The last weekend of May was full o' MoJo goodness, with the "MoJo Zone Season 7" concert on May 24 and "MoJox2 Nodo Jiman 8" contest on May 25!
Fans from throughout Japan packed Shibuya's Live House Lantern both days, after reserving their seats online April 20 in a window of roughly 10 minutes. One of the hottest tickets in all of anison fandom, the weekend has come to be known as " ☆ [that's a star, if your browser can't see Japanese fonts] Two Days" in fan shorthand--the ☆ itself standing for "kokoro ni hoshi o motsu otoko" MoJo, to cop a line from his "Seiun Kamen Machineman"--and I was lucky to be attending for the third time.
The previous two times were fantastic; the May '07 weekend is detailed here, and the February '08 weekend was wonderful, too (I unfortunately didn't get a chance to write about it; flew to the U.S. right afterwards for what became a nightmare of a trip). But this third time, with superhuman performances by MoJo on Saturday and a wealth of over-the-top tributes by fans on Sunday, was the best yet!
The banter between MoJo and emcee Shocker OH!NO! is part of the fun, and there's often something interesting to learn in it, too. F'rinstance, there's a one-drink minimum at the Lantern, and as its staff was serving the crowd before the show, Shocker engaged MoJo on the topic. According to Ichirou "Aniki" Mizuki, said Shocker, oolong tea has oil in it that could get in the way of your voice coming out, and so Aniki drinks green tea when performing--but MoJo drinks water when performing. MoJo explained that he doesn't drink any kind of tea, onstage or off. He noted that Shocker drinks beer or something carbonated during concerts, but MoJo doesn't want to risk a burp or something coming out while singing, so sticks to water.
The concert turned out to be two dozen songs strong, with some surprises among them that had us roaring...including a stunner right out of the gate!
1. Engine Gattai! Engine-Oh G6 (Go-onger ins; one verse)
With its first verse only recently hitting the air in Engine Sentai Go-onger to accompany Engine-Oh G6's transformations, this crazy-great song was performed live for the very first time--and what a tremendously explosive performance it was!
2. Ore no Heart wa Yume Jikake (Dynaman ins)
3. Seiun Kamen Machineman (Machineman op)
4. Ore no Na wa Machineman (Machineman end)
5. Choukuu Sentai Starranger (Muteki Kanban Musume ins)
This is the theme song of Muteki Kanban Musume's sentai-show-within-a-show. The producers wanted an actual sentai-song performer to sing it, Shocker explained--and they got their wish!
6. Crystal Knights Necrime (Urashiman ins)
7. Aoi Tategami (Ringu Ni Kakero img)
8. Samayoibito (Nanjing Road ni Hanafubuki img)
This was the first time I'd heard this song, which is from a 1983 image album for the manga "Nanking Road ni Hanafubuki." (The previous song is another image album alumnus, from the 1982 "Ringu Ni Kakero" LP.) MoJo mentioned that this song and the next are two of his favorites.
9. Wakaki Tabibito (Tsurikichi Sanpei op)
10. Kousoku Denjin Albegas (Albegas op)
This is the furthest thing from the "Ballad Zone" theme...I must have missed the announcement of a new Zone, although a one-song Zone would be unusual...
Time out for Day-Vee-Day fun! A screen was lowered onstage, a DVD projector was brought out, and we watched a segment from Hokkaido TV's wide show "Ichioshi"--broadcast on April 1, appropriately enough--that took on a hot topic in that northern land: What's the best-known song about Hokkaido, and who sang it? Of 100 folks stopped on the street, 99 named "O~i Hokkaido," a song for Sapporo Beer commercials that had taken the country by storm in 1990...but just as overwhelming a percentage didn't know its singer/songwriter. (There were some great guesses, though--someone even said a local policeman had confided to them that it was him, but told them not to tell...) The only person who correctedly named MoJo's alter-ego Ichirou Tomita happens to own an izakaya called "O~i Hokkaido," and said he hears Tomita-san performs in Tokyo nowadays. A plane ride later, "Ichioshi" staff were wandering Shibuya, and spotted Tomita's name on the signboard in front of Live House Lantern. Inside, they found him at last--and after he whipped out a guitar and performed "O~i Hokkaido" to prove he's the real deal, they returned to Hokkaido happy. After that filmed segment, the show hostess live in the studio read a list of a few of Tomita-san's non-"O~i Hokkaido" credits--including "Goggle Vee"! *Gah-ha-ha-ha!*
"O~i Hokkaido" had been such a hit, footage of Tomita had been shot to accompany the song on the DAM karaoke system, Shocker mentioned. MoJo said he hadn't seen that in years, not having a copy...and suddenly there it was on the screen, Shocker having popped in a mysterious DVD! We sang along as we watched Tomita the Hokkaido farmer feeding cattle, riding a horse in daytime fields and on a sunset beach (he can really ride, too), and napping on his back in a vast windblown field, with the wind suddenly snatching his hat off and sending it soaring! Afterwards, Shocker gave the DVD to its delighted star, who reciprocated with a special two-song Tomita appearance.
ICHIROU TOMITA ZONE:
11. O~i Hokkaido (I'm A Hokkaido Man)
12. Sega Saturn, Shiro!
At the half-time break, as people stretched and chatted and ordered drinks and chow and lined up for the restrooms, I took the chance to quietly ask Shocker if it would be all right if I tried something unusual at the next day's Nodo Jiman.
Friend Nu-san had been suggesting since last winter that I sing a song in English. At first I was against it; I try to fit in, and suddenly saying, "Heyyyy, lookit me, everybody, I'm a foreigner! I'm gonna sing in my language!" seems so wrong. Plus, what if I came off as an ugly American who thought an English rewrite would of course be better than the original Japanese lyrics? But Nu-san thought MoJo would get a kick out of an English version...and that sold me. So I chose a song that MoJo had written as well as sung, that didn't have any audience participation parts, and wrote a singable English translation.
In the Nodo Jiman, each entrant sings their song's first two verses--so I asked Shocker if it would be okay if I sang the second verse in English after the first verse in Japanese, to surprise MoJo. "Iiiii jan!" he grinned. "Be sure to keep it secret!" I went back to my seat feeling tons better about the plan.
13. Kibou no Siren Builder (Boukenger ins)
Just as in the first half, the second half launched with a mega-ton tune!
Commemorating 30 years of sentai series, this song was written to be sung by a trio. We had one of the original three performers, but who would stand in for MoJo's missing comrades Akira Kushida and Takayuki Miyauchi? The crowd, of course! We were divided into two, half to be Qu-cy and the rest Miya'nii. We were laughing so hard at each other's impersonations of their distinctive styles, we'd sometimes miss a line--including MoJo!
15. Stop The Battle (Goggle V end)
16. Dancing Goggle V (Goggle V ins)
That's Goggle Five, natch, not Vee...
17. Honoo no Sensei -FIRE CREW- (Dynaman ins)
18. Yume o Kanaete Dynaman (Dynaman end): duet with Shocker
Shocker explained that even though we all know what MoJo looks like now, he was once a mysterious person that only the studio musicians had seen. When Shocker was a suit actor in "Dynaman" and MoJo sang several of the show's songs, all anyone knew was that he was the same person who'd sung the songs in "Battle Fever J." (Astonishingly, the first time MoJo appeared publicly was at Super Hero Spirits '99!) To be able to share the stage with that great mysterious entity, said Shocker, is a dream come true--and that's a fitting name for the next Zone.
YUME GA KANATTA ("Dream Come True") ZONE:
19. Jinsei no Teishaeki (999 ins)
MoJo's anime debut, this insert song from "Galaxy Express 999" was performed live for the first time at last February's MoJo Zone. It was every bit as moving this time.
20. Ore ga Seigi da! Juspion (Juspion op)
Originally performed by Ai Takano (a.k.a. Motchin), who passed away in 2006, the opening theme to "Juspion" was something no one expected to hear--and something no one in the near-delirious crowd is likely to forget! The roar was the hugest I'd ever heard there! But the action wasn't over...
21. Enjin Gattai! Engine-Oh G6 (full) (Go-onger ins)
Only one verse had been heard on TV...only one verse had ever been performed live...but this Zone was for dreams come true, so here came the full version! More than double the length, more than twice as great--but more than twice as strenuous, especially some three hours into the concert...but MoJo was game! Such a great song, and what a showcase for MoJo, too! (Shocker mentioned that it took MoJo about four hours to record the song, including the voices for the chorus; in comparison, when Shocker recorded a song, it took eight hours.)
MoJo Zone Season 7 concluded with MoJo's trio of sentai series opening themes, with Shocker supplying a steady stream of poses:
22. Battle Fever J (Alternate Version) (Battle Fever J op)
23. Dai Sentai Goggle V (Alternate Version) (Goggle V op)
24. Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (Dynaman op)
MoJo's next solo live will be July 20 (opposite the Star Wars Celebration, arrghh...). He'll also be in Anime Japan Fes concerts in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya in August, as well as a brand-new event Shocker announced, Anison Power 2008 in Nakano, part of Nakano's new Anime Bunkasai ("Culture Festival") in late September. Good times ahead!
The next day was the eighth edition of this event, which gives fans the chance to sing MoJo songs before the man, and coincidentally compete for an array of prizes.
What cosmic forces convened to make this day such a different one, it's hard to say...but right from the start, when MoJo launched the show with his customary one-chorus medley of the Battle Fever J, Goggle V, and Dynaman opening themes, but singing their second verses instead of the first, this time was unique.
During what would be a 7 1/2-hour show, MoJo also sang a pair of memorable covers, Captain Tsubasa opening theme "Moete Hero" and Urashiman opening theme "Midnight Submarine." He gave an encore performance of the full "Engine Gattai! Engine-Oh G6," too, with Shocker following up by distributing copies of its lyric sheet to our tables, going over some of the trickier kanji readings, and then having audio wrangler Tomita-kun fire up the karaoke track so that we could all belt it out together! (People were still singing and humming it after the show...this is a great song and a hell of an earworm! ;^) ) Shocker also got a turn in the solo spotlight, singing "Flash! Goggle V."
The vast majority of the show was fan performances, though--and quite a few more than ever before made an extra effort to be extra-entertaining! The longtime leaders in unique delivery, falsetto wildman Kaku-san and gutteral monster-man Taicyo-san, are always great crowd favorites and no one would dream of copying them. But people found other ways to tickle us or touch us. Just a few of the highlights, four of which won awards:
- An actual railroad worker wore his dress uniform--with the cap temporarily customized to be for the "MoJo Electric Railway"--and delivered a deeply moving "Jinsei no Teishaeki" from Galaxy Express 999. (He would be rewarded with the men's grand prize.)
- In the day's only performance without karaoke accompaniment, friend Shii-san sang and played "Dai Sentai Goggle V"...on the ukelele!
- Playful CB-san popped a big suction-cupped toy star onto his bald head to sing "Choukuu Sentai Starranger"!
- "Densetsu," usually done by groups of three or more, was sung solo by friend Emi-san--who served up imitations of MoJo, Qu-cy, and Miya'nii along the way!
- In one rendition of "Sega Saturn, Shiro!", all of the lyrics were changed to be about the song's original performer...it's uncanny how "Sega Saturn, Shiro!" and "Tomita Ichiro!" have the same amount of syllables...
- Kuma-san revived a Tomita commercial hit, "Ore to Omae no Daigorou," written for Asahi's mondo-big-bottled (4 liters, cripes!) Daigorou shochu sake. Its single-serving sibling, Mini-gorou, emerged from a pocket to help out on the chorus...!
- Go-san not only sang "Dancing Goggle V," he danced through it, too...with Shocker jumping in midway, and the two mirroring each other's moves! How do they do it?!
- This time's Kaku-san tour-de-force was a manic "Kagaku Sentai Dynaman," with super-freak-out "Bakuhatsu!"s that had us roaring!
- "Crystal Knights Necrime" got three especially awesome performances--each entirely unlike the others! Niko-san, an Urashiman fan from its first airing, delivered the most stylishly bad-ass rendition of it by a woman, ever! Later, first-timer U-san gave a supremely creepy Ludovich-esque performance; he could have been channeling Kaneto Shiozawa. And finally, saved for nearly last, Taicyo-san growled and gibbered his monster take on the tune!
- The final entry was a big, brassy performance of "Kagaku Sentai Dynaman"--in Thai! Too great!!
...And those are just a few of the unusual ones. There were a slew of others too that were straight-ahead great, courtesy of a few pros (including Dahna-san, who'd sung "Acheron no Kawa" on Columbia's recent "Saint Seiya: The Hades" CD), and the "Micchi Syndicate" of students from Mitsuko Horie's vocal school, and a passle of superb singers who easily could be pros using pseudonyms...!
There were 56 entrants in all; two intermissions divided us into three chunks, and my turn came in the second. I'd gone with the shortest of the Tomita-written tunes, Dynaman insert song "Mahiru no Arashi: Bomber Twist," figuring that if the second verse being in English turned out to confuse and annoy people, at least it would finish quickly. Had felt hopeful it might go all right after asking Shocker about it the previous day, but once the time actually came, I was pretty worried again--and so nervous, I forgot to take off the overshirt I'd tied around my waist while traveling in, so I looked slobby. *sigh*
Shocker told MoJo and the crowd that I had a surprise, and suddenly the song was going! After the first verse, MoJo came up and we posed for the two-shot...and as he returned to the music controls at the rear of the stage, with his back to me, I fished a little notebook out of my pocket with the first word of each of the English lines, just in case I spaced...and the verse began.
Confusion flickered onto front-row faces...but just as I was starting to think, "Maybe this wasn't a good idea...," Rad-san in the front row broke into a big grin! In an instant everyone else got it too, and they actually seemed excited about it! Something surged through me that I'd never felt when singing before--relief? confidence? I was just so happy that not only was it going to be all right, but that people were digging it! The roar at the end completely stunned me; I actually felt lost for a moment. MoJo came up and thanked me warmly for the surprise, and I went back to my seat in a daze, shaking some hands along the way, other hands clapping me on the back.
Nu-san was able to photograph MoJo realizing what the surprise was. The first photo is the start of the second verse; the second photo is a few seconds later:
After a third intermission, the prize-winners were announced. I had won a Ganbatta De Shou (special Umanami version ;^) ) prize last year, and caught myself hoping this time...but, nope. The only other chance would be in the "Best Tokusatsu Song" category--and nope again, but that award went to friend Satomi-san for her outstanding "Dai Sentai Goggle V," woo-hoo!
Time for the women's grand prize. So many great performances this time! I was hoping hard for Shii-san and her ukelele or Niko-san, but what came next was one of the hugest shocks of my life: "-with 'Mahiru No Arashi: Bomber Twist,'" Shocker was announcing over an erupting roar, "Makibakooooo!"
After the presentations, the otherworldly day headed for its end with MoJo reprising his one-chorus medley of the Battle Fever J, Goggle V, and Dynaman opening themes. Soon after the big finish, though, with no one minding the music, next track "Yume o Kanaete Dynaman" began to play...so then that became the improvised big-big finish. It was a neat ending for the Miracle in May, too: Yep, Dynaman can make dreams come true--and this time, so did a Dynaman song!