Nestled on a Tokyo side street shadowed by Kanda Station's trestles, Magical Night is every inch magical...for the initiated.
This cosplay kyabakura, or cabaret club, is a favorite of the anime-inclined. Several in Magical Night's flock of talent study voice with famed anisongstress MIQ. And about every three months, Magical Night outdoes even its name, welcoming star anison performers for special concerts on a stage so intimate, the furthest seats are only 22 feet away.
While these events are advertised on Magical Night's website, reservations must be made directly to the tenchou, or head of the establishment. That doesn't make it easy for one of these special nights to be your first-ever visit--and so for a good year now, I've just watched the news about each show come and go. The first headliner was MIQ, and then Akira Kushida was featured, and then MIQ returned, followed by Takayuki Miyauchi.
No-san, a fellow student of M-sensei, went to see her both times and assured me Magical Night was a fun place, although "it's kind of a guy thing." Well, sure, that's understandable for a place featuring gals in costumes. But having expected maid cafes in Akihabara to have strictly male clientele, and finding that wasn't the case last year when I was cramming on that Akiba aspect for "TV Champion," that part had me just a little worried. But, how to make the reservation in the first place, that had me buffaloed... buffaloed and beside myself when June's special event was announced: The extremely-busy-on-other-things pair of Isao Taira and Yukio Yamagata would make a rare appearance, teaming up for a first-ever show as the "J9 Brothers"!
There would be two shows on June 29...but my intentions to try to do something about it got swamped by real life as the day neared (especially with June 28 being the on-stage "final exam" happyoukai to conclude the spring semester of M-sensei's class; memorization ain't my strong point, but putting a metric mazillion hours into "Men of Destiny" somehow got the job done). But things took a lucky turn at the happyoukai: No-san mentioned he'd be going to the second of Magical Night's two J9 Brothers shows, and I asked if there was any chance they'd have same-day tickets if any seats were left. He e-mailed a friend working there to see if there were any cancellations... and there was one first-show seat, if I wanted to reserve it!
It would not be cheap. The way the system worked, the total cost would be the cost of the concert, plus two hours' worth of an hourly charge that would bring the total bill to more than double the cost of the concert. I swallowed hard, hoped like crazy for a good summer bonus at work, and went for it.
The next day, No-san had me meet him at Kanda Station's west exit shortly before the first show's 6pm start time, and led the way to right-there Magical Night, located on the fifth floor of the Tachibana Building. I waited briefly outside its door as he popped in for a few words; when he returned, he said Y-san, another M-sensei student, would be waiting for me inside.
So I got into the line of guys shuffling in. Inside, we were greeted by a passle of costumed gals. A handsome fellow came up and showed me to my seat, on the end of a long row of connected cushioned seats that lined three of the room's walls. There was a space to my right, and then the next customer sat; there was a space to his right, and then the next guy was seated, with a space to his right, followed by the next person. I hadn't seen an arrangement like this before, but before I could give it much thought, fans CB-san and P-san came through the doorway and nearly did a double-take when they spotted me. I said hey as always, wondering what had brought on the reaction--c'mon, guys, it's Isao Taira and Yukio Yamagata; why wouldn't I be here if it's at all possible?
And then realization abruptly dawned, as the costumed gals began drifting over from the doorway to fill the checkerboard spaces...one for each customer. (Um. Yes. Guess that would be a reason why I wouldn't be expected here!)
Angel Omachi of Brygar asked if she could sit down, and I was mighty relieved to recognize Y-san in the wig. As we sat and chatted, it soon became more like having my own guide than my own hostess (except for that occasional refilling-of-my-glass part). It was great to be able to ask questions, learn about the place, and even get a little insight into what it's like to work there.
One corner of the room, backed by mirrored walls that make it seem much bigger, serves as the stage--and when the time came, and emcee Shocker OH!NO! bounded out to get "J9 Brothers! Nante Sugoi Honey-Honey Night!!" underway ("Nante sugoi honey-honey" is the first line of the second verse of "Ginga Reppuu Baxingar" ;^) ), it was breathtaking to realize that my seat, situated at hard stage right, was just five or six feet away from the action when a performer was at center stage...and they didn't plant themselves there too often. It was like having Isao Taira and Yukio Yamagata take turns roaming through your living room and belting out tunes--if your living room is big enough to seat 40 folks...!
And here are those tunes:
1. Ginga Sempuu Brygar (Brygar op): Isao Taira
2. Ginga Reppuu Baxingar (Baxingar op): Yukio Yamagata
Between verses, Yamagata-san made a circuit of the room, shaking each person's hand as he went! *swoon*
3. Tryder G7 No Theme (Tryder G7 op): Isao Taira
4. Ore Wa Shachou Da (Tryder G7 end): Isao Taira
Taira-san visited the crowd as he sang, shaking hands and sometimes speaking between lines. As he shook my hand, he thanked me warmly for coming. I had gotten to meet him when he guested at MoJo Zone Season 4 in May 2007, but didn't expect to be remembered...and was tickled to be wrong!
5. Yattodetaman No Uta (Yattodetaman op): Yukio Yamagata
6. Winning Run! - Kaze Ni Naritai- (Lets & Go op): Yukio Yamagata
This is a pretty active song, and whenever he stamped a foot, you could feel it through the floor. It's not that the floor was weak; you're just on the same floor, and he's really going! Feeling some of the action that way, coupled with seeing so up-close and hearing so clearly, made for a truly fantastic experience.
7. Fukkatsu No Ideon (Ideon op): Isao Taira
He sang a line of the second verse to me! *double swoon*
There was a brief intermission, with new drink orders taken and customers offered their choice from a list of snack items. I switched from tomato juice to cola (alcohol cost the same as soft drinks, but I had to travel back to Gunma that night and it's best to be alert on the trains), and chose edamame; the plateful of pods arrived warmed up and salted, yum!
* * * * *
A little later in this report, there's a YouTube video clip of Yamagata-san inserted to illustrate a point...so let's grab a moment here in the intermission for an equal-time look at Taira-san. Although this is from Super Robot Spirits Summer 2000, he looks and sounds almost exactly the same today! (And hey, there's Shocker too, introducing him at the start:)
* * * * *
8. Saikyou Robo Daiooja (Daiooja op): Isao Taira
This was by followed by a talk corner, with Shocker and Taira-san giving the crowd a look at something that some young'uns hadn't seen before: enlarged color photocopies of the jackets of Taira-san's anime EPs. He also had a color bromide along from an early-'80s Animage issue, picturing him and a few other anime song performers still active today. "Back then, who could have imagined singing their songs years later for a crowd of thousands of fans, all standing, all cheering you on?" mused Shocker. "These are great times..." He and Taira-san exchanged a look of gratitude for what the fates have brought. It was a moving moment, especially for someone who'd been a fan both then and now.
9. Abayo Fly Bye (Brygar ins): Yukio Yamagata
Never, ever dreamed I'd get to hear this live someday! This is an ii jidai, for a fact... In the brief talk corner that followed, Shocker mentioned that Yamagata-san is a mainstay of rock musicals these days, and admired his wild outfit. Will try to describe it, but first, take a look at its close cousin, from his "Gaoranger Hoero!!" performance at Super Sentai Spirits 2004...
Now, lose the hat, but keep the tiger-striped bell-bottom pants and no shirt. Replace the dark leather coat with a fringed buckskin jacket with those same tails attached to the front, and with the added flash of a bit of pink kimono sleeve embroidered with blue extending a few inches below the end of each buckskin sleeve. He'd worn this newer ensemble at last year's Super Robot Spirits, and it had been striking from that distance...but to witness it up close, yowza!
10. Ai No Riding Machine (Baxingar ins): Yukio Yamagata
He asked if we'd mind if he skipped doing Baxingar insert song "Fushichou no Laila" to do a different one. "I really want to swing right now," he explained, "and 'Laila' just doesn't swing." No one protested--not even the gal dressed as Laila--and "Ai No Riding Machine" did indeed swing!
11. Eight-Man (Eight-Man op): Isao Taira
"Eito," not "Eit'," is how to correctly pronounce this hero's name, Taira-san instructed us before reprising his 1980 King Records cover of this '60s classic.
12. Moeyo Dragons '87 (Chuunichi Dragons fight song): Isao Taira
Japan's major league Chuunichi Dragons have had an array of artists perform their Masayuki Yamamoto-penned fight song over the years, and Taira-san was the choice in 1987. He invited everyone to join in as its karaoke video played on a TV monitor, and the guys did so with gusto!
13. Yume No Karyuudo (Acrobunch op): Yukio Yamagata
Having recorded its opening theme song, Yamagata-san tried to catch some episodes when 1982 TV series "Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch" first aired--but, he told us, it kept getting preempted by Yomiuri Giants games. (So that's why there were so many gaps among early episodes of "Acrobunch" back in those VHS tape-tradin' days that brought copies of anime episodes from Japan to North America...)
14. Nagisa Ni Hitori (Acrobunch end): Isao Taira
Another song I never expected to hear live! Both "Acrobunch" bookends...this night kept getting better and better! But the end was at hand; time for a final song apiece from the stars.
15. Gaoranger Hoero!! (Gaoranger op): Yukio Yamagata
Yamagata-san came leaping out and delivered the song stalking around our seats, all of us claw-handed and "Gaaaooo!"ing along all our lungs could go! For a blink, he and I shared a "Gaaaooo!", claw-hands mirroring each other inches apart! As he moved on, I got a glimpse of Shocker beyond him, out of the view of most, dancing in the entry hall...and realized who has the best job in the world.
16. Sasurai Kid (Brygar end): Isao Taira
This smooth sing-along brought the show to a harmonic finish. Then a table was brought to the stage area, where the stars autographed signboards received by three lucky fans, and announced that they'd enjoyed doing this first-ever J9 Brothers show so much, they definitely want to continue.
Folks finished their drinks as the last few minutes of showtime wound down, and then the staff saw us off, guiding us to the elevators in an outgoing line as the crowd for the second show began to file in. Part of the incoming bunch, No-san spotted doofily-dazed me and grinned, "Looks like it's a good show."
And an ii jidai.