The master stroke.

Defying the long odds set by other anime conventions in the US, Sakura-Con manages to do something that few other cons can: put on a musical program with real value.

There's been a long and checkered history of concerts at anime conventions, with a flurry of public failures and not-quite-successes. We'd like to figure out why music programs at cons tend to be poorly attended — but we frankly don't have an answer.

What we do know is that Sakura-Con set out to prove that we can do a heart-stopping music show at an American anime convention, sparing no expense on top-of-the-line sound and lighting equipment, bringing to bear their considerable planning expertise, and pulling the necessary promoters' strings to bring headlining acts. (The fact that they chose to do this in a convention center venue borders on hubris. It is Gurren Lagann-esque.)

We had some inkling that this would be their plan, building with each new announcement. We'd been looking forward to these concerts ever since hearing that Hangry & Angry would be there, and the last-minute announcement of Myuji was just an added bonus. Gravy, if you like. Delicious melodic rocking gravy. So when we went, we expected things to work.

Above: Portland-based The Slants bring their local flavor to Seattle. A bit underappreciated under the limelight of the headliners, but still a strong act nonetheless.

Things seemed promising right from the beginning, the first act of the first night. The first opener was The Slants, a band from Portland with a Japanese feel, and the lead singer had this incredible energy. (I know, it's the most overused description of live performances ever. If you were there, you'll agree that it fits. This guy was like a human tornado, leaping and bounding about the stage.) Personally, I liked them and I liked their stuff. I've seen them before, and they didn't disappoint. But they were the openers, and openers don't get any respect.

Above: girugämesh rocks the house with their hard rock sound, balanced against their distinctly subdued visual appearance.

Headliner for the first day was girugämesh, a hard rock band that first made waves here back in May 2007, when they played at J-Rock Revolution in Los Angeles alongside acts like Miyavi and D'espairsRay. They've toned down their image a bit since then — much less visual kei, much more hard rock. Their growing and loyal fanbase (built, it must be said, partially on Hot Topic's sales of their CDs) made a great showing, crowding around the stage and flooding into the pit. Lots of fun.

Above: Myuji, with his group, Tripolyism. The singer for X TV's Opening, "eX dream", Myuji knows how to rock like a real rock star.

But it was Myuji who opened on the second day, and Myuji who made the whole thing work for us. Myuji is a rock star. He knows he's a rock star, and he loves every minute of it. Dreadlocked hair, infectious energy, desire to please the audience — this guy knows how to rock. At any other convention, he would easily have made a great headliner (and for the 3rd day was the headliner). Although he's most famous for singing the opening theme to the X TV Series, "eX dream", the audience was really into the concert as a whole. Even though they were there to see Hangry & Angry, Myuji carried them away. He did the whole rock star thing — foot on the amp, emoting into the microphone. I was singing along.

(Humor! Myuji's guitarist in Tripolyism is a fan of X Japan, who of course are famous not only as the inspiration for X/1999, but who also performed the key piece, "Forever Love," for the movie. During the introductions he played a few bars from the opening of "Kurenai," only to get called out by Myuji. "Hey, who do you think you're playing for?")

Above: Hangry & Angry. Singing as mascots for fashion label h.NAOTO, these two didn't disappoint a crowd that were waiting for them to perform.

The climax of the concert series, of course, was the first U.S. appearance of Hangry & Angry. Here, too, the show delivered hugely. HANGRY ("who might be Hitomi Yoshizawa") and ANGRY ("who might be Rika Ishikawa") represent the mascots for a line of clothing from designer h.NAOTO, and it shows — You can see h.NAOTO's designs in their costumes, and in their musical style: More rock and less pop. Even so, they still showed off the vocal talent that made them famous in their former careers.

But we appreciate history, and they appreciate it right along with us — as they showed with their rock cover of Morning Musume's "The Peace," which played to thunderous shouts of acclaim — shouts only topped by "Kill Me Kiss Me," the flagship song of the duo.

Sakura-Con went all-out to do a full-scale professional music event, and I think they succeeded brilliantly. Let's put that more strongly: this is what all cons should aspire to do with their musical program. Congratulations.

—jason, with special thanks to JapanFiles.com