and resonate there.

—The kind of song that people of any age could empathize with.

Uehara: I hope that not only people who are going through that adolescent phase in their life right now, but also adults who remember their own experiences of love in their youth, will listen.

—When you think about it, the three years between the debut of the song and your singing it again now isn’t really that long of a time. After five or ten years listeners might absorb it in a new way, but three years out, the image of the original song is still pretty strong.

Uehara: The outcome was more reassuring than I thought. Before recording, I was anxious over how people who knew the original song would receive it, and I worried a lot over how best to make the rearranged version into something people would like. How much I should change, or not change—that balance was what I puzzled over the most.

1    2