This year I have once again had the pleasure of attending Anime North in Toronto. As you may already know one of the honorary guests this year was Yumi Hara who voices Takane from idolm@ster and last year I had attended Anime North as well for Eriko Nakamura. So when Yumi was announced as a guest I basically made the decision to go that very night and began preparations immediately. And once again it was totally worth it, somehow we made this year even better than the last.
The advantage of this year was that the other Producers of America and I had some experience with Anime North already. That allowed us to have at least some form of an idea of what to expect and how to prepare for Anime North. So in preparation we did what Producers normally do, buy gifts, flowers and write letters of affection for our beloved idol.
I arrived in Toronto from the United States once again on Thursday, Day 0. The majority of my Producer party from America would be arriving today as well so that we could pick up our con passes early and avoid having to wait in line on the actual convention day. It was quite refreshing to be in Toronto again and while it was already a year since my first Anime North, as soon as I got to familiar surroundings it felt like I only was just here.
Typically Day 0 nothing interesting happens other than lining up for badges and later drinking while watching im@s live blu-rays at the hotel. I didn't realize at first but we have a lot more Producers from America this year and I'm starting to wonder if some of that is my fault. Some of our new Producer friends brought over the idolm@ster glass cups which were really nice to see in real life and I probably had some of the best whiskey of my life drinking straight from Haruka.
What happened after that I'm not really sure. のヮの
The first day is always kind of nerve-wracking and even though this wasn't my first time at Anime North I still wasn't sure exactly what to expect. But the moment I saw Yumi at the opening ceremony talking in her usual fluffy and super cute speech, all my feelings of anxiety were alleviated as I shouted HARAMI KAWAIIIIIIIII!!!!! I will probably say this every time I have the chance to meet an im@s seiyuu but they really are 76500x cuter in real life. Once Yumi left the opening ceremony we dashed out to line up for her first Q&A panel so we could be at the front.
Before long we came into contact with the Harami's (Yumi's pet name) fans from Japan while lining for the Q&A. I was already aware they would be coming but this was of course the first time I would be meeting them in person. I did my best to try to meet and interact with those that I could while we waited. This is also where your Producer card comes in handy as it basically breaks the ice immediately and you can learn a lot about another Producer from the start such as their favorite idols and seiyuu and any groups they belong to. My Japanese isn't very good and most Japanese Producers don't know too much English but we're still able to make small talk and eventually we pull out goods and stuff like this happens.
Once we got into the first panel it was familiar territory. No pictures, no video, no audio recordings, raise your hand if you have a question. As usual most questions were about idolm@ster but it's to be expected as Takane is without a doubt Harami's most famous and influential role. My question this time (no, I didn't ask to sing with her) was whether or not she shared any similarities with Takane herself. Although I already knew the answer to this question I thought the answer would be interesting to many of the fans who do not know Harami so well and actually I learned something too. Originally Takane was not a big-eating character but once the staff learned of Harami's capabilities then that passed over to Takane herself. The translator herself confirmed Harami's giant appetite much to my amusement. Finally Harami had a very amusing yet dangerously cute way of ending of her answers when she was done. Head tilt + 川´ﾗ｀）＜"desu~"!
After the Q&A my group had to return to our hotel to grab our presents for Harami. This year I made a water bottle printed with a drawing of Harami that I drew myself. I also carried presents from my friend from Poland, flowers and a handmade doll of "Haramaru-kun", a character from Harami's radio for Harami as well. Because of our detour we were perhaps 30 minutes early to the start of the signing which is actually 30 minutes late due to how early people start lining. The lining staff actually cut the line off literally right in front of us putting me into despair until they decided they could take perhaps 5 or so more people. The next trouble was that the signing, which started at 9pm, had to stop soon because that area of the convention hall was scheduled to close at 10pm. It was about 9:55 before we were actually getting close to our turns. They had every right to kick us all out but Harami graciously took the rest of the signers in and didn't finish until perhaps 20-30 minutes over time. I believe I saw a shining halo glowing over her head and magnificent wings sprout behind her back.
When it was my turn to get my goods signed it was an all too familiar feeling from the previous year. DOKI DOKI SURU. My heart was pounding and I didn't know what to say. Imagine being a devout Christian and meeting Jesus Christ himself only much cuter and having the ability to never stop eating food. After introducing myself I made some idle chitchat with Harami and gave her the presents and after getting my CDs signed I then walked away, cool and composed like I usually do.
Yeah right. AAHHHH SHE'S TOO CUTE was probably what I said as soon as I got to a distance where she couldn't hear me while suffering a heart attack. My comrades who had also been inflicted irreversible damage directly to the heart shared my feelings. In our mad triumph we walked back home to our hotel singing and shouting to READY!! with everyone walking by us pretending to not notice. I'm not kidding.
The second day is where things got crazy and definitely was the most memorable one for me. I still can't believe we did what we did.
There is a secret god event at Anime North that we did not know about last year, the brunch. It's one of those things we have now learned from experience and this year we had prepared for. I had informed the Japanese Producers about the event beforehand already so by 9:30am we were all ready to prepare for the greatest meals of our lives. As time came closer to the opening gradually more Ps from Japan and America began to join in and this was where both Ps from both continents were able to socialize well for the first time that weekend. The first thing people noticed were of course our outfits. The Japanese Producers thought at first there was a dress code even! Us gaijin Ps had planned this way ahead of time however, that we would all bring suits to Anime North and even more wear ties that matched the idol we were in charge of.
As my uncle put it, "Anime mafia? Scary". A lot of the comments from Japan we received were quite amusing as well such as "those aren't Ps... they're SPs aren't they!" (SP = Security Police or bodyguards in Japan)
Other than making us a bunch of badasses, the suits were actually able to lighten the mood and all of the Producers had great laughs despite the language barriers. They said they wish they had brought their own and next year they would definitely do it if possible.
Once the doors opened to the brunch it was like walking up the steps to the Pearly Gates. My small group of friends were in the dining hall first and so we had asked if it was ok to sit with Harami since we had no idea how this actually worked. They said it was fine and... I don't even know how to explain the sensation I had felt then. Something along the lines of IT'S GOOD TO BE ALIVE. The rule was more or less that we could get something to eat while chatting with Harami at her table and then mingle around after a while so other people could get a chance as well which was more than enough. So we grabbed our food and, while I previously was quite hungry, somehow lost my entire appetite. Not wanting to look like a fatty in front of Harami I grabbed only what I thought could finish which amounted to something like this.
And that's literally all I ate at an all-you-can-eat brunch and yet it was the greatest meal I've ever had in my entire lifetime. What I've learned is otaku find the small things in life important. When I took out my phone to snap this photo of my food Harami went "Ah!" and proceeded to do the same. You can actually see the very photo on her blog. On the outside I was like haha but on the inside,
So while we did our best to eat without choking on our food, we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to just talk with Harami about whatever we wanted to. Her manager and translator were with us as well and after you get over the fact that you're basically speaking to someone you equate to as a goddess, it became a very fun and normal conversation. Since we're gaijin many topics about us as overseas fans came up. Oh, but first she asked us why we were in suits. Because we're Producers!
We talked about things like the flights over here, Canada, Niagra Falls, im@s lives, what Producers we are, so on and so forth. It was actually quite a lot of discussion but honestly it's all a blur now, I just know I had an amazing time. So it was decided that our time was up we began to mingle to other areas. I decided to talk to some of the other guests and fans from Japan as well. At a later point Harami herself moved over to the Japanese Producers' tables and they all got their chances to speak with her too. They even toasted with Harami the way they the fans do by saying "Hayaa~!" which is one of Harami's well-known catchphrases.
During the brunch somehow the gaijin Producers then began talking with the guest Misako Aoki who is a goth lolita model. Her fashion designer asked us about our suits and somehow the topic became im@s as it usually does. And while Misako herself didn't seem to know much about im@s, to our surprise her fashion designer did a bit and she talked with us a lot about im@s such as what Producers we were and how much money do we spend. Our answer was "you don't want to know" and she got a good laugh out of that. When she asked what it was like to finally meet Takane in real life, instead of saying anything we all did the same HNNNGGG pose Nanoha is doing a few paragraphs up.
We got to take a picture with them but I felt a little bad because Misako said she felt a little frightened around us. She's only used to being surrounded by female fans as opposed to a bunch of burly men in suits (lol) but it was a lot of fun speaking with them still. About an hour and a half into the brunch Harami had made her leave but we still hung around for a while passing time with the other Producers until the brunch was officially over.
Next was to queue for the second Q&A which on this day was being held in a much larger hall. Because of this our queue area was larger as well and we had more room to interact with others leading to things like this.
A reoccurring joke was that this wasn't cosplay of any sort and simply our regular work clothes. Hey it is kind of true.
The second Q&A was similar to the first but took place in a much larger room with a larger audience. A lot more of the Japanese fans asked questions this time which I enjoyed as it provided more variety in my opinion. The question I asked myself was a request from a friend actually;
Has Asami Imai (voice of Chihaya) played an important role in your decision to start a solo career in singing?
Her answer was that she has been to her (Imai) lives before but feels that she is still quite far from being able to catch up to her. I gave her a playful "that's not true!"
After the Q&A was over it was time to line for signings again. Saturday last year was war and this year was no different. Being 2 hours early doesn't mean you are early, roughly 50 people were already there by that time. About 10-15 im@s fans I don't know, 10-15 im@s fans from my group, and 15-20 Harami fans from Japan, with the rest just people who may be slightly interested in im@s. It's so competitive that even though we're actually the first ones there, if you're not ready to just ignore everyone else and run to the front of the line you might get cut off which is just what happened.
Some of the Japanese Producers let people go ahead of them and the result was that they got cut off into the "might not make it line". I was actually prepared to give up my spot to one of the Japanese fans who got cut off since they traveled much further than I had and I could tell they were beginning to feel feelings of despair. However when Harami and her staff saw this, the staff talked to the lining staff that she would go ahead and take in all of the people in the cutoff line as well. That is Harami's kindness.
I can't show you the photo I took with Harami that day due to photo regulations but I can at least describe it. One of Harami's famous "characters" is one by the name of YUMIX, essentially what Harami would be like were she a producer herself from a famous skit originating from the idolm@ster station radio. In that skit she wears a producer suit and sunglasses so I had prepared sunglasses for Harami herself and took it one step further and brought plastic wineglasses for us to pose with. It was pretty epic.
Once the second signing session was over it was time for the off-kai.
Off-kai literally stands for an "offline meet" which can mean several things but in this case, basically dinner and drinks. This was planned about a week before Anime North via twitter. In Japan when Producers plan events they usually use the twipla service to organize and see how many participants are interested in going. I created my own page and was surprised when I had amassed a group of at least 30 Harami fans from the east and west who were interested in joining us for dinner.
At around 6pm Producers started showing up to the meeting point, Chop Steakhouse which is actually the same venue we ate at the previous year with some of the Eriko fans. Most of the restaurants in the area are already flooded with convention goers so only expensive restaurants like Chop are available. I had made reservations the week before for 40 but in total we had perhaps about 35 which was still an impressive turnout.
We made sure that each area and table had at least one gaijin to help with ordering and also to just encourage intercultural exchange. Once we had ordered drinks, the main events were in order. Thanks to some of our awesome friends we were able to actually get a cake for Ami and Mami with their names written on it. Since it was only a few days after Ami and Mami's birthdays we decided we would celebrate their birthdays ahead of time already and quite a few people brought various Ami and Mami goods to surround the cake with.
It was actually kind of hilarious when I asked the waitress if she could put 13 candles on the cake and light it because when she asked me where to bring it I showed her the spot right in front of all the Ami and Mami figures. I'll bet she wasn't expecting that! The only thing left was to sing happy birthday. One of my friends asked me "wait do they (the Japanese Ps) know the lyrics?" to my "it's the same song!" retort.
After singing happy birthday to 13 year olds like Producers do, I spoke to the manager and asked if I could get 5 minutes of time to have a presentation in which we'd play music. We chose to play a clip from an idolm@ster live of Ready!! off a tablet. Luckily one of our friends even had speakers to play it with. What happened after that was crazy.
I guarantee you will never ever find a bunch of idol otaku chanting to idol music in an ordinary restaurant anywhere else but here. Prior to the song's start I told the Japanese Producers that "calls are OK". If you don't know what calls are, calls are the chants you hear the fans do during songs. They take time and practice to learn but are a fun way to show one's love and appreciation for the performers. Still I had no idea that all of us both east and west would get so fired up and into this little performance that we could probably be heard echoing throughout the entire restaurant. Every couple of seconds HAI! HAI! HAI! HAI! and FUFUU!, FUFUU! or FUWA FUWA FUWA FUWA!!
It was fun as heck though and we probably shocked the staff but they were really cool with it when I went to go apologize to them for our noise. The customers sitting at the table next to us thought it was really funny even. Canadian diners are very generous, in America you'd have been kicked out right away for that kind of thing!
Beer is universal so we all toasted together the way Harami fans in Japan do, 川´ﾗ｀）＜Hayaa!
When I got back to my table insanity further ensued. One of my now good friends from Japan handed me a Daisenko UO, Ultra Orange chemical light. They told me to crack it and toss it in my beer and so I did. I'll tell you, right after cracking and it's at its brightest it is absolutely beautiful.
I was told this is a secret practice that you're only supposed to do in private for special occasions. And where else is more private and special than Canada eh? (I'm totally doing this again)
At some point we received this...
Literally a mountain of Harami and Takane CDs. I couldn't believe it. Not only that but the bromides as well. The only way I could think of thanking the Japanese Producers for their kindness was by doing the only thing I knew how to do well. Dogeza! I pushed my friends down with me OTL OTL OTL
Another gift for us but limited to one person was this special board of the Million Idols from the first premierings of the idolm@ster movie in Japan. It is now an exclusive and rare item and they were planning to give it to whoever wanted it via rock-paper-scissors but we decided to give it to one of our MVP Producers that night who had been helping us translate between western and eastern Producers the whole weekend. Danketsu.
Our food had finally begun to arrive but I honestly wasn't even hungry again, it was too much fun talking with many different Producers about things only we know. We managed to shock and impress the Japanese Producers many times with our level of knowledge about im@s such as about embarrassing or funny moments, things that happened on radio shows and Producer practices such as owning Producer cards, light sticks (known as cyalume in Japan), knowing calls, etc. They were curious how many Producers are in North America and as far as my knowledge goes, our group is the majority of the dedicated Producers in North America. I mean if any more then by all means introduce yourself to me because I'm always hoping to meet other fans!
They asked what our impressions of the Japanese Producers were and if we found anything surprising. And to be honest, nothing really other than the cracked daisenkos I found too wild. It was one of those, we've known about you for a long time but not the other way around kinds of things. Out of all the Japanese Producers at Anime North one of them happened to be a "Minzoku", essentially a member of Asami Imai aka Mingosu's army of fans. I talked to him a bit about Mingosu's lives and he told me he had just attended her birthday live the previous weekend. After showing me his birthday cake for Mingosu I showed him my very own to his surprise. He asked me if I was Minzoku as well to my reply, "probably!".
I tried to engage with as many other tables as I could and what I understood was that the table beside us became the DD table. DD stands for "daredemo daisuki" which essentially means "love anyone" and refers to otaku who love multiple idols or girls and with somewhat of an implication that they don't truly love anyone. It's more of a joke anyhow and it so happened that many of the Ps at that table both from both Japan and North America were kuso DDs turning it into quite a funny situation.
It's amazing how you can go from strangers to great friends over the span of one day but honestly that's im@s for you. After some 4 hours into the off-kai it was time to call it off and after paying we left to take a group photo and call it a night.
By the final day everyone was used to the scheduling already but on today they reversed the order of the sign session and Q&A Panel so that signing was first. Harami also had a guest appearance at the charity auction where she would auction off a few items. The auction was taking place next to the signing area where we had to be in line so we weren't actually able to participate but one of the friends I made who was a Harami fan living the US actually won the items by getting permission from the staff to leave the line (I believe he told them he was going to the bathroom LOL).
The items were a signboard, cup noodles, and two buttons with drawings by Harami herself, all for only $160 CAD. What a lucky guy!
The final signing went by quite smoothly as the staff had requested that if we don't mind may we the fans who have been going to signings all 3 days now limit ourselves to only 1 signing as opposed to 2 like on the other days to which we all agreed was a good idea. When it was my turn I had another CD signed and one last 1-on-1 chitchat with Harami. She thanked me for coming to see her often the entire weekend and that I should visit Japan one day. She could have asked me to jump off Niagra Falls and at that moment I would have done so with no regrets.
The last Q&A session was probably my favorite. A lot of funny and interesting questions and answers were had. Such as if Harami once more had a chance to become YUMIX and produce Asami Imai and Manami Numakura, the voices of Chihaya and Hibiki, how would she do this time? Her answer was that she would still put Imai in a frilly frilly dress because although she's in her 30's (much to our laughter when she said that), she still has a cute and young face. This time she would like to see Numakura in a cute dress as well as opposed to boyish clothing as she did the first time. If you're curious to see the original YUMIX video itself you can watch it on nico nico douga here: http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm15406844
What surprised me was that Harami actually picked out the clothing herself. She might not look like it but Harami really might be quite an S...
Harami was also asked about her characters in the games Senran Kagura: Shinovi VS and Freedom Wars which are both coming stateside in the near future. She noted that both of those characters have quite large breasts and that she's a bit jealous of them. Upon realizing it about 90% of her characters have large breasts and that her voice seems to automatically become associated with big breasts.
A quite interesting question was asked by one of our Japanese friends about which guest from idolm@ster might we possibly see coming to Anime North next year. Anime North seems to be able to secure guests from Arts Vision quite well and a number of im@s seiyuu are affiliated with Arts. Harami recommended Azumi Asakura (Yukiho) and Manami Numakura (Hibiki) but Asami Shimoda (Ami, Mami) would also be great because she does both idolm@ster and Vocaloid which are both popular. Asapon fans, prepare your wallets!
One more thing I thought was quite amazing was that when Harami went to audition for Takane she realized that Takane coincidentally had the same birthday as she does and she felt right from the start that it was destiny that the two would meet and I think that most im@s fans would definitely agree.
The final question of the night was asked by one of my friends, a Namassuka Challenge in the form of an English tongue twister.
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair,
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't really fuzzy, was he?
She asked how many times would she have to say it and at first 3 but it was lowered to 2 to be nice. It didn't matter anyway since Harami couldn't get through it once but it was hilariously adorable. She told us she'd practice when she gets home so perhaps we may be able to hear it on her radio one day!
Last but finally not least was the group photo. At the end of the Q&A Panel we were permitted to take a group photo with Harami as long as you didn't mind having your face shown on her blog. This photo is quite significant to me as it proves that one person can really make a difference, even if it's just a small thing like this. And the reason I say that is because if not for my own actions and the help I received from all of my friends then we would not have been able to take this photo. As a matter of fact last year when we tried to get a group photo taken with Eriko it wasn't possible due to time restrictions.
From Harami's blog: http://yaplog.jp/heavenly_cafe/archive/1286
You may notice the banner being held in the photo. It was cut, sewn, and put together by myself over the span of two weeks in my free time. I individually cut out about 100 sheets of colored paper into shapes of leaves. I asked Harami's fans on the internet for messages to Harami they wished to send and took as many as I could. I brought the leaves to the international off-kai dinner from the previous day before and had all the Producers their write their own messages themselves. When it was finally put together on the final day, I presented it to Harami's staff and asked her what the best way of giving it to Harami was and we decided that we could give it to her and later take a photo at the end of the Q&A panel. When I saw Harami upload the photo to her blog it was truly the most surreal sensation in the world.
When the Q&A panel finished I thanked the translator, manager, and Harami for such a wonderful weekend. There's so much teamwork that goes on behind the scenes that makes these events possible and I really do appreciate all the work that everyone involved do for us the fans.
There was one final closing ceremony which was quite funny in a way. When the winner of this year's Idol Contest came on stage to sing her song, which I believe is a Vocaloid song, a lot of the Ps from Japan and America got really into it with their cyalume light sticks and were able to adlib their own calls by the second verse. It's honestly not very hard to do so even for a song you are hearing for the first time if you have enough experience but was still quite hilarious. After messages from all the guests at Anime North, Harami was one of the lasts to give her message of thanks and farewell and just like that Anime North was over in a flash.
We then said our own thanks and farewells to the Producers from Japan for accompanying us on such a fantastic weekend. Also that night we took 3 of the Japanese Producers who had free time to one more dinner at a Texas restaurant which was a whole lot of fun too. It wasn't as crazy as the off-kai was but it really came to amaze me how friendly we have become in such a short amount of time. And of course, we had to do that again.
After saying my goodbyes to my Producer comrades that night, I later flew back to California at 8am the next morning. It's not the coolest thing to admit but I did actually cry that night when saying goodbye in front of my friends who proceeded to take photos while I was in my state of feels (what a bunch of assholes!). But it was an amazing weekend, perhaps the most fun weekend of my life and those who I had had the pleasure of sharing it with will understand my feelings. Sometimes awesome things happen, you get the feels, and a guy might just cry because of it, can't blame me!
Finally some interesting facts about Harami pulled from her blog tweets over the weekend:
- She ate a LOT of course and managed to buy her favorite bottled water, O2 which is from Canada while she was here right at the supermarket. Amusingly some of the Harami fans from Japan were able to find the same water at the super as well and if I had time I'd have liked to try it myself.
- Harami and the other guests from Japan also went to visit Niagra falls that night and I'm convinced that I have to make time to go see it myself next year as it looks beautiful.
- Harami also completely read all of the letters she received from her Japanese fans and overseas fans, despite our poor Japanese!
- She will have her friend back in Japan translate the messages in English on the banner for her once she's back home. A lot of the messages weren't in English or Japanese however...!
- She's actually the homesick type so seeing a lot of familiar faces of her Japanese fans helped her be more at ease throughout the weekend.
- She also says she remembers the faces of all of her fans, isn't she the greatest?
I learned so many things this weekend, and I think the Japanese Producers did about us too. Although our levels of producing cannot yet match theirs they seemed to be greatly surprised by how capable we are in a country that has extremely limited access to im@s. But it turns out that we're all actually very similar. When Harami was announced to be coming to Anime North as a guest, that night the American 765Pro branch got to planning and buying tickets and airfare immediately. The Japanese Producers did the very same thing. One of the Japanese Ps also said how he kind of felt bad at first that North American fans probably would not be able to keep up with Japan's high level line queuing but when he saw that we were just as early, he decided screw that they're on the same level as us!
So to everyone who made this weekend possible, to all my companions who had accompanied me, to all of the new friends I have made, to all of the fans of this wonderful thing we know as im@s, and to Harami an angel who takes beauty and kindness even further beyond, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful weekend. Anime North 2014 rocked hard and I'm READY to do it again next year.