Category Archives: Music and Idols

Hanadoki Con 2016 Solo Dance Performance

KieIdol

Last Saturday I went to a small convention in San Diego called Hanadoki Con.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a look at the local anime community, since I’m new in town.  I tried to arrange a show for Angel Hearts too, but it turned out I was the only member who could make it to the convention!  I decided to go ahead and do a solo performance, which was a first for me.  After 13 years and 53 performances though, I can’t help but think I should’ve done this sooner!  It may not seem like it, but I’m a really shy person (like painfully shy), so having to rally people to come watch and MC for myself was a challenge, but I feel like I leveled up.  I guess I was also always afraid to do solo shows because I thought I would look awkward and lame dancing by myself, but I tried my best to pick songs that were interesting on their own, and I think the audience enjoyed it!  Even though most of the audience wasn’t familiar with idols, they still clapped along and cheered, which made me really happy!

There was a little mishap with the schedule though.  I’m still not entirely sure what happened, but it seems my performance time got switched with another performer’s, and nobody on staff had any idea.  It worked out in the end, but I had to perform later than planned, and unfortunately I had to shorten my set list.  Also, no one knew about my performance time of course, so at first there was no one there in the audience.  It was pretty much a performer’s worst nightmare.  Another idol fan did me a huge favor and ran around the convention announcing my show.  I did a bit of that myself, but as I said, I’m terribly shy, so it took a lot of courage.  Fortunately, once the show started and the music was playing, more people came over to watch.  In the end, the show went well, and it was a huge relief!!  Thank you so much to the people who came to talk to me afterward and show their support.  It meant a lot to me! ♥  I feel really bad that there were people who came at the wrong time and were told I canceled, though.   I enjoyed performing at Hanadoki Con, so I hope the staff are a little more careful in the future, and something like this doesn’t happen again.

I’m really glad I had this opportunity to do a solo show.  It was really exciting getting to choose whatever songs I wanted!  Some of my favorite songs work better in groups, so I didn’t pick those, but narrowing down a set list was still hard!  There were way too many songs I wanted to do!  In the end, I learned eight new songs.  I practiced nonstop for three weeks!  Here are the songs I danced to:

Part one: THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls – Onegai Cinderella, Transing Pulse, Star!!
Part two: Aikatsu! – Idol Activity!, Hello New World, lucky train, Original Star☆彡
Part three: Wake Up, Girls! and Hello! Project – Tachiagare!, Balalaika (Kirarin Revolution), and Ne~e? (Aya Matsuura)

Part four was supposed to be IDOLM@STER 765Pro and end with Thank You!, but sadly I didn’t have time.  I was especially excited to finally be able to perform Ne~e?, as Aya Matsuura is my #1 favorite idol.  I was also impressed that people knew Balalaika!  One girl in the audience was even singing along and doing some of the moves.  It’s definitely a very fun song.  I was very happy that people seemed to enjoy the Aikatsu songs too, even though they were not familiar with them.  Aikatsu needs more love! ♥

As for my outfit, I used this opportunity to make an original idol-inspired outfit that I’ve always wanted to make, but never had a reason to.  The outfit was inspired by obnoxious sparkly and fluffy Hello! Project concert outfits, awesome holographic confetti dot in some of my favorite colors, and some matching turquoise and hot pink petticoats and shoes that I found online.  Sadly, the shoes are in storage right now, but they probably would’ve been hard to dance in, anyway.  Luckily I found some silver holographic sparkle character shoes (made for dancing!), and they arrived literally MINUTES before I left my apartment for the convention!  They went perfectly with my outfit!  The dress design is simple, but I love the bright colors!  Seriously, I feel so happy every time I look at my outfit, haha.  I layered three petticoats, alternating hot pink and turquoise, for maximum poof.  The skirt turned out a little shorter than I had planned, but it was so fun to dance with such a bouncy skirt!  I wore a wig because my own hair would’ve gotten frizzy, but I think the pigtails may have been just a little too big!  They were heavy and a bit hard to dance in.  I had so much fun putting this outfit together.    I couldn’t help but come up with even more ideas!  Getting to do my own show really inspired me, so I hope I get another chance to do one sometime in the future!

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Kcon LA 2015 – Part 2: The Music

Kcon Concert

In my last post, I talked a little about my experiences at Kcon as a convention.  But of course, the number one thing people go to Kcon for are the concerts and music guests.  This year there were ten music acts performing in the concerts, five for each day.  Depending on which concert tickets you purchased, you received scratcher tickets with chances to see the different groups in a panel or even do a “hi-touch” (high-five) with them.  The most expensive concert tickets also included a chance to win “red carpet” tickets, where you could go see all of the groups who were performing that day in their concert outfits.

I was unlucky and didn’t get any hi-touch or red carpet tickets, but I got two Shinhwa audience tickets, which was the group I was most excited to see.  I traded one of my tickets with a friend who got two Block.B hi-touches, so we went to both of those events together.  Neither of us are familiar with Block.B, but it was still cool to see them up close and hi-five all of them.  At the Shinhwa panel we were in the back and couldn’t see much, but we enjoyed their answers to the questions.  They showed their age when they mentioned liking celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Streisand.  Shinhwa is apparently the longest-standing idol group, with 17 years and no member changes.  That is truly incredible!  And you can really tell they are true idols, with perfect idol responses to every question.  I have to say, Korea really gets it right when it comes to fan engagements, and I feel this has played a large part in Kpop’s international success.  Fans are one of the most important things to idols, and Kpop artists really make themselves available to fans all over the world, whether through live shows and concerts, fan engagements, or even Internet shows and social media.

For the concerts my friends and I had P2 Floor tickets, standing by the back side of the stage, which was kind of in the shape of a plus sign.  We got a good view of whoever came to our side, but otherwise it was a little hard to see.  Honestly at my age, and because dancing is my thing, I’d rather have seats that are a little farther back but at eye level with the stage so I can see everything.  We had a good time though.  We stood near the back so we had the freedom to move around if we wanted.  One lucky thing that happened to us during the Sunday concert was that when AOA entered, they passed through the floor section on the back side… meaning right where we were standing!   One of my friends is a huge AOA fan so he was very excited about that.

Kcon Concert2

For me, the highlights of the concert were getting to see Super Junior and Shinhwa.  I loved that Super Junior sang Donghae & Eunhyuk’s “Oppa Oppa”.  The members of Super Junior are so funny and really put on a great show!  Shinhwa of course was also super professional and really owned that stage.  They even made sure go to each side of the stage and do their group intro so everyone could see them.  They opened with “T.O.P”, and wow, that really brought me back.  I wasn’t a Kpop fan back then, but I remember when that song was popular.  When Shinhwa performed “This Love”, which is the song I was most looking forward to, they were facing the back of the stage, so I was really excited about that.  I loved seeing all the Shinhwa fans at the concert.  It was funny to see the slightly older ladies fangirling over them, but it was also refreshing to see that they had plenty of young fans as well.  I brought both of my King Blade light sticks, set to orange for Shinhwa, and when the Shinwha performance started and I was waving my light sticks, an excited fan in an orange tshirt ran up to me and asked to borrow one of my light sticks.  She was so happy, jumping and screaming at Shinhwa.  Haha ♥

Kcon really is an experience like no other, especially for an American fan of Asian music.  I had a great time both years that I attended.  You can be sure I’ll be back next year!  I’ve been into Asian pop music for 15+ years, and an event like this is something I never could have even dreamed of back in the day!  Kpop fans these days are so lucky!  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Kcon continues to grow in the future.

Kcon LA 2015 – Part 1: The Convention

Kcon LA 2015

This past weekend I went to Kcon LA, which was held at the LA Convention Center with concerts in the Staples Center.  It was my second Kcon, and I was curious to see how the atmosphere of the event would change after being moved to a convention center.  Last year felt more like a street fair, but this year certainly felt more like a convention.  It felt weird for me because I’d just been there one month before for Anime Expo.  It was great because I was already familiar with the area and knew exactly where I was going.  The best part was the convenience of being right next to the hotel, so you could go back any time to rest, deposit your swag and purchases, or change into and out of costume.  There were also plenty of restaurants in the area.  I know many of the attendees were glad not to have to be outdoors in the sun like last year.  Great move, Kcon!

As for the convention itself, I have to say Kcon is a very unique experience.  Even though the focus is obviously Kpop and the concerts, there were a lot of things going on throughout the weekend.  This year the event was three days with two concerts.  Since there were no concerts the first day, it was a good day to roam the hall and do your shopping. The hall contained merchandise vendors, sponsor booths, fan club booths, a stage for contests and presentations, and some hangout areas where you could relax or play games (like giant Jenga).  It felt strange to see companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola giving away free samples, but I guess they were some of the big sponsors for the event.  McDonald’s had a DDR machine set up with Kpop song on it.  Toyota was very creative and had a car set up with a TV in the trunk to play dance games and music playing inside the car with a camera so you could shoot lip-synch videos.  People were lined up to play!  Nongshim was giving away free ramen samples (I also won a whole case of spicy ramen in their raffle).  The other very random thing I saw on Friday was a marching band that made their way around the exhibit hall.  I don’t know what they were promoting, but I can say I’ve never seen anything like that at an anime convention.

Like last year, there were a few booths selling Kpop CDs, DVDs, and posters, a few other media related booths, and a bunch of random Korean company booths that no one seemed to care about (I felt bad for them but they were pretty random). This year there were also what I call “anime con booths” — the kind of stuff you usually see at anime conventions, like anime and game figures, plushes, anime tshirts, and accessories.  Even though this section seemed out of place, the whole area was pretty busy and they looked like they were doing good business.  There are, after all, a lot of people who got into Asian music through anime.  I would have like to see more Kpop related merchandise, like tshirts or trinkets, or even just more variety in CDs, DVDs, and posters (it was mostly limited to the most popular groups, new releases, and whichever groups were present at Kcon).  I know Korean fashion and beauty products are also popular, so it would be great to see more of those as well.  The big thing that was missing this year were the food vendors.  With the event being indoors, I’m guessing they didn’t have an area where they could put food booths.  There were a few food trucks outside, but I missed having rows and rows of Korean food stands to choose from.  I was looking forward to some spicy rice cakes and BBQ skewers.  At least there were plenty of food options available in the area, but it just wasn’t the same.  I’m curious to see how things will be next year.

On the stage inside the main hall there were dance performances, a dance contest (which was pretty awesome), a costume contest, a fashion show, and some guest appearances, among other things.  When I walked by the stage on Sunday afternoon I saw a large crowd and thought, I wonder what’s going on?  Then I looked at the stage… IS THAT THE TRY GUYS?? DANCING??  It sure was!  Outside the main hall there were panel rooms with fan-run programming where you could learn and chat about a variety of topics related to Kpop and Korea.  One thing I would love to see at Kcon is a viewing room where you could watch music videos, much like anime viewing rooms at anime conventions.  It would be especially cool for newer fans to learn about different groups, or even familiarize themselves with the groups who would be performing in the concerts.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about the convention’s main attractions: the concerts and the music guests.

Kie’s Favorite IDOLM@STER Songs and Dances – Part 3

In parts one and two, I posted videos of my favorite group song+dance combos from THE IDOLM@STER main series of games.  Here are some of my other favorite IDOLM@STER songs:

First Step

Ok, this one is actually in the game, but not playable. This is Yukiho’s solo song from her ending in IDOLM@STER 2 (skip to 6:00 in the video). Apparently the lyrics were written by her IM@S2 voice actress. This is the only plot-only image song in the game. I’m not sure why they would do that, especially since it’s such a pretty song. It’s very different from Yukiho’s other image songs, but I feel like it suits her much better.

Yakusoku

This song is amazing. If you’ve seen the IDOLM@STER anime, you probably understand. Definitely one of my top favorite IDOLM@STER songs ever, if not my #1 favorite song. Beautiful song, beautiful lyrics. I wish they would add this in the game as a playable song, but I’m afraid they’d give it a very boring dance, like Chihaya’s other songs.

Inferno

Inferno is such a cool song, it has inspired a number of awesome fan-made music videos, like the one above. Who knew Chihaya and Yukiho would make such an awesome team (and again for Little Match Girl)? This is a CD-only song but was used briefly in the anime.

Melted Snow

I prefer the 765Pro version, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. The 765Pro version is Chihaya, Azusa, and Yukiho, and their voices just work beautifully for this song. There are also Azusa and Takane solo versions. These are all CD-only songs.

I also LOVE Sunny and Merry from the Vacation for You! and Christmas for You! albums, but unfortunately I can’t find them on YouTube. They’re very cute, hyper, festive songs.

Alice or Guilty – Jupiter

You know I love boy idol groups too, so I was super excited when these guys were introduced. They’re so Johnny’s! Alice or Guilty is a really cool song. Love it.

Precious Grain – Shizuka Mogami (Million Live!)

Honestly I didn’t pay much attention to the DLC idols up until this point. This is by far my favorite DLC idol song (a lot of the others are noisy or very generic). I love Shizuka’s voice, and I feel like this song is what you would get if you mixed Chihaya and Miki’s image songs together.

Bonus Videos — Songs I love with very boring dances:

Aoi Tori (Special MC from Shiny TV)

I love this special video for Aoi Tori. As a Chihaya fan, Aoi Tori is of course one of my favorite songs, although the dance is pretty boring. The M@STER VERSION of this song is lovely, but I actually prefer the faster pace of the in-game version. I love that they did a special color of this outfit just for this video, but I wish they had used Azusa instead of Makoto.

Tonari ni…

This is a sad song, but it’s so pretty. Azusa’s voice is actually my favorite, and this image song suits her so well.

That’s it for now! The IDOLM@STER series is still going strong though, so I’m sure there will be more favorites popping up in the future!

Kie’s Favorite IDOLM@STER Songs and Dances – Part 2

In part one I posted videos of my favorite song+dance combos from THE IDOLM@STER series of games.  Part two are my favorites from 2nd Vision (THE IDOLM@STER 2 onward).

MEGARE!

I seem to have a thing for hyper songs about being an idol. MEGARE! was my favorite of the new IDOLM@STER 2 launch songs. Having five positions in a song definitely brought new depth to IDOLM@STER’s dance routines.

Little Match Girl

Little Match Girl is another one of my top favorite IDOLM@STER songs and dances of all time. To add to the hype, the preview for this song also showed the first glimpse of the Starry costumes.

Jibun REST@RT

Jibun REST@RT just has the feeling of “epic big group song”… so much so that it doesn’t even have any solos. But it’s my favorite group song from the IDOLM@STER anime. It has that “fly to the stars” kind of feeling. This song also means a lot to me because it’s the song Angel Hearts used when we competed with Starry. The lyrics are very appropriate.

Marionette no Kokoro

Miki always gets great songs, but Marionette no Kokoro is my favorite. I like to sing this one at karaoke too. It’s a powerful song.

We Have A Dream

Again with the hyper songs about being an idol. I’ve been obsessed with this song since it was introduced in LIVE in SLOT! I even tried learning the dance off videos from LIVE in SLOT, but the quality was too poor. I wished for years that this song would be added to the main series, and finally my wish has come true! Not only that, but with amazing sparkly rainbow outfits to match!

DREAM

DREAM is a great song, and I’m really glad they added it to the game. I won’t be sad if The AI and LOST are never added, DREAM was by far the best of the three songs. Now I can finally hear Chihaya sing this song. ♥

99 Nights

99 Nights feels very different from the past IDOLM@STER songs. It’s more mature and has a very cool dance. I love it and hope they continue this trend.

Shizuka na Yoru ni Negai wo

I think Shizuka na Yoru ni Negai wo is probably the prettiest song in all of IDOLM@STER. It reminds me of Melted Snow, which is my favorite CD-only IDOLM@STER song. The outfits are lovely too. This song makes me so happy, I’ll even take it as a replacement for Melted Snow.

Those are my top picks for main series group songs+dances.  In part three I’ll post my favorite CD-only, rival, and DLC idol songs!

Kie’s Favorite IDOLM@STER Songs and Dances – Part 1

I have been a fan of THE IDOLM@STER since 2006 and have been cosplaying Chihaya and performing IDOLM@STER dances since 2007.  When I first found out about THE IDOLM@STER, I was blown away by the quality of music and dance routines used in the game.  It used to be that anime and game music could hardly compare to real J-pop, but these days there are a lot more crossovers and the boundaries are becoming blurred.  In fact, I like IDOLM@STER music better than a lot of J-pop, and for a while it was practically the only thing I listened to.

THE IDOLM@STER is great because of the wide variety of music and styles, and the fact that any character can perform any position in any song.  They also made it easy to learn the dances with the “Long Camera” view. There are now 70+ in-game group songs, with a new song released as DLC every month.  There are also dozens of extra songs for solos, rivals, and DLC idols.  I would have a hard time ranking my top picks, but I definitely have some favorites from throughout the series.  I’ll have to list them in a series of posts because there are so many good songs!

Part one is my favorite songs+dances from 1st Vision (IDOLM@STER arcade through SP):

Positive!

Of the original 10 songs, Positive! was my favorite song+dance. It’s so energetic and upbeat! It was Ami & Mami’s first image song.

THE IDOLM@STER

The original theme song! I’ve always liked the original version of both the song and the dance better than 2nd-mix.  This was the first IDOLM@STER song Angel Hearts performed, in January 2007.  We actually learned the arcade version of the dance, which is slightly different from the Xbox version.

Watashi wa Idol ♥

Watashi wa Idol ♥ was another one of the first IDOLM@STER songs I ever learned… but Angel Hearts never performed it because I wanted to make Cosmic & Funny costumes to go with it!  We hardly ever do one-song performances any more so I’ve dropped the idea of making costumes to go with songs, but somehow we still never got around to performing this song.  It’s totally adorable though.

Do-Dai

Speaking of adorable, it doesn’t get much more adorable than this.  Do-Dai was definitely an instant favorite.  I always thought it would be cute to perform this song in the Marching Band outfits.

Kiramekirari

Another hyper-cute song!  Kiramekirari is still one of my favorite songs to perform.  It’s pretty exhausting, though. Yayoi has the best songs! ♥

Me ga au toki

I was so excited when Chihaya got a cool, dancey song as her second image song. I wish she would get more songs like this. Even so, the dance is a little boring in some parts, especially for the center. It’s a good song though.

Meisou Mind

Meisou Mind is SO cool.  It may be one of my favorite songs as well as dances.  I was I little surprised I would like one of Makoto’s songs so much, because I’m not generally a fan of Makoto. I actually wish I had more chances to perform this one, because I feel like it gets overlooked a lot.

Kosmos, Cosmos

Kosmos, Cosmos was my overall favorite of the second round of image songs.  Actually, I think it was a lot of people’s favorite. I love the futuristic feel of it. I’m not sure why it was given to Yukiho though.

Overmaster

Overmaster is one of my top favorite IDOLM@STER songs EVER.  My friends can tell you, I sing it every time at karaoke.  I fell in love with this song the moment I heard the first little clip of it in IDOLM@STER SP, and you can just imagine how excited I was when it was added as DLC, and then how infinitely more excited I was when it got a 3-person version, and later a 5-person version!  I love these fiery kinds of songs even more than I love hyper, cutesy songs.

L・O・B・M

L・O・B・M is my favorite song to end a show with because of the long intro (from the M@STER VERSION), the heavy beat, and the fact that it can easily accommodate any number of dancers (there is a solo version that’s different from center).  Plus it’s really catchy and upbeat. I never get tired of this song!

Part two will be my favorite songs from THE IDOLM@STER: 2nd Vision!

My Favorite U-KISS Music Videos

U-KISS recently released a new Japanese album “Action”, which reached #1 on the Oricon!  It may be one of my favorite U-KISS songs and Promotional Videos ever.  The song is like an upbeat version of “Someday”, which is also one of my favorite songs.  Both songs are about doing your best and looking forward to a positive future no matter how tough things get — a theme very appropriate to U-KISS, who just recently won their first Korean music show award since their debut seven years ago.   Big congrats to my favorite group!  They’ve come a long way.

The song is so catchy!  I can’t get over the cutesy dance and Easter egg colored suits.  Really, guys aren’t supposed to be this cute.  I’d like to take this moment to point out that besides the youngest, these guys are all in their mid-20s.  Much respect to them for doing a song like this.  It’s so happy~!  I also like that the rappers get to sing in this song.  It’s a shame Avex only post short versions of PVs, because the ending features cheesy English rapping by Eli, super-derpy dancing by Kiseop, and a ridiculously cute ending pose. ♥

Let’s face it… U-KISS has had some not-so-great songs in the past, but they’ve worked hard and really polished their skills and image.  With their fun personalities, they put on a great show, and perhaps because of their struggles they’re always very appreciative of their fans.  For us English-speaking fans, it also helps that two of their members are American, and three are fluent in English. I’ve always been a very visual person, and U-KISS has a lot of great dance routines as well as catchy songs. Here are my favorite U-KISS music videos:

NEVERLAND

NEVERLAND is my #1 favorite U-KISS song AND video.  Perhaps because I grew up as a gamer, I’ve always liked music with techno and other electronica influences.  I love the dance routine, and I think everyone looks good in this video.  That’s a lot of eyeliner (not complaining). Also I have a thing for water stages.  I want to dance in one someday~

Inside of Me

Inside of Me is such a romantic song, and I think the style perfectly complements Shining Idol Kevin’s sweet image.  Maybe I’m biased, but to me this is totally a Kevin song.  I would have liked the video better if they’d shown the dance routine (yes, there is one!), but the visuals work well with the song and it’s still one of my favorites.  The song itself is definitely in my top five for U-KISS. P.S. Don’t let Eli wear trench coats.

Tick Tack

Tick Tack (Tick Tock… think Japanese pronunciation) was U-KISS’s first Japanese single, thus the first U-KISS video I ever saw.  I became an instant fan.  The music style and the cool dance and visuals are right up my alley.  Also features a lot of eyeliner (it came out right after NEVERLAND).  I liked this and U-KISS’s other Japanese songs so much, it inspired me to look up their Korean songs, which was my first step into the world of K-pop.  I’d been a huge fan of TVXQ, but I still only listened to them in Japanese.  This song bugs me a little because I don’t believe there is ever a good reason to lie.  The song is about lying to a lover because they can’t be together and he’s trying to make the breakup easier for her.  I understand the sentiment, but I can’t think of any situation in real life where this would be applicable.  Still, the song is very catchy and has an addictive beat.

ALONE (Dance Shot)

The refrain of ALONE has the kind of Avex J-Euro sound that I love.  This is my favorite U-KISS dance, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the styling in the video.  Thank goodness for Dance Versions!  “Is it Ace of Spades or the only Joker?”

Standing Still

Like ALONE, Standing Still is a dark song with a good beat and awesome dance choreography… but I’m not a fan of the styling (it’s similar to ALONE, and was released soon after).  Unfortunately, there’s no Dance Version for this one.  There’s a fair amount of English lyrics.  A few people have told me this is their favorite U-KISS song.

Fall in Love

When I first watched Fall in Love, I didn’t think much of it.  “That was a nice song.  The video was well done.”  But it didn’t blow me away — it’s not that kind of song.  As I listened to it more and more though, it grew on me and I started thinking WOW, this is actually a really good song.  U-KISS’s rapper AJ wrote this song (I’m impressed because it’s in Japanese!), and he really did a great job showcasing each of the member’s strong points.  This is the kind of song that pulls at your heartstrings.  Don’t be fooled — this song is actually pining over lost love, as illustrated with the bursting bubbles.

I could go on forever about U-KISS music videos, but those are my favorites!

EZ DO DANCE

Have you seen the anime Pretty Rhythm?  I haven’t watched very much of it, but it seems to me like Aikatsu on Ice.  It’s cute, but ice skating idols is a bit of a stretch for me.  Maybe I should watch some more though, because Avex created some idol groups for this show, and they cover some well known Avex songs.  I just heard this one — EZ DO DANCE by Prizmmy☆.

The girls are super cute!  But hearing this song sung by such young girls is just… weird.  The original song was by TRF, released in 1993.  It was very different from the kind of music that was popular in Japan at the time but became a big hit.

Speaking of TRF, they released a series of dance workout DVDs called EZ DO DANCERCIZE a few years back, and apparently it was really popular in Japan.  I was really tempted to pick up a copy myself.  Dancing to your favorite songs is certainly a great way to work out!

Idol Dances and ParaPara – Plus Tips for Learning

As you may have noticed in my activities with Angel Hearts, I love to dance.  I am not professionally trained, but I love learning and performing idol dances and ParaPara. When I was little I really wanted to be a dancer, but I was never allowed to take lessons.  When I started cosplaying, I fell in love with the character Kitty-N, a pink and white dancing catgirl idol from Bust A Move (Bust A Groove in the US).  I loved her so much that when I cosplayed her, I was inspired to try learning all of her dance moves as well.  Some of it was too difficult for someone with no dance experience, but I managed to learn a few of her combos and performed them on stage during cosplay Masquerades.  Little did I know, that was only the beginning!

In 2000 I started listening to J-pop, and then a friend introduced me to ParaPara, a synchronized club dance which was having a comeback in Japan.  I started learning every dance I could, both J-pop and ParaPara, and it became a sort of daily workout for me.  In fact, even though ParaPara has long gone out of style, I still use my ParaPara Paradise DVDs as my default daily workout (although if there’s a performance coming up, I will practice whatever songs are in the show).  Remember those 80’s aerobics videos? Ok, maybe I just dated myself, but ParaPara Paradise is kind of like a Japanese version of aerobics videos to me.  There are seven volumes, each a little under an hour, so it’s a fun way to stay in shape.

My friends used to joke that I was a dancing machine and that my natural state of being was dancing.  I’ve gotten pretty quick at learning dances, so I’d like to share some tips for those who are interested in learning idol and ParaPara dances and are just starting out.

*Tips for Learning Dances*

  1. Find good reference videos.  Ok, this may be kind of obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.  Some J-pop groups release Dance Shot Versions of their music videos.  A lot of K-pop groups take this a step further and release dance studio practice videos.  THE IDOLM@STER game has a built-in “Long Camera” that lets you zoom out to view full dances.  Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice but to gather as many videos as you can of a routine and piece it together.  Don’t forget also that sometimes a close-up version can be helpful for seeing hand gestures and other small movements, like winks!  ParaPara videos are already set up as instructional videos, so you’re good to go.  If you’re using a video off YouTube, you can use a site like Keep It! to save the videos to your hard drive.
  2. Reverse your video.  For this, I like to use VLC Media Player.  It is hands down the best player to help you learn dances.  You can mirror a video by going to Tools > Effects and Filters (ctrl+E).  Click on the Video Effects tab, then the Geometry tab, and then check the box that says “Transform”.  In the drop-down box, choose “Flip horizontally”.  The new version of VLC even remembers this setting so you don’t have to keep resetting it every time you open VLC (because of this, I use VLC for practicing dances and Media Player Classic for watching everything else, so I don’t have to keep changing the settings).  Now the video is flipped so you can just copy the moves without having to think too hard which direction you need to move!  The only thing that can get confusing for me is circles, since I tend to think of them as “clockwise” or “counterclockwise”, and it will be backwards if you reverse the video.  Sometimes I will un-mirror the video just to check that I’m moving in the right direction.
    Of course, if you want to use a video editor to permanently mirror your video, that is a good option too.  You can then share the video without having to worry whether or not everyone has VLC.
  3. Slow it down.  Slowing your video down makes it a lot easier to see complicated moves and follow along when you’re just learning.  VLC will allow you to change the playback speed to whatever you wish.  They’ve changed the interface a few times, but in the latest version for Windows, you can control the speed easily if you make sure you have the Status Bar showing (under View).  In the bottom right of the player there is a box that says “1.00x”.  Click on that and a little window will pop up where you can change the speed.  The arrows will change the speed in set increments, or you can move the slider wherever you want.  Hit “1x” to go back to normal speed.  Typically when I am first learning a song, I will slow it to 67% (one arrow click).  If I’m really having trouble with a section, I will slow it to 50%.  When I’m feeling confident that I can follow along at 67%, I will go back to normal speed.  If the song is really fast, sometimes I need to practice for a while at 80% or 85% before I can turn it back up to full speed.
  4. Break it into sections.  Don’t try to cram everything in at once.  It’s a lot easier if you break the song down into sections and learn one at a time before moving on.  Start on the opening, then move on to the verse, or however it makes sense for you to break up your song.  Dance moves typically repeat for verses and refrains, so if you learned it well the first time around, adding the second part is easy.  After I learn a new section, I start from the beginning of the song and make sure I can do the entire song up to that point before moving to the next section.
  5. Start on the right and be aware of your spacing.  Again, I am not a trained dancer, so I’m not an authority on this, but there are a few things I picked up while learning dances.  First of all, with few exceptions, dances always start on the right side.  You start by stepping with your right foot.  You move your right arm first.  Exceptions to this may be when you’re mirroring someone in a group choreography, your arm moves opposite your foot (most likely your foot will be moving right and your arm left), or if moving left in one section leads into the next section starting on the right side.  This will help you remember your moves in the right order.  Also, you may have seen a group performance where someone is stepping opposite the others.  If you remember to step right at the beginning of each section, you can avoid this problem.  Another thing I’ve noticed with solo dances is that they tend to start and end in the same spot.  If you find that you’ve drifted to the side, or even forward or back from where you started, you may want to check your stepping to find out where you made a mistake.  Sometimes you can get off if you take too big or too small a step, or if you move to one side and forget the other side.  Just remember to keep yourself centered.  When you’re in a group, keep an eye on the others around you to make sure you maintain proper formations.
  6. Practice in front of a mirror.  You may feel like you’re getting a move right, but then when you see yourself in the mirror you realize you’ve got it wrong!  Use the mirror to work out the details in your poses and spacing.  You may find that you’re not reaching far enough, or not bending far enough, that you’re bending the wrong leg, or that your balance is off.  Keep working at it until you look just like the dancers in your reference video!  Remember how a move feels when you finally get it to look right.  If you don’t have a mirror to practice in front of, you can also take videos of yourself or ask someone else to watch you.  These are good ideas anyway, as you may notice a mistake you didn’t see in the mirror when you were busy focusing on your dance, or another person may be able to catch details you missed.  When you have all the details worked out, make sure you don’t become too dependent on your mirror (or reference video!) and that you can still get the moves right without it.  After all, you won’t have anything to look at when you’re on stage!
  7. Remember your posture.  Good posture makes any pose look better!  I myself have a terrible slouch and have to focus on keeping my back straight and my chin up.  Posture exercises and general strength exercises will help your poses look better.  Putting power into your moves will make them look cleaner too.
  8. Listen to the music. Dancing isn’t the same without music, the two go hand in hand.  Remember to listen to your music and get a good feel for the song.  It will help you remember the moves if you can associate moves with sounds and imagine the two together.  It also helps to look at the lyrics (and translations of lyrics if they’re in a language you don’t understand) because a lot of times dance moves are designed to act out the lyrics.  Most of the members of Angel Hearts are not trained dancers, but those who are trained musicians have an easier time dancing because they can count music and find downbeats. However, for those with no music or dance background whatsoever, I find that lyrics are what help them the most in learning and remembering moves.
  9. Dance like you mean it. Dancing is more than just learning a set of moves to a beat.  Be confident and put feeling into your moves!  The most important thing when you’re on stage is to smile and look like you’re enjoying yourself.  If you’re having fun, the audience will have fun too!  Of course, it may not be the best idea to plaster a huge smile on your face if you’re dancing to a sad or angry song.  Keep in mind the mood of your song and focus on getting that mood across, but don’t forget to keep your energy up and dance with confidence!
  10. REPETITION. There is no substitution for practice.  Practice, practice, practice.  Repetition is key.  If you have a performance coming up, make sure you start practicing early enough and keep at it until it feels like second nature.  If you practice enough, you will build muscle memory and you may find yourself going through the routine without having to think much about the next move.  When you know a song well, you will naturally become more confident, and that confidence shows in your dancing.  It also allows you to focus on the finer details and showing emotion if you’re not having to think about what comes next.

I hope those tips were helpful to some of you!  Good luck and let’s have fun dancing!!

Idol Anime

It’s a great time to be an anime idol fan.  The idol anime genre is really exploding, more than I ever could have dreamed of even just five years ago.  Who are your favorite anime idols?  Some of my friends have been using this site to help them sort their favorites: http://kouhi.me/idol/

Here are my top 5:TopIdols

1) Chihaya Kisaragi (THE IDOLM@STER) – Chihaya will forever be my anime idol queen.  Her voice is incredible and she has many beautiful and powerful image songs.  But did you know she is also one of the best dancers?  Her skill level is so high, even her weakness (visual) is stronger than some of the other idols’ strong points.  Unfortunately she is so focused on singing, we rarely get to see her dance.  She is calm, serious, and extremely hard-working, but if you can get her to open up you can see a little of her cute side.

2) Yoshino Nanase (Wake Up, Girls!) – Apparently I go for the “cool” types.  I think personality-wise I can identify with Yoppi a little more than the other “cool” idols.  She’s a little cuter and less…. severe.  She’s mature, determined, and takes her job seriously, but she’s also not afraid to share her doubts and feelings.  She just wants to be the best she can be, as an idol and a leader. She has a nice voice too~

3) Rin Shibuya (THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls) – Another blue idol, thankfully this time with brown hair.  I knew I would like her from the moment I saw her, so I’m really excited that Cinderella Girls is getting its own anime.  She looks serious and unfriendly but is actually a very nice girl.  I look forward to seeing how she grows as an idol.

4) Ichigo Hoshimiya (Aikatsu!) – Ichigo is everything in an idol that I wished I could be until I realized I was more of a “cool” type.  Aikatsu may be a crazy over-the-top magical girl series but I think if you put all the magic and goofy outfits aside, Aikatsu really captures the heart of what idols are, and Ichigo is “The Idol”.  She’s pink, cute, energetic, passionate, pure-hearted, and just seems to sparkle.  The whole idol-aura thing may seem silly, but I have seen it in real life — a idol with a presence so strong that they just seem to shine and you forget everything else.

5) Miyu Okamoto (Wake Up, Girls!) – I was immediately drawn to Miyu’s design — tall and curvy with brown pigtails and cute outfits, finally a cute-type that isn’t a little girl!  But when I heard her voice, I thought oooooh no… she’s a little too ditzy for me.  She’s still really cute though.  Appearance-wise, she’s exactly what I like, and though she may be air-headed, she’s caring and passionate, and in a way she can be intuitive as well.  She seems to really understand what it means to be an idol.  She also works at a maid cafe, which I can identify with.

It’s worth noting that I put Takane Shijou in sixth place.  I really love Takane and had a hard time deciding between her and Miyu, but in the end Miyu won because she’s more natural.  I could do without Takane’s silver hair and strange personality, but I love her voice and her style.  Takane was another character that I latched onto as soon as I saw her.

As for series as a whole, THE IDOLM@STER is still my favorite.  It was really the pioneer of the idol genre.  There are so many good songs, dances, outfits, and characters, there’s really something for everyone.  Wake Up, Girls! is a close second for me.  WUG is a more realistic take on idols, and I love that it shows some of the hardships that idols face and explore what it really means to be an idol.  I also love that it takes a jab at AKB48 — if you want to know why I don’t like AKB and its sister groups, just watch WUG.

No matter your preferences, idol anime has really come a long way.  The first idol anime I watched was Lovedol ~Lovely Idol~ in 2006.  It was terrible.  The songs were awful and the animation quality was poor, so the “dancing” consisted of maybe a two-step and maybe raising their arms at the end of a song.  The girls also looked like anime characters rather than idols.  After this disaster of a series, Idolmaster: Xenoglossia was released, in which they took the characters from the IDOLM@STER series and rewrote them into a mecha series.  I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t even watch it (but I do kind of want that Chihaya figure, she looks cool…).  It was a while before THE IDOLM@STER got a real anime series, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more.  It had all the voice actors and songs from the game that the fans already knew and loved.  The anime also introduced a bunch of great new songs.  It brought a lot of new fans to the series and really raised the bar on the idol genre.  There used to be an obvious difference between anime music and Jpop, but these days it’s sometimes hard to tell.  Also, 3D technology has greatly improved and has made it possible to animate complex dance routines that would otherwise be difficult and costly to draw.  Now there are many idol series such as Love Live!, Aikatsu!, Wake Up, Girls!, and even AKB0048.

As a huge idol fan, I’m really happy that the idol genre is doing so well these days.  But before idol anime, there were still anime idols.  When I think back, who were some of my favorite anime characters who were idols?  Lynn Minmay from Macross, Key from Key the Metal Idol (even if she never really became an idol), and even Rei Hino briefly during Sailor Moon R.  Idols always had a special place in my heart, no matter where they came from, but I’m really glad that I have so many people to share my fandom with now!  I’m looking forward to seeing how the genre will continue to grow and what new series there may be.  Maybe someday Morning Musume will even get an anime.  One can dream, right?