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Tom Smith on series 13’s rainbow rockers…

While the Soul Reapers form an uneasy alliance with the Visoreds in Bleach series 13 part 2, the band providing the episode’s ending theme have an uneasy alliance of their own.

Universe formed in 2002 when four childhood buddies grabbed some instruments and decided to make a band in the first year of junior high. Like many newly formed groups, lacking the funds to hire venues to put on shows of their own, the boys took to the streets of their local area to perform to indifferent strangers in hope of gaining a following.

After several local music festival appearances and the odd proper gig, the guys spot a competition between chewing gum company Lotte and Sony who are searching for a new talent to feature in an upcoming commercial. Universe enter it, win and Sony sign them on the spot, placing them on their Defstar label, along with the likes of Beat Crusaders, Rookiez is Punk’d and Dev Parade. It was the start of a turbulent relationship.

It all started off so well. That winning song became Universe’s 2010 debut single ‘Haruiro’, and was quickly followed up by another – much less edible – tie-in; ‘Echoes’. This one was coupled with anime and became the 24th ending of Bleach, spanning episodes of 279-291.

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This dose of dreamy guitar-pop didn’t quite hit the right chord, though. While the cheery, catchy melody of ‘Haruiro’ managed to peak at number 27 in the charts, the Bleach-based follow-up failed to make the top 50 altogether.  And after Universe’s first major EP was released and suffered a similar fate, the band was soon dropped from Defstar altogether.

The guys refused to give up and returned a year later with another EP, this time under the wings of an indie label. Part of the promotion involved Universe opening their own official YouTube channel, (found here) with worldwide access – something rarely done with artists belonging to Sony.

Despite budgets for music videos being reduced to whatever change they had spare, and their make-up and stylists becoming a thing of the past, their music production remained consistent and their core fans continued to show their support. The first indie release, ‘Kawaii’ captured all of this in its video. Filmed entirely in one shot, with a static camera, a lone member sits and sings while playing a very sweet acoustic tune on guitar as a couple stop to listen. A nod back to their days performing on the streets? Most likely, especially considering their next video release ‘Graduation’ is filmed entirely in a school, very much like where they first met.

Universe are still active. After eight months of radio silence, the band’s official YouTube channel recently spurted out a shortened version of their brand new single ‘Nijiboshi’ (‘Rainbow Star’). It’s the foursome’s first release since Cosmo Museum, their first and only full-length album which was released last year.

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Bleach Series 13 Part 2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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