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Songs of Character

High-Quality Anime Songs Go Mainstream


The character song section inside the Animate flagship store in Ikebukuro.

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Songs used in anime, "anime songs" are the latest big thing to hit the Japanese music world. In particular, character songs that portray an anime character's image are taking the charts by storm and coming to be regarded as a new genre.

Singing in CharacterUnlike the theme tunes that play over the opening or closing sequences of an anime or film, a character song is written for an anime character and sung by the seiyu (voice actor) who plays the part, reflecting the character’s mind. CDs of the songs are credited to the character rather than the actor. As far as fans are concerned, they are buying CDs sung by their favorite character—the challenge for the actor is to draw listeners into the illusion that it is really the character who is doing the singing. Japan has a large number of highly professional voice actors, some of whom enjoy enthusiastic followings as "seiyu idols." This unique seiyu subculture has led to the large number and high quality of character songs.

Fans enjoy character songs as a way of getting into the minds of their favorite characters. Often, the songs are not actually used in the anime itself but are released separately to develop characters' personalities. The committed performances of the voice actors help fans to empathize with the characters. The original illustrations on many character song CD jackets make them popular items with fans. Listening to a character song also deepens fans’ understanding and knowledge of the fictional world of the anime.


Nagato Yuki, a character in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Chihara Minori, the voice actor who sings her song. (C)2007, 2008, 2009 Nagaru TANIGAWA•Noizi ITO/Member of SOS

A New GenreThe character song boom was ignited by The Prince of Tennis. Originally a manga series, the work has since produced a musical as well as an anime. After songs "performed" by characters Echizen Ryoma and Fuji Shusuke went on sale in 2002, character songs became a major mainstream trend extending far beyond hardcore otaku circles. Over 300 songs have been released to date. Songs from TV series such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star have recently hit the Oricon weekly Top Ten music chart, and character songs are gaining recognition as a new genre of pop music.

One anime that has been attracting particular interest on the character song music scene since 2009 is Hetalia: Axis Powers. Hetalia is based on a comedy manga series featuring characters named and modeled after countries of the world.


The voice actor Minagawa Junko, who sings the character songs of Echizen Ryoma, the main character in The Prince of Tennis, and a character song CD. (C)1999 Takeshi Konomi; (C)NAS, The Prince of Tennis Project

In another emerging trend, several voice actors have become stars on the back of the character song they have sung. A case in point is Chihara Minori, who voiced the part of Nagato Yuki, one of the characters in the anime Haruhi Suzumiya, and also sang Yuki's character song. Along with the protagonist Haruhi, Yuki is a firm favorite with fans around the world—so much so that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, a full-length anime released in Japanese theaters in February 2010, featured her as the main character. Yuki's rising popularity has brought Chihara more fans than ever, and in May 2010 she held a solo concert at Nippon Budokan, one of Japan's biggest and most adored concert venues. In October 2010, she appeared as a guest of honor at the New York Anime Festival.

The artistic quality of character song has improved rapidly in recent years, with several of Japan’s leading musicians and songwriters now involved in the genre. Many of the latest songs have a mainstream pop feel that appeals to a wider audience beyond anime fans. Animate, Gamers, and other shops specializing in anime and comics have whole sections dedicated to anime songs, and aggressively market character song CDs and other anime tie-in products. With the growing popularity of anime overseas, it may only be a matter of time before character songs become a global phenomenon. (December 2010)

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