Each time I listen to a new doujin artist, I always become impressed lol
Welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate post! This is a segment where fellow blogger/Japanese music enthusiast Leap250 and I give each other albums, we listen to ’em and then finally review each one on our respective blogs. Ever since we transitioned into doing these reviews every month, I’ve fortunately been able to keep up despite the multiple waves of writer’s block and school starting recently. That being said, if you’re interested in reading our previous reviews, definitely check out my post from last month as a starting point!
Alongside writing these reviews every month, Leap and I also decide on a different ‘theme’ to base our suggestions on. This month’s theme is ‘music player mainstays’: albums that we think should always have handy on whatever device we use for listening to music (e.g. phone, computer, etc). Definitely an interesting theme Leap came up with this month, especially when the streaming service I use, Apple Music, has a feature where all of the music you add in your library is synced with every Apple device you own… the sheer convenience of that is just absolute perfection.
…sorry, my inner iSheep was starting to show. Anywho, our album choices consisted of me suggesting popular Japanese voice actress Hayami Saori’s 2018 release JUNCTION, while Leap tossed over Hisohiso Banashi by up-and-coming doujin artist ZUTOMAYO.
Let’s jump right in!
If you’re a frequent Japanese music fan, or just one who dabbles a bit in this area of music because of other influences like anime and such, you may have already heard of Zutto Mayonaka de Iinoni (or ZUTOMAYO, for short) before, due to the overwhelmingly positive reception of their first ever song release, “Byoushinwo Kamu”. The group released that viral hit on YouTube back in August 2018 and when it was later posted on streaming services, it quickly became the most streamed song that week. Ever since then, the song has gotten over 67 million+ views.
That massive hit was only the beginning for this new, promising group, as ZUTOMAYO later released a couple EPs like Tadashii Itsuwari Kara no Kishō and Imawa Imade Chikaiwa Emide, further showcasing their rock-pop sound, intriguing music videos and especially vocalist ACAね’s energetic voice. ZUTOMAYO would later release a full studio album, Hisohiso Banashi, on October 30th, 2019.
Like with many doujin artists, ZUTOMAYO prefers to keep their individual identities concealed, aside from knowing the name of the vocalist, ACAね (pronounced ‘Akane’). Even when performing live at events like the Fuji Rock Festival in 2019, the group members are shown behind translucent screens and some performances were even entirely done in a dark venue. It is also thought that ZUTOMAYO does not have a specific set of members and instead collaborates with different musicians, composers and animators in each of their works. However despite the lack of information or identities connected to this group, many people believe their confidential image is an important part of why they’re so fascinating and popular.
Leap’s thoughts on Hisohiso Banashi:
I found that an interesting thing about ずっと真夜中でいいのに。(zutto mayonaka de ii no ni or ZUTOMAYO, for short) is that it really takes one song for it them to get their hooks in you. As a fan who caught wind of the group’s rise early on with their debut of “Byoushin wo Kamu” way back when, I knew without a shred of doubt that they were something special. That said, I wasn’t quite sold on them just yet. I remember when “Kan Saete Kuyashiiwa” dropped, and “Seigi” not long after and at the time I did know in my heart that I should like them more than I did because of how good these songs were but for some reason I didn’t. It wasn’t until I heard “Dear Mr. F” just randomly one day, a track that is otherwise an album exclusive off of “HisoHiso Banashi”, and it all just clicked for me. Hearing ACAね just… sing in that one song, I think made me understand what it was that she was trying to do with her music, and all of a sudden this album just became magic; from the first track to the last.
Speaking of, can I also just say that it was an absolutely boss move to put “Byoushin wo Kamu” as the very last track of the album? I mean, that’s the song that put them on the map so you’d think they’d put that up as an opener and for them to just save that for the very end shows just how much ACAね believes in the music she and her band can create that they felt they didn’t even need to bank on the popularity of that track.
There’s a particular theme in doujin-based music where the narratives usually revolve around conflict, fear and uneasiness; especially in the lyrics but it can also be expressed by the vocals or the music itself. You hear artists like Yorushika and Minami display that theme in a more somber and dark tone, which absolutely does help convey what they’re singing about. And while ZUTOMAYO does the same, writing music/lyrics that fall in the emotion categories of frustration and angst, the way they show it feels a lot more unique and new compared to all the other doujin artists I’ve listened to in the past.
And ZUTOMAYO’s ‘way’ of doing so seems to be more passionate and intense rather than sounding really sad. The music is just so fast-paced and loud that it’s almost as if the protagonists in these songs are trying incredibly hard to escape that fear or struggle. And I think that specific style of doujin music is shown really well in even the album’s opening songs, “Nouriueno Cracker” and “Kan Saete Kuyashiiwa”. Since these tracks are right at the beginning of the album, you immediately pick up what kind of music/style/pace this group deals with. Both just burst with a great amount of energy and the hyper atmosphere truly made me feel the heroine’s need for escaping or breaking free from whatever struggle they’re facing.
And one major element that helps in expressing that passionate and energetic feeling is from the vocals. ACAね’s voice is simply amazing and the amount of might that she puts into each and every song is just something you can’t help but to appreciate. Obviously all of the songs on Hisohiso Banashi show off ACAね’s superb singing skills but I think my favorite track off this album, “Haze Haseru Materumade”, definitely showcases it best. The way her vocals go from soft at the beginning then incredibly fiery towards the chorus was absolutely smooth, and I believe that’s one of ZUTOMAYO’s best characteristics within their songs. ACAね’s ability to amp up her vocals at the right times just makes for some powerful and engaging tracks to listen to. I’m someone who frequently gets the chills whenever I hear someone sing beautifully but hearing ACAね in this song was on another level of goosebumps lol
Even in the songs where it’s a lot more mellow and less intense, like the jazzy “Kettobashita Moufu” and chillax “Glass to Rum Raisin”, ACAね still manages to give it her all. I mean, “Dear. Mr「F」” is a song that only features somber piano playing and essentially allows us to hear how incredible her voice really is. It’s great to see a vocalist like her be able to maintain that strong voice, no matter what kind of music composition is presented.
Speaking of the music itself, there are definitely some highlights with each of their compositions, especially when it comes to the instruments. The group’s instrument lineup is pretty standard for doujin music, with the usual rough electric guitar, bass, drums, etc. But the addition of a keyboard/piano is probably the most significant aspect of ZUTOMAYO’s music, as it’s so prominent and blends in perfectly with all the other featured instruments, as well as ACAね’s vocals. I feel like whenever people mention the song “Byoushinwo Kamu”, you’ll immediately think of that iconic piano sequence at the beginning. It’s so vibrant and definitely adds to the fast pace of that song. And that style of keyboard/piano can be heard in their other tracks where it helps convey emotion, even ones where it isn’t as extreme such as the previously mentioned “Dear. Mr「F」”.
I’ll admit that I’m not that educated in the whole Japanese doujin music scene and only know a handful of popular artists like Yorushika, Sangatsu no Phantasia, YOASOBI, etc, etc. But I think when I look at ZUTOMAYO’s Hisohiso Banashi, everything about this album feels really unique and somewhat of a ‘breath of fresh air’ when considering all the other musicians I have listened to before.
From what I’ve experienced in the past, a lot of doujin music have that low, depressing sound, which I have absolutely no problem with. It’s a very realistic and relatable perspective, and I think some of the best doujin songs excellently express the struggles in life in that particular way. But to hear the creative directions of artists like ZUTOMAYO (and even Eve), where their music is super fast-paced, has absolutely strong vocals, all while still maintaining that key theme of despair/conflict… in my opinion, it’s a nice spin on what we’ve already seen in this genre of music.
Hisohiso Banashi is a wonderful collection of songs and if you’re looking for another Japanese doujin artist to listen to, I would absolutely suggest these guys.
Hope you enjoyed reading that review! ZUTOMAYO has definitely been in my recent music rotation, especially some of their newer songs like “MILABO”… that track is just way too good. 😛
Also, now that you’re finished with this post, you should head on over to Leap’s blog where he reviewed the album I gave him, JUNCTION by popular Japanese voice actress Hayami Saori! It’s a nice one!
Thanks for reading!! 😀