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Darling Harbour

This past weekend, it seemed the overall theme for my SMASH! experience was ‘something different.’ I got to experience a few things that were either on my list to try, or something completely new. SMASH! (or more formally the Sydney Manga and Anime Show) is now in its 7th year, and has grown significantly in attendance each year, thanks in part to its convenient location at Darling Harbour, plus the fact its direct competitor (Aussie Otakus may know who I’m referring to) has lapsed somewhat in quality over the years (to put it politely.)

Saturday August 10 was, put simply, a glorious day to attend one Australia’s best anime conventions. There were the old favorites in the form of the Traders Hall, the screenings (which admittedly I skipped this year,) the Panels, Cosplay, Trivia and Karaoke. The Maid Cafe was in full swing as always this year, and so popular it was it was fully booked by the time I decided to take a look. But alas, let’s take a look at the highlights I had of the day.

Taking a look around the traders Hall this year saw some old favorites and some new additions, plus some great showcases. Mindscape were on the floor to show off a few upcoming releases, ‘Castlevania 2: Lords of Shadow,’ ‘Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z’ and ‘PES 2014’. I played a brief demo of the first two, however didn’t get to the soccer game (not much of a soccer game person.)

Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z looked promising. The Cel-shaded graphics fit the game well, serving a dark comic-book atmosphere that serves the bloody, frantic combat well. Dealing with a horde of the undead was very satisfying, all while the game is teaching you new moves. Unfortunately I think I managed to glitch the game somehow – A small bug made a respawning zombie in a dumpster vanish, which unfortunately breaks the game. However, if bugs like this get ironed out, Yaiba should be a fun game to look forward to.

I came back later in the afternoon for a crack at another title, Castlevania 2: Lords Of Shadow. I have to admit, I haven’t really played the Castlevania series before, so being new to the series I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. While the game looked slick with its gothic theme, I actually found it quite slow, with a control scheme that was a little difficult to remember. This game won’t be for everybody.

A small indie developer by the name of Red Knight Games were also in the Traders Hall to show off a title they have been working on, ‘Grapple Knight,’ a classic 8-bit style platformer a little reminiscent of the classic ‘Ghosts N Goblins.’ I played a brief demo, and found it to be rather fun and engaging, with a control system that was rather easy to pick up on. Should be a neat little indie title when it’s released.

Still on gaming, The Sydney Gamers League were on hand at the front of the room to provide the days gaming extravaganza, including comps for Street Fighter IV and Smash Bros Brawl, as well as a Just Dance free play for those so inclined.

However, as packed out and buzzing the Traders Hall was, there was plenty of other action happening at the Sydney Convention Centre…

loverin tamburin

I moved on to the Main Stage at around 10.30 to catch one of the special guests that had got my attention. For a few years now, something on my list to do has been to see a J-rock/J-pop band. A task that was well taken care of with the appearance of Loverin Tamburin, a band that from the moment they were on stage just nailed it. Frontgirl Aya was confident and brilliant, even fitting in a slight costume change towards the end of the set. The one thing I would say though, and maybe it’s because I’m used to more rowdy live gigs, but the crowd were just so…placid.

What I mean is…EVERYONE WAS SITTING DOWN!!!

Thankfully, by the end of the set, there were a few people up and at the front, making the main stage somewhat resemble something of a proper live concert. Loverin Tamburin certainly struck a chord with the SMASH audience, which means hopefully they might come back to Australia. In fact hopefully we might see more J-Rock/J-Pop acts finally start gracing our vibrant live music scene a lot more in the future.

Loverin rocked, but seemed to be warm up act for the next special guest. After the mini-concert, I received this flyer…

IMG_1244

This is a more smaller version of a ‘call book’, something prepared by a Japanese Idols fan group, and contains lyrics and musical ‘cues’ for those following to either clap, cheer, jump or sing along to.

The Idol phenomenon in Japan is both amazing yet slightly disturbing, depending on what you’ve heard or read. Idol fans flock in droves to halls in Akihabara to witness the latest sensation live in concert. Some devoted fans go as far as to purchase an entire shipment of an Idols latest release, mostly in order to obtain the ‘meet and greet’ tokens contained within. An Idol performance can be quite the spectacle, complete with lighting, visual cues, and seas of glowsticks belonging to the many Idol devotees.

One such Idol is Halko Momoi, who is not only a singer and songwriter, but an accomplished  Seiyuu/Voice Actor, whose credits include Steins;Gate and My Bride Is a Mermaid. SMASH attendees were treated to the famous Idol experience, with the singer performing for a decent hour. There seemed to be some fans of hers, as quite a crowd had adorned the front of the Main Stage, to which Halko obliged by performing her little heart out. There was even a familiar Otaku favourite thrown into the set, in the form of ‘God Knows’, a song made famous in the classic Haruhi Suzumiya series. By the time Miss Momoi had finished, the room was jumping and cheering to her very command. Quite an experience indeed.

Halko Momoi’s popularity extended into the Auction that took place later in the afternoon, where her signed CD’s fetched around $300+ each. Other items included a SMASH banner and poster signed by all the special guests, sketches from the special art panel featuring Hidenori Matsubara, known among other things for his work Rebuild Of Evangelion, plus the fabled SMASH art book, which fetched around the thousand dollar mark.

The auction was followed with a very special announcement by the conventions president, Ray Elinon. Ray promised the crowd a bigger focus on gaming in the next convention, plus (more importantly) the convention was being expanded to cover the entire weekend. He also broke the news that, due to the Sydney Exhibition Centre being rebuilt, SMASH was moving to the Rosehill Gardens in 2014. Whilst being more in the Western suburbs than the Sydney center (bordering on Parramatta actually,) The Rosehill centre with provide easy access via train, features around 5000 parking spaces, plus is adjacent to three hotels nearby. Time will tell if this move will pay off, I guess.

The remainder of the day featured a quick pop in to the Madman panel, which was in the middle of announcing a slight delay of Sword Art Online until 2014. I briefly visited the trading card game room for a quick look (I also picked up a trial deck for Weiss Schwartz, not quite sure when I’ll get to learn how to play it though,) plus the AMV wrap ups at the end of the day, out of which the comedy winner caught my attention…

A good day indeed. SMASH always seems to come to the table with great experiences, and the atmosphere from both the convention and it’s attendees was so positive and friendly. I’m looking forward to next years move to Rosehill, which may just crown SMASH as Australia’s best Anime convention. I just need to learn to take more photos. Or at least have a phone with a longer battery life. Thanks Apple.

I did however manage to take this slightly strange photo. I dub thee – ‘Invisible Girl!’ 🙂 (Clue – The screens are showing exactly what is happening on stage.)

Smash Strange

While the day was good, SMASH however had one more great experience up it’s sleeve. After a brief chow-down at Chinatown, it was time to move to the Pontoon Bar across the harbour for the much anticipated Vocaloid Night.

Vocaloid Night - Crowd

Being a Rock and Metal fan, I ventured into the Pontoon Bar with some slight skepticism about what a Vocaloid night might entail. To be honest I’ve never really viewed DJ’s as anything I would call ‘true musicians.’ These guys however altered that view a little. Two of Japans star Vocaloid producers were brought down to Sydney just for the occasion, Hachioji P and kz (livetune).

What followed was a sensational night. With both performers (and the three supporting DJ’s, who did a fantastic job) delivering a killer sound and visual show that briefly made the room feel like it had been lifted out of Sydney and placed within the neo-nightclubs found within Tokyos most famous nightspots. Glow Sticks, Miku cosplays, and vocaloid themed cocktails were the flavor of the night, and the crowd cheered and even sang along with the Two Japanese producers biggest songs.

Vocaloid Night - Hachioji P

As the night finished up and I started to leave, I accidentally bumped into two – well, I suppose you could call them – ‘regular’ clubbing girls who had somehow accidentally wandered into the after party. The look of bewilderment and confusion on their faces said it all about the entire day – if you’re not one of us geeks, otakus,cosplayers, or even vocaloiders – chances are, you never will be. But that’s okay – we’re doing just fine without you.

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