The Mikunopolis Vocaloid concert at Anime Expo may have grabbed most of the headlines, but because I’m still throwing my stock in with human vocalists, none of the other concerts had me quite as excited as seeing Kalafina, Yuki Kajiura’s trio of vocalists in Keiko, Wakana, and Hikaru, perform at the Club Nokia. From their debut, with the weighty, sorrowful “oblivious” for the first Kara no Kyoukai movie, and on, I had become enamored by the eclectic instrumentals and by the rock-solid vocals found in their body of work. Being able to see them live was just too good an opportunity to pass up, and so, with high hopes, I filed into Club Nokia and prepared for Kalafina’s music to whisk me away once more.
And so they did. The “Overture” ushered me into an eerie, mysterious world through its familiar synth-driven dissonance which bore a hint of sadness once the trio’s voices entered, sounding out an air filled with longing and letting the notes linger on to drive that emotion home. Then, the instrumentals, which had proceeded gently to accommodate Kalafina’s entry, turned grim, making it an excellent way to transition into the emphatic display of anguish exhibited in “Lacrimosa.”
The dark atmosphere seemed to grow thicker as “Lacrimosa’s” introduction wound its way through the audience with its hints of tragedy fully materializing in Keiko and Wakana’s Gothic-inspired vocals. I was particularly struck by how forceful their delivery was and how well the two harmonized from the stanzas all the way to the chorus, captivating the audience in the process. Wakana and Keiko continued their splendid vocal rapport in “Kagayaku Sora No Shijima Wa” as their voices drifted in somberly to draw out the loneliness and the heartache found in that song.
But nothing on the setlist quite compared to the rendition of “Fairytale.” The delivery gave me goosebumps as the music flowed out, first with its ethereal, but serene introduction, and then with Wakana’s and Keiko’s melancholy delivery which reached deep into my soul to tap into that feeling of sorrow borne from a fleeting memory. “Oblivious” would also have a similarly strong impact through its hauntingly beautiful melody that spoke volumes with regard to the emotional burdens which prevent the song’s subjects from moving onwards freely. The concert also featured Eve no Jikan’s “I Have a Dream,” which saw Wakana reach into her wellspring of emotive vocals to draw forth a feeling of hope and optimism that left me uplifted through the warmth the performance radiated.
Although most of the songs featured Wakana and Keiko, Hikaru would get a chance to shine once “Magia” popped up. This song, as expected, was hard-hitting in its audacity and I really loved that assertive, dominant intonation that passed through Hikaru’s lips.
Right as soon as “Magia” finished however, something must have happened because “Sprinter” gave Hikaru a hard time as she proceeded to sing the entire song out of tune. While she did exhibit difficulties earlier during her small parts in “Fairytale,” “Sprinter” really showed the extent to which she needs to work on her live vocals. Whether this was because of her relative inexperience (compared to Keiko and Wakana, who have worked with Kajiura through FictionJunction) or nervousness, it’s hard to say, but “Sprinter” was easily the concert’s lowest point. That said, she did redeem herself during “Hikari no Senritsu,” which closed out the concert well with its folksy rhythm and instrumentation.
Hikaru’s relative newness wasn’t the only thing to give rise to consternation. During the course of the concert, I also found the performance aspects lacking. Musically, the concert was fine, but the onstage choreography, like the singers’ movement or ability to excite the audience, didn’t work nearly as well. While Hikaru compensated for her off-key singing through some smooth, delicate hand-motions and Keiko remained vivacious throughout (of the three, she was the most pleasing to look at since her face was animated and lively), a lot of the eyesore came through Wakana, who moved with the grace of someone with an icepack on her back. Her arm’s gesticulating was very stiff; a shame because of the three singers, she stood out as being near-flawless in the way she delivered her vocals.
I do think that part of the blame for the performance issues lies in the fact that the Club Nokia was a poor choice of venue. Kalafina’s music isn’t exactly the kind that people are going to move to, unlike say, Nirgilis’s energetic electronica, which works wonderfully in a club setting. Holding this concert in the Nokia Theater (a completely different venue) would have been far preferable because it would have allowed the audience to sit down and really soak in the music better.
It also didn’t help that the Club Nokia’s lighting effects were flat-out stupid at times, especially during “Kyrie,” where the strobes were on at full blast. Anyone who is seizure-prone probably couldn’t have been too happy at that display. Lastly, the Club Nokia stage itself was hardly a pleasure to look at since it lay completely bare aside from the trio; I was puzzled why they didn’t bring in a fog machine or something because that alone would have done wonders to help amplify the mystical aura, making for a better presentation overall.
Granted, none of these issues should detract from the fact that, musically, the Kalafina concert was a success and that comparatively, this was my second favorite musical performance at Anime Expo. Even if the choreography was a bit of an eyesore, I can still close my eyes and allow their vocals to sweep me off my feet, allowing me to feel not only the painful and the sorrowful emotions that ripple forth in most of their music, but also the boundless hope for that brighter future.
03. Kagayaku Sorano Shijimaniwa
11. I have a dream
12. Hikari no Senritsu
[Photo Credit: Kaori Suzuki at Sony Music Entertainment Japan]