Anime NYC 2018 News Roundup
Anime NYC 2018: Anisong World Matsuri Q&A Report
by Cindy Sibilsky,
The second year of Anime NYC marked an important (and historic!) moment for Japanese anisong artists. For the very first time, after successful concerts in Asia and the West Coast of the US, Anisong World Matsuri came to New York City for two nights at the Hammerstein Ballroom for the biggest Japanese concert series in the history of New York City. On Friday and Saturday, preceding or following their concerts (depending on the lineup), these musicians who all came from across the oceans, many miles away (some with fans that followed them for that great distance to be closer to their favorite performers in a way not possible in Japan) greeted attendees in a panel with questions both posed by myself, as moderator, and a few from fans who'd written in prior to the event.
Friday's panelists included: Hironobu Kageyama (of the supergroup JAM Project and anisongs for Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya fame), Hiroshi Kitadani (supergroup JAM Project, anisongs for One Piece and Ryder Ryuki, and more), Shoko Nakagawa (anisongs for Gurren Lagann and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) and the legendary Japanese Idol Group in their current lineup, Morning Musume '18.
Morning Musume '18
All artists were asked about how they were enjoying New York as it was a first for most of them. All of them were inspired by the grandness of it all, which is similar in ways but quite different from Tokyo. Most had been too busy to explore much but were looking forward to seeing a few sights and especially sampling some of the famous NYC culinary delights while they were in town. It was interesting to note that based on the audience reaction to the Japanese guests speaking in their native tongues, it was clear that that nearly half of the attendees of both anisong panels understood Japanese (in contrast to a more typical 10-20% at most convention panels). Here are a few highlights from the Q&A session:
When I asked Hironobu Kageyama how he kept up his explosive energy after performing for decades around the world at 57, he explained it was aided by his strict, daily exercise regime and running which is good for the lungs. A fan probed how he was enjoying his first time in NYC and Kageyama replied enthusiastically that it was a dream come true especially because he was getting to experience it with his (bandmate) brother, Kitadani. Hiroshi Kitadani was questioned about his favorite Western influences and unabashedly said that the band KISS has always been a huge inspiration for him. I queried how Shoko Nakagawa could find balance with her multiple interests and talents (in addition to being a singer, she is an actress and visual artist) and she replied that her passion for what she does and loves is the driving force that motivates her. Morning Musume '18 is comprised of twelve performers so a few delegated members took turns and acted as spokespersons -- the 16-year-old member Akane Haga was asked a fan question of what has been the most challenging choreography to learn and she responded that she was never really a dancer but it was such a part of Morning Musume's performance and legacy that she committed and challenged herself to learn and perfect her skills. Turns were a particular difficulty for her initially, but one would never know that a single member was anything but a professional dancer from seeing their astounding precision and synchronicity onstage the following evening. She must have trained hard!
Saturday's Anisong World Matsuri panel lineup featured: Luna Haruna (anisongs for Sword Art Online and Fate/Zero), the hardrocking pop singer nano (anisongs for Arpeggio of Blue Steel and BTOOOM!) a native New Yorker performing her homecoming debut as an anisong star, Konomi Suzuki (anisongs for Re:Zero and No Game, No Life), whose powerful voice earned her awards at a young age and TRUE (anisongs for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and Sound! Euphonium) who performed at last year's Diva's Night at Anime NYC and returned for the first Anisong World Matsuri in NYC.
The second panel was a bit different because there were only four artists present, rather than fifteen that included Morning Musume '18 the day before (plus myself as moderator and the three translators -- nano speaks perfect English having grown up in NYC) and more importantly, they'd performed the night before so the fans (and me) had gotten a chance to see the pure magic and sheer power they each portrayed on stage. I began by asking Luna Haruna how she feels when she performs those hard rock, edgy anisongs for anime typically seen as more appealing to boys than girls, with her pink bows, sugary vocals and kawaii demeanor. Her response was magnificent when she explained that her look in contrast (or compliment) to her songs was her “weapon” and how she defines and separates herself as a performer.
When I asked Konomi Suzuki the fan question about what she missed the most about her former life before winning the Animax All-Japan Anisong Grand Prix in 2011, she had a humorous response: Suzuki had always been a singer since childhood, but when she won this incredible award, though her professional life transformed, nothing in her personal life seemed to have changed a bit, she almost had to shout to friends, “Hey! I won the Grand Prix! What do you think?”
For nano, I got a bit more personal, as this was her first time performing in her hometown of NYC and her second time performing in the US this year (the first was San Jose in early 2018 which was her debut as a musician in America). I wanted to know what she thought about the music industry in both places and how, as a bilingual, international artist, she sees (and wants to see) it evolve. As eloquent as she is vocally powerful, nano said that she really sees anime as a major force and hinge to make a greater global connection and that it is her personal mission as a Japanese and American artist to make that global connection expand and evolve. On the same note of the significance of anisong and anime, TRUE opened up her heart and explained that anime “saved” her life and that it was her main driving force and what compels her to greatness. She is an otaku herself, she adores anime, anisongs and all music and always strives to do her best.
Thanks to a growing global audience, anisongs, J-Pop and Japanese music in general are growing forces in the music industry. What these artists did (in panels and onstage) in New York City was create a more meaningful connection with their fans, new and old, the success of which hopefully will set the stage for more anisong and Japanese artists to perform in America and beyond.
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