Man, they weren’t kidding when they said Somerset, New Jersey was in the butt-crack middle-of-nowhere. When my taxi pulled into my hotel on Thursday night—Day 0 of AnimeNext—I wondered if I had been sent to the outpost of a distant civilization. But when I strolled over to the Garden State Exhibition Center the following morning, it became clear that the only distant civilization I would be encountering was one that I was all too familiar with.
After waiting a couple of hours to pick up my con badge, my usual fears were confirmed when I saw the Hello! Pro army milling about, wearing shirts and happi coats that looked only slightly more ridiculous than being dressed as a Homestuck or Brony or Meduka. This time I decided to play their little game and put my name down on an “unofficial” numbered list of fans who wanted to get into the dealer room for the specific purpose of buying Berryz goods that would entitle them to an autograph ticket/bracelet. I’m not sure this list accomplished anything other than you know who you’re behind, and you know who’s after you, and can wander off to the bathroom (or wherever) and come back without losing your place. Also you can stroke your wota peen about how early you got up to claim a place in line.
Honestly, my schedule was based entirely on how early the Subway near my hotel opened, because that was where I would get breakfast first. Everyone else can have their ridiculous 5-in-the-morning madness. Madness? THIS. IS. BERRYZ. KOBO!!!!!!!11
Besides, the only thing I’m getting up for at 5 in the morning is Hayao Miyazaki The Greatest Animator Who Ever Lived, WHICH I DID IN 2009, and that was worth it thankyouverymuch.
The wait in the Day 1 line was basically an assortment of time-passing Hello Pro activities, like testing my troll-tastic Tsunku mask (which actually came in handy for shielding me from the sun), playing olsk00l S/mileage songs and talking about how much we missed the Flawless 4 (holy crap, if there is anything close to a near-unanimous opinion in the fandom it’s that Original S/mileage is dearly loved and missed), and shooting the breeze with other fans in line about which Hello! Project act should come IN AMERICA next. I think it goes without saying that everyone is dying to meet New Morning Musume in person (and freak out over “One Two Three”), but with members as young as 12 and 13 years old (and another generation on the way?!) it may be a while until parental consent lets them go abroad. There’s probably a better chance of °C-ute coming … and then imagine everyone’s surprise when a photo appeared on the Internettes (while we were still waiting in line, lol) of a booth flyer announcing that You Kikkawa (Yuo? Yu? Yuu!) would be performing at Anime Weekend Atlanta. Naturally this raises vital questions like HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO FIND PLANE TICKETS AND ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ATLANTA.
The wait for the Berryz booth was also interrupted by regular outbreaks of panic that the priority autograph tickets/bracelets would already be sold out, or that someone had already bought up all the merch so that you couldn’t pay for $40 worth of things as needed to get an autograph ticket, that all the CDs were gone and that there was only scraps left (INCORRECT), that only CDs were left so that was all you could buy to reserve an autograph (CORRECT). After a couple of hours of waiting—much like the Sakura-con line—merch buying finally happened, and I got an autograph reservation (plus I now have an extra copy of Berryz’ 8th album, anyone interested?).
From the various stories I have been hearing, it seems that JHouseRock (who were selling idol goods for the first time rather than the VK artists they usually deal with) had severely underestimated expected demand at the AnimeNext booth, BUT there were also certain stupid ass wotas who thought it would be cute to buy goods in bulk because HEY LOOK! They’re undercutting the prices that they normally sell for on Hello!Store or the Japanese concerts! Let’s snap these up and resell them on online auctions! Also it would give them more autograph bracelets plus raffle tickets for a signed banner giveaway. That kind of economic opportunism may work in a large-scale market, but when you do that for something as niche as Jpop memorabilia and screw out the regular fans who simply want SOME goods and ONE autograph ticket, you’re just being a jerk.
But hey, the line for getting into Opening Ceremonies turned out pretty okay! And this time my batteries didn’t run out when I videographed Berryz introducing themselves. XD
The lineup for the concert started out with fans just milling about on the lawn of the convention center, but eventually morphed into a serious line as the expected time neared. Due to an unfortunate circumstance known as “BEING AT WORK” a few weeks ago, I was unable to secure a Priority Seating ticket when they went on sale online, but missing out on one turned out to be Not Such A Big Deal because I still got a decent position in the crowd (about 4 rows back, left side of the stage) after they let everyone else in.
As we entered the concert hall, I can pretty much assure you MY BODY WAS READY because HOLY CRAP they were playing Morning Musume’s “One Two Three” on the video screen as I came in! That was totally not what I signed up for but I CERTAINLY APPROVED. I mean who could say no to Sexy Fukuchan and Inappropriately Mature-Looking Haruka on an eight-foot-high projection screen. It turns out they were rotating a playlist of Hello! Project PVs to keep the crowd entertained, so then we also got to see the latest singles of Berryz, °C-ute, Eriman0, and S/mileage (and sadly they cut off in the 2nd verse of “Dot Bikini” which I consider A GRAVE INJUSTICE because one does not simply cut off S/mileage).
But there was something more important about to happen anyway, which was Berryz Kobo performing live IN AMERICA for the second time in my life. As the girls took the stage, I’m just like AAAHHHHH COME TO ME PRETTY LADIES, and there they came!
I think that, even more so than the Seattle show, the New Jersey concert was a love letter to all Berryz fans over the years. While they didn’t go as far back as 1st album material, I was surprised by the range of songs that came from earlier releases. Just like in Seattle, they started out with the Extended Version of “Rival” (and I had to embarrassedly fake the lyrics for the crowd-singalong part), but after that it took an entirely different path. I was of course absolutely thrilled that we got “Koi no Jubaku” this time, because I had voted that one for the fan-picked song, and I pretty much tore my throat out doing the “L-O-V-E LOVELY RISAKO” etc. parts. The REAL winner of the fan-picked song choice (near the end of the concert), however, was “Jiriri Kiteru,” which I also consider a fantastic choice because omg Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude in the intro, and then the parts of the dance where the girls grab each other. (I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT until they actually did it, lol.)
And somewhere in between that I was being constantly surprised at which songs they had picked out from over the years—there was “Dakishimete Dakishimete,” in all its bass-pounding dance-club glory (and Captain kicking ass and taking names on the dance break), and the Suki Suki song (I forget the full title) that opens the 4th album (because as we ALL know 4th album is the godliest Berryz album), and I’ll even allow “Very Beauty” because their voices have finally grown into it as opposed to the thinness of the original recording. There was the unexpectedly pleasant B-side surprise of “Yuujou Junjou Seishun,” and a tiny percentage of the crowd trying to fill in °C-ute’s parts when “Because Happiness” came on, and I did not realize “Yo no Naka Barairo” had such a cute dance (because I don’t watch concert recordings, only PVs), and aaaaahhhhhh freaking out because “Otakebi Boy Wao!” made the playlist and I always freak out when it gets to SU-PAAAAAHKU BOY. Oh and “Special Generation,” of course, I think Special Generation speaks for itself.
I still would like to see “Anata Nashi,” “Dschinghis Khan,” and “Ai no Dangan” someday but I still think any fan—hardcore, casual, or otherwise—who came to that concert got a real treat.
Unless of course you are a well-seasoned sound engineer, in which case you could only cringe in secondhand embarrassment over the poor sound system. It has to be said that the main hall of the GS Exhibit Center is obviously not designed to be a true concert hall, and from where I was standing the high frequencies of the music just was not coming out at all. I mean like I’d hear the intro of a song and the bass and beat sounded pretty familiar but I’d have no clue what it was because you couldn’t hear the high treble melody line. Even worse was that Momoko’s microphone was constantly on the fritz, and everytime she had a line it would somehow fail to pick up her voice until halfway through the phrase. I felt really bad for her because I know she gets a fair amount of lines and it must have been driving her nuts that she couldn’t hear herself until she’d sung the first few notes.
BUT. I think being able to overcome the poor acoustics and still put on a show—hitting the right notes, nailing the dance moves, and all—just shows how ridiculously pro the girls are. It’s like, you stick them in a foreign country, at a second-tier convention, ask them to perform in a poorly designed hall with shitty equipment, to a crowd where a fair percentage may not even know of them, and what do they do? Put on the same, consistent, polished performance that they have for the last eight years. And you wonder why even AKB48′s best and brightest (and hetare-est) look up to them? Because they are Berryz Kobo, and this is what they do. What they have done since they were literally kids.
Speaking of “a fair percentage,” I was in line with a couple of guys who were there just to see the concert out of curiosity. “I’ve never heard of Berryz, but looking at the size of this line, they must be pretty big in Japan,” said one guy. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how little they actually sell, and that it’s not the volume but the intensity of the fanbase that results in a turnout like this. But an interesting opportunity presented itself when the mega-sized fan-signed banner came down the line with the phrase “Thank you for 8 years” written on it.
“Eight years, huh? Wow, that’s a pretty long time,” said one guy.
“Yeah, they were literally in grade school when they started out,” I explained to him.
“Whoa … so how young were they?”
The dude holding the banner says, “Ages 9 to 12,” which to me sounds about right.
“And how old are they now?”
To which I say, “The oldest is 20 and the youngest just turned 18, this past April.”
He nods in acknowledgement and says, “Wow, that’s a really long time. Are they all the original members?”
And I say, “Well, they used to have 8, but one of them dropped out to go to school, y’know, just to have a normal life, but the remaining 7 have all been there since the beginning.”
I think that’s the point where something clicked in his mind and he realizes what an achievement that is. “That’s kinda cool, I mean those kinds of groups usually change members a lot don’t they?”
“Yeah, yeah, or most teen girl groups, 3 years and done. These ones really stuck it out.”
So that’s my Stealth Kill technique of getting normal people to be interested in Berryz. Like, I didn’t try to drown him in random facts and video clips like SOME OTHER PEOPLE might; instead I just left out enough information for him to understand what makes them interesting and then the rest he could figure out once he got to see their concert. I hope he and his friend enjoyed what they saw. Certainly I’m glad that they approached it with a fairly open mind and were curious to see what made them “a big deal in Japan.”
Speaking of casual fans, another first-timer posted on his tumblr, “You know how in animes like Idol Master the cheers they did during the lives, I had no clue they actually did that at actual concerts!!! It was a lot of fun going in on it. Also the Japanese fans were giving out glow sticks for the concert. These men were fucking organized. And I mean MEN. Again it was like an anime were grown men came to support these Idol’s, I was pretty fucking impressed.”
Ahhh it’s so cute when people discover idol culture for the first time! I really don’t understand why hardcore fans gotta be asshats and say stuff like “UGH I can’t believe people from this ANIMUCON are just lining up for the concert because there’s no other events to attend” etc. etc. “how dare they come to the Berryz show when they don’t even know any of their songs” or some shit like that. I know I’ve said it before, but maybe those newcomers WANT to know what their songs sound like? Maybe they WANT to become Berryz fans and figured this would be a good place to start? And yet you want to shut them out because they’re cosplay freaks or they have other interests in the 2-D world or they haven’t been waiting in line with you since the morning? And even if they DID get ahead of you in line because of confusion among con management, maybe you should LET them so that they have a good time and come away with a good impression of the fandom?
I just have to wonder if some con-gers thought to themselves, “Well I was interested in going to the Berryz event but the crazy ass wotas were clogging up the convention lines several hours ahead of time so I decided to go to something else instead.” That’s a missed opportunity, I say.
The next day came and of course the first order of business was to line up yet again at some vaguely early morning hour because stupid ass wotas have nothing better to do with their lives and won’t even spend a minute to see what anime con subculture has to offer, even though they somehow expect that EVERYONE at this con should appreciate what a big freaking deal Berryz is. But enough of these addled creatures who think the world revolves around them and their idols. By about 10 a.m. I figured it was time to re-inflate the Berryz beach ball that I had deflated and stuffed in my luggage, making it far more portable than the freaking 7 photobooks I brought to have signed when I went to Seattle.
I think the fun part of waiting in line was the random people who would come up and ask, “Where’d you get that ball?” and I would have to explain that it was a giveaway from the limited edition of the 3rd album (Natsu Natsu Mini Berryz which technically wasn’t a full album but more like an EP, but it had a summer theme so you got a free beach ball and flip-flops). And then for a few minutes there was some lawn volleyball going on as well. But mostly everyone was just chilling on the convention center lawn, and every now and then someone would be giving away free goods and there would be a mad dash for something, ANYTHING, because obviously the operative word here is FREE.
As the time for Q&A session came, Berryz just came strolling up the lawn from the DoubleTree Hotel to the Convention Center as if this were a totally normal thing to do, and of course the crowd waiting in line freaked out and rushed ahead with their cameras, while all the know-nothing weeaboos just shuffled out of their way like lazy cosplay zombies. I did notice at least one tumblr account who mentioned, “I saw these singers walk past. Man they are so cute!” so maybe a few folks did have their eyes open.
I would also just like to say that Successful Troll Was Successful at the Q&A as I came up to the microphone and pretended to be Tsunku with my st00pid homemade mask (and then I had to wait for the crowd laughter to die down before I could actually ask). And then Saki took my question which made me super happy because O Captain My Captain! and I don’t even really care that the answer was short because everyone was just having a blast. I mean who can forget Yurina going into K-pop mode and she did the Gee Gee Gee Gee dance and Mr. Taxi and all the Koreaboos were just cracking up like YEEEAAAAH, and then that little boy who asked Chinami to marry him and we’re all just thinking “Enjoy getting away with that while you can, kid, because once you hit the Age of Reason it’s all downhill from here.” Somehow the use of a little child for adorability purposes felt less obnoxious this time than the Seattle incident, I think because he (and his guardians) weren’t grabbing for attention the whole time. (Momoko, on the other hand, trying to win him over … hilarious.)
When the time finally came for autographs, it was the last line I planned on standing in for ANYTHING, because as far as I was concerned this was the moment we had all been waiting for. There was a bit of nervousness that the braceleted attendees all the way in the back wouldn’t get a chance to get their goods autographed, but I was calculating the cycle time with my stopwatch and figured that, based on the people ahead of me, I would just get in with about 5-10 minutes to spare. Of course the really sucky part would be if people with priority bracelets (which they had spent FORTY BUCKS just to get) got turned away, because what was the point of spending $40 then? But they were actually nice enough to let the autograph session run a few minutes overtime, so that everyone with a bracelet in line could get their item signed.
So there I was, standing around for about 50 minutes holding a Berryz Kobo beach ball, which was pretty conspicuous compared to all the posters/CDs/photos everyone else was getting signed. At the front of the line was an old guy who kinda looked like Goto-P from Shukan AKB, and it seemed Mr. Goto-P Lookalike was checking everyone’s merch to make sure it was legit before they got it signed. He took a good long look at my one, trying to find the Hello!Project/UFA logo—ahhh there it was—then giving a grudging nod of approval and continuing down the line. Another staff member who was minding the autograph line also said “Ahh, sugoi” when he saw ye olde beach ball. I think he also said something to the extent of “much-coveted goods,” because yeah, you can still find the 3rd album beach-ball-and-flip-flops pack on Yahoo! Japan Auctions, but you aren’t ever going to find a signed one.
As recommended by an anonymous party, I flashed my Tsunku mask at the girls as I came by, and most of them were just mildly surprised and said “Tsunku-san!” which was more subdued than I was expecting. I think most of them were just like, they’ve been around Tsunku so long they don’t care anymore plus they’re the most senior group so they can do whatever they like. It’s like the relationship an 18-to-20-year-old will have with their parents—they think they’ve got THE REAL WORLD all figured out so they see a father-figure as a mere annoyance in the world. But hey.
In any case, I made sure to tell Captain in my fail Japanese that she remains my fave member and I’ll always support her. And she was sooo sweet and said Thank you and Arigatou and now I have to hold myself to that because I promised her in person. XD Then I was like “Yurushite nyan” to Momoko and she nyan-ed me back, and Miyabi was like … rotating the ball for 30 seconds trying to figure where to write on it and I had to tell her anywhere is fine. By the time we got down to Risako I had kinda slowed down the line so she really did a rush job of trying to sign it, idek.
I mean everything happened in such a rush, especially since I was closer to the end of the line than the middle. And since I hadn’t taken an interview with the girls this time, I wasn’t getting the smiles and flashes of recognition because I knew this time I was just passing through as an anonymous. But as I walked back into the crowd with the beach ball on hand, I knew I was holding something special that no one else in the world had.
By the third day, the chaos had pretty much worn off (lol did the Japanese wota literally sink back into the wormhole they crawled out of? I did not see a single one come Sunday). But just because official BK events were done didn’t mean idol-related events were done; I strolled into a H!P trivia panel and got a few admiring comments about my Maji Desuka Ska! t-shirt that I had chosen to wear that day (I was thinking whether to rep New Momusu or S/mileage that morning, and decided to go with the former because that shirt had more of a graphic-designer’s-wet-dream look to it). And then right after there was a dance-cover performance by the group Paradise Peach, which made me wonder, why the hell can’t I find any J-dance cover groups IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA? Are they purposely hiding from me? Like the only dancers I know from around here are the ones who do Vocaloid stuff, and while I enjoy that genre well enough you would think the Southern Californians of all people would be worldly enough to know their way around J-idol music. Instead everyone here rocks out to Miku or K-Pop and it’s like, My God, My Ears, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?
But Paradise Peach was really freaking cute and once I get these video files off my camera I supposed I shall do something with them. But they had a really nice well-rounded playlist of a TON of idol songs I like, such as Berryz’ “Munasawagi Scarlet” [actually a collabo with another group] (now if THAT had been performed at the concert I would die of happiness) and a couple of Buono! tracks and they even Brought The Boys Out. But maybe the best thing about the wind-down Sunday was just being able to stop by a couple of panels where people talk idol language, and when I say something like “I like Tokyo Girls’ Style” I can get a response like “Hey! I like Tokyo Girls’ Style too!” Trust me this is better than something like “Is Tokyo Girls’ Style an anime? Where can I download it?”
And then there was that funny conversation on the trivia panel:
“Okay, informal audience poll: who do you think is a better dancer, Nakky or Captain?”
Nobody votes for Nakky. Several hands go up for Captain.
Other panelist: “You’re asking a room full of people who came here for Berryz…”
But as the afternoon wore on, it was time to return to the REAL WORLD, and I had to deflate the beach ball for proper transportation back home. It had been a surreal three days in the middle of nowhere; a nowhere that had become—if only for a few moments (and several hours of standing in line)—a palace of dreams. Berryz Palace? Wasn’t there a concert tour named that? In any case, there was one thing my eyes were set upon as dreams shifted back to reality in Somerset. On that taxi back to the train station, on the train back to the airport, and on the plane ride back home, there was just one goal to look to next.
Kikka Quest comes this September.