Nominally an eight-strong boy group from the Japanese region of Kansai, Kanjani Eight (“8” is spelled horizontally, like an infinity sign) is actually an umbrella showbiz brand that Johnny & Associates, a gigantic male idol manufacturing agency, has specialized in. The group’s music is the expected pop fare, with some rap and a good deal of enka (Japanese traditional music style) added, but the members also band together into subunits ranging from the rock Subaru Band to the Kanjani Sentai Eight Rangers (a comedy skit act), run variety and radio shows, and star in TV series and musicals. The boys can play and write songs in addition to singing and dancing, but Kanjani Eight remain a unit in the military-discipline machine of Johnny’s rather than a “free-range” group.
The group included You Yokoyama, Subaru Shibutani, Shingo Murakami, and Ryo Nishikido as well as Maruyama, Okura, Yasuda, and Uchi; Nishikido and Uchi were soon reallocated to another Johnny’s unit, News, but split their time between the two bands. In their early stages, Kanjani Eight remained largely a local phenomenon, frequently playing the Shochiku-za venue in Osaka and debuting in 2004 with a Kansai-only single, “Naniwa Iroha Bushi,” which still made it to number eight on the all-Japan chart, prompting its nationwide re-release, which was a success as well, becoming the first enka-related single in 17 years to top the weekly charts. The EP Kansha Ni Eight followed before the end of the year, making it to the fifth place at the charts. In 2004 Kanjani Eight also starred in the musical Dream Boy together with another Johnny’s boy band, Kat-Tun, returning to this production in 2005 and 2006.
Two 2005 singles, “Osaka Rainy Blues” and “Sukiyanen, Osaka,” did no worse than the debut, charting in the Top Five and shifting 120,000 and 160,000 copies, respectively. However, at this time the band also lost a member after a juicy scandal: Uchi was invited for a drink by an older Fuji TV presenter, and got busted for debauchery and underage drinking. He was officially “suspended from the public eye,” and Johnny’s shelved the TV drama special Yakusoku, which had the misfortune of starring all members of Kanjani Eight, Uchi included. The agency even forbade the Kanjani Eight members — unusually close buddies all — to mention the disgraced fellow, although the other bandmembers still made a show of hinting at their support for him. In the meantime, Kanjani Eightfinally released their first full-length album, KJ1 F.T.O., in 2006, which spawned the singles “Osaka Obachan Rock/Osaka Romanesque” (number two on Oricon) and “Kanfuu Fighting,” their first number one.
After that, the group engaged in a lengthy period of touring, the bandmembers performing both solo and collectively at often oversold venues; they also starred in three drama specials released as a box set that topped the DVD chart. The touring extended into 2007, when Kanjani Eight also put out their second album, KJ2 Zukkoke Daidassou, its singles “Zukkoke Otokomichi” and “It’s My Soul” both scoring at number one. Uchi made some stage appearances at the time, although Johnny’s still had him continue his penance through oblivion (in 2008 he starred in a TV miniseries on Fuji TV). More touring and several theatrical appearances kept the lads busy in 2008, and in 2009 they released their third album,Puzzle, which rose to number one, just like the preceding “Musekinin Hero” single from 2008, which sold 400,000 units.
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