The Beckoning Future World: Kalen Anzai

The Beckoning Future World: Kalen Anzai

Kalen Anzai

For this article, we’re going to be shining the virtual spotlight on a fairly recent and intriguing addition to the Avex music label roster in Japan, the singer Kalen Anzai. Although she’s definitely not part of the popular trend of ‘virtual idols’, for a time there was some debate on that — not about whether she was an idol (as she’s clearly not, at least not in the strict genre sense), but whether she was actually real or virtual…!

Since her debut it has been definitively established that Kalen Anzai is in fact a real person. But it shouldn’t be hard to see why people thought otherwise, particularly when looking at her early music videos. The first three form a trio of futuristic releases collectively known as her Immersive Society 3.0 trilogy, juxtaposing a very high-tech “cyber” look with some decidedly retro elements.

Most evident perhaps to followers of this type of music, the songs sport a very familiar style lifted directly from the Avex era prominent around two decades ago — popularized most famously by the singer whom many have called the “Queen Of Jpop,” Ayumi Hamasaki. As it turns out, there were a couple of very specific reasons for her to debut in that style, which we’ll get to in due course!

Before going much further let’s take a look at her first video, a promotional clip for the song “Sekai no Subete Teki ni Kanjite Kodoku sae Aishiteita.” The concept is clear very early on, as our star Kalen dons her VR-capable contact lenses and basically everything we see unfolding after that is a direct result. We are initially brought to a cyber-enhanced streetscape reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner, and then to more mysterious and abstract settings…

It’s much more than just the virtual reality theme in this video that made people question her real world existence, as the record label seemed to be strategically fueling rumors of her unreality by keeping her semi-hidden from the public — even during live appearances, showing her via projection screens or mirrors!

The throwback style of the music also made folks wonder if she was merely a front for the surprise return of one their old-school vocalists, given a new twist… which wasn’t quite the case, although her retro stylings were indeed a foreshadowing of things still to be revealed.

Given the overload of visual effects, and a pre-existing pop culture where ‘2.5D performers’ are already a regular occurrence, it might not seem surprising if she was a fabricated commodity…! There even seems to be a deliberate nod to this in the video, where she turns entirely 2D for a brief part of her VR trip.

And although it’s common for the sounds of the letters L and R to blur together or become reversed in Japanese, the unusual choice to deliberately romanize her name as ‘Kalen’ instead of ‘Karen’ adds a bit more to her futuristic/unreal vibe.

{Some people might also remember a publicity stunt perpetrated some years ago, with the idol group AKB48 suddenly promoting a mysterious new member — who turned out to be merely a visual composite of a few of their most popular and established members!! So, some viewers might have been wondering if this was a similar attempt to fool them.)

The following short clip shows Kalen as she appeared during the Winter 2019 Tokyo Girls’ Collection fashion show — an appropriate venue for her, given the high-profile fashion element in her videos. It certainly does give the impression that she MIGHT NOT BE a real human performer at all. See for yourself.

For the second promotional video of the trilogy “Dareka no Raise no Yume Demo ii,” we find our future-girl Kalen at home in her modern abode overlooking the city. Rather than being in a virtual world, she seems to be just letting her mind wander, in a melancholy mood as she ponders the city around her and laments a certain sense of disconnection within this technologically ultra-connected world…

Even as the cyber-reality shows through in the busy cityscape, and contrasts with the obviously more retro elements of daily life, it still blurs the borderline between the real and unreal — and we’re left wondering to what extent all this is actually a good thing. On the other hand, it also raises the question of just how different it really is to our current state!

The action picks up significantly in the third and final installment of the trilogy, “Jinsei wa Senjou da;” and it also becomes much more difficult to tell how much (if any) is real and how much is merely virtual as the story unfolds… In this video, Kalen encounters an alien-sent doppelganger whom she follows through the city, interspersed with other scenes highlighting her technologically-implanted society in a series of flashbacks, before finally confronting her double on a rooftop.

Her other self creates what appears to be a holographic projection featuring a spinning compass-like object, which gives way to images of a possible future (or, past alien?) battlefield, while the visitor herself suddenly vanishes in a flash of light… We then see that the images may not be in the air around her at all, but are once again a signal sent across the surface of her VR lenses!

So, has she been singled out to receive a warning — whether personal, or planetary in scope — to wake up and come to terms with her real world existence, before it’s too late?

Or is she simply one of many to receive the same transmission, whether genuinely alien in origin or merely made to appear so…? Also, did the transmission start on the rooftop, or before the very beginning of the video?!

We’re not left with any clear answers, really. You can watch it for yourself, and then draw your own conclusions….

If you would like to see Kalen Anzai’s whole Immersive Society 3.0 trilogy with a slightly different twist, your wish is granted! She has alternate versions of all three with remixed audio, featuring footage overlaid with more abstract graphics, plus bits of lyrics flung across the screen… Here they are in fact, directly below:

One question out of this voyage to the future that had a definitive answer: Why borrow these particular musical stylings, which belong so very distinctly to the past?

Her label Avex announced that there were to be two major projects to feature her quite prominently — one of which would prove beyond all doubt that she was in fact a real human!

One of these was a compilation/tribute album called “avex revival trax,” featuring various newer Avex acts doing covers from the label’s back catalog… including Kalen Anzai, of course (she also collaborated with many other participants on the album’s lead-off track).

However, this is not all that the production style of her song trilogy was foreshadowing — beyond merely referencing Ayumi Hamasaki with these songs, she was next going to BE HER!!

Rather, she was cast to play the lead role of Ayu in the TV drama ‘M Aisubeki Hito ga Ite,’ based on her life. Done in a somewhat campy tone, it portrays Ayumi’s discovery and debut as an idol singer, in the midst of other Avex acts of the time… (So, in a certain sense at least, perhaps we can count Kalen as a ‘virtual idol’ after all?!)

With all these projects now completed, it may not be a surprise to hear that subsequent Kalen Anzai releases have gone in some different directions. But the transition hasn’t been entirely abrupt, as she has held on to some of the same aesthetic, at least for her fourth single’s music video…

So we’ll cap off the video selection here with that song, “FAKE NEWS REVOLUTION.”

If you’d like to continue to follow her musical evolution, there is a music video playlist on her official YouTube channel that gathers them all for you, and includes a number of newer entries beyond those I’ve included here. So why not follow along, as Kalen beckons us to come hither into the future…?!


John MacMaster lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His last article for us was Vanguard Dream! A Sampling Of Bushiroad Media.

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