Otakon 2019 In Review – The Language of Cosplay and Music

The legacy of famed artist, Nujabes, bridges two nations and two cultures together many years later

Hello and good morning! Good afternoon! Good evening! Wherever you are reading this across all of the seven seas, or in the comfort of your own home, Lost Summer Dayz is here to bring you an exclusive report! A report none other than Otakon itself! This was my second time attending Otakon, with my first being way back in 2012, when it was still held in Baltimore.

There were several firsts for me the past weekend. It was my first time ever being inside Washington instead of passing through. Secondly, it was my first time attending the convention within the Washington venue. As such, I was coming into this convention, excited on what it would hold for me. For several reasons. Did Otakon live up to my hype that I had built up for it in my mind? We’ll find out now!

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Our Otakon 2019 story begins earlier within the month of July, contrary to the day of travel. I had first heard the news of Otakon via a suggestion of the group I am affiliated with, the Geeks of the Round Table. What made me dead set on wanting to attend the event, however, were two major reasons.

The first reason was the Tribute to Nujabes concert and the chance to see quite possibly one of my favorite Japanese artists, MINMI. The second reason was to also meet my actual muse for getting me into Japanese music, Taku Takahashi. Everything else would have been a bonus, and the entire experience was indeed a giant love letter to the culture. But! I am getting way ahead of myself here!

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Nessa and Leon from Pokemon Sword and Shield credit: bunsonbunscosplay

Knowing this, I’ve purchased the tickets to Otakon and VIP for the concert, and twiddled my thumbs waiting for this eventful weekend to arrive. Sure enough, on Thursday, July 25th, the morning did come. Meeting up with my fellow cohorts, we embarked on our bus ride to the event! At least, we would have, had the bus not arrived an hour late, thus making the trip a six hour trek. (The ride back was way more palatable, thankfully!)

The moment we arrived at Union Station we were greeted by panhandlers.

It was at that moment I realized, we never truly left New York after all.

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Okay, so, D.C is different enough from NYC, but within the first thirty minutes of us walking to our hotel, I felt a sense of familiarity from the city. Aside from the White House that loomed in the distance, I grew accustomed to the city streets. It was just like walking through New York, but smaller. We’ve arrived at our hotel and once settled in, I departed to pick up my badge.

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This was the main reason why I wanted to arrive at the con the day before the official first day. Thursday is considered to be “Day 0”, yet with the amount of staff assisting attendees, the abundance of cosplayers both inside and surrounding the venue, and the overall hustle bustle, one could easily assume that this was “Day 1” instead. There was so much activity that I stayed around for a few minutes after I had picked up my badge, just to take in the atmosphere. It was truly the calm before the storm.

Day 1, Friday. The gates were let wide open and Otakon commenced!

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The Nujabes concert wasn’t until 8 and I had to be on the line by at most, 7, so I had about a good twelve or so hours to take in the Otakon experience. One of the first things I did was head to the game room, as per routine for any convention.

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Ran by the lovely people at Tokyo Attack, the lineup for the arcade portion of the game room ranged from Gundam VS, to Dance Rush, DDR, Pump It Up, Sound Voltex, Nostalgia, Pop’n, Chunithm, BeatStream, and others. There wasn’t a IIDX machine once again, but with a star studded cast of niche Japanese rhythm games, I couldn’t complain.

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I literally couldn’t believe they had IDZ. First time EVER seeing it in person!

At two, there was a Tekken tournament that I did participate in, that deserves a mention briefly!

Oh boy, here comes Nay a.k.a “Cereal K.” plugging in his Tekken experience at any event he goes to again!

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Alisa from Tekken credit: sugarc0maa

In my defense, it wasn’t the main reason why I came to Otakon! Remember when I said “bonus”? This was the “bonus” albeit, I didn’t get too far in the tournament itself. I was one win away from top eight if that’s any consolation, but, overall all who I played against were really good and I enjoyed my time hanging with my good friends in both the Tekken scene and the Otakon staff!

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Annie from League of Legends credit: gbudnyjr

With still more time to kill before the Nujabes concert, I took more pictures of cosplayers throughout the convention. You’ll see pictures of them throughout the article spread across all three days, with their information underneath for you guys to check out! Part of the magic in attending conventions are the cosplayers. I’ve said this in my Castle Point article if you’d like to hear more of my thoughts, but, in a large scale convention like Otakon, you’ll never know who you might end up meeting.

One particular cosplayer however deserves a special mention. What started out as asking for a photo of her cosplay, due to the overall rarity of seeing a Tekken cosplay aside from the Alisa cosplayer in the tournament earlier that day, ended with a kindled friendship over the course of the weekend. Known as Kawaii Kiki Cosplay on Instagram and Facebook, Kiki has been cosplaying since 2013, yet has been attending Otakon since roughly 2009.  I was able to sit down with her briefly to have a conversation as she was open and friendly to share her story with me.

Straight from the DMV area herself, her cosplay ventures began in 2013, when a Sailor Moon group cosplay was in need of a replacement senshi. She answered the call, and the rest was history. Being a graduate of the Art Institute, she’s able to utilize her academic knowledge into her cosplay for optimal effectiveness. For example, when I first met her on Friday she was cosplaying Asuka from Tekken. Being recently introduced to the Tekken series,  she was able to capture the character well. As we spoke several attendees exclaimed in excitement as they, too, asked for her photo. It was these reactions, that made the cosplay worth it.

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“Cosplay for me, is like one in costume wearing a Disney Princess outfit in Disney world for kids. I want my cosplay to enact a similar excitement for those who see me. I want to make others happy with who I’m cosplaying as,” she reflects.

It isn’t about how much you know about your cosplay, but rather, how much you are able to bring joy to others for wearing said cosplay.

There are some personal favorites that Kiki has in her arsenal, such as another Asuka cosplay she wore for the second day of Otakon. This Asuka was from Evangelion, with the outfit made to appear similar to Asuka’s  Eva 02. Lastly, she carried around a stuffed version of the iconic Pen Pen along with her. Perhaps her most favorite cosplay and convention experience was her appearance in Blizzcon last year, when she cosplayed as Leah from Diablo 3. The excitement of being around those who enjoy the same medium as her, while also cosplaying as an important character from said game, was enough to enhance the experience for her.

If any of you guys reading this have the chance, please give her some love! She’s a really amazing cosplayer and woman to hang around with and it was my pleasure to talk with her. Follow her at Kawaii Kiki Cosplay!

To round up Day 1, we have the Tribute to Nujabes concert. From the beginning, the message was clear. It was not just an ode to a legendary man, but an ode to hip hop.

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The MC EyeQ blessed the stage, following Maryland’s own Substantial, then Shing02.

Seeing Substantial and Shing02 live, performing songs that I had listened to since my high school years gave me a sense of euphoria. At the time, over ten years ago when I was a sophomore in high school, I would listen to Nujabes during my lunch breaks in school. This was back during a time when I still used the pen and paper to write. Lyrics, fiction, whatever came to mind. Listening to the backdrops that Nujabes laid out, with rappers such as Substantial and Shing02, who would bless that very stage, tuned out life’s many inconsistencies at the time.

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Coping with my grandmother’s passing, failing classes due to woes back at home, and overall trying to get a grasp of my existence. His music, along with the lyrics of everyone on that stage, helped me get through high school. To see them live and perform was what my teenage self would have wanted. I felt like I was fifteen again.

Being the opening act, EyeQ shuts it down while backed by DJ Okawari beats.

And then there was the final set. Adorned in an intricately designed kimono with long flowing hair comparable to a goddess herself, Minmi emerged basked in light. She took to the stage singing Shiki no Uta, the original ED to Samurai Champloo, and as the song ended, she shed her garment to reveal a flowing yellow tracksuit.

This was her way of saying “The gloves are coming off.” She had our attention, and we were under her spell for the next hour.

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Performing some of her hits including Sumertime!!!, Hibiscus, and one of her recent singles, #Yacchaitai. Following these songs, the scene shifted once more as she pulled up a piano and started singing slower ballads. These included a cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” Who’s Theme, and Sha Na Na. The last song was all the more powerful considering that Sha Na Na, originally a Dancehall classic, was sung in a ballad.

I’ve been a huge fan of MINMI for almost as long as I’ve been a fan of Nujabes and those who had graced the stage. She brings special mention because for a while, during my college years, I was growing accustomed to a new phase in my life. A new scenery in college, new friends, old ones moving from the city, long lasting relationships coming to a close, and overall I felt alone.

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I first heard of MINMI through Samurai Champloo and a dear friend of mine who was unable to make it to Otakon with me, Devin Harris, had got me into her outside of the anime.

There’s this Japanese used book store called Book Off where I was able to find used CDs of hers, and since then I’ve been hooked. My knowledge of the Japanese language is limited, but, even through her music I could sense the energy and influence that Western music had on her. It was a different type of energy she brought with her, even hearing her as guest vocals on songs such as m-flo’s “Lotta Love.”

MINMI performing her cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You”

She can bring out the energy, but also allow her audience to cool down as well. She can be the hype of the party as well as the emotional support. Dedicating her final songs to the tragedy at Kyoto Animation, she made me feel a wide range of emotions. Very few musicians I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, have had the range that MINMI has.

For me to be able to have a chance to see her live was a treat. For me to meet her after the concert and tell her these things and more, was the icing on the cake.

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Day 2 began with meeting quite possibly my biggest influence in Japanese music, Taku Takahashi. You may notice a pattern at this point, with Nujabes, Substantial, Shing02, and MINMI all being music of my adolescence, and Taku does not break away from this mold. Being a third of the trio of talented artists known as m-flo, m-flo as a group exposed me to music I would have never known existed outside of New York.

I was just thirteen at the time during middle school. I already felt like an outcast because my, then, budding tastes in anime and “nerd culture” caused me to be the odd one out. I was into DDR at the time, so I would join several online communities where we would talk about music from DDR. M-flo was one of the groups brought up. While technically not being in DDR at the time, their songs were featured in beatmania IIDX, a rhythm game I mentioned earlier. When IIDX was in its infancy, it was possible to link a IIDX machine and a DDR machine, known as “Club Versions,” to allow players to play IIDX songs on DDR machines. This was how I found out about m-flo.

I liked their style of hip hop and how familiar it sounded to me, despite the language barrier. From the beginning, they always had a style to blend Western Hip Hop with a local flavor to call it their own. They were one of the pioneers of the Japanese Hip Hop renaissance period, and I would be introduced during the tail end of it. Just as I was getting into m-flo, they were starting their “m-flo loves” series, in which their next three albums, Astromantic, Beat Space Nine, and Cosmicolor, would feature heavily on collaborators. One of these collaborators as I’ve also mentioned earlier, would be MINMI.

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LSD

☆Taku Takahashi!

I’ve been an m-flo fan for a very long time. Not just as a group, but for their solo careers as well. From the rapper, VERBAL, being a consistent feature on Nujabes’ earlier works as L-Universe, his collaborations with Pharrell, and his fashion career. From the singer, Lisa, with her solo career and independent projects. Lastly, there’s Taku Takahashi himself.

Of the three I resonated with him the most, considering how many works he had become a part of over the years. From his works with House Nation, DJing, collaborations and remixes independently. To his recent features on IIDX and his musical works in anime which includes Panty and Stocking to his most recent being Carole and Tuesday. To list everything that these three had done independently as well as a group, would double the reading length of this article. Needless to say, to have a chance to meet one of the hardest working artists in the business, who started as an inspiration for my music tastes as well as learning more about Japanese culture, made me starstruck. Pun intended.

After meeting him, there was the Nujabes tribute panel to accompany the concert from the night before. Seeing everyone on the panel, most of whom I had met either the night before or a few hours prior and hearing their stories, left me with a deeper understanding on the influence that Nujabes had.

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There was also a lot that I’ve learned involving some of the work that went into the songs for Samurai Champloo. Back on the subject of MINMI, the inspiration for “Who’s Theme” was more personal than I had initially thought.

I had always had speculation that “Who’s” was meant to be “Fuu’s,” as the main character in Samurai Champloo was arguably Fuu. Somewhere there was a loss in translation and Fuu was mistaken as Who due to the way Fuu sounds in the native tongue. She mentioned that the song was, indeed, “Fuu’s Theme,” but her inspiration for writing that song was putting herself in the character of Fuu.

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There are some minor spoilers for Samurai Champloo here, but, Fuu’s goal in Samurai Champloo was to find a “samurai who smells of sunflowers.” Ultimately, the “sunflower samurai” was Fuu’s father, and the loss of her father was her driving force to find her against all odds.

MINMI read the script of Samurai Champloo and it instilled an emotion inside of her that she could relate to. The feeling of loss, the feeling of separation from one’s family. Feeling what Fuu felt, she used Fuu as a muse to write the song. This brings a new meaning to the song itself, as you can feel the words that are being said by her.

This was a point that everyone at the panel brought up. It was a question I’ve had since middle school, which was finally answered that very day.

“How can I, who does not know Japanese, appreciate the music? How can I, who does not know Korean, influence my musical choice for many years to come?”

Aside from Japanese music, I was also getting into Korean hip hop and R&B at that time as well. Despite the language barriers, when it comes to music, we all have an ability to feel an emotion. Happiness, sadness, it doesn’t matter what language it’s spoken. Music is a language we feel. Nujabes’ ear for music tastes, whether he wanted to go for the urban sound or a more traditional one, was an ear that understood the universal language of emotion. Everyone in that room, be it on the panel or as an attendee, had felt that language spoken to us in one way or another.

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Later on that night, everything came full circle. I was able to go to the Otakon rave and see Taku perform his set. Remember when I said that MINMI was a collaborator with m-flo during their “loves” series? He had brought her out as a guest during his set and she performed the song she collaborated with m-flo, “Lotta Love,” live.

A vast majority of the crowd may have been introduced to her that night, but it was an energy that was felt. The music alone was enough to make everyone dance and have a good time, further answering my question. I left that night, no, I left that weekend in a state of content.

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While I never had the chance to meet Nujabes when he was alive, he lives in in his music. He lives on in the memories of those he had worked with, those he has influenced, and those who listened to his music. I left D.C with a value that was priceless than any merch. Although the weekend came and went, the memories I made, the people I got to experience, and the stories I got to hear, will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

Rest in Power, Jun Seba

As a bonus, this was probably the hypest part of the night. Watching Shing02 and all who had performed, perform a cypher to Battlecry backed by Team Red Pro breaking. Blood was left on the stage that evening and it was a massacre of beats and lyrics.

See you next year, Otakon!