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Tom Smith on the band rocking Naruto Shippuden for the 2nd time; Ikimono-gakari

Naruto Shippuden’s fifth opening theme ‘Hotaru no Hikari’ (The Glow of the Fireflies) made Japan’s Ikimono-gakari one of the biggest selling bands of 2010.

Much like the Naruto franchise, central to Ikimono-gakari is the idea of friendship. Two of its three members have been chums since meeting in the first grade of elementary school at the age of six. In Japan, each pint-sized student is assigned a classroom responsibility and the group’s future guitarists Yoshiki Mizuno and Hotaka Yamashira were randomly paired to look after the plants and animals, a role known as ‘ikimono gakari’. They haven’t been apart since.

A decade later, they decided to form a band for fun, naming it after their first partnership, and soon drafting in lead vocalist Kiyoe Yoshioka, to complete their current line-up. Friendship isn’t the only similarity with Naruto, there’s also two very clear stages in the trio’s charts adventures. First came their younger, indie years where they played in a number of dingy venues across Japan, releasing several albums along the way; and then there’s their ‘shippuden’ years, where the band became a little older, wiser and this time fully-fledged musicians, signed to a major label.

It’s in these later years that the threesome’s brand of pop-infused rock reached a global audience via anime.  Their second single ‘Hanabi’, was the first to find its way to these shores as the second ending theme the fourth season of Bleach, and showcased the band’s love for incorporating the harmonica, an oft-neglected instrument in the world of pop. It charted in the top five, though its upbeat nature still couldn’t push sales figures past their debut single, which sold a few thousand more copies but barely made the top 20. Their next outing in anime, ‘Blue Bird’, changed all that. Featuring as the opening to the third series Naruto Shippuden, it became their biggest selling single up to that point, as well as their highest chart ranker, peaking in at third place.

Surprisingly, Ikimono-gakari has yet to claim that coveted number one slot in the singles chart. It’s surprising because their first compilation album, Ikimono-bakari ~Members Best Selection – which collates two CDs worth of  the band’s greatest hits along with three new tracks – was the second biggest selling record of 2010 in Japan. Upon release it was so popular that it was the biggest selling album released that week – in the world. And with their latest singles racking up six-digit sales figures, it really is only a matter of time until they get the number one single that they rightfully deserve.

Naruto Shippuden series six is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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