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Tom Smith dives in to the band behind Naruto Shippuden Box 15

Who’s NICO, and what’s their obsession with walls? It’s a question you may ask yourself upon discovering the artist name behind Naruto Shippuden’s eighth opening theme. They call themselves NICO Touches the Walls and, despite the ridiculous name, they are a pretty big deal in Japan right now.

The band formed in 2004 where they went on to win an award at that year’s Yamaha Teens’ Music Festival. Now, almost ten years on and the quartet have a string of hit singles (mostly linked with anime), and are regulars on Japan’s festival circuit. In February 2014 they will celebrate their tenth anniversary with the release of their first ‘best of’ compilation album, but before then one of their most popular songs ‘Diver’ will grace the start of the latest boxset of Naruto Shippuden in the UK.

‘Diver’ started life rather different than the shortened version featured in Naruto. NICO first unleashed the track to fans in 2010 during one of their tours. It fast became a new fan favourite despite not yet being released, leading to the band polishing it up, rearranging it and then letting it rip as the new Shippuden intro and their new single. It was a double helping of NICO-goodness for hardcore fans, and came with the B-side ‘Yuujou Sanka’, a song that went down in NICO-folklore as a track that was only ever heard at the band’s first one-man show (Japan’s term for a gig featuring only one band), and again during their first school festival tour. Outside of those events the song, about the vocalist’s own school festival memories, was thought to have disappeared.

The single became NICO’s biggest hit to date, gracing the Oricon charts at number seven in its debut week, and number one in the ring tone chart (yes, it’s an actual thing – and one of the most popular ways the Japanese consume digital music). But it wasn’t the quartet’s first encounter with Japan’s orange-suited ninja-boy, and neither was it their last.

Back in episode 64 the group had their first Naruto experience with ‘Broken Youth’, their third major single and their introduction to anime tie-ins. It was moderately successful but failed to enter the top twenty singles ranking. They’d have to wait for their sixth single ‘Hologram’, the second opening to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, to smash higher into the charts – eleventh place to be precise.

NICO will return to Naruto, but you’ll have to wait until episode 307 onwards to hear it. In the meantime, all three singles released so far from the franchise have been made available on iTunes, along with each releases’ respective B-sides. Check them out by clicking here.

Naruto Shippuden Box 15, featuring NICO Touches the Walls’ ‘Diver’ as its closing, is out 9 December on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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