Yoshiki began by plugging his upcoming Madison Square Garden concert. A video recap of his past exploits played, exploring the dichotomy of his soul – a drum smashing rock iconoclast; a classically trained pianist who composed and played for the Emperor of Japan’s ascension anniversary. Who was the real Yoshiki? Neither? Both? Some impossible in-between? The video was frenzied, even messianic in its undertones, as he was quite literally borne aloft by his fans at prior concerts.
After a brief chat about Hige’s death and the breakup of X-Japan, it was on to the songs. Yoshiki was very much turned out in classical style for this – a Shigeru Kanai piano, a flaring wool long coat, sunglasses, and his trademark leather pants combined with royal blue lighting to give him the look of a maestro.
The three violinists and cellist who accompanied him (the “Yoshiki Sextet”) were good but not mirror-perfect; a minor mismatch in note timing at a transition in ‘Anniversary’ was noticeable but not fatal to the performance. Perhaps no one noticed more than Yoshiki himself, as the camera caught him grimacing and he apologized for nervousness immediately after the song concluded.
As expected, soaring piano riffs dominated the packed hall. Yoshiki was very much a performer, content to play his role. He announced his protégé, Katie Fitzgerald, a former Otakon attendee. Together they debuted ‘HERO,’ the new Saint Seiya soundtrack song. For darkness and light, for its rich depths and the majesty of its soaring heights, nothing could match the piano work in ‘HERO.’ However, Katie’s performance, while technically proficient, failed to engage with its harrowing tale of cutting and suicide attempts. There was no daring in her vocal range, in her slow and steady progression through classic themes of unrequited love and abandonment. All of Yoshiki’s cunning and craft, though they were in full force, could not make up for the lack of authenticity with which she sang loss.
The English version of ‘Tears’ was more emotional, but baffling in its differences with the well-known Japanese. Long-time fans will recall that Yoshiki suffered a difference of opinion with other members of X-Japan in that he wished to Anglicize the lyrics of X-Japan songs to appeal to the international audience. By the time he closed on ‘Endless Rain,’ however, nostalgia was in full force, with a good chunk of the audience softly echoing the chorus.
The remaining members of X-Japan appeared on stage briefly during ‘Kurenai,’ but seemed to be there only to tease the audience, promising a full appearance during the upcoming Madison Square concert. As such, this was both more and less than an X-Japan reunion concert: Yoshiki was its clear focus.
The genius of Yoshiki really lies in his exacting precision combined with a menace that speaks of hidden depths. The way he can over- or understrike notes, remaining within the acceptable range for the piano while hinting at more, is surely not something to be replicated by lesser performers. It may be that they lack the essential tension of conflicting forces that seems to always accompany him.
We had the privilege of talking to prominent voice actress Saori Hayami, who is best known today for her role as Miyuki in Mahouka (The Irregular at Magic High School), as well as Ayase in Oreimo, Sawa in Tari Tari, and many other leading roles.
You decided to become a voice actress in elementary school. Why did you decide to pursue that so early in your life?
Well, looking back—I really did start very early! But I think that was the time when I had the most energy about my dream. I didn’t think so much about the process of getting used to it, but I was thinking more like “Oh, there is this kind of job. Wow, it must be fun!” So I decided very quickly to pursue it that way.
You play piano and draw well, we heard. Have you ever won any awards for them?
(Laughs.) I never actually entered a contest, but I did have piano recitals. As for drawing, as you might have guessed from my laughter….I’m really not that good at it. But when I was in elementary school, I had private drawing lessons and the drawings from those lessons were shown at the Ueno art museum. I mentioned that once on a radio show, and for some reason that was picked up and included as part of my profile. But my drawings are totally opposite from the ones you might imagine.
You’re very modest.
See, the picture I drew was like this boxy square building on this size of paper with eight windows on it. It wasn’t very good, and I was rather bad at it, but it entered the museum. I’m still wondering, what was all that about?
You like “Aibou,” a detective drama. Why do you enjoy police dramas like that?
I’ve liked detective dramas since I was a kid. In Japan there are a lot of two hour dramas, and I was watching them from my early childhood. [In fact] I watched them more than anime. So, I feel really close to them, and that has culminated in Aibou somehow.
So every once in a while, during the noontime program, I saw a rerun of Aibou and thought, “oh, this is interesting.” And that happened many times, and so I finally started watching the show. I could go on and on about it…so what appealed to me about Aibou? Maybe the kizuna (special bond) the characters shared. And the side characters around them are deep too, and that’s what I liked it about.
In Mahouka, you play a sister who has strong emotional feelings toward her older brother. They almost act like lovers. What’s your opinion on brother/sister relationships in anime?
I don’t have brothers or sisters—I’m an only child—so I don’t know what it’s like to have siblings at all, let alone falling in love with them! I can imagine if I had a brother, but to fall in love with him, I couldn’t ever see that in my life. Still, my close friends who have siblings don’t think they can have romance with their them, so perhaps if I ever had a brother, I don’t think I would have romance with a him either.
Yoshiki, joined by fellow X Japan band members Pata (guitar) and Heath (bass), gave a press conference at Otakon 2014. This is the transcription of that event, edited for clarity. (Yoshiki spoke in English throughout so it is not filtered by translation.) Our photographer Shizuka was on hand to take pictures and to ask a question as well.
Will another world tour be able to follow [the MSG show] within the next year or sometime in the foreseeable future?
Yoshiki: Yes, we are actually going to be announcing some future shows at MSG, but right this moment, we just concentrating on MSG. MSG, MSG, MSG. (laughter)
Are these shows to promote your album, or are these just great opportunities for X Japan?
Yoshiki: Well, we haven’t released an album in a long time, though we released a compilation CD just a few months ago. About 22 years ago, we had a press conference in New York at Rockefeller Center when we signed with Atlantic Records. That was supposed to be a big deal, we were then supposed to release an album, but a lot of things happened. So, 22 years later, we come back to New York and are playing a show. I can’t really tell you why we’re doing this MSG show, but you are going to know soon. There is something going on. Yes.
Yoshiki, you’ve been involved with charity projects, such as the Red Cross for tsunami relief. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve taken away from those experiences and whether you have any projects like that planned for the future?
When I was 10 years old, I lost my father to suicide. So I had a pretty depressed childhood. So I kind of understand the pain children have, so several years ago I decided to create my own charitable foundation. I try to support children who have that kind of pain….Unfortunately right after I established my foundation, there was the big earthquake that happened in Japan. At that moment I concentrated and focused on that, to support victims of the earthquake and tsunami. When you save people, I also feel saved for some reason. It’s like I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life, just at my own pace.
Yoshiki, you’ve been touring Yoshiki Classical…I was wondering how preparing for that differs from preparing for X Japan.
Pata: Maybe the same thing. I just play guitar. (laughter)
Yoshiki: X Japan is pretty much my life. Everything else is like a side project. Even on my classical tour, when I went to many countries and places, I said, “X Japan is my life.” It’s not like we’ve been doing different projects and coming back to this…it’s not like we just got back together and played….[X Japan] just runs in my blood. X Japan is more than a project. It’s our lives.
How did you first find out about Otakon, and what made you come back again? Also, what are your thoughts about Baltimore as a city?
Yoshiki: because you guys are so cool! (Laughter) Yes, I cam here for the first time in, what, 2008? 2007? 2006. Wow, that’s like 8 years ago! So that means Otakon was my first convention experience. At that time, I wasn’t even doing X Japan and I wasn’t even talking to Toshi. Since then a lot of things have happened. We didn’t know we had that many fans in America, or even outside of Japan, so we started finding out that whoa, people throughout the world have started listening to our music. It was so cool surrounded by these people.
This is our third time in America though, in 2010 we played at Lollapalooza. So 2006, 2010, 2014…I’m going to be here in 2018 then. (Laughter) Every four years, like the Olympics.
All your friends call you a “vampire” and that you should play Lestat in a movie. When are you going to do a vampire-themed rock opera?
Huh, good idea. I think I have a split personality about some things. Sometimes I’m called a vampire, sometimes I’m Yoshiki, sometimes I’m a character called Blood Red Dragon, created by Stan Lee…. Wherever I am, struggling during the Yoshiki Classical World Tour over 10 countries, I always stayed up nights. It’s something vampirish…I’m only half joking, half serious. Sometimes I say I’m half Japanese, half vampire, something like that. I just love the image of the vampire, you know. So yeah…it’s a good idea to create a vampire rock opera. That’d be cool.
(Our question.) You’re not just a musical icon but also a fashion leader. How do music and fashion relate for you?
Before my father died, he used to own a kimono shop, a Japanese traditional clothing shop. I grew up in that kind of environment, so I was always surrounded by kimonos. When we started X Japan, we put on a lot of interesting clothes and makeup, and dyed our hair red and purple. So fashion and music are inseparable, at least to us. Fashion is music, music is fashion, so it’s very natural to have both. Everything came very naturally.
You’ve been involved in a lot of different collaborations–credit cards, wines, just to name a few. What other products would like you to release in the future?
I would like to do something more musical as well. Actually there are a few more projects coming that are very musical. My main focus is music. Everything else is like a hobby. I’m planning several more press conferences, so I can’t talk about it yet…
(To Heath) We saw a video once in the past. It was Phantom of the Opera styled, you were in a cage coming down, you had people doing robot dances around you, and there was an incredible bass solo…will you ever do something similar to that again, especially in a venue like MSG?
Heath: I think that rock needs something very shocking, both visually and musically…that is rock, that is X Japan. MSG has shock to it that is not like something before, so I’d like to do a new kind of shock there. In the near future, please look forward to it.
Have any of you have had memorable experiences interacting with your fans?
Yoshiki: We’ve been around for a long time, and we’ve seen a lot of bands come and go. When you are on top of the world, sometimes you don’t realize–some bands think they are the best, but, we exist because of fans. There are no bad fans or good fans, we really care about all of them…because there were fans, X Japan reunited. Without fans, we couldn’t have reunited after all those tragedies happened to our band. We actually thank every single fan. Of course, sometimes we bump into some crazy fans too, but yes…
Some of the songs on Yoshiki Classical were previously released and performed with vocals. (For example, “Amethyst” was originally written for Violet UK.) How are you able to convey the messages of the original vocal version of the songs in the instrumental version?
“Amethyst” was classical from the get go, so I didn’t write lyrics first…I wrote the lyrics later. What happened was, we had an incident at a Tokyo amusement park–an X Japan event. At that particular attraction, my classical music was playing. One of the old members, Hide, said, “What is this song? This is one of my old compositions. We should use this at the Tokyo Dome for X Japan’s opening.” Like, really? I didn’t even think about that. Then, that was the the beginning of using “Amethyst” at the Tokyo Dome X Japan show.
As long as there is a great melody, we can put some nice lyrics on top of it. X Japan songs can be instrumentals, with or without lyrics. I think about melody first.
We had the privilege of interviewing longtime animator, character designer, and animation director Hidenori Matsubara. A longtime colleague of Hideaki Anno, he’s worked on most major Gainax projects as well as the recent Evangelion Rebuild movies. His work goes back to the late 1980s and includes titles like Oh My Goddess, Steamboy, and the upcoming film At the Corner of the World.
This transcript is based on the on-site translation, and has been edited for clarity.
Computers have changed the animation process a lot. What are some of the benefits of using digital and what was it like using a computer to do animation for the first time?
[With digital processing,] I guess there is less deterioation in the final processing. Before, when art was transferred to a cel, there would be some decay. That’s the best part [of using digital]: there is no more shifting of the art when it’s transferred to celluloid. There’s no more dust, no more scratching. Before, there used to be this gigantic camera that takes a picture of the cel, but with computers there’s a lot more freedom of expression.
As for modern techniques, it’s more like I didn’t have a choice, so I just went along with it. One day in 2000-2001, when doing illustrations for magazines, I was given the company’s final celluloid. That was it for cels; there was just no choice.
Has the use of digital processing changed his own day to day work greatly?
It hasn’t really changed. For me, it’s still pencil and paper. Some people work on tablets and with the computer, but I haven’t. I never tried it, so I don’t even know if it it’s easier or not.
Do you think one man animation projects like Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star are where things are headed in animation? Or is this a temporary thing?
That type of person and production exists, but there’s a variety of productions out there too. [After all], Shinkai works on regular anime now. Everyone’s different; like, Shinkai is really into doing backgrounds himself, whereas [Hideaki] Anno likes doing the layouts himself. Each director has a way of doing things. It’s not like a self-animation would be the only thing out there.
Speaking of Anno, you’ve worked with him for a long time. How has Anno changed or stayed the same over the years?
Nothing’s really changed. He’s like a big shot now, but basically nothing’s changed.
What was it like working for Gainax in its early days?
I started [at Gainax] on Wings of Honneamise; I was a total newbie back then. Then I was an in-betweener, and promoted to key animator for Gunbuster—which was Anno’s first directorial work. After that there was Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, where I became an animation director for the first time. And after that was Otaku no Video.
Since Nadia was a TV series, I was one of many animation directors. But for Otaku no Video, there was only 2 animation directors, so I was happy to be chosen for that one. As for the Evangelion TV series, I was busy with a lot of other things, so I only contributed to a part of it, but I did have a lot of fun.
So just how accurate was Otaku no Video as a depiction of Gainax then?
It’s not wrong! Maybe it softened up our image a little. [Gainax] basically started as people in their early 20s in a nameless company making a movie, and all those people are basically big shots now, so that’s impressive.
You mentioned in an earlier interview about how courageous Wings of Honneamise was and how perhaps a project like that wouldn’t have been greenlit now. Do you think courage plays a large role in the creation of anime?
It’s really up to the individual, to personal feeling. Maybe I did have courage back then, but when you’re young, you just don’t think about things like that.
Six hours ago, ALTIMA made a daring promise. The Japanese pop trio, responding to a question of whether they would ever cover a Run DMC song, boldly urged members of the press and public to attend their evening Otakon concert.
One hour ago, they delivered.
Full of power, grace, and confidence, ALTIMA put on a dynamic performance – flitting about the stage, posing with each other, and swapping keyboards for guitars. They stopped at nothing to please the audience – dancing, strutting, jumping, and thrilling Baltimore with rousing renditions of Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ and Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n Roll.’ The audience responded with adulation – jumping out of their seats, waving colored glow sticks, and even running in place as Motsu trotted out Japanese dances for them to attempt.
Everything was on the mark: the sound technicians, the lighting, the beat, and the cavorting performers. There was one time when a sound tech did not make an instantaneous adjustment, but it meant nothing next to the sheer energy and raw enthusiasm displayed by Motsu and Maon, set against the backdrop of digital pop provided by Sat.
There are times in live performances where the human element falters, rendering the result less than a recording, and there are times when humanity rises to all challenges and creates a work of true beauty and matchless wonder. At the end of the concert, Maon cried out that she would remember it for the rest of her life. This was no exaggeration.
Motsu, you put the band together. Could you tell us why you felt compelled to work with these artists?
Motsu – At first . . . ? I love J-pop – and my old band, m.o.v.e., starting doing less digital J-pop. I found on YouTube that I could do digital J-pop with Sat, and we just needed a vocalist who was into it. We found her, and we were set!
Any funny or inspiring stories from the road?
Maon – In Thailand and in HK, the crowd had memorized the songs and sang with us! I felt that music connects us, even across distance, borders, and cultures.
Motsu – I love how loud the fans get in the US! It’s the best feeling, being cheered on like that.
Sat – We visited many places for the music videos and had a lot of experiences. It’s a real honor to be in the US.
You are each from different musical traditions. What is the concept of ALTIMA?
Sat – What we aim at is digital J-pop. I don’t know if you’d say digital pop exists elsewhere in the world, but digital J-pop is exactly what we want to do.
What artists inspired you?
Sat – Motsu~! (Grins across.)
Motsu – (Laughs.) (Pauses.) For me, as a rapper . . . Beastie Boys, 2Unlimited, house music . . .
Sat – Run DMC, Walk this Way!
Maon – For me, actually, a lot of anime artists! Minami Kuribayashi, Mizuki Nana, JAM Project – I found this style of music most interesting and I want to tell the world how wonderful it is!
Sat – I also manage FripSide . . . we were successful and I had the chance to work with Omura Tetsuya. I said, “I did it!” It really felt like a milestone in my life.
Maon – I also really respect Hamasaki Ayumi.
Sat – Hey Motsu – you’re in the same company as her, aren’t you? (laughter)
How do you deal with creative differences?
Motsu – Janken! (laughter)
Maon – Jan! Ken! Pon! (makes hand motions)
[Editor’s note: This is Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is ubiquitous in Japan.]
Sat – Seriously, though, we’re all in different age groups – 20s, 30s, 40s. We don’t really argue and we have no problem talking things over.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your music careers?
Motsu – Starting up this group, actually. Three years ago, not everyone was sold on this idea. We faced a lot of opposition. It was worth it though – we’re here now!
Sat – I likewise feel the greatest challenge was putting this group together. But I was a huge fan of Motsu already, so I knew I wanted to work with him!
Motsu – (Embarrassed) Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Maon – My own greatest challenge? Actually, it was stepping up and singing! I am really the introverted type; I love being inside playing dating simulation games, but when I discovered the world of anime music, I became passionate about sharing it with everyone. So stepping into the light was my biggest challenge.
You mentioned that Run DMC influenced you. Is there any chance we’ll see a Run DMC cover some time?
Motsu – Yes. Come to our concert tonight!
What’s your favorite swear word?
Maon – English or Japanese?
Motsu – Jikusho!
Bonus question: Where’d you get your shades? They’re very distinctive.
Motsu – It’s my own brand! Ghetto Blaster. So we could say I made them myself.
You move so fluidly! Did you have dance training, Motsu?
Motsu – I started out as a dancer.
Do you have a message for your US fans?
Motsu – You guys give us huge greetings when we come to the US. It’s great to have you cheering us on!
Sat – As the producer, let me say – we try for an unconventional style. I really want to see how fans react to it!
Maon – Even in Japan, it’s a rare opportunity to do everything raw. Here in the US, it’s an especially rare opportunity to bring you our raw sound, our raw voices . . . I’m looking forward to it!
Sat – I really hope we can spread exposure across the country to those who are looking for our sound. So I hope you guys can write good articles and convey our spirit to the world!
Ami Koshimizu and Ryoka Yuzuki–the voices behind Ryuko Matoi and Satsuki Kiryuin from Kill La Kill, respectively–took the stage at their fan panel at Anime Expo 2014 and gave a highly entertaining, energetic look at their work. We captured most of the panel on video!
Ryoka Yuzuki was especially lively, gladly doing her Satsuki voice as well as other characters such as Neco Arc from Carnival Phantasm. Most infamously, she repeated her “pigs in human clothing” line from Kill La Kill to the delight of masochistic otakus everywhere:
She also obliged a fan who always wanted to know what Satsuki would sound like if she had Neco Arc’s voice:
Ami Koshimizu, in turn, was also the voice of Maou in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, and she happily provided her voice for a fan:
Here are some more things we captured–like Yuzuki declaring she likes doing it “soft and hard”:
And a couple of clips, one in which they declare that they woud like to see a Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill crossover:
We had the privilege of interviewing anime screenwriter Yoshiki Sakurai at Anime Expo 2014! Sakurai is perhaps best known for being one of the screenwriters for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but he’s also done work for many other Production I.G. titles such as Seirei no Moribito and xxxHolic. More recently, he’s done screenwriting for anime films such as Redline and Giovanni’s Island, the latter which received the Jury Distinction Prize at the Annency Animation Festival.
Sakurai, trained as an economist and media environment scholar at Tokyo University, brings a genuine depth to his talk with us about the ideas behind “Ghost in the Shell” and other works, along with his thoughts about cyberpunk, the Singularity, and why the movie “Her” is so unoriginal! He also talks about his latest project, Giovanni’s Island, and how that film may help bring about the future of animation.
This interview was conducted in English, which Sakurai speaks with near-native fluency.
Here is our interview with singer Eir Aoi, who’s sung anime songs for both Fate Zero and, of course, the first opening of Kill La Kill! This was taken at Anime Expo 2014. Find out about how she prepares for a performance, just how hardcore of a gamer she is, and more!
Yutaka Yamamoto, aka Yamakan, got his start as one of the directors of Kyoto Animation’s The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the director of the first four episodes of Lucky Star. After leaving KyoAni, he established his own studio, Ordet, and went on to make shows like Kannagi, Fractale, and most recently Wake Up Girls!
Yamakan was frank about his opinions of the anime industry, and some additional thoughts about controversial statements he made around the time he made Fractale. Read tweets from his press conference here!
Keiji Inafune, the famed game designer who worked at CAPCOM for years developing Mega Man, Street Fighter II, and many other legendary games, is now an independent producer. His latest work is a Kickstarter-funded game called Mighty No. 9, which is forthcoming. Inafune spoke about that as well as his past work with Mega Man and other games to the press at Anime Expo 2014.