Utada Hikaru: Queen of J-Pop

Utada Hikaru: Queen of J-Pop

Utada’s 33rd birthday may have already passed, but I think it’s only fitting that I write a tribute to her about my love for her music that started in my latter days of elementary school and continues to this day.

I’ve always had an exquisite taste in music since I was very young. I did listen to pop songs by Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and *NSYNC like everyone else in the late 90s, but my mother gave me a wonderful opportunity to hear pop music from the greatest (and often controversial) musicians of her time–Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Eagles, UB40 (the band most people confuse with Bob Marley because their voices sound the same), Sade, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and even Alejandro Fernandez. English and Spanish were my primary languages in regards to music, as I’m of Spanish descent from my mother’s side of the family. At the age of 11, I would discover Japanese music in the form of none other than Utada Hikaru.
At the start of 5th Grade, my after-care counselor introduced to a new girl named Rebecca, who transferred to my school after moving to South Florida from New York. Rebecca had a lot in common with me–we both played Sonic video games frequently, loved to read, and watched the most complex cartoon shows at that time. One day, some time before my father died of liver cancer, Rebecca popped her headphones onto my ears and played something peculiar on her CD player. The singer’s voice was angelic, but the language she was singing in was too foreign for my tongue to decipher, yet the background music sounded familiar.
“Rebecca, what song was that, and what language is it in?” I asked after the song was over.
“It’s the Japanese version of ‘Simple and Clean’ from Kingdom Hearts,” Rebecca said matter-of-factly.
In that instant, my mind flashed back to watching the TV ads for both Kingdom Hearts and its Game Boy Advanced sequel Chain of Memories with the English version of the same song playing for 30 seconds. I didn’t know the name of the artist at the time Rebecca introduced me to her. It was only weeks, months even, before I set foot in middle school that I would find her name on Barnes & Noble’s music search network in its music department: Utada Hikaru (or Hikaru Utada per the Japanese naming custom).
I discovered her English album Exodus at the Virgin Megastore in Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs with the Virgin Megastore replaced by a bowling alley) and I begged my parents to get it for me. They did, on the condition that we all listen to it in the car on the way back to the Ramada Hotel. I loved it, but my mom expressed some concern about the content contained in all the lyrics of the Exodus album despite that there was no PARENTAL ADVISORY disclaimer on the cover. Sure, Utada wrote some pretty suggestive stuff, but I only cared about the beats in the songs, not very much for the lyrics–such is the innocence of childhood. My mom even went so far as to read some of the lyrics to our friends to get their opinion and, on the second day of 6th Grade, impound the CD from me. I was six months shy of 13, yet I got really upset about the fact that my parents decided right off the bat that Utada’s music isn’t appropriate for a 12-year-old girl. Ironically, a lot of kids my age were listening to raunchy rap music on the radio.
What my family didn’t know, Utada lent her musical talents by recording a new theme song for the North American release of Kingdom Hearts II called “Sanctuary” (“Passion” in the prior Japanese release). Kingdom Hearts II was released for the PlayStation 2, as was the first game [that I never played], in March 2006, but I was one of those gamers who acquired the game on Christmas. “Sanctuary” fit so beautifully with the opening sequence for KHII, for every word in that song described Sora’s goal to achieve peace, harmony and justice for his friends. If the fact that Utada sang for the Kingdom Hearts series didn’t convince my mother to accept my interest in her music, I don’t know what did.

During my teenage years, as I was listening to songs from her old and recent albums on YouTube, such as Distance (2001) and Ultra Blue (2006), Utada released a lot of interesting new music. In 2007, in addition to providing the ending song Beautiful World for the 2007 anime film Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, she sang a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)”, lengthening the song by one minute by adding an extra verse of her own at the beginning. I appreciate the original song my mother introduced me to, but Utada’s version was even better. The next year, she released Heart Station with three out of six popular singles that I loved: “Heart Station”, “Beautiful World”, and “Kiss & Cry”. As much as I liked hearing Japanese music, I wondered when Utada would make another English-language album. The answer came one lazy January day in my 8th Grade Language Arts class.
My teacher allowed us to use the school’s laptops to goof off for some reason, so on a whim I logged on to the website for Island Def Jam Records, the record label Exodus was released under. I typed Utada’s name in the search box and, sure enough, there was a new English single called “Come Back to Me” for a new album in the works. I plugged in my earphones to take a listen and, oh, my God, “Come Back to Me” was the best song since Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”! The way she played the piano from a decrescendo to a crescendo in the beginning was genius! I mentally thanked my Language Arts teacher for giving me the rare opportunity to discover Utada’s new English song during class. The physical copy of This Is The One was released May 12, 2009, and though I would’ve loved to go out with my mom to buy it, I figured I wouldn’t find it at any music store in South Florida, so I couldn’t. Thank God LimeWire still existed long enough for me to download at least a few songs from the album that I liked (I’m not telling which ones they are).

My sophomore year of high school came with the announcement that Utada Hikaru will be taking an indefinite hiatus from music. It was shocking, considering how popular her music was with the anime community. Fortunately, Utada was nice enough to release four new singles that would be featured on her second compilation album Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2: “Goodbye Happiness”, which also came with a YouTube-esque music video where she sang to the webcam, danced like a goofball and played with puppets, “Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas”, “Show Me Love (Not a Dream)”, and “Hymne à l’amour (Ai no Anthem)”. All of them were epic as always, except the full version of her cover of the Édith Piaf original didn’t show up anywhere on YouTube no matter how hard I tried to look for it.
I was sad to see Utada move on to other things for the duration of her hiatus, but I understood why. Life as a musician can be tedious, especially when your career begins at the tender age of 13, singing with your parents under the band name U3.
In my Chorus class, my Japanese singing practice would pay off when I decided to sing “Passion” at the year-end cabaret show. Two months before, an earthquake and tsunami hit the northeastern coast of Japan, knocking down the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and releasing radioactive chemicals into the air and the water in the process. I thought it was appropriate to dedicate the song to the people of Japan who were still recovering from the disaster and needed their spirits lifted. On the day of the show, there weren’t a lot of people in the audience, so I was a little bit discouraged. And even though no one understood a word I was saying–Japanese was not in my high school’s curriculum, such is the Latino-dominant South Florida–I still enjoyed myself onstage. I made Utada and the tragedy-stricken Japan proud. Most of all, I was proud of myself for being able to sing a popular Japanese song to the entire school (even if it was just my Chorus classmates) without fail.

Utada has experience a tidal wave of events during her hiatus. She quietly released the song “Sakura Nagashi” for the final Evangelion movie in 2012; her mother committed suicide by jumping 13 stories from her condo in Shinjuku in 2013; she married an Italian bartender in 2014; and just six months ago she gave birth to a healthy baby boy whose name she hasn’t revealed to her fans. In spite of everything, Utada has still managed to keep her honest personality intact. I can’t wait for her musical return in Kingdom Hearts III, if she decides to write a song for the highly anticipated game.

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Cosplay Blues, Pt. II

Cosplay Blues, Pt. II

The first rule of cosplay is, try to make your costume look as accurate as possible to the character you’re trying to portray. So far, I got the following items for my female Sora cosplay:

  • Crown necklace
  • Blue tank top (though I may have to change it to red)
  • Black shorts
  • Cropped hoodie vest
  • Black faux-leather fingerless gloves
  • Black Mossimo shoes

The last items I’m trying to find are the yellow strappings and red pouch bags for my hips and thighs. I discovered last week that the yellow suspenders I bought at Party City won’t work for the strappings because they’re not long enough for both sides. I could try to buy another pair of yellow suspenders, but I don’t think my mom would want to spend another $10 on an accessory that the original character wears, so I would have to return them.

Here’s where the financial constraints come in. My mom and I spent almost $40 on the cropped hoodie vest Jack and I found at Justice, after which my mom said that my female Sora cosplay is the most expensive cosplay I ever undertook. On Tuesday night, I was waxing extremely desperate from trying to find the yellow strappings and red pouches for my black shorts at the mall. I talked to a girl who worked at Spencer’s about the issue, and she said to look on eBay or Amazon. When I got home, I logged onto the latter website and found exactly what I was looking for:

The leg bag accessory modified by Wing Seng, cosplay seller on Amazon.
The leg bag modified by Wing Seng, cosplay accessory seller on Amazon.

It was relief to find an accessory–er, accessories since there’s an extra leg bag–that looked exactly like it did in the drawing so that I didn’t have to go crazy looking for the materials that the crafts stores in my area might possibly not carry. When I showed my mom the leg bag(s) I needed, I thought she would be relieved, too. WRONG! She looked at the cost of the leg bags, which was $49.98 plus $7.04 shipping (because it’s coming from China, mind you), and said to me condescendingly, “Are you okay?! Only a rich person would want to wear your costume. I’m not gonna spend $50 [on that accessory]. You’re scaring me, Cristina.”

I looked up to my work-in-progress outfit hanging from my closet door and thought to myself, “Looks like the entire female Sora cosplay project is shot (unless I find an alternative to the leg bags I’ve been struggling to acquire for nearly a month).”

The next day or two at school had me convinced that maybe my own mother was right, that I am insane. Insane for taking on a cosplay project that I believed to be fun and fresh because I wanted to try something new. Insane for doing a cosplay that’s hurting my mother financially in the same manner as the unfortunate circumstances that have transpired this year–my grandfather’s death, my wisdom teeth surgery, and more recently, my brother’s non-lethal car accident.

I put in my best effort in everything I do, even if it emotionally kills me. Cosplay has become one of those things. I’m gonna try my hardest to complete my female Sora cosplay done by Halloween. I’ve always wanted to hold a Keyblade, anyway.

Tight Deadlines and Cosplay Blues

Tight Deadlines and Cosplay Blues

School has made me feel like I lost total control of everything in my life, including sleep. My professor for Intro to Ethics has made the deadlines for assignments, quizzes, and discussion posts extremely tight, giving me the impression that I have little time to get the work from my other classes done, especially Geology since it’s one of those Science credits (my last one) that I CANNOT afford to fail. I’ve taken three online classes in the past two years I’ve been at Broward College–Intro to Short Story, Total Wellness, and Creative Writing–and the professors sitting in front of the computer for those classes never gave me a hard time with tight deadlines for every assignment they wrote. Here’s what the assignment schedule for Intro to Ethics looks like.

Tight Deadlines for Ethics

If you pay close attention, the written assignments and quizzes are due every week. Since there is a discussion post to make every two modules (there are 6 discussions out of the 12 units), those are due every two weeks if not more.

Meanwhile, I have to do pretty much the same thing for my Intro to Mass Communications, only the professor doesn’t grade the discussion posts until everybody in the class has made a contribution to the discussion board. Also, I have to write an essay about what TV shows I watch–which you guys already know by now–and how I access them based on the chapter in the Mass Communications textbook on television. It’s not necessarily an academic essay because there’s no research involved, but rather an opinion/analytical paper. That’s due October 7th, if not sooner.

For Journalism, I have to write an article about a cultural arts event I went to by October 12th. It happened last Wednesday, and I managed to stick around long enough to interview the person in charge of the event, the artists showcasing their work, and the people attending the event because it was held around the same time as the Journalism class, which my professor had to cancel that day due to some obligation.

Geology… I just took the first exam on Thursday, and I found out via D2L that I got a 95%, which was very impressive because I never achieved that feat in my first exams for College Algebra, Statistics, and Biology. What’s stupid is that professor gave a 10-question assignment on plate tectonics two days before the exam that was to be due by midnight Tuesday. I spent a couple days grueling over finding the answers on the websites he provided in the assignment description, and I submitted it Sunday night, so I hope to God I did well on that.

To put this situation simply–and please excuse my French–I am fucking overloaded.

❤❤❤❤

Since Halloween is around the corner, I decided to cosplay the female version of Sora from Kingdom Hearts II this year. I Googled “female sora cosplay” for examples of people who attempted this cosplay, and half of the models were exemplary while the other half were just abysmal (I know cosplay is supposed to be fun and not competitive, but still). Then I came across this drawing.

image

I thought it was perfect. The only problem now is finding the materials to match up to drawing. I already have the crown necklace, black faux-leather fingerless gloves, and black shorts, so that’s a start. Everything else is gonna be a mission.

Last week, Jack and I scavenged all over the mall for a black cropped hoodie only to find it in the one store we least expected: Justice, a tween girls’ store. I tried on one of the hoodies in a size 10/12, and it was a perfect fit. It was surprising to see that some of the clothes that are manufactured pre-teenage girls still fit me at age 21. Unfortunately, I have to wait for another time to buy the cropped hoodie. Hopefully they’re not sold out by the time Halloween comes around.

On Saturday, I went to Party City with my mom and bought yellow suspenders to modify them into straps for my upper thighs and hips. The real problem was finding the red fabric to sew onto my blue tank top, which comprised of 94 percent cotton and 6 percent spandex. I found that red fabric in the form of a catsuit, but my mom got beleaguered by the idea of me cutting even a sliver of the catsuit just for the sake of my cosplay, even though that was one of the many ways to go about it.

I want my female Sora cosplay to look adequate, but simultaneously I don’t want it to come out like crap. How am I supposed to use my imagination for this creative endeavor if there are people and things–my mother and the increasing demands of my college professors–restricting it? I’m just gonna have to do the best with what I have and the time I have left before Halloween–one month.