Otakon roundup

August 12, 2008

Finally getting some time to post. Was pretty dead Sunday and yesterday. Cons are not exactly the relaxing type of vacation. I get more sleep during a regular work week O_o

Kicked off the con with Otaku no Video. It’s an Otakon tradition, and honestly there usually isn’t anything better going on at 9am on Friday. Always good for a laugh though. Also hit panels for Dubs That Time Forgot, PGSM, and JPop. Dubs That Time Forgot demonstrated another Otakon tradition — technical issues in the panel rooms.

Big event for Friday was of course the JAM Project concert. Let me start by saying I’m not a big follower of JAM Project, but I am a huge fan of Macross music, especially Fire Bomber. Seeing even one Fire Bomber song performed live by Fukuyama Yoshiki was huge for me. It was also cool to hear some other classic themes like Cha-La Head-Cha-La from DBZ (huge fun heard live) and Get My Revolution from Utena. As a toku fan, the GARO theme was really cool too. Two pictures, first the group performing Little Wing from Scrapped Princess, then Fukuyama doing Fire Bomber’s Angel Voice. Sorry for iPhone photos, I actually don’t own a camera (I know, I know, I spend all my money on anime and toku stuff…)

Day 2 we checked out panels for Anime is Serious Business, two panels on tokusatsu, and the Fansubbers and Industry panel. I actually have a pic of that monumental clash below. Actually, they were pretty cordial, and it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of the industry. They’re really not “the man”. Really the problem with lag between release in Japan and the states is legal junk and the Japanese licensors’ relucatance to change anything. The industry is trying to work out a fast, online means of distribution, however.

Big events Saturday were the main AMV contest screening and the Masquerade. Some good stuff in the AMV contest this year, though a lot of 5cm Per Second. Do I need to watch that? The Death Note shoes video was riotous. I didn’t find the masquerade overall as funny as I did last year, though the girl cosplaying Link and doing Zelda tunes on the flute was good. Was she the same one who did it last year? Also, the second act was a girl of about 13, dressed as Sakura from Naruto, and singing Utada Hikaru’s Hikari. Looking out at the 1st Mariner Arena and something to the tune of about 8 or 9,000 people, she froze up pretty bad. The crowd was sympathetic and tried to encourage her. Aren’t otaku sweet?

Sunday we checked out the Hand Drawn Animation and Maryland Language Club panels before heading off to the concerts. Daisy Stripper, MarBell and The Underneath were all good, though I like The Underneath best. MarBell’s vocalist was pretty funny though, flashing her ass at the crowd and proposing marriage to all assembled.

Overall, not a bad con this year. I think I’ll finish out with a pic of the assembled loot from this year. As I often do, I actually walked away from the con with money in my pocket still. I don’t buy anything I couldn’t easily get off the net from the comfort of my own couch. No need to fight through throngs of otaku for manga I can order right from TRSI or Amazon. I will be talking about some of this swag here after I’ve had a chance to digest it.

Rie Fu – Tobira Album

December 6, 2007

Rie fu released her third full album on 11/21. Entitled “Tobira Album“, it encompasses the singles “Until I Say”, “Tsukiakari”, “5000 Mile” and “Anata ga Koko ni Iru Riyuu.” While fans have been a little lukewarm on a individual singles leading up to this album, I think “Tobira Album” as a whole is worthy of the standard set by “Rie fu” and “Rose Album.”

In addition to the four A-side single tracks, the album also includes a number of the B-sides from the singles including “tobira”, “Dreams Be”, and a live version of “Sunshine of My Day.” Filling things out are a number of strong album original tracks. “Come To My Door” (another allusion to the word “tobira”, Japanese for “door) is a fast, upbeat song that carries the pace after the album opens with “5000 Mile.” After “Kimi ga Ukabu you” the album slows down a bit through “Until I Say.” I hadn’t liked “Until I Say” much when it came out, but now I really do. It may have hurt it that the PV was so dull. The pace picks up again with “SMILE” and stays fairly quick before rounding things out with “Anata ga Koko ni Iru Riyuu.”

In a strange musical gestalt effect, Tobira Album manages to, as a complete composition, strengthen the individual tracks that comprise it. Rie again demonstrates the quirky cleverness of her songwriting that made her first two albums so much fun. Fusing elements of Japanese pop with the American country culture she picked up while living in Baltimore as a kid creates a unique sound that would appeal to listeners of both nations. The slight Maryland twang in her accent is kind of cute too. 😛 Unfortunately, Rie isn’t a huge commercial success in Japan, but with her albums and most of her singles hitting the top 50 I hope we’ll continue to hear from her for a long time to come, and see her reach greater success. For now though, she’ll have to be my top artist that not many other people have heard of.

Gundam 00 – First Look

October 7, 2007

The latest entry in the long running Gundam franchise debuted Saturday evening on MBS and TBS in Japan. Gundam 00 is directed by veteran anime director Mizushima Seiji of Fullmetal Alchemist, Shaman King and others. Character designs are provided by Chiba Michinori & Kouga Yun. Music is provided by Kawai Kenji, famous for his work on the Ghost in the Shell films, with the theme song provided by JRock mainstays L’Arc~en~Ciel.

 

In the 24th century, things are not nearly as peaceful on Earth as portrayed in Gene Roddenberry’s idyllic Star Trek. Fossil fuels have run out, leading to constant wars between three major factions over the remaining energy sources. In the midst of this chaos, a paramilitary organization known as Celestial Being emerges. Celestial Being’s mission is to end all wars on Earth. Their method of choice: overwhelming force with 4 advanced mobile suits called Gundams.

The series initially seems a lot like Gundam Wing. 4 bishounen pilots descend to Earth in powerful mobile suits and fight for peace. Compared to Wing, though, 00 has a lot more grit to its depictions of war. It also hasn’t overpowered the Gundams too much, as it’s shown that there is a limit to what even the Gundam Exia can handle without backup. I’m hoping the portrayal of the characters won’t be so shallow as it was with Wing, though I don’t think this will be a problem with FMA’s director at the helm.

With only one episode to go off of, I can’t make a real judgement on the series. For the moment, however, I’m going to be bullish on Gundam 00. It looks like it could shape up to be a pretty good outing for the Gundam metaseries.

Buck-Tick released their 15th (!) album back on 9/19/07. “Tenshi no Revolver” is their first album since 2005, and includes the singles “RENDEZVOUS” and “Alice in Wonder Underground.” Oddly absent is “KAGEROU,” the 2nd ending theme from xxx Holic.

“Tenshi no Revolver” follows the fast, somewhat pop-ish style of their last several singles. As I mentioned when I talked about the “Alice in Wonder Underground” single, some people hate this, but I have no problem. It may be “pop”, but we’re certainly not talking about NSync here. There’s a reason why you see Buck-Tick listed on people’s online profiles even though they have no other apparent interest in Japanese music. They’ve managed to garner a worldwide cult following, especially among the goth crowd, with their dark, somewhat bizarre, but still fun style.

The album leads off with “Mr. Darkness & Mrs. Moonlight,” a strange but incredibly infectious piece. I walked around with it in my head for days. After that, we get into the main swing of the album with “RENDEZVOUS” and “Montage”. Things continue at a driving pace, ending with a bang on the last track “REVOLVER.” There are really no bad songs on the whole thing, maintaining a high level of excitement all the way through.

“Tenshi no Revolver” is a great outing from one of Japan’s longest performing bands. As long as you’re not the type that expects a band to be stagnant and never adjust their style forever, “Tenshi no Revolver” is a ton of fun.

New music, week of 9/16/07

September 16, 2007

Rie Fu5000 Miles

Rie Fu has never been a chart topper. In fact her career high is “I Wanna Go to a Place” from Gundam Seed Destiny which reached #5 on Oricon, her only top 10 single. However, ever since her “Life is Like a Boat” single from Bleach, I’ve loved her work. It’s clever, and the infusion of American country influence helps her break the JPop mold. Her last couple singles after the release of her 2nd album have not quite lived up, but “5000 Miles” shows that she still has the potential to do good stuff. We’ll assume the last couple lackluster releases are due to concentrating on college. “5000 Miles” shows heavily that country influence she no doubt picked up spending part of her youth in Baltimore. Even though I tend to dislike country due to its backwards and nationalistic themes, that’s a non-issue with Rie Fu.

Kitade NanaAntoinette Blue

Not an artist I tend to follow a lot, I still would have liked to catch Nana’s performance at last year’s Otakon. Unfortunately, funding was short for a con trip at the time since I had just gotten back from the real Japan and bought a new laptop. “Antoinette Blue” is the new (final?) ending theme for the D.Gray-man anime. It’s angsty, guitar heavy JPop worthy of the queen of goth-loli and D.Gray-man’s dark style. It lacks any real hook though, no particular part that gets stuck in my head which makes the song overall somewhat unmemorable.

ChatmonchyDaidai

Another new anime ending, “Daidai” is the latest in a long line of Bleach endings. Chatmonchy is cool for being one of a rare breed, an all female rock band. “Daidai” is a fast paced ballad driven by the vocals of Hashimoto Eriko, which ride the line of being forceful without overly straining her voice. Though Yui accomplishes this vocal style better, Chatmonchy benefits from a more consistent and complex instrumental side due to being a full band.

Action-ZERO

This is the most recent insert/battle/ending theme from Kamen Rider Den-O performed by the actors for Sakurai Yuuto and Deneb. I don’t really know what to say here. It’s really generic pop… it actually kinda sucks. What happened to the kick ass themes from the earlier Heisei-era Rider series? I hope this isn’t a trend.

BUCK-TICKAlice in Wonder Underground

This came out about a month ago, but I somehow missed it. That is until recently when it occurred to me “What happened to that new BUCK-TICK song, did it ever come out?” Indeed it did… a month ago. I’ve seen a lot of people griping about it saying it’s too pop-ish. I think people need to understand the difference between art and entertainment (in fact, I may pen a post about this). “Alice in Wonder Underground” accomplishes its intended tasks. BUCK-TICK obviously had fun making it, and we can have fun listening to it. I rather like it, it’s catchy and certainly of a different tone than any other pop song. The video is awesome too.

New music, week of 9/2/07

September 2, 2007

L'Arc~en~Ciel - My Heart Draws a Dream

L’Arc~en~CielMY HEART DRAWS A DREAM

L’Arc’s most recent single on their way to the new album is released. “MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM” is one of L’Arc’s slower songs, in this case very peaceful. The video has children from around the world lip syncing/singing along with them, seeming to promote a world peace message. Not much to say here, typically excellent work from L’Arc~en~Ciel.

Utada HikaruBeautiful World/Kiss & Cry

Hikki also makes an entry this week with a double A-side single. Beautiful World is the theme for the Rebuild of Evangelion movie. I haven’t seen it, but we can probably assume the Eva connection is the reason why there’s a cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” as a B-side here. How many versions of that song are there for Eva now? “Kiss & Cry” is a faster pop piece that used animation from “Freedom”, the animation project used in the recent Nissin Cup Ramen ads. It also lifts a part of the melody right out of “Hotel Lobby” from her ill-fated US released album “Exodus”. Maybe she liked that bit and wanted to use it on something that wasn’t a disaster.

Tamaki NamiBrightdown

Tamaki Nami debuted by performing the second two theme songs for Gundam Seed. I followed her for a bit through her first album, but then got bored. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her, she just doesn’t really stand out among all the other pop offerings. She also seems to be using sex appeal a lot to promote herself, much like a certain Koda Kumi. I can’t really get behind that, your work should not need the support of your boobs. That said, “Brightdown” is decently catchy and a little darker than I remember her. It’s used as a theme for the D.Gray-man anime, so it’s fitting.

Makihara Noriyuki – GREEN DAYS

OK, so this isn’t “new” as in just came out this past week, but this column is about what’s new on my iPod, and I just got around to getting this 😛 “GREEN DAYS” is the theme to Ushi ni Negai wo, and is a very nice uplifting guitar ballad. I like it, and it jives with the country theme of the show.

New music, week of 8/26

August 25, 2007

As with last week, here’s what’s new on my iPod this week:

the brilliant green - Stand By Me

the brilliant green“Stand By Me”

This is the big news. After being on hiatus for five years, the brilliant green is back. “Stand By Me” picks up right where they left off, fitting right in with the rest of the band’s catalog. I love Tommy Heavenly6, Tommy February6 is OK, but I’m glad to have BuriGuri back. Well… hopefully this doesn’t spell the end of Tommy Heavenly6, that would make me quite sad.

Nakashima MikaLIFE

Nakashima Mika also has a new single with the 8/22 release of “LIFE”. The song is the theme for the same named TV drama “LIFE”, which I would be watching but am still waiting on subs. The song is very much more pop than is typical of Mika. Not sure if this will be a trend, or if it’s just an experiment, we shall see. The song is certainly catchy though.

Ali Project – Psychedelic Insanity

Albums take a little more time to form a proper opinion of, so I’ll likely discuss this in detail more once I’ve had more time with it. Suffice to say for now that Ali Project has a new album featuring their usual Victorian inspired, mysterious and slightly creepy sound. As I mentioned below when talking about Code Geass, their work fits really well as anime themes. This is especially true of anything that comes from the same Goth-Loli culture as Alipro themselves. The pairing of Ali Project and Rozen Maiden is probably one of the most perfect matings of anime and music ever, and now every time I hear Ali Project I think of Rozen Maiden. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

On another music related note, next week’s Music Station looks fantastic. They’re having both Utada Hikaru and L’Arc~en~Ciel. Is there a more perfect guest list? I can’t wait.

Code Geass

August 23, 2007

I recently, after much ado, got to see the end of “Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch” (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion). Code Geass had a strange broadcast, given there was a break of four months before the final two episodes aired as a special. Furthermore, the current series ends fairly abruptly, since it’s apparently only the first half of the story that will be finished in a second season.

Code Geass is on the surface one of Sunrise’s traditional long running mecha shows. What makes Code Geass unique is that the focus is much less on the robots (called Knightmares), and much more on the political and social machinations of the main character Lelouch. Lelouch is a prince of the Brittania, a powerful empire with control over much of the world. After the death of his mother, Lelouch seems to have gone into hiding/exile in what was formerly Japan, now simply called Area 11. Lelouch is caught up in a skirmish between the Brittanian army and a resistance cell, and winds up encountering a secret cargo. The “cargo” is a mysterious girl called CC, who grants Lelouch a mysterious power just before appearing to be killed. The power, “Geass,” manifests in his left eye and allows him to give any human one order that they will absolutely obey. Lelouch uses the power on the military unit that finds him, ordering them to commit suicide so he can escape.

Code Geass

Like other conquered territories, Japan and its people have been stripped of their culture and even their name, with the people now simply called “Elevens.” Lelouch senses that the Elevens are the most likely to be able to form a rebellion to help him overthrow the Brittanian Empire against which he harbors a deep grudge. Using the power of his Geass (and his own brilliant intellect), Lelouch assumes the identity of the masked revolutionary Zero, and forms an elite revolutionary force called the Order of the Black Knights to accomplish his goals.

With the concept of a young man using a mysterious power to enact change against the world seems to have the influence of Death Note. This is most apparent early on when Lelouch is conducting experiments to determine the limitations of his Geass, much the same way Light did with the Death Note. Fortunately, the Geass doesn’t become the deus ex machina it could have, and Lelouch has to mostly rely on his wits and strategies to succeed.

On the production side, one very notable aspect of the series is that its character designs were done by the legendary mangaka team CLAMP. Their designs lend themselves extremely well to the beautiful futuristic Baroque setting. Musically, themes were provided by JPop acts like FLOW and Sunset Swish as well as one of my personal favorite anime theme performers Ali Project. The background music is big orchestral stuff, appropriate to the setting but nothing special enough to make me want to listen to it on its own.

Code Geass is a fantastic drama, one of those rare shows that actually gets a jaded old anime fan like me excited. I can’t wait to see the second half of it. The current season has been licensed for US release by Bandai Entertainment. Highly recommended.

NANA 2

August 21, 2007

I just saw NANA 2 last night, the sequel to the popular movie based on a Yazawa Ai manga. As I mentioned when I talked about HanaKimi, watching live action versions of shoujo stories tends to help them get within the boundaries of what I can tolerate watching. I tried to watch the NANA anime, but just couldn’t sit through it.

I found the first movie to be decent. I actually fell asleep on it the first time I tried to watch it, though I accredit this to trying to watch it while on the mind numbing 10 hour flight to Tokyo. Second time, I made it through and actually rather enjoyed it.

Both NANA and NANA 2 seems to bog down in the middle though, making me think the run time could have been pared down. NANA 2 suffers especially from having way too much of Hachiko moping around. It would have been better if there had been more subplots really being developed, but there wasn’t. Hachiko was prettymuch it. No development with Nana and Ren, and aside from Nobu who gets involved in Hachiko’s plotline I still couldn’t even tell you the names of the other two members of Black Stones. Not to mention the members of Trapnest aside from Ren and Takumi, I can’t even remember Ito Yuna‘s character’s name. Given the 2:10 runtime of the film, and the fact that this is now number two, I can’t excuse dragging on for so long while not developing any of the secondary characters. Hell, Nana barely gets any real development as the whole film focuses on Hachiko.

NANA 2

While I was more bored with NANA 2 than with the first film, it does have some cool concert sequences as any film focusing on rock bands should. It was also nice that Ito Yuna actually had lines in this movie aside from singing. As with the animated version, the music is a big selling point of the NANA movies. Nakashima Mika plays Nana, and Ito Yuna plays Reira. Both deliver punk rock songs, but for Nakashima this is well outside her normal type of music. Ito Yuna just rolled her Trapnest songs into her first album, but the Black Stones songs were fleshed out to a full album, “THE END” under the “NANA starring MIKA NAKASHIMA” name. I am in fact listening to “THE END” as I write, and it is a cool album. Nothing like the low key ballads Nakashima Mika usually produces (not that I dislike her usual work, it is in fact also quite good).

So, overall, if you are a fan of NANA and/or Yazawa Ai, you should probably check out NANA 2 to complete your experience with the first film. For other movie watchers, as with the Matrix, just stick with the original. It wraps up decently, and NANA 2 doesn’t really develop anything from the first film anyway.

New music, week of 8/19

August 18, 2007

I usually get new music transcoded, entered into iTunes, and synced to my iPod while doing laundry on the weekend. So, I’ve decided to do a bit of a roundup of what I’ve added this week. This bit will probably be a regular thing, as long as I have time.

Ikimono Gakari - Natsuzora Graffiti/Seishun Line

Ikimono GakariNatsuzora Graffiti/Seishun Line

Ikimono Gakari is one of my favorite bands at the moment. Their stuff is always so much fun, and they have a unique sound to boot. Vocalist Yoshioka Kiyoe conveys a lot of energy, which is punctuated when Yamashita Hotaka jumps in with his harmonica. Natsuzora Graffiti is a song for the summertime, Ikimono Gakari’s entry this year into what seems to be almost a genre unto itself in Japanese music. Seishun Line is a fitting companion, with much the same theme but a different sound. It was used as the theme for an anime which I haven’t seen, hence the double-A-side billing.

FLOW – Answer

I’ve had an up and down history with FLOW. I first heard them, as most did, when they did the song “GO!!!” which was used as an opening for the obscenely popular Naruto anime. The song was catchy, but I found their first album to be overall dull and uninspired. The next time I heard them was with “Days”, used as an opening for Eureka Seven, and a song which just knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe it was the same band. “Answer” is thankfully more along those lines, though less hard hitting than “Days” or “Colors”. A decent song.

UVERworldShaka Beach ~Laka Laka La~

UVERworld I picked up thanks to their doing a Bleach opening. I think their sound is pretty fun, but they need to work on variety. I can’t really find anything in particular to find wrong with “Shaka Beach ~Laka Laka La~”, but it’s just more of the same thing they’ve always done. That’s not bad, but they just need to come up with some other stuff.

Sambomaster – Very Special!!

Now, when it comes to bands who stand out as unique, you don’t get much more unique than Sambomaster. This is a group of guys who not only does not fit the usual profile of rock stars, but they actually seem to revel in what huge dorks they are. And I love them to death for it. “Very Special” is classic Sambomaster. Fast, fun… spastic… odd… brilliant? Complete with the usual incomprehensible ramblings of Yamaguchi Takashi over certain parts of the song.