Otakon Music Fest 2012

So, Otakon and Lantis had a baby and after 3 months of anticipation, we were there to celebrate its birth.

JAM Project, the globe-trotting anime song promoters and epic arena rockers, headlined what seemed to be an usual Saturday night at the Ram’s Head Live, a fairly well-known concert venue in the Baltimore inner-harbor area. At least, to some locals who’ve been to the venue for various other acts, including some Otakon events in years past, Ram’s Head is located in an area of town that feels a little familiar. I get the feeling that wasn’t the cast for most at this concert.

Along with JAM Project, Lantis brought over Faylan and Aso Natsuko. That really fanned the flames for me. Why? Because they are while relatively novice anison acts, they are genuine solo anison artists with multiple solo albums. It’s easy to imagine “hey it would be pretty darn awesome to have Anisama ~Baltiport~” or some such nonsense. I get the feeling that was also what the various event organizers had in mind.

Fact is, the idea of the Otakon Music Fest started years ago; at least that’s when I first have heard of it. I didn’t know how long ago when the idea first found momentum nor did I know the amount of hard work, luck, pluck, chemical X, or whatever that was necessary to bring it about. Like lucky fans that were at the venue, we waited after we heard about it, for three months, paid some amount of monies, and enjoyed ourselves. Maybe it will grow into that epic all-star music festival some of us had in mind in the future.

The truth is, though, every journey still begins with just one step at a time, so the metaphorical baby has to have, I hope, its humble beginning. Or in business-speak, the experiment has to be a success and the show has to make money. While we were promised just a concert with the three acts, we were also promised (and sold) a VIP add-on of roughly $60, in order to make possible to get an autograph and some mingle time after the show. Did you know the show started about on time? This is on Japanese-time, this show.

Oh, before I forget, set list. I don’t know if I will walk it through blow-by-blow, but I’ll highlight the interesting parts. Note that there are most likely some inaccuracies.

Faylan batted first (this was subject to confusion throughout the afternoon: who went first?)

1. WHITE Justice
2. Realization
3. Dead End
4. Errand
5. Mind as Judgment

Then it was the totally-adorbs Natsuko Aso (henceforth Natchan…or Natcha~an or whatever)

1. More-more LOVERS!!
2. Everyday Sunshine Line
3. Eureka Baby 
4. Diamond Star
5. Perfect-area complete

Then it was Big Brothers and Sister JAM Project (after a 10-minute, Pocky-moderated break):

1. Crest of “Z’s”
2. Vanguard
3. Break Out
4. Hagane No Resistance
6. Rinbu Revolution (Masami Okui)
7. We Are! (Hiroshi Kitadani)
8. Yuusha-ou Tanjou! (Masaaki Endoh)
9. Cha-La Head-Cha-La (Hironobu Kageyama)
10. King Gainer Over / Dynamite Explosion (Yoshiki Fukuyama)
11. Transformers EVO.
13. GONG
15. Rescue Fire
16: EC-1: KI-ZU-NA
17. EC-2: SKILL

Yeah, only five each? That is shorter than JAM Project’s thing by almost 50% if not more, once you count the encore and the … long SKILL. I wasn’t too disappointed to be honest, partly because I was saving energy for JAM’s inevitably epic aerobic exercise, and they played most of my favorites. Not having Dark Side of the Light was kind of rough but man. I wish each of them would go another 2 more songs. Then again, I’m the kind of person who would go to a full show from either of them!

The crowd was not huge but they were energetic. And in some sense JAM Project’s East Coast fans might actually rival their South American fans in terms of loudness and intensity. For anison fans overseas, that is quite the exception. I arrived at around 3:30 and it was rowdy. JAM Project was doing their rehearsal at the time and the line busted out in songs, almost too loudly since we lined up in this narrow corridor. It’s safe to say Hurricane Sandy weeded out some of the lukewarm or simply non-committed types, but it’s hard to say many, if at any, of the people at this show were lukewarm or non-committed.

I have to kind of whine though (if I can’t whine on my blog where can I…oh wait)–lining up before the show is what they do in Japan, because you get to buy merch before it sells out. Lining up to go to the show in America is only something you do for huge acts in large arenas where it matters where you may end up sitting. A venue like Ram’s Head Live is at most 7-800 (maybe 1000?) and even at the back of the floor you can get a pretty intimate show. So it’s kind of annoying that I ended up going early and line up. On the flip side that gave me a good spot on the floor and I worked my way up to the 2nd row after Faylan’s set. So maybe I shouldn’t whine after all. Well, I probably would’ve been fine if I was relegated to jumping in the back. It just wouldn’t give me the nice photo ops that now I can share (at the end) nor the up-close view of Natchan’s high socks. Why do I like those? Sick otaku. Speaking of Natchan’s apparel, that hat, man. Nice. (Go to the end notes for some deets!)

Faylan dressed mostly casual and it only made her fiery self stand out just a little more. I’m kind of glad that her presentation is as plain as she appears to be, rather than the very…uh, extreme look she has in her promo material. She did pull a LiSA at some point on stage, and that got the crowd going. And by what I mean “pulled a Lisa,” well, hopefully you can get some photos from LiSA’s AX 2012 red carpet for what I mean.

JAM Project are in good form as before. I was close enough to see En-chan’s face getting more wrinkled, which was about as wrinkled as it was last time they were in town? Kageyama looked almost younger, man. I can’t really discern any difference between Dani now and 5 years ago. Makkun, well, according to at least one person, has put on weight. I guess that might be the case? It would explain why she was wearing a crab bib during SKILL’s epic chorus.

I guess, yes, the epic chorus. It was really the key piece missing from the 2008 concert. We did SKILL for maybe an extra 5-7 minutes, which included Dani pulling out a couple Crabby-chan plushies and throwing them around, play acting as if it was alive. Makkun put on a bib. And then Kageyama pulled out Faylan and Natchan for the final I CAN FLY part. It was a good time. It was…well, mini Anisama, circa. 2009. Only if Makkun and Faylan did Soul Refrain duet right then!

After SKILL we all dispersed, except then Jim spoke over the MC to have us line up and get our VIP badges. Which just means you get to line up to get your badge, and then line up again to get in an autograph line. It turns out the VIP thing is reduced to just getting an autograph, have a quick chat with the guests (people who went later had more talk time, I think), while my group and I hung around the bar and socialized. It was also interesting to see all the Lantis people doing whatever they were doing. After the autograph session the guests took a few Q&As, and president of Lantis gave a toast, and then it was the photo session.

Fukuyama was not present–he will be missed, but only a little, because they ended up Skyping him into his solo segment. There were some technical problems with it but it turned out hilariously entertaining anyway. Yeah, it was that kind of a crowd, for that kind of a dude.

All in all, the show itself is good. The only real downer is the very slow merch line. It is a problem two ways–first you kind of need the towel and that was the only way to get theirs unless you brought one (and someone I know did…). The second problem was that typically you can buy merch after the show. Except for most folks, it’s VIP time after the show and the merch was closed by the time autographing was done. That kind of sucked.

The merch booth had a lot of stuff for sale–both of the two albums from Faylan and Natchan were on sale, as with 4 JAM Project CDs, at about $40 a pop. Each artist brought a towel; Faylan had a t-shirt and a wrist band, and Natchan sold an orange hopi (only $35!) and something I forget. JAM Project brought a ton of stuff–chopstick, keychain/light combo pack, scrunchies, a “cutie kit”, playing cards, a couple t-shirts, and some other stuff I probably forgot. On the side, Otakon was selling a festival shirt where the proceeds go to charity.

That’s not the only places I spent money…well, we all had some drinks. Some of us had more than others, but $3 rum & coke? Woo.

My Natchan stock has gone up a lot. I saw some videos of her over the years (years, wow) and while she never struck me as a looker, there’s this natural cuteness she was able to extrude that you can better appreciate in real life. She’s a bit of an actress (well, she technically is I guess) and has more otaku cred than your average anison singer. Faylan, well, shoots straight and when she stumbled with English during her last MC, it was as moe as it gets.

Revisiting Jam Project (and seeing Makkun being semi-grumpy) always makes my day. Only if this could happen every year. Well, hopefully this is going to be the case–both Lantis President and Kageyama said something to that extent! Maybe we’ll celebrate year #2 next year!

PS. Photos. Shoddy but it’s all I can do. All you can do. Kagayake TRANSFO–oh.

PPS. I probably know a whole lot of you at the show, and I probably didn’t see all of you that I know. Well, I’m sure I’ll see you all soon.

PPPS. Natsuko Aso? Did you see her? Did you like her? Are you one of those people going to Japan end of this year? You can see Natchan at her Tokyo live at Shibuya O-East on December 27! Details all right here.

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