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TTMR 0013: Shibayan (on a Syrufit album) - My Beloved Puppet


Written by SU_Tempest
Sunday, 18-Feb-24 23:37:39 UTC

If you’ve listened to Touhou arranges for a while, you’re probably familiar with Shibayan or their self-titled circle, ShibayanRecords. Their most well-known work is, by far, the TOHO BOSSA NOVA family of albums which features mostly, well, bossa nova arranges of Touhou music with gentle melodies and even softer vocals.

This track is neither of those things. This is Shibayan’s other side, the harsher, more electro-house flavor. And it’s on a Syrufit album. And it has absolutely fascinating lyrics.

Shibayan’s Other Side

Today’s track is 我亲爱傀儡, which roughly translates to My Beloved Puppet. It is part of the excellent white clear album by Studio “Syrup Comfiture”, the circle headed by Syrufit.

However, Syrufit themselves had nothing to do with the production of this track. Instead, this is a guest arrangement by Shibayan of ShibayanRecords, featuring vocals and lyrics by 市松椿 / Tsubaki Ichimatsu, whose work has also been featured in some of the all-stars of Touhou music circles: Alstroemeria, Cytokine, Pizuya’s Cell, and Poplica*. She also got to be on DOLLY MIXTURES, the first of just two albums on Meme in Wonderland, a short-lived circle headed by fellow vocalist 綾倉盟 / Mei Ayakura.

I’m reciting all of these factoids because they highlight why this track stands out so much in white clear. Not to diminish Syrufit’s work or choice of vocalists, far from it, but rather to express just how much inviting the right guest performances can elevate an album even further.

If you mostly know Shibayan from TOHO BOSSA NOVA and haven’t heard some of their other, earlier work, it might come as a surprise how electronic, even harsh, the track sounds.
I won’t do a beat-by-beat analysis of the song like I usually do in my previous reviews (I’ll get to the reason why later), but essentially, we’re dealing with a 7-minute-long arrange of Desire Dream, the staff roll theme of Ten Desires. It is punctuated by a hard, unrelenting beat, harsh noisy-electro backing, and Ichimatsu-san’s signing almost level with the lead electro instruments.

This is the side of Shibayan I discovered first. Long before I even listened to any of the Bossa Nova albums, I was listening to their earlier, more electronic work, not realizing this was not their most famous by a long shot.

While I have no issues against these Bossa Nova albums, I do have to admit I … prefer when Shibayan goes full electro like this, as they did in earlier albums. Assortment of sense and Crystal Stone come to mind (both of which have absolutely unexpected psytrance that hits you from absolutely nowhere; must-listen if you’re into that!), but it’s probably most similar in overall vibes to WAP-WA, the first track of ココロバイブレーション / Kokoro Vibration.

One thing is sure, whatever Shibayan sets their mind to, they are capable of producing really amazing tracks. They have the musical range to challenge the likes of 天音 / Amane (Rolling Contact), ぱらどっと / Paradot (給食頭蛮), or Masayoshi Minoshima (Alstroemeria Records).

Musically, it’s comfortably part of what I’m into. But what really ties this song together is the theming set by the song title and the lyrics.

Cut and sewn with love

The reason I don’t want to do a beat-by-beat analysis of the composition is because I find analyzing the song structure and the lyrics far more interesting.

Structurally, the song breaks down this way.

  • Intro: 0:00 to 1:15
  • First verse: 1:15 to 1:45
  • Instrumental: 1:45 to 2:15
  • Second verse: 2:15 to 2:45
  • Instrumental: 2:45 to 3:15
  • First Chinese chanting stanza: 3:15 to 3:45
  • Second Chinese chanting stanza and third verse: 3:45 to 4:15
  • Fourth verse: 4:15 to 4:45
  • Fifth verse: 4:45 to 5:15
  • Sixth verse: 5:15 to 5:45
  • Outro: 5:45 to 7:00

Notice a pattern?

The introduction is exactly 75 seconds.
Every single segment that follows is 30 seconds.
The outro is also 75 seconds.

It’s probably made possible by the 128 beats per minute, but I have to admire the… surgical precision. A term I’m using on purpose.

Love beyond the grave

All lyrics in this section were translated by Kafka Fuura.

The real symbolism to be found here is in the lyrics. There are seven vocal segments; two contain Chinese chants, and the rest are in Japanese, interspersed with a little English here and there.

The first verse wastes no time in making it clear who this song is about.

[First verse]
天地無用の理 逆らって掘り返して
電池不要の生命 繋げたら
私の意の侭に ねえ頷いてみせて
神算鬼謀の閃き 神すら阻めない
二人は離れない 連れ出してmidnight
千古不易の寵愛 受け取って
誓いの傷痕 二度とは消えない
Overturning the laws of right and wrong, heaven and earth
I just want to see your smile again
Sewing in life energy that needs no electricity
Just as I wish you’ll… Now, nod your head for me
Not even a god could interfere with these ingenious designs
We’re inseparable… I’ll take you out this midnight
Take my immortal affections
The scar of our vows, will never vanish again

The lyrics are from the point of view of Seiga Kaku in the process of reviving Yoshika Miyako, struck with the… uncanny amount of love and affection she has for what is now a Jiang-Shi, pulled from the dead and enchanted by an anti-decomposition spell.

It’s heavily implied that Seiga knew Yoshika before her death - I just want to see your smile again - possibly as Miyako no Yoshika, the 9th-century Chinese poet that Yoshika’s name is based off. Legends say that 100 years after he left office, he was spotted as a hermit on a mountain, his face unchanged…

As Yoshika is known to recite poetry and Touhou is known for simply… bringing historical figures over, this is likely the same person. Gensokyo isn’t just the land of fantasy - it’s also the land where famous people from Asia’s past seem to transition absolutely flawlessly, if Yoshika and Toyosatomimi no Miko are any indication. Clearly, becoming a Touhou character is more efficient than estradiol! (lol)

[Second verse]
傾城傾国の魔性 全て飲み込んだ
冷静冷酷な奇談 あやかって
迷信信仰の摂理 背いて
腐りきった体に抱かれて あの世にgoodbye
Having drunk of every devilish temptation, what would ruin a king, an empire
I just want to see your smile again
Listen and learn from this fantastic tale, calm and cruel
I’ll tell you of my time spent in eternity
Turning from the laws and will of superstitions and faiths
Embraced by a rotten corpse I say goodbye to that world
Seeing through even the lies of reincarnation and the transmigration of souls
I have always had in me the resolve to betray it all

Seiga reasserts that she’s doing what she does out of love and that she does it in spite of the rules that make reviving the dead a revolting act (at least by the standards of the people she knew).

She references events from her past life, presumably while she still lived in China after discovering Taoism and learning its dark arts, so powerful they could topple empires, if she so wished. In that regard, Seiga was much like a traditional witch in a Western context - a pariah that gained scary powers. She directly references giving herself an unaging body - I’ll tell you of my time spent in eternity - Seiga is, after all, over 1,400 years old, yet still looks youthful.

[First Chinese chanting stanza]
Beloved... Doll... Beloved... Doll...

Again, this is Seiga, perhaps mumbling those words to Yoshika.

Although this bridge is barely audible, it’s as though it’s being recited in secret. It’s striking for another reason; it is the first of two segments sung in Chinese (qīn’ài… guīlěi… qīn’ài… guīlěi…). The characters are the same as those found in the song’s title.

[Second Chinese chanting stanza]

Instead of showing the translations, I decided to show the romaji readings of this stanza. These are numbers, each being read individually.

The first line is all 10 to the power of x, each character an increasingly higher number: 10^32, 10^64, 10^128, 10^256… This keeps doubling for a while, all the way to 10^131072.
The second line does the same thing but in the other direction: 10^-1, 10^-2, 10^-3… all the way to 10^-16.

The interpretation felt unclear to me; ever-expanding numbers followed by ever-shrinking ones? That can mean anything. Kafka Fuura suggested the first line represents eternity (infinitely large) and an instant (infinitely small).

A little bit of research later, and I believe this could well be a very poetic reference to a 13th-century Chinese poem by Wumen Huikai: One instant is eternity; eternity is the now. When you see through this one instant, you see through the one who sees. Somewhat ironically, Wumen Huikai was a Zen Buddhist master, the very religion Seiga convinced Toyosatomimi no Miko to abandon in favor of Taoism.

[Third verse]
はるかな郷里 其れに感嘆す
はるかな狂気 此れを称賛す
迎へる永劫に 過ぐることなし
My homeland far away, moved I exclaim
Never could I count all the many moments I will face
My distant insanity, this I praise
Never will I pass through all of the eternity I will face

The third verse follows immediately after the number sequence and follows the same theme of eternity and moments. Seiga’s life is so long, she can’t begin to remember every moment of her life and she knows she won’t, ever. At the same time, she acknowledges that eternity is a time that she can never “pass through.” She used her powers to make her life unending.

[Fourth verse]
流れ込む源 逃れられぬ快楽
期待していた通り 従属の幸福
発動する呪文 再び廻りだした
冷たい土の中 再び瞳を開いて
A being that will only follow the commands of its master
Flowing right to the source, this inescapable pleasure
A lovely doll bound to its master’s side
Don’t let it stop, let it fill me head to toe
Ending what contracts not ’til death do us part
As I expected, in the blessings of servility
With one enchantment, she turns again
Deep in the cold earth, she opens her eyes

The same powers are what allowed Seiga to come up with the idea of bringing Yoshika back from the dead - if she can make herself unaging, then she can make her beloved undying. She likens life to a contract, the sentence " 'til death do us part" akin to words on a legal document - laws and rules, that she has long decided to tear apart. All it takes is one spell, a bit of magic, and she turns again; she opens her eyes. The spell is successful, Seiga has gotten Yoshika back, in spite of everyone and everything else, even if it means turning her into an obedient undead “doll.”

[Fifth verse]
Dreaming tonight
Closing my eyes
指先絡める あなたの切ない香りを
Breathing again
氷みたいな寝顔 見つめて 溶かして
私だけのあなたになって お願い
Dreaming tonight
In a milky way bed
Closing my eyes
Our fingers intertwined, your fragrance painfully beloved I’m
Breathing again
Staring at your sleeping face like ice, melting
Please, will you be mine, and mine alone?

Ichimatsu-san now alternates between English and Japanese.

Seiga being in the company of a breathing-again Yoshika gives her the opportunity to confess her love to the Jiang-Shi, perhaps because she couldn’t do it while Yoshika was alive, in the not-undead sense. Even if their relationship now is more akin to mistress-pet, Seiga’s infatuation hasn’t diminished.

[Sixth verse]
Saying good night
I’ll give you a kiss to wake you from your slumber
A secret promise between you and I in love
Saying good night
I don’t need a life that will only rot away
So again tonight, will love each other, with each season unto eternity

Same theme as the last verse, but reinforced. Seiga views the act of reviving Yoshika as akin to a kiss that woke her lover from sleep. The secret promise is, of course, that they shall be together forever; with her unaging body and Yoshika now undead, they can now be together as the seasons repeat for all of eternity, eternally young, eternally youthful.

This is all about Seiga’s infatuation with Yoshika and her readiness to break the rules, venture into the taboo, as long as it reunites her with the one she is obsessed with.

Depending on how you interpret 愛し合う (aishiau), this could even have sexual connotations. While this can mean “To love one another,” this can also mean “making love.” If that read is correct… well… Seiga broke moral laws by raising the dead, what’s one more law to break? - ahem!

My point here is, no matter how you cut it, it’s an intense feeling of love and affection, intense enough to go against the rules, and is the reason why I described it as an infatuation.

Characterization Through Music

While white clear is a doujin album, meaning it ultimately falls under the umbrella of fanworks, there is something to be said about the value of using music to reinforce characterization. As far as music goes, this is usually achieved with lyrics, although other forms of media (especially movies and video games) don’t necessarily need them to set a tone, a mood, and indeed, cast a particular light on a specific character.

This track, to me, captures the essence of Seiga Kaku, why she is who she is, why she’s done what she’s done to have Yoshika at her side, and why, even if her feelings for Yoshika are genuine, they are befitting of her title. Seiga Kaku is the wicked hermit, and both the composition and lyrics reflect that perfectly. This could well be a theme song for her.

Having already analyzed Ichimatsu-san’s lyrics, I have to bring the focus back on Shibayan’s composition because it very much complements the theming of these lyrics.

Shibayan’s harsh, noise-heavy, electro beat is precisely woven together, perfectly divisible in neat chunks. It’s relentless. It doesn’t take a break. The repetitiveness and the harshness are purposeful musical choices. It’s not what I’d call danceable, but it’s catchy and extremely listenable. I found myself keeping the song on loop for hours while drafting this review, almost without realizing it.

While I’ll admit this is not my most listened tracks on the album (that title is shared by the instrumental track, GaT, and the all-original, non-Touhou final track, camouflage), what I keep on repeat does not necessarily have to match what I think is the most impressive compositions.

What I’m going to define broadly as ‘good music’ is, of course, very subjective and depends on each and every listener’s preferences, but what I do think is objective is that there are different kinds of good music.

There is music that is good because it’s good for everyday listening, fits into your favorite genres, and makes for a relaxing or fun background noise while you’re doing something.
There is music that is good because the artists and their work mean something to you, regardless (or sometimes, in spite of) the actual technical prowess.
And then, there is music that is good because it is not just listenable, it tells a story, paints a picture, gets your imagination going while actively listening.

While I admire Shibayan’s work and would put it in the second category, 我亲爱傀儡 is also firmly in the third for me. If you are into Touhou for its characters and universe, then you owe it to yourself to listen to this and keep the lyrics handy, even if the genre isn’t among your favorites and especially if you love Seiga or Yoshika. I hope it gives you something to think about.

Song details

Song title: 我亲爱傀儡
Composer: Shibayan
Vocalist: 市松椿 / Tsubaki Ichimatsu
Album: white clear (Track 3)
Circle: Studio “Syrup Comfiture”
Release date: 2012/08/11 (Comiket 82)
Genre: Electro-house
Type: Vocal

Touhou originals remixed:

  • デザイアドリーム ; Desire Dream (Ten Desires, Staff Roll theme)

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