It may be a bit of a cliché, but time really does fly by quickly, doesn’t it? It felt like it wasn’t too long ago that I heard Konomi Suzuki’s powerful vocals for the first time in “This game,” the opening theme for No Game No Life, as a high school student. Yet the reality is that, when I got to interview Suzuki in late December 2022, it has been eight years since the song’s release and, more impressively, a decade since the anisong singer’s debut at the age of 15.
2022 wasn’t just Suzuki’s 10th anniversary as an artist. May saw the release of her fifth album ULTRA FLASH, which features a mix of stand-alone tunes and anime theme songs like “Realize” (from Re: Zero Season 2), “PROUD STARS” (from Shin Ikkitousen), and “Theater of Life” (from Deca-Dence). In the following months, Suzuki announced the founding of her own company, 115 (Ichiichigo), and released her latest single “Love? Reason Why!!,” the opening for Fall 2022’s Love Flops. And, in December, Suzuki performed a concert at Comic Fiesta — one of the biggest ACG events in Southeast Asia — that served to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Malaysia’s Look East Policy.
Thanks to the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur and the staff of Comic Fiesta, I was granted the chance to speak with Suzuki the day after her energizing concert. In the hour before the first of Suzuki’s two fan greeting sessions, we discussed her new album, the reasons behind 115’s name, the songs from her repertoire that left an impact on her, and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity. The conversation was carried out with the aid of an interpreter, but the following translations are by Anime Trending.
Anime Trending: Congratulations on the release of ULTRA FLASH! Can you share how you feel about having released your fifth album?
Konomi Suzuki: This year, I was able to celebrate my 10th anniversary thanks to everyone’s support. I’m really happy to have made an album that commemorates that.
This album was crafted with care with the theme of, “Shine now.” We released a good album that can be credited for making this whole year possible.
And, in addition to your album, you also went independent earlier this year when you formed 115 (Ichiichigo). Can you share what inspired you to go independent and team up with CAT entertainment for the management side?
Suzuki: I’m a really greedy person. *laughs* There were a lot of things that I wanted to do more of.
[For CAT entertainment], it’s an office that makes me feel very reassured because there are many people there who are very close to me, like [singer-songwriter] Masayoshi Ooishi-san and [singer-songwriter] Kayoko Kusano-san.
What inspired you to choose “115” as the name of the company?
Suzuki: My birthday is on November 5. *laughs* Besides that, it represents being able to have a good start, “go,” at any time. I wanted to do things with that feeling as well.
Note: As a result of Japanese wordplay, November in Japan contains multiple commemorative days that include the word “good” (“いい”) in their names, such as “Good Married Couples Day” and “Good Encounters Day.” Similarly, the numbers “11” in “115” can be seen as “いい .” Meanwhile, the Japanese pronunciation of “5” sounds like “go.”
That’s very interesting. Going back to ULTRA FLASH, the title song has references to your previous songs like “Love is MY RAIL” and “This game.” I was wondering why you included the references to those specific songs in the lyrics for “ULTRA FLASH.”
Suzuki: So actually, the song “ULTRA FLASH” contains the titles of precisely 10 of my songs from over the years.
To be honest, I didn’t expect their inclusion as well. The one who composed the song with me — Kayoko Kusano-san, who I mentioned earlier — thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to include them?” during the production stage. I, too, felt like I’d been given a surprise present when I found out.
Does each [referenced] song come from a specific year [of your current 10 years]?
Suzuki: Ah, that’s not the case. At first, Kusano-san, who was writing the lyrics, requested that I send her songs that left a deep impression on me, leading to those sorts of songs being inserted throughout [ULTRA FLASH].
What are the reasons that those songs are important to you?
Suzuki: Somehow, singing these songs strongly brings out memories of those times. “DAYS of DASH,” for example. It was my second single, and I remember crying a lot during its recording.
And among your more recent anisongs, which would you say has the biggest impression or impact on you?
Suzuki: Wow, I feel like all of them were impactful. *laughs* I’m torn! I think I could talk about all of them.
However, “Bursty Greedy Spider,” which I sang at last night’s concert, was a song I recorded right before I had surgery for my throat, so I have a deep attachment to it. To be able to perform this song overseas for the first time, I feel really happy about that. It really has been a while since my last overseas concert, so I’m glad that I was finally able to deliver this song to everyone.
Yesterday, you also sang “Love? Reason Why!” from Love Flops. What was your impression of the song and the anime when you first got the offer [to perform the song]?
Suzuki: “Cute!” *laughs* My first impression was that the anime and song were really cute. However, when I got to better know them, when I developed a deeper understanding, I realized that they had a bit of poignancy as well. I thought that was wonderful.
Going back to ULTRA FLASH — let’s start with the song “HELLO.” I was surprised by the variety in the album, especially because “HELLO” is R&B-styled, so I was wondering what led to that song being created and chosen for the album.
Suzuki: Thank you very much for listening to the album a lot. Before I aimed to be an anime singer, I actually wanted to be a dance vocalist. I was thinking that I wanted to sing while dancing. After that, I came across Macross Frontier and became smitten with anime, so I firmly decided that I would become an anisong singer.
But although I like anime songs, “HELLO” resembles, perhaps unexpectedly, what I used to sing before my debut. I didn’t show much of this side after my debut, but I feel that this song lies with my former roots.
Speaking of going back to your roots, I believe the song 「ダメージ小でした」 (Damage Shou Deshita) was your trying to reconnect with your Osakan origins. Can you share how the song was created?
Suzuki: I was born in Osaka, and I’d sing my songs in Osaka dialect quite a bit at fan club events. It greatly entertains my fans when I do so. *laughs* It was really fun, and later I felt like making a song in Osaka dialect and asked (comedian) COOKIE!-san to pen the lyrics [for 「ダメージ小でした」 (Damage Shou Deshita)].
Are there any plans for future Osaka dialect songs?
Suzuki: Hm, I wonder! *laughs* But certainly, if there’s a demand for it…
Did the pandemic have any effect on the creation of ULTRA FLASH and its theme?
Suzuki: Yes, there definitely was. Naturally, there were limits on the number of people [in the studio], so there was more working from home. And on the day of the recording, I suddenly couldn’t come in because of a close contact. So such direct obstacles certainly existed.
Throughout the making of the album, I only entered the studio roughly once or twice a week, and it was like I never went anywhere but the studio and my home. If I went out, I wouldn’t be able to work on the album. I remember steeling myself throughout that period. Also, since I had to restrain myself a little from going out, I ended up having to deal with the album all the time.
At the very end, when the lyrics were inserted and the composition had to be done, I felt like I would explode. Because of that, I made up my mind and went out alone to places with little people.
More than anything, in a way, the theme of “Shine now” came about because of my experience during the pandemic. Because the days of not being able to meet everyone the way I can now continued on and on, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d proceed with my life as a singer, and one answer came to mind. I made this album with the hope of conveying the message that even if you can’t anticipate the future, you should try your best to shine in the present.
And that’s also the reason why it’s called ULTRA FLASH?
Suzuki: That’s right! *laughs* At the beginning, I decided that I wanted to title the album, Flash, but I felt that just “flash” wasn’t interesting. So I thought of attaching an amusingly bombastic word to the title.
“Super” didn’t seem like enough, and “extreme” felt too lengthy. But when I said “ULTRA FLASH,” it clicked strongly with me. It was intuition.
It’s certainly a very memorable title.
Suzuki: Thank you. I’m glad it was titled “ULTRA FLASH.” *laughs*
Earlier, you mentioned that you had surgery for your vocal cord nodules. Did it have any effect on your routine?
Suzuki: From the start, I was already drinking amounts of water that would surprise others. *laughs* There weren’t really big changes to my routine.
[However], I sort of used to think that I could use my voice as much as I wanted. But at some point, I realized that that’s of course not the case. Now I keep in mind that I should proceed in a healthy way for both my mind and body, because if I don’t regulate them, some areas will surely stop functioning well.
It’s been 10 years since you debuted. What do you feel has changed the most about yourself personally?
Suzuki: I think I’ve become resilient. *laugh* After all, I debuted at 15, which was really early. Because of that, I was in a position where I didn’t know much and would only focus on doing my best at what the adults told me to do.
At first, I continuously gave all my effort on mastering whatever someone thought was interesting and assigned to me. Now, when it comes to both song production and live performances, I want to discover interesting things by myself. Mostly, I want to do fun things and involve many others in them.
And what about changes in the industry?
Suzuki: I don’t think I’m in a position yet where I can proudly comment on such things. *laughs* However — this is a bit difficult to put into words, but — I feel that the flow of time is remarkably fast. And so, I’m constantly and strongly aware that I have to keep up with the flow of the times. As someone whose slogan is “a continuously evolving anisong singer,” now that I’m at my 10th anniversary, I once again feel that.
I forgot to ask this earlier, but, In ULTRA FLASH, the song “Melodic Road Movie” was a duet with Kashitarou [Itou]-san. What was the experience of collaborating with him like?
Suzuki: It felt like we were singing the same yet completely different songs. I don’t really get to experience hearing another singer singing the same phrases, so I became very pumped up and was able to learn a lot.
Since it’s been 10 years since you started, and now you have 115 and such, what are your aspirations for the future?
Suzuki: Since I’m greedy… *laughs* [If I were to tell you everything], the entire day would probably be over by then. But, I would like to return to Malaysia again. I’d certainly want to aim for and try my best to have a fourth visit.
Final question. What message would you like to give to your fans?
Suzuki: Firstly, I’m truly thankful for all your support and love. Because I wasn’t able to directly experience your enthusiasm for a while, to be able to directly feel my fans’ passion on this visit, I feel very motivated.