Run Scared

My nanny Ilana runs several running events in Seattle. One of these is called Run Scared and takes place in Seward Park.

Since Ilana became my best friend’s girlfriend, I wanted to show her event a bit of support. I had intended to go: Two years ago Leo was just a baby and we passed. Last year we slept in and just missed the start time.

This year: Well, the night before was Sakura-con’s annual Halloween Party. Sakura-con’s annual Halloween event usually happens at the University Heights community center, a very old (110 year old) former elementary school. This year we were somehow in the basement. But I guess that’s a good spot for a Halloween party anyway.

Ostensibly Sakura-con’s event was a potluck, but only a few people brought food, mostly desserts. I brought risotto, since who wants to eat a cold sandwich for dinner? Originally we planned to eat out before the party, but with Hitomi coming home late from her sewing class, it seemed more expedient to simply toss some stuff in a pot.

I should rewind a bit further: After getting a nice bonus from work, I decided to buy a kayak kit from Pygmy and Hitomi started working on Leo’s costume. (I say costume, but really she was spending her time on a decoration for Leo’s red wagon.) So the past week or so we’ve been spending our evenings in the basement, me in the garage and Hitomi in from of her sewing machine.

Buying a kayak kit was probably a mistake. It meant lots of cold evenings in a garage, where you can’t really fiberglass without a space heater blasting. And when was I going to kayak anyway? And then with Boon suddenly off to Malaysia due to his father’s passing, and a lot of pressure to complete a work project, this 80 hour epic craft project was more work than I should have committed to. Rather than being a way to relax, it became a source of late-night anxiety. Especially because early on I screwed up a few things—gluing the butt joints not so well—this was now a project I had to complete to get away from.

Back to the Run Scared event: Yes, we managed to arrive just in time for the start, though it was about a 20 minute journey from the registration to the actual start. Leo wasn’t too keen on riding the wagon, and when Leo walks it’s very much a stop and go process. There’s quite a bit of back and forth about sticks coming down from trees, and whatnot. I cannot entirely criticize Leo, as he’s enjoying life in all its aspects, as I’m hurrying it along, but this is a ‘race’. Or at least there’s an end time to try to make. (I’ve done the cycle events where you get back after the event: It is very sad to come back to no food and cheer.)

With some misty rain turning to substantial droplets, and the course devoid of anyone else in costume, it was like no event was taking place. Sure, I enjoyed my costume, and Leo’s, and all the attention from passers by, but what were we really doing here? I was pulling Leo a few miles in the wagon, and Hitomi (8 months pregnant) carried Leo maybe a mile on her back. It wasn’t a physical challenge as much as physical discomfort. The final sweepers—fittingly one a grim reaper, the other an angel—were shadowing us on the way back. They too gave up on us, passed by us to pull out signs; photos of those slain by horrible disease. I didn’t get much of a look as they passed us by. We were struggling to keep the momentum going and made it to the finish, where everyone was eager to pack up the tent and head home.

Fortunately, there were a few slices of pumpkin bread left and we got one of the last balloon animals, which then Leo untwisted into some sort of red probe to probe wherever he could. Hitomi and I had to pee, of course, and the restroom was one last slog. I got the car and we went off to someplace more civilized.

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Movie Night

Hitomi went out on her own for a movie tonight.

I dropped Hitomi off at a place called Playdate, which is an indoor play area mostly designed around the premise of a hamster wheel. Although at his age, it requires parent involvement which means Hitomi (6 months pregnant) to spin that wheel too. So it was understandable she needed the evening off. (Myself, I spent the day at a M:TG pre-release, going 2-2. Ian’s luck was bad, mine was so-so.)

Leo was fully up around 5:30PM. Again, he took a three hour nap, which isn’t unusual I suppose but it sort of makes the evening fairly short. So snack time became dinner and a game of me trying to adjust. I was adding toast 「パン!」, a fried egg, to a bottle of milk, edamame, and fruit. Myself, I quickly came up with pasta and pesto (homemade).

Leo’s obsession with videos 「びお〜」makes its appearance at the end of dinner. We have an iPad loaded with NHK shows like Pachi Pachi Parade, which for all their charm, are fairly unsophisticated. I decided to take him down to our TV room and play something more for older kids.

Of course I have a ton of anime discs. With the appearance of Internet video streaming services, my collection has not really grown the past 5-6 years, but I still have a ton of things to watch. But what to show a toddler? Nothing too scary, violent, flashy or weird, which left me mostly with Ghibli films. I chose Kiki’s Delivery Service. Okay, I knew it was lengthy, but if we got through the first 30 minutes, I would have been satisfied.

I have seen it before, years ago. There were two themes that resonated with me this time around: One was realizing when Kiki was leaving town (at age 13) how her parents felt. Myself, being a parent this time, empathized a lot more. Secondly, was just how unsatisfactory life can be when people are unappreciative. I know the major theme of the movie is finding purpose, and how can one deal with feeling useless at times. Even when doing your job well, it seemingly matters more (for better or worse) how people treat you.

For Leo, I don’t know what he understood. I had fun calling out the various animals (cat, cows, birds, dogs) as well as things like the sea, trees, cars, etc. One thing I forgot about was the big dirigible that unexpectedly floats away and sets up the climax of the film. Leo somehow understood the scale 「おおきいよ!」and although was getting impatient near the end, stood up and watched intently the rescue scene.

Nearing 8PM, it was time for Leo’s bath. He bathes in a clear plastic storage container that resembles an aquarium. Before that, of course, I try to wash and rinse him off, in the manner the Japanese do. . He’s not too keen on warm water 「あっち〜よ」but it’s not really that hot and I try to tease him. I’m sitting on a wooden chair, naked, in the middle of the tub. Aside from his butt and penis「チンチン」, there’s not much really that needs cleaning on this boy and obviously we’re there to have fun.

His pile of toys are kept in a much, much smaller yellow bin that he used to bathe in. There’s a sprayer Hitomi used to irrigate herself post delivery, a kid sized watering can, weird hard plastic toys, and yellow duckies growing black mold in them. The splashing is why I stay naked. I make a half-hearted attempt to clean myself, too, but we use a repurposed Nancy’s yogurt container, that makes a good splash on somebody 30 pounds but not 170.

In good time, Leo climbs out of the plastic bin, and then out of the tub. With wet feet, he’s prone to slip and I try to stamp the water out on a towel on the floor. Then it’s a lot of running around in his bedroom, getting his diaper and pajama’s on. This time, he’s playing with his Lego train set, then after 20 minutes or so I see he’s tossing his collection of balls into the crib, and he soon is crawling in after: My job is done. It’s on with the ceiling slideshow and off to dreamland. (And eventually I need to head back to properly get his sleep sack on so he doesn’t freeze himself awake.)

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Anime Revolution

Just coming back from Otakon, I’m not really sure I wanted to go to yet another convention. Still, going to Vancouver is always pretty fun, and even if the convention wasn’t any good at least we could enjoy bicycling or something else in town.

Hitomi left on her own Thursday night as I had to work Friday. So I left a little early to drive to the border. Traffic was miserable (despite the carpool lane) and Leo in the backseat made it even more miserable. The iPad playing videos seemed to placate Leo, but I found it was pretty grating listening to all the kids songs and I couldn’t listen to my own music. (I had headphones but keeping them on his head as I drove seemed unlikely.)

Finally as the traffic let up past Marysville, we were in Conway and I stopped for some food at the fruit stand. I picked up a sandwich and chips and fresh berries. I did what I could to keep him occupied until the border, feeding him berries from the front seat the the back. The border was like a 30 minute wait and the slower things got the more Leo wanted out. I arrived around 8PM, so a 4 1/2 hour slog, and I was pretty much ready to call the whole thing off.

Although I ate, dinner seemed like a good call and a way to wind things down. The local Izakaya “Hapa” was staffed by hot looking Asian ladies in tight clothes. Our waitress happened to be half Japanese and German and friendly. Yet it was probably not a good place to bring a two year old who likes to climb on tables, on a Friday night. I hate to sound like a Yelp review, but the food wasn’t that great for the price, and it seemed to have interesting dishes, but none seemed really well done.

We grabbed dessert, even though it was quickly getting later and later. Leo was in bed around 10PM, which wasn’t good because I knew he’d be up early. In fact, he was getting us up before 7AM the next day and I was in no mood. I pretty much told Hitomi no more traveling this year. The main reason was not having time with her, and secondarily me not getting enough rest.

I had packed my bicycle and Hitomi had hers, so getting to the convention center was pretty quick. Vancouver has a fantastic pedestrian and bicycle trail around the West End, though expect more than a few tourists to be walking on the bicycle-only path. I had put Leo into a car seat supported on the back of my Ritchey, but I had installed it too high and it felt really scary to turn.

The convention space was one part cruise ship terminal, one part hotel, and the rest anime convention. Throughout the weekend, tourists from the cruise liner were taking their pictures with cosplayers, both kids and grandparents. It was somewhat Disneyland-esque, although a bit more sexy. Girls were dressed as soldiers from the recent anime Attack on Titan, in similar proportion to what I had seen at Otakon.

There wasn’t much to do in the morning, and I stepped into a video room to watch a little of the Steins;Gate dub. I’m not sure the technology or story makes much sense, but I liked the characters and character designs. The dub was well done, but I think the VA director should have had the actors properly pronounce the character names.

We had also taken a look through the dealer’s room. Although it was small, it had some above average stuff. A few of the booths were selling bootlegs, but there was a car wrap company along with a few cars wrapped with the mascot characters from Anime Revolution (ita-sha); large paper art Zelda and Link; a Sci-Fi real-estate agent, who talked a lot; merchandise and shirts that looked really good (Hitomi and I liked the Volunteer pink shirts); talented illustrators, dojinshi arists, and crafters (felt, plushies) in the Artist area; etc. Hitomi met a Japanese lady selling fashionable printed sweatshirts (Retropop Nama) next to the Origa music booth.

I promised to meet Stein for lunch. He walked from Chinatown in the morning to Kirin in the West End. Kirin has good dim sum, but it’s pretty high end, meaning you order off a menu, not from a cart. Unfortunately that made the meal a bit lengthier—meaning not Leo friendly. I thought everything was pretty great, including the rice soup (お粥), but it wasn’t much.

We had arranged a babysitter for the concert that night. The plan was to attend the concert then eat, and be back around 8 or so. But the concert was about an hour late. I was in line and chatted with some Seattle locals and that wasn’t too bad.

The delay was obviously due to technical difficulties (sound), and when the concert began the sound issues were not solved. Anime Revolution seemed either short on speakers or amplifiers. Or perhaps their configuration was wrong. The DJ that came out tried to twist more than a few nobs–what were they for?–but it didn’t seem to matter much.

I hadn’t seen Origa in person, just on video. Obviously she can sing. But as for singing, this time she was singing dance music, and the volume and mix was too quiet. Though actually it was worse than quiet, it was distorted, like she was singing underwater. And it wasn’t really late enough in the evening to feel like dancing. And it’s hard to dance when you’re there to watch somebody on stage.

Yes, Origa primarily was singing club/dance music: It did not help was that her audience was expecting some of the more melodic tracks from anime she was in, namely Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I was familiar with her less known work, as I bought her CD Era of Queens way back when it came out. She did sing a cappella (maybe no music track? rights issue?) a few songs from GiTS: SAC. But who knew her newer songs?

I had a few thoughts: One was that audio problems are ever so typical for anime conventions. In my opinion, the one thing you don’t mess up when a guest comes is their audio: Forget them at the airport, but all is forgiven if you ensure their sound is pristine. Secondly, they should have had her perform in a dance-like venue. Like, schedule it as the “Anime Revolution Dance starring Origa”. Lastly, it would nice if Sakura-con could invite her as a guest, as she lives in Vancouver, Canada now, and have her do their dance.

Because the concert ran so late, we didn’t have time for dinner before Leo’s babysitting was over. So much for couple’s romance: Riding back with Leo, I stopped and picked up some food at the neighborhood donburi takeout joint. The staff spoke Japanese but obviously didn’t want to with me. Here I was, 9PM at night, yelling at Leo as he rampaged the place, as I waited for the food to be made I was getting my pickles in order.

Back in the room, Leo’s bouncing on the bed while Hitomi and I are finally eating. And after Leo’s in bed at 10, so ends another exhausting, yet uneventful day.

Like most small conventions, Sunday’s schedule was pretty open. Aside from part of one train-wreck panel (Worst Cosplay Contest) I hadn’t seen any panels and was there anything left to see? Hitomi and I chatted up a few people in the exhibit hall. Leo slept in the stroller, eventually.

I picked up the car, and fought traffic to the convention center and out of the city. An hour later or so we were finally in Richmond, where the local mall had some pretty ugly parking lot traffic. The mall we were at had a nice fountain which intrigued Leo and tempted him to reach into the water. Plus there was some sort of exhibit on Italy, complete with Italian cars and motorcycles. Were the local Chinese going to be intrigued to visit Italy? Leo climbed around all the exhibits that he was supposed to stay off of, oh well.

Enough chasing of the kid. We drove back to the U.S., with a stop for dinner at Skagit River Brewery. There was one more convention left for us this summer: Japan Expo USA.

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Otakon 2013

Rarely does Yoko Kanno perform in public, perhaps once or twice a year oversees.

She has made a few U.S. convention appearances. I saw her very briefly at Anime Expo 2010, where she made an unannounced appearance for performances of songs from Macross F. And I cried, as Yoko made bird chirping noises along with her piano music. Much to the continued astonishment of my wife, I’m quite sentimental.

I found out she was attending Otakon in 2013 and I knew I had to go.

Still, I was reluctant to plan a trip to Otakon because of cost, timing, and energy. I have a tired wife and a tiring 2 year old, and going to Anime Expo was not at all easy. I know a trip together would have been ideal, but not really practical, and really there was only one reason I really wanted to go. So I instead booked a solo trip and tried to minimize my time away from work and family by only attending two days.

I flew in to Baltimore Friday. It took me about 8 hours from Seattle to get there, flying to Phoenix along the way. (I nearly missed the connection, as I sat pondering a burrito that had been somehow cooked so it had a somewhat fried buttery taste, and also I sat enthralled by the medical marijuana endorsement on CNN.) As I knew my next morning was going to be early but because of the time change, I wasn’t exactly tired, so I deliberately meditated myself to sleep.

Early it was, as 7AM felt like 4. I tried to rally myself at the Hilton breakfast buffet, which wasn’t great, but I saw no convenient or better alternative at the moment. Coincidentally, I was seated next to some attendees, who happened to have a car, fortunately. It wasn’t my plan to ask for a ride, but I knew that otherwise I was going to be stuck on a bus or bus/train for an hour. It also gave me a chance to talk to some other fans.

I was talking to these two young attendees, to which I almost uttered the phrase, “Back in my day.” To them, I think it was fairly astonishing that somebody so old would travel from Seattle to attend their convention, or so I would like them to think. I know that conventions these days are mostly attended by newer fans, meaning college-aged and younger, so I feel part of a novel minority.

Badge pickup (‘pre-registration’) happened quickly, but it was day two, so that was not unexpected.

I had hoped one of my convention pals could score me a Yoko Kanno concert ticket, but although I heard one was certainly available for me, I wasn’t certain I would actually meet this person. So though I initially did not plan to, I necessarily waited in line for about 3 hours to pick up my one ticket. Camping in line, fortunately indoors, I came prepared. I happily played Plants versus Zombies on my DS: I felt like a zombie for waking up so early, coincidentally.

The concert ticket actually was a clear plastic card, printed complete with a serial number. This was more official looking than my attendee badge.

As it turned out, only 1000 attendees out of about 35,000 Otakon members (and staff) could attend this event. One thousand seems a lot, but really this was about 3%. There was a simulcast in another room for more. In some ways, it was fortunate the younger attendees had no idea who Yoko Kanno was.

The clock was past lunchtime. I made the most of my pre-made onigiri (made back in Seattle), plus snacks and other food as my lunch. There was no time now for a real meal. Immediately I had to go to a panel, for Chiaki Ishikawa. She’s not well known, it seems, as the panel room was mostly empty. But talented Japanese guests aren’t as a big draw as many American voice actors (Vic Mignogna), and this goes back to the age discrepancy between me and most attendees. I was struck by her distinctive, womanly voice (does she smoke?), and the way that she suggested she wanted to pair with a (much?) younger male vocalist. I wasn’t sure she was serious, but somehow that all made sense.

Early in her musical career, Ishikawa was paired up with Yuki Kajiura as part of See-Saw. Kajiura, I do respect but feel she is a tier down from Kanno, mostly because Kajiura’s music sounds fairly same-ish. Ishikawa seems to have done well for herself, though starting off in J-Pop and not succeeding, she progressed in a distinctive direction, as her lyrics and music feel matched to her personality. I wondered if her live show was going to be tied into Kanno’s performance, but I hated to ask, as undoubtedly Kanno was going to upstage her by quite a bit.

Post panel, I left the convention center to attend the concert, the main event of Saturday preceding the Masquerade. TM Revolution and Home Made Kazoku were performing in Baltimore’s Mariner Area, which seemed to have seating for many, many thousands. Arriving a bit late, I managed to score a seat in the front, by a nice girl who proceeded to text and then leave during the middle of the concert. (I think she was feeling bad.)

Honestly, I was not particularly a fan of either band initially, but both groups are well-known acts and I saw a well-done show. Home Made Kazoku turned out to be really good hip-hop, and by “good” I mean cheerful and endearingly positive. They worked the crowd really well, and to be honest I felt the enthusiasm and catchy, bouncy sound of two rappers and their DJ to be a little more likable than TM Revolution’s heavy metal sound. Not to say TMR didn’t rock out, and weren’t talented musicians, I just didn’t take to TMR’s songs as much.

My friend from Seattle, Greg invited me to eat dinner with him and his friends. After leaving the arena, I headed to the Sheraton, which happened to be the wrong Sheraton in Baltimorethere are two—I eventually made it into a car of eight headed to an Afghanistan restaurant. The company and restaurant seemed quite good. Maybe to Greg’s chagrin, I was seated across to him the entire time, but I made conversation with other folks who were all pretty social. The Afghan food was somewhat novel (similar to Pakistani Indian I supposed) and well prepared, but I came hungry already.

One couple I had thought momentarily were having a kid, but they had just gotten engaged, and the lady was far from pregnant. Being the oya-baka (foolish parent) that I am, I made the attempt to show off just how cute Leo was in costume. I was explaining, yes, having a kid is a pain, but you do get to dress him up, and he is very cute, and it is worth the trouble, etc. I do understand why parents want to indoctrinate non-parents into having children, but it’s not really something that can be effectively conveyed. I would not particularly recommend children to those couples who do spend lots of time at conventions (or pursuing any serious hobby, really), but there are some trade offs at least for ‘otaku’ couples.

Post dinner I attempted to attend a few more panels. This was mostly for naught. Yes, I found out about Manga Gamer’s latest acquisitions and enjoyed some of the crowd’s mischievous perverted questioning, but I should have simply taken the train home. Instead, I was milling around and of course finding panel rooms full, it was too late for public transportation, and I had to take a taxi back for about $35. (My hotel was in some sort of office-park nowhere land.)

Waking up early on Sunday, I checked out. Or tried to. A seemly friendly hotel staffer attempted to convince me I owed the hotel for 4 nights ($800), not the two I had originally reserved for. I was of course confused (sleepy) and adamant as I had a receipt to the contrary, which he then claimed was not signed, ergo not valid in the court of law. Then the staff admitted it was practical joke, for which I might have replied, “Well, if I talk to your manager and get fired for tricking your guests, who’s the joke really on here?” It seemed fairly mean spirited to basically make up extra nights charged as some sort of false sounding extortion, but I really didn’t feel like trying to get this person in trouble. He also admitted to trying to trick other attendees the same way. He did give me a couple extra cookies.

The light rail did not run early on Sunday, but again I found somebody nice enough to give me a ride. I was given a lift by a fairly good looking college-aged girl, and here I was an older but odd guy. I played the part of the gentleman, and I suppose I sounded reassuring being an attendee, none the less an attendee from Seattle here to see Yoko Kanno. Fortunately, she was attending for the same reason. She in fact had gotten an autograph, for which there were only a few hundred. (It sounds like a lot, but that’s less than 1% of attendees.)

Sunday I had a laundry list of things to do, but mainly I wanted to check out the Ruroni Kenshin exhibit of original art. Greg had pointed this out to me, and it indeed was fascinating seeing the genesis of this manga which made Nobuhiro Watsuki a celebrity in Japan. The art style is fairly distinctive, which didn’t carry very well into the anime version, which I had watched in Japan back in 1998, and I kind of regret not getting into the manga which is no doubt superior.

Even though it was only about 11am, and the concert seated at 1PM, I soon found out that Greg and others were waiting in line already for the event. I wandered over there as soon as I could. Again, I was eating rice balls, and I offered up some of my distinctive Japanese food (Calorie Mate) and Northwest kale products. Not a lot of takers, to be honest.

Seating began, and it was a little bit stupid. You could not select your seat, you were told where to seat, and you might be sitting at the end of a row and be looking into a curtain. Fortunately, I had pretty good visibility from the side, but being further back would have been better.

Chiaki Ishikawa sang her very short set list, only about 4 songs. I imagined, if I came from Japan to Baltimore, I’d like to at least fill an hour. She does sing and sound identical to her recordings, though her last piece felt a touch off the beat. Some people remarked the visuals (projected screen images) were distracting and worthless, but I quite enjoyed the psychedelic experience.

And then began about a 20 minute intermission, where I was concerned I’d be too distracted by my own thoughts (or others) to enjoy Yoko Kanno’s brief concert. There’s something I hate about going to a concert, where I habitually fume about the people around me rustling program guides—I really would prefer it if program guides were never handed out—coughing, chatting, or making conversation. And then I get so distracted by others’ lack of attention I lose attention myself. (Fortunately, everybody stayed quiet when they were supposed to. It was almost eerily silent at times.)

So this “Piano Me” event was introduced by Kanno’s producer, whose command of English was not great, but we got the gist. Apparently, it was not just her playing the piano. We were encouraged to get rowdy at times, and in fact encouraged to sing-along to songs we knew. (Though I’m quite the fan, I have not yet perfectly memorized the lyrics to any of her songs, and I had serious doubts most of the audience had.)

If you hadn’t seen her before, the remarkable thing about Yoko Kanno is her presence. She comes on stage with bunny ears, kicks off her shoes, and starts playing some sort of intricate version of Tank! And the piano is covered in some sort of white protective robe and she’s banging away like the insane composer we know she is. Of course the audience cheers and it’s lots of hooting and hollering until we get to some quieter pieces.

Then the visuals kick in: The white on the piano serves as a projection screen. All sorts of odd computer generated animations and such appear during different pieces. And by different, it is like she spontaneously comes up with melodies from pieces spanning 25 years. We do get a couple of sing along songs, i.e. The Real Folk Blues, and Gravity—fortunately in English. And the audience does what they are supposed to do, yet it would have helped to have a cheat-sheet, or at least know in advance what songs to memorize, because I can manage the first verse of The Real Folk Blues, I didn’t know recall the words for the second verse.

And then it’s over. The concert ends with a song from Cowboy Bebop, Wo Qui Non Con, about somebody losing their puppy, sung first in Japanese, then in French. On screen, there’s a video of a white plastic bag floating over Tokyo, and the credits roll. (We do get an encore, and get to sing the national anthem.) I pondered if this was really the only such performance, seeing all the work going into this one hour, there was no repeat? But that is the insanity of a true artist.

I had hoped to pick up some merchandise for “Piano Me,” as I was leaving totally empty handed this convention: No signatures, nothing bought, nothing but my badge and program guide, and this little plastic ticket. Alas, I had a flight back to Seattle in a few hours.

I got on the light rail and coincidentally there were a number of staffers, con veterans, and myself. And so there was an opportunity to talk shop, talk about guests we’ve met, things we’ve heard, and ponder exactly why we spend all this time volunteering our weekends away for all these different events. I half-heartily suggested we start a CA (Convention Anonymous) support group, which got a good laugh.

Joining me on the ride to the airport was Stein, a friendly Asian guy, who I met through Greg. We happened to be leaving from the same terminal as me, and so it seemed appropriate to have one final meal together. I finally ate something distinctively from Baltimore, a giant blue crab cake. I found out Stein’s attending Anime Revolution in Vancouver this weekend, so I plan to meet up. (As he’s arriving early, I suggested he rent a bicycle and explore the city. He didn’t seem enthusiastic about this idea, but this is exactly the best thing to do in Vancouver.)

Then it was off to North Carolina, then Seattle, as I struggled to keep my electronics charged on my 8 hour journey.

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Yoko Kanno

I studied the viola for about 7 years, starting at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in Seattle, first with Mr. Warren Shelton as conductor, then Marcus Tsutakawa at Garfield High School.

Initially, I wasn’t feeling terribly inclined to do anything in middle school, given the choice, but Mr. Shelton convinced me and my mother. I chose the viola since it seemed exotic, and though I found out fairly soon the parts weren’t the most interesting, it seemed to suit my personality and demeanor, which was to be as inconspicuous as possible.

As I played in orchestra, so grew my interest in classical music. But simultaneously, inspired by my father, stepfather, and friends, I developed a substantial interest in Asian culture, and in particular Japanese culture. I ended up taking Japanese class in high school and watched a fair bit of anime. It also so happened my orchestra conductor was Japanese, had ties to Japan, and brought a group of us in 1993 to Kobe to perform and tour in other parts of the country.

I think when it comes to Japanese composers, the most well know (popular) are those who score film. Ryuichi Sakamoto comes to mind as probably the most well known in the West.

For those who watch anime, outside of Hayao Miyazaki’s films (scored by Joe Hisaishi), nothing I came across at that time seemed very interesting. That is, until I came across a film scored by Yoko Kanno called Macross Plus. At first, I was confused as not only were the orchestral parts composed by her, but in fact was all the pop music, main theme (Myung’s theme, or ‘Voices’), computer music, and jazz pieces. I mean, it seems unusual that one person could do these different genres as well as record songs in English, French, Japanese, and a fictional language, as well as record in both the Czech Republic and Israel. (I’m guessing this was done to save money, alas.)

In 1996, attending Anime Expo, I was rooming with my friends at the time. At the convention, Michael, a friend of my best friend Jeremy at the time, had bought not just the official soundtrack music but something quizzically titled Macross Plus: For Fan’s Only. I found it quite unusual that a mere film would be released with multiple soundtracks and re-recordings of several tracks. In fact for this film, there were four soundtracks released, all which I eventually bought.

In 1997, I was accepted in an international program in Japan, and spent a year in Sendai. (Incidentally Yoko is from the same prefecture.) I had still an interest in anime and watched anime on television. Cowboy Bebop, scored by Yoko and probably her most famous work until then, incidentally began broadcast in 1998. I watched it on my television off the air, and I of course had to buy the album. (For just 26, 25 minute episodes and one movie, about 13 CDs of music were released. As well as two vinyl singles for DJs to remix.)

I also bought Yoko Kanno’s debut studio album Song to Fly, dubbing it to MiniDisc. I recall listening to it over and over again on my adventures in Japan. (What comes to mind, was the time I went on a extremely dark and stormy overnight ferry ride someplace, and the music was comforting.)

And after back in the US, I continued to buy her soundtrack albums, even buying soundtracks for anime I had not seen or had no interest in. I also fell in love with her most famous associated artist, Maaya Sakamoto. Maaya, a pop singer, had her first non-soundtrack albums written by Yoko Kanno, including the lyrics. To me, Yoko Kanno continued to be a big mystery: How could she write such a volume of music? In so many different genres? In a way which each piece is distinct, but matches well the flavor of the film or show, and also sounds like her own music? And song lyrics and (as it turned out) sing under a pseudonym?

If you take the most major Hollywood film composer, say John Williams, his music is fairly distinctive—Star Wars—he does write great dramatic, instantly memorable melodies and even clever minor pieces. But you would not find him writing for any sort of pop star, or jazz band would you? Writing lyrics? I’m not saying Yoko Kanno is a superior composer because of this one reason, it just is one of the characteristics that makes her distinctive as an all-encompassing musician.

I do admit that nostalgia for her makes me a bit biased, and liking much of what’s from anime makes my taste even more questionable. But my best friend Kevin Steffa (also with a similar musical background) fully agrees that she is the best composer today. I have yet to hear a contrary opinion to her agreed upon genius.

Though recently, I have read online past accusations that she sometimes plagiarizes (copies) other people’s music. You can find YouTube videos and come to your own conclusions. But personally, if you like a particular work of art, and make a work very similar and in ways superior, does that make you a plagiarist? Does all your music have to be 100% original to be acceptable? To me, most art is about appropriation. I don’t really believe if somebody comes up with a novel idea, it should end there: Novel ideals—novel musical ideas—usually come with room for improvement.

What bothers me a bit about this criticism is hearing that people weigh originality so highly. It seems the Japanese especially are hard on artists that ‘copy’, for example even ones who might trace photographed images in manga, like somehow that’s even scandalous. Japan lacks fair use law as well. Though hypocritically, the Japanese shamelessly incorporate foreign ideas and styles in everything. To be fair, U.S. copyright law (reflecting the electorate view) is insane as well: For how many years must copyright durations be extended? How come ‘Happy Birthday’ is not in the public domain? etc.

In any case, I highly encourage you to explore her work, which can be found fairly easily on YouTube by searching for ‘Yoko Kanno.’ Let me know if there’s something you like.

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AX 2013

It is no joke that Hitomi and I paid a few thousand this year to travel and attend an anime convention, in LA, in the summer, where I spent quite a great deal of time in a hotel with my son Leo, napping in bed.

Still, the best vacations are typically crazy, when done right.

One of the crazy decisions made was to buy and pack an induction burner ($80 or so) from Amazon, and take it along with a pressure cooker, plus rice and various ingredients (canned fish). We’d be set for breakfast (tea) and lunch (rice balls), without the time and expense (and disappointment) of eating out every meal. But remember: We’re also traveling with a two year-old, so it’s not like we don’t have a stroller, a car seat, a ton of diapers, toys, books, sleeper, and baby snacks to take as well.

Oh, and Hitomi had Leo two cosplay outfits, and I had two sets of cosplay clothes as well. The cosplay clothes were nothing too fancy, Leo and I dressed as both Okarin from Steins;Gate and Nyanko Sensei, though my Nyanko outfit was basically a blanket.

Oh, and Hitomi’s pregnant, but fortunately just 4 not 8 months like she was back in 2012.

I dreaded the first part of the trip: Getting up at 6:00am and loading the trunk of a taxi coming at 6:30, and getting ourselves through security and on the plane. Leo’s a ball of energy so having to sit still for two and a half hours is a challenge. The iPad, loaded with videos of Shimajiro and Wanwan Wonderland, did quiet Leo most of the flight. I got berated by Hitomi, though, for not buying an extra seat for Leo. He was supposed to be on my lap, but instead ended up in Hitomi’s lap mostly at his insistence. Paying full price ($350) for 30 pounds of Leo seemed like an unfair deal to me, for such a short time I’d put up with it.

Finally at the hotel (11PM or so), I head down to Anime Expo for picking up my badge. We’re staying at the Marriot, which is second only to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown LA, making it convenient at least. Yet, this is LA, and everything is still a bit of a walk, and further still as registration is in the LA Convention Center West Hall. No matter, the last time I was there it was only a matter of minutes to get my badge, so I thought. Two years ago I arrived early in the morning and it was a cinch, but with anime conventions it’s still a dice roll: You can be in line not at all or 4-6 hours. (Why many anime conventions still don’t mail badges: They hate their attendees.) I ended up stuck in the pre-registration line for 2:30, which would have been okay, but the line was outside. Besides getting really hot, I ended up sunburned which I wasn’t too happy about. Inside was a temporary relief, as I was upside seeing that although plenty of computers setup to process registrations, still only six people were handing out badges, and of course pay-at-con registration had no line.

Enough of that, I headed over to the food truck area across the street. I ended up paying $15 or so for a sub-par Indian dish plus drink. Food trucks often produce pretty inconsistent food, maybe due to the kitchen being so uncomfortable to work?

Hitomi and I met at the AX Maid Cafe, which is not really a cafe since they do not serve food or drinks, but sort of a show for…Well, they do a couple of dances on stage, plus play a game or two with guests at the table, and take pictures at the end. Yes, the girls were easy on the eyes, but it seemed so far removed from the Japan experience it was its own thing. Leo had fun playing the games and running around as he usually does during a performance. Being so cute and little meant the maids were fawning over him, and I felt a bit like bragging, “I made this!” We had a group picture, which I ought to post.

There was a concert at 6PM for Aya Ikeda. Originally I was going to take Leo back to the hotel and Hitomi could watch in the front row, courtesy of our otaku friend Tim reserving a seat. Leo seemed pretty happy to join though, so vacillating between our official assigned seating (back) and Tim’s ‘reserved’ seats, we all watched the show. Leo had a tendency to run off, throw his glow stick, and make it tough for us, but he was in the spirit of the event. Oddly, AX told us all to not stand during the performance, but what kind of Ani-song event has people sitting? In Japan, you are standing, either waving something, clapping, jumping, or doing something. Sitting peacefully is somehow disrespectful, I think.

We didn’t stay for the second act, instead dinner was our priority. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant Katsuya, which was more fancy than I might have liked. It was like Hotel dining, which is usually good, but expensive for what you get. There was outside seating, which was great for Leo to bounce around in. The tea (and the tea we made using tap water) tasted funny, and Hitomi made the request we get some bottled water.

I did make a trip off to Ralph’s (supermarket), which I was told was a 5 minute walk but really 15, by the hotel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk in the night: Walking around at night during a convention is great, since it’s fun to see cosplayers out and about the town in different contexts. Walk into the local Denny’s and you can see gigantic foam swords and other props tucked behind their chair. It’s kind of like all these people were transported to a different dimension by mistake.

This being July 4, we saw plenty of fireworks from our room window over the city of Los Angeles. All the booms and fizzles seen and heard from our hotel was a not-so-subtle reminder we were missing out on another Important Holiday yet again. (Easter, always Sakura-con weekend, is another holiday I miss out on. Easter is easier to ignore, at least the day of.) Getting Leo to sleep through all this was a bit of a trick.

Friday

Getting Leo out the door in the morning is a challenge as well: Dressed, cleaned up, fed, dipers changed, etc. and it feels like the morning is gone. And after an hour or so, it’s already nap time. I volunteer to nap with Leo and Hitomi’s out on her own. With the pressure cooker, I prepare onigiri with canned fish and furikake.

At 2:30 was a cosplay meetup for Natsume’s Book of Friends. Leo had a costume for his first cosplay gathering! It was a bit of a wait in the sun, but eventually a fairly big group of cosplayers (not quite Nintendo or One Piece gathering numbers, but maybe 10 people) appeared on the grass next to the convention center. Two thoughts: Yes, Leo was popular (“cute!”) with the group, but didn’t understand what was going on and looked confused and somewhat scared. And maybe hot in a fur suit. Secondly, although he could have been in everybody’s photoshoot, it didn’t really make sense to steal the spotlight as it were, so we took him in and out at times.

At night we headed off to Japan Town for dinner, a short taxi ride but complicated by having to take a car seat out, put it in, put Leo in, put the stroller in, etc. LA’s Japan Town is quite walkable and has a lot of interesting shopping. Apparently free karaoke is a thing, and there was a mix of singing quality. Dinner at Kagura was quite decent, some hit and miss dishes. Soft-serve was fun sharing three ways. Leo eats with his face.

The AX Dance was at 10PM, with Ram Rider, a DJ guest from Japan, appearing at 11PM. I met up with Kent who had flown in that night from work in line, and here I was waiting in line for a dance. Inside, some other con friends are there too and we wait for about 15 minutes for Ram Rider’s set.

I wouldn’t call it a dance in the traditional sense, it is more like your body becomes part of an undulating organ, driven by auditory stimulus. I was not equipped with any glowing paraphernalia, but instead had to use my hand to wave approval. Quite a number of Go-Go dancers in various levels of dress provided visual stimulus as well. Lots of eventual shoving and I was in the front of the blob, where Ram Rider was wearing his glowing jacket and spinning CDs or something of his music and others’.

Around 1AM, although tempted to ‘hang out’ and have fun, I go to the hotel to sleep like a responsible person.

Saturday

Of course, the later I go to sleep the earlier I am woken up: Leo woke up very early in the morning (4AM), walked out of his sleep sack, and started fishing for food in grocery bags. I’m not sure how he eventually got back to bed, but I was happy Hitomi helped out.

I had yet to cosplay myself, though I was wearing my anime jerseys (Ika-Musume, Madoka Magica) and getting a bit of attention that way. Today, Hitomi had scoped out a set photo area for cosplayers, which had interesting backgrounds. I finally got to wear my lab jacket, white shirt, etc. and dress up as the character ‘Okarin’ from Steins;Gate.

Leo was dressed as my younger double, but he also had the other, more substantial costume from yesterday. The problem was getting him to stay put with not only video game machines next door, but fun curtains and whatnot he could run around and hide behind. There was also three professional photo service areas where we got about 6-7 shots taken and paid for prints for 3 ($25).

We had booked a babysitter for the evening concert, the Japanese band Porno Graffiti. At this age, hiring a babysitter sounds easy (though expensive) but it confuses Leo at bit and she had a tough time getting him to eat and sleep. Twenty minutes or so of screaming for “mama” and “papa” later he did settle down.

Alas, we were having a great time in the balcony. I’m not too familiar with all their songs, just the 2 or 3 I’ve heard through anime, but they were well down. Definitely professional, quality musicians deserving their notoriety in Japan.

(Listing to Porno do the Fullmetal Alchemist opening song once, then again in encore, I did have a couple of sad thoughts: I never did finish reading the manga, watching the first series, nor the second series of Fullmetal. And now with the second season, is it worth revisiting the first? Will my eventual maternity leave next year leave me with time to catch up with all the shows? *sigh*)

We went to Lawry’s for dinner, and although the incarnation out of Staple’s Center you order at the door, it’s still great food. It’s also great eating without directing traffic around’s Leo mouth. We also ate on the sidewalk and nothing beats relaxing while interesting cosplayers walk by.

I got an invite to attend an industry event (sponsored by Sakura-con), so after briefly returning to the room, I took a taxi off to this restaurant full of a hundred or so anime industry people: Voice actors, studio execs, producers, Japanese companies, etc. I’m not that much of an introvert, but I don’t do too well at loud parties full of people I don’t know. I did run into Eugene and some other folk from Sakura-con. Rhubab, who worked with me at Sakura-con with h.Naoto’s, happened to be there with a Visual Kei performer and her boyfriend. I hugged and chatted with her circle briefly about being a dad and showed them pictures of Leo.

It was great seeing a few people, but I was already done with the party. Rather than get a taxi, I walked back alone, enjoying the night.

Sunday

The convention came and went so quickly. After eating breakfast and packing up (which took a long time), it was 11AM already. With Leo in his stroller, we were hoping he’d eventually sleep, which he did.

The lunch plan was to eat off one of the food trucks, which unfortunately mean you are out in the sun in line to order, but I wasn’t going to pay for convention food. There was a good bit of shade and we enjoyed our Japanese-style hot dogs and fries.

With our flight in the afternoon, basically we only had time to explore the exhibit hall. I did run into Toshio Maeda, the self-proclaimed master of tentacles. He speaks good English yet I talked Japanese anyway, more than I should have, because after talking English to me, I should have been polite to stop. I bought his dojinshi of La Blue Girl and explained I needed a plastic bag, ostensibly because I didn’t want my wife to see the cover, as it was a bit racy. He suggested that, oh yeah, your wife “might fucking kill you.” Really, I just wanted a way to hide the cover’s breasts from view as I walked around.

I kind of wished I was more of a fan of his, given the art quality, innovation, and controversy of his work. I’m big into erotic manga, but really his main titles were released before my time, really. And I never felt interested in tentacle sex, nor violent rape stories. I have yet to watch Urotsukidoji or La Blue Girl, but I remember all the controversy and trouble those titles caused. (Texas convicted a comic book staff member for selling an issue of this man’s comic, Demon Beast Invasion.)

As Hitomi and I reconvened, we suddenly realized we’re late for our flight, and quickly grab a taxi from the hotel. With the time to load up, traffic, and having to check bags, we get put on a later flight without incident.

Flying is tough: Leo doesn’t sit still and Hitomi is annoyed that I suggested we did not buy a seat for him. Oh well, he’s 2 in a few weeks and that issue will be moot.

 

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Missed Connections

I’m going to try to keep this short.

I’ve been feeling sick (cold from Leo) and with WWDC this week at Apple, under a bit of stress trying to keep things together. We took it easy (easier) yesterday by bicycling to Magnuson Park and have a picnic.

We happened to locate our site next to a Japanese couple, with a kid (about 2.5yo) and an infant. Hitomi talks to them and reveals our next child is going to be a boy. Which I can’t help be a little disappointed about. Not that I won’t love another boy, but this next child is probably our last and I won’t get to try raising a girl. I suppose it’s the finality of the situation rather than anything. Let’s hope they bring home nice looking girls (friends or otherwise.)

Today I got a call from “Uncle Phil”, coincidentally during a fairly rare conversation with my dad. My dad and (I guess Uncle) use my Yahoo! email address, which I stopped checking regularly about 6+ years ago. My Uncle’s in town for a rare appearance and I will probably miss him. He and Elinor have (share) a cell phone but 10 minutes after calling him back, he does not answer, and the announcement (probably put on by (honorary) Uncle Tom), suggested leaving a message but their voice mail is full.

Despite advances in technology, I still end up missing people quite a bit. Which is a shame, given their promise to bring people together, it just seems like more ways exist to miss people. Or, technology is still just about fighting people’s laziness: The more it advances, the more ‘last minute’ we are about communication. Anyway, I’m fairly disappointed not to see my Uncle, as I head off to California next week.

Today being fathers day I do have a couple of thoughts: It certainly pays to be close to your children, physically and emotionally. And I find that being a good father doesn’t necessarily make you a good husband. I kind of wished raising Leo right would win romance points with Hitomi. The scores do not carry over this way. Also, different cultures (*ahem*) have different expectations with what family means. The “American Way” (more of an ideal perhaps than reality) is to maintain the romantic(*) part of the relationship while balancing those concerns with raising the family. But those needs necessarily conflict, so I don’t suppose one can find a perfect balance?

What is ‘romance’ in the context of a family? In some ways it is childishness indulgence but what is the point of a family, if not indulgence? Perhaps children are the ultimate sacrifice by parents, but let’s pretend otherwise.

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