Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Anime music — often shortened to just “animusic” or “anisong” — is a huge, yet often overlooked, aspect of the anime industry. Animusic can involve all sorts of artists, ranging from solo musicians to a show’s own voice actors. Many animusic musicians have concerts dedicated entirely to their genre of work. Naturally, these concerts usually take place in Japan. It can take several years for even the most established anisong artists to get a chance at performing internationally, let alone outside of Asia. It’s the dream of many that only few can achieve. And yet, just earlier this month, four girls from a two-year-old franchise did exactly that. BANG DREAM is a Japanese media franchise that includes a manga, an anime, and a mobile game. It doesn’t have so much a story as it does a simple subject: girls that form a rock band. That’s all well and good on paper, but here’s BANG DREAM’s catch. These anime girls playing instruments and singing on onscreen have real-life counterparts who hold live concerts doing the exact same thing. And those real-life performers just made their U.S. debut. The girls of Poppin’ Party With all the hype surrounding Anime Expo, you may not have heard about the other anime convention that took place only twenty miles away. Bushiroad held its annual event, Bushiroad Grand Festival, at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center on July 1st and 2nd. Traditionally, this festival occurs in Tokyo, Japan. This year, however, it made its first U.S. appearance, just in time for the company’s tenth anniversary. Bushiroad Grand Festival introduced new merchandise and a tournament for Bushiroad’s popular trading card games. Already these attracted numerous attendees, either for the sake of collecting or competing. In spite of this, the festival’s most discussed feature was its guest list. Bushiroad invited several famous artists, from animation director Masami Obari to the main voices of DETECTIVE OPERA MILKY HOLMES. These guests took the spotlight throughout the two-day event, sometimes participating in talk panels or autograph sessions, other times performing onstage. People from all over the country flocked to see the big names of the industry. Audience members queued up at the main stage hours before scheduled acts (some before the festival even opened for the day). No bigger crowd was formed except for the event’s penultimate act on its final day — the first U.S. concert of BANG DREAM’s main band, Poppin’ Party. So how did a band barely a couple years old pull off what takes most other anisong artists at least twice as long, if ever? Let’s do some digging. Where It All Started BANG DREAM first appeared in late 2014 as simple illustrations in the monthly magazine, Monthly Bushiroad. The drawings advertised an upcoming manga series featuring girls in a band, but nothing more beyond that. On January 8, 2015, the magazine officially published BANG DREAM! STAR BEAT as a monthly series. Title page of BANG DREAM! STAR BEAT For the following two months, that was all anyone knew about BANG DREAM. It easily could have gotten lost in the flood of manga Japan publishes by the day, especially with such a generic theme. But on February 28th, the real objective of BANG DREAM became clear. On that day, Aimi Terakawa, singer and voice actress of IDOLM@STER: MILLION LIVE fame, held her second live concert. It was there that she announced her affiliation with BANG DREAM. She declared that she would be following the manga and forming a band of her own that reflected the stories. Aimi added that she would take on the role of guitar and lead vocals. LOOK: Speaking of MILLION LIVE, have you seen what’s new for its latest game? This was a turning point for BANG DREAM. The revelation of its media mix development garnered much more interest than a manga alone. By becoming more than just a comic, BANG DREAM allowed fans to follow the story of one band through two different mediums. Even more, fans could now experience the band’s performances for themselves. The path to international fame had only just begun. A Fully-Fledged Band Over the next month, Bushiroad announced two more members of the band. Rimi Nishimoto and Ayasa Ito would participate as the bassist and keyboardist respectively. Together with Aimi, the three of them held BANG DREAM’s first live concert on April 18th. Since BANG DREAM was only a few months old at the time, it was a small concert with only one original song. The band covered other popular anisongs for the remainder of the time. Despite such a modest performance, the band announced a second concert scheduled for June. Later, barely a week before the second concert, Monthly Bushiroad revealed the official name for the band: Poppin’ Party. During their second concert, Poppin’ Party introduced its fourth member and lead guitarist, Sae Otsuka. It also performed two new original songs. The band was growing, and so was its popularity and schedule. A third concert was announced for August, surprising many with this rapid rate of appearances. Poppin’ Party starting out! Image via YouTube For those unaware, anisong groups, usually, have one or two large-scale performances throughout a single year. Occasionally, smaller appearances occur, mostly for promotional events or guest stars. Three full concerts within half a year were nearly unheard of before Poppin’ Party. The girls proved their tenacity and work ethic with their third concert on August 15, during which they introduced yet another new song. Then they announced a fourth concert set for October. Between their third and fourth concerts, Poppin’ Party participated in numerous smaller events. These included radio programs and television guest appearances. No rest time existed when it came to spreading BANG DREAM’s name. At their fourth concert on October 11th, Poppin’ Party announced the participation of their fifth and final member. Ayaka Ohashi would take on the role of drummer. At last, Poppin’ Party was complete. The Real Work Starts Now! It wasn’t until nearly a year after BANG DREAM’s announcement that things started to pick up even more. With all five members finally gathered, Poppin’ Party could truly begin. Their “official count” of concerts reset to zero to symbolize their lack of performances as a full band — in other words, their next concert was advertised as their first, since it would be the first with all of them together. Furthermore, with all their new songs introduced throughout 2015, the band could release a proper album. Poppin’ Party’s first single came out February 24, 2016. Two months later, they held their first official concert as a fully-fledged band. There, they announced the release date, August 3rd, for their second single. Their second concert took place November 13th, and their third single released December 7th. Even still, there were no breaks in between. Scattered throughout concerts and release dates, Poppin’ Party continued to make appearances in talk shows and stage events. Their radio program went on as well. BANG DREAM’s 2-D front was going as strong as ever, too. A spinoff 4-panel manga began publication, and animated music videos released as trailers and extra merchandise. This breakneck pace kept up all throughout 2016. Although the franchise and the band remained relatively unknown, both inside and outside of Japan, they were still able to garner a loyal fan base through concerts and guest appearances. Yet, it wasn’t nearly as large as other anisong performers such as IDOLM@STER and LOVE LIVE. Nonetheless, Bushiroad continued to push BANG DREAM’s name. Monthly Bushiroad announced a television anime to air in 2017. The anime would star Poppin’ Party, with each real-life band member voicing a character in the cartoon band. Additionally, a mobile rhythm game, BANG DREAM! GIRL’S BAND PARTY, was set to release in 2017 as well. These were just the first steps towards international attention. Going Abroad through Anime & Manga BANG DREAM’s anime portrays a story separate from the original manga. It follows Poppin’ Party’s formation, albeit in a much more “anime” style. Basically, through high school girls and a good dosage of drama. The BANG DREAM anime. Image via Crunchyroll The anime, which aired during the 2017 winter season, wasn’t anything standout. Animation and artistry were standard, save for some jarring computer-generated models during performances. The writing was pretty dry as well. It wasn’t surprising when it mostly fell under the radar. However, it was still a big step in spreading BANG DREAM’s name overseas. Crunchyroll licensed and simulcast the series, allowing international viewers to watch and learn about it. People may not have been wholly impressed by it, but at least it was on their minds. Bushiroad also published a new monthly manga series for BANG DREAM. This one closely followed the events of the anime. To reach more people worldwide, the first volume printed in English and released in six countries besides Japan. You can read a preview of it here. BANG DREAM tried repeatedly to create a name for itself through all this marketing and media. Ironically, though, its small fanbase became the reason for one of its biggest instances of publicity yet. SEE: For thoughts on a more popular anime, read our analysis on the humanity in ATTACK ON TITAN! A Dark Day in BANG DREAM History They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. BANG DREAM got a taste of that in the spring of 2017 with its first doujin event. Doujin is basically a term for amateur self-published works. These can range from comics to video games. Sometimes they’re original works; other times they’re fanworks of a series. A group of people who work on a doujin is called a “circle.” Numerous conventions throughout the year allow circles to gather and sell their works in person. Sometimes, though, companies hold official doujin events, often for the sake of publicity. They’ll announce a specific number of available circle slots and then open for registration. In BANG DREAM’s case, 400 slots were available for its event. Ultimately, nine circles signed up. This was quite a blow to the franchise after all its hard work on both the 2-D and 3-D fronts. Even amidst all the concerts, music albums, mangas, and now anime episodes, the fanbase was still embarrassingly small. Then again, the failure definitely got the attention of anime fans all over the world. Crunchyroll even covered it in their news section. If nothing else, people would know of BANG DREAM for this infamous event. Luckily, BANG DREAM had a 2-D work that managed to garner the positive discussion they wanted. Everyone Loves Games BANG DREAM’s mobile game is arguably the most popular of all its 2-D branches. Like most anisong games, it’s a rhythm game featuring original songs. It also includes covers of other popular songs. The mobile game for BANG DREAM. Image via YouTube BANG DREAM! GIRL’S BAND PARTY came out March 2017. It features Poppin’ Party, but also introduces four other girl bands. This influx of new characters actually boosted its popularity. If people weren’t crazy about Poppin’ Party, they suddenly had twenty other girls to pick a favorite among. The game also includes numerous side stories that further develop the members of Poppin’ Party, as well as the new characters. Fans praise the game for its visuals and writing, making it one of the more discussed aspects of BANG DREAM thus far. Bushiroad Grand Festival even held a booth for attendees to play a demo of it. Shooting for the Stars BANG DREAM’s 2-D works may not be the most successful overall, but the franchise’s biggest appeal has always been its live performers. The key, it seems, is to draw people in with anime girls and keep them with the glamor of real-life concerts. From such humble beginnings and stumbles along the way, you might be surprised by just how large a crowd Poppin’ Party managed to gather at Bushiroad Grand Festival. But gather the fans did, with multiple penlights and fan-published callbooks in hand. Only four girls performed that day — drummer Ayaka sadly had to remain in Japan for other work — but the crowd’s passion and fervor were second to none. Poppin’ Party’s performance at Bushiroad Grand Festival With that in mind, it appears likely that Poppin’ Party will make a return to the states. It might even happen as soon as next year. If so, hopefully, the entire band can perform, and the number of attendees will grow even bigger. Poppin’ Party will have its fourth concert on August 21st at the Nippon Budoukan. One of Japan’s major venues, it can hold over 14,000 guests. Compare that to the nine circles at the doujin event only a few months back. Truly, the band has come a long way in only two short years. And this is only the beginning of their stardom. Rumors have circulated the internet, ranging from a second season for the anime to an eventual English version of the game. Whether these are unfounded or not, publicity is publicity. BANG DREAM is still spreading internationally, and Poppin’ Party is just getting started. And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing just how far they’ll go. CLICK: See our thoughts on the English dub premiere of FOOD WARS! at Anime Expo! Featured image screenshotted from YouTube.