Neo Japonism – October 21 and 22, 2023 – PuchiCon, Camelback, PASaturday, 11th November 2023
Neo Japonism is an alt idol group from Japan that started in 2018, though its current line-up didn’t come to be until 2019. The theme of this particular group is that of ‘fighting,’ though not in the literal sense. Neo Japonism’s core concept is centered around not running away from your difficulties or challenges – fighting them, so to speak. For those not familiar with the concept of alt idols, they are a metal/rock adjacent area I’ve looking into more in recent years, merging the concept of kawaii/genki idol groups and combining it with heavier types of music and generally darker themes. To see these types of groups hit the US soil is pretty rare, so when the announcement was made that Neo Japonism would be doing a small US tour, and PuchiCon PA would be a stop, it became a must-see event.
Truth be told, I got to see the band at Overpeck Park the weekend before at a Japanese International Food Festival, but it truly was more of a tease than anything else as they only played for about 15 minutes in total, though they played one of my favorite cuts, “Ready to Ride,” in that timespan so it was a wise choice to make the drive down. With that short set to whet the palette, the wait began to see the full concert in one week’s time.
October 21, 2023: Meet and Greet
Oddly, there was a meet & greet scheduled for the day before their concert on Saturday, so given the relatively short drive (an hour and 20 minutes), I opted to get as much Neo Japonism exposure as I could and hit both days of the convention. Plus the description of what was happening for the meet & greet sounded much more like an authentic representation of how these sort of events would be handled in Japan, or at least the best you could hope for without flying halfway across the world (or at least with my knowledge of Oshibudo intact, since I haven’t been to Japan to witness it for myself).
The meet & greet was scheduled for 4PM, so I arrived a little early so I could at least check out some of the booths that the convention offered (unfortunately, the other musical group I was interested in, Super Thrash Bros, had to cancel their appearance). It was a cute little convention, located at an indoor water park in Pennsylvania, more of a smaller fan-run event than a more massive offering such as others in the northeast like Anime Boston or Anime NYC. Nonetheless, viewing Neo Japonism’s instagram, they were playing in Astoria at 1:30pm so that raised some flags when I saw it as it’s about a 2 hr drive to get to Camelback, PA from there, provided traffic agrees with you. Those thoughts were confirmed as 4PM came and went without a thought, though the event on the schedule had been pushed back to 4:30. This also came and went, as some of us were hanging outside of the breakout room that was to host the event chatted, wondering if it was actually going to happen today or not.
Thankfully, I have to give both the PuchiCon organizers as well as Neo Japonism’s management a lot of credit. PuchiCon was in communication with them and both parties made it work in the end. Neo Japonism didn’t arrive until just after 5PM, as some of us saw them checking in downstairs, complete with luggage in tow. The band and management quickly got checked in, put away their luggage, and made the whole thing happen by 6PM. When you consider that there was only about 15-20 of us, there could have been a decision on either side to just cancel the whole thing (or move it to Sunday), so it’s worth mentioning the dedication from PuchiCon staff as well as what must have been an exhausted group and management, considering they played, packed up, drove, and then did this event for a small gathering of people.
Having moved the meet & greet from the breakout room in the convention to the main lobby, it actually seemed a nicer location for the set up. We lined up waiting for it to start, and just prior to beginning, Neo Japonism members chatted with us while we waited for their merch to get set up. Personally, I was able to speak with Sayaka Tatsumi the longest, which was cool as it seemed she had the strongest grasp of English of the five members. All of them seemed very impressed and excited that people had heard of them before – the look on Tatsumi’s face when I mentioned I saw them the weekend before, and that I was noticing that they seemed to really be able to enjoy New York City in their week there based on her Instagram, because i follow her, was a priceless smile.
With everything set up, the group was offering cheki, which are essentially a more modern Polaroid photograph. You could do an individual one with the member of your choosing, or a group photo with all five of them. They would also sign the cheki for you as well, if you wanted. Wanting to support as much as possible, I had to go with one individual for all five members of the group. This also allowed me a chance to speak with each member of the group briefly, as this mechanism is how it plays out in Japan as well (again, to the best of my knowledge). The difference being that you buy a cd (a cd single usually) to do a handshake and chat with them for a few moments. Buying more gets you more time.
Having a small crowd made it a much more intimate experience, as well as a memorable one. Thinking back to seeing PassCode last month, which felt more mechanical by design (though I wouldn’t trade it for the world, believe me), this was much more laid back and chill. Being able to speak with all the group’s members for a bit was a pleasure, and it really speaks to their character. Having a group this small, and to see them so genuinely thrilled by seeing anyone was really cool to see. They have traveled a great distance, and playing a style of music that isn’t known by very many people here in the US (even by extreme metal standards), and you can see the passion all but shining off of them. They seem to be having a blast, no matter how many people come to see them.
October 22, 2023: Performance
The PuchiCon main stage was in a different building than the water park one, which housed the bulk of festival activities, but they graciously offered shuttling via buses for the 5 minute drive to the Pennsylvania Building. Not being familiar with how often the shuttles would come, I opted to play it safe, showing up a bit past noon and taking the first shuttle I could find to reach the building so I would assure myself I wouldn’t miss anything. The shuttles were much more efficient that I would have imagined, so I had plenty of time to take in an informative panel about cosplay planning (hosted by starsofcassiopeia) before the concert would start.
With a bunch of chairs set up right in front of the stage, a number of us decided that this simply wouldn’t do, and cleared out an area so we could stand and get more into the performance. A few diehard fans, following the group around on this tour (including a few all the way from Japan themselves), noted they also needed space for wotagei, which is about what you’d expect from normal concert fare – with dancing, arm gesturing, with the added component being some coordinated shouts and movements.
The stage wasn’t huge, compared to the open pavilion I had seen them at a week prior, but the Pocono Mountains backdrop was absolutely gorgeous, particularly for the fall season. With a quick mic check and brief lights set up (which didn’t do much admittedly due to the brightness outside), the band was ready to roll right at 2PM. Yes, you heard that right, just a mic check. Something that does need a quick explanation is that, and this may seem like absolute blasphemy to some readers here, but all of the music is played through the speakers. There’s no live instrumentation, just the five vocalists on stage (unlike PassCode, who had a full live band backing them). Naysayers will be naysayers, but with this type of music, the vocals are the forefront, so it really makes little difference if the music behind them is played live or not. It can be an added bonus, but entirely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. II did feel it important to mention before I go into their sweeping live performance.
With the music pouring out of the speakers, the stars are obviously the idols themselves, and the stage is where they shine brightest. Like in my recent PassCode write-up, the level of dance synchronization, when seen in person up close, is nothing less than breathtaking. With five idols on stage, there’s plenty to witness as they move across the stage, rhymically coordinating their movements and vocal parts. With a varied setlist going into some heavier, rock/metal grooves, upbeat fun songs, and just a hint of slower cuts, it’s fascinating to see how they dance to each track.
Not just dance and sing mind you, but almost incessantly encouraging the crowd into getting into it themselves. Frequent clapping, fist raising, and bountiful smiles to go around while they perform; it’s hard not to get sucked in, and tough to focus on a particular member. Hinano Takazawa went so far as to leave the stage on several occasions to stand among us at the front of the crowd, getting right into the middle of us without losing a step in the process. Distinctive in the group for her blond hair, as well as her lower register vocals, she was a dominant force within Neo Japonism and her bounding into the crowd seemed to solidify this.
Not that the other four are slouching – they all seem to have distinctive roles within the band. Miruka Seto has the most ‘kawaii’ vocals in the group, but shows a much larger sense of range instead of just keeping it cutesy. Sayaka Tatsumi is responsible for the choreography in a number of the group’s songs, which isn’t always the case with these types of groups, and she carries a distinctive charisma when she leads. Miyu Fukuda seems to gleam when she takes the lead in a song, and her soaring leads seemed to always accompany a huge smile. Lastly, Ai Asakura, who is the smallest of the group, but notably some of the most emotive and powerful vocals.
The most impressive thing Neo Japonism manages to do is get you so involved in moving and dancing around, you don’t bother with taking pictures/videos. Personally, I grabbed a few at the onset but quickly decided I wanted to just get absorbed by the music, and most had the same feelings. That there was maybe 50 people may have been part of it too, but there was just a vibe to get lost in and the idols on stage just took all your attention. It’s hard not to smile along too, when they play more upbeat, fun songs like “Wabisabi Wasabi,” with it’s ‘learn so you can do the moves with them’ mentality, or groove along while they romp through a song like the urgent banger “Burning Heart!!!!!!” More melodic songs like “Dear” allow them to flex their singing abilities and take a small breather – again, like other recent Japanese acts with a language barrier, there’s not much stopping in the set once they start [other than a brief member introduction]. Again, the personal highlight would be that once their set was finished, a few people started shouting for an encore, and the band happily obliged, giving us “Ready to Ride” to sing along with and strut about for a few more minutes before the band took a final bow.
Bonus: Cheki Part II
Not entirely surprising, but not a guarantee after the day before’s meet & greet, the band did a cheki once again after the performance. I left the night before about an hour after the meet & greet started, but today I decided to stick around long enough to see how long it lasted, which turned out to be about 2 hours. Impressive considering the crowd was not the biggest, but people were happy to go around and take fun pictures with the band members. Despite the language barrier, it was honestly impressive how the five idols managed to converse with everyone. Smiles and playful interactions were the name of the game, and the genuine gratefulness you could get from them was surreal. Granted, this is a big part of what an idol group does so they have to be able to enjoy it, but there’s a sincerity that comes from it. Neo Japonism is clearly soaking in all of the experience that they can get overseas for the first time, and it’s really cool to see. Particularly if you take a look on YouTube and see the crowds that they play to in their own country. That they are this happy and enthusiastic at significantly smaller places really speaks to their character as a whole.
Since it was one final opportunity, I jumped in for a few more cheki myself – I’d absolutely love to see them come back to the US, but wanted to take full advantage of the fact that they are here, right now. Brief cheki conversation included things like talking to Miyu about how much I loved her hair style, favorite Neo Japonism tracks with Hinano, some places the group visited in NY with Sayaka, and making heart symbols with Ai and Miruka. At one point, when Hinano didn’t have anyone talking to her, she started dancing along to the Neo Japonism music playing in the background, so some of us clapped and cheered for her to continue along, which elicited a big smile from her. It’s just good fun, and seeing other people’s shots was worth more than a few chuckles to see what they’d think of. It’d be cool to see some sort of adaptation of this process with metal bands, though it would definitely have to take a different form.
At the end of the cheki, all five idols thanked us all again and waved some final goodbyes (even management did the same). Things like the cheki allow you to bond with the group more than if you just watched the set, and leaves a lasting resonance and specialness to the entire event. Just seeing the group perform in such an intimate location in and of itself can do that, but getting to spend a bit of time the day before, as well as after the show, really was the icing on the cake. In a fall of lasting memories with concerts, this weekend (and then some) with Neo Japonism sits just as high as PassCode and Hanabie., as they provide a pure feeling of joy and excitement. Not only that, but the inspiration to lead a life in the way that they do – simply enjoying the moment and taking happiness from everything around. Maybe it doesn’t sound super ‘metal,’ but living life the way you want is more or less the heavy metal ethos,, and these five ladies have that glowing mentality in copious amounts. Hopefully the west coast treats them just as well, encouraging them to make a return trip. But for now, this is a yet another absolutely cherished memory for fall 2023.