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The musical style enka usually gets referred to as Japan’s equivalent of country western music. The two do have a lot in common thematically, as the biggest hits of both genres are often centered on blue-collar hardships, melancholy nostalgia, and heavy drinking (one famous enka hit is “Sake Wo,” or, “Bring Me Booze”).

But while there are young country listeners, it’s a lot harder to find fresh-faced enka fans, since the lyrics of many enka ballads are so world-weary it’s hard to appreciate them without a few decades of failed romances and stalled career paths under your belt. So to reach out to a new demographic, one enka legend is recording her version of the theme song of hit anime Evangelion.

Enka singer Aki Yashiro made her debut in 1971, and two years later released her breakout hit “Namida Koi” (“Tear-Filled Love”), which was released as a single with the similarly somber B-side “Otoko to Onna, Sake to Uta” (“Men and Women, Liquor and Songs”).

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A string of critical and commercial success followed, so when the producers of the upcoming Enka no Chikara Premium (Power of Enka Premium) were putting together a roster of singers for the compilation, they reached out to Yashiro, who agreed to be a part of it. The album is the 11th release in the Enka no Chikara series, in which enka singers perform covers of more contemporary J-pop hits while giving them a few enka flourishes.

▼ The cover of Enka no Chikara Premium

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Going from one Japanese music subgroup to another, despite their extremely loyal fanbase, for the most part anime theme songs don’t really diffuse into Japanese pop culture as a whole. Sure, some TV hits like One Piece, Inu Yasha, and Bleach have used songs from popular mainstream artists, but unless they’re literally playing over the opening credits, no one really associates them with the show.

A rare exception to this is the original theme song from Evangelion, “Zankoku na Tenshi no Teze” (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”), which was first released in 1995 and has since transcended anime fandom to become an unqualified hit. So even though Yashiro was 45 when Evangelion was having its broadcast run, making her more than three times as old as its teenage protagonists at the time (with an even bigger age gap now), the Eva theme is what she’s singing for Enka no Chikara Premium.

In the video, Yashiro mentions that she’d previously sung a single chorus of the song for use in a commercial, and due to the positive reaction her rendition received, the 64-year-old singer decided to record the whole thing for the album. While the arrangement doesn’t differ much from Yoko Takahashi’s original version of the anime theme, Yashiro adds in the distinctive nasal growls and bombast that characterize her particular musical discipline.

“I hope that young people will listen to this,” Yashiro says. “It’s my way of saying, ‘How about enka? How about this song? Not bad, huh?’”

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You can check out a preview of each track of Enka no Chikara Premium on its Amazon Japan page right here, to help find your answers to Yashiro’s questions.

Source: Japaaan
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: No4ko4, Amazon Japan, YouTube