While anime conventions and anime blogging seem to be two neighbors on the same street, they’re drastically different culturally (though perhaps not unrelated on a spiritual level). Conventions are a brand new world for many of us, including myself and Annalyn, who recently attended her first con. But that’s an awesome thing for this blog, as it allows up to develop content different from our norm.
At Anime Matsuri, I had an opportunity to dig into an area we rarely go—Japanese music, interviewing several idols—Mirei Touyama and the members of Dancing Dolls R, Mii (L in the featured photo) Hono (center), and Misaki (right). All are super talented and were so gracious with their time.
Growing Up in the Spotlight
Mirei is only 19 years old, but she’s already a veteran of the industry, having won a major dancing competition in Japan at just ten years old and gaining international recognition by the time she became a teenager, including winning first place at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. I asked Mirei about the challenges of growing up under the spotlight.
You have to be confident as an artist, but it was hard when I was young to communicate with adults who are so much older than me and have their own ideas when I have my own ideas. At first I couldn’t tell them everything I knew because I had to respect my elders and I struggled a lot, and my activity as an artist wasn’t enough for me and wasn’t as exciting as I expected at first. But I came here and still sing because I love music and that’s what I want to do the most and I really want to express my feeling through the music…My hobby is music and my specialty is music. Everything about me is music so I decided that whatever happens, I want to continue.
Mirei added that communication is now easier—perhaps because of her success. Some American anime fans may recognize her from her cover of Porter Robinson’s “Shelter,” but her brand is growing through her own music, including millions of plays for her single, “Dear My Boo.” Her work is available on iTunes, including “By Your Side,” a beautiful ballad I asked her to sing to our Instagram followers.
Dancing Dolls R has also experienced recent success. They especially have a growing following in the U.S., having preformed not just as Anime Matsuri, but also at Sac-Anime and Anime Expo. Like Mirei, these girls experienced fame at a young age. As teenagers, Mii, Misaki, and Hono grew followings on YouTube and Niconico by covering songs while inserting choreography. They, too, had to make a transition, from “fun hobby” to “profession.”
Mii, the lead singer, has made school a priority while also working. “It’s been difficult,” she reflected, thinking about having to study for entrance exams while also working. Misaki, through the translation of her company’s president, said that she enjoys dancing in front of audiences, but that at first, it was also challenging for her as she transitioned from dancing for fun to dancing professionally.
Despite the challenges, which the group was very forthright about, they expressed thankfulness. Through translation, Hono mentioned, “It’s been five good years, especially because my fans really support me. I feel very fortunate to be supported by the fans.”
Success in the U.S.
Many of Dancing Doll R’s fans, and Mirei’s, too, are in the United States, and anyone familiar with Japanese concerts knows that the reaction stateside is often quite different from that in Asia. Mirei shared an experience that illustrated the contrast: “One time, when I was on the stage [in America] and I made a mistake, everyone was like, ‘What the hell is she doing?’ In Japan, they are so quiet—they don’t say anything, good or bad. I thought in America, audiences are really honest. They are hard critics, but get very excited.”
Mii added that American fans are very warm:
When I was in America two years ago at Anime Expo in Los Angeles, I couldn’t speak English well then. I made many mistakes, but audiences are like, “It’s okay!” Whew, I was happy! Since then, I’ve liked American fans.
Hono likes them as well. “After I finish performing, American fans come to talk and cheer us on, saying, ‘It was a great show.’ That rarely happens in Japan. And in America, when fans talk to you on the street, I feel like I want to do better for the next time. I’m motivated to continue growing because of fan events.”
Misaki, who I would describe as the “cool one” in the group, focused on her DJ experiences. She’s used to DJing small club events in Japan, but at conventions she gets the chance to DJ in front of two or three-thousand fans. It’s become an “addiction” for her, and something she plans on continuing in the near future.
Eye on the Future
Everything about me is music so I decided that whatever happens, I want to continue.
While Misaki is working on DJing in addition to her idol work, the other girls are also looking toward the future with a strong vision of where they each want to go. Mirei is preparing an album to capture the success of “Dear My Boo” and her Negai EP, with a hopeful launch this summer. Mii, besides working on her graduation essay for her senior year, is also launching as a solo artist. And Hono has shifted focus toward becoming a trendsetter, posting beauty-related posts on her accounts and working toward development of a YouTube channel.
That determination to keep moving forward is what makes Mirei and the members of Dancing Dolls special. They don’t rest on their laurels. They’re always improving, constantly looking toward the future and doing the work—song-writing, social media posting, traveling, performing, practicing—to achieve their goals. Living that way can be challenging (we’re now all following each other’s Instagram accounts, and I’m witness to how hard they’re constantly hitting it), but those qualities have helped them live their dream, and are a prime example that even in a jaded age, dreams can achieve great things—but get ready for the grind that takes you there!