Short story: Japan Expo, road trip, Dempagumi.inc, an idol encounter, the best hotel tab ever
One week after the fact, I am finally sitting down to recount my experiences at Japan Expo. What took so long? Well, I recently started working again and the extreme heat of Los Angeles lately greatly diminished my desire to sit in front of a computer. Right up front I’ll say that I had a great time at Santa Clara, and the experience has only strengthened my idol hobby (is it really a hobby?). I had an amazing brush with the idol attendees and attended four concerts, three autograph sessions, and two panels. This being the inaugural Japan Expo, attendance was not up to the promoter’s expectations (I’m sure). The only day where I felt like the con was more than sparsely attended was Saturday, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. This, the first of two articles about Japan Expo, will focus on my arrival in Santa Clara and Dempagumi.inc. The second installation will cover Kikkawa You.
I left Los Angeles by car around 7pm, and traveled while tweeting about the drive’s tedium. I enjoy driving and road trips, I enjoy seeing the world pass by through my window, and I especially enjoy the brief moments stopping at remote gas stops. Fortunately for me, the drive allowed me to catch up on my favorite podcasts (hello, New School Kaidan) and listen to Dempagumi.inc on repeat. Truthfully, I was not the biggest Dempagumi.inc fan going into Japan Expo, mostly because I did not have much exposure. Japan Expo would rectify this situation.
I arrived at the Santa Clara Convention Center at 1:30am. In my accounting for the trip, I decided that a hotel would be a waste for this first night, so I had nothing booked. Not that this was a problem: I have a sleeping bag, an SUV, and superpowers that allow me to sleep in any circumstance. Those superpowers failed me as I only got three hours of sleep on that first night. I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the Hyatt Regency eventually settling in and having a (overpriced) hotel breakfast.
First event of the day was a panel titled “Ota-gei: Otaku dancing and performance” conducted by Ally and Sally. These girls did an incredible job preparing the crowd for the Dempagumi.inc performance. Ally and Sally put together an impressive “Call Book” of the different cheers for the songs Dempagumi.inc were likely to perform at their concert. I doubt anyone in the panel was completely new to idol fandom, but it was a nice warm-up to the main events. For me, who was new to Dempagumi.inc, I appreciated greatly learning a bit about the group, the girls, and their performances. Naturally, I was the jaded looking asshole in the back of the panel room.
Next was a huge schedule hole that I filled with a viewing of the third Evangelion move, “You Can (Not) Redo”. I know this isn’t the anime blog, but I was startled to see how the franchise’s story was radically altered. For the first time in ten years or so, I have no idea where the franchise is going. It’s exciting! What’s not exciting is watching the movie in a theater “filled” with roughly 40 people. Don’t worry for me: I plan on watching the movie again when (if) it comes theatrically to Los Angeles.
My next events were the 3pm Kikkawa You and the 4:30 Dempagumi.inc concerts. The room with the concert stage was emptied prior to the two idol concerts, during which time both Kikkawa You and Dempagumi.inc conducted short sound checks. The tension mounted as the line of devotees listened to the sound check and tried and catch a glimpse of the idols on stage.
The Dempagumi.inc concert started at 4:30 on Friday. First thing you should know about Dempagumi.inc: they are not the incredibly talented group of performers that some people expect from their idols. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I know there are certain segments of idol fandom who want their girls to sing like Mariah or dance like they belong in a ballet company. Dempagumi.inc sing strange songs (well, not too strange if you are familiar with Hyadain) and dance more like they are performing little skits or participating in ota-gei. Like idols who are supposed to embody the “girl-next-door” ethic, these girls embody the “girl-next-door-who-happens-to-be-otaku” ethic. Regardless of the number in the audience, Dempagumi.inc performed their hearts out starting with their cover of the Beastie Boys’ song “Sabotage” and finishing with “Future Diver” (the full set-list and more can be found at Tokyo Girls Update). The girls impressed me greatly with their energy and performance. It is well-documented that the girls are otaku and even former shut-ins. This is the greatest strength of the girls. In an idol world populated with impossible pretty girls and child prodigies, Dempagumi.inc strikes a chord because they themselves are the target audience. This gives us a unique connection to the girls. They are not impossibly perfect, and their struggle and eventual triumph over their imperfections give hope. This first performance definitely turned me into a Dempagumi.inc fan!
Source: Steve at Selective Hearing
After the first performance, Dempagumi.inc gave a short Q-and-A with the fans. I spent my time focusing on Moga, because she’s fantastic. About halfway into the panel, Kikkawa You stood up and asked the girls a question- I think it was “Do you find that the audience in America is different than in other countries” or something to that effect. I don’t actually remember the answer to the question because I was shocked that Kikka was sitting two rows behind and over to my left. Never mind seeing the girls in concert, I was practically sitting next to Kikkawa You! This is when I learned how close these idols would be to their fans during the Con.
The number of fans attending Japan Expo reached its apex on Saturday- this was clear from the very beginning of the day. There was even a line to get into the Con at the day’s opening. Also, it was clear that that Japan Expo had two types of fans: the idol fans and everyone else. The idol fans had their own schedule that precluded most other events.
The next day began with an autograph session for Dempagumi.inc. After the previous night’s concert and spending all night watching YouTube clips of Dempagumi.inc, I was determined to get myself some autographs! Well, mission accomplished. After confusing myself with the autograph system (you need an autograph ticket from a booth on the other side of the dealer’s room) I got in line and anxiously awaited meeting the girls. No, I can’t speak Japanese. I didn’t really get to say much to the girls, who were very warm and receptive to meeting their fans (and me). Naruse Eimi was particularly animated as she greeted each fan with a wide smile.
Incredible events are about to happen….
The idol schedule had a gap from around 1pm until about 3pm. During this break I decided to head into the Hyatt to have lunch and grab a quick drink. I sat down at a table and made a quick survey of the room. They call the main bar area in which I was sitting “Evolution”- which sounds like expensive appetizers and drinks. Actually, my Stella was pretty reasonably priced OHCRAPKIKKAWAYUISSITTINGTENFEETAWAYFROMMEATTHESUSHIBAR. I couldn’t say anything! She seemed to be having a nice lunch with her two handlers away from people like me. I didn’t want to intrude. But then … OHCRAPDEMPAGUMIINCJUSTSATDOWNATTHETABLEINFRONTOFME. Again, I didn’t want to intrude since they were about to have lunch together. But, I did take this stalker-ish picture of the girls.
Kikka picked up and left, leaving me in a room with Dempagumi.inc and a few unknowing convention attendees. Not that I was spying, but I heard the girls talk to the waitress (my waitress) about their order and the cap on their per diem (the amount of money an artist can spend in a day). In particular, Dempagumi.inc did not have enough per diem to buy cheesecake. I know this sounds crazy, but idols cannot be denied their cheesecake! I decided to step in. I called the waitress over and told her that I would buy Dempagumi.inc’s cheesecake. When the waitress told them what happened, the girls lit up, smiled, and waved at me and said, “Arigatou” multiple times. The waitress, who might be the real hero of the story, told me that “I made the girls’ days. They didn’t have enough (money) for cheesecake!” I smiled back at Dempagumi.inc and waved since I couldn’t really say much more or get closer to their table. When I finished my Ahi Poke, I didn’t want to stay just to watch the girls eat (that would be creepy). And so I returned to the Convention Center to line up for Dempagumi.inc’s second performance.
Boy, my brief encounter with Dempagumi.inc at the bar pumped me up! Being from Los Angeles, I am used to attending concerts in the standard LA posture- arms folded or beer in one hand. After everything that happened in the last 24 hours, there was no way I could avoid cheering for the girls like (as my dad would say) a total jackass. Yup, that was me jumping and yelling and doing everything that I was too cool to do at the Ota-gei panel at the beginning of Japan Expo. These six girls were the same girls that I had just seen at the bar a few hours earlier, but now transformed into something transcending musicality. Inhibitions lost out to this wota madness and I yelled each girl’s name, yelled for Moga, and pretended to yell the mix (I think I just said “cyber” and “fiber” over and over). My only wish was for a glow stick- preferably purple. (Funny story: someone WAS handing out glow sticks before the girls took stage, but decided to deny me. Then, not ten minutes later, asked me if he could give his friend the seat that I was using for my backpack. The nerve.)
You can read about the second performance at Tokyo Girls Update. I got the last cheki in the box on Saturday. I wish it was a Mogami Moga, but it’s still special to me.
You can read more from:
Ally and Sally at Tokyo Girls Update: part one, part two
Steve at Selective Hearing (where I nicked the Sabotage video clip)
I saw Dave Chang there, so I thought there was a New School Kaidan Article, but I was wrong
Garret Yim at Ganbare Japanese