The one you didn’t see coming.
Well, not unless you follow me on Twitter, that is.
So for you poor unfortunate souls, here it is: I went to the AKB48 concert at Webster Hall about… 7 hours ago as I type this. (That’s right, it’s midnight and a half.)
I know. I haven’t updated in almost 4 months and this is what I come back with? You are in horror. Kimi, you cry, what is this? Where are the Johnny’s we have come to know you for?
Yeeeeeeeah, about that.
It’s a funny thing, going to a concert when you’re not a fan.
Funnier when fans terrify you. No, really. You deal with Arashi fangirls bordering on obsessive-delusional, and then tack on all the stories of how fanatical wota can be. It’s probably a bad idea to go to the concert knowing only one song.
And the situation becomes funniest when you go with a newly-bought copy of Coming Century’s mini-album Hello-Goodbye in your bag. Huh. Lucky the wota didn’t see that.
But for whatever stupid reason, despite not bringing along a notebook/writing utensil, the blogger in me would not let me go and I ended up jotting the setlist into a text message draft on my cell phone in the midst of what had to have ben at least 60 roaring people. So have a concert report from what is probably an interesting perspective! And then some.
The concert was supposed to start at 5, doors were going to open at 4. I arrived at 2:12-ish and found at least 30 people already crowded around the doors. Of note were a bunch of young-ish Japanese guys right in front, which was surprising to me because I hadn’t expected Japanese people out of nowhere for AKB48, but they became important later for very different reasons.
About half an hour later, I was joined by the two biggest AKB48 fans I know – Umi, perhaps better known as the maintainer of the AKB48 Livejournal community, and Solaire, whom you probably know better as Samantha of Egao YES Idols. How I know them is something not entirely related to this blog or this post, but I also couldn’t have picked two better people to go to the concert with – everything I didn’t know about AKB48, they were more than willing to push upon me. And then some, considering I went karaoke with them the day before when they were cosplaying in K-branded versions of the serafuku from the cover of Keibetsu Shiteita Aijou.
So there I am, with the two wota and their signs. 6 of them, in fact. They were eye-catching enough that 5 individual crews approached them for an interview. I sort of got drawn (awkwardly and unwillingly) into the last two. So if you see a girl going “Uh, I just became a fan because of these two” on any clips of the Webster Hall line – that’s me. And for future reference, if you don’t want to stand out, gaijin wota are probably not the way to go.
While waiting, though, knowing that I only recognized two people out of the 16 present (not that I can still tell you all of who went to New York other than that they were members of Team A, K, and some Research Students) Solaire made sure to impress upon me who Miyazawa Sae was, since I got the honor of holding her sign. So, count with me – Sae, Maeda Atsuko (known to me for that whole “my type is Yunho of DBSK” debacle), and Akimoto Sayaka (you don’t know Umi without knowing Sayaka. Trust me, it’s for your own good). Yep, my chances of surviving the concert were looking great.
Finally, at 4:30-ish they let us in, New York-Tokyo staff gave their guests tickets that went unchecked, we all got a pink glowstick and a red-bordered hankerchief, and then we got to the Grand Ballroom upon which all the Japanese wota mobbed their way to the front. And now that they were standing and near, things became unfortunate. If you read my report on the AAA concert at Otakon in 2007, you know this. I’m short. These guys were all at least a head taller than me, with the tallest one of all (standing directly in between me and the stage) having his streaked blond hair fluffed up to about an inch off his skull.
Why yes, I did have a lot of time to study the back of his head.
So despite being dead center in what was approximately the 3.5th row in the mishmash of people, the stage was not going to be fun to see, for any of the three of us. And this was after I’d switched spots with both Umi and Solaire so they could enjoy the concert more. (Who am I to take away the fun from fans? If I had signboards and you blocked me at an AAA/Arashi/V6 concert, I’m smacking your head down. They were better behaved.)
And then they started jumping, the ground started shaking, and the girl right behind Mr. Too Tall and Jumpy warned us, “They’re going to be jumping throughout the concert.” This did not look good.
So, let’s have a little review. Lesson number one of being a wota: You wait. (Umi and Solaire agree heavily on this. Especially when you try to interrupt wota while they are wota-ing.) Everyone else has to wait, so you wait too.
But rule number one of being a wota when a tiny little Asian girl is behind you: KEEP YOUR ASS THE FUCK DOWN SO SHE CAN SEE OR SHE WILL BE VERY PUBLICLY PISSED AT YOU HOURS LATER. Especially because you’re more likely to get some with the uninterested tiny little Asian girl than with the idols you kind of freaked out by being maybe too enthusiastic. Or if you have to jump, then at least do it to the music and not EVERY SINGLE SECOND.
Thank you, this has been a Public Service Announcement.
But honestly it would have helped all the tinier people to be in front, because I wasn’t the only one. (Solaire’s around my height. The heels she wore did not help.)
The concert started at around 5:30, to the relief of the slowly-beginning-to-riot crowd. First was a cute announcement in Japanese and then English – I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t given by the AKB48 girls themselves – telling us the usual stuff. No recording, no flash pictures, please don’t inconvenience other people (too bad that never happens), etc. And ended with a very very cute “Mou chotto matte kudasai!” – which is why I’m not entirely sure AKB48 was not saying it. But it was so adorable that the crowd made audible their approval despite having to wait longer.
A few minutes later, the opening bits of Aitakatta kicked off, and sixteen girls in uniforms ran out to massive cheering. I’m kind of certain that they were in the Aitakatta uniforms too, but don’t quote me on that. Oh, and remember how I said I only knew one song? This was that song. Is it looking as fun for you as it did for me, yet?
The dread of wota aside, once the music started it was hard not to get caught up in the rush. The girls who were clearly excited to be there, the bass pounding throughout your body, the adrenaline in the air rising, the crowd mobbing forward with a giant approving roar… it is hard to not enjoy a concert where the fans are so clearly in love with the performers – and even then there were some in the audience who were there out of curiosity, but when everyone’s into it, you can’t help but get swept up. Of all the songs they performed, this was definitely the best opener.
Soon after, with a “We are AKB48! Thank you for coming today!” from Acchan, the girls went into Baby! Baby! Baby! – no bikinis, unfortunately for you, but their uniforms started looking a bit disheveled. I don’t study them enough nor do I remember if it had actually been that way during Aitakatta, or if they pulled a string and magically shirt tails came out of skirts and suspenders slid off, but it was kind of amazing.
Following this was Namida SURPRISE, which I only identified because of the sudden Happy Birthday in the chorus. Yeah, that was a surprise the first time I listened to it, alright. Unfortunately, neither song particularly struck nor stuck with me, but the crowd was whooping it up. To be fair, the crowd (and the wota in front) had been whooping it up since Aitakatta, though.
16 people still apparently equals three lines, by the way, but the girls were pretty good about switching it up – people who were obviously not usually lead girls had their turns to come to the front and wave and smile and sing to the fans. So the concert began in three lines and Namida SURPRISE ended in three lines. At this point, Acchan thanked everyone again, as did Takahashi Minami, who surprised me with her lower voice. (Both were in the front line.) It should also be noted at this point that throughout the concert, the girls made a very concious effort to speak entirely in English.
Takamina stumbled and had some interjected help from Sayaka a couple of times – especially when trying to say the word “introductions.” After all, next up were the self-introductions.
I honestly do not remember all of the girls who were there, nor what order they went in, but I can tell you that Team K was generally at the end, Research Students scatted amongst them, and Team A mostly in the front. I think that’s pretty good considering how I know just about nothing of the group. I’m sure you can find a full list somewhere in some actual AKB48 fan’s report. All self-introductions had the girls’ full names (in the Western order), a “Please call me [nickname]!” line with time for the crowd to yell it back at her, and a little something about her. Sometimes they threw in their ages. All of it was pretty much in English. Acchan and Takamina, in front, were amongst the first four people to introduce themselves. Acchan had to bring up that Oshima Yuko in the row behind gave her cheesecake to eat the night before. (“It was very DERICIOUS!”) In the second row, I remember Fujie Reina making me laugh by commenting on how surprised she was at the size of drinks here, Yuko saying “Please call me Y-U-K-O YUKO!”, Kojima Haruna announcing that she went to the drugstore, and reacting with a little bit of shock at remembering Ono Erena‘s name from her role in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. She also stumbled a bit – but instead of having only Sayaka to help her, she lifted up her hand, and started reading from her palm. In the final row were four girls – Sae, someone who I don’t recall, Sayaka, and Satou Amina. Sae made a huge motion of surprise at the portion sizes in America, Sayaka talked the longest (having the best English), and Amina blanked out and just decided to use “dokidoki,” as in “I am very dokidoki!” – leading Sayaka to translate for her “She is very excited!”
There was a bit more talking, where Sayaka roused the crowd, before announcing that the next bunch of songs were going to be unit songs. Sure enough, Acchan kicked it off with Nagisa no CHERRY – and yes, the frilly skirted yellow/blue costumes were there. For what was probably the first time, I found myself entranced by the dancing legs. The short skirts and bare arms did not help.
Next was Bye Bye Bye, again with outfit change – and not to be confused with any number of songs sharing the same title. As Google would not stop doing to me when I was trying to see if the costumes were the actual ones. Despite having only three members on stage, No Sleeves made sure to dominate. And the Haruna fans to my left were very very happy. (I just realized I watched Haruna in Coin Locker Monogatari and she was somewhere in the background for both Yamatarogari and Mei-chan. Except I wasn’t entirely fond of the former, and she was sort of nonexistent in the latter two anyways.)
Then the girls trooped onstage in the animal costumes for Ame no Doubutsuen. This being my first time – I thought it was adorable. The costumes helped. The (again) mesmerizing legs helped more. This being not Umi and Solaire’s first time, though, they were kind of sick of it.
It got shunted down to four girls again for Nageki no FIGURE, again with a costume change. I was getting used to the costume changes, but what I really needed to get used to was the dancing skin assaulting my eyes. I did like the dance, the robotic movements brought to mind Perfume at first, but bare arms moving sharply through the air are not the best way to help me retain much memory. (And the bliss brought about by Korean fried chicken post-concert didn’t help me much either.)
But no, getting used to the bare skin was neccessary because the last of the unit songs was Blue Rose. When Team K strutted out in the accompanying costumes (jackets already open, skimpy black outfits leaving little to the imagination), Umi let out a shriek and began to stumble, grabbing onto my arm. Well, I guess when you’re that enthusiastic, the song has to be some sort of awesome, right? If it wasn’t, the girls certainly made it so – oozing attitude, sex, and wild rocker headbangs. Or mostly Sayaka did. Replete with stripping off her jacket (to a very excited crowd) – and then sheepishly saying her heel broke after the song. I’d been getting into the spirit of the cheers up to now, but the “HOI HOI HOI”s during the chorus were at their strongest here, from both me and the crowd.
Following a short talk from the Team K girls (again, mostly Sayaka), it was back to the whole group songs, kicking off with Boku no Taiyou. The Team K girls went back to change costumes a bit later because of the talk, so they ended up joining in the song about halfway.
Then with a hearty “1, 2, 3, GO!” off went BINGO! – the English version. While I confess it’s fun to listen to English versions of songs sung by the original artist, it’s usually going to be the Japanese that wins for me. Then came Oogoe DIAMOND in English, which was again, a curiosity that was a bit jarring for me. I applaud the effort to reach out to a foreign audience, but I like it when they’re not struggling with the language.
It should be noted – Mr. Too Tall and Jumpy went a bit overboard with being Too Tall and Jumpy during one of the English songs. While he was being his tall jumpy self through out the concert (along with the rest of the wota), here he got some of his buddies to lift him up. Into the air. Where he flailed at the girls onstage.
Which is all fine and nice when your feet are firmly on the ground and you’re not blocking – ahem – a certain tiny little Asian girl from watching. No one behind him was very happy about it, though. The wota in front of me, with his backwards cap and leather jacket and huge lightsticks and freaky metal Kanye sunglasses started leaning back further than before – almost knocking right into me and giving me more than a deep breath of the fumes from his leather jacket – to avoid getting hit by Too Tall and Jumpy’s flailing limbs. And during Ame no Doubutsuen, two Japanese girls ended up to my left, between me and the Haruna fans, and they’d been cheering as happily as anyone for the girls, but when this happened they started yelling at the guy to stop it and get his ass down. Except in Japanese, of course. (What did I tell you? Don’t block tiny little Asian girls.) According to Solaire, who obviously had a better view of the stage than I did during this spectacle, the AKB48 girls were kind of freaked out by it too. Luckily his buds tired out about half a minute before the song ended.
We were then told that the next song would use the scarves (really, kerchiefs for us) – beginning the mad scramble for the scarves. If you’re an AKB48 fan, you probably know that the next song was Hikoukigumo. I have to admit, twirling the kerchief in the air got fun after a while.
And then Sayaka – having made sure we were having fun – announced that the last song was Sakura no Hanabiratachi. Lots of groans and awws did not stop them from launching straight into it – Sayaka the most enthusiastic one of all. Even if I didn’t know who she was, I would definitely have noticed her because she was bouncing all over the stage. Some of the other girls had apparently begun to tire out – but forgive my untrained eye, I couldn’t tell – so Sayaka was possibly trying to make up for them. To be fair, though, all of them were waving their arms and smiling their mouths off at the crowd when they were close. And the crowd very happily joined in with the dance movements.
When the girls had left, the crowd demanded an encore with various calls for about a three minutes before the girls came back out – Acchan, Takamina, and Sayaka all telling us “Thank you for the encore!” They’d taken off the costume top and wore relatively tight I ♥ NY shirts on top, and bounced straight into Iiwake Maybe.
Sayaka thanked us for the encore again and announced the next song to be 10nen Zakura. I apologize for having absolutely no comment on this, but now it’s almost 4AM and the last time I stayed up this late was for a school paper. You’ll forgive that my brain is failing.
Following this, Sayaka said “The last song is – again – Oogoe DIAMOND!” Despite the groans from the crowd, they launched into what was supposed to be the final song – again. Despite my own personal groanings, it was the English version – again.
And so the girls left again… another chant for an encore was held… and out they came for the third time for another round of Hikoukigumo. Replete with, yes, red scarf spinning and waving.
Before we could do a third chant for an encore, though, Webster Hall staff shut us down by playing the generic waiting music.
Leaving the concert hall, Umi (following me), Solaire (also following me), and I (having never been in Webster Hall before) headed the wrong way, doubled back, and then realized people were talking about buying goods. Off they went to buy posters/photos/whatever else was for sale in that crowded room right before the steps to the exit. Me, being the cheapskate non-fan that I am, stood off to the side safeguarding their signboards while getting poked in the head by a spiky-leafed plant. Also, fans are terrifying.
When we finally made it out of the building, their stuff safely in hand, we saw the bus the girls were supposed to board. Fans slowly began to crowd around and wait to freak out over their leaving the building as I chose to step off far to the side to avoid the stampede. Luckily (or unluckily), the fierce Webster Hall staff cleared out that half of the sidewalk and shooed us off, and Umi decided that perhaps she was too hungry and in need of alcohol to hang around and wait.
And so marks the end of my terrifying experience amidst AKB48 wota-hood. And I don’t know how likely I am to do it again. As for the final verdict on me being an AKB48 fan – no, still not one. But more of a “not yet” if Umi and Solaire have anything to say about it.
For those of you curious – here are my “goodies” from the concert.
The jokingly-named “souvenir” ticket that went unused and so actually became a souvenir.
The flyer for the concert that was apparently also blown up into a poster? I could be wrong.
The kerchief/scarf/my new fashion accessory if I ever remember to use it as such.
And before you ask, no, I’m not selling that last one.