Featured Song Performer

Kaori Sawada

One of the high points of the series is the scene of Crowley Hamon singing at Club Eden. She directs the song, which seems to be filled with her own feelings, toward Ramba Ral, who is at one end of the club. The most critical role in this scene is played by Ms. Kaori Sawada, who wrote and sang the featured song "By Your Side." Ms. Sawada, who made her debut as a singer-songwriter after studying music in the United States, talked to us about how she faced the challenge of producing a featured song for an anime for the first time.
- Please tell us what kinds of musical activities you are normally involved with.
Sawada: As a singer-songwriter, I mainly write my own songs and perform them with piano at live venues. Besides that, I also perform in the choruses of other artists, provide musical compositions, and handle music for TV commercials. So I'm involved with music in lots of different ways. In terms of genre, I prefer mainly pop.
- How did you come to be involved with this project?
Sawada: I'm not sure of the exact process of how they came to the decision, but last year I wrote a song for the artist Ms. MISIA, and Mr. (Takayuki) Hattori was responsible for the arrangement of that song. Afterwards, we happened to appear on stage together. I think perhaps through that connection, I was given a recommendation by Mr. Hattori.
- Did you have any familiarity with "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" beforehand?
Sawada: I knew the name, but until I got the job, I never really watched it. After I got the offer, I did some research, but when I mentioned to the men around me that "I'm working on Gundam," their eyes just lit up! So they taught me a lot about it. I was also sent the original manga, and I read that.
This was my first time working on something anime-related, but I love animation itself, and I do go to see animated movies, so I was very eager to do this job. Of course I understand too that "GUNDAM" has a lot of staff and viewers who are deeply attached to it, so I tried to tackle it in a way that would be respectful to all those people.
- On this project, you didn't just sing the song, you also wrote the English lyrics. What was that work process like?
Sawada: When I first received the assignment, I had no idea what I should write, so frankly they set up a place for me where I could learn a lot of things. The general director, Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, was there too. During the preliminary discussion, I was able to ask questions like, "What kinds of keywords should be in the lyrics?" and "What kind of personality does Ms. Hamon have?" And so I was able to get some advice on the lyrics. Regarding the words, when I asked which direction I should go with their content, I wasn't forced into a rigid box, and I was given a certain degree of freedom.
Thinking back on it now, that first meeting was crucial. Without it, I wouldn't have known how to approach it. They also told me that the theme color of episode 2 is blue, so I tried to put "blue" into the lyrics. I got lots of hints like that.
- Was it completely different from how you normally compose a song?
Sawada: It was different. When I'm writing my own songs, I'm free to do as I please. But for this, I had a theme, and the singing character and the person she was thinking about were clearly defined, so that made the process easier. On the other hand, there were some difficult aspects. With an ordinary song, rather than it being directed at a specific person, I'm often directing my thoughts at an imagined person, so their image is relatively vague. This time, there is a specific character, so there can be no misinterpretation and I had some nervousness about that.
Hamon and Ramba Ral are animation characters, but it was easy for me to imagine those feelings of love that everyone has, and having a relationship with someone you need to support you emotionally. I focused on that empathy while I wrote.
As for the contents of the lyrics, I placed the emphasis on Hamon's point of view, and included the feeling of sending her lover off to fight but remaining allies to the end. Also, I increasingly had the image of a woman with a strong core. Strong women living in the present day can cheer on the men they love, while maybe also feeling like they want to protect them, and I wanted to aim my lyrics at those people.
- We hear that during the recording, they didn't just record the song, but also your motions while singing.
Sawada: That's right. At first, they just said, "Maybe we'll just film a bit for reference." But Mr. Yasuhiko was there, and we ended up shooting full-fledged video of the singing and performance. I made reference to the storyboards, and Mr. Yasuhiko also gave me advice. Though I was nervous myself, at first I said, "I want to do it like this," and I sang it spreading my arms out wide like a dramatic singer. But Mr. Yasuhiko said, "I want you to hold the mic more like you've got your arms around a man." He wanted to communicate that visual idea. Incidentally, as I sang it, I acted with the feeling, "I am Hamon."
The recording itself was difficult in a lot of ways, but unless it's a movie musical, featuring songs in movies and anime doesn't happen that often. So this wasn't just a featured song, it was also a critical scene in the visuals, and it was an honor to be used as reference for that as a singer.
- In addition to the English version of the song used on screen, you also sang a Japanese version, correct?
Sawada: I had written English words, so to sing it in Japanese, I wrote new lyrics in Japanese too. In order to record it, I listened to the original English version again, and I was reminded of what a difficult song it is. But when making it in Japanese, I get the impression that there's more feeling in it compared to the English lyrics. I was able to sing it as if I were speaking, telling a story, so the recording was really invigorating.
When you try to overlay Japanese onto an English song, the number of words you can use in Japanese is far smaller. So when you're writing the lyrics, you have to really choose your words carefully, and that's incredibly difficult. That's exactly why I had to put my feelings into it at the same time and rethink it. In those terms, I think it may be interesting for people to listen and compare them.
Mr. Hattori wrote the music and it's amazingly lovely, but in fact it was very hard to sing. A composition incorporates your own worldview, and I tend to write my own songs so they are easy for me to sing. But this music was written by Mr. Hattori, so it has a very rich melody, and to express that with my voice required tremendous focus and expressiveness. The music was challenging, I think.
- Have you ever written both English and Japanese lyrics for the same music before?
Sawada: This was my first time to have both languages for the same music. I myself studied in America when I was in university, and I learned about songwriting, but my personal opinion is that there are certain types of melodies that are suitable for English and vice versa for Japanese, so it's better to separate them. But with the melodies in this song, it felt very natural. It was my first experience of that, and some aspects of it were hard work, but it was a discovery for me that this was possible.
- Do you have any plans to perform this song live in the future?
Sawada: I'd love to. Most of my music is pop-focused, so I think it would be lots of fun to put a jazzy number like this one into my set. It has lots of things that aren't in my own original songs, so I'd like to sing it somewhere I've never sung before.
- Finally, do you have a message for Gundam fans?
Sawada: I hope people notice what a cool woman Hamon is, in the work as a whole as well as in my song. Every Gundam fan has thoughts about the franchise, and they have memories of growing up with it when they were little, so I hope they enjoy the series while experiencing those feelings. I myself have become a Gundam fan through working on this project, and I hope to get even deeper into it so that I'm able discuss these things with all of you.

Ms. Sawada will be performing live to commemorate the release of her major debut album "Songwriter" on November 4, which includes the featured song "By Your Side" from "MOBILE SUIT THE ORIGIN II Artesia's Sorrow." Shows include November 24 (Tue) at Shinsaibashi Music Club JANUS in Osaka, and December 3 (Thu) at Yamaha Ginza Studio in Tokyo.
For details and information on in-store live events, please visit Kaori Sawada's official website.

Kaori Sawada's official website