When it was announced that Yoko Kanno would be the headliner for the Sunday concert at Otakon 2013, I became deadset on being there. For those with more than a passing familiarity with some of the more emblematic anime series of recent years, the name itself is nearly synonymous with terrific music and song production. From her work in acclaimed series like Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Macross Frontier, Kanno has established herself as an adept at multiple genres of music and thematic storytelling.
I was able to speak to a few concert attendees prior to the show, to get an idea of the types of fans seeing the show. At Yoko’s booth in the dealer’s room, CDs and songbooks featuring her work had sold out by Saturday morning. At the show, Shannon B., 19, and Zandra B., 24, traveled from North Carolina and California, respectively, to attend their first Otakon simply because of Kanno. Jonathan, 24, an aspiring filmmaker, traveled from New York City explicitly for Kanno. He waited for 16 hours to get one of the very limited autograph passes and succeeded in getting his shirt, which he wore to the concert, signed. “My dream is to have her score one of my films,” says Jonathan; he provided Kanno with a DVD featuring footage shot with Kanno’s compositions as inspiration at the autograph signing.
Returning to Otakon, she had previously attended as a guest in 1999, Kanno has chosen to debut her new one woman-one piano show, PIANO ME. Utilizing visuals projected onto her piano that react to her performance and reactions of the audience, Kanno has created an intimate, reflective, and altogether one of a kind live experience. Starting with a crowd pleasing rendition of Tank!, Kanno played a few instrument-only tracks before transforming her piano into a canvas for light and effects. For this next set, she added vocals and a memorable audience sing-along for fan favorite Gravity, the ending theme for anime Wolf’s Rain. Continuing her performance and culminating in a standing ovation, she would return to the limelight to perform; in a tip of the hat to Baltimore, Otakon’s home since 1999 and the home of the National Anthem, a memorable Star Spangled Banner rendition. After playing a credit sequence and thanking the audience, a standing ovation brought her back out for a Tank! reprisal.
As the concert came to a close, I was struck by how awe-inspiring and unique an experience the concert turned out to be. Though audience participation was encouraged, I would constantly find myself stunned into silence just by the deft and skillful playing and beautiful music; at times, I was nearly moved to tears. With a talent that is difficult to put into words, Kanno’s work has the ability to take me places; whether to lands of fantasy, the far reaches of space, or just my own inner thoughts, there is a beauty to the music that is just timeless. While known primarily for her work in popular Japanese media, I would rank Kanno among the greatest living composers in the world. Her storytelling ability and creative flair has created, literally, legions of fans and I can’t wait to see what she works on next. A truly amazing performance and one I’ll remember forever.
A message for fans from Yoko herself post concert:
Official Setlist 8.11.2013
Resonance of the Earth
Gravity ~Baltimore Special Medley
Power of the Light
Someday My Prince Will Come
The Real Folk Blues
Wo Qui Non Coin
Star Spangled Banner
Special Thanks to those who provided interviews and Otakon for providing images and bringing Yoko over for the performance!