So what’s that Anisama like? Memories of Anisama 2018

I’m aware that writing an event report for something from almost two years ago is pretty late, more so than doing the same with pilgrimages, but a friend wanted to read this. Besides, I looked on Google and saw that again, there’s not much written on Anisama in English, so I figured some people might profit from general information of what to expect and how to prepare. I’ve used old instant messaging logs and online resources to complement my memory and confirm details.

In Japan, Anisama (アニサマ), short for Animelo Summer Live (アニメロサマーライブ) is a household name among anime fans. It’s the largest and most famous festival for anime music in the world, packing the 27,000-seat Saitama Super Arena full on three consecutive days, for a total audience of 81,000 (though, of course, there are many people attending multiple days, so it’s not 81,000 unique visitors). Anisama is generally organized on the last weekend of August, sometimes spilling over into September, from Friday to Sunday. For many fans and performers, this festival marks the end of summer.

For clarity, Anisama is not the kind of festival where there are multiple stages in a big outdoor area and you set up on the festival grounds for the night; rather, it’s like three normal concert sessions, only that each is almost five hours long, with quite a lot of performers that are cycled through at a fast pace. When I went in 2018, it was between 18 and 20 artists per night, each getting 1 to 4 songs allocated to them for a total of around 45 songs per night. The big advantage of Anisama as compared to some other anison (anime song) festivals is that the artists don’t need to be attached to a particular label; rather, Anisama can invite any artists. The “Animelo” behind the Animelo Summer Live is, rather than a label, a brand of online anison services that have since been eclipsed in name recognition by the concert.

This article will be a description of Anisama in general and my experience at Anisama 2018 in particular. Thus, some things might change in coming years, but by and large, you can deduce what to expect based on how it was. Furthermore, at least in 2019 the system was mostly the same, and it seems to be that way now in 2020 as well… although things may change due to the pandemic.

Leadup and tickets

The wait for Anisama starts in March, when the first batch of information is released. The announcements include information about the theme song and some initial goods, and the reveal of the first set of artists, around half of the total number. Recently, the initial announcements have been done at a special panel at the AnimeJapan fair in Tokyo. (This year, of course, the panel was hastily made digital due to the cancellation of AnimeJapan 2020.) More info is released as we get closer to the concert dates. Notably, a few new artists are revealed for each day every two to four weeks, slowly filling in the lineup, although a couple artists are left unannounced in order to have surprise guests.

In March, the Blu-ray discs for the previous year’s Anisama are released, and they contain codes to the first ticket lottery. Anisama is another one of those demand-exceeding-supply concerts in Japan where you have to take part in a lottery to win the privilege of being able to purchase a ticket. There are, however, multiple rounds and not all of them require an additional purchase. For my part, in 2018, I participated in all open lottery rounds as well as exclusive rounds for ANiUTA subscribers. ANiUTA is a monthly billed streaming service for anime music; since the subscription fee wasn’t too high, I subscribed after finding out about the exclusive rounds, although granted, I was also curious in general. Back then it was ANiUTA, but the message is to keep your eyes open for similar business partner campaigns.

The first lottery I participated in was the first ANiUTA round, and I already won tickets to Day 1 there. At least back then, you could make one application per day and got a separate result for each day. A few rounds in, I won Day 3. I had been quite interested in Day 2 as well, due to its strong lineup of artists, but despite balloting (taking part in the lottery) for it a total of six times, I never had success. After winning Day 1 and Day 3, I had a time window of a few days to pay. I did my payments at a convenience store—the other option was a Japanese credit card. The standard price per ticket was ¥9,200 tax included, but the final price after the “system usage charge,” the “issuance handling charge,” the “special sales usage charge” and the “payment handling charge” came to ¥10,064.

In addition to lotteries, Anisama uses “normal sales” (一般販売 ippan hanbai) which simply means a quota of first come, first serve tickets—and in my honest opinion, that’s a worse system than lotteries, as much as some people might have misgivings about those. When I tried buying a Day 2 ticket in the normal sales, I was obviously standing by with my computer, ready to refresh the page the moment the clock hit 10 in the morning. I made it to selecting the tickets and pressing OK, but then the server gave me an error, saying it was over-congested. When I returned to the ticket selection page, all the good tickets were already gone. It did certainly not feel fair. There was also a last-minute normal sales opportunity at 8 in the morning of each day of the concert, but I didn’t have luck there either.

I said specifically that the good tickets were gone, so what you have to know is that there were different kinds of tickets. In addition to normal ones, there were seats that were at an angle from the back, where either the stage equipment blocked part or all of the view of the stage (機材見切席) or the stage was simply hard to see or not visible due to the angle itself (サイド見切れ席). The worse tickets were at a lower price point though, which is fair.

In 2018, the ticket platform Anisama used for lotteries was Ticket Pia, while the normal sales used a range of different services. However, services used depend on the year. For Ticket Pia, verification with a Japanese phone number was required, but I’m hearing LINE Ticket, used in 2019 and 2020, doesn’t require that.

Preparations before the concert

Looking through the artist lineups, if I didn’t instantly recognize a performer by name, I would check to see whether I’d seen the anime they had done themes to. Many I knew, many I didn’t. For some, I’d heard only one specific opening or ending, but knew that such narrow knowledge might not cut it at the concert if they were to do other songs. I actually went so far as to note down some anime I should watch based on the artists, naming the list my “Anisama agenda.” This included, for example, Wake Up, Girls! for the eponymous idol group performing on Day 1 and Little Witch Academia for YURiKA, performing on Day 3. I was specifically aiming to better my concert experience with this, and it was a good move in the end, even if what I managed to see in the months leading up to the concerts was limited. I would recommend something similar to others who find themselves lacking context for many artists.

Like many other concerts, Anisama offers the option to order merchandise in advance and have it delivered to your home in the weeks before the concert. This saves you the trouble of waiting in line at the venue on concert days—and those are quite some lines. On the other hand, if you’re not in Japan already or if you are, but you’re traveling around before the concert, it might prove difficult to be home to receive the packages at the right time. In any case, I preordered some (although delivery dates didn’t line up for further rounds with new items), and it was the right call. Preordering is more important here than for other concerts. This is because Anisama has a side program held before the start of the actual concert. Hours spent standing in line are hours not spent watching the side program.

Besides merchandise, one thing you should have is a penlight, meaning the handheld concert lights that are used in Japanese subculture concerts in particular. They sell an official Anisama penlight as a merchandise item, too, and you can get that if you want to—but you can just as well get an unbranded one. Generally speaking, people do tend to buy branded penlights for artists they like, at their own concerts, but festival penlights are not popular. Many anime stores, Don Quijotes, and Amazon stock standard penlights. I used an unbranded King Blade, plus an Aqours-branded one for Day 1, the day Aqours was performing. Ultra oranges (short-duration, extra-bright single-use light sticks) have generally been allowed at Anisama, even as policies towards them vary among concerts held by the various artists independently. (However, do check the rules for your year in case this changes, to be sure!) Other items to bring would be a muffler towel to wipe off sweat and since there might be towel songs and, well, water.

One final thing to prepare would be learning the calls (コール, timed chants the audience does) to songs. With Anisama, however, this is a bit difficult due to the high number of artists and the fact that they only perform few songs each, meaning that you have to guess which songs those will be or learn a broader discography. Being an Aqours fan, I knew their calls already; otherwise I have to admit that I kind of slacked in this department. I was counting on being able to imitate others at the concert and learn calls on the fly, which did actually work. However, I’ve also seen people writing on Twitter about how some artists got too little audience commitment and that attendees should at least look up their calls. It would certainly be best, if you have the time. Generally, YouTube practice playlists with predictions of songs probable to be performed pop up in the leadup to Anisama; the key search phrase is アニサマ予習.

Day 1 (Friday)

For the first day, I had my Anisama 2018 shirt on, and despite being an Aqours fan in particular at this point of time, I didn’t have any special Aqours merch on me. I had been unsure of what the concert culture is like at Anisama—would being decked out in the merch of one specific artist be seen as inconsiderate to other artists, since it could be taken to mean you care about no one else? However, when I arrived at Saitama-Shintoshin Station and walked to the park outside the Saitama Super Arena, I saw that I had probably overthought that. Many others wore shirts and happis and had other visible merch of their favorite artists. This was particularly visible with fans of Aqours, Wake Up, Girls! and Poppin’ Party, all performing on Day 1.

A view towards the Arena.

The area outside the Arena had been set up to serve the pre-concert crowds. There was an ANiUTA booth with a can badge gacha (¥500 for one random badge, some signed). There were five separate merch sale booths—one for Anisama merch, one for individual artists’ merch, one each for the companies Bushiroad and Good Smile Company, and a CD/DVD/Blu-ray booth. Artist goods sold varied by the day, depending on which artists were performing. For the Anisama and artist merch booths in particular, the lines were… long. I had planned to buy some more merch on location, but abandoned the idea in order to have time to watch the side program.

The side program, held on a small stage opposite the venue, is an attraction in its own right, running from 10 in the morning to 14 (2 pm), the time the venue opens its doors. That’s something not every event has. On Day 1, the side program was kicked off with a mini-live by the voice actress music unit Kleissis. The rest of the time was allocated to “Karaoke DAM Stage,” though even that started with a DJ part before the actual karaoke. The karaoke featured both ordinary people who had been chosen to sing here by the organizers based on karaoke videos submitted by them, and anison artists and voice actors. It was fun to follow, and the audience really got into these karaoke performances as well, doing calls and clapping. There was some Wake Up, Girls, some Love Live, there was Don’t say lazy, et cetera. The artist karaoke even had the successor unit to Wake Up, Girls, named Run, Girls, Run.

Sore wa bokutachi no kiseki hype.

Of course, I had to eat something before the concert, and there was an Anisama food court on location. The food on offer was normal, not based on anime in any way. I got myself a bowl of mazesoba, after which I went back to watching the side program.

When that finished, I did some final preparations before entering the venue. There were stairs down to an underground mall area, with toilets that were getting a bit more crowded but that were still very reasonable. Using the toilet is definitely a thing to approach strategically in big anison/idol concerts if you’re a guy, because due to the gender imbalance, male toilets are under quite some pressure, and a visit can get very long simply due to the waiting times. Seems to be significantly more relaxed for girls, though. Underground also had vending machines, so I bought an additional 500 ml bottle of water, even though I already had one—to be sure. One more note would be that there were also convenience stores and food places underground, so those are a further lunch option if the food court options seem lacking. Anyway, I was done here, so I was off to the venue.

I made sure to enter the venue well on time, because I had read on Twitter that if you enter after 15, you might not make it to your seat by the start of the show at 16. Then again, my experience at an Aqours concert at a similarly sized venue later on begs to differ, but the takeaway should still be that it’s best not to leave entering to the last minute. The reason it takes time is that thousands of people are going in at the same time, and the staff has to check everyone’s tickets. Even something simple and fast takes time when it’s thousands being bottlecapped at the gates.

After I got inside, I was surprised to discover that there was a separate merch sale inside. They only had the basic items, as in the program (in Japanese: パンフレット, literally ‘pamphlet’), the official penlight and T-shirts, but the line was more humane than in the outside sales, and since you had already passed the ticket check, you wouldn’t need to risk not making it to the start of the concert—if the start time was too close for comfort, you could simply leave the line and go straight to your seat.

There were flower stands, an expression of congratulations to an artist, lined up on the walls, for various performers of the day.

My seat was around the middle of the hall, so neither very close to nor very far from the stage. Once I made my way there, there wasn’t much left to do. Usage of cell phones was officially forbidden inside the hall. That rule was enforced by staff going around and telling people to put their phones away, but it was regarded in a more relaxed way than many others… The screens were playing ads for the radio and online video programs of various voice actors and anison artists, mostly those on Bunka Housou. Alongside these, there were ads for the DAM Stadium karaoke equipment feature where you can opt to get footage from an Anisama concert to play in the background while singing select songs, instead of the music video or, you know, stock videos of generic men and women walking on beaches, exploring New York, and coming to terms with the fact that human life is fleeting.

When the time neared 16, the videos were shut off and music started playing at a proper volume to get the crowd warmed up. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, this was mainstream music, the kind of We Will Rock You. The final song before the start of the concert was Da Pump’s U.S.A., Japan’s uncontested summer hit of 2018. At this point, quite a few people turned their penlights on, set to red, and waved them to the beat. It was effective warmup.

Day 1: the concert

At 16, the concert kicked off. Every day is traditionally begun by a collaboration. Collaborations are a specialty of Anisama. They feature several artists performing a song together, the song in question often being a cover of a famous anison. Anisama 2018, Day 1 began with Aya Uchida and Suzuko Mimori performing Nana Mizuki’s Discotheque. This opening song is generally a one-off by its artists, so Ucchii and Mimorin passed the baton to the next artist and returned backstage to wait for their individual turns after it.

All in all, the concert was intense. With a hall full of people of a certain subculture, and the bright lights and everything, I later described it as a “center of the world” experience. I had previously only been to a concert less than half of this scale (Aqours 3rd Live in Osaka), so even though I had felt the oneness (一体感 ittaikan) of the audience before, with 27,000 people doing the same penlight motions and chants it was yet more impressive.

On the other hand, even though I considered myself a big anime fan with a lot of shows under my belt, and not that unfamiliar with voice actors and anison artists in general, in the end I felt slightly embarrassed for how few songs I properly knew. Some artists that I knew for their songs used in older anime were now playing newer songs that were less familiar to me. As a consequence, to some degree, the concert experience was living from one peak to the next, the peaks being those artists that were my favorites and that I was familiar with. In between the peaks, there was a lot of songs and artists that I didn’t know as well. Still, even that was nice, and I started liking some new people and songs, too, even if it was not the same thing as going to a concert for one artist you really like, already loving every song on the setlist.

Many attendees very clearly caught a breather while artists that they weren’t into as much were performing. They were standing but not waving their penlights, leaning against the back of their seat, or even sitting down. Unlike e.g. Aqours concerts, Anisama had hardly any intermission animations, long talk segments or anything else that you would sit down for by default. It’s straight from one song to the next, and if you’re standing up and hyping every song up, you’re bound to be exhausted at some point. So was I as well, and my way to recharge was to simply lean back against the chair—personally, sitting down would’ve felt a bit disrespectful. However, as I said, many did that, and I understand it, even though I slightly judged those who sat through too many performances. I was still properly participating for artists I wasn’t that into, in the spirit of solidarity—as long as I wasn’t too tired myself.

There was a break of… I think 30 minutes at a little past 18 on both days. That was sufficient even for going to the toilet as a guy, although if you picked that option, not for much else. During the breaks, the screens resumed playing the radio show and karaoke ads. Now that the crowd was energized, when part of a song was played in a karaoke ad, many people did calls to the ad, which was pretty funny. Even better, after an ad ended, many would do one more FuFuu! at the exact timing at which that would’ve belonged, had the song continued. Similarly, some would greet or represent their favorite voice actors and artists by waving their penlight in their image color when they were on screen for a radio show ad. Even I took part in this culture, waving my penlights yellow when Aqours’s Kanako Takatsuki was on screen in the ad for the Kanako to Sarara program.

My top highlight for Day 1 was unsurprisingly Aqours, but they weren’t the only one. Another was the multi-artist Steins;Gate part after the break. The behavior of the guy on my left during that is still a mystery to me. He was really into the first song, Kanako Itō’s Fatima, but afterwards he was completely passive during the second song and the third and final song of that segment, even thought the third featured Kanako Itō again. However, the guy activated once more for Aqours, and our “I live, I live Love Live Days!” shouts were in impressive sync.

In any case, I’d definitely say that it’s easier to get into a song and go all in if that’s what the people around you are doing as well. That’s also my rationale for the “solidarity hype” mentioned earlier. For example, on my right side was a woman who was really into the male idol group DearDream, and even though I wasn’t particularly interested, I would stay standing and wave my penlights in order to not make it awkward for people around me to go all in.

Other highlights were the final Anisama performance of Wake Up, Girls featuring a special video message from other idols, Poppin’ Party doing God Knows… from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the final artist (トリ tori), OLDCODEX, in general. I hadn’t expected much of them, but the singer was a really fun guy for his energy and his talk parts. He forwent keigo, addressing the audience in plain Japanese. He was genre savvy, saying he was thankful for getting the honor of being the final performer, knowing that many had come to Anisama to see artists other than them and that performing after Aqours, “who I know you all love” had made him nervous. He performed with high energy and managed to really win over us fans of other artists as well. He even jumped down from the stage and ran around the hall, high fiving attendees. Apparently he’d done the same four years before and gotten berated by staff, but had permission this time. Of note was also the one song where he asked the audience to turn off their penlights and feel the song with their bare fists, transforming Saitama Super Arena into “Japan’s biggest live house,” as one news portal described it.

After OLDCODEX, the concert concluded with all of the day’s artists singing the Anisama 2018 theme song Stand by…MUSIC!!! together, as is tradition. Each year’s Anisama gets a theme song created specifically for it, also released on CD and performed at the end of each day. The concert ended sometime around 21:15, for a total duration of over five hours if including the break.

After the concert, merch sales continued for an additional half an hour. The line was considerably shorter than during the day, even if an inexperienced concert-goer would still consider it awfully long. I still wanted to get a penlight sleeve, so I lined up for that.

When I was leaving, the advertising at Saitama-Shintoshin Station was thematically appropriate.

Day 3 (Sunday)

As I mentioned in the earlier sections, I had tried to get a ticket to Day 2, but was unsuccessful. Later I would look at the information for Day 2’s side program, noticing that it had included appearances by Real Akiba Boyz and 22/7, and wonder whether I should’ve gone there just for the side program. After all, that’s outside in the public park, there are no ticket checks there.

In any case, my triumphant return to Anisama was two days later. The side program started with a non-anime-related idol group (Niji no Conquistador), followed by DJ Caesar (DJシーザー), memorable for DJ’ing in a JoJo outfit. The karaoke parts were again fun. I remember that there was even one American dude who sang there. When the audience found out he’s from the US, they started doing U-S-A chants, which was pretty funny. He sang some shōnen anime opening, as far as I remember. I also had the advantage of not having to ponder whether I should actually be lining up for some merch since I’d already bought what I wanted on Friday.

For lunch, I had already had the mazesoba on Friday, so I wanted to eat something else on Sunday. I was curious about the “American Long Potatoes” on the menu, and figured that I should try them now since I didn’t know when I’d next come across such. They were basically long, long French fries swimming in various sweet sauces. Eating was quite difficult in the end, since they broke and shorter pieces were left to sink into the sauce, where I had to try to fish them out of using other pieces and, ultimately, my fingers, which got awkwardly sticky as a consequence. The long potatoes were definitely my biggest struggle of that day. For the record, based on a cursory Google search, it seems that American Long Potatoes are, as I suspected, another Japanese “foreign” specialty and don’t actually exist in the US.

Once the side program finished, I figured that even though I wouldn’t actually be in much of a hurry to get in, there wasn’t much else to do anymore—the merch lines didn’t suddenly get empty and doable either—so I entered well in advance again. Besides, it was hot outside. Japanese summers are way hotter than what would be legal. I got sunburned both days even though the concert itself was inside.

Entering the Saitama Super Arena.

This time, my seat was on the very last row of the hall. I suspect that this was due to my getting the ticket in a relatively late lottery. I was directly facing the stage, only very far away on the second level. Behind me was no one, only the wall. At first I worried about what this would mean for the concert atmosphere. Would people be able to get excited this far back? Would it be quiet if I wasn’t surrounded by other fans on all sides? Luckily, the people in my immediate vicinity would prove to be great. And, on the other hand, you could get a really good view of just how big the venue was from there.

The “warmup” was the same as on Friday, complete with U.S.A. and all.

Day 3: the concert

Sunday’s concert began with “ANISAM A GO GO,” a version of MILKY A GO GO by Milky Holmes, with slightly altered lyrics, performed by Milky Holmes together with i☆Ris, Sumire Uesaka and Nao Tōyama. That was quite some carnival feeling. Again, after the opening song, all of these artists returned backstage, yielding the stage to the Umaru crew.

While Friday had been a somewhat humbling experience, this time I knew the drill. I hadn’t expected much from Sunday due to the artist lineup having been, in my eyes, stronger on the other two days, but in the end I had a whole lot of fun, certainly rivaling Friday. There were new, unexpected highlights for me.

One was the completely out of the blue Snow halation cover by The Monsters, i.e. totally not JAM Project in disguise. The Monsters were technically a surprise guest, even, although JAM Project itself had been announced. They said they’d play a song “that’s perfect for this Anisama,” and then start straight with the chorus, leading many to believe this was part of the self-introduction performance or something similar and not the full song. When the opening notes sounded after the chorus, it began to sink in, and we cheered and switched our penlights to white. I have to admit to the world that in the excitement, I switched to orange already in the first chorus for a split-second before hurriedly switching back and mentally berating myself. I got to participate in the actual switch to orange later. It was a great cover, too.

A photo of the switch to orange. From JAM member Yoshiki Fukuyama’s tweet.

Another unexpected highlight was Minori Suzuki. I knew her mainly as the singer of the Ramen daisuki Koizumi-san opening, and by mainly I mean only. I really started liking her at Anisama for how sweet and sympathetic she was, excited to be on the big stage now right after her solo debut. Besides the aforementioned opening, FEELING AROUND, her next song Rewind was also fun with its “monkey” choreography. Rewind was an ending theme to the new Cardcaptor Sakura, and Minoringo remarked that there were actually two Sakura artists there that night, with Saori Hayami, already established as a favorite voice actress of mine, having sung another ending earlier. She returned to the stage for them to be able to sing “that song” together. The audience’s expectation of what “that song” might mean were fulfilled when the two sang Catch You Catch Me. A duet between a new and an established favorite, that moment was definitely a highlight.

My spot in the very back didn’t water down the hype either. A special shoutout goes to the guy on my left side, who was always dedicated to do the calls, and do them loud. I got to rely on him, synchronizing my penlight motions to his and learning calls to new songs on the go by listening to him—basically, once I had heard the chorus once, I could do it too the next time. After all, I was a bit of a newcomer. I think the two of us might have been the most active people on that row at least, and to an extent he seemed to rely on me as well. When I screamed “hai,” he could also put in some volume.

The guy on my left was especially into Idolmaster, but there was something curious about this. When Idolmaster Million Live! Million Stars came on stage towards the end of the concert, he went wild and grabbed a bunch of single-color Idolmaster-branded penlights from his bag, suddenly holding around four of them per hand. He went all in for the first song. After that, the Million Stars did a three-song medley, and after the first portion of that was over, the guy left with his friend. I was baffled. If this was your main course, why would you leave in the middle? Even if you’d be there only for specific idols in the group, there would be one more full-group song, and they’d take part in performing the concert’s theme song at the very end, too. The only plausible explanation I could muster was that maybe they had to catch the last train, but just how far would you need to live for the last train to be that early…? And couldn’t you just book a capsule hotel for the night?

Anyway, once he’d left, I was a bit lost with the calls, being mostly unfamiliar with Idolmaster, and it was not as easy to shout “hai” without people nearby to back you up. I had to imitate people in front of me, which was less intuitive. On the other hand, I guess this goes to show what great support that stranger was.

For the record, on Day 3 I had brought both of my penlights with me, but seeing that most people around me only used one, I left the Aqours-branded one in the bag and only used the unbranded one. In contrast to Friday where it seemed just as common, on this day I would’ve been the only one in my row to use two. Funny how it goes.

The final artist of Anisama 2018 in its entirety (大トリ ootori) was JAM Project. When they started I was already pretty exhausted, and I assume most were, but they still managed to wring out the last of our energy and get us to levels of activity that shouldn’t have been possible anymore. The “I can fly, hey, you can fly, hey, motto motto” in SKILL never seemed to end, and that was fine.

When the Anisama 2018 theme song came on, it hit me that this celebration of anime music was ending, and I got a bit nostalgic already. It’s a really nice song, so I’ll include it here in closing. The lyrics are nice as well, and since I was unhappy with the one existing English translation for them, I did my own just for the sake of this article. You can check the translation here.

I think participating in Anisama 2018 made familiarized me with a slew of anison artists, being the kind of preparation it itself would’ve necessitated from me. When I’ve followed the live tweet updates and seen footage in subsequent years, I’ve been able to recognize and appreciate more people, so if I were to have the chance to participate again, I’d be in a better position.

More info

Anisama is known enough that there is also video footage of various concerts floating around on the Internet.

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