For a long time, the mark of a successful manga was an anime and possibly a spinoff comic, but nowadays popular titles spawn off live-action movies and TV shows, light novels, CD dramas, and even theatrical performances! Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association, which was formed in 2014, stages productions drawn from Japanese manga, anime and video-games, and on November 20, my husband and I got to see their performance of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival!
We first learned about Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! from a flyer slipped into my husband’s Jump Shop purchases during his last business trip to Japan. We looked at the ad, thought it was cool, and filed it in the back of our mind as one of those things we could only dream of. However, the next two weeks brought an unexpected bonus and vacation time that changed our paradigm. By then, four out of the show’s five venues had sold out, but with the help of three Japanese speaking friends plus two international phone calls, a lot of Google translate, and much stubbornness on the part of my husband, we got tickets for the Canal City Theater in Fukuoka!
Not having been to Fukuoka or a Japan 2.5-Dimensional production, I expected Canal City Theater to be a modest, small-to-mid size theater. After all, how large an audience could an otaku musical possibly attract? I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Canal City Theater is a modern, quality venue that seats 1,184 and hosts Broadway style productions like The Little Mermaid. And yes, it was packed. There was even a line for people hoping to purchase unclaimed tickets (more on that later).
The audience demographic was another surprise. Haikyu!! is a shonen title, but the audience was over 90% female. My husband described the crowd as “young to middle-aged office ladies.” Perhaps musicals don’t appeal to Haikyu!!’s younger male fans? Or maybe they don’t have the disposable income for it? Well, these female fans had money for tickets and then some. An array of Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! goods were available for purchase in the lobby, and they were doing a brisk business. We ourselves picked up an official program, some folders, and a DVD of the original Haikyu!! musical, but sadly all the hoodies had sold out. The crowd was definitely enthusiastic, and when the show started, we learned why.
Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is a high level production. The staging includes a special rotating platform, live video, and projected images for backgrounds and special effects. The cast also displays an array of talent, ranging from acting to acrobatics to rap. From what I can tell, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! has an original score that doesn’t draw from the TV series (although parts are reminiscent of the anime’s soundtrack). While I have referred to the show as a musical, it’s not like a Broadway show where characters break into catchy tunes every other minute. Rather, music is primarily used to set the mood, and most of the singing is relegated to one hip hop number in the second half.
Regarding the plot, Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival! begins with the team’s summer training camp and ends midway through the Interhigh competition. (The initial formation of the team was covered in Japan 2.5-D’s original Haikyu!! musical.) The first half focuses on the practice match against Nekoma. Viewed mainly from Kenma’s perspective, the match is depicted as a video game that the Nekoma setter is trying to beat. Thus, we get to see 64-bit versions of the Karasuno players as he analyzes them. The second half focuses on the Interhigh match against Dateko, which takes the form of an impressive rap- and dance-off. As such, the cast is more or less evenly divided between Karasuno, Nekoma, and Dateko players. But even though it is an all-male production, Karasuno manager Shimizu does play a part in the story.
As you might guess, the whole thing is in Japanese. Because we weren’t at Japan 2.5-D’s Tokyo venue, we didn’t have access to translation glasses (more on this later). Even so, we had no trouble figuring out who was who (jersey numbers and projected manga images helped a lot), and we got the gist of 70% of the dialogue based off what we remembered from the anime. Not to mention, many scenes were sheer visual spectacle that required no knowledge of Japanese.
A major aspect of the Haikyu!! story is speed and height. Unlike their animated counterparts, the actors can’t hang in midair. So they rely on clever choreography and manipulating props. Lifts comprise a major part of Hinata’s battes at the net. Special lighting and illuminated volleyballs provide the trajectory of a fateful spike in slo-mo. In the match against Dateko’s ”Iron Wall,” pieces of walls are included in the dance number.
While high-tech equipment add a definite punch to the action, the show makes good use of simple effects as well. A pile of quilts facilitates one of the most entertaining transitions, and a stray cat Hinata encounters is merely a hand puppet operated by a stage ninja in a hooded poncho. In addition to moving the props and sets, the hooded stage ninjas also serve as a kind of Greek chorus, voicing the thoughts of the mob or serving as an anonymous extra.
So… my husband and I flew to the western end of Japan just to watch this musical, and you might be wondering, “Was it worth it?”
In answer to that question, I’ll just say that the third Haikyu!! musical Winners and Losers will be touring Japan March and April 2017, and we are talking about getting tickets.
Now perhaps our journey has piqued your interest. If you’re serious about viewing this production yourself, you have two options.
The cheaper option is to purchase a DVD of the show. As of the writing of this post, the DVD of the first Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! is available, and preorders are being taken for Karasuno Revival. Those in Japan can purchase it at the Animate store (which also carries DVDs of Japan 2.5-D’s Naruto and Prince of Tennis theater productions) or through Toho Animation, which produced the videos.
For those outside Japan, neither Animate nor Toho Animation ships overseas, but if you do an Internet search for “Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! DVD,” you’ll probably find a source who will. WARNING: the DVD is a REGION 2 DVD (the United States is Region 1) and entirely in Japanese (no subtitles, English or otherwise).
As mentioned earlier, my husband and I purchased the DVD of the first musical at the theater for ¥8000 (roughly $80 US), which is the standard price. For that, you get two discs and a lovely mini program with cast pictures and bios. It’s not an awesome as seeing it live, but Toho Animation does a great job of formatting the footage for the small screen.
If you are determined to see Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! or one of Japan 2.5-D’s other musicals (upcoming productions include Prince of Tennis, Wake Up, Girls! and Death Note), there are three ways to go about getting tickets.
1. Though the Japan 2.5-D website. Japan 2.5-D actually does want a global audience for its productions. Thus, its website is in both Japanese and English (click on the ”EN” in the top right hand corner to toggle out of Japanese into English). Also, Subtitle Glasses are available in English and Chinese for showings at the AiiA 2.5 Theater in Tokyo.
When tickets go on sale, find your show on the Japan 2.5-D website and click on the green International Ticket button. This will take you to an English language form that will allow you to purchase Will Call tickets. This is the most expedient way for English-speakers to get tickets.
2. Through the musical’s official website. Each Japan 2.5-D musical has its own official website through which general tickets are sold. This is probably the worst way for internationals to get tickets, but you may resort to it if you’re desperate (like we were). Basically, the tickets reserved for internationals is limited. As such, it is entirely possible for general seats to still be available after Japan 2.5-D’s International Tickets sell out.
However, getting general tickets is difficult. All the instructions are in Japanese, you need a Japanese address to open an account, and you need a credit card associated with that address to make the purchase. Alternately, you can reserve seats online and then complete the order at a Japanese convenience store that has a ticket service. Our tickets were only possible thanks to three very kind friends (One to navigate the website, one to give us her parents’ address in Okinawa so we could open an account, and one to pay/pick up the tickets in Sapporo and mail them to us in California).
3. At the venue. Now the thing about general tickets is that they’re a bit of a moving target. When people reserve seats online, they have a few days to complete the order. When that deadline passes, the seats go back on sale. That means that a show that is sold out today might have availability tomorrow. That also means there usually a few unsold seats on the day of the show. Ergo, the unclaimed ticket line. If there’s more people than unclaimed tickets, they hold a lottery to decide who gets them.
So no guarantees with this last route. However if you just happen to be in a town where a performance is showing, it’s worth a try.
As for me and my husband, we’ll be aiming for those International Tickets when sales start.