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Million Live 6th SSA

The final stop of the 6th Live Tour for THE IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE was in good ol’ Saitama Super Arena, in September. Unlike Million 3rd, this whole tour dragged on from April into late September. It crossed from Spring to Summer and ended on the second day of Autumn. That is a really long stretch.

I was only able to go to the Fukuoka stop in June prior to SSA. But that made a big difference. I guess it’s fair to assume even if people did not go to all the stops, many have live viewed at least some of them, if not all. It’s a big commitment to go to SSA for the live, in terms both of obtaining the tickets through one of the lotteries or by other means, and the effort of doing so. Producers across the country attended the biggest stop of them all, even if many traveled less as I did. It is still quite the effort to travel from the edges of Japan. I remember seeing tweets of the guy from Okinawa, trying to bribe tickets with local delicacies.

My crusty, jaded mentality aside, I thought 6th SSA was a lot of fun. Like what I tweeted for day 2, it left me with this sweet aftertaste as Tokugawa Matsuri in the form of Suwa Ayaka came up from the elevated stage and ended this illumination festival.

Day one and day two both followed the format where each subunit came out and do a part of their Angel/Princess/Fairy stop sets, with the collab/guest songs thrown in there and mixed with covers. During the 3 non-Kanto stops, each unit had more time to themselves, and the last 1/3 of the live each day was dedicated to covers and solos. So for SSA, they cut basically almost all the solos. For new content, we got the TB songs and some new covers.

Overall I thought this was fine, purely in terms of going to a live and looking for the songs we like. But this format does not flow very well, since we know what is coming, and the units have to do their key songs. Like, you knew EScape had to do LOST because of the way the song fits their group concept. Or that baller mix of Art Needs Heart Beats has to go with Jelly Pop Beans. It was more a toss up for, say, Charlotte Charlotte and D/Zeal and their covers (which both were new for SSA). But it also felt like day one’s groups were kind of a bore as a result.

In some sense, the overall limp malaise-y feel I get from SSA has to do with the way the approached the tour. It felt less like a live tour, and more like just 4 different shows, for some reason, that had to take place inorganically and in far reaches of Japan, so they had to get the tokyoites to move out by holding back the 4th one until the end. During 3rd it was almost the opposite–you didn’t get to go to the remote one because it was hard to get in those smaller venues; the small venues also made the lives a bit more intimate and different than the big shows Millions do. Tokyo types who want to camp out for the Makuhari stop are free to do so, that one felt fine because you knew it was its own thing, and not a summary like 6th SSA. Maybe that’s why it took me months to finish this recap, lol.

In terms of practical things on the ground, I was able to squeeze in a Kayafesh event on Saturday. That’s basically a really bad costpa sake festival with seiyuu content. I liked it because I can be a lush at times and it’s my first sake fest in Japan. Plus, you can’t go wrong drinking with seiyuu. I also stayed one extra day to enjoy Takagi Miyu’s birthday event, as things turned out to be. It was nice to stay that extra day and hang out with some local friends. Rest of the time, it was business as usual.

As of the latest update, the splash screen for Theater Days changed over to a new quintet, so maybe this post is apropos. For this flower project, we utilized the same shop we did for 5th’s flower stand, and it was a bit more on the cuff with Miri helping out big time. Funding-wise, we basically broke even like last time, but we needed a bit more of a push since the suggested donation is lower this time around, and everything cost more. No pin badges… Again, I cannot thank y’all enough.

It’s a weird feeling, thinking about the live again. In a way the hype was way less than 5th, but the live itself was way better than 5th. I liked how the tap dancers, at least, came back for a nice encore performance from Sendai. It does make me want to look forward to both that and the SSA version, which is a slightly bigger presentation. There are other touches that was nice for 6th. The streams of small videos promoting the live, the goods, and now the blurays, is appreciated but not too sure if it added much. Well, they did a good job promoting that costume book at least?

I mean, they could just say it smells good and I’m sure it will sell oodles.

Set list here: day 1 and day 2.

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Tanpopo-free Life

In Oresuki, the anime about meta-4th-walling romantic polygonal turned actual plot, the characters all have nicknames from different flowers. The flowery names take on literary significance both as summaries of the character concepts respectively, but also for fun and jokes. There is also a flower language layer in which is both in-universe and in interpreting the theme.

What I really want to talk about is Japan and its view of the Dandelion, or Tanpopo. This flower gets romanticized a lot in Japanese films and TV, as well as anime, games and manga. But as an American I just cannot bring myself to like it.

It is a bit like how a hardcore terran marine cannot quite bring him or herself to like zerglings. You dehumanize them. You fight them all of your life. You know they are worthless weeds, literally. You don’t even really think about it other than annual chores that took up countless hours since your childhood, eliminating it from the places that you call home. Or if you own one, also the time (and money) spent dealing with the plant pest. Sure, it’s neat that the plant propagates by airlifting its seeds. Sure, it is a hardy species in which can survive in all kinds of temperature zones. You can even eat its flowers, or make it into tea or whatever (I don’t recommend this in North America, just because of residential and commercial herbicide in use).

Which is to say I was delighted to see a character named Tanpopo in this anime, being literally the stupidest thing alive, being sidelined by the main characters. Unlike most depiction of tanpopo in JP media, this one is a lampoon of such. It isn’t her fault and her intentions may be acceptable, but Tanpopo is a nuisance.


C3 Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2019: Wrap

A Thanksgiving…weekender? I guess that’s the best description for this American. It is far, and it was fun. Singapore is both at the same time, this SEA city-state that is steeped in the best (and not so best) Asian tradition but also, like Crazy Rich Asians. For one, it’s an expensive place. The con is at Bugis, and we walked to the Merlion for some photo ops. The place is full on a tourist trap. The whole place is also steep in instagrammable setups that it felt a bit too much. I’m not a huge fan of living inside a mall either, and of all the times I visited Singapore, that was my persistent impression. Well, it beats walking outside that is for sure.

The series of events known as AFASG is on its, what, 11th year now? After its corporate overlord merged with the C3 brand, this name labels a few other cons in the SEA region, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s kind of neat because there is significant coverage of these events (relatively to all anime cons, I guess) in English because the attendees often use that language. It’s certainly the case in SG. It’s weird to me because other than the UK cons, you don’t hear much about the ones in Continental Europe, for example.

The con itself is similar to a lot of other Asian cons–basically most of it is a big exhibition space/dealer room. This is what AX is basically moving towards, this is what ANYC is moving towards, this is what everything is moving towards–for better or worse. I can get into it, but let me just say that the room doesn’t make the con and it’s too much of a tangent. Maybe later this month.

Given this is my first time at AFA, I thought the con was run with a degree of practice among the staff and attendees. That turns into a pretty okay experience overall, as far as the nuts & bolts of the “con stuff” goes. I didn’t experience major gaffs other than finding myself not having a seat for Friday’s concert. Thankfully that was resolved just before the show started.

(But, like, imagine you’re ready for fhana and you get to the concert hall and there is no seat with your seat number on it. You commiserate with the other guys just standing there who also have no seat, knowing that someone already told the staff and they are trying to fix it. Then a few hurried staff came with seats and added the chairs and moved people around to reassign the alignment. Great. Show begins in 5 minutes.)

In case it was not clear, AFASG has basically 2 components: the exhibit hall (which has 2 stages–the Akiba stage which is more like a community stage in AX terms, and Lumica has one at their booth), and the main event space. During the con there are stage events that are part of the exhibition. At night, there is the “I Love Anisong” concerts which require another type of admission. All admissions are done via wristbands (daily). So for each day, there are like 5 different wristbands, and times three for the full weekend (they could have done a weekend wristband I guess, but didn’t). At least that’s for attendees.

One notable thing about AFASG is its size. For some time it has been one of the largest anime conventions outside of Japan. Today, it still is very big, but not that big. Just going by warm-body counts, I think it’s on par with Anime NYC 2019. AX is about two or three times as large, give and take. Like, if you’ve been to the big anime cons in the USA, AFASG should be familiar territory. The Anisong concerts don’t pack out (just like how it is here), but they do charge an arm and leg for the designated seats and nearly nothing for the standing space in the back, a nice contrast. The venue sounded pretty okay, and if you buy into the AFAWorld VIP thing, you can even get a decent seat easily.

To spare you with all the negative hearsay I hear from AFASG, I think you should expect a pretty typical anime con experience (state-wise). The venue is about the right size for Singapore, and the crowd is just right between laid back and intense to not cause too much trouble. I didn’t really camp at AFASG until Sunday, plus all the fun stuff I got at the con didn’t require queueing, most are either lottery or through online sales.

Like, I literally waltzed into DJ Arisha’s Akiba stage set half way through and got to the rails, LOL. Or just going to her set at Lumica when it starts, a few rows from the front. The exhibit hall was crowded on Saturday, but it wasn’t crazy. The shopping game is strong, but at the same time people tended to queue a lot at the bigger industry-based booths. Without Lumica and the like I’m not sure what people did at the con–it isn’t like there is a lot to do actually.

Maybe it’s also that the crush is not concentrated at specific things. There were plenty of livers on hand to make a ruckus at the various Arisha stages, but unlike the States it isn’t even a notable quantity of them. This is what a healthy convention environment should look like I guess.

Cosplayers generally gathered everywhere outside the exhibition area. Suntec’s con spaces is built on top of a two-floor mall, and it’s quite vertical with big lobby spaces. People sprawled there, but also there are designated photography spaces. Still people formed photo bubbles around major choke points on Saturday and that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. It’s more the JP style photo circle than just one or two folks stopping to take a pic. Cosplayers should have more awareness on that… But man, turfing this con is super easy–it’s almost by design.

What else is there to say about the con? Let me stop noobing and get to the specifics.

The concerts are kind of broken out by companies this year. Day 1 is mostly Lantis. Day 2 is Sony and others. Day 3 is HoriPro. Day three is almost like Anisong Ichiban, for those of us who remember them. There wasn’t a lot of zooing despite Koroazu’s best attempts, but having a live band to set up May’n and the ensuing collab songs was a nice touch. Don’t Say Lazy is so much better with a live band, I kid you not.

For better or worse, we actually didn’t stay for the whole concert until Sunday. Saturday was really not our thing anyway so we skipped out after half way into ReoNa, and came back to a couple Junna songs to pick up a straggler and go eat dinner. Friday I was just exhausted from traveling and left after Mayayan. The fact that most of the city closes by 10pm makes dining late a problem, but we ended up having decent eats for the most part, going to tourist traps for western bar food. McDonalds is decent eats, I guess? I don’t know.

The show itself didn’t have live band except for actual bands (Scandal, fhana, etc). May’n had a live band backing, which was cool. It makes me think that AFASG’s composition is sort of a ragtag alliance of strange associations. In a way that might have allowed more artists to show up but how much say do the organizers have on the management and labels? I have no idea. It didn’t feel like merch was heavy for a lot of them, which seems to be the case for other shows like AWM. That made sense.

The crowd was proper energetic and it felt like a festival live in Japan, but smaller yet not that intimate. Calls were largely missing actually, but you can hear it, which makes it more in line with American lives but just a bit better.

I think most of the takeaway at the con, despite the big focus on the concerts, were the talk stages and meet & greet sessions. The stage events are basically what you expect, Japan-style talk shows. Unlike the lame versions you see in the US, they got some instigators (namely Yoshida Hisanori) to keep things lively. The FGO ANYC panel is closer to what you want out of these, not dumb walkthrough of some script. That is a waste of all our time. Please, Aniplex and Pony Canyon, do it right.

Of course, that’s asking a lot. AFASG stage were only this good because of the top MCs which can pull it off. Between Ash, Reiko and Yoppy they covered all the Japanese-side of things, and I don’t think you can understate how much they make those panels enjoyable. Especially Yoppy. I mean how do you even get this to work outside of Singapore or China/HK/TW/KR? We also had this random Malaysian talent in Shinonon who cutely handled the meet & greet session, even if mostly that was just telling us to spend the 45 seconds per person of face time. It’s kind of important to give the guests something to remember, and that usually happens when we talk, and by talk I mean nervously stammer, to the guests. Surprisingly all four of the M&G guests were decent at this. Eriko probably was actually the worst, lol. Arai has this comedy act down pact, plus you know how she looks, LOL. The surprise was talking to Fujita Saki, who doesn’t do this kind of thing often but I guess, thanks to Miku, is doing more of it now. Tano Asami was more like, lol. But it was nice talking to her.

I only stayed for a few stage events, such as the epic one where Yoppy and Eriko tried to talk about Eriko’s stuff in English only, with Ash backing up as narrator voice. Tsugu and Kayanon did their usual Saekano stage (about SAO) and SAO stage (about Saekano). I was only at the Saekano stage so I can’t really comment about the SAO stage, but Yoppy did his usual thing and the camera guy really played to Tsugu’s facial expressions. The Null&Peta stage was literally them shelling us the game with Ajuju doing a quick demo of the gameplay. That was neat and interesting, as someone casually enjoying the short anime TV series. I also played the demo there, which supposedly was its first public reveal.

To put it into perspective, the Eriko panel was so good, it probably even tops the Trysail radio event at Taipei during the first Lisani TW as the most enjoyable panel that I’ve seen at a con or any event. It’s pretty awesome to have cross-language panels with canned guests and scripts (well, Yoppy and Sensei kind of destroyed theirs), but I’m just thinking when will we get that in USA? Maybe Toronto first? That kind of MC skill is badly needed and AFASG is a bit of a proof-of-concept that if you hire the right folks and have it planned, it can happen.

Overall, this year’s AFASG felt like a great time, and as a con AFASG is all right. I think if I was more thirsty or the “right” guests comes, I might be more peeved, but for people who are laid back about a lot of this, the con offers people to roll money for access, and there is a lot of laid back kind of things to enjoy if you’re sufficiently tuned into the programming. Money as a gate works in SEA. On the other hand it doesn’t cater to a wide audience unlike US/Canadian cons, so the appeal might be kind of limited and definitely way more industry focused. Singapore is also a bit tiresome in that the weather and the urban environ gets on my nerves after a while, but that’s just me. I’m just glad the people are good and they made my short stay there fun and welcoming.

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Rokka Versus Space Farers

Some years ago there was a “locked box murder” anime based on a fantasy low-tech RPG kind of a setting called Rokka, or a sweeping war against the darkness that takes place in a magically locked “room.” Sure, it was adopted from some books but it was a giant mislead for an anime-only person like myself.

It was a case of bait and switch because the show promised a grand setting with fantastic characters, while spending most of the first season in foggy, dank confines. It isn’t even a dungeon–it was literally just this place and the area surrounding it, while the heroes trying to find the traitors and escape the trap they were in.

Instead of some sweeping setting, Rokka spent its time developing the psychology and back story of the hero and heroines. It’s a bit like how Astra Lost in Space is not Star Trek, but it is about kids exploring space featuring a grand conspiracy written into the backstory of the characters. Viewers and the various characters explore both that backstory in the context of staying alive, meanwhile solving the puzzle together.

I guess the two share in the core some kind of overt puzzle in which we have to solve, that drives the story forward. It is the thing that causes overall tension in the story. In Rokka there were various battles, while in Kanata no Astra there were worlds to explore.

I don’t know, at least the latter has what makes Star Trek, well, Star Trek. The former is still a giant tease even if you broken out the concept on paper. Or a blog post in this case.

Why was Rokka such a mislead? What were they thinking when they created the show? It still bothers me to this day.


Anime NYC 2019: Wrap

This year, Anime NYC brought in some mad luxury guests. Kugimiya Rie probably is the headliner, after Lantis Festival 2019’s lineup of JAM Project, True, ZAQ and Guilty Kiss. In the middle there’s old man Tomino being weirder than ever, as well as the director and writer behind Code Geass the movie and Yukana. There are also fresh youngins like Itou Miku, shilling Bang Dream and Fragtime. There was a surprise visit from Tanezaki Atsumi. Ise Mariya came to the States again–I’m going to go to the same con she traveled out of Japan for this year all three time at this rate–but I missed her panel. Yuki Aoi and Okubo Rumi rounds out the industry heavy fire power with their Fate/GO promo. And that’s just the most notable ones. I got a signkai with Science Saru’s Eunyoung Choi, which was nice! The mangaka/writer duo for Dr. Stone was hard at work, location scouting the USS Enterprise earlier in the weekend. I didn’t even see TAa (well, I guess I saw that group in the hallway), or people like Vofan or Poppy. Poppy. LOL. And this is not even all the JP production or artists at the con. There were way too many guests. I’m just glad a lot of them don’t have a lot of engagement or are outside my interests.

To me this is the first half of the recipe of happiness. The other half is competently executing the “con” part. The pre-con communication, the online sales, the right autograph process, the right ticketing process, the at-con line management, et cetera. And for the most party ANYC 2019 did okay. Other than the Lantis Fest line craziness I think everything was good, but that did sour my experience.

The funny thing was by Sunday I barely had anything to do at the con. Outside of Kugyuu programming, there were not much going on. This is great! Please program your top tier seiyuu guests outside the other ones. Granted I still missed on all the Yukana programming, but that was more my fault than the con’s. The concert only was one day this year, which helped also make time for the crazy pile of programs going on saturday.

Not having to get up early and go to the con was a nice bonus. I still end up getting up pretty early all 3 days, but at least I was at the con unlike prior years, and two of the 3 days I commuted from home, not from my friend’s place which is much closer to the city.

Yes, overall, ANYC 2019 was great. It leveraged the vacuum of NYC anime con-ness and blew up big. It was run by folks who knew what they were doing, and by people who had enough vision and capability to host a large con 46k strong. I’m glad this is my local con.

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