Otakuthon has finally returned to in-person events! I have been attending this convention for several years, but this time, I found myself interested in an aspect that I had previously overlooked: the live music. Most concert tickets are purchased separately from a convention ticket, but I found that the variety and talent of the performers make them well worth the additional cost. This article covers four of the ten musical events which took place during the three-day weekend.
blank paper is a new Japanese band, which only began releasing songs in 2021. They were catapulted into fame after their song “enemy” was used as the opening theme for AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline, a mech anime set in near-future Japan where a young boy endeavours to rebel against an oppressive military force. While I enjoyed their music, it was the band’s creative process which really made them stand out to me. Their “blank paper medicine” involves the band collaborating online with fans, listeners, and professional producers to create their songs.
The show’s narrative took place in a near-future science fiction universe, where everyone lives in a metaverse-like virtual reality, and the line between real life and technology is blurred. The lead singers “C45P3R” (Casper) and “T3R354” (Theresa) were accompanied by two “robots” piloted by the helpful AI Hazama. The story was deftly integrated into the performance, and mysteries surrounding the band and the universe they inhabit left me interested to learn more.
Technology was also an integral part of the show’s visuals, as blank paper used the video screens on either side of the stage extensively to project song lyrics and visions of their dark metaverse. The live feed of the concert was seamless, and the variety of filters used made the band look like fictional characters, effectively blurring the line between physical and virtual reality.
While the band asked people to remain in their seats during the concert, the energy generated by blank paper was incredible. Pen lights came out almost as soon as the band took to the stage, and at several points, the floor was shaking from hundreds of people jumping in unison with the beat. With some songs having lyrics displayed in both English and Japanese, it was relatively easy for a newcomer to follow along. Overall, blank paper’s mix of dark techno, EDM, and rock was full of energy, resulting in a very exciting show.
Ice Qream is a Quebec group inspired by Japanese idol culture, whose goal is to “make Japanese idols known in North America” by performing a variety of J-Pop styles. The group was founded seven years ago, and performed at Otakuthon once before the pandemic. This year’s show involved members Vicky, Millie, Lili, Nemi, and Fani performing for a crowd of adoring fans.
Although they performed a couple of original songs at the start of the concert, the main attraction was their medley of covers, which included over 20 songs, such as “Jounetsu Ecstasy” by C-ute, “Heavy Rotation” by AKB48, “Puppy Love” by YuiKaori, and “Promise the Stars” by BiSH.
Inspired by Wa-suta, a cat-themed kawaii idol group where each member learned a different language in order to reach more people with their music, Ice Qream performs trilingual shows—including English, French, and Japanese—in order to make them accessible to everyone in Quebec.
Unlike blank paper, Ice Qream actually encouraged the spectators to dance in front of the stage. This is an important part of “wotagei,” the fan culture surrounding idols. According to Vicky, including lots of “wotagei” and “kawaii” songs in each medley is crucial, as it allows fans to truly get a taste of the idol experience—which is focused not only on the idols themselves but on the fandoms that form around them.
In a brief interview after the show, Vicky hinted that there would be much more to come for the group. They are currently planning to release two original songs this winter, and are potentially recruiting new members. Lily noted that the group has been working very hard on their songs, stating: “We may be amateurs, but we want to make sure we produce good quality stuff.”
Lily also encouraged people to “be curious. Not many people know what idol culture really is outside of Japan, but there is some incredible music to be discovered.” Vicky agreed, saying that “Idol life is much more difficult than it is in anime. There are lots of girls trying to make a living in [the Japanese entertainment industry], and they deserve to be loved.”
Vicky concluded the interview by reminding any fans of Ice Qream that the band “loves them all!” and that they look forward to performing more for their wonderful fans.
Orchestre de Jeux Vidéo (OJV)
The Orchestre de Jeux Vidéo is a staple of the Montreal geek community. Founded in 2008, the orchestra creates and performs original symphonies based on video games. These concerts may be dedicated to anything from specific video game franchises, to consoles such as the Wii, and even ideas as broad as indie games. The OJV has been playing at Otakuthon since 2011, and their return this year was highly anticipated.
The orchestra is a wind ensemble composed of more than 60 members, accompanied by a sufficient amount of percussion and strings to balance the sound. There were plenty of solos and duets, giving many of the musicians the chance to showcase their skills.
While their concerts are typically driven by a single theme, the OJV shook things up for their Otakuthon performance. They played a few songs from some of their most popular symphonies, inspired by games such as Super Mario, Skyrim, Pokemon, and Undertale.
Although the musicians mainly played their instruments, there were also some moments where the orchestra doubled as a choir. Their Skyrim piece was particularly stunning, and the chorus of voices in the middle of the piece gave me chills. During the choral portions the echoes of the performers’ voices took on an unearthly quality, and the epic nature of Skyrim’s music meant that the instrumental portions of the piece evoked the Ride of the Valkyries.
The OJV’s upcoming fall concert, Materia Symphony, is based on the music of Final Fantasy VII, and Otakuthon concertgoers were treated to one of the movements. It was a mythical experience, truly deserving of the title “Fantasy.” The music from the game sounded even more epic in this orchestral rendition. OJV concerts are perfect for not only video game fans, but for anyone who wants to see a skilled, classically trained orchestra put on an amazing show.
Orchestre d’Animes de Montréal (OAM)
The Orchestre des animes de Montréal’s concert took place right after the OJV concert. While the ensemble was smaller than OJV, they were quite eye-catching, as each performer was dressed in cosplay. From Ancient Magus Bride to Sailor Moon, the wide variety of cosplays was almost as entertaining as the music. I particularly enjoyed the Ancient Magus Bride cosplay; due to the size of the costume, the intimidating Magus loomed over the rest of the performers, even when sitting in the back.
The OAM was also joined onstage by Boku no Choir, a recent addition of guest vocalists that added a lot to the show. The choir performed some songs on their own, and accompanied OAM for many of the others. While the soloists’ performances were stunning, I also appreciated the general ambiance of a choir of voices accompanying the instruments.
The OAM played a wide variety of anime music, from older titles such as Sailor Moon and the 1997 anime adaptation of Berserk, to the recent hit shows Demon Slayer and Arcane. They even included songs from series such as Elfen Lied in order to appeal to every anime fan in the room. Evidently, the members of the OAM were not only passionate about their music, but were knowledgeable about anime in general.
I particularly enjoyed the adaptation choices made in the songs. Almost all of the pieces were arranged by someone in the ensemble—from the director to the bassist—and the arrangements suited their collection of instruments very well. At one point, the OAM played an iconic anime opening with style-swaps through 10 different musical genres, which greatly amused the crowd.
OAM’s performance was the final concert I attended during Otakuthon, and I found it to be a fitting representation of the convention as a whole. It was a performance by passionate people who love Japanese culture, for a crowd of similarly inclined people. It was a lovely experience, and I was very happy to experience the unique sense of community that comes from attending live concerts again.
Otakuthon has truly returned to form this year in every respect, especially the featured musical guests. Each of the performers had their own distinct appeal, and having the chance to attend all of these concerts meant I got to appreciate a variety of musical genres and styles. If you aren’t doing so already, then you should definitely be checking out the musical guest list when registering for Otakuthon next year!