World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

First Train Home: Pat Metheny’s Been with Me All Along

For most of my life, I’ve had a theme stuck in my head. It’s a haunting, yet relaxing tune that I only knew as the “Community Calendar theme for Channel 9 in New York City.”

Eventually, YouTube became a thing. I decided to search for it, but at the time nothing came up. Being a song without words, I couldn’t exactly search for it by lyrics. Years later, around 2012 I looked again, and finally found it:

Have a listen, it’s really good. Much better than any “Community Calendar” music has any right to be.

I looked up the song’s name and artists, listened to the original a few times, and then promptly forgot it (and the name+band) again for a few years.

Recently, the song popped back into my head one morning, and I went back to YouTube. Again, I looked to the comments to find the names of both the song and the band, but this time around I knew I could never forget them.

The tune is called “It’s for You.” The musicians responsible are Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.

Does that first name sound familiar? That’s the same Pat Metheny responsible for “Last Train Home,” which I know as the second ending theme for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. If it wasn’t for JoJo, I would have never committed this tune to memory, and it would have just been “that song on TV from when I was a kid.”

Thanks, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Thanks, Pat Metheny. Also, I found out that there’s this vocal version by Japanese musician Yano Akiko:

By the way, did you know that Pat Metheny has his own official Q&A board? I keep hoping to see it filled with JoJo fans.

 

Mizuki Ichirou and JAM Project: The Voice of the Past

Thanks to One Punch Man, I’ve been listening more to JAM Project as of late. I love how JAM Project takes anime music so seriously, and their desire to create actual “anime music” about the shows they sing for is admirable. However, the more I listen through their catalog, the more I miss one of their original founders, Mizuki Ichirou.

For fans of anime music, Mizuki Ichirou possibly needs no introduction. The voice behind almost countless theme songs, his work in titles such as Mazinger Z, Babel II, Golion (aka Voltron), and Kamen Rider X earned him the moniker “Emperor of Anime Songs.” In 2000, he became one of the founding members of JAM Project, taking a less active role a few years later.

Other members have come and gone from JAM Project, namely Sakamoto Eizou, the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Anthem, and Matsumoto Rica, a singer who’s also famous for being the voice of Satoshi (Ash) from Pokemon. They also lent their own unique voices to JAM Project in interesting ways, but something about Mizuki Ichirou’s singing is different.

Unlike the younger members of JAM Project, Mizuki’s vocal style invokes a different era of music, culture, and of course anime. It’s deep, memorable, and reminiscent of a Frank Sinatra-style crooner, only he’s singing about Mazinger Z’s Rocket Punch. When you placed him alongside his fellow JAM Project members, it would add something unique, something classic, to their sound.

Above are two versions of JAM Project’s “Hagane no Messiah,” one without Mizuki and one with. I think hearing them side by side really shows what the “Aniking” added to the band.

 

 

[Apartment 507] One Punch! JAM Project’s Gateway to Western Success?

I’ve written a blog about the potential influence of One Punch Man‘s popularity on the anime super band, JAM Project. You can find it on Apartment 507.

Apartment 507 also sells point cards for Japanese services such as iTunes, Playstation, and Wii U, so if you’re someone who likes to play Japanese games digitally it might be worth your while to look at the rest of the site.

Welcome to this KRAZY! Time

I went to the New York Japan Society’s exhibition on anime, manga, and video games yesterday. Entitled KRAZY!, the exhibition explores a variety of artists and works, from Moyoco Anno to the guy who made Afro Samurai, from Shigeru Miyamoto to… Shigeru Miyamoto. The point is, this is totally about stuff that the kids like: ANIME AND MANGA AND VIDEO GAMES. As expected, it seemed to attract a young audience, something most museum and gallery exhibitions wish they did without it being just 20-something hipstrs.

Overall I didn’t get too much of a “HEY GUYS! ANIME!” vibe from the exhibition, and I liked what they had to say about the Super Mario Bros. series being a collection of simple rules which opens up a rich and complex world to interact with, but I couldn’t really tell who exactly the exhibition was trying to draw in. Passing by their video room filled with clips from Akira, Patlabor the Movie 2, Paprika, and Macross, I got this strange feeling that this is not what the kids these days see as “anime,” nor is it what they want. It’s kind of a baseless feeling, but when you see all those movies together and realize that the styles aren’t very “modern” (despite Paprika having come out recently), I think you might get the same impression. All I could think about was how others would handle the exhibition.

There was one blurb however that really pissed me off when I saw it. In one part of the exhibition is an area devoted to the music of Yoko Kanno. Now, neither Yoko Kanno nor her music anger me, but when the description of her music is prefaced by, “Prior to the late 80s all anime music was of poor quality,” then I have some serious issues! The emphasis is mine but they actually used the words POOR QUALITY. It’s as if no REAL music aficionados could POSSIBLY like ANIME music before REAL MUSICIANS like Yoko Kanno and her contemporaries graced the industry with their presences and sprinkled magic fairy dust and now ANIME MUSIC IS GOOD! WOW! Hey, wait to take a dump all over those hardworking composers from the mid-80s and before! Joe Hisaishi? Apparently the man who composes Studio Ghibli music is garbage!

There are apparently other things like this in the exhibition where it’s like a guy trying to convince REAL ARTISTS that anime is totally artistic too and making mistakes in the process. For better or worse, I didn’t notice any other glaring instances though.

All in all, it’s worth a visit at least once, just calm down when you visit the Yoko Kanno section. I hope the kids who visit this exhibition at least learn something.

Oh yeah, and I’m probably gonna go read Sakuran. Sounds interesting.

Move Over, Music

There was a time when I would download any and every anime song I could find, and scour P2P programs to find the most obscure songs possible, but at some point I fell off that wagon. Maybe it was that eventually songs became so easy to find that downloading individual songs made way for downloading entire soundtracks, and the fear that music would eat up hard drive space left me hesitant to just grab them all willy-nilly.

What ended up happening was that I felt there were giant holes in my song collection, and after a few years of this I decided yesterday that I should start to make up for it. So there I went getting songs old and new, trying to make up for lost time, and feeling out of place with people who download music like they drink water and don’t really have to think about it. It’s also then that I noticed something: silence. The funny thing about this silence is that once upon a time I’d have anime music playing whenever I was at the computer. It was a constant of my internet and anime experience, with Hayashibara Megumi never far away in the song list. What changed? It can’t be that I got tired of it, as I bring my mp3 player everywhere I go. At some point though, j-pop made way for the click-clacking of the keyboard. It sort of reminds me of a change I went through in regards to what I liked to draw on. Before college, I hated using sketchbooks but in college it became all that I used to the point that I even took class notes in sketchbooks.

I’m sure it’s all tied together. Most likely, the more new music I wanted to get, the more music I had, and thus the more I had to simply listen to, but I feel like I can’t really explain why the change occurred.

Let’s Discuss the Possible Future of JAM Project

JAM Project is a music band that stands for many things, but primarily they stand for what JAM stands for: Japanese Animationsong Makers. The philosophy that has brought together such musical greats as Mizuki Ichirou, Kageyama Hironobu, and Matsumoto Rica is a beautiful one: anime songs should be made for anime. In other words, while fine in moderation, opening and ending themes should not simply be a popular artist’s song tacked onto the head or tail of an episode. Anime music should be anime music.

JAM Project formed in 2000 and is currently approaching its 9th anniversary. Members have come and gone, so it’s only reasonable to think that as JAM Project continues along it’ll pick up new members. Keeping in mind the founding philosophy of JAM Project, I’d like to list possible future candidates for JAM Project, musicians who at least appear to understand what it means to make “anime music.” Keep in mind that the singer does not necessarily have to be known primarily for their anime music, or for them to have a large repertoire of anime themes. Former member Sakamoto Eizou is known more as the lead vocalist of hair metal band Anthem than anything else. They’re also chosen for how well I think their voices would mesh with the current members of JAM Project, and how well they sing live.

(In no particular order)

1) TM Revolution

While TM Revolution is more than successful enough on his own, I feel that I have to list him first. Listen to any of TM Revolution’s themes he’s used for an anime- it’s clear that the man knows what it means to sing for anime. Whether it’s Soul Eater or Rurouni Kenshin, his songs capture the spirit of the show. Lyrics make sense given the titles, the music is always passionate. Compare the appropriateness of his Gundam SEED work to that of the 4th Destiny opening by Chemistry. It’s really like night and day.


Sample: Invoke, Gundam SEED Opening 1

2) Mizuki Nana

The voice of Fate Testarossa and Hyuuga Hinata also frequently lends her vocals to the musical side of anime, and the results pretty much always make an impact. Say what you will about the quality of the Nanoha anime series or its fanservice, but there’s no denying that Innocent Starter, Eternal Blaze, Secret Ambition, and Massive Wonders all capture a sincerity for the show itself. Besides, she already has experience working with Okui Masami.


Sample: Eternal Blaze, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s Opening

3) Sakamoto Maaya

Like Mizuki Nana she’s both a voice actor and a singer. It’s not guaranteed, but I think that combination can lead a person to being able to better understand an anime and thus the music appropriate for it. She’s done a lot of work for some very different shows, and in every case, from Cardcaptor Sakura to RahXephon to Escaflowne to Lodoss, she manages to capture the tone of the show right in the opening.


Sample: Hemisphere, RahXephon Opening

4) Gojou Mayumi

One might say that the problem with a lot of today’s anime musicians making music specifically for anime is that they pull in primarily an otaku crowd, while a guy like Kageyama has much more mass-appeal. I think Gojou Mayumi, famous for her work on Pretty Cure, has this quality of being able to pull in those kids who just grew up watching anime and learned to love its music that way. Of course, that’s not the only reason I chose her. She’s got a nice, recognizable singing voice, and her recent collaboration with the other Precure singers for the Precure crossover opening shows that she knows how to collaborate to create even more powerful anime themes. The other Precure singers are also good potential members, but I think Mayumi makes for the best one.


Sample: DANZEN! Futari wa Pretty Cure, Futari Wa Pretty Cure Opening

5) Wada Kouji

Wada Kouji is the man behind every Digimon opening, and I think they bring him back every time for a very good reason. Like Mayumi, Wada Kouji is someone with more mainstream appeal at least as far as anime openings go, with the vocal strength to back it up. Each Digimon opening is very different from the previous one yet they’re all unified by Kouji’s voice. It can quickly go from soft to powerful, and leaves you with a sense that what he’s singing about matters. Also, if Matsumoto decides to return to JAM Project having the Pokemon AND Digimon singers on there would just be dandy.


Sample: Biggest Dreamer, Digimon Tamers Opening

As a last word, I want to say that I’m no expert on musicians, not even anime ones, so my list is limited. For that, I more than welcome your suggestions below.