Anyone watching anime these days knows that the music can be utterly addictive — some of the best examples J-pop has to offer. Later this month, the genre of “anisongs,” as they’re colloquially known, will be celebrated at a large-scale event at the Saitama Super Arena.
Anisongs have been around for as long as TV anime itself, but they really took off in the ’70s with the advent of music targeting hardcore enthusiasts. Some performers become major stars, like Hironobu Kageyama (aka the “God of Anisongs”), best known for his work in "Dragon Ball Z."
“I think, after all, the number one attraction of anisongs is their ability to make everyone happy,” says Kageyama, who co-hosts the children’s program "Anipara Ongakukan" on the Kids Station channel. “Within that ‘happy,’ the type of anisongs we sing are a powerful happy! They energize people.”
Today, there are basically two types of anisongs: the old-school retro variety and the contemporary J-pop sung by leading performers. The latter was pioneered in the ’90s by the King Records and Star Child labels, which employed high-profile singers in anime projects. Artists such as pretty-boy T.M. Revolution and composer Yoko Kanno have crossed into anisong production.
But the classic anisong sound stubbornly endures. In 2005, idoru Nana Mizuki’s throwback track “Eternal Blaze” made it to No. 2 on the Oricon sales charts — the highest ever for an anime-related song — and set the stage for charismatic "seiyu" (voice actors and actresses) like Aya Hirano to dominate the charts. The success of these songs has a lot to do with the consumers, of course: otaku who demand nostalgia, simplicity and cuteness.
Indeed, the industry must cater to them — while sales of CDs are falling drastically all over the world, anisong titles continue to do well, mainly because of fanboys who want the extras that come with the discs. In 2007, for example, otaku crazy about Hirano’s spastic, candy-pop “Motteke! Seeraa Fuku” (“Take it! Sailor Uniform”), the theme to "Lucky Star," started buying dozens of CDs each to drive up its Oricon ratings. They then constructed giant pyramids out of these excess discs and posted images of them on the Net.
Sure enough, fans profess a special something about the purity of anisongs.
“Music today is hard to understand,” says “Mia,” the leader of the Tokyo Anisong Club. “Anisongs are meant for kids, so the messages are clear and the lyrics are easy to sing along with.”
And sing along she does, along with the some 1,000 members of her club who gather monthly to enjoy “anisong karaoke.” Their place of choice is Pasela (www.pasela.co.jp), a chain of karaoke boxes known for its huge selection, including many hard-to-find "seiyu" tunes and theme songs from anime, games and special effects shows. Pasela, in fact, became a sponsor of the TVK show "Anime TV" and regularly hosts "seiyu" and anisong events. Many of their locations now have rooms to play DVDs, which allows fans to view the original shows rather than cheap karaoke videos.
While fans are remixing anisongs online and hosting anisong-only dance parties, the industry has mobilized to promote its stars. The massive stage shows at Anime Japan Fest held in Shibuya are one example, but the big event is Animelo Summer Live. This year’s edition is titled Re:Bridge, and peddles a hopeful message that artists and fans, artists and artists, and Japan and the world can all be connected by the power of anisongs. Superstars like Gackt and Shoko Nakagawa are slated to perform, and organizers expect 25,000 fans to attend.
Saitama Super Arena, Aug 22-23.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today