Kaoru Niikura, known mononymously by his given name Kaoru, is a Japanese guitarist, songwriter and record producer best-known as the bandleader and lead guitarist of the post-Visual Kei experimental metal band Dir en grey. Since 1996 he has been involved in the Visual scene as a guitarist for CHARM and La:Sadie's.He has composed most of Dir en grey's songs and is credited as the band's primary composer and producer (up until the Vulgar album, where individual credits were dropped). Many of his compositions display great variety in terms of sound, often ranging from soft, slow ballads to upbeat, aggressive metal songs. He is also a proficient soloist; his melodic solos vary greatly in feeling, tempo and technicality.Like fellow bandmate Toshiya, he is also an illustrator.
Kaoru provides examples of:
- Ambiguous Gender: Plays this trope straight as far as appearance is concerned, even more so in his early days in the visual scene.
- Ascended Fanboy: Became this. He is a fan of X Japan's hide and entered the Visual scene in order to become as great as him. He and his band got signed to Yoshiki's Extasy Records in the early part of their career and took on his idol's image. He also become a household name in modern Visual Kei and received recognition as a promising talent in the metal scene. He is so praised for his guitar skills that he was eventually chosen as a candidate for hide's replacement as X Japan guitarist. The position went to Luna Sea guitarist Sugizo, however.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: Presented himself as this in his early years. Even in some recent photos, he doesn't look like the manliest member of the band.
- Expy: A blatant hide clone; he is almost in competition with fellow bandmate Die, and the two often seem to outdo each other.
- One of their more recent photoshoots has them looking like mirror images of each other◊
- Elegant Gothic Lolita: During the band's most Visual phases, but averted in recent years.
- Follow the Leader: A huge fan of hide and wanted to be like him (see above). He did.
- Harsh Vocals: He tries to mimic Kyo's singing, though he ends up sounding like Maria Cross.
- Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Has always been.
- Long Runner Line Up: Part of one of Visual Kei's most long-lived bands. He is somehow proud of it and considers the band and his bandmates as important.
- The Mentor: Yoshiki helped shape his hide cloning attempt by injecting an X Japan-esque vibe to his early works.
- Nice Hat: Loves hats and owns a rather extensive collection.
- Ojou Ringlets: He has been curling his hair more and more in recent years; in 2011 he went for loose barrel curls, in 2012 he went for '80s Hair and nowadays he seems to be going for a messier version of his 2011 hairstyle.
- Older Than They Look: Almost in his forties, though he looks like one of the band's youngest members.
- Our Zombies Are Different: Popularized Dir en grey's tagline: "Japanese Zombie Heroez" which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin - the band is usually portrayed in music videos as a group of Visual Kei zombies playing metal songs (as seen in the PVs for "Obscure", "The Final", "Hageshisa to..." and "Different Sense"). He claims that it first appeared on his ESP Ganesa VIII in a live show and ever since then the tagline has appeared on every one of his signature guitars, picks and straps. It has also appeared in the band's official merch and as a tattoo worn by some Visual Kei fanboys.
- Renaissance Man: Aside from music, he once said that, during his school years, he was known as an excellent student who specialized in arts and sports. He isn't exactly the most studious, however. He is also an illustrator.
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted and, occasionally, averted.
- Stage Names: He goes mononymously by his given name.
- Stylistic Suck: His unclean vocals.
- Visual Kei: Went post-Visual, but still associated with the scene. Since the UROBOROS era, he has experimented with VK once again (same applies to the rest of his bandmates), though his style leans more towards "wealthy metal rockstar" at best.