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The Appeal of Anime Character Songs and Musical Stage Plays

Anime fans love anything featuring their favorite characters, and music is no exception. Here’s look at some popular character songs and stage plays.

There’s no shortage of merchandise and side-material for anime fans to enjoy. Pins, clothes, plushies and phone cases are just some of the items available for purchase, as is the case with any fandom. Soundtracks, also called OSTs, are also common offerings. While just about every game, movie and TV show has its own OST, anime takes this concept a step further: characters get to sing their own songs, even when the series isn’t musically-based. Some even get their own musicals, like Sailor Moon’s Sera Myu series of stage plays.

Character songs, or image songs, act as supplemental character development material and explore details that can’t fit into the show. Antagonists sometimes get their own songs as well. While the voice actors may contribute to the show by singing the opening or ending theme, specific songs are sometimes played when a particular character is experiencing growth or some kind of hardship during the show. Character songs are also not always sung by the respective VA.

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This trend started to gain traction when voice actors also doubled as professional singers and vice-versa, making character songs easier to produce. Its popularity expanded even further with the growth of idol culture, with many idols also doing voice-work for anime, bringing more fans into the mix.

Many characters will get their own CDs with special songs to make it easier for fans to support their favorite character or VA. This was made more evident when, in 2009, After School Tea Time (Hokago Tea Time) from K-On! reached the No. 1 spot on the Japanese Oricon weekly charts, selling 67,000 copies in its first week. The next year, the second OP would debut at No. 1 with over 83,000 copies sold.

Stage plays took this idea a step further, with many anime and games being adapted for the stage with additional musical numbers. One of the first series to receive a stage adaption was Rose of Versailles, performed by the all-female group Takarazuka Revue in 1974. While these performances aren’t what one would usually experience in higher-budget venues, they are more easily accessible for avid fans, making them extremely popular.

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The actors in these stage shows are usually not the same ones who provide the characters in the animated versions, but they are equally loved (most of the time). The 2000 Hunter x Hunter stage play was one of the first to feature the original anime cast. Another aspect of stage plays that draws fans is the exclusive storylines.

Stage plays and image songs are popular among fans because they are easily accessible and offer more insight into an anime’s characters. There’s only so much that can fit into a standard episode, so these musicals and songs can go into further detail about what a character is thinking or feeling. It’s also not required to understand the character and is completely optional, but helps give them more dimensions.

Stage plays often offer new storylines that are exclusive to those productions. Some Western TV shows have toyed with the concept of image songs in recent years, but for now it appears anime will continue to dominate that particular market.

Molly Kishikawa is an American artist living in Japan. Starting with the original broadcast of Sailor Moon on Toonami, she has been an avid anime fan since. Living in Japan for two years, she has seen first-hand how the country views anime and manga. She also enjoys video games, Dungeons & Dragons, and J-Rock.

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