A Day Out at SONIC FEST 2014

In June I had an opportunity to complete the set of SEGA-affiliated fan events and attend SONIC FEST 2014, SEGA of Japan’s answer to Sonic Boom and Summer of Sonic at SEGA’s Tokyo theme park, JOYPOLIS. SONICFEST this year was also a celebration of Sonic’s golden birthday (the birthday for which the age in years matches the date of the month of birth) which is a big deal in eastern culture. Although I’ve had a lot of contact with fans based in the Europe and the US, I’ve not spoken to many Japanese fans; whether this is because there are fewer of them or because there is a language barrier, I was unsure. Suffice to say we arrived at the gates of JOYPOLIS on Daiba island, unsure what to expect in regards to both the order of the day and turnout.

Queue for Sonic Fest 2014I was pleased to see Japanese Sonic fans are just as enthusiastic as the rest! By the time we had arrived (about 45 minutes before doors opened), the queue was already down the boardwalk, heaving with fans dressed for the occasion, excitedly talking and greeting each other as the queue built. The first 200 fans through the door were given special individually numbered tickets, which allowed them access to the “golden circle” for the main stage event at SONICFEST (other fans could watch but from further back from the stage).

The park itself was open as usual on the day, albeit dressed a little more Sonic-themed than usual. In addition to these extras, the park recently underwent a large refurbishment, removing a lot of the old and outdated features and replacing them with attractions more akin to Sonic’s more modern appearance. A large portion of the first floor in the park is now an area known as the “Sonic Carnival”, an area dedicated to Sonic-centric games, as well as a very impressive Sonic statue, who exclaims various statements (in Japanese) when activated; fittingly, Sonic had been adorned in a crown and fur coat for the day. Several of the games are typical fairground affairs in which the most skilled players are rewarded for their efforts in the form of a lovely Sonic plush.

Sonic statue dressed up!Amongst the standard affair are three unique Sonic games. Sonic Athletics sees players take to treadmills, in order to compete in three track events including sprints, long jumps and hurdles. The players physically run on the treadmill, with the forward pressure applied dictating the velocity of the chosen character. Conversely, Sonic Brain Training requires competitors to flex their grey matter through a series of five of a possible ten games, involving memory, mathematics, fast reflexes and a keen understanding of Japanese! Players stand at podiums containing touch screens, and compete to score the highest each round. Those scoring above 1,000,000 were rewarded with a keepsake card to mark your achievement, with those exceeding 1,200,000 earning a special card (the latter being just out of the reaches of my abilities!). Children can also enjoy the Sonic Ghost Shooting game, where a small cart takes players around a small track while blasting Sonic Adventure 2 era ghosts with a gun.

JOYPOLIS storeFor the seasoned merchandise hunter, JOYPOLIS is heaven. The gift shop is filled with a huge range of current, generally available items, as well as a lot of exclusive pieces which can only be purchased at JOYPOLIS. More excitingly, the UFO machines had been especially stocked for one day only with the entire range of seasonal Sonic plushes, which included Surf Board and Water Melon Sonic (Summer exclusive), Halloween Vampire Sonic (Fall exclusive) and Santa Sonic (Winter exclusive). While some were easily obtained by unhooking a ring holding the plush in the catcher machine, others required you to destroy a load-bearing paper tie with a needle-like UFO arm – One Japanese fan pumped thousands of yen into a machine in order to obtain their prize!

For those feeling a little peckish, a special drink and chilidog combo was available, which came with a sticker to prove you’d devoured the foot-long. A limited edition range of sweets were on offer, including a special branded E-MA capsule which contained little cherry candies.

Iizuka-san introduces the main eventThe main event of the day was a 90 minute show on the main stage, hosted by a gentleman in a SEGA boiler suit [EDIT: The guy is called Sexy Saito! Good to know! Thanks to Shane for the info – T]. He was soon joined on stage by Takashi Iizuka, who introduced the trailer for Sonic Boom (branded as “Sonic Toon” for the eastern market), after which gameplay was demonstrated by Iizuka-san himself, Jun Senoue played a selection of Sonic songs accompanied by Sonic himself with fans accompanying by singing along. AiAi from Super Monkey ball made his presence known for the blowing out of the candles of Sonic’s birthday cake.

Iizuka-san then issued a challenge to the audience for three competitors to go head-to-head against at Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, with participants receiving a goodie bag of Sonic goods. Amusingly, none of the challengers has the skill to beat Iizuka-san, who came in first in the race!

Posing for photos

Uekawa-san on stageYuji Uekawa, best known for his signature Sonic the hedgehog designs that have graced the franchise since the days of Sonic Adventure, also made a rare stage appearance at SONICFEST to talk to the fans during the show. Soon after, a raffle also took place on stage, with the numbers of the 200 golden circle audiences being drawn at random to receive a special prize. After several of these prizes had been amusingly “modeled” by Senoue-san, we were ecstatic to realise that one of our number had been drawn (The winner being Lewis from Segadriven)! Not only that, Uekawa-san also presented three hand-drawn original Sonic sketches, which were also given away to three lucky winners (unfortunately my number was not picked!)

After advertisements for several SEGA games, the stage events concluded, and fans were invited to a meet and greet session with Iizuka-san, Senoue-san and Uekawa-san, with an impressive range of rare Sonic items being brought out by fans for signing (Kieran also got an opportunity to present Uekawa-san with a hand drawn gift). Post-signing session, I had an opportunity to talk to some Japanese fans and take some photos; some of the hand-made items were incredible, and it was obvious to see that a lot of them were extremely passionate about Sonic. More impressively, we saw an attendee wearing a Summer of Sonic shirt! We also got to meet Act, one of the drummers from Crush 40’s live shows, who was also in attendance for the day.

IMG_2899SONIC FEST was a fantastic day out, and it is great to see that community events like this have also caught on in the east. Hopefully SONIC FEST will be a reoccurring event, and I implore you to go if you’re in Tokyo next year! JOYPOLIS is open all year round, with admission starting from ¥800 ($8 / £5) – you can find more information about the park on the English JOYPOLIS page.

Us at Sonic Fest!

 

Crush 40 Live Album Release Date and Track Listing

The Crush 40 Facebook page recently revealed the release date for the Crush 40 Live album (currently untitled) as October 3rd 2012, with a release through the Wavemaster record label. The single-CD live album contains tracks recorded at the Crush 40 Live performances in Tokyo in March with the full band ensemble of Johnny Gioeli, Jun Senoue, Takeshi Taneda on bass and Toru Kawamura on drums.

The track listing as stated on the facebook page is listed as:

01. Sonic Youth
02. Free
03. His World
04. Sonic Heroes
05. Open Your Heart
06. Knight Of The Wind
07. I Am… All Of Me
08. With me
09. Never Turn Back
10. Fire Woman
11. Revvin’ Up
12. Watch Me Fly…
13. Into The Wind
14. Rise Again
15. Sonic Boom
16. All Hail Shadow
17. Live & Learn
18. One Of Those Days
19. What I’m Made Of…

The CD is currently up for pre-order on CDJapan for the cost of ¥2,500 ($32 / £22).

New Crush 40 Live in Tokyo Concert Dates

Concert venue Guilty has revealed on their website that the Crush 40 Live in Tokyo 2011 concert, which was delayed due to the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Tokyo, will now take place on Saturday July 30th and Sunday July 31st. Crush 40 hasn’t announced anything via their website, Twitter or Facebook, but we expect they will soon.

Source: Guilty (via Sonic Scene)

Thanks to Woun for the heads up!

The Jun Senoue Interview – Part Two

9:00PM on Sunday, 7th of February 2010. Shibuya, Tokyo. Jun Senoue, Jeriaska from Gamasutra and myself have just enjoyed a couple of really good pizzas, and had finished discussing video game music as well as music remix projects (see my other post regarding the Game Music 4 All project!). Jun had answered my questions regarding Crush 40 and Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, but thanks to you guys, I still had a heap of questions for him…

T-Bird: Ok Jun, I’ve got some questions from the fans here! First off is from ibbod0; how did you meet Johnny and the rest of Crush 40?

Jun: Wow, good question…actually, I was a huge fan of Hardline. Usually when I compose the songs and write the melody, I think about who would make a suitable singer for the song or a good singer for the melody or something like that. With the song “It Doesn’t Matter”, the original version for Sonic Adventure, it has a very high note-melody. When I was writing it I thought Tony Harnell would be the ideal singer, and in the end he performed on that song; this in now my way of composing. Talking about “Open Your Heart”, I had Johnny in mind, but I did not have any direct contact with him. Actually my friend who lives in Los Angeles knows Doug Aldrich [The guitarist for Whitesnake these days! – T] . For a short time Doug played in one of Johnny’s previous bands, Brunette, and I knew they still had a good relationship and that Johnny had appeared on Doug’s first solo release [on a track called “Face Down” on the album Alter Ego – T]. That meant maybe Doug could get in contact with Johnny, and so I asked my friend to get in contact with Doug, then Dough got in contact with Johnny…and that’s how I first got in touch with him.

T-Bird: Ok, so SoA, Admin for the js.com forums asks, if say you had to replace Johnny, and of course that would be an impossible task, who would you ideally want as your dream replacement?

Jun: Replacement?

T-Bird: Yes…if you had to.

Jun: That would mean Crush 40 would be disbanded, seeing as Crush 40 is the teaming of Johnny and myself, in which case you would need to find a replacement for both of us! The lack of me or lack of Johnny would mean…yeah (laughs).

T-Bird: Great answer – I honestly don’t think you could replace him either! Thirdly, Sonic1991 asks how did the collaboration with Emma Gelotte, Tinna Karlsdotter and the legend that is Marty Friedman [Legendary because he was the guitarist on my favourite Megadeth album! – T] come around for the track “With Me”?

Jun: I wrote that song for the final boss in the Sonic and the Black Knight, and I so first I tried to find the female singers for that song. One of my friends in a Japanese record company takes care of dealings with All Ends [Tinna & Emma’s band – T], and so that’s how I got in touch with them. With Marty, although he was now living in Japan, I didn’t know him personally. I didn’t know his manager or any of the other business guys who dealt with him, so I asked him directly. Originally I planned to ask him to play all of the guitar stuff, but when he came into the studio, he said “hey, we should just keep these backing tracks!” We booked the studio here in Tokyo to record the lyrics and Marty’s guitar solo, but then the other guys came into the studio and wanted me to change the key, so I said “please give me one hour!” Since we use Pro-Tools, it was easy enough to raise the track one note, but it did not have very good clarity. We changed the key digitally anyway, then tracked the vocals, then Marty tracked his guitar. I went back later on and tracked all of the backing guitar in the correct key.

Originally my idea was to have that song in a lower key, and in fact we [Crush 40] did the demo in that much lower key, and that was featured on the Sonic and the Black Knight “Face to Faith” album and it is much heavier.

T-Bird: I think a lot of fans liked hearing a heavier version…and thanks for sharing the story! Short question: BlueLightning asks, what was your first guitar?

Jun: He wants to know my first electric guitar? Actually, before I started playing electric guitars, I got an electric bass, since I was into Duran Duran at the time.

T-Bird: Haha! That’s awesome!

Jun: Andy Taylor the guitar player didn’t play any solos with Duran Duran or anything and the bass player was so much more…

T-Bird: …Interesting?

Jun: Yeah! Originally I played the keyboard, but the drummers and the keyboard players were always at the back of the stage, and I always wanted to be one of the guys in front of the stage. I’m not good at singing, and I was not interested in singing, so I picked up the bass. However, after watching some MTV videos by the band called Ratt [Rock history lesson right here kids! – T] and Night Ranger, I got really into those bands, and so my very first guitar was a duplicate of the guitar the Ratt guitarist had…and I still have it.

T-Bird: Do you remember what make it was?

Jun: I think it was Fernandes, but these days I’ve replaced the neck with a performance neck…I will post a picture of it sometime!

T-Bird: Haha! Definitely! So, Sinister Swiss asks after the remixing of the Angel Island Zone track for Super Smash Brothers: Brawl, have you considered going back and reworking any other classic songs from those classic titles?

Jun: Interesting! It  was very fun to do the remix for Angel Island, and also I made another arrangement of Sky Sanctuary from Sonic & Knuckles for the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, and if I get a chance I want to try to do more of those kind of remixes.

T-Bird: Any particular tracks?

Jun: Ummm…talking about Sonic the hedgehog 3 and Knuckles music…*starts humming*

T-Bird: HAHAHA! YEAH! Death Egg Zone from Sonic & Knuckles! I think that would make a lot of the fans would love that!  I know we’ve covered this in the previous half of the interview, but Michelle Palmer asks if you are considering any tour dates?

Jun: As I was saying, I am going to try and organise some Crush 40 dates around August time. [As a side note kiddos, Jun has a new band Bubbilicious Blvd. And is playing shows in Tokyo! Check out the TSS article on them! – T].

T-Bird: Ok, last question…Hawkz asks, what would you say has been the defining moment of your career?

Jun: Hmmm…I’d have to say there are several. The first one is back in ’96, the moment I teamed up with Eric Martin. It was a very special moment for me. From that point I started trying to find direct connection with the artists, and that’s the way I’ve been doing it for years now.

Both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 are very important games for me and very important titles for me, since Sonic Adventure was the very first time I was the sound director for a Sonic title, and I changed the sound of Sonic music drastically. With Sonic Adventure 2, some of us moved to the States, which changed our lives, and this time around we tried to make the music for the American market. It was very fun, and a very special time for not only me, but for the team too.

Finally, with Super Smash Bros: Brawl We provided several pieces of Sonic music to be used in the game, and lots of new fans – by new fans I mean the players who did not have any experience playing Sonic games – listened to the music for the first time while playing the Smash Brothers game…to me that was a great experience.

T-Bird: Lots of fond memories, and I’m sure a lot of fans hold some of those moments close to their heart too! Thanks loads for taking our questions Jun…hopefully we can talk to you again soon with more burning questions!

And we will have more questions answered very soon! Stay tuned for Part 3…but before you do, a quick message to someone…

T-Bird’s virtual tour of SEGA JOYPOLIS in Tokyo, Japan

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOLmK-pV6XQ[/youtube]

Greetings from the land of the Rising Sun, TSS! I’m currently over in Tokyo on business, but in between the conferences, work, and copious quantities of sushi, I’ve found some spare time to do some exploring, and like all good merch hunters, I made SEGA JOYPOLIS in Odaiba Tokyo one of the prime places I needed to visit!

Within the halls of the Aqua City Mall lies SEGA Joypolis,  probably the last bastion of SEGA’s hayday in the 90’s. The walls are covered with the signatures of the famous actors and artists who have made a visit to the park over the many years since it’s opening. There’s even the odd advert, picture or fixture that remains, and you can see throughout the park if you look hard enough. Over the years the park has evolved, as has SEGA, with their shift from a market dominating company through to a software developer. Unlike the Trocadero in London though, the park seems to have survived through the hardships and remains a bustling hive of activity and a popular destination for families (and couples on dates!).

As well as the bristling shop full of Sonic plushes and the COSPA line Sonic and SEGA paraphanalia, there’s a whole host of UFO catchers stuffed with Draemon, Disney and other goodies…and unlike UK UFO catchers, these actually let you win occassionally! Upstairs on the second level are the ball games, and this year (to my utter delight) you could pick yourself up a Sonic Mobile plush…which I did after only 600 yen worth of tries. You can also exchange your real money for SEGA Tokens emblazened with Sonic’s face…and so I had to keep a few in my pocket for posterity.

What I didn’t know Was that Night of the Werehog has had a 3D makeover for Joypolis viewing. For a mere 600 yen (about £4/$8) you can sit in on a state-of-the-art showing of the animation that came out just after the release of Unleashed year before last. Some might argue that is quite a steep price to watch a 10 minute short (although the added annoyance is the poor exchange rate), however I am personally overjoyed this little piece of awesome is getting general acclaim in Japan.

The top two floors of Joypolis include a plethora of sit-in rides (including a Prison Break themed-ride) and a line of really, really retro stuff, including some Typing of the Dead cabinets which I think you can actually play for free. These are also complimented by the usual bandit machines and obligatory gambling that seems to prevolent in Japan. Unfortunately the restuarant level called “Joypolis Decks” does not include any Sonic themed food. Disappointing.

The one thing you can be sure of at Joypolis is that if you win something, they will make a fuss, and will insist you take many photos to mark the ocassion! If you’re in and about Tokyo, I think that the 620 yen train ticket and the 500 yen entrance fee is small price to pay to come and check out this place!

  

Konnichiwa! We’re Back!

joypolisWell, I’ve spent a good two weeks in Tokyo with a bunch of close pals (including T-Bird, who came home with a truckload of Sonic merch – check out his latest article here) and had a real blast. Again, it seems Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t quite at the forefront of gamer’s minds in Japan as he is in the West – it makes for a bit of a strange culture shock. We’ve had many funny looks from otherwise courteous Japanese store assistants every time we asked for some ‘Sonikku za Hejihoggu’ merchandise. I guess they’re more into their Pokemon and Dragon Quests there.

Either way, it’s good to be back in Blighty, and my first port of call is to grace TSS’ guest editor, Paul Street, with a huge chunk of special thanks as he rode the site through an awesome Mario and Sonic exclusive for you, as well as keeping you up to date on the latest blue blur happenings. Many thanks to the rest of the TSS team as well as they kept about their business and filled in the blanks for me. You guys are great!

I’m spending the week re-couperating from the holiday so to speak – friends to meet, timezones to adjust to, work to catch up on – but I’ll be whipping up a few more TSS skins for you guys, rebuilding the SEGASonic Radio website and working on a few new pages in the Music Zone as well as working hard on an information page for a few games.

I’ll write in detail my Tokyo journey at a later date. For now, it’s a ‘hello again’ and a business as usual sign. A little reminder by the way that the Xbox 360 competition is now CLOSED and I will be showcasing all the entries (and picking a winner) in a few days time.

Merchzilla: Sonic Stuff Up For Grabs In Japan

bigmerch

I return! Before I delve into the fruitful world of merch once more, I’d like to say a big thanks to Paul Street and the TSS gang for holding the fort while we were roaming Japan; nice one guys and gals!

So anyway, to answer my question in one word…yes. There is most certainly Sonic merchandise to be had in Japan, some particularly nice stuff at that. The long answer, however, is that you really have to look for the stuff…and in some cases, you really need to look hard.

The COSPA brand are currently selling a range of high quality Sonic shirts and apparel, including a nifty selection of stylish shirts, a bandana and a tote bag. There’s even a reversible Sonic World Adventure shirt – so you can have Sonic on your sunny days and crack out the Werehog at night…just turn it inside out! The selection is not cheap though; you can expect to pay about ¥3000 (£22/$32) for a shirt, and ¥4200 for the reversible shirt. There’s even a Sonic Zippo lighter…but don’t expect to get it cheap! If you want something a bit more affordable, UNIQLO (another Japanese brand who produced a couple of Sonic UT print shirts last year) also have a Sonic shirt in their current Video game shirt line-up…and for a meagre ¥1500 it’s a bargain!

Considering JOYPOLIS is SEGA’s Mecca for state-of-the-art arcade games, there’s surprisingly little in the way of Sonic related goodies to pick up. The gift shop inside the complex is still selling boxes of its trademark Sonic Chocolate cake and sweets, as well as a set of mini plush toys of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy – each setting you back between £5-£7; a steal for nice little additions to a collection. You can also pick yourself up an odd little friendship bracelet set; very girly!

Having said that Sonic stuff is hard to find in general, Sonic soundtracks are not. Walk into any HMV or Tower Records in Tokyo, and not only do they have an extensive selection of game and anime soundtracks, you can grab the two recently released Black Knight Soundtracks as well as the Sonic World Adventure OSTs. It’s also not unusual to see earlier OSTs too…or a certain debut album by a Mr. Bentley Jones! We also spotted Charles Hamilton‘s CD going in Manhattan Records too – these guys get everywhere!!!

If retro gear is what you crave, then Akihabara really is the place you want to be! The main street is dotted with stores that stock immaculately kept copies of games and consoles of yesteryear. A copy of Chaotix on ebay can easily fetch £50 upwards; we managed to pick up a pristine copy for less than half that, as well as a copy of Tails Sky Patrol, complete with box, for a tenner. If you’re looking for any old magazines or references – put aside a few hours to rummage through shelves of “good as new” copies of magazines from well over fifteen years ago!

If you want to check out the COSPA range you can do so on their website, and if you’re interested in checking out some retro stores in Akihabara, my first recommendation is a store called Super Potato.

Good to be back TSS – continue to keep your eyes peeled for more Sonic stuff Merch Hogs!

Sonic Celebrates ‘Club Sega’ Arcade Re-Opening in Tokyo

Looks like the Dreamcast isn’t the only thing that’s keeping Sega busy these days. According to an article on IGNDC, the company has refurbished one of the arcades that it owns in Tokyo’s Akihabara district and relaunched it. What was once known as ‘Akihabara High-Tech Land’ is now ‘Club Sega’! Continue reading Sonic Celebrates ‘Club Sega’ Arcade Re-Opening in Tokyo