I love Engrish. I really do. As uptight as I can get about the rampant misuse of English by native or theoretically fluent speakers, I find it ridiculously endearing when obviously non-fluent foreigners try, even when they get things wrong. Or maybe especially when they get things wrong. So it always pleases me to hear musicians stumble along with their broken pronunciation and broken grammar in anime theme songs or just in general; it’s courageous of them to even attempt singing in a language they’re not all that familiar with. I mean, Tomoko Kawase supposedly has a friend write her English lyrics for her, but she still ends up with stuff like “don’t scary.” There are a lot of great songs out there with awkward grammar and “alternative” pronounced like “alter” and “native” spliced together. Maybe they’re supposing that their primarily Japanese audience won’t notice or care, but with the significant overseas popularity of anime and related media, you have to wonder if they think about how silly they might sound to native and fluent speakers of English.
This post isn’t actually about Engrish songs though. With Engrish as such a common element in so many anime themes and inserts (and indeed, Japanese music on the whole), it’s always a real surprise when you hear a song that’s in English. English! No mispronunciations. No sketchy grammar. Minimal or no accent. They’re a rare breed, but not all that difficult to find considering a number of very popular series include them. Sometimes they’re sung by native speakers and sometimes they’re still Japanese artists, but they’re always a real treat when you come across them:
8. “living inside the shell” – Steve Conte, Shanti Snyder, and Yoko Kanno (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG ED)
It’s a huge given that there’s going to be Yoko Kanno somewhere on this list. In fact, exactly half of the songs on this list are composed by Yoko Kanno, two of which are performed by Steve Conte. Few people would argue against Kanno’s astounding skills across all styles and genres of music. Blues, jazz, hip-hop, classical, orchestral, pop, folk, rock, electronic, whatever, you name it, she’s done it. Language? Japanese, Latin, Italian, French, Russian, some made up gibberish that sounds Latin-based, and of course, English. It’s hard narrowing down her extensive portfolio of works to a handful of songs, but “living inside the shell” is surely one of my favorites. SAC’s first season ending, “Lithium Flower” was also a contender, but I prefer Conte’s vocals to Scott Matthew’s and the lyrics I find better suited to the thoughtfulness of SAC’s themes. The spoken portion by Shanti Snyder also adds an eerie dimension to the mood of the piece.