Over the years I’ve pondered on exactly how and why seiyuu artists do the major label thing. I understand it financially, but it isn’t exactly clear cut why that is a good deal for a large number of them–it seems like an advancement in career or at least an attempt at it, or as obligation to their fans and industry partners. As individual artists, they work with their managers and producers to come up with something that’s worth selling to the seiyuu’s existing and new audience. Some folks made it work, some didn’t, but even in the worst case these projects at still kind of interesting.
So, in comes Ueda Reina and her cute country songs. I’m going to just link to some music videos and briefly talk about what I think about this in general.
The 30,000-feet view is that anisong and seiyuu-idol as a music label business is basically churning people who are already primed as stage-quality performers (including actors, models and tarento generally–but the training for the latter 2 can vary a lot, affecting their readiness for it). Some popular TV personalities, cosplayers, and now youtubers can all get record label contracts and have a music biz–possibly on the side, or in the front. To take one example, Mizuki Nana is a mainstream musician working hard to still be a relevant seiyuu, as the exception to the norm. But outside of this type of exception and other exceptions, most are just trying to express artistically & tapping into the fandom built around their geinojin persona.
When it comes to voice, it’s hard to monetize people who love your voicework. Like, short of selling facetime, autographs and photos, there isn’t much else you can monetize from. The work product which is tied up totally separately from your voiceover contracts, the characters, stories, game and anime connected to that, is not yours to control, sell or otherwise directly profit from. It makes sense why some seiyuu agencies start idol groups and tropes, because it taps underutilized labor in this growing category of employment, as supply of seiyuu outstrips jobs available for them.
The 10,000 feet view is that different seiyuu artists go about it differently. I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a lot of musicians, especially western ones, have something more to draw from. It’s both the upbringing and the sample size. That while this is a nitpick, but diverse environments produce more diverse talents. Ueda Reina comes from the Toyama countryside and it’s a fresh breath of air for her to try to create something this way, even if it is at core something pretty close to who she is as an entertainment persona and as an individual. And even the ones that aren’t, do it in ways that brings out some originality crossed with, well, what the people want.
Give the people what they want is sometimes a winning formula, but not really that interesting if it’s all that you do. It’s understandable and it’s something everyone do to varying levels. In this case, though, it’s more like Ueshama wants to give you want she wants to give you, so you’ll gladly take it, or not. It’s a selfish but reasonable, and sustainable balance between something that is hardly marketable because it’s just so simply Ueda Reina, but also because that’s what some people want anyway.
Which is to say, when you connect the dots, a lot of seiyuu-idol artists pander to their core audience because they don’t have competitive offerings for the general audience. It’s like why Pixel 5 can be a very attractive phone is lost on the masses, to use a very orthogonal analogy. But what carries in a quality work of art is the conviction of the artist, and you can see it in the way Ueda behave consistently (or as the kids say, on brand).
Going down another level (1000 ft?), Ueda’s solo projects are just art projects. They can be fun, in the video which posts a bunch of fan-submitted flower pics.
It reminds me of her old Web Newtype column (for example) where she would do a photo shoot once every other week with the staff, usually at some low-key but stylish location–a cafe, an art exhibit, a park, etc. Each shoot had a color motif which she picked. At the end of the run, Newtype decided to make a photobook which can be customized by various images used in the column. It was a lot of work to do it, but I’m sure it’s rewarding for the fans who did.
In as much as it’s a business, it’s about engagement and ultimately, producing an artist. That’s where Ueda really leans on her orthogonal art branding here. Originally she was supposed to have her first solo concert in July, which was cancelled by Covid. But in conjunction with the original planning, they had various merch to go with it, including a whole set of artwork she drew in which fans can vote to select which will be made available for purchase. The results were 3 images available as canvassed artwork, and some sold as art for t-shirts or whatever. And then, there’s the Hana no Ame music video project mentioned earlier.
It’s not to say other artists don’t do this kind of arts and craft stuff–it’s actually not unusual. Like I said, engagement is a metric and this does drive that. But this is unique enough of a combination to be noteworthy. If Ueshama is going to be that art teacher persona, I guess there aren’t too many others in this same zone at least.
To close this out, let’s zoom in one more step. I think I’m going to wrap it up with this interview done as a promo for her latest single, which is used for the opening for Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. Basically, some time after her last album, her manager got married and move away from Tokyo. Thanks to covid also, she wanted to see this friend/ex-coworker and couldn’t. Instead, she wrote the lyrics and performed the song with her (and her partner, who is another employee who met at work) in mind, making it cuter than usual. We’re way too close for aircraft metaphors at this point.