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MY HEROES / JAM Project concert both fresh and nostalgic

The Yomiuri Shimbun

JAM Project performs in Konosu, Saitama Prefecture.

By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistLate last month, I went to a concert in Konosu, Saitama Prefecture, put on by JAM (Japan Animation Song Makers) Project. It was when the five-member group’s national tour, Tokyo Dive, came to the city. Formed in 2000, the anison (anime song) group is led by Hironobu Kageyama, well-known for singing the theme song for “Dragon Ball Z.”

Looking back, I realized that I met them for the first time exactly 10 years ago, through one of the events I organized. In 2008, the group was doing a world tour called No Border. Although I had just gotten to know them, I accompanied them to some of the tour destinations to report on the concerts, only to discover how popular anison was in Brazil and some other countries.

The following year, JAM Project gave a concert at Nippon Budokan, Japan’s pantheon of rock music. The unit also had success at many leading arenas across the country, from the Osaka-Jo Hall to the Yokohama Arena and Chiba’s Makuhari Messe. Over the decade since I met the members, I’ve seen the unit continuously marching on, always progressing.

This time, too, I saw the singers evolve onstage. They gave powerful performances of nearly 30 songs, many of them new numbers. The concert featured elaborate staging and fabulous costumes — for three hours, there wasn’t a single moment in which to be bored. As you can see in the photo, the members wore flashy costumes that emitted light and changed color for the opening sequence.

Listening to not only the exciting new songs but also the group’s major pieces from the past brought back memories of the first time I saw them perform.

Each of the five members is an established anison singer who already had his or her own hit songs before joining the group. In addition to Kageyama, there is Masaaki Endo, who sang the “Yusha-o Gaogaigar” theme song, and Hiroshi Kitadani, who is famous for a theme song for “One Piece.” Yoshiki Fukuyama worked on “Macross 7,” and Masami Okui made her name singing the theme song for “Shojo Kakumei Utena” (Revolutionary Girl Utena).

Ten years ago, JAM Project was already very popular outside of Japan, drawing thousands of fans to one concert.

In contrast, however, the group was not that well recognized inside Japan at that time. They were singing a new style of anison that featured a lot of rock’n’roll elements, different to the familiar hit anison of the past. Whether their songs would gain more exposure by being covered by other singers, or whether the group would become true anime song makers, as their name suggested, was up in the air, I think.

Nevertheless, they didn’t stop moving forward. When Kageyama would receive offers to sing a theme song, he sometimes accepted them as a deal for JAM Project. This shows how the members have been committed to working as a group, building a stable footing in the anison scene.

Their performances onstage uplift me, probably because I can feel their constant positivity.

After the concert, I shivered in the cold while waiting 20 minutes for a train back home at a nearby station, but my heart was warm and filled with exaltation.

JAM Project will hold a concert at Nippon Budokan on Feb. 17.

Suzuki is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist and an expert on tokusatsu superhero films and dramas.Speech

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