The cherry blossoms bloomed early this spring, just as it did thirty years ago on Maaya Sakamoto‘s birthday. The date was 31st March and the venue was Budoukan. I stood in line at the entrance of Kitanomaru Park along with thousands on that cool spring afternoon and waited.
This is the story of the time I finally saw Maaya perform live.
My journey began nearly a decade ago with RahXephon. After Hemisphere first brought me into the fold, tune the rainbow and Ongaku made me a fan for life. I was bewitched by her voice and addicted to her lyrics. It wasn’t long before I had collected all her songs.
Considering my love for Maaya’s music, attending her live concert was the next logical step. Unfortunately, the forces of the universe conspired against me and, for the longest time, prevented me from fulfilling my duty as a fanboy. Having missed her “We Are Kazeyomi” concert in 2009 due to a series of events that could’ve been avoided, I was convinced that my dream had come to its destined end. I came to terms with that fact that I might never have the chance to see Maaya in the flesh.
Fast-forward to a year later. A one-day live concert was to be held on 31st March 2010, Maaya’s 30th birthday, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of her official debut single Yakusoku wa Iranai, the theme song of Visions of Escaflowne. I decided that this was my last stand — my 絶対防衛ライン as it were. More than the Kazeyomi concert, I had to be there for this. Somehow, miraculously, I managed to do just that even though at one point my plan was almost derailed by a passport snafu — I managed to beg convince immigration to extend it by a measly six months. Looking back, it kind of amazes me how my single-minded obsession brought there. *Tears*
Enough of the boring fanboy story. Let’s talk about the concert itself. First of all, it was fricking awesome like a flying robot rainbow unicorn.
I arrived at Budoukan just a little pass noon. The concert was set to start at around 6pm but a long queue had already formed for the concert merchandises.
The queue extended from the front of the Budoukan up the stairs, half circled round the circumference, came back down the stairs, crossed a road, went out the inner gate of Kitanomaru Park and, in typical Japanese fashion, folded six times upon itself within the empty grounds between the outer and inner gates.
So basically, what you would expect queueing for Kyoto Animation’s booth at Comiket for your chance to exchange pieces of printed cotton paper for pieces of printed plastic paper — just a short 2-hour queue that’s all.
There were quite a number of foreigners in the queue, not counting the non-Japanese Asians whom I, despite being one myself, can’t pick out from a crowd. A few of them were visibly surprised by the length of the queue. Guys, wait till you see Comiket.
As is standard practice, there were a bunch of flower wreaths on display around the entrance of Budoukan with messages of congratulation from various organizations. There were ones from Kadokawa, Animate, Aniplex, Tower Records (a brand that is somehow still alive in Japan), Square-Enix and even one from May’n.
Unfortunately, those are the last of the pictures I took of the actual concert venue because cameras were prohibited inside… Instead, I shall try to describe the interior using this picture I found.
Right at where the judges are in the picture was a stage that covered about a third of the arena space, with a small corridor extension that led right to the exact centre of the Budoukan. The rest of the arena was lined with premium front-row seats that went for more than 40,000 yen on Yahoo Auctions. I should’ve coughed up the cash for one of them but I didn’t, so I ended up in one of the second-floor seats.
Budokan is an octagon and uses compass directions to name its seating section. The stage was on the North side, which meant that people sitting in the North, NE and NW were rather screwed for most of the concert unless they were there to stare at Maaya’s behind. Hmmm…
The full set list for the concert can be found on gabrielarobin.com.
Maaya started the concert with “Gift”, a song that can be found in her new album “everywhere” which was released on the same day as the concert. Her first costume was a red dress decorated with red gift boxes tied with ribbons. You can imagine the crowd going wild when she said that she’s her “gift” to her fans. Incidentally, the concert itself was also called “Gift” and it kind of also ties in to her birthday.
The first part of the concert was upbeat and featured quite a few poppy songs that the audience could clap along with such as Platina.
The first costume change came just before Kiseki no Umi, during which the drummer put up a pretty mind-blowing solo performance to entertain the crowd.
Once the background vocal for Kiseki no Umi started, the lights were dimmed and Maaya rose out of the stage wearing what could be called (and what she referred to at one point as) a wedding dress — it was a long-sleeved sort-of-Victorian white dress (you can tell I’m not a fashion expert). Of course, there was the now-standard banter every time she did a costume change.
Maaya: <insert something about never having worn this particular type of costume before and/or the length of the skirt being inversely proportional to her age>
Fans: maaya-san kawaiiiiiiii!
Maaya: ee? hontou?
Maaya: *shakes butt cutely* motto itte :D
Kiseki no Umi was followed by a few of her other more vocal-focused and slower pieces, such as gravity and Kazamidori. The lighting remained dimmed and the audience was quiet for this part. Kazamidori in particular was really beautiful and appropriate for the occasion (spring + early cherry blossoms + Maaya’s birthday).
At one point, Maaya walked to the centre of the Budoukan (on the previously mentioned corridor) with the guitarist and performed a guitar-only version of Danielle. The rest of the arena was kept dark and the only spotlights focused on the two of them. When the song ended, the intro to Yakusoku wa Iranai could be heard coming from the piano on stage and the audience went crazy.
The spotlight shone on piano and lo and behold, Yoko Kanno was playing it. Without actually performing Yakusoku wa Iranai, Maaya and Yoko immediately went into a medley of songs that they had worked on together, including Yubiwa, Shippo no Uta, Yoake no Octave and tune the rainbow. The ultimate fan tease came at the end when Maaya sang the first line of Triangler, driving the crowd into a frenzy, before switching back to Yakusoku wa Iranai, which itself was interrupted at its end by a happy birthday wish from Yoko to Maaya. Fan service to infinite and beyond.
Another one of the more memorable moments was the performance for Hikari Are (the Japanese translation for “let there be light”). Maaya was elevated by a hydraulic platform in the centre of the arena. The whole place was dark, except for spotlights on her. At about the 2:45 mark, as she sang “hikari are” and reached for the ceiling, all the white lights in the Budoukan came on, flooding the entire room.
After Hikari Are, Maaya changed into a rainbow-coloured short(er) skirt (cue more “kawaii”) and moved on to her faster-paced rock-ish pieces like Get No Satisfaction! and Private Sky. She strummed the guitar for a bit for the intro to Private Sky. Fan service is awesome.
During the encore, she introduced onto the stage Shouko Suzuki, composer for a few of her recent songs such as Saigo no Kajitsu, who brought with her a surprise birthday cake — though how surprising can it be when the concert fell on Maaya’s 30th birthday? There were thirty candles. More fan service followed with Maaya playing the piano for everywhere, a song she said was inspired by her one-person trip to Italy last year where she stayed at a small mountain inn.
And of course, the encore and the concert ended with Pocket wo Kara ni Shite as per tradition. Balloons were dropped from the ceiling of the Budoukan at the end of the song and Maaya and the rest of the stage members bid farewell to audience. As Maaya turned around and walked off the stage, a single green balloon, previously caught in the release mechanism, gently descended. An unintentional poignant moment.
Side note: the walk from Budoukan to the train station after the concert was kind of insane. Imagine more than ten thousand people trying to squeeze through choke points only a few metres wide. Budoukan is a death trap. Also explains why the park has a “shelter for people with commuting problems”…
Overall, the songs were a good mix of old and new and included some of my all-time favourites such as blind summer fish, Kazamidori, Hemisphere (a slower mix with live instruments) and parts of tune the rainbow. My top favourite Ongaku was sadly not included, but it’s a pretty obscure song so it was expected.
It was a pretty cool experience and I’m happy I finally got to see Maaya perform live. I think the concert, the accompanying publication and the album represented a great deal of what I love about Maaya. She has all these elaborate ideas and meanings in all her performances that she likes to put into words in the form of her essays, her radio talkshow and her concert chat sessions.
She’s in the music business as an artist trying to express herself and part of that was why she decided to go separate ways with Yoko after Shounen Alice. In this age of auto-tuners, idol factories and prefab celebrities where you don’t even need to be human to make it big, Maaya Sakamoto feels real to me and, arguments about whether that feeling is in itself real aside, that is what appeals to me.
P.S. I apologize for this senseless fanboy rambling imposting as a blog post. Hopefully I’ll be writing more informative entries soon. Then again, there’s still the inevitable concert DVD…