Category Archives: Conventions

Interview: JAM Project

JAM Project, one of the biggest anisong “supergroups” in the industry, was founded in order to further the genre of anime songs specifically. Consisting of a number of veteran anisong singers, today it now comprises founding members Masaaki Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, as well as Masami Okui, Hiroshi Kitadani, and Yoshiki Fukuyama, who all joined between 2002-2003. They are best known for songs for shounen action shows such as Cardfight Vanguard, Nobunaga the Fool, GARO, and New Getter Robo, as well as video games like Super Robot Wars. Their operatic rock seems to fit those genres especially well.

Unfortunately, the audio for our transcript recording was sometimes fuzzy so not all attributions were 100% clear. Apologies for lack of clarity on those questions and answers.

We started by asking Masaaki Endoh about his famous predilection for bringing instant noodles with him on tour.

Endoh-san, what kind of instant noodle did you bring this time?

Masaaki Endoh: Six different flavors of mini-sized ramen! But I don’t have a water boiler due to luggage weight limits, and unlike in Japan, they don’t have hot water dispensers in every room.

Your stagecraft and style of music is very theatrical and almost operatic.  Is that a reflection of the sort of anime that you do music form or is that your natural style?

Hironobu Kageyama: Actually it is influenced by the type of anime the songs are for. So if it’s anime that has robots, like Super Robot Taisen where there’s a lot of fighting and energy, the songs will be influenced by that.

How do you think your style has adjusted over the past 15 years?

Kageyama: We don’t so much change our style as look for something new to do.

So would you ever do a song for a moe anime?

Kageyama: If someone ever asked us to, sure. We have girls in the band. [looks at Masami Okui] But we don’t ever get asked to do that sort of thing…

How do you relax when you’re off jam project? Individually? Or collectively?

Kageyama:We always like to talk together sometimes. Outside of music…well, we always thought about making our own jam. Jam Project jam!

What flavor of jam?

Strawberry!

What secret hobbies or hidden talents do you have?

Kageyama: I’m the oldest, so working out is my hobby. Recently I’ve been cycling and scuba diving. And this year, I’m challenging myself to train for a short distance triathlon.
Hiroshi Kitadani: The fans on twitter probably already know this, but my hobby is cooking. I do it every day, and when I make my own dish and drink alcohol, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic.

What’s your favorite dish?

Kitadani: Oden! It’s easy to make.
Masami Okui: As for [my hobbies], in Japan or all over the world, I like to visit “power spots”–places with spiritual energy. In Japan, that would be shrines or temples I love. When I’m off work, I go there a lot. This year, though, I want to go to Mt. Shasta.
Yoshiki Fukuyama: I have no hobby. So my hobby now is to look for a hobby.
Endoh: I love animals, so I have a lot of pets. It’s a dream that I want to be surrounded by animals in a big place.

Kageyama-san, you said last year at Anime Boston that you started the band when anisongs were in decline . Do you think the anisong industry has revived since then? Where do you see it going?

Kageyama: Anime songs are much more popular popular in Japan compared to 10 years ago. There are a lot of live events and concerts now and the audience has increased a lot. And variety of artists have shown up. So, it has changed a lot over the course of 10 years.

Who is the first musical artist that grabbed your heart?

Kitadani: I love Kiss.
Kageyama: I love Motley Crue.
Fukuyama: I love Deep Purple.
Okui: I love Kageyama’s vocal band, Lazy.
Endoh: I love the Beatles.

You’re all at Las Vegas now, do you plan to gamble and do you feel lucky? 

Okui: Living is a gamble.
Kageyama: I don’t feel the urge to gamble. But if I was, I’ll pull a slot machine handle once.
Kitadani: It’s a little scary, but I would like to try roulette.  Try betting on black. Ehh, really but what about red? You can split it 50/50, like your hair! [Laughter–ED: Kitadani had colored half his hair red, as in the picture at the bottom.]
Fukuyama: I never tried gambling, but I have seen it a lot in movies, so I like to try it like they do it in the movies.
Endoh: I like hitting the jackpot.

You’ve done a lot of songs for sentai series. What are your sentai colors?

Kitadani: [points to Kageyama]: He’s red.
Kageyama: Oh, I’m red, huh?
Okui: I’m pink.
Endoh: I like red, but red’s been taken, so I’ll be green.
Fukuyama: I’m blue.
Kitadani: I’m yellow.


The interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth with additional questions by Michael Huang. Rome Yamashita, Raymond Hu, and Linda Yau translated from the audio for this transcript.

Interview: Yoko Ishida

Yoko Ishida has been actively singing anime songs since her recorded debut in 1993, Sailor Moon R’s ED “Otomo no Policy.” She has sung songs for series as wide as Ai Yori Aoishi, Strike Witches, and most recently the first OP for Shirobako. At the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, in addition to her own songs she also covered the Haruhi Suzumiya insert song “God Knows.”

When did you decide to sing anime songs?

When there was an anime singer contest. I auditioned for that–and won!

The Grand Prix 1990, right? What was your winning song?

The assigned song was from Maple Town. And the free song I chose was by Imai Miku.

What was like to prepare for your recording debut with “Otome no Policy” (the Sailor Moon ED)?

At the vocal booth, I entered alone. It’s a solitary process, so when I record a vocal, I imagine that I’m singing in front of a huge audience.

Were you nervous?

I get nervous every time!

You’ve done a lot of songs. How do you choose which ones to do at each performance?

For example, like this performance in Vegas or elsewhere abroad, I choose whatever songs are popular in that local area. And I also take into account what songs fit in outdoor or indoor venues.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I don’t have any…[but] I love traveling abroad privately. Now I go abroad for work, but since I love traveling, I still feel happy.

Can you tell me which anime moved you emotionally?

My debut song was in Sailor Moon, but recently I was moved by Strike Witches. Those girls work so hard.  They fight hard and build their friendship, and that kind of story moves me.

How do you translate those feelings into a performance?

Many times that the lyrics tells a story and the girl’s emotion, so when I sing, I put emotions into the lyrics, and I remind myself of the first scene [in the story], which raises the right emotions.

I love your opening for Shirobako, “Colorful Box.” Based on what you know, how realistic is that show in showing the anime production process?

The people I know in the industry say “oh yeah, that’s true, that happens!” when watching that show. So I think it’s close to reality.

What other anime you watching?

I don’t watch a lot recently, but I did enjoy watching Strike Witches.

Who is your first music love?

My mother loved old Japanese pop songs. Lyrics were sung very clearly in the old days, so now I sing lyrics very clearly too.

Do you plan to gamble tonight?

Yes, on the slot machines!

Are you feeling lucky?

Yes I will today, since I lost yesterday. (Laughs)


Michael Huang conducted the interview, with assistance by Jeremy Booth. Raymond Hu provided on-site translation. The full interview was translated by Rome Yamashita.

Yoko Ishida
Yoko Ishida

Interview: ChouCho

ChouCho is the singer of many recent anisongs, including songs for Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, Heaven’s Memo Pad, Glasslip, and Mashiiro Symphony. She got her start singing Vocaloid covers on Nico Nico Douga and quickly established a successful solo career in recent years.

We started off by asking her about a sandwich from the Hard Rock Cafe (the concert was held there) she tweeted a picture of the day before, marveling at the size of it:

What do you think about size of the food here in the US?

It’s double the size of Japan’s.

Aside from American food, we understand you’re from Osaka. What kind of food from Osaka do you like?

I want to eat takoyaki sometimes!

Let’s go back to the start of your career. You sang anisongs even as early as high school.What anime did you like back then?

I used to copy J-pop songs then [actually]. After graduating from high school with the band I had, that was the first time I copied anime songs.

Any particular ones?

Evangelion and Aquarion–songs by Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto.

What inspired you to post videos on Nico Nico Douga?

When I was in an anime song cover band, we entered a local anime song event in Osaka. And the other band’s vocalist was posting their songs on Nico Nico, which was the first time I heard about anyone doing that.  That inspired me to do the same.

Any particular Nico Nico artists you liked?

Vocaloid composers, like supercell.

Any favorite supercell songs?

The most played song on Nico Nico was “Hajimete No Koi Ga Owaru”. [ED: Below is her cover of the song.]

Did you feel you were adding something unique by covering Vocaloid songs? They start out as a software voice, after all…

Hatsune Miku is a machine, so it doesn’t have emotion. Even without vocals, the song itself has enough charm to convey [emotions] directly, so when I did the cover, I was thinking a lot about how to convey the charm of the songs through my performance.

Tell us about how you got chosen to do the KamiMemo OP.

They were looking for a singer to do OP for KamiMemo, and I was selected from various candidates. They saw my NicoNico videos and that’s how I got vetted, and I feel I was very lucky.

How do you prepare for a performance like the one you just did?

I practiced at home a lot, and practiced English MCing. I studied English in Canada for a half year. But that was 5 years ago, so I almost forgot all my English. It’s been a long time since I went over English and I was nervous about it.

The anime you sing for features a lot of cute girls. Who are your favorite cute anime characters?

It’s difficult to say! I put a lot of energy into each anime I sing for, so it’s hard to choose. If I have to choose, it’s Alice from KamiMemo.

Do you have any image in your head when you sing?

Since it’s main theme song, I have to become the character’s feeling, in order to express.

How’s your pet rabbit Sanagi doing?

It’s very cute and tsundere! Normally, it’s cool (tsun), but when it’s hungry and begs for food, it’s cute (dere).

How did you name Sanagi?

My name is ChouCho (“butterfly”), and Sanagi means “cocoon.”

What message do you have for your American fans?

I now understand that our songs are loved even across international borders. Through this concert, I will try our best, so we can come back to the USA again.

So, last question: are you gonna gamble here in Vegas?

Probably, if I have time tonight!


Michael Huang conducted the interview, with on-site translation help by Raymond Hu. Rome Yamashita translated the interview from the Japanese.

ChouCho
ChouCho

Song Stream: Lantis Anisong Festival, Las Vegas

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bamboo (milktub)

 

This is the first of several articles/interviews about the Lantis Anisong Festival, held a month ago in Las Vegas in conjunction with Otakon Vegas. Interviews and videos coming later during the weekend.

This article is based on the second day of the festival on Saturday January 17.

There was a certain clockwork efficiency to the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, with the way each act came and left the stage in relatively rapid succession. It had to be, given that there were about a dozen acts reprising anime song favorites, 2-3 songs per artist, who sometimes doubled up and collaborated (as ChouCho and Sayaka Sasaki did). Despite being all managed by the same record label, a great diversity of anime was also represented, from pure shounen action (such as with the headliners JAM Project and solo performer Hiroshi Kitadani with songs from One Piece) to otaku fan service comedies (Bamboo, singing the OP to Baka Test “Baka.Go.Home”), to moe parody (ChouCho‘s Fate Prisma Iliya OP “starlog“), a cover of Haruhi Suzumiya’s legendary insert song “God Knows” by veteran singer Yoko Ishida, and even the Power Rangers theme song at one point with JAM Project founder Masaaki Endo. The presence of a stage band anchored the live musicianship consistently, with only other full bands like Yousei Teikoku needing to take the stage with their own players. Full, live musicianship is relatively rare at convention concerts, so hearing nearly four hours of actual performed music was a treat.

Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho
Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho

And yet this was not a convention concert in the usual sense, despite the festival’s ties to concurrent Otakon Vegas: it had its own management, ticketing, and arrangements, but both logistics and logic dictated some overlap. Its relative independence proved a boon, because the general convention audience and the audience that would “get” the majority of these songs do not necessarily overlap: there were relatively few cosplayers in the audience, for instance, and many of the songs played were from obscure-in-America properties, like the original live-action GARO. The truly committed had paid over $100 for VIP tickets, and many of them were decked out in traditional otaku fan garb: glowsticks, headbands, and coordinated gestures. Buying a VIP ticket also entitled the holder to high five the artists on the way out of the venue, a touch opportunity that is generally coveted highly in Japan, the subject of lotteries and contests. This was the Anisong Festival’s only non-Asian stop and it was Asian-style fandom that was fully on display.

Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project
Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project

As for the performances themselves: they were, above all else, consistent in their high level of musicianship and singing, with sacrificing the distinctives of each artist. Standouts include not only the highly energetic headliners JAM Project, with their excellent operatic singing and rock god poses, but the exuberant bamboo (milktub). As he sang the Baka Test OP, he clambered down from the stage and simply started mingling with the crowd–not just the VIPs!–singing all the while with his wireless microphone, high-fiving everyone. He carried and showed off a body pillow. Bamboo came off as a man who has truly embraced anime music as a culture, perhaps a job requirement given his other job as the head of MangaGamer but deeply felt all the same. Sayaka Sasaki, who we saw last year at Otakon Vegas, also gave a spirited performance, though the more restrained ChouCho slightly edged her out in vocal consistency. Both were equally charming though during their joint performance of “Enter Enter Mission!”, the ED to Girls und PanzerFaylan, who sang the OP to the Nasu-conceived PA Works action series Canaan, showed off some great choreography skills along with aggressive singing.

Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)
Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)

Perhaps the hardest rocking performance was given by the goth metallers Yousei Teikoku, who at one point seemed to be launching into something resembling the intro to Metallica’s “Masters of Puppets” before proceeding into one of their own songs, “Kyuusei Argyros” (the ED of Tokyo ESP). Many heads banged along. True to their image, they played the aloof, too-cool-for-school part, even during the final ensemble festival anthem “Starting Style” where all the artists took the stage at once: perhaps a bit too syrupy for their taste? The singer did induct all the audience into her Fairy Empire however, and in a show that featured much more pop and light rock, their heavier sound was welcome.

JAM Project
JAM Project

A few more words about JAM Project and their associated members, Masaaki Endoh and Hiroshi Kitadani. Perhaps no other act embodied the spirit of the festival and its purpose than them, a supergroup started explicitly to carry on the spirit of anime music. The two leads, Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, are veterans of the industry whose operatic metal-influenced voices practically defined a generation of shounen, super robot, and tokusatsu animes, shows, and games from the 80s-90s onward. That sort of anime is now only one type of many in today’s media landscape, and arguably garners less immediate commercial attention than the cute/moe aesthetic typically favored by today’s otaku (the sort of anime an artist like ChouCho sings for, for instance). Their sheer performance chops are undeniable, however, and they were absolutely the correct act to close the afternoon: after seeing them belt out passionately, jump and wheel about on stage, working in near perfect coordination, one feels almost as pumped up as they evidently were. For an evening that started with the purely artificial Hatsune Miku, the end was about the power of raw, organic performance, the essence of what rock music has always been about. It is an “anime” music festival, yes, but it is a “music festival” too, and all in all it succeeded being that just as much as being a celebration of anime.

Our photos, taken by Jeremy Booth:

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Official photos by Lantis:

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Setlist (Saturday, January 17, 2015)

Hatsune Miku

  1. Sharing the World
  2. World is Mine
  3. Tell Your World

ChouCho

  1. starlog (Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya OP)
  2. Authentic Symphony (Mashiroiro Symphony OP)
  3. Enter Enter MISSION! (Girls Und Panzer ED) w/Sayaka Sasaki

Sayaka Sasaki

  1. Reason why XXX (So I Can’t Play H OP)
  2. Zzz (Nichijou ED)

bamboo (milktub)

  1. Uchoten Jinsei (Eccentric Family OP)
  2. Baka.Go.Home (Baka Test ED)

Hiroshi Kitadani

  1. We Are! (One Piece OP 1)
  2. We Go! (One Piece OP 15)

Yousei Teitoku

  1. Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Future Diary OP)
  2. Kyuusei Argyros (Tokyo ESP ED)
  3. Baptize (Seikon no Qwasar OP 2)

Yoko Ishida

  1. Eien no Hana (Ai Yori Aoshi OP)
  2. God Knows (Haruhi Suzumiya insert)

Masaaki Endoh

  1. Yuusha-Oh Tanjyou! (GaoGaiGar OP)
  2. Go Go Power Rangers (with Hiroshi Kitadani)
  3. Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger (OP for show of same title)

Faylan

  1. Last Vision for Last (Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls OP)
  2. mind as judgment (Canaan OP)

JAM Project

  1. Break Out (Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars OP)
  2. Vanguard (Cardfight Vanguard OP 1)
  3. GARO-Savior in the Dark (GARO live action OP 1)
  4. SKILL (Dai2ji Super Robot Wars α OP)

All Artists

Starting Style

AWA 2014: Tohru Furuya and Yuko Minaguchi Fan Panel Digest

Tohru Furuya (the original Tuxedo Mask and Gundam’s Amuro Ray) and Yuko Minaguchi (the original Sailor Saturn), appeared together for a Q&A session at Anime Weekend Atlanta. They had a lot to share about the old days of voice acting and some really interesting stories about Satoshi Kon and Yoshiyuki Tomino in particular appeared. Minaguchi was also charmingly blunt about some of the things she sees around cons.

AWA 2014: Junichi Suwabe Fan Panel Digest

Junichi Suwabe, the voice of Dandy from Space Dandy, was in Atlanta this weekend for Anime Weekend Atlanta. His panel was lively and entertaining, and he did many voices and said many funny lines. Sadly, no photography or video was allowed for press.

Yoshiki Concert: Otakon 2014

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saori Hayami Interview: Otakon 2014

SHayami

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.

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Yoshiki Press Conference Transcript: Otakon 2014

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Pata, Yoshiki, and Heath

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.

X Japan will be performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden (MSG) on October 11, coinciding with New York Comic Con.

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.

Now I have a YoshiKimono clothing line. Actually, I’m going to be debuting the YoshiKimono Tokyo Collection 2015.

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.

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Hidenori Matsubara: Interview at Otakon 2014

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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.

ALTIMA Concert Otakon 2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Set list:

  1. I’ll Believe (Shakugan no Shana ED)
  2. Fight 4 Real (Strike the Blood OP)
  3. Mission Dispatch
  4. ONE
  5. Backfire
  6. Walk This Way (cover)
  7. I Love Rock n Roll (cover)
  8. Here We Are
  9. Indefinitely
  10. WISH I WISH
  11. CYBER CYBER
  12. (Encore) Burst The Gravity (Accel World OP)

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ALTIMA Press Conference Transcript: Otakon 2014

ALTIMA are a digital J-pop group widely known for making the Shakugan no Shana ED. They are:

Altima

  • Maon Kurosaki – vocals – a self-described anime otaku
  • Mototaka “Motsu” Segawa – rapper – loves US dance/house music
  • Satoshi “Sat” Yaginuma – sound production; instrumentals

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!