Why Anime Character Songs and Musical Plays Are So Popular


There is no shortage of merchandise and ancillary materials for anime fans. Pins, clothes, stuffed animals and phone cases are just some of the items available for purchase, as is the case with any fandom. Soundtracks, also known as OSTs, are also common offerings. While almost every game, movie, and TV show has its own OST, anime takes this concept one step further: characters can sing their own songs, even when the series isn’t based on music. Some even have their own musicals, like Sailor Moon’s Will Myu series of plays.

Character songs, or picture songs, serve as additional character development material and explore details that cannot go into the show. The antagonists sometimes also have their own songs. While 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 sort of difficulty during the show. Character songs are not always sung by the respective VA.

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

Many characters will receive 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) of K-On! reached number one on the Japanese Oricon weekly charts, selling 67,000 copies in its first week. The following year, the second OP would debut at No. 1 with over 83,000 copies sold.

Stage plays took this idea one step further, with many anime and games adapted for the stage with additional musical numbers. One of the first series to receive a stage adaptation was Rose of Versaillesperformed by the all-female group Takarazuka Revue in 1974. Although these performances are not what one usually experiences in higher budget venues, they are more readily available to avid fans, making them extremely popular.

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The actors in these stage shows aren’t usually the same ones that provide the characters in the animated versions, but they’re equally beloved (most of the time). The 2000 Hunter X Hunter the stage play was one of the first to feature the anime’s original cast. Another aspect of the plays that attracts fans is the exclusive storylines.

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

Plays often feature new storylines exclusive to those productions. Some Western TV shows have toyed with the concept of picture songs for the past few years, but for now, it looks like anime will continue to dominate this particular market.


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