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J-Pop Summit Festival 2012 August 27, 2012

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
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2012 J-Pop Summit Festival 139

I went to this year’s J-Pop Summit Festival held in San Francisco’s Japantown during the August 25/26 weekend. This festival was a great way to end my summer vacation as the school semester starts tomorrow (or should I say today). The next Japan related event I plan to attend won’t happen until next year so it was also a way to end my con/event season as well. I enjoyed this year’s J-Pop Summit Festival, though a bit less than last year’s though.

I went both days, taking photos of the festival overall on the first day, though since there wasn’t much to see besides the street booths and the peace plaza, I got slightly bored towards the second half of the day. At that point I decided to focus on events happening on the stage area like the fashions shows and music performances. On Day 1 I was looking forward mostly to the Vocaloid Dance Contest as it’s cool to watch. I remember that last year Danceroid came to the J-Pop Summit Festival the kickoff the annual contest and I was glad that they came, well actually only two of them came last year, but the one Danceroid I’ve followed the most out of all is Kozue Aikawa. Anyways, I like watching talented dancers doing dance covers, and this year’s contest really had some great competition, everyone did really well. There was a few  things I found strange with this year’s contest. First, the judges. Most of the judges were OK, though there was one notable judge that to me was making things uncomfortable in a funny way. She is a professional dancer but with no knowledge of Vocaloid or the dance choreography that goes along with them, so her comments on the dances themselves were off sync. The first dance she judged was where she mentioned that she didn’t know what to expect to see in these dances and that she had no prior knowledge of anything Vocaloid. Well to me, to be a judge for this kind of thing, you kind of need to be knowing a little about the contest’s content before judging it. It felt like they just brought her in as a judge just because she is a professional dancer. The commentary she gave throughout the rest of the contest was very brief and general, which was funny at times as since she couldn’t comment on the Vocaloid aspect of the dance, she basically said things like “It was very good” and “I like the hips and hands moving” and so on. The second thing I found kind of awkward was the speaker host of the festival. He is a local radio host (I forgot from where) and during the contest kept asking the contestants right after their dance “So tell us about your outfit.” While that is not a out of subject question, it felt kind of unimportant to ask immediately after someone dances. Sure, the outfit does make a person, but the contest focuses on their dancing and their ability to perform well with energy, movements to music sync, and expression. I thought he should of been asking them about what they felt about their own dance performance, and then he could of asked them about their outfits, but maybe that’s just me. The third thing is what I think all contests need: A person like Simon Cowell, someone who gives constructive criticism. It’s kind of lame hearing the same feedback over and over again, the judges always just saying “like your dance and energy” with little variation of feedback between judges for each contestant. I know that each of them did well, but still there’s always room to improve, just saying that your good doesn’t help them to improve for the future. In the end, the Vocaloid Dance Contest was nice to watch, though it was getting cold out with the fog and all.

On Day 2 of the J-Pop Summit Festival, I got there at about 3:30pm or so as I already scouted the festival the day before, and so there really wasn’t much I wanted to see besides the events at the peace plaza. The lolita fashion contest was just finishing up when I arrived, managing to take a few shots before it was over. I happened to bump into a friend I met at Anime Expo this year and so we talked for a bit before the main event of Day 2 started, the Kylee music performance. Now prior to this festival, I’ve never heard of her before. She is a 18 year old half-American, half-Japanese musical artist signed with Sony Music Japan. Her music is a mix of pop and rock. She plans to focus her music on on Japan more than here to bridge the gap between herself and Japan. Her performance was good, and so was her band. If you want more information about her, check out her website at http://www.kylee.jp/ I stuck around for the final act which was a performance by DJ Amaya whose mixes I have on my iPod. It was cool but not too many people came down to dance and it made me feel that the festival ended on a good but weak note.

Overall the festival was OK. It didn’t have too much going on that I was really interested in. I did see some cosplay but not enough for me to try to take pictures of. I hope that next year’s will have more interesting stuff going on because it’s the first time in an event like this that I found myself waiting for something photo worthy to take pictures of.

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2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival April 30, 2012

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan, Otaku.
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San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

I attended the 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom which was held in San Francisco’s Japantown April 14,15, 21, with the grand parade taking place on the 22. All photos taken can be found at my Flickr set: 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a mixed bag for me. I only went to the second weekend of the festival which was the weekend of the parade. Usually I would go as much as I would, like going to the first weekend of the festival, but one major thing really held me back and made me feel uneasy. What I’m talking about is school, specifically Journalism assignments that were to be done about Japantown. As a beginning photojournalist, its hard to deal with behind the scenes people, especially if you don’t have connections, experience, and time. For my photojournalism class final project, I was planning to takes photos of a behind-the-scenes kind of thing for the festival, sort of like set up of the festival in the form of office meetings and stuff like that. Unfortunately as I only started the project in early April, when e-mailing the Festival organizers, they responded with a disheartening message telling me that it was too late to get any photos of the planning and meetings and that it would be “misleading”. I know that time wise I wasn’t in the best position to argue any more after that, but even then the earliest I could of asked was mid-March due to the assignment being made then, and I might of gotten the same response. I know it’s partially my fault for not working on it a bit earlier, but if I at least got a few photos of the final plans being made in a final meeting before the festival started, then to me that would of been the money shot. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of those photos made me feel a bit unwilling to go to the place that I felt a bit shunned from, even though its Japantown, one of my favorite places of the city. Because of this and the fact that I was busy with a few other things the first weekend of the festival, I didn’t go then. End of that story.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

My all time favorite combo to have for lunch at Japantown, Spam Musubi and Guava Hawaiian Sun.

I went the the festival on the second weekend, on Saturday the 21 and Sunday the 22. On Saturday, I got to Japantown at about past 11am or so. My goal for today was to take some photos of behind-the-scenes of some performances at the JCCNC (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California) building in the North section of Japantown, with some overall shots of the festival as well at Japantown due to that I was going to be at City Hall for a while the next day for preparations for the parade. The weather was pretty warm for San Francisco that day; it wasn’t helping that I was wearing dark colors with a backpack to carry. When I got to the JCCNC building, there was set up for a Koto performance. I got a few shots there, but for the most part I just rested there because it was cool and nice to hear some traditional Japanese music with some live performance. Afterwards I went out and grabbed something to eat; I always get some spam musubi because it is one of my most favorite things to eat, especially at  a festival, along with a can of Guava Hawaiian Sun. I took more photos around the place still thinking about where to get more behind-the-scene type shots. I was thinking that getting some photos of set up of Taiko woul be good, so I looked up when the next Taiko performance would be. I saw that there was one at 7:30pm back at the JCCNC; it was around 4pm when I decided to pop into the JCCNC to see if I could get them setting up before their performance. I got pretty lucky with this, and an amusing story to tell.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

What happened was that I went into the event area just as the last performance was finishing up before the Taiko Dojo people was to set up and practice three hours before the scheduled Taiko Festival performance. I was able to take some nice photos of their behind-the-scenes set-up of the stage, and see a little bit of what they were going to perform at their performance later tonight. What made this amusing was the fact that this was a closed practice, so one that was closed off to the public. I noticed that they were asking people who was not part of the performance to leave the auditorium after the last performance finished before the Taiko Dojo started to set up. While that was going on I decided to take photos while there was other people around still and also while they were setting up, because I needed behind-the-scenes photos for my Photojournalism class. When it seemed that everyone who was not suppose to be there was out, I noticed that they didn’t ask me to leave. I’m guessing that I looked as if I was part of the back stage people, a photographer for them or something. While thinking I could actually wait for the show to start and get a good seat since I was “first”, I read the Cherry Blossom Festival program to waste some time. Looking over the Taiko Festival performance that I was waiting for in the program, I noticed that the performance I was waiting for was actually a pay to see event. I thought it was free. Right after the read that however, one of the staff finally asked me if I was with someone of the Taiko Dojo people. I told them that I was just a photographer, not with anyone, and that was when I finally left. It was about 6:30pm I think that I was kicked out. While I wasn’t able to trick my way into seeing the Taiko performance, I still got some decent shots of them setting up and practicing their drumming pieces.

Pretty much after that I went home. I knew I needed my energy for tomorrow’s Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade starting at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

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San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

The morning of April 22, I head out to Civic Center to get there at about 11am or so. The parade starts at 1pm; I arrive early to take some setting up shots of the parade getting ready for my Photojournalism photostory project. When I get to Civic Center however, I’m surprised to see a city (within a city) of white tents set up all over Civic Center. At first I was not sure what those tents were for, as previous Cherry Blossom Festivals did not do something like this. Walking though the white forest of tents, I look for any sign of the cosplayers that I focusing on for the parade. I finally spot them in the north west corner of Civic Center and found out that the white tents are for a Earth Day event. I didn’t even know it was Earth Day today; I guess that it just happened to fall on a Sunday this year. Now with both Earth Day celebrations and Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade being held in relatively the same areas, it was a more crowded than ever. It wasn’t too bad though, actually it made things a bit more interesting. When  I thought about the previous years going to Civic Center for the pre-parade stuff, it felt a little bit empty but plenty of space for cosplayers for photo ops.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

The couple of hours before the start of the parade, I mainly took photos of cosplayers, parade floats getting ready, and performances practicing. I was running around so much, I guess what kept me from getting tired was adrenaline and the feel to do a good job as a photographer and for my PJ assignment. Finally at quarter past 1pm, the Cosplay contest segment of the parade left Civic Center to walk to Japantown along the parade route. This was my second time walking within the parade, and it felt very much similar to what I experienced last year. The only difference was that I had a better camera now and so felt like a true photographer that was walking with us as well. The photos I took from the parade part of the festival, in my opinion, were not as great as last year’s that I took I think. I’m guessing that the photo moments were not as great as last year’s, though I have to admit that the cosplay was better and tighter in quality than last year’s Cosplay Contest. Of course I have to thank Ray Nagar, who is one of the people who leads the Cosplay contest people, for allowing me to follow the Cosplay contest segment of the parade.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

After arriving back in Japantown, I grabbed a bite to eat before making my way to the Peace Plaza stage for the Cosplay Contest results. I already knew who won as the winners are decided back at Civic Center, though photos were still needed to be taken. The winners get to ride on a float of their own, pulled by a UPS truck. While waiting for the award ceremony to start, I met up with some other fellow photographers that I know and talked a bit with them before the show went underway.  Besides the Cosplay Contest, there was also a talent show kind of thing, which focuses on cosplayers and their talents, whether that be dancing, singing, etc. There was a couple of good ones and a few bad ones. Overall the whole show was fun and interesting. Afterwards, I chatted with some other friends for a while until leaving for home once the weather got cold again.

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The 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was as usual an enjoyable event, though I don’t feel that it was as good as last year’s for a couple of reasons. For one thing, with my Photojournalism assignment that was always looming over my head, I felt a bit pressured to take specific photos that were hard to take. I knew I could do it but the thought of missing an important shot that could make or break my assignment was always on my mind. Never again will I choose to use an event I enjoy to go to for an assignment. I hate how I killed my enthusiasm for the festival I always look forward to every year with this assignment. I’ll need more experience before I can balance work and play together.

Secondly, I noticed that there wasn’t as many people around in this year’s festival as opposed to last year. I’m pretty sure it has to do with how last year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a month after the Japan Tohouku earthquake, and people were in “helping mode”, donating money and what not to organizations like the Red Cross. There was so much recovery efforts last year that brought in so many people willing to come to support Japan. This year however, people have already reached their limit for “helping.” I’m not saying that people don’t want to help out, but just like with any big natural disaster and the recovery efforts that come after that, it dies down after a while which is only natural. This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival showed that the extra amount of people that came last year probably came because of the earthquake. It felt quite mellow this year’s festival, or should I say less lively. It was still a great festival none the less, and you can bet I’ll be around for next year’s San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, hopefully with more photography experience to really take the best photos possible that I can do. I know I didn’t do that great this year in terms of photos, I guess I aimed for quantity over quality, something that I always aim to do the opposite of. This year is more of an experimental year for me in photography, as I only have had my Canon Rebel T3 for about half a year and am currently taking photography classes at my college campus. I’m always aiming to better myself in any skill, as I believe that as long as I do something, it will lead to something more.

Animation on Display 2012 February 29, 2012

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
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Animation on Display 2012

This is my coverage of Animation on Display 2012, a small convention that took place last weekend at San Francisco’s Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki. “Animation on Display (AOD) is a weekend convention celebrating anime, video games, recent American cartoons, and other fun and geeky stuff.” It was a two day event and I had a lot of fun; taking pictures, participating in the SSBB tournament, and hanging out with friends. At AOD, I cosplyed as one of Danny Choo’s mascots, Seiun Eiji.

I have also posted a photo post of Animation on Display 2012 on Figure.fm. Check it out if you want to read a more photo oriented post. This post here on Topic “Otaku” is more where I’ll summarize my whole experience of AOD 2012.

For all my photos from Animation on Display 2012, check out my Flickr set: Animation on Display 2012

Day 1

My friend and I arrived a bit late to AOD, as his GPS told gave him strange directions to get to Japantown from the Sunset District. I offered to lead the way there but he insisted to rely on his car’s GPS. Anyways we got to Hotel Kabuki at about 10:30 a.m. to see long lines for both pre-registration badge pickup and at con registration. Those lines weren’t too bad though as I think I got my badge in 30 minutes or so. I first darted to the game room which was actually a panel room when I got there, as I thought that it would be in the same place. Looking at the map of the con, I found out that the game room was actually relocated to a kind of out of sight room which was near con-ops. The room was a bit smaller than last year’s but it was still ok.

Animation on Display 2012

I looked around the game room to see if there was any Super Smash Bros. Brawl going on. I was planning to participate in Sunday’s SSBB tournament. I didn’t see any SSBB going on and decided to come back a bit later after doing a overview tour of the con with my camera.

I saw booths with artists selling fan art, people playing on the piano under the stairs, popped my head into a couple of panels that were going on, and looked at the schedule for future events I planned to attend. I was going to go to the NicoNicoDouga: Odottemita and Utattemita Showcase and the Vocaloid Animation Concert. The NND showcase started at 2 p.m. so I decided to just hang out at the game room after taking some photos to practice for the next day’s tournament.

Animation on Display 2012

People playing SSBB at AOD 2012.

Last year at AOD I decided to participate in the SSBB tournament for fun. I wasn’t really good but I did it for the heck of it. I didn’t even win one battle, and ever since then I wanted to achieve one thing at AOD 2012 Brawl tournament: Win at least one match/round. I practiced at home for the past few months and so when it came time to casually fight random people at AOD this year, I wasn’t that bad. My main is Kirby so you may know how my match ups were. At least for the most part I was winning more than I was losing. At a couple times while causally playing, I underestimate my opponent. There was this teenage girl that I thought just wanted to play for a bit and I thought she was at a “normal” level. I seriously underestimated her, she was way better than she looks. She had her (I think) parents with her and from a little conversation with them it seems that she is an avid SSBB player based on her skills. The first round I got grabbed so many times it’s unbelievable. It was only after a few matches later did I sort of notice her techniques better to counter them. I asked her if she planned to join the tournament that was to happen the next day, but she said she wasn’t sure. (She wasn’t there unfortunately.) I know that she would of done very well in the tournament if she participated, but for my sake I guess I’m a bit glad but sad that she didn’t use her skills to good use. I’ll talk about the tournament outcome when I get to Day 2 stuff.

Before 2 p.m. I decided to get to the main events room early for a chance to get a decent seat for the NicoNicoDouga: Odottemita and Utattemita Showcase. The two dancers are  Tiffany & Ami who are a part of my anime club at SFSU as well. They do dance covers of songs mostly associated with songs on NicoNico Douga and also from ones that Danceroid, a popular Japan dance group, do as well. I don’t know them much but I do notice them at events like this at Japantown and around club.

Animation on Display 2012

They were good at times though the singing parts was off due to them being tired and sometimes being off-key. I understand that its hard trying to do both so I do complement them of their effort.

Right after the NND Dance duo, we had the Vocaloid Animation Concert. First  we had some dances by a Vocaloid cosplay group associated with Vocalekt Visions.

Animation on Display 2012

I wasn’t expecting a great show like Mikunopolis was obviously; I was expecting just a projected video of one of those past live concerts from a projector that I was sitting next to.

Animation on Display 2012

When it was time for crews to set up for the concert, I was surprised to see what was going on.

Animation on Display 2012

Back stage crews used a projector screen to hide preparations for the concert. Notice the white transparent screen behind the projector screen.

I already know generally how a real Vocaloid concert works, where in the live concerts in Japan they use a glass screen that catches light from a projector behind the glass, thus producing the 3-D image of Vocaloid characters. I saw this set-up as a way to emulate a real concert in a small con setting. I became very interested in how the concert would turn out at this point, me being very curious on how a 3rd party system could make Vocaloid concerts more available to more people especially outside Japan.

Animation on Display 2012

"Editing Character" Hmm.. I guess Miku's being tweaked before showtime?

Animation on Display 2012

The stage ready to go before the show beings.

While I’m not a really big fan of Vocaloid, I like the idea of what it is and what it brings to the J-pop community. Some people don’t like it because Vocaloid are not real, real as in an actual human singer. I somewhat agree with that statement; I know that Vocaloids are not real people, but I do recognize the idea of it being as real as it gets.Vocaloids were made with the intent to make a singing synthesized program for musical artists to utilize as another instrument to use, but it’s growth in popularity created much more than just interested people in the program, it created a community for music lovers, J-pop fanatics, etc. In short, Vocaloid, while not real in person, created something as real as ideas can get. The concept grew to become a worldwide sensation.

Animation on Display 2012

Miku appears live on stage.

The mini live concert was pretty good, despite a bit of lagging when there was two characters simultaneously being on stage. When one character was present on stage, the lag went almost all away and the movements looked better. Here is a video of the VOCALEKT VISIONS AOD 2012 concert, credits to 

Animation on Display 2012

The crew responsible for creating the Vocaloid concert, VOCALEKT VISIONS. The main guy of the group is Re:VB of AniMiku (the guy in the white shirt). “Re:VB is the software developer of the AniMiku software, the first program available to the Vocaloid community capable of producing animations used in an environment for Vocaloid concerts.” Check out their website for more details: www.animiku.net

Animation on Display 2012

After the concert, I went to take a look at the dealers hall which was pretty much just like last year. I didn’t buy anything though.

Animation on Display 2012

The time after the concert I just took my time going around taking photos of things around the con. There wasn’t much I planned to do like panels and guests so I decided to do more experimentation with my camera. All photos were taken by my Canon EOS Rebel T3. Thanks to the Photojournalism class I’m taking at my college, I’m now at least more able to take night and dark shots, something I previously could not do because I didn’t know how to set the more advanced settings on my camera.

I was at the masqurade but didn’t get any good photos from it because I was far and also because masquerades aren’t really a good event to take photos of anyways. I think of masquerades as a good way to end the day or the con as usually masquerades at anime conventions are done near the end of the con.

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Day 2

Day 2 of AOD was like a ghost town when compared with the day before. This was probably because most of the big events happened on Day 1. For me I had an assignment I had to to for my Photojournalism class. I had to take photos of people at far, medium, close distance with my DSLR camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T3. I decided for this assignment to take photos of cosplayers. This was my first time asking cosplayers to pose for me which was kind of cool.

Animation on Display 2012

Animation on Display 2012

Animation on Display 2012

Animation on Display 2012

Animation on Display 2012

Cosplayers are such awesome models. Maybe I’ll practice more to get better shots of cosplayers in the future.

Animation on Display 2012

The main thing I was looking forward to of Day 2 was the Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament. I played a bunch during Day 1 and felt a but more confident that I would do better this year, as in at least winning one battle. At 3pm the tournament started with role call with about 20 some people in the competition. Some of the tournament rules I remember them saying was that Meta Knight was banned, chain grabs were banned, and there was a limit on ledge grabbing. Shortly after I got called up for my first round, which was a pretty good game. The match was a bit easy in my opinion, but not as bad as the next guy I fought in my second round. This guy I fought in my second round was a joke, I’m sorry, he was that bad. In the second round he should of at least done better than what he did, or maybe he just got unlucky. He didn’t even knock out one of my stock and barely did much damage. I barely knock him out of Final Destination and he couldn’t make a simple recovery. While it sounds like an two easy wins, it was but it does have its drawbacks. Because I passed two rounds, that meant that I made it to the semi-finals. I was quite surprised I made it this far, I didn’t think I’d make it to the top four. When my semi-final match came around, I was totally out of my league. I did fight people of this level during casual play the day before, but the first two battles I had prior was nothing compared to this one. As usual I was using Kirby as my main, but against R.O.B., Kirby’s weakness as a tournament character clearly showed. If you know how Kirby plays, you should know that he does not have a good long range strong attack, meaning that in order for me to kill with him, I need to get close. My opponent was excellent in grabs and movement and saw he was exploiting my weaknesses a lot. Once I figured to try and keep my distance and get close only when I thought I saw the chance, he would use R.O.B.’s laser, down-B move to attack and that in turn made me get close to him thinking that I could get an attack in after the opening made after attacking. I ended up getting combo’ed a lot. I think I got one of his stock balls but that was it. It was a good game and made me realize that I need to work on some new characters with strong long range attacks. After the semi-finals I still had one more battle, the battle with the loser of the other semi-final round to figure out who would take 3rd/4th. It was me (Kirby) vs G&W. I don’t know if it was because of the small mistakes I was making or the fact that my opponent had good timing that I lost so bad and quickly. Now that I think about it, I guess G&W was a lot faster than I thought. I didn’t stay for the final round of the SSBB tournament because I had to leave the con early. Overall I had a lot of fun and accomplished what I set out to do and a little more (in a sort of given to me way). This tournament has made me want to practice more in hopes of doing better next year at AOD 2013. I don’t plan to enter any other SSBB tournament than the one at AOD because I know there will be way better players around there and competition can be fierce and frustrating, remember I mainly do these tournaments for fun.

Overall, Animation on Display 2012 was another great experience and I do plan to come back next year. I didn’t really buy anything at AOD, mainly because there wasn’t much I wanted to get and also because I tend to be thrifty with my money (or you could say cheap). The main things I got from AOD was photos and memories which are now written here for all of you to read.