• Manga & Anime

Go Multidimensional! ‘UniteUp!’ Voice Actors Sing and Dance on Real Stages in Same Groups as their Characters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left: Voice actor-turned pop idols Masa, Kikunosuke Toya, and Magura Sukegawa

Voice actors for the TV anime “UniteUp!” have formed boy bands in the real world, where they sing and dance just like their characters.

The protagonist of the anime — which premiered in January last year — is Akira Kiyose, a high school student whose singing catches the attention of a talent agency called sMiLea Production. The agency was founded by the legendary idol group Anela, with the aim of discovering the next generation of idols. Akira forms a boy band called Protostar with two other members. They take vocal and dance lessons, following in the footsteps of groups who have already made it, such as Legit and Jaxx/Jaxx, dreaming of becoming famous idols one day.

Four boy bands — Protostar, Legit, Jaxx/Jaxx and Anela — appear in “UniteUp!,” though Anela has disbanded in the story. Other three bands perform in the real world under the same names.

Our interviewees, Kikunosuke Toya, Magura Sukegawa and Masa, perform live in these groups.

Photo by Tatsuya Shiraishi ©Project UniteUp!
A scene from sMiLea Live held in July

In the anime, Toya voices Akira in Protostar; Sukegawa’s character, Daiki Takao, belongs to the dance-focused boy band Legit; and Masa’s character, Gakuto Haruka, belongs to Jaxx/Jaxx.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with them.

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Q): What memory stands out the most in your UniteUp! activities?

Toya: During the AnimeJapan event in March, I sang and danced in front of an audience for the first time at Tokyo Big Sight. That was the first time I could really feel the audience’s enthusiasm and hear their cheering.

Sukegawa: It was when the anime was first aired. It was my first time to be part of an anime production, so I had a sense of accomplishment seeing it reach TV audiences.

Masa: Our first solo live performance, called sMiLea Live, was in July. I’m a singer-songwriter, so it was my dream to sing on such a big stage.

©Project UniteUp!
PROTOSTAR
Kikunosuke Toya as Akira Kiyose
Ryotaro Yamaguchi as Banri Naoe
Amon Hirai as Chihiro Isuzugawa

Q: Please tell us the distinctive characteristics of your bands.

Masa: As the only group that plays their own instruments, Jaxx/Jaxx works really hard to create songs together.

Toya: Protostar had many dance beginners. But we got better and better as we practiced. I hope you can feel our growth when you watch us.

Sukegawa: I think Legit is the coolest. In the anime, we have a nasty fight, but we’re cool when performing.

Q: What are the similarities and differences between you and the characters you voice?

Toya: I think I’m as energetic as Akira in his determination to become an idol. He puts in a lot of effort, devoting himself to singing and dancing. I’m like that, too. But I’m not like Akira when he becomes lethargic after quitting baseball. At his age, I had dreamed of becoming a comedian since junior high school.

©Project UniteUp!
LEGIT
Magura Sukegawa as Daiki Takao
Shinnosuke Morikage as Eishiro Nijo
Ryuichiro Sakata as Fuga Togo

Sukegawa: Daiki’s competitive nature is something that I relate to. I push myself to the edge for live performances, so we don’t lose to other groups. But I’m not aloof like Daiki.

Masa: I’m like Gakuto in that I’m cheerful and say positive things. He’s a singer/songwriter and is from Ehime Prefecture like me. But I get even more depressed [than Gakuto] when I feel blue. However, I always believe that hitting a low point means we can really be raised up.

Writing lyrics, music

Masa: I wrote “Joker” as Gakuto Haruka. I tried to keep superficiality out of it, putting the importance of my true feelings on display. I want the song to touch people who don’t know the anime, too.

©Project UniteUp!
JAXX/JAXX
Masa as Gakuto Haruka
Yuki Shimomae as Homare Katsura
Takumi Magoshi as Izumi Kashii
Kosei Tsubokura as Jun Wakasa
Gaku Takamoto as Kanata Morinomiya

Q: Tell me about “Eleven” being sung by 11 members.

Sukegawa: Who would sing which parts wasn’t decided until later. I sang the entire song for the recording but did not know what my part would be until I listened to the finished version. It was challenging in a way I hadn’t ever thought of before.

Toya: I really felt like I put a lot of passion into my solo of the chorus.

©Project UniteUp!
Anela
Soma Saito as Lin Otsuki
Yoshiki Nakajima as Maoto Tsujido

Q: What do you want to focus on in the future?

Masa: Our strength is being a multidimensional entertainment group. I want to convey the appeal of both the cast members and the anime.

Toya: We need to develop not only our individual strengths, such as voice acting, singing or dancing, but also our weaknesses. For my part, I want to work harder on dancing and singing.

Sukegawa: In addition to the anime, I want to boost my competitiveness in every avenue — such as live performance and social media — and then connect them.

UniteUp! is a “multidimensional idol project” released by SonyMusic. The worlds of anime and reality are linked to allow the voice actors of the anime characters to perform live. The anime was broadcast last January on Tokyo MX and others. A sequel will be produced this year.

The EP “Eleven” will be released on Feb. 14, and the group will perform at the Lisani! Live 2024 music festival on Jan. 27-28 at the Nippon Budokan. Another live performance will be held on April 14 at the Garden Hall in Meguro Ward, Tokyo.