Mazinger Z

My original thought with “Mazinger Z” was to pay tribute to the original, Japanese version of the Tranzor Z cartoon series by recording “Tranzor Z” in Japanese.

I studied Japanese in college, but that was many (many!) years ago, and to say that I’m a little rusty is a huge understatement. The best I can muster on a good day is “Sumi masen! Watashino Nihongowa totemo warui desu. Eego tsukaimasuka?” (Pardon me! My Japanese is very bad. Do you speak English?) As a result, I leaned pretty heavily on Google translate to write the lyrics for “Mazinger Z.”

Initially, I was just going to do a straight translation of my lyrics for “Tranzor Z,” but that felt a little bit like I was cheating. So I started thinking of the song from a different angle — less specifically about bullying, but still about wanting to emulate the qualities of the giant robot. Also, since I knew I’d be singing it, I wanted to keep the language fairly simple — so I stuck with short declarative sentences.

One thing I learned as I was working on the song is that in Japanese, the letter “Z” is pronounced “zeh-to,” which is more in line with the British “zed” than the American “zee.” That’s why the repeated “I want to be” part of “Tranzor Z” became “Majinga Zehto.” And why the English translation of the full chorus is actually “I will be Mazinger Z” as opposed to “I want to be…”

Truth be told, I like the difference. The kid in the English version of the song wants to be Tranzor Z while the kid in that Japanese version predicts that he will, indeed, be Mazinger Z. Maybe he’s a little more optimistic or self-confident. Or maybe the experiences depicted in the English version have somehow rubbed off on the protagonist of the Japanese version.

Come to think of it, “Mazinger Z” picks up where the “Tranzor Z” leaves off. The final verse of “Tranzor Z” has the protagonist realizing that he doesn’t want to be a ghost in his own life. Meanwhile, the first verse of “Mazinger Z” has its protagonist stating that he will not be a ghost. So maybe one is the sequel to the other?

Musically, my first thought was to just sing the Japanese lyrics over the backing track I recorded for “Tranzor Z.” But, again, that felt like cheating, so I recorded a slower, more acoustic version to complement the tone of the new lyrics.

I was a little bit leery of putting “Tranzor Z” and “Mazinger Z” right next to each other on the EP, but the more I listened to all the songs, the more I felt that, musically, the songs built on each other best if I started with “Yuck My Yum,” then went on to “Throw Some Shade,” and then ended with “Tranzor Z” and “Mazinger Z” respectively. I’m not sure I can explain why; I just felt like that sequence had a good flow — and that “Mazinger Z” brought the song cycle gently back to earth.

Tranzor Z

Tranzor Z was a cartoon I used to watch after school when I was in grade school. The premise was that a teenage pilot would land a hovercraft inside the head of a giant robot and then control the robot from inside the hovercraft. The robot’s name was Tranzor Z, and he defended the world from invading monsters.

I originally started writing this song when I was working on a project with my friend Brandon Heffley. The original lyrics were a bout a pizza deliveryman who likens his job to fighting off monsters from the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was kind of funny, but I thought something was missing.

So I started thinking about the kind of kid who might like a show like Tranzor Z, and I figured it would be someone who, like me, got picked on a bit in school. For a while, I only had the first and last verses and the “I want to be Tranzor Z” chorus. So there was a kid getting picked on in a schoolyard, then he got tired of it and turned on his tormenters. But, again, something was missing.

I knew I wanted a song with three verses and guitar solo in the middle, so I recorded all of the music and then set it aside. (The backing track for “Tranzor Z” was actually the first piece of music I recorded for the EP.) It was only after recording pretty much the whole rest of the EP that I realized what was missing: a moment of transformation. So I wrote a verse about the kid and his friend watching TV and getting inspired by the show.

One of my favorite lines in the song is the one where “Television bathes us in a cathode ray of hope.” In my mind, I picture a kid sitting in front of the TV, getting bathed in cathode rays (kind of like the Hulk and his gamma rays), and transforming into the hero he wants to be before returning to the playground to vanquish his enemies.

Since this was the first track I recorded, it was also the first one where I started experimenting with horn sounds. In part, it was because the original series had a synthetic horn sound in the theme song, though I was also inspired by the sound of Belle and Sebastian. Once I found a sound that I liked, I wanted to use it on everything, which is how three of the four tracks on the EP ended up with so much brass.

The song is also loosely connected to “Yuck My Yum” on a few levels. For one thing, it’s the kind of show I would have been watching while the kids in my neighborhood played roller hockey. For another, it was one of Damian Smith’s favorite shows for a short while. He used to walk around his driveway and backyard with his legs sticking out from the bottom of a large box, pretending it was his hovercraft.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t busy breaking all of my toys.

Introvert's Delight

Yuck My Yum

I heard the phrase “Don’t yuck my yum” on a radio show a few years ago, and it really captured how I feel about a lot of things. I’ve always liked quirky offbeat stuff: Doctor Who, anime cartoons like Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Tranzor Z, and a wide range of music in various styles that aren’t exactly popular: Frank Zappa, Belle and Sebastian, Herb Alpert, and Elvis Costello, to name just a few.

When I started working on music for my latest collection of songs, I had that phrase in my head, and I was thinking it would be fun to record a song called “Yuck My Yum” in a style that might sound a little passé to contemporary ears but that some people would nonetheless enjoy. I’ve always loved the sound of trumpets in songs, especially tracks like Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass’s rendition of “A Taste of Honey,” which I can also admit has the vibe of a 70s game show.

But that’s the whole point of the song–and of the EP as a whole. It’s okay to like something weird. And it’s also okay to not like it, as long as you don’t make someone else feel bad for liking it.

Of course, there’s also the line about Damian Smith breaking all of my toys. Damian is actually an extremely gifted plein air artist, but when I knew him, we were very young, and he did have a tendency to break my toys once in a while. Not out of malice or anything. He just got a little carried away sometimes. I suppose I could have said “Damian Smith broke some of my toys,” but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Also worth noting, Damian was, as I recall, a big Tranzor Z fan.

Oh, and I’m pretty proud of the fact that I rhymed Miyazaki with roller hockey. There really was a contingent of kids who played roller hockey in my neighborhood when I was growing up, and I never joined in the fun. Technically, I wasn’t watching the films of Hayao Miyazaki at the time, but had I known about them, I probably would have.