In early 2013, the anime “Wake Up Girls!” hit the Japanese airwaves to a large amount of success, and from the very beginning, many idol fans took notice because of the show’s realistic portrayal of the modern idol industry, from it’s high points down to it’s gritty low points, as well as the fact that the girls who voice the characters on the screen are also a real-life idol group. This makes Wake Up Girls! pretty unique to the world of anime idols, where most anime idols don’t do very many live appearances compared to normal idols.

At the Anime Central 2014 convention in Chicago, Wake Up Girls! were invited as guests of honor, giving US audiences a chance to see the girls live and letting fans spend some quality time with these girls they’ve been seeing and hearing on the screen for the last year. The producer and director of the show were also invited along with the girls, and they were able to give a lot more insight and information on the project in their multiple appearances throughout the convention.

Friday:

The group first arrived at the convention on Friday, where they held a public panel and talked somewhat generally about the background of the show and got a chance to meet everyone. Unfortunately only four of the girls from the group and the producer/director were there, as the other girls hadn’t arrived yet, but it was still a lot of fun. Here’s a few pictures from the session:

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Saturday:

Saturday was the big day for the girls as well as their fans, as they not only held a screening of the recently released Wake Up Girls! movie on the big screens, but also did a mini-live concert as well as appeared for some autograph signings.

The movie premiere screening was packed from front to back in a room with about a 500-person capacity, and while many viewers got to see the movie for the first time, many fans got to see the movie they already loved on the big screen for the first time.

After the credits rolled on the movie, they brought out the producer and director to give a brief bit of info about the making of the movie, and not long after, they gave the cue for the girls themselves to take the stage for their concert, and the crowd literally went wild as the room exploded with energy and cheers when they took the stage.

DSC01195They performed a total of four songs including “Tachiagare” and “Kotonoha Aoba,” as well as some MC segments where they interacted with the crowd, giving us about 30 minutes of awesome entertainment. Here’s some shots from the show:

DSC01200DSC01209DSC01210DSC01229They performed a few of their own songs from both the movie and the TV series, but also threw in a surprise towards the end, where they covered the song “Hare Hare Yukai” from the Suzumiya Haruhi anime series, which their very own director, Yamamoto, also directed! Here’s a video of the performance:

After the concert, the girls headed over to the CrunchyRoll booth for autograph signings in the main exhibition hall of the convention. Fans flocked to the event by the dozens to get their chance to see the girls again and get some of their merchandise autographed. Before they started, they also autographed the huge Wake Up Girls! banner at the booth, which you can see below. Here’s a few shots from the signing:

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After the signing session, the girls retired for the night to get ready for the next day’s activities, leading to the final day of the show.

Sunday:

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On Sunday, I had the pleasure to sit down for an interview with the girls as well as the producer and director of the show for some more in-depth questions than were able to be answered at previous talks they had done throughout the weekend. Here’s the transcript of our conversations: (Note: Yamamoto is the director, Takeuchi is the producer)

SH: Please introduce yourselves:

Miyu: Hi, I’m Takagi Miyu, I play Okamoto Miyu in the show.
Nanami: Hi, I’m Yamashita Nanami, I play Hisami Nanami in the show.
Minami: Hello, Tanaka Minami, I play Katayama Minami in the show.
Mayu: Hello, I’m Yoshioka Mayu, I play Shimada Mayu in the show.
Airi: I’m Eino Airi, I play Hayashida Airi in the show.
Kaya: Hi, I’m Okuno Kaya, I play Kikuma Kaya in the show.
Yoshino: I’m Aoyama Yoshino, I play Nanase Yoshino in the show. I usually go by my nickname, Yoppi!

SH: How do you like the US so far and how has your reception from the fans in the US been so far?

Miyu: It’s my first time here, and like everyone says, the food portions are really huge! It’s really different from Japan! The response from the fans was also great so far, we’re happy that people welcomed us.
Nanami: I was surprised about the response from the live show, it was really energetic. It seems no matter what I say, people smile!
Minami: The first time I came to the US, I was only two years old, so this may as well be my first time here! Everyone is really friendly and informal here, Chicago pizza is really good too!
Mayu: It’s my first time here, and it makes me nervous trying to speak English, but everyone is really friendly, so it hasn’t been much of a problem.
Airi: I don’t speak English, but interacting with fans makes it easier since they know me already and it seems like people listen very well here. I’m very shy and not good at speaking English, but it’s fun to try. This is also my first time in the US.
Kaya: Like everyone else, it’s my first time overseas. Kayatan is my nickname, and people keep calling me by that, it’s really surprising that people actually knew it here!
Yoshino: People keep using Japanese words even though we’re in the US, it’s surprising. It makes me happy, though. I wanted to use my English, but people are constantly responding to me in Japanese, so I haven’t got to use my English much!

SH: Before we get to some more specific questions with the girls, there’s a few creative questions for Yamamoto and Takeuchi. What did you watch or read when you were younger to inspire you as a creator?

Yamamoto: Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” was one of the things that made me want to create, and before that, I used to read all the manga by Fujiko Fujio. Obviously there are many other influences, but those are main ones that inspired me to start my creative career.
Takeuchi: I worked in manga for years before I got into animation, but the original “Astro Boy,” Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” (like Mr. Yamamoto,) as well as films like “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell” really jump-started me into being interested in animation and being inspired to start my career in that direction.

SH: What is the direction or future you’d like to take for the studio you’re using to make Wake Up Girls?:

Yamamoto: We established our own animation studio because in the past, I would have to get different staff members for each piece of work I wanted to undertake, but I got tired of that and wanted consistency in my projects, so I could keep the same people. That’s why I established it this way, but I have no real distinct future vision, you’d have to ask Mr. Takeuchi about the vision of the future.

Takeuchi: We established this studio (Ordet) five years ago, and though I’ve been working in the animation industry for around 20 years now, only the last 5 or 6 years have allowed me to have this kind of consistency with having the studio established. I wanted to work with Yamamoto because he’s a genius director, and he’s a complete package as a creative mind; he can create songs, direct animation, direct live action, choreograph dancing segments, so he’s really a wizard of entertainment creation. We’d like to change the standards of how animation is done around the world, and that’s why WUG is such a special project, since it includes the live-action and anime at the same time. This was all was Yamamoto’s idea, we really want to encompass a full, 360 degree experience instead of just an anime.

SH: Are you surprised at all by the size of the American market for anime and how much it’s grown over the years? How do you feel about it now?

Takeuchi: I met with many live action directors in America 20 years ago, and at that time, they already liked anime, but the public market was not really too big yet. I produced the Animatrix along with these directors and they said most of it was inspired from Japanese animation. I think it was a great collaboration between both the US and Japan. We have big events like Anime Central here now and it feels like fans are gathering all over the world and it has grown so much, so I am a bit surprised by it, but very happy about it.

SH: Were there certain real idols the show was based on and do the girls have any favorite idols themselves?

Yamamoto: Of course, I did look at AKB and many other modern idols across the spectrum as well as other idol anime to get a deeper understanding of the current state of the industry itself. I studied them as a reference point, but did not fully base Wake Up Girls! off of them. I used that knowledge from my studies to create something I thought could have both an obviously fantasy side (anime) but mixed it in heavily with reality for a unique experience.

WUG: We noticed you had lots of idol stickers and badges, and we see many that we like! There are so many idols out there today and we like so many of them! We like Dempagumi.inc, (Yoppi says she likes Risa a lot!) Idoling!!! (everyone agreed they like Kikuchi Ami!) Momoiro Clover Z, Berryz Kobou, etc.

SH: Was the project originally created to be an anime project or was it started more as a traditional idol group?:

Yamamoto: Well, it was intended as a hybrid of both from the beginning, like we mentioned on the earlier question, but the process of putting it together was more like a traditional idol group; we held very large auditions and chose the candidates that had the most potential and charisma, etc. Since the girls were chosen, they’ve been going through lots of training lessons and practice at singing, dancing, and voice acting, so they’re also growing like a traditional group would, in that sense. We have a great team from Avex entertainment doing their training and lessons, and even I’ve been shocked with the results and how much they’ve improved in just this one year since the project started.

SH: Now for the girls, have you had similar experiences to the girls in the show and do your characters have lots of similarities to the real you?

Miyu: My character cries a lot and so do I, so that’s definitely accurate, but Miyu used to work at a maid café, and the real me has never worked at a maid café, though I’d like to try it someday!
Nanami: My character and I are both left handed, so that’s the same, and she also is constantly eating a bunch of junk food at random times, and I do that too!
Minami: Me and my character, we look and act the same in most ways, really, so I guess we are very similar.
Mayu: In my case, my character’s 3-sizes are the same and our height is the same. Her character is really similar to me too, we’re both stubborn and will argue with members about things, so I guess my character is really accurate.
Airi: My character has very different hair from me in real life, but we have the same birthmark on our cheek, so that’s one similarity!
Kaya: Well, my character is really tall, but I’m really short in real life! Though, my character is very mature, and I think I’m also mature in reality.
Yoshino: The director definitely developed some of these things with us in mind, like our first name is the same, and our birthday is same, there’s lots of similarities thrown in there.

SH: Do you enjoy the live-action idol aspect of what you do more, or do you like the seiyuu and anime side of what you do better?

Miyu: They’re both pretty fun, and also really similar, so it’s hard to pick one or the other. For example, for the dancing in the anime, the movements are all animated based off a live-action video of us actually doing the choreography and then made into animation. It’s easy to enjoy both, so no preference here.
Nanami: I like the live better, personally, but the anime is still pretty fun, since it’s really accurate to the live-action version of us. The reason I like the live most is because in the anime world, there’s no live audience to interact with.
Minami: The live action performance is a lot of fun, I think I like it more. I had very low confidence in whether or not I could do the live performance properly since my original aspiration was more to become a seiyuu, not a full-on idol. Over time, though, as I’ve obviously gotten better at it, it felt like I found a new part of me in the process, so I like the live performance a little more now.
Mayu: I really do like both of them, but in the end, I’d say the call and response aspect of the live audience from the live performance is great and makes it more fun. I originally just wanted to become seiyuu as well, but I’ve also shifted gears like some of the other girls.
Airi: I really like anime, but live performance has it’s benefits as well. The audience at a live performance makes each performance different from the last, so its more dynamic. I also really like dancing, it’s something that I’m just more passionate about since the beginning.
Kaya: I like the anime more, it makes me really happy. The live is great and all, but my dream was that I wanted to become the voice actress first. I worked very hard for that goal, and I like constantly working towards being a better seiyuu, and in this process, the producers and director give me feedback, which is great. I feel like the live show is like a showcase of what I’ve learned and experienced in my time in the seiyuu training and growing process.
Yoshino: I like anime more as well. The main reason is that the anime is not just us involved in the product you see, as there are so many different people involved in making anime, and that feeling of being a part of something larger that so many people work so hard on; that makes anime a little better to me.

SH: What is in the future for Wake Up Girls? A second season or another movie?

Yamamoto: We’re still discussing what’s next for the project. We’d all like to continue the project right now, but it’s not entirely in our hands, since we have to get approval and funding to go ahead with the series. We’ll be sure to announce what will come next once it is confirmed.

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This wrapped up the interview with the cast, and after getting some picture opportunities, they left for their final activity of the convention, another short panel.

The Wake Up Girls! provided all con guests with a great time on all three days of the show, and surely made lots of new fans in the process. A big thanks to all Anime Central staff for bringing them here and to all Wake Up Girls! staff for making this a great experience, we hope to see you again.

See you!

Stay tuned for lots more live coverage from Selective Hearing in the next few months from Idol Matsuri and Chicago Japan Festival 2014, among others!