Whether you call them voice actors and actresses, or go for seiyu – the Japanese term for the job – there’s one thing we can all agree on; the role tends to be a lot more demanding in Japan than it is in the west, especially so in the world of anime. Take hit music series K-On!for example. When it rocked out on television sets across Japan (and on UK DVD players last year), the show’s voice actresses inadvertently became huge pop stars in the process, literately overnight. Their position as the show’s cast demanded that they also sang the franchise’s theme songs (you can read about it here), and those songs became popular – really popular – and rocketed the seiyu to the top of Japan’s official Oricon charts with the songs that followed.
Manga Entertainment’s latest harem series Sekirei also puts the vocal chords of its seiyu to the test. Its first outing featured several of its talents singing its opening and closing themes. And while the songs didn’t land the voices powering them into the same dizzying levels of pop success as those behind Yui et al., they did manage to get into the top 20 of Japan’s official Oricon charts.
Sekirei: Pure Engagement, the second series of the anime, continues in the same way as its predecessor. Opening theme ‘Hakuyoku no Seiyaku – Pure Engagement’, and closer ‘Onnaji Kimochi’ has the popular voice actresses Saori Hayami (the voice of Musubi), Marina Inoue (Tsukiumi), Kana Hanazawa (Kusano) and Aya Endo (Matsu) back on form, providing the vocals. The combination of their existing fanbases combined with the success of the anime saw the CD single peak at 13 in the charts.
Pinning success on the vocal talents alone would be dismissing the hard work of the composers and arrangers behind the themes. In the case of Sekirei a production company called MONACA was drafted in to supply the music. The outfit was established in 2004 with the aim of filling the entertainment industry (particularly that of video game and anime themes) with deliciously good content. Its name is a pun on that idea; Monaca, if written in kanji, can be read as ‘in the middle of’ but can also refer to a yummy bean-filled Japanese treat popular with kids and adults alike.
Company president, Keiichi Okabe had originally worked heavily with Namco back in the days of the early Tekken and Ace Combat iterations. His connection with the video game giant would continue after forming MONACA, with his team providing music for the likes of Tekken 6, Beautiful Katamari and Ridge Racer 3D. Their involvement in Sekirei was also far from their only dabbling in anime, they were also responsible for the background music of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and themes in High School of the Dead and Lucky Star amongst nearly 100 other titles. So next time you find yourself humming along to a video game or anime song, spare a thought for the composers behind the melodies too, the chances are they’ve penned a number of your favourites without you even realising it.
BUSTING BACK INTO ACTION! A clandestine organization known as the MBI has issued an edict that threatens to end the lives of Minato and his luscious companions once and for all! The cutthroat organization's Sekirei Plan will force all busty brawlers and their masters to engage in a flesh-baring fight to the finish. Only one amazing pair will be left standing when this curvaceous cavalcade of carnage has come to a conclusion. Does Minato have what it takes to survive the bombastic barrage of breast-jiggling blows coming his way?
We grew up with them: Garth, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes. The comic strip has a long history. Four-panel strips have been around in Japan since at least the early 1900s. Classic comics like Sazae-san and modern hits like Axis Powers Hetalia all started as four-panel strips, and K-On! grew out of the same tradition.
Rayna Denison on K-on! and the rise of the nichijo anime
The best thing about K-on! is undeniably the music, from the (cloyingly?) cute opening credits to the gothic-lolita inspired visuals of the closing sequence, whenever the Sakuragaoka Light Music Club performs, there is fun to be had in this series. Moreover, the show’s burgeoning obsession with dressing its female leads in costumes that shade from schoolgirl uniforms into maid costumes, provides a variety of copy-able cosplay get-ups likely to feature soon at a convention near you (if you haven’t seen them there already). By these various means, K-on! carefully walks the line between exploitation and a rather sweet self-empowerment-through-music storyline.
Clearly the team at Kyoto Animation had a nice long holiday to Britain in preparation for K-On! The Movie. In the film, our heroines take a trip to London to celebrate their graduation, and locations from Camden Town to Denmark Street to Abbey Road are reproduced in impressive detail. The girls even take in Earl's Court, Sherlock Holmes' gaff on Baker Street, Borough food market and dozens of other spots, all instantly recognisable to anyone born and bred in London. After seven years in Tokyo I don't get homesick much, but K-On! The Movie had me pining for proper tea, service with a frown and fights outside pubs. Aaah, London.
Hugh David can’t find his hotel and he’s carrying a guitar…
K-On!, the TV series, adapting the manga about high-school girls forming a rock band at school, has after two seasons on TV spun off into a theatrical feature. A tradition of the TV business internationally, the subject matter is also a typical spin-off tradition: taking the main characters abroad for fish-out-of-water hijinks (see The Inbetweeners for another recent example). Where The InBetweeners has been a raucous success in the U.K. for showing accurately just how vile and stupid teenage boys really are however, K-On! has broken new ground in Japan by being a female-fronted series with considerable behind-the-scenes female talent, who are making a show that eschews fan-service in favour of greater realism, and this has continued with the movie.
Ocean Waves is the only feature anime by the world-famous Studio Ghibli which might be called obscure. It wasn’t made for cinemas but television, broadcast on Japan’s NTV network in 1993. And now it's playing as part of the BFI's Ghibli season...
With a series of box-ticking MacGuffins, wandering-monster encounters and vaguely defined side missions, Appleseed: Alpha feels all too often like one is watching someone else playing a computer game, not the least because several crucial moments are bodged or oddly framed, so that it is not always clear what’s going on.
Salarymen to the left of me, shoppers to the right. And here I am, stuck in the middle with otaku. Well, more accurately I’m frolicking with them, in Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall, a concrete amphitheatre that’s dwarfed by the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo’s business district to the west, and high-end retail haven Ginza to the east. Between the two is the venue, hidden in the peaceful Hibiya Park. Peaceful, that is, until 3,000 anime fans descend en masse, clutching chunky glow batons, wearing identical shirts and all waiting for the latest lady-singer that tickles the tastes of otaku to hit the stage; LiSA.
Andrew Osmond on the history of man-machine interfaces
RoboCop is thrown into interesting perspective by looking at his anime cousins. In Japan, RoboCop is one of a crowd. Two of anime’s greatest poster icons – Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell and Tetsuo in Akira – are or become cyborgs. Moreover, a man-turned-robot was an anime hero back in 1963. We’re talking about 8th Man, shown in America as Tobor the Eighth Man. It’s a policeman who, yes, gets murdered by a crime gang, then resurrected in a robot body.
Since our announcement we have had it confirmed by TOEI Animation (The Licensor) that the masters being used for our release will be those used in Australia by Madman Entertainment. At the time of our announcement this had not been confirmed to us.
Robotics;Notes could be called You Can Build Your Own Giant Robot! It’s about geeks engaged in a preposterous project; building the mecha they’ve seen in anime for real. The show’s aimed at viewers who might think they really could. After all, they’d probably heard of otaku who have built oversized robots for real.