As I approached the Saitama Super Arena, I couldn't stop thinking in Shakespeare. Specifically, this passage from the Scottish Play:
I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as to go o'er. (III.iv.161-163)
Replace the word blood with nerdery and you have an idea of what was going on in my head - or not, I don't understand the workings of my brain very well either.
Saitama Super Arena, and the Animelo 2008 Summer Live concert that awaited me, represented one of the final steps in my nerd pilgrimage. Depending on your perspective, it was either the highest peak of American otaku-dom, or it was the moment Dr. Faustus rejected the offer of redemption and truly damned himself.
Spurred by my insatiable curiosity, my love of anime/tokusatsu songs, and the kind of conspicuous consumption that only comes when you plan a month-long vacation, I was drawn to the two-day nerdfest like a moth to a flame. Thirty-four acts in two days, at least twenty-seven of them very good acts live. I came in with high expectations. I was not disappointed.
Because Pocky wants this to be a complete report, I'll go through each act and offer some opinions on whether or not the act is any good (spoiler: Karen Girls? Not good).
Mizuki Nana and Tamura Yukari: The first act that came out was a one-two combo of the most popular seiyuu-singers in Japan today. You can find dozens of their videos on Youtube or Nico if you search, and as a huge Mizuki Nana fan myself, I recommend you look for her first. I noted to Seiya that Mizuki Nana is the Animelo equivalent of Wolverine, since they had her singing duets with, like, everyone last year at Animelo as an excuse to have her on stage more often. As I found out as the concert unfolded, there wasn't much Mizuki until the end, but I was fine with that, since overuse is always a Bad Thing(tm).
As for the music itself: on their own, these ladies are at least decent (Tamura) going all the way up to incredible (Mizuki), but their duet didn't impress me at all. First of all, they chose a really bland song to start with in the Gokujou Seitokai opening. Second, Mizuki Nana is a powerful singer who can hit any note she wants when given a place to stand. Calling Tamura Yukari's voice timid would be an exaggeration, but she got drowned out very often in those first two songs she sang with Mizuki. Third, they concentrated way too much on prancing around and acting cute instead of, you know, singing.
On the plus side, they did the monkey during the rather nonsensical Ano Ne - Mamimume*Mogacho (why no, I have no idea what that means either, why do you ask?). I have no idea what the song is about, but get cute girls to do the monkey for five minutes and I'll pay to watch. No joke.
That brings me to the next segment, which started after Mizuki Nana ran off the stage. It's also possible that she was removed from the stage via trap door, I don't remember quite clearly.
Tamura Yukari: If you've ever seen the kind of characters Tamura Yukari plays, you can imagine what her act is like. Think pink, with cutesy skirts and much waving of magic wands. If you're not a fan of 30-year-olds acting like little girls (cough cough Aice5) to invoke memories of an idyllic youth that never happened to most otaku, then you're a man after my own heart. I'm not big on the whole Tamura Yukari act, but she's a good singer and her writers tend to write songs that fit her squeaky range.
Ishida Yoko: I saw her a few years ago at Anime Expo, when she tried to transform herself into more of a dancy-poppy para para singer. Thankfully, she seems to have ditched that act in the past few years and concentrated on singing. Ishida Yoko isn't really an earth-shattering experience, but what she does, she does well - soft ballads and cheerful pop. She was more like an appetizer than anything else, keeping the energy level high in the arena without really filling anyone up.
yozuca* (please note - according to yozuca* herself, you spell her stage name "with a star on the ass... I mean at the end"): I met yozuca* and rino at Anime Expo when they came by, and I liked them instantly. It was mostly based on how they talked to each other, which reminded me of my nieces. They invoked my avuncular instincts (if there's one word you're going to learn from Dominic Nguyen and his English degree, it's avuncular) with their demeanor, and their voices were crisp and clear and... well, just listen to my favorite yozuca* song and hear for yourself.
As one of the lesser-known acts in Animelo, I was a little worried that she'd get a case of nerves in front of the largest crowd she'd ever seen. I didn't need to worry - she did great. She even sang her three-day-old single for us, which sounded awesome. I don't have a link for Morning-Sugar Rays, but it's good. It's written and produced by Elements Garden, so it's a lot catchier than the forgettable songs she sings outside of Da Capo.
rino: See above for an intro - rino is essentially the younger sister in the relationship, but what she lacks in pure vocal strength (see: Cross Heart) she more than makes up for in terms of song-writing talent. Thumbs up - she sang the Midori no Hibi song and a Da Capo song I'd forgotten, and it was all good.
m.o.v.e.: They were... m.o.v.e. They've been a eurobeat act forever, and will continue to be a eurobeat act until it doesn't make money anymore. You've probably heard them by now through Initial D or friends who liked Initial D and made your decision on whether you like them or not. Personally, I like them in small doses but can't listen to more than two of their songs in a row. I'll say this much: Motsu gives me hope that I, too, can act like a complete dork and make money off of it. He rode a bike and struck incredibly non-heterosexual poses on stage... and people ate it up. I wish I could do that and make money for it, instead of getting some cheap laughs from Katie!
AAA: AAA was an act that I'd never seen or heard before, so I tried to keep an open mind about them. It's hard to classify their music as anything other than "pop", so I won't bother. What matters is, there were 5 guys, 3 of whom spent all of their time dancing and 2 of whom were pretty solid singers, and 2 girls, who provided mostly backup vocals. Their dancing was good, as is expected of an avex group, and their Kamen Rider song got my blood pumping. Before I knew it, I was chanting "Ii jan! Ii jan sugee jan!" like a hardcore fan. That's about all you can ask for from a 2-song set, so they get the thumbs up overall. Decent as a dance troupe, the girls didn't annoy me, the rap wasn't terrible, and the vocals were good. I'll look for more stuff from them - since they're avex, I'm sure I'll be hit with an avalanche as soon as I do a search on Amazon.
(edit: hey look, they've released 4 albums and 19 singles in 4 years... yeah, I guess I have a big enough sample size to make a judgment call soon)
Karen Girls: Originally, I planned for this segment to be my Toilet Time. But there were too many people between me and the bathroom, and the Karen Girls only have one (poor-sounding) song anyway, so I bit the bullet and stayed put. The performance was what you would expect from a musical group formed of elementary school students - very peppy, a little out of breath, and, thankfully, over very quickly. The less said, the better.
The Yanmani Girls: Savage Genius + yozuca* + Chihara Minori covering YANMANI YANMANI YANMANI YAIYAAA. It's a good song, partially because way too fun to chant "yanmani" over and over again. But their voices didn't mesh together very well, and it sounded overdone at times. Fun, and especially fun when they got incredibly embarrassed calling themselves the "Yanmani Girls." But not a great performance out of three individually strong performers (this was kind of a running theme for the day).
savage genius: Aa, the stage half of the savage genius act, called us mean for laughing at her nervous self-mockery during the free talk segment, which only made us laugh harder. We got to hear a new song from her that hasn't been released yet, which was a thrill - I also watched the glowstick contingent (IE everyone who wasn't us) carefully to see if they'd miss a beat in glowstick-dancing their way through a song most people hadn't heard before, but they seemed to get by just fine.
The performance itself was great. I like savage genius' music, and between the yet-to-be-released Just Tune and Uta Kata opening Omoi wo Kanadete, I had a good time listening to her. Maybe I'll find a savage genius CD and poke through it before I come home, since I've only ever heard 3 savage genius songs in my life. That includes the two songs I heard at the concert.
AKINO from Bless4: Given that Akino only really has two songs, Sousei no Aquarion and Go Tight!, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. But I didn't account for her brothers and sister in Bless4. They are essentially the Japanese version of the Osmonds. They're even from Utah, which only strengthens the Osmond connection. Admittedly, the comparison breaks down because bless4 has one person dedicated to beatbox, but you know what I'm getting at.
Their English is perfect, which is jarring at a Japanese concert where the best English you can expect is "Skill my heart!" It was pretty amusing to hear them speak in Japanese, since it's almost flawless... until they get to a loan word. Whenever the members of Bless4 spoke in Japanese, the only time you could tell they weren't native was when they said things like "Summer" and "Artist" somewhere between the Japanese pronuncation (samaa and aatisuto) and the American English pronunciation. I couldn't help but giggle.
PS: ai shiteruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu was really fun to hear live, especially with tens of thousands of meme-saturated fans joining in the chorus.
GRANRODEO: I really like Taniyama Kishou, even though the only anime role I've ever heard him in is King Irresoluter in Akane Maniax. He's fun to watch and to listen to, whether he's bouncing around in a white afro and leopard print tights as "Jackie Yang" of Wild Sannin Musume or parodying the ending song of Char's Counterattack. He has the voice and presence of the frontman for an '80s rock band, and he doesn't take himself overly seriously. These are two great tastes that go great together. Needless to say, I liked what I heard of GRANRODEO, even if it was the first time I'd ever heard his band play. Oh yeah, I need to link some of their music... here you go.
Taniyama Kishou also added some desperately-needed testosterone to the proceedings. With Psychic Lover and JAM Project performing on Sunday, and Motsu from m.o.v.e. and the prettyboys in AAA being the only other real male presences on stage, his electric J-rock stylings were a breath of fresh air in a day saturated by girlpop.
Fun note: I blew Seiya's mind by telling him that Taniyama Kishou was Takayuki in KimiNozo/Rumbling Hearts. He blinked at me and said "What? He doesn't sound like him at all. He's not bitter or broken enough."
Kuribayashi Minami: I've never watched an episode of KimiNozo/Rumbling Hearts in my life, nor have I ever played the game. I don't like wallowing in misery, so I've avoided it like the plague. And yet, KimiNozo has launched three of my favorite acts in the world of anime music: Taniyama Kishou, Kuribayashi Minami, and Takahashi Chiaki (who is part of Animelo Sunday... I'm looking forward to it!). Kuribayashi Minami was the first of the three I discovered. Years ago, Hoshizora no Waltz nearly moved me to tears the first time I heard it, thanks to the clarity and pure quality of her voice. Kuribayashi Minami can hit the high notes damn well, and the simplicity of her emotion can punch my friends right in the emotional breadbasket. Right, Opus?
Because of these qualities, and because she's basically become Okui Masami's sidekick, she got more stage time than the other acts. While she didn't sing anything incredibly melancholy (thank God), she nailed all of her songs - the Kurenai opening, the new KimiNozo show's opening, and the Mai-HiME opening - with nary a breathless moment. And, as a bonus, she was wearing more clothes than she usually does in concert! Maybe people can stop using her breasts as a crutch.
Suara: Suara is a mainstay of my "Great songs from terrible works" playlist, with two exquisite songs from the execrable Utawareru Mono TV series. Sadly, she didn't sing them this year, as she already did them both at last year's concert - here, listen to Kimi ga Tame and Musouka from last year. This year, she sang the Tears to Tiara theme, another decent song from a shitty game, and then she surprised us all by performing her debut song, Seiza. I already own Suara's first album, and I might just buy her second album after her excellent performance at Animelo day 1.
Chihara Minori: Chihara Minori is the best singer out of the three female Haruhi seiyuu, by a mile. Hirano Aya is okay-ish but exceedingly unpolished, while Gotou Yuuko really needs to give up singing and stick to acting. But I digress.
Chihara Minori got 4 solo songs in total, way more than anyone else, and she did well with all of them. Well, Contact really doesn't count as a song, since it has maybe 4 lines of actual singing. It mostly consisted of her spinning around a bit to techno lightning and, saying "la la la la" every once in a while. The other songs were great, with a decent selection from her limited discography - another song from her first album Contact, her new single Ameagari something something (it's 4 AM, gimme a break here), and her Yuki character song. It was a pretty well-rounded performance, and I hope that her singing career manages to keep its momentum. I'm looking forward to hearing more from her, though hopefully not TOO much more. It's hard enough to try and avoid Hirano Aya shovelware.
Chihara Minori and Okui Masami: Rinbu Revolution was... hmm. How do I describe it? It was better when Mizuki Nana did it last year. Chihara Minori can't quite stand up to Okui Masami's sheer power yet, and I don't think the mix was that great either - it was a cover version and it showed.
Okui Masami: Okui Masami is an old hand at these shows now, and I think she was saving herself for Sunday too - aside from the duet, she only sang one song. I was tickled pink that it was a song from Muv-Luv Total Eclipse, and she hinted at some developments coming along on the Muv-Luv Alternative universe. I really hope Age gets cracking on more robots vs. aliens, dammit...
Oh yeah, Okui Masami is a good singer and great live performer. I think that most people who have watched anime over the last 15 years have figured this out by now.
ALI PROJECT: Bobthetrout used to torture me by playing early ALI PROJECT songs at every opportunity - mostly Peony Pink, from CLAMP Campus Detectives. Right around Noir, Takarano Arika decided to go goth, and she probably added a good 15-20 years to her career by doing so. She was a cutesy but not really distinctive singer back in her candypop days, and these days she's the queen of the Japanese aristocratic goth scene... or, at the very least, a pillar of Rozen Maiden fandom.
I've always been envious of her ability to cover the huge vocal range required by her work, and she was no less imperious this time. She made a few jokes about her advancing age, but the moment she suggested that she take a break from the music industry, there was a huge roar of disbelief. She was kidding, of course, but I can't really imagine an anime world without ALI PROJECT. Who would do all the weird, creepy music for shows like Shigofumi and Code Geass?
My only complaint about Takarano Arika's performance was that at a few points, I thought I was at a Marilyn Manson concert. The screen kept showing these weird androgynous naked bondage things, which was a little disconcerting. Oh well, you have to take the good with the bad... bondage... things. Okay, I should really move on before I think about this too hard.
Mizuki Nana: If you've spent much time with me over the last 8 years or so, you know that I'm a huge Mizuki Nana fan. Don't get me started on her enka background, her serious musical chops, or anything like that. I'll talk your ear off for a few minutes, realize that I'm geeking out, and stop awkwardly in mid-sentence. Ask anyone who's heard me pontificating about her, whether it's Ian and Matt hearing all about her while I play as Hinata in various (terrible) Naruto video games, or anyone who mentions Memories Off or Bistro Cupid to me. It's true.
Anyway, she came on the stage and owned it. She sang my favorite song from The Dumbening, which justified the cost of this entire trip in five minutes. She sang some random Nanoha song which, sadly, wasn't Massive Wonders, and then the fans roared for:
Mizuki Nana and Takarano Arika: After Mizuki sang a Rozen Maiden song last year, they promised that Takarano Arika would sing a Mizuki Nana song, and they gave us Eternal Blaze, one of my favorites on the "great songs from terrible shows" playlist. Sadly, this one wasn't great either - Takarano Arika just didn't seem suited to power pop, and while she gave it a very professional go, it didn't really flow very well.
Everyone: After that song, everyone came on stage for this year's "hey, let's have everyone sing" song, Yells. It's not a bad song, but the mic mixing was pretty horrible - Tamura Yukari was drowned out even more than she usually would be, voices got louder in the middle of someone's line, and all sorts of other things that usually mean that the sound team has fallen asleep. It was a little funny and a little distracting all at the same time, but it kind of dragged down what would have otherwise been a very satisfying 5-hour concert.
Random note: When I say "everyone," I don't really mean it - the Karen Girls were missing. Seiya and I joked that either they were at home asleep already, or that the concert had gone on so long that one of them had hit puberty, Brady-style.
Anyway, this has gone on way too long. I tried to be concise, but there were sixteen freaking acts! Expect a similarly long report tonight... 18 acts on the bill, with at least 4 of them being youtube/nico darlings.