aoppella!?: A Breath of Fresh Air in the 2D Music Industry

Acappella music takes center stage in a unique multimedia project that is more than ready to showcase the beauty of vocal harmony.

Tempo estimado de leitura: 19 minutos

This is an original The Hand That Feeds HQ feature.

Reproduction of the contents in this feature is strictly prohibited. Promotional images are copyrighted to Klab.


In March 2021, and after much teasing about it, aoppella!? got its great unveil, showing an ambitious concept, bringing a talented and experienced voice cast with it, ending up impressing fans of Japanese voice actors and 2D groups in the process.

Fans were ecstatic at that time. There’s no doubt about it. Fans are still ecstatic. A project like this doesn’t have a match currently in the 2D music industry.

The 2D music industry currently counts with a wide variety of heavily produced idol projects, a  handful of rock projects, 2 popular hip-hop projects, and a couple of rare chameleon/unique projects catering to fans of Japanese voice actors, as well as the magic that comes from supporting 2D groups that are trailing their way in the industry with smart, refreshing music.

aoppella!? certainly fits within the last category.

When was the last time you’ve listened to acappella music? 

Unless you’re a fan of the highly popular Japanese acappella group The Gospellers or of the US-based Pentatonix, the most popular group of the genre in the world, you may not listen to acappella music as regularly as you do rock, pop, or hip-hop.

I speak for myself that the last time I’d listened to acappella music was in 2019 when I attended the 1st day of live viewing of IDOLiSH7’s 2nd live REUNION

Takuya Sato was alone on stage for the first couple of seconds of 願いは Shine On The Sea (Negai wa Shine On The Sea) and delivered a mesmerizing acappella performance of the fan-favorite song, rendering fans to tears.

It was already known by then that Takuya Sato is an extremely talented singer – on top of being a passionate and skilled voice actor –, and that acappella demonstration made me, and I believe, many others, wish to hear more of him performing this type of music.

Cue 2021.

It is interesting how things turn around and, out of nowhere, a new multimedia project is announced, teasing fans of Japanese voice actors (from hereon: seiyuu) and 2D music with a series of silhouettes of the characters that would happen to be the members of FYA’M’ and Lil Happy.

And thus, aoppella!? was launched, making the dreams of many fans of listening to acappella music performed by Japanese voice actors come true.

What is Aoppella!?

aoppella!? is KLab’s latest original multimedia music 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: Otowa Public High School (Lil Happy) and Kanadezaka Private High School (FYA’M’).

The 2 groups: Lil Happy and FYA’M’ have completely different approaches to acappella music, counting with unique lineups. 

Story

It was on that unforgettable day that the boys found themselves changed.

In front of them were ordinary high school students just like them. There were no flashy costumes or musical instruments.

But the moment they began to sing a surreal harmony filled the air and the crowd went wild.

“We want to sing like that! We want to shine, too!”

High school students captivated by the art of a cappella aim for the top in the exclusive high school a cappella contest, “Aoppella”. They try to perfect their pitch as the show is about to begin!

What is acappella music?

Consists of a group or solo performance without instrumental accompaniment.

Acappella is a style of music performance that puts the spotlight on the quality of the vocals, putting aside any distractions that you usually have behind a voice in pop (or any other music genre).

This type of music performance dates back to 2000 B.C. and is closely connected to church music. 

For example, the mighty Gregorian chant is a perfect illustration of what acappella music is all  about.

Acappella, of course, is not only singing, members of an a cappella group have positions that they fill in, to create a harmonious performance.

What are the positions in acappella music?

An acappella group/vocal band traditionally counts with 5 major voice parts

Those are the soprano (female only voice part), alto (female only voice part), tenor (male only voice part), baritone (male only voice part), and bass (male only voice part).

Groups can have different setups though.

You can mix what are called traditionally male and female voices; have only male or female voices and you can mix and match members that cover different parts in acappella music (having multiple tenors or baritones in the same group, for example).

But there’s more to it. 

There are percussion parts and those are made by voice only, with a member in charge of replicating the percussion sound only by using beatboxing vocal techniques

If you’ve listened to FYA’M’s songs released so far, you’ve noticed that Shugo Nakamura is exactly covering that position while Daiki Hamano is in charge of bass parts complimenting the percussion.

Most acapella arrangements will have a soloist – usually a Soprano/Tenor with exceptional singing ability that can drive the song with belting and power – and a beatboxer – who needs to have a lot of talent to pull off a consistent, punchy beat, driving the performance forward. 

FYA’M’’s soloist is Toshiyuki Toyonaga and Lil Happy’s soloist is Ryota Osaka

By looking at both soloists, you can already have an idea that both groups will sound distinct and focus on different types of performances suiting the soloist’s vocals first and foremost.

aoppella!?’s voice cast: a mix of experience and raw talent

If you are familiar with seiyuu artists’ music, 2D idol groups, or bands, there are some seiyuu that quickly stand out for their unique voice tones, wide vocal range, crystal clear high notes, sweet and powerful low notes, and, overall, their versatility as singers.

Talent is abundant in the seiyuu industry, with most voice actors having rock-solid skills as singers, some even bringing prior experience as singers or singer-songwriters to the table.

aoppella!? comes with a cast that brings a lot of experience and talent to the spotlight. 

FYA’M’

FYA’M’ is comprised of a well-balanced and versatile lineup. 

Among both groups in aoppella!? they were the ones that impressed me the most. 

They have a classic acappella lineup core – top, tenor, baritone, bass, percussion – and, to add a bit more depth, added a lead to complement the performer in charge of the “top” parts.

Their lineup consists of:

Toshiyuki Toyonaga is well-known as a vocal powerhouse, with an otherworldly control over his voice tone, a wide vocal range, plenty of experience as a singer-songwriter and music producer. 

If there is a voice actor best equipped to be in a 2D music/multimedia project, it is Toshiyuki Toyonaga.

He voices Mitsuo Ayase, FYA’M’’s member in charge of the top part of the group’s music. 

The “top part” is performed by the soloist in an acappella group and, especially taking into account Toyonaga’s vast experience and proven record as a versatile and powerful singer, it is no wonder he’s in charge of such an important role in the group.

Wataru Urata is a name that has been making waves in the seiyuu industry in the past couple  of months. 

He’s best known as a utaite – a singer under a moniker that performs covers of VOCALOID original songs, anime, game-related songs, and J-Pop on Nico Nico Douga and YouTube -, and is quite loved for his unique and refreshing high toned voice. 

He’s a tenor with quite the powerful high range, and is in charge of the 2nd part (tenor range singer) in FYA’M’.

He voices Akira Shigaki.

Yuki Ono is another top choice for this lineup. 

Owner of a versatile skill set as well as a sweet, warm singing tone, Yuki Ono has been one of the most sought-after voice actors when it comes to 2D/multimedia projects.

He’s extremely underrated and despite some hiccups, while signed to Lantis, he’s been showing more and more of his talents as a singer as an indie solo artist.

He voices Maito Coresawa, FYA’M’’s 3rd and lead parts

He shares lead vocal duties with Toshiyuki Toyonaga and rightfully so. He also is in charge of the 3rd part, between baritone and tenor range, for FYA’M’’s songs.

If you are familiar with his voice, you’ll notice that his versatility, power, and emotional range are invaluable assets that make FYA’M’ shine.

Like I mentioned above, Takuya Sato is a terrific singer. Powerful baritone with a sweet delivery but can, as easy as 1-2-3, switch to a charming and, at times, alluring tone, making your jaw drop.

Although he’s had a solo career, what most people know him for is his work as part of the popular 2D idol group, TRIGGER (IDOLiSH7 franchise).

Charismatic, earnest, and a hard worker, Sato is the type of singer that is never satisfied with his performances. He wants to deliver the absolute best with each performance of his and he never fails.

Extremely underrated, Takuya Sato is a versatile baritone with a lot of emotional range, ready to add those sweet deep notes and melodies to any song he performs.

He voices FYA’M’’s Asaharu Soenji, being in charge of the 4th part (baritone).

The bass voice is rare and strangely underappreciated in the seiyuu industry. Daiki Hamano is an absolute powerhouse on that end, going for massive low notes with a lot of depth while still carrying a whole lot of emotion.

He’s only recently started to stand out for his work in Anthos* (Hana-Doll* franchise) and as part of M4!!!! (seiyuu unit signed to Marine Entertainment), and aoppella!?’s fans are already all over his voice.

Honeyed deep, robust low notes warm-up every single he performs. Add to it his consistency and control over his range and you have an extremely reliable bass singer.

He voices FYA’M’’s Yui Nekoyashiki (in charge of bass parts).

In a pleasant turn of events, voice actor and singer-songwriter Shugo Nakamura is in charge of percussion. This is the first time his fans have come across him beatboxing. 

Nakamura is best known for being the leader of DRAMATIC STARS (SideM franchise), a member of QUELL (Tsukipro franchise) as well as a solo artist that writes and composes his music.

His voice tone is really sweet yet with a slight twang to it that puts him between tenor and baritone range.

His high notes are usually quite the treat to listen to and he has shown in previous instances  that he can harmonize with anyone and turn a bland song into a highlight reel.

Beatboxing however is a new challenge for him. In the songs released so far, he showcased a  well-developed technique with good breathing and flawless work with his lips and tongue,  producing the unique percussion that you find in FYA’M’’s performances.

He voices FYA’M’’s Fukami Shinkai (in charge of Percussion).

Lil Happy

With a brighter, peppier vibe to them, Lil Happy is the other side of aoppella!?’s coin. 

The 5-piece lineup primarily consists of tenors and 1 bass/baritone, creating a unique dynamic. Their performances have a crystal-clear tonality that may appeal to those fans of higher-toned singers.

Their lineup consists of:

Ryota Osaka is, as Rin Tanba, responsible for performing the top parts, which means that Osaka is at the heart of Lil Happy. 

He’s the leader for their songs, owner of a versatile and, at times, extremely powerful singing voice.

Perhaps many of you may not be familiar with his singing, but Osaka is quite a good singer. In other music projects he’s shown a few of his skills and for aoppella!?, he brings all his aces.

He’s between a low tenor and high baritone range as a singer, something that confers him with the versatility to tackle challenging parts.

Ryohei Kimura is no stranger to 2D multimedia/music projects. He’s got quite a lot of experience performing a wide variety of music genres. 

His husky, mid-toned voice is incredibly robust. Kimura’s vocals lay in the tenor range although he can be a faux baritone should it be required.

Among his various skills, you need to be aware of his falsetto. That is a skill he’s improved a lot in the last couple of years.

He’s the voice of Hajime Suzumiya, the member in charge of the 2nd part in Lil Happy.

A lot of experience comes into the spotlight through KENN’s voice. 

He’s part of several popular 2D multimedia/music projects and, before being a voice actor, he was a musician and, although, on hiatus, he’s a solo artist as well. So, indeed, KENN brings a lot of experience to Lil Happy.

He’s a sweet – albeit a bit raspy – high baritone/low tenor. His skill set is well-rounded, with him being able to add falsetto and vibrato to his performances. Ad-libs are no issue as well.

In Lil Happy, he voices Michitaka Kariyazono, in charge of the 3rd part.

Tetsuya Kakihara is a regular feature in music projects for how reliable he is as a singer. 

You already know what you will get with Kakihara, as he doesn’t change his voice tone to fit the characters he voices but he always delivers something refreshing in his performances.

He’s a tenor with a solid low range (he can pass off as a baritone with ease), counting with crystal clear high notes, honeyed lower ones, and a unique breathing style of singing to top it all off.

He voices Luka Shihou and is in charge of the 4th part.

Lastly, we have Tomoaki Maeno

Known by many for his bass voice and versatility in his performances – being able to perform different personalities with different voice tones within the same song – but now, fans get to experience something completely new for him.

From all the performances I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, Maeno has never performed  bass vocals. Performing using his bass range, yes. Performing bass vocals? It’s the first time.

And so far, Maeno has impressed with his colorful, warm bass vocals, creating a cozy  atmosphere for Lil Happy’s songs.

He voices Sayo Soenji and is in charge of the bass vocal.

What can I tell you about their music/performances?

This is when my 11 years of experience reviewing male seiyuu/2D music come into play. As you can tell, acappella music doesn’t have accompaniment. 

The voices are the instruments and rightfully so.

You don’t want a bassline completely overshadowing a smooth bass vocal or having guitars clashing with a beautiful, crystal-clear tenor performance.

Thus, the voice is the instrument these seiyuu have in hand and that’s through that prism that you can analyze their music.

All analysis has a bit of bias in it – for example, I prefer warm voices as opposed to high-pitched brassy tones, and some vocal quirks don’t sit well with me – so, have these 2 small, quick reviews as a benchmark for what you can expect.

After you check these, I welcome you to check the songs yourself and hear what those sound like. Perhaps your take on all these performances is completely different. And that’s the beauty of music. Everyone perceives it differently.

Now, back to their music.

aoppella!?’s music: a quick analysis

FYA’M and Lil Happy’s music is like night and day. 

And that’s a good thing because, right off the bat, we have 2 groups with a distinct sound and lineups that cover completely different things needed for their performances.

For example, FYA’M is all about their whole band sound, with powerful percussion and warm bass vocals – Daiki Hamano and Takuya Sato to an extent – with a contrast coming from the high notes of Toshiyuki Toyonaga and Wataru Urata.

The vocal range that FYA’M’s members can cover is impressively wide.

Toyonaga alone has a massive vocal range that covers tenor up until deep, faux baritone. Yuki Ono, Wataru Urata, and Shugo Nakamura also have wide vocal ranges. 

Takuya Sato and Daiki Hamano are more restricted in their vocal range but are so robust in their lower notes, deep tones, and sweet mid-tones that it is hard to find anyone else that could replace them in this group.

FYA’M’s cover of King Gnu’s “Hakujitsu” has a gospel undertone with some influences of barbershop acappella (especially noticeable in the bass vocals’ progression). 

Their harmonies are sweet and their percussion gives a lot of life to their performance.

In “Think About U” things change around quite a bit and we got a performance that has a lot of R&B on it. 

Once again, on a first listen you’ll notice just how much bass their performance has on both the clean vocals and percussion. On a surprising note, there are rap parts performed by Daiki Hamano that meld seamlessly into the core of the performance.

This is a performance made for baritones with the song exuding a suggestive, alluring yet classy vibe. 

On the other side of the coin is Lil Happy.

The group consists of a lineup of primarily tenors and one bass/baritone which leads to completely different performances.

For example, in their cover of “Pretender” by Official HIGE DANdism, you already notice just how higher-pitched their singing is in comparison to FYA’M.

Their higher-pitched vocals – riding on top of several highly skilled tenors – confers their rendition of the song with quite a youthful vibe. 

The bass by Tomoaki Maeno is quite striking, especially if you’re listening to this cover with headphones. Those deep bass notes are almost like a contrabass bassline, which is quite impressive.

Playlist”, the group’s first original song, has clear barbershop a cappella influences with a churchy undertone in their harmonies.

Once again, having a lineup with mainly tenors comes as an advantage, helping the group channeling a bright, youthful vibe from their performance.

Although all members have their moments to shine in this song, I feel that this is a song in which Tetsuya Kakihara is in his element

As a solo artist, he’s had to perform songs with similar vocal direction and tones. As I was listening to his performance in this song, I was getting strong vibes of Kakihara’s jaw-dropping semi acappella performance in “Hikari-Winter ver.”.

That churchy feel coming from his vocals shines and warms up the stage.

What is aoppella!?’s appeal? How different it is from other 2D music projects? And why should you check it out?

aoppella!?’s appeal starts with its unique premise.

There’s no other 2D music/multimedia project in Japan that is like this. aoppella!? is the first of its breed, hopefully paving the way for other projects of similar tone and with a focus on the voices of the voice actors, you all love. 

Then you have to weigh as well the talented voice actors that this project brought in

In my opinion, FYA’M has the most balanced and complete lineup out of both groups but Lil Happy will have plenty of opportunities to dazzle all of us, that I am sure of.

The groups are covering songs as well as releasing unique songs.

Most people initially thought that Aoppella!? would only be a project with voice actors covering popular J-Pop songs but there’s much more to it. There are original songs and the ones released so far are incredibly good. 

aoppella!? differs from other projects in the simple fact that the focus is, finally, on the voices and unique tones and skills that your favorite voice actors have.

Those end up being overshadowed due to heavy production of vocals manipulation in most 2D pop idol groups. Even if performing rock or other music genres that don’t rely much on synths and manipulation, you still have many elements that steal the focus away from the vocals. At times, what shines the most are those pitch vocals in the background that very few people notice.

Well, in aoppella!? you don’t have to worry about having to pay extra attention to listen to those vocals tackling angelic high notes, sweet bassy notes, or honeyed mid-tones. 

Voice is king in aoppella!?, something that is not only refreshing but also long overdue in the 2D music industry.

aoppella!? arrives as a refreshing project with no match in the industry.

In a music industry dominated by overproduced generic pop, hip-hop, and EDM music, going back to the basics sounds like the perfect approach to music, calling back fans of voice actors that, perhaps, have maintained their distance from their music endeavors because of exactly all that lack of genuine quality or uniqueness.

If you love how versatile seiyuu’s voice tones are, want to be mesmerized by skilled singers with wide vocal ranges and skillsets that are the result of a lot of talent, experience, or both, Aoppella!? is the thing you’re looking for!

If you always wished for seiyuu to perform acappella music, this is your dream come true and with quite the high production value and quality that acappella music deserves.

In conclusion, aoppella!? counts with an interesting premise, at least music-wise as it is the very first time an acappella project emerges in the 2D music industry, and a lineup that will be a treat for your ears.

I hope that after this article you’re curious about aoppella!? and decide to check it out.

Special thanks to Klab for the official promotional materials used in this feature.

The Hand That Feeds HQ founder and music reviewer writing about Japanese music since 2010. Also, the only person managing everything The Hand That Feeds HQ related. In 2011, I stumbled upon Mamoru Miyano's "Orpheus". Since then I have been writing about male seiyuu music. You may find me writing almost essays whenever music is really good (not limited to, but it happens a lot with Soma Saito's music). I also host the male seiyuu-centric podcast, SEIYUU LOUNGE (see Spotify link in this profile).

3 COMMENTS

  1. You’re absolutely right! 2D music nowadays can be so EDM heavy so having something bare like aopella is a breath of fresh air. I am so glad they decided to revamp Perabu and bring it back. Aopella is certainly a great idea. And perhaps I am a little bias since all of my favourite seiyuu voices are in Lil Happy so I especially enjoyed what they have been putting out. My music taste is more towards something cheery or something melancholic and some slow songs here and there. I need to listen to songs like this to get me through the day so I especially love Lil Happy’s song. And I am so, so glad you highlighted Kakihara’s vocals in Playlist because I read the comments and most people talked about Maeno’s voice but for me, Kakihara and Kenn shined the most. I praise Aopella for their decision to release a cover of 2 popular songs before releasing any music. That was such a clever marketing strategy because it brought in so many random people and made the hype escalate. That really was a smart move on their part!

    • Yup, this much simplicity is welcomed! Lil Happy certainly have that power to put a smile on the listener’s face. Their music shines in an upbeat, hopeful yet gentle way that may resonate with those that fancy cheery music (but not of the cringy type).

      I was kind of surprised that no one was actually talking about Kakihara as he is literally the driving force in “Playlist”. But then I remembered that he’s quite underrated as a singer, especially noticeable by how people were gravitating towards praising Maeno or KENN’s performances (the obviously more popular singers within the group) and not him or Osaka, for example.

      Kakihara’s breathy/raspy singing voice is quite unique and it fits so well acappella music that I am glad he’s in this project.

      That was, indeed, a smart way to promote the project and telling everyone that, this time around, they are coming across a project about the “voice” only. There’s no fancy background music, no vocals pitching. It’s raw and that works best to highlight the many talented voice actors/seiyuu artists that the industry has.

      Really excited about what they have to offer in the future. Hope as well that they serve as inspiration for other projects out there.

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