Interview: Guilty Kiss, A Love Live! Sensation & Fan-Made Obsessionby Cindy Sibilsky,
Guilty Kiss is a unit within the school idol group Aqours in the multimedia music phenomenon Love Live! Sunshine!! Their first single – “Strawberry Trapper” – debuted in 2016 followed by their second single – “Kowareyasuki” – in 2017. The unit was formed as a fan-driven sensation and in the world of Love Live!, Guilty Kiss is composed of the characters Riko Sakurauchi, Yoshiko Tsushima, and Mari Ohara. In real life, the Guilty Kiss trio is comprised of their voice actors – Rikako Aida, Aika Kobayashi, and Aina Suzuki. The flesh and blood performers are even more charming and enchanting than their anime avatars, as was clearly indicated by the absolute fever-pitch of hysteria that they were greeted by, thanks to fans of their music and the series who contributed to the sell-out of the Lantis Matsuri Concert at Anime NYC 2019 in approximately ten minutes of going on sale months beforehand, to which the founder of the third year conference, Peter Tatara of LeftField Media, said was much due to the incredible popularity of the three petite yet vocally potent ultra-kawaii superstars.
ANN caught up with the trio for an exclusive interview following their performance, but their fanbase was so strong and eager to see the stars that we had to traverse through the hidden, inner labyrinthine hallways of the Javits Center just to find a safe location to sit down and chat about their astounding global fan following and the journey the girls of Guilty Kiss have taken since they began only less than four years ago.
ANN: Have any of you ever been to NYC or America? Is it what you expected and what are you most excited about?
Aika Kobayashi (voice actress for the role of Yoshiko Tsushima): This is my first time in New York City, but I have been to LA a few times with the Guilty Kiss unit for performances with the Lantis label as a member of Aqours. I really had no idea what to expect when I came here -- there were all of these lights sparkling all over the place -- and I thought that I could almost see myself living here one day. New York is a very fashionable city.
Rikako Aida (voice actress for the role of Riko Sakurauchi): I also had never been to New York but have been to LA with Aqours and we've only yet had the chance to go to Times Square, but when we went it felt magical, like being on the set of a movie or TV series. It was exactly how I had imagined it -- like I was in the middle of a movie.
Aina Suzuki (voice actress for the role of Mari Ohara): Same for me. This is my first time in New York, though I have been to LA with the group. I'm originally from Hokkaido, which is in the northernmost part of Japan, so when I came here, I was surprised and thought, ‘Oh my gosh! The temperature is so similar to my home, I feel like I'm at home!’ I felt so happy.
That's not the usual reaction to our New York weather! Last year during Anime NYC there was a big blizzard with heavy snow and most of the artists, such as the two singers from JAM Project (Hiroshi Kitadani and Hironobu Kageyama), didn't get to do much sightseeing because of the snow, so they are making up for that this year.
Suzuki: I would have loved that! It would be a nostalgic feeling for me.
For those who aren't informed, what's the story behind Guilty Kiss? And, what is it like to be part of a huge series such as “Love Live!”?
Aida: Just to give everyone an idea about how Guilty Kiss came to be, it was really formed by the fans. They were the ones who came up with the members, they came up with the name, so everything about Guilty Kiss is really a fan-driven, fan-created project.
Kobayashi: First of all, to be a part of the Love Live! legacy, as Love Live! Sunshine!! , it has enabled me to meet so many different people from all over, fans and also the other members of Love Live! Sunshine!! Aqours. Then as a part of Guilty Kiss of course, for us to be able to work and perform together, it feels like it was fate.
Aida: For me, there's so much -- the group, the anime, the outfits, everything! Everything is so well-synched together, it's a very unique group to be a part of. I also feel very honored to be a part of this group and to be able to meet so many people.
Suzuki: Being a part of the Love Live! Sunshine!! community that we are all a part of together as Love Live! Sunshine!! Aqours and also as Guilty Kiss, we are able to connect with everyone worldwide through this very special community. At first when I found out I was going to be a part of this project I felt very worried and nervous, but for the four years together we have supported and encouraged each other so much that it has really been a team project. I feel very happy and grateful for everything.
The group was formed three, almost four years ago, what's the journey been like since then?
Kobayashi: First of all, the first time we ever performed as Guilty Kiss was for Aqours First Love Live!show, so it has gone from that to now, Guilty Kiss representing Love Live! Sunshine!! In the BANDAI NAMCO ENTERTAINMENT FESTIVAL held in Tokyo Dome, and coming here for Anime NYC. So of course there is a strong synergy with Love Live! Sunshine!!, how successful it has been and how well they are doing, but we have also been able to make so many fans and to grow a fanbase around the world as Guilty Kiss. As a part of Aqours and also as Guilty Kiss, I want to see this continue to spread all over the world.
Aida: It's been an incredible journey! Just looking back it is hard to believe some of the things that we have been able to do, such as to perform internationally, and we are also looking forward to another solo Live! next year. So it's all just really given me pause and made me think deeply and reflect on the journey it took to get here.
Suzuki: One of the differences between Aqours and Guilty Kiss is that Guilty Kiss is a bit more of a ‘cool’ (kakkoii) kind of group. But looking back to the first Live! that we did with the Aqours group and then we have gone to do at the Tokyo Dome, now we are here in New York ,just the three of us, and then next year we are headlining again as Guilty Kiss solo in Japan on February 8, 2020. So even though we are a part of the Aqours and Love Live! Sunshine!! There are a lot of fans that are really excited about us, Guilty Kiss, as a unit and what we can bring to the table in a way that is still part of but also different from Aqours.
Well, as you were saying, since Guilty Kiss is fan-created, the fans must feel very invested and connected to your unit specifically.
Suzuki: Yes, that's right. It's like we have gone on a journey together with the fans. They have been following us and supporting us all the way on this journey.
Many Anime series are set in high school yet are enjoyed by fans both younger and (sometimes a lot) older as well as those around that age. Why do you think high school is such an important, potent time in a person's life that makes for such interesting dramas and comedies in the Anime & Manga world?
Kobayashi: In Japan, high school is a three-year period and it's a very particular time period in someone's life. You're not an adult, but you are not a child anymore, so it's a very rocky time in people's lives. And during that time, in high school, you tend to think a lot and reflect. But there are also a lot of fun things, things that ‘shine’, so that's why I think the high school setting remains so high in popularity.
Aida: I'm not sure about other anime that have the backdrop of being in high school, but with the Love Live! Series, the thing about it that I think people find extra appealing is that they are high school idols, specifically. And that can only be done as a student, because once you graduate, you are an adult, and you can't be a school idol anymore. So it's that short three year time period that is so important because it can only be done during that tiny time -- it's fleeting -- and I feel that is part of the interest and appeal.
Suzuki: I agree that being such a short, three year period is part of what makes that time so unique and significant. It's when you start thinking about your future, your dreams. It's also the time when you begin to think about your goals and explore the things that you are interested in and passionate about. Like Aikyan (Kobayashi's nickname) said, it is a time to shine -- and that's so much of what Love Live! is all about. I feel that is one aspect that is extremely important and another reason people are really attracted to that time in a person's life.
Our thanks to Guilty Kiss for this opportunity.