05 June 2012

Introducing… ZONE

Another month and another girl group to introduce. This time it is one of the groups I have been a long time fan of and is making a comeback after they disbanded years ago.

ZONE actually began like many girl groups before them as a song and dance unit but shortly after their first single their management decided that the girls should play instruments making them into a band idol (or bandol for short) group. They began as an eight member group then got cut down to six. Before the released their first CD single they were cut down again to four members, Nagase Miyu, Sakae Maiko, Saito Mizuho and Okoshi Takayo. They are managed by Studio RunTime that works out of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.

In 1999 the released their debut indies single, Believe in Love. While performing at their debut concert they were scouted by a representative from Sony Records and in signed on to the label to begin their major career. When they signed with Sony it was decided to help the group stand out against the other girl groups of the time they should play their own instruments making them a band-idol group.

In the initial line up Miyu was the lead singer and played guitar, Takayo also was a guitarist, Mizuho played the drums and Maiko played the bass.

Their first major CD single was GOOD DAYS on February 2001. In August of 2001 they had their break out hit which has been their most popular song, Secret Base (Kimi ga Kureta Mono).

In late 2003 Takayo left the group to pursue her studies. After Takayo left the group they brought one of the two girls from the original six member line-up, Nishimura Tomoka, to join the group. Tomoka like Takayo played the guitar.

The group was very successful and popular which made their announcement to disband in 2005 shocking. Their final performance together was on April 1st, 2005 at the Nippon Budokan. Then the girls all went their separate ways.

Miyu tried a solo career, as pre-disbandment she had already released two solo singles. Maiko formed another girl band group called Maria. Tomoka also tried to pursue a solo career like Miyu during this time. Mizuho ended up quitting the entertainment industry to live a normal life.

Tomoka, Maiko and Miyu
Staying true to the lyrics of Secret Base (Kimi ga Kureta Mono) which talk about meeting in August 10 years later, the group had a reunion in August of 2011. Only three of the previous members did the reunion, Miyu, Maiko and Tomoka. They released a cover/best album with a new song and performed concerts, most were also fund raisers for the Tohoku region to help it recover after the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Miyu and Maiko
In late 2011 Tomoka announced that she would be retiring from the entertainment industry. Miyu and Maiko though decided to still continue on as ZONE with just the two of them. The two girl unit will be releasing their first single, Treasure of the Heart (Kimi to Boku no Kiseki), on June 6th, 2012.

I discovered ZONE around 2004 so I was not a fan for too long before they disbanded. As a fan of pop-rock music though I loved them, even though at the time I did not care much for girl/boy groups (how so much has changed since). Their early songs were really fun to listen to, and honestly still are. And while the group was not around for long you could see that over that short time they were already maturing.

Miyu has been my favorite member and I loved her solo material. I was sad to see that her solo career seemed to quickly die out so hearing the news that she would be a part of the group’s reunion made me really happy. I am also really glad that she is one of the remaining members.

When they made their return Studio Runtime opened up an official youtube channel and I came to find a new liking for the girls from watching the videos that featured them. It is clear that they have grown up to be beautiful young women and even so they share a camaraderie with each other that makes it easy to see that they do enjoy being with each other.

While there have been plenty of girl bands before ZONE, they are the one that is credited for being the group that inspired the term bandol and have had a strong impact on Japanese girl bands. You can see that influence in such places like with current popular girl band, SCANDAL, who are similar to ZONE and have even covered ZONE’s popular hit Secret Base (Kimi ga Kureta Mono). And in the anime series, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, it even has a tribute to the group in the girl band participating in the school’s culture festival is called ENOZ (which of course is ZONE backwards) for example. So even if they never make it big again they still have a legacy that will not be forgotten anytime soon. And their dedication to support the Tohoku region with their comeback is a good reason to support them as they continue their story as ZONE.

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