Third special interview questions & answers – Rena uehara

Special Interview part 3

The White Album 2 anime series has been airing since October, to rave reviews.

For our third special interview, we spoke with Rena Uehara-san, who sings the opening theme, “Todokanai Koi ’13,” the ending theme, “Sayonara no Koto,” and the featured song, “closing ‘13”!

What did you think when you first heard that White Album 2 was being adapted into an anime, and that “Todokanai Koi,” the theme song of the game, would be newly recorded as “Todokanai Koi ‘13”?

Uehara:

I’ve loved White Album 2 ever since I was involved with the game, and I thought it would make a great anime, so when I heard that it was actually going to happen, I went, “Yes! Finally!” (laughs) I was really happy that its broadcast on television would give so many more people the chance to get to know the work. I didn’t find out until the last minute what would happen with the theme song, but I definitely hoped I would be able to play some part in the TV anime. So when I heard that the same song from the game, “Todokanai Koi,” was going to be used as the opening theme for the anime, and that it was going to be given a new arrangement for the TV version as “Todokanai Koi ’13,” I was beyond thrilled. This is actually my first time doing an anime theme. Before, while I was working on singing theme songs for games, one of my goals was to do an anime theme at some point, and I’m thankful that I was able to realize that goal with something as incredible as White Album 2.

When you were singing “Todokanai Koi ’13,” with what feelings did you face it?

Uehara:

In the three years since I released the original “Todokanai Koi,” I have had many opportunities to showcase that song and other White Album 2-related songs, both at White Album 2 concerts and my own concerts, and it was clear to me how much everybody loved them. The rebirth of “Todokanai Koi” as the “’13” version gave me a sense of great responsibility at first. I knew I couldn’t wreck the image that everyone had, but I also wanted to produce something that felt new, while preserving the good qualities of the original.

What did you think when you first heard the rearranged music track?

Uehara:

I think the string arrangement was what struck me as biggest change, but with the strings, and the analog drums and bass, the impression it gave me was more “band”-like than the original. It had an aggressive feeling, or a sense of greater speed and energy, so the first time I heard it, I thought, “I can’t let this drown me out. I have to sing well enough to match this music.” When it came to recording, for the first time I left the in-house studio in Osaka and did it at a place called Studio Sound DALI in Tokyo, and was directed by the sound producer there, [Masashi] Hashimoto-san, which was another new experience. I got to work with all kinds of sound pros there, and in my interactions with them, I got a clear sense of their earnest work ethic—“Let’s make something good, let’s make good music” —which in turn made me feel even more strongly about wanting to produce something good as the singer, as a part of the same team.

How was the fan reaction to the “’13” version?

Uehara:

At first, it was similar to mine, which was, “‘’13’?! What does that mean?!” (laughs) People who already had an image of the original song in particular must have felt like, “What? They’re changing it?” When I had the opportunity to unveil it at one of my own events, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety, wondering how they were going to respond. But everyone reacted very well, so that put my mind at ease a little.

How do you want people hearing “Todokanai Koi ‘13” for the first time through the anime to listen to it?

Uehara:

The melody is catchy enough to stick in your head after one listen, and it’s a song about painful unrequited love, so I think people might find it a good song just on its own, but once you know the story of White Album 2, it becomes a song that pierces more deeply. That’s the way it happened for me, so I’d like people to take it together with the anime as a set.

“Todokanai Koi ‘13” was your first time being shot for a music video, wasn’t it?

Uehara:

It was. I was freaking out, going, “Wh-wh-what do I do? How am I supposed to move?” (laughs) At the start, I had no idea what I was doing. They told me I could just sing naturally, but they captured me on camera while I was practicing my movements in the studio, and I got a lot of advice from them about which movements to emphasize, or when I should go simpler and just focus on my expression without moving at all, so it really felt like we were making it together. For the real thing, I sang it through several times to get all the footage, and I was still super nervous! It was my first time lip-synching, so I had all these weird little worries floating through my head, like, “Will this line up?” But the finished product looked really great once they were done with it, so I hope everyone will watch it.

Are there any particular scenes or shots you want to point out?

Uehara:

I think that in general the scenes where I’m singing with the band are the main thing, but this is “Todokanai Koi ’13,” after all, so there are scenes where I have this look of heartache on my face. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it acting, but this was my first time putting on expressions in front of a camera—but I think they way they produced the video made those moments surprisingly effective, so I’d like people to pay some special notice to those scenes that are just focusing on my expression, too.

The ending theme, “Sayonara no Koto,” is a new song that was written specifically for the anime, right?

Uehara:

White Album 2 has a lot of songs, but when I first received this one, I got the sense that it was different from all the rest. So, what I worried about the most may have been how I should go about singing it. Even the composer and lyricist, [Naoya] Shimokawa-san, said, “There’s no telling how it’ll sound until it’s done” (laughs), so as we were recording it, I was feeling around, trying to figure out how to make it the best it could be while I sang. This one was also recorded in Tokyo, but when Shimokawa-san heard the finished track, he said, “This turned out better than I thought,” which was a relief.

What were you conscious of while you were singing?

Uehara:

The A section is mellow and melancholy, but once the hook comes in, the melody brightens up, so the biggest thing I was conscious of was not making it sound too light, while also keeping it from getting too heavy and dark. White Album 2 itself is an emotionally painful story, and I think one of its main concepts is, “Behind one person’s happiness, there’s somebody else in tears,” but I also think there’s some hope to be found in the story, so I wanted to leave some of that in the song as well.

Did the fact that the lyrics use “boku” as their first-person pronoun catch your notice?

Uehara:

When I received the lyrics, I asked Shimokawa-san, “In the context of the show, who would be singing this, and what are they feeling?” But he said the idea was that it wasn’t anybody in particular, and he wanted it to be a song that anyone could listen to and take how they wanted to take it, so I felt like I could interpret that “boku” in my own way. I imagine and hope that everyone who listens will have their own various interpretations as well.

The featured song, “closing ’13,” is also a rearrangement of a song you sang for the game, “closing.”

Uehara:

Compared with “Todokanai Koi,” the image of this song underwent a bigger change from its original version. It’s not that huge a change, but compared with the original, this one feels more raw, and the line where the strings come in is really striking, so at first, I went, “Whoa, so that’s how it sounds now!” (laughs) It’s also a pretty popular song, so I worried a lot during the recording. Of course, there was part of me that didn’t want to change the original song’s image, and with the switch to real instruments, I started to feel a little uncertain about what kind of “attack” there was in it, and then, with the question of what direction Hashimoto-san would give me in the studio, and how I would answer that myself, it took a fair amount of time.

What is there to listen for in the “’13” version?

Uehara:

The attack has been strengthened compared to the original, even with the word “hanashitakunai” [emphasis on “ku”] in the chorus, and I would say that the “’13” version has been done in a way that demonstrates greater emotion. It’s a song that spends a long time in conflict, and then finally shows its true feelings in the chorus. The lyrics themselves show long-hidden feelings finally being set free, so if the chorus resonates with you in almost a bloodcurdling way, that’s exactly what was intended. (laughs)

What is your best memory from all the time that you’ve been involved with White Album 2?

Uehara:

Last year, I was finally able to give my first solo show, which I’d always dreamed of, and I feel that that was possible because there were so many people who said they loved the songs from White Album 2. I sang all of the songs from White Album 2 at the show, and everyone’s responses, the whole atmosphere, changed. Just from my announcing the title of the next song, I could see people taking on a listening posture, and some of them were even about to cry. As I was actually singing, it was relentlessly clear to me that they were all getting deeply lost in it. I truly feel that I grew as a person as a result of that show experience.

A White Album 2 concert is going to be held at the Tokyo International Forum on November 24th. Please share your enthusiasm with us.

Uehara:

The White Album 2 shows I’ve done to this point have all been with a band setup, but this is my first performance in a large hall, so there will be live strings and a grand piano and so on, all of which is a new experience for me. As a solo singer, I am already very much looking forward to seeing what will arise from the combination of acoustic instruments with my singing voice. Even I can’t imagine what will happen, but I’m sure it will be something incredible. (laughs) I’m determined not to cry while I’m singing, so I’ll find a way to keep it together until the concert is over. (laughs)

Finally, do you have a message for all the fans of the White Album 2 anime?

Uehara:

The show itself is wonderful, but we also endeavored to make the music something that would be wonderful even listened to on its own, so I hope you’ll look forward to both. I’ve been told that the background music and the songs with lyrics have been given the same amount of care and attention, so please don’t let even the smallest scene slip by unnoticed. I promise you won’t regret it!