It’s that time of year!
As you can probably tell, I’ve definitely ignored this segment throughout the year, other than that one roundup I did in March. Honestly, I don’t have a good excus- I mean, reason for not doing roundups as often as I should have but I’m happy that I got to get my writing-about-music fix with the monthly album reviews. However, I wasn’t gonna end off the year without talking about my absolute favorite Japanese songs from 2020 so that’s why we’re here!
Like I mentioned in my last yearly roundup, picking ten songs out of all of the tracks I listened to this year is a gigantic challenge. Since I had more time on my hands, I was able to stumble upon so much good stuff and I wish I could just write about all of it. But obviously, I don’t think a lot of people would want to read that long of a post so ten it is. And I realize that this year has been absolutely terrible for everyone so hopefully I can get your spirits up by helping you find a great new song to listen to!
Also, please note that this list will be in no particular order; the first/last song that I talk about isn’t my song of the year or anything like that. Just wanted to clarify!
Let’s jump right in!
“ad meliora” – THE CHARM PARK
While Ohashi Trio is usually my go-to Japanese artist when I need some music to chill to, I think THE CHARM PARK’s “ad meliora” really… hit it out of the park (sorry) and ended up being my favorite feel-good track of the year. The wide assortment of instruments all coming together to make this slow and relaxing song was nice to hear; it all melded together but yet I was able to still hear each and every instrument do its thing, whether that be the shakers, the bass, the cajon, etc. etc. Obviously Charm’s soothing voice was the main focus and just brought everything together but now that I think about it, the instrument composition was what made me truly enjoy this track.
“Nisankatanso / 二酸化炭素” – SHISHAMO
(I’m not sure if the video is playing at the correct timestamp, so you can either skip to 29:11 or click this Spotify link to listen to the song)
SHISHAMO 6 came out earlier this year and it felt very surreal when I realized that their previous album was released only a year and four months prior. Maybe it’s because 2020 went by incredibly fast (hell, I sometimes didn’t even know what day it was because I was inside most of the time) but it feels like it hasn’t been that long since SHISHAMO 5’s release. Some of the songs on that album still feel ‘new’ to me, if that makes sense.
Anyways, while I did enjoy SHISHAMO 6 as a whole with its interesting variety and catchy tunes, I think I’ll have to go with “Nisankatanso” as my favorite track from that album. Most of SHISHAMO’s songs do have a sad mood to them but this one in particular helped me really feel the melancholy coming out of Asako’s voice and the instruments. It ain’t fast, it’s not too upbeat like some of the band’s other tracks. Instead it sounds a lot more gloomy thanks to the slower strumming and percussion from Asako and Misaki respectively, as well as Asako’s beautiful vocals. Even if you don’t know what the lyrics mean, like myself, I think this song really does a good job getting the point across, emotionally.
On another note, I would also suggest listening to this cool cover Asako did of aiko’s “Straw”… so good.
“Tempest” – Ishihara Kaori
One of the biggest highlights of my music listening experience this year was getting to know more about the one and only Ishihara Kaori. Because I’m an Ogura Yui oshi, I was able to stumble upon Kaori’s music since both of them used to be part of an idol unit together… and let’s just say that that was an incredible discovery to come across. Not only did I get to listen to Kaori’s amazing solo music (as well as the YuiKaori discography) but I learned a lot more about her and her sometimes goofy personality as a seiyuu and as a person. She really is an enjoyable idol to watch.
Regarding her music, I feel like Kaori’s style of idol/pop music is significantly different from what you’d usually think when listening to the genre. While she does have the usual poppy and bright tracks, it seems like she also enjoys going down the more strong and dignified route with songs like “Ray Rule”, “Diorama-Drama”, and her most recent single “Against.”, which was used as the opening for the action fantasy anime Kimi to Boku no Saigo no Senjou, Aruiwa Sekai ga Hajimaru Seisen. “TEMPEST” is another great example of Kaori performing a more serious-sounding song and she absolutely KILLS it. Kaori’s vocals were amazing, and the intense and almost epic atmosphere in it; that alone sometimes makes me forget that this song comes from a Japanese pop idol. It just felt so different from what I’m used to when it comes to seiyuu idol music, and I’m glad Kaori loves to perform that unique style.
“Fukashigi no Karte / 不可思議のカルテ” – Sakurajima Mai, Koga Tomoe, Futaba Rio, Toyohama Nodoka, Azusagawa Kaede, Makinohara Shouko
Despite watching a ton of seasonal anime throughout the year, I think Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yume wo Minai was the best show I saw in 2020. I go into more detail about this series in my post where I talked about the movie, but I really did love watching the TV series for many, many reasons. The story was well-written, had a great balance of comedy and drama, most of the characters were likable, the voice cast was literally perfect… I finally saw what the hype was all about (although… I guess I was a bit late, wasn’t I?).
Another amazing thing about that anime were the theme songs. I was already a fan of the show’s opening, “Kiminosei” by the peggies, but the first MILLISECOND I heard Seto Asami sing “Fukashigi no Karte” after the first episode… chills all over my body. The way it starts with the violin and the gorgeous chorus, it took a while until I stopped freaking out about how amazing of a song this was. And the cherry on top of the already-delectable musical sundae was that they gave each character their own version of the ending. I’ll admit that I enjoyed some variations more than others (…Kaede 😭) but regardless, each performance from the seiyuu was fantastic (that’s also why I chose to include the version with all of them, just cause I couldn’t choose a solo one to feature).
“HIKOU / 飛行” – iri
I completely forgot I listened to iri for the first time this year lol
After finally listening to her most popular track, “Wonderland”, I saw what all the buzz was about. You rarely get to see genres like hip-hop, R&B and even rap within the (mainstream) Japanese music culture and for a newer artist like iri to come out and compose songs that sound very genuine to those Western-based styles was pretty great to see. I had the pleasure to listening to one of her albums, Shade, and that collection of songs did an absolutely fantastic job showcasing her flow, lyricism and loose/soulful vocals.
One of my favorite songs off that album was “HIKOU”. This super smooth, R&B-like song is so relaxing and I love the whole sensual vibe it puts off. The beat was also slick and that little guitar riff throughout the song almost reminded me of something Nujabes, another hip-hop/rap based Japanese artist, would include in his music. Plus, iri’s vocals sound great and the way she increases her pitch during the chorus was a nice touch. An overall terrific song!
(btw if you wanna read a neat review on Shade, definitely go check out Leap’s write-up on the album, which was part of our J-Music Exchange/Rate segment!)
“Kowai Hanashi / こわいはなし” – back number
Naturally as a foreign J-music fan, the popular YouTube cover group Goose House (before they converted to Play.Goose) introduced me to a lot of Japanese artists over the years including the rock trio, back number. I absolutely loved hearing their cover of “Takane no Hanakosan”, and ESPECIALLY the video where Manami and Watanabe Shuhei gorgeously performed “Mabataki”… just from those two covers, I can see why so many people love this group.
That being said, I finally got the chance to listen to the actual band’s music and I gotta say, I was not disappointed. Their 2014 release Love Story was one of the best albums I listened to this year, and I really enjoyed one particular song from it: “Kowai Hanashi”. The loud sound of that acoustic guitar throughout this song, as well as Shizumu Iyori’s usual dispirited vocals, made for a track that sounds pretty simple yet I could still feel the sentiments revolving around it.
“Hana to Mitsu / 花と蜜” – Nagie Lane
Acapella music still isn’t something I listen to very often but when I do, it’s usually songs from a group I’ve been following for a while now, Nagie Lane (although, I’ll admit that I haven’t been following them as much lately; I was surprised to hear about the sudden departure of their ‘bassist’ Hirano Gaku). While they are known for their exceptional covers of currently popular songs like milet’s “us” and Yonezu Kenshi’s “Kanden”, Nagie Lane also dabbles a bit in original compositions.
Their second mini album was headlined by “Hana to Mitsu”, a nice little pop song that honestly brightens up my day whenever I listen to it. It’s extremely catchy, the group does a fantastic job with replicating various instruments (that electric guitar solo was amazing lmao), and I really did love the vocal performances from Mikako and Rei. Add in a cute music video and dance to go with it and bam! You got a pretty comfy acapella track.
“NEO SKY, NEO MAP” – Nijigasaki Gakuen School Idol Doukoukai
Like many others, this year has been pretty rough for me. But thankfully, there were some things that were able to distract me from everything going on in the world and kept me in high spirits. One of them was the Love Live franchise’s Nijigasaki School Idol Club.
So much happened with this group throughout the year and I am so happy/honored that I got to witness most of it. All the entertaining livestreams, another album release, the opportunity to watch their second live concert, the individual seiyuu activities… but most importantly, it put a gigantic smile on my face when their anime finally premiered back in October. While there were some road bumps along the way, I absolutely loved the NijiGaku anime and how they handled showing off all these unique characters within a twelve episode series. And what came with all these character-focused episodes were individual solos for each member of the club.
Even though I preferred a few other songs over “NEO SKY, NEO MAP” (such as Ayumu’s “Dream with You” and Rina’s “Tsunagaru Connect”), I felt that it was more appropriate to include the show’s ending in this list. It was such a pleasant song to listen to each week and hearing every character sing a part in the verses definitely put me in a happy mood. I also loved how the pace increased throughout it and led up to that fast chorus where everyone’s voices just melds together so smoothly. Even though NijiGaku are considered ‘solo idols’, the fact that they can sound so GOOD when they all sing at the same time is simply incredible. I’m sure they’ll be getting a second season (which may include the rest of the SIFAS characters like Shioriko, Lanzhu, Mia, etc) but listening to the ending again just makes me miss the anime already 😅
“Yasashisa no Namae / やさしさの名前” – Suzuki Aina
Speaking of Love Live, 2020 also saw a lot of the Aqours voice actresses making their solo music debuts. From Kobayashi Aika’s lively single “NO LIFE CODE” to Furihata Ai going towards a more traditional 80s city-pop style, I’m so happy to finally see everyone start their individual careers in music, as well as the variety of styles they each do (after Arisa started DJing, I really didn’t know what to expect with the rest of em lol). Don’t get me wrong: seeing them continue their work within the LL franchise is still great, but I think it was about time they started doing non-school idol related stuff.
Even though I know I don’t have the intention of ridiculing the other ladies when doing this, I don’t like to pick favorites. It just doesn’t feel right… but I guess this was inevitable. Out of all of the Aqours seiyuu debuts (and ALL of them were fantastic), I thought Suzuki Aina’s (voice of Ohara Mari) was ultimately the most impressive one. From what we’ve heard within the Aqours discography, we all know that Ainya has an SUPERB voice. But now that she had the opportunity to go solo, it’s like Ainya was able to further advance her talents with singing and truly show how incredible of a voice she has. Hell, she even had the chance to flex her min’yo vocal abilities in her first album.
But in my opinion, “Yasashisa no Namae” takes the cake when it comes to the best Aina song (and this is coming from someone who LOVED “antique memory” and its uniqueness). It’s such a beautiful track, thanks to the lovely performances from the acoustic guitar, piano and even the tambourine was pleasant to listen to. And maybe I don’t listen to Aqours music enough but I feel like Aina hits the high notes in this song without any effort at all. That could very well be heard in Mari’s solos and such but I dunno, the way she sings in such a polished and charming voice was really outstanding to me. But yeah, a track like “Yasashisa no Namae”, for sure, suits Aina to a T and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of listening to it.
“Haze Haseru Haterumade / ハゼ馳せる果てるまで” – ZUTOMAYO
…alright, I kinda lied. I intentionally put this song at the end of the list because of my tendency to ‘save the best for last’.
ZUTOMAYO was a name I heard before but never got the chance to actually listen to their stuff… until Leap recommended one of their albums to me for our J-Music Exchange/Rate segment. You can read my full review by clicking here but in short, I loved that album. I feel like it made me see doujin music in a much different light, as ZUTOMAYO usually likes to compose upbeat and fast-paced tunes while still maintaining that traditional theme of sadness/despair.
“Haze Haseru Haterumade” was my favorite track off that album, and to be honest, it’s also my favorite ZUTOMAYO song in general (…“MILABO” comes in at a close second lol). While the actual music composition was also great, this song does a phenomenal job showcasing the vocal abilities of ACAね. I’m just quoting my review at this point but the way her vocals start off soft and gradually sound more passionate throughout was so so so good. You can clearly hear how much emotion is coming out of ACAね’s voice and I felt it. I kinda forgot what this song was about but it’s like she’s trying so hard to escape from whatever hardships she’s dealing with, and her singing perfectly encapsulates those struggles.
And according to my Apple Music Replay thing for 2020, this was my most played song this year and you know, I’m not surprised. It was THAT good.
Told you only listing ten songs would be tough, so here’s a small list of tracks that BARELY missed the cut:
- “Sunset Serenade” – Ohashi Trio
- “Easy Breezy” – chelmico (Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! OP)
- “Cat the Thief” – Prima Porta
- “JET” – Polkadot Stingray
- “One Kiss” – i☆Ris
- “BUTTER” – tricot
- “Honnou” – Sheena Ringo
Aaaand that’s all I got for you today! Hope you enjoyed this year’s list and if you found a song you liked, I’m glad to hear it.
Even though I didn’t do much on the blog this year, other than the album reviews, thank you for checking out the posts I did in 2020. My motivation to write honestly has been low these past couple years but I do try my best to put out decent content and I’m happy that some people continue to read it. I’m not sure what 2021 will bring to the table when it comes to omunibasu but hopefully I’ll be able to post more in the coming months!
Hope everyone’s holidays went well, happy new year and thanks for reading!! 😀