Story, photos, and videos Copyright © 2013, S.Summers/Selective Hearing.

When I arrived in Los Angeles for Anime Expo 2013, on the first day of the convention, I was shocked by the last minute announcement that idol guests Carat and Ikeda Aya would be holding an official press conferences for those of us who had the privilege to attend, when we had previously been notified that no press conference would be held. Since Aya and Carat’s appearances were some of my most anticipated events of the whole convention even if they didn’t have any official press meetings, I was beyond ecstatic with the opportunity. I rushed to the early morning press conference to get some inside coverage on their appearances, and made it there just in time for it to start.

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Upon arriving, I found the five girls of Carat sitting at their press table, about to start taking questions from the audience, dressed in all white outfits (from their single “Koi Indirect”) which all brought out each of their personalities. They all looked stunning and were having fun taking questions and interacting with the press.

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The audience questions ranged from general questions about what its like to work in the idol industry to a few other questions that bordered on rude and disrespectful to the group. Despite being asked some rude questions that were worded to be condescending towards idols, the group answered them graciously and displayed pride at being idols and performers. They also emphasized the fact that Carat are not just your everyday idols, since they also have a live house and DJ element to their live shows, which gives them a bit of an edge over other idol groups when it comes to the legitimacy of being a music artist.

After the questions, they advertised for the live show and autograph sessions they had coming up throughout the convention and then opened up the conference for some posed pictures. Here’s a few shots from this session:

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Rina:

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Rena:

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Mona:

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Yume:

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Risa:

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After Carat finished their photo opportunities, we got some opportunities for photos with Ikeda Aya before her Q&A session started. Here’s a shot to introduce her as well:

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Soon after, Aya started her Q&A session and fielded questions from the audience, and I was able to ask a few questions directly. Since I was a fan of Aya’s previous idol group, C-Zone, I asked her how it feels to be solo as opposed to being a part of a bigger idol group. She said one of the major differences is how it feels to be on stage by yourself versus being there with a group. She said you have a lot more energy to draw from if you have people performing with you at the same time, but she said it feels liberating and makes her more proud to perform by herself. She also mentioned that in a general sense, it was also easier to find motivation to keep making yourself better and to keep going when you had group members, so she had to re-assess her personal motivations when she went solo.

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After the conference, I spoke with Aya and Carat’s management for a while to get a little more information and got a chance to get photos with all of them, as well as a little personal conversation with Aya about her activities. As the press conference started to wind down and everyone left, I had to make my way to the press lounge to get my schedule together and to get ready for the concert happening just a few hours from then.

The concert time seemed to come up in the blink of an eye, and everyone started being let in around 5pm. I was granted a press seat fairly close to the stage and managed to get a good view to the action. After a short introduction, the show started at about 6pm with Ikeda Aya opening with one of her famous songs from the Pretty Cure anime, of which she has done five major theme songs for. These songs were a big hit with the audience, being an anime convention, and the crowds cheered and danced along with many of the songs.

Aya performed mostly Pretty Cure theme songs for her concert, but also threw in two or three of her own songs as well, which the audience also enjoyed, based on their participation and energy. She filled in the gaps between most songs with cute MCs that were mostly in English, and she always encouraged more crowd participation during the MCs as well, getting everyone amped up for the next song.

After Aya bid her farewell, it was time for the stage to be set for Carat to perform. The concert organizers quickly brought out the DJ podium that Carat uses for a big portion of their live show. After the audio was all configured, they started their performance with their DJ member, Mona, taking the stage with a DJ mix set consisting of three or four theme songs from hugely popular anime titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, One Piece, and Naruto, all mixed together into a set with Mona’s sound effects and transitions in between. This definitely got the crowd ready for Carat’s set and got everyone in a comfortable place by using all these familiar songs that most anime lovers recognize.

After Mona’s set, the other four girls of Carat took the stage to start performing their own songs, where Mona often joined them in the dancing parts. Carat’s music has a strong club/dance feel that very much fits the concept of having a DJ on board, with a modern, electronic sound akin to artists like Perfume or MEG, but with a little more idol sensibility in the songwriting. The group even did a full group dance and vocal cover of the Sailor Moon theme “Moonlight Densetsu,” to the pleasure of many audience members, based on the loud screams and interaction during the song.

After a few songs, all the members besides Mona left and she did another short DJ set full of anime songs before leaving the stage herself. The other girls came back with new outfits on, ready to perform their last few songs of the night, and after an MC and some crowd interaction, Mona joined the group again for the closing performance. They also announced that the entire concert for that night was a charity concert to benefit victims of natural disasters in Japan, and that you could make a donation after the show or at the group’s booth in the Anime Expo dealers room. The donation box got full very quickly after the show, thanks to many people enjoying the concert.

On the second day of Anime Expo, Aya and Carat did autograph sessions at their booth in the dealer’s room, where a constant line of fans and passers-by stopped to say hello and purchase their CDs. Here’s a few shots from the autograph sessions at their booth:

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On the final day, Carat did one last autograph session for fans before heading back to Japan, again drawing a long line of people that spanned multiple booths away from them, where lots of fans got their autographs and pictures, including myself:

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From all accounts, it looks like the overseas voyage these girls took to appear at Anime Expo was a huge success, and they made tons of idol fans and convention attendees very happy, and I hope they can come back in the future, or their management can bring some other artists that they manage to widen the spectrum of the indie idols we have appearing here in the States. Worldwide exposure is a great way for some of these smaller groups to get some recognition where they may be overlooked by some of the more mainstream idols in Japan, and I hope more idols start to explore this idea more fully.

Related Links:

Ikeda Aya Official YouTube Page

Ikeda Aya Official Twitter (Japanese)

Ikeda Aya Official Facebook Page

Carat PV for “Koi Indirect”

Carat PV for “Shake It Up!”

Carat Official Website (Japanese)