Want to meet a favorite performer? The time-honored akushu kai--"handshake meeting"--is one way to do it...and that's how I was lucky enough to meet Ichirou "Aniki" Mizuki last month.
In Tokyo, Ishimaru Denki and HMV are just two of the A/V chains that sponsor special events at their flagship stores, having a singer on the promotional trail present a "mini-live" (a half-dozen songs or so) for customers who purchased their new CD or DVD from the sponsoring chain. Some of these events also have an akushu kai immediately afterwards, and often a signing too (usually giving a signboard that's already been signed, but sometimes a signing of a specific item, such as the customer's purchased CD or DVD, or another item by the performer that's also for sale on the premises).
I've been to a few of these, including twice apiece for Isao Sasaki, Akira Kushida, and Psychic Lover. The more expensive the item, the more goodies you get; f'rinstance, at Ishimaru Denki's event for the purchasers of the big silver Yamato CD box set, we each also got to have a souvenir photo taken together with Isao Sasaki.
Spoony came up with a great nickname for this type of event. With a nod to the "Touch Bellini" sketches on comedy show The Kids in the Hall, she once called a Psychic Lover akushu kai "Touch Psychic Lover." Anything with an akushu kai has been "Touch [performer's name]" ever since.
But "Touch Aniki"? Didn't think one of those would happen...!
For the longest time, I'd thought Aniki was simply too big a star to ever hope to meet. Had thought I'd already been as lucky as possible, and two times at that--when I wound up in the second row at Super Robot Spirits '06 and he bent down to sing a few lines of "Koutetsu Jeeg" to the girl in front of me and then to me too, and at the Futari No Anison concert later that year, when he came down a raised walkway into the audience while singing the "21st Century" arrangement of "Mazinger Z" and grinned at me as our section sang along. But last spring three lucky NHK members won the chance to spend an afternoon with him, learning pointers on singing anime songs as a camera recorded their encounter. I'd read about the drawing for the chance just after the deadline, and wasn't an NHK member at that time anyway...but if those fans got the chance to meet him, maybe somehow, someday, there might be other chances...
In February, shortly before his CD "Newest Best," commemorating the 40th anniversary of his debut, came out on the 27th, his Mizuki Spirits homepage announced that he'd be giving a mini-live and akushu kai at HMV Shibuya for folks who purchased the CD through HMV! I was going to be in the U.S. when the CD went on sale, but reserved one at HMV before leaving, and then was able to pick it up along with the seiriken--the treasured ticket to get in--the day before the event. It was scheduled to start just an hour before my weekly vocal class, but M-sensei kindly rescheduled me for earlier in the day, given the special occasion.
The event space in hulking HMV Shibuya is part of a regular sales floor, with a stage partitioned off from the carpeted aisles of CDs. We lined up along one wall, and at last were allowed to file through the gap in the partitions and into the standing area before the stage. Most people headed for the center; I went to the left to get a little closer, and wound up in the fourth row, lucky to get a spot behind two pillars of anison fandom, bandanna-wearing P-san and ever-travelin' Kansai guy Go-san. Go-san had gone to Aniki's 60th birthday concert in January, and was outfitted in the bright red memorial matching shirt, hachimaki, and wristband from it. I was wearing the best I could come up with: a black T-shirt with "Pilder On!" splashed across it in red katakana, sold at Go Nagai's art exhibition over the New Year holidays. Had been planning to save it for Super Robot Spirits, but, this trumped that!
At last, out came Aniki, leading off with "Mazinger Z" and "Babel II" in their entirety, and then a several-song string of TV-size tunes that included "Ore wa Great Mazinger," "Dash! Machine Hayabusa," "Kamen Rider Stronger no Uta," and "ComBattler V no Theme." In the latter, P-san and Go-san launched into the back-up vocal part (you know--to wit, "ahhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhh," un-to wit...) and I joined them, and Aniki turned to sing right at us, grinning! After the medley, he told the MC he enjoys performing most when everyone sings along, and that being backed up in "ComBattler V" was a high point. "A chorus was singing, mouths wide open! Thank you very much!" he said, gesturing toward us. "And by the way, thank you for wearing that 'Pilder On!' shirt." I almost fell over!
Then it was time for the mini-live's last two songs, both full length. He explained that Gekiranger ending theme "Tao" has come to mean a lot to him in singing it for the past year, to the point that he feels it's his own theme song--and he delivered a powerful performance of it. After that came the finale, especially delighting all the youngsters there who'd helped make it such a hit on NHK's "Minna No Uta" since late last year: "Nan No Koreshiki Furoshiki Man"! I've only caught the video once, so didn't know the choreography that goes with it--but the rest of the room sure did!
After that, he disappeared backstage while a tall table was brought up in preparation for the akushu kai. The staff had us again form a line, Aniki returned with a stack of signed postcards, and then one by one we handed our seiriken to a staffer and mounted the stage to go meet the mighty Mizuki!
My turn came, and we shook hands, I congratulated him on his 40th anniversary, he thanked me for coming to this and other events, and off I went with my nifty postcard. Everyone stayed until the last person had finished (and, mannn, parents got to take photos of their kids with Aniki! If only I'd brought a camera...*sigh*), and then we saw him off with a final round of applause.
Columbia filmed the event, and has posted a minute-and-a-half clip of it at http://columbia.jp/movie/. In the rows of screens on that page, it's currently in the center of the third row down; click the screen above the "2008.3.9" line. (Heh, I even show up in a few shots, over at the left...)
He'll be having a 40th Anniversary Live concert on July 21 at Shibuya O-East. I unfortunately wasn't able to do anything about it when advance tickets were offered for one day, April 5--but whatever's left will go on regular sale April 26, and today being payday has got hope rekindled...!
In the meantime, he'll be performing at NHK's grand Anime Shudaika Daizenshuu concert on April 24 (my postcard got drawn in the lottery for free seats, woo-hoo!) and at Super Robot Spirits on April 29 at Zepp Tokyo. (In Osaka the following week he's got SRS on May 5 and Futari no Anison with Mitsuko "Micchi" Horie the next day--but this year I don't have the firepower for the Kansai leg of the anison action, ah well...) The anison live season is about to hit high gear--and the akushu kai was an exciting jump-start for it!