Infrequent J-Song Roundup #15 – Favorites of 2019

It’s been so long since I’ve written something that I genuinely forgot how to start a post lol

Hello there and today’s post is a very special one, since I’ll be talking about my absolute favorite songs of 2019. After music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music recently allowed their users to see their generated “year-in-review”, I took a look at mine and felt like it didn’t fully justify what I enjoyed this year. So, that’s why I’m writing this post (plus it’s fun to talk about).

But in truth, asking me to pick ten songs out of all the music I listened to this year is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child; it just hurts your soul to leave out the others. There were just so many songs, artists, and genres that I discovered and loved this past year… it’s insanely difficult to only pick ten to feature in this list. However, I managed make a few painful sacrifices and compiled my ultimate list of favorite songs.

Also, let me emphasize that, like my other roundups, this is not ordered in any way. The last song I include isn’t the best or the worst of the bunch; I, more or less, organized this list to have different genres/vibes throughout. And one more thing: I didn’t limit myself to just include songs that were released in 2019, but also older songs I happened to listen to/discover in 2019. Just wanted to clarify.

That being said, let’s jump right in!


“Day Trip” – Shiggy Jr.

I graciously was recommended Shiggy Jr. and their 2014 album Listen to the Music, and I immediately fell in love with their music. Especially tracks like “baby I love you” and this one, “Day Trip”, their sound is just super cheerful and enjoyable to listen to. Not only with their variety of nice instruments but the lovable vocals and general pacing make this track a real bundle of joy. Plus, it really does sound like a song you’d play during a “day trip”.


“Ultimate☆MAGIC / アルティメット☆MAGIC” –  i☆Ris

One of the biggest things that happened to me this year was rapidly becoming a huge fan of the newest Love Live idol group, Nijigasaki High School Idol Club. As I watched them evolve from just being a set of characters and accompanying voice actresses, into a full-fledged idol group with their own music (and even getting the opportunity to tell their stories through an upcoming anime series), I’ve gotten to enjoy their presence within the Love Live fandom a lot. Especially on the voice actress side of it since Kubota Miyu, voice of Asaka Karin, quickly became one of my favorite seiyuu personalities (…as seen in this tweet of mine).

And with becoming a Miyutan oshi, I started to look into the other idol group she has been in for a while now, i☆Ris. Their music, the other members and their fun/unique personalities, the tight bonds they all have with each other; learning all about that definitely showed me why they’re one of the more popular seiyuu idol units in the business right now. And one of their most recent songs, “Ultimate☆MAGIC”, was a track I couldn’t stop listening to after hearing it. Originally an opening for the anime series Kenja no Mago, it’s a real catchy and upbeat song that’s perfect for an OP. But one of my favorite things about this was the vocals, as everyone’s voices just blended together really well. Plus, given that all the members had a chance to sing different parts by themselves, it was nice to hear Miyu’s or Saki’s or Himika’s lone voices.


“One Scene” – Awesome City Club

Awesome City Club’s Catch the One album was a pretty big highlight for me this year, especially after listening to their previously released best album that had incredible songs like “Outsider” and “Don’t Think, Feel”. And I definitely was not disappointed since this new album had some excellent songs that still had that unique ACC charm. Rock mixed in with pop/funk… they just do it so well.

One of my favorite songs from the album has to be “One Scene”. Now that I think about it, a lot of the songs featured in Catch the One tended to be more mellow and/or emotional, and this song definitely was one of those. Whenever I listen to this particular song, it puts me at ease with its simple beat and atmosphere. Porin, one of the two main vocalists of ACC, does a really nice job singing solo here and I just love her voice in general.

Also, definitely go listen to this album!


“Sayonara Moratorium / さよならモラトリアム” – Touyama Nao

I certainly listened to a lot of seiyuu-related music this year. From Hanazawa Kana’s Coco Base album, Saitou Shuka’s solo career debut, to all of Ogura Yui’s discography… but if I had to pick my absolute favorite song by a seiyuu this year, it has to be “Sayonara Moratorium” by the one-and-only Touyama Nao. Let me explain:

Naobou has been regarded as one of the more talented female seiyuu in this industry, mainly because of how wide of a vocal range she has when it comes to portraying characters. She can sound like a cheerful child/teenager in shows like Kiniro Mosaic and OreGairu, while also having the ability to act more mature and deepen her voice with roles like Shima Rin in Yuru Camp. Naobou’s pretty amazing.

I bring up her vast vocal range because that’s exactly what is displayed in this song, which was featured in her most recent album Gunjou Infinity. As I said in a Twitter convo with fellow seiyuu/idol fan Carriage from A Carriage Return, Naobou sounded like she had a ton of fun singing in different styles and paces throughout this one song. It was very interesting to hear her, for example, quickly go from an upbeat pop song to singing with a more mature voice and accompanying some rock music a minute or so later. This smooth mixture of randomness with the incredible talent/energy of Naobou made for a very, very enjoyable and memorable song to listen to.


“Plastic Love” by Takeuchi Mariya (Cover) – Friday Night Plans

In 2018, YouTube’s strange algorithm made a Japanese pop song from the ’80s popular again. “Plastic Love” by Takeuchi Mariya became a modern hit amongst the general international public, with it probably introducing Japanese music (and the ’80s city pop style) to a lot of people.

Weirdly enough, the original version of this track wasn’t the one I listened to first. Instead, I stumbled upon Friday Night Plans’ cover, which is significantly different from the original but also incredible. FNP puts a modern twist to “Plastic Love” with its funkiness and chill vibe, which I actually enjoy more. The fact that this isn’t a straight-up cover and instead more of FNP doing her own unique version of this popular song… it’s hella good, that’s all I can really say lol

Also, if you notice in the cover art in this video, FNP is actually wearing, pretty much, the exact same outfit as Takeuchi Mariya did in the original release. Nice touch.


“Step” – Hoshino Gen

Another gigantic thing that happened in 2019 was when Japanese pop icon Hoshino Gen decided to put ALL of his music on online streaming services worldwide. Even though I was already a Hoshino Gen fan, I became real excited since I now had the opportunity to listen to his much older music, which I found to be significantly different from the stuff we hear today.

“Step”, amongst other songs from Hoshino Gen’s early discography, was my first glimpse of what he made before making more intricate pop music like “SUN” and “Koi”. The calm, children’s music-like style he shows off here was certainly a surprise since I’m so used to him being more lively and flashy. But even then, I found myself to enjoy Hoshino Gen’s older stuff and it’s definitely an interesting change from the perspective of a fan like myself.

Also, I found out that HG is gonna perform his latest hit “Same Thing” at this year’s NHK Kouhaku which… will be interesting to see.


“When You Feel Love?” – Sphere

Two years after one of the greatest seiyuu pop units went into hiatus, Sphere came back and released their seventh studio album, just in time for the tenth anniversary of their existence. As a fan of the group (consisting of well-known voice actresses in Tomatsu Haruka, Toyosaki Aki, Kotobuki Minako, and Takagaki Ayahi), as well as a person who considers Aki-chan as their number one favorite seiyuu… I was insanely excited.

And it’s like they never left. 10s was a pretty great album and I think because this was something to celebrate the ten years they’ve been together, it certainly displayed the specific styles and charms they’ve had throughout their library of music. In other words, it was just good ol’ Sphere.

But my absolute favorite song from 10s HAS to be “When You Feel Love?”. One of the best things about this group is the vocals and even though all of their voices are unique and distinctive from each other, they blend together so damn well. This song is a excellent example of that, as the four of them perform a fun, acapella-style song that is just heavenly to listen to.

(If you want to hear another REALLY beautiful acapella performance from Sphere, definitely check out this live version of one of their most popular tracks, “Future Stream”.)


“Pastel Rain / パステルレイン” – Sangatsu no Phantasia

After being introduced to doujin composer-based music such as Yorushika and Eve by my dude Leap250, I’ve gotten to really enjoy that particular… genre? I honestly don’t know what that type/style of music specifically called, but it’s really damn good. Plus, it seems like all of them include some intriguing art/animation for their music videos and/or cover art.

Sangatsu no Phantasia was one of those groups I stumbled upon this year, more specifically by a recommendation I got from a person on Instagram. I took a listen to them and was just blown away by the first few songs off their Girls Blue Happy Sad album, with “Pastel Rain” probably being my favorite of the bunch. Its fast-paced melody, hella nice vocals, and incredible instrument composition just made this song one of my absolute favorites of the year.

And like I said in one of the previous roundups I included this song in, it heavily reminded me of Uchida Maaya’s “Setsuna Ring a Bell”.


“Love Call / ラブコール” – Polkadot Stingray

Choosing my top ten favorite songs of 2019 is one thing, but choosing my favorite Polkadot Stingray song from 2019… it’s borderline impossible.

Mainly because not only did they release their really nice Uchoten album earlier in the year, but it wasn’t long until they put out even more tracks such as “Bakenokawa” and the SUPER good “Athena”. It really was a productive year for Shizuku and Co. and I am more than excited to see what they have for us in store next year (they’re coming out with another mini-album in a few weeks, actually).

That being said, one of my favorite songs from PS this year was “Love Call” from the Uchoten album. Maybe it was because of the more mellow vibe compared to most of the other songs featured, that super nice solo from Harushi, or the emotional chorus performance by Shizuku; everything about this was just fantastic. Polkadot Stingray really changed up their style with Uchoten, adding more pop and other unique aspects into a lot of their tracks but surprisingly I thought the album as a whole was pretty damn good, with “Love Call” being one of the hits for me personally.


“Mata ne / またね” – saya

2019 was an weird year for me when it came to anime. I usually stuck with some stuff each season but even then, a lot of it wasn’t that good or just stuff I flat out didn’t finish. There were some really nice non-seasonal shows I enjoyed watching such as Tamako Market/Love Story and Isekai Shokudou, but nothing came close to what I experienced when watching A Place Further than the Universe.

That show was pretty incredible and I can see why some people even considered it the best anime of 2018. I don’t want to get too wrapped up into what I thought about this show cause I have written multiple posts about it (a review on #moe404 and a random write-up on this blog) so feel free to check those out if you want.

What I do want to mention though is the music in that anime, which is absolutely amazing. The OP and ED are superb, of course, but I think the big highlight was definitely the insert songs. All of them were so strong, emotional and used at the right moments within the series. But my favorite one, hands down, has to be “Mata ne”.

This song, like I said, was played at the right moments and even added to the intended emotion/atmosphere in certain scenes. I can’t talk about it too much since I’ll probably end up spoiling something but trust me, that melancholic acoustic guitar with saya’s voice is just so powerful and it really takes me back to when I experienced this show for the first time.


Honorable Mentions

There was no way I wasn’t gonna include an honorable mentions list because there was simply too much good music this year. So, here are a few songs that just barely made the list:


Well, that’s really all I have for you today.

While this may or may not be the last blog post I’ll write in 2019, this will be the final J-song roundup for the year. For those who have followed this segment pretty frequently or are new faces, I genuinely thank you for checking out my taste in music and I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on them as well. As I said, 2019 was a great listening experience for myself since I really tried to discover new stuff, and I think it’s safe to say that I accomplished that goal. I’m excited to see what kind of music 2020 and the new decade gives us!

Thank you all again for reading and as always, if you have any thoughts on this list or even have some recommendations of your own, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Happy Holidays! 😀

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-al

  1. As someone who’s also compiling an end of the year list of Japanese music, I share your pain (xD) but all the same, excellent work my good man.

    Shiggy Jr. stands out here to me as they were a band that was already on the come up when I first started getting into Japanese music, so it does please me to see them being mentioned in a 2019 roundup. The same goes for Sphere really, but I’m admittedly less versed in seiyuu/anison than I was with bands at the time, but I do still find it neat that they’re still very much a unit with how they sound.

    Haaaahhhhh, I actually thought you were a Nacchan oshi at first, but I guess sometimes your favorite LL! idol doesn’t really match your favorite LL! character at times (case in point me being a Rikyako oshi whilst having Dia as my favorite Sunshine). I’m also a fan of Miyutan’s vocal work because of how distinct it is from the rest of NijiGaku, and the little I know from i☆Ris supports that too with “Ultimate☆MAGIC” here as well as the opening theme they sang for Mahou Shoujo Site. I came across an article not too long ago describing how i☆Ris as the future of 2.5D idols so it’s gonna be interesting to see their progress moving forward.

    Recently got on the FNP train myself, and I HIGHLY recommend her most recent releases. I was also surprised to find out that FNP is actually half-Filipino and, while I don’t wanna be one of those guys that instantly begin lauding personalities just because they share the same ethnicity as them, I honestly did become more interested in her work after finding that out (xD)

    Ayyy, always happy to pass on stuff when I can 😀 But yeah, no, Sangatsu no Phantasia is definitely a group to look out for. Doujin-style music in particular is proving to be quite formiddable nowadays, with the prominence of artists like Minami and Sayuri, as well as the aforementioned Yorushika and Eve. It’s an exciting time for the genre and I think it’s as good a time as any to be a fan.

    Always good to see ASC and Polkadot Stingray, the former of which I really need to catch up on, but I definitely agree that PDSR just killed it this year. Uchouten is an amazing album from the first track to the last, and “Love Call” in particular was definitely a welcome surprise, which I do feel hearkens quite a bit (if not inspired) to a sound much like Asian Kung-Fu Generation. On my end “Bakemono Darake no Machi” remains my favorite from the album, but the title track “Uchouten” has also climbed about my Most Played tracks over the year.

    And likewise, thanks for sharing your year of Japanese music Al!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Ay thanks man, and I’m excited to see your awards post!

      I think streaming services do a great job at recommending older music, and Shiggy Jr. was just one that I ended up really enjoying after seeing it in my suggestions. Might not be something a lot of people find impressive but I’m just in awe with how spot-on Apple Music/Spotify and their algorithms cater to my music taste lol

      Oh, don’t get me wrong, Nat-chan is still an amazing person and the perfect VA to portray someone like Ai but man… I’ll admit that I probably paid more attention to Miyu (and Nijigaku, for that matter) than Shuka this year 😛 But yeah, I think another thing about Miyu that makes her stand out within the Nijigaku group is the fact that she’s much more experienced than everyone else (in regards to being an idol/voice actress) and is able to be that “senpai” kind of figure to the rookies. Which, it seems like she has done a great job at doing, given some heartwarming stories from the other members. And on the topic of i☆Ris, a lot of them can significantly change their singing style according to the specific mood/atmosphere of a song (yeah, as seen when comparing “Changing point” to “Ultimate☆MAGIC”), and that’s really one of the big things that show off how talented they are.

      Wow, that’s actually really cool to hear about (lol), I never would’ve thought! I haven’t gotten to listen to her new stuff too much, but just from taking a listen to “HONDA”, I can already tell I’d really enjoy her new EP. Also, she seems to be pretty damn good at smoothly mixing Japanese and English in her lyrics, similar to Takeuchi Anna.

      Oh for sure, for sure. Something about that emotional/strong vibe I get from artists like Sangatsu or Minami just makes me enjoy that genre a lot. And I don’t know if you’d consider someone like Tomoriru to fit in that doujin-style of music, but her recent release on YouTube (as well as “Nagamenosora”) certainly made me think that.

      Ohh, now that you mention it, I can totally see the similarity w/ AKFG. But yeah, I had an unbelievably hard time trying to pick which Polkadot song was my favorite this year (I was damn near about to pick “Athena/Megami”, it’s such a good track) but “Love Call” was the one. I also loved “Bakemono Darake no Machi” with its calmer nature compared to the other tracks!

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      1. It’s coming along in so far as the write-ups are concerned but I’ve already finalized my awardees at least (xD)

        I’ve finally gotten around to setting up Spotify JP and Apple Music JP on my devices and I also find their generated recommendations to be impressive as they do greatly align with stuff I’m listening to (especially Spotify, which has been just amazing).

        I have the same fascination with Akarin for close to the same exact reason really in that she’s one of the more senior members of the group in terms of how far along they are in their careers as part of the seiyuu/idol industry (I mean, she’s already out there debuting as an artist even before the group had their first live, lol). That said I do think though that the NijiGaku cast in general do seem very talent-rich, even more so than the already talented groups that have come before them.

        Right? (xD) I had a hunch when I saw some of FNP’s IG pics and thought that the scenery looked familiar. I then stumbled across an article that confirmed my suspicions shortly after. Interestingly, there’s a chance her English proficiency can also be attributed to her Filipino upbringing. But yeah, “All The Dots” and “Decoy” just sealed it for me.

        Yep, definitely. I said as much in my own feature of “Nagamenosora” but Tomoriru really does fit the mold of the archetypical Doujin/AcoGui stylist (or as the Japanese audiences would call “S/SW”, Singer/Song-Writer) to a T, bearing striking similarities to artists like Sayuri or Minami. “Romanron” is just a thing of beauty.

        I think it’s the riffs that make me think of the similarity (the chorus in particular reminds me of “Rewrite” a whole lot), but yeah “Megami” is definitely a solid track. It actually feels like a bit of a callback to their earlier stuff which is nice.

        Liked by 1 person

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