Monthly Archives: November 2018

Importing Japanese Eventing Culture: Chara Expo USA 2018

In my red-eye-flight induced state of mind, Chara Expo USA is very much like your standard Japanese expo event where the day begins the night before, as you and your group figure out if you want to camp overnight or not. Or maybe if you did, you are now figuring out how you can do it in the least painful way. If you didn’t, Chara Expo is a con where you go in and see the stuff, and there were stuffs, and you can maybe buy a thing or two.

If you did, which is most people who are going to be participating events, as events at the show often have limited tickets that you need to enter. There was a stage set up in which people with event tickets can enter, and people without tickets can stand along the outside barrier and see the event. For people experienced with Japanese anime/manga/industry/doujinshi events, this should seem kind of familiar.

In order to get any of the priority things or event tickets or autograph tickets, while supplies last, you need to get into the line to buy the things to get said tickets or priority things. In order to get into the line before too many other people are in the line ahead of you, you need to camp the entry, outside. This is why Chara Expo always start the night before.

Unlike the rest of the Japanese media mix expo experience that Chara Expo USA brought to us, we were missing the line management piece. Which isn’t to say the lines were bad–once you enter the premises, the lines were well-managed. The goods checkout process for the main booth was smooth and fast. You got the tickets as they should and people were generally very good about that. The autograph line was a little messy but since it was all ticketed, it doesn’t even matter. What was missing was the prevention of that big, bad, nasty night battle that resulted from the lack of line management for the line to get into the event. There were some; part of it from fans, others from some staff who did set up and lead the lines. What was missing was any enforcement of cutting, or even just farming the line so it is orderly and in columns.

In Japan, staffers will at least set up areas where you can park your gear and save your space. It basically removes the ability for people to “hold spots” because you were assigned a spot as you enter the queue. It isn’t just a disorderly line, and more often than not there will be barriers to mark your areas from intrusion. We needed that badly. That was almost half the time I spent at Chara Expo–outside or around the area where people were lining up.

With that whine out of the way, Chara Expo USA is basically an exhibition of a lot of Bushiroad stuff, and their associated connections which pulls in some Japanese vendors (mostly local) and cultural stuff, like this guy named Okazu who does sumi-e paintings. He did a live demo, and had a gallery up. Swallowtails set up a popup shop if you enjoy your butlers. I am at least curious. The crew of 4(?) also took turns doing karaoke at a public stage for community acts.

The usual industry partners were there too, like Aniplex and GSC both had booths. Animate USA had a booth. HiDive was there to shill Revue. I saw Cospa. There are some that I missed I’m sure. There is also the expected card game section of Chara Expo where Jungle was situated.

I was there mostly for the Big Autograph Session both days, plus the music performances both days. On Saturday it was a mini live by three members of Poppin’ Party and then the BanG Dream session band Raise A Suilen. On Sunday it was Roselia. Autograph-wise, I was interested in generally a lot of them, although outside of Aimi, Kudou Haruka and Nakashima Yuki, I had more of just a passing curiosity. It’s also an opportunity to explore some new talents, let’s just say.

Due to the 3-ticket-per-person-per-run constraint, I managed 3 autographs on day 1 (I watched RAS outside the barriers) and 2 on day 2 (Roselia seat chuusen was a good move I think). I’ll run through each of the “sub events” here.

Day 1 Autograph 1: Koyama Momoyo looked the part of a stage actress even in this setting. I said I went to see her and she is really cool on stage. Not sure if all of it came through. Got a thanks and got ushered out pretty fast. The autograph process was fairly streamlined and they had 4 staffers at each one to manage things. That’s 1-2 more than typical. It’s pretty amusing to balance Momoyo’s cute look and the fact that she plays this happy dolt that has to be cool during those climatic scenes. I selected her mainly because I wanted to see her up close and kind of get an idea of her mannerism, especially since she’s not really the seiyuu type.

Day 1 Autograph 2: Kudou Haruka looked every part like Kudou Haruka. It’s been like a decade since I first saw her from Noein bonus videos, but she still struck me in a way the same as she used to. She’s even doing a photo book which is coming out soon. I guess now I am more familiar with her from Instagram? I told her about how I enjoy her IG and got ushered out. Too fast. During the lineup for this, the pro wrestling stage was going on so it was very deja vu of Anime North. I saw Jushin Liger? You can definitely tell the skill level of these NJPW types are at least pro level. Also at the same time was the Popipa stage so I was watching whatever left of that that I could.

Day 1 Autograph 3: Nakashima Yuki was cute and had that chika-idol-turned-major countenance. Did I say she was cute? She is very cute. I told her I will be going to Cinderella Girls Nagoya and she told me see you later as I got ushered out. Nice touch. You can really tell which one of these people know and do the work-the-fan thing, and those who are just doing it because they have to. Well, they all had to LOL.

Raise A Suilen live: I stood on the right side of the event space outside the barricaded area. It was still quite close to stage left and that is where Riko stood. Even Raychell, who was basically cemented in the middle [by that, I mean, “POSITION ZERO”], was pretty close as I was about half way up from the stage. It was pretty rock. Compared to the handful of Japanese girl bands that I’ve seen perform, you can actually tell these players are pretty good at what they’re doing, but there was definitely a feeling that they are a session band. I was mostly impressed with Raychell and Natsume, although once Riko started to kick-skanking while jamming that was really neat to see. Idol dance kicks while playing is definitely a worthy burst appeal. Somehow Reo’s performance head play was more weird than wow, though. Seeing Kohara Riko on guitar was a lot of fun and a definite discovery. She was in the unit formed to sing for Sket Dance and that meant I listened to a lot of her singing during those days. She’s also in some Happy Elements idol thing, which a fun guy told me about, LOL.

Day 2 Autograph 1: Otsuka Sae is basically a WYSIWYG kind of girl, so it seemed. Her outfit that day reminds me of something I saw on Aimi’s IG… Anyways. I told her she was really cool the day before while playing the guitar, and while it’s a casual complement it’s close to what I like the most about her. When she “does” it on stage there’s this wild flash in her eyes right before she turns it on. I tried to get all 3 guitarists on the second day for autographs, but as Aimi sold out almost right away. I ended up getting the Roselia show ticket as consolation prize.

Day 2 Autograph 2: Koharu Riko is for the most part a brand new person. I did see the footage of “The Third (kakkokari)” during the delayed viewing earlier this year but seeing her in person was another issue entirely. She is also very cute and she has that chika idol glow as well. It’s not as strong as Yukki’s but her getup was just adorable that day. She wore a bundle at the top of her head (see also: Yurucamp). A big reason why I was there was to hang out with other Koharu Riko appreciators, as I am not quite one.

BONUS: Day 2 Vanguard Talk Stage: I sat in to this event kind of after it has already started, maybe more than half way through. It was a free event and a lot of people sat in to camp for the Revue stage afterwards in the same main events space. Anyway, I was tired and wanted to rest, and there were seats here. Also, Aimi was there, along with Morishima Shuuta and Maeda Seiji. I know nothing of Vanguard, so I took some joy when Aimi drew DA PUMP when the USA question came up, and kind of dozed.

Starlight Review stage: It was a talk show where the cast member introduces the show and characters to the crowd. Oh, Lisle was running all the talk stages in her usual style, although it being scripted completely helps to balance her style a lot. Maybe that’s why she does things that way? Anyway, Mimo, Momoyo and Aiai did their thing. They were also showing dub clips of stuff from the anime and featured a few highlight clips (and one spoiler I guess). They also showed some clips from the first musical. I was pretty tired from camping overnight two nights in a row so I basically sat in the stage area before it started to take a power nap. Since this event wasn’t ticketed people were just camping in there. The talk stages had varying amount of audience members inside the main event area. Most of the time it was sparsely attended, but Revue had the most people not counting the ticketed events. It was totally full in fact, and some people were standing inside the blocked off area.

The questions asked at these stage events are kind of worse-than-softball filler questions, but for some of them they are closer to the standard seiyuu nama stuff, where they might have to draw something or whatever. For Revue the focus was more on explaining what they were doing.

Roselia live: In a lot of ways this was the main event at Chara Expo USA. Roselia as a group is by far the most popular thing in BanG Dream in Japan, and I think it’s also true in the States. People were scalping (buying) the seriken (I’m just going to use this term to describe the event ticket, because that’s specifically what it is) even, despite the obvious fact you can watch the show from afar for free. They even pulled out a random seating process out of their butts last minute, to not conflate the people camping priority of the seriken with people camping the area outside main events (so they can be up along the barrier). It’s pretty neat–although usually in Japan they just number the seriken for that reason.

I didn’t even know this but the word did get out in the grapevine. There were about 300 seats in the event space, and there were maybe another 200-300 people standing to watch the show. I guess they could have added more chairs last minute or something. Anyways, we (seriken holders) were filed in by staffers about an hour before the event. Then as we are being admitted in a single file, we draw a number from a big box (probably used in a stage event?) which has a number from 1 to 300 on it. Then we go sit in a seat with the same number. Two staffers in the event space helped usher people to their seats. It did not take long to do this, since there were only 300 people, and everyone lined up early or just about. Being the last major event in the show also meant not much else was going on at the time I guess. Anyways this was rather neat way to use RNG to settle something people could spend hours camping on, and it felt like a good tradeoff.

I had slightly above average luck on seating (#147), but bad luck in general because while I had a center-center seat, the guy directly in front of me was about 6 inches taller. Welp.

The show started promptly–given that every event on Saturday was delayed by 20-30 minutes, they preemptively moved everything by 30 minutes on Sunday. We got the full visual-kei-animu treatment with the band members walking in, and from then on it was history.

I can’t find a setlist off hand, but they did play their newest song and it’s largely based on Roselia’s live last weekend, where the new keyboardist was introduced and played 3 songs.

AND OMG SHE SHOWED UP AS A SURPRISE GUEST AT CHARA EXPO USA. She also played 3 songs.

They were pretty ham about this, considering they had to roll in a platform with all the keys and stuff. The full show was still just an hour long, so we miss much of the MC in exchange for just a lot of hype songs in quick order. When Aiai talked less she seemed more cool than she really was. Anyways, Aiai and the cast let in the clue in a few phrases, and people went crazy because there weren’t much time between our minds registering and seeing the crew moving in the hardware.

The new character voice for Rinko is Shizaki Kanon. She was super nervous at the show–it was totally on her face. It didn’t help that we are a bunch of American kids, and she barely speaks any English. It didn’t help that there were some EQ issue with her rig during her first song. It certainly did help that people went nuts with her surprise appearance and she got more limber as the show went on. It also feels like she has that AKB48 new idol vibe. Maybe it’s just what a nervous young woman looks like?

Anyways, the set and the song and the crowd and the sound all were fairly good. I was a bit concerned about the sound at the venue, but it turned out to be just fine for something like Roselia. And they are basically every bit as fun in a big dome as they are in a smaller space inside a convention hall. It was probably two-thirds showmanship and one-thirds the music driving the story, with Aiai as its conductor. Shimayukki, Megucchi and Kudoharu are the supporting priestesses who pay respects to the fakest of fake rock music, and it works. I mean, I have to give it to her–y’all know I’m into the other 3 (or 4, since new person is new, and very shy LOL) more than I am into her, but I find my eyes drift back onto her because she literally was working as the focus of each set.

On the last day of Chara Expo there was a mikoshi going around. It feels in a way the same as Roselia’s orientation at an exo-cultural event like Chara Expo USA. I’m just glad we got the right crowd and the right sizing and, most importantly, Bushiroad did not half-ass their effort to bring Roselia’s A-game to the USA.

PS. I’m going to Anime NYC and AWM both days. RIP sleep. But do come & say hello.


Okui Masami 25th & HAPPY END Live “Celebration”

Okui Masami is a major figure in the anisong industry, mainly because she was one of the backbone persons during the early King Record/Starchild days. She is directly the senpai of Mizuki Nana and she has kind of cemented things once she joined JAM Project. She also started her own record label and done various other things behind the scene over the years. Today she still produces, writes music and provide chorus and “lead tracks” for various anisong, outside of her solo and JAM Project work. Well, it would be better said that she has done a lot over the years, and nowadays she has largely moved onto doing JAM Project type stuff.

As I say this, even while as a member of JAM Project, she has a lot of solo activity. Or rather, as a fan of her since her pre-JAM days, her solo activities never really stopped cold, in my opinion. It definitely has slowed down, she’s taken breaks, but unlike many of the other old guys in JAM Project, she has a full original solo album out, which is quite rare. Well, I say old guys, but she turned 50 years old this year, so just about everybody in that group is getting up there.

A solo live is also quite rare for Okui Masami nowadays. She no longer tours, and most appearances are in festival style. This live is the first solo live she has had in two and a half years, or since 2016 March. Why not go, I thought.

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