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Tom Smith on the band behind One Piece’s fourth opening theme

Need more cowbell? Have five! Japanese pop quintet Bon Bon Blanco (or B3 for short) is made up of 80% percussionists – and whilst its vocalist Anna Santos is the only member without an instrument to bash, I’m pretty sure she could work her way around a cowbell if pushed.

As you can likely guess from such an ensemble, B3’s music has a distinct focus on rhythm. There’s often a steady rumba beat driving the pop songs, accompanied by a cheery, carnival vibe. You can hear it for yourself in their smash hit single Bon Voyage!, used as the fourth opening theme in One Piece.
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The girl group originally formed in 2002 when the members were around 14 years old. Back then they were known as the Nansho Kids, and singer Anna juggled homework and band practice while starring in a Japanese version of the classic musical Annie. Because of their age, and the unusually high count of percussionists per capita, the young teens managed to generate a considerable amount of press attention – including gracing the cover of magazines – despite being indie.

Their first single was entitled Ai Want You (not to be confused with the chorus of AKB48’s Heavy Rotation, “I want you…”), and was composed by former Wands keyboard player Kousuke Oshima. To support the release, the girls performed every week at local venue Harajuku Ruido, free of charge! Punters just needed to cover the joint’s 500 yen (£3) drink coupon policy – a standard procedure at gigs where venues make up for poor bar sales by forcing everyone to buy a drink at the start, whether they actually want it or not. The low price worked, by the end of the year, security couldn’t even close the doors of the venue anymore – there were that many people crammed inside for some B3 action.

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It was around this time that the girls experimented with being a dance group, and dropped their instrument duties on stage for a period. They had their first brush with anime during this time too, with their single Namida no Hurricane becoming the second ending theme in Get Backers.

With great fame comes great responsibility, and following the runaway success of One Piece single Bon Voyage!, the ladies and their management  had to contend with the wants and needs of B3’s existing fans, as well as of those newcomers. Unfortunately, they couldn’t please both groups and decided it was best to take a break and rethink their strategy.

A year and a half later, they return donning a new look: bikinis! Sexing up the ladies didn’t entirely work, though… Little over a year on and they pretty much disappeared from everyone’s radar, never to be seen again. Let that be a lesson to you; bikinis do not fix everything.

One Piece (Uncut) Collection 8 is out now on UK DVD courtesy of Manga Entertainment.

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