It’s really hard to navigate the anime scene without having heard of YOASOBI. The talented duo of Ayase and Ikura have been a dominant force in recent years, from the viral internet sensation Racing Into The Night to banger-after-banger anime tracks like Monster, Blessing and, most importantly, Idol.
There’s since been this bizarre effect at play- the name YOASOBI is absolutely everywhere. Rumors of anime adaptations come with “And YOASOBI for the OP” as a signifier of quality, in the same way that “MAPPA Adaptation” has been thrown around to mean fluid animation.
It’s not like this love has gone unnoticed, either- YOASOBI themselves are touring Asia, with even Malaysia as one of its big stops. With that in mind, I figured it’s a good time to look at what exactly puts this duo as one of the hottest music acts out of Japan.
That Vocaloid Edge
Anyone who follows Ayase’s YouTube channel knows the man is an excellent Vocaloid producer, and you can see that influence bleed over into the YOASOBI projects. From the excellent lyrics to the banger compositions, it’s part of the reason why you can often spot a YOASOBI song from its contemporaries- it will always have this ethereal air to it that feels like it wasn’t meant to be sung by a human voice.
I’ve always believed there’s two major components to anything sounding Vocaloid-esque- a hilariously elaborate music track and incredibly angsty words. You see it a lot in Racing Into The Night- it’s a song about escaping a harmful relationship backed by one of the most insane keyboard solos ever.
Since the day we first met
You’d stolen my whole heart
You, who were clad in a kinda fleeting aura,
Wore such lonely eyes
There’s this theory that pop music should be as easily digestible as possible- it’s why we went from the lyrical intensity of tracks like There’s A Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey to the excessively repetitive Victorious. Yet, YOASOBI stands in defiance of that- their lyrics are written like a story, and a good one at that.
It gets even better because they didn’t lose any quality after going commercial either- each of their anime openings bring that same depth, that same portrait of melancholy with flavors unique to the anime it’s telling. Monster is a tragic tale of the angst that Beastars main character Legosi suffers. The same can be said of Blessing, which, turns out, supported a fan theory that would only be confirmed in The Witch From Mercury’s second cour.
These songs aren’t just popular because they’re danceable, but because even in the English-speaking crowd you can feel there’s something more to them than just introducing their anime. Unlike many anime openings YOASOBI work often becomes a sort of supplemental material- painting elaborate pictures of the psyches of key characters all while the anime’s opening credits roll.
Combine these with the downright funky and poppy compositions and you get a recipe for an instant classic. Not only is the overall product good, you also get the phenomenon that propelled Racing Into The Night into virality in the first place, which was its absolute danceable nature contrasted against its dark lyrics.
On To The Vocals
Of course, let’s not discount the person actually singing the songs, either. Ikura is an incredibly talented vocalist, being able to keep up with otherwise wordy lyrics and delivering nothing but quality. All you have to do is see the live videos of her performances- she actually has the range so many vocaloid producers spend years to attain digitally, all while also dancing on stage.
What really sets this all apart is that Ikura sees this as a kind of character acting rather than just singing- she described her performance in an interview with NME as such.
“To respect the setting of ‘Idol’, l had to sing with the confidence that I was the world’s cutest idol – and to express the mindset of singing as an idol myself, I had to express that kind of ditzy voice. Generating that kind of cute voice was a big challenge for me.”
Given the faster pace of a lot of their songs, it’s actually impressive seeing her go- she’s able to move from the almost spoken-word-like songs like Idol to incredibly moving ballads like Gunjo. It’s in this space that YOASOBI really shines- no matter the tempo, they’re able to give a powerful performance.
Admittedly, a lot of people, especially western fans, may not entirely be familiar with what I’m talking about. It’s not like she’s out here belting like an opera singer, after all. Instead, she’s able to give it her all over longer periods of time- something not always appreciated in music. It lends to the otherworldly tone of YOASOBI’s discography- and part of the reason you can so easily spot one of their works so easily.
Second To None
The important thing about the YOASOBI experience is just how unlike anything else in Jpop it is. Sure, you might find similar lyrics and tones in producers like DECO*27, or even similar vocals in many other Jpop singers. But that’s the magic of YOASOBI- it’s not any one thing, it’s the culmination of its many moving parts to create something entirely beautiful.
Admittedly, it’s different enough that it may not be to everyone’s tastes- a more mainstream audience may find a bunch of weebs gushing about lyrics they need DeepL to even understand as tedious and pretentious. But I think if you have your roots in this kind of style of appreciation you’ll find yourself excited enough every season to try out an anime just because you see that name in the opening credits.
Thankfully, it seems like the greater anime scene has caught up on their appreciation of the duo- as of this writing tickets for the YOASOBI Asia Tour are officially sold out, mere hours after they opened in the first place.