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An image song or character song is a song on a tie-in single or album (often called an image album or character album) for an anime, game, dorama, manga, or commercial product that is usually sung by the voice actor or actor of a character, in character. It is meant to give a sense of the personality of the character.
Image songs are considered an important part of an anime or dorama's success, as they often provide insights to a character that may otherwise go unexplored on the program itself. The series creators may also include details about a particular character's design stages and evolution, and on occasion even design sketches so fans can see for themselves how a character changed. There may also be comments from the voice actors or actors on how they feel about playing their characters. Sometimes image songs are incorporated into the anime itself, such as Kyōran Kazoku Nikki, which has each of its main characters sing an image song as the ending theme, each with its own animation. Another example is Prince of Tennis, which has the openings and ending songs for the OVA episodes sung by characters in the anime.
Image songs are not restricted to anime protagonists. Antagonists such as Zechs Merquise, Master Asia, Sailor Galaxia, and some of the villains (such as Devimon and Sōsuke Aizen) also have their own image songs. In some cases, these are regarded as more interesting than those of the protagonists as they often provide the only glimpse into a villain's character.
In addition, fans are known to buy image song albums based solely on the voice actor or actor. An example of this is Megumi Hayashibara, a well-known voice actress who has released many CDs and albums over her career, including image songs of her characters.
The first anime image song album to reach No. 1 in the Japanese Oricon weekly charts is Hōkago Tea Time (放課後ティータイム After School Tea Time?), performed by the characters from K-On! in 2009, debuting at No. 1 with the sales of 67,000 copies in its first week. The K-On! characters later became the first anime image group to reach No. 1 in the Oricon singles chart in 2010, with the opening theme for the second season of the show, "Go! Go! Maniac!", which debuted at No. 1 with the sales of over 83,000 copies in its first week.
A related sub-type is a character version, where a voice actor or actor sings a song from the series as the character. A famous example of this are the various versions of Neon Genesis Evangelion's theme songs, redone by the voice actresses of Rei Ayanami, Asuka Langley Soryu and Misato Katsuragi. They are usually identified by a version tag at the end of the name (e.g. "Cruel Angel's Thesis, Ayanami Version"). Another example of this are the character versions of "Hare Hare Yukai". The three main characters, Haruhi Suzumiya, Mikuru Asahina, and Yuki Nagato have their own versions of the ending theme, using the original music. However, the characters Kyon, Itsuki Koizumi, Tsuruya-san, Ryōko Asakura, Kyon's Sister, and Emiri Kimidori features remixed versions of the ending.
Similarly, a character song can also be a song about a character, but not necessarily sung by the character's portrayer. For example, while Mazinger Z includes songs about Kouji Kabuto and his friends, they are not sung by their voice actors. Nevertheless, they still provide some insight into the character's persona.
- "K-ON! Album is 1st Anime Character CDs to Top Weekly Chart". Anime News Network. July 28, 2009. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
- "「けいおん！」が史上初アニメキャラ首位、聖子以来26年ぶり1、2位独占も記録" [K-On! Produces the First Anime Characters to Top the Charts. They are also the First [Female] Act to Occupy Top Two Spots in 26 Years since Seiko] (in Japanese). Oricon. May 4, 2010. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- "K-On!! Puts 1st Anime Band at #1 on Weekly Singles Chart". Anime News Network. May 3, 2010. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- "2010年05月第2週のシングルランキング情報" [Oricon Single Rankings for the Second Week of May 2010] (in Japanese). Oricon. Retrieved May 6, 2010.