When I coined the term ‘Macrossmas’ to some fellow Japanese fans, they thought it pretty funny. The term flows a little better in Japanese (マクロスマス) than English, and is the type of otaku pun I enjoy playing with. The idea for it was the seemingly coincidental timing of a bunch of Macross events right around Christmas time.
(1)Dec. 22: Macross Frontier Christmas Live @ Budokan (Tokyo)
(2)Dec. 24: Macross Frontier Christmas Live @ Port island Hall (Kobe)
(3)Dec. 25: Yoshiki Fukuyama – The 2nd Asia Live Tour (Kyoto)
(4)Dec. 26: Akino Arai – Sounds of Aurora Christmas Live (Tokyo)
I immediately decided that I had to do all the above concerts no matter what it took. Was this strictly necessary? Hell no. Even taking minor set list variations into account, it was a fair bet that the Macross F Christmas gig would be more or less the same performance in both cities, and Fukuyama would be coming up to play in Tokyo on Jan. 14. But necessity wasnt really the point here. Macrossmas would be, to use one of Sherryl’s favourite terms, my REVENGE LIVE! My comeback after having missed out on Anime Expo due to emergency surgery earlier during the year. It would also be a good chance to meet Macross fans from different regions. And besides, just because I was going to see Fukuyama in Kyoto didn’t mean I couldn’t go see his Tokyo concert as well 😉
And so, I started to make preparations. And yes, there was some drama involved. But as those who have read my past event reports probably realize by now, it would hardly be a Macross event if there wasnt some degree of drama involved …
MACROSS FRONTIER SUPER DIMENSIONAL LIVE – MERRY CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YOU (TOKYO) – Dec. 22
I got to the Budokan a good 2.5 hours before the concert was due to start so I could line up for merch. With the hype train being in full effect for the upcoming Wings of Farewell movie, further fuelled by the Cosmic Cune Christmas album and a new PSP game, it’s no understatement when I say that the merchandizing train was going at full speed too. The line was at least 75 mins long and switch-backed around the front of the Budokan. A Japanese blogger charted the course of the merchandise journey.
A few monitors strategically placed along the waiting line played trainers for Wings while the merchandise stand had the first ever poster of the 3rd ‘key image’ – Sheryl in a tattered white military-ish looking outfit with the wreckage of a burning Valkyrie behind her. It definitely caught everyone’s attention – the crowd of people snapping pictures disrupted the merchandise line fairly consistently, much to the annoyance of the handful of staff who were trying their best to keep people moving along as quickly as possible.
I grabbed a concert booklet and an advance ticket to Wings of Farewell that came with a free Magical Girl Ranka poster before meeting up with Save, Gubaba and some Macross Frontier fanclub acquaintances to kill the final hour or so before the concert started.
There were definitely less cosplayers around than I’d seen at previous, similar-sized events. All up I spied 3-4 Sheryls, 2 Rankas and a Klan Klan – the latter or which was fairly firmly planted in the smoking area, much to Gubaba’s chagrin. I suspect that the relative lack of cosplayers probably had something to do with the cold winter weather – although things heated up considerably once the concert got underway.
The show started with some re-dubbed footage of Leon who, while trying to order a second cup of tea, accidentally hit the wrong button and instigated….an emergency Christmas fold! This was played for laughs though and didn’t really tie in to the plot of the concert – yes, it did have a ‘plot’ of sorts – basically Alto, Sheryl, Ranka, Michael and Klan were each discussing what their one Christmas wish was, but it was a wish they wanted to convey to their future selves. Some of these segments were prerecorded while others had the cast come out on stage and do their conversations/lines in front of everyone. Megumi Toyoguchi was a particular standout during these sequences – seeing her do Klan in person never gets old. Yuichi Nakamura (Alto) was probably the weakest of the lot. While he wasn’t bad by any means, he just never seems to sound 100% like Alto did back during the tv series. Maybe he has trouble getting into character on stage or something.
Song-wise, apart from the usual suspects, there were a few definite highlights:
-Universal Bunny – Much like Burning Fire, this song just GOES OFF when done live and May’n was in fine form (although I thought her Big Waaaave Concert version was slightly better).
-Niji-iro Kuma Kuma – OPEN RANKA! This was the first time anyone had ever heard this song. It was completely devoid of context save for the key image art that was displayed during the song. Also, looking back, it was mixed a little differently than the final version – most noticeably during the intro. But it was catchy and fun regardless.
-Ranka CM Medley – this was both unbelievably cute and impressive at the same time. Megumi did most of Ranka’s commercial songs back-to-back, from Starlight Natto to the carrot song and even the Dainamu mecha commercial. Each tune was accompanied by a prop or accessory of some sort – with the Dainamu one getting an equal amount of gasps and understanding chuckles from the audience as Megumi tried, unsuccessfully, to stand some Valks on top of a piano (she was slightly more successful during the Kobe version). The medley was even more impressive because Megumi went from a full song (Anata no Oto) to the medley, before continuing to do two more songs – with no breaks. Pretty impressive stuff.
-Houkago Overflow – if we get any more Macross Frontier concerts in the future, I think that this, along with Universal Bunny, will become one of those songs that’s gets played every time – it’s possibly the only solo Ranka song that comes close to a solo Sheryl in terms of tempo and getting the audience pumped up. A lot of fun.
-Finally, Songbird was just as good live as I had hoped it would be 😉
Admittedly we also got too many renditions of Merry Christmas without You – a song I’m not all that keen on – but given the season, this was to be expected I guess. Also, Gira Gira Summer seemed like a strange choice, given that we were as far removed from summer as possible – a nod to fans Down Under, perhaps?
But, nitpicks aside, we got over two hours of Macross Frontier music with Kanno herself on the piano the ENTIRE TIME. It’s been pretty interesting witnessing her gradual transformation into a more public role as performer as opposed to her more behind-the-scenes role as a composer all these years. As usual she got really into it and even participated in a skit with Megumi at one point where she brought a mirror and face towel out on stage to wipe the sweat off Megumi’s face – like I said the temperature inside the hall was much warmer than outside, in every sense of the term.
After the concert, Adrian, Josue, Richard and I met up with a few oldskool Macross fans for a couple of beers. These were guys who had been fans literally from the beginning and had plenty of tales to tell. Unfortunately, the last train home beckoned and I had another drinking appointment afterwards, so I could only stay to chat for an hour or so. Good times were had by all though.
Long story short, I got home after sunup, and slept most of the day away before grabbing my things and heading down to get the bus to Kobe just before midnight. For some reason I had one hell of a hangover. I didnt think I’d drunk THAT much the night before and it was one of THOSE hangovers. You know, the ones where every single sound seems to echo through your brain. I swear this must be what Daredevil feels like. It felt like I was moving through molasses – no matter how quickly I walked towards the station I never seemed to be moving any faster. It was like my legs were only moving from the knees downwards. What the hell HAD I drunk the night before?
Oh well, there were ways to deal with this – namely, sleeping pills and a long bus ride. And so, I boarded the bus to Kobe at 11:40pm.
MACROSS FRONTIER SUPER DIMENSIONAL LIVE – MERRY CHRISTMAS WITHOUT YOU (KOBE) – Dec. 24
The night buses that connect eastern and western Japan are pretty nifty provided you are ok with and able to sleep on a bus. Basically you get on a bus at close to midnight on one end, and wake up in time for breakfast on the other. I’d used one a couple of times in the past to pop down to Osaka to see some baseball matches with friends – the excessive consumption of alcohol no doubt assisting with the whole sleeping on the bus bit. Yes, both before AND after the match (never seem to be able to recall who won any of the matches either for some reason…).
When I boarded, guy next to me was listening to Universal Bunny – with the volume was up so loud I could almost sing along. Well, noisy or not, it was a relief to know I wasn’t the only Macross fan on the bus.
It was when I got off the bus in Kobe that I realised 2 things. Firstly, it was much colder than I’d thought it would be. And secondly, the hangover hadnt subsided. Because it wasnt a hangover, it was a fever.
But there were ways to deal with this.
After scouting train lines and how to get to the concert hall later that night and hitting up a pharmacy for some meds, I immediately grabbed a cubicle at the closest internet & manga cafe. For those who have never been to Japan, I gotta tell you these really do rock – for approx. $4-$5 an hour (or $2 when you get packages of 5hrs or more) you get a little cubicle approx. 1.5 by 2.5 meters, a reclining chair with a footrest, blankets, access to a shower and all you can drink tea. coffee and soda. For anyone traveling alone they make a great and cheap alternative to somewhat pricier hotel rooms and don’t need to be booked in advance. I cocooned myself away in my cubicle until 3pm or so by which time I dont really think I was feeling any better – but nor was I feeling any worse. And Yoko Kanno was waiting dammit!
I left the Net Cafe and boarded the Port Liner train to Port Island Hall.
I arrived approx. 2.5 hrs prior to the concert (again). With the venue being close to the water, I didnt want to end up standing around outside for hours as I had at the Budokan. Besides, I had no-one to talk to. I needn’t had worried on either count.
Upon arriving I found that the Kobe concert setup was rather different to Tokyo. Whereas the Budokan is basically a single concert hall surrounded by a park and parking space, the Port Island Hall (technically called the World Heritage Hall) had several other halls around it. And one of these had been set up for merchandise and the fans.
Upon entering the hall the first thing to catch any fans eye were the utterly huge cloth printings of the first two ‘key images’ for Wings of Farewell. Whereas Tokyo got a couple of framed posters, Kobe got huge prints that stretched almost to the ceiling. Sheryl was Meltran size – and in that torn white gettup, none of the fans seemed to be complaining 😉
To the left was the goods stand. It appeared that many of the more popular items of merchandise had sold out earlier that morning. Thankfully I had grabbed what I wanted back at the Budokan because I didn’t want to be lugging posters and whatnot around Kobe and Kyoto.
Directly to the right of the entrance was a row of cabinets displaying recent and upcoming valks and figures, with an impressive line of fans waiting to take a look. The big draws were the new ‘ichiban-kuji’ big-head Sheryl and anything related to Wings of Farewell.
The right side of the hall featured a karaoke stage where most people were hanging out watching fellow fans attempt to belt out some Macross karaoke and I’ve gotta say – the Kobe fans far outclassed the Tokyo fans in both Karaoke and cosplay (more on that later). I asked a couple of lookers-on why they thought this was. The general opinion was that Tokyo tends to have a lot of anime/Macross events, whereas Kobe rarely gets any at all so the local fans saw this as their big chance to represent. They certainly didn’t disappoint.
The back of the hall had several of the new Macross pachi-slot games on display for fans to play. The original Pachinko version had, unfortunately, not performed as well as Sankyo had expected (although this was apparently more due to the poor math behind the game rather than anything to do with the Macross brand itself) and, as is often the case, they had produced a pachi-slot version to try to attract some of that game-type’s typically younger demographic (something they had more success with their Macross Frontier machines that were released in 2011).
There were a surprisingly large number on people in line to try these out. It was while I was waiting in line that I spied two of the Tokyo fans I had gone drinking with only two days earlier. I was expecting a larger Tokyo contingent but apparently not many were fortunate enough to get tickets for both events. Either that or they weren’t crazy enough to travel halfway down the country for an anime concert….
After a couple of hours in the hall it started to get dark outside. People started lining up at the concert hall for the night’s big event.
Compared to the Budokan, I had scored a really good seat this time: Arena seting, row 19, seat 51. While there were 18 rows in front of me, there were only 5 rows between me and the end of the stage runway which had (as at the Budokan) a lift that was used to lift Mayn and Megumi up a few times. And fever or not, I wouldn’t have given up being 5 rows from Megumi’s legs for all the cold meds in Kanto 😀
The first thing I noticed was that the stage layout was basically the same as it had been at the Budokan gig.
No wait, I take that back. The FIRST thing I noticed was that the guy in front of me had a total of FOURTEEN glowsticks. Yes, you heard me right, FOURTEEN. More glowsticks than fingers!
The SECOND thing I noticed was that the guy next to him seemed odd for some reason, although I couldn’t pick why right away. Once the lights in the hall dimmed, I realised what it was – he was wearing Ranka’s white school uniform. Not cosplaying as Ranka, mind you – that would have at least have had precedent since Japan has a long history of crossdressing, especially during festivals which is what concerts basically are. No, this guy didn’t have a wig or anything. He was simply wearing a schoolgirl outfit while jumping around and flailing with his glowsticks. His build and face reminded be somewhat of Kubo from Otaku no Video …
The concert got underway and, with the exception of a few minor variation it was basically the same as the Budokan show. The main overall difference, imo at least, was that the Kobe version felt better rehearsed. Songs were performed a bit better and all the voice actors seemed more confident in their positioning and movement on stage. In otherwords, Tokyo felt like a very good dress rehearsal but Kobe felt like the real deal.
Since the concert was more or less identical in content, I’ll just list some personal highlights:
-May’n singing Diamond Crevasse – I’ve heard her perform this song live at least half a dozen times by now. Never gets old.
-Obelisk – while I normally associate this song with the end of The False Songstress, this version ended with May’n posing, arms outstretched, in front of a picture of Michaels broken glasses on the floor.
-Koi wa Dogfight – after the tease-tastic short version on Nyan Nyan Clip, it was great to finally see this done live. It’s a great peppy piece which reflects all the vocaloid stuff that Megumi has been doing lately, although a part of me wonders – with so much autotuning, is there really any point to doing it ‘live’?
-The skit with Kanno wiping the sweat off Megumi’s face played out a little differently than at the Budokan. Also, it wasnt 100% playing around – maybe it was just more noticeable because I was a lot closer to the front this time, but it must’ve been pretty warm up on stage because Megumi was sweating a LOT.
With the concert over, I crawled back to internet café to recuperate for a bit. There was a fan get-together due to be held later that night, but would I be up to it? Fortunately I had a secret weapon – Tonjiru soup. Rather than head directly back to my tiny cubicle, I made my way through the snow (yes, it had started snowing just as the concert wrapped up – talk about a White Macrossmass!) to a local shop that sold the stuff and grabbed three servings worth. And damn it worked – I could feel my life gauge replenishing – some seriously Scott Pilgrim crap.
Anyways, after an hour or two of rest I headed out to find a small bar near the station where the Kobe fans were supposed to get together.
And they had turned up in force. Remember how I mentioned that they had outdone their Tokyo counterparts in terms of karaoke AND cosplay? Some of the costumes on display were amazing – from Barbie-doll looking Sheryls to home-made captains hats and Exsedol heads, the quality and range of costumes was terrific and far better than I had expected. But I’ll let a few select photos do the talking for me:
Some fans had even made stuff. I manage to score a hand-made Macross Frontier card game from one guy, while someone else had made up some rather unintentionally hilarious Christmas stickers.
Long story short, alcohol was consumed and many songs were sung. I managed to talk to a few fans but was forced to keep relatively quiet since I had pretty much completely lost my voice by this point.
Then it was back to the net café for some sleep before heading out at midday the following day and hopping on a train to Kyoto. It was Christmas day. But more importantly, it was time to BOMBAAAA!
YOSHIKI FUKUYAMA – THE 2nd ASIA LIVE TOUR – Dec. 25
Kyoto Muse is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall venue for live bands. That description actually doesn’t adequately describe how small the place is. It’s easily the second smallest live venue I’ve ever been to (the smallest being Morph Tokyo where Mylene Night LINK!!!! was held) and by far the smallest I’ve ever seen Fukuyama and his F-Band perform a gig in. I accidentally walked right past that damn place – twice. Next door was a hobby shop which had a bunch of Macross toys on display in the front window 😉
There was a small crowd lined up for merchandise. Being the first event of Fukuyama’s 20th anniversary as a recording artist, this was the first time some of the new 20th anniversary merchandise went on sale. I normally go for concert booklets or posters, but this time I just had to make an exception and go for THIS hoodie. →
As anyone who has ever seen a Fukuyama concert knows, there is a tradition when it comes to the Basara Guitar. In some concerts – not all, but some – this fan-made purple monstrosity of awesomeness usually gets pulled out for the last 2 or 3 songs of the gig. There are two reasons for this – a)it means the last few songs are Macross 7 songs which tend to be high-energy tunes and a good note to end a concert on, and b)the guitar can only be tuned manually with a screwdriver, so 2 or 3 songs is the most it can manage in a row.
Having gotten in line fairly early, I managed to secure a good spot at the front left-hand side of the standing-room only Kyoto Muse. There were about 4 people between me and the stage, but the great thing about small venues it that you get a good view no-matter where you are.
And so, everyone could clearly see when Fukuyama came out on stage in a pink shirt, Xmas tree party hat….carrying the Basara Guitar.
Wait…. Was he going to actually START with the Basara Guitar? I suddenly got the feeling that we were in for something special.
Fukuyama apologized for his getup, saying that he probably should’ve thought of a cooler way to make his grand entrance – but hey it was Christmas, after all.
The band then started playing the Firebomber intro music, which went straight into Totsugeki Love Heart. Then they went straight into Planet Dance.
Fukuyama took the mic for a bit and thanked everyone for coming – although turning up at a live gig on Christmas day probably meant that all the guys in the crowd weren’t lucky enough to have anywhere better to be (Christmas Day in Japan is more of a couples affair – it’s pretty much the third Valentines Day after White Day). As such, he had decided he wanted to do something special for the fans – and so was going to focus almost exclusively on Firebomber songs!
My suspicions had been proven correct – even Fukuyama wouldn’t dare start a gig off with THE guitar unless he intended to follow up with a lot more Macross 7 stuff! To put this in context, he usually plays a pretty equal mix of his Firebomber, Hummingbird, and solo songs – the only time he tends to focus mainly on Firebomber music is when he plays a Macross event or a tribute concert such as the Firebomber 15th Anniversary Reunion. So this was an unexpected surprise – Fukuyama said he would give us Firebomber and he sure wasn’t kidding!
Personal highlights for me were, without a doubt, Get Free and Try Again. Get Free in particular was something I didn’t think I’d ever get to see performed live and I couldn’t get that awesome VFX-2 opening out of my head for days afterwards.
Burning Fire also had everyone rockin’ out as did an exceptionally good rendition of Makkana Chikai, despite the latter not being a Macross song.
As is the norm at a Fukuyama concert, the big man managed to mess up his lyrics a couple of times (he would do this again in front of a full orchestra only a month later) and the audience wasted no time in correcting him.
‘How is it that you guys can remember the lyrics from a 16 year old anime song that I sang… but I cant?’, Fukuyama laughed at one point. He also pointed out that it was sometimes best not to listen to the fans too much – he once tried playing drums at a Tokyo gig at a fan’s urging… and F-band subsequently decreed that he was never to be allowed near a set of drums on stage again, hehehe.
He also took time out between songs to announce a 20th Anniversary Hummingbird Reunion tour in May, along with a best-of album and an all new solo studio album (Synapse) – between these and his JAM Project tours (Maximizer Tour and Orchestral Concerts) 2011 was looking like his busiest year yet!
When the time came for the obligatory Encore, Fukuyama came back on stage for two final Macross songs – Holy Lonely Night and Try Again, before wrapping the night up with a 20minute version of Nekokoshan! This was another song I had wanted to hear live ever since I heard him do it with Nobuyuki Canna on the Fukujin Tengoku Live DVD. To end on a festive note the whole band….. put on some animal/character hats that they had picked up the night before. Fukuyama was a rabbit…the bassist was…Chopper from One Piece?
Once Nekokoshan ended, Fukuyama and the band wished everyone Merry Christmas and left the stage. The crowd headed towards the station whereas I hopped on the overnight bus back up to Tokyo. After pulling in just before 7am I crawled into bed with some cold meds for a few hours before heading out again just after midday for…
AKINO ARAI – THE SOUND OF AURORA – Dec. 26
I had never seen Akino Arai perform solo before and, to be honest, didn’t know what quite to expect. Sure, I had been fortunate enough to see her perform ‘Voices’ and ‘Wanna be An Angel’ at 2009’s Macross Crossover Live, but that was two songs as a guest whereas this was all planned by Arai herself, from setlist to t-shirt designs. And let’s be honest here, she is a difficult musician to categorize – she has done anime yet isn’t J-pop or idol, her music tends to be very atmospheric and soothing, yet I wouldn’t call her new-age, she is more prolific in Europe than Japan, yet I wouldn’t say she was really ‘famous’ in either.
The concert was held in a small theatre – Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall – on the top floor of Coredo – a rather up-market shopping center. This wasn’t a venue, or neighbourhood, that I was all that familiar with.
When I entered the lobby the difference was immediately noticeable – there were doormen in tuxedo’s and the overall atmosphere was hushed and, well, rather classy. The crowd was different to the type I was used to – a lot of middle-aged folk, whiling away some time before the concert at small tables with coffee and cake.
The merch table was small and apparently staffed mostly by Arai’s friends and fans. Hand-designed t-shirts, artistic-looking postcards, specially branded tea. A poster to one side advertised an upcoming solo-piano tour in March. That’s fairly soon to hold another gig – Arai was more active than I’d thought.
Entering the hall, I noticed that security was extremely strict when it came to camera’s and phones – more so than is normal even for Japanese concerts. This was probably the hall’s staff and policy rather than Arai’s. Fortunately they had yet to catch up with modern photography technology – otherwise known as hiding a camera on my lap under a thick jacket 😉
If the atmosphere in the lobby had been classy, then the atmosphere inside the hall itself was doubly so. Lights were permanently semi-dimmed. A piano recital of ‘Tamashii no Refrain’ from Evangelion was playing as people quietly filed in to take their seats. The lights soon dimmed fully and the show began.
As a Macross fan…no, as an anime fan, the concert was a little disappointing to be honest. The only anime/Macross song we got was ‘Wanna Be An Angel.’ I was thrilled to hear this performed live again especially since, once again, Arai nailed it note for note, but had been hoping for Adesso e Fortuna from record of Lodoss War as well. No such luck, unfortunately. Still, I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with her non-anime solo work and at least half a dozen other tracks were performed that I recognized and two that I really liked. Of her really new stuff (ie, the stuff I wasn’t familiar with) the song ‘Hello Hello’ deserves special mention for being particularly catchy.
Throughout the concert, there was some unbelievably good use of lighting to create atmosphere. The hall was imbued in purple at some points and rippled with aquatic blues at others. At times it almost felt like being underwater, almost meditative – at one point I was distinctly reminded of the harbor diving scene from the original Ghost in the Shell.
During the MC segments I noticed that she isn’t all that confident speaking to a large crowd and seemed to have a fairly quiet personality.
The one thing about Akino Arai that continues to amaze me is her voice. It’s not just the ethereal nature of her voice, but rather, how does she manage to still sing in pretty much the same identical voice now as she did 20 years ago? The woman is 51 and yet her voice hasn’t changed at all. Utterly amazing.
The concert finished up at around the 2hr mark and it was time to head home. Macrossmas 2010 was over – and I had a whole month to wait (recuperate?) before the Chie Kajiura and JAM Project concerts at the end of January.
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