Monday, July 11, 2011

Once In A Lifetime: Thoughts on Last Exile S2 and Hatsune Miku's World Debut

Yes, the title is very long. And I'm sure all of you were expecting art from me, considering I'm the lead artist. But in a sad bit of luck that I won't dwell on, all my things--including my computer, scanner, and tablet--are all in a storage locker in Vancouver for the moment, and I can't get to them. My deepest apologies, guys, but for the next little while, I'll have to be just like everyone else.

So, yes, Jackie here, and may I first say that it was a pleasure to attend AX this year! As my first American con (not including Anaheim Comic Con, which we were only at for the first day or so), it did not fail to disappoint! Not only was the level of cosplay quality higher than what I'm used to seeing back home in Canada, there was also the variety of panels, concerts, and services provided for the attendees. I'd like to see the staffers from Anime Evolution fill up GM Stadium for a concert!

Not only did AX fill the Nokia Stadium to capacity for Miku's debut concert, they also pulled it off without a hitch or hiccup, a rather daunting feat for anyone, much less a digital diva in a world premier. Even in our seats in the balcony level, the view was amazing, and the screens allowed for a closer look at the musicians who poured their hearts into providing the best experience anyone could have. I'm not even ashamed to admit I teared up when the opening number proved to be "World is Mine", one of my favorite songs. By the opening notes of Miku's last song, I was crying quite prolifically. Not because I was sad that it was ending--the two hour concert flew by so fast, it hardly felt like a half hour had passed--but because it was so touching and emotional to be able to experience this live.

I'll be honest: I've never been to a live concert before. And while my dreams of seeing Rush live, or Linkin Park at GM Place are all but a distant ideal, seeing Miku live at Nokia is pretty amazing in itself. My ears rang afterwards, and the adrenaline high I was riding powered me all the way into the wee hours of the morning.

Sure, I didn't sleep a wink the four days of con, but seriously, who does?!

Nothing is more impressive to me than a sea of glowing green leeks and flashing lightsabres. (Yes, there were not one but three lightsabres in the crowd), especially during pan shots from the overhead boom camera. From my perch, I could not only see that, but also the camera in the audience, and a rather animated Japanese TV anchor doing a pre-show coverage up in another wing of the stadium. Hopefully, the fans in Japan really enjoyed the show as much as we did!

While I was impressed by how smooth Miku's animation was, along with Luka, Rin and Len, and excited that the quality overall for all the audio was very good, I was more focused on the human members of the band. They consisted of 8 violinists, a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer, along with the keyboardist who also used a synthesizer to produce many of the sounds we heard that were not Miku's voice, such as a saxophone. You had to be paying attention to notice it, however; the shot of him using it was only about 30 seconds on the screens, and most people were more absorbed in Miku.

The clue that tipped me off to why the performance was so good was in the way the performers played. The violinists all bobbed their heads and tapped their feet to the music, the drummer scarcely looked up because he was so into his set, and the guitarists were constantly trying to upstage each other. During Miku's introduction of the band, each one had a solo in turn, showing off what they could do. And I have to say, I really wished I could have done a lighter tribute, because those two dished out some mean chords! Half the fun for me was watching fingers fly over strings, and violinists bob in time to the music, because then you can't help but smile and bob along. The joy is infectious, and I was certainly affected.

Regardless, the encore was a long one, and by the time the fans were trickling out of the Stadium, all of us were exhausted. It was great there were so many nice resteraunts in the area, including one we frequented over the trip we codenamed, "Deadpool's Chumbucket". They had some of the best cornbread I've ever eaten. Yum~

So, overall, Miku's first concert was a complete success. Chalk one up to the rest of the Vocaloid team.

Last Exile was also a pleasure to attend, all things considered. When Zanney and I found the line, we just managed to make it in, ending up in the back row near the left side, a bad place to be if you want to read subtitles, but just being in the room was enough of a joy to overlook such a detail.

My little camera was taken at the door, for obvious reasons, but I recovered him quite easily afterwards, which is nice to see. There were so many cameras and bags that were checked in, and while my camera was not the only plum coloured Kodak Easyshare in the bunch, the system of taping a number and name to it made it a cinch to find.

But back to the show. Last Exile, so I'm told, is a very inventive view of the world in a steampunk setting, and even though I've neglected to see the first season, this preview of season 2 makes me want to go back and see it all. The designs on the vehicles used were sleek and eye-catching, and the humor was smart and cheeky. You could tell a lot of love went into this series from how excited the producers of the show were. Some of them hadn't even seen it yet, and they were eager to view their finished product.

The second season of Last Exile re-introduces a character from the first season, but otherwise has an all-new cast of plucky characters. And while my Morse Code is a bit shaky, I'm confident that what was used was correct--albeit the code was made for the Japanese dialogue, so it's bound to be a bit off anyway.

Zanney has minimal comprehension of Japanese, and so between the snatches of subtitles I saw, and what she could hear, we pieced together the plot, and liked what we heard and saw. The translations were very smooth, and lack any choppy or awkwardness that sometimes plagues direct translations. The voice acting is beautiful, and features a few familiar seiyuu, topping off this little masterpiece wonderfully. I'm eager to see the rest now, and it's going to be a long four months, since even the Japanese fans won't be able to see it until then.

For me, the most interesting aspect was the vehicles. The little air scooters--now referred to as Vespas--were long and sleek, reminding me of insects. And while some of the physics is a bit hard to believe at times, one only has to remember this is an anime, and it all makes sense again.

I was also drawn to the main characters, two chipper young girls who work for sky pirates, and fly as though they own the skies that are their home. It certainly makes for interesting interactions with the others they meet in the episode. The two act differently, as one is much more open and talkative than the other, but they are equally cheeky, and cause plenty of trouble in a very brief span of time. One thing I will say is that this series is not boring. Even the more quiet moments are broken up by humor and gorgeous scores of music. All in all, it's a treat for the eyes and the ears.

In closing, I think AX was very lucky to have not one but two world premiers--Hatsune Miku and Last Exile--and both work well to make AX's 20th anniversary well worth the wait. I can honestly say, aside from some personal issues, the con was an absolute joy to attend. I can't wait for next year!

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