Just like in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Cowboy Bebop, and Eureka Seven, LISTENERS takes most of its influence from not just music, but largely from counterculture which originated in the 1960s. Considering that Dai Satou, one of the creators of LISTENERS also worked on Cowboy Bebop and Eureka Seven, the inclusion of such inspirations would only be natural. For starters, Echo Rec, the main character, is named in homage to Binson’s Echorec equipment. In case you don’t know what an Echorec is, listen to the sound effects in Pink Floyd’s Echoes, and you’ll instantly know what it is. Considering that Echo engineers amps, it’s only appropriate that he lives up to his namesake. So, what are some nods to music royalty and counterculture that are present in LISTENERS?
One obvious reference is Nir, who is a homage to Nirvana (Nir is obviously short for Nirvana), one of the original grunge bands of the 1990s and helped kickstart the counterculture of that generation. It’s easily conclusive considering that the episode she debuts in is called Teen Spirit, which in turn is a reference to Nirvana’s legendary hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit (and was incidentally named after someone spray painting that Kurt Cobain smells like Teen Spirit, a deodorant). Take one good look at Nir with her hair and her fashion, and you can instantly tell she’s obviously influenced by Kurt Cobain’s likeliness. In case you haven’t noticed, she has Polly written on her shirt, and Polly also happens to be another of Nirvana’s hit songs.
Considering Generation-X’s reputation in the 1990’s of being slackers, Nir with her get-up and her demeanor appropriately gives her that slacker vibe (she totally dresses in grunge). Compared to the students at the school she is introduced in, she stands out and doesn’t go along with the program like everybody else. While she can be very seclusive in her demeanor, you see with her private time on how she has a room to herself on the roof (and it’s a bit of a mess) and how she just sits around and relaxes like a stereotypical Gen-X slacker.
Midway into LISTENERS, Echo and Mu meet Denka, the ruler of Paisley Park, a town filled with Players who seclude themselves from the rest of the world and enjoy the world they live in. When you look at Denka, his likeness is obviously a reference to Prince with his hairstyle, facial hair, and his purple coat (as portrayed on the cover of Purple Rain). In addition, if you can read kanji, his name is written 殿下, which means your highness, so his name in itself is also a reference to Prince.
Like the real Prince, Denka has an androgynous vibe to him with how he conducts himself and his fashion beyond his purple coat. Some of his antics are also an obvious homage to him. For some of you Prince fans, you may remember he also worked with a duo famously known as Wendy & Lisa, it just so happens that Denka has two assistants under the names Wendy and Lisa as well. They tested Echo and Mu in their resolve in wanting to meet Jimi. Lastly, Paisley Park, the name of the town Denka rules over, is also a reference to the record label that was founded by Prince. The town in itself is literally party city in every sense of the word, and that obviously takes inspiration from how eccentric Prince and Denka are.
Another obvious reference is Jimi Stonefree being an amalgam of Jimi Hendrix and Stone Free, one of his hit songs from 1966, and is considered to be the anthem of the counterculture. Like Hendrix, Stonefree wears similar fashion with bell bottoms and tight clothes. While very little has been shared about him within LISTENERS (it is still in broadcast upon the drafting of this article), he seemed to live a carefree life like the real-life Hendrix, but still wanted to enjoy life and make a difference in his own way.
Just like how Hendrix headlined Woodstockin 1969, Stonefree plays a similar role in taking part in a festival that was meant to make contact with the Earless, the villains of LISTENERS, however Stonefree disappears in the aftermath of the incident (kind of like how Hendrix died a year after Woodstock). Despite Stonefree’s chill personality, he also has an amazing charisma and influence when the series portrays how his presence has positively affected those around him. Lastly, some of the lyrics of the original Stone Free song fit the atmosphere and pace of the series 100% as in almost every other episode, Mu and Echo are in a different city and how they have to deal with the people there.
While music in the world of LISTENERS has gone the way of the dodo, the narrative effectively finds ways to pay homage to music and counterculture through its colorful character. What’s really insane is that Cobain, Prince, and Hendrix, three icons who inspired three characters in LISTENERS, are now all gone, but thanks to their inspirational work, the staff can expose them to new audiences. We can agree that musical influences have been repeatedly done in anime numerous times, but LISTENERS brings a new sense of creativity to it by subliminally implementing their works into the narrative. So, what are some other influences in LISTENERS you feel needs to be acknowledged? If you got any ideas, pleae leave a comment!