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.
Over the years I’ve pondered on exactly how and why seiyuu artists do the major label thing. I understand it financially, but it isn’t exactly clear cut why that is a good deal for a large number of them–it seems like an advancement in career or at least an attempt at it, or as obligation to their fans and industry partners. As individual artists, they work with their managers and producers to come up with something that’s worth selling to the seiyuu’s existing and new audience. Some folks made it work, some didn’t, but even in the worst case these projects at still kind of interesting.
So, in comes Ueda Reina and her cute country songs. I’m going to just link to some music videos and briefly talk about what I think about this in general.
The 30,000-feet view is that anisong and seiyuu-idol as a music label business is basically churning people who are already primed as stage-quality performers (including actors, models and tarento generally–but the training for the latter 2 can vary a lot, affecting their readiness for it). Some popular TV personalities, cosplayers, and now youtubers can all get record label contracts and have a music biz–possibly on the side, or in the front. To take one example, Mizuki Nana is a mainstream musician working hard to still be a relevant seiyuu, as the exception to the norm. But outside of this type of exception and other exceptions, most are just trying to express artistically & tapping into the fandom built around their geinojin persona.
When it comes to voice, it’s hard to monetize people who love your voicework. Like, short of selling facetime, autographs and photos, there isn’t much else you can monetize from. The work product which is tied up totally separately from your voiceover contracts, the characters, stories, game and anime connected to that, is not yours to control, sell or otherwise directly profit from. It makes sense why some seiyuu agencies start idol groups and tropes, because it taps underutilized labor in this growing category of employment, as supply of seiyuu outstrips jobs available for them.
The 10,000 feet view is that different seiyuu artists go about it differently. I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a lot of musicians, especially western ones, have something more to draw from. It’s both the upbringing and the sample size. That while this is a nitpick, but diverse environments produce more diverse talents. Ueda Reina comes from the Toyama countryside and it’s a fresh breath of air for her to try to create something this way, even if it is at core something pretty close to who she is as an entertainment persona and as an individual. And even the ones that aren’t, do it in ways that brings out some originality crossed with, well, what the people want.
Give the people what they want is sometimes a winning formula, but not really that interesting if it’s all that you do. It’s understandable and it’s something everyone do to varying levels. In this case, though, it’s more like Ueshama wants to give you want she wants to give you, so you’ll gladly take it, or not. It’s a selfish but reasonable, and sustainable balance between something that is hardly marketable because it’s just so simply Ueda Reina, but also because that’s what some people want anyway.
Which is to say, when you connect the dots, a lot of seiyuu-idol artists pander to their core audience because they don’t have competitive offerings for the general audience. It’s like why Pixel 5 can be a very attractive phone is lost on the masses, to use a very orthogonal analogy. But what carries in a quality work of art is the conviction of the artist, and you can see it in the way Ueda behave consistently (or as the kids say, on brand).
Going down another level (1000 ft?), Ueda’s solo projects are just art projects. They can be fun, in the video which posts a bunch of fan-submitted flower pics.
It reminds me of her old Web Newtype column (for example) where she would do a photo shoot once every other week with the staff, usually at some low-key but stylish location–a cafe, an art exhibit, a park, etc. Each shoot had a color motif which she picked. At the end of the run, Newtype decided to make a photobook which can be customized by various images used in the column. It was a lot of work to do it, but I’m sure it’s rewarding for the fans who did.
In as much as it’s a business, it’s about engagement and ultimately, producing an artist. That’s where Ueda really leans on her orthogonal art branding here. Originally she was supposed to have her first solo concert in July, which was cancelled by Covid. But in conjunction with the original planning, they had various merch to go with it, including a whole set of artwork she drew in which fans can vote to select which will be made available for purchase. The results were 3 images available as canvassed artwork, and some sold as art for t-shirts or whatever. And then, there’s the Hana no Ame music video project mentioned earlier.
It’s not to say other artists don’t do this kind of arts and craft stuff–it’s actually not unusual. Like I said, engagement is a metric and this does drive that. But this is unique enough of a combination to be noteworthy. If Ueshama is going to be that art teacher persona, I guess there aren’t too many others in this same zone at least.
To close this out, let’s zoom in one more step. I think I’m going to wrap it up with this interview done as a promo for her latest single, which is used for the opening for Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. Basically, some time after her last album, her manager got married and move away from Tokyo. Thanks to covid also, she wanted to see this friend/ex-coworker and couldn’t. Instead, she wrote the lyrics and performed the song with her (and her partner, who is another employee who met at work) in mind, making it cuter than usual. We’re way too close for aircraft metaphors at this point.
Unlike that show, today’s online tribute is a 77-long video which I didn’t get to watch due to not buying a ticket early and having it sell out on me. I also woke up a bit late so I would have had missed the first part of the event, which is the set up.
Here’s the microsite for 2020’s Tanabata online event. Oversea viewers can still watch the last timeshift, which starts at 10pm Eastern time.
The traces for the 2009 show was removed deliberately after it was over. All the promo went down. It was meant to be a thing that had a short shelf life. Maybe that’s just how art works with Kanno. Maybe that will happen for the 2020 version?
In a lot of ways, the 2009 Tanabata event is literally that once-in-a-lifetime event that you may never forget, as fans of the composer and producer, and her output generally. It was art AF. So art that my post about it got eaten by the void when my site went down and lost about 1.5 years worth of posts back last decade. Just stubs left.
The experience of that show carved its shape into my psyche and I still remember rolling out of SSA with Wah and AlexD like it was some wild and crazy thing, even if at the end it was just Kanno marching around the stage with the musicians tooting a rubber duck.
I woke up at like 6am today Eastern time trying to watch the Japan stream. I ended up staying up watched the 9am Asian stream. Man, that stood with me. Without spoilering, I wish I watched the Europe timeshift too. I will catch the Americas one, so maybe I’ll write more about it then.
It seems that the Asian TS is shorter and doesn’t include additional stuff in the Japanese one, which is also 1000 yen more expensive. Oh well.
I’ve been thinking about this show for over 10 years, and it took the Coronavirus being a global pandemic to bring it back. I think that’s two once-in-a-lifetime events happening at the same time. Please take advantage of this online delivery and watch something really, really special.
I have a con to put together and thus not much time, but it helps to put all the relevant things together in one place. Obviously this is my point of view so take that with a grain of salt, but I’ve been a seiota for a while now, and you can’t fairly interpret what 2020’s Hase Yurina said without knowing her relatively turbulent history.
To be clear, I think she is a victim in the end, and I wish her the best, as she’s gone through some crazy patches in life generally, inside and outside of work. But it is really hard for me to take what she said on that stream at face value. For starters, it’s best if you can find a recording of it and the chat she’s reading off of, and watch on your own. Admittedly I wasn’t paying a lot of attention while it was happening so I missed a lot of it, but most of what I’ll write below have little to do with the stream itself. (Working from home lets me tune into twitter-trending Showrooms, but work still had to be done.)
Yurishii (henceforth, to simplify–also it’s ゆりしー, not ゆりしぃ, so lulz how bangdreamers hijacked that romaji term on Google) signed into the seiyuu world via Arts Vision back in 1999 via an open audition. She came in with a lot of accolades and was a rising talent. She left Arts Vision in 2006 and became freelance for a short while, then joined Genki Project. It was over there she got those death threats.
The whole casting couch thing (makura eigyou) was an industry-wide (read: geinokai) problem. Actually that is not saying anything not already bloody obvious. Personally the Yurishii story is the seiyuu version of that shadow. Maybe we all got our crosses to bear, so this is one specific cross for this particularly small part of the industry, and it hits home harder. The #MeToo thing last year also mentioned an account where a female seiyuu were invited to mixed bathing in one occasion with higher ups, so you can see how this plays out in a believable manner. What’s really sad is it’s not easy to find official or tablody reporting from back when, as matome blogs were the only real source left. And maybe this? Little bits of shadows are easier to cover up.
In 2009, Yurishii changed her name to Hase Yurina and became freelance at some point during the death threats saga. She was removed from the IDOLM@STER cast in 2010. She joined a third agency in 2013 but eventually Yurishii left the seiyuu industry in 2014.
In 2015 Yurishii went public with her story about the IDOLM@STER changeover, which had to do with her management at the time being unable to properly protect her. If you can get the actual text of this, it gets into detail more as to why it happened. It was a really freaking sad thing to see how Matsuki Miyu played a role in Yurishii’s story too, but in a way this is just to show how so many things are connected in the relatively small industry of anime voice acting.
In the past couple years, Yurishii started to do influencer/personality stuff for her small group of fans. At first it was talking about her time in the IDOLM@STER series, then it escalated to her covering old IM@S tunes–which seems to be fine since she is not related to the series at this point. But at some point it escalated into her cosplaying Yukiho and selling chekis of that, and there was some more escalation in which led to Bandai Namco sending a C&D letter to her. A lot of fans suspect this was the act which motivated her to do that live stream on Monday.
As someone heavily into the series, the attraction of a live Yurishii version of Kosmos, Cosmos or Alright* is quite powerful–you can still buy her versions on CD of these. I can see the allure of what she is offering. There is incentive (as it always) for fans to encourage this stuff, just like how there is incentive for ANN to publish a hot ton of bricks for clickbait, as Yurishii didn’t provide any real details–wow Sunrise engaged in makura eigyou back in the 00s? Color me surprised. It’s spicy week.
Yurishii didn’t drop a lot of details–instead she dropped a ton of spicy sauce. The bullying with Mingos with Eririn joining in? The Chiaking stuff? The Itou Shizuka stuff? Hirano Aya (again)? I’m tired of this, because not only it is weird where the bullies are mad at their shared target in the adult context, it’s also weird to have a history of this kind of thing and still be going at it so many years. She talked about a ton of personal issues she had to struggle with in those years too. Menhara came up, as she could be that kind of a thing, but didn’t wanted to. Again, not denying Yurishii–her claims are entirely believable but I wouldn’t read into it too much without more corroborating details. Ultimately, this is some really ancient salt, over 10 years and going. I can afford to worry about other stuff over this. And it’s not going to address issues like makura eigyo or the DV thing that went down (man that was the shocking part).
Here is an executive bullet-point summary of the Monday stream:
I labeled this post with a date, because this is developing story. It has been developing for 20+ years, and it’s not going to stop yet.
As for rest of us, I guess either do something about it, if you are in power to do so, or munch on the popcorn quietly? There is enough misdirected anger and justice in the world as is, when what we need more is affirmative healing and real change.
There’s a handful of seiyuu photo books coming out and I just want to list them here. Maybe you will find it useful.
Chihara Minori’s Hawaii photobook likely has the fruits of her recent trip there. She did it as a fanclub tour package too, so it will be extra nice for those folks who made the trip. Personally, it felt like just last year which I got her 10th anniversary book.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Million Live center CV Yamazaki Haruka, putting out her first proper photo book. It is more of your typical sophomore product designed by the voice actress, featuring her in various situational outfits. It’s also only available at some shops only, like Minorin’s.
Koiwai Kotori, who might be best known as a MENSA member and the voice behind Nyan-pasu, is now also well-known audiophile in recent year(s). She’s done a lot of stuff the past couple years promoting personal audio equipment, doing ASMR stuff, DJ-ing and even writing songs. When she’s not plugging crowdfunding projects or recommending BT IEMs on twitter, she’s shilling her own IEM pads. Seems like her upcoming photo book will feature her and all her personal collection of earphones. It’s got a wide release.