[Op-Ed] 8 game-changing songs by Kiramune artists

Kiramune artists have come a long way since their debuts. Most of them started off with a bubblegum pop sound that was as cute as it was bubbly, conquering the hearts of many women in Japan and overseas. But as time went by, we started to notice some nuances in their sound. Some ventured towards rock, others electronica or even a more fan friendly acoustic sound.

They embraced the music genre(s) they were more comfortable with, some even took more control over their sound and did some unexpected things. Others even kicked off their careers with the right foot but somehow, with time, lost their essence. Those changes made some of you and us, fans of these artists.

With this article, we’ll take a look at some of the songs that were a turning point or a statement for most of this artists, the game-changing songs in their careers.

Disclaimer:

This is an article reflects the opinion of the writer. The songs will not be ranked.

We start off with perhaps one of the most impressive songs we’ve ever listened coming from a Kiramune artist.

Tetsuya Kakihara’s “君の声に“, released back in 2014 on “Dangidi dan“, was the game-changer that his career was in dire need of. Up until then, Kakihara had been experimenting with electronica, pop, rock and his nasal vocals were mostly regarded as something akin to “off tune”, “odd” or “forced”, but this ballad hit everyone like a tornado, shutting down all those voices in an instant. His unique singing tone came in hand as he changed things around in his solo career. This performance is the perfect example. It was the first time Kakihara took up the challenge of singing an emotional ballad in the way he did.

While some people might argue that what really put Kakihara in the map was “Susumasero”, released back in 2016, we find this song much more precious for his career, especially when it comes to showcasing his vocal growth and setting a different tone in his matured solo career.

Going towards the semi-acoustic route was a good way to display the confidence in his vocals.

A mellow piano melody served as the background for Kakihara‘s first highly emotional verse into the song. Stripped away from synths, guitars or any distracting devices/instruments, the gentleness of “君の声に” provided him with the perfect opportunity to showcase his falsetto and ability to hit high notes, something that up until then wasn’t even considered as something he was able to do. It seems like Kiramune‘s party boy was much more than dance songs and laser shows. After the release of “Dangidi Dan” and “君の声に“, Kakihara‘s career has been on the rise with multiple top releases in the past few years.

Also in 2014, we were surprised by someone we weren’t expecting at all.

Hiroshi Kamiya made a triumphant comeback with the dancefloor driven track “START AGAIN”, song that managed to be an instant favorite among his fans, and converted some other people in the process. This is quite possibly one of the most shocking transformations any Kiramune artist has undergone since their debut. Kamiya, known for singing bright pop-rock songs and not having a particularly good singing tone, was a driving force performing this dancefloor hit. It was noticeable that his voice sounded more polished in comparison with his previous work, and the fact that the instrumental was rather slow paced and simple, enabled him with plenty of opportunities in the verses to showcase his vocals. This whole release was overflowing with charisma and power and fans just couldn’t shy away from it. If this song was up for grabs among the Kiramune artists (at that time it seemed like a better fit for Tetsuya Kakihara or Trignal), then Kamiya got the jackpot when this song was chosen to be featured on his single. The chorus is a winner both in the instrumental (especially it’s progression and build up) and vocal departments. We highly doubt that he will ever get to this high level of performance again, now that he’s changed his music style yet once again to a hybrid of bright pop and acoustic driven pop-rock. Still, it’s good to remember this electronic pop pearl that was stuck in our heads back in the summer of 2014.

2014 was, indeed, a year of change for most Kiramune artists and the following group embraced change and made it theirs like no other artist in this company could do.

2014’s “so funny” put Trignal in unknown territory, especially with several self composed lyrics (a first for them) and new music genres embraced, but it was the year in which their talent went beyond what anyone could have expected. We were in awe with Trignal’s complete transformation from bubbly idols (that lacked in various departments) into sexy pop electronic singers basically fronted by Ryohei Kimura’s newfound otherworldly charisma.

Mission” is one of the best songs released in 2015, a mid-tempo electronic pop song with a catchy chorus and an addictive and cool vocal performance.

Everyone was expecting yet another pop-rock tune to promote their new release. When the time came to release the first music video snippet, people were either impressed with the song or mesmerized with and by Trignal‘s charismatic and manly transformation.

On our side, the song came as a total surprise. It was such a massive change from their trademark preppy sound, it had EDM influences, making good use of the synths to create a groovy melody but it never forgot their pop roots, and the addictiveness of the lyrics was there from the get go. In our opinion, the song had the perfect balance between the instrumental and vocals and, within the instrumental, we never found anything that would overwhelm the listener like they used to do. It was a clean, simple, yet an addictive instrumental that really managed to impress a lot of people.

But some wondered upon coming across the short music video snippet. Were the vocals still the same? Trignal was known for their shaky performances in the past. Was Kimura still struggling to reach certain notes? Was Tsubasa only a “kawai” element to the group with nothing much to add to the table? Was Eguchi going to keep performing comfortably? It was a blunt no to all of these questions. Takuya Eguchi showcased his versatility with groovy (and unexpectedly good) rapping, Ryohei Kimura surprised everyone with an insanely complete performance, even delivering some sexy ad-libs and showing that his singing was in the process of being polished, and Yonaga Tsubasa’s smooth vocal growth left us wondering just how did they manage to go beyond what everyone had envisioned for them in such a short amount of time.

The unit had finally found common ground and were now sounding synced, more polished and comfortable with their performances – which is easily noticeable on their explosive stage performances at KiraFes since then. Their improvement was rewarded with reaching #11 on Oricon and holding a spot in the top for 3 weeks. That’s the highest they’ve ever charted on Oricon. “MISSION” was the song that established a new route for this unit, the turning point that they were in dire need of, establishing them as one of the top seiyuu units in Japan.

Now back to the classics, the original rocker in Kiramune was none other than one of the most beloved seiyuu in Japan, Daisuke Namikawa. He was actually one of the first seiyuu to enter the company completely embracing the rock genre. People weren’t expecting what followed. He made a stunning debut with one of his most powerful releases to date.

Rock star” was released back in 2010 and caught everyone off guard. Namikawa’s charismatic and versatile vocals stood out naturally and the song’s melody was an attention grabber at that time. The song has survived the test of time and, 7 years later, it still sounds as fresh and powerful as it did when we first listened to it. The guitar riffs were powerful and raw, the drums were fast paced with some punk-rock influences and the bass was a force to reckon with. The instrumental was a banger and, surprisingly, Namikawa‘s vocals fit like a glove.

Fast paced, sharp guitar riffs, powerful drums and a thunderous bassline, all played a role in shaping up his sound in his first years of his solo career.

Unfortunately, Namikawa has strayed away from the genre on multiple occasions, failing to deliver something as impactful as “Rock star” was (the closest being Ring“). This song remains as the highlight of his rock endeavor. When few seiyuu were taking their chances with rock, Namikawa challenged himself and showed that not only bands at that time (OLDCODEX and GRANRODEO) could pull it off, solo artists could also embrace the music genre and make it theirs.

Among Kiramune’s artists Miyu Irino is, hands down, the most talented in the music department. Playing guitar and piano, composing some of his songs and lyrics and ultimately having a better control over his sound than any of his peers, Irino has surprised us countlessly with his versatility. He can sing rock, pop, electronica, jazz, even melodic rap without any issues. His work ethic made him evolve from a dance pop artist with fantastic dance moves on stage, to a completely different artist in the span of 5 years. His theatre and musical theatre roots have certainly helped out with his speedy growth over the years. And it’s not like his dance pop songs weren’t appealing or interesting enough back in the old days, it simply lacked a personal touch or something that would set him apart from all other seiyuu in the music business stuck with singing that over saturated music genre.

As soon as Irino got a bit of control over what he was going to perform in following releases (we speculate that it started with E=mc2), he showed a matured performer with a vocal prowess that easily raised the bar among “idol” seiyuu. There are a lot of great songs in his repertoire that we could easily say that are game-changers so this one was difficult to pick. Irino released the laidback “I am I”, song that winked at UVERworld and Maroon 5’s old jazzy sound and what happened? Not only “Uso to mirai to” was one of the best singles released in 2016, but it also was a major turning point for him, and also set a high standard for any upcoming releases within the label. We weren’t expecting this turn of events for him at that time although “E=mc2” did lay and hinted some interesting things in what we could have expected from his solo career. The reactions to “I am I” and “Uso to mirai to” were almost unanimous, it’s one of the fans’ favorite songs and releases in that year as both managed to capture Irino‘s talented self in the best way possible. It was time to say goodbye to dance pop songs or generic bubblegum pop songs, he was more than ready to show his growth.

2014 and 2015 were fantastic years for Kiramune with almost all their acts making major changes to their sound and releasing catchy, yet addictive songs. But people weren’t expecting this next release to be as explosive as it was in 2015. Switching his trademark sound from bubblegum pop to pop-rock, we found an almost unrecognizable Nobuhiko Okamoto.

HOLY HOLY” is the kind of song that, honestly, we didn’t expect from anyone in Kiramune. It doesn’t fit with any artist and most of them don’t have the vocals to tackle such a song. This song’s instrumental aims higher than most songs due to its mix of orchestra bits, timpani and heavy guitar riffs – it was dramatic pop-rock as we like to call it. If we had to choose someone to tackle this kind of song it most definitely wouldn’t be him.

Up until that time Okamoto was sticking to his simple bubbly pop songs sang mostly with what some people call a “kawai” touch. His debut didn’t catch that much attention and most releases were, at best, forgettable. Despite him being the most generic singer in the Kiramune roster (still is), stuck with a music genre that doesn’t fit him, “HOLY HOLY” provided him with a chance to impress everyone. His vocal growth was also something unexpected. He was stable both on record and live (even as he danced along) and his high notes were solid, something that didn’t often come across in his previous singles. Not only is “HOLY HOLY”, Okamoto’s best song to date but the album “Questory” was labeled by us as one of the best released in 2015.

We go back in time to 2013. That was the year before Kiramune’s golden unit went silent. KAmiYU, unit consisting of duo Hiroshi Kamiya and Miyu Irino debuted in 2011 released the addictive “REASON”, bright pop single featured as the ending theme for fantasy anime “Karneval”. Many people had been ignoring the unit up until this release. As soon as “REASON” premiered in the series it was an instant hit. The mix between multitalented Irino‘s sweet vocals and Kamiya’s surprising controled performance (that up until then was stuck with his bubblegum pop sound and didn’t show anything interesting vocally) impressed us at that time. Regardless of the fact that the unit had released some interesting songs in the past but that had failed to be wildly known or appreciated, for example, “Go the Distance” and “Sting of Love“, it was with the funky “REASON” that their popularity grew. This song was really their shot to fame because all the rest is either forgettable or tacky, ironically, the unit went on hiatus after this successful release.

In the past few years Kiramune has been releasing more rock music that we could have expected from a label that took pride in its bright sound in comparison with fellow label Lantis (both are part of the Bandai group).

Uncle Bomb, duo consisting of veteran Daisuke Namikawa and pop-rocker Hiroyuki Yoshino debuted in 2016 and caught many people off guard with their upbeat pop-rock tune LOCUS. Many wondered if this odd duo would be up to the hype, especially when Namikawa has been on a downward spiral of lackluster releases and Yoshino hasn’t really shown anything memorable so far in his solo career. The fact that both of them are underdogs in comparison with Kiramune‘s powerhouse Trignal, led them to be more daring and experimental. LOCUS is an exciting alternative rock song that has a soft touch provided by the piano melody in the background, we even dare to say that Kiramune‘s trademark upbeat, bright side is brought to life by that exact piano melody. When looking back at their debut mini-album and this song, we noticed that they wanted to start off things in the best way possible because there wasn’t really anything to lose. Their first mini-album went in all sorts of directions. We got pop, rock, bubblegum pop, you could say they went on and tried almost every music genre Kiramune artists are known for. Some things might have worked better than others but LOCUS stands out on its own for being a genuinely good song, and a fantastic stepping stone for this group.

It’s interesting to find just how much a song can impact one’s career. For those like us that love to analyze these kinds of things and go into details in an artist’s career, it’s fascinating to find that moment, that song that really changed it all for them. Were they struggling up until that time when the song was released? Some were. Did they overcome it? Some did. And those made that statement through a song that would forever mark their careers. These 8 game-changing songs are good examples of what hardwork and well thought songs can lead to.

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