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Tom Smith on Bleach’s most powerful voice

What does the anime series Bleach, Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys and grainy mobile phone videos all have in common? For 25-year-old singer Fumika Mitsui, they mark the point where her wildest dreams came true.

Since childhood, the Fukuoka-born lass had wanted to be a singer, but had trouble finding a way in. She even hired a private singing coach to perfect her technique, yet the idea of recording a proper demo tape that was capable of impressing music execs was a daunting task. All that changed when she spotted an advert for an audition with a difference.

The advert read, “Demo tapes not necessary: you can audition by recording a video on your mobile phone”. Suddenly Fumika had a level playing field, where all that mattered was raw talent. Phone in hand, she entered immediately, choosing one of her favourite songs to showcase her voice; Alicia Key’s bluesy piano ballad “If I Ain’t Got You”.

Hers was amongst the first videos to arrive, seconds after auditions opened. The image quality was terrible and her phone’s casing reflected the sun in such a way that it was difficult to see anything besides glare, but the vocal was enough to impress the judges. She was invited back several times for further auditions and interviews until she made it through to be one of the top three finalists from over ten thousand hopefuls.

Little did Fumika know that the audition was for a new artist to be produced by J-pop supremos Agehasprings, a team that has been responsible for a string of mega successful songs for some of Japan’s biggest artists, including chart toppers from Funky Monkey Babys and Superfly.

Oddly enough, even with such a team behind her, and a major record deal, Fumika’s debut single “Aoi Tori” (“Blue Bird”) barely managed to scrape into the top 50. It did, however, rank in at number five on Billboard’s Hot Animation chart following its use in Bleach, becoming the hit series’ 27th closing theme.

Fumika’s follow up single performed identically in the charts, and instead of anime, this one was tied in with 20th Century Boys director Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s latest sci-fi flick of the time; Hayabusa / HAYABUSA, based on Japan’s asteroid probe of the same name. Upon hearing a sample of Fumika’s voice, Tsutsumi knew only she was suitable for the project.

Currently Fumika is still making music while also being a radio DJ, although she has yet to achieve a higher chart positions than she did with her first two singles, despite having her music in over 20 TV shows.

Bleach Series 15 Part 1 is out on UK DVD from 25 May courtesy of Manga Entertainment. Fumika’s latest album Power of Voice is also out now on iTunes.

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