Best of 2017: An overview of the best music projects in the past year

We’re already in the last days of December. We look back at a year that was filled with a myriad of releases, surprises, debuts, special announcements and exciting music.

Seiyuu were more than active in the music business during this past year. Mamoru Miyano started to fully embrace his career as a musician, with fans already noticing him distancing from the seiyuu business. Soma Saito made his solo debut and exceeded all expectations, turning heads in the both the music and entertainment industries with his musical sensibility and looks, OLDCODEX released the masterpiece album “they go, where?” and 2.5D idols were the talk in town in 2017, between many other interesting topics.

[Disclaimer: This is an opinion article. As it is a norm, the opinions expressed here belong to THTFHQ’s team. This is a summary of what our team considers being the most interesting and buzzworthy topics/releases/artists in the music business during the past year.]

Without further ado, let’s kick off this year-end article.

Utapri franchise

QUARTET NIGHT

Utapri has been slowly fading away in spite of their efforts to maintain their popularity and visibility. However, Quartet Night kicked off 2017 beating and setting up a record among 2.5D seiyuu units (if we look at the bigger picture, in the seiyuu business) and refusing to let their popularity die. The quartet is the record holder for “Highest Ranking Single On Oricon Weekly” by a seiyuu/unit/2.5D unit. And is still to be dethroned.

They are the sturdy pilar in a franchise that is already far from being at their peak of popularity.

Best songs from QUARTET NIGHT in 2017:

  • “On your Mark” (sang by Showtaro Morikubo)
  • “Haru Hana” (sang by Tatsuhisa Suzuki & Shouta Aoi)
  • “Be Proud” (sang by Tatsuhisa Suzuki)

HEAVENS

HEAVENS were rather quiet during 2017 but their only release was more than enough to make them worthy of mentioning on this article. “Heaven Sky” is the unit’s first ever CD + Drama CD release. The title track took the unit back to their debut sound, more rock oriented and dramatic than later releases, the vocal performances were incredibly polished, with no noticeable flaws. The exciting single ranked high on Oricon Daily and didn’t perform below expectations on the Weekly Charts. After this release it’s safe to say that HEAVENS are stepping up their game, leaving behind STARISH while trying to catch up to QUARTET NIGHT‘s top tier tunes. HEAVENS are yet another highlight in 2017 for the Utapri franchise.

Best song(s) from HEAVENS in 2017:

  • “Heaven Sky”

STARISH

No matter how popular STARISH still are, the truth is that this group has had better days. The unit is now plagued by lazy instrumentals with weird, repetitive and even lazier vocal performances. Besides some bright spots here and there in some of the duet songs last year, this year was pretty much uneventful, and when there was an event, it was always below their standards. As much as we don’t want to say this – for nostalgia’s sake, especially if you’ve been following the franchise since it wasn’t even a massive trend – STARISH are now a group in decadence, a unit that  oncewas supposed to be a center piece in the Utapri franchise, the best, with quite possibly the best lineup ever when they debuted at the start of the decade, but ultimately they have long left that spot for QUARTET NIGHT while delivering some of the worst songs in over 7 years of existence. Sadly, the group didn’t release anything noteworthy in 2017.

A3!

A3! is a rather new franchise in the business but that didn’t stop them from being the most buzzworthy 2.5D project of the year, being nominated for Google Play’s Awards, having their debut single certified gold by RIAJ as well as all troupes’ releases (First and Blooming) selling over 250.000 copies (cumulative). These are no small feats for a franchise that is not even one year old. Packed with an interesting story, a talented cast and mostly great and unique music for each troupe, this franchise has a bright future ahead after dominating 2017.

Best songs from A3! in 2017:

  • “Just For Myself” (“Blooming AUTUMN” – Kento Hama, Kento Kumagai)
  • “Gamer’s High” (“Blooming SPRING” – Shintaro Asanuma)
  • “esの憂鬱” (“Blooming WINTER” – Toshiyuki Toyonaga & Junta Terashima)
  • “月虹上のアリア” (“Blooming WINTER” – Tetsuya Kakihara)
  • “to bloom…” (“First WINTER” – Atsushi Tamaru, Takuya Sato, Tetsuya Kakihara, Toshiyuki Toyonaga & Junta Terashima)

IDOLiSH7 franchise

IDOLiSH7

Even though 2017 was rather quiet year for IDOLiSH7 in terms of group releases, the talented unit still managed to make major impact with the stunning ballad “Sakura Message“, one of the best songs on their repertoire.

TRIGGER

TRIGGER released their first album “REGALITY” in September and what happened was unprecedented. The album was number one on Oricon daily for 6 out of 7 days during its first week of sales. By the end of that week, TRIGGER had beaten IDOLiSH7‘s record of “Highest ranking album on Oricon“, that was previously held with the album “i7“, released in 2016. The first ever #1 on Oricon Weekly by a seiyuu/unit/2.5D idol is TRIGGER‘s and they are still to be dethroned. If 2016’s was IDOLiSH7‘s year, 2017 was TRIGGER‘s. This franchise is in extremely good hands.

Best songs from TRIGGER in 2017:

  • “In the meantime”
  • “DAYBREAK INTERLUDE”
  • “Riskyな彼女” (sang by Takuya Sato)
  • “Leopard Eyes”
  • “Secret Night”
  • “願いはShine On The Sea”

Mezzo

MEZZO had a rather quiet year. The ballad duo recently released “Dear Butterfly“. KENN and Atsushi Abe brought their best game for this release and fans couldn’t help but to be impressed with the quality of their vocals mixed with those delicate and emotional instrumentals.

Best song from MEZZO in 2017:

  • “Moonlight Illuminate”

ZOOL

As hateful as ZOOL might be in the IDOLiSH7 franchise – for those playing the game this isn’t a surprise -, we can’t deny that this unit made a fantastic debut with their single “POISONOUS GANGSTER“. Donning an aggressive industrial rock sound that is a complete opposite from any of the other units part of the franchise, ZOOL were a breath of fresh air in the middle of a franchise more than often too focused on pop music. Despite being a quartet, only Yuya Hirose and Subaru Kimura had the spotlight. Takashi Kondo is found at times in the background and Koutaro Nishiyama is nowhere to be found on both songs. Aside from that, Hirose and Kimura‘s vocals did a terrific job to bring to life that dangerous, threatening and powerful aura that this group exudes. ZOOL arrived to impress, embracing something that isn’t as common among 2.5D units as we’d like, aggressive industrial rock sound with unfiltered lyrics to go along with.

Best songs from ZOOL in 2017:

  • “POISONOUS GANGSTER”
  • “LOOK AT…”

DYNAMIC CHORD franchise

Contrary to the hype behind the games, DYNAMIC CHORD didn’t deliver when it came to the anime adaptation – considered one of the worst anime airing during this past Fall season. However, this year, the franchise was more than active with a shuffle series and later this year, with the band releases featured in the anime adaptation. And this is exactly where this franchise shone. apple-polisher showed once again why they are the most interesting outfit among the DC franchise. All releases were of top tier quality, presenting fans with exciting, loungy tunes that mixed the best of both worlds: electronica and rock. [rêve parfait] had their highs and lows, Liar-S were a complete miss in 2017 with weak, repetitive singles and KYOHSO had some bright spots along the way. This franchise almost went under the radar thanks to the poor anime adaptation but we hope that people will overlook it because there was a couple of songs worthy of your time.

Best songs from DYNAMIC CHORD in 2017:

  • “HOLDING OUT” (apple-polisher)
  • “What have you done for…” (apple-polisher)
  • “in the dusk” (KYOHSO)
  • “-since you been gone-” (rêve parfait)
  • “K.O.I” (rêve parfait)

Marginal #4 franchise

Marginal #4 kicked off 2017 with an extensive schedule. The franchise’s first anime adaptation aired earlier this year and with it came a load of music releases. Between group, solo, duet and even other units’ songs, the franchise was extremely active during the first two quarters of 2017. Marginal #4 – the unit – was still trying to find common ground after a couple of years struggling with their sound; Lagrange Point went back to their debut sound, showing everyone why they continue to be the most complete unit part of the franchise; Unicorn Jr. showed that they keep on improving and don’t have any intention of being left behind.

Best from Marginal #4 in 2017:

  • 絆-KIZUNA- (Marginal #4)
  • コ・コ・ロ・ヒ・ト・ツ (Marginal #4, sang by KENN)
  • “real?” (Unicorn Jr.)
  • “革命(Revolution)XX” (Lagrange Point)
  • “Orbit” (Marginal #4)
  • “U” (Lagrange Point)
  • ハングリー? (Unicorn Jr.)

Idolm@ster SideM franchise

We arrive in November and Idolmaster sideM‘s single “Reason!!!” has an impressive run in Oricon Daily upon its release, refusing to leave the top 5 spots during its first week of sales. This was a monster release, selling over 90.000 copies in just 2 weeks, something that few 2.5D male idol projects manage to achieve. A couple of weeks later, the single was certified gold by RIAJ. This was an important year for this franchise to solidify their stance in the 2.5D idol business and they made the best out of it.

Best song from Idolmaster SideM in 2017:

  • “Reason!!!” (315 STARS)

Ensemble Stars! franchise

In 2017 Ensemble stars!‘s units released several singles part of the 3rd unit song CD series. The franchise impressed with several releases ranking within Top 10 on Oricon Weekly, with some of those even ranking for weeks straight and charting in pairs, only apart one or two spots on the charts. Out of all units, Knights are undoubtly the best and most impressive unit, releasing a flawless CD during the summer.

Best songs from Ensemble Stars! in 2017:

  • “剣戟の舞” (performed by Akatsuki)
  • “Miracle Dream Traveler” (performed by fine)
  • “Article of Faith” (performed by Knights)
  • “Knights the Phantom Thief” (performed by Knights)
  • “Crush of Judgment” (performed by Knights Killers)
  • “Milky Starry Charm” (performed by Ra*bits)
  • “GROWING STARRY DAYS” (performed by Ryuseitai)
  • “Death Game Holic” (performed by Deadmanz)
  • “礼賛歌” (performed by Valkyrie)
  • “WONDER WONDER TOY LAND” (performed by 2wink)

TSUKIPRO franchise

At the same time, Tsukipro was incredibly active. The year kicked off with X Lied, solo series from which we can easily point out some of the best songs ever released by the franchise. There were also drama CDs, several of them with thrilling and impressive releases. Growth and SOARA played safe with their sound during this year, on the other side QUELL and SolidS went out of their comfort zone, embracing different music genres from those we’re used to listening from them, attempting and experimenting with their sound. They are also the groups that grew the most during this past year, much due to some of the members’ individual growth.

Yuichiro Umehara started to impress with his solo song in the X lied series and continued to grow and improve from there. What was once a weak baritone with little to no control over his vocals, completely overshadowed by his peers, is now starting to showcase his talents and showing everyone that he can be that reliable singer and powerful baritone that SolidS are in dire need of to balance their mostly tenor lineup. Umehara is not the same singer right now that be was back in January 2017. At the same time Soma Saito developped into a high note hitter,  almost stealing the show from Natsuki Hanae, the one that, up until 2017 was responsible for mesmerizing us with high notes. While Umehara polished his vocals to be a solid all-rounder, Saito focused on making good use of his tenor range. The group benefitted from their improvements.

SolidS embraced rock, pop, hip-hop, jazz and even had their take on a ballad during 2017.

But if we need to talk about units that have experimented the most during this year we can’t forget about QUELL. The rookie unit debuted in 2016 went out of their box and experimented with minimalistic compositions, electronica, pop-rock, even added middle eastern elements in their songs. Whether the unit was still trying to find their trademark sound or if this was just something done in order to showcase the unit’s versatility, we don’t know. The only thing we can confirm is that they were successful in most of their attempts with different music genres.

Growth released “Mahou no Kizuna” and SolidS released “Burny!!!“, songs we consider are among the best released this year.

Best songs from TSUKIPRO in 2017:

  • “Because you are” (QUELL)
  • “砕かれた霞” (QUELL)
  • “WING” (QUELL)
  • “Mahou no Kizuna” (Growth)
  • “Burny!!! (SolidS)
  • “COCORO” (SolidS)
  • “End of Night” (QUELL, sang by Shunsuke Takeuchi)
  • “星空” (QUELL, sang by Shugo Nakamura)
  • “甘き風のプリムラ” (Growth, sang by Daiki Yamashita)
  • “BUZZER BEATER” (Growth, sang by Makoto Furukawa)
  • “ALIEL” (SOARA)
  • “STAR SAIL” (Growth)
  • “Nemophila” (QUELL)

Hypnosis Mic

Hypnosis Mic was the definition of a fresh project. In a year filled with idol projects, a raw and serious rap/hip-hop project came to life and although initially met with some disdain by most seiyuu fans, it ended up exceeding everyone’s expectations, turning into one of the most exciting projects of the year. Within this project, several releases made it to Oricon’s weekly and daily charts and all of them rulled when it came to digital sales. We never thought we’d get to see a hip-hop + seiyuu project see the light of day, thankfully it did this year and it certainly was one of the gems in 2017.

Best songs from Hypnosis Mic in 2017:

  • “G anthem of Y-CITY” (MAD TRIGGER CREW, sang by Asanuma Shintaro)
  • “ベイサイド・スモーキングブルース” (MAD TRIGGER CREW, sang by Wataru Komada)
  • “俺が一郎” (Buster Bros!!!, sang by Subaru Kimura)
  • “チグリジア” (Matenrou, sang by Kento Ito)
  • “迷宮壁” (Matenrou, sang by Show Hayami)
  • “Hypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle –” (Division All Stars)
  • “drops” (Fling Posse, sang by Yusuke Shirai)
  • “シナリオライアー” (Fling Posse, sang by Soma Saito)

B-Project franchise

B-Project impressed in the first two quarters of 2017. The franchise released the electrifying “S Kyuu Paradise“, album that was split between “BLACK” and “WHITE” versions, both of them ending up charting on top 5 spots on Oricon Weekly as well as Billboard Hot 100. Kitakore, MooNs, KiLLER KiNG and Thrive showed some of their cards during this past year with several interesting tunes and surprising performances. Next year there’s a new anime season so it’s safe to say that we can expect more music from all groups.

Best songs from B-Project in 2017:

  • S級パラダイス
  • PRAY FOR… (MooNs)
  • Brand New Star (MooNs)
  • LOVE ADDICTION (Thrive)
  • Wonderful days (Kitakore)

Band Yarouze! franchise

Perhaps one of the most overlooked franchises in the rhythm game business is “Band Yarouze!“. Centered around 4 bands, OSIRIS (fronted by Masanori Kobayashi), BLAST (fronted by Yoji Ikuta), Fairy April (fronted by Shouta Aoi) and Cure2Tron, this franchise released more than enough good tunes to keep us occupied for the whole year. In a year in which idols were the main focus, this franchise was another interesting breath of fresh air that put enphasis on story and well crafted rock songs. Between special single releases to collab/event songs and even another Duel Gig album, this year was filled with exciting rock tunes, and a healthy dose of hardrock and bubbly pop tunes. Now, after celebrating their first year since the game’s release, this franchise keeps on growing with several new bands joining the talented cast that already includes Freezing, Crystal Cross, Dante and Adam.

Best songs from Band Yarouze! in 2017:

  • “Seek” (Freezing & Crystal Cross)
  • “Pick your Poison” (Freezing)
  • “For you…” (OSIRIS)
  • “FRONTIER” (OSIRIS & Fairy April)
  • “Silent Crisis” (OSIRIS)
  • “Heavenly Breeze” (OSIRIS)
  • “Believe Wing” (Fairy April)
  • “~アスタリスク~” (BLAST)
  • “One man show” (Adam)

Although this year was more about 2.5D units, we can’t forget to mention the solo endeavors.

Mamoru Miyano

Mamoru miyano is showing signs that singing is actually the career path that makes him the happiest. Fans found him in only a couple of selected anime titles, however the talented seiyuu was busy in the music business, handling a tour – with overseas tour dates -, collaborating with overseas producers and appearing in variety shows to boost his popularity as a singer.

The love“, album released in August, impressed the critics with Miyano embracing a jazzier sound, not forgetting to add some of the previous released hits “Tempest” and “Shout!” into the mix. The album ranked high on Oricon Weekly and sold over 20.000 copies. This was yet another big year for him.

Best songs from Mamoru Miyano in 2017:

  • “SHOUT!”
  • “How close you are”
  • “EVER LOVE”
  • “Now and forever”
  • “Power of Love”

Shouta Aoi

Shouta Aoi was caught up in several tours in 2017 but, in the last quarter of 2017 he released “Ø“, easily his best album to date. Now with control over his sound (after returning to King Records), Aoi delivered a blend of rock and pop that not only is addictive, but also one in which he’s able to express himself the best. His ballads and R&B tunes impressed everyone, his pop-rock songs showed a completely different charm of his and his sweet, emotional ballads touched every single soul that came into contact with that release.

Aoi quickly rose the popularity ladder during this past year, being considered by many in Japan as one of the top 10 best singers in the business, of course, that is a seiyuu as well.

Best songs from Shouta Aoi in 2017:

  • “0”
  • “Stay with me!!”
  • “Powder Snow”
  • “Always be together”
  • “flower”
  • “Koko ni”
  • “Smile Smile Smile”

The hot debuts: Hatanaka and Saito

At the same we had two interesting debuts: Tasuku Hatanaka and Soma Saito.

Hatanaka impressed everyone with an unexpected danceable sound and powerful vocals, that have an uncany resemblance with Irino Miyu‘s, back in July. “Stand Up” might have not been as successful as we’d hope – especially taking into account how talented he is and how impressive and versatile his vocals are -, but it was a good indicator that he has the talent to make it big, he only needs exposure and songs that will challenge him in a way that not only he grows as a singer but we, listeners, are impressed in the process. For us, his debut is among the best in the past 5 years and “Stand Up” is one of the most exciting releases from 2017’s Summer.

A month earlier, Soma Saito was making his debut with “Fish Story” and from thereon, nothing would be the same for him. The single ranked incredibly high during its first week on Oricon, earning him #9 on their weekly chart. To impress everyone further, the single was within top 100 for 6 straight weeks. This was the highest a seiyuu has ever ranked with a debut release. Thanks to that, his popularity skyrocketed and media outside of the seiyuu business started to noticing him, adding more fuel to the hype.

Not even 4 months later, Saito returned with a second single. The single “Yoake wa mada/Hikari Tatsu Ame“, featured on the popular anime “Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu” as its opening was an instant hit, climbing the iTunes charts to #1 and grabbing a solid #7 in Oricon Weekly, beating his previously set record. On several year-end polls in Japan, the song “Hikari Tatsu Ame” was voted as one of the best songs featured on anime in 2017.

It was with this second release that music and entertainment specialists outside of the seiyuu business mentioned that Saito had the vocal skills and looks to make it big as a solo act. Some mentioned that Saito could easily, with his looks, audition to Johnnys and he’d be instantly picked; others pointed out his journey as a rookie singer was more than impressive. On our side we pointed out that his music sensibility and want to “rebel against today’s pop music” was not only a fancy statement of his on his personal blog, but also was something that he trully embraced, setting him apart from all releases coming from seiyuu/units/2.5d units. His solo debut year was well received and successful, all this while making an effort to sound different but true to his roots, following his carefully crafted concepts and having control over his music. He was, indeed, 2017’s golden rookie singer.

Best songs from Soma Saito in 2017:

  • “Stand Alone”
  • “Hikari Tatsu Ame”
  • “Sputnik”
  • “Yoake wa mada”
  • “Kagefumi”

And because we can’t talk about 2017 without talking about these two bands, here’s our take on their doings in 2017.

OLDCODEX

OLDCODEX‘s creative process completely centered around Tatsuhisa Suzuki‘s music composition skills and YORKE.‘s lyrics in 2017. With Suzuki in charge of music composition, the band showed influences from Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot, Hoobastank, A Perfect Circle, Three Days Grace and Linkin Park. Aside from those influences, the band brought back synths from the “Contrast Silver” era, something they had been using and attempting to incorporate in their sound in a different way in previous years, unfortunately without making that much of an impact. We arrive in 2017 and Suzuki managed to incorporate those elements in order to make the band sound as edgy as before but with a fresh element on their deck. OLDCODEX‘s newfound perfected formula led to the release of the flawless album “they go, where?“.

Best songs from OLDCODEX in 2017:

  • “Where’d they go?”
  • “Outsomnia”
  • “loose my breath”
  • “Million from Codex”

GRANRODEO

2017 was an interesting year for GRANRODEO. The band once again experimented with their sound, bring to the table jazz, blues, pop, rock but the results were more successful than previous attempts. “Glorious Days“, “move on! Ibara Michi”  and “Pierrot Dancin’“, all had different sonority but at the same time all felt like great releases from the versatile hardrockers.

The best from GRANRODEO in 2017:

  • 月に抱かれて眠りたい (Glorious Days)
  • 少年の果て (Pierrot Dancin’)
  • メモリーズ (Pierrot Dancin’)
  • UNDER THE SKY (Pierrot Dancin’)
  • 終わらね夢 (Pierrot Dancin’)

After a 2017 filled with great music, exciting debuts and interesting projects, we can only wish that 2018 presents us with more music, quality releases and exciting tunes and projects.

For 2018 we have high hopes for Makoto Furukawa‘s impending debut, IDOLiSH7, TSUKIPRO, A3! and The Idolm@ster SideM franchises. We’re curious about VAZZROCK and hope that Hypnosis Mic can return with new music.

We’re excited about Furukawa‘s debut, one that might change the balance among solo debuted artists – if done right.  2018 might – and we put enphasis on might – introduce more solo debuts. In our opinion, names like Yuma Uchida, Shugo Nakamura, Toshiki MasudaNatsuki Hanae (that still has to do a proper, major debut) have the talent to make it big in the music business if handed a proper debut under a proper label with control over their music. Also, and as almost everyone has been saying since the Prince of Tennis days, Hosoya Yoshimasa making a solo debut would be a thing of the heavens, he’s quite the gifted singer but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Yoshimasa is interested in setting foot in the music industry again.

On our comeback wishlist we have high hopes that KENN, that will celebrate 10 years since his solo debut in 2008, announces a special single or album just like some of his peers are doing. Miyu Irino might also return to the music business in the upcoming year. Soma Saito has also hinted at a comeback in 2018. Mamoru Miyano is actively working on new songs to be featured on his upcoming Best Of album.

IDOLiSH7 seem to be the 2.5D idol franchise to be on the look out in 2018. Anime series, spin off anime, solo song series, PS vista game, new unit releases, first ever live performances by I7, TRIGGER and Re:vale in June, the upcoming year seems to be theirs to impress everyone.

2018 will certainly impress us. Whether it’s with a surprising debut, a stunning comeback, a fresh new project or simply a franchise dominating in terms of popularity, we’re sure that 2018 will be an even more eventful year than what 2017 was.

 

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One response to “Best of 2017: An overview of the best music projects in the past year

  1. Thank you for a great year of honest and well thought-out articles, reviews and news. I just knew about this blog in 2017 and this is one of my favourite ones to read when I want to find good music to listen to. I look forward to more!

    p/s: The day Hosoya Yoshimasa decides to do a debut, is the day I will cry in happiness because I want new music from him so badly

    Like

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