This past May 26-28 marked the highly anticipated return of Anime North, and the 10th anniversary of the con! Annexing the Doubletree International and Toronto Congress Center in annual tradition, for 3 days the roar of landing aircraft was drowned out by a venerable potpourri of presentations, panels and events. KOTOKO, well known for her work with the group I’ve, was this year’s musical Guest of Honour. Her extensive anime and game song repertoire includes the Onegai Teacher and Kannazuki no Mikoopening and ending songs.
One of the main events at AN2006 was the KOTOKOperformance, titled “KOTOKO Live.” Admission was included in the convention pass, but attendance was limited due to the size of the venue. Security was airport tight, and the technical execution of the concert was plagued by a few glitches. Once the performance finally started, the experience itself could be best described as a frenetic fusion ofKOTOKO’s characteristic j-pop/techno stylings and a receptive audience of energetic fans. Unfortunately, a combination of miscommunication among security staff and a large percentage of individuals who were unaware of the existence of I’ve & KOTOKO prior to the concert resulted in an initially mixed response and rather perplexed reaction!
Nonetheless, KOTOKO put on a great show, singing several songs from her repertoire. Although 2 of her costumes were reused from previous concerts, at one point she donned an original that can be described as a psuedo-mountie outfit, adding a nice dash of Canadian spirit to the mix. Her English has improved since her first North American performance, but she still needed a “cheat sheet” for some of the trickier monologues. Following the concert, there were clearly many new converts, and the limited domestic pre-release of her album “Hane” sold out in minutes.
A Geneon panel was held on the Sunday of the con, and KOTOKO was present to answer a few questions. Here’s the Q&A!
How do you like Toronto?
The feeling is very beautiful, the air is very clean, the food is absolutely delicious. It feels a lot like my hometown in Hokkaido. The climate and everything is very similar. I really love this place.
Did you do anything in Toronto other than the concert or working?
I arrived two days before the convention began, and we did some rehearsing at a studio downtown, but I haven’t really done anything during my stay here.
How much does it cost for a concert in Japan?
It’s between 4000 and 5000 Yen, the exchange rate right now I believe is 110 Yen to a dollar
On the day of a concert, are you nervous and how do you get over it?
Umm, well, I get really nervous. But as soon as I get on stage and see the audience, all that nervousness disappears.
Did you design the Mountie outfit [from the concert] yourself?
There are some costumes I design myself, but some I don’t. The silver and black outfit is something that I designed myself, but the Mountie outfit is something my costume designers did.
If you wore a Mountie costume up here for Anime North, in a couple weeks when you go to A-Kon in Texas, are you going to be dressed as a cowboy?
That’s a secret.
Have you noticed a difference between Japanese and North American audiences?
The fans in Japan, they tend to “know” what the proper way to respond during a concert is. A set of rules amongst themselves on what they have to do during each song and what they have to do for each song. But the audience here, they tend to express exactly what they feel in their hearts for each song, instead of following set rules.
What made you become a professional singer? Who or what was your biggest influence?
I’ve loved singing ever since I was a little girl because of my mother’s influence, and it’s always been my dream to become a singer. Even back in kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to become a professional singer. There wasn’t a particular artist who influenced me to feel this way, but my mother really loved me to sing, and made me listen to records, anime songs, and a lot of everything ever since I was little. She played a big part and I wanted her to be proud of my job. I took many auditions in the past, and I passed the audition for I’ve Sound, and that’s how I came to sing songs for them.
Was it very difficult when you first started working (in the music industry)?
Hmm… well, I felt it was more fun than difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever had trouble when working in the music industry. It just seemed more like fun.
Of all the songs you’ve ever sang, which one is your favourite?
That’s a very difficult question. It’s very difficult to just pick one. Some of my favourites are “Oboetete ii yo,” and “Wing my Way,” both of which I sang at the concert last night.
When you heard that your music was being released in the States, what was your first reaction?
I was very happy.
Do you still work with I’ve sound?
Yes. Ever since I released my original album “Hane” I’ve been working on original songs, but at the same time, I would like to continue to work with I’ve for games and anime.
Do you have a busy schedule these days? Is your day so full of things with your job and your singing?
Uhh, I suppose you could say that it’s rather busy, but I really enjoy my work, I’ve never found it difficult at any time.
Do you enjoy video games?
I like simple games. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to play complicated games, but I like puzzle games.
Have you tried playing the games you sang for, especially for I’ve?
Yes, there are a few, one or two. Unfortunately I use a Mac, and most of the games I’ve produces for run on Windows, but there are a few that were released for Playstation 2 and I have played those games.
Will we see game songs like “Sakuranbo Kiss” here in the near future?
There are no plans right now to sell those titles in the US, but I believe that we’ll be able to sell them here someday. Who do you think are your more loyal fans, your game fans or your more general fans?
I guess there is a gap in how much fans love me, but I haven’t really felt any difference between long time fans and newer fans. They’ve all been so warm and kind. However, I feel that all my fans listen to my music and listen to it from the heart. I really feel that my fans love my music very much.
There’s a growing problem in Japan about people who are locking themselves in their room and worrying others. Do you encourage people to get out of their room?
Thank you, that is an excellent question. When I was a little girl, I was pretty shy and I didn’t have too many friends. Some of the difficulties I’ve experienced are reflected in my songs and I sincerely wish even if someone were unable to meet other people for some reason, I can convey how great it is to be living and how great the world is to them through my music.
What’s your favourite food?
Do you have a favourite music style or music artist?
The band that I respect and like the most is Bjork.
Did you get to meet Bjork when they were in Japan for Live8?
Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet them.
What’s your favourite Japanese band?
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but I do like the band Spitz.
Have you seen many foreign (non-Japanese) animation, and if so what would be your favourite?
When I come here for work, I usually have the TV on a lot. Of all the channels I flip, I watch the channel with cartoons the most because they’re the easiest to understand. I find that the cartoons over here are a lot more comical, typically a lot more comical than the ones in Japan, and the pictures are also very kiddy.
What was the most embarrassing memory you have?
I’m rather clumsy so I have had many embarrassing experiences. One that comes to mind, is I tend to fall down the stairs a lot. This one time, while all my fans and friends were watching, I just slipped and fell down the stairs all the way on my behind.
How was your experience shooting the “Being” PV, I believe in America. They had you climbing high cliffs and things like that!
You’re absolutely right. For the filming of “Being,” I’m on top of a very tall rock. The opening of the PV, there’s the sunrise against it. So I had to get on the rock while the sun was still down and wait on top of the rock for the sun to rise. I also had to get on the rock and wait for the sun to set. Normally, you would think that they would put some kind of mattress under the rock so that I would be fine if I were to fall, but they didn’t take any safety precautions. [laughs] They didn’t put anything!
It was great to have an artist with such talent as KOTOKO at Anime North. There’s definitely a lofty precedent set for AN2007!