Isiliel – Living for Tomorrow

Tuesday, 28th November 2023

Himari Tsukishiro has spent nearly a decade as an idol in Japan. She wasn’t one to dream about being an idol growing up, but came across it when mulling over what she wanted to do with her life. “I was thinking about something to do. I thought if I became an idol it would give me an opportunity to meet a lot of new people and make new connections and try a lot of new things,” Himari states. “I started my path as an idol with that feeling – it wasn’t like it was going to be my ‘life’s mission.’

So with that matter-of-factly mindset, she began her career with a group called Bakuon Dolls Syndrome at the end of 2013, graduating in late 2016 and joining Necronomidol in 2017. Being a part of a group was something more or less inevitable as a starting point. She recalls, “when I first started, I didn’t have anything myself – I didn’t have any special skills or experience so I had an opportunity to perform with a group. I couldn’t have done a solo thing at the time. It just wasn’t an option that was available to me then. So working as part of a group, you are able to hold each other up and build each other up, so it was a really good experience for me.”

Her time in idol groups also led to some learnings that she would apply to her solo career, as well as learning to deal with some of the challenges that come from being in a group of idols. “For me, it was [learning] about following things through. Staying with a group, just knowing how difficult it is to continue with a project. That’s not to say that people who quit or give up are bad, or to look down on them in any way, but it’s so difficult and [learning] how important it is to continue with something.”

So in 2021, Himari began doing some solo performances in addition to her gig in Necronomidol. Then in 2022, her solo project, Isiliel was born. A name meaning ‘daughter of the moon’ in elvish, taken from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, it seems a perfect fit for an idol whose most accomplished works dabble in the more mystical sides of black metal and folk, outside of the normal idol territory.

This next step for her felt somewhat familiar to her beginnings as an idol. “When I started my solo activities, it was similar to when I first started as an idol. It just sort of started. It didn’t have this big, dramatic start to it,” notes Himari. Though this new starting point gave her new, fertile grounds for expression. “The first song on the album is ‘Koumyou Kishi,’ and one of the underlying themes of that song is the hope to live for tomorrow. To be able to live through difficult circumstances to a new day,” she explains. “One thing I always wanted to express in my songs was that ‘[instilling] hope to live’ feeling. I feel like lately I am kind of encircled by death sometimes. But through that, to be able to pass through it and live to a new day.”

Releasing a few singles, the groundwork was laid for her first solo album as Isiliel, Moonbow Genesis. Recorded at the legendary Studio Fredman with Fredrick Nordstrom, the sound gives it a feeling that feels not quite solely Japanese, but not exactly Western either. “There were people from numerous countries working together to create this album. What came from that is something that I couldn’t have even imagined in the beginning. Nicholay [Hovland], who is Norwegian, wrote all the songs on the album.”

“I was actually listening to the album on the way to the show today, and while listening to it, it hit me that if you had just been exposed to Japanese music or if you hadn’t come from that country or had that background, you would have never thought of those harmonies or those musical phrases. This kind of music could not have been born. It’s really interesting to see. Myself being Japanese, Fredrick [Nordstrom] is Swedish, Nicholay is Norwegian, and Ricky [Wilson] is American. Having these different countries come together to make one album – what came out of that was something completely unique.”

She further expresses her praises for the harmonies on Moonbow Genesis. “They were very original and you wouldn’t have thought of them as a Japanese person, and they are also incredibly difficult. One the one hand there it was really cool that there were these beautiful melodies, but on the other hand, they were so difficult, I was like, ‘Kill me now, I can’t do this,’ she jests. “It was super difficult, but I think in the end it all came together really well.”

Given her idol status, Himari performs these songs live as the only person on stage (so far at least). All eyes are on her during these performances, which means that the choreography has to have a strong emphasis as well, to augment the innovative arrangements and harmonies. “There’s actually a choreographer that does all of the choreography for all of Isiliel’s songs. She is the choreographer and dance instructor [Wako].” With Himari doing all of the lyrics, it becomes more of a collaborative effort. “Whenever I am talking to the choreographer about the type of choreography for the song, I’ll discuss the backstory and in this part of a song, this is the overall image or sort of feeling I am trying to portray.”

“For example, [one part] could be a very beautiful, lovely part of a song, a different part might feel like a princess lost in a forest, or this is a part of the story that I’m trying to express here. The choreographer will come up with the skeleton for it, but for each and every show, I go over it with myself to look at each song. At this part, or during this portion, this is what I really want to express or show today on stage. For example, in the song “Keisei Densetsu,” there is an intro that builds and a guitar that’s fading in. So whenever I am walking in the choreography, I always have an image of Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, which is an anime that I love,” she says with a smile.

Outside of putting her own stamp on the choreography, another piece that entwines Himari’s work in Necronomidol and Isiliel is one of it’s base elements – black metal. While the two differ in a multitude of ways outside that foundation, it sits as a major component to much of her time as an idol so far. So what draws her to this form of music? “If you ask me now, I would say it’s the heaviness. I really like that heavy sound that you can feel, and it shakes you to the core of your body,” she explains.

“Recently, all of the bands I really like, their lyrics deal with life and death. That heavy thematic material. As an example, the film Lords of Chaos, they have some of the old black metal bands in there, and if you look at them and see – these are people that can really only survive and live by being on stage and singing. I really like that. It’s like, this is my only option. It’s all I can do.”

Outside of black metal, another of Himari’s main interests happens to be anime. In addition to playing solo shows, she’s been able to play at a number of anime conventions as well – merging some of her strongest passions. But as one might imagine, there’s not a ton of crossover between the two mediums. “It’s very different,” she says. “This year, I played Anime Expo [AX] for the first time. I played Anime Expo Chibi last year, but this summer I did AX. It was a very unusual experience for me. I was in the midst of a culture that I love, which is anime, but a lot of the people coming there for the event who were seeing my stage didn’t come there to see me. They didn’t even know me before the show. It was their first time seeing me. So I felt a bit lost being in the midst of this culture that I love but not knowing my place in all of it. Where do I belong in the midst of this?”

“But through that experience, I found that a lot of fans who did know me came down to support me and I was really thankful for that. There were also a lot of people who were just walking by. Even though they didn’t know me or Isiliel, they stopped and took in the show and became fans. So I feel like that experience really strengthened me. It was difficult but it became a real strength.”

Himari’s passion for anime runs deep, to the point that one of her goals would be to be able to sing and create a song for an anime. She even has a few ideas about what type of anime would be an appropriate one for Isiliel’s music. “I think that for Isiliel, anime with battles or fighting really fits the theme. If I were to pick a specific show that would fit, probably a lot of people would say it’s too much, but Neon Genesis Evangelion.”

She elaborates, “It was a big inspiration and I think it fits, and I think it’s something I am trying to express through my music. For example, being forced into a situation where you have to fight, even though the battle itself is incredibly unfair and unbalanced – you have no choice but to battle through. In the end, everything is wiped to a flat surface, but out of that, a god is born. Or you become that god. Those are the kind of themes and images that I have in mind when I am performing.”

With that idea presented on the table, I can’t help but bring up the upcoming Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie, and how Isiliel would be a perfect fit for the poignant and dark series. “That makes me so happy, like out of this world-level happy to hear that,” says Himari, now beaming with a smile. “I love magical girl anime! My favorite anime is in the magical girl genre. I love Madoka Magica from the bottom of my heart. If the last question had several options [for anime song], that would have been one I would put in there. I’m very happy to hear that you think it fits.”

One can’t talk about anime and conventions without discussing cosplay a bit, particularly when Himari herself is quite well-versed in the subject. She has performed in cosplay in addition to it just being a convention thing, so we discussed some parallels between cosplaying and the idea of ‘becoming someone else’ on stage. “To put it bluntly, in my day to day life when I’m not on stage, I’m actually a really weak person. I go through day to day, thinking ‘how many times did I think I want to die today?’ Sometimes very small things really shake me and cause me to get emotional or kind of lose myself. But when I get on stage, I always want to be strong. When I talk to the fans, they tell me that I’m their hero or their hope. To me, the fans are the same. They are my hope and heroes. So on stage, I want to be that hero, or that goddess, so that I can live strongly. Through that, I can also help the fans to live strongly.”

“I think that is connected to cosplay as well. You have so much respect for the material and the character – you really want to become that person. You want to put yourself into that character and you never want to do anything that would disrespect the character or make them look bad. So it’s taking that mantle onto yourself, whether it’s through cosplay or on stage.”

Within the last decade or so, anime has become a more accepted thing in the West, and at about the same time, there’s been a rise in more people in the West seeking out Japanese metal and idol acts. Given her interests and experience with both, Himari seemed a great figure to provide some possible insights to this increase. “I think it’s kind of similar to anime – if you have girls doing metal, it’s easier to get into,” she suggests. “When you have those big metal guys doing it, there’s this hurdle to get through. I think it’s easier for people to get into it when they are starting with girls doing this kind of music. On top of that, in terms of Japanese music being accepted in the West, I think that Japanese artists have a beauty about the way they express themselves. I think that people in the West are really drawn to that.”

As she continues to travel the globe in support of Moonbow Genesis, she’s also noticed more appreciation of Japanese culture in general. “I feel like Japan and Japanese culture are very beloved. You see so many people who know Japanese culture and use Japanese words/phrases in everyday life. You can see that there’s a real love of the culture, and it’s awesome.”

Since we already discussed one goal for Himari and Isiliel in designing an anime OP, we circled back to see if she has any other dreams to shoot for. “I’m still like a baby in the heavy metal world. I want to really grow, and keep growing to the point where I can share a stage with some of the legends of the heavy metal world and really share my song with many, many people.”

Himari has her eyes set on a few bands she’d love to share the stage with, both at home in Japan as well as internationally. “I’ve been saying this since I started the project but I would love to play with Rammstein. I love them. Speaking of female vocalists, I’d also love to play with Myrkur. I love her music. I also really love Nightwish, so I’d like to play with them as well. Speaking about Japanese groups, I’ve been saying this one for a long time too, but I would love to play with Ningen Isu. They are very cool and kind of cute,” as she grins.

Isiliel’s Philadelphia performance was the second to last for the Moonbow Rising World Tour, so we conclude with seeing where Himari wants to go from here. “Recently I have been angrily talking to my producer, saying ‘let’s get the schedule out faster! We need to get the dates out,’ she laughs. “For next year there are a number of things that have been decided that are already in the books. I can’t really talk about them now, but please wait for them to be announced. Personally, my goal for next year is to become big. To become a big, well-known personality,” concludes Himari with a large smile. Truth be told, she already has the big personality she needs, it’s just a matter of getting it exposed to the rest of the world for all to see.

All live photos courtesy of Jonathan Lane
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Isiliel official website
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