The 432nd Momoiro Clover Z Trans America Ultra Live

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Hi everyone! If you’re a regular (or even irregular) listener of the podcast you probably know I’m a pretty big idol fan. During the course of our episodes I generally only talk about anime-relevant idol groups like μ's and Aqours, so you might not know that my favorite idol group is Momoiro Clover Z. You might have heard them while watching Sailor Moon Crystal, Dragon Ball Z: Fukkatsu no F, Yosuga no Sora, Dragon Crisis,Joshiraku, or Bodacious Space Pirates, all of which they provided opening or ending themes for.

Momoiro Clover Z represents the zenith of what modern day idol groups mean to me. I won’t bore you with how much I love them or why, but hopefully that message comes through my writing loud and clear.

This past weekend I was able to see them in New York at the Playstation Theater on the last leg of their three-part US tour, the 432nd Momoiro Clover Z Trans America Ultra Live (ed note: it isn't actually their 432nd... this was their second time in the US and their first tour here). I had a VIP ticket granting me access to a special MomoClo history session and meet and greet with the girls before the show. Before I get into that VIP session I have to talk about what may have been the biggest and most moving part of the entire experience: the fans. The rest after the jump!

The wait: Mononofu and Kaigainofu

If I learned one thing this weekend, it’s that the MomoClo fan community is something extraordinarily special. When I arrived in NYC on Friday night one of the first things I did was check to see if there was anyone in line. Sure enough at 10:30PM the night before the show there’s already about 30 Japanese MomoClo fans lined up. I’d learn later that for members of the official fan club Angel Eyes there was a group that paid upfront to have travel and lodging from Japan to all three legs (Honolulu, Los Angeles, and NYC) and that these were not those fans. So to recount real quick: it’s about 40 degrees in New York and there’s dozens of people waiting outside the night BEFORE the show who have flown in from Japan, most of whom have also been to the previous two stops of the tour.

Seeing the Japanese mononofu (fun name for MomoClo fans) so eager after traveling so far steeled my resolve to get in line early the next day myself, so I marched out of my hotel room around 7:50AM, getting in line somewhere around 8:15AM. There were probably about 60 people in line in front of me. The doors for the VIP show were scheduled to open at 4:50PM (spoiler: I regret absolutely none of this). What followed during the wait for the show was probably one of the most wholesome things I’ve ever been lucky enough to participate in.

This was my view for a solid 7 hours on Saturday
This was my view for a solid 7 hours on Saturday

I spent most of the time in line pretty quiet focusing on Pokémon Moon to keep my poor under-dressed Florida boy self distracted from the cold. Even then I couldn’t help but notice this was the friendliest group of people that I’d ever been in the middle of. Despite the language barrier, despite the fatigue from a crazy week-long bender from the Japanese fans, despite the cold, there was laughing and cajoling the whole day. People talking about their oshimen (favorite member - I’m a die-hard (green) Momoka-oshi if you’re wondering), talking about the previous shows, how they got into MomoClo, other idol groups on the same label, anything and everything! Everyone in the line was as polite as could be with no fuss holding each other’s spots, helping each other find restrooms (this is a real problem in Manhattan), taking pictures of each other, sharing twitter information, everything you could think of.

The most striking thing for me though was the fantastic culture of gift giving. It’s like everyone sharing this experience has this absolutely overflowing love of MomoClo and looks for ways to boost other people’s love. While standing in line so so so SO many people from other parts of the line came by and gave out handmade fan items based on favorites! Stickers, postcards of fan art, pins, keychains, you name it. That’s not it though! People ordered pizza and shared it, walked by with packages of oreos, bottled water, and naturally that was followed up by someone with a trash bag. It was such a loving environment that I’m getting teary-eyed remembering it just even though I'm writing this the next day. Absolute highlights though: one fan printed out a giant banner and had fans sign it while waiting in line at Honolulu, LA, and NY, that banner was lifted over the stage for our show; the other highlight being a 100-page notebook a Japanese mononofu had us write messages to the girls in. Pretty much the only things that could beat the feelings of love and camaraderie in the line is the crazy altruism that happens in the VIP and live events later.

VIP show: A-Team and True Fan Love

My god I don’t even know where to start with this incredible experience so I guess I’ll just go chronologically. First order of business was making sure I got all of the merch I wanted... so now I have all five shirts, one for each of the girls, and one for each day of the week! From there it was a quick hop to coat check and refreshments and then… more waiting! This wait was much warmer so it was better by default. They had concert footage up on the projector so it was a good time.

Once again the niceness of the crowd was astounding. Even though this was for the VIP event and not the actual show the Japanese fans let the kaigainofu (mononofu not from Japan) up front and even showed them which sides their oshi spends the most time on during performances so they could get the most out of the show.

Before the girls came out we were graced by the presence of Kawakami Akira, their manager and a lot of the time almost as big a part of the show as them. As a quick aside, Kawakami was given a do or die ultimatum by his label to make a successful group; so he decided to buck trends and make a group that he thought would be interesting… so that’s how we wind up with an idol group whose early imagery is made up  entirely of super sentai and pro wrestling ideas. Check out this awesome (albeit old) article on MomoClo by Patrick Macias of Otaku Usa Magazine on MomoClo and bonkuraculture for more good reading: http://patrickmacias.blogs.com/er/2011/11/on-momoiro-clover-z.html.

Kanako would make a fantastic iinchou...
Kanako would make a fantastic iinchou...

Anyway, Kawakami shows up and introduces himself and the interpreter (I guess the interpreter did this? I digress) and warms up the crowd a bit with his ill-fitting lab coat and New York Yankees baseball cap. Soon enough we were all blessed by the presence of the girls themselves! I really wish I could remember the particulars of the fun banter that went on in this early section but to be honest I was so pumped up on adrenaline and excitement that it’s mostly a blur. One thing I do remember is the classroom setting - Kawakami called on Kanako (red, the leader) as the class rep to do the classic beginning-of-class thing you’ve seen in anime a million times, and with that, class commenced!

Not a real class, of course. Kawakami wove an intricate tale of five young girls upon whom the hopes and dreams of the whole world would come to rest upon - even if they didn’t know it themselves. Except they did… cause this was the third show (thanks Kanako!). It was a pretty silly segment even for them - Shiori (yellow) had done kindergarten style colored pencil scribbles to serve as backdrops during it and Kawakami somehow managed to bring Star Wars into it. They used an old promotional image for Phantom Menace to link the colored pen lights to the girls. Momoka got compared to Yoda since she’s tiny and green and awesome, much to her chagrin. Kawakami pleaded with us to shout to Momoka about how amazing Yoda is - something tells me this isn’t the first time those two have argued about it! Not to be outdone, someone pointed out that the one with the red lightsaber (Count Dooku) had a shiny forehead just like Kanako! It was a couple of minutes before anyone could remember Count Dooku's name though.

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ss-2016-11-21-at-03-16-07

Once the Star Wars silliness was over Kawakami was further embarrassed the girls by showing us slides of them from when they first joined the label all those years ago. Kanako with tan lines from playing at the pool… Shiori not knowing how to smile for a camera… Reni (purple)… wait no she’s still the same Reni! A collage of the five of these pictures was one of the pieces of swag from the VIP ticket. 

That section was a ton of fun, it was just the silly zaniness that I’d come to love from them and I was a bundle of smiles through the whole thing. The second half of the VIP portion was what everyone was really waiting for though, and boy did it ever deliver.

Allow me to backpedal for a minute and let someone other than MomoClo take the stage. The English-speaking overseas community for mononofu is pretty tight-knit. Most discussion takes place in one facebook group and one of the admins is probably the biggest Takagi Reni fan outside of Japan and she’d probably be near the top of the running for fans in Japan if not the top. She’s known as Tammy. Tammy, on top of being a great admin, was one of those people giving out pins I was talking about… on top of organizing a thank you video… on top of regularly posting the newest pictures and news of the girls to the group. Now that you know a bit about Tammy let me head back to the venue.

The second half consisted of the girls teaching us how to do the MCZ overture and the photo opportunity. Kawakami asked for one person to stand to stand with each of the girls while they demonstrated how to do the overture. When it was time for a partner for Reni to get picked all of the Reni fans immediately shoved Tammy to the front and started cheering her name. These people who came from all over the world, who have never had the chance to see MomoClo live, readily gave up their chance to stand next to their favorite to absolutely make sure Tammy got up there. And get up there she did. Not a hint of jealousy or malice, everyone just happy for her from the bottoms of their hearts. I’d already known how special this whole deal was from the moment I saw the line but it was this spectacle that completely sold me on how amazing Momoiro Clover Z and their fan base really really is. I could talk about the incredible interactions between Reni and Tammy for a bit longer but Tammy wrote her own post about it, please please read… it says more than I ever could about all five of the girls in much fewer words: https://glassedtakanofu.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/mcz-trans-america-tour-finally-meeting-them/

The little giant, Ariyasu Momoka
The little giant, Ariyasu Momoka

While things were getting situated on stage they let the kaigainofu into the gap between the GA area and stage to practice the overture as well, so we were right up next to the stage! That was the time I finally got to shout to Momoka and grab her attention as she was greeting all of us. A quick smile and subtle wink with a hand grasp was really all it took for everything to be worth it. I’m not talking about the flight to New York or the wait outside or the price of the ticket. I’m talking about getting into MomoClo all those years ago, following them as best I could from outside of the country. Watching their TV shows with only a slight understanding of the language. Ordering CDs and BDs and waiting weeks for the cheap shipping to get here. All of it. It probably sounds creepy to someone outside of idol fandom but it really is part of buying into the whole idea of being an idol fan. You sit by the sideline cheering and cheering your heart out becoming part of the crowd and part of the love and then you finally get to meet the idols you can meet. It’s almost cathartic.

After the lesson on the overture it was time for the photo-op! They brought us up in groups of roughly 60 people each for a big group photo  with the girls in front. The photos themselves were later posted to a website they gave VIPs a link for - I’m there in the upper right actin a proper fool! Just re-stressing the importance of how great the crowd here was, after you got your picture taken you were to head to the upstairs location until the downstairs emptied out. You might be thinking “wow that kind of sucks for the people who waited so long to be in front for the show”... nope. On nothing but the pure honor system once we were allowed back downstairs everyone got in the same position they were before the photos. Incredible. One last note important note that really ties this whole thing together… during the photo op they were playing the A-Team theme. No one really questioned it it was just kind of there. I can only imagine this was Kawakami’s choice.

Once the photo op was over we were left to mill about to coat check/merch/refreshments while the general attendance crowd went through security and were allowed in. And then it was time for the show!

The photo group I was in - I'm in the far upper right... at least my pen lights are super visible right?
The photo group I was in - I'm in the far upper right... at least my pen lights are super visible right?

The show: Sekai no MomoClo Number One

As soon as the lights dimmed and the cheering started a booming narrative voice started to explain that the theme for the night would be the four seasons of Japan. As the voice continued to explain about cherry blossoms ushering in Spring through all of Japan two beautiful dancers appeared in kimino doing classical Japanese dance as the stage was put into place. They’d be a recurring theme throughout the night, along with a taiko drummer. The intro to spring ended with the voice introducing the Japanese folk song Sakura Sakura as the girls walked out in lovely kimono.

As Sakura Sakura ended they wasted exactly 0 seconds as they tossed off their kimono to reveal their next costumes from their AX performance of Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina, their collaboration single with KISS. They turned around I immediately freaked the fuck out for the first of many times during the show as the MV that sushio animated was played on the screen. One of the first things I noticed being so close to them as they performed is just the insane energy they have on stage. The way they sing with everything they’ve got is so different from studio versions... their energy combines with the hype of the crowd and leaves everyone beaming from ear to ear.

Continuing with a bit of fanservice they segued right into MOON PRIDE, their opening for the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal. From MOON PRIDE they went to one of the singles from their double album release earlier this year: Mahoro Vacation. This song is funky as hell, check out that bass! It was during this song that I realized they were all in complete top form; Aarin (pink) looked like she was about to ascend to heaven at any moment - the way she nailed her solos and interacted with the crowd at the same time was nothing less than perfection. It makes sense now knowing that she was the one that prepared the set list for all three shows.That feeling followed and expanded through the rest of the night!

The spring section ended with Kimi no Ato, the first of many ballads in their set. If I had had a lighter on me I for sure would have started swaying with it… but that’s what the pen lights were for! It was good for us to get a bit of a rest during this one (to say nothing of the girls!) because next up was Summer, which was one hell of a party!

I'm still amazed that this collab ever happened
I'm still amazed that this collab ever happened

The first song in the summer set was Coco☆Natsu, a song from way back in 2010 when they had six members and no Z in their name! Being a song from an older time the choreography was much simpler but the mononofu’s part is much bigger! It was awesome to hear more complex calls in time with crazy shit going on with the pen lights. I don’t know if it’s just because it was an older song so more people knew it or if it was the upbeat nature of the song itself but the audience’s hype increased in huge ways along with my own!

Next up was the summer favorite about too much danged homework over break, Wani to Shampoo. I have to admit, this is probably my most listened to MomoClo song, and the only one I’m 150% sure I know all of the calls and penlight moves for… finally hearing it live and being a part of it was a dream come true. In much fewer words you could say it was maji de yabai! I might be a little biased but I think this is one of the songs the girls enjoy performing the most. The way they were messing around with each other using the fans while bouncing around like maniacs laughing… it was pretty much the image of goofing off with your friends during summer break. It’s pretty hilarious watching a bunch of girls in their 20s do this now that I think about it…

They ended summer with one of the most surprising selections of the night (thanks Aarin you killed with the set list!), Momoiro Taiko Dodon-ga Bushi. This song was pretty much made for the rhythm game Taiko no Tatsujin and was the third track on the single GOUNN which is to say… I didn’t know it very well. Which means even more since it turned out being one of my favorite songs of the night! They brought out five giant drums for the girls to perform the taiko parts on, the chorus is incredibly catchy, and the audience participation is super obvious and natural! Dodon-ga don!

momoclo-taiko
momoclo-taiko

With the quintessential summer anthems out of the way it was time to move onward into Fall… which is why I don’t think I was the only one confused when they came out in Sailor Scout uniforms from Sailor Moon. They already did the opening theme to Crystal so maybe they’ll be doing the ending theme? NOPE. Those glorious girls covered Moonlight Densetsu, the original SM opening theme, while wearing the sailor scout uniforms just like they did all those years ago in France for the announcement of Crystal. Lemme tell ya something… they’ve evolved A LOT as artists since then. Hearing it now vs how they sounded at Japan Expo that year it’s very very clear how far they’ve come.

After they finished with Moonlight Densetsu they ran back to change while we got a more proper introduction to Fall by our dancers and drummer. When they came back they were all wearing a (much shinier) version of Goku’s classic outfit from Dragon Ball Z! That said, the next song was Z no Chikai, the ending theme for the movie Dragon Ball Z: Fukkatsu no F. They actually recorded two versions of this, one of them had English lyrics and was the one they played in theaters outside of Japan! It was great to hear them do this one again.

Fall’s final song was one of their newest singles, The Golden History. It’s a great single in its own right but hearing it live shot it straight near the top of my favorite MomoClo songs. What a freaking party! Being their last major release the song was fresh in everyone’s heads, getting us all immediately into the spirit of it. By the last verse with the whole crowd yelling hey! in time with the jumps I wouldn’t be surprised if the production of the Lion King happening next door came and knocked on the doors to tell us to quiet down.

The opening ba-ba-ba of this is my ringtone.
The opening ba-ba-ba of this is my ringtone.

In fitting with the theme of the season, Winter opened up with the girls in amazingly pretty white dresses singing the ballad Sora no Curtain from a super limited release named Bokura no Century. I wasn’t familiar with the song at all but even with that their performance almost moved me to tears. I hope when day I’m able to buy one of their limited Christmas releases in person! Their followup to Sora no Curtain was none other than the best Christmas song ever performed, Santa-san! MomoClo has a million silly songs but this might be the best of them. It captures all five of their personalities so succinctly while the choreography works to get the crowd right into it. There’s a part of the song where the lyrics say “Reni-chan no chotto ii koto mitemitai” or roughly “I want to see Reni do something kinda cool” - so naturally Reni disappeared backstage only to reappear in the back right of the crowd where the young children and people with disabilities were and performed right in the middle of them for a bit! Of course after that, Christmas is over and the song turns back into Coconuts, because why the hell?!

I’d been doing so well up until this point. I’d managed to not shed a tear despite how happy I was to be experiencing all of this. That is, until the final song of their set, Ano Sora e Mukatte. This is the one song that’s sure to be played at almost all of their live shows - not because it’s the most popular or because it’s any better than their other songs, but because they wrote it themselves. When they were first getting started by singing in parks and in front of stores this was the song they sang. This was the one that started it all for them. And they sang a verse in English for us. My heart absolutely melted as soon as I realized what was happening. It was like a message from them to us saying ‘look we know it’s hard to see us and thank you so much for continuing to care so much, you’re just as important’. Even with all of my talk about how amazing the fans were up above, there’s still that divide between mononofu and kaigainofu. As soon as the girls rework something that important to them to make it more accessible for us.. It’s… I don’t know. Words fail to convey the meaning that that act did. Sekai no MomoClo Number One indeed. I was pretty much a leaky faucet for the rest of the night.

MomoClo performing Ano Sora e Mukatte right at the start line. Look at how small they are!!!
MomoClo performing Ano Sora e Mukatte right at the start line. Look at how small they are!!!

While technically that was their last song, like with any amazing show there was going to be an encore! Shortly after they left the stage they were back on it and went right into another cover incredible cover, this time CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA! I’m a bit biased but out of all the covers of the classic Dragon Ball theme I gotta say that was my favorite. The second encore track was something very special and unique to New York. The starting pitcher for the Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka, is a huge MomoClo fan and has been using their music as his at-bat for years. Long enough that they actually made a song for him named Dear My Fellow. I’ve been told that he was in the crowd cheering them on like the rest of us! During this performance the girls tossed out plush baseballs and beer coozies with Tanaka’s number on them signed by the five of them into the crowd.

If you’ve been following along and you’re a fan you might have noticed there’s a song that’s conspicuously absent - the song that landed them on the Oricon (think Billboard) chart for the first time, and propelled them towards the track they’re on now - Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo. When I think of MomoClo, this is the song I think of first, it kind of defines them. The upbeat melodies, the crazy funky backing tracks, the take no prisoners lyrics. Kanako’s shrimp jump. Momoka’s vocal prowess. It’s everything to love about them and their performance was no less than that.

KanakoO↑↑'s Shrimp Jump is a thing of legend
KanakoO↑↑'s Shrimp Jump is a thing of legend

The final song of the encore came as an intensely present surprise. They performed Nippon Egao Hyakkei, the rakugo song, to end it. Their performance was consummate of the whole night (i.e. perfect) but I want to talk about the message of the song. The anime it was the ending theme for, while a comedy, was definitely politically minded - and while the lyrics of the song aren’t political in and of themself there’s a couple of lines in particular that I love from it that apply to our current climate here in the US. Just uh, imagine the nipponjin line doesn’t say nipponjin.

Laugh, laugh, hey let's laugh

it's because we live in these times that we must laugh

If you cry you lose so laugh until your sides hurt

Life may have its ups and downs

But the great people of Japan can overcome it

So laugh!

Laugh with abandon!

And with that, the concert ended. Except it didn’t. They came out a second time for a double encore! While this encore was “only” one song it was emblematic of their whole journey. Hashire!. These girls ran and ran and ran as hard as they could all the way to the other side of the world where they could keep running in front of thousands of adoring fans, their smiles never stopping. Kanako ended the show the best: they’re going to continue to run forward with their heads held high smiling.

笑顔が止まらない!
笑顔が止まらない!

Now the show was over for the girls, but that crazy warm glow continued as people started to slowly shuffle out of the venue. In Japan their concerts normally end with the instrumental version of Ano Sora e Mukatte playing while the girls say goodbye and the fans chant “Sekai no Momoclo Number One” or The world’s best Momoiro Clover. While we didn’t have the instrumental playing for us, that feeling definitely remained as the chant started and continued until we were well out of the area.

sekai-no-momokuro
sekai-no-momokuro

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! If you didn’t make it this far and just skipped to the end that’s fine too! This was mostly for me to get my feelings down on paper and to relive the day while drowning in a bottle. It felt good.

lady-liberty
lady-liberty

P.S. Ohmygod Momoka is so tiny! Like it’s not the first time I’ve seen her but it’s so easy to forget!! All the girls are below average height-wise to begin with so she’s even tinier than you’re thinking!! Which makes that crazy big voice coming from her all the better I love it!! She was having some trouble with her earpiece all night but she soldiered right on... reminds me of the time their BGM cut out at the Tokyo Tower and she just kept performing before the other girls jumped back in.... aaah I can't wait to see them again

Told you I was a Momoka-oshi!
Told you I was a Momoka-oshi!