For seiyuu, the music industry as we know it is completely different from a decade ago and that’s because trails were paved, records set, barriers broken. In this special feature, you and I celebrate 5 – of the various – acts that helped shape the music industry for seiyuu artists and 2D groups.
Tempo estimado de leitura: 13 minutos
This is an original The Hand That Feeds HQ feature.
The seiyuu industry has changed a lot in the past couple of years, that is a fact.
If you’ve been around the seiyuu fandom since the early 10s or are a veteran and have been following seiyuu since the early 00s or even the 90s, you’ve certainly noticed that a lot has changed – and drastically as well! – for seiyuu in the music industry.
The path to be a singer, especially when coming from a voice acting background offered a lot of resistance a couple of years ago.
After all, the general sentiment around seiyuu venturing to music to be artists was that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. There was that misconception that all seiyuu were bad singers to begin with.
Yes, you had solo debuts in the 90s and 00s but many tanked as soon as their debut CDs were released, others kept releasing music in a noncommittal way, more as a “thank you” to their fans than as a serious statement about “being an artist” or “wanting to be an artist”.
And there were also some seiyuu and 2D groups back in the 90s – E.M.U and Weiß Kreuz -, the pioneers to today’s multiple projects of the same nature.
Seiyuu were never stopped by the barriers they found to join the music industry.
There were barriers but they always pushed further and some were able to achieve important feats.
Seiyuu artists and 2D groups /projects have been pushing the envelope in the last couple of years as well.
In this special feature, a commission for The Hand That Feeds HQ’s patron PM, you’ll get to know a bit about the 5 acts – seiyuu artists and 2D projects/groups – that have not only adapted themselves to the music industry but also rewrote the history books about what is or not possible for seiyuu.
Uta no Prince-sama: the start of the 2D idol group trend
It’s inevitable to talk about acts or projects that rewrote the history books without mentioning the Uta no Prince-sama franchise.
In 2010, this was a franchise that released otome games with tie-in music releases. Utapri was not a 2D music project.
No one could imagine at that time that it would explode in popularity and turn into a trendsetting project that would go on to inspire multiple 2D idol groups/projects and even games with rhythm components.
The franchise’s strength is, quite possibly, its longevity (now over the 10th anniversary mark). Its story was never a strength, as it was originally a different twist on an otome game – a dating sim, essentially – but its music is quite the awesome greeting card.
From 2011 to 2016, this franchise was in its peak form.
Since then, it’s arguable if Broccoli/KING RECORDS have been milking the franchise dry. In my opinion, they have but that’s a talk for a SEIYUU LOUNGE episode or a longer, in-depth article.
Still, the franchise grew into a massive hit, with STARISH’s song “Maji Love 1000%” turning into one of the most requested songs for karaoke-goers in Japan in the past decade.
It is truly one of those songs that you can rightfully call “iconic”.
At the same time, QUARTET NIGHT headline their own live tours and have set records while pushing towards opening the doors for other 2D groups to be taken seriously.
When you look at 2D music projects out there, it is clear how much inspiration was taken from the Utapri franchise and its winning formula.
After all, this is a franchise that put the spotlight on 2D music as well as seiyuu as singers, something that, no other project before had managed to pull off this masterfully.
Mamoru Miyano: Paving the way for seiyuu artists
Another name you can’t avoid when talking about male seiyuu that rewrote the history books in the music industry is Mamoru Miyano.
The multi-talented seiyuu and solo artist has been a staple, a role model for seiyuu artists.
He made his solo debut in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2011 that he’d experience what popularity is as a solo artist.
His breakthrough was with “Orpheus” and, much thanks to the attention that the Utapri franchise garnered, he was in the spotlight from that point on. KING RECORDS made the best out of that attention by consistently releasing CD after CD and that, mixed with Miyano’s talents as a singer and performer, plus his likeable personality turned him into a superstar.
The path he trailed after that put the spotlight over seiyuu venturing in the music industry.
If Miyano was this good, what about other seiyuu trying their luck at being artists?
And truth is that many more that followed his footsteps have shown a lot of quality and, in some cases, an impressive creative vein. However, the ease with which they’ve joined the music industry was partly possible because of the attention Miyano brought to seiyuu.
Miyano was the first male solo artist to headline a show at Nippon Budokan in 2013.
He would end up being as well the first male solo artist to go for an arena tour in 2018.
And he was also the first seiyuu artist to hold a global livestream concert in December 2020.
All these feats were achieved in completely different times in his career.
Nippon Budokan’s live show put Miyano in the spotlight. We’re talking about a venue with 14,000 seats to fill. Although a gamble at that time, those seats sold out, further solidifying his stance of a rising pop star.
The arena live tour confirmed his superstar status among seiyuu artists and he started to be taken much more seriously by media in Japan, consistently getting invites for TV shows – variety, music, and more -, something that put him in the public eye and further solidified his stance in the music industry.
It’s undeniable how much Miyano contributed since 2012 to opening the doors for seiyuu to venture into the music industry and not meet as much resistance and disdain as before.
Since 2012, in a way, most seiyuu artists tend to follow his lead and music labels surely follow what new things Miyano and KING RECORDS have in store.
Toshiyuki Toyonaga: Putting singer-songwriters in the spotlight
There’s no denying that Toshiyuki Toyonaga is an insanely good voice actor. Wide vocal range, ability to play polarizing characters, and natural acting are just some of the things that stand out about him as a voice actor.
However, there’s more to him than meets the eye.
He is a singer-songwriter that can play a variety of musical instruments.
Since his solo debut in 2014 with “MUSIC OF THE ENTERTAINMENT” – under the minor music label Art Sonic -, Toyonaga has been pushing the boundaries of what creativity means for seiyuu artists.
While his feats are not quantifiable, it’s noticeable how much Toyonaga has been an inspiration for seiyuu artists wanting to showcase their singer-songwriting skills.
Up until 2014, it was expected of seiyuu artists to perform pop/R&B music with lyrics and compositions outsourced. Toyonaga made it a “normal” occurrence for seiyuu artists to put their hands to work, creating highly personal CDs that are a reflection of their creative minds.
If Miyano Mamoru opened the door for seiyuu artists, in general, to be accepted and well viewed within the music industry, Toshiyuki Toyonaga took it a step further and made it cool to be a singer-songwriter on top of all that.
QUARTET NIGHT and TRIGGER: Setting records and opening the doors for 2D groups’ rise in popularity
Although from different 2D music franchises, what QUARTET NIGHT and TRIGGER achieved in 2017 would end up opening the doors for 2D music projects to actually be taken seriously.
QUARTET NIGHT (Utapri franchise) achieved #1 on Oricon’s Weekly Singles Chart with “GOD’s S.T.A.R”.
To top it all off, the single was Gold Record Certified upon its very first day of release which was jaw-droppingly impressive. Up until 2017, no other 2D music project had managed such a feat.
Similarly, TRIGGER (IDOLiSH7 franchise) went for the impossible task of getting a #1 on Oricon’s highly competitive Weekly Albums Chart with “REGALITY”.
Up until 2017, no other 2D group had even come close to #1 on that chart.
TRIGGER went for an emotional #1 that would end up opening the final door left to open for 2D music projects/groups: the possibility of going head-to-head with established acts – national and international – and manage to come on top.
Both groups had to face tough competition of J-pop and K-pop idols (QUARTET NIGHT nudged past SHINee and TRIGGER managed the herculean task of nudging past the insanely popular BTS) and established rock bands (i.e., BUCK-TICK).
Hypnosis Mic: Trailing a new path for 2D music projects
Up until 2017, all the feats were being pulled off by pop acts or 2D idol groups/projects.
The arrival of Hypnosis Mic in the 2D music industry came as a complete surprise for many.
No one was expecting a hip-hop project to be announced, much less one in which seiyuu would be actively rapping.
At the time of the announcement, many were the ones that read the words “hip-hop” and “seiyuu” and sneered.
And truth is, for the very first months since its announcement, the Hypnosis Mic franchise was a black sheep struggling to get some attention, especially positive attention.
Something changed early in 2018 and the project started to get a lot of attention from the media as well as domestic and overseas fans.
All of a sudden, the Hypnosis Mic franchise was the hip project to follow, and rightfully so, as it was paving a completely different way for 2D music projects and seiyuu.
In what was a music industry oversaturated with idol projects and EDM acts, the Hypnosis Mic franchise arrived as a breath of fresh air, something unexpected, exciting and, better yet, trailing new path for 2D music projects.
For those that may not be aware, while hip-hop music is wildly accepted and loved internationally, in Japan, many considered it to be music of and to society’s rejects, mavericks, drug addicts and criminals.
The image hip-hop had in Japan before Hypnosis Mic’s rise in popularity was dirty and grim and it seemed like EVIL LINE RECORDS and Otomate were gambling way too much with the project given how there was a high risk of backlash from Japanese fans or even the possibility of the project tanking within its first months.
Thankfully, only the first couple of months were rough for the franchise. As soon as it picked up its pace, the Hypnosis Mic franchise was off picking up accolades one after another, setting an impressive Gold Record Certifications record as a franchise.
The Hypnosis Mic franchise has, at the time this feature was published, 9 Gold Record Certifications in its trophy cabinet.
That 900.000 CDs sold as a franchise.
Let that sink in.
This is almost a Million seller franchise.
This is as big and impressive as it gets. And no, it wasn’t a traditional idol project that managed to pull it off, it was the unique and exciting hip-hop project that did it.
What this tells us is that Hypnosis Mic’s bold premise – at the time of its launch – ended up paying off. At the same time, it showed everyone in the music industry in Japan that there’s more to 2D music than just pop and EDM idol groups (and the rare rock project that appears). There are other music genres that can thrive and be successful.
Although these projects are not directly related, JAZZ-ON! (jazz music project launched in 2019), PERFECTION NOISE (hybrid idol group project launched in 2020) and Aoppella!? (acappella music project launched in 2021) all arrived with unique premises and exploring never-before explored music genres and are thriving.
It goes to show that, although pop music and 2D idols will always be loved, fans also want variety and 2D music projects with bold approaches to sound and exploring music genres that are considered “niche”.
These were just 5 (6, technically, I cheated this feature by adding QUARTET NIGHT and TRIGGER in the same point) out of the various achievements that paved the way for male seiyuu & 2D projects in the music industry.
Did you notice any of these feats happening? Do you follow any of the seiyuu artists or groups mentioned in this feature? What do you believe is the next barrier to be broken by seiyuu artists and 2D music projects?
Let me know in the comments below!
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