Japan Trip 2017–2018: I Became Very Briefly Famous On Nico Nico

I’ve found out over the years that as a rule you should avoid online fame, even in micro-doses. It gets you all the danger of strangers knowing you without the pay or protection. I was stalked a couple of times in my anime blogging days, so even today I’m really skittish about sharing too much online in case someone like that should appear again.

Anyway, at HEY in Akiba the other day I couldn’t resist making a minor spectacle of myself on Nico Nico (effectively the Japanese Youtube/Twitch) to the point where the Nico commenting masses sent a guy to spy on me and report my every move on Twitter.

How did it get like this?!

HEY is a famous Japanese arcade with an extensive and rare retro selection. One of HEY’s many jewels is their set of original Idolm@ster (2005) cabinets. It’s an ambitious management sim/music game whose success launched an evergreen idol franchise with fervent supporters. A lot of my friends were in Japan specifically to see the big Im@s concerts: presumably this was why they had the machine set up.

The game is long offline, with the servers having shut down years ago. You can play, but there isn’t much of a point without the online competitive aspect. Im@s shifted to home and mobile games a long time ago. These machines are basically extinct, and HEY keeps their set largely for its historical significance; indeed, there is a shrine with stuffed toys and fan art right next to the cabinets.

On this particular day, I was hanging at HEY with some pals and one of the Idolm@ster cabinets was set up for streaming. Despite hanging out at HEY a lot during my downtime on the trip, I never sat down and tried Im@s. I had played Idolm@ster 2 very briefly on PS3 and was already aware that this was a language barrier my rather half-assed Japanese wouldn’t be able to cross. Speed-reading is a big part of the game.

But then I thought: it’s different on stream. Wouldn’t a floundering producer who’s never played this game and can barely read any Japanese at all be really fun for a live stream audience to watch? Wouldn’t people actually get a great laugh out of my play? So I couldn’t resist. I sat down and plunked in my first coin, to the shock of the live audience.

If you aren’t familiar with the way Nico Nico (literally Smile Smile Video) works, comments are constantly crawling across the screen like a modern Greek chorus. So as I play, on a monitor above me I’m getting live feedback from the audience, which in turn the friend next to me is reading out loud.

After I put in my first coin, realize I need four more coins (the game costs 500y, or roughly $5, to play), and fumble around in my pockets for the change, the first thing I hear is “HE DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS 500 YEN?! WHAT KIND OF IDIOT IS THIS?”

Good. It’s working. Yes.

Immediately I have to put in my player name. I had “Waa~” and “Waugh!” on my mind at the time, so I switched from Japanese to English letters and put in “WAAAAA” with exactly five A’s. The word “WAAAAA” streamed across the screen in comments. WAAAAAP (the P is for Producer) was born.

The audience was already having fun with my choices. I was right about this! I kept messing with them, switching at the last second from hyperactive Yayoi to Chihaya, the icy professional. I christened my idol unit “WAAAAA” in hiragana, or ”わあああああ”、prompting another blowup from the comments.

This was fun! I’m pretty sure they hated me and considered my play an insult to Im@s, but we were having fun!

I stumbled through the introductory sequence with all the grace of someone who can’t really read the language. I’d try to pick the good conversation options, but I simply couldn’t read them fast enough. Over and over again, the idol I’d been entrusted with reacted with disgust at my boorish statements. The Nico viewers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. “HOW IS SOMEONE THIS BAD AT THIS?!”

And then there came a point when someone said “CAN SOMEBODY GO CHECK ON THEM?”

“YEAH, SURE, I’M AT HEY. WHERE IS IT?”

“SECOND FLOOR”

And not very long after that I noticed a guy in a white button-down shirt settle down at a moderate viewing distance and immediately pull out his cell phone. If he was concerned about stealth, he didn’t show it. We almost immediately confirmed that this was the guy we were looking for when he checked in with the Nico commenters and started posting on Twitter.

First post: “It’s a bunch of foreigners.”

By this point we’ve gotten through the management part and started on the rhythm mini-games. I stumble through the first few games before I figure out what I’m supposed to be doing and start acing them. The commenters appreciate my slow progress.

Meanwhile, on the white shirt’s Twitter: “These jackasses around him keep laughing at everything he does.”

Then we got to the song selection. “OH GOD DON’T LET HIM PICK AOI TORI. IT’S TOO HARD. HE WON’T MAKE IT.” I settled my finger on Aoi Tori (Bluebird, which I later found out was Chihaya’s personal song) to the horror of the crowd. And as before, I quickly switched songs to “Here we go!!”.

I still don’t really know what I was doing in the performance portion, and at the start poor Chihaya was crashing and burning. But I figured out, at the very least, that I needed to hit some button on beat, and started to climb the rankings as Chihaya’s performance came together. I was taking photos constantly, thinking that it was something I had to do. “WHO TAKES THIS MANY PHOTOS?!”, asked the crowd. I ultimately managed a win from behind against the computer opponents and took first place. We all cheered; us at the cabinet and the commenters on Nico. “888888888”, the text sound of applause.

The white shirt’s Twitter: “They keep cheering.”

By the end, my little show had 2000 viewers on Nico and about eight people standing around the cabinet watching silently, who had clearly come in from watching the stream but weren’t copping to it. I basked in my victory as the machine printed up cards I would probably never be able to use again. Once we had all cleared out, I noticed that the white shirt was the next person to play.

Afterwards I made an “it was me!” post on Twitter, but I don’t think anybody cared anymore. The moment itself was perfect. Best to just walk away.

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David Cabrera

David Cabrera

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Sooolar wind. Anime/games writer. Sometimes on @polygon? @Kawaiikochans is the sum of my efforts. Serious about stupid.