Million Random Thoughts, Million Live Thoughts

Just some thoughts in my head about Million Live recently. Some have been around for years, others prompted by ML4th, and some looking forward to the near future.

0 WELCOME HOME KOTOHA

I think in the next few months Million Live will undergo some cool hype and changes. One of which is the reunification of the theater trope as Kotoha returns with her CV to the project. The way they did it was just the right amount of pomp and circumstances, too. Dropping it without notice was a nice surprise when I logged into the game 2 minutes after midnight JST to check out the “autio-group by song” feature in Theater Days…

For those who don’t know what “Kotoha’s return” means, it refers to that in late 2016, the voice actress for Tanaka Kotoha of Million Live, Taneda Risa (Tane-chan or Seed-kun, as they were) took a hiatus from work due to health issues. She returned to the industry towards the end of last year, and during her absence obviously she wasn’t able to perform at any of the Million Live events or voice her characters. This lead to the launch of Theater Days without Kotoha and only today they have added her to the game. IIIRC, her first notable roles since her return has been Shoukaku and Zuikaku from Azurlane, and reprising her role in the Gochiusa movie. For more Million Baggage on Seed-kun, refer to Million Live 4th Anniversary day 3.

Kotoha’s return also means I’ve been spending too much time finishing up this post. So consider this preface a warning about the amount of time spent since I started writing this piece and the time I publish.

1 BlueMoon Theater is full of crybabies

It’s true. Just watch the backstage footage from Million Live 4th Anniversary. Or even listen to Yukiyo talk about Jireha in the commentary tracks.

2 Dreamers, dreaming

When I look at Japanese idol culture, I see it as a marketplace or battleground of ideas, of personas and characters, as bands and groups put their best feet forward trying to “make it” or whatever. The fact that the girl next door can be an idol is liberating, not only for those people who pursuit this path but as a way to add life to an otherwise really stagnant and closely curated set of images that is the mainstream norm in Japanese entertainment. It’s not to say that is what idol is, or isn’t, it’s just what I see. It’s a large enough of a thing that many people are looking at it from many different angles, although some POV tend to dominate, maybe unfairly.

The other thing about this age of idol that interests me is how vibrant things were and still is, 10+ years since the invention of the Akimoto-brand idol team. There’s a lot of energy and youthful power even in the even-more-refined landscape where chika and semi-chika brands battle each other. The culture runs the gamut from low-end, anime-con-cosplay-cafe style of performance, to acts like Perfume. It helps that some famous establishments like DearStage have set the possibilities of what works, and a lot of business and groups tried different things, even if most do not last very long.

When you put the notion of seiyuu idol in that context, things get very different. For starters, being a seiyuu in Japan is weird, in that it’s a career that started out for stage actors and performers, and side gigs for stars and entertainers, and turned into its own thing. The pay is not good, and a lot of the types that work exclusively in otaku media, so to speak, end up doing something else later in life if they can’t transit as journeyman into evergreen profiles. And most don’t. A big challenge in the industry is that, unlike acting in front of a camera, where pretty faces age out after 5-10 years from doing younger roles, it’s not the case for voices. Old women in their 60s can still voice teenagers and kids roles, and there are actual teenagers and kids in the voice acting industry. It becomes a challenge for newcomers fighting for the same roles as veterans, people who have honed the craft after decades of experience versus people their junior, or even their students in some cases.

What’s more amusing or sad, depends on how you see the situation, is that there are more people trying to enter the industry than ever before. It’s definitely something people do because both they really want to be one, and because they have some inclination or talent for acting in general if not specifically voice acting. The landscape thus actually favors this particular trend for seiyuu idols. It’s a niche so it’s less competitive to start, but it’s also one that require at least the facade of youth and stage-level ability, raising the bar both against the overall seiyuu pool and older/veteran seiyuu. And even if these perceived differences are not a big deal in reality, the proliferation of this field adds job opportunity.

The rise of the gacha-style mobile games in Japan also plays right into it, in that these works are just a bigger budget version of those kind of units. Of course the developers and publishers or whoever is financing the property now owns the reigns to the show, but it’s still going to get produced in a way that allows business and professional relationships to leverage their values-adds. The fact that you can have successful games netting dozens and dozens of character voices, in an ongoing manner, is quite impressive and actually kind of new outside of long-running cartoon franchises and their summer movies or whatever, as far as seiyuu goes.

So, (back to) Million Live. It’s a IP in that the characters are idols, so the actresses for the roles are pretending to be idols. It’s like a sort of persona or a shield. It’s like when Hikasa Yoko fronts Mio from K-ON, versus when Hikasa Yoko fronts her solo music artist self–former is this really charismatic rock and roll image, the latter is more what you’d come to expect from seiyuu artists of her nature. Taking up the mantle of an IDOLM@STER idol is basically the same thing, except it’s likely even more closely aligned to the actor behind the character. The actors still fall in line with the limits of the characters and setting, but the limitations offer a kind of protection, which leads to freedom or liberation for the actors to be the best whatever they can be.

On top of that, the mantle is a big deal in IDOLM@STER. Million Live might be a spinoff on paper, but it carries the hopes and dreams, and most importantly, the future, for fans, of the core franchise.

3 Million Bench

I feel like Million Stars is broken into 3 tiers, and it’s basically how often different performers show up to events. The tier ones show up all the time, and the tier 3 idols show up rarely. You have the regulars, such as the traffic light trio, and a lot of the front-line seiyuu artist types. You have tier two, which are familiar but rarer faces who often are more the normal variety of seiyuu. Then you have the birds who rarely show up at events. It’s not a cut and dry thing, but for example, Hamasaki Nana and Harashima Akari are good examples of T3, and Suwa Ayaka and Inagawa Eri are T2s. Basically the cast that showed up for IM@S 10th is tier 1.

It isn’t really an issue in the sense that if the AKB model of idol group is Million Live based off of conceptually, there will be some idols who get a lot more exposure than others. And it’s divided up into teams, which isn’t the case in Million Live but it ends up being kind of similar? This isn’t so much an issue of merit, but an issue of opportunity. I don’t know why some seiyuu show up less frequently, besides that not every event can have every seiyuu, due to actual venue/time limitations, and it’s a budget thing too I’m sure. The ones get front and frequent exposure are likely due to relationships between the producers, and frankly they are also more equipped for it. There’s a two-way synergy where acts like Trysail can launch themselves with Million’s help but at this point, 5  years into things, the more successful acts can bring fans into Million too.

4 Uncharted Territory

Million Live is 5 years old this year. In standard seiyuu union pay scale terms, that means you’re no longer a newbie. In terms of franchises and such goes, 5 years is a fairly long time. In terms of the internet, 5 years is eternity.

When the news came out last week, about Yamazaki Haruka debuting as a solo artist, it was clear that most of the front liners in the franchise are now doing some kind of music act on the side, or front and center as the case may be. From a seiyuu point of view, doing a solo act was usually a gamble, and one that rarely pays off. It’s not surprising or unusual, as music biz is essentially different and generally only feeds on an idol’s core fan base. Very few takes off to a wider audience, and those who do have to walk a long, winding road. After all plenty of people are competing for the same opportunities outside of the seiyuu arena and can give more of themselves to it. But what does this mean?

I still remember the backlash from IMAS2 on TGS, and I wasn’t even a P then. It was loud and persistent. IDOLM@STER is a ground-breaking franchise, but having to run it this long the management have made their share of mistakes. I don’t expect them to be done with making mistakes. So as with all things new, we have to temper it with realism. I do think something is in store for Million Live this year that will get us over this hump. Maybe it’s the anime,  as unrealistic as that may be, but something.

5 Million Live Scheduling

After 4 years or so of eventing with IM@S there are some patterns you can figure out. Million Anniversary lives are always in the Spring. 765Pro runs their event in the Winter and/or Summer. Cinderella usually does mid year, from Summer to Fall, especially now it’s super popular and can fill all that time up with lives. SideM seems to be doing it in late Winter, although it seems to overlap with Million, in that both can tour and then run from late Winter to mid Spring.

That said, Million 5th is in the first weekend of June. We still have 4 months or so left. There are about 2 and a half Platinum Star type events in Theater Days a month. So we have maybe 9 events or so until then. With Kuraki Tsuki they’ve broke rank and introduced new “Generations” line songs, like the three traffic-light color Tour events. Anything can really go now, especially because the same idol can appear in two of them (Megumi). Well, not that big of a deal.

Looking at the CD release schedule, we are due the rest of the M@ster Sparkle series by late May, with volume 6 out this week and it takes about 3 weeks in between each release. I don’t know what that’ll leave us with The@ter Generations line but it started in Million 4th with the Idol Heroes promo, so it will likely wrap up by the time 5th comes around as well. The The@ter Boost material may also fill up the line, that we will find out next Wednesday when that particular live stream will break out the winners and other major announcements.

With Million returning to SSA, it promises to be a great show, as that venue is now turning into a regular stomping ground for IDOLM@STER and team Jungo.

6 Respect

Million Live is kind of the butt of the joke subfranchise of IDOLM@STER. This is not the worst place to be–876pro is just forgotten nowadays and used as weird tidbits online from people to show they know a thing or two about IDOLM@STER (much like Xenoglossia, except that was an actual anime). I would prefer being butts of “an anime being made” joke than that. What’s scary (in a funny way) is with 283Pro being announced this week, it is not unfathomable it would get a TV anime even before Million. That said, the old rumors were saying Million Live anime in 2018 or later, and we’re in 2018 now, so it’s not impossible. I just wish people would respect our feelings a little on this regard, LOL.

And Shinymas/283Pro? It’s way too early to tell, but the point of the nama is to set the expectation and set the stage for the subsequent announcements. We got a couple months at least yet to go.

7 True Strength

I always thought what made Million Live shine as a franchise worth my time, attention and money, was the performers. It also helped a lot that the series hooks straight on to the core 765Pro unit, which is what I first loved about IDOLM@STER. But as I learned quickly, Million is a different thing. In the old Greemas-only days I didn’t understand what made the franchise tick. But it didn’t take much to get converted once I saw them on stage performing, even if it was just a Blu-ray.

It feels like walking a long, winding road in a forest across the mountain, and then seeing the landscape open up as you make a turn to the other side. “Ah, this is why I am here,” you think to yourself, as you see the scenery open up as trees give way. This is the real strength of Million Live, these fresh seiyuu idol acts, on stage, with all that hope, dreams, and training, and some are even quite talented, no worse than mainstream talents.

The seiyuu otaku in me still prefers certain things–like playful persona behind a distinctive and emotive voice. It doesn’t always land her jobs, but someone like Kiritani Choucho is a good example of this. Well, the seiyuu industry is full of people trying to get jobs to sustain their dreams, after all. I dig all the seiyuu, to some extent, in the series, because I appreciate both the art and the craft, I guess, despite these kinds of things are not what typically draw fans in.

8 The wall is taller than ever

The hiking analogy is metaphorical in that it is both rewarding but laborious to climb over the wall of IDOLM@STER fandom. I felt it in 2014 and that wall has only gotten both wider and taller. The good thing is also that it’s easier to scale the wall than ever before, at least certain parts of it. There are a lot more people who practices IDOLM@STER, so to speak, in local languages now than 4 years ago. There are a lot of folks who understand conceptually via other series, what IDOLM@STER is about, even if that angle of entry is just a tiny bit of the full thing. There are more attractions to draw people in; namely Deresute and Theater Days. It also helps that the mainline PS4 games are available in Chinese and Korean. The live events have made landfall in Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, China, and even the United States. It’s a crazy thing to think about, 4 years back.

The fandom has gotten bigger, and I think it’s an overall good. It has also gotten more varied in the depths. It’s not like you need to be an ArcademasP to appreciate the story about 765Pro existed from year 1 to year 10, but you might not know, say, that Nicomas P Momozaki. Maybe how Eriko smashed her head with a cardboard box? Probably not though. Which is fine in a world where you can be a P, and learn about the best practices, and only produce Mika and Shiki or some such. In that sense, it’s a choice to walk deeper into the inner confines of the fandom, to scale to higher heights, and see the views from up top. Not everyone is a mountain climber, so not everyone needs to do it, but the option is there.

9 Image Training

I can’t find the link, but it was quoted that the Bushiroad top dog started BanG Dream after seeing Aimi jamming it at MOIW2014, which was the first time she performed Ryuuseigun with a guitar. I think the same level of cool-band will happen in ML5th with Star Trip. The song is built with these fairly simple acoustic guitar chords phrases in it. The guitar solo portion in the bridge is not the usual complex nano.RIPE stuff (which really hits in the outro when the staple nano.RIPE sound comes in). Imagine the arena with a spotlight on Aimi while she jams out the first part of Star Trip by herself and with her long time friend…it would sound really great.

It is hard to think about the other songs right now, other than perhaps Kuraki Hoshi, Tooi Tsuki. Or rather, it’s the only other one that is notable. I imagine the usual lineup will roll in and out on stage, like how 4th was handled, with the typical solos and what not.

When Machico sings “Wake Up Wind” as the backing track in Tsubati’s Sparkle solo, doesn’t it sound like “Wake Up Pee”? I remember for a while we didn’t know what she was saying and then we looked in the lyrics book after the CD was released. Oh well.


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