More Than Rurouni Kenshin: The JUDY AND MARY Story

From Shibuya-kei to hard rock, from cosmetics to anime, in this edition of “More Than…”, we dip our heads into one of 1990s Japan’s top acts, JUDY AND MARY. Let’s see if the Power of Love can turn you into a fan or will the mixture of pop music and rock and roll will turn you off.

Context: Born in the same era as bands such as The Pillows, Number Girl, and Mr. Children, Judy and Mary started out as an independent rock band. It all started when JACKS’N’JOKER bass player Yoshihito Onda met then college-junior Yuki Isoya at a Hakodate nightclub in June 1991.

They would release their first mini-album “BE AMBITIOUS” under the indie label Chainsaw Records in April of 1992 and then toured as a band the month after.

The band would sign with Sony Music’s EPIC Records label in February of 1993 and released their first major single “POWER OF LOVE” in September of the same year. They released their first major-label album titled “J.A.M.” in January of 1994. Subsequent releases would become Oricon chart-toppers but nothing before it or since would become as successful as their February 1996 hit single “Sobakasu” which became synonymous with the anime adaptation of the 1994 manga Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story.

After an almost ten-year run, Judy and Mary would make an announcement that no one was ready for on January 9, 2001, on a large newspaper ad: they will disband in March of 2001. This would also mark their final album “WARP” to go straight to number one in its release.

The members would then undergo their own individual projects with Isoya being the breakout star under the stage name YUKI.

With that very long context section out of the way, let’s now go beyond Sobakasu and check out the rest of the songs in their discography from 1992-to to 2001.

Credits to Twitter user @abc_eimoto for this newspaper ad

Jesus! Jesus! – A funny story about unrequited love, Jesus! Jesus! has a pop-rock beat that is not as fast-paced as your usual J.A.M. song which makes it an easy listen to some.

Takuya Asanuma’s guitar solo coupled with Onda’s bass line makes the song more memorable to first-time listeners.

We Can’t Go Home (Kaerenai Futari) – One of the few acoustic outings from the band as well as the last track of their 1996 album Miracle Diving, it shows J.A.M.’s wide range of music genres they can play.

It is what I can call a ballad that you can listen to while it’s raining outside.

Music Fighter – The loudest and the heaviest among J.A.M.’s singles catalog, the song will first lull you into a false sense that it is an acoustic song then WHAM! It hits you with short bursts of heavy guitar riffs. The song overall is an eclectic mishmash of acoustic, punk rock, heavy metal, and grunge (maybe?). Listening to it would feel like you’re on some sort of an acid trip, to be honest.

Should I Start Collecting Their Discography? Yes, and it’s a good thing that Sony Music released their whole discography on Spotify without any region restrictions unlike some certain record labels (I am looking at you, King Records). As much as the studio albums are great on their own, the band sounds better in their live albums in my opinion.

If you’re planning to start listening to Judy and Mary, I’d suggest starting with their 1999 live album 44982 vs 1650 which is a great sampler of the band’s song repertoire as this album contains live versions of their songs. After you listened to the live album, you can go straight to their first major album “J.A.M.” as most of the songs on their actual first album will be remade onto this one.

Orange Sunshine and Miracle Diving would be the standout albums as most of their successes pre-Sobakasu are mostly in these two albums and between the two albums, Miracle Diving has the most memorable songs be it singles or otherwise, in my opinion.

All in all, Judy and Mary has something for everybody unless you’re allergic to guitar riffs and loud music. Punk rock fans can stay within the confines of their early releases, anime fans can have Sobakasu on repeat, and pop-rock fans can enjoy their later releases up until their last album.

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