Washington D.C. was already abuzz with life and activity as the clock struck eight; cars zoomed down K Street, and joggers darted along the city’s sidewalks. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which had closed its doors just hours before, was already teeming with activity. Hundreds of eager fans had already amassed around the building in a packed, cloistered queue. People chattered, conversed, or just watched Crunchyroll on their phones as they counted down the minutes until 8:45, when the convention would open anew.
As the doors opened, the masses poured into the building, quickly fanning out as they made their way through the security checkpoint. Some rushed toward registration, others, to the many panels and video rooms that would herald the new day’s festivities.
At the far end of the building, in Panel 3, a sleepy Saturday crowd shuffled into the room, fresh from the rigors of the massive line. Panelist Ellainna sat at the front of the room, flanked by screens with a QR code, as she worked with the techs to get set up for the event. The seats quickly filled, bringing the room to two-thirds capacity by the panel’s start time.
After a brief introduction, Ellainna wasted no time in getting started, opening with an answer to the eternal question of “what, exactly, is an idol?” She breezed through the aspects that seem to define idol culture these days, from the storylines to the fan interactions, to the exaggerated personalities, relating much of the pomp and pageantry to what one would expect from professional wrestling. Ultimately, though, she concluded that “idols are idols if they say they’re idols.”
With the groundwork lain, Ellainna dove straight into what could best be described as a one-hour Ph. D course on the world of non-traditional idol music, starting with the trendsetting Chiaki Mayumura. This would set the tone, and the pace of the panel, as Ellainna discussed the artist and their influences, before giving a brief explainer of the genre they represented. She capped off each micro-lecture with a music video featuring a representative song. For Mayumura’s section, for example, she used her iconic single, Kao Don.
One after another, she would highlight major acts and genres, from the indie rock-inspired ZOC, to the ‘80s punk-inspired ASP, to the self-proclaimed “worst idols in Osaka,” Qppo. Each group provided a chance for the panelist to offer a combination of intimate knowledge geeky enthusiasm, as she rattled off facts and factoids in equal measure. In one moment, she would deliver a detailed breakdown of ZOC’s structure—quickly noting that founder and producer Omori Seiko was married with children, and that Shizume Nodoko hadn’t even thought about becoming an idol before auditioning. In the next, she’d proudly proclaim that Qppo’s music video for Understand Music ”kind of changed my life!”
Though this was her first year as a panelist, Ellainna showed a remarkable aptitude for the role. She had a natural sense of rhythm, and a fantastic gauge of the audience in attendance as she moved between topics. Her visual aids were eye-catching and worked well to capture the vibe of each act. If I had one major criticism, it would be that she had opted to show the full music video for each song, rather than a representative sample. The four-minute pauses introduced large breaks in the action, causing a reset in the energy that needed to be re-captured time and again. Despite this, though, the panel has a lot of potential; with a bit more polish and a few years of refinement, this could easily become a must-see.