SOPHIA – Into The Anime Kingdom

By Carl Begai

Back in July, Blood Stain Child vocalist Sophia – hailing from Thessaloniki and dividing her time between Greece and Japan – announced her departure from the band after only one album. Her reasons for leaving are her own, suffice to say that it was a two-year rollercoaster ride of ups and downs that inevitably brought her to a crossroads.

With four albums under their belt when she joined the band, and going on to record the Epsilon album as lead vocalist alongside bassist/male singer Ryo, Blood Stain Child afforded Sophia a certain amount of notoriety from the get-go. Some folks will argue, however, that her involvement on the first Princess Ghibli album, Imaginary Flying Machines – an anime-related metal-oriented soundtrack released in April 2011 – boosted her credibility as an artist and paved the way for future musical ventures. With the Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) being the most respected anime company on the planet, their support of the project was the stamp of approval fans needed to buy into it. Thus, between Blood Stain Child and two Princess Ghibli albums, Sophia has made a name for herself.

The split with Blood Stain Child will be addressed at a later date. For now the focus is on Princess Ghibli and her role in several Touhou Project-related songs.

With regards to the Ghibli albums, Sophia’s involvement was attributed as to Blood Stain Child’s affiliation with Coroner Records and Disarmonia Mundi mastermind Ettore Rigotti as it was to her ability to speak Japanese.

“Well, actually it was thanks to Ettore,” says Sophia. “I don’t think language skills had much to do with it. Or did they? I never thought about it (laughs) Anyway, although he had a good network of acclaimed artists to choose from, he asked me to do it. Little did I know about the level of success those albums would enjoy. The first album is still #1 in the metal genre at Amazon and the second album (Princess Ghibli II: Imaginary Flying Machines) was #1 on the charts of a major TV channel in Japan.”

“If it’s Ghibli, it’s bound to have a certain level of guaranteed success,” she adds, “but I don’t think anybody expected the popularity that spread like wildfire even before the official release. The first album was sold out on pre-sales, so when the actual release took place many people couldn’t find it anywhere in Japan, so the company had to rush for a second print (laughs). Everybody, even Mr. Goro Miyazaki himself (director and son of studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki) loved the result, so the second album was a natural outcome.”

Blood Stain Child was involved in the Princess Ghibli chapters as a band on a couple tracks, but Sophia was also showcased performing with Disarmonia Mundi backing her up. When it came to project planning, however, Sophia had little input beyond singing the parts.

“I don’t want to sound un-romantic, but everything was decided by Ettore (laughs). He chose the bands and the people he thought that would serve each song better. To me he mostly gave songs originally sung by Aoi Teshima, who has a beautiful husky voice. It really brings tears to my eyes. My voice is rather husky as well, so I guess he thought it fits.”

Turns out Rigotti had the gift of second sight where Sophia was concerned. Her interpretation of ‘Arrietty’s Song’ and a Japanese cover of the John Denver classic ‘Country Roads’ immediately struck a chord with fans. With regards to the latter, even if the lyrics were re-written for anime, there was huge potential for Sophia to sound ridiculous even though she speaks the language…

“I know, right? An American song made into Japanese version for a classic anime covered by an alien Greek? I’m sure many started pulling their hair at the mere description, but I’m happy the result put a smile on your face (laughs).”

Word on the street is that two producers involved with the project have said Sophia’s version of ‘Arrietty’s Song’ is better than the original; high praise that she finds shocking.

“I was like, ‘Hey, this is desecration!’ but they were very serious about it. Who am I to disagree? (laughs).”

She offers her thoughts on why metal is the music of choice amongst anime fans to carry or re-interpret the classic theme songs. It’s a scene that gained a foothold in 1996 with the rise of Animetal (featuring Anthem singer Eizo Sakamoto) and is currently enjoying a resurgence. Along with the Ghibli albums the US-based Animetal counterpart, Animetal USA, has released two albums in little over a year to rave reviews. And it turns out anime fans outnumber the die-hard metal fans when it comes to buying the albums in Japan.

“Anime fans, especially the Japanese otaku (loosely translated: geeks), are usually very loyal to what they love, so they will buy everything related to their favourite anime with religious devotion. Also, metal is generally a favourite music genre in anime. You know, those guitar riffs that send shivers down your spine during an action scene. The melody sounds so heroic, right? I think anime and metal are made for each other in a way (laughs). How many times do you listen to a metal or rock song and think ‘Wow, this could totally be an anime opening!’ or watch a badass anime and think ‘I’d love to make a video with that metal/rock band’s song on it.’ This is why a large number of anime fans also create AMVs (anime music videos) using loud songs. So I guess listening to the same song for years is cool, but a cover in a tempting wrapping might sounds delicious once in a while. This, I think, is the recipe behind Princess Ghibli.”

“I’d like to do more of this stuff, provided we have good material in our hands and there is a market that would be pleased with the result. I wanna work on things that matter, not just repeat successful steps and rip people off. I like to be honest about things.”

One of several other irons in the fire is Sophia’s involvement with Touhou Project material. She explains the basis of the songs she’s recorded thus far:

“Touhou Project is a very popular shooting game, so many people go ahead and arrange the background music into actual songs. Some of them have become ‘celebrities’ in those communities that count tens of thousands of fans. One of them is Pizuya’s Cell, who is the composer of most of the Touhou Project songs I’ve sang (the latest being ‘‘From Here To Sixty Years’). I recorded ‘Distorted Princess’ as a session member of Save The Queen, Ryu’s (Blood Stain Child guitarist) anime side project band, and then ‘Ex-Termination’, which was featured in Pizuya’s CD release. After that I’ve been working directly with him, without Ryu. He’s an awesome musician, I love all his compositions and orchestrations. He’s a one-man band. I wrote the lyrics for all the songs I sang. No other member of Blood Stain Child took part in these releases.”

For the future, it’s enough to say that Sophia won’t be disappearing quietly into the night any time soon…

“I like experimenting with lots of things and I’m a notorious multi-tasker. If I do just one thing, I get bored. I hope you enjoy my little projects. I’ve got a lot of that for the near future. You’ll see me doing things I haven’t done in the past, using skills that I didn’t have the chance to show you until now, being a main part of the creative process, working with new people, here, there and all over (laughs).”

Check out Sophia’s official website here.

For information on Studio Ghibli go to this location. Touhou Project gaming information is available here.

The official website for Pizuya’s Cell (in Japanese) can be found here.