Songs of Tokyo Festival is an annual1 special program from NHK World, as part of its Songs of Tokyo TV segment. Songs of Tokyo showcases Japanese music acts with translation and feedback from global fans. Now that its 2020 fest had the ON AIR moment last weekend, it is free on demand viewing online here. The VOD expires January 31, 2021.
While Songs of Tokyo and the associated festivals have been going on for some time, it’s always pretty wild to catch the artists on domestic TV that I had to fly to Japan to see. NHK World is commonly broadcasted as a community program in metro areas in the west, or as a freebie in world packages in bundled television services like cable. It’s weird to be able to see all that at 1080 broadcast resolution, where as the real-time web stream looks like, well, a piece of crap. I mean, it probably looks fine normally for NHK programs but these live shows have a lot of visuals going on, and there were just not enough bits. In fact the VOD has the same mushiness look, just much better than the stream.
For this 2020 edition of Songs of Tokyo Festival, instead of in-person audience, there are a bunch of people put on 2 big TV in the venue (NHK Hall), Zoom-style. They act more or less like your typical studio audience.
Enough leading up, I think it’s time to reflect on this 25-minute TV segment that I’ve watched 4 times already in about 48 hours. First of all, the visuals in the back is full blown Mai-Note production value. Fans of IM@S lives will know it well, but I think this is more cranked up than usual given the set is just a giant half-circle LCD wall.
The 15th Anniversary song survived the Coronavirus and we got a presentation of it at Songs of Tokyo Fest. It’s the first time everyone’s seen it performed. It’s not even performed by the original cast–but this is the kind of song that everyone will get to perform. Nandodemo Waraou is also the first IM@S group song with SideM, which means dudes and gals get to sing together, a first for the franchise.
It’s an hour-long TV program including Nana Mizuki, BanG Dream (Popipa, Roselia, RAS), and IM@S. So that they gave ~22 out of 48 minutes of the time to them is already pretty great. In usual JUNGO fashion, team IDOLM@STER’s performance is crammed with little things. Let’s try to unpack some.
Song choices: Beyond The Dream, Spread the Wing, Thank You, STAR, Jibun Rest@rt. In medley form, it works fine for television. Then it ends with the special 15th anniversary song. This selection is like some biblical dream interpretation garbage right here, so let’s get right on to it.
- SideM being here is already Beyond The Dream.
- Shiny Colors is still in the process of spreading the wings (it’s the brand’s main theme) because, frankly, the Rona did a number on them.
- Million Stars singing Thank You while wearing Glorious Trinity outfits means this is for an oversea audience–so in some sense this is the same song Millions played for the domestic audience one year in. Maybe Welcome would have been more suited, but it made sense for the core IDOLM@STER fandom and more Time-Place-Occasion appropriate.
- STAR is more difficult to decipher. Maybe because Deremas is the most popular branch? It is shining the most right now? I think it’s a great pick over the usual suspect too. Maybe that it’s the anime OP (which did get distributed globally) just made it more sensible for recognition purposes.
- Jibun REST@RT is the one I don’t quite get, but it’s also the easiest. It’s a great song to have a big-band-ending trick, much like how World Is All One was used during Bannam Fes last year. Seeing people like Pyon and Damayu do the dance though…man why am I getting emotional over that? The straight meaning, of course, is that Jiburi is a great song to cheer people up with, given the lyrics. All those P Meet surveys may have meant something? Anyways, it is also symbolic of what’s going to happen with All Stars with Starlit Season on the horizon.
Dance chain: It’s the one little nugget for the masses of IM@S concert goers. It is a nice touch people appreciate, and seeing FRAME do Spread The Wings is hilarious because one of the move is kind of girly and the guys kind of owned it. For me, it’s like, wow, is this Million 4th again–during that live the performers chained across their subunits, and there were 4 subunits every day.
The funny thing to say while watching the first time is also how CG didn’t chain with All Stars, then they did Jiburi dance at the end to make it all go away.
The audience: For 2020’s fest, Songs of Tokyo set up a couple big screens in the seats of the NHK Hall, where the performance was filmed, and got 30 Zoom sessions going with 30 fans. Lucky people who were selected from filling out a survey dropped on Reddit were selected. For the TV cut, we got one fan comment. From what I can tell only that fan was using glowsticks. As to the individual, their twitter is right here.
2020: It’s a “special” year in that all these lives are cancelled. As Japan begin resuming them, the biggest multi-party projects like Bandori and IM@S have the most hurdle trying to get things rolling. 2020 is the 15th anniversary of IDOLM@STER franchise, and there were plans for an all-production tour. That pretty much all went up in smokes. So many Ps past and present long for that multi-production goodness that we witnessed during the 10th anniversary live. It is pretty wild that we’ve not really had this outside of Million Live events other than Bannam Fest last year, and even just a tad.
This really applies to Shiny Colors. That brand is still in the infant stages, in the middle of “gathering crew” and rolling out the path forward on its second year. Thanks to the Rona, that building of legacy had to hit pause. It’s really frustrating to see Shiny fandom and Shiny content-wise build up since Straylight, the hype it brings leading up to Noctchill, and see how the event side halt. It makes a lot of sense that Shiny is going to do a full-blown online concert, even when Million isn’t, because Shiny needs it badly. Looking forward to this weekend, on that note.
In a way 2020 is supposed to be the year of the Million Stars as well–7th live was supposed to be this gloriously outdoor-y religious event, with fireworks and a light show against a starry sky, glowing and mapping towards a TV anime release in 2021. Alas. It’s not the first time Million had a setback I guess.
Little things: There are a lot so I’ll just list them.
- The way the camera did rolling pans of upper body shots almost felt like memory bombs for me. Some were definitely good at it, like Hego and Kidochan. Nanamin and Mikku are naturals–in fact Mikku’s smile emote at one point probably can melt steel beams.
- There were a couple shots during Jiburi and Nandodemo where Eriko is in the middle with the camera framed around her, and you can see Nanamin and Mikku in the back, because of symmetry between the lineups. No focus racking back and forth, but it’s a neat shot of an idol with her wingmates.
- The shot during Star!! when the camera shows Nanamin’s shoes and pans up during the line about 10cm pin heels? It’s so fun.
- The way different performers reacted to the camera time is really fun. Like, it feels like proper seiyuu idol content. Hitomin for example would be a beat too slow in the first window and did it properly the second. The one shot where the CG/MLs got a panning view had a lot more life because of the way Nanamin and MatsuEri approached being in character. In fact it feels like this was the main difference between a group like this and your typical J-music act on NHK.
- The background was going overdrive. It not only screwed with the low bitrate encode, but it was a lot of to keep track. For one the 5-color sentai vibe was full on: Pink/red being AS, Blue being CG, Yellow/Gold being ML, Light Blue (water color?) being Shiny, and Green being SideM. When did CG become blue, anyway?
- The positioning of the logos and coloring on the background video matched the dance positioning. That was really neat. Still not quite as neat as Yukina and Aina Aiba doing the same hand moves during Roselia’s set, but an unexpected bonus.
- Other than “Where’s Waldo” for that final image, every idol basically got some facetime during the rest of the set. Actually I’m not sure if CG was able to scroll through every idol in that short segment, but you get the idea.
- Eriko looking back at the end of Nandodemo Waraou… Just as powerful as when she recited Haruka’s line about seeing us all over the world.
- Bracing the English: “We can be whatever want” being the first line to hit the English-speaking audience is a little… Well, IDOLM@STER marketing doubled down on it with “We all smile” so, there’s that.
Nandodemo Waraou: It’s worth noting that we’re seeing this live for the first time. The song didn’t really grow on me beforehand, but I knew it would be a keeper when framed in a way that tugged at the heartstrings. So watching SOTF just made me realize how much I miss seeing IM@S. And I’m a lucky sod who got to see them in person back in February.
I have to say though–showing us that tear jerking montage during the 15th stream, and then trying to sell 5 copies of it to us is a tad over the top (6 if counting the all-crew version). It’s like a warm embrace but you only get that reminder of that ruthless need-for-cash-grab underneath as you let your guard down.
But that is all water under the bridge now (I think my copies are en route via courier as we speak). Even more powerful and effective than the anniversary video is this live performance! So go watch that VOD instead of this video below…?
Footnote 1: Songs of Tokyo started in 2017 as a special music program. In 2019 it became a regular monthly program on NHK World. Songs of Tokyo Festival, being more special I guess, happened twice in 2018, once in 2019, and probably once in 2020. They branded SOTF 2019 and 2020 by their years so I guess those are now once a year. NHK World, well, is one of the many NHK channels. You can google that one.