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Tom Smith on K-On!’s real-life pop stars.

If there was ever a country to be a voice actor in, Japan is it. With over 100 talent schools dedicated to training young hopefuls in the way of the voice, and even monthly magazines solely on the subject, it’s hardly surprising that the country views the humble VA with greater prominence than anywhere else.

Only in Japan, for example, could a voice actress – or ‘seiyu’ as the profession has become known – reach the dizzying heights of idol status, even selling out entire arenas, blurring the line between pop star and vocal wonder. Meet Aki Toyosaki, one such actress currently taking her homeland by storm in such a way – and music-based phenomenon K-On! is to blame!

Aki Toyosaki’s career began like any other voice talent, with minor parts in animation and TV. Her first major breakthrough came in 2007 when she landed the lead role of Amuro Ninagawa in the dubiously named anime Kenkou Zenrakei Suieibu Umishou (‘Kenkou Nude Swim Series Umishou’). Lucky for her it was just her voice being ‘shown off’, despite her character’s inability to keep clothed.

This was followed up with a part as a secondary character in the Minami-ke (‘The Minami Family’) franchise. Despite playing a lowly classmate of the central Minami sisters, the position led to Toyosaki being involved with the anime’s soundtrack CD. This would give her vital experience for her next job in the anime industry, and one that would define her as a voice actress: she became the voice of Yui Hirasawa, K-On!’s guitar-strumming schoolgirl.

On top of the typical voice recording duties for the series, Toyosaki was also expected to record the vocal tracks for the songs, including its opening and closing themes, ‘Cagayake! Girls’ and ‘Don’t say lazy’.  These were recorded with fellow cast members Youko Hikasa, Satomi Satou and Minako Kotobuki, and soon the franchise’s first mini album was released. It went straight to number one in the weekly Oricon album chart – the first time that an album credited to fictional characters has done so.

K-On! proved to be a huge success and a second series was soon in production, along with a whole new set of theme songs to accompany it; ‘GO! GO! MANIAC’ and ‘Listen!!’. With the momentum of the franchise in full swing, both of these themes shot to the top of Japan’s Oricon weekly singles chart, with the former at number one, and the latter one place behind, cementing both the series and Aki Toyosaki into the record books. It was the first time an anime song had debuted at the top of the singles chart.

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You’ll have to wait until the second series to get your ears around those tracks. For now there’s always the second volume of the series that started it all. And while its first two themes may not have reached number one status, they were award winning! It’s closer ‘Don’t say ‘lazy’’ won Best Theme Song at the 2009 Animation Kobe Awards. It was also around the time of the second volume that Toyosaki and her three colleagues from K-On! caught the attention of Sony Music Entertainment, who turned the four actresses into the vocal supergroup Sphere – and they’ve been filling arenas ever since!

K-On! Volume 2 is out 14 November on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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