Every year, over a dozen of 2D music projects are launched. Among those, there are gems that end up going under the radar. Let’s shine a light on some of those in this article.
Estimated reading time: 27 minutes
2021 was a year filled with launches of new 2D music projects however, navigating that sea of new projects are a couple of gems that have already been around for several years or launched recently and, somehow, have lost a bit of momentum or exposure despite their high quality.
Others do have some popularity however, given their sheer quality, they fully deserve all the love and attention buzzworthy projects get.
Forget all about the incredibly popular, trendy 2D music projects. In this article, I bring you a couple of 2D music projects that for what they did in 2021, more than deserve your attention.
These are projects that I believe deserve the spotlight as much as the buzzworthy ones.
Expect a lot of quality music, outstanding performances, and interesting lineups in the projects I’ll be mentioning below. The only things they really lack in my opinion are “popularity” or more “exposure”.
Let’s check those 2D music projects:
If you’re into rock music and like it to be raw and exciting while still exploring completely different twists to the rock genre, DIG-ROCK is the thing for you.
DIG-ROCK is a 2D rock music franchise created by TEAM Entertainment in 2019. The franchise branches out from the drama CD series, MintLip.
This is a mixed media project that incorporates music with drama CDs, focusing heavily on character development while still delivering high-quality shredding rock tunes time and time again.
As of 2021, the DIG-ROCK franchise has 3 rock bands in its lineup, all of different backgrounds and with a unique sound to them. In this franchise, only the seiyuu cast as the vocalists perform the songs. There are no character songs.
RUBIA Leopard is a popular rock band within the franchise’s universe.
Their sound blends a lot of elements from grunge and hardrock, with the bass being the prominent instrument in their songs. Their rock sound is aggressive and powerful but still with a lot of opportunities to be melodic and emotional.
Booming vibrato-filled vocals by Makoto Furukawa overflow with charisma and a tiny bit of allure to add the final touches to this band’s imposing and cool sound.
Their sound is heavily rooted in powerpop, with some transitions to punk-pop and hardrock.
You can expect fast-paced guitars, intense drums, and a youthful vibe to come from their music. On top, you have Yuma Uchida showcasing his rock frontman skills and confidence.
And in 2021, the franchise welcomed a new rock band: HOUND ROAR.
HOUND ROAR is a rock band fronted by HIBIKI (CV: Toshiyuki Toyonaga), with guitarist SHOMA (CV: Ryohei Kimura), bassist TOYA (CV: Hikaru Midorikawa), keyboardist SHION (CV: Yuichiro Umehara), and drummer SOGO (CV: Takashi Kondo).
HOUND ROAR has an acid-jazz sound with rock, soul, and funk into the mix. That band has clear influences of Jamiroquai spread all over their repertoire.
And on vocals, they have Toshiyuki Toyonaga, the vocal chameleon among seiyuu that easily grasped the complexity of HOUND ROAR’s sound and quickly made the songs his.
Since its launch in 2019, the DIG-ROCK franchise has made sure to showcase unique bands, rich drama tracks that explore the world and characters in the franchise as well as the music itself that is unique to each band.
From RUBIA Leopard’s aggressive hardrock to Impish Crow’s exciting powerpop and HOUND ROAR’s acid-jazz rock sound, those coming across this project are in for an incredible ride filled with high-quality rock music, shredding guitar solos, amazing drum fills, punchy slap basslines, and 3 versatile vocals in Makoto Furukawa, Yuma Uchida and Toshiyuki Toyonaga, 3 of the best singers among male seiyuu.
DIG-ROCK is a sleeper for many fans of 2D music but hell if it isn’t one of the most consistent and high-quality 2D music projects around.
In 2020, and also part of Team Entertainment, PERFECTION NOISE was launched.
PERFECTION NOISE follows the lives of NOISE NOVA’s members from how they came to be as a group, their individual struggles, their want to be stars, and their interactions with you, the listener.
This is a franchise that, in good Dear Vocalist fashion blends music with a situation drama CD.
The formula, although overdone, is actually pretty interesting for this group as each member has a really strong, rich background developed right off the bat with their 1st solo CD and as far as group drama parts go, you can follow everything as their manager.
The project is published by Spica sublabel part of TEAM Entertainment and, at its core, it has 1 group: NOISE NOVA.
NOISE NOVA, is a group with a hybrid sound that blends the danceable touch of EDM with the groovy twist by hip-hop but there are also rock, R&B, and ballads elements found in their music, sounding unlike any other 2D group out there.
Another unique thing this group has is its formation, heavily following the K-pop or J-pop idol formation style with centers, leader, lead vocals, sub-vocals, rappers, and sub-rappers.
As such, NOISE NOVA is dubbed a “dance and vocal unit”.
NOISE NOVA has a double-center formation that takes advantage of the faces and powerful voices of Narumi and Sena (which is to say: Shoya Chiba and Soma Saito). Both are the lead vocals with Narumi – voiced by Shoya Chiba – being the star of the group whereas Sena – voiced by Soma Saito – is the group’s ace and dance expert.
At the same time Chisato – voiced by Ryohei Kimura – and Akito – voiced by Kaito Ishikawa – have sub-vocal and sub-rapper duties, supporting the 2 main vocals in their performances. Chisato – voiced by Ryohei Kimura – also has leader duties.
This is actually the first time this sort of dynamic was embraced by a 2D music project, easily making it sound closer to the real thing than just a fictional group.
PERFECTION NOISE’s music is far from perfect – a result of a lot of experimentation with the multiple music genres that are at the core of the group’s sound – with a couple of instances of issues with sound mixing.
Those could be found in NOISE NOVA’s debut song “True Place” as well as Narumi’s “Deep” however from that point on, the franchise polished their mixing, and Sena, Chisato, and Akito’s solo songs were at a really good high level that deserves your full attention.
It is worth mentioning that this franchise although having an idol group at its core, strays a lot away from the sound that most 2D idol groups have.
Even in the solo songs by some of the characters, you find music that isn’t as common to find.
R&B ballads, loungy EDM, and old-school 00s J-pop marked the franchise’s sound as sonically unique and unpredictable, something that really makes me incredibly excited for what the franchise will hold in the future.
In 2021, the franchise released Chisato’s “Achromatic” and Akito’s “Down to zero”, two of the most intense pop tunes I’ve heard this year.
The franchise released as well “PERFECTION NOISE Original Soundtrack“, original soundtrack album featuring all songs used in the drama parts of each CD as well as compiled all songs released by NOISE NOVA and its members.
Although it’s been a while since the franchise has been active, I do look forward to what it can hold in the future.
And the fact that it is currently in a pause means that it is the perfect time for you to check their music and surrender yourself to their unique hybrid concept.
ENLIGHTRIBE is a full-scale 2D rock music franchise by movic with a big focus on character development.
The focus in the story seems to not only be about the lack of freedom, but also a battle between classes with the 3 bands part of its lineup representing that social stratification.
In ENLIGHTRIBE, only the vocalists of each band perform the songs. Recently, there was an attempt at bringing other seiyuu performing alongside the vocalists but as it is, that’s not the focus of this project.
ENLIGHTRIBE counts with 3 bands in its lineup: FAM, SHIFTYz, and ESMERALDA.
FAM is a 4-piece rock consisting of vocalist Toetoe Inumaki (CV: Tomohiro Yamaguchi), guitarist Kyo Shikabami (CV: Fumiyoshi Shioya), bassist Tetsuha Inashiro (CV: Tetsuei Sumiya), and drummer Shishio Kuji (CV: Toshinari Fukamachi).
FAM dons an energetic punk-rock/punk-pop sound with brief verses and even shorter, catchy choruses in the mix.
The band’s sound revolves around the bass. That is the instrument that charges forward, with the powerful drums complementing it. Additionally, if you’re into fast-paced rock with shredding guitar riffs, FAM’s music is that high-octane, never stopping to take a breather.
On vocals is Tomohiro Yamaguchi. He may not be as well-known among seiyuu fans as the other vocalists, but he absolutely showed his quality in a set of 4 electrifying performances.
The band has a pop-rock sound also extremely rooted in the bass. Once again, if you love a good bassline, SHIFTz also has the thing for you.
Their sound has a good balance between pop-rock and jazz, being at times youthful and at others quite mature in its vibe. This duality makes their sound unique in this franchise and opens up opportunities for Shunichi Toki to showcase his vocal range.
ESMERALDA is a 4-piece rock band consisting of vocalist Eiri Futabagi (CV: Junta Terashima), bassist Hiero Kagami (CV: Yusuke Nagano), guitarist Hekiru Houou (CV: Kento Hama), and drummer Ramo Toride (CV: Shohei Komatsu).
ESMERALDA hit everyone with a powerful rock sound with influences of visual-kei metal and prog-rock. Their melodies are slow-paced, their core is fast and intense. This is one of the most fascinating rock bands to be introduced to fans of 2D rock music.
On vocals is Junta Terashima, one of the most reliable baritones among seiyuu and always a treat to listen to in whichever project he’s cast in. He showed he can rock the stage with 4 impressive performances.
The franchise was announced in 2020 but only kicked off activities in 2021, with each band releasing 2 CDs including music and drama tracks.
For rock fans, this is a fantastic 2D music project, one that is underappreciated however with its quality both on the instrumentals and vocals plus the unique identities for each band, not to mention the consistency across all 2 CDs each band released, I believe that ENLIGHTRIBE is the hidden gem of 2021.
If there is one project that has been the talk in town in 2021, it’s aoppella!?.
The 2D mixed-media project brought to the spotlight the beauty of the voice, with seiyuu performing for the very first time acappella songs within a 2D music project.
aoppella!? is KLab’s latest original multimedia project built on the themes of “youth” and “a cappella”!
The project counts with 2 groups specialized in performing acappella music and representing 2 fictional schools.
Lil Happy and FYA’M’ have completely different approaches to acappella music, counting with unique lineups to suit those.
And that’s exactly in this point that there were plenty of surprises for me as well as some “I told you so” about the quality that some seiyuu have as singers despite being criminally underrated.
What almost all seiyuu part of this project showed is that they do not need background music to sound good.
They are the music.
The franchise has 2 groups:
Lil Happy is the upbeat, crystal clear, and incredibly delicate acappella group comprised mainly of tenors and baritones. Their music gives off a youthful vibe that fits really well with the whole concept of this project.
Listeners will find on vocals Ryota Osaka, Ryohei Kimura, Tetsuya Kakihara, KENN, and Tomoaki Maeno.
FYA’M’ (Read: fame) is an R&B-ish acappella group. They do have instances in which they channel barbershop acappella or even add a bit of gospel to their performances which makes them, at least for me, the most exciting group in this project.
Their lineup is packed with highly technical singers covering all vocal ranges – tenor, baritone, and bass –, which leads to memorable performances with a lot of power, a rich bass sound with some sprinkles of allure on top.
This group has a perfect balance that makes them incredibly consistent.
In 2021, both groups participated in 2 CDs, releasing 2 original songs per group as well as covered several popular J-pop and J-rock songs that brought a lot of attention to this project.
If there was a project that was buzzworthy, at least in the first half of 2021, it was aoppella!?.
TOKYO COLOR SONIC!!
Another buzzworthy project in 2021 yet one that doesn’t have a big international following is TOKYO COLOR SONIC!!.
The ambitious mixed-media franchise launched by sprout and Coloration features a star-studded seiyuu cast on top of its refreshing premise.
This franchise counts with an 8-character cast, with characters split into 4 different “buddy” units of singer + songwriter.
With that being said, in each pair of seiyuu, only 1 actually sings while the other is a big presence in the drama parts included with each team CD.
The franchise has 4 teams of singer + composer, these present unique dynamics, and depending on the vocals and music genres present in each song, fans have gotten to experience exceptional performances.
Team 3 consists of Towa (CV: Gakuto Kajiwara) and Mirai (CV: Ryohei Kimura).
Each team released a CD in 2021, and as a whole, the franchise released its theme song “Begin on buddy” performed by the vocals of the franchise: Shoya Chiba, Soma Saito, Gakuto Kajiwara, and Shunsuke Takeuchi.
This really is a dream lineup that I believe wasn’t fully optimized in the songs that were released this year and that’s because most of the songs – despite being incredibly good – have a weird mixing that puts the vocals in the background or fighting for the spotlight with instrumentals on incredibly high-volume levels.
But you can’t deny the quality on the vocal end or how some songs were really good despite underwhelming mixing in the chorus – and, at times, even the verses. Thankfully, the franchise solved its issues around Unit 3‘s release.
There’s a lot of potential for this project and lots of good ideas going on but it does seem that although TOKYO COLOR SONIC!! has been attracting attention on social media, which hasn’t translated – at all – to their CD sales that have been completely underwhelming.
At its core, this project has the potential, the cast, and the interest to be big.
Talk about an underrated 2D music franchise yet one doing refreshing and daring things with their music.
Hana-Doll* is a franchise housed by movic, with music distributed by AIЯRIDE RECORDS. and it is easily one of the most unique and exciting 2D music projects around.
The franchise has a deep focus on storytelling, with all their CDs including both 2 songs and drama tracks covering the stories both Anthos* and Loulou*di‘s members are going through.
They are known for their ethereal, dreamy music.
Many of their songs have minimalistic electronica, chillout, and tropical elements however if need be, the group can be intense and aggressive with heavy EDM and trap music taking the spotlight.
To help them flesh out those worlds and stories is none other than the genius composer, Takeshi Hama. As such, expect dramatic chamber music pieces, layered mixes of orchestral and EDM, all suiting the group and the impressive vocals in this lineup.
Both groups have released 2 CDs in 2021 and have overall impressed with their dramatic and emotional stories, the wonderful soundscapes left for us all to enjoy, and impressive performances all around.
This is, easily, one of the most underrated 2D music projects out there but one that absolutely deserves your attention for their high standards, quality, and music that no other 2D group is doing at the moment.
This is one of the most interesting 2D rock music projects going on in the past couple of years, still, given how the project is all about rock – in various forms and approaches -, I feel that while FROM ARGONAVIS (formerly known as ARGONAVIS from BanG Dream) is loved by many, it surely deserved even more love for the sheer quality it has.
The project was originally launched by Bushiroad but in 2021, in a surprising move that led to 24 chaotic hours for their fans, it parted ways and changed its name in the process.
The rock music in FROM ARGONAVIS goes from ska (Fujin RIZING!) to electro-rock (εpsilonΦ), pop-rock (Argonavis), visual-kei rock (Fantôme Iris) and punk-rock (ARGONAVIS).
There’s a different style and band that will suit both newcomers to rock music as well as longtime fans of the genre and its subgenres.
I have a soft spot for Fantôme Iris and GYROAXIA. But really, if I had to pick a favorite band, it would be Fantôme Iris.
It’s so rare to see visual-kei rock so well represented in 2D music projects – or even on a live setting with Arthur Lounsbery completely in character – so what started with curiosity from my side to see if they could match the quality of MEDICODE from the pioneer 2D visual-kei rock project FlyME Project, ended up in a fascination for their music and performances.
GYROAXIA is an absolute monster of a punk-rock band. Their sound is aggressive, intense, and made to be appreciated in a live setting.
Once again, it is rare for 2D rock bands to embrace an edgy, hard-hitting, and, at times violent, rock sound and that’s because most fans of 2D music don’t like rock music that isn’t close to pop.
So GYROAXIA arrived at just the right time, with a sound that I love and with impressive performances by Jin Ogasawara.
For fans of pop-rock music, the franchise’s flagship group, Argonavis, is a perfect fit; if you’re into ska music – a mix of rock, jazz and reggae – Fujin RIZING! is going to impress you and, of course, if your thing is more of a glitchy, disruptive brand of rock, εpsilonΦ will cover you.
All bands have grown a lot in 2021, with their vocalists finally showcasing a high level of comfort in their roles and with the music gradually improving its quality.
Extremely popular in Japan while completely underappreciated internationally, Dear Vocalist is one of the longest-running 2D music franchises still alive and kickin’.
The franchise was launched in 2015 by Rejet as a drama + music franchise including all music composed by R.O.N and lyrics by Daisuke Iwasaki, that you may know as Rejet’s CEO and resident lyricist to many of the music projects housed in this company.
In 2021, all vocalists – RE-O-DO, Joshua, Judah, (2)you, momochi and A’ – got their chance to release their first full-length albums, including songs voted by the fans as well as 3 new additions that, no matter which CD you choose to listen to, will make your jaw drop in awe and incredibly emotional at the same time.
The franchise kicked off its activities with a cast of seiyuu that were up-and-coming stars however, at the moment, Dear Vocalist has one of the most luxurious and star-studded casts within 2D music projects.
Right off the bat, the project has 2 vocal chameleons in its ranks, Toshiyuki Toyonaga and Soma Saito, as well as Toshiki Masuda’s vast experience working in 2D music projects, and the insane reliability and consistency by Nobunaga Shimazaki, Natsuki Hanae, and Ryohei Kimura.
With this lineup, R.O.N has managed to make all bands – and thus vocalists – evolve and showcase different sides and skills over the years, culminating in a stellar set of entries in the RAVING BEATS!!! CD series.
The Dear Vocalist franchise keeps on improving the quality of the songs as well as the rich stories connecting you – the listener – and each vocalist. On top of all that you have a star-studded cast that, time and time again, delivers outstanding performances.
Now, with part of the franchise’s repertoire available on streaming platforms worldwide, I hope more people end up finding this project, falling in love with the music, and, perhaps, it can be as big internationally as it is in Japan because it honestly deserves it.
These were just some of the 2D music projects that impressed me with their quality and unique charms in 2021. 2D music projects I believe deserve a chance to receive even more love than they already do.
As always, this was an opinion feature so I welcome you to leave your suggestions in the comments of projects that you believe everyone should be following in 2021 however, make it a challenge: suggest 2D music projects you love but that aren’t really massively popular.
You can find all the content in this feature article on episode 69 of SEIYUU LOUNGE, The Hand That Feeds HQ’s official weekly podcast in video format.
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