THTFHQ’s Best of 2018

We’re a couple of hours away from 2019. Let’s take a look back at 2018 and all the amazing releases and franchises of the year. This is THTFHQ’s Best of 2018.

Be it by making exciting solo debuts, holding electrifying live shows, revisiting old releases with Best Of album releases, be part of projects that blew up in popularity or part of franchises that solidified their stances in the music and seiyuu industries or joining new projects, this year was as big and exciting for seiyuu as it was for seiyuu fans.

We take a look at some of the most exciting and buzzworthy seiyuu and projects in the music industry. And announce THTFHQ’s favorite releases of the year.

[Disclaimer: This is an opinion article. As it is a norm, the opinions expressed here belong to THTFHQ’s team and are copyrighted. This is an overview of what our team considers as the most interesting and buzzworthy releases and artists in the music industry in the past year. This article doesn’t cover all releases, seiyuu and franchises that were active in 2018.]

Franchises

2018 was a year filled with exciting projects, new franchises leaving a mark, others further solidifying their stance in the industry and, unfortunately, others being cut even with all the fans support surrounding it.

If we talk about most active and best 2D franchises there are 4 names that come to mind: UtapriHypnosis MicEnsemble Stars! and IDOLiSH7. Although other franchises might have been active in the past year – A3!, Marginal #4, THE IDOLM@STER SideM, Tsukipro, B-Project, Dear Vocalist, I-Chu, etc – truth is, these 4 franchises were the talk in town in 2018. We take a closer look at the top 4 franchises as well as give a quick look at other franchises that made an impact in 2018.

Utapri franchise

Nothing seems to be able to stop the Uta no Prince-Sama franchise. The franchise, now in its 8th year since it was first introduced to fans, continues to have monster sales and be one step ahead of all other 2D projects in that department.

QUARTET NIGHT continue to be the franchise’s best selling unit, owner of several impressive records of their own: First male 2D group to achieve #1 on Oricon Weekly and now, the fastest 2D group release to get a Gold Certification.

FLY TO THE FUTURE” impressed by selling over 140.000 copies in one week. The unit also continues to be the only one to hold live tours and sell every single date of those tours with ease.

But let’s not forget about their brother group and face of the franchise, STARISH. Despite having had a really quiet year as a group, the unit was still able to impress with the sales of the single “ULTRA BLAST“, release also Certified Gold.

Both groups made a stunning collaboration with the single Setsugetsuka, wrapping up the year with flair.

Hypnosis Mic

Contrary to what most people expected of this franchise in 2017, the Hypnosis Mic franchise is currently one of the biggest and most influential franchises in Japan. Massive popularity, 4 loved and unique crews. exciting live shows, a fierce BATTLE SEASON series and 2 Gold Record Certifications are just some of the things that make this franchise one of the most popular franchises in the past year.

Matenro stole the #1 popular crew seat from Fling Posse as soon as January 2018 arrived and the rest is history. Every single release this crew is featured on is certain to be a best seller. The crew, winner of the first battle between crews – BATTLE SEASON – is partially responsible for the 2 Gold Record Certifications that this franchise received closer to the end of the year: Fling Posse VS Matenro and MAD TRIGGER CREW VS Matenro.

Ensemble Stars!

The Ensemble Stars!‘s franchise focused its efforts on their first Album series. Out of all releases in this series, Knights and UNDEAD continue to be sales monsters. Both units got sales figures over 80.000 for their first albums, further solidifying their stance of most popular units within the franchise.

The franchise also held its first live Ensemble Stars! Starry Stage 1st in Makuhari Messe~with exciting performances by RyuseitaiAkatsukiValkyrieJin&Akiomi (Wataru Komada and Tomoyasu Hishiba).

IDOLiSH7 franchise

A popular and rare true to the source material anime adaptation, a successful ROAD TO INFINITY live, an exciting 12 SONGS GIFT solo series, IDOLiSH7, TRIGGER and Mezzo‘s new singles, Re:vale‘s 1st full-length album “Re:al Axis” and a massive hype surrounding everything and everyone related with the franchise, that’s how 2018 was for the IDOLiSH7 franchise.

The 12 SONGS GIFT gave fans the very first look and listen at solo performances by IDOLiSH7, TRIGGER and Re:vale‘s members. If there’s a franchise that has always been keen on making each character and group unique and fleshed out, is this one. Each release was unique, perfectly capturing each character’s quirks, passions and favorite music genres.

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The first live IDOLiSH7 ROAD TO INFINITY impressed by fitting over 30.000 people at Saitama’s MetLife Dome (in total – counting with live viewing – over 50.000 people) and deliver electrifying performances. During this summer there was nothing else fans of the franchise were talking about than this live.

Out of the 4 franchises we mentioned early in this article, IDOLiSH7 is the only one that isn’t a sales monster. The franchise is yet to receive a Gold Record Certification and most releases rise on the charts during its first week of sales only to disappear in the following week. Still, when it comes to digital sales and streaming, IDOLiSH7 are a force to be reckoned with, having recently won 1st place in the Male group category of AniUTa AWARD 2018. When it comes to physical sales, TRIGGER continue to be the franchise’s best selling group.

The franchise is certainly rising in popularity, especially due to the critically acclaimed anime adaptation and its spin-off IDOLiSH7 Vibrato, but seems to still being a long way from claiming the #1 rank as most popular 2D idol franchise. IDOLiSH7 was undoubtedly the busiest franchise in 2018 and had its best year since its launch in 2015.

Franchises that also made their presence known in 2018

Marginal #4 franchise

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The Marginal #4 franchise returned with solo releases for MARGINAL #4, Lagrange Point and UNICORN Jr., and there were a whole of changes within all releases. Minimalistic instrumentalization replaced the synth-heavy and intense music that had been a trademark of this franchise. Marginal #4 and UNICORN Jr. now have a matured image and sound and Lagrange Point seem to be back in top form, bringing back heartbreaking ballads and haunting melodies with Singularity.

The franchise’s changes might be: an attempt to give new life to a franchise that is slowly being forgotten by the public or the start of a new chapter for this franchise. One thing is certain, all releases this year were of top tier quality, something that had been lacking among the 3 units in 2017.

As one of the very first successful 2D idol franchises – introduced to fans in 2013 – it would be interesting to see where this franchise will go next, especially after the revamps made to all units.

TSUKIPRO franchise

Often overlooked by most seiyuu fans is the TSUKIPRO franchise. Filled with talented, unique bands and groups, this franchise continues to impress with its creativity and quality that is consistent and found in almost all releases. TSUKIPRO now has the ALIVE – Growth and SOARA -, SQ – SolidS and QUELL – and the VAZZROCK brands within it.

The ALIVE and SQ brands kicked off the RE:START series, CD series that has groups tackling different themes and present those with exciting performances resorting to different lineups within the same groups. QUELL was the only group that, up until 2018, hadn’t participated in the crafty Kachofugetsu Hen series. The quartet had their take this year and delivered 4 impressive releases that listeners won’t forget anytime soon.

SolidS – even with the setbacks due to Umehara’s illness – and Growth continue to be TSUKIPRO’s best selling groups.

The franchise held the ambitious TSUKIPRO LIVE 2018 SUMMER CARNIVAL at Fujikyu Highland Skate Center in Yamanashi in June. This was the first time SolidS, QUELL, Growth and SOARA all performed on the same stage.

On the other hand, TSUKIPRO’s new brand, VAZZROCK, made an impact.

VAZZROCK

VAZZROCK is closely connected to SQ’s groups – SolidS and QUELL – but their sound is nothing alike. Vazzy and ROCK DOWN tackled two different series this year: bi-color and play of color. The bi-color series gave a first look and listen of how each member sounds like, as well as showed the first dynamics between members with its mandatory duet song (included in all entries).

On the other hand the play of color series kicked off later in 2018 but introduced yet another look at the dynamic between groups instead of within groups. A variety of rock songs – some more rock oriented while others only introduced elements of the genre within other genres – were released this year, showing once again the well known quality and consistency behind TSUKIPRO’s groups.

VAZZROCK held their first live this Autumn and impressed with their live performances and chemistry within the respective groups.

TSUKIPRO have a whole lot of interesting projects for 2019, making it one of the most exciting franchises to follow in the coming year.

B-Project franchise

The B-Project franchise didn’t experience last year’s success.

Despite the new albums or singles by Kitakore, MooNs, KiLLER KiNG and Thrive, the franchise was far from having the impact it did last year with the powerful S Kyuu Paradise. Thrive might be the most popular group in the franchise but it was Kitakore with “Crank In” and KiLLER KiNG with “Phantom of Love” that completely stole the show in 2018.

The franchise also held B-PROJECT SUMMER LIVE2018 ETERNAL PACIFIC in July. In that live, a new season of B-PROJECT was announced, including the long-awaited presence of KiLLER KiNG.

THE IDOLM@STER SideM franchise

The buzz surrounding THE IDOLM@STER SideM franchise was nowhere to be found in 2018. The franchise kicked off an exciting WORLD TRE@SURE series and most recently, a WakeMini! series but despite the high ranks on Oricon’s charts, all releases ultimately received a lukewarm response by fans. The franchise, however, continues to be a monster in sales tickets with all their live tours and fan meeting selling out with ease.

A3! franchise

Despite kicking off of the VIVID EP series and the releases of A3ders!‘s 2nd single and BRBRookies!‘s monster debut single, the A3! franchise was nowhere near the success nor hype it had in the previous year. However, the franchise’s troupes continue to have consistent sales numbers, with releases in the VIVID EP series, in the most part, having a strong presence in the Oricon Charts.

Dear Vocalist franchise

The Dear Vocalist franchise returned in 2018 with the Xtreme series. The franchise’s 4th installment had all frontmen approaching their sound in completely different ways, leading to unexpected, exciting and fancy releases.

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The franchise also held its first live in September titled CR69Fes.2018「Dead or Alive」.

Readyyy! Project

The newest franchise that completely rose from unknown to having a solid following is Sega’s Readyyy! Project. The franchise introduced a unique concept of only accepting rookie seiyuu into their ranks after tough, thorough auditions. After that groups were introduced, they started to hold special lives to give a taste of what their talents are. Fans found themselves nurturing the seiyuu before the game even was released, which is a completely new thing in the industry.

3 albums were released in 2018: Readyyy! Project 1stReadyyy! Project 2nd and Readyyy! Project 3rd.

Animated music videos to all songs featured in the 1st album were released, further impressing fans with the quality of the CGI animation on it.

The Readyyy! Project franchise releases its game in 2019 and the hype right now is high for it. Quality music and talented seiyuu and likable characters make this franchise one of the most exciting to follow in the coming year.

The Unexpected lows

Band Yarouze! franchise

The Band Yarouze! suffered in 2018. The franchise, that seemed like it was headed in a good route, was suddenly matched with a halting in game updates, a final OSIRIS tour and the release of 4 Best Of albums, everything pointing out towards the end of the franchise. Although there’s no confirmation on the franchise’s end, it’s still unfortunate that a franchise so unique and filled with potential as this one might get shelved in the future.

Yumeiro Cast

Contrary to what happened to Band Yarouze!, Yumeiro Cast was really cancelled. Yumeiro Cast will end distribution on 15/01/2019 at 13:59h JST. In a bittersweet gesture, Lantis announced the release of two vocal albums including, for the first time, songs by the powerful theater troupe, GENESIS.

Yumeiro Cast DREAM☆SHOW 2017, live held last year was announced as a release in 2018, serving as a goodbye gift from the franchise.

Yumeiro Cast is a franchise that had the potential and quality to be much more, however it was axed way too early.

Solo and Band acts

2018 was a year in which several solo and group acts celebrated huge milestones. 10th anniversary tours, Best of releases, 5th anniversary special lives. But it was also a year in which we got two of the best solo debuts in the past couple of years as well a couple of impressive comebacks. Let’s take a look at the most important and buzzworthy acts in 2018.

Solo artist of the year: Soma Saito

For those that have followed Soma Saito‘s work as a solo artist in 2018, this is no surprising choice.

Soma Saito has been, since his debut as a solo artist in 2017, showing his talent of singer/songwriter but it was this year, with the releases of “Date” and “quantum stranger“, that he made a stance in the industry.

His creativity and music knowledge show in every song, whether it’s through crafty lyrics or fancy instrumentals. He plays guitar and piano for most of his compositions and is praised for his maturity and quality as a songwriter. He might not be a vocal powerhouse, but he certainly has a unique tenor range and versatility that make him currently one of the most exciting solo artists among male seiyuu.

Looking at the analytics, Saito continues to break and set records among male seiyuu. His first album “quantum stranger” is currently the best selling album among male seiyuu (with a record 24,854 copies sold only in the first week) and his 3rd single, “Date“, climbed both Oricon Weekly and Billboard Japan’s charts – #1 at Billboard‘s Hot Animation and #7 at Oricon Weekly.

He’s also the only solo artist – of seiyuu background – that has all releases so far in his career ranked within Oricon Weekly’s top 10.

Saito released a total of 16 songs this year. 9 were written + composed by himself. He explored a variety of music genres from Citypop, Shock Rock, Brit-rock, acoustic, ballad, hip-hop, pop and funk. Each song and music genre channeled different things and explored different concepts. And he stayed away from what is considered “popular” or “trendy”, proving once more that good music or music with substance/depth doesn’t come from trends but from passionate and skillful songwriting.

quantum stranger” came late in 2018 to claim its spot as 2018’s Best Album as well as an impressive #4 at Oricon Weekly. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, credit needs to be given where credit is due. Saito is the real deal as a singer/songwriter, a rare breed in the seiyuu industry, and “quantum stranger” is the most consistent, fancy and thought-provoking album ever released by a male seiyuu.

Soma Saito is our Artist of the Year.

The hot debuts: Yuma Uchida and Makoto Furukawa

Two impressive debuts of a quality that few have been able to match – past and present – were the long-awaited debuts of Yuma Uchida and Makoto Furukawa. Both seiyuu are known for their vocal prowess – Uchida often compared to Mamoru Miyano and Furukawa naturally known as a unique singer – but fans weren’t expecting the quality both brought to the table.

Yuma Uchida signed with KING RECORD and released two singles “NEW WORLD” and “Before Dawn“. The debut single, “NEW WORLD” was incredibly well received, ranking at #9 on Oricon Weekly. The same couldn’t be said about “Before Dawn” that not only was a decrease in quality, but also had low sales numbers. Regardless of sales numbers, Yuma Uchida delivered exciting performances in both releases.

On the other side Makoto Furukawa easily gets the award of Rookie of the Year from us. “miserable masquerade” is what making an impact as a solo artist is all about. With creative freedom given by Lantis, Furukawa wrote lyrics to all tracks in his debut single and impressed with his craftiness and vocal quality in what is a memorable release.

Shouta Aoi

Shouta Aoi might have not been as busy as he was in 2017 but “Eclipse” was enough to leave a mark. The single, that features his best song to date – I am – left us in awe with its emotional charged lyrics and melancholic instrumental. The song, with lyrics by himself, easily stands as 2018’s Best Ballad.

Tetsuya Kakihara

Tetsuya Kakihara was lowkey one of the best solo acts in 2018. The talented seiyuu and solo artist released his first full-length album “I for U” and impressed with his vocal prowess. At the time we reviewed this album we said:

If there’s something that Kakihara has been able to show in the last couple of years is that he’s continuously growing as an artist, proving to be one of the most consistent and reliable singers signed under Kiramune. As he is right now, he’s a singer with a great deal of control over his vocals, with a perfected falsetto, a solid vibrato, yet still showing a lot of potential for growth and improvement as a singer. His sound has matured as well. While he’s an exciting dance-pop performer at his core (…), he has grown into a rocker, with punk-rock and funk-rock being two of the main music genres shaping this album. But there’s a certain delicate side to his sound, also a result of his growth as singer, with the addition of traditional Japanese music and R&B.”

Everything still stands. Kakihara has grown a lot and “I for U” is a top 3 Best Album in 2018. Also check “DIAMOND BEAT” if you’re in need of a top dance release.

Miyu Irino

Miyu Irino returned to the music industry after a 2-year hiatus. The multi-talented seiyuu and singer/songwriter made his comeback with “FREEDOM“, single that explored his overseas experiences and fears and made those into 3 addictive yet minimalistic dance tunes. Rocker Irino might be no longer between us but the quality is still here. Best Dance release in 2018.

The anniversaries

For those that have been following their careers since the very start, you must be feeling old (like us). Mamoru Miyano, Daisuke Ono, Kenichi Suzumura and Showtaro Morikubo all celebrated their 10th anniversaries as solo artists. All releases were followed by exciting tours and the traditional Best Of album or full-length album releases to celebrate their feats.

Mamoru Miyano released the Best Of album “M&M THE BEST” and a single in 2018. The Best Of album features handpicked songs by his fans as well as Miyano’s favorite solo songs of his. It also introduced fans to the addictive EXCITING!.

On a less celebratory tone came Sotto tokete yuku yo ni. Miyano surprised fans with a different approach to his music by bringing a minimalistic sound to the table.

Daisuke Ono went all out, celebrating his 10th anniversary as a solo artist with what we consider to be one of 2018’s Best Albums “STARTRAIN“.

STARTRAIN” is the very first album on his repertoire that is as emotionally draining as it is satisfying to listen. He showcased his versatility and growth with a collection of carefully crafted songs.  “STARTRAIN“, “HERO” and “Orion no Yoru“ showed that he’s also a solid lyricist that, if given freedom, can up the quality and depth to his career as a solo artist.

Kenichi Suzumura also celebrated his 10th anniversary as a solo artist in 2018. He released the Best Of “Going My Rail“. The 2-DISC album featured some of Suzumura’s best hits as well as hidden gems that one must not overlook.

Lantis resident rocker, Showtaro Morikubo, also celebrated his 10th anniversary as a solo artist. A Best Of album and a full-length album were released. “Enhanced Brain” impressed with its rawness and the best of, Morikubo Showtaro BEST ALBUM~Zui kara sakebi rin to saku~, revisited some of Morikubo’s hit songs.

Trignal celebrated their 5th anniversary in style. The trio released the special mini-album “tricolore” and held a special 5th anniversary tour that was later broadcasted on MTV Japan. Trignal showed us their growth as artists, showcasing their singing and lyricist skills through several solo songs, as well as their chemistry and improved vocals in U ~ Kimi ga ite kuretakara ~.

OLDCODEX

OLDCODEX continue to explore new things while polishing older elements present in their sound. The band released three singles in 2018: Growth Arrow – opening theme for Butlers: A Millennium Century Story -, One Side – theme song for Servamp’s movie – and Heading to Over – that was featured as the opening theme for Free! Dive to the Future.

GRANRODEO

GRANRODEO had a solid 2018. The band celebrated their 13th anniversary, released their first concept mini-album and the two singles “Deadly Drive” and “BEASTFUL“, two of the best releases in the band’s career. Both explored new sonorities and concepts and were rather unique even by the band’s standards. The concept mini-album, M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu was a rare entry in the band’s repertoire, being the first ever concept-driven release since the band’s debut.

Now that we’ve taken a look at the best and most important releases in 2018 it is left for us to select the best releases in several categories.

These are THTFHQ’s Best of 2018 releases:

Best Solo Artist

  • Soma Saito

Rookie of the year

  • Makoto Furukawa

Top 3 Groups of the Year

  • QUARTET NIGHT
  • Matenro
  • IDOLiSH7

Album of the Year

  • quantum stranger – Soma Saito

Single of the Year

  • eclipse – Shouta Aoi

Rock single of the year

  • Deadly Drive – Granrodeo

Rock Album of the year

  • Enhanced Brain – Showtaro Morikubo

Best Pop Album

  • Tricolore – Trignal

Best Pop Single

  • NEW WORLD – Yuma Uchida

Best Dance Release

  • FREEDOM – Miyu Irino

Best Rap/Hip-Hop Release

  • Buster Bros!!! VS MAD TRIGGER CREW

Ballads of the Year

  • I am – Shouta Aoi
  • Ame – Mezzo
  • Reminiscence-unplugged- – Soma Saito

Best Release series

  • VAZZROCK “BI-COLOR”
  • SQ & ALIVE “RE:START”
  • Hypnosis Mic “BATTLE SEASON”
  • IDOLiSH7 “12 SONGS GIFT”

Best New franchises

  • VAZZROCK
  • Readyyy! Project

Best New Group

  • La-veritta

Franchises of the Year

  • IDOLiSH7
  • Utapri
  • Hypnosis Mic
  • Ensemble Stars!

Final considerations:

After a fantastic 2018, we have big hopes for 2019.

It’s certain that the Hypnosis Mic will be one of the most talked about – if not the most talked about – franchise, the usual suspects, the Utapri franchise, will certainly impress everyone with exciting releases and new Gold Record certifications under their belt. However we expect 3 franchises to strike big in 2019: IDOLiSH7, Ensemble Stars! and Readyyy! Project. The first two have anime or spin-off adaptations early on in 2019 that will certainly boost the popularity of both franchises. On the other hand Readyyy! Project seems to be one of the most exciting projects to follow.

Eveything TSUKIPRO related is going to be plenty and exciting. SolidS, QUELL, Growth, SOARA, Vazzy, ROCK DOWN, Six Gravity and Procellarum have their hands full in 2019. It is expected much more quality music from all these groups.

When it comes to solo artists we’re excited about Toshiki Masuda‘s long-awaited solo debut. SparQlew also debut in January and show some promise in their concept and sound. On our wishful thinking list we hope Shugo Nakamura, Natsuki Hanae (that deserves a proper, major debut), Kento Ito and/or Daiki Yamashita get solo debuts.

Soma Saito, Mamoru Miyano, Shouta Aoi, Makoto Furukawa, Yuma Uchida, Daisuke Ono and Tasuku Hatanaka are some of the names to be on the look out in 2019. Kiramune’s artists already have the first quarter of 2019 with several releases planned so beware of Miyu Irino and Tetsuya Kakihara‘s mini-albums, it is expected that they impress in the coming year.

2019 is already looking like a promising year. Exciting debuts, new music projects, live tours and the usual suspects are set to impress in the coming year.

Happy New Year!

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