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Tom Smith on the bewitching career of Yoko Ishida

It appears that the team behind Strike Witches, a franchise which features ladies flying about in their panties, have a soft spot for much more than just knickers. They also like Yoko Ishida, the singer from the first series’ opening song. They like her so much that despite the hoo-ha of switching animation studios, moving from Gonzo to AIC for the second series, they decided bring her back to record the new opening; ‘STRIKE WITCHES 2 ~Egao no Mahou~’ (‘Magic Smile’).

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Yoko Ishida spirited her way into anime at the age of 19. She entered 1992’s Anime Song Singer Contest and won, landing herself a record deal with Columbia records. Her debut song ‘Otome no Policy’ was released a year later and used as the theme to Sailor Moon R. It soon became a karaoke classic for magical-girl fans across Japan, with the single selling over 300,000 copies.

The song, her only tie-in with anime at up until this point, left an impression with entertainment giant Geneon. Seven years after the track’s release, Yoko’s contract with Columbia had expired and Geneon was there waiting to snap her up. They had a plan, a plan to establish her as one of the hottest names in anime – and they succeeded.

Straight off the bat Geneon had Yoko Ishida singing the opening them to the cutesy Little Snow Fairy Sugar, followed by Ai Yori Aoshi, Petite Princess Yucie, Gunparade March and This Ugly Yet Beautiful World – the latter two anime receiving a UK release.

She didn’t stop there! Having built a steady amount of followers with a penchant for animation, Geneon’s next move was to release an anime cover album featuring the vocalist – and not just any cover album, a para para style one! Featuring distinctive takes on classic Gundam, Chobits and many other anime theme tunes, the album proved so popular that it spawned a further two volumes, bumping up Yoko’s cover catalogue to includes the likes of Cowboy Bebop, Gurren Lagann and Evangelion.

Yoko’s popularity began to spill overseas too, and once a chunk of her prior releases were made available in America, it wasn’t long until she was jetting off from Japan and touring the States, as well as Europe, South America and east Asia.

What awaited upon her return to Japan? Why, a whole new season of anime to record the themes for! Ah! My Goddess, Shakugan no Shana and of course, Strike Witches series one and two (If you really want to impress your friends with Strike Witch knowledge, series’ director  Kazuhiro Takamura also wrote all the lyrics to the show’s opening themes). More recently (as in, the last few months!), Yoko finished recorded the new opening for the Strike Witches movie, which she’s currently promoting in Japan through a number of themed live performances in its honour. UK based anime fans can only sit and ponder how long it will be until she ventures to these parts with such promotions.

Strike Witches Complete Series Two Collection is released on UK DVD by Manga Entertainment on 24th September.


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