MAN WITH A MISSION is the band behind popular anime theme songs like “Raise your flag” (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans,) “database” (Log Horizon, ft. TAKUMA) and “Kizuna no Kiseki” (Demon Slayer, in collaboration with milet.) They are also, according to their website, a band of super-intelligent wolf-human-like creatures created by the mad scientist Dr. Jimi, only to be frozen for many years.

Now MAN WITH A MISSION is about to embark on a 2024 tour across North America and Mexico, courtesy of Crunchyroll. Comics Beat was fortunate to be granted the opportunity to speak to Jean-Ken Johnny, their guitarist, lyricist and spokeswolf. They discussed many things including their first animated music video, past musical connections and why Jean-Ken Johnny is such a big fan of Mamoru Nagano’s science fiction epic The Five Star Stories.

The following conversation was edited for clarity and content. As a disclaimer, Adam Wescott has written pieces for Crunchyroll News on a freelance basis.

ADAM WESCOTT: A music video for the song “I’ll Be There” was just uploaded to YouTube. How did that song come about?

JEAN-KEN JOHNNY: It was first written for a really famous actor. He was releasing his own album, and we produced one song–he was singing on that one. After that, he was in a drama, Believe: Kimi ni Kakeru Hashi. He suggested, “how about covering the same song that he was singing with our band?” We were covering the song that we wrote to him, for that drama’s main theme. It was an honor for us.

WESCOTT: What’s the actor’s name?

JOHNNY: Takura Kimura. He’s huge, an iconic actor in Japan.

WESCOTT: I noticed that this was an animated music video. Is this the first one that MAN ON A MISSION has produced?

JOHNNY: It’s our first time doing a fully animated video. Obviously, we would fit in animation as well. [As a reminder to our readers: Jean-Ken Johnny is a wolf with a big fluffy head.]

WESCOTT: Did you have any creative involvement in the production of the video?

JOHNNY: The songwriter, the composer, the bassist of our band, added a little bit. Besides that, it was totally on their side, the creators of the animation.

WESCOTT: I know that you’re a fan of animation and comics yourself. Is there an animator you’d like to work with for a future video?

JOHNNY: Oh, there are so many people, I can’t even choose. I’m a huge fan of Katsuhiro Otomo. I’m also a fan of the series Ghost in the Shell. Masamune Shirow, yeah.

WESCOTT: What’s your favorite version of Ghost in the Shell? The comics, movie series, Stand Alone Complex, ARISE

JOHNNY: I was a fan of the two comic books, the really thick ones…released in the 90s, or maybe in the 80s.

WESCOTT: Did you read Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface?

JOHNNY: The sequel? No, I’ve never touched that one.

I can hear them singing each and every word

WESCOTT: Your last tour was in 2023, just last year. Before, you’d said it had been a long time since you’d been on a tour. Now you’re already getting to travel around. Are you happy about that?

JOHNNY: Yes! We didn’t have a chance to continuously go out overseas. In 2023 it was great because everyone was waiting for us—not only us, but the whole world—to start again, to spread their music. We had a chance to come only in a year. But that was wild for us too because the last time we’d been to Mexico, it was so great. The audience was awesome. They were singing loudly to each and every word of every song.

WESCOTT: They must have been happy you were there, that you’d come all the way out to see them.

JOHNNY: Feeling that energy, and feeling…not only us, but that they’re loving rock music. That was a great experience.

WESCOTT: They were singing along not just to the songs you’ve done for anime series or movies, but to…

JOHNNY: Yeah, everything. I couldn’t imagine…I can already hear them singing each and every word.

WESCOTT: In previous interviews you’ve said that when you’re touring, you don’t have much time for sightseeing. Do you have any this time?

JOHNNY: Sadly, we don’t have enough time to travel around Mexico that much. I would love to hang out for a couple more days, try and go around the seaside. Last time we went to a Mexican food place, I’d definitely like to hit that one again…you guys have some of the greatest food in the world.

WESCOTT: Is there a song that you’re looking to perform at the upcoming concert?

JOHNNY: This time we’re supported by Crunchyroll, so we’ll definitely be playing animation songs. We’re not going to spoil it, but look forward to the show.

The miracle of bonds

WESCOTT: In the past you’ve spoken about being inspired by bands like Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins. I was wondering if there were Japanese bands that inspired you as well. Like Number Girl, or Sambomaster

JOHNNY: Number Girl is one of my favorites. They definitely were influenced by what was going on in the 90s, as well. Sambomaster may be a little more 60s…they have a loose kind of influence. One of my favorite bands.

What else? Hi-STANDARD. They’re one of the hugest punk movements that was going on in Japan. Besides that, the BOOM BOOM SATELLITES. Sadly, the vocalist passed away.

WESCOTT: It’s too bad.

JOHNNY: We hang out with the main composer, and produce a lot of songs with him as well. He’s a huge influence, and also kind of a master to me. He’s a great composer, loves music.

WESCOTT: You’ve heard the song they did for Kiznaiver, “LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME,” right?

JOHNNY: Yeah, that’s a masterpiece.

WESCOTT: Back in the day, you did the theme song for Mad Max: Fury Road with Zebrahead. Are you on good terms with Zebrahead still?

JOHNNY: The last time we went to LA, they came to our show. We hung out a little bit. They’re great brothers. Whenever they come to Japan, they always contact us.

WESCOTT: They’ve done music for the soundtracks of Sonic the Hedgehog games. Is that something you’d like to be involved with at some point in the future?

JOHNNY: One of the employees at Sega that’s making that movie is a close friend. He was excited to be collaborating with Zebrahead. They really are huge fans of Japanese culture. The fans in Japan love the brothers too.

Iron blooded orphans

WESCOTT: So I’ll admit, I really came to this interview to ask you one question specifically. When I was digging through past interviews you did, particularly with Crunchyroll, you said that if you could pick any project to do a theme song for, it would be Mamoru Nagano’s The Five Star Stories.

JOHNNY: Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah.

WESCOTT: When did you first discover that, and what are your thoughts about that comic?

JOHNNY: It’s been going on since the 80s. In that time, there was never such a huge chronicle of SF stories. I sometimes compare it to Star Wars…well, it’s not safe to say that, because I know Star Wars fans can be crazy. Ever since I read that comic book, I was a huge fan of what he produces. The manga is probably still going on. We’re not sure if he’s going to end it while he’s alive. But yeah, it’s a great one.

WESCOTT: He also made a film called Gothicmade.

JOHNNY: Yes, he did! A spin-off of the main story.

WESCOTT: Have you had a chance to see it?

JOHNNY: Not only the movie, but the comic book as well. I read that one.

WESCOTT: Are you a fan of the other mech projects that Nagano has worked on?

JOHNNY: I heard that he’s one of the first designers of some of the mechas, the mobile suits, in the Gundam series.

WESCOTT: Speaking of Gundam, you’re a fan of Gundam right?

JOHNNY: Yeah, I am a huge fan of the original, the first one.

WESCOTT: You did the theme song “Raise your flag” for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans. Did that come about because you were a big Gundam fan?

JOHNNY: They were starting the new series, and luckily we were chosen to write that song. They found out that I was a huge fan afterwards. When it comes to animation, it’s always an honor to take part, but it was an especially huge honor for us to do the song for the first cours. It makes an impact on the listeners and viewers.

A long and winding road

WESCOTT: Your songs have shown up in some other interesting series too, like Golden Kamuy and Vinland Saga.

JOHNNY: I was already a huge fan of both as well.

WESCOTT: You’ve done opening songs for anime series, and you’ve also done ending songs. Is there a different process for working on one or the other?

JOHNNY: We want to introduce the story to the listeners or viewers through the lyrics. The opening, as it’s the beginning of something, is energetic. As for the ending…of course, we put a lot of energy into it, but it also has to be a song to end with, to enjoy the scent of what you can feel after you see the product. We always make it deeper, more profound.

WESCOTT: Is there a different process for doing a theme song versus doing an original song?

JOHNNY: When it’s a theme song, there’s already a concrete story and a philosophy or message. We never ignore that, it has to be connected. It’s challenging but at the same time, it helps that there’s already a theme. We also try to put in an ingredient of our philosophy. It’s a lot of fun, because we can throw ourselves into the story

When it’s an original one, we don’t have to focus on the theme. It’s hard and easy at the same time. Totally a different challenge, a way of thinking.

WESCOTT: How do you come up with ideas for original songs? Is it something you piece together out of many different things?

JOHNNY: The inspiration is always sudden, but I believe it’s something that is produced genetically. The heritage of what we’ve been listening to. It’s about combining that and trying to make it fit in this kind of era. Maybe looking backwards a bit.

WESCOTT: You’ve said in the past you’re inspired by bands like Nirvana, but you pull in EDM and techno as well, right?

JOHNNY: It’s always a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun. The sound itself is always evolving. Everyone looks back and tries to inherit what spirit they had a couple decades before. That’s what is beautiful about music.

WESCOTT: Do you feel pressure that there will be people in the future looking to you as inspiration?

JOHNNY: One day, maybe people in the future will look to our music as a channel for what was happening in those days. Playing your own role in the history of music, inheriting but also evolving at the same time. I would love to know what people in the future think about our music.

WESCOTT: Things change so quickly. Distribution changes, the way people compose music changes.

JOHNNY: These days, AI is spreading and people are fighting about that method. I guess it’s evolving. It’s easier to click on whatever–Logic Pro, AI stuff. Many people make great music. The definition of professional is becoming vague, but it probably doesn’t matter anymore.

Break and Cross the Walls

WESCOTT: If there’s someone who’s mainly listened to a bunch of your anime songs and you’ve wanted to point them towards your original songs or albums, which would you go for?

JOHNNY: Break And Cross the Walls I and II were albums that we made during Covid. The former albums were always about, in a way, ourselves. We never described something going on outside, directly. Those two albums were influenced by what was happening at that time all over the world. It was our first time delivering that kind of message.

I believe they could inspire you guys with a positive message for what we should do in the future. If you have a chance, please listen to those two albums. And, of course, the other albums as well.

WESCOTT: Since this is a comics site, I wanted to ask you about American or English-language comics. Do you read any comics or graphic novels in English or from France?

JOHNNY: I once read an English translation of Slam Dunk or maybe Dragon Ball. That was a lot of fun. Especially the sounds. The sounds are very different from what we hear.

WESCOTT: If you could work with another person or artist on a project in the future, which person would you like to pull in?

JOHNNY: I always think about collaborating with new people, maybe younger people. At the same time, being in this industry is always about meeting the heroes that you’ve been dreaming about. The first time I met Dave Grohl, that was amazing. I’m a huge fan of whatever he’s done throughout time.

If I ever get a chance to meet Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins, that would be amazing. I hear that he’s quite a difficult guy, but…

WESCOTT: Any final words for people with wolves in their hearts?

JOHNNY: Each and every time we visit America…you guys are the people who made rock and roll. The bands, all the music, had a huge influence on me. Traveling in the United States and performing in front of you is a dream come true. We can’t wait to see you guys again. Come along.

man with a mission band shot