Seiyuu artists and 2D groups opened their arms to international fans, live shows were bigger and of a higher quality, beloved seiyuu artists made their comebacks.
Estimated reading time: 26 minutes
2021 was a year packed with important happenings for seiyuu artists.
From surprising solo debuts to new 2D music projects being launched and impressing everyone, massive tours in the middle of the pandemic, long-awaited comebacks, and crucial changes in the seiyuu and music industries, there was a little bit of everything.
In this feature, you and I revisit the buzzworthy albums, comebacks, tours/live shows, and changes in the music industry for seiyuu artists and 2D groups.
These are the key storylines in 2021.
The big comebacks
2021 was a good year for fans of male seiyuu artists. There were plenty of full-length albums released not only from the usual suspects but also from voices that we all hadn’t heard for a long time.
Although it arrived a bit late, after all this is a single to thank his fans and celebrate his 39th birthday (that was in March 2021), everyone was more than delighted to finally listen to him as a solo artist, with pure, raw emotions in his performances.
Another seiyuu that had been away from the music industry in recent years is Kenichi Suzumura.
The veteran seiyuu and singer-songwriter had last released a digital single in 2020 and his last album dated back to 2014.
It’s safe to say that his fans were ecstatic about this return to the music industry with none other than the full-length album “BRIGHT”.
Cue another beloved seiyuu solo artist that made a surprise announcement before the end of 2021.
Toshiyuki Toyonaga announced the release of his 3rd full-length album “.Link” and brought in guest lyricists in Subaru Kimura and Kana Hanazawa, as well as different composers to help shape up the world and soundscapes he had in mind.
Although promotions were kept to a bare minimum, excitement for Toyonaga’s music was there, with his fans pretty eager to listen to the latest creations by the vocal chameleon and genius composer.
“.Link” is a collaborative piece of art for Toyonaga, straying a bit away from his usual self-producing, singer-songwriter self.
Big Album releases
Contrary to 2020, which was practically packed to the very top with big releases and more specifically, big albums, 2021 was much quieter and I dare say the quality although there, was not even close to that of the music released last year.
Still, there were 4 big album releases, 2 of these comebacks after a long period of inactivity for the artists in question.
Toshiki Masuda “origin”
Almost 2 years since Masuda had released music, he made a big comeback with his 2nd full-length album “origin”.
The talented voice actor and solo artist decided to reset his solo career sound-wise and fully embrace the sound he loves. Rock, especially fast-paced guitar rock with hints of punk, had a big presence in “origin”.
The album, with Masuda’s rock origins at center stage, showcased an artist comfortable in his skin, sound, and concept. And, as a result, the sound was more consistent and of higher quality in comparison to his 1st album “diver”.
There are themes of youth, ambition, dreams, fantasies, defeat, and hope going on throughout this album. Those are explored through a consistent rock sound that is rich, powerful, and entertaining at all times.
And Masuda made sure to showcase more of his range with this album. Not only by tapping a bit further into his high range – delivering crystal clear head voice notes – but he also embraced his mid-range and went for a collection of warm and fun performances that suit his image as an artist.
If you happen to not know about this album, I thoroughly welcome you to check it out. At the time of recording this episode, the album was not available on streaming platforms which is a pity in terms of visibility because this album surely is one of the top 5 best albums of 2021.
Yuma Uchida “Equal”
Yuma Uchida didn’t spare anyone with his sophomore album.
Under the theme of “two halves of the same artist”, “Equal” is an album that showcases Uchida’s versatility as a singer, tackling bubbly pop tunes, acappella music, technical R&B songs, ballads, rock tunes, and hyped up EDM music.
In each of those outings, Uchida managed to be charismatic and showcase how comfortable he is as an artist. If there is one thing you can really tell from his performances in this album is that he was having fun performing the songs.
The emotion in his voice, the energy he brought to each song, the ease with which his songs put a smile on your face, all shows how much he was vibing to the songs and enjoying himself while recording those.
I’m an absolute sucker for Yuma Uchida’s unique brand of R&B pop. Although you may not notice it when he releases a single, when it’s time for an album, R&B really takes over, with Uchida showing his singing skills with plenty of smooth mid-tones, fancy R&B riffing, technical high notes, and acappella.
His voice tone more than fits R&B music as he always sounds effortlessly melodic. It’s like his voice is honeyed, smoothly gliding through the lyrics and the parts you’d usually deem complex to pull off as a singer.
And “Equal” more than capitalized on that.
This is an album in which R&B is abundant, the quality in the music is top tier, the mastering made the songs flow seamlessly even between songs of polarizing music genres, and when things get quiet like in “I’m not complete”, you can safely say that Yuma Uchida is easily a top 5 best singer among male seiyuu.
Makoto Furukawa “ROOM Of No Name”
If there is an artist that always makes me excited for any music release he makes is Makoto Furukawa.
As a big fan of jazz music, Furukawa’s music always fills a need that other male seiyuu never manage to fill.
And this time around it was no different. “ROOM Of No Name” is a change in tone for Makoto Furukawa as a solo artist.
This time around without Satoru Kuwabara – that composed “from fairytale” – and simultaneously without any songs in this mini-album featured in anime series, Furukawa was unshackled, ready to do something refreshing yet still in the same tone and with the same elegance of all the music you can find in his 1st full-length album “from fairytale”.
The result is one of the most complex and interesting albums released in 2021 with yet another set of performances that highlight Makoto Furukawa’s skills as a gifted singer and stellar lyricist.
“ROOM Of No Name” is a bold, confident mini-album by an unshackled Makoto Furukawa, now free from the restrictive nature of anisong music. This freedom showed the best in him and made this mini-album a serious contender for album of the year.
Toshiyuki Toyonaga “.Link”
Another seiyuu artist that is a treat to listen to and always makes me excited for any music he releases is Toshiyuki Toyonaga.
The multitalented seiyuu, singer-songwriter, and music producer announced the release of “.Link” in October and fans went crazy with the news.
I know for sure I was excited because Toyonaga is a genius singer-songwriter.
This time around Toyonaga mixed things up a little bit, not being in charge of composing all music nor of writing all lyrics.
“.Link” is a collaborative piece of art that brought experienced composers, producers, talented lyricists, and even fellow seiyuu with awesome lyricist skills – Subaru Kimura and Kana Hanazawa – together with Toshiyuki Toyonaga’s music sense and outstanding singing and composition skills.
The result is one of Toyonaga’s most impressive CDs in his repertoire. It’s still not up there with “MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT” but hell if “.Link” isn’t an impressive album.
Big changes in the music industry for seiyuu artists
If you remember well, FROM ARGONAVIS franchise started the sound-only live shows trend last year, Mamoru Miyano held a worldwide livestream and Toshiyuki Toyonaga held an acoustic live show via streaming.
Those were the first steps that signaled that something was slowly changing in the music industry in Japan.
The question was there “How to reach our fans if we can’t meet them face-to-face?”
Streaming appeared as a perfect option that, at the same time, ended up opening the doors to international fans.
Of course, not all seiyuu artists have welcomed everyone like Mamoru Miyano and KING RECORDS have managed. But once again, Miyano and KING RECORDS have a strong marketing strategy that includes international fans, contrary to all other seiyuu artists.
Still, it was interesting to find seiyuu artists and their music labels putting an effort in making their music, their performances, and events available to many of their fans – all in Japan and some internationally, depending on the streaming restrictions set for each country or region.
And with this, there were 3 seiyuu artists that held exclusively online live shows in 2021: Makoto Furukawa, Miyu Irino, and Shouta Aoi.
Shouta Aoi “Utaibito”
This was the first time Aoi held such a show and although this live show had a livestream available for international fans, it was the type region-locked to a lot of places, more than the ones available to watch it.
Still, there was an effort to include international fans and they responded warmly to Aoi welcoming them.
Almost in a poetic way, “Utaibito” was a live show that was physically empty – as the venue couldn’t have anyone there – and as such, the songs were all re-arranged in a stripped-down fashion to match that sense of emptiness.
As a result, fans got to listen to acoustic versions – most accompanied by a piano – of Aoi’s hits.
Makoto Furukawa STREAMING KINEMA “from fairytale”
In April, Makoto Furukawa held his first live show which was simultaneously his first online live show “STREAMING KINEMA “from fairytale””.
This live show came as a surprise as Furukawa didn’t have, at that time, enough music to hold a full live show.
Still, with a couple of songs, he still managed to give an awesome show to his fans. I’ll talk more about this live show in a couple of minutes in a different part of this episode.
IRINO MIYU ONLINE LIVE 2021
Also in the same month, Miyu Irino held an online live show that we will never get to watch ever again and that’s because it was a one-off live show with no intentions to be recorded and later released on DVD/BD.
IRINO MIYU ONLINE LIVE 2021 was a special online live show due to exactly that. It was Irino’s answer to his cancelled live tour in 2020 and also a gift to his fans after such an odd year.
To top it all off, although not open worldwide, the livestream was available to at least 20 countries besides Japan, welcoming plenty of his fans.
Music available on streaming platforms
This has been a slow process for the seiyuu industry.
Since 2020, and mainly due to the covid-19 pandemic, music labels, their seiyuu artists, and 2D music projects started to make their music wildly available internationally.
However, the biggest surprises came from two music labels that, up until now, weren’t that welcoming of international fans.
Contrary to its sister label, Lantis, Kiramune has been slow in the uptake, only making the music from its artists available on streaming platforms worldwide in 2021.
Their show of good faith or, should I say, an acknowledgment that there is an international fanbase for their artists, brought to streaming platforms worldwide the entire catalogs by all seiyuu artists and seiyuu units signed to Kiramune.
That’s Miyu Irino, Hiroshi Kamiya, KAmiYU, CONNECT, Tetsuya Kakihara, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Trignal, Takuya Eguchi, SparQlew, Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroyuki Yoshino and UNCLE BOMB.
Over 300 songs are now within reach for international fans that now, can fully support their favorite artists legally.
This is an awesome move by Kiramune – although a really late one as other music labels jumped into the trend years earlier.
Another music label that has a complicated relationship with international fans is Rejet.
The label best known for housing Dear Vocalist, Pythagoras Production, and CARNELIAN BLOOD’s music franchises has been making an effort to make the music of their projects available to a wider audience.
And after EROSION’s repertoire – minus their 1st full-length album – was made available simultaneously with the physical releases, it was time for parts of two other projects, the most popular at Rejet, to make their music available.
I mention “parts of” because Rejet has been making a gradual transition to streaming. With this being said, you can only find some CDs within both franchises available for streaming worldwide.
Fans of Dear Vocalist, the popular 2D rock and drama franchise that counts with a star-studded cast, will find the 1st full-length albums by RE-O-DO (CV: Toshiki Masuda), Joshua (CV: Nobunaga Shimazaki), Judah (CV: Soma Saito), (2)you (CV: Natsuki Hanae), momochi (CV: Toshiyuki Toyonaga) and A’ (CV: Ryohei Kimura) available for streaming.
This is a special moment for the franchise as it has celebrated its 6th anniversary this year and was greenlit for its 7th season of music + drama CDs.
Also, within Rejet arrived the news that Pythagoras Production, franchise launched in 2013 and currently one of the longest-running 2D music franchises, has part of its music available for streaming worldwide.
There are some group singles by Marginal #4, Lagrange Point, Unicorn Jr., and the newly debuted Golden Record available. Solo tracks also have a place in the repertoire made available to international fans.
When push comes to shove, the franchise – and thus Rejet – is making an effort at attracting more people to this project that has been experiencing wavering in their popularity in the last couple of years. It is a clumsy effort, especially by not making the entire catalogs available right off the bat, but it is still an effort worth commending.
I hope this effort by Rejet ends up leading more international fans of 2D music to find, fall in love with, or re-discover both Pythagoras Production and Dear Vocalist’s music.
These are two franchises with plenty of quality music. Pythagoras Production is one of the very first popular 2D music projects – behind Utapri – and Dear Vocalist is the longest-running and best 2D rock music project.
When 2021 wraps up, Kiramune and Rejet really stand out positively for making an effort to put the spotlight on their artists, making their music available for streaming worldwide, even if with some catalog restrictions by Rejet.
The big tours and live shows
Although still in the middle of managing a worldwide pandemic, there were big live tours and live shows taking place in Japan.
And there were several high-profile seiyuu helming those big live shows, some managing to pull off crazy tours when everything was being cancelled around the same time their live shows were being held.
There were 2D groups also holding impressive live shows that welcomed thousands of people in the audience.
Let’s talk a bit about those.
Gakuto Kajiwara 1st Live concert “Koko ni iru kimi ni”
Popular seiyuu and solo artist Gakuto Kajiwara announced his first live show, being held in November 2021.
“Koko ni iru kimi ni” was initially announced as an on-location live show however Kajiwara and his music label, Avex Pictures, surprised everyone by announcing a worldwide livestream, opening arms to the thousands of international fans of Kajiwara’s music.
This was an awesome step by Kajiwara, further opening his solo career to international fans yet an odd announcement when you remind yourself that Avex Pictures is the same music label that forbids the sales of their artists’ music to overseas fans.
They have a weird embargo going on, blocking international fans from purchasing Kajiwara’s physical CDs legally – if you are actually purchasing the physical CDs and live outside of Japan do know that, according to Avex Pictures, what you’re doing is as illegal as making an illegal download (seriously, this is crazy and doesn’t make any sense) – yet they were open to international fans.
But that is a different talk.
As a solo artist with only 1 year in the music industry, Kajiwara challenged himself to release a mini-album, hold a live show and make that live show available worldwide via streaming.
You got to admire the focus on being closer to his fans. He even goes as far as releasing announcement videos in English for his fans.
Impressive feat by Gakuto Kajiwara.
Makoto Furukawa STREAMING KINEMA “from fairytale”
Although with very few songs to his name to justify having a full live show, Makoto Furukawa held his first online live show, actually, his first-ever one-man live show in April 2021.
Streaming Kinema “from fairytale” was a high-quality production with a focus on making the viewer feel like they are watching the live show from the best seats in the house.
For that to be gripping, the live show features an intro recorded using a steady cam, with Makoto Furukawa taking the viewer one-on-one to their seat at the show which was not only a unique detail but also completely unexpected.
Furukawa went through almost his entire repertoire up until then, focusing more on the songs included in his 1st full-length album “from fairytale”.
As a result, those who got to watch the livestream – that wasn’t available in many countries internationally – experienced a one-in-a-lifetime live show filled with the elegance of jazz, Furukawa’s charisma and the pure power and addictive sound from his live band.
In November, the live streaming show was included in the limited editions of his 1st mini-album “ROOM Of No Name”.
SHUGO NAKAMURA 1st LIVE TOUR 〜NATURAL〜
There’s no denying it. Shugo Nakamura had a fantastic year.
He released his 4th single “Kowareta Sekai no Byoshin wa” and 1st full-length album “NATURAL”– both on the same day -, plus announced his 1st ever one-man live tour, SHUGO NAKAMURA 1st LIVE TOUR 〜NATURAL〜.
Nakamura managed to successfully pull off the live tour visiting live houses across Japan, with fans finally being able to watch him perform his warm brand of acoustic rock with jazz and pop sprinkles on top.
YUMA UCHIDA LIVE 2021「Equal Sign」
He filled Makuhari Messe – not its full but half capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions – and delivered a tantalizing live show that welcomed not only a breakdance team on stage but also showed Uchida playing guitar live for the first time.
The live show was filled with twists and turns covering his solo career up until now however with a particular focus in his most recent work, the 2nd full-length album “Equal”.
In a way, the album’s concept was befitting of Uchida as an exciting and versatile solo artist something that, in a live setting, translated into a set of mesmerizing performances across a wide variety of music genres, with different moods and requiring completely different performances on the vocal side.
Yuma Uchida’s “equal sign” live show is quite easily one of the best live shows held by male seiyuu in 2021.
Soma Saito Live Tour 2021 “We are in bloom!”
If you’re talking about crazy live tours in the middle of even crazier times, then Soma Saito’s 1st live tour “We are in bloom” must be mentioned.
Popular voice actor and singer-songwriter Soma Saito managed to, somehow and with a lot of luck, pull off an in-person live tour in the middle of the pandemic, with only 1 stop in the tour having to be dropped.
If you take a closer look at the cancellations and delays of live shows and tours between April and May 2021, you’ll really understand just how lucky was Saito to only have 1 date in the tour being cancelled.
The live tour wrapped up with 2 back-to-back shows at Tokyo Garden Theater, gathering 8000 people in those 2 days alone.
On top of the 8000 people joining Saito in an emotional journey towards blooming, were international fans, as SACRA MUSIC opened the doors to the last day of the tour to some overseas fans.
That arrived as unexpected still, the fact that only a handful of countries could watch the livestream ended up being frustrating as, by now, artists like Mamoru Miyano and Gakuto Kajiwara have already proven that it is possible to hold a worldwide livestream with barely any country restrictions.
Still, that’s a positive point to see SACRA MUSIC, music label that claims to be open to putting an international focus on their artists, finally doing something that actually is welcoming of international fans and that, actually, puts their artists on an international stage.
Soma Saito’s 1st live tour “We are in bloom” was a massive achievement not only for himself as an artist, showcasing the artistry of the 2nd full-length album “in bloom” for the very first time in a live setting, but also for how crazy it was to pull off a long tour in the middle of a pandemic and avoid it being cancelled altogether.
As far as live tours by male seiyuu go, Soma Saito’s “We are in bloom” is the craziest and, in 2021, the most buzzworthy live tour.
MAMORU MIYANO COMEBACK LIVE 2021 ~ RELIVING! ~
Almost 2 years without meeting his fans, Mamoru Miyano was itching to hop on stage, welcome, and share good vibes with everyone.
In October 2021, Mamoru Miyano finally got to make that wish come true with his live show MAMORU MIYANO COMEBACK LIVE 2021 ~ RELIVING! ~.
Miyano finally got to meet his fans face to face and feed off of their energy in an electrifying and emotional live show that marks the resume of Miyano’s live activities as a solo artist.
As it has been a trend up until now, Miyano keeps setting the trends for seiyuu artists by announcing the 1st WORLDWIDE livestream of all performances in the live show.
These were back-to-back shows that were simultaneously held in person and livestreamed worldwide with barely any country restrictions.
The fact that fans didn’t need a VPN to access the livestream and Miyano + KING RECORDS deliberately made the live show available to a big chunk of the countries in the world shows a lot of care for all fans of Miyano, making no distinctions between domestic and international ones.
This is something that still hasn’t spread to other music labels and seiyuu artists, that still region-lock their livestreams to Japan only or, when making those available to international fans, they only remember that there are some countries in central Europe, the US, Brazil and not much else, leaving a lot of fans to either resorting to VPNs or completely miss out on the shows.
The “RELIVING” shows were cathartic for everyone. Miyano got to see his fans and spread his charms and good vibes once again and the fans could finally see the massive grin on Miyano’s face as he met them after such a long time.
As far as performances go, Miyano made sure to revisit classics, bring in a couple of acoustic tunes as well as perform for the very first time some of the most recently released songs.
Massive accomplish by Miyano that I really hope ends up influencing other seiyuu artists from now on.
TRIGGER LIVE CROSS “VALIANT”
The first 2D group to hold an exclusively online live show, well, back-to-back shows, was the popular trio from the IDOLiSH7 franchise, TRIGGER.
The group surprised everyone by announcing not only their 1st one-man live show but also their first online live show.
Not only was the album a massive success on Oricon’s charts but the 2 days of TRIGGER LIVE CROSS “VALIANT” were extremely well received, with thousands of fans from Japan and internationally joining in the mesmerizing and imposing performances of what is, currently, one of the most popular 2D and 3D groups active in the music industry.
The live show had a high-quality production not sparing the budget to impress their fans.
For this online live show to leave a mark on its viewers, it has parts recorded with a steady cam. This is the famous, one-take camera that adds you, the viewer, to the action in the first person and requires the artists to have everything sharply choreographed to not mess up the take itself.
Then, there was augmented reality used on stage. This is quite possibly the most impressive showcase of technological advancements within 2D music. Augmented reality helped create the worlds fans experienced on stage, it was an important part of the storytelling for the live show that followed, almost perfectly the songs in the concept album “VARIANT”.
Then you have the choreography, the wardrobe, and the live performances. TRIGGER’s members were looking sharp, channeling strong regal vibes from the start of the show but with some wardrobe changes midway through to completely embrace the tones and vibes of the songs they were performing.
And on the other side of the camera were you and thousands of other fans worldwide as TRIGGER’s LIVE CROSS “VALIANT” was made available in over 25 countries around the world, bringing in a big chunk of their fanbase to this impressive live show and accomplishment within both the IDOLiSH7 franchise and among 2D music projects.
If there is something that 2020 has taught everyone working in the music industry in Japan is that there are international fans out there.
2021 further put emphasis on fans being eager and willing to support their favorites legally. To attend their live shows. To be excited alongside domestic fans.
And that passes, of course, for making live shows available through worldwide livestreams. Mamoru Miyano has been at the forefront when it comes to including international fans.
Shouta Aoi, Miyu Irino, Makoto Furukawa, Soma Saito, and Gakuto Kajiwara followed his footsteps, some more inclusive of international fans than others, but all are making an effort in testing the waters, checking if they have enough international fans to warrant making upcoming live tours or live shows available to international fans through livestreams.
So, Miyano opened the door and now, each seiyuu artist is left to their devices to assess if they have international fans willing to pay to watch their livestreams.
As someone living in Portugal, I can only say that, to me, only Mamoru Miyano, Miyu Irino, and Gakuto Kajiwara’s livestreams were available. These were the only seiyuu artists that decided to include the western countries in Europe in their livestreaming availability.
Still, the effort was there and I really hope that we can have more of these worldwide livestreams in the future. If KING RECORDS and Avex have taken notice that there are international fans like you and I really eager to watch our favorite artists, I believe 2022 is going to be a year in which that will be normalized for seiyuu artists and 2D groups.
Fingers crossed that it happens because that will be amazing for all of us that can’t travel to Japan or do not have money to travel + purchase a ticket for the events.
What were your favorite happenings in 2021? Share those in the comments!
You can find all the content in this feature on episode 72 of SEIYUU LOUNGE, The Hand That Feeds HQ’s official weekly podcast in video format.
If you prefer content on the go, you can also find the content in this feature in the sound-only version of SEIYUU LOUNGE.
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