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.
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.
Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.
Babymetal, anime apartheid and MazandaRanting in our 25th podcast.
Jeremy “Care in the Community” Graves is joined by Manga UK’s Jerome “Twitter Hijacker” Mazandarani and Product Manager Andrew “Mr Manga” Hewson, and special guest Stuart Ashen, star of Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild, out now. Not sure any of those names will stick.
Who watches the watchmen watching your thoughts...?
Psycho-Pass; the first half of the name should warn you. This is a blend of SF and horror by the studio which brought you Ghost in the Shell, now splicing cyberpunk, police procedural and splatter. There will be blood, and dismembered body parts, and if no-one’s actually eaten a human liver on the show yet, there’s still Psycho-Pass 2 to come.
Mamoru Oshii's latest film, fresh from its Tokyo premiere
In his live introduction to the premiere of Garm Wars The Last Druid at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Mamoru Oshii called his film a "a precise recreation of the delusions in my mind." While the truth of that statement is only known to Oshii, Garm Wars is certainly embedded in Oshii-land, ticking off the staple themes and existential worries in his work, while finding a new kind of gorgeousness.