Naka-Kon is an annual 3-day convention held in the Kansas City area which celebrates anime, video games, and Japanese culture. Each year, the convention hosts a variety of influential Japanese musicians who perform, host informative panels, and sign autographs for fans. This year’s main musical guest was Japanese rock band Rondonrats, who played their first and only show in the United States. Also returning for their second Naka-Kon appearance was popular orchestral ensemble A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy.
Rondonrats – Friday, 3/10
In the past couple decades, modern Japanese rock music has taken on a quality so distinct, it has earned its own moniker and genre classification. Though the rhythmic quality of the Japanese language lends itself quite well to rock music, “J-Rock”, as the style has come to be known, denotes a kind of music that is much more than “rock music sung in Japanese”. Eccentricity and creative freedom are paramount in a genre which frequently employs unconventional juxtapositions. The bubbly vocals of pop with the speed and drive of punk rock, for example; or the saturated electronics of dance music with the groove and instrumentation of funk. Hailing from Hiroshima, Japan, Rondonrats promised to deliver all of this and more for Naka-Kon attendees as they packed the main ballroom on Friday evening.
Indeed, the energetic quintet made good on this promise throughout their two-hour set full of music, banter, drum solos, anime covers, and an entertaining demonstration of their “samurai spirit”. Brightly colored and gravity-defying hair, traditional dress, dance-able rhythms, and plenty of wild antics all helped treat attendees to a taste of urban Japan’s legendarily vibrant nightlife. In a single Rondonrats song, one could identify a shred metal-style guitar passage, a bombastic pop punk chorus, a whammy pedal-driven rap-rock riff, and a subdued, violin-infused waltz. Mixing such varied elements into a perfectly natural and cohesive piece before dialing the energy level to eleven is a distinctly Japanese endeavor – one that is typically confined within the borders of the island nation – so Rondonrats’ visit to the midwest United States offered a truly remarkable experience for American otaku and Japanophiles alike.
Visit Rondonrats at their Facebook page, here.
A New World – Saturday, 3/11
Led by renowned composer and conductor Eric Roth and featuring a small troupe of musicians, A New World took the stage on the morning of the biggest day of the convention, promising an intimate orchestral performance of the legendary music of the Final Fantasy universe.
With the Final Fantasy series spanning fifteen main games, each with its own film-worthy musical score, boiling the series down into a 90-minute repertoire was assuredly a daunting task when A New World was conceived in early 2014. Roth and company, however, have managed to touch on the most significant musical moments from nearly every main entry, arranging them for performance by a string quartet, pianist, classical guitarist, percussionist, and a few other select soloists.
A hallmark of any orchestral performance is the varied odyssey of emotions upon which patrons are sure to be whisked away. In staying true to the Final Fantasy franchise, the virtuosic musicians of A New World accomplished this goal, masterfully conveying the stirring melancholy of X’s “To Zanarkand”, the vigor of IV’s “The Red Wings”, the nostalgia of I’s “Town Theme”, and even the lighthearted exuberance of the series’s prevalent “Chocobo” and “Moogle” motifs – both of which had been arranged into medleys which made delightfully entertaining use of their limited instrumental selection. The performance was punctuated by the made-for-orchestra fan favorite, “One Winged Angel” from VII, which leveraged Roth’s impeccable arrangement skills to deliver all of the power of a full orchestra with only a fraction of the musicians at his disposal.
For tour dates and more info, visit A New World’s website here.