Sandaime J Soul Brothers from Exile Tribe were on track to have the highest-selling album of 2015 with “Planet Seven,” when Arashi swooped in and released “Japonism” in October. Arashi may have won this battle of the boy bands, but looking at the entire year — Sandaime may have won the war.

Two days before 2015 began, Sandaime nabbed the Japan Record Award for their song, “R.Y.U.S.E.I.” The seven-member act bested the likes of chart-toppers AKB48, Southern All Stars and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for the win. Soon after, they released their fifth studio album, “Planet Seven,” which sold 508,337 copies on its debut. It topped the Oricon chart and didn’t leave the top 10 until its 10th week.

The group also did well with its single releases. “R.Y.U.S.E.I.” continued to sell well into the summer, even topping digital music store Recochoku’s weekly chart in April. In September, the song was certified triple platinum for selling 750,000 copies digitally.

Four other Sandaime singles did well this year. Two of them — “Starting Over” and “Summer Madness” — grabbed the No. 1 spot on the Oricon singles chart, while “Storm Riders” and “Unfair World” peaked at No. 2 and 3 respectively. However, “Starting Over” was helped by the fact the group bundled concert tickets with the units sold, and Oricon banned this practice from June. It was a creative stunt, and it was this kind of creativity that led Team Arashi to release a special “extra edition” of “Japonism,” which boosted sales and catapulted that release into best-seller of the year territory.

Heading into 2016, pop fans are going to have a clear choice between the slick, Western pop-influenced acts of talent agency LDH (who is responsible for Sandaime and groups such as Exile and E-girls) and the traditionally sweet pop of Johnny & Associates (Arashi, SMAP and Kis-My-Ft2).

Exile has been extremely popular for years, and the recently emerged LDH spinoffs have are thought to have better vocal and dancing ability than their idol-pop competitors — whom they make a point to distance themselves from. But Sandaime in particular emerged this year as a more contemporary answer to the idol scene, while still operating inside the same fandom. They have all the qualities of the sleekest K-pop groups, and what Japanese fans liked about those South Korean acts is now available in a more palatable domestic form.

Sandaime J Soul Brothers also had a successful year outside of their musical releases. The group embarked on its first independent dome tour in May, which was the third biggest domestic tour of the year behind Mr. Children and Arashi. The members of 3JSB have also been picked up for ad campaigns for All Nippon Airways, Suntory, Ezaki Glico and Samantha Thavasa. Vocalist Hiroomi Tosaka is doing particularly well in this field, having appeared in commercials for six companies by the middle of the year, the same number as SMAP leader Masahiro Nakai. Tosaka is also taking part in LDH’s massive multimedia project, “High & Low,” along with fellow group members Kenjiro Yamashita and Elly. The gangland story will encompass a TV drama, manga, movie, album and stage show.

At the end of 2015, Sandaime J Soul Brothers find themselves in a familiar place. Once again they’ve been nominated for the Japan Record Award, this time for the track “Unfair World.” The new year will see if they can continue to hold their own against Johnny’s acts, which it’s rumored has hampered the success of previous boy bands they’ve viewed as threats in the past. Perhaps Sandaime will be able to take that final step to the top.

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