Fingerprints of Future Funk: Sailor Moon and Takanori Arisawa
Yung Bae’s debut album ends with a track that aptly summarizes future funk’s infatuation with Sailor Moon.
Is it safe to say future funk’s favorite character is Sailor Moon? Lum Invader from Urusei Yatsura could certainly give her a run for her money, but the magical girl, also known as Usagi Tsukino, is a mainstay in the genre. The 2013 release of Macross 82–99’s SAILORWAVE on Fortune 500 can serve as Tsukino’s origin story, with Neoncity Records’ vinyl press, cassette run, and digital re-releases propagating her star-speckled presence ever since.
As a mascot, Sailor Moon is a cute compliment to future funk’s thematic nostalgia. For producers who grew up fans of the show, her inclusion is a direct reference to a bygone age of childhood simplicity. More broadly, Sailor Moon popularized the magical girl anime genre and foretold a larger cultural exchange of anime exports fresh off the heels of Japan’s boom in entertainment in the 1980s.
Most of the work Sailor Moon (and her friends for that matter) does for future funk happens in her magical state. The vivid colors of her star-infused transformation play nicely with future funk’s infatuation with neon lights and astral projections. In 2014, however, Yung Bae prompted a new interpretation of the Sailor gang with the release of his debut album, Bae.
Rather than dolling up the cover art with Sailor Moon and her signature crescent Moon Stick, Bae sees a rather human Usagi Tsukino donning pink lipstick and white shades that reflect the sun and peace sign-adorned image of Yung Bae’s face.
Tonally, the album helps diversify future funk from its digital sibling, vaporwave. Throughout the track list, Bae sidelines the downtempo, filtered melodies that crept into tapes like SAILORWAVE in favor of more lyrically driven, upbeat samples. Bae’s flips come from the East and West alike — the intro track immortalizes another future funk forefather and city pop connoisseur, Toshiki Kadomatsu, before turning to the United Kingdom with Haywoode’s “Single Handed” reimagined on “Take My Love.”
Though Bae would become the first of many Yung Bae projects to guide the development of future funk, the album’s outro, “Fly With Me,” dials in a deeper connection to Sailor Moon.
For a year between 1988 and 1989, TV Tokyo would air 52 episodes of Don Don Dommel and Ron. Dubbed Wowser in English, the show featured the exploits of a scientist (Ron) and his talking dog (Dommel). By my estimation, Wowser’s existence is mostly inconsequential. Beyond running for four cours and being associated with future anime powerhouse J.C. Staff, the show was a slapstick comedy aimed at little more than a weekly half-hour of children’s television.
The show’s intro theme, however, carries its weight and then some. Composed by Takanori Arisawa and performed by Mitsuko Horie, “Fly Away — Yume no Hikouki” provides a soaring track for Dommel and Ron’s adventures. The song is entrenched in the wistful longing of the 1980s and city pop. Horie’s vocals flow in stride against a plucky bass line that downplays the main melody until the all out jam session on the hook that features horns, synths and a choral arrangement.
Wowser would rely on a different, synth-pop arrangement for its English broadcast, but Arisawa’s composition would live on through Bae. Fittingly, Arisawa is also the maestro behind the Sailor Moon series, penning the soundtracks to five installments of the show.
Arisawa’s Sailor Moon work would be flipped on another future funk-adjacent tune, though it is distinctly less ready-made than “Fly Away.” Producer Desired reworked the vocals from “The Solider of Fate” into “Secret Senshi,” building out the beat with snaps, a hi-hat and a stellar saxophone, which comes from another Arisawa Sailor Moon track, “Pure Heart.”
What makes “Fly Away” so magical is that it can exist completely irrespective of the show’s plot. Unlike the Sailor Moon soundtrack, which has to capture the swaying emotions of Tsukino’s counterbalanced life, the theme for Wowser has no upper-level affiliation. Things happen in the show, the episode ends, and the cycle repeats. “Fly Away” can be musically irresponsible, which it does by drawing on the genre of the day (city pop) instead of committing to a highly stylized presentation that speaks to the deeper lives and problems of the show’s characters.
Future funk has grown immensely since Yung Bae borrowed “Fly Away” in 2014, but the air of subtle familiarity has prevailed. Much like Sailor Moon’s transformation, a simple facelift goes a long way. For future funk, that means unofficial mascots and a diehard love of sampling help foster a culture of careful experimentation over sweeping upheavals to the status quo.
Yung Bae eventually builds out his cover art style, swapping out Sailor Moon for picutres of himself in sweaters that inspire flashbacks to visiting a Sears Photo Center for family portraits. Still, there’s no doubt that the Sailor Moon’s influence prevails, as sound effects from her transformations and vocal chops from her show’s continue to infect future funk to this day.