Let’s Make an Entire Show Out of Dance CG: D4DJ First Mix

It might be serendipity that the same season a rapping anime comes out (Hypnosis Mic), we also see an anime about DJing: D4DJ First Mix. My early impression is that it’s pretty run-of-the-mill series rife with standard tropes of anime: cute girls doing an Activity, a Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque setting where DJing is the be-all and end-all, a plucky newbie with lots of potential, and a path that’s probably gonna lead to some tournament or competition to be the best. That being said, I am highly receptive to those tropes, and the fact that I know next to nothing about the world of DJs and have been trying to improve my understanding of music makes me an ideal audience for D4DJ First Mix’s beginner-level expositions.

There’s a lot that’s head-scratchingly awkward about D4DJ First Mix—little oddities that collectively make the show at times feel like an alien wearing a human skin. The title of the show is actually short for Dig Delight Direct Drive DJ. The show is done entirely in CG, bringing to mind Love Live! and Aikatsu! performance sections. The main heroine, Aimoto Rinku, is a Japanese girl who recently came back from Africa, and at least from early episodes it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean for her character. At one point, she panics that the lunch she left out might get stolen by monkeys as a nod to her time abroad, but is her ability to intuitively sense the beat through her body supposed to be a result of her experience in Africa, or is it something more innate? The facial expressions remind me more of Virtual Youtubers or Comipo software models, like they’re aiming for a very conventional idea of anime aesthetic. This is doubly noticeable because of the sharp contrast between important and unimportant characters, the latter of which look like different versions of the “default” setting of a create-a-character mode.

When D4DJ First Mix does manage to overcome the quirks of its presentation, it actually does exude a real charm and charisma. The chemistry between the characters feels nice, and it feels earnest in actually teaching its audience about the world of DJing, and to grow a sense of appreciation for their hobby and passion. I can feel myself being pulled in, and I do wonder if some of what makes D4DJ First Mix feel strange is that it’s one of those multimedia projects (like Hypnosis Mic or Trinity Tempo) built around different character groups who are all supposed to garner their own loyal fanbases. If I stick with the show long enough, maybe I can find the team that’s right for me.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can personally request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

A Mixtape of Influences: Listeners

In a pre-recorded interview for FunimationCon, writer Sato Dai was asked how he came to work on the anime Listeners. His response: the original creator, Jin, specifically sought him out due to his work on anime like Eureka Seven. But for anyone who’s watched even a little bit of Listeners, that much is crystal clear. Everything about the series—from the heavy music references to the mecha to the boy-meets-girl-in-a-nowhere-town science fiction plot— attests to that influence. While I at first wondered why they would try to, in spirit, remake such a classic anime, it occurred to me that Eureka Seven is actually 15 years old. How time flies.

Echo, a teenage boy, lives in the town of Liverchester, where people are taught to be content with staying in town forever and leading uneventful lives. Echo believes this to be his fate as well, but he has dreams deep down, thanks to his idolization of “Players,” individuals who fight mysterious creatures known as the Earless by commanding giant robots known as “Equipment.” An encounter with an amnesiac girl he finds in a scrap heap takes him far off the predictable track and towards discovering the true secret of his town and its history.

One big difference between Listeners and Eureka Seven is that the former is only 13 episodes in contrast to the latter’s 50, and this inevitably leads to very different storytelling. Eureka Seven is a relatively slow burn that very gradually and powerfully escalates its drama. Listeners, on the other hand, has more of a travel-show vibe that’s layered with unambiguous music references. When you see characters who are literally Prince and Kurt Cobain parodies, it goes a step beyond just “subtle nods.” Because of this, Listeners often comes across like Eureka Seven by way of Xam’d: Lost Memories (for its 1:1 world-building to plot reveal ratio) and Rolling Girls (for the “town to town” episodic feel), but isn’t really greater than the sum of its parts.

I do think Listeners is a decent series with plenty going for it. The characters, particularly the main duo of Echo and Mu, give a very “authentic” impression in that they aren’t overly “perfect” in design. Similarly, the aesthetics of the series have this sort of messy and put-together feel, and I like how the main robot doesn’t look terribly “heroic.” However, I really think that 13 episodes is too short for the story it tries to tell (even Xam’d has 26), and the music references are much more tied into the appeal of the show compared to how Eureka Seven utilizes them. 

What I’m actually looking forward to most from Listeners is seeing it someday debut in Super Robot Wars. Can you imagine the interactions with the cast of Eureka Seven or Macross 7? That would, well, rock.

Saint Snow’s Dazzling White Town Is From Another Time

Saint Snow, the rival characters in the Love Live! Sunshine!! anime, just released their much-deserved debut single, Dazzling White Town. While I’ve only been able to hear the online preview, and I’m not a music expert by any means,  I find that it further solidifies my high opinion of the sister duo.

One of the best things to come out of the Love Live! franchise, Saint Snow’s aesthetic and musical style tend to be more aggressive than Aqours, which is something I generally prefer. As the counterparts to the main heroines, Saint Snow are allowed to take their music to places Aqours largely doesn’t go. Kazuno Sarah (voiced by Tano Asami) has an elegant yet powerful voice, and I like the incorporation of rap brought by Kazuno Leah (Satou Hinata), as it introduces something otherwise absent in the Love Live! universe. In my view, their performance of “Believe Again” is the absolute highlight of Love Live! Sunshine!!: The School Idol Movie

Previews of all three songs

Something I find interesting about this single is how all three songs encompass different genres. “Dazzling White Town” is an EDM tune that reminds me of groups like Snap! and M.O.V.E. “Lonely Snow Planet” takes cues from heavy metal like pre-2000 Metallica. “After the Rain” sounds like pop rock akin to Vanessa Carlton and Alanis Morissette. All three songs come across to me as coming out of the 1990s to early 2000s, with “Dazzling White Town” being my favorite of them. I also love the retro game aesthetic and fashion found in the music video.

While it’s unlikely for anything within Love Live! to get extremely experimental, I do think one of the advantages of being associated with a multimedia franchise grounded in fictional characters (as opposed to being solely a musical act) is that there’s greater latitude for them to go into different genres. When a regular band tries something different, they risk alienating their fans. For Saint Snow, their followers care about Sarah and Leah, and I think it potentially allows for the composers, lyricists, and performers to travel stylistically.

I think Dazzling White Town is capable of reaching people well beyond the expected Love Live! fandom, and I would even dare say that it’s capable of standing alone without the association. I hope Saint Snow also eventually gets a full album to call their own, and that the group continues to have a life even as Love Live! Sunshine!! has winded down.

That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Saint Snow anime spin-off either, as I think they have the look and feel to be the stars of their own show. At the very least, a Ruby+Leah special would be great.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

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.

Cutie Panther is a Creepy Song

Cutie Panther is one of my favorite Love Live! songs. It’s intense, has a catchy beat and melody, and stands out from most of the other stuff that comes out of that franchise. When you actually listen to the lyrics though, it ends up sounding like something a stalker (or maybe a yandere character?) would be thinking.

Below are some of the choice lines. Translation is taken from this School Idol Festival wiki.

(Who are you with?
No way, you’re not allowed to be with anyone besides me)

I love you! You should be falling in love with me
I love you! That’s the right thing to do

Icy words, a gentle gaze… The prize at stake is you!

The rules of love are so hot
They exist to be broken

I miss you! It’s not wrong if it’s out of love
I miss you! That’s what intense love is like

Again, I don’t think this ruins the song, as it’s still my #2, but it sure does make them sound like stalkers! Also, there’s a history of catchy yet creepy-sounding songs, including a lot of old denpa songs (is that still a thing?) from visual novels. The most famous stalker song is probably “Every Breath You Take” by The Police:

If you’re curious, my ranking for Love Live songs is 1) After School Navigators 2) Cutie Panther 3) Shocking Party

 

Another Kind of Radio Exercise

I don’t remember when exactly it happened, but at some point in the 2000s, New York City got a couple of new Chinese radio stations. Currently on AM 1480 (Cantonese) and AM 1380 (Mandarin), these stations provide much-needed entertainment and news to people who are not as comfortable listening to English language radio stations. But they also provide something else, something I can only describe as “mind-boggling song selections that appear half-born out of geekery.”

What do I mean? Well, back when the radio stations were first starting out, I noticed an oddly familiar song amidst the usual selection of Chinese-language pop music. It stood out for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it was purely instrumental. As the ominous tune played on, it suddenly hit me: It was Kefka’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI.

“What? Really?” What was this doing on Chinese radio? What absolute nerd was in charge of music programming?

But aside from the occasional Utada Hikaru song, there wasn’t much else. Not much else that is, until the station started playing the theme song from The A-Team.

And no, it was not that one song from Full Metal Panic!

Once again, I had to question just who was in charge of selecting the songs for the Chinese residents of New York City. I have no idea how popular The A-Team was or is with Chinese people, but I don’t even think that’s a factor.

Then yesterday, I heard the most unusual song of all. This time the song was entirely in Cantonese, but it sounded odd, or at least odd for a tune on the radio, resembling more the theme of a TV drama or 80s anime than anything else. Like Kefka’s Theme years earlier, it started to sound more and more familiar. Then the chorus hit and I realized that it was a Cantonese version of Sentimental Over the Shoulder from Megazone 23 (Part 1).

So here I am, trying to find this mysterious Chinese rendition of Eve’s famous song, and I simply cannot do it. I definitely did not imagine it, but I honestly have no idea what I should even be searching for. Does anyone out there listen to WZRC AM 1480? And are you a huge anime nerd? Because if so, maybe you can help me identify just where exactly this song came from and who exactly sings it.