O!susume – NANO

Broadcast 22: NANO

I\’m not sure why it\’s taken me so long to write about NANO for O!susume. I don\’t have a clear, long-lasting ranking of favorite musical artists (save for number 1, as you\’ll find out in December\’s post), but if pressed, I\’d almost always list her among my top 3 or 5. Maybe it\’s because I\’m much more partial to her earlier work? Maybe I\’ll figure it out as I introduce you lovely readers to my November feature, the smokey-voiced bilingual jrock legend NANO! \"\"

Years Active: 2006 – Present (2022)

Point of Origin: New York City

Hana Ishiyama Ohara was born and raised in New York City, granting her both American and Japanese citizenship and a bilingual upbringing that allows her to switch seamlessly between English and Japanese. At fourteen years old, she made the decision to move to Japan in order to persue her vocalist dreams. Ohara\’s amateur singing years were spent on the Japanese video sharing site Niconico, collaborating with electronic artists who produced songs using the Vocaloid software. As an \”utaite\” on Niconico (the site\’s term for an independent vocal artist), Ohara gained an audience with several covers of popular vocaloid tracks.

NANO\’s \”moment of truth\” came when an industry director reached out to her through vocaloid producer buzzG, whose song \”GALLOWS BELL\” she had covered in the past. In an interview in which she shares the story, Ohara says she was hesitant to accept the offer of representation. Up to that point, her work had been for her self-satisfaction as an artist, and she wasn\’t sure where the professional world would lead her, especially under the guidance of someone else. She ultimately accepted the offer, and NANO made her industry debut.

One of NANO\’s defining features is her vocal range, which is surprisingly and uniquely deep for a female Japanese singer. As it\’s customary to keep one\’s real face and identity private as an artist on Niconico, many among her fanbase assumed she was male based on her vocals. Even her director was expecting a man when they first met up in person, causing him to think she had skipped their meeting while she was waiting close by, according to an anecdote by Ohara. She says that she wasn\’t overly concerned about correcting the misunderstandings, as if someone enjoyed NANO\’s persona as \”male\”, she didn\’t want to disrupt that investment. Even when she began performing live, she wore outfits that obscured her face and bodyline to reinforce the \”mystery\” of the brand that NANO\’s director wanted. For five years, NANO kept nearly all details of her personal life secret, and wore a heavy hood for so many for public events that she developed neck strain.

Whether it be the allure of her mysterious persona or her deep, powerful vocals, NANO was quick to find success on the professional stage, as her debut album nanoir took 10th place on the Oricon charts. She went international soon thereafter, playing at the Japanese cultural convention DoKomi in Germany the following year, and performing a solo concert in Taiwan in 2015. She also got a big boost in recognition from the songs she performed for popular anime, including \”No Pain, No Game\” and \”Exist\” for Btooom!, \”Dreamcatcher\” for Magical Girl Rising Project and \”Savior of Song\” for Arpeggio of Blue Steel, along with My First Story.

A big turning point came for NANO in 2021, when she debuted a new version of her youtube channel, and aside from her usual music videos, she started publishing vlogs in which she revealed her face and started talking about herself. It seems she was looking for new ways to connect with her fans and to push herself to try new things, which included the self-produced mini-album ANTHESIS. She has a complex relationship with her stage persona, saying that she thinks of NANO as ever-changing and evolving, and always seeks new ways to grow so that it doesn\’t become boring. Despite her undeniable mainstream success, with eight albums released since 2012, she seems to hold tight to her roots as an amateur utaite, knowing that many of her most dedicated fans have followed her all the way from Niconico. As she mused in a 2021 interview: \”That excitement of doing it – just out of pure enjoyement – it\’s something you should never forget when you\’re doing something with music.\”


\”KEMURIKUSA\”, a song off of NANO\’s 2020 best hits album, is a great showcase of her vocal power and her bilingual songwriting. A heavily-electronic soundscape and riffy guitars balance out her deep, searching lyrics, as the MV\’s camera whips around her form too frenetically to reveal anything certain about the singer herself, maybe himself, themself? This is NANO, not some mere human bound to a static gender. The instrumental build up and subsequent drop-off in the bridge makes you feel like you\’ve run a five-minute mile without training for it.


Another track from the selected hits compilation NANO BEST ALBUM 「I」, though this one comes from further back in the singer\’s Niconico history. The intro starts slow and somber in English that almost seems like a prayer lifted up by the solo piano, and then breaks down into NANO\’s signature hard rock progressions. The anime MV is a sudden throwback to early youtube, but not in a bad way; if she were still an amateur utaite, it would likely be a stitched-together AMV from classic shows rather than a stunning original animation.

Black Board

And finally, a true Niconico classic. This might take the top spot for NANO songs, or at least ones where she was the main lyricist/vocalist. I can just listen to the choppy guitar and tom-tapping intro over and over, not to mention the frantic piano-backed chorus. The MV is also nostalgic as hell, with static images of anime bois panning past along with some basic motion edits that still managed to stun you as a teenager who was all up on that shit.