Duel Jewel: A eulogy for the Polaris

On February 23, 2016, Duel Jewel held a live at Zepp Tokyo, the finale for their 47-prefecture tour that had started in July last year. The live was also a farewell bow to their fans – after 19 years and 12 albums, if we count ‘Fusion’ in which EVE’s Kim Sehun filled in the vocals during Hayato’s absence – Duel Jewel decided to disband. Our writer Tyas Palar reminisced about the band.

The first time I went to watch a Duel Jewel live, they’re still one person down. Vocalist Hayato has been absent for a couple of months, because he was focusing on medical treatment for his throat problems. It was a strange performance: guitarists Yuya and Shun, bassist Natsuki, and drummer Val performed to a playback of Hayato’s voice. Of course no matter how hard Yuya, Shun, and Natsuki took over some of Hayato’s job at the front, we could feel that there’s a huge piece missing. Hayato’s recorded voice was simply not enough.

But no matter what, it was my first Duel Jewel live. I was excited. I hadn’t known that these guys were truly silly on stage – they joked a lot, laughed a lot. When Yuya asked us to call each member’s name, he acted panicky because Hayato was not there to respond to the calls. Things must have been alright because he could crack jokes about Hayato’s absence.

I got some sort of beginner’s luck too—somehow one of Shun’s picks landed on my feet. I was actually looking to the shimote side of the stage because Yuya and Natsuki were goofing around there when I felt something struck my forehead from kamite direction before it fell down. It was not the sweetest way to receive something from your favourite bandman, and it was just a common pick anyway, but it was Shun’s and it was all that mattered.

And that, night Yuya kissed Kra’s Keiyuu on the lips. I bent laughing so hard. That night I already decided that someday I should go see Duel Jewel again, when Hayato returned.

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The next year, I moved to Japan and began frequenting live houses. As well as bands that I have loved before I set my foot as a resident in Tokyo, I also found many other interesting bands. A whole new world opened for me. I became busy with these bands, and Duel Jewel somehow slipped off my priority list. I still liked them, a lot, but I had limited time and resources so I had to prioritize, and I only went to watch them every now and then.

Hayato had resumed his activities with the band at that time, and I was so glad that now I could see Duel Jewel in full power. But, as I slowly came to realise, actually something could never be the same again. Let’s keep that for later.

One of my most vivid memories about Duel Jewel’s lives was their two-man with Black Gene for the Next Scene in Takadanobaba AREA. I couldn’t get closer to the stage during Duel Jewel, and I just joined the crowd in front of the stage during BFN. When BFN was performing DistRhyme during encore, Yuya jumped off the stage and bent himself over the front bar, acting as a futon upon whom people should do gyakudai or ‘reverse dive’, which is basically crashing onto his back. The moshing wave brought me close to him, and I was hesitant what to do, but a girl, maybe two, behind me pushed me again and again so I bumped into Yuya several times. Maybe she wanted to gyakudai on Yuya too but she did not dare so she pushed me instead. Anyway, I laughed so much. It was a totally fun live. And it felt like this fun could last forever. Hayato had returned. Everything was alright. Duel Jewel would be alright. I could only go to some of their lives? No big deal. There would always be another time, I thought.

They had been here for almost 20 years, why not 20 more?

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Duel Jewel members were born in the early 80s, and had come together as a group during high school. Hayato once said that he’d known Yuya since junior high – a wonder why Hayato still has his jaws in place when it means that he’s been laughing over Yuya’s silliness for more than 20 years. Their debut album, Lapidary, was released in 2001, when only three fifths of the current line-up have entered their 20s (Natsuki joined a year after).

“Duel Jewel is my very life itself,” wrote Hayato in a blog post after their last live.

Duel Jewel has also become a part of life for many people – granted, Duel Jewel’s popularity has never rocketed skyhigh, checked at the orbit for bands considered ‘big enough’ for a visual kei band, but they have a loyal fanbase, if modest in size. They are also respected by fellow bandmen, especially the younger ones. Some of the fans have grown old with the band, but they do not grow out of it. Sometimes, in Duel Jewel’s instores, you can see mothers bringing their babies along.

And the band members now have spent more than half of their lives in the band. They still love performing. They still love each other. So why stop now?

It’s a cruel reality: Hayato’s voice has reached its limit.

It was his strong will that had kept him going, but full recovery is not to be seen, as the official statement said. But maybe we Duel Jewel fans secretly had known it all along, although we’re too afraid to speak about it openly. Pick a Duel Jewel CD post-Hayato’s treatment and an old CD of theirs, and compare how different Hayato sounded in both. His voice has changed.

The band thought it’s best to disband, but they would burn bright until the very end: they embarked on a tour that visited all Japan prefectures, culminating with the 5-hour live in Zepp Tokyo. It’s not exactly an era had ended, but a band that had stood strong and seen different eras of visual kei would not see another day.

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Natsuki looked tired. As soon as the fan who had just got his signature moved to the next band member in line and while the next fan hadn’t approached yet, Natsuki exhaled, his eyes cast downwards. I eyed him, a bit worried. The instore had dragged on for two hours. It was supposed to be a talk show, fansigning, and 6-shot session; but the band just enjoyed talking, and there were so many fans coming, crammed into Takadanobaba’s ZEAL LINK store. We had to stand so close to each other, and the fansigning line seemed to move ever so slowly. Duel Jewel was supposed to have another instore event in another store after this.

The next fan approached, CD cover in hand. Natsuki quickly snapped out of his short daydreaming, and spread an ear-to-ear smile to her. Suddenly tiredness disappeared from his face. That brought a smile to my face too.

I’d never been to a Duel Jewel instore before. I had never found the right time, but when they released Yuki no Asterisk, I just thought: I should go. They’re my priority now. And I never regretted that I did.

Red-headed Shun was quickly aware that he’d never known me before. I spoke to him in Japanese, but he replied me in English, asking from where I came. He then asked me to spell my name in alphabet because he wanted to write it on the CD cover. He also added the date – bandmen don’t always do this; most would just sign your stuff. Sometimes it is even forbidden to ask them to write your name or make doodles—so it all depends on whether the bandmen like you enough or kind enough that he’d give you more without you asking. (In this case, Shun was the latter.)

Yuya and Val didn’t hide their attempt to recognise me and their decision afterwards that they didn’t. I laughed in my mind. You’re all too honest. But they were still very nice. I could manage a longer talk with Hayato—who’s my favourite member alongside Shun, but who doesn’t like Shun? I told him I had watched them several times but this was my first time going to a Duel Jewel’s instore (finally!). He smiled wide and asked me whether it was fun, and I said yes. Hayato told me to come again next time and I said I would. It was a promise I never fulfilled, although I still went to see one more of their lives last year. I went with a friend and it was just so fun, she screaming Val’s name while I screamed Hayato’s, but we joined voices as together we yelled, “SHUN-SAMAAAA!!!”

Shun is just everyone’s big brother.

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Three days after their final live, I still could not fully accept it. I listened to their songs, and I caught myself thinking at least twice “I really got to go see their one-man one day… I miss them,” before I snapped back to reality and realised that there wouldn’t be another chance. Unless they do a reunion live someday, but that would be years and years from now.

I turned to YouTube to find some laughter from their videos again. Their silly videos—from Yuya’s stripping for a laugh to Hayato accidentally spilling hot water on Yuya while he was running to approached his Yuu-chan—are still up there on the Internet. There are 34 episodes of their program Duel Jewel no Ginga kokudou 348 ~watashi wa neji ni naritai~, each basically 1 or 2 hours of Duel Jewel playing games, making fun of themselves, and electrocuting each other. It’s easy to see that they’re a bunch of brothers that have survived many things together. “We’re closer than a family,” claimed Shun in his post-disbandment blog post. He said he’s glad that they have made music together, and that what they had believed in wasn’t wrong. They’ve laughed and cried a lot together, and he’s glad that he has come to know them all.

Shun also insisted that he’d always be ‘Duel Jewel’s Shun’ although now people would write his name as an ‘ex-Duel Jewel’. And he just went on to prove that he is indeed everyone’s big brother: he also left a message for fellow bandmen, telling them not to give up. I wonder how he felt when he wrote those lines: don’t give up. Did he think, “We don’t want to give up either—but there are some things you can’t do anything about”?

He, of course, also had something to say to Jewelry. “It’s been a long and steep road that we have walked together,” he wrote, and I am thinking of these words again as I listen to Akane shoku no machi, “…but at the end of the journey, we saw a very beautiful scenery… it made me proud.”

Hayato also took a journey as an analogy, but he underlined that it is not the end of the journey. “If we keep on living, if we keep on walking firmly, I believe there will come a day when we can meet again. Until that day comes, please take good care of yourself. Our journey has not ended yet.” He seemed pretty calm in his blog post, but I wonder what he really felt inside.

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Yuya, the band’s resident comedian (unlike the others are not comedians in their own way), wrote a more cheerful post, telling fans to keep on ‘ufufu’-ing (giggling) until they meet again. It’s just him. Yuya always tried to make other people laugh, even through self-deprecating jokes. It’s not a secret that he struggles with his yo-yo body weight: but he always looked confident, was always the loudest of them all. He could always make Hayato laugh hysterically. Nevertheless we could realise how his emotions seeped through in this sentence that he wrote the following twice in that one post: “As long as we’re alive, we can surely meet again.” And he must be echoing Jewelry’s feelings when he said “I won’t forget. I can’t forget.”

Natsuki’s blog post was less emotional. But that’s the way he is. He’s usually the quietest one (with the edgiest stage costume, if I may add), smiling while he sat or stood at the sides, but sometimes joining in the chaos caused mostly by Yuya, Val, and Hayato with a devilish intention on his face. “When we see again, show me your best smiling face!!” he wrote, with two exclamation marks at the end. I could imagine him saying that.

And leader Val, whose birthday is the day after Shun’s, and who had said that he cried and cried and cried when they announced their decision to disband, has this message for Jewelry, one that I truly took to heart: “If you feel down, listen to Duel Jewel’s music again, watch the DVD again, remember the good times we had together, and get back on your feet again. I will always be beside you. You’ll never, never be alone.”

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Night has descended upon Duel Jewel’s history of nearly two decades; but their music and the memories they have created will keep on shining as guidance for fans and admirers in the darkened sky, like the Polaris.

Thank you, Duel Jewel, and sleep tight.

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3 responses to “Duel Jewel: A eulogy for the Polaris

  1. I found Hayato and Val working for GACKT, even since the band hadn’t been disbanded. wonder where Shun, Natsuki, and Yuya right now, any info?

    • Yes, Hayato and Val have been working with GACKT even when Duel Jewel was still active. Shun still appears in session bands now and then, and he’s having a record out with Soan project. Yuya will go on stage with a KISAKI project in December. A while ago he uploaded a funny video of him, recorded by Hayato! While Natsuki will go on stage in December in [Aki presents vol 8].

  2. Wonderful article!
    Despite watching other bands, I have never had the opportunity to watch them live in Japan or in the US, but I can honestly say that they are my favorite Jrock band.
    It’s a shame that many people don’t know this band cause they are great.
    I’ve never seen anything like it, they were just perfectly in balance.
    I still listen to their whole discography and I always will.
    They were the first Vrock band to play outside Japan [USA – 2003].

    Yuya and Hayato are now recording funny youtube videos on this channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJCX_7WgFW7zGrFLRTH9Btw

    Val has an instagram account where he posts pictures with Gackt’s band: https://www.instagram.com/val.on.drums/

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