Monthly Archives: August 2015

Otakon 2015: Wrap

I flew back to the States on Wednesday 2 weeks ago. Technically I landed in SFO on that Tuesday evening out of a red eye from HND, but my connecting flight out of SFO is yet another red eye to EWR. It was pretty rough, considering I started that calendar day in Osaka.

A day later I was in a Baltimore bar eating wings. I’m not sure if that was the smartest of ideas. I still don’t know, now that I’ve gotten the con done and away with, back to the daily grind. (I think the Shake Shack on Sunday before my drive back home was a worse idea. But now I know they leave cans of Old Bay on the tables there, presumably for your fries.)

Again...

Otakon 2015 is perhaps most notable for being less crowded than the past couple years. I forget if they released the numbers but everything felt spaced out. This is most notable the few times I had to cross the 300-level bridge in the BCC and the walkway to the Hilton. The dealer’s room felt less crowded too, according to some of my friends. I didn’t see a big difference personally.

It also feels like this year’s Otakon, as a result, ran pretty smoothly in general. I only lined up for one autograph, although I probably could have gotten more. I wanted to take it easy, you see, so I tried. It was a little funny to see the same faces I saw in Japan just the week before, but such is how things go.

If there was a major fail, it was me missing out on face time for Toyonaga. I stuck firmly on the Park Romi track, sans the Garo panel on Friday. I think even her Saturday autograph session was not too difficult if you woke up early enough for the line up going in. In person, she’s quite playful, perhaps an even more uninhibited Yuzunee. When they said at AX about this Kill la Kill cast…is like this, it’s true. It’s something to say about theater types I guess.

Other than that, the only panel of note that I attended was the Aldnoah Zero panel where Joanna punched through a deck of production materials while Aoki-kantoku and producer Nagano talked shop. They’re pretty serious about this so the panel was on the dry side. Loot-wise though they gave out some scripts, which was pretty sweet.

I attended the Love Live 3rd live screening thing. The abridged video didn’t have Snow Halation. I gave out some UOs in advance because people were asking for it (and I just have some on me). I guess they got trolled. Watching Love Live in the flesh is pretty fun, and there’s something to be said about the dance choreo when it matches the songs that has anime or CG PVs. I’m not sure what else there is to it though. It’s as if the concept relies less on individual charm but more on the “idoling” concept? Not quite, because the individuals do get their usual spots and memory bomb moments. I don’t have the right words here to describe it, but it’s a little different than what I’m used to.

The dealer’s room was okay. Nothing to write home about, besides that I ended up buying some LTHs to fill out my collection. I guess this is the second set of IM@S CDs I have collected. Another way to spend money I suppose, with Live Theater Dreaming on the horizon.

I again spent more on food than on merch this Otakon. Go figure.

The rest of the con time I spent doing lines and concerts at the end of the lines. To just get it out there, Oreskaband is legit and very good. They had a show this past Thursday downtown and I was too tired to hit that up, but you should’ve if you aren’t allergic to ska, and have a thing for Japanese girl bands. I feel that’s the same schtik with Draft King, just sub ska with rock, but their show could have done more to inspire confidence, let’s just say.

The former-Stereopony-turned-new-leaf band did a bunch of covers at their show. I think they have promise but it didn’t feel like the band is all together yet. With that said, they were still entertaining. I also managed to not go to their panel (or Oreskaband’s). Was Nohana always this rocking? She was rocking.

Back-On performed on Thursday at the Otakon matsuri and that’s a more familiar kind of thing for me. They’re an oddly fitting group for Otakon’s music set this year. I can rep them. The turnout was pretty okay for their show, probably a few hundred people, but that’s the Matsuri in a nutshell.

Well, it’s really the usual this year. I went to hang out and eat meat. And maybe shake the jetlag while at it. I don’t think it all quite worked out, but I’ll live and learn.

PS. Food wise, Fogo served us the $30 special. We went to Kona Grill and while the food was pretty good the service was super slow. We were seated at around 10:15 and some of us didn’t get our food until almost midnight. Pre-game on Thursday was more or less the same. I had to slowly amp up my eating over the weekend due to an illness that started while I was in Japan, but by the end of it I think I still made things work out with no issues. We did hit up the new Chipotle that replaced the Cali Tort location and it works out as you’d expect. The lines were a little on the slow side but it’s a good break from JJ if you wanted something on par with streetside food but with more QC. And of course, the aforementioned Shake Shack.

PPS. Doing a con after an exhausting 10th trip was not the best idea. I was zombie all week after and slept all day on the weekends to recover. I think it was more 10th than Otakon, though. It was a really, really exhausting trip, partly because of my usual packed agenda (besides eventing I went all over), but also you should never underestimate Seibu Dome in mid July. Seesh.


Cinderella Girls 16

Nana, Haruna, Saori

I think this episode serves a bit of a trigger warning for me, jokingly speaking. The subject matter in this week’s Cinderella Girls deals with the characters the idols put on. I feel, over the years, this is just something that gets confounded by westerners and when it’s in the context of musical artists, many if not most people do not get it.

To be fair, it’s also kind of a strange idea from any point of view, not just a western one. Even if we talk about relatively fundamental concepts like honne and tatemae, it’s not easy to explain what happens to Maekawa Miku when she puts on her glasses or when she puts on her cat ears. It’s like personas, but it isn’t like a disguise or a mask. On top of that in reality things are even murkier, and not as clear cut, and things bleed everywhere.

Well, reality in Japan’s ad-covered train cars and wide sidewalks of Tokyo, maybe, it’s a little easier to figure out. We think of characters from construction companies or big-box stores as mascots, or funny commercials where the mascot or spokesperson or whatever that it is, as a representation of what it is–a commercial conveying some idea about some goods or services. In the case of a normal human being as the mascot, no matter it’s the “public face” or the “private face,” it still reflects the individual to some varying degrees. (And in the “silly Japanese advertisement” context it can mean very little.) What does that mean for idols?

Last week, we saw Takagaki Kaede, who is this pun-ripping idol whose earnestness might be her most charming point in my eyes. She was who she is in front of her fans, and she stands by that in order to gets her feelings across, despite the ups and downs presented in the episode. It might be easy to say that Kaede can do it because she was being true to herself, her feelings, but it’s exactly the same thing that Abe Nana had to do this week to remain Usaminseijin. But her character probably could be said as the antithesis in some ways. It’s a manufactured identity that avid late-night anime viewers are probably familiar with.

I thought this week’s episode particularly struck a chord for me because it speaks a lot louder if you’ve seen Marietti perform Märchen Debut (like from SSA). Here it is, this “typical” looking Japanese voice actress, in the idol getup, doing her best trying to channel Abe Nana who is channeling her Usamin persona, and she’s leading an arena full of people to go “Mimimi, mimimi, Uuusamiiii.” There’s that dissonance between what you see but at the same time, you’re having a lot of fun. It’s exactly like how this week’s episode is trying to portray the difference between the Kaedes of the world versus the “gag tier” idols that we don’t take seriously.

Just because some of us don’t take it seriously doesn’t mean the idols don’t take it seriously, or does it mean it’s not worth taking seriously. It is no different of a craft between the different types of idols out there. Just different “images” or characters. And that gap is something universal, just that in Japanese idol culture, it’s a very complicated and strangely manufactured thing. It’s kind of like how Lady Gaga works I guess? And it’s clear that there are good gag idols and great gag idols, so just like any other craft, some are better at it, and there’s an art to it.

And on that note, ever seen Key the Metal Idol? That’s a good show to see what “manufacturing” means in this context. Granted in the year 2015, idol culture is closer to what is portrayed in Million Doll than Love Live or Idolm@ster or Key (circa 1994), but the totem pole building never ends in that sense, where our favorite idols serve as conduits between the potentially sprawling franchises behind them, and the sea of fans (or even just a single one) in front of them. It’s about fellowship through personality, dance and music, and that’s no different today than it was thousands of years ago.

Which is to say I think this looking down at the idol warring factions (say, AKB48) is just a misunderstanding of what Japanese idols do. AKB as a franchise may have its problems, some could even be used to characterize larger ills in the Japanese entertainment industry or even Japanese culture in general, but that’s entirely besides the point of why and how fans love idols. And yeah, I feel certain groups out west look down on Japanese idols because they have a thoroughly western sense of artistic authenticity and don’t want to really understand how things work in this context.

And hopefully this week’s Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls would help to explain that.