Outlaw Star: Taking the Old Grappler Ship out for Another Spin

Vicious bar shootouts, mortal combat with crazy magic pirates and, of course, sex with prostitutes–a rather standard course for an Outlaw Star episode. In this case, the first. As a middle schooler, this regular dose of sex and violence made me feel grown-up as FUCK. Time has passed since then, and now that I am an actual adult two years shy of 30, I felt it was high time to take a nostalgia trip to the Towards Star Era with Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star. Please be aware that comprehension of this article requires knowledge of the Outlaw Star story, and will have spoilers.

Outlaw Star

But first, context. For those not in-the-know, the late 90s saw a small emergence of “space westerns” limited to three works–Cowboy Bebop, Trigun and Outlaw Star. While these works were met with varying degrees of limited success in their native Japan (Bebop likely hitting it the biggest with the subculture crowd, getting a movie soon after air and a concert tour, but that’s a story for another day) they took off huge on American TV with a group of nascent anime fans, including yours truly. How does Outlaw Star stand as one of these great space westerns, years later?

While nostalgia glasses are certainly on, they are now being looked through by critical eyes built on 18 years of anime viewing.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the first thing that struck me upon watching Outlaw Star again was its thick pulp atmosphere. Cowboy Bebop struck the perfect balance between chic and pulp, while Trigun–being based on manga–had the traditional anime sheen on it. Among the three, Outlaw Star most certainly gets the Gold Star for being delicious pulpy sophomoric junk food.

Let’s start with our main hero–Gene Starwind. While Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Stampede are rather romanticized male leads, I am sure many viewers back in the day saw themselves in Gene. Me being 28 as of this writing and a salaryman living in Japan, I sure do. He plays, he pays to play, and he goes out to drink all the time. He uses money irresponsibly in general, and simply thinks he’s The Shit. The typical wannabe-macho male spirit in him is strong, with some shiny anime polish.

Outlaw Star

Another thing that probably endears Gene to the audience are his weaknesses. The “thinking you’re The Shit” part is a defense mechanism against his insecurities–another key male trait. One could say that Gene is part of that transition towards writing leading anime male characters with personality traits that resonate more with the audience. Cobra knows he’s The Shit, while Gene has to think it. Cobra doesn’t have to pay to play with anyone–they just come straight to him. Contrary to Cobra, Gene will make attempts and is not always successful. To be fair, he probably has a higher “closure rate” than us trolls watching–it took me to adulthood to realize that him and Hilda were fucking in the earlier episodes.

While I find Gene’s cavalier male spirit to be very relatable, the rest of the characters are pretty normal. That said, they all have a lot of life to them, interesting quirks, and are all very likable. Jim is the typical straight man sidekick to Gene’s knee-jerk persona. He does the “brotherly bond” thing with Gene and it works out alright; complete with all the “let’s do this!” moments of friendship along with the “fuck you, asshole!” arguments. Aisha is boisterous and in everyone’s face all the time. Growing up on a steady diet of anime over the years, these characters are typically split between annoying and endearing. It could just be my nostalgia, but Aisha’s endearing–she pulls through numerous times, and is a good part of the team. Suzuka is the Goemon of the group–a samurai, and hardly ever there. She makes a big splash in her first episode, but watching the show now I realize that she fades away at several points throughout the show. Melfina is of course a sexy bunch of nothingness–with great doujinshi by Mogudan–but her mystery drives the story and counters the colorful personalities of the rest well enough.

Outlaw Star

While the characters are somewhat by-the-book, with the show being called Outlaw Star, the characters do have rough edges to them. I already spoke of Gene’s vices, but even serious child genius Jim ironically urges Gene into selling his body for money in the very first episode, and always has a zinger prepared to fire off when needed. Aisha makes a big deal of her prestigious Ctarl-Ctarl heritage, but usually finds herself doing low-rent part-time gigs to get by. As mentioned above–Suzuka is hardly ever there. One thing that sticks out about her however is the hedonistic manner in which she spends her free time. She sat out of the Outlaw Star’s space race, and went off to just hang out on the beach and gamble (on the Outlaw Star winning in a race she’s sitting out on). She kind of just does her own thing; a funny contrast to her stone serious introduction. Once again, the most round character with no edges on her at all is Melfina, who just sits around wondering who she is.

The show has a lot of great side characters who do well do help built the show’s slimy futuristic outlaw world. The first one we meet is Blue Heaven mechanic Swanzo, a serious guy who’s very hardline about rules, taking a very aggressive attitude to Gene and crew immediately. I would of course be remiss to not mention Fred, Gene’s gay friend and weapons merchant, who always takes any opportunity possible to hit on our red-haired hero. Also of note are the three “Hot Spring Planet” Tenrei wizards–Ark, Hadul and Urt–the first two (the dudes) first seem to command immense power, but will let it all go for a nudie video of Urt (the chick). She happily makes the video–showing of nearly all of her stuff–but has the cassette set to explode at the end.

Outlaw Star

The show doesn’t waste any time telling its story, and things move very quickly. The issue is that the show has a bunch going on, and in the end nothing is quite fully developed. One big thing that stands out are the Anten Seven. When they first appear just after the show’s half-way mark in the The Seven Emerge, expectations are that the show will jolt into overdrive and put the characters against these seven deadly foes one-by-one. I mean, one would certainly think that from watching the The Seven Emerge. The opening scene features all the members of the deadly group enshrouded in darkness, vowing to take back the Outlaw Star. This is followed by a heavy, moody build up to Gene’s duel with the first Anten Seven member–Leilong–putting him into a very convincing state of anxiety over his own mortality. The eventual duel takes place, and sees huge damage on the part of the good guys, closing with the dramatic death of the Anten Seven’s first member.

Trigun took great care to make sure Vash faced all of the Gung Ho Guns–all 13 of them– while Outlaw Star only gives three of the seven their own episodes. Okay, four if you count Tobigera’s role in the hot spring episode. They are all great episodes–the above-mentioned The Seven Emerge is a keen examination of Gene’s insecurities, effectively painting him as the post-bubble-era-not-Cobra SF action hero that he is. Iraga‘s episode–The Strongest Woman in the Universe–has Gene cross-dressing, Fred’s potential forced straight-marriage, and Aisha kicking ass. Another episode that stays in the memory is Hanmyo‘s–Jim’s bittersweet love story with a young girl assassin and her two psychic cats, who he unwittingly kills in space battle. Be them funny or serious, these three got chances to shine in those brilliant episodes.

But what about the other four? Like I said, Tobigera kind of gets an episode, but he’s primarily relegated to comic relief in the porny Hot Springs Planet Tenrei episode. The other members of the Seven are pushed to the big showdown at the end, some really getting the short end of the stick. The two who suffer the most are Hamushi–a bad-ass and big-breasted assassin–and Tobigera (who had it bad enough on Tenrei). Both are done away with quickly without ever showing off their big, “cool thing.” We kind of get that Hitoriga and Suzuka had something going on, but you only get the full story if you read some obscure novelization of the series. Jukai gets a few seconds to duke it out against Aisha, but that’s about it for him. All of these guys are introduced as supreme badasses earlier on in the show, and the fact that some of them never even have time to do their Gung Ho Gun thing knocks down their coolness factor a ton. A pity, considering they all look way cooler than any of the Gun Ho Guns.

This lack of completeness is not restricted to the Anten Seven–the allegedly maniacal  MacDougall brothers also suffer. They are introduced as potentially deadly villains, and throughout the show we kind of get what they want to do, but gradually fall apart along with the rest of the show, receiving a half-assed conclusion.

Outlaw Star

The show has a nice steady build up in the beginning, opening with the first onslaught of relatively small-fry pirates, and moving onto the above-mentioned introduction of the Anten Seven. But it all breaks down in the second half, when the writers realized they didn’t have nearly enough time to do all that they wanted to do and say all that they wanted to say. While we do understand what the Galactic Leyline is in the end, the final showdown between the Outlaw Star and a hideously mutated Hazanko (and along-for-the-ride Tobigera) is prime 1990s anime rush ending nonsense.

But, it’s hard to get mad at Outlaw Star.

Nostalgia is in full drive when watching this show. Its flaws are acutely in view as an adult, but I can let it off the hook. What helps is the show’s refreshing carefree attitude. One fine is example is at the end of The Seven Emerge–when Leilong is killed only to pop back out of the ground at the end of the episode, as if being fatally shot was nothing. A seemingly pivotal episode leading up to Gene and crew’s big showdown on the Galatic Leyline is one of the few I keep mentioning in this review–Hot Springs Planet Tenrei. The episode was banned in America, and originally aired in Japan on my 10th birthday. The episode is pretty important as it covers Gene’s acquisition of the rare and powerful Caster shells he needs to take on the baddies at the Galactic Leyline. Even in the last episode, a good portion of the climactic fight between the Outlaw Star and Hazanko is rendered as Gene and the giant Tao master going at each other in fisticuffs. Gene gets a headbutt in, and smiles.

Outlaw Star is a show where the word GO flashes on the screen to kick off the opening sequence in each episode, and both the eyecatches and screen transitions have a very in-your-face gun-firing motif. While Outlaw Star tries to tell some epic story jammed with more content than its runtime can handle, in the end all it’s concerned with is having a good time. And Outlaw Star is a pretty good time.

Outlaw Star

While Outlaw Star opens as a proper serial, the show becomes quite episodic after a while–perhaps because they had to drop bits of the story here and there to fit the show into 26 episodes. However, this episodic nature allows the show to slip in interesting one-shots expanding upon the world of Outlaw Star. One episode I remember watching again and again as a kid is Final Countdown–the bomb episode. It’s a tight and tense thriller that wraps up nicely and shows how the crew works together effectively as a team. There is of course also Advance Guard from Another World–AKA “the cactus episode.” The episode features a psychic cactus controlling people’s minds and forcing them to eat bad icecream, with greater plans of taking over the universe. Between the main story, the one-shots and each episode’s opening narration–which explain different aspects of the universe–you can tell Outlaw Star has lots of ideas.

On the technical side, the show has dramatic peaks and valleys. The first episode is red-hot on the production values, rendering the show’s deliberately rough and scruffy character designs with care. Shadows are deep and dark, and the Chinese-inspired slum our heroes live in is shown in great detail. This careful attention to detail completely flies off the rails from the second episode onward. The entire first half of the show is very rough, with a just a few good looking episodes here and there. The staff finds their way in the second half, despite characters looking very inconsistent between episodes. This is personally not a bad thing, as I like how 90s anime didn’t strive to stay perfectly on model between episodes–especially if the animation director had a cool style. The second half of Outlaw Star looks consistently good, with refreshingly diverse art styles.

No matter how red-hot or beat-up the animation looks, Outlaw Star has consistently great action scenes. A lot of the big fights are centered around the use of heavy firepower between regular human beings, which makes for very intense spectacle. Gene and crew use anything from small hand guns, bazookas, to missile launchers in dynamic battles that unfold in anywhere from large open fields to restaurant interiors.  Needless to say, it all results in great, compelling chaos. The show is quite aware of its frequent state of pandemonium, and will be completely casual about having characters do the cartoony pulls-bazooka-out-of-pocket trick. Even Suzuka–who just has a wooden sword by her side–leaves huge property damage. The woman cuts a truck in half in her first appearance.

The star of the crew’s arsenal is Gene’s Caster Gun–watching how it fucked up different bad guys in different ways time and time again was one of my favorite parts of the show as a kid, and my feelings remain the same now.

Outlaw Star

The show puts a lot of effort into building up a rough-and-tumble atmosphere with its setting. Outlaw Star has an interesting Chinese-influenced visual motif for a lot of it, with cities at night lit up by large neon signs rendered in Kanji, complete with the requisite bits of of grudge and grime in between. Whenever the crew sets up their homebase somewhere, their residence looks lovingly lived in, rendered in convincing detail. While the amount of detail put into rendering the show’s setting fluctuates, the production team does their best to present a pretty compelling Chinese-inspired future space world, with other influences mixed in. I am a big fan of how the characters always sit down to eat huge portions of Chinese food when they go out–that’s a good night out for alcoholics residing in Tokyo.

I had always been a fan of the Outlaw Star soundtrack–going out of my way to track down its two discs when I moved to Japan–and it still holds up. As an adult one feels the cheese factor more, the but it all compliments the show with a number of up-tempo pieces ripe with the atmosphere of adventure, while the opening song is a red-hot 90s J-rock tune that establishes a strong momentum for each episode.

My viewing of the show this time around marked the first time I had ever seen it in Japanese, and what struck me immediately was Gene’s voice. Shibuya Shigeru gives Gene a nice young and reckless streak, complementing is his established age of 20, whereas the English sounded a bit too old. An interesting thing about Gene’s dialogue is its distinct manner of Japanese roughness that has disappeared from works made today. Among his slang-ridden lexicon, Gene will interestingly call is enemies “otaku.” You will hear this often in older Japanese works that feature tough guys in lawless worlds, and its usage is more correct than what the word has come to mean. If one were to put Gene’s “otaku” into English, it would probably be something–“hey bub,” or “hey pal.” The style of dialogue is an echo of an earlier time, and gives the show a richer taste watching it now. The rest of the performances are solid, as expected. Unfortunately the voice of Suzuka–Sayuri–is no longer with us, something I found out when doing research for this review.

In the end, watching this as an adult after over 10 years, the flaws of Outlaw Star are very apparent. If I had not seen Outlaw Star all the those years ago, I probably would not have liked it as much now. There is a lot of nostalgia here, so despite the show being as rough as it is, I can’t help but love it. While I would like to see the alternate-universe Outlaw Star that is 52 episodes, giving you a full and complete story with a deep look at the world, I am very happy with the Outlaw Star we have now–the one that occupies a special place in my heart.

Outlaw Star

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Kizumonogatari Tekketsu: SHAFT Ups the Ante for The Silver Screen

When first touching down in Japan in late 2011, the one big theatrical anime I was looking forward to feasting my eyes on was Kizumonogatari–at the time slated for release in Fall of 2012. As the story goes, the promised time would come and go with little more than a few promotional images. Years would pass, and the project would remain dormant as SHAFT embarked on other productions, including adapting other entries in the Monogatari series. While these tales proved to be very satisfying expansions upon the original Bakemonogatari story, the animated version of the highly-lauded prequel remained shrouded in mystery.

Flash forward to now: Apparently while I wasn’t looking, the powers that be decreed the movie’s opening date. Also, apparently it’s a trilogy? All news to me; which goes to show how I gave up on my futile pursuit of scarce information, opting for surprise. Aside from the head-popping-plus-ejaculating promo from 2011, my first encounter with any animated footage from the film was an ad at the Tokyo Metro Akihabara station. As far as surprises go, it was quite pleasant. The new visuals were above and beyond the originals from years ago, and did well to get me adequately pumped. The stars aligned, and I ended up needing to take half day off work to attend to certain business. Naturally, I took advantage of the opportunity to swing by the nearby theater and check out the new film.

The original Bakemonogatari anime from 2009 (!) alludes to Kizumonogatari without a second’s delay, frontloading the series with a delicious teaser of its prequel. While this teaser would prove to be juicy fanservice for fans of the novel, the anime-only crew (me) remained fixed to the screen with drool running down our jaws, wondering if this story would ever see full realization in anime form.

Thankfully in the brave year of 2016, the release of Kizumonogatari: Tekketsu has come to pass.

Being the first of three parts, Tekketsu focuses primarily on setting the stage. The film grants the audience a chance to witness Araragi’s first meetings with Hanekawa Tsukasa, Oshino Meme, and Shinobu–or Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade as she is known in Kizumonogatari. Watching this film is a fond reminder of how great the Monogatari characters are, and seeing their initial encounters proves to add more depth to their relationships, which will most likely grow deeper in subsequent parts. Along with making new friends, Tekketsu also reveals Araragi’s transformation into a vampire–the main focus of the plot.

Bakemonogatari infamously opens with Araragi basking in the glowing display of Hanekawa’s seductive underwear for an extended period of time, a scene this film revisits–turns out it’s how they first meet. Contrary to a typical smack into the stratosphere, Hanekawa smiles, hops a couple of steps towards Araragi, and launches into conversation with him–“When it comes to protection, skirts provide rather low security. A spats firewall is far more effective.”

This line comes following Araragi’s embarrassed and unconvincing “I didn’t see anything…”

After acknowledging each is aware of the other’s existence as “that loner” and “that honor student,” the two embark upon a discussion about the merits and demerits of making friends, performed at Monogatari’s characteristic keen and sharp clip.  Their discussion sheds light on Araragi’s lonelier days alluded to in the Monogatari series, and one gets the feeling that Hanekawa is a little lonely as well. Along with forcing herself into a relationship with Araragi, Hanekawa also speaks of rumors about a stunningly beautiful blond-haired vampire that roams the town at night.

In a somewhat welcome change of pace to my non-native-Japanese ears, all of the dialogue throughout the film is rather straightforward, opting not to focus on complex wordplay. The dialogue is also quite limited–comparatively, for Bakemonogatari–with heavy emphasis on character acting, especially in the opening half. In fact, it can be said that this film is almost the exact opposite of all the Bakemonogatari we’ve gotten to know so far–less talking, more showing. The film does not know how to stand still: Dynamic 3D camerawork, organic facial expressions, and insane body movement are the name of the game in Kizumonogatari. The gust of wind that inverts Hanekawa’s skirt is ferocious, sending characters’ garments and hair flying every which way, and in Hanekawa’s case the audience gets some Dead or Alive action in the chest area. In the film’s more tense moments, Araragi thrashes and contorts when running in fear, and his entire face will move for fierce nervous twitches and giant gasps of breath. Scenes in general are deliberately framed and directed to be very visually arresting. Even in the quirky montages of characters doing stuff overlaid with dialogue–par for the course in Monogatari–every single detail moves and is bursting with life.

The film’s most notable scene is likely the very first. Araragi finds himself in an abandoned cram school (Oshino’s secret hideout in Bakemonogatari) and figures out he’s a vampire by… stepping outside.  The scene probably lasts for roughly five minutes, is completely devoid of dialogue, and driven entirely by strong, striking visuals. The interior of the school Araragi makes his way through is complete with quirky SHAFT touches, such as placing an elevators’ up and down buttons on separate pillars in the middle of a sterile, white room. His movement is lifelike and fluid, with the realization of his situation coming when he makes his first step outside on the roof of the school, which is covered with crows. He immediately bursts into spectacular blaze, vigorously flailing around while screaming, with eyes rendered as white saucers, similar to a member of the Gorillaz.

Midway through the film, Araragi finds a badly injured Kiss-Shot in a wonderfully minimalist, vast, and engrossing subway station; her huge pools of blood shimmering, beautifully splashed in violent curves against the white tile floor. The severity and fear in both Araragi and Shinobu’s expressions is gut-wrenching, with Araragi’s over-the-top gasps of terror ever so convincing. There is also Oshino’s first entrance: A stunning exhibit of quick, stylish and well-rendered action animation. The film even splashes its pizzazz on the goofy scenes: Returning home upon seeing Hanekawa’s panties, Araragi sits in his room, frustrated. To attend to his needs, he heads into to town to buy an “Exciting Magazine” (as written on the cover). The train ride into town is characterized by our leading man running against stop-motion photos of train tracks, matched to steam engine sounds. Final cut: He overtakes a Shinkansen. It’s bonkers.

Visually, the film makes a somewhat unconscious and very appealing callback to older anime films of the 1990s–a period where a number of films and OVAs deliberately existed in a different visual universe from their TV counterparts. This typically came about because the production staff had more money and time to handle more ornate and complex designs differing from those in the original TV airing. Such examples include Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, Nadesico: The Prince of Darkness, and the Ruroni Kenshin OVA. To a more extreme degree, franchises like Tenchi Muyou would have similar-but-different/completely  different designs, each series taking place in alternative universes. Even in the same universe, Tenchi would go crazy with the designs depending on the occasion.

Compared to the TV series, the visuals in Kizumonogatari are strikingly different, high animation quality aside. Character designs are most certainly Watanabe Akio, but there’s a classic contour and complexity to them, likely due to collaboration with 90s anime stalwart Morioka Hideyuki. The cram school receives a makeover to appear as colder, bigger and more imposing, while Araragi’s home is a completely different building, receiving a chic modern Japanese redesign, the likes of which one sees in Omotesando. This old-school approach of not sticking strictly to canon and creating new visual expressions is a great departure from modern-day anime that play it relatively safe when making the transition to the big screen, and is part of what makes Kizumonogatari a very exciting film.

The entire world the characters occupy is a wild mix of modern and classic architecture. While Araragi’s house and the train station exhibit a distinctly smart, modern and minimal aesthetic, the cram school is a strong, gray and functional structure that looks like something from the 1970s. The city the characters live in is redone to be a retro Showa wonderland, a fact that is played upon in one of the film’s few call-backs to classic anime, in which Araragi’s shadow is seen approaching the train station marching like Tetsujin 28 with music to match. Other stylistic notes: The series’ interstitial title cards are written in French, not in English or Japanese, and the film’s overall color-scheme is black and white with splashes of bold color–essentially, the perfect package for your pretentious Japanese anime art film.

Background music also makes diverse callbacks to genres old and new. While the film opens with Monogatari’s defining layered and atmospheric electronic tones, which return at a number of moments through out the film, a great portion film’s music draws inspiration from 1960s lounge music and Bossa Nova, the likes of Henry Mancini or Brasil ’66. This very deliberate stylistic choice is yet another manner in which the film establishes a very distinct tone, placing Kizumonogatari’s modern pop-culture tale in the contrasting retro context of the 1960s. The film also has beautiful orchestral swells, the standout moment coming when Araragi offers Kiss-Shot his blood, backed to a luscious performance via the studio orchestra’s string section. It is the sort of piece that plays at that moment in a classic film when the main couple kisses for the first time, and is a beautiful example of how the film blends a classic sensibility with its modern-day vampire story, putting a new twist on it.

The opening credits are another departure from the rest of the film both visually and musically, blending newspaper-style monochrome photographs, Buddhist imagery, and Kiss-Shot’s sword, underscored by a profound Taiko performance. I realize there is no political agenda to the scene at all, but the overall atmosphere got me expecting either Mishima Yukio or the Seppuku Pistols to bust out of the screen halfway through the sequence. It has this stern and traditional Japanese vibe that provides another intriguing stylistic tone within the film’s already varied pallet.

It would of course be remiss to not mention the voice acting, with the entire cast reprised for some bang-up performances. Araragi probably experiences the widest range of emotions throughout the film, effectively resulting in Kamiya Hiroshi stealing the show. Horie Yui puts on a grade-A performance during her one scene, maintaining her chipper inflection while shifting between being serious, playful and critical.

As is the case with most SHAFT works, Kizumonogatari: Tekketsu lays down the stylistic flair thick and heavy. With the opportunity to do Bakemonogatari on the big screen, SHAFT courageously rose to the occasion to produce one of their most slick and visually engrossing works yet. That said, the unique aesthetic touches are made to compliment the typical Monogatari-brand of quirkiness that is inherent in the original work, and both work hand-in-hand to create something genuinely compelling.

I can say it: Kizumonogatari was worth the wait. Now all hopes are on the next part actually being completed in time for its planned summer release.

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The Only O.L.H. Concert of 2015

O.L.H.

In response to the success of the musical Iyaounashi Ni earlier in 2015, Only Love Hurts (Formerly: Omokage Lucky Hole, AKA O.L.H.) held their first–and only–full-fledged concert of 2015 on June 27th. Titled O.L.H. plays Iyaounashi Ni, the group put on live performances of nearly all of the songs used in the musical.

But first, the opening act. O.L.H. shows typically open with a warm-up musical act, but this time proved to be quite different, with hilarious results. As the stage lit up, a young woman in completely normal clothing appeared in front of the audience. Aside from the fact that she was called Nakamura Ai, I had not read much about her prior to the show. I was immediately skeptical of her routine as she opened up with a series of self-depreciating jokes about how she’s not well known–things along the lines of, “Thanks for being nice and clapping!” But as her routine progressed, her genius began to come forth. The thing is, she’s not really an idol or anything–she’s just a weird standup comedian. She also happens to be a DJ on Japan’s BAYFM radio station–a frequency near and dear to my heart which used to lull me to sleep with its setlist of nostalgic tunes in the early days of my time in Japan. But I digress.

As her routine got into full speed, she started to claim that she was a magical girl, which lead to her shooting imaginary beams from her breasts and crotch, all while shouting onomatopoeia that translated to “squirrrrt, squirrrrrrrrrrrrt.” Transitioning to a set of sarcastic celebrity impressions, her act would climax with some very special magic.

O.L.H.

The first part of the magic act was based around a simple disappearing-handkerchief routine, but each time–without any prompt from the audience–she would exclaim, “What do you mean it didn’t actually disappear? You say I’m hiding it in my (article of clothing)? Do I have take off my (article of clothing) to prove it to you?” She would continue to do this until she was down to her undies, where she would strip off her panties to reveal… another pair of panties–this time loud and pink.

She moved onto card tricks for the second half of the magic act with the band’s shy and nerdy guitarist Tecchan while maintaining the rich stream of innuendo. Bubbling with nervous laughs, Tecchan was forced to recite magic chants mere syllables off from Japanese vulgarities. When he mispronounced one word,  Nakamura commanded him to say it again properly. She ended up in only her undies once again, with Tecchan nervously pulling his selected card out from her panties to close off the act.

Following Nakamura’s 15-minute opening act, O.L.H. took to the stage. The show being O.L.H. plays Iyaounashi Ni, the group went through a bulk of the songs featured in the musical with a few exceptions. For a huge fanboy like me, what this meant was that the band played a number of songs they hadn’t performed at all in recent years–songs I had not seen live before.

Among these was Hitorigurashi no Hostess ga Hajimete Shinbun wo Totta, one of the band’s tunes dating back to when they first formed–it’s on their first indie CD release, Melo. The song has a heavy R&B guitar and bass backing that sets an appropriately skeezy tone, mixed with a smokey trumpet to solidify the flavor. Tecchan’s guitar would come in with spooky riffs at just the right times, and took the lead mid-way with a quiet and poignant solo, followed by a smokey trumpet section by Ozawa to bring the song back to its initial grime.

Another treat was a trombone-driven rendition of Annani Hantai Shiteta Otousan ni Beer wo TsugareteSasuke’s hot skills took center stage, with the trombone’s airy yet assertive tones giving the song both new gravity and despair. aCky unfortunately had another one of his old man moments, singing a later verse too early–a realization made clear to everyone with a resounding “AH!” exclaimed on his part. Don’t worry aCky, that’s what we all like about you.

O.L.H.

Other rare songs included  Omisoshiru Attamete Nomina Ne and Oranda Hanayome. The former was a straightforward performance of what is a slow-moving ballad, but the latter proved to be a fresh take on what originally appeared on the Ongaku Girai album back in 1999. With ska-accented horns and a funky beat, the band breathed new air into a song about a man and his dutch wife.

There wasn’t much opportunity for MCing inside of the rather dense setlist–which still didn’t cover the full breadth of the musical–but aCky made the absolute most of the limited time, proving once again the true danger of the notorious O.L.H. MC.

He started by taking a keen interest in the types of people present, “Usually we only have subcultural pieces of crap attending these shows, but look at these guys–there are normal people here today! This is a high-class affair, guys.” However, to follow up, he offered the following rough bit of truth, “By the way, Furuta Arata and Koizumi Kyoko (famous actors who appeared in Iyaounashi Ni) won’t be here today, so I suggest you leave now to save time. Most of you will probably leave when you see what we’re actually all about anyway.” He went on to recount a tale of one Iyaounashi Ni performance that pushed out a normal theatergoer before it even started. “In one performance someone just came because they liked the cast, but when they heard our songs coming through the speakers before the show, they just up and left.” Between all the talking and singing, old man aCky was quite visibly tried as the concert reached its conclusion.

While this report is a half a year late, it is somewhat apropos that I use it to kick off 2016. With the exception of their free concert at Tower Records in early 2015, this was the band’s only real concert of last year. Their site remains without updates since, and their Twitter has been silent. It seems as if they have gone back into their ritual hiding, which could mean there’s something new on the horizon, or they’re just stuck for band members, again. Either way, while there may well be nothing in the pot, I eagerly look forward to whatever they may be cooking.

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