Capitalizing on a New Home: Otakon 2017

“Howatto?! Washington ni?!”

-Jack King, Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo

Introduction: To DC

Otakon has always been my favorite anime convention. With its fan-oriented approach and variety of content, it always feels surprisingly intimate despite its sheer size (it’s generally the largest anime con on the east coast). This year marked a big change, as Otakon moved from its long-time home of Baltimore to Washington DC. It might not seem like that much of a difference—it’s only one extra stop on Amtrak—but for those of us who had grown fond of the previous venue, warts and all, Otakon was synonymous with Baltimore.

However, I will likely not be the only one to tell you that the new location is one of the best things to happen to Otakon. Subjectively, I still have an attachment to Baltimore. Objectively, outside of increased cost, pretty much everything is superior. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is roughly double the size of the old Baltimore Convention Center, meaning less congestion. The adjacent hotel, the Marriott Marquis Washington DC, is bigger and more accommodating. The food choices are greater both inside and outside the convention center, and still fairly reasonably priced. For those who are especially cost-conscious, a Giant Foods supermarket within walking distance is an improvement over Baltimore’s 7-Elevens.

Thus, without even taking into account what happened at the con itself, this new setting certainly provided a more comfortable space for Otakon to put on a show. It was off to a good start right from the beginning.

Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley

One of the best things about having such a large space for Otakon is that the Dealer’s Hall and the Artist’s Alley were easily navigable. Instead of having to wade through a sea of people in order to get anything done, actually going where I wanted to provided little challenge, aside from unfamiliarity with the new convention center. In terms of content, it’s pretty much what you can expect out of a large-sized con. In the Dealer’s Hall, large, official company booths acted as centerpieces with smaller booths on the sides selling figures, posters, manga, anime, and more. The Artist’s Alley had a wide variety of styles, with series such as Voltron, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Persona 5 being especially popular.

One of the hiccups in both areas was a lack of clear marking as to where you were. Booths had individual numbers, but sometimes they didn’t follow a consistent logic, and a lack of visible markings to tell you what row and column you were standing in made things worse. Fortunately, this was brought up at the Con Feedback panel at the end of Otakon, and it’s something they had intended but couldn’t get around to.

There are a couple of other challenges they’ll have to tackle for next year as well. First, the line to the Dealer’s Hall would occasionally get capped. This in itself isn’t unusual, but at one point a friend of mind mentioned that he couldn’t get in while I was already there. But when I looked around, the Dealer’s Hall was the opposite of congested. There was literally room to run around if I so choose. I later realized that it wasn’t the Dealer’s Hall itself that was the issue, it was the space leading to the Dealer’s Hall that was becoming a fire hazard. That’s something that should be addressed by 2018.

The Artist’s Alley also ran into an unfortunate bit of flooding due to a water main break on Saturday evening. A major factor in this was an enormous storm that hit DC. From what I saw, Otakon handled the situation fairly well, and there were no major injuries. This might just be a fluke accident for the first year, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Concert: JAM Project/TM Revolution

This year, Otakon teamed up with the Anisong World Matsuri to bring a number of musical acts to DC. Because tickets cost money (unlike most anime cons), I could only see the Friday concert featuring JAM Project and TM Revolution. As a long-time fan of the former and someone who definitely enjoys the music of the latter, I can say with the utmost confidence that they did not disappoint. Both acts are known for creating not only songs that are good in and of themselves, but for embracing the anime they create music for and elevating them through their compositions. I first saw JAM Project at their US debut back at Otakon 2008, and it was a welcome return.

Both TM Revolution and JAM Project are really adept at making live performances special. Their voices ring out clearly, they get the audience involved, and by the time they’re done you end up feeling like you were part of something greater. Even a few technical hiccups during TM Revolution’s performance couldn’t dent the audience’s fervor.

Before the concert, I had bet on JAM Project and TM Revolution doing an encore together. Most likely, it would be JAM Project’s signature song, “SKILL.” They came through, and the collaboration was everything I hoped for.

For further thoughts on the concert, check out my post on Apartment 507.

The official set list for Otakon 2017 is as follows:

JAM PROJECT

1. Crest of “Z’s”
2. Hagane no Resistance
3. Garo ~Savior in the Dark~
4. The Brave
5. THE EXCEEDER
6. Hero
7. THE HERO!! ~Ikareru Kobushini Hiwo Tsukero~
8. Victory〜Gong
9. Rocks
10. Rescue Fire

T.M.Revolution
1. Inherit the Force
2. Invoke
3. ignited
4. Meteor
5. resonance
6. High Pressure
7. White Breath
8. Hot Limit
9. Flags
10. Sword Summit
11. Heart of Sword

ENCORE
1. SKILL (JAM Project x T.M.Revolution)

Panels

Due to a busy schedule this year and some mishaps on my part, I was unable to attend as many panels as I would have liked. However, this means I can talk about ones I did see in greater detail!

(I also didn’t have any panels this year. Better luck next time?)

The first was “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga,” which looked at many of the bad boys of shoujo and how their behavior can reflect an often implicit hand-waving of abusive relationships. It looked at both works that ignore its characters’ abusive behavior towards their partners, as well as those that call the characters out on it. The presenter also took time to point out the difference between enjoying something as fiction vs. understanding how it would play out in reality, so it’s not as if it was an automatic admonishment of the audience’s tastes. I thought it was a strong panel overall, but it could be taken to the next level. Perhaps it could even go into understanding why the trope of the abusive boyfriend as lovable partner is so popular and occurs in so many well-received anime and manga.

I would also like to compliment the presenter on giving her stamp of approval to how the series Kiss Him, Not Me approaches the subject of abuse, because while the series is thoughtful in a lot of ways, its initially flippant handling of weight and beauty can really turn people away—even I was put off by it. The fact that the presenter used it as an example showed that she wasn’t trying to automatically write off certain series but was actively trying to figure out what messages these shoujo series send.

Another panel I attended was “Iyashikei: Animated Healing.” It focused on the so-called healing genre of anime and manga, explaining the emotionally therapeutic aspect of such works and why they garner such loyal fans. It was a very thorough panel that showed a wide variety of series that can be considered iyashikei, including both classics and genre-bending examples. One thing the panel didn’t get into but I would have liked to see was the tendency towards an assumed male viewership for healing anime. Still, it was well-presented and informative, and I’d look forward to checking it out again.

Screenings

I had the opportunity to see two films, one of which was a world premiere. I’ve written more extensive reviews for both.

In This Corner of the World

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

Interviews

I also interviewed a few of the illustrious guests at Otakon! This year, it was the dynamic seiyuu duo of Furukawa Toshio and Kakinuma Shino, as well as an interview with the director of Eureka Seven, Kyouda Tomoki [stay tuned for that one!].

Final Thoughts

The move to Washington DC is the best decision Otakon has made in years. There are very few drawbacks I can think of, outside of a sentimental attachment to Baltimore (and its delicious crab cake truck), but I know that my experience is not necessarily shared with everyone else.

Second, you want to hear other random thoughts about the con, I also appeared on a post-Otakon podcast over at Ani-Gamers. We recorded it right after the con closed on Sunday!

To end this report, here are some cosplay highlights, as is Ogiue Maniax tradition.

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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.

Home Made Kazoku Rap-Sings Their Way to Otakon

Otakon 2010 fires its first major volley with “Home Made Kazoku” as their Sunday musical guest.

Realistically speaking, this is pretty much the kind of musical guest I want at conventions more often. While I know that they’re not a J-ROCK BAND and thus won’t have quite as much clout among those who go to anime conventions mainly for the concerts, Home Made Kazoku’s a legitimate act that’s actually done music for popular anime. I mean, you couldn’t exactly call Naruto or Bleach small-fry cartoons (aside from literally being for children), and they also did “Shounen Heart,” the love-it-or-hate-it second opening of Eureka Seven.

I still consider it a crime that JAM Project got only a fraction of the audience of other musical guests at Otakon 2008, especially when they had Kageyama “Chala Head Chala” Hironobu, a guy whose songs almost every person at an anime con knows at least one of. While I get the appeal of the J-Rock band, I wouldn’t mind them nearly as much if more of them had actually sung something related to anime, or if they weren’t being sold mainly on image. Hell, a COVER of an anime song would be acceptable.

So, Home Made Kazoku. I can’t wait to see everyone at the concert try (and fail) to sing along to the rap portions.

That includes myself.

It’s hard!

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.

Thanks, Anime

It’s an interesting time in anime, and there’s plenty of stuff to be grateful for.


Thanks, Anime, for providing affordable DVDS of series loved by all types of otaku, from Gurren-Lagann to Ouran High School Host Club to Aria and beyond.


Thanks, Anime, for making strides to becoming more accessible. Strike Witches isn’t what I’d call a show I’d recommend to others, but I commend GONZO for putting itself out there. And while some of you may have made a few missteps, like Sony with your super-expensive PS3 episodes of Xam’d, I’ll still be there to buy the DVDs.


Thanks, Anime, for having an incredible season this year with something for everyone, with fine work in practically every genre and sub-genre. With this, I have no regrets.


Thanks, Anime, for your plans to give us an Ultimate Crossover Pretty Cure Movie that we’ve been waiting for since Max Heart ended. I look forward to the 11-girl Ultimate Crossover Pretty Cure Finisher. It’s also thanks to this image that I realize that the more athletic Precure girls have tanner skin. You learn something everyday.


Thanks, Anime, for slating a Professor Layton Animated Movie scheduled for 2010. I’m not even kidding.


And finally, Thank You for an incredible year of Ogiue, JAM Project, good friends, good opportunities, and so much more.

More Than Enough: Otakon 2008

I went to Otakon with one purpose in mind: to go see JAM Project. Everything else on my priorities list could be postponed or sacrificed as long as I would be able to not turn away, and not show my tears, because I have the power of love to take back tomorrow. I am glad to say that not only did I see JAM Project, but the overall experience of Otakon 2008 has made it one of the best times o my life. It’s a culmination of various parts of a long weekend which turned out to be all too short.

I arrived Thursday afternoon by train along with a number of friends who I’ve known for some varying numbers of years. The first pleasant surprise was the hotel itself. We had taken two rooms in the Radisson, and found the rooms to be spacious, far more spacious than the place we stayed at last year. This was very fortunate, as it meant sleep would be comfortable and not the hassle it usually is at a con. We were later joined by kransom and astrange of welcome datacomp, two happening guys, one of whom is currently on a plane to Japan.

Actually, scratch that. My first pleasant surprise was on the train watching episodes of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. I can’t believe how good that show is.

Thursday night was spent sitting back and playing Smash Bros Brawl with friends in the hotel room. The character choices among everyone were quite diverse, and this became a mainstay of practically every day we were there. As is always the case, Smash is simply a great way to unwind during conventions. kransom also showed me a copy of Patrick Macias‘ new book, Otaku in USA. The book is in Japanese, but it doesn’t seem to be a difficult read so I may pick it up at some point.

Friday morning, I went to the dealer’s room. While browsing DVDs, a dealer asked me what I was looking for, to which I responded, “Something for JAM Project to sign.” Luckily, a female dealer standing nearby pointed me out to a Gravion + Gravion Zwei combined thinpack that she was selling. She mentioned to me that the only reason she was here in the dealer’s room was so that she could be at Otakon to see JAM Project. To the kind woman who helped me out, I thank you, whoever you are. Other than that, I also accomplished another major objective that day.

(I also got an Eureka Seven poster.)

My first sighting of JAM Project was at the opening ceremony for Otakon, though I arrived pretty much just as they were leaving. I was there to see the Madhouse-produced opening animation, which basically involved Otakon’s two lackluster mascots fighting every anime character ever on their way to the convention center. Could have been worse, could have gone without it, the result was that I applaud their desire to celebrate their 10th anniversary with something big.

The JAM Project concert was to be held at the 1st Mariner Arena, a few blocks away from the convention center. After a bit of hassle, I managed to find a place in line with Sub from Subatomic Brainfreeze, and his friends, who I’ve met in the past thanks to a mutual friend of ours. There, we spent time enjoying the wonder and prestige of Sasaki Isao English renditions of Maginzer Z themes, who teaches us that, although humans can fight for good, give it all they’ve got, men are weak and they’re flesh and blood. Mazinger, however, is not. I could not think of a better way to pass the time.

At 7:00 we walked inside, me carrying a glowstick which I accidentally snapped. Sitting only a few rows away from the stage got me feeling anxious as I chatted it up a little with the people around me. Smoke began to fill the stage as I realized I was without my DS and could not participate in the inevitable pictochat. This only made me more anxious, as I knew it was almost upon us, the Japanese Animesong Musicians Project, albeit minus a few members I would like to have seen.

I am not a concert-goer, but I do not think any concert will ever top this one again. JAM Project are the masters of keeping the crowd excited with both their choice of music and musical style, and their sheer stage presence. JAM Project introduced themselves in English. You had the Lover of Amateur Rock Music Yoshiki Fukuyama , the Only Female There Masami Okui, the Youngest Member of JAM Project Hiroshi Kitadani aka Dani, the Most POWERFUL Member of JAM Project Masaaki Endoh (said while flexing his bicep), and the Leader Hironobu Kageyama. With an introduction like that, greatness was inevitable.

Their set included a large number of their combined efforts, such as Nageki no Rosario, Hagane no Messiah, and Breakout, as well as individual songs for which they were famous, which included Chala Head Chala, We Are!, Rinbu Revolution, Angel Voice, and Yuushaoh Tanjou! Knowing I had plans for karaoke the next day, I sang my heart out anyway, actively trying to destroy my throat as I yelled GOLDION HANMAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. Totally worth it.

Especially impressive during the concert was Ms. Okui, who without Rica around had to sing twice as many lines as she normally would. Not only that, but Okui sounded better than I’ve ever heard her sing before. Usually her live voice is different from her studio voice, but on this night the two were one in the same. This, of course, is not to say that the others were anything less than outstanding. You could tell they enjoy their careers, and have a genuine love for anime music.

They finished off the main concert with GONG, then followed up with an encore comprised of Soul Taker and SKILL. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more, besides the presence of the God of Anime Songs Ichirou Mizuki! Sadly, my “Mizuki” chant did not work. By the way, that’s how I think Kageyama would have introduced him.

After the concert, a woman walked by with a sign saying,”Give your message to JAM Project!” All I could do was close my eyes and smile while clapping. I then gave a deep bow to them to show my gratitude. I hope you see it, JAM Project.

With the concert over, this was already the best con ever. I could have gone home that evening and been totally satisfied. Fortunately, the weekend was not over. After greeting Erin from Ninja Consultant (she asked me what I thought of the concert and my first response was to pump my fists), I ended up eating dinner with a mighty group indeed, perhaps the mightiest ensemble in all of Baltimore that evening had JAM Project not been around. This group consisted of myself, astrange and kransom, Mike Toole (whose panel I attended earlier in the day), ricequeen, Daryl Surat, and Gerald Rathkolb. It was an enjoyable dinner at a humble chain-like mexican food restaurant, where we discussed various anime-related topics. Kingdoms fell at our feet, while my ears continued to ring from being too close to the speakers during the concert.

The social aspect of the convention, which I was concerned about prior to attending, turned out to not be a problem, and was in fact one of the most enjoyable aspects of Otakon. While I ate with some anime titans of the internet on Friday, I ate with a different group of people every night that I was in Baltimore. Thursday night, I enjoyed extremely delicious Brazilian buffet at Fogo de Chão with my close friends from New York and college in Pittsburgh. There, while chowing down on lambchop, leg of lamb, pork sausage, garlic beef, filet mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon, etc (I tried to eat as wide a variety as I could), I talked to a waiter from Brazil. He mentioned his fondness for Saint Seiya and Evangelion.

Fogo de Chão is very pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it as “con food” but as a place to enjoy the company of others while stuffing one’s face with protein-based brilliance, it is worth checking out.

Saturday evening, I ate with the internet. It was a Vegeta-mongling good time.

Afterwards, I ran to attend karaoke, where I gave a poor performance of Disarm Dreamer. There, along with astrange and kransom, I sat down and had a grand old time with wildarmsheero, Link, Omo, Anna, among others. You’ll forgive me if I forgot all of your names, but you were many. I sang along with a number of tunes, including Pegasus Fantasy, English and Japanese Pokemon themes, and SKILL, and tried my hardest to do my Souther impression for wildarmsheero. Watch out for it on his site. I was surprised to find someone singing the ending theme to the Sega Saturn racing game, Sonic R. I salute you as well. Unfortunately I did not have time to sing Minna Daisuki from Shugo Chara, which I had also planned.

While signing up for karaoke, one of the people working there asked me where I got my badge (see all the way up top), to which I said I made it myself. As he looked closer at my badge he suddenly said, “I read your blog!” Thank you, SSJSquall. You made my day in a day full of things which can make days with little difficulty.

On the same day was the JAM Project Q&A, which was a good time for all. There were many highlights to the whole session, but the absolute best was when Masami did an incredible Mizuki impression. Very few things in life will ever top Masami going, “[Mazinger] ZEEEET!” but one of them might be Fukuyama’s sheer antics. This guy is a joker through and through.

Sadly, I missed the Katsura panel because it interfered with the JAM Project autograph session, but I managed to attend the Maruyama/Madhouse panel, which is always a treat. I also sat in for the Fansubbers and Industry panel, which was informative if disappointingly peaceful. John Sirabella, head of Mediablasters, was a blast with his crotchety-yet-informative ways. I wanted to ask how buying region 2 dvds directly affects the region 1 industry if at all, but I was cut off. Maybe next year.

As for the JAM Project autograph session itself, I got to shake hands with them. As Kageyama signed my Gravion box, I pointed and said, “Sparking!” to which he responded in kind. After my friends and I all got our swag autographed, we got together in the dealer’s room to do a Whoa Bundy, the second Whoa Bundy of the day.

I also saw two incredible cosplays during the convention. First was a girl cosplaying as Rosalie from Rose of Versailles. Her outfit was this bright pastel blue, perfect for a shoujo character, and it was as if she stepped out of the pages of Riyoko Ikeda’s work. Second was a cosplay of Billy Mitchell, the first man to ever conquer Pac-Man. I failed to check if he had a bottle of Rickey’s Hot Sauce in hand.

At the train station, I saw Erin and Noah from Ninja Consultant, and wildarmsheero. Along with the friends who I came with, we had a good conversation to wind down the convention, and one of my friends read my blog for the first time. I hope it’s as frightening for you as I think it is.

There are two main lessons I took away from Otakon 2008. First is that on the internet it can become very easy to caricaturize those you talk to, to focus on only one aspect of their character and personality. In real life, we can get along without necessarily needing to debate or to try and make things “interesting.” Those things will come in time.

Second is that, according to Kageyama, this was one GAY 2008.

(It actually says 9 Aug 2008)