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?
Matt Kamen weighs the difference between the original series and the newer Shippuden episodes of Naruto.
With hundreds of episodes under Naruto’s belt, it can be easy to forget just how far the world’s favourite orange ninja cadet and friends have come since their first days at school. The release of the complete first season of Naruto Shippuden seems the perfect time to look back at some of the key players in the saga, and see where the new series finds them – and haven’t they grown…?
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.
Paul Browne rewinds from Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower into the past
In the latest Naruto film The Lost Tower, the title character and his comrades embark on a mission to capture Mukade – a missing ninja who has the ability to travel through time. Mukade’s plan is to travel into the past and take control of the Five Great Shinobi Countries. During the battle with Mukade, Naruto and Yamato find themselves hurled back twenty years in time. Will Naruto and his friends be able to return to his own time? And will their actions in the past save the future?
Tom Smith on the Britmaniacs behind the Naruto theme.
They’re so loud and proud that they insist on writing it all in caps: ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION – possibly one of Japan’s most important alternative rock acts. The group’s tenth single ‘After Dark’ makes for the energetic, guitar-heavy opening theme to the latest volume of Bleach, released in the UK this month, and the group’s sound might at first seem reminiscent of America’s indie scene dashed with elements of punk, it actually has a lot more in common with The Who, their generation, and the sea of British-based guitar heroes that have appeared since.
As Naruto ups the ante and swears to take on Sasuke alone in box set 18 of Naruto Shippuden, the team responsible for the encompassing episodes’ ending theme have also took it upon themselves to up the pace.
Bruce Wayne has a kick-arse suit, perfectly apt for thwarting Gotham criminals; Peter Parker has arachnid-esque abilities that turn him into a neighbourhood icon following an incident with a radioactive spider; and when a certain Kyousuke Shikijou places ladies’ panties across his visage, it unleashes his inner potential as Japan’s most forbidden superhero – no one’s safe!
Discover the origins of the Halo series’ legendary Master Chief and the Spartan program. Based on the novel that has sold over one million copies by Eric Nylund, Halo: The Fall of Reach is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
Spoilers for part one ahead, as Andrew Osmond gets timey-wimey
The show’s finale is squarely in anime traditions, combining heartfelt child-parent reunions, a boy’s resolution to ‘lift the curse’ of his origins, and an orgasmically explosive deus ex machina that lets a character write the end he wants – one that happens to have shades of another Gainax anime classic, Gunbuster. There’s fanservice for you!
Andrew Osmond talks to the director of Shin-chan and Colorful
As the eleventh Japan Touring Film Programme heads through Britain (see here for venues and here for our write-up), we took the opportunity to speak to the director of the anime entry, the feature film Colorful. Keiichi Hara has been working in anime for thirty-odd years, gaining experience through working with two of Japan’s most popular kids’ characters, Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan. He then graduated to his own projects, and is now a freelancer who pushes at the boundaries of what anime can be.
It’s a Japanese translation by Minoru Kume of the classic British children’s book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, with about seventy Tezuka illustrations in his characteristically cartoony style.
Jonathan Clements visits an exhibition of manga’s pioneers
Running upstairs at London’s Cartoon Museum until 29th November, Gekiga: Alternative Manga From Japan charts the evolution of truly adult comics, both in terms of content and style, in the post-war period.
It’s notable that, despite what you might think looking at the franchise now, Yu-Gi-Oh! was not conceived as a card game tie-in, any more than Totoro was made to sell soft toys (though both benefitted hugely from the spin-offs). When it began, the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga was rather different from the anime which most people know.