Anime and the Familiarity of Future Funk
Future funk’s reliance on anime points to its undying love affair with escapism.
Sometimes future funk feels like a secret. The genre, an outgrowth of the early 2010s vaporwave movement, which was in turn an outgrowth of 1980s R&B, is afraid of Google. Artists with names like Z.E.R.O. and Mélonade stock the virtual record shelves of Bandcamp. Beyond the visibility of the biggest artists like Yung Bae or Saint Pepsi — the latter of which changed his name following a complaint from the brown bubbly giant, further playing up the genre’s secret society-like nature — finding a specific future funk song can be infuriating and confusing.
A search for future funk on YouTube is likely to yield a smattering of disorganized playlists unified only by their technicolor album covers. Sift through a few songs and you’ll find missing tracks, banished into oblivion by YouTube’s content identification system. (Newsflash, many future funk samples aren’t cleared.) And yet, amidst the pitched up rehashes of Anri and Armenta’s greatest hits, future funk’s disorganization feels frighteningly familiar, from its collage-style anime art to its disco-infused baselines.
Lo-fi hip-hop operates on a similar wavelength. Though notably downtempo compared to future funk’s high-speed churn, the brand of beats often labeled “music to study to” is familiar both in its sounds and visuals. The never ending loop of beats bouncing around channels like Chilled Cow are accompanied by fuzzy frames of a non-descript anime girl bobbing to an unending deluge of tunes. Recently, the internet has co-opted the “lo-fi anime girl,” transporting her room from its usual, blackened rainy void to Romanian villages or the Mykonian villas of Greece.
Though their sonic outputs differ, both lo-fi hip-hop and future funk embrace distinctly Japanese art styles. Musically, they are ancestral tributes, paying homage to a litany of genre’s and artists through sampling and indirect inspiration.
Visually, characters like “lo-fi anime girl” or Sailor Moon have become comforting, even unifying, reminders of music with digital origins. And while future funk has developed largely outside of the geographic boundaries of Japan, it still manages to capture a collective of personal experiences that meld together thanks to the unwavering power of escapism.
Lum Invades Future Funk
Future funk doesn’t exist without Japan’s economic boom in the 1980s. A rise in the entertainment sector ripened the markets for visual exports. Ahead of the success of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli in the mid-80s, a number of other anime-production houses dove into Japan’s burgeoning animation industry. One show, Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation of Rumiko Takahashi’s manga Urusei Yatsura helped to lay claim to the sense of longing that fuels future funk.
The story follows Ataru, a hapless, lecherous high school student whose interstellar fate entangles him with the horned, bikini-wearing demon Lum Invader. A game of interspecies tag culminates in Lum’s affection toward Ataru — subsequently she moves in with him, laying the foundation for future romantic comedy anime in the process.
As influential as Urusei Yatsura was, the show’s greatest export is a two-second loop of Lum sandwiched between Ataru and Shinobu from the show’s intro, “Lum’s Love Song.”
The clip, popularized by the Artzie Music video Tanuki’s “BabyBabyNo夢,” which has been played 12 million times on YouTube and sits as the cover song for one of the most popular future funk playlists on the platform, plays into future funk’s prominent themes of escapism. The trio is surrounded by city lights and shooting stars as streaks of neon groove above a strawberry-vanilla dance floor. It’s simultaneously realistic and supernatural, the cityscape clashing with Lum’s horns protruding from her turquoise hair.
Like Sailor Moon, whose influence in future funk is at least in part owed to the genre’s musicians watching the show’s English broadcast in the 1990s as children, Lum has become a staple in future funk’s stylistic beginnings. She and her tiger-stripped go-go boots grace the unofficial covers of countless uploads. Couple that with Lum’s accessibility — the entire Urusei Yatsura series is available (again, unofficially) on YouTube — and you have a recipe for an endless reserve of music video fodder.
But anime’s presence in future funk visuals reaches beyond the inherent nostalgia of childhood television. As an art form, anime boarders on the edge of realism. Characters are grounded in reality — usually as high school students — while any number of supernatural phenomena befall them. That means it’s entirely possible for a cool, sunglasses sporting character to be illuminated by an iridescent interstellar sunset without batting an eye.
When it’s accompanied by lyrics about the never ending flow of time or flying away on an airplane of dreams, the anime imagery of future funk provides a whimsical backdrop for the genre’s club friendly tunes. Even as record companies and platform algorithms get wise to future funk’s audio copyright infringement, anime’s influence has remained, spawning reimaginings and original character artwork that keep the good times rolling.