TW Overseas Episode: Aqours LIVE & FAN MEETING Trip to Asia (Taipei)

“I’ll give you my VIP ticket.   You deserve it more than I do.”

It took me a few seconds to get back to my senses.  VIP.  Seventh row, seat number four, right smack in the middle of the stage.  I kept browsing back and forth the pictures shown to me of Taiwan International Convention Center (TICC), trying to form in my mind what kind of image would I be seeing.

That wasn’t the first time I’d be seeing Aqours, some group of sing-and-dance girls that have been driving me penniless in a rollercoaster ride of emotions, encounters, and experiences for more than a year now.  The highlight of my 2017 was me taking the YOLO plunge to see them in Saitama in the last leg of their second major Live tour.  It was an experience that to this day I haven’t gotten over, yet there I was, imagination now running wild over now-reality that I would be seeing them up close in their Live & Fan Meeting in Taipei – a drastic difference from where I stood in MetLife Dome last year where they were only pixels big.

For weeks since accepting that offer from a friend, I could only restlessly count down the days ‘till the trip.  Much had already been said and claimed over how dedicated I am over my handlesake (to varying degrees of truth), and containing my patience of getting *this* up close and personal was getting harder and harder to contain with each passing day.

But making the trip so worth looking forward to, more than just the prospect of getting so close to the 9 girls, was the fact that I would be seeing them as part of what would become the biggest contingent of PH eventers to fly out for a Love Live! event yet.  This squad goal of a trip seemed as if it was fated to be; with a surplus of tickets in the pool, and the timely lifting of visa requirements to enter Taiwan, it took only a bit of shark talking on how this trip would be the golden opportunity of a lifetime to have our overseas episode to turn a group of three into 11 (and made more friends along the way).

The spirit of the fan meet had been felt long before we ever set foot in Taiwan.  Nesoberis in tow as if children cradled on matching luggage covers, from airport to airport, train to train across the amazing modernity of a first-world country, we were pretty much weebs on a field trip to remember.  We stuck together for the most part during the entire trip, save for a separate excursion wherein some of us headed to Songshan International Airport to anticipate the last arriving flight from Japan – the arrival of Aqours.

Stepping into the arrival area of Songshan, I was reminded of the year past.  A crowd of Livers before me, none of who spoke the same language as I did, with only our merchandise to identify each other as kindred.  I stood out in particular thanks to Aikyan, my beloved nesoberi who a friend modified into her namesake in the Kowareyasuki outfit, a remembrance from Second Live.  She bore so much attention that I was getting stares, and two fellows even personally came up to me out of curiosity over my unique possession.  I felt it again – an ironic feeling of belongingness despite the language barriers which remained so profound, that I consider getting noticed the highlight of our Songshan excursion more than Aqours’ arrival, of which I failed to recognize any one of them thanks to the crazy crowd, girls’ splendid measures at remaining incognito, and a first-hand experience of extreme policing that almost got a friend’s phone smashed.

Legs still aching from all the walking the previous day, we woke up Saturday, day of the Live, early at 6AM in preparation for buppan.  The Liver crowd again did not disappoint in numbers and in displaying their immense dedication that bordered obsession.  Not long after we discreetly dissed our BNB neighbors who headed out to line up as early as 6AM, we end up eating our own words on finding out that the line had already looped around 8AM.  It was a long, long wait until the goods counter, a wait that was somehow eased by the colorful sight of all the Livers in line.  Three and a half hours later, we now stood before the entrance to TICC, the grand stage of our journey.

There was a lot to see within the Liver stage that TICC had become.  After grabbing our goods on our turns at the buppan, the entire group played the bromide gacha and exchange game, scrambling throughout the Hall, unwanted bromides onhand and on display to bypass the language barrier in search for willing traders.  One thing of particular note that we checked out afterwards was our very own PH flasta, the materialization of the support from our fellow Livers back home, as well as the jolly cooperation that a friendly group of international Livers imparted in having the flasta paid for and set up.  The festivities continued outside, where fans gave out call books, guides to the Yousoroad and Kananrail, and even a showcase of godly expensive Dollfies in the image of Aqours members.

Clearly we had spent too much time enjoying the crowd and festivities that we had to rush lunch and last-minute BNB excursions in order to make it in time for the 2:00PM start of the afternoon session, which my VIP seat was part of.  We went on our separate ways to our own seats in the stage that we had looked forward to and invested in so much for the past months.  This was it.

I paid no heed to the looks I got as I nervously, excitedly made my way to the “best seat in the house” in production design terms – seventh row, seat #4, in the middle of the frontmost group.  My nervous silence in trying to blend with the fortunate front-row crowd was broken as soon as I arrived at my seat.  The person to my left took the initiative to greet me and compliment my outfit – same as what Aikyan the neso wore – and even called me an “amazing fan.”  Needless to say, I was flattered and could only warn her of how an emotional mess I could become once the girls show up.

With only a few minutes left before showtime, too short to catch my breath and take in the close, personal experience that was to unfold before me, the stage lights made a dramatic transition, and the familiar upward intro tune of Landing Action Yeah! strongly resounded.  The crowd exploded in a massive cheer as one by one, Aqours made their grand appearance…

Landing Action

Where should I play with you today?

Everyone, let’s Call and Dance!

 It was a confusing, adrenaline-infused mix of excitement, joy, and tears in the minute that followed. The overwhelming realization of “I am here – again – for real,” in the closest distance I had ever been to the group I have been so closely devoted to, once again heeding their Call to have fun and Dance, is a moment that can never be replicated by any other medium.  My hands that have been long familiar with the grip of a Kingblade were trembling as I cheered as loud as I could, sense of sight overloaded by the goddesses that now graced the stage.

I along with everyone else there clearly were having the time of our lives, but after a short version opening of Landing Action Yeah!, the girls did not forget about those who needed this time the most – the people affected by the recent disaster that struck Taiwan.  Everything that would happen from then on, they dedicated to those who needed it the most – a timely reality check.  I could only applaud in respect.

The girls then made their signature introductions, perhaps the most memorable yet so far for me as a proud, loyal little demon who greeted her goddess the loudest “Ohayoshiko!!” he could.  The Fan Meeting segment of the event followed afterwards, basically an extra special niconama segment filled with extra special fanservice.  So much could be said for specifics of what happened, but what stood out for me were, in no particular order:  the amusing background moments by FKT, a…… visually impressive display… during the girls’ birthday greetings for Kanan, the laughtrip reactions to Furirin’s and Anchan’s ikemen impressions, and the girls’ little sister “Wo ai ni!” gestures.

There was so much fun to be had in the FM segment that I lost track of time until it was time for the second half of the event:  the Live.  I readied my blades, too excited to mind the shoddy quality of the event Blade.

Then it began – first up was Mirai no Boku wa Shitteru yo, a song that I admittedly have not paid much attention to but was now making its mark in my memory thanks to this Live.  But what really got me by surprise was the next song.  The moment the girls bore a very familiar line formation with Aikyan at the center, I knew it was time for Daydream Warrior.  The upbeat, EDM-esque of a favorite by even my non-Liver friends once again was being performed Live before me for the second time already, yet the dancey tune still drove me to tears as I furiously swung my Blade Max’s set to the brightest.

The song that followed was also a very memorable piece, one that all of us had anticipated thanks to a special segment:  HAPPY PARTY TRAIN.  Making an exception this time to my blades’ color selection, I was flooded with memories of Second Live up until the eagerly, nervously awaited Kananrail segment.  Echoing the words of a friend, despite the yakkai crowd Taiwan is somewhat known for, the Taipei crowd’s hearts connected in pulling off a clean Kananrail.  It was such an overwhelming moment to be in, so much so that it got me to momentarily pull my eyes away from Suwawa and look around in pride and amazement for being part of this crowd.

The songs that followed, while not as emotionally profound for me than the aforementioned ones, gave me much needed breathing room to take in all the happenings close up.  I attest to the perfection of the seventh row center seat, and the 9999p view it afforded across the stage.  More than the proximity however, was how being seated there made it feel like I was locking eyes with whoever it was at the center as of the moment; with Anchan’s the most for obvious reasons.  It felt as if a goddess was having a stare down contest with an amoeba (me), that all yakkai tendencies within me were sucked out and had me staring, smiling in plain awe.

Before I knew it, the Live was over.  The girls made their farewells, dedicating one for the left, right, and center segments of the crowd in order.  The people behind and above were now scrambling to make their exits, but for us up front, the most nerve wracking opportunity yet was up next – a special farewell.

After around 10 minutes or so of waiting, one by one the VIP rows were gathered to form a single, moving line towards an exit at stage right.  I gathered my stuff, and we were made to briskly walk and follow the line.  At the pace we were going, I knew that the golden moment would barely last 5 seconds.  As we descended a short escalator to a backstage area of sorts, I cradled Aikyan facing out, gripping her right hand with the fan meet blade that glowed white.  Following the line, we made a sharp turn at a corner to a brightly lit meeting room…

…and there they stood in a line, still donning their familiar MiraiBoku costumes that now looked even more dazzling in such a close distance.  Separating them about three meters or so from the moving line was a long table, where they waved and bid hello and goodbye at those passing.

I almost did not have time to identify who was who at the pace we were going.  When my turn to pass them came, I looked for Aikyan as quickly as I could, and spotted her as the second I would be passing by.  I put Aikyan up for Aikyan to see, waving her stuffed hand with the blade, and locked eyes with her, as if desperate for a miracle.

And it did:  in the midst of cheerfully waving farewell at the group behind me, very briefly, she quickly turned towards me, pointed at Aikyan, and said “すごい!!”

I lost all words I rehearsed prior to getting at that moment that I could only blankly say “otsukare!” in reply to Aikyan and everyone else as I passed them all by and exited through another hallway.

In the hallway to the exit, the scene before me looked like a recovery room with people who had as if their souls had left their bodies from what had just happened.  I could totally relate.  But I had to head back to my friends.  I had to let these feelings out.

I found my way back to the main hall to my friends.  There, the look on our faces were that of overwhelm as we quickly shared our own stories of the last few hours.  As I shared mine and had another look at Aikyan the neso, a crazy thought crossed my mind – one that seemed only fitting after what had just happened.  I headed to the gift boxes and looked for the only familiar name written in kanji.  Staring down the box, I gave one last look at her, carefully put Aikyan inside as is, not even with anything to identify myself as the giver, and left with her peeking out of the box as my last mental image of her.

We went our own ways again afterwards with the evening session with my other friends up next.  That was the end of the event experience for me.  Or at least it seemed to be.

Our last day in Taiwan that followed, to the flight back home, even up until now, many among us still fondly look back upon those magical hours.  Playlists of the live setlist on loop as if to self torture, clearly we weren’t over the experience yet.  One could say that was the point of Lives; going into one has never been an easy decision to make what with the amount of time, money, and effort one has to put in.  But after being in one, priorities shift, preferences change, and motivations become set – no amount of merchandise could top the Live experience.  For many, that would be the clear takeaway.

But not for me.

For the relatively diehard Love Live fan that I am, when I recall memories from both Lives that I have been to, I have only but gratitude – gratitude towards my friends who all helped make these happen, and have went out their way to help each other out.  Whenever I stare down my laptop wallpaper, plop down my bed and glance around my room, more than the familiar faces of my following are wonderful stories to be recalled; stories that cannot be retold without making mention of friends that have been part of this crazy weeb journey.

I’d dare even say – more than Aqours, more than that precious VIP ticket, more than the luggage ticket still strapped on m bag – I see friends.

Will another trip like this happen?  No one can really tell. But there is one thing I am sure all of us can agree on: one that we heard in that song that now bears so much memories for all of us.

Our hearts can become one no matter what we do
I want to see your smile, even if your dance is rather sloppy
What’s something that will never change?
Maybe it’s the light that we secured in our memories just now

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