I do need a bit of a break from all this album reviewing and from getting my bases covered for the 2009 music post, such that the anime music article on the Japan Times, filled with plenty of material for commentary, was timely.
Anyway, here’s the article in question. Based on the article’s approach, I’m inclined to say that the author hasn’t really been immersed in anime music beyond skimming the Oricon charts and noticing some anime albums placing in the top ten. Some of the points it makes are contentious, especially in light of the “talented” claim, which I’ll dig into later on. In any case, I’ll give the article a blow by blow account.
So the first thing they noted was:
Theme songs and soundtracks from Japanese anime are making inroads into the mainstream J-pop music genre, drawing popularity particularly from female consumers as talented voice actresses sing the songs.
More than 60 anime songs hit the top 10 singles chart this year, according to entertainment information provider Oricon Co. Sales of CDs in the anime and soundtrack genre totaled 29.3 billion yen in 2009, up from 24.9 billion yen in 2005, according to Oricon.
I’m doubtful as to whether the soundtracks themselves has really made any particular inroads, especially into the realm of J-pop since soundtracks tend towards non-pop instrumentals, but seeing that I don’t bother looking up whether Oricon has any sort of instrumental Top Ten page, I guess I can’t really confirm whether my suspicions are true or not. If they consider insert songs scattered in some albums (think Macross Frontier’s soundtrack) I suppose they have some ground to work with.
But their noting that anime intro/outro singles tend to sell well is correct since anime music threads on forums like ASuki and news sites like ANN have documented how well the OP/ED singles for popular shows or contain popular artists (Nana Mizuki) tend to do on the Oricon charts. Now, the question of why they place so high is debatable. For instance, have these albums really succeeded in penetrating the mainstream or are anime fans buying multiple copies as a means of showing their dedication and love to the show? And if it’s the latter case, is that indicative of how well album sales can be perpetuated regardless of the singer’s vocal abilities and the album’s overall quality? I guess this reveals where I stand on the whole “talented voice actresses” bit.
The article continues:
The songs have ‘‘good melody lines and the voice actresses singing are talented,’’ Majima says. He believes customers including women, who are not necessarily ardent anime fans, can easily connect with songs sung by popular anime voice actresses.
And here we have more contentious lines. I don’t think the melodies have been all that great since each season has offered two or three OP/ED themes that have caught my fancy, which is close enough to what Sturgeon’s Law predicts. Etsuko Yakushimaru’s performances for Arakawa Under the Bridge’s OP and Tatami Galaxy’s ED theme have been enjoyable as have Lia and Aoi Tada’s work on Angel Beats!, granted, neither of the ones listed above are performed by seiyuu (a point the article emphasizes). Of the ones that are, Sphere has done decent work, but aside from “Now loading… SKY!!,” I don’t really find their other songs to be as memorable since they’re more of a zeitgeist thing than songs that’ll stand the test of time.
As for the songs resonating with the audience, that’s somewhat understandable. I suppose dealing with themes as universal as love (pretty much 90% of all the J-pop out there) or fond recollections of school life means a greater ease in striking the right chord with the listener. It makes me wonder why the connection to these pop songs’ subject material is stronger now (something I infer from Majima’s words) versus then. Has the zeitgeist really shaped how these newer works are treated compared to the older stuff? Are the Japanese still searching for their own sense of identity akin to teenagers and tweens figuring out their place in life? Maybe stuff like K-ON!’s music offers that sort of respite by using good old rose-colored nostalgia while love songs emphasize a more heartful love that is perceived to be generally missing.
‘‘This is a big boom that we’ve never seen before,’’ says Katsuragi. ‘‘The talents are going into the anime songs genre and I believe the popularity will last,’’ she added.
It’s a big boom all right, but only because music sales as a whole have gone down (see Sony’s Annual Report describing their music division) to the point that any increase in sales of albums in a particular sector will garner attention. Because of this, it’s no surprise that talents (including the not-so-talented) are going into the anisong genre for their own sake and not so much for a love of the medium but as an avenue for them to get the extra attention and ergo, sales from rabid consumers. I’ve already talked a bit about the intertwining tendencies between the music business and anime OP/EDs, and so, the marketing engine moves on.
This leads back to a major major gripe, one that’s started with a comment to my Anime Expo Macross Concert on OSV. Since I can’t link to the actual comment, I’ll write it out here, typos and all:
Nakajime on the otherhand is playing the role of an idol (Mamegu) who, depending on the performance, is also playing Ranka on top of that. She makes a lot of mistakes in her regular concerts because its expected, its cute, its what idols do. And the fans eat it up.
While I wouldnt disagree that May’n has some awesomely powerful vocal chords, from experience Megumi has a much broader range (which is why she normally covers the past Macross stuff from Macross to Macross Plus) and, more importantly, is really good at interacting with the audience. Of course, this is something you arent going to get at a concert outside of Japan though. Certainly you could argue that she should tailor her performance (and cut what I daresay were some of the mistakes she made on purpose at the beginning of the concert)to the audience she is performing for, but to that I’d reply that, since there is (legally & officially at least) no release of the albums in the US and therefore no market to speak of, that she isnt obligated to change her style to fit US tastes.
Have consumers de-evolved to the point where deliberate mistakes are an acceptable practice and must be done for the sake of keeping up appearances? Whatever happened to valuing competence?
Assuming that the comment is spot-on in capturing the expectations placed upon seiyuu and having them deliberately suck so as to pander to fans, it might explain a lot about why J1m0ne’s has been experiencing what she’s been experiencing and why I’ve been generally unmotivated in reviewing anime OP/EDs. The increasing emphasis on having seiyuu look good so as to work within the soulless idol-creation process is taking a toll on the quality of the vocalists out there as well as the quality of the voice acting work. Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight.
There’s been a lot of negativity thrown about here, so let’s end on a positive note. The music will keep me going because the quality of the BGM is going to be consistent. To crib day’s words, “I think its harder to make legitimately awful BGM; its easy to make pretty forgettable BGM, but there are honestly so many shortcuts to making wholly inoffensive BGM that to make it truly terrible is a bit of a challenge, it seems.” I’ve found it to be the case as I’ve explored what BGM has to offer. Unlike vocalists and seiyuu, composers are under no compunction to look as impeccable as a pretty picture, and so, can do their own thing without needing to answer to the fan’s beck and call. And for that, I’m thankful for this one area that rabid fans can’t despoil.