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Tom Smith on anison star Hiroshi Kitadani

If you thought that X Factor winners took their sweet time releasing a debut album, then you probably haven’t met Japan’s Hiroshi Kitadani. He shot to fame at the end of the last millennium when his first single became the opening theme to One Piece – probably one of the biggest franchises to hit Japan of the past decade. Despite that, and a string of other popular songs tied-in with anime, his fans would have to wait nearly ten years to get their mitts on his first album. Doesn’t make the 13-or-so month wait for Cowell’s latest pop-wonder-album seem so long after all.

Hiroshi’s first song ‘We Are!’ was everything a classic anime tune should be; catchy, more than a little bit cheesy and hell of a lot of fun. It not only launched One Piece the anime, spanning the first 47 episodes, but it also became a fan favourite in Japan, and one any modern otaku over there knows off by heart.

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So popular it is that it’s been covered by at least ten different artists so far, including versions from Korean boyband TVXQ,  Jpop heartthrobs AAA, and even a cover from an English voice actor! Switch Manga UK’s release of One Piece to the English language track and you’ll hear American voice actor (and the vocal talent behind Captain Nezumi) Vic Mignogna wailing along to the track in his native tongue instead of Hiroshi.

If One Piece wasn’t Hiroshi’s biggest claim to fame, then joining anime song (or ‘anison’ if you’d prefer to save yourself four extra keystrokes by referring to it the Japanese way) superstars JAM Project in 2003 definitely was! After joining the group, responsible for more than 25 anime themes, his popularity skyrocketed and he became one of the prominent figures in the anison world. The bond between the unit’s members grew strong too, and any fans out there that did pick up Hiroshi’s first album R-new may be able to hear JAM Project’s Masami Okui supplying backing vocals to a number of its tracks.

He also formed a separate musical outing with JAM Project co-founder Masaaki Endoh, which, unsurprisingly, also ended up producing songs for anime. The pair also embarked on a mini-tour of Latin American anime conventions together.

More recently Hiroshi has returned to One Piece.  Roughly 500-or-so episodes from his original debut he’s back with an ‘answer song’ to the theme that set up his career. Though, if you’re wondering who exactly the ‘we’ are in ‘We Are!’, you’ll be disappointed, the song doesn’t touch on it at all. In fact, this new one, entitled ‘We Go!’, is a so-called ‘answer song’, which opens up yet more unanswered questions. Who’s the ‘we’ and where are we all supposedly going?! And more importantly, will it taken another 500 episodes to find out?

One Piece Collection three is out soon on UK DVD from Manga UK.

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