I apologize for this being over a month late, but here we go!
Anime Expo is the largest anime convention in all of the United States and gains regular attendance of over 50,000 every year. Anime Expo is a four day convention which takes place at the Los Angeles Convention Center every year on the weekend of July 4th. This year it ran from July 4 to July 7. I attend this convention every year, more or less because it is the closest large convention to me. The guests of honor have dwindled for my entertainment within the last few years, but that’s because I’m not usually a fan of whatever is the current most popular anime or I’m not a fan of the voice actors they are bringing that year. This year though, they surprised me by announcing that visual kei artist Kaya would be a guest of honor in junction with the band Moonstream, which is made up of Tomo from “echostream” and Satsuki, formerly of Rentrer en Soi.
For those of you who don’t know, I am an avid fan, probably considered obsessive, of Japanese rock music. Since probably around the end of 2010, far less Japanese bands and solo artists have been coming to America on tour. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to see some of the most well known and prolific bands from Japan but it is still upsetting when bands announce they are going on a world tour and then set no dates for North America. I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t bankable, but I’ve always seen extremely impressive turn out at the concerts I’ve been to. Whatever the case, I haven’t seen or met anyone in quite a long time.
The last time Anime Expo brought a visual artist/band I was interested in was in 2009. They brought famed JRocker Mana and his band Moi dix Mois. I haven’t been so excited to be at an Anime Expo since then until this year. When I heard that Kaya was coming, I probably screamed for ten minutes straight in excitement. As you can tell, visual artists and bands are not a common guest to Anime Expo or really even America anymore. Often female pop groups are brought over, but I’m not part of their following and just don’t get excited about them.
Let’s answer some questions first! What exactly is Visual Kei you ask? Visual Kei is a sub genre of music in Japan which basically focuses on style. “Kei” means “type”. So basically they are a “visual type”. These sorts of bands basically focus on incorporating elaborate costumes and make up into their performances. Instead of wearing jeans and a t-shirt, they have on very elaborate outfits ranging from traditional kimono to French Rococo inspired dresses. Their image is very important to them basically, but not more so than the music of course. Some bands drift away from this style once they gain popularity, but many keep with it. You could say the Visual Kei effect basically helps them attract fans, especially girls. The funny thing is, almost all of them are men and some of them dress like females to attract female fans. Oddly enough, it totally works.
Why was it such a big deal that Kaya was coming? I have been a fan of Kaya since 2008 with the release of his single “Chocolat”. Kaya has only visited the United States (or at least Los Angeles) once and I missed it. As an avid fan and never having met him, I was extremely excited to have the chance. Kaya is one of the most different and individual musicians in the visual kei scene. Kaya is known for his feminine appearance as he dresses completely like a woman for most performances. He also has incorporated many unused techniques into his performances, such as the inclusion of back up dancers. He puts on more of a show than a concert which nearly no visual kei artist has done before.
Meanwhile, Moonstream would be making their first appearance as Moonstream at Anime Expo. Back in 2009, the same year Mana was a guest of honor, the two members of Moonstream were there. I was lucky to have met both of them that very same year. Tomo is the guitarist for North American based Japanese rock band, echostream, which was based in New York. He was a very pleasant person to talk to then and he even allowed pictures (which is usually a big no-no). Luckily, Tomo speaks near perfect English, so communication is not so hard. I then was able to meet Satsuki. Most people can’t understand my adoration of Satsuki, but let’s just say I’m a super fan. In 2009, Satsuki had just begun his solo career after the disbandment of his band Rentrer en Soi. Satsuki is an extremely polite and kind person so it was an honor and pleasure to purchase his own merchandise directly from him. I didn’t even mind the partial language barrier as he tried to communicate with me in English. I missed Moonstream’s first appearance at Kintoki-Con a few years earlier, so I was very excited when they announced they would be attending in joint with Kaya.
So when it was announced the three of them were coming, I was prepared to bring along merchandise to get signed and make sure I got good seats for their concert. Anime Expo always requires assigned seating at their concerts so I knew I needed to get in fast and grab the good seats. (Being short, attending concerts can be quite a pain for me.) Needless to say the day the tickets were going on sale, I was sitting at the computer half an hour early counting down every minute. The tickets were quite a bit more than I expected, but “it would all be worth it” is what I told myself and I procured center fifth row tickets, which is basically like being at the edge of the pit at a normal concert in distance.
When we arrived to Anime Expo, I was ready to see them. I brought along my huge Kaya poster that I had had for a couple of years from his “Glitter” album release, a poster I had purchased from Tomo when I met him in 2009, and Satsuki’s “Luminous” album which I had actually made sure to pick up when I had gone to Japan in May. Once the dealer’s hall was open, I found their booth almost immediately. Their table was selling both Kaya and Moonstream merchandise. The biggest shock was delivered to me then: Buy $80 worth of merch from one band and you got a photo with them. Needless to say, I spent a lot of money on their stuff for that chance. I was also able to purchase Moonstream’s mascot Apollo in stuffed form. My friend and I bought the last two that they were selling at the convention and one of them was actually on the stage at the concert. We also had quite a few meetings with Satsuki and Tomo at their booth over the course of the weekend because the two could walk around without drawing attention to themselves.
After attending the autograph session and having fun for most of the day, I attended Kaya and Moonstream’s guest of honor panel on the first day. The panel basically gave fans time to ask questions. Some of the funniest things happened just because Tomo could speak English and Kaya could not. I was also impressed by Satsuki’s efforts at responding to as many questions as possible in English and his accent was very impressive, having come far since 2009. A fan asked what the craziest thing they had ever all done together was, but no matter how it was worded, it sounded pretty dirty. When it was Tomo’s turn to answer he said, “With Queen Kaya and Prince Satsuki? Oh, you know what happened.” Kaya just smiled and nodded the whole time, which made the fans laugh even harder than they already were. Another fan got up and asked Kaya how he got his hair so big. When it was translated to him, Kaya began laughing and actually couldn’t stop for over a minute. Then in his complete Japanese humor he responded, “Why don’t you come up to my room later and I’ll show you?” Everyone burst into laughter and the questioner even responded with, “But Kaya, where is your room?” It was obvious the panel director wanted to stop that situation before it got out of hand, but the boy asking was good spirited and then thanked Kaya for answering the question and went and sat down. Kaya had been entertained though, because he couldn’t stop smiling. One of my favorite questions though was probably the one my friend asked: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead? Kaya said that he would be a make-up artist because he liked make-up quite a bit. When it came Tomo’s turn, he started out by asking what makes the most money which made people crack up again. He then laughed and said “I’m just kidding. I really like painting and art. So I guess I would be an artist or painter of some kind. But I don’t know if I could live off that.” At Satsuki’s turn, he told everyone that when he had been young, he wanted to grow up to be a school teacher.
On Friday, July 5th, it was Visual Kei Night. The concert featured three performances. While Kaya and Moonstream were guests of honor, the third band CELL was an industry guest. The turn out probably wasn’t that great, but I believe they filled up half of the hall which in my opinion is really good for a visual artist at a convention. While waiting for the concert to begin, Cure Magazine (the sponsors who brought CELL) were playing videos of other Japanese bands with special messages from them to United States audiences and then a music video. When it came time for CELL to play, they played a CELL music video (called PV in Japan). It was strange to say the least. CELL then played their set for about 45 minutes. I had never listened to them before, but was quite impressed. The only bad part about their set was that the front amp had not been mounted properly and so was tilting when lead singer Kon attempted to stand on it. From the many concerts I have attended, it is fairly common for the vocalist to use the front amp to stand on and use for his performance. Kon tried multiple times to climb on it but it would slip and he would get off. At one point, some of the band’s assistants came out and tried to mount the amp better. At thinking it was, Kon climbed on it. Turns out it wasn’t and he feel straight off the stage. It was really shocking to happen in the middle of the concert. He took it like a man though and attempted to leap back onto stage (but had to be helped because the stage was too high to just jump back onto).
After their set, there was a brief intermission to change out the instruments and basically get everything ready. During this time, they played Satsuki’s PVs because Moonstream has yet to release any official CDs or PVs. Tomo was out on stage tuning his own guitar and it was cute to see him try to play Apollo where he thought he fit best. Moonstream came on then and one of my dreams of seeing Satsuki live was completed. If you have never listened to Satsuki, you should because in my opinion he is one of the best singers I have ever heard due to his amazing vocal range. Their performance was fun and high energy, mostly playing Satsuki’s solo music but they did play one new Moonstream song. The set list did include “Awake (Upper Region Version)”, “Fate”, “After Glow”, “Inside”, and “Nvn”. Satsuki is fun to watch because he always looks like he is having just the best time and he does fun hand dances which the audience can copy to go along with him.
Finally, Kaya came on. It was strange to see Kaya by himself after seeing videos of performances in Japan. He had no back up dancers and no back up musicians. It was just Kaya in all his glory. What was probably the biggest surprise was that Kaya was wearing his “Chocolat” outfit, the very first outfit I had ever seen him in. I freaked out. Kaya’s set list included “Chocolat”, “Ophelia”, “SALOME”, “funerary dream”, “Glitter Arch”, “Transmigration”, “kasha”, “epicurean”, and new single “TABOO”. Kaya was definitely high energy, dancing and singing the whole time, requesting us to dance and jump with him at different times. At one point, the crowd was yelling he was cute and he kept repeating them questioningly until replying in a deep manly voice “I know”. At one point, he even brought out his translator to translate for him where he expressed his happiness in being able to come overseas and that it was the first time he’d ever been able to wear his “Chocolat” outfit overseas. The only bad thing that happened was at one period while he was dancing, one of the support wires came out of his hoop skirt. He tried to fix it while he was sitting, but could not. He ended up pulling it out of the dress, shrugging, and then throwing it back stage.
It was one of the best concerts I have attended and seeing all of them invigorated me into getting back into Japanese rock music because I had forgotten how much I loved it. That was basically my Anime Expo experience for this year and I can only hope that they continue to bring more visual kei bands that I am excited to see.
Kaya’s new single “TABOO” dropped July 31. Visit his official website at: http://kaya-rose.com/
Mooonstream will be appearing at Otakuthon this weekend. Visit Moonstream’s Official Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MoonStreamOfficial