You may be largely familiar with the soundtracks to the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series, Gundam 00, and GTO. So what do they all have in common? They were all provided by one of Japan’s hottest rock bands, L’arc~en~ciel. So, who are they? Read to find out!!
Beginnings in Osaka
While L’arc~en~ciel continues to strive to this very day in their native Japan, they first formed in Osaka in early 1991. The leader is Tetsu, a bass player, who recruited Hyde as a singer, Hiro as a guitar player, and Pero as a drummer. Before their big break in 1994, Hiro and Pero left the band on their own accords and they got Ken and Sakura to fill in their roles. However, Sakura was fired from the band after being found guilty of drug charges and he was replaced by Yukihiro as their drummer in 1997.
One of their first big breaks to mainstream success was Blurry Eyes, their second single from October of 1994. Upon its debut, it ranked in at number 22 on the Oricon chart, the Japanese equivalent to the Billboards. Thanks to being used as the opening song to DNA2, based on the manga by Masakazu Katsura, it paved way for them to further contribute to the occasional anime opening. Blurry Eyes gave audiences a feel of the band’s positivity and Hide’s voice perfectly captured that quality.
In 1996, they contributed to the soundtrack of Rurouni Kenshin with the fourth ending theme, The Fourth Avenue Café. However, due to the drug scandals of Sakura, their drummer at the time, the song was officially dropped from the series after four episodes, and hasn’t been included in any official soundtracks. The band didn’t officially release it to the public until 2006!
However, the band instantly got their redemption when they came back with Yukihiro as their new drummer, and their first new song together was Niji (meaning rainbow in Japanese, and in turn, L’arc~en~ciel means rainbow in French), which is the theme song to the 1997 Rurouni Kenshin movie. And Niji happened to reach number 3 on the Oricon chart when it debuted in October of 1997. Presently, the song is used as a closing song of their concerts. Though some of L’arc~en~ciel’s songs in anime tend to have more of an upbeat feel, Niji takes a departure and comes across as more emotional with both the drum beats and the delivery of Hyde’s voice.
In 1999, they return to their feel good vibe with Driver’s High, the first opening theme to GTO, which was number 2 on the Oricon charts in August of that year. The opening guitar chords after you hear the ignition turn on truly feels like you’re on the open road, and the content and delivery of the lyrics makes you feel as if no matter where you’re going, your journey there is going to be a blast.
2000s and Western Breakthrough
Prior to L’arc~en~ciel contributing to more anime songs, they continued to reach other forms of mainstream success. In 2000 they were topping the Oricon charts with Neo Universe, Stay Away, and Finale. If anyone wants to hear the band’s most uplifting song whenever they feel down, we promise that Neo Universe will lift your spirits. Stay Away would later be playable in some of Konami’s Bemani games, GuitarFreaks and Drummania, for fans to jam to. As for Finale, it invokes more of the emotional tones of Niji, and is appropriately featured as the ending theme to Ring 0, the prequel to the Japanese Ring movies.
Then in 2001, they managed to find a gateway to international audiences by performing the ending theme of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Spirits Dream Inside. Though the movie was a box office failure, it still debuted as the number one single on the Oricon charts upon its release. 3 years later, they were very active in contributing to the soundtrack of the original Fullmetal Alchemist series and its movie. First, they performed the second opening with Ready Steady Go, which also debuted as a number 1 single, and they did both the opening and ending themes to the feature film.
Thanks to Ready Steady Go being featured during its Cartoon Network broadcast, it helped the band reach a Western audience. They made their American debut at the 2004 Otakon, and became the first Japanese band to perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2012! Shortly after Otakon, the band finally started to tour around the world.
As the decade progressed, they continued to contribute to both mainstream music and anime. In 2007, they performed the opening theme songs to Moribito and the first season of Gundam 00. Daybreak’s Bell, the opening theme to Gundam 00, is one of their songs that masterfully balances both their darker and optimistic deliveries in context to the war themes of Gundam. And like many of their hits since the start of the 2000s, it debuted at number 1!
The Present and Final Thoughts
In addition to anime and movies, L’arc~en~ciel has largely contributed to gaming. They contributed to the soundtrack of Resident Evil 7 with Don’t Be Afraid, as well as Drink It Down for Devil May Cry. While L’arc~en~ciel has always been a successful band, the individual members managed to have managed to find some success through solo projects. Hyde, the singer, composed Glamorous Sky, the theme song to the live action Nana film and just recently, he collaborated with Yoshiki, X-Japan’s composer, for Red Swan, the opening theme to season 3 of Attack on Titan. Even after nearly 30 years, they’re still going strong and nobody’s expecting them to go anywhere anytime soon.