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Tokyo Idol Festival 2014

26 Aug

Tokyo Idol Festival 2014
August 2 – August 3, 2014
tif-2014-banner-v6 v3

Tokyo Idol Festival is a magical place where idol dreams are born…

idolbannerX4frolic happily for two days…

tif2013asX6… and then suddenly die.

Having gone to three TIFs, I’ve developed a weird love/hate relationship with the event. I love the festival atmosphere, the freedom to either camp out at stages to see your favorite group or wander around aimlessly in order to experiment with new groups, and the relative peacefulness of those in attendance. I hate the incompetent organizers who have proven themselves year after year of being incapable of correcting their past mistakes. The TIF format should have been perfected years ago, yet every year for every improvement there are one or two, or ten new flaws.

When I get a chance I’ll write a few things about this years event: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. In the meantime here is a list of the groups I saw:

Day 1
S/mileage
(Smile Garden)

READY TO KISS (Navi Stage)
The Hoopers (Enjoy Stadium)
Nice Girl Trainees (Enjoy Stadium)
VS Girls (Enjoy Stadium)
Barbee (Enjoy Stadium)
Houkago Princess (Enjoy Stadium)
TOKYO GIRLS’ STYLE (Hot Stage)
The Possible (Enjoy Stadium)
WHY@DOLL (Enjoy Stadium)
La Pom Pon (Enjoy Stadium) Best.Group.Ever. (kidding)
Narumi Takiguchi with Control-S (Enjoy Stadium)
AniYume Project (Doll Factory) Worst. Group. Ever. (not kidding) I still have nightmares.
Houkago Princess (Doll Factory)
Caramel Ribbon (Doll Factory)
Dancing Dolls (Doll Factory)
SIR (Doll Factory)
Sunmyu (Smile Garden)
Doll Elements  (Smile Garden) My new favorite group.
Street-sei (e-Street & w-Street senbatsu)  (Smile Garden)
AYUMIKURIKAMAKI (Hot Stage)
G-Girls (Hot Stage)
predia (Hot Stage)
Yufu Terashima (Doll Factory)
Faint Star (Doll Factory)
Links (Doll Factory)
Mai Kotone (Doll Factory)
Vanilla Beans (Doll Factory)
predia (Doll Factory)

Day 2
AYUMIKURIKAMAKI (Hot Stage)
Shizukaze & Kizuna (Hot Stage)
Doll Elements (Hot Stage)
GEM
(Hot Stage)
HimeCarat
(Enjoy Stadium)
Idol College
(Enjoy Stadium)
READY TO KISS
(Enjoy Stadium)
Sakura Gakuin
(Hot Stage)
MOSO CALIBRATION
(Festival Stage)
Alice in Alice
(Festival Stage)
SO.ON Project 
(Festival Stage)
Lil Chill 
(Festival Stage) Correction, this is the worst group ever!

S Spicy (Festival Stage)
AYUMIKURIKAMAKI
 (Festival Stage)
ry-moon 
(Festival Stage)
Caramel Ribbon 
(Festival Stage)
Sunmyu 
(Festival Stage)
GEM 
(Festival Stage)
predia
(Festival Stage)
PASSPO
(Smile Garden)
tifd1

Update 8.30
TIF 2014
The Good
My editor keeps waking me up in the middle of the night to remind me to finish this recap. I’m like, “Grandpa, don’t worry! I have a trillion ideas!” and then I fall back asleep for another 10 hours.

So, the “good” aspects of TIF? Hmm, this should be a short section. I actually feel really bad for being so negative considering this years TIF could be a lot of people’s first experience. And for those who may have gone to TIF 2011 or 2012 (aka the golden years), but skipped last year, they would probably think, “What the f-junk happened to TIF?!” I’m literally searching my memory banks trying to recall what was good about TIF *My brain is like: .

I guess the best part of TIF is there actually was a TIF this year. After every TIF there is speculation whether there will be another. Therefore, it’s exciting when the next iteration of the festival is announced. The bi-weekly lineup updates and the eventual planning of the “perfect” timetable can also be very fun (although also massive time wasters). Those are extraneous to the actual event though, and not everyone has the personality type that would find the planning aspect to be particularly fun. Still, a mediocre TIF is better than no TIF.

And seeing GEM and predia never gets old.
tsg tifI’m also arrogantly declaring Sara the most badass idol ever (… she’s the girl in the center pointing.)
For once I’m actually being serious. She has an extremely cool aura that no other idol has… as long as she isn’t talking. Once she starts rambling her coolness drops like a billion percent. But everyone knows I’m still a huge Sarararararaaanaaan fan.
TIF main stageFor my hard work at getting to TIF an hour before day 2 began I got a 3rd row seat at the Hot Stage in order to see GEM! (“Hard work”? “3rd row?!” You were supposed to get there 90 minutes early for front row!!) 

The Bad
1. No SUPER☆GiRLS! No Morning Musume ’18! No SweetS! No SDN48 revival! No Hinoi Team or DREAM! This lineup sucks.
Evaluating the lineup is obviously extremely subjective. But I’m going to do it anyway MUHAHAHA!

The idol scene is insular and dominated by fanboys and fangirls. Considering there are 200+ J-pop groups and most fans probably like less than ten groups (with some not even necessarily being “idol” groups like Perfume or Fairies), pleasing everyone is an impossibility. However, I do think there are certain decisions (that are separate from the actual groups attending), which can be objectively critiqued, with the most significant being the number of groups attending. Not counting TIF 2010 (which was completely different than the current TIF format), the event has gone from 57 groups in 2011 to 138 this year. Although the number of groups has more than doubled, they haven’t made reciprocal changes to the length of the event, the size of the stages, or the number of stages. On paper it sounds better to have as many groups as possible, but in reality, it’s more complicated, since any increase in the number of groups has a corresponding decrease in the length of their performance and the number of stages they can perform. Most of the performances are ~15 minutes, which is enough for maybe three songs. That goes by really fast, and even if that group has two or three stages, they tend to repeat the same songs at every stage. Considering how many questionable and downright horrible groups were included this year, it makes it even more annoying that the reason for these super-short stages is because the organizers prioritized 138 groups attending, over a more reasonable number. I bet if the number of groups was cut in half, the quality of the event would improve significantly, because it wouldn’t be constantly diluted with mediocre groups killing the buzz created by the talented groups.  

2. Attendance has quadrupled since 2011 *pulls out a calculator* So logically there should be more than 20 stages. TIF stop being lazy!

Year Attendance Number of Stages
2011 10,000 6
2012 21,500 8-9 (8 on Day 1, 9 on Day 2)
2013 33,000 6
2014 41,000 7
Imagine you live in an awesome cave, just big enough for you and a box filled with your idol treasures (GEM cds, La Pom Pon posters, Mano Erina body pillows, etc). A year later you decide to expand and excavate an extra room (it could be like your studio or home office). Unfortunately, after you spend months digging the extra room, before you even have a chance to set up your new home office, a crazy hobo moves in. Unfortunately the hobo is pretty strong and resists all of your feeble attempts at persuading him to leave. And all of your attempts at killing him in his sleep also fail. Ultimately, it’s not a big deal because there’s enough room for both of you in the cave. But then a year later a third person moves in! And because of a rainstorm, half of the second room got destroyed. So now three complete strangers are sharing a cave with just 1.5 rooms. A year later the original second room is accidentally demolished and a newer, inferior room is excavated in its place. Compared to the original extra room it’s smaller, uglier, and it’s also haunted. Every now and then you reminisce about how cool it was when it was just you in the cave with your box of idol treasures. And then after you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, a fourth person moves in. This person is even crazier and more annoying than the previous two. So now four people are living in a cave that was originally just big enough for one person. After four years you start to wonder… do I really want to live here for a fifth year?
I think you’ll agree that was a perfect analogy with what is going on with TIF.
navi stageThis is how the stages should look. Notice there aren’t a million people climbing all over each other – half of whom don’t even have TIF tickets! I wish I had a before and after photo of this stage. At one point it was so packed that you couldn’t even get to the stage. It was so packed you couldn’t even walk down the stairs to get to the stage. It was so packed you couldn’t even walk across the bridge to get to the stairs to get to the stage. This stage killed half of my day 1 schedule. That was my last chance to see Ai Shinozaki! *cries*


3. iDOL Street weirdness

If you aren’t an iDOL Street fan you can skip this section. Last year was an i-Street paradise: SUPER☆GiRLS performed twice, and Cheeky Parade, GEM, and Street-sei performed multiple times both days. The Sky Stage performance by Street-sei was easily one of my highlights of TIF 2013. This year SUPER☆GiRLS iDOL and Cheeky Parade didn’t attend, and GEM was only at day 2. Their producer blogged about how he wanted the groups to appear at more varied and diverse events, so pulling out of TIF was a deliberate decision. It’s somewhat understandable, but that logic would have made a lot more sense last year when SUPER☆GiRLS were still hot. This year has been rough for the group, and I think they could have generated some momentum at TIF, while also showcasing the new members to a broader audience. The most annoying decision though was setting up a Street-sei “senbatsu.” I’m putting it in quotes because there isn’t a “senbatsu” in Street-sei. Street-sei is Rihona, Haachin, and ten or so borderlines like Saku and Ruka. Street-sei doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to perform, so denying them the chance to perform at TIF was horribly unfair to them and the fans. The actual “senbatsu” lineup is beyond absurd, and even the most hardcore Street-sei fan should be able to admit the lineup is lacking in every single idol category from talent, personality, looks, and chemistry. I’m convinced the main reason the group exists is to (1) hype Sutorigu 3 (particularly if you are a fan of a member not selected), and (2) more importantly, cut costs, because getting all six teams to events like TIF and @JAM EXPO costs a lot more than just sending a random group of 11. The “senbatsu” roster is simply not viable as a 4th iDOL Street group and it’s insulting they think fans would consider them legitimate candidates for the 4th group.

4. The timetable I spent hundreds of hours perfecting looks nothing like the timetable I actually experienced!!
And I blame global warming. And the TIF organizers. Odaiba is always hot in the summer. Even blind brain surgeons know that. And when it’s not hot, it’s probably because there’s a tsunami causing even worse problems. Yet the organizers made five out of the seven stages outdoors. And not only were they outdoors, the stages weren’t even that close to each other, making it a hassle to get from one stage to another. On day 1 I basically just hung out in the two stages with air conditioning, regardless of who was performing. Why else would I have seen Nice Girls Trainees? VS Girls? AniYume Project? La Pom Pon?? Oh wait, I like them.

Maybe they can plan the next TIF to coincide with a 48 hour solar eclipse.
stupidsunfamilyv3

The ridiculous
Odaiba is a unique area that has two mid-size concert venues within a five-minute walk of each other. In 2012 Zepp Diver City was used as the main stage (capacity 2400) and in 2013 Zepp Tokyo was used (capacity 2700). Using either works well for the main stage, but utilizing both would solve practically every negative issue regarding TIF. This year they used neither venue, instead they used the ODAIBA NEW WORLD stage, which is a an outdoor stage that is used for the Mezamashi Live concert series. The venue is outdoors, although the stage and primary seating area are covered. The stage works relatively well for Mezamashi Live because it’s a 45-60 minute concert and they cap the ticket sales. The stage worked horribly for TIF though. It was way too crowded, way to difficult to navigate (there was a labyrinth of barriers set up making it difficult to get into the seating area and because it was so crowded if you took the wrong route you were screwed), there were benches limiting the number of people, there were too many areas accessible by non-ticket holders, and it was too small. Most importantly, it was way too hot to use an outdoor stage as the main stage. So why did they use the NEW WORLD stage? I bet it saved them money. Instead of spending money booking Zepp for two days, they could just put Mezamashi Live on a 2-day hiatus, and use a stage they own, regardless of the fact that it is completely unsuitable for the TIF format of rotating groups and fans rushing from one stage to another. The stage was also more remote than either Zepp venue. Using the stage was ridiculous, and I can’t even imagine what would have happened had it rained that weekend.

While TIF organizers can’t control the weather, they can at least partially control the fan’s exposure to the heat. Outdoor stages and a complete lack of any shade reflect how out of touch and oblivious they are to the fan experience. Fans were basically treated like animals. Especially at the Greeting Square. Do they really think it’s acceptable for fans to wait in the blazing sun for an hour for a 1-minute handshake event? Personally if I am going to talk to my favorite groups, I’d rather not be sunburned and dripping in sweat. And I’d rather the idols not be dripping in sweat either. Actually, nevermind that sounds hot!

I ranted about this before elsewhere, so I don’t want to devote anymore time to this, but they made the foreign fans who purchased their TIF tickets direct, to wait an extra two hours before they could exchange their wristband. The delay was because evidently they felt they needed to cross-check the names of the foreign fans attending TIF with the Japan Self-defense Force, INTERPOL, Scotland Yard, KGB, and FBI. It was ridiculous and they didn’t even apologize for the delay, which was the result of these two senior citizen TIF staff members taking forever to arrive. Once they arrived they took out giant ledger books with all the names of the foreign fans, and only after checking a person’s name off the master list and inspecting their passport, were they given a wristband. What is this, 1876?

Tokyo Idol Festival 2015
I have no idea if there will be a TIF next year, or whether I would even go. My brain is like, “Every year TIF get’s 18.7% worse. Just go to @JAM EXPO 2015,” but my heart is like, “Remember how awesome La Pom Pon was?” And then my brain is like “Touche. But you can just catch La Pom Pon at @JAM EXPO” and my heart is like, “You think they would allow LPP within 2,000 meters of @JAM EXPO??”

In conclusion, I’ll go on one condition: the sun isn’t allowed to attend.
nerd sun v3

(For the record I have no idea whether there will be an @JAM EXPO next year, and based on the footage I’ve seen, the stages were way jankier than I thought they would be. But they were all indoors, therefore @JE wins by default.)

Update 9.1
Somehow this recap didn’t really recap anything (I didn’t even make fun of the horrible groups like LIL CHILL – how nice of me).

I should at least mention that after three years of being one of my favorite idols ever I finally saw Sakino Chiba (previously a member of Houkago Princess, now the center of READY TO KISS). I also never went to Sky Stage, which is kind of like going to Disneyland and not going on Space Mountain. I sacrificed 3 hours of TIF (and my life) in order to get front row for GEM and predia at Festival Stage (the stage near the Gundam statue). They used this stage at TIF 2012, but they made it much worse this year by pushing the stage further back into the actual staircase. It’s a little hard to explain, but previously the stage was set up at the base of the stairs, allowing people to relax on the stairs behind the group as they performed (google Shizukaze & Kizuna TIF for interesting video of the stage). This year the stairs were actually used as the stage, placing the groups 3 or 4 meters further back and preventing fans from sitting there. Just another fan-unfriendly decision at this year’s TIF. Since I was in the front row, I could see off stage where the groups scheduled next were waiting. While Sunmyu was performing, I was watching the GEM members (GEMbers) prepping off stage (they were scheduled next). Kakochin, Maho, and Chanman were acting like huge dorks the entire time, it was awesome. I saw Doll Elements twice and they are now my new favorite group. I’m not kidding, they are awesome and dare I say “magical.” One of the last memories of TIF was after PASSPO’s last performance at Smile Garden. The way the stage is set up, after group’s perform, they walk down a path to one of the Fuji TV buildings. When Makochan walked past me, she looked straight at me from less than a meter away. It felt like she looked straight into my soul.

And I think she put a curse on me.

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I may have been a *little* hasty with declaring La Pom Pon the best pop group of all time!

7 Aug

I went to La Pom Pon’s mini-live yesterday… and I must have been temporarily insane to so daringly declare them the best pop group of all time.
lpp 8.7 aThe event was at TRESSA Yokohama which was a 70 minute train ride out of Tokyo, followed by a 20 minute walk in the blazing sun. When I arrived they were rehearsing their set.
lpp 8.7 2After 15 minutes they returned and opened with their 5 minute dance routine, a brief MC where they talked about performing at TIF, a cover of I have no idea what (wow, this is so informative), and finished up with what I presume will be their debut single since it’s their “best” song and just like at TIF, they taught the audience how to do the choreography.
lpp 8.7 5After seeing them a second time, they are much more similar to tsuribit, and nothing at all like GEM or Fairies. Performing at a mall in front of housewives and little kids during the middle of the day has this effect of making pop groups seem a million times less cool than they would appear on a real stage. With that being said, I still really like their leader Yukino, and will casually keep an eye on this group. Their staff filmed the event so maybe it’ll be uploaded to youtube.

My New Favorite Group of All Time! (for at least this week)

5 Aug

Every now and then something happens in the world that is so revolutionary you can’t help but remember every single detail of that exact moment. Like when Reira was attacked by a vampire zombie from outer space, when GEM debuted and conquered the world, and when Saori graduated in order to focus on erotic musicals. And now…
LPP banner editLa Pom Pon, aka My New Favorite Group of All Time!
Maybe I’m insane, but the moment I saw this group perform at Tokyo Idol Festival 2014 I knew they were the type of talented “dance + vocal” units that I would immediately become a crazed fanboy of. They reminded me a lot of GEM mixed with a little bit of Fairies.

I happened to be at Enjoy Stadium just hanging out and patiently waiting for Narumi Takiguchi to perform. Little did I realize I would soon be watching my new favorite group of all time! I was lucky and had front row VIP access… which is my way of saying there was hardly anyone there at the time so I had front row by default. Once the group WHY@DOLL had just finished and their few fans left, there were even less people. It was a little awkward being one of like twenty people at this stage, but Enjoy Stadium was air-conditioned and there was no way I was going back outside to endure the “end of the world” global warming consuming Tokyo. The stage lights went out and the PA guy announced the next performance. One by one members of a mysterious group came on stage and performed solo dances (similar to Cheeky Parade’s dance intro). Once all the girls were on stage they continued their dance routine for what seemed like another 5 minutes. Ever since I randomly discovered PASSPO years ago, I always try to give a group a fair chance, because even though quality groups are few and far between, finding the good groups make it worthwhile. Eventually I found myself completely fixated on the girl who was color-coded green. After their dance routine they announced their group name was La Pom Pon, which similar to GEM, is a hilarious acronym standing for “Power of Music, Pride of New generation” and then they did a quick self-intro. (Note: from here on out I’ll be referring to them as LPP). 

The girl who appealed to me the most was named Yukino and evidently she’s the leader (aka the oldest member). She’s also the coolest… and prettiest, most talented, and cutest. And she *may* be a halfie, which makes her even cooler. If I was GEM’s producer I would immediately head-hunt her and make her co-center with Rana, but since that isn’t going to happen, they’ll just have to be my new favorite group ever! Following them will be difficult though, considering they haven’t released a single or posted any videos on YouTube. But they do have a pretty nice website and just launched their twitter account a few days ago. After their 5-minute dance routine they performed an original song… and then they were done. Their set was only 10 minutes long, but I was hooked and determined to see them at any stage they were going to perform at, even if it meant completely changing my TIF schedule. The only exception was I wouldn’t bump GEM. So the odds were really good that I would see them again. I mean there are 138 groups at TIF, and only one group was untouchable. I pulled out my iPhone and checked my schedule. They were done performing for Day 1, but they had a 15 minute set on Day 2. It was on like Donkey something! Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, God must hate me because once again he interfered with the TIF schedule and LPP was scheduled at the same exact time as GEM’s Hot Stage performance. OMG (Oh my GEM) why? The next day after GEM’s Hot Stage performance I booked it to Festival Stage just in case their performance was delayed or happened to run long. Unfortunately the stage was empty once I arrived and a few minutes later Lyrical School took the stage. I like Lyrical School so I hung around for their first song and then noticed a guy in the vicinity holding a LPP banner (must have been one of their staff). This could only mean one thing… the group was nearby! 
photo 3Turns out they were hanging out in the shade of the Diver City building. Even though at this point I felt like a total stalker, I just stared at them (as casually as I could). What else was there to do at TIF? Go to an actual performance?? Anyway, ten minutes later they finally headed out toward the market place where they evidently did a meet and greet – which is interesting considering I don’t think they have any goods for sale.
photo 1 (1)Their twitter account uploaded a photo of them after their performance at Festival Stage. Super long kaaaaawwaaaiiiii.

LPP TIFTomorrow they will be performing two mini-lives at a shopping mall called Tressa, located in Yokohama. So I’ll update this with a new recap on Friday. This actually reminds me of the time I became a predia fanatic. I saw them open for PASSPO back in 2011 and instantly became a fan, so a few days later I went to an event they had in Saitama. Basically I want to confirm whether LPP are as good as I remember, or if it was all temporary insanity on my part. And one of my main concerns about super indie groups is the stability of the lineup, since it is so common for girls to suddenly leave (probably after they realize being an idol isn’t as glamorous or fun as they once thought). Hopefully my female intuition is accurate, because groups that I truly like are very rare. Interestingly, they opened for Mai Kuraki on 8.1. I used to love Mai K back in the early 2000s.

To be continued…
LaPomPon