Aqours 1st Love Live! ~Step! ZERO To ONE~ — Post-Live Thoughts
25th February 2017, Shin-Yokohama.
Thousands of people marching as one toward the same place. I’m among them. But unlike the majority of those around me, I’d made the trip all the way from France for the sake of this moment. It would be no exaggeration to say walking toward my goal was an emotional affair in and of itself. There was tension, too, such as when I found out I was one of the very few attendants without a penlight. The first moments were awkward, enough to make me wonder if I would enjoy this as much as I’d imagined. But I soon became convinced that I must appreciate the moment, equipped or not. The rest is a story I want to convey by focusing not on myself, but on the nine girls who were standing on the stage of Yokohama Arena that night.
Aqours are young (Saitou Shuka, the youngest of them, is only twenty years of age!). It was their first one-man live. In front of seventeen thousand people. The moment was always going to come, and no one ever expected it to be easy – but the pressure must’ve been especially immense given their very special circumstances. Being successors to μ’s, a group with a fairly legendary status by now, means their first stage was of a very unusual size. Their elders had also started in Yokohama, in a venue about ten times smaller than the Arena. The inevitable comparisons, the desire to answer expectations – everything was reunited to create the most stressful environment possible.
And yet, through their own hard work – and that of all those who helped plan and organize this concert – they proudly rose on stage, giving an amazing performance in every imaginable way. It was obviously thoroughly rehearsed, but Shukashuu bursting into a final run was among the moments that kept the night from ever feeling unnatural (she mentions in her own blog that she had no intention to do such a thing). Performing over two hours of singing and dancing at this level when some of them are essentially rookies is something that can only be achieved through talent and immense amounts of work. And the payoff of all their work was there for all to see: they were all fantastic. For that alone, it was a wonderful night. Although they’ll surely improve, they were beyond their tender age.
Thanks to them, there was fun. Lots of it, in fact – so much I fail to remember many details. My memory is honestly a mess, which is apparently not strange when you have so much fun at an event. The only thing I clearly recall was that I had the time of my life. Don’t be surprised if the next part is quite short.
The spoken parts (see: AZALEA turning the whole audience into their “prisoners”) as well the anime skits (such as the great food war) were all entertaining. But of course the performances are the main dish – and how good they were! Guilty Kiss were the high point in that sense. They set the Arena on fire. Their outfits (the little ribbons on Rikyako’s sleeves!), the old-school mics, and the sheer dynamism of their performance made their two songs special. They’re very fun on their own, but Aikyan, Ainya and Rikyako rocking it out with their unfiltered energy took the music to a whole new level.
This Guilty moment aside, everything else was incredible. Seeing the songs I came to love from the anime, among others, performed live, was a special experience. I can still see Shukashuu’s ballet moment during Yozora wa Nandemo Shitteru no?; I knew she’d been dancing since her childhood, but phew, that was something! The calmer performances, such as Tokimeki Bunruigaku, were also able to get me fired up. I guess hearing your favorite songs live is simply great in general? てへぺろ～☆ In all seriousness, just seeing King, Suwawa and Arisha – aka AZALEA aka probably my favorite subunit music-wise so far – moving around and singing in these gorgeous outfits was such a thrill!
There were also the colored trolleys, and although I wasn’t close enough to fully “benefit” from them, it was still great to see the Arena’s size being taken advantage of, and the girls singing and moving around in these little props. The use of lighting – the arena looked white at one point! – was also beautiful and felt relevant: they did light up the Arena, that night. Seeing the anime outfits – especially Mijuku DREAMER’s – in flesh was another great detail (Suwawa seriously looks fantastic in everything, doesn’t she…). I loved the changes to some of them, such as the Daisuki Dattara Daijoubu! one.
I think my thoughts are clear by now, aren’t they? Everything was simply perfect: they sang great, danced great, and everything that went on around them only made the night more powerful.
But I would go further and say there was even romance to the night. Because of the circumstances stated above, of course, but not only. One specific moment elevated the show far above my expectations. As they prepared to perform Omoi yo Hitotsu ni Nare, one walked away from the pack, walked up a few stairs, and finally sat in front of a grand piano. That girl was Aida Rikako. And what she was about to give us was not only a concert highlight, but a career highlight.
Her face through the song let everyone know her emotional state with heart-rending clarity – she looked anxious, stressed, and yet braved on to deliver a nearly flawless (or rather, flawless to my untrained ear) performance. It was beautiful and touching, especially considering she had to walk off the stage for a few minutes afterwards. I already felt like, in a sense, she’d stolen the show. As she would later reveal, not only was it a challenge she took upon by her own decision, but she only had three months to perfect a (by no means easy) song to be performed in front of a huge audience, all without prior experience or even knowing how to read a music sheet. In retrospect, this only fills me with more admiration for her.
After the live, I had only one wish: to go back on the next day. Unfortunately, I had no ticket, and that wish was not to be granted. A very unfortunate turn of events indeed, as the second day featured one of the most memorable moments of their (yet young) career: Rikyako’s on-stage breakdown as she started playing OmoiHito. I am both sad that it happened (her later Instagram post showed it truly weighed on her), and sad not to have seen it, for this is the kind of moment that will go down in the group’s history.
On the first day, Rikyako did wonderfully. She did look in a bad state, but that only heightened the performance she gave, given its quality. It would be logical to imagine her more relaxed and confident on the second day – it’d gone well on the first day, so the second should be even better! and perhaps that was indeed her thought process. But if it was, it backfired. The desire to repeat the success she’d struggled so much for ended up pressuring her even more greatly, and on the second day she broke down.
And yet, although it is sad, and I can only hope she forgives herself (for I know not one person in the world would blame her), it is also beautiful, for it reveals the human sometimes hidden in the professional’s shadow. Because she exerts herself daily behind the scenes, we in the public generally fail to see the stress and exhaustion that pile up in her mind. At this moment, Rikyako was human, definitely as fragile and vulnerable as all of us. She’d taken on a more than admirable challenge, and left us in awe just a day prior – yet there is a price to her bravery. And I’d say she more than paid it back with the bravery she showed as she resumed playing through the tears, this time finishing off her performance beautifully. She showed incredibly courage. Yes, it is hard, but unlike we tend to forget, she knows that. More than we can imagine. And so she saw the difficulties through – through the tears and the anxiety, yes, but she saw it all through, and I hope she can smile her struggle goodbye with pride, because she deserves nothing less. Rikyako, I love you! You’re amazing, and these two nights have only made me more admiring of you. You have my undying support!
It was also a moment where the leader, Inami Anju, did herself proud. Her quick and appropriate action was an amazing thing: she promptly gave Rikyako the support she needed. Yet, is there a moment where Anchan fails to make everyone proud as Aqours’ leader? She truly is wonderful. I love her moments of sincerity, such as during the final speeches when she defiantly claimed she’d “resolved herself not to cry”, revealing how emotional she was while keeping strong and funny. This is the kind of thing that makes her such a perfect leader – she has what it takes to bridge the gap between her and the members. It’s no wonder she was picked as a host for the Uraraji program.
Another moment I found beautiful was how they acted out the Aqours “play” pre-MIRAI TICKET. In the anime, this scene, more than a summary, is the symbolical representation of the conclusion Chika arrives at – to shine is to “enjoy” everything, including your sorrows. They “act out” their struggles, put them on display for the audience in a “fun” form, precisely because these moments are things to be enjoyed. Aqours, as in the nine seiyuu, also struggled a lot for this day. Beyond the simple fact that seeing them acting (quite well, I may say!) was great fun, I found it possible to see this moment under the same light it appears in the anime – they struggled, but now here they are! Isn’t this alone a good reason to enjoy all the struggles that appeared on the way? And of course, seeing MIRAI TICKET live (and shouting Yosoro!) was an awesome time.
Is there anything left to say? I wouldn’t run of praise if I were to continue. But I don’t have anything to add: the night I spent in Yokohama Arena was made unique and amazing by these nine incredible girls. The Aqours seiyuu have always been special to me because I’ve followed them from the start. Seeing them grow to this point fills me with pride, and I only feel more supportive and loving of them after that night. They were amazing, gave me and everyone an unforgettable time, and I’m sure they’ll grow even more amazing in the future. (In this sense, it was telling that of the day two announcements, the 2nd live tour had me more excited than the anime’s second season).
Aqours, thank you so much for a night I’ll always cherish. I’ll be seeing you in Saitama (and maybe Kobe). Here’s to more unforgettable memories together!