Movie: The history of pop music is replete with lovely sirens that crone to us and appeal to our humanity, sexuality, or both at the same time. In my past, I've greatly enjoyed the vocal qualities of gals like Kylie Minogue, Pat Benatar, Berlin, and Tori Amos, along with numerous others that touched some part of me deeply and kept me coming back for more. One of the factors that originally got me really into Anime was the vocal qualities of the Japanese casts as well as the wonderfully colorful music. It didn't matter what they were singing so much as how they were singing it and the lyrical qualities of the voices behind the scenes of the productions (and it still impacts me folks). That's why I was happy to pick up a copy of Yoko Ishida: Live in Concert, part of Geneon's Anime-Pop Star collection.
For those of you that aren't into anime, Yoko is a frequent contributor of songs to various anime projects and has been for some time now. She's cute, looks to be in her early 30's, and has a lot of fans around the world as evidenced by lines of fans at the anime conventions she attends (and typically sings) at. The back cover stated the contents of the single volume DVD (there's also a double disc set available) as this: "Where there's hot anime music, there's energetic dance grooves and with both, you'll find Anime-Pop Star Yoko Ishida ready to blow the roof off with another commanding and awe-inspiring vocal performance! Filmed at the height of Yoko's first major overseas tour, which swept through the east and west coast cities, Yoko is at her peak here in this rare outdoor concert performance in the heart of Hollywood. Yoko truly shines as a rising star, as she and her Para Para Max dancers electrify viewers with awesome songs and audience interaction in an anime concert unlike any other!"
The concert was a free offering at the Universal Studios City Walk in Hollywood California last year, with movie titles in the background marquee such as Cheaper By The Dozen 2 to lend a hand at identifying the time frame. The location is known for a number of small acts trying to break through and make a name for themselves, and Yoko had made a number of appearances in her tour. For those who belittle the mall circuit, remember that acts like 80's pop stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson made it big due to such venues so I watched in interest to see how the moderate sized crowd enjoyed the music. There were all ages present, from little kids to teenagers to young adults and older folks. The Master of Ceremonies was a gal by the name of Suzy Ramirez, introducing Yoko Ishida and her four dancers (Charly Wenzel, Dana Guidry, Erika Maza, and Jenilee Borek). As Yoko would sing, the dancers would go through their basic routine; dressed in blue wigs, cowboy hats, or whatever costume was called upon for them to wear. They were all lean, attractive, and had the basic steps down well enough although I doubt Broadway is knocking at their doors in the off season.
The songs were all from various anime shows, with a few sounding like they were pre-recorded rather than sung live. Yoko sang the originals so whether or not they were canned versions or not shouldn't be a big issue. The songs themselves were longer versions of anime series openers (or closers) and none of them sounded like a filler to me used to flesh out the limited duration of the concert. It was good clean fun with Yoko having a lot of fun as the audience cheered her on. This led to the inevitable Para Para dance sequence with the audience; most of whom I got the impression never danced a step in their lives.
All of them seemed to be having a good time as the audience participation aspect of the show began. The audience was given some basic instructions on the Para Para Max dance steps by Tiffany Gray, a fetching young lady who promised prizes and good times for those who participated out in the audience. Essentially, she went through several arm movements and foot steps, which were easy enough to follow for older white people (just to give you a sense of how a lack of rhythm wasn't an impediment here). It was cute and the advanced version of the dancing made me howl with laughter as many in the audience tried their best but came across like drunken karaoke singers on a busy Friday night at a bar.
The sonic quality of Yoko's voice was pleasing enough and the versions of songs presented were all very clean, absent of background noise, and simply longer versions than the bits used I the series listed below. Here's a breakdown of the songs by the concert set list included in the DVD case:
White Destiny: Pretear
Sugar Baby Love: A Little Snow Fairy
Eternal Flower (Towa No Hana): Ai Yori Aoshi
Open Your Mind (Spread the Small Wings): Ah My Goddess
Passionate Goddess: Neon Genesis Evangelion
A Cruel Angel's Thesis: Chobits
Let Me Be With You: Stellvia
Brilliant Road To Tomorrow: Macross
Hyper Vocomix Medley (consisting of):
Do You Remember Love?: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Just Communication: Martian Successor Nadesico
You Get To Burning: Hand Maid May
Jump (Hug Me As Tight As You Can): Neon Genesis Evangelion
Yoko Ishida: Live in Concert was cute and had some nice replay value for me. The visual appeal of five cute women on a stage jumping around while one of them sings is a timeless theme to a man but as an anime fan I like it too. I wish better use of the background marquee could've been used by displaying anime from the shows the songs came from but I'm sure that would involve copyright issues and all fans of DVD know how contentious that issue can be (tying up shows for years over minimal bits of music for example). For me, the show had some great extras and served as a nice primer to the J-Pop music anime fans often appreciate way ahead of the curve. Geneon has an extensive back catalog so you can find more about such music there but as far as this DVD is concerned, I'm rating it as Recommended for fans of the singer, anime, and pop music in general.
Picture: Yoko Ishida: Live in Concert was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color as shot by directors Terry Ho and Satoshi Fujii. The setting was the aforementioned Universal Studios City Walk in Hollywood, California (an outdoor stage beside a busy street outside of a mall if the background footage was accurate) at night. The camera work wasn't the best I've seen of a concert but the non-intimate nature of the small venue was conveyed well with the edits and pans across the stage and audience. In general, it looked pretty good with no technical flaws in particular to fuss about.
Sound: The audio was presented with two choices; a 5.1 Dolby Digital English or a 5.1 DTS track, both with a moderate amount of separation though not really expanding the material or using the headspace as effectively as a bigger budget show might've done. The rear channels did not get a workout and the separation between the channels was definitely there, just not to the point where you'd showcase the concert on your home theatre set up for friends interested in getting one of their own. The vocals were clear, the background noise minimal, and the music pleasing enough though (just remember that outdoor venues aren't known for their sonic excellence and you'll be okay). The DTS version sounded a bit lighter to me though the dynamic range was noticeable if you really, really paid attention.
Extras: Given the lame extras most anime series offer, I didn't think there would be much her to speak of but I was WRONG! There was a Backstage Access section lasting quite a while with separate sections being: Dancers: Charly & Erika (7:14 minutes) where they gave some information about themselves and their perspective of the tour; Dancers: Dana & Jenilee (5:58 minutes); Para Para Max Fan Boys (4:01) where a couple of goofus slavering fanboys spoke about the show; Yoko Ishida Pre-Concert (3:42) in Japanese with English subtitles as Yoko described her nervousness and readiness for the show; and Yoko Ishida Post Concert in Japanese with English subtitles as Yoko briefly described how much fun she had (:40). There was then a Complete Tour Highlight Reel with anime convention footage, bits of Yoko and other aspects of the road all handled in a quasi-montage reel approach (6:11). This was followed by a Q&A With Yoko (8:31) with Yoko giving some background in Japanese and English all shot in anamorphic widescreen color! The last extra on the disc was the Geneon CD previews. The DVD case sported a double sided DVD cover and paper insert with a concert set list and a small poster of the concert on the opposing side.
Final Thoughts: Yoko Ishida: Live in Concert was a delightful little excursion into another aspect of anime that I've never really spent any time with. I don't fancy going to a concert full of screaming children (as a grown up male, I'd probably be suspected of lurking for children to pick up too; "But officer, I'm an anime reviewer at DVD Talk!") but Yoko Ishida presented the goods, had a great time, and the music was well worth exploring for fans of the listed series. I'd probably buy a copy of the CD release if I could find one available cheap but in general, if you enjoy anime and the music that sets it apart from the usual Saturday morning cartoons, pick this one up and you'll see why I enjoyed it so much.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.