While many anime fans are familiar with her as an accomplished seiyuu, Maaya Sakamoto has also been active as a singer for the past 20-plus years, even contributing to some of the anime she performs in. Throughout her career, not only has she sung numerous theme songs for anime, but she has also released 9 albums (with her 10th album, Kyou Dake No Ongaku, scheduled for release on November 27, 2019), and has done concerts in some of Japan’s biggest stadiums such as the Saitama Super Arena. With Sakamoto’s rich selection of songs, what do we consider to be her best 5? Read our selections to find out!
5. Platinum - Cardcaptor Sakura
Kicking off this list is Maaya Sakamoto’s 5th single, Platinum, which debuted on October 21, 1999, ranking in at 21 on the Oricon Charts, the equivalent to America’s Billboard Charts. In case some of you don’t remember, Platinum serves as the third opening theme to the original Cardcaptor Sakura anime. Platinum gets the job done as a Cardcaptor Sakura opening theme by providing viewers ho Sakura is; a regular girl with extraordinary dreams and capabilities. Through Sakamoto’s voice, which transitions between soft and powerful between the standard lyrics and the chorus, listeners can feel that Sakura does have great ambitions and it’s ok for everyone to have them, but at the same time, they must have confidence and put in the work to make them come true.
4. Down Town - Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru
At number 4, we have Down Town, a cover of the original 1975 hit by Sugar Babe, a band that was active in the mid-1970s. Down Town happens to be written by one of Japan’s biggest composers and musicians, Tatsuro Yamashita, who was also a member of Sugar Babe. In addition to being one of Japan’s biggest stars, he’s also the writer to the YouTube city-pop hit (though originally released in 1984), Plastic Love by Mariya Takeuchi, who also happens to be his wife! This 2010 cover that debuted at number 5 on the Oricon Charts was also used as the opening theme to Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru. The song is still in tune with the original 70s (aka Yamashita’s) tone by mixing folk, blues, and jazz but gives a softer touch with Sakamoto’s voice, and it perfectly fits the atmosphere of Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru.
3. Tune the Rainbow - IDOLM@STER RADIO
Further cementing Maaya Sakamoto’s singing career outside of anime songs is her 2003 hit, Tune the Rainbow. It debuted at number 9 on the Oricon Charts and it became a hit to a generation of fans. It was big to the point that a few years later, IDOLM@STER RADIO broadcasted a cover performed by Chiaki Takahashi and Mami Imai, some of Japan’s biggest idols between the 1990s and 2000s. It’s a gentle song that conveys that the listeners are not alone, that there’s always someone that cares for them, and that they also have people that they care about. It’s also a song about loss and what a person’s presence will always mean to someone and how it can never be replaced. When taking into account Japan’s rising senior population, bullying, and shut-ins, this is a song that people need to hear.
2. Triangular - Macross Frontier
At number 2, we have Triangular, which some of you readers may recognize as Macross Frontier’s first opening theme. What makes this song special is that it is one of Sakamoto’s biggest hits as it debuted at number 3 on the Oricon Charts. Through this opening theme, Macross fans or those new to the franchise can get a taste of how intense the series is as it mixes the space opera, mech, and idol genres with its accompanying visuals and techno beats. Through Sakamoto’s performance, listeners can hear that not only can she sing with a soft voice, but that she’s also capable of singing with intensity.
1. Yakusoku Wa Iranai - Escaflowne
At number one, we have to give it to Yakusoku Wa Iranai, the opening theme from Escaflowne. In case some of you (probably) didn’t know, this was actually her debut song. However, this isn’t the reason why we put this song at number one. Thanks to this song, we get an idea of how her voice projects differently in contrast to her performance as Hitomi, the main character of Escaflowne. As Hitomi, she tends to be reserved but still has a sense of curiosity and fear due to being the main character in an isekai. As Sakamoto performs Yakusoku Wa Iranai, she’s full of optimism and energy. The opening instrumentals excellently build up the tension and the lyrics are relatable to a teenager who is wondering what it’s like to fall in love and when they understand that, they then know what it takes to endure to make true love become real.
As some readers may not have known, she has had a LONG collaboration with Yoko Kanno, one of the greatest composers in modern anime. So if there’s any reason Maaya Sakamoto has found success as a singer beyond her amazing talents, it’s thanks to having a great composer working beside her. However, Sakamoto has demonstrated she’s also capable of contributing to the lyrics as a co-songwriter for some other mainstream J-Pop artists such as Kinki Kids, TM Revolution, and Minori Suzuki. She also wrote some of the songs for the Macross franchise such as Megumi Nakajima’s (in the Ranka Lee character) Aimo theme song and a number of others. Despite not yet being 40 (at least upon the drafting of this article), Sakamoto has accomplished and contributed so much, and in the coming years, we expect her to be of great influence to the next generation of performers, most notably within anime.