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Otoboke Beaver, the fierce and funny punk band, finds new courage

Otoboke Beaver refers to <em>Super Champon</em> as "season two." The album refines the scorched-earth fury of its debut, but maintains the band's madcap sense of humor.
Mayumi Hirata
Courtesy of the artist
Otoboke Beaver refers to Super Champon as "season two." The album refines the scorched-earth fury of its debut, but maintains the band's madcap sense of humor.

Named after an Osaka love hotel, color-coded in acid-vibrant minidresses and inspired by irreverent Japanese comedy, Kyoto-based Otoboke Beaver produces some of the fiercest and funniest punk of the decade. Formed in 2009, the quartet shouts vulgarities over high-octane, sub-minute bursts, playing with the ferocity of Bastard, the attitude of Team Dresch and the richness of Number Girl.

The band's debut album, 2019's Itekoma Hits, was the top-selling record on its label Damnably. On a video call assisted by a translator, I asked frontwoman Accorinrin if she was expecting this level of global response: "Not at all! It'd be nice if we became famous in Kyoto area, so we didn't expect this worldwide situation."

Otoboke Beaver are branded as punk feminists, often by its own PR, but they've expressed puzzlement over this label. In 2018, Accorinrin shrugged off questions about feminism, telling the Japan Times, "I just [write] about how I'm pissed at my boyfriend, nothing bigger." But in our interview, Accorinrin clarifies that she's since changed her stance. In Japanese culture — not to mention katakana syllabary — the loanword for feminist carries a negative connotation. For Accorinrin, "feminist" previously evoked a woman "complaining a lot, nagging, a man-hater." In this sense, she was initially hostile towards the label, but after going on tour overseas and experiencing its global meaning, she agrees: "I am a feminist." To that end, Accorinrin had always wanted to write the song "I am not maternal" — a protest against Japan's cultural pressure on women to start a family — but didn't feel as if she had the courage until Super Champon.

"Feminism is not the first thing they want to espouse," Damnably label owner Janice Li adds. "It's obvious in what they do, but it's not conscious."

Indeed, an explicit aim at a feminism would require more forethought than the hyper-presentness of Otoboke Beaver's precipitous, irate work allows — nothing feels planned or premediated, other than the straightforward aim to have a good time. Titular lyrics off its Super Champon feature stream-of-consciousness calls: "I am not maternal!" "I won't dish out salads!" "You're no hero shut up f*** you manwhore!" If it's explicitly political, the politics are less invective than they are droll rebellion against domesticity. On "I am not maternal," they scream, "I love dogs I love dogs I love dogs I deliver a puppy not a baby!" In response to leering stares of older men, they shout, "Abso-f******-lutely you're out of question / So full of yourself, old dirty fart!"

These instances play in the same strain of irreverence that we've come to expect since Itekoma Hits, but with some key post-pandemic changes. When they still had day jobs, they held markedly different personas off stage. While some members were still open about the Otoboke Beaver, Yoyoyoshie hid her double life from her company whenever she had to take a day off. Accorinrin explains that she always felt like she was "pretending to be a serious, nice, great worker at the office" and Hirochan didn't talk very much at all: "We were totally different."

Following their debut's success, members were able to quit their day jobs, and no longer had to decline shows or cancel practice in favor of overtime. "We were able to practice at the music studio a lot," Accorinrin says, "so we think the sound became more tight and solid." The abdication of their jobs has been less of a change than expected: "Income-wise, it's really hard. Feeling-wise, it hasn't changed at all." After their 2020 tours were canceled, they took the loss in stride and spent a year playing frenetic, hour-long livestreamed sets with no less energy. They went into the recording process with the mindset of a studio album. With the introduction of new drummer Kahokiss, they refer to Super Champon as "season two" — the album refines the scorched-earth fury of Itekoma Hits, but Otoboke Beaver maintains its trademark sense of humor.

While Otoboke Beaver's presentation is so colorfully front-and-center, they often act at direct odds with the ensuing expectations. Otoboke Beaver's stage presence is heavily influenced by the verbal comedy of manzai: in addition to traditionally punk antics like spitting and stage diving, they infuse humor with doublespeak and quick-paced, verbal interactions between members.

On "MOJO," an ode to a television show about undesirable women, Accorinrin screams, "Farewell to the light of my youth / Farewell you are my VIP" in homage to the comedy of the drama's star, Tetsuya Morita. Guitarist Yoyoyoshie, who also functions as the de-facto designer for the band's vibrant style, animated the two '90s children's anime-inspired music videos for the record: "I am not maternal" features the band members performing gleeful reverse births to a sea of placid, middle-aged onlookers; for "I don't want to die alone," a scribbled woman writhes in loneliness under a Superchunk poster.

And when Damnably's founders George Gargan and Janice Li were recently married, South Korean label sisters Say Sue Me wrote them a sweet, twee ballad named "George & Janice" as a wedding present. In contrast, Otoboke Beaver's version by the same name is a 43-second starburst of shrieked warnings about sugar and descriptions of the couple's altercations and clanging wedding-bell onomatopoeia: "Scary diabetes scary diabetes / We love George & Janice!"

With punk that so frenziedly madcap, Otoboke Beaver approaches Super Champon with self-conscious direction. Where the electric debut was festooned with affairs, breakups and violent threats to exes, the Super Champon era pushes back against the confines of gender roles by asserting Accorinrin's individuality. Early in Otoboke Beaver's career, men would joke that dating Accorinrin would ensure they were immortalized in song, so she grafted JASRAC, a copyright collection agency like ASCAP or BMI, into a song's object of affection rather than a boyfriend. "I don't write songs about every boyfriend," she retorts. "My songs are not my Twitter or diary."

On Super Champon, Accorinrin's performance is still imbued with fury, and her words are no less tumultuous, but she is firmly enmeshed in the first person: "Iʼm a complicated woman!" "I don't want to die alone!" When I ask about the difference between Accorinrin's treatment of romance on Itekoma Hits and Super Champon, she immediately looks to the future of her band in her answer. "I used to live in love," she says. "But now I have more experience, and we play Otoboke Beaver for a living."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Zhenzhen Yu