Text warning. If you're illiterate or have a short attention span you may not want to continue.
From May 24-26 Anime North was held in Toronto, Canada and I along with a couple companions were lucky enough to be able to go this year. I have nothing against my friendly comrades of the north but prior to this event I'd have probably never even thought about setting foot in Canada now or any time soon in the future but of course this year there was a very special reason as to why we all had gathered there this past weekend: Nakamura Eriko
For a quick self-introduction, my producer name is ExcielP and I am a BIG idolm@ster fan. As a matter of fact when it comes to idolm@ster, in the west I would be willing to bet that a slim few can actually keep up with my producing abilities (unless you play mobage). If there was an idolm@ster olympics held I would likely be chosen first on Te@m USA. Unfortunately the idolm@ster series belongs to a niche genre of the Japanese idol games that have little to no interest in the western market. So it was quite a shock to just about everyone when Nakamura Eriko was announced as a guest for Anime North 2013.
"You're kidding me" is perhaps the first thing I thought when I read the announcement followed by various other phrases such as "this is a troll" and "fucking why Canada!?". The announcement was made roughly 2 months prior to the actual convention date meaning anyone who wasn't already planning to go would have to make plans quickly. Since you're reading this, obviously I bit the bullet and decided to go. I am a proud American of the United States, I live in Fresno, California a not-so-lovely town of my childhood. Traveling to Toronto would mean flying over 2500 miles (don't even ask me what that is in kilos) but in the end I'm completely glad that I did. I spent roughly $1500 USD in expenses total but it was all completely worth it for those 3 short days.
Nakamura Eriko is a very special person to idolm@ster and to me personally. She is the voice actress for idolm@ster's Haruka and I myself am a HarukaP, for the im@s illiterate that basically means of the 12 main idols of the idolm@ster franchise, my chosen idol is the lovely and sweet Amami Haruka. I have been a HarukaP for only a little over a year now which essentially means I am actually very new to the im@s fandom. In fact some of the people I have met in the past week have been fans since the 2005/2006 arcade era. In that short time though I have grown considerably as a Producer and have become very attached to not only the girls of im@s, but also towards the girls behind the girls of im@s, AKA the seiyuu. Now it isn't just the fact that Nakamura Eriko is the voice of Haruka that Eriko herself has become a very if not the most important figure in my life. As a matter of fact the first few times I saw Eriko on nico videos and streams I believed that she was kind of stupid (lol). But as I began learn and love idolm@ster more and more the girls, both 2D and 3D, began to become a much more and more significant presence in my life. The talent, effort, struggles, love, and unity the seiyuu have shown me, and being able to witness their overcoming of constant trials in their careers have been an unparalleled, inspiring experience. And that's precisely why I decided to fly to an otherwise mediocre anime convention in Canada; I wanted to be there to experience this next step in Eriko's career along with her. As a result, this weekend, Eriko, myself, and all of her fans who were present in Toronto with her, have made im@s history, being there at the first North American idolm@ster event ever. And it was worth every single Canadian penny.
May 23rd, Day 0
I drove about 5 hours south to fly from LAX with my friend a HibikiP. We then waited about 8 hours for our flight which was then 5 hours to Toronto and we had to wait an additional 9 hours at the Toronto airport for the other Ps to arrive. So technically my journey started on Day -1. Yeah the things I do for im@s.
My group of gaijin Producers would be staying at the Westin Bristol about, if I had to guess, a kilometer away from the convention grounds. We decided we would arrive a day early on Day 0 to have early badge pick-up. In addition to that my IoriP friend and I had already decided that we would buy flowers (leave it to an IoriP) and give them to Eriko as presents at Anime North. My TakaneP friend had already greeted Eriko with flowers the previous day at the airport with the help of the Taiwanese Idolmaster Agency (TIA). They basically ninja'd their way into the government and found out Eriko's exact departure and arrival dates, even up to the point of her flight being delayed.
Of course for my situation it was a bit more tough as I didn't want to have to buy flowers in California beforehand and fly them with me on the plane. We agreed buying them in Canada on day 0 would likely be the best choice. We were wrong, but lucky. Please learn from me, when the most important person in your life is a female seiyuu and is visiting your continent for the first time ever, plan and order your flowers WAY ahead!!
For about 2 hours we searched the slippery streets of Toronto in our friend's car, dodging angry moose and eskimo left and right in search of a decent flower shop. Every single one of them was closed. We were even brought to a sketchy home in a sketchy neighborhood in a sketchy country. Finally on our GPS we were able to locate one last store in the vicinity named "Plant World". At first glance this place seemed to be more of a gardening store but inside we were fortunate enough to discover that they did in fact make and cut custom bouquets. I can't thank the flower lady who worked there enough for putting up with a couple of clueless Americans trying to get some bouquets made for a Japanese seiyuu in Canada. Because honestly they turned out beautiful and you can see them on Eriko's blog. Spoilers but yes we ended up safely giving them to her.
After the orders for our bouquets were made (at $60 CAD each) we decided to eat in downtown Toronto before going to pick up our badges. I'll keep the non-Eriko related business short, but I will say the place we ate at named Bier Markt was in particular spectacular and had just about every kind of beer a beer fanatic like myself could probably hope to find. Afterwards we headed to the convention center and waited in line outside in basically rain for about an hour. Canada. After that we went back to the hotel and drank. What happened after that, your guess is as good as mine.
May 24th, Day 1
Day 1's theme was Happiness. It was the day I met Eriko for the first time. There were about 20 different things that crossed my mind when I first saw Eriko but "she's the most beautiful woman in the world" was probably the one I remember most clearly along with "she's even cuter than on stream..." and "omg she's shorter than me".
That morning we had what was called a shawarma for breakfast at a nearby restaurant. It was basically meat and vegetables in a wrap that was grilled and was a very good and appetizing. We arrived at the convention site around noon to pick up our late friend's badge and afterward had lunch at Swiss Chalet, a Canadian diner. This was our first contact with one of our friends from the east.
We first met our TakaneP friend from Toronto for the first time in person. If you followed AN pictures, you'll recognize him as the guy with the giant P-head. He told me that on Twitter someone in the restaurant had noticed his P-head. Surely enough, we found the guy! It was very difficult at first to have a conversation with, whom I'll refer to as S-san, because to put it simply all of our nihongo sucked. I tried my best regardless and we exchanged business cards (which you MUST have if you ever plan to meet with Japanese Ps). I told S-san that we would later all be at the Doubletree Hotel where Eriko's first panel was to take place. And thus later we met again. S-san didn't speak any English and my Japanese is limited only to simple words and phrases. It's been ages since I've actually spoke any either so I'm amazed anyone could decipher what it was I was babbling.
We weren't first in line for Eriko's first Q&A panel but we were close enough to the front so that we could see her well. I can now still feel the feels that were felt that very moment when our eyes first met (me to me ga au~♪).
For whatever reason everyone thought it would be a good idea if I was the first person to ask Eriko a question. So when the panel started the people whom I thought were my friends had kicked me up and out of my chair chanting "GO! GO! GO!" leaving me defenseless.
I'm pretty sure there was laughter from around the audience and Eriko herself but being put on the spot like that had severely hindered my senses. All I could think was, think of a question fast! Which sucked because I was still busy admiring Eriko so I was totally unprepared. So I asked in broken Japanese the question that I had prepared the day before that I'd decided I would ask if it had come down to it.
"Minna wa Eriko-san no uta ga daisuki" (Everyone here loves Eriko's songs)
"Eriko-san wa, isshoni utaimasenka?" (Will you sing with me?")
At that moment everyone laughed, myself and Eriko included. In fact I remember her deskpalming herself in laughter. I'll bet she wasn't expecting that one!
She asked what if everyone in the room could sing along and I said yeah it was cool. After she asked what song and I said "Ready" was fine. Unfortunately for us her manager gave us the no-go (DAME) and we couldn't do it. I asked if I could ask one more question, so I asked if we could high-touch (yeah I'm a whore) but her translator said that wasn't a question. ;_;
A lot of funny things happened during the Q&A as a result of Eriko's sly personality and the outright strangeness of her being in Canada. For one Eriko was very what an im@s fan would call "azatoi". She'd tell us to keep a lookout for her merchandise, live tours, and other things that are obviously unable to be received overseas without going through extreme lengths. This wasn't particularly her fault as she really did have nothing to promote since her appearance at Anime North was random at best and has little to do with her immediate career at home in Japan. Still she did her best answering questions and had her usual hint of humor and charm while speaking with us. If you're familiar with Eriko then needless to say she was in fact on her best behavior as opposed to how she sometimes is in Japan at events and radio. Here's a couple interesting bits Eriko talked about:
Q: What's your favorite im@s song
A: It'll be in my page this summer tour but I'll let you guys know early: Town (tetete,tetetete). But be sure to check out my tour anyway~
Q: Do you do your own hair?
A: Not always but today I did!
Eriko: I know~!
Q: What's your relationship with Hikasa Youko?
A: Out of everyone who's been reading my tweets and messages about my trip to Canada, Hikasa Youko's the only one who's replied me "kusoyarou!" We have that kind of special relationship
Q: Will you marry Mingosu?
There a couple other more serious questions that Eriko answered about Haruka and being a voice actress but I'll cover them in a more in-depth post later.
After Eriko's Q&A panel was over (I had a heart attack but) we immediately headed to go line up for her signing event which wouldn't be for another 1-2 hours. Of course I was first in line.
I had prepared a bouquet of flowers and a gift bag within a gift bag filled with candles, a card, another flower, and an embarrassing letter. In my bouquet had a card with Haruka and Hamzou drawn on by myself and two American flags (yeah you can tell where I hope she goes in the future). I'll never forget the face Eriko made when I presented her my presents. She was very surprised, in Japan I don't believe direct present giving is common if ever allowed. She thanked me in her CUTE AS HELL moenglish and we had a short conversation about how she's been enjoying Canada. She asked if I had drawn that picture, "you draw?" and I said yes, "hai! hai!". I had a couple Nakamuland goods signed, to her surprise since these are technically unobtainable outside of Japan. We thanked each other and would later get married and have a happy life. Just kidding.
May 25th, Day 2
Day 2's theme was Danketsu. The unity of Ps. The day before we had met the other Japanese Ps while they were in line for Eriko signing. We exchanged business cards as Japanese P do and they showered me in gifts. Honestly I was so surprised and felt terrible because I could not return their generosity. Japanese idolm@ster fans are SUPER nice and friendly and are always willing to help each other out. Before we parted I invited them to dinner on the second day.
So on day 2 Eriko was scheduled to appear at "The iDOLM@STER" video panel. I arrived first and met the Japanese Ps who were already there unsurprisingly. Earlier in the morning we all found out via twitter that Eriko had attended a guest brunch in which you could participate had you purchased a ticket during preorder. None of us had known about it so we were all bummed out about it but there was nothing that could have been done about it so we didn't sweat it. At the video panel they played episodes 23 and 24 of the im@s anime because they had most to do with Eriko's performance as Haruka. I had expected this but the Japanese Ps were still able to impress me. During the anime's 2nd OP, CHANGE!!!!, and other important songs, the Japanese were able to demonstrate their knowledge of wotagei calls and motions flawlessly. Meanwhile I was shyly waving my puny red LED glowsticks and whispering "hai...hai...hai...!".
Eriko appeared for about 5 minutes and answered two questions. One which was mine and was, "can you do Hamzou voice for us?". Eriko: "Gyuu!". It was cute as hell and I died. She said when doing Hamzou she would write out many phrases and expressions such as good morning so she could come up with the right "gyuu!" for them. When recording she would sometimes mix up and actually say the expression. The second question was "is it easy to play as Haruka?" Eriko's response was that she doesn't simply play or voice Haruka, rather she becomes Haruka and that is a very difficult thing to accomplish. This is a reoccurring theme in Eriko's voice work and I will expand upon it in a future post.
The next panel was "Videogame Voices" and was held along with two other voice actors from the west, John Swasey and Chris Cason. I and most of the people I was with only came for Eriko but I have to admit the synergy between the three was absolutely amazing. In my year and more of watching idolm@ster events, streams, and radios, I have never come across an event such as this. John and Chris were very very interesting and funny people providing a lot of insight to the voice acting industry in the west and their wit was able to blend perfectly with Eriko's humor. As an example, John had answered to the question "does it get lonely in the recording room" as yes, and that his only friend was his water. Eriko completely agreed and immediately after poured John and Chris new glasses of water (to the extreme jealousy of myself and others). The water pouring became a reoccurring joke throughout the panel. The panel was handled very interestingly in that a question would be asked and all three would voice their opinions and we would learn the similarities and differences between western and eastern voice acting. Although Eriko was by far the fan favorite (when each guest was introduced Eriko had about 30x the cheering as the other two), it was definitely one of the most fun events thanks to both John and Chris.
There was the second signing after and again we had lined up to be first. Today Eriko had worn something I have NEVER seen her do before off the top of my head: a ponytail. I died. She was, in her own words, SOOOOOO CUTE. That day I had my Nakamuland Calendar signed and she was again extremely surprised. She asked how I got it and I responded "top secret" as she had previously done during a previous question. I then asked if we could do a high-touch pose from im@s for a picture and she said it was ok. We did. And then she asked if the camera was close enough and if I want we could do it closer, so we high-touched a second time. Keep in mind there was a huge line and I was first. But we did it again. It was at that moment I started believing in God and Jesus Christ as my savior.
At the end over 2 hours later we tried to get a group picture along with the JP Ps with Eriko. When I asked the staff they denied us because they were already over 40 minutes late. We understood. The line was incredibly long and Eriko had been signing up to 3 items per person and taking pictures with everyone. We knew she was tired. Frankly it's AN staff fault for not regulating/restricting signatures and people. A lot of random people were getting signatures who weren't even fans for random things. Xenoglossia DVD and R-18 Haruka doujin were unfortunate examples.
That night we took the JP Ps out with us for dinner at a very expensive but fancy steak bar named Chop Steakhouse. And by expensive I mean I spent over $50 CAD there. Still, it was an awesome experience. That day we had already been traveling with the JP Ps so we were already getting acquainted with each other, but it was there that we really opened up and talked about all sorts of things that only us Producers would understand. Things such as if we want Nu in the west, we better shoot im@s station+ a Nunu Challenge mail and challenge her to do an event in the west!
For myself I had an incredible time. I don't believe I can say I am the biggest idolm@ster fan in America (though probably biggest Eriko fan), but for me meeting the Japanese Ps whom I have seen countless times on the internet and on blu-ray discs, talking to them about their experiences, and what idolm@ster means to them, was truly, unforgettable. They would talk about idolm@ster events in Japan, and I would say yeah I saw that on stream, and they would say yeah I was there! I was envious but not in a hostile way, it was an amazing feeling to be able to converse and relate to people whom value the very same thing I do at an even higher level than I do. One of the worst things I've come to experience of being a hardcore idolm@ster fan in America is that it is actually very lonely. It was the first time for me to be able talk about things that I can't really talk about and relate with anyone else.
Of the many things we talked about, one thing stood out to me the most. I asked a very special friend of mine now, K-san, about the wotagei calls. I asked him, how do you learn them?
I'll never forget his answer. He told me there is no simple way to just learn them. The calls, motions, and energy, all come from the heart and through experience. This was phenomenal to me. To me I thought Japanese people would just get together and practice these crazy chants, but when I heard that from him I felt that there was still so much for me to learn and experience in idolm@ster. I realized I really love idolm@ster and that I wanted to become like these people around me at this dinner table. For $50 CAD, I had the greatest dinner of my life.
On a side note I asked and they told me Haruka, Chihaya, Miki are typically the most popular idols in Japan. I told them Hibiki, Takane, and Miki (Project Fairy) are likely the most popular in the west.
That night we drank again, playing mahjong and Cards Against Humanity. Whoever made this game is a genius and there definitely needs to be Cards Against Anime.
May 26th, Day 3
The final day's theme for me was "See you again". From morning I had already had somewhat of a sad feeling in the gut of my stomach, and not just from the liquor. I'm pretty sure my roommates had noticed as well but I was particularly less enthusiastic on the final day. Although we still had one more day, it was my final day to see Eriko and that made me depressed on the inside but I did my best to not let it interfere with the last day. I definitely wanted to make it a blast.
The first event this time was the final signing. The staff had finally realized 3 item signings were too much and limited it to only 1. I had gotten myself lost in the dealers room that day so I was actually not first in line for a change, not that I minded too much. When I met Eriko I asked her if her experience in Canada had been fun and she told me of course. I had her sign a very important Haruka card to me to my Producer name, Exciel. She said my name and asked if she had pronounced it right. It was perfect. We took one final picture. I had no special pose prepared, I simply wanted to remember my final moments with Eriko.
Since we finished early and the JP Ps were pretty far in the back line, our group decided to leave the signing area early. And honestly I couldn't go. I didn't want to be stalker-status but it was my final day to be close by Eriko, something that is otherwise impossible in the west. My party went ahead without realizing that I had stayed behind but my good TakaneP friend stood behind with me and we stayed behind for a few minutes. Thank you for that.
There was a final event, Idols in Anime. Essentially, one last Q&A panel. You can find a rough transcript of it here, courtesy of the Canadian branch of /@/. Being the last event I was of course sad, but everyone did their best to provide as much energy and support as much as they could. A side thing also happened, S-san who I was sitting next to had a pretty bad cough. In the middle of a question, Eriko had gone to her bag and gotten one of her own cough drops and given it to S-san. Needless to say there was a giant "おおおおおおおおお！？" and jelly had been spread around the room. Immediately I had began fake coughing but Eriko had told me sorry (I tried). The hour went by as soon as it started. It was a blast, Eriko was cute as always doing her best in English and Japanese and we all had a great time. My final question to her was if she could sing for us? She told me that I'd have to go through with her manager. There were simply too many licensing issues that they had not obtained the rights to (they probably didn't think Eriko had ANY fans in Canada), but perhaps if we can write them a letter than she will consider holding a live concert in the west one day.
The final question was if she had enjoyed her time in Canada? I'll never forget how she answered, completely sincerely. "Do you even have to ask?" She ended with parting words, thanks, and told us to one day meet again.
I wasn't planning to do this beforehand but with so much emotion engulfed in myself I was the one who began the chant.
"ERIKO! ERIKO! ERIKO!"
And instantly the entire room fired up chanting along with me. According to the Japanese you aren't supposed to stop until Eriko gives you "the sign" to stop, but we stopped when she started talking again. Well now we know!
After that she exited and as did we.
The JP Ps and NA Ps had one final meeting, photo, and farewell.
The rest is irrelevant. Our groups had gone our separate ways. I had a long journey home, but the entire time I couldn't think of anything other than the amazing weekend I had just experienced. I had accomplished many of my dream-like goals for myself. I met Nakamura Eriko, did my best to show her support from foreign country, and was able to personally converse with her. Beyond that, I was later glad to learn that she did in fact remember me, in a semi-ironic way. She mentioned me in her radio show gobugobuchan before leaving Canada. To sum it up, my friend K-san had written a mail to Eriko on gobugobuchan talking about a person he had met online who was interested in the white international Eriko-bu t-shirt and how he would give this person the t-shirt in Canada. Eriko would then go to say that that person was amazing because... he had already had a Power Red Eriko-bu t-shirt when she saw him. Needless to say that person was me. のヮの
As an idolm@ster fan, there are many places and events I wish I could be at every day of every week of my life. But living in the west there are simply too many obstacles to overcome to be able to actually experience all of them let alone a few of them. Anime North 2013 was a very significant first step for Eriko but also for myself. Being able to share that step towards a larger future with Eriko has brought me a lot closer to her and towards idolm@ster in whole. Things that I used to believe were simply dreams I have now realized can become reality as long as you believe you can do them. Before I had left for Canada my older brother had told me "I hope you find what you're looking for". I replied that I wasn't particularly looking for anything. But when I returned I told him I had found something beautiful and irreplaceable. I have decided that I wanted to become the bridge between the east and west among idolm@ster fans and will continue to support im@s from America. Eriko and the many Japanese friends I had made had told me "mata aimashou", let's meet again, and I don't plan to let them down. Whether it be Nakamuland or im@s anniversary live, I will one day return and see the people who make this wonderful hobby a beautiful thing to be a part of.
From my first Producer friend from Japan,
"At such a time as this. P's give a cheer アイマス最高！(imas saikou!)"