Macross at the Yokohama Arena: Walkure Can't be Stopped

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Macross and Walkure

Macross has always been about three things: a love triangle, robots, and music. For me, since my introduction to the series with Frontier in late 2007, my primary concern has always been the music. Now spanning over 35 years, Macross as a series has provided a unique look into the progression of contemporary Japanese music; each incarnation of it reflecting a popular genre of music at the time. It’s only natural then that the newest series be about an idol group, and that idol group is Walkure. Named for the goddesses of the battlefield in Norse mythology, in the anime they’re known as Tactical Sound Unit Walkure and use their live performances to combat the Var syndrome.

Two years ago, as Macross Delta was being announced and revealed for the first time, I never would have guessed that I'd get to see this incarnation of Macross's galactic superstars in the flesh.

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2016-03-30_17h20_38
Venue and Prep

This concert was one of two main reasons for this trip to Japan, so I was excited (and nervous) as hell. Despite a slight hangover from the previous night’s shenanigans at Akihabara MOGRA, I was able to wake up and get ready on time. The venue was down in Shin-Yokohama, a roughly hour long trip via local trains from where I was staying. Me being me, I got there disgustingly early because there was no way in hell I was missing out on any merch. The doors for the show opened at 3PM, and I had read that the merch stand would open at noon, so naturally I was there around 10:30AM… and the merch stand was already open! I quickly went through and grabbed what I

The art they used for most of the merch is too cool
The art they used for most of the merch is too cool

thought I wanted (I might have gone back twice more before the show opened…) and now had quite the amount of time to kill. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton to do in Shin-Yokohama so I grabbed some early lunch and set down to people watch, but being a white guy at an idol concert it felt more like I was the one being watched.

Many hours later I’m munchin on a kebab and what the hell do you know, I hear some English conversation! I turn around and there’s a group of three guys decked out in some Walkure goods talking about the gacha across the street. I introduce myself because bah god it is nice to be able to geek out about stuff without a tall language barrier. As it turns out, I already followed one on twitter! They’re fairly(in)famous“eventers” on English-speaking twitter, so it was nice to get to meet them in person and pal around a bit before the show and kinda get the low-down on what an idol event in Japan is really like. One of them had been to the concert on Day 1 as well and alerted me that Megumi Nakajima (voice of Ranka Lee, my favorite from Macross Frontier) had been a special guest the previous day to perform Seikan Hikou with Minori Suzuki, the voice actress for main character Freyja Wion. While Megumi didn’t show up to our show, we sure got some special guests of our own!

Entering the Yokohama Arena/Getting ready

Getting inside was a simple but lengthy affair, but it’s where the nervousness subsided and giddiness completely took over. I’m about to see a fucking idol concert! At a major venue in Japan! AND IT’S MACROSS! I find my way to my seat and immediately realized I lucked out once again. I was in the arena section about halfway up, and facing the stage head-on. Furthermore, I was nestled in a corner so I didn’t have to worry about being too big for my neighbors to be comfortable! Wins all around. The venue itself was huge! Yokohama Arena is one of the larger indoor venues and has seen a lot of use from famous artists, Japanese and international alike, and I can see why. The set design was fairly simple with stairs forming a giant W (for Walkure!) on the stage.

I managed to sneak this pic of my view - don't tell anyone!
I managed to sneak this pic of my view - don't tell anyone!

Now that I was super pumped, I decided "you know what? I’m gonna talk to my neighbors!" Idol shows are best when your feelings are connected to those around you so let’s do this thing. Someone arrives on my left and she gives me the courtesy “ah, yoroshiku”, which I returned. Once she got situated I said to her, in the best Japanese I could muster, something like ‘This is my first time at an idol show in Japan, I’m excited but pretty nervous!’. She (henceforth A-chan) replied in kind and admitted that this was her first concert she’d ever been to, and was just as nervous. I’ll try not to bore y’all with the rest but we talked about Macross, Walkure, idols, and English for a bit, rapidly killing the time until the lights went down.

Walkure ga Tomaranai

Once the lights went out everyone in the audience (like, everyone everyone) stood and stayed that way for the duration of the show! My first experience with Walkure live was about the most badass as it could be…. They came out to fucking Flight of the Valkyries by Wagner, which segues into the first track on their newest album, Welcome to Walkure World. Me being a fan of Macross before a fan of Walkure (don’t get me wrong I love them too!), I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be a ton of Macross in the show but those worries were disproved immediately. The screen behind them showed the Valkyries (mechs from the series) flying along to the music, and clever use of stadium lighting made it feel like they were doing a flyover akin to the type you'd see before a football game.

Photo courtesy of barks.jp
Photo courtesy of barks.jp

I can’t go track by track for this live report like I did for Momoclo (the track list is twenty-freaking-nine tracks long!) so I just want to talk about some of the high points and many guest appearances during the show.

The common theme for me all night was “holy shit JUNNA is amazing”. JUNNA is a 16-year-old singer with the voice of a god, and performs the singing voice of the mysterious Mikumo Guynemer in the show. Her voice is one of those things that no words could ever ever ever do justice. Have you ever watched one of those “X’s got talent!” shows where an operatic singer like Paul

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5a09902dc5a0fa7da7c2893af79d6fa31458608936_full

Potts or Susan Boyle shows up? It’s kind of like that.

Without exception, every time JUNNA had a solo, I got goosebumps. At one point during an early song, she belted out the first of many powerful notes and everyone just stopped what they were doing for a second and had to collect themselves. A-chan looked at me and choked out a whispered “sugoi…” which pretty much said what everyone was feeling. Everyone in Walkure is a very good singer (I’ll be first to admit that you can’t say that about every idol group…) but when you hear JUNNA sing you know deep down to your core that that was what she was put on this earth to do. It’s very easy to forget how young she is when you hear that voice, but I’ll get back to that later!

One of the things I noticed live but wouldn’t be able to catch anywhere else was the playful rivalry between JUNNA and Freyja’s real-life counterpart, Minori Suzuki. Every time JUNNA would step it up a notch, Minori was there to return the favor, resulting in spectacular performances from both. Given that they both have completely different styles from each other their back and forth makes a really great unique sound.

Naobou throwin up the Walkure W
Naobou throwin up the Walkure W

While Minori and JUNNA might be the clear winners in pure singing chops, Reina Prowler’s voice actress Touyama Nao (famous in the west for her Engrish-speaking characters like the Kongou sisters and Kirisaki Chitoge) has managed to weaponize cuteness. Every time she had an emcee section it was like watching a cute little mouse perform, I dunno. Watching that it was easy to understand why seiyuu fans go insane for their seiyuu of choice. Some things in this world are too nice to exist and I think Naobou’s performance of Reina is one of them.

The other half of the cutie duo in the group is Makina, played by Nozomi Nishida. She’s got the more stereotypical cutesy voice you think of when you think of idols, but plays it well. I’ll be honest in saying that she didn’t stand out to me too much during the show, but her emcee section after the encore call made me more teary-eyed than anyone else’s.

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delta9-1

In the anime, Kaname Buccaneer is technically the leader of Walkure, while being pushed to the side by the vocally stronger members Freyja and Mikumo. This gives her (and her singer/actor Kiyono Yasuno) some super interesting and emotional songs that Kiyono nailed during the performance. She had the task of calming the crowd down leading into the intermission, and did so with two songs involving a (spoilers for Delta, sorry!!) pilot in the show that was in love with her and died in an incredible blaze of glory. I have to admit, the crowd yelling MESSER!!!  before each of these songs and turning our penlights blue in honor of him will be one of my fondest memories of the night. It was a keen reminder that we’re all connected by our love of the show.

Her two solo pieces faded into the first special guest of the show, the singer for Heinz-sama! Canadian-born Melody Chubak. Melody provided two otherworldly tracks as the leader of the Windermereans. Nobody realized it was her though – she was behind the curtain for the entirety of the first song! It was hilarious once the curtain raised and everyone went apeshit realizing that were listening to a live singer. To be honest I wasn’t sure how they  created those songs so it was cool to hear her a surprise guest performing them live.

After Melody and a short instrumental intermission, the next song had a new guest: none other than Yoko Hikasa! In the show, she played Clare, an ex-member of Walkure who was around before Mikumo and Freyja. I’ve been a fan of her (and her singing!) since she played Mio in K-On! so that was a crazy and welcome surprise.

From there, Walkure leapt into their more well-known and earlier singles including some opening and ending themes from the show. I want to take a moment to talk about the band though: the live band was absolutely incredible. A lot of Walkure’s songs have awesome brass parts, and the band nailed all of them, properly supporting the girls' singing through the end.

Photo courtesy of barks.jp
Photo courtesy of barks.jp

The final song was the anime’s first opening theme – Ichido dake no koi nara. As an emblematic piece for the whole Delta series, it was a great way to end. Naturally though, it was far from the end of the concert itself. A couple of minutes after the encore calls started, with lights still down, a huge voice boomed “DAAAAAMN YOU WALKUUUUUURE!”, followed by the voice actors for three of the antagonists in the show appearing on stage! KENN, Ryouhei Kimura, and Ishikawa Kaito filled the air for a bit with an in-character mini-skit and shot the shit with each other for a bit until Walkure could return to the stage.

When they did return, Walkure took turns spilling their hearts out about what Walkure and Macross means to them in a very touching emcee session. (Please see himazu's comment below for a better explanation) Minori and JUNNA were particularly interesting due to Macross being the starting point of their professional lives as entertainers. As I said in the Momoclo live report, part of being an idol fan is buying into this notion of perfection and kind of knowing that a lot of it is a façade, but for the members of Walkure, it seems they really needed and had tons of support from each other.

It was here that we finally got reminded that JUNNA is just a 16-year-old girl behind that powerful voice. She’d passed up all the chances to emcee before then, so hearing how she speaks and acts when not singing there was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance going on. She really is just a normal kid chasing her dream after all. She thanked the fans, staff, and crowd, but most of all thanked the other members of Walkure for being there and helping such a young inexperienced person find her way. After many tears from all five of them as well as some fun audience participation (yelling GORI GORI!, Freyja’s catch phrase, was definitely a highlight) they launched into Walkure ga Tomaranai, the name of their new album, new single, and the concert.

Freyja displaying how the audience felt during the heartfelt emcee session
Freyja displaying how the audience felt during the heartfelt emcee session

From there they performed, what is to me, the “biggest” song of the Macross franchise, Do You Remember Love?. In the original series, this is the song that stopped the war between the humans and the Zentraedi and as such has been treated as something almost holy ever since; there is a ton of emotion in the song itself and every performance of it. The girls stood in a circle facing outward, each taking a line from the song and singing it in order. JUNNA’s line came up and she finally cracked, and it made it even better. The line she started crying on was “Mou hitoribocchi janai/anata ga iru kara” or “I’m not alone anymore/now that you’re here with me”. Talk about emotions running high…

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After finishing Do You Remember Love? they exploded into Koi! Halation THE WAR, their debut single. When a show finishes with a song like this you have to wonder if it means more to the fans who have been there with them since the beginning, or does it mean more to the performers? I’ll probably never know, but I do know that hearing the final lyrics “Welcome to Walkure world…” fade out will stick with me for some time. After the song they brought all the guests back out, with the addition of Ami Koshimizu, the voice actor for Mikumo and someone that JUNNA profusely thanked for all of her guidance during her earlier emcee session.

Still not over though! As sure as day, another encore call started and everyone came out again, special guests and all, for one last go. The final song was, of course, the first ending theme for the anime, Rune ga pikatto hikattara, and my personal favorite song from Delta. Before beginning Minori instructed the crowd on the participation section, not that we needed it! She wanted us louder and louder though, until she said we need to scream it like we were dying! And so we did! Every time the chorus came around the crowd went nuts, the girls went nuts, the whole place was shaking with fun.

After the Show

After the standing ovation and all the bows, the stadium lights re-dimmed, much to everyone's surprise. Followed was an absolute flurry of announcements starting with a new logo for the Macross series' 35th anniversary and including new toys, new experiences, and most of all, a new tv series! As a massive anime fan being able to see the announcement of a new installment in one of the most storied series of all times is pretty special.

All in all it was an amazing experience. I'm going to have to fight myself real hard in order to not fly off to Walkure's inevitable 3rd live. It was certainly worth the trip itself... can't wait for the BD release.

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Set List
  1. Youkoso Walkure World he
  2. Hear the Universe
  3. Fukakuteisei ☆ COSMIC MOVEMENT
  4. NEO STREAM
  5. Absolute5
  6. LOVE! THUNDER GROW
  7. Ikenai Borderline
  8. Jiritic BEGINNER
  9. Onyanoko☆girl
  10. Silent Hacker
  11. Walkure's Birthday Song
  12. God Bless You
  13. Kaze wa Yokoku naku Fuku
  14. AXIA ~Daisuki de Daikirai~
  15. GIRAFFE BLUES ~Kaname solo~
  16. Guest singer: Melody Chubak - Aura Seira~Hikaru Kaze~
  17. Guest singer: Melody Chubak - Zeld Viesa~Ketsui no Kaze~
  18. Guest singer: Melody Chubak - Ruchet Alcorne~Hoshi no Uta~
  19. Do you remember love?~ORCH2067~
  20. Guest singer: Hikasa Yoko - Namidame Bakuhatsuon ~with Claire~
  21. Bokura no Senjou
  22. Walkure attack
  23. Hametsu no Junjou
  24. Zettai Reido θ Novatic
  25. Ichido Dake no Koi Nara
  26. (encore start) Walkure ga Tomaranai
  27. Do You Remember Love?
  28. Koi! Halation THE WAR
  29. (double encore) Rune ga Pikatto Hikattara