I was not exactly sure what to expect with the first Anime NYC. As it had no history I was not sure what would be the parts of the convention that would stand out more than others. Some conventions are known for their in-depth panels, others are cosplay or AMV hubs, while some have really high-profile guests. I’m a little hesitant to mark this as the defining feature of the convention for years to come I will say that Anime NYC had an amazingly strong musical lineup out of the gate. When I first saw the musical guests I thought they were good for a first-year convention but nothing out of the ordinary. In retrospect, they might have been the most important parts of the convention.
For some of us, concerts are a fun and enjoyable part of a con. For some others, the musical guests are the reason they are at the convention. I land more in the former category, sometimes I don’t even go to the concerts and sometimes they end up the highlight of con. Before the weekend of the Anime NYC, I wasn’t sure if I’d be attending the Sunday concert but now I’m very glad I did.
I will admit I had not originally planned to see the Anime Diva Night concert. I was originally planning to see some of the panels happening at the same time. In particular that Utena panel seemed super interesting. I think part of me still considers concerts something Kate covers by default like Artist Alley. But then some of our friends started to really talk up the singers for the concert and I decided that I might as well check it out.
The Anime Diva Night concert has a fairly strong line up of artists. Yoko Ishida, Chihiro Yonekura, and TRUE. The three of them have an extremely diverse number of songs under their belts. You have everything from the songs of Sailor Moon R to Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.
I thought the way the handled the lineup was rather fun. While the concert had each of the three singers perform some of their signature works they transitioned from one singer to another by having the divas sing a duet. They also had all three women sing a song together and the beginning and the end to cap off the performance. With fairly educated guesses, you could predict which individual songs were going to be performed but the joint pieces were a bit of an enjoyable wild card. They stuck to like karaoke classics like Moonlight Densetsu and Cruel Angel Thesis but that makes sense. Popular songs from outside of anime or songs that would not connect to American audiences like Sousei no Aquarion would be much more likely to fall flat. It was a good selection. I just liked to see what they felt were universal songs.
I will note that there were three separate songs from anime based on Hiro Mashima manga. There was an opening and an ending from Fairy Tail and the opening of Rave Master. Since they were going for titles they thought Americans would know I think it says a lot about how popular he still is here. New York Comic Con reminded me of this fact and then this concert reinforced that idea. Hiro Mashima’s series fall into that same place in my brain that Tokyo Ghoul does. On an intellectual level I know they are popular but I just don’t know any fans of either series personally.
The oddest pick was probably the opening of Hoshin Engi. I know that series got an English release of both the anime and the manga but as far as I know, that was never super popular at any point in history. I’m sure it has its fans but that is the one title that just seemed sort of random.
There were also three Sailor Moon songs but at this point, if you are unaware of the impact of Sailor Moon on the English-speaking fandom you might actually be deliberately obtuse. I think at this point only Dragonball has more cultural cache.
I know I spent a good amount of time talking about the song selection but it was the part of the concert that I could spend the most time talking about beyond say”It was damn good.” All three singers were extremely impressive. If I had to say anything I would say the duets and trios were my favorite parts of the performance. The solo songs reminded you of how each singer sounded and invoked a bit of nostalgia with the older songs. But the unique experience were the covers. It let the audience see each artist explore a song you were not used to them singing as well as how they performed with another artist.
The Anime Diva Night was a unique experience that was a wonderful way to end the first night of the convention.
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt was a big presence at this year’s Anime NYC. And that culminated at the concert led by Naruyoshi Kikuchi after the dubbed screening of Bandit Flower. I slipped in just for the live performance which ended up being two concerts in one.
The concert got underway very quickly without much ado as Mr. Kikuchi led them into a performance of the bombastic jazz the Thunderbolt series is now known for. The first session was a little bit of each instrument being highlighted. I say session because the length and breadth of the performances were flowing into each other freely not feeling like one specific moment.
Many concerts at anime cons now project footage of anime when the performers are playing something from a particular show. The Thunderbolt concert elevated it a bit by taking scenes from the series then re-editing them and designing them to have more of a look that complimented the musicians live performance.
They surprised the hell out of everyone when the jazz musicians took a break only to be replaced by Ichikawa Ai singer of some of the pop songs that make up Daryl’s playlist in the series. The songs that you simply get out of your head once you hear them. And if that wasn’t enough, she was followed up by Sakamoto Yoshie who has a very different voice.
Once we returned to the jazz band we were treated to an intense face-off of the piano VS the drums in what was certainly one of the most exciting portions of the concert. To top it all off, Ichikawa Ai and Sakamoto Yoshi returned and performed the emotional ending song “Koi Wa Daremo Inai” as a duet.
What an incredible concert experience inside or outside an anime convention.
The original plan for Sunday was for me and my roommate to leave the house ridiculously early in the morning to try to get the signature boards they were selling at the Aniplex booth. They sold out minutes after the convention started the first two days so this was our last chance. When I woke up I was feeling miserable and it was pouring rain outside. I decided to stay home and rest deciding my health was more important than a signature board.
When I finally got out of bed everyone else had already taken off and I was still a little groggy but it was not raining. I was debating if I should still attend the last day of the convention and then decided to go for my Sunday run in the park and see how I was doing after that. While I hardly broke any personal records I figured I was able enough to attend the concert. This was a very good decision because the Sunday concert was amazing.
I got to the Javits Center just in time to see the dub premiere of the Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower compilation movie that took place before the concert. Since I saw the original episodes when they were streaming on Gundam.info there was a distinct benefit to watching the 4 episodes at once as opposed to the original erratic schedule I watched them on. I remember all the major points but the flow felt much different when I watched them all at once. The new added little connecting scenes helped a little but it was mostly just the effect of watching them all back to back. I will say I did not remember that female pilot with the freckles who seems to utterly despise Io. It is Io so someone hating him is hardly unimaginable but I noticed how much time the camera focused on her the few times she appears in a way that makes me assume she will have some importance in the future.
The way the Thunderbolt concert was promoted it seemed like Naruyoshi Kikuchi was going to come out with a small jazz ensemble, play a few songs, and Bob’s your uncle that is a concert. It would have been a bit of an unusual treat unlike the standard pop concert but no more than that. Sort of a minimalist affair. What we got was far more than that.
First of all, I have to mention that the jazz band went all out for the performance. They really had a bold style that brought the free jazz to life. The music has a passionate rawness that was distinctly present in the show but took on a new dimension of reality when performed live. I have to give an extra bit of praise to Ai Kuwabara, the pianist, for throwing herself body and soul into her playing. It distinctly was one of those events that makes you understand why people seek out live performances.
But on top of that, they also had scenes from Thunderbolt playing in the background. If you have ever been to one of these anime concerts you almost assuredly have seen something like it. It is essentially trailer footage that they play music over. It adds a little bit of a visual flair to reinforce the music’s connection to the show. Much like the rest of the performance, they went above and beyond here. The visuals they played were highly stylized images more than just some stock footage. Take for example the visuals for the first song. They played different clips of Io and Daryl at the same time distinctly invoking their conflict while adding a layer on top of the clips that was like the opening framework of the Cowboy Bebop opening. It makes the whole affair feel like an art piece as well as a musical performance. The only equivalent would have been the Yoko Kanno concert at Otakon. If you saw the performance you know it is no small amount of praise.
After the performers played three exhausting numbers the show seemed to take a nice little intermission so the performers could catch their breath before the finale. Considering how much they threw themselves into their music it only made sense. I think everyone assumed that they were just going to play one or two of the pop songs so both sides of the musical spectrum would be represented. But then something interesting happened when they played I’m Your Baby. The singer of the song came out on stage and song the song to the backing track. It was totally unexpected as they did not mention that both of the women who sang the pop songs in the show would be at the event as well. It would be like going to a Macross Frontier concert with May’n and Megumi Nakajima and finding out that Yoshiki Fukuyama was hiding backstage to do some songs with them. Things like that occasionally happen in Japan but they are mind-blowing when they happen in America.
Overall I was surprised how much they undersold the Thunderbolt concert. It came off like was merely a happy little extra for anyone who wanted to see the dub of the compilation movie. What we got was a full concert that could have gotten a full ticketed price tag and anyone who went would have gotten their money’s worth and more. If they had a similar performance with a little more and a hefty ticket price I would not be surprised. It was actually a level of quality where you actually have to step back and remind yourself on to except that level of production in the future lest you be gravely disappointed in most of the anime concert you attend in the future.
If I remember nothing else from my experience at Anime NYC 2017 it will be this concert.
Anime NYC could use music as their biggest draw or this year could have just been a fluke, only time will really tell. I hope that if they do pursue music as a central tenant of the convention that implement bigger in-con promotion of these events. The space for the concert should also be improved for sound quality. Perhaps if they move to the central theater in the Javits Center next year that will help. This was a very strong and memorable first year.
I’m actually impressed that Anime NYC was able to have both concerts merely as part of the main ticket price and not an extra add-on like the Full Metal Alchemist movie. This is especially surprising considering the fact that Anime NYC is a for-profit con. In fact, I suspect that Anime NYC might have just eaten some of the costs on the concerts. The Anime Diva Night concert was part of the Anisong World Matsuri. From what I have seen all the previous iterations of this have been an additional charge alongside whatever convention they have been at. Even at Otakon, the Anisong World Matsuri tickets were an additional cost. I’m guessing to help build up an audience for the new convention Anime NYC decide to subsidize the concerts to draw people in who might have otherwise been on the fence. As a possible reception of that calculated generosity, I appreciate it if it were true.
As I mentioned at the beginning NYC is still a convention that has not solidified an image of who they are. They hopefully still have lots of time to forge a strong identity. But this year’s musical line up was a strong step forward if they wish to be known as a convention for people who want a good taste of the anime music scene.