It’s often said that a good review needs a personal hook. I’ve never bought that fully – having been turned off by only too many self-indulgent Harry Knowles reviews. This time though, I feel that the personal side to this review warrants mentioning, so try to bear with me and I’ll try not to bore you too much.
I had planned to go to Anime Expo this year. Doing so was the culmination of two personal goals. Firstly, I’d always wanted to see the US anime scene first-hand, Having been in Japan for almost a third of my life, I found US fandom and many of the stories I’d heard arising from it to be pretty incomprehensible. Foreign even. I wanted to experience this twist on the culture I’d moved to Japan to immerse myself in first-hand.
Secondly, and more importantly, AX this year was to be all about Macross – in particular it was about May’n and Megumi Nakajima. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I’ve probably seen both of the Macross Frontier girls live more times than any Western fan on the face of the planet. From small performances at tiny clubs in Shibuya, to 17000 screaming fans at 2009’s Tanabata Sonic, I’d been to every performance that I could – fascinated by the different paths each girl has taken since Macross F ended. So what could a small performance at a US convention possibly hold for me? Well, it wasn’t so much the performance itself as it was the signing sessions. In Japan we don’t do meet and greets. And there isn’t an autograph culture here either (with personal seals/chops being used in everyday life for hundreds of years, signatures in general don’t mean much). So the appeal for me was to actually meet May’n and Megumi. I wanted to ask May’n about the huge Taiyaki cake that Aya Endo brought out on stage for her birthday at the Macross Crossover Live. I wanted to ask Megumi how she felt covering Akino Arai’s voices in front of a packed stadium an Yoko Kanno’s Tanabata Sonic. More than that, I wanted to say thank you for the music.
Well, a week before I was due to catch that plane to the US, fate decided it had other plans. Fate, of course, was residing in my appendix at the time and had decided it wanted to renovate the place by putting a few new holes in the walls. And so, at 2am on Wednesday June 23rd, I found myself racing through the streets of Tokyo in the back on an ambulance. One emergency surgery and 2 days later, the doctor made clear to me that I’d be laid up in hospital for a week and wouldn’t be getting on any planes for at least twice that long. The following Wednesday I found myself discharged. I couldn’t really sit but I could walk – well it was more like a zombie shuffle really. I’d lost my airfare to the US (no refunds), had several thousand dollars of new medical bills (emergency surgery was expensive!) and had spent the only vacation time I’d had in 3 years in the hospital. I was sore and not in the best of moods. But it was only midday and that night Megumi was due to perform a small gig in Shibuya before jumping on a plane to the US the following day. It was the last show of her summer 2010 concert tour. And I’d be damned if I was going to miss it.
After dropping by my apartment to clear out my mailbox, I cast a quick glance over the posters, cells and CDs that I’d had ready to get signed at AX before beginning to shuffle down to the local JR station and somehow get to Shibuya.
The concert was at Shibuya O-East. The Shibuya O group has no less than four tiny hole-in-the-wall event stages in a 2 building complex at the back of Shibuya. The stages were tiny. I’d seen Yoshiki Fukuyama play here before, as well as Falcom’s JDK band (from the Y’s series of games). I was surprised that Megumi was playing at such a small venue. I mean, May’ns last gig was at the freakin’ Budokan with a packed house of 14,000 people. Shibuya O-east had room for maybe 1,500-2,000 tops.
When I arrived they were already calling ticket numbers. There was a decent crowd assembled although it was by no means huge. The usual congratulatory bouquets lined the entrance of the venue.
The one from May’n was to be expected, although the one from Akihabara Queen Shoko Nakagawa came as a bit of a surprise. An apology for butchering Seikan Hikou on her recent cover album perhaps? Next to this was a bouquet from Macross (and all things mecha) artist Hidetaka Tenjin, who was to be found up in the guest section on the second floor.
Not being fortunate enough to be a guest though, I hobbled over to the 1st floor entrance and found myself a nice spot just to the right with a section railing to lean on should my recently sliced up innards decide to give me any trouble. About 20 minutes later the concert began.
I’ve mentioned this in past reviews, but the divergent career paths on May’n and Megumi never fail to fascinate me. While May’n is trying to go more mainstream with her new (poppy but decidedly non anime-pop) album and concerts at the Budokan, Megumi has fully embraced the otaku idol singer image – something which will most likely result in a smaller yet much more hardcore fanbase and guarantee her a pretty long career (a guarantee that May’n does not have). It’s like watching Ranka develop for real. Or somewhat of a hybrid between Ranka and Minmay.
And nowhere was the idol singer image more apparent than the outfit that Megumi ran onto the stage in. Half Ranka, half Sleeping Beauty, and 100% 1980’s era idol. it was a shiny combination of red and blue sequins and a short fluffy dress with at least a dozen layers under it to make it flare out. I had seen Megumi in some pretty anime inspired outfits before, but the difference here was that she wasn’t playing Ranka, she was playing Megumi (or Mamegu as the fans call her). As such, the concert wasn’t totally dedicated to Macross songs. It was all about Megumi, not Frontier.
We ended up with 5 Macross songs in total out of a setlist of 19. All in all thats not a bad number since the concert was mainly about Megumi’s new album with was released several weeks earlier “I Love You.” The album included 12 tracks (some of which had been released previously on maxi-singles and mini-albums), with the idea that each song was supposed to represent a different month of the year.
Of the non-Macross songs, Sunshine Girl definitely stood out as an up-beat fun number and was fittingly used as both the concerts opener as well as an encore. ‘Jellyfish kokuhaku’ was also surprisingly good live, with a more jazzy feel to it than the album version. Her previously released songs were also a cut above the standard idol fare with ‘Shining On’, ‘Be Myself’, ‘Nostalgia’, and ‘Tenshi ni naritai’ all getting huge reactions from the audience – most of which were made up by pretty hardcore Akiba otaku types. When these guys get into it they do so in a big way with most of them jumping up and down and yelling for almost every song. And I’m talking full, mosh pit worthy jumps here.
The biggest cheers of course, were for the Macross Frontier songs, of which we got the following five:
-Lion (Ranka ver.)
-What ‘bout my Star @Formo
-Ao no Ether
-Anata no Oto
The Ranka version of ‘Lion’ was included in the first pressing of ‘I Love You’ and this tour was the first time it had been done live. Overall, Megumi pulled it off well, better than May’ns solo version in my opinion, although the song doesn’t have the same punch without both girls singing it together either way. ‘What ‘bout my star’ was also a success, with Megumi really showing that she has a wider vocal range than just her Ranka stuff (although naturally I prefer the original May’n version). ‘Ao no Ether’ was beautiful to listen to as always. Megumi had changed into a white summer dress for the second half of the concert and the song came across as very sad and more mature than a lot of her other poppy stuff. At the end of it she commented that whenever she sings ‘Ao’ it seems like Ranka is there – both next to her and also within her.
‘Seikan Hikou’ was a crowd pleaser as always – she can do that damn dance in her sleep now, I’ll bet – and ‘Anata no Oto’ was the first song of the encore. I can’t hear this song anymore without hearing the squeak of rubber duckies. Anyone who was at Tanabata Sonic or has listened to the bootleg will know what I mean 😉
Overall, the concert lasted 2hrs 20mins, although a lot of this also included Megumi talking to the crowd and teaching everyone to do the dance for Sunshine Girl during the encore. And this is where she had most obviously matured as a performer – she was much better at talking to and interacting with the audience than in the past. In fact, she had them positively wrapped around her little finger – making jokes, admonishing some of the guys who were constantly calling out (it happens at most concerts here), telling a few stories (6 years ago she came to Shibuya O when she was in high school to see a concert and had apparently wanted to sing there ever since. Of course, the main result of that story was that everyone was trying to imagine Megumi in a high school uniform, but I digress)- the crowd was positively eating out of her hand so that, when she announced that her next concert would be in Yokohama next January, pretty much everyone in the room was on board to buy a ticket immediately. Megumi knows her niche, has become comfortable with it, and knows how to work it. I was initially concerned that she had set her sights too low compared to the heights that May’n has been striving for as of late, but came away convinced that she knows what she’s doing.
Was the concert a must-see for Macross fans? No, not especially. It was certainly a treat for Megumi fans though, and the Macross songs that we did get made it even better. Was it worth shuffling all the way there immediately after having being discharged from hospital? Probably not. But as a fan, it was a matter of pride. And that’s what fans do.
(They also stay home and nurse their sore stitches most of the day after.)
(6)What ‘bout my star? `Formo
(10)Yubisaki no ame
(11)Watashi ni dekiru koto
(12)Ao no Ether
(16)Anata no oto
(17)White Heart Rhythm
(19)Tenshi ni naritai