Decade in Review | Releases that marked the decade

Up until now, we had only made year-end reviews. Each year is filled with exciting music releases, new projects – some fail, others prosper -, but we never had the time to properly look back and see how far has music performed by seiyuu come.

It is impressive how far it has all come. If you were in the seiyuu fandom in general around 2010, you must know that the picture that today is painted, was drastically different back then.

Up until 2010, seiyuu did not just jump into a music career whenever they found their popularity rising. Labels were not so keen on betting on seiyuu talents taking the plunge to the music industry because there was the stereotype that seiyuu were only good at dubbing characters and narrating, nothing more.

Music projects did not proliferate because of this and many more reasons that we can’t even fathom. Solo artists with seiyuu background were few and not that successful.

By 2010, the seiyuu industry had already seen the likes of Taniyama Kisho, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Kondo Takashi, Yuto Suzuki, Genki Okawa, Sugiyama Noriaki and more completely failing to take off and or hold on as solo artists.

In 2010, Mamoru Miyano was unknown to the masses. OLDCODEX and GRANRODEO were strictly bands that catered music to anime fans and anime fans were the only ones that knew about them.

But what made the gears turn? Shift mentalities? Even if the first ever successful seiyuu unit in the industry – E.M.U. – had already tried it before but it seemed that that recognition was only to them and them alone?

 

In our opinion, everything changed when Uta no☆Prince-sama♪‘s popularity imploded.

 

The franchise lived its glory days in the early 10s up until around 2015. Unfortunately, the franchise is being milked dry by the creators to span new yearly music releases and create new, ludicrous stories that already stray far, far away from the original PSP games and the original anime series.

But let’s give credit where credit is due.

If not for Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ (from now on “Utapri”)’s fever in 2011 thanks to its anime adaptation, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love 1000%, we would not be today talking about music from other music projects. The industry would not be so daring if Utapri hadn’t been as successful as it was back in 2011.

With that being said, the first song we will talk about in this article is:

ST☆RISH  “Maji LOVE 1000%”: The reason seiyuu/anime music projects proliferate today

This song was released in 2011 and quickly turned into a hit track. The song featured the “original” ST☆RISH lineup that included in the cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takuma Terashima, Kenichi Suzumura, Kisho Taniyama, Junichi Suwabe and Hiro Shimono.

Its bubbly melody and exciting synths instantly grabbed the viewers’ attention. The fast paced chorus and the catchy verses made it impossible to not know about this track – even if you were not a fan of the franchise. Even today, this is a guilty pleasure song for many, despite the fact that it has not aged that well.

Kisho Taniyama was the first of the ST☆RISH members to experience the rise in popularity. He had already put aside his solo career and embarked on an exciting journey as part of GRANRODEO.

GRANRODEO “Can Do”: Seiyuu can be rockers and be successful at it

GRANRODEO had experienced mild success up until 2012 however, when the band released the single Can Do and its title track was featured as the opening theme for the sports anime Kuroko no Basket, everything changed.

From this point on, the band was going to grow into one of the most respected rock outfits in Japan. Anisong would never be the same thanks to them.

Despite their long career, celebrating their 15th anniversary in the coming year, the band has never stop reinventing themselves, releasing music in a wide variety of genres and rock sub-genres. KISHOW established himself as the model frontman for a rock outfit within the seiyuu industry and inspired a lot of talents to venture to rock music.

The success of Utapri boosted the popularity of all seiyuu within ST☆RISH, leading up to that success translating into more attention redirected to their solo and band projects. One particular seiyuu rose in popularity in a way that few have managed to: Mamoru Miyano.

Mamoru Miyano had already made his solo debut in 2007 with the pop single, Kuon. But it was his song Orpheus, featured as the opening for Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love 1000% that made his career as a solo artist garner new interest by fans of the series now turned fans of his. That single was his first ever top #10 on Oricon charts and would be pivotal for his solo career to evolve – of course, with many other timely releases, some connected to the anime’s sequels – to the point it is now: superstar status among seiyuu.

While we could talk about Orpheus as the track that started it all for seiyuu trying to make a break in the music industry as solo artists, we chose to talk about a release that, in our opinion, was responsible for much more than that.

We are talking about 2013’s PASSAGE.

Mamoru Miyano “PASSAGE” (2013): Booking arenas, selling out shows, seiyuu as a solo artist made “cool”

PASSAGE is a turning point in Mamoru Miyano‘s career. The point in which it sounded like he was getting increasingly serious about what he was doing as a musician. A time in which he wanted to prove that he was more than what the fame that Utapri had brought him. And he did it, almost effortlessly. PASSAGE is one of those albums that must be listened from start to finish. It has its strengths, it has its weaknesses but it is undeniable how important it was for his career, overcoming the 20,000 copies sold bar and solidifying himself as a talent to respect and be on the look out from then on (if people had already missed his previous 3 albums and many single releases).

Particularly Identity was the song that introduced us to the “cool performer” Miyano, dancing, dazzling while showcasing his polished vocals on top of a traditionally themed song with a rather unique sound – at that time -, something never tried before by a male seiyuu.

He was breaking barriers and got to be the 1st male seiyuu as a solo artist to perform at Nippon Budokan in 2014.

This was a sign that Mamoru Miyano was not just another seiyuu turned singer. He is a solo artist, a performer. Currently the most successful of them all.

With this album he started his journey to stardom and while doing it, he was opening doors for other seiyuu to try their luck at being solo artists.

Seiyuu were starting to be in the public eye and most projects that up until the early 10s were not getting enough recognition suddenly saw a boost in popularity. However, this boost of popularity made a certain rock band establish itself as one of the best pop-punk/rock outfits in Japan although they prefer to be called a art-rock band. We are, of course, talking about OLDCODEX.

Just like what happened to his Lantis labelmate, Kisho Taniyama, Tatsuhisa Suzuki had put his career as a solo artist aside to embark on a journey performing the music he likes with band members that understand his creativity. Under the moniker Ta_2, the seiyuu founded OLDCODEX in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2013 that the band would experience fame.

OLDCODEX “Rage On”: A band like no other

Rage On (2013) was featured as the opening theme for the sports anime, Free!. The anime experienced a wave of success that, consequently, put OLDCODEX on the spotlight. The song brought forward their fast paced, powerful punk-rock sound that was as catchy and memorable as anything fans had heard before. Of course, in this decade OLDCODEX have evolved and released singles and albums of superior quality, but this is a song that will forever come into conversation when people talk about the band and exciting anime opening themes.

But not everything about seiyuu music needs to be on a big scale.

There are seiyuu that, unfortunately, do not have the “looks”, the popularity nor edge a big music label wants to cash in on. It is true as well that oftentimes, those major labels miss out on massive talents because of that criteria. Quality and talent can be found within indie labels. There is no need to feature music in anime series; no exposure by a large music label; no big production teams. Just massive talent.

There is a seiyuu that made emphasis on those points early on in his career as a solo artist. A seiyuu that despite playing in the “minor league” released an album that will forever be remembered as one that defined a decade, an album that proved that it is alright for a seiyuu to take the indie route, experience creative freedom and have control over their career.

Toshiyuki Toyonaga “MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT”: Quality is also found among indie artists

Toshiyuki Toyonaga made his solo debut in 2014 with MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT, and forever changed the panorama for seiyuu wanting to make a solo debut but without the resources or the features that a major label wants.

How come major music labels missed on what is, considered by many, the best singer among male seiyuu? No one really knows.

MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT marked the start of Toyonaga’s career. Up until then he was known as a great singer, an actor and voice actor. He had a stint with a seiyuu unit but you could tell his heart was in creating and interpreting his own music. It is a self produced album as in, Toyonaga was the composer, lyricist and producer for the whole product. He played various instruments and worked with 3-man team that included himself, a sound engineer and a sound producer. His singing technique, the way he performed and structured his songs, all fit perfectly and impressed more people than what an indie release often does.

The album survived the test of time and in 2019 it sounds as great, if not better, than when it was released.

Although it was not the first time a seiyuu was venturing through the indie route – something common in early 00s – he certainly is the most successful of them all.

Toyonaga paved the path for seiyuu to try different music genres aside from pop and ventured into jazz and funk, something that would, eventually, turn into a trend from 2017 onwards.

Although seiyuu and anime music projects were taking off and some of those experiencing a certain level of success, none had been that successful on the Oricon Charts. Most acts were catering primarily to their fans and had yet to experience enough popularity to break into the charts.

The first ever #1 on Oricon Weekly Singles chart was an impressive feat that ended up gracing publications like Billboard, Oricon and a wide variety of seiyuu magazines. It was the first time that an anime/seiyuu project was able to get that coveted and, up until then, impossible feat.

It was a sign that the times were changing.

QUARTET NIGHT “God’s S.T.A.R.”: The first massive hit in the seiyuu/anime industry

Without a doubt the most successful and popular group from the Utapri franchise, it wasn’t long after their debut with Poison Kiss that QUARTET NIGHT (Showtaro Morikubo, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Shouta Aoi and Tomoaki Maeno) would break a barrier for seiyuu and anime music projects.

The group build up their momentum from 2013 to 2016, culminating in the addictive God’s S.T.A.R., one of the most energetic and addictive releases by the group.

The single received Gold Certification by RIAJ in an impressive 1 week since its release. This was the first time that a group from the Utapri franchise, and even outside it, experienced such level of popularity and success. The single broke a barrier up until then unbreakable and set a record in the music industry. It will forever be remembered as the single that showed that anime/character music projects could be successful. QUARTET NIGHT were the first ever 2D group to be #1 on the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart.

We already have solo artists making their big breaks and opening the doors for other solo artists to make their debuts either under major labels or indie ones. We had rock made cool and mainstream among anime fans and even outside of the fandom. By mid 10s, solo artists were already breaking into top #10, a 2D group broke the barrier and achieved a #1 on Oricon’s Weekly Singles Chart.

All that was missing was: a #1 by a solo artist on Oricon’s Weekly Chart (still hasn’t been achieved) a #1 by a 2D group on Oricon’s Weekly Albums Chart.

There was a group that, alike QUARTET NIGHT, was not the main group in its respective franchise but experienced similar quick popularity rise.

TRIGGER “REGALITY”: A heartbreaking story takes the group to #1 on Oricon’s Weekly Album Chart

TRIGGER (Wataru Hatano, Soma Saito and Takuya Sato) made their debut in 2015 but it wasn’t until 2017 that the group would experience a considerable rise in popularity.

The group’s first album, REGALITY, fit right in the middle of IDOLiSH7‘s heartbreaking story arc connected to the group. As a response to what was happening in-game, fans in real life went to the stores and purchase the album to support them.

With the humble 31,723 copies sold, TRIGGER broke the other barrier left for 2D groups to break: achieving #1 on Oricon Weekly Albums Chart.

After QUARTET NIGHT and TRIGGER, the road was open for other music projects to have a go at the top 10 and clinch those coveted #1s.

And that was exactly what this next franchise was able to pull off. Almost all of its releases so far are certified as Gold Records by RIAJ. People first looked at this project with confusion, disdain, thinking that it was doomed to fail despite its solid cast however, what happened was as surprising as it was well deserved.

Division All Stars “Hypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle-“

KING RECORDS and its subsidiary, EVIL LINE RECORDS, teamed up with OTOMATE to create Hypnosis Mic in 2017.

The hip-hop/rap project that was initially claimed to be a seiyuu X rap project (this year controversially changed to “character X rap project”) made a bang with its first release, none other than Division All StarsHypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle-.

The track was a massive hit and pulled both domestic and international fans to it like no other project had been able until then.

Hypnosis Mic made hip-hop and rap something cool in the eyes of Japanese people – that, up until then, did not view the music nor its artists in a good light. And surprisingly, the project caught the momentum that hip-hop and rap music had at the time and garnered attention on an international scale.

The project not only shed a different light on all the seiyuu part of it, but it also gave the spotlight to rappers in Japan to showcase their music and talents either collaborating with lyrics and or music composition or simply by appearing on the franchise’s weekly live broadcast. It created an outlet to make both parts shine.

By the end of the decade, Hypnosis Mic is the most successful original project. The project counts with more than 6 Gold Record Certifications under its belt and has turned into the most popular seiyuu/2D project in Japan in a fraction of 2 years.

We can not wrap up this article without talking about the album that broke and has set the currently – still unbeaten – record among male solo artists within the seiyuu industry. It is not often that records are broken, even less often that after setting those, they end up being broken not long after.

Although still not experiencing the superstar popularity of Mamoru Miyano nor the recognition and praise of Toshiyuki Toyonaga, this seiyuu is currently the best middle ground, a hybrid of both – rising in popularity, embracing the creative process as if he was an indie talent and embarking on a rock music-driven career despite pop being the genre that most easily takes a seiyuu to massive popularity.

This album in particular is, in hindsight, one that is a summary of the decade. It is an album that could have been released early on in the decade, it is an album that could have been performed by Toyonaga for how similar in vibe it is to his debut release, it really cashes in on the popularity that this seiyuu has been building up over 9 years as part of some of the most popular 2D/music anime projects. It is the album that currently sits as the best selling full-length album by a male seiyuu as a solo act.

Soma Saito “quantum stranger”: Breaking records and showcasing charting consistency like no other

Soma Saito is the kind of seiyuu turned solo artist that is starting to make a case for himself. After a solid debut in 2017, it wasn’t until a year later that he would get to have the freedom to explore the music he loves. When he took the reigns of his solo career, the result was the release of 2018’s quantum stranger.

The album did not rise higher than #4 on Oricon Weekly Albums chart but the 24,854 copies sold on its first week were more than enough for him to break Mamoru Miyano‘s until then record holder, THE LOVE (24,416 copies).

quantum stranger explored the intricacies of jazz music and featured music that is not widely explored by seiyuu namely Brit rock and acoustic rock tunes. It features all the good bits about indie rock music and adds crafty, double entendre lyrics that will make you lose time trying to demystify them (or isn’t the lyricist also a Literature graduate). On a first glance this could be an indie rock album. On a second one, this is a unique blend of the possibilities that seiyuu have at the start of their career on top of a talented singer-songwriter that can blend the best of both worlds – pop and indie rock – and still be successful while doing his own thing with almost total control over his craft.

At the same time Saito is the only male seiyuu that, in his career so far as a solo artist, has only had his releases within Oricon Weekly Charts’ top 10. A rare feat worthy of praise.

Seiyuu have come a long way since the start of the decade.

From not being recognized for their talent, to not having the freedom to do the music they love. From having the freedom to explore what they love in a different setting to setting records as part of 2D groups and music anime projects.

To be recognized domestically as well as internationally, for being able to enter the industry and, regardless of the start being under a major or an indie label, shine with confidence.

And ultimately being successful and respected for their solo, band and 2D unit work. Seiyuu have gone this far.

Although it is arguable if the seiyuu industry has strayed too far away from what a seiyuu should really do (something questionable in itself), truth is that seiyuu can now, if they want and have the support and resources, venture to music without being judged and seeing their careers as singers go down the drain.

This was a victory achieved on various fronts and by various seiyuu and projects that opened the doors for what is now considered a normal transition in a seiyuu’s career.

The seiyuu industry will never be the same after this defining and amazing decade.

Organized by release date, here is our final of the Releases that Marked the Decade (2010-2019):

  • 2011 – ST☆RISH “Maji LOVE 1000%”
  • 2012 – GRANRODEO “Can Do”
  • 2013 – Mamoru Miyano “PASSAGE”
  • 2013 – OLDCODEX “Rage On”
  • 2014 – Toshiyuki Toyonaga “MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT”
  • 2016 – QUARTET NIGHT “God’s S.T.A.R.”
  • 2017 – TRIGGER “REGALITY”
  • 2017 – Division All Stars “Hypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle-“
  • 2018 – Soma Saito “quantum stranger”

This is an original THTFHQ article. Decade in Review is an OP-ED series, meaning that all opinions expressed are of their authors only. All content featured on it is copyrighted to its rightful owners. Copy and paste and full translations of these articles is strictly forbidden.

 

Author: Vanessa Silva (midorin)

The Hand That Feeds HQ founder and music reviewer writing about Japanese music since 2010. Metalhead. Gamer. Based in Cascais, Portugal. Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus" was the catalyst to start writing about male seiyuu music.

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