Tuesday, July 03, 2007

SOS Brigade Invasion Videos from AX 2007

Don't get your hopes up. They're brief, poor quality cell-phone camera vids. But they're something, at least. From YouTube:
Aya 1
Aya 2
intro "comedy"

There is also a longer poor sound recording of Aya singing Lost My Music. But if you really want to see them in action, check out the promo video for the DVD of their March concert, which has now been posted to YouTube.

Searching for "Aya Hirano", "AX SOS", "Anime Expo 2007", "AX 2007", "平野綾", "SOS Brigade Invasion", etc., on YouTube, and setting it to sort by date may turn up more things as time goes by.

Aya has finally posted something on her blog: a picture of herself during pre-rehearsal make-up, apologizing for the two-day delay in posting (very unusual for her), and saying that the concert was "under very difficult circumstances" but that they "surmounted the difficulties." I suspect Aya may have taken two days to regain her composure after the problems.

From other sources, I know that the start of the concert was delayed two hours; the video was fouled up, with the wrong videos, or even a Windows desktop, showing on-screen sometimes; the main speakers weren't powerful enough; and various sound feeds were out of sync with each other. The technical level was like a high-school festival, according to one Japanese attendee posting on 2channel.

By all accounts, the whole con was poorly run -- or at least the problems overwhelmed the planning: long lines in the sun, awkward siting, delayed and cancelled events, surly staff, aggressive security, poor communication. Momoi Halko has a long screed on her website lambasting the whole thing, but saying that the fans were wonderful and brought her to tears of joy (again). Details from Canned Dogs.

But all reports from the SOS Brigade Invasion concert are positive, despite the problems. There are some great comments from attendees posted following my previous posts about the event, and also on AnimeSuki. Thanks to you all.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Suzumiya Haruhi Live Event DVD Clip Now Online

Thanks to 2channel, I have learned about the excellent five-minute promo clip for the Suzumiya Haruhi no Gekisou DVD that is now online on the Web NewType site. If this doesn't sell DVDs, nothing will. Hirano Aya dances up a whirlwind and whips the crowd into a frenzy, Gotou Yuuko sings Mikuru beautifully off-key, Chihara Minori is clearly a real singer, Sugita Tomokazu is drily funny, etc.

And as a side note, here are some pics of Aaya from a Seiyuu Grand Prix magazine feature on her as a maiko (apprentice geisha). They took her to Kyoto to be properly outfitted and carted around on a rickshaw. The rickshaw-puller said she was the lightest person he had ever carried. People on the street thought she was a real maiko and said how beautiful she was. In fact, she makes the prettiest maiko that I've ever seen, even if she does lack some of their trained graces.

I'm not sure if this issue of the magazine is on sale yet or not. There are some more good pics, from a different Seigura session here, at least for now. I've added one of them below.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Chihara Minori Blogs her Trip to AX and LA

Chihara Minori 茅原実里 (Nagato Yuki in Suzumiya Haruhi) has had three lovely pieces in her blog about her trip to LA with the SOS-Dan for Anime Expo. I think she wrote a bit at a time and then posted each day's reflections all at once. Here are very rough translations:

Day 1 (Friday)

It was scary, but we've landed safely in Los Angeles! We're in the car on the way to Long Beach. It's my first time overseas! The roads are so wide. The sky seems limitless, and bright blue. All the road signs are in English! All the cars are left-hand drive!! And there are so many beautiful golden-haired sexy people!!!

In all this, I have a strange feeling of excitement. I just can't calm down. And I'm still not used to the time difference, so my body feels almost anesthetized.

Today, the SOS-Dan were guests in a panel discussion. The people in the hall could just go and line up at a mic and ask us whatever they wanted.

I've never experienced an event like this in Japan. I was nervous, wondering what questions they would ask. Some people did their best to ask questions in Japanese.

I was moved by the love for Haruhi coming from their hearts. I don't understand English, so I had to depend on the translator, but I am really grateful for the precious opportunity to see their faces and feel their feelings. Today I really know that this show is loved across borders. Tomorrow I will return their feelings with my songs.

The whole staff went out to dinner at a beautiful restaurant. I ordered my favorite dish, prawns. That's a prawn! A prawn! ...not really. It's a lobster!! It was enormous! ... People there said: "That's not so big."

America is on a different scale.

Day 2 (Saturday)

This morning I ate "the first watermelon of the season" from the buffet at the cafe. It was sweet and delicious.

Tonight we have a live event. The staff said that there would be about 9000 people there. I didn't believe it until I saw the hall. We went there for rehearsal... And it was so big it was just overwhelming! I have to settle down, I thought, so I set out to walk all around the hall.

I thought that when I went on stage, I'd like to have a little English to say. Can I do it? (Sweat...) Despite differences of language and culture, I thought that if we were carried away by what we enjoyed, we would all be together as one.

It made me so happy to see with my own eyes the Americans and the many Japanese people who were there, all enjoying the performance together. We also had a little open recording session with the American seiyuus. It was so stimulating!

The emcee was Patty, who was super-cute, and we and the ASOS members got together for a photo in the green room. When we sang Hare Hare Yukai, they were our backup dancers. They must have practiced so much! It was really moving.

We experienced so much today. It was a very rich day.

Suika is called "watermelon" in English. I learned one thing on stage today.

By the time we got to the hotel, I was so tired. I'm just going to sleep.

Day 3 (Monday)

This morning began with a torrent of interviews and photos. There were almost no Japanese among the interviewers, but talking together was such fun.

When the work was over, we went to the Chinese Theater area [note: this is the center of tourist Hollywood] to walk around. Although the temperature was only 32C, the sun's rays were awfully hot.

As soon as we arrived, I saw a Superman buckle that I just had to get. That was the first time I had actually paid for something here myself: I was so nervous, lol.

In front of the Chinese Theater were cosplayers for characters from various movies. I was surpised.

I had my photo taken with characters from Star Wars. Walking down the street with them, I look like I've flown into the movie, don't I? It's like an optical illusion.

Just to try it, we ate in a real American McDonalds.

I worked in one when I was in high school, so it made quite an impression on me. There were lots of things that are not on the menu in Japan. And yes, the portions were huge. I was full!

We went into a chocolate shop to buy chocolates. When I saw a whole apple covered in chocolate, I couldn't help exclaiming out loud.

Then, with our chocolates, we went to the musical Wicked. I really wanted to see a live performance on my free time in America. I am so grateful that I was able to.

Despite the language barrier, I was moved by the set, the direction, the acting, the singing...they were all wonderful. The Four Seasons Theatre Group has just started playing Wicked in Japan. I really want to see it, if I can get a ticket.

It was another full day.

Koshimizu Ami -- Big Girl and Rising Star

Koshimizu Ami 小清水亜美 is just 21, but already she is one of the top voice actresses in Japan. The youthful vibrancy and great professionalism of her voice have won her numerous good roles, and she was recognized as the top supporting actress of 2006 in the first annual Seiyuu Awards.

"Amisuke," as she is called, is a big puppy-dog of a woman, with a lot of energy, a sweet temper, and a big mouth -- and many, many friends. Her blog is full of pictures of her with her seiyuu pals: Sanpei Yuuko, Mizusawa Fumie, Iizuka Mayumi, Itsuki Yui, Nazuka Kaori, Nabatame Hitomi, Yukana, Mizuhashi Kaori, Shimizu Kaori, Kadowaki Mai...the list goes on. She seems to be a strong, friendly person, with a sense of fun and an open, innocent heart.

Depite her youth, she is already a veteran. Her debut role was as Nadja in Ashita no Nadja, when she was 17 years old and in 11th grade. Her most famous role is Tenma in School Rumble. And she won her supporting actress award for the role of Karen in Code Geass.

Ami was born in Tokyo and was involved in acting from an early age. She was in the famous Wakakusa ("Young Grasses") Theatre Group when she got her debut role as Nadja in 2003. Wakakusa represented her for two years, then she became an independent, not attached to any agency, but hiring her own manager/assistant. The good roles she has got since then attest that leaving the protection of an agency did not hurt her. Recently, she is even branching out into production. She produced a singing event on Saturday at the Ginza branch of a karaoke chain, starring herself, Sanpei Yuuko, and others.

(l-r) Ami at about ten; Nadja; Tenma; Ami at 20.

Ami's voice has a bright quality that gives her characters a strong presence. It was her striking performance as Tenko, the down-to-earth angel in Kamisama Kazoku, that put her at the front of my mind. The sweet immediacy she gave the role just blew me away.

She also has great voice-control, the kind of supple control that can give a phrase a lot of movement and nuance. And she has tremendous range: from gentle Tenko to the masculine Paraietta in Simoun. From serious rebel Karen in Code Geass to scatterbrained Tenma.

(left) Ami with Noto Mamiko: Tenma and Yakumo, sisters in School Rumble. Amisuke shows her typical exuberance, Noto-Kawaii her typical tranquillity.

Ami can make even minor roles stand out. She made Kotomi in Asatte no Houkou come alive within seconds. As Sae in sola, she created a weird, somewhat unlikeable character with a unique fey drawl. The portrayal was so strong that it turned some viewers right off.

Ami is proud of her ability as a seiyuu -- in a good way, as Kitamura Eri once said. She has declared that she intends to be as good a seiyuu as anyone. She is beginning to get roles that demand serious emotion, such as Paraietta and Karen, but she is so far best known for comedy.

She can also sing. She has numerous character CDs, and is one of the better seiyuu singers. Unfortunately, her first album, Natural, did not do very well commercially, despite the two good video features that came with the premium edition. She has also performed on stage in the musical version of School Rumble.

People have said that Ami's real personality resembles that of the wise fool Tenma in Sukuran (School Rumble). But when Nabatame Hitomi and Shimizu Kaori said that on-air, Ami bridled, saying she wasn't that dumb, and that people probably thought so just because it was her voice. Of course, the naive openness of her reaction just confirmed that she does in fact have something in common with Tenma.

(l-r) Ami at her radio show; Ami with the figure of her character from Shuraki; Ami with Chinese chopsticks on location in Shanghai.

When she was 17 and recording the drama CD for Nadja, she made a number of reading mistakes, since she didn't know kanji that well. She says in her blog that she still has a lot to learn. She dropped out of high school when her career took off, and only recently got her graduation diploma, by distance education from a school in Aomori. But her comparative lack of education doesn't mean she isn't smart and capable, as her success as an independent shows.

Since 2005, she has been a regular host on the anime music radio broadcast Comchat Countdown, along with Sakurai Takahiro. With her nimble tongue, she is good at repeated catchphrases and puns; and with her straightforward nature, she often just blurts out what she thinks. Once when Ohara Sayaka was a guest on the show, Ami said she wanted to give as mature and womanly an impression as Ohara-san. Sakurai and Nabatame Hitomi, who was also a guest, laughed that that would be a real stretch.

(l-r) Ami with her close friend Sanpei Yuuko; Ami's friend Itsuki Yui; Ami with Naba-sama (Nabatame Hitomi).

Ami has said of herself that she talks too much, and speaks out when she should keep quiet. She had a moving piece in her blog earlier this year, lamenting how words can hurt people, and saying that since words were a seiyuu's profession she should be more careful with them.

But it doesn't seem to make much difference to her friends. She and Sanpei Yuuko -- whom she calls "Pe" -- have been friends for ten years, since middle school. Pe is another highly talented and successful seiyuu. She was Renton in Eureka7, Souta for the last thirteen episodes or so of Otogijushi Akazukin, and Cure Dream in Precure 5. They are so close that Ami sometimes refers to Pe as "my wife" (in English). They even held a mock wedding banquet on a radio show last January, with Ami as the bride. The fact that neither one of them referred to the other in their blogs for a few weeks after that makes me think they realized they had maybe gone a bit too far.

(l-r) Ami with her senpai Iizuka Mayumi; Ami, Nazuka Kaori (Eureka in Eureka 7), Kitamura Eri (Saya in Blood+), and Sanpei Yuuko; Ami's friend Mizusawa Fumie (Juliet in RxJ).

Yuri pretense is a common meme in seiyuu radio shows, so the wedding banquet was probably all joke. But Amisuke and Pe are definitely very close friends, and Ami says she hopes they can be together forever. Nabatame Hitomi (Nobue in Ichigo Mashimaro) is a friend of Ami's who makes the yuri meme part of her public myth. The joke is that Ami is Naba-sama's "number three girlfriend": Itou Shizuka (who had a radio show with Naba-sama, and was Rei in Marimite) is her wife, and Noto Mamiko and Shimizu Kaori (Lain) are her first two girlfriends.

Seiyuu Iizuka Mayumi (Makoto in Kanon) was part of the stimulus for Ami to become a seiyuu. She was an admired senior, several years ahead of Ami in the Wakakusa troupe, and they are still friends.

(l-r) Ami, Makino Yui, Pe; Yukana and Ami.

Ami had unspecified health problems a few months ago, although they don't seem to have affected her work schedule. She has said that since she reached 20, sometimes her body won't follow where her mind wants to go. Once when she was ill, her friend seiyuu/singer Itsuka Yui ("Yuin", Kira in Futakoi), who lives only five minutes' walk away, brought over some rice porridge for her.

Ami has mentioned staying the night at Yuin's place, as she has at Pe's. On her 21st birthday, in February, Yuin and Kadowaki Mai (Souju in Futakoi) made her a cake. She has previously gone traveling with the pair, and she visited a hot spring last week with Saiga Mitsuki (Francis in Nadja, Makoto in Genshiken) and the (female) director of her radio show. Ami and Pe were invited to a birthday party for pro wrestler Kikutarou. He is apparently also a friend.

These days, you can hear Ami in many shows. She is Yayoi in Xenoglossia, Yutira in Heroic Age, Sae in the recently concluded sola, Aika in AIKa R-16 Virgin Mission, and Kanako in the Marimite 3 OVA series. The final two episodes of (the first series of?) Code Geass will air at the end of July. This fall, Ami will star in Kimi Kiss ~pure rouge~. And she is swordswoman Akatsuki in Shuraki, a drama CD that is coming out this fall, marketed with quite dramatic 1/8 scale figures.

(l-r) Itsuki Yui and Kadowaki Mai with the cake they brought Ami on her 21st birthday; Pe with a cake for her own 21st birthday, a few days after Ami's. (below left) a capybara.

In a show where seiyuu were asked what animal they would be, Noto Mamiko, Nabatame Hitomi, and Horie Yui all said that if Ami were an animal she would be a rodent. Ami felt put down. Then in a game center UFO catcher, her friends all wanted her to go for a capybara cellphone strap. The fact is, she does look a bit like a capybara, the South American animal that is the largest rodent in the world -- an extremely pretty capybara, of course.

Ami has said she would like to buy land on the moon -- on the side facing the Earth -- and to make a "Koshimizu Shogunate" there, where she would create a "good country." I think big Amisuke would make a great ruler, positive and humane. She's looking for taxpayers, she says. Where do I sign up?

Statistics: Born Tokyo, 15 February 1986. Height 168 cm, weight 48 kg (just over 5'6" and around 106 lb).

Roles: Here are her major roles over the years, with a few recent minor roles included. Full info is available from the sites following the list:

-- 2003: Nadja (Ashita no Nadja), Claes (Gunslinger Girl).

-- 2004: Tenma (School Rumble), Kanoko (Sweet Valerians), Ichijou Sumireko (Futakoi)

-- 2005: Anemone (Eureka 7), Natsuko (Futari wa Precure Max Heart), Nina Wang (Mai-Otome)

-- 2006: Tenko (Kamisama Kazoku), Saya (Lemon Angel Project), Paraietta (Simoun), Megumi (Muteki Kanban Musume), Karen (Code Geass), Kotomi (Asatte no Houkou), Ritsuko Kubel Kettenkrad (Kujibiki Unbalance), Yukari (Gift~Eternal Rainbow~).

-- 2007: Yayoi (Idolmaster Xenoglossia), Sae (sola), Yutira (Heroic Age), Kanako (Marimite 3), Aika (AIKa R-16 Virgin Mission), Ichiru (Keitai Shoujo), Yumi (KimiKiss pure rouge).

English-language sites:
Anime News Network
Hashihime seiyuu gallery

Japanese sites:
Ami's home page
Ami's blog
Seiyuu Watch Koshimizu Ami posts
Sanpei Yuuko's blog
Itsuki Yui's blog
Kadowaki Mai's blog
Mizusawa Fumie's blog
Nazuka Kaori's blog
Iizuka Mayumi's blog

-- Ami at 17 in an appearance for Ashita no Nadja (YouTube)
-- Ami (Nina) and Kikuchi Mika (Arika) in a ten-minute TV talk for Mai-Otome. It takes a couple of minutes for them to relax, but after that they are quite funny. (YouTube)
-- Ami and Mika at a Voice NewType photoshoot. (YouTube)
-- Ami and Horie Yui performing at the Futakoi Live event (YouTube)