Arrival and Rehearsal
After my previous trip to Japan to see WUG in October, I told myself that I had made my peace with Wake Up, Girls! and I was alright with Osaka being my last experience with WUG. But when they actually announced a final live in back in December, it was simply too hard to resist. A grand climactic final live? In Saitama Super Arena?? I had no choice. I was going for sure.
Nobue (@VVVSnow) and I arrived Thursday night and settled in WUGner Penthouse 2.0. It’s a less impressive setup this time, but it was still a convenient headquarters for operations. We caught the BanG Dream! anime on TV and put enough alcohol in ourselves to mentally prepare for watching the last time WUG will perform. It was going to a be a full, busy day tomorrow.
Saitama is around a 1 hour trip from where we were staying. We got up early and got to Saitama Super Arena in the morning. The live wouldn’t start until 6:30 PM, but the place was already teeming with people 9 hours in advance. Even though we arrived so early, I was dismayed to see I didn’t arrive early enough to buy anything at buppan. The shirt and many other things I was interested quickly sold out. I didn’t even manage to snag the ridiculous W-shaped “pen light” they were selling.
Despite this setback, I was really happy to meet up with a who’s who of the eventing community. So many people I knew came out for WUG, many whom I didn’t even realize were coming! I regret not having a chance to catch up with more people, as time and planning did not permit it.
Before I knew it, it was time for the rehearsal. I filed into Saitama Super Arena for the first time and I was wowed by the sheer scale. It sounds incredibly obvious to say, but it is a completely different atmosphere compared to watching Animelo recordings. It was just starting to hit me: after so many small concert halls WUG was finally going to perform on this grand stage!
Without much ado, the girls I haven’t seen in 5 months strode onto stage wearing the 7 Senses costume. My favorite thing about this costume is Minami’s big hat and Nanamin’s flight attendant hat. My seat was right behind a massive tiger, who was jumping and mixing really loud. I thought he was pretty funny.
The set list, which I fortunately found scribbled on a crumpled piece of paper at the bottom of my bag, was “7 Girls War” (short), “Tomaranai Mirai”, “Little Challenger”, “Gokujou Smile”, “Suki no Skill”, “Bokura no Frontier”, and “7 Senses”.
I was thankful for “Bokura no Frontier” because I had forgotten about the switch from blue to yellow penlights during Minami’s solo, so now I am ready for tonight. I was also thankful for the I-1 songs, which they noted will not make an appearance tonight.
Overall it was a pretty fun appetizer for this evening.
After rehearsal, my group got some lunch in the nearby mall/plaza thing, known as Keyaki Hiroba. The afternoon of random hi-jinx in the largest crowd of WUGners that will ever exist in history passed pretty quickly, and it was finally time for the grand event.
The Main Event
I was in the second row of the arena section — absolutely godly seats (man it sure is great to know people). The crane camera thing got in our view a few times, but it wasn’t really a big deal. Besides Nobue, I was with WUGner translation gods Punster and whimsee. I was really glad to be sitting with Punster again, just like back in Osaka. All the makings of a legendary live experience were lining up.
After the most hype intro video of all time that was already halfway to moving us all to tears, the girls came out in their school uniform costume. This is a look we haven’t seen in a long time. “Tachiagare” was the first song and I could just feel months of anticipation that had built up just getting released. Because we were in the second row, we were quite close to a speaker, so it was really loud. I managed to get used to it as the live went on, but during “Tachiagare” a pyrotechnic explosion happened and shocked the crap out of me. I was going to get the full WUG experience for sure!
“16-sai no Agape” followed, and it was obvious WUG were starting the live with a trip down memory lane: their first few songs with their first costume. Not only was this the costume they wore for 1st Live, it was also the costume they wore for that… memorable performance Anime Central all those years ago.
“7 Girls War” followed and completely bought the house down. I couldn’t believe I was already losing my voice. For this song, they ran down the hanamichi toward the stage in the center and danced there. It was a great view for everyone. Of course, Nobue and I screamed out gachikoi koujou for the last time at this song.
And it hit me. This was the last “7 Girls War”. It was the last “16-sai no Agape”. All these songs are going to be the last performances. This was going to be a long and bittersweet journey.
After a short MC, “Yukimoyou Koinomoyou” and “Kotonoha Aoba” came, a much needed change of pace towards their slower songs. I think I started hearing sniffing from Punster’s side. MayuC’s solo during “Yukimoyou Koinomoyou” was simply stunning in person. During “Kotonoha Aoba” I turned around and saw Saitama Super Arena cloaked in thousands of white penlights and could not help but getting misty-eyed. How am I going to last for this entire live? We’re just getting started!
There was a short anime clip intermission while the girls got changed. It was refreshing to see the anime get integrated again, as that element has kind of disappeared from WUG lives in recent years. The girls appeared again in their black costumes from the final tour and “One in a Billion” started playing.
I did check before and confirmed that May’n was free this evening, but alas she would not be making an appearance for this song. I learned afterward that May’n was indeed present, as a fan along with us in the arena section. She specifically mentioned that she declined guest tickets and entered the chuusen. I am not sure how she would have managed to blend into a crowd of WUGners, but somehow she managed.
I don’t really like the way the officially released WUG version “One in a Billion” sounds; I feel like it’s a weird rework of the version with May’n that doesn’t play to WUG’s strengths. When WUG performs it live it sounds so much better because it’s so energetic. It’s a weird phenomenon where the studio recording just doesn’t cut it, and I am glad this held true for Final Live as well. “One in a Billion”, with or without May’n is an absolute banger.
“Sugao de Kiss Me” and “Koi? de Ai? de Boukun Desu” were next and lightened the mood a bit. One of these songs was the start of the cart song segment of this live, and we were sitting right next to the point of the stage where half of them boarded their cart. I held my scarf up, yelled as loud and I could, and jumped as high as I could and got some eye contact from Nanamin for my efforts. When WUG performed
“Koi? de Ai? de Boukun Desu” at Anisong World Matsuri in 2017, the audience was as quiet as some libraries I’ve been to. I’m glad my second time experiencing this song live could not be more different.
Character songs (just short chorus sections) on carts came next. “Hajimaru” was first and it was a special treat because I have always loved MayuC’s singing voice. She has a bunch of solos in WUG songs but her solo character songs are just sublime. “Yume Massugu” is my favorite Mayu character song but “Hajimaru” is pretty damn close.
“Stella Drive” and “Okashi no Kuni” were next. Yoppi obviously speaks for herself but Airi is WUG’s low-key underrated singer and she’s only gotten better in the last few years. “Suki Kirai Night” is also a banger. I (semi-jokingly) talk shit about Kaya all the time, but honestly all of her character songs are really good and love their style.
“Ookami no Piano” followed, my oshimen’s character song. I am so fortunate that in my life I got to hear even a short segment of this godly song (though I am on #TeamSnuggery I will take what the gods give me).
The subject of WUG character songs is worthy of a long discussion that can easily be as long as this one, but in my personal opinion Minami has the best character songs overall. I just think her voice fits her music the best and I love cutesy sugary stuff like this. My only complaint about “Uta to Sakana to Hadashi to Watashi” is that it was too short.
“Woo Yeah!” was last, and much like Myuu herself it is a literal bucket of joy. The calls are super fun to do and even though Myuu’s cart was on the other side of the arena I could feel her energy flow all over SSA.
WUG then performed a special 7-person version “Non Stop Diamond Hope”
This song is on the B-side of each girl’s 3rd character song and has unique lyrics for everyone, which they kind of strung together for this performance.
The surprise of this live was motherfucking “WUG Zoo Zoo” which they did while still off the stage. I adore this song, which is the ending theme to the best Wake Up, Girls! anime without qualification, and I’ve done the furicopy countless times while watching earlier lives (or just listening to this song in my car). I have been preparing for this moment for my entire life.
Now that everyone is all hyped up from the string of uptempo tunes full of furicopy and call responses, it was timed to settle down for a brief intermission, where we were treated to a special episode of WUG channel.
Similar to “Non Stop Diamond Hope”, WUG performed a 7-member version of “Higawari Princess”! This has never happened before, in the history of Wake Up, Girls!It makes sense in hindsight — in a final live it’s not quite fair that one person gets to be special for the last time.
“Suki no Skill” was sublime. I remember when this song first came out I was in fucking love with the instrumentals that made the song feel so playful and pastoral. My favorite part of the song is Airi’s solo, which she nailed.
“Bokura no Frontier”, like “Suki no Skill”, felt very similar to the rehearsal, but much larger in scale. The only bummer about being so close to the stage is you don’t see really see what the rest of the arena is doing. I turned to the side to get a glimpse during Minami’s solo, when we all change penlight colors from blue to yellow. It’s a huge sense of scale that’s impossible to describe. It was dazzling.
“7 Senses” as a cart song came next. I never got to hear this song when I went to Osaka so I was glad I’d finally get to experience the opening theme to the best anime ever. Now that we have our juices flowing again, it was the perfect time for “Gokujou Smile”!
Wake Up, Girls! is an anime about the idol industry, and for realism they naturally created songs featured in the anime that sound like idol music. Of all these songs in the anime, I maintain “Gokujou Smile” is such a perfect imitation that it almost feels like parody. It is a bopping, upbeat earworm with that perfect idol hook you’d expect to hear at any live house. I absolutely 100% mix to this song and it was an honor to mix the intro at a live one final time.
I can’t believe I’m still writing. This was a really long live! After the live I was drained and I knew it felt like a really long live, but everything kind of flashed by in an instant. It’s taken a long time of reflection and reading other peoples’ accounts in order to recall all the emotions I felt and the details I remembered. Alright, let’s get back to it.
A really sweet message from all the seiyuu who voiced members of the groups related to WUG in the anime then played on screen. In the weeks up to final live, we managed to talk 0taco into coming to Final Live, who is a broke Yasuno Kiyono fan. I’m glad he got to see Kiyonon on screen as a nice bonus!
So far I had managed to keep everything together, but when “Shizuki no Kanmuri” started to play after the video, I knew I might be in trouble. WUG are very very strong on ballads, because they have loads of vocal talent. During the bridge I believe I just closed my eyes and let myself take it all in. It was almost like an out of body experience. I couldn’t believe I was actually here. Mayu looked like some kind of ethereal being bathed in floodlights during her solo. It’s a masterpiece.
The beat picked up into “Shoujo Koukyoukyoku”, the song that turned me into a WUGner. Between the big sexy hook, catchy melody, and sharp choreography, it’s one of the brightest stars in the night sky of WUG hits. The climax of this song is enormous — featuring with 4 solo parts and the “Nanami – Minami bridge”. I am glad to have witnessed this in person one final time.
Besides being the largest indoor arena in Japan, Saitama Super Arena is also the setting for the climactic performances in the Wake Up, Girls! anime and movies. The seven girls in WUG are not the only stars from the anime franchise to make an appearance tonight. We got to witness WUG recreate the climax of Wake Up, Girls! Beyond the Bottom — performing “Beyond the Bottom” in Saitama Super Arena. Minami even got to say her line, “WUG 最高!”
After another MC, the music for “Umi Soshite Shutter-dori” began to play. I knew what was coming: the four new songs from the Wake Up, Best! Memorial album. I quietly put my penlight away and got ready to just to absorb the experience. “Umi Soshite Shutter-dori” is such an incredibly delicate song that relies heavily on vocals because of how quiet it is. The choreography is complicated and involves a bunch of intricate, individual poses. Very few groups have skill to perform a song like this, even fewer have the courage to start performing it just weeks before their final live.
Around this time I was getting hit so hard with the feels truck that “Kotoba no Kesshou” was playing without me realizing. My favorite part of this song is the very delicate solo at the end.
I knew several WUGners in attendance that were going to be catching “Douyoubi no Flight”s the next day (rimshot). This song feels like it’s straight out of the 80’s.
And then “Sayonara no Parade” oh boy…
As the first verse was going, I was feeling very excited to hear this live for the first (and only) time. This song is easily my favorite of the original tracks on Memorial. The verses of this song are all solo lines, and as usual WUG executed them perfectly. But the first words of the chorus hit me. “Sayonara no parade.” This group really was ending. They really are saying goodbye to us in the most beautiful way they possibly can. I closed my eyes and felt tears come. I opened them again and felt the frission on my skin and the second verse started. My memory of each of the girls singing their lines in this song will stay with me forever.
I have listened to “Sayonara no Parade” many, many times up to this point. Half jokingly, I have always just described the original songs from Memorial as”the four sad WUG songs to say goodbye.” But it was during the second chorus I realized that “Sayonara no Parade” isn’t sad at all. It’s goodbye, but it’s also a celebration of everything that’s happened: all the joy they have bought us, the memories, the feelings. Every live performance, every silly moment during WUGban, every stupid ill-thought out piece of merchandise they designed themselves, every embarrassing story told on Minami’s radio show, every single memory — good and bad — WUG has created with their fans. It all comes rushing back.
And I felt so happy to be there.
And as the song progressed to its climax and solo, I felt nothing but joy. At that moment, I wasn’t thinking at all about goodbye. I wasn’t sad WUG was disbanding. I was happy they existed and made all the beautiful moments that are being distilled into this one song, this one line, this one moment.
It’s all quiet now. It’s all dark now. And the encore chant begins.
“Wake Up, Girls!”
“Wake Up, Girls!”
It felt like it lasted forever. I myself was in some euphoric overloaded emotional state, so I couldn’t imagine what the girls were going through. But after what seemed like ten minutes, “Shift” started.
After missing out on “Shift” in Osaka, I was coming to grips with the fact I might never see it live. Thankfully, that was not the case. I am very thankful for the rather long encore call, because this song could not have been more different than the mood after “Sayonara no Parade”. This song was so exciting and fun, even if there wasn’t the rap part.
Another song I was glad to experience live at least once followed: “Chikatetsu Labyrinth”! Cart songs are always fun because you get to see the girls closer up and from different angles, but I kind of wish I got to see this performed traditionally because I absolutely love the choreography. It was still really exciting. My favorite part of this song is the Snoop Dogg “Smoke Weed Everyday” furicopy.
We were then bought down to earth with an MC session, where Kaya introduced our next song, “TUNAGO”.
I’ve gone on record accusing “TUNAGO” of being kind of derivative and too similar to WUG’s other slow ballads, but after seeing this live a few times “TUNAGO” has really grown on me. I am now 100% back into feels mode. This is good, because after another brief intermission, WUG came out dressed for “Polaris”.
I was expecting the song to start, but Miyu stepped forward and began reading something. I can understand around 25% of Japanese spoken to me, but even if I didn’t Miyu’s message transcended language anyway. She was thanking us for supporting them all this time. For watching them grow, for visiting Tohoku, for coming to see them live. For everything. She addressed her staff, the other girls, their families. Over and over again, “arigatou”. It was at this time I kind of just closed my eyes and absorbed it all. I thought back to the billboard at Saitama Station, just a simple message: arigatou. Here at the very end of the line, like us, they have nothing but gratitude for this incredible journey.
The other girls stepped forward and read their own messages, one at a time. After Nanamin’s I stopped trying to interpret what they were saying because I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was crying. You can read what they actually said, translated, here courtesy of whimsee.
I feel like I cannot accurately describe in words what experiencing “Polaris” live is like. It’s a beautiful, upbeat, and hopeful song with exquisite choreography. A sea of white penlights turning red for Mayu’s solo is a sight to behold. And finally, the joining of arms and singing along at the end. It doesn’t sound that impressive when typed out, but for the 13,000 people in Saitama Super Arena that night, we joined together as WUGners to celebrate and say thank you to this wonderful group.
The girls left the stage and the crowd once again called for an encore. And after what seemed an eternity, they actually came out again. WUG wasn’t going end without one last bang. Mayu came forward, got the crowd hyped up, and “Tachiagare” started.
And with that, Wake Up Girls starts and ends with “Tachiagare”.
Five years ago, a certain seiyuu unit opened and closed their set with “Tachiagare” at Bunkyo Civic Hall. Their 13-song set list in front of fewer than 2000 people was full of MC’s and breaks because, as the members themselves would attest, they didn’t have enough songs. Their anime had just finished airing and people were making fun of the really poorly animated final episode.
It’s around a 40 minute train ride from Bunkyo Civic Hall to Saitama Super Arena, but WUG’s journey to SSA took much longer — and was significantly more eventful than hopping on the Utsunomiya Line. Though hard work, talent, and love, they have grown from plucky nobodies to skilled performers who can fill a premier event venue.
When WUG announced disbandment last June, I was inconsolable — along with many other WUGners. Over the course of several months, I have come to terms with their fate. The single thing that gives me hope and comfort is that we will never see WUG decline. They went out on top. Our last image will be Saitama Super Arena.
There is no better way to go out than on the grandest stage, to the cheers of countless fans, in a celebration of the memories you’ve created together. All good things must come to an end. It’s the finale WUG deserves. It’s the finale they have earned.
To Wake Up Girls, for all the memories — and for leaving us with one final quintessential memory of the reason we love you so much,