The problem with the Macross Frontier event ‘Girasama Festival’, held at Yokohama Pacifico on Sunday, August 15, was that no-one really knew what it was going to be. The description on the website was suspiciously vague: ‘Cosplayers! Karaoke! Voice cast on stage! New version of ‘Itsuwari no Utahime! (the False Songstress).
So… it wasn’t a concert, but it was a full screening of the movie? But with cast and cosplayers involved? What the…?
Ultimately Girasama turned out to be all these things and more. While difficult to explain I will attempt to give it a shot since the event turned out to be far more than the sum of its parts and really was a celebration of all things Macross Frontier.
But my event impressions are never served without a decent serving of drama and Girasama is no exception.
My Macross F fanclub membership had expired months before the Girasama tickets went on sale. Why? Well, with the Crossover Live done and only one more movie left until the Frontier hypetrain surely left earth for the center of the milky way, I’d figured that there couldn’t be much left in the way of events. And besides, the \5000 annual membership fee adds up when there are at least 3 or 4 other artists whose fanclubs you are paying similar fees for.
Why would anyone pay \5000 a year for the ‘privalige’ of being in a fanclub I hear you ask? Well the answer might be little convoluted for the uninitiated who don’t know how things work here. Basically being in a fanclub gets you first dibs to be in a draw to win either tickets or the right to buy tickets. Tickets for so-called ‘premium’ events such as concerts or talk shows are never sold outright – not initially at least. First a draw is held for fanclub members who have applied – the draw is usually for a seating area close to the stage, often cordoned off for fanclub members only. For smaller scale events, the fanclub draw will often take up most of the tickets available. Then, members of certain online ticketing services (which require an annual fee) also go into a draw for tickets. Following this, depending on the size of the event, a draw is held for people who pre-registered at convenience stores such as 7-11 or Lawsons. Then, finally, any remaining tickets go on sale from 10AM on a predetermined day at convenience stores across the country, often only for the less desirable seats – like standing against the wall at the back of the 3rd floor. Or actually sitting behind the stage (I kid you not). Often people will start camping these automated ticket machines from 9:30 or earlier to try to get one of these last remaining tickets (I know I have!).
In the case of Girasama, it was announced the night before the commencement of this final stage of public sales that the organizers weren’t sure whether there would be any tickets left to go on sale the following day. Despite holding the event twice (midday and night) with 4000 seats available each time, demand from the fanclub had exceeded anyones expectations, especially considering that Macross Frontier had finished its broadcast run a year and a half ago. So despite being up bright and early to camp my nearest Lawsons’ ticket machine, when 10AM hit, an automated message politely informed me that ticket sales to the general public had been cancelled.
WHAT?!?! ARRRGH! YACK DECULTURE!
Big West and Satellite had certainly been successful in keeping the hypetrain at the station – a temporary Macross Shop had even been set up in the UDX building in Akihabara to sell Sherryl waterbottles, Firebomber keychains and Klan Klan car decals. It’s windows were adorned with artwork of Sherryl and Ranka that had been commissioned specifically for the Girasama event. There was no other option. I was going to have to hit Yahoo auctions.
As expected, I got gouged. Tickets were originally \5250 – a pretty reasonable price by Japanese standards. Unfortunately I ended up paying 2.5 times this amount. For a ticket that was literally in the back row of the hall on the 2nd (top) balcony. But hey, at least I would get to go. I mean, all these Macross events can’t continue forever, can they? (thinks back over the past 2 years)..…wait, don’t answer that.
To say I’d been busy in the leadup to the event would be an understatement. The week before saw me in Sydney for an annual tradeshow and a couple of meetings, but I was due back in Tokyo on the 14th. Plenty of time. But then, as tends to be the case when all things Macross are concerned, the unthinkable happened. Partway through the trip something brown and distinctively malodorous struck a counter-clockwise rotating mechanical cooling device back at the office. Personnel were vigorously shuffled. Vigorously. And I was informed I may need to extend my stay in Sydney by another week.
But surely some preparation was necessary, I argued. How could I properly translate the necessary documents in time without consulting face to face with the new staff that were writing them?
This…somehow…did the trick. And so I dashed back to Tokyo on the 12th for several days of emergency meetings that were so long I believe my mind has selectively decided to prevent me from recalling them. The flight back to Sydney? Sunday 15th at 8:30PM. Just enough time to go to Girasama and then dash from Yokohama to my apartment to grab my luggage and just barely make the express train to the airport.
And so, despite the previous week of airplanes, meetings, emergency packing and sleep deprivation, I found myself humming along to Universal Bunny as I stepped off the train at Minato Mirai station in Yokohama. I didn’t even mind the mid-30 degree C heat. I was back at Yokohama Pacifico – back where I’d gotten my first taste of live events at the Macross Frontier Galaxy Tour back in 2008 (It was far from the first concert or even the first anime event that I’d been to – but it was definitely the one that had the biggest impact on me as a fan).
Heading around the outside of the arena towards the merchandise stalls and entrance, I was halted in my tracks by an unexpected wall.
Remember how Girasama was to be held twice, with 4000 people each time? Well, the problem was that they had all turned up for merchandise as early as possible, regardless of which session they had tickets for. The resulting line was huge! Longer than at Yoko Kanno’s Tanabata Sonic. Longer than at the Macross Crossover Live. The wait was approximately 3 hours out in the blazing sun. And, of course, I had only come 2 and a half hours before the event was due to start.
I decided to wait in line for a bit and try my luck. Who knew, maybe people would start moving along faster the closer we got to the event? Around me, I noticed a fairly even 50-50 split between male and female fans – a rarity for most anime. Actually no, strike that, Id say there were actually more female fans there. A lot of couples too. A van with a large, side-mounted display (similar to the one at Galaxy Tour) kept the waiting fans entertained by displaying episode clips as well as a variety of rankings based on fan club and internet polls. Top 10 Macross songs, Top 10 moments in Macross across all series, Top 5 secrets or errors in the original series – every hour on the hour there was even a short animation of Ranka presenting the time on a big clock. But of course, the line didn’t speed up. If anything else it got slower. So, after and hour and a half, I abandoned my quest for merchandise (one which, fortunately, a friend helped out with after the midday event had finished) and headed into the lobby.
And straight into the heart of Macross fandom.
The entrance of the lobby was marked with a super deformed SDF1-daruma.
Upon entering, the wall to my left featured every single Macross Frontier poster ever made. To my right, fans (some in costume, although the majority weren’t) sat huddled around a karaoke set. My Boyfriend’s a Pilot never really sounds the same after you’ve heard a guy dressed as Bobby singing it. Booths were exhibiting soon to be released Frontier costumes. One booth let you borrow costumes and get photographed against a green-screen backdrop of the inside of the Frontier for only 500yen. I chose to just go with Sherryls infamous cap. There was also a Satellite booth where staff were giving out Frontier postcards. The right side of the lobby was lined with glass cabinets showing current and upcoming Macross goods – the new Koenig Monster, those Sherryl figures from the Itsuwari no Utahime that generally go for upwards of 10,000yen each on auction, an actual valkyrie-shaped Ranka backpack. Nearby seemed to be a gathering spot for cosplayers. Sherryls outnumbered Rankas this time. I walked past a Basara-Mylene pair with awesome hair. The Basara remembered me from a past event and waved.
But it was time to go in so, several flights of stairs later, I was tucked away in my back row seat. The view was far from bad, despite being so far back. I was only 7 or 8 rows from the front at the Galaxy Tour and had had no idea that the upper balconies stretched back so far. The acoustics were pretty impressive, all things considered.
A large video screen took of the center of the stage, with two smaller screens on set asymmetrically on each side. Lazers displayed ‘MACROSS’ as well as a variety of messages on the roof above the stage. And the festival that we all had so little information about began.
Girasama was essentially split into five stages:
-Talk show – Cast
-Talk show – Kawamori
-Sou da yo (and surprises)
Notice what the above list is missing? A screening of the movie? What we got instead were parts of the movie.
The first of these was Sherryl’s opening concert scene (Universal Bunny) from the theatrical release Itsuwari no Utahime.’ This footage was pretty nicely animated to begin with (being a theatrical feature and all) but this version was increased to include the full album version of the song. This was done by intercutting the movie footage with footage of May’n singing Universal Bunny from the Big Waaaaaave Budokan Live bluray. The montage was then added to with side screens that cut between the concert and scenes of Alto fighting off a Vajra attack. Finally, steam, streamers and lighting around the stage was programmed to go off in time with the concert footage. The aim of all this was to give the audience the feeling that they were actually at Sherryl’s concert – and they were only too happy to participate in the illusion. Everyone had been given a glowstick at the door and these were being swung around with sufficient abandon.
Talking a couple of weeks later with one of the video engineers who put the footage together for Girasama (and who, incidentally, is also working on footage for the upcoming Yoko Kanno produced Macross Frontier Christmas event but, understandably, was very tight lipped about it), I heard that the original idea was to try to do as much (if not all) of the movie in this mash-up style but doing so would have made it far too long and left next to no time for the main draw – the voice actors.
Out onto the stage (with accompanying character portraits displayed above) came:
Yuichi Nakamura (Alto)
Megumi Nakajima (Ranka)
Aya Endo (Sherryl)
Hiroshi Kamiya (Michael)
Megumi Toyoguchi (Klan)
Katsuyuki Konishi (Ozma)
Tomokazu Sugita (Leon)
As expected, Megumi Nakajima and Aya Endo were greeted by universal cheering when they entered the stage. Less expected however was the squealing fangirl reaction to Yuichi Nakamura and, to an even larger extent, Hiroshi Kamiya. I knew Kamiya was big, having also been in Gundam 00 (Tieria Erde) and Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (Nozomu Itoshiki), but the screaming by the girls in the audience was completely crazy. Of course, Kamiya had to pause and deliver THAT line: ‘I’m gonna snipe…your heart!’ – and things went from completely crazy to utterly nuts. A girl in the row in front of me fainted. I saw several further down the row that had fallen over. The screaming hit fever pitch and for a moment I imagined this must have been what it was like when Beatle-mania hit in the 60’s.
Once the screaming subsided, the first half of the main part of the event began. It was mostly a talk-show format, with a lot of back and forth between the actors over the success of Macross Frontier and their experiences with the show. One major running gag involved Nakamura (Alto). Apparently, he and most of the other Frontier seiyu had gone to karaoke recently. The place they went to had Joysound’s new voice acting karaoke – instead of singing, players pick an anime and then choose from a variety of popular scenes. They then voice these scenes and are scored on timing, delivery, etc.
So, the gang decided to do a Frontier scene and Nakamura scored 0%… playing Alto.
Mind you, the rest of the cast didn’t do much better, with Megumi scoring the highest at about 20%. ‘I think I need to go and have a word with JOYSOUND’, joked Nakamura.
The cast then split into a couple of groups to do some live voice overs, with a few impromptu bits thrown in for good measure: Nakamura and Endo did Alto and Sherryl’s scene above Sherryl’s first concert immediately before the Vajra attack – the animated footage was shown on the large center screen, with live closeups of the actors on the smaller side screens. Following this, Konishi did a bit of an adlib Ozma solo – with the setup being that his scene was supposedly happening during Alto & Sherryls, but elsewhere on the Frontier. Then Kamiya and Toyoguchi re-enacted a Michael/Klan scene. I’ve got to admit – I was blown away by how good Toyoguchi was. She was able to slip flawlessly between the Meltran and chibi Klan voices. She also had some great chemistry with Kamiya happening too – they broke out into spontaneous in-character arguments at least one other time during the show. This was followed by Sugita adlibbing a Leon scene. Poor Sugita was playing up the fact that he had so few lines basically the whole event, but this was the one time he got to shine by showing what Leon did after getting off the phone to the President – trying to scam a free pizza delivery using his presidential connections!
The second half of the talk show featured none other than the man himself – Shoji Kawamori! He talked a little about the popularity of Frontier and did his best to answer the casts questions about who would potentially be killed off in the 2nd movie. Sugita was worried it would be him, since Leon had so few lines in the first one. Nakamura was afraid it would be Alto since, according to JOYSOUND, he was 0% Alto. Kawamori jokingly replied that he couldn’t really answer since he was only 88% the director (JOYSOUND ranks directing skills now?!?! Hahah), but he wouldn’t be surprised if someone who was a fairly major character got killed off.
Kawamori then changed into a fake beard and sunglasses. This sight caused a stir among the audience as they realized that the director from the ‘Legend of Zero’ episode was actually based on Kawamori in disguise! A large recording mic with two technicians was then rolled out and Kawamori announced (via whispers to the cast – speaking directly into the mic would have apparently caused his beard to fall off), that he was going to record the audience cheering. This sound would then be used in a concert scene in the 2nd movie! A round of cheering and chants for Sherryl were recorded, and then the same was done for Ranka. Being up the back as I was, I doubt that the mic picked up my voice, but it wasn’t for lack of trying! (Read: yelling at the top of my lungs much to the dismay of the folks sitting next to me ^^; ).
Now, the unanswered question on the tips of everyone’s tongue was ‘when the hell is the 2nd movie coming out damnit?!?!?!’ Or maybe that was just me? Apparently not, since Megumi asked Kawamori the exact same question (only without the damnit part).
Well, the plan had been to release it by December, Kawamori began…
Wait… had been? Uh oh, was the movie delayed?
But he had been sidetracked working on another project.
The lights dimmed and footage of the final battle sequence from ‘Itsuwari no Utahime’ played…but it was….different? Actually it had been entirely redone in CG. Other new footage flashed briefly across the screen. The other project was a collection of music videos for Macross Frontier songs. Kawamori said that he had been approached fairly often by fans and asked whether there were ever going to be fully animated music videos, similar to Flashback 2012. So, he decided to make some. The resulting collection would feature 8 clips with a mix of footage from both the tv series and ‘Itsuwari no Utahime’ as well as some all-new animation, and was due to be released on December 15, 2010.
So… what about the 2nd movie, ‘Sayonara no Tsubasa? Well, due to the delay, it would be releasd in Japanese cinemas on February 26, 2011. A brief trailer was played which was, itself, still in the process of being animated. Some of the characters were just pencil outlines. A CG valkyrie dodged a craptonne (yes, that’s a technical term) of (presumably Vajra) missiles. A new, poppy, unnamed Ranka song played in the background. The cast watched along with the audience, claiming that this was the first time they’d seen it as well. ‘Unlike ‘Itsuwari no Utahime’, ‘Sayonara no Tsubasa’ is going to use 100% newly animated footage’, Kawamori noted. ‘Everyone, please look forward to it.’
Kawamori also brought some tshirts out for the audience. These were then loaded into a gas-powered ‘bazooka’ and each cast member shot one into the crowd. I swear the thing was almost as large as Megumi, who would have probably shot someone in the front row in the face if Nakamura hadn’t intervened at the last moment to help her lift it up higher.
Kawamori then led the crowd into a DECULTURE chant, before the hall lights dimmed again and another animation/live footage mashup was played – this time for the final climactic battle of the movie where ‘Obelisk’ is sung. And after having been sitting down for almost 2 hours, the audience was only too happy to get to stand up and get into it. This segued into the final scene of the film, with Nakamura, Megumi and Endo all performing their lines live to the backdrop of the movie footage. This then segued into Nakajima performing the movies ending theme ‘Sou da yo’ – a single spotlight illuminated her on stage while fake snow fell from the ceiling.
The song ended, the spotlight went off. The show was over. Or was it?
Endo’s voice suddenly rang out, in full Sherryl mode, as the video screen came back on to announce not one, but two Macross Christmas ‘events’ – one in Tokyo on December 22, and one in Kobe on December 24. Both would be produced by Yoko Kanno. Details would be announced on 9/9 at 9PM, so don’t be late! 😉
Then, the Girasama Festival ended. For real this time. The buzz from the crowd continued as they exited the hall – thanks to the announcement of not only the 2nd movie, but also the music video collection and Christmas events, people were just as excited coming out as they had been going in. While it remains to be seen whether ‘Sayonara no Tsubasa’ will mark the end of Macross Frontier or whether it will receive future installments (similar to Dynamite 7), in the meantime it’s clear that the Frontier hypetrain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
And with that, I dashed to the station, grabbed my suitcase and headed to the airport. I had a plane to catch and, unfortunately, reality called.