Interview: Sword Art Online: Alicization Singer ASCA

ASCA, also known as Asuka Okura, has performed songs from anime including Fate/Apocrypha, Sword Art Online: Alicization, and The Irregular at Magic High School. She’s been waiting over two years to bring her high-energy live performance internationally, and she was finally able to make her American debut at Anime Boston 2022. Anime News Network got the chance to interview ASCA at the convention about breaking into the industry, collaborating with her musical heroes, and her favorite anime and games.

ANN: What anime most inspired you to focus on anime music?

ASCA: I’ve been watching anime since I was very little, so the ones I remember off the top of my head are Sailor Moon, Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch, and Super Doll Licca-chan.

I read that you were in a band with your sister growing up. Do you still perform together?

I didn’t form a band with my older sister, but she was the reason I started taking music class, and the people I started bands with were in my music class.

You competed in the Animax All-Japan Anisong Grand Prix and released your first single while still in high school, before taking a hiatus from music to focus on your studies. What was that experience like?

When I debuted as a high schooler, the current president of the agency I’m currently in put a lot of focus on pursuing my dream. Not just my musical dreams, but he didn’t want me to lose the experience of being a student as well. I didn’t give up anything, and had the correct amount of support to pursue both.

Not only that, when I was a high schooler, I formed a band with some of my classmates, and that experience is helping me as a music artist to this day.

Many of the anime you’ve written songs for are either about video games, like Sword Art Online, or based on video games, like The World Ends with You. You’ve also done songs for virtual reality games. Are video games and VR a particular interest of yours? Been playing anything fun lately?

I’m not very good at video games. I’m not good at using the controller, so if the controls are even a little complicated I give up, but when it comes to writing songs for The World Ends with You the Animation, I played a lot of the game for inspiration. Because of my issues with controllers, I prefer games that use my whole body like Ring Fit Adventure. That game I’ve played a lot.

What’s your favorite anime you’ve performed the theme song to?

Pretty difficult! My most recent song is “Kimi ga Mita Yume no Monogatari” from Lord El-Meloi II’s Case Files. I previously made an ending for the series, and because this is a special episode, I have a bit of a deeper connection to the series. And the show has a very European setting, I really like the atmosphere of that series, so if I were to say one show, I would mention that one.

What was it like collaborating with T.M.Revolution and Hiroyuki Sawano?

Let’s start with T.M.Revolution. I’ve always looked up to him and admired his work. Since I was little, whenever I heard his music, it made such an impact to me to the point where on a questionnaire when asked what musicians I looked up to the most, I would answer him. I was nervous, but when I met him, all that nervousness was meaningless.

When I started working with him, when I made an appearance with him on a music TV show, Nishikawa has a very muscular build, so when I thought about standing next to him, I thought I shouldn’t remain this small. During the COVID season when I was staying home, I thought I wanted to match his body size, so I worked out a lot. That brought an impact to my music career in general as well.

I heard some of Sawano’s work when I was little because of a Japanese drama called Iryū [Iryū – Team Medical Dragon] my family watched, so it was kind of unbelievable I was able to work with him. Being able to collaborate with someone I listened to even when I was little was very honorable; when I worked with him on the song “Until”, he did all the vocal directions and while he works with me, he’s a very carefree, laid-back person. “Until” is a song that I couldn’t complete without Sawano-san, so he really allowed me to expand the kind of music I can perform.

Are there any musicians you’d particularly like to collaborate with in the future?

There are a lot! If I were to give one, I’m really obsessed with Attack on Titan right now, and there’s an artist named Ai Higuchi who performs the ending song “Akuma no Ko” [for The Final Season: Part 2]. I’m obsessed with that song, I can listen over and over on repeat, and there’s something that just draws me in. If I could work with her one day, I would be ecstatic.

Is there any song of yours that stands out as the one you’re most proud of?

I’m very bad at choosing! My most recent single, “Kimi ga Mita Yume no Monogatari” from Lord El-Meloi II’s Case Files, [stands out because] most of my pieces as ASCA are very fast paced, speedy songs, but for this one, it was supposed to initially be an instrumental piece, so I was directed to sing this piece more like a musical number. Because it was so different, I had to take what I learned and put it aside, and imagine myself as part of the piece. When I first heard the completed project in the recording studio, I cried a bit.

Within the lyrics, there are lines that say, “You can dream at any age.” As I reflect on my fifth year anniversary as ASCA, I was really glad to sing it at this point in time.

How does it feel performing live at conventions now after two years of mostly virtual events?

It was decided I would be performing overseas around the time when COVID became prevalent in 2020, so there were a lot of bitter feelings about not being able to perform at the time. Now that I can come to these places in person and perform in front of my fans, especially overseas, this overwhelming feeling of joy would be more than what I would have felt back in 2020, so it made me really proud and really happy I decided to pursue this dream as an artist.

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