Visual Kei is both a music genre and a culture/subculture. This page exists to provide a short precis on the history and development of Visual Kei as both music genre/subgenre and culture/subculture, to educate on terminology and on different concepts present within the culture/subculture, and to help you understand just a little more about both the artists and the fans.
Timeline of Visual Kei
The beginning - from Unbuilt Trope to Visual Shock - 1960s until early 1990s
Many Visual Kei artists such as Atsushi Sakurai as well as Kenji Sawada himself consider a 70s artist, Kenji Sawada, as the "Pioneer of Visual Kei," because he was known for his flamboyant nature and excess use of makeup and bright costuming, as well as dying his hair a lot(even once dressing similar to hide in the late 90s with pink hair and an outfit similar to the Dahlia-era kimono.). Another pre-80s rock artist, the late Kiyoshi Imamura, is also seen as one of the early local pioneers of Visual Kei.
The biggest influences on the concept in general aside from these artists and Kabuki theatre, though, were Western bands. KISS was one of the very biggest influences - two of the first Visual Kei bands to exist were directly inspired by KISS. Western Heavy Metal and Hard Rock took off in Japan around the early 1980s - providing more influences upon the culture and the subculture, and on the music itself, as a local Hard Rock and Heavy Metal scene soon developed in Osaka with Loudness and then soon enough, in other major cities in Japan with other local Hard Rock and Heavy Metal acts including Anthem (a Heavy Metal band) and BOOWY (a Hard Rock act where Tomoyasu Hotei of Kill Bill fame got his start).
How Visual Kei itself differentiated from Japanese Hard Rock and Heavy Metal is somewhat lost to history if one is looking for an absolute, precise band to claim as "they started it." Around the early to mid 1980s, many bands were forming or had formed in the major cities. The bands generally credited with beginning the scene, though, were the Tokyo-based X Japan (then simply called "X,"), the Tokyo-based Rosenfeld, the also Tokyo-based COLOR, the also Tokyo-based Seikima II, the Yokosuka-based artist actor and singer Rolly, and the Gunma-based Buck Tick. Fans of each and every one of these acts will claim their band was the one who started Visual Kei, when the real truth is somewhere in between - that all of these bands and acts, beginning their careers in the same time window and doing similar things and sometimes associating with each other, was what launched Visual Kei as a culture and musical scene as well as a subgenre.
Everything from here onward, obviously, will apply to the 1985-1990 period of Visual Kei, with its having been built as trope.
The person generally credited as Trope Maker and Trope Namer is Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan, because he was the first to actually name the concept which had differentiated "Visual Shock," and he was the first to create Extasy Records, the first dedicated Visual Kei label, in 1986 to release a single that no existing record label desired to publish, and in the process, began signing other artists and bands, with himself and hide as A&R seeking out acts they liked/with whom they were friends.
Later within this period of time, Dynamite Tommy formed Free Will Records, though it would not rise to prominence as the main signer of Visual Kei acts until later - when it became the dominant label for visual.
People and money began to pour into the scene around the mid to late 80s, making Visual Kei an attractive place for bosozoku and other delinquents and others who were on the fringes of legitimate Japanese society at the time who sought fame and fortune as musicians, regardless of musical skill or ability or talent, which produced a wide pool of talent to draw from as some actually did have talent - but which also married the scene to, at the time, a reputation of being rough outlaws or near-outlaws, which was excaberated by the tendency of almost all of the young men involved in it toward fighting or violence in some way or another - the Bar Brawl was an extremely common event, and soon enough, bars tried to bar Visual Kei artists (from specific artists with "no Yoshiki" signs, to the markers of being Visual Kei at the time with "no blondes" or "no unusual hair" or similar) The criminal element did not, however, heavily draw actual Yakuza until a few years later - early on, the Yakuza was just as embarrassed at the freakishly dressed, overemotional, loud, wild bandmen as normal society was.
The delinquent strain (out of which came, for just two examples, Taiji Sawada of X and Ume of Tokyo Yankees) also added its own fashion sensibilities (In the mid to late 80s, Visual Kei fashion and biker and yankii fashion were almost the same thing at points) - while most of those died out as a whole with stylistic changes, a few remnants of them are ubiquitous safety pins (an item that could fix a poor bandman's clothes one minute and be used in a fight or to fix something onstage the next), often elaborate rings on each finger of the hand (originally developed as a form of Loophole Abuse to give a bandman a better chance in a fight - a fist full of rings can do almost as much damage as a brass knuckle), and surgical masks as a fashion item (which were once a yankii thing). The delinquents also tended to have more punk sensibilities than an interest in metal specifically (though some of them also definitely liked metal) so the sound took on an aggressive thrash metal type sound - unless the band forswore metal entirely and was a straight-up punk act.
Attitudes toward women and female artists were pretty much in the same troglodyte Dark Ages that Hair Metal and hardcore punk elsewhere in the world were in the mid to late 80s, along with a huge dash of Japanese cultural sexism toward women. Many songs and much VK artwork expressed ideas that even the artists who created them at the time later found repugnant, actual rape and fetish BDSM were conflated, and women were often seen as either "honey women" supporting the bandmen or as groupies. That being a given, it wasn't a universal No Woman's Land and could at times even be Fair for Its Day: women achieved journalistic or band management or PR or other positions that they absolutely couldn't elsewhere in Japan at that point (and some of the pioneering rock journalists of the era were women), there were all-female or female-fronted bands though they were a rarity (those, however, included Show-Ya and Lucifer Luscious Violenoue), and even some male bands and artists wrote lyrics that weren't all about rape and violence against women.
On the other hand, attitudes toward gay and bisexual men and same-sex relationships were way, way beyond Fair for Its Day and far ahead of even the social curve of the time. The emphasis on androgyny in the scene, the strain of descent from Kabuki theater which had been a more welcoming place toward bisexual and gay men, the potential bisexuality and homosexuality of some of the first artists, and more led to a place where it was no longer shameful or a sign of immaturity but instead a way to shock normal society further and even be "cool" to be bi. This is also why the bands of this era that engaged in Ho Yay as fanservice or wrote homoerotic lyrics were equally as likely to actually be interested in it for itself or at the very least into throwing it into a heavily heterosexual society's face than to just be doing it for the fangirls: at the time, the Yaoi Fangirl didn't even exist as a market, and would only come to exist later on. This also extended to at least one Visual Kei band doing something entirely unheard of in a country where people generally didn't even speak of HIV/AIDS at the time - a friend of the vocalist's had contracted the disease, and the singer (and the band) became outspoken AIDS activists, along with the band even using a merch release of condoms to call attention to the fact that safe sex reduces the risk of AIDS.
Japanese society in general severely frowned upon drugs aside from alcohol and tobacco, which meant attitudes toward drugs were pretty much the mixed bag they are presently, though they did not reflect Japanese society as a whole (aside from stimulants such as amphetamines being the most popular drugs, (addiction and overuse of which would bite the scene in the ass hard once people began to severely go off the rails and die) as opposed to cannabis, though cannabis was popular when it could be acquired. Opiates and hallucinogens were less common but made their own appearances both in parties and in music and lyrics. Lyrics about drugs were, obviously, common, though they often required large doses of Loophole Abuse, Rules Lawyering, and outright bribery (among other strategies) to succeed in Getting Crap Past the Radar.
That said, at the time, tobacco use was off the charts. In 80s-90s VK, as in Japan itself, Everybody Smokes was a given trope. Finding an artist that didn't smoke at the time was nigh-impossible, and all venues and events and such allowed for smoking. Most artists would even advertise for their favorite brand of cigarette by listing it in their profiles - for example, hide became one of the biggest promoters for Japan Tobacco's Mild Seven brand, without even actually appearing in any specific advertisements for it.
Alcohol use was even more unrestrained, to the degree that it could be argued pretty much everyone in early VK was either headed for becoming The Alcoholic or was, at the very least, a major alcohol abuser. All lives were held at clubs, all meetings and interviews involved drinking in some way, and as time went on, it became obvious some of the heaviest drinkers weren't just drinking for fun and socialization, but that some had major personal problems.
Above all else, the mid to late 1980s-early 1990s was when Visual Kei hit its stride, over the span of 1987-1990 going from "scary underground indies scene of metal weirdness" to The Next Big Thing in Japanese music. It was on its first upward swing of the Popularity Polynomial, and much as Hair Metal did, became wildly popular among youth and even some subsets of the mainstream - the 1989-1992 period was when X Japan went platinum three times in Japan and was nigh-omnipresent on anything music-related, when Visual Kei in general was charting on mainstream charts at points with a variety of bands, and when the money pouring into the scene finally began to overcome more of society's awkwardness with it and the "sketchy" characters that made it up, at least partially so. This is roughly comparable to both the rise of Hair Metal and Gangsta Rap in the US, as a comparison.
More styles enter, the splitting off of subgenres, the fall of one label and rise of another, and the formation of a culture : 1994- 1996
Around 1993-1994, the dominant style in Visual Kei had slowly began to shift. Goth Rock and softer album-oriented rock, Power Pop, and many more diverse genres and subgenres began to filter in as bands slowly moved away from Arena Rock and Hair Metal and Heavy Metal inspired styles, though metal bands still existed - the more successful ones also adopted a far more Progressive Rock or Gothic Industrial sound as well as their metal sound.
This arrival of styles led to the first split: Visual Shock became White Kote Kei and Black Kote Kei. Soon enough, the arrival of the Gothic and Lolita styles made for another major split: Nagoya Kei and Lolita, respectively, first began to take shape around this era as separate styles from Kote Kei, though they would only become truly themselves later on.
Most bands toned down their appearance somewhat during this era - around 1993-1995 is when you began to see the biker and other delinquent fashion styles disappear aside from their remnants, and, for most bandmen, the Improbable Hairstyle and 80sHair go out of style for something more like Anime Hair unless they were either in an Elegant Gothic Lolita influenced band and wanted to look ultra-feminine or were a diehard holdout to their specific type of hairstyle. Around this time, spikes, blonde, and especially long were out of style, though long was a given for EGL bands.
This was around the time that Yakuza began infesting the scene in earnest. It was making enough money to no longer be a flash in the pan and to be an object of financial interest as valuable as the rest of the Japanese entertainment industry, so actual, serious yakuza began to insinuate themselves into the business side, into running payola and protection rackets, into supplying drugs and doing blackmail related to their supply of drugs, into every place in the scene they could. It was no longer something like a band consisting of a grouping of low-ranking yakuza or a yakuza dealing drugs or working in a band's back office - this was the point when officially and unofficially, the scene began to seethe with yakuza at every single point and be connected to them as the mainstream Japanese music industry is.
Extasy Records semi-folded at the time in Japan, with almost all of its band roster disbanded or on hiatus, the label closed to anything other than X Japan and Shiro, another band that stayed on it, as Yoshiki decided to focus it on a more international level, an effort which would meet later on with failure. Dynamite Tommy's Free Will Records began, around this period, to start picking up some of the bands from Extasy's roster (including Gilles De Rais and Bellzeleb) and building itself into a competitive force in Visual Kei, though it would be in the next period of Visual Kei when it would truly shine as the top label.
Malice Mizer debuted in 1992, but didn't go big until they signed Gackt in 1995. When they did, they instantly rose to being one of the very top and most influential acts in Visual Kei, and they arguably defined this era - they acquired almost as many Follow the Leader bands as Rosenfeld and X Japan did, and even existing bands began to adopt a more Gothic style because of them - Buck Tick, for example, took on a darker Goth Rock tone and began to succeed with it. Cyberpunk and cybergoth also made some major inroads - as "digital kei," and similar names, it was the primary style of hide's solo career - if a primary style couldhave even been attached to it - which was, at the time, even eclipsing that of the band where he'd first become famous.
At the same time, straight up Hard Rock/Heavy Metal was definitely on the way out: Tokyo Yankees went on hiatus, for example, and Taiji Sawada's solo band D.T.R. never reached a success level beyond "niche," because both held too close to that style and didn't do any innovation in the direction of Progressive Rock or Goth Rock styles.
At this point, Visual Kei was riding the Popularity Polynomial by altering its styles and forming into specific forms, rather than taking the sheer nosedive off of it the more metal bands and styles (and most of yankii fashion) did. It was also, somewhat, beginning to codify its own culture of show etiquette, behavior for artists and fans, style and dress to be considered a part of it, and many and varied other things that had began to develop since the early 90s. These will be addressed later in their own section on culture.
Gender attitudes began to become enlightened a bit more. While the amount of female and female-fronted bands still remained fairly low on the radar, the troglodyte attitudes of Hair Metal began to scale back with its loss of popularity and as the times themselves got better for women in Japan in general., and things seemed to change for the better in regard to this.
The yankii/bosozoku element tended to drop off of newer VK, at least directly, by this point, with the change toward Goth as a more popular genre and with their own style (for the most part - some HR/HM fans remained, especially those loyal to specific bands or artists) veering away from Hard Rock/Heavy Metal into rap.
This was the era that Ho Yay done by straight artists for the sole reason of Yaoi Fangirlfanservice first began to appear. The Yaoi Fangirl was recognized as a demographic, and even straight artists realized that it was a profitable demographic - so the Ho Yay became not so much, necessarily, about a means of being able to be out as bisexual or gay in a society that looked down upon it or about a means of flipping the bird to a heteronormative society as appealing to the straight Fan Girls who wanted to see the hot men touching each other or making out onstage.
Everybody Smokes was still in effect at this point - only later on did we see artists begin to quit smoking in large numbers. Drinking and drug use in the scene reached their apex at this point as well
Disbandments, deaths, drug busts, and other tragedies: 1997- 1999
Under a series of stresses (best summarized as "the singer left for a religious cult, the lead guitarist had a far more promising solo career, and everyone had gotten sick of working with each other"), X Japan announced their disbandment and held their last live in 1997.
Also in 1997, one of the most high-profile drug busts of the scene (though with an ex-Visual Kei band, L'Arc-en-Ciel) happened - Sakura, the drummer, was busted for cannabis possession, though it was likely he was just the unlucky one as opposed to the only one. He was kicked from the band and replaced with Yukihiro, as the full disapproval of Japanese society on someone caught in the act of using drugs descended upon L'Arc as a band: their albums and other productions were boycotted and removed from record stores, they were denied venue privileges, and similar, until he was removed.
This harsh crackdown on any kind of overt drug use led to more artists taking their use far more underground and being far more concerned with establishing plausible deniability and/or covering it up - unfortunately, it did nothing to discourage the widespread use of methamphetamine and other stimulants as the most popular drug, as they were far easier to conceal the use of than cannabis. In a way, the drug crackdown refined drug use to being that of the most dangerous drugs, because they were easier to conceal and lie about one's use, and more use of alcohol.
On May 2, 1998, hide died via hanging himself, in a result of circumstances that to this day are still not entirely understood (though it is generally agreed to have been an accidental death in some parts, a suicide in others, and may the two never meet, anywhere near you). An alcohol-poisoning level of alcohol was present in his blood, according to a later coroner's report, along with possible evidence of methamphetamine use.
This was one of the most pivotal events in this era of Visual Kei, even more so than the disbandment of his former band - it was, in its own way, the door closing on both the future direction of Visual Kei he represented (both in his solo career branching out of Japan and in his promise to reunite and remake X Japan) at the time in an entirely divorced from emotion sense, and in an emotional and personal sense, one of the most heartwrenching losses of both the scene and of Japanese music in general. As mentioned on his page, the general impact of his death (and the impression it made upon the scene and other artists and fans) was, to compare to Western music, was as if Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and John Lennon had all died at the same time at the peak of their lives and careers, and in a way that made absolutely no sense and was so sudden and out of the blue.
The Second Era of Visual Kei: Gackt's solo career, Dir En Grey, reunions, and the New Wave of Japanese Heavy Metal: 1999- 2010
Visual Kei's re-emergence as a powerful force in Japanese music began in the late 1990s, in the wake of the various tragedies and controversies that plagued the scene. Formed in 1997, from the ashes of underground alternative rock band La:Sadie's, experimental metal band Dir En Grey made headlines in the scene by entering the Oricon Top 10 charts with two independently produced songs. Shortly afterward, they would gain the attention of Yoshiki, who produced most of their early releases, and later on, the international metal community, for their eclectic fusion of musical styles and influences that ranged from radio-friendly alternative rock to full-on grindcore and nu metal (death metal/deathcore in recent years).
In 1999, Gackt made headlines in the Visual Kei scene with his departure from successful Goth Rock band Malice Mizer. At around the same time, drummer Kami died from a subarachnoid hemorrhage; he would later become an eternal member of the band, as well as the cause of the band's shift to a darker image. The band would go on hiatus in 2001.
Gackt, however, would launch a highly successful musical career, eventually becoming one of the most commercially successful musicians in the Japanese rock scene.
The new millennium saw the rise of the so-called Second Wave of Visual Kei bands. At this point, Heavy Metal has enjoyed renewed mainstream success, with extreme subgenres such as Metalcore, Nu Metal and Melodic Death Metal coming into prominence. Due to this, many underground bands have broken through into the mainstream and gained considerable success. Some of these acts would become synonymous with the genre's renaissance, including Oshare kei band An Cafe, Nu Metal band The Gazette, Nagoya kei groups Deathgaze and Lynch, alt-rock outfit Nightmare, experimental solo artist Miyavi, all-female Melodic Death Metal / Metalcore band exist†trace, punk metal band Girugamesh and the abovementioned experimental outfit Dir En Grey.
Unlike Visual Shock-era bands, who primarily focused on over-the-top visuals and performances, these bands put more emphasis on staying true to the genre's Heavy Metal roots than anything else, with some bands going as far as downplaying the visuals and focusing on the creation of hard-hitting material that would later lead to the term "Visual Kei" becoming almost synonymous to Japanese rock and heavy metal. The evolution of the various subsets of Visual rock to full-fledged subcultures has become prominent, with each sub-genre adopting its own unique set of sounds and visuals.
At this point, Visual kei enjoyed widespread popularization outside Japan, attracting fans from the rest of the East Asia region (China, South Korea, and Taiwan, with cult followings throughout Southeast Asia) as well as in places as far away as Europe and the Americas.
Bands that would form later on, such as Mana's new project Moi Dix Mois, Alice Nine, Galneryus, LM.C and Versailles would also gain some international recognition.
The 2000's also saw the rise and eventual recognition of female Visual Kei artists. Post-Gothic Metal outfit Yousei Teikoku, fronted by voice actress/singer Yui Itsuki has gained recognition in the Anime scene for their contributions to several well-known titles, the best-known of these being the first opening track to the anime Mirai Nikki. Metalcore band exist†trace challenged the conventions of Visual Kei by being the most successful all-female Visual act in the scene, both in Japan and on an international level. Other all-female bands, such as Aldious, DESTROSE and Danger Gang would also enjoy some commercial success. In the mid-2000s, Kanon Wakeshima, a baroque pop artist and fashion model, revived Lolita kei as a commercially successful subset of Visual Kei. Produced by Mana of Malice Mizer, she rose to stardom with her unusual sound and stunning image. Her song "Still Doll" was used as the ending for the hit anime Vampire Knight; it would later become one of the most recognizable Gothic pop songs in modern Japanese music. Another Lolita artist, Kana brought Lolita kei to even greater prominence with her active participation in Japanese mainstream culture, being an artist, toy designer, model, singer and actress.
Older Visual Kei bands have enjoyed renewed success in the modern era. X Japan has had a string of reunions since the mid-2000s. X officially reformed, with Sugizo as the lead guitarist, in 2010note Sugizo was inducted into the band after a lengthy talent search for hides replacement, which included, among many others, Wes Borland, Kaoru of Dir En Grey and Miyavi. Luna Sea reformed after a decade-long period of inactivity. Visual Thrash Metal outfit Sex Machineguns was featured on the 2007 documentary Global Metal, and TM Revolution continues to gain success even after two decades in the scene.
Visual Kei Subgenres
Pioneered by bands such as X Japan, D'erlanger, Buck Tick, COLOR, and Sex Machineguns, Visual Shock is the earliest and most mature form of Visual Kei, having been the parent genre for the various Visual Kei microgenres that have popped out throughout the genre's history. It is mainly characterized by the colorful, extravagant and often shocking visuals of the bands and artists associated with the subgenre, hence the name. Common features include gravity-defying hairstyles, heavy makeup, stylish clothes, and a general focus on maintaining a high-end, "wealthy rockstar" appearance. Androgyny, or appearing genderless/genderbent is also a defining feature of the style. Musically, Visual Shock is based on mid-ranged Heavy Metal, especially Hair Metal, Power Metal, and Thrash Metal, though some bands play regular Hard Rock and/or traditional metal styles.
Common tropes in Visual Shock include:
Bar Brawl: Visual Shock artists were particularly infamous for this, though many fans see this as a way of shocking their fanbase or drawing attention towards themselves. The practice has died down in recent years, though.
Berserk Button: See above. Nearly everything could be one depending on the person or the band and his alcohol or drug consumption at the time. Band rivalries were a huge one that would often lead to band members fighting each other and/or other fans fighting each other, and bar bans all around for the effort.
Biseinen: Almost all Visual Shock artists are this to some degree
Dead Horse Genre: Subverted. The genre went down in flames as such around 1994-1995, with most of the Hard Rock / Heavy Metal /Hair Metal bands either collapsing or undergoing Genre Shift (e.g. X Japan and Luna Sea becoming toned down Goth Rock and Gothic Metal and falling into another genre, L Arc En Ciel going Oshare and Post Visual, hide doing "digital kei" and Eroguro, with acts that didn't Genre Shift such as Tokyo Yankees and Taiji Sawada's D.T.R. either going on hiatus or becoming highly unpopular). It stayed as such until around 2006-08, when a confluence of events from fans discovering videos of early Visual Shock bands and bands' old eras on Youtube, artists getting tired of Eroguro and Oshare dominating the scene, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, and even Hair Metal gaining popularity again with rock and metal hardness above Oshare but still listenable regaining popularity among overseas fans and retaining it in the underground, bands from the era surviving, and more all combined to revive large parts of the genre as Neo-Visual Shock or Neo-Visual.
Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: 0 (for instrumentals) to 9 usually, with the usual range being 6-8 with most bands having at least one 1-4 Power Ballad, while also having enough Explicit Content or angsty, depressing or outright violent themes or similar to at least have a couple sevens to nines.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 4-9 on average, with most bands having the Power Ballad at some points to peg lower than 4 (e.g. X Japan's Endless Rain). The more rock bands are usually 6-7 at most, with the more thrashy metal (early X, Sex Machineguns) closer to 7-9.
Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: For a lot of reasons, (everything from the bosozoku and yankii influence, to being Always Male, to wanting to shock a then sexually conservative, "alcohol and tobacco are the only highs" Japan, to wanting to emulate western rockers), this was notorious for it in the old days. There were tons of songs about drugs and drug use, and even more users, and the first major speed boom and distribution of ecstasy and LSD in Japan happened around The Eighties. As for sex, many of the men in the scene were openly bisexual and quite willing to at least engage in fanservice with other men, if not actually have relationships however fleeting - and on the heterosexual side, this was when living off groupies began to codify into mitsuCompensated Dating.
The direct descendant of Visual Shock, it is a Lighter and Softer take on classic Visual Kei, characterized by a greater emphasis on style and less on shock value. Similar to Visual Shock, Kote Kei artists are easily recognizable by their colorful hair, heavy makeup and stylish attire, but unlike Visual Shock, the outfits are less extravagant and more contemporary in style, though not as toned-down as Nagoya, Oshare, or Post-Visual. Musically, Kote kei encompasses a large portion of the entire rock spectrum, from soft rock to Metalcore.
Kote kei began in the 1990s, with bands and artists such as Luna Sea, Kuroyume and TM Revolution opting for less shocking attire to cope with changing trends in fashion and music. It reached its peak in the early 2000s, with bands such as Dir En Grey (which later became Eroguro/Post-Visual) and The Gazette (which later went Digital kei/Eroguro)paving the way for newer Kote kei acts.
Kote kei has two major subsets: Black Kote kei which is more aggressive and metallic, and White Kote kei which is lighter and more melodic in its musical style.
Tropes typical to Kote Kei include:
Considered as either an offshoot of the more metallic end of Kote Kei or a Darker and Edgier take on Visual Shock, Eroguro kei is a Visual Kei microgenre that emerged in the late 1990s, and is inspired by the Eroguro artistic movement (basically Japan's take on Postmodernism). It is characterized by a fusion of highly sexualized and very dark, terrifying, often violent themes as the main motif. Bands on the more "Ero" side opt for extreme androgyny or full-on crossdressing, while bands on the more "Guro" side go for grim, often nightmarish visuals; achieved both by intricate makeup and styling work a la Black Metal and violent, often ritualized stage performances. Eroguro is musically defined by loud, raw, and sometimes trashy musicianship, and is founded on extreme metal subgenres such as Death Metal, Black Metal, Grindcore, Deathcore and the heavier end of metalcore, as well as other extreme genres such as noise rock, Hardcore Punk and Industrial.
Some of the defining tropes of the Eroguro kei subgenre include:
Base Breaker: Eroguro itself, and nearly every band/artist/fandom associated with it. Along with Oshare, it is pretty much the other extreme case of Love It or Hate It in Visual Kei.
Apathetic Citizens. Most Eroguro bands exist to skewer apathetic citizens with insults and shoving triggering/offensive imagery at them whether simply as trolling or to make a point and hopefully wake them up.
"Kawaii" or "cute" things (sometimes to the degree of being called "kawaii" or "cute" being seen as a very offensive insult). This one originates from most Eroguro artists' disgust with the "Kawaii Ko" concept of Japanese culture and the use of cuteness as a means of pacification and/or as a backhanded compliment with racist undertones.
Moral Guardians. Even more enraging than Apathetic Citizens as they are seen not as guarding morals but of guarding a facade, and possibly the only group that provokes more disgust for Eroguro artists and fans - to the point that intentionally trying to piss them off is part of being an artist in the subgenre.
Being accused of being a "bad influence on society" (quite a few Eroguro artists/bands see themselves as "holding up a mirror to society" and calling "normal" society to account for the atrocities they depict, which "polite society" wishes to ignore rather than confront).
Oshare Kei, for the reason kawaii and cute are considered insults above.
Costume Porn: The ero-oriented varieties provide good examples of this
Dead Horse Genre: Somewhat of a backlash to Eroguro has formed as a result of the scene being incrediblyoverpopulated with Dir En Grey and The Gazetteclones, people being burned out on the seemingly repetitive use of ultragraphic violence, rampant misogyny, and Too Much Information for shock value alone (especially when it creates, rather than deconstructs, Unfortunate Implications), and such cliches as the unintelligibly screaming vocalist, intentionally bad musicianship, stripped down art and makeup, bands hating their fans and their fans hating them, and the like. It's arguable that Neo Visual Shock got much of its start from people tired of the extremes of Eroguro and Oshare being "Visual Kei."
Mind Screw - Most Eroguro lyrics are cryptic at best.
Misogyny Song - Very frequent in Eroguro lyric writing, moreso in the more guro-oriented bands.
Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: 9-11 AT LEAST, as an Enforced Trope for the genre. Possibly a more "cute" "ero" band could do a 7 or 8 with a lot of Double Entendre for the "ero" part, or a band that is balanced between both ero and guro could do a song that focuses more on angst or sorrow than on brutal and graphic violence to land at a 6 or 7 (e.g. Dir En Grey's Ain't Afraid To Die), but the great majority of Eroguro band output is 9 through 11 for obvious reasons.
Scary Musician, Harmless Music - Inverted, especially in the "ero" side of the subgenre, while the "guro" side subverts it altogether: both the musicians and the music are downright scary.
Serial Escalation: Compare the founding works of the genre (hide's 1995-1997 works, Kuroyume's early works) to almost any 2010s band of the genre.
Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Usually, more so in lyrical content than actual behavior, and often deconstructed in songs such as Dir En Grey's Egnirys Cimredopyh which is about a meth addict locked up in a mental ward and still injecting himself to death with a fatal overdose.
Oshare Kei began as a backlash to the Darker and Edgier content of Visual Kei and the emphasis of most genres on Heavy Metal and Hard Rock and/or Gothic Metal and Goth Rock, as well as an equally powerful push to commercialize and monetize Visual Kei in the mainstream of music. The first "Oshare Kei" band is technically recognized as L Arc En Ciel because of its being Alternative Rock and breaking away from Visual Kei in general to pursue a wider demographic, but the microgenre came into its own around the middle of Turn of the Millennium.
While Oshare brought some genre diversity (Oshare artists could be anything from Pop Punk to elecronica to even Hip Hop or rap) to Visual Kei, and became, for better or worse, the face of "mainstream" and "label signed" VK from then through The New Tens, it also became The Scrappy and Flame Bait much the same as Hair Metal did in the West, for a major application of Sturgeon's Law. As in, while there are many talented Oshare bands (such as L Arc En Ciel and L.MC) and many artists who went through Oshare/host style fashion periods, the style unfortunately became associated with an intense amount of Follow the Leader, mediocre musicianship yet lots of fangirls and money surrounding it, and with a codified, fixed set of appearance rules ("look like a pretty young host" or "be kawaii"). It became, therefore, an Acceptable Target for metal fans, for those interested in other styles, and pretty much the rest of Visual Kei as a result - while yet being the most "popular" and "easily signable" genre.
Oshare Kei has three subsets: Host Kei, the most popular, which emphasizes the more Bishōnen side, Kawaii Kei which emphasizes the "cute" aspect, and the once-popular-but-now-discredited Urban Kei which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
Some of the defining tropes of Oshare are:
Always Male: Due to the "look like a host and appeal to fangirls" demand, there are very few female Oshare artists. Those that do exist tend to subvert the rule tend to be poppier artists focusing on the "kawaii" side.
Anime Hair: Lots and lots of bright shiny colors, often ombres of those colors, and beading and ribbons are not uncommon in the "kawaii" side. The "host" side tends toward browns and muted blondes cut in usual host styles and usually averts this trope.
Auto-Tune: The subgenre that introduced it to Visual before its wide acceptance across almost all other subgenres. Being the "patient zero" for the spread of autotune is one reason the subgenre became a Hate Sink for pretty much the rest of visual kei.
Berserk Button: Oshare itself, but especially the host side, which is often written off as fake and an insult to visual kei as well as a black eye to it in the general rock/metal world by metalheads and rockers in the scene.
To Oshare fans, artists who aren't under similar rules and/or who choose to flaunt their not being so restricted.
Also to many but not all Oshare fans, the more heavy/hardcore/metallic subgenres in general, and the behavior/reputations associated with them and their artists and fans.
The Beautiful Elite: Oshare bands are very much about this, to the point of labels often regulating their bands' weight, public appearances, and anything else that could possibly ruin their image of being young, available, beautiful men seeking to serve the fangirls. This is another bone of contention with the rest of Visual Kei, which may do this informally but where, at least technically, the scene is about artistic and personal freedom.
Contractual Purity: Oshare is probably the most restrictive place in Visual Kei regarding this. Band members are often subject to appearance regulations, to being forbidden from getting into or disclosing relationships (to seem "available"), and much more, at least for the host kei bands.
Dance Party Ending: Because most EDM acts in Visual Kei are Oshare, though they are usually "kawaii" instead of host.
Dead Horse Genre: There are signs that Oshare is on its way out - L'Arc-en-Ciel appears to be headed towards a more metal-oriented direction, and Abingdon Boys School gravitated towards metal as well. Oshare's place in the scene is also threatened by the ever-increasing number of disgruntled metal fans who demand for heavier material and more unorthodox styles, a trend made evident by the neo-Visual Shock movement and the renewed popularity of Post-Visual kei and Eroguro kei. It might be too early to tell, however...
Follow the Leader: This trope is blamed for the ever-increasing number of Oshare kei artists in recent years.
High Class Escort: Many Oshare artists on the host side tend to engage in mitsu - sometimes even pimped out by their labels or other people in their band. It's become almost more infamous for it than Visual Shock was.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Generally, as an Enforced Trope, Oshare cannot go above a 6 or 7 because then it risks becoming too "metal" or "unlistenable" for its average audience. L'Arc~en~Ciel subverted it with a few songs that peg at 7 (most of them being on the Awake album) but it's rare for any Oshare band to get higher than 6.
The Beautiful Elite: Lolita kei plays this trope even more than Oshare Kei, with artists striving to achieve a perfect Victorian or neoclassical aesthetic through the use of very expensive costuming and stagecraft, though it isn't as much of an Enforced Trope as in Oshare.
Everything Is an Instrument: Lolita kei artists often use instruments other than the guitars, basses, and drums in more standard rock/metal. Keyboards, violins, wind instruments and similar usually show up in Lolita kei, but the microgenre is home to experimentalists and industrial acts, which means that the use of samples and electronic instruments is not unheard of.
Lead Bassist: Bass plays a role similar to lead guitar in Lolita kei, hence, most Lolita kei bassists are at least Type D examples; Lolita kei is also home to some of Visual Kei's finest bassists, the most notable being the late Jasmine You of Versailles and ex-Lolita kei bassists Toshiya (Dir En Grey) and Kisaki
Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Generally 0 (for frequent instrumentals) to 6. Most Lolita kei work is not highly sexual or incredibly graphically violent (with the exception of Malice Mizer's Illuminati which is, along with its PV, one of Visual Kei's first 10 works, being an 11 at its time, and Malice Mizer in general being a fusion of Lolita and Eroguro), and a lot of symbolism and longing/sadness is more common than outright suicidality or such.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 1 to 9, occasionally 10, sometimes by the same band, as this genre welcomes both quiet classical type interludes and the absolute extremes of speed and technicality in Visual Kei (some of the best guitar/bass shredders, drummers, pianists/keyboardists, etc. in the scene are Lolita or ex-Lolita artists). In fact, with its classical emphasis, it tends to draw "the best of the best" on a technical level unless they really wish to go into another genre, meaning that most bands are more than capable of doing both quiet instrumentals and then shredding just as well as Dragonforce or any Big Four thrash band.
Three Chords and the Truth: Averted and defied with extreme prejudice - Lolita kei frowns upon anything and everything that can be seen as musically simple and derivative, to the point where being a "real" Lolita Kei artist means having an awesome fashion sense and superb musical skills to boot.
Angura is generally a Folk Rock / Folk Metal subgenre, that spawned out of Patriotic Fervor and an interest in The Old Ways. It has its roots in Visual Shock somewhat, as there were some right-wing and "old Japanese traditional" sentiments there, and it really took the "Kabuki" part of Visual Shock and ran with it more than anything else, rejecting the Western-inspired parts aside from their preferred genres of Heavy Metal or Hard Rock. Band members often wear kimono, and traditional Kabuki or Geisha style makeup and hair, and use of borderline fascist or Imperial Japan glorifying lyrics and imagery is not unknown. Some bands take the genre Up to Eleven by including musicians who are professionals in playing traditional Japanese instruments.
Tropes commonly associated with Angura include the following:
Costume Porn: Angura bands are some of the most heavily actually costumed (as opposed to the glam rock look of most Visual Shock or neo-Visual Shock, as opposed to the generally stripped down costuming of Kote Kei) outside of Lolita bands.
Metal Scream: Along with pretty much all the other metal tropes.
Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Around 3-8 depending on band and song, though some of the more Fascist-leaning bands can approach a 10 or 11 for the same reason NSBM does.
Patriotic Fervor: Not as awful as NSBM or redneck country or similar, in that some Angura bands are willing to acknowledge Japanese war atrocities or the like, and that the whole genre isn't composed of racist fascists or neocon rightwingers, but if you want to find rightwingers and outright racist fascists in Visual Kei instead of I Don't Cares/moderates/leftists/anarchists, this is where you generally look.
Branching off from Visual Shock and Eroguro kei in The Nineties, Nagoya kei, so named because the Trope Codifiers (Deathgaze, Lynch, Kuroyume) were from Nagoya, is an underground genre of Visual Kei that is characterized by an aggressive Hardcore Punk sound (with the occasional Power Ballad) and elements of Nu Metal such as downtuned guitars, a mix of baritone singing and screams, electronic sounds and equal prominence of all instruments. Artistically, Nagoya kei primarily focuses on a stripped-down but stylish, "wealthy Gothic metalhead" appearance with a mostly black-and-white palette. It differs from Eroguro kei in that despite the overall Darker and Edgier look and sound of Nagoya kei, the overall aesthetic has a more or less realistic, gritty bend as opposed to the highly stylized excesses of Eroguro.
While not as popular as Oshare, Eroguro, or Kote Kei, Nagoya Kei is respected by metalheads both within and outside Visual kei, despite most Nagoya kei bands falling underratherquestionable genres, mainly due to its rejection of the mainstream-oriented trappings of more popular Visual subgenres in favor of a more metallic aesthetic, as well as the tight-knit nature of the scene itself: Nagoya kei is home to many Visual artists who are known for working with other bands aside from their own.
Nagoya kei exemplifies the following tropes:
Anime Hair: Subverted - most Nagoya kei artists showcase black or otherwise natural-looking hair colors and opt for more plausible hairstyles, but compared to, say Oshare hairstyles or regular host hairstyles, Nagoya kei hair is noticeably more unorthodox-looking.
Emo Teen: The Nagoya fanbase has a large number of these. Some artists, such as Kiyoharu of Kuroyume were this at some point.
Also called "Alternative kei" in some Visual kei circles, Post-Visual kei is a catch-all term for J-music movements that have spun-off from the general Visual kei umbrella. It is distinguished from other Visual kei microgenres in that, even though it is still considered as a Visual scene, it is often only tangentially related to more established Visual subsets, and often having more in common with non-Visual rock or metal; in fact many Post-Visual acts either disassociate themselves with more established styles (or Visual in general, hence the term "Ex-Visual kei") or claim to have been inspired by Visual but are not part of it. It is a direct descendant of '90s Visual Shock and initially developed as both a backlash against the Hair Metal stylings of early Visual Shock and as an attempt to make Visual kei more avant-garde and contemporary through continuous stylistic and musical evolution. Post-Visual is inspired by Alternative Rock (especially Grunge and Post-Grunge) and Alternative Metal (especially Nu Metal and Experimental Metal); the genre's pioneers: L'arc-en-Ciel, Kuroyume and Dir En Grey have cited bands under these genres as influences.
As with Lolita Kei and Visual Shock, the Visual style often complements the music. Contrary to popular belief, Post-Visual is an artistically diverse genre. In Post-Visual, there are little to no set standards of dress, makeup, hairstyles, performance, or anything of that sort. Artists can go for subdued styles, as exemplified by "Casual kei" bands such as L'Arc~en~Ciel, or opt for a modernized and alternative adaptation of established Visual styles as seen in bands such as Dir En Grey, Galneryus, Buck Tick and Loudness. Some may forgo Visual clothing and hair altogether, but make up for their lack of flamboyance with massive amounts of stage and Performance Video artistry, a trend observable in many contemporary Post-Visual acts.
As with Nu Metal, the term is controversial and derogatory for some artists and fans, mainly because of its highly vague definition and little (if any) association with the more established styles.
Tropes in Post-Visual kei include the following:
Anime Hair: It still exists, though not as extreme as Oshare, Lolita, or Visual Shock.
Base Breaker: Bring it up on any discussion about Visual kei, and expect a raging shitstorm of vitriol to take place between fans who will defend Post-Visual and fans who will attempt to deconstruct their views on the genre. Try it.
And Dynamite Tommy (the very first Post-Visual artist) is himself one, especially if discussed around fans of Yoshiki and/or Yoshiki's label bands. While both of them long ago ended open hostilities or even competition, the fans are more than willing to keep the flames burning.
Berserk Button: Post-Visual itself, whether it should be called that or not, and tons of band-specific ones. Dir en grey fandom is especially notorious for being a minefield of Fandom Berserk Button.
Bishōnen: Though not as Yaoi Fangirl-oriented as Oshare or as waif-ish as Visual Shock artists, the Post-Visual scene is still pretty much populated by young and handsome musicians, though they are most likely not simply pretty faces...
That said, Post-Visual is, aside from Visual Shock and Neo-Visual Shock, the place where you're most likely to find older artists (e.g. older than 35-40), overweight or physically disfigured artists, married or otherwise unavailable artists, or others who avert, subvert, and invert the age limits and appearance/lifestyle standards found in other genres.
Contractual Purity: Averted for the most part; Post-Visual artists enjoy near-absolute freedom in their musical and visual stylings. Played straight by major labels who insist that Visual artists opt for a more "mainstream" image in order to appeal to a wider audience.
Dead Unicorn Trope: As ill-defined as Nu Metal in that there are little to no standards that make Post-Visual a coherent genre, and in place of these standards are common stereotypes (mostly from fans) that include the following:
Post-Visual artists do not dress in Visual kei clothing...and yet some Post-Visual acts go over-the-top with their costuming (Yousei Teikoku)
Post-Visual artists do not refer to themselves as Visual, but there are still artists who still claim otherwise and even maintain healthy ties with other, more established acts (Vamps, Dir En Grey, Buck Tick)
Post-Visual artists have very limited budgets, which explains their lack of visual flair. This is usually untrue - two of the most popular Post-Visual acts, L'Acr~en~Ciel and Dir En Grey, are commercially successful and part of the Visual kei elite.
Post-Visual artists play "alternative" music, yet there are bands that play more traditional music styles (Loudness and Galneryus)
Ensemble Darkhorse: Chances are, if a J-rock/J-metal band falls under Post-Visual, they're probably more respected than their contemporaries, save for a select few.
Genre Roulette: Trying to pin down the core sound of Post-Visual can be rather difficult, as Post-Visual artists are nigh-infamous for frequent stylistic changes. Probably not helped by the fact that some bands choose to be uncategorized...
Stylistic Suck: Not as bad as Eroguro, but some bands in this genre (e.g. those that are parodists or the Trolling Creator are especially prone, as is anything made to be postmodern art) would prefer unprofessional, sometimes garbage-level musicianship, and accomplish it. Common forms of doing so include an unintelligible vocalist, a vocalist obviously impersonating someone else, and/or the heavy, unironic use of Auto-Tune, guitarists or bassists with instruments so detuned their amps produce clipping or similar issues, excessive feedback/static/the intentional use of other unpleasant or unwanted noise, and/or incomprehensible or pointlessly offensive lyrics.
Unlimited Wardrobe: Post-Visual acts are nigh-infamous for their periodic, often annual or bi-annual appearance changes, which are most often extremely drastic, to the point where they can sometimes be unrecognizable. This has led to massive amounts of Broken Base in Post-Visual bands' fan communities.
Neo Visual Shock / Neo-Visual
Neo Visual Shock / Neo-Visual is a microgenre that formed around 2006-08. As mentioned under Visual Shock, it is the revival of the genre, originating from a confluence of events that included fans discovering videos of early Visual Shock bands and bands' old eras on Youtube, artists getting tired of Eroguro and Oshare dominating the scene, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, and even Hair Metal gaining popularity again with rock and metal hardness above Oshare but still listenable regaining popularity among overseas fans and retaining it in the underground, bands from the era surviving. The song that defines the genre is Miyavi's Neo Visualizm, with its Shout-Out to "X, Music/Kuroyume, and Luna Sea." There is some overlap with Post-Visual, but generally, the difference is that Neo Visual Shock artists are wanting to bring back the stylings of Visual Shock, where post-visual artists are wishing to deconstruct or subvert them.
Tropes normally found in Neo Visual Shock/Neo-Visual:
Auto-Tune: Averted, to the point of being a Berserk Button. Neo Visual Shock fans like a sound that existed pre-autotune. Detectable autotune will often get a song or CD denounced as utter and absolute crap in this microgenre, especially with its focus on realistic power vocals from some very renowned pre-autotune singers. Pretty much the only acceptable use is that that is not detectable (e.g. small pitch corrections) or alternately used to create its own sound.
Bar Brawl: Visual Shock artists were particularly infamous for this in The Eighties, though many fans see this as a way of shocking their fanbase or drawing attention towards themselves, plus, many of them are too old/too physically damaged/too concerned with legal ramifications to have a bar fight now, or have realized how stupid and dangerous the behavior was, and policing is far more restrictive now, so it is less of a feature of Neo Visual Shock than its predecessor. Most fans and even artists who would fall under Neo-Visual Shock tend to be more interested in fighting on the internet than in bars.
Any of the controversies in X Japan fandom or related to it. People who don't like that band, especially, versus people who do. And that's not even getting into the internal controversies.
Autotune, as mentioned above.
Three Chords and the Truth is one to some corners, especially the X Japan and Luna Sea ballad-side fans or the Buck-Tick fans that like the band's experimental periods. Not as much of one as it is in Lolita and there are some bands that go by it - but insist on it as the only true music, especially to X or Luna Sea fans, get flamed until crispy.
Biseinen: Almost all Neo Visual Shock artists are this to some degree. Even the older ones.
Expy: Many new artists base their styles on the styles of old artists. hide is extremely popular for this.
Flame War: Somewhat infamous for it, due to at least one band that falls into the category having literally dozens of ways to start Internet Backdraft due to more controversies than can be counted. Other bands that fall into the genre often don't have as many (mostly due to being new bands and/or having small enough fanbases that The Law of Fan Jackassery protects them) but any band with a sizable fandom that is a Long Runner likely has had at least a few flamewars.
Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Same as Visual Shock: also 0 (for instrumentals) to 9 usually, with the usual range being 6-8 with most bands having at least one 1-4 Power Ballad, while also having enough Explicit Content or angsty, depressing or outright violent themes or similar to at least have a couple sevens to nines.
Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 4-9 on average, with most bands having the Power Ballad at some points to peg lower than 4. The more rock bands (the reunited X and Buck-Tick, Luna Sea), are usually 6-7 at most with occasional jumps into 8 songs or solos, with the more thrashy metal (the reunited Tokyo Yankees, the new bands DEZERT and TSP) closer to 7-9.
Digital kei is an emerging Visual Kei microgenre that highlights the more futuristic and electronic side of the Visual scene. Branching off from Post-Visual and inspired by cyberpunk, it began as a series of independent movements in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, with J-rock artists such as the late hide, Imai Hisashi of Buck Tick, and J-music idol Takanori Nishikawa, as well as overseas acts such as Pitch Shifter and Nine Inch Nails being cited as primary influences. hide's band, Zilch, was among the first examples of the microgenre, being rooted in Industrial Metal and Nu Metal. Digital kei gained some attention in the mid-2000s, with the unexpected success of Blood Stain Child, whose breakthrough album, Idolator, combined the aggressive metal stylings of modern Visual kei with the artificial soundscapes of popular Electronic Music styles, eventually paving the way for a wave of similar artists to gain prominence. Digital kei gained even more recognition with the sudden Genre Shift of Eroguro band The Gazette, whose 2012 album DIVISION featured considerable experimentation and an almost entirely manipulated sound.
The increase in popularity of Vocaloid as both a music-making and visual tool among Visual and Post-Visual artists arguably helped in increasing the popularity of digital kei. Famed J-metal composer Yuyoyuppe, best known as "that Megurine Luka guy", is one such artist.
Stylistically, digital kei is based on aesthetics influenced by science fiction, cyberpunk, and rave culture, with bands and artists striving to appear as futuristic as possible - clothing such as jumpsuits, plugsuits and punk outfits, as well as eccentric hairstyle and accessory choices are often employed to achieve the look. It is rather common for digital kei artists to fully integrate technology with their musical and performance styles - the use of visuals such as lasers, strobe lights, holograms, onscreen projections and even animations are frequently used to give off an otherworldly vibe. Musically, digital kei is based on Electronic Music, Nu Metal and Industrial Metal and is characterized by extensive digital sound manipulation and the liberal use of extended playing techniques. Some artists draw heavy inspiration from Japanese Pop Music.
Tropes usually found in digital kei include the following:
Anime Hair: Spiked dreadlocks, fanned mohawks, devilocks, teased hair, Mega Twintails, multicolored hair...Along with Neo-Visual Shock and Lolita, digital kei is home to some of the craziest hairstyles in Visual kei.
Auto-Tune: Its use is everywhere in digital kei, though it is most often employed as a means of manipulating vocal tracks or as a way to make vocals sound "robotic" or "artificial" (usually approaching Uncanny Valley levels) rather than to cover up bad singing.
Epileptic Flashing Lights: A common visual trick in digital kei live shows and Performance Video, often to give off a more futuristic vibe. Use of the technique can be traced to the association of some visual kei circles with rave culture, where laser light shows and colorful visual effects are a key part of live shows.
Follow the Leader: The surprise success of Blood Stain Child in 2005 initiated a surge in popularity of similarly-styled acts and more established bands (especially from Oshare and Post-Visual) shifting towards digital kei. The sudden popularity spike experienced by Vocaloids such as Hatsune Miku, Megurine Luka, Gakupo, Gumi, etc. helped launch the more "virtual" side of the scene.
Synthetic Voice Actor: The use of Vocaloid and similar songwriting tools (see above) is very common among DJ-type digital kei artists or bands that lack dedicated vocalists. In some cases, if a digital kei vocalist becomes popular enough, he/she will most likely have a virtual counterpart, often a Vocaloid/UTAU character created in his/her image - examples include Gakupo (voiced by and based on Gackt) and Maiko (UTAU character, based on Dazzle Vision's Maiko)
Unbuilt Trope: Sort of. It's been around since the mid-1990s, but since most digital kei artists also fall under more established styles, the scene has yet to solidify and gain more notability for it to come out as a standalone genre.
What Could Have Been: hide has been promoting digital kei since his first attempts at reaching out to the Western metal scene in the mid-1990s and has had significant success during that era, and he was the person who named and pretty much defined the style in Japan aside from Imai Hisashi of Buck Tick. Had he not suffered Author Existence Failure, digital kei would have easily been one of the most notable Visual styles among non-Visual fans...
Sliding Scale of Visual Kei androgyny
0 - No real genderbending at all, and artists at this point may even emphasize secondary or tertiary characteristics, such as a male artist having a mustache or beard or other obvious extensive facial hair/chest hair/arm hair or wearing a typically "male" costume, or a female artist wearing stripperiffic costuming that showcases her breasts or alternately Sweet or Princess Elegant Gothic Lolita styles. Male examples would be Pata of X Japan, J of Luna Sea, and Die of Dir En Grey.
1 - The beginning of Bishōnen / Biseinen or Bifauxnen but still obviously male or female. Most of Dir En Grey after their fashion shift, Yoshiki from 1996 onward with some occasional skips to 2 post 2008, and pretty much anyone doing the "wealthy rockstar" look lands here.
2 - Solid Bishōnen / Biseinen, with heavy makeup for both genders, and some possible ventures into tertiary characteristics (outright feminine clothing for men, or masculine clothing for women) to invoke some Viewer Gender Confusion. At this point, you can't usually tell by looking at face alone. Good examples would be Kamijo of Versailles and Dir En Grey from 2001-2004.
3 - Bishōnen or Biseinen or Bifauxnen's end, going into slight to moderate ambiguity. Facial makeup, hair, clothes are either solidly ambiguous/unisex, or they are masculine on women or feminine on men. What separates this from 5 is that it is not the artist's continuous image nor is it truly "passable" as actual crossdressing, and what separates it from 4 is that the artist still somehow appears male looking feminine or female looking masculine - not entirely genderless or "neither" or "both." Yoshiki's "princess mode" style from 1987-1993 would place him here.
4 - Absolute Ambiguous Gender. The person could really be either, both, neither, or none from their appearance. There are relatively few artists at this rank because it's very difficult to achieve with a human body in general (and can almost always only be achieved working from a male body without a typically masculine face or broad shoulders or a female body with flat chest and no curves) - hide is an arguable example in his 94-96 phase, or Miyavi in some of his fashion phases. Omi of Exist Trace is a female example.
5 - Crossdressers for either gender that have made that their continuous stage image or personal image, and who are passable to fans and non-fans alike (pretty much, to anyone who hasn't been told) - Kaya, Mana, Hizaki, and pre-Kisou Dir en grey in their early fashion styles all are examples.