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Kokia never topped the Oricon charts, but her exquisite, honed brand of J-pop brought her a number of theme song contracts for video games, TV shows, and anime series, and won a devoted fan base, not just in Japan but overseas (particularly France) as well. Born Akiko Yoshida in 1976, she took up violin at the age of three, learned to play piano, and attended a music school in the U.S. twice, the first time with her sister Kyoko, later a professional violinist. She studied at the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music, and soon attracted scouts from Pony Canyon and debuted as a pop singer in 1998 as Kokia (which is an anagram of her real name). Her debut song, "For Little Tail," was featured on the soundtrack for the Tail Concerto video game, and the same year she released her first single, "Aishiteiru Kara," used in the TV drama Brothers. The second single, "Ai no Field," used in the anime Brain Powerd, was written by the famous soundtrack composer Yoko Kanno, but soon Kokia began to write songs herself, the first being the single "Arigatou..." (1999), which had a TV drama tie-in and was well-received in Taiwan as well as Hong Kong, where it even brought her a local music award. The debut full-length Songbird came in 1999, but failed to chart, prompting a hiatus that ended in 2001 with her crossing over to Victor Entertainment. Her second album, Trip Trip, did not make it to the Oricon as well, but the song "A Gift" was used in Subaru ads worldwide, and "Kawaranai Koto (Since 1976)," featured in the anime Hungry Heart Wild Striker, became her first Top 50 single (it charted at number 47). The single "The Power of Smile"/"Remember the Kiss" and the album Remember Me both charted at number 15, becoming her best-selling releases in their respective categories. In 2003, Pony Canyon also used two of her old songs in the Chinese TV drama At Dolphin Bay.
The fourth album Uta ga Chikara came in 2004, spawning two singles with more tie-ins, both released in 2005, when Kokia began her European foray: she played in Paris at the famous MIDEM music industry fair and released the compilation Pearl not just in Japan, but in Spain and France as well. This seemed to strengthen her desire for independence, and in 2006, Kokia established her own label, Anco&co, and began her collaboration with the French Wasabi Records, which put out her album Aigakikoeru half a year before its Japanese release. In Japan, Aigakikoeru still came out on Victor, as she opted not to quit the label. The record only charted at number 67 on the Oricon, but the song "Follow the Nightingale," used in the game Tales of Innocence, was more successful, entering the Top 40. Kokia took up the pace after that, releasing three albums -- the neo-classical The Voice, the Irish-themed Fairy Dance, and the self-explanatory Christmas Gift -- in 2008 and two more (Akiko Kokia Balance and Kokia Akiko Balance) in 2009, when she also held her first European tour. She had three more tie-ins with anime series in the late 2000s, and for her 11th album, Real World (2010), she traveled to Tunisia. ~ Alexey Eremenko
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