ATARASHII GAKKO! make a spectacle of Fonda Theatre

ATARASHII GAKKO! Fonda 2023 EH mainbar

Strolling through Los Angeles, the streets of Hollywood Blvd often feel like a portal to parallel universes, brimming with otherworldly subcultures. Here, caravans of enigmatic personas converge, orbited by tourists in their urban explorer gear—Peak Design backpacks and oversized sun hats—wielding iPad Pros as cameras like tipsy uncles on a wedding dance floor.

On a cool Tuesday night outside the Fonda Theatre, this eclectic tableau came alive. A procession of fans, decked out as if summoned to duel with Majin Buu in some distant anime galaxy, snaked around the block in anticipation. They were there for the ascendant Japanese girl group, ATARASHII GAKKO!.

In a spectacle of sound and color, ATARASHII GAKKO! took to the stage at the Fonda Theater in a performance that embodied the pronounced duality of the West and East. Their set was a tableau of contrasts: the stage adorned with motifs that would remind one of a “Sailor Moon” backdrop (“fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight, never running from a real fight!”), replete with pastel hues and manga-inspired graphics. It played into the Western archetype of Japanese kawaii culture, an astute nod to how their music has traversed borders and stereotypes. Yet, ATARASHII GAKKO! is not merely a caricature. Their songs, rich with the subtleties of city pop’s laid-back sophistication and J-Pop’s hyperreal production, are imbued with a genuine spirit that speaks to the heart of modern music fans. 

Their performance was a masterclass in genre-blending, with seamless transitions from the funk-infused basslines reminiscent of city pop anthems to the dynamic, high-octane choruses characteristic of J-Pop and K-Pop. Each member brought an irrepressible energy to the stage, their choreography meticulous and expressive—a fusion of the precision of K-Pop dance with a flair that’s distinctly their own—with plenty of flying shoes and socks landing amidst the crowd.

The true triumph of ATARASHII GAKKO!’s live performance lay in their ability to unabashedly wear these influences on their sleeves while still crafting a sound and visual aesthetic that’s uniquely theirs. They celebrated the global impact of Japanese culture, from anime to J-Pop, while also taking ownership of it, reshaping it, and presenting it back to the world through a lens that is both critical and affectionate. In essence, ATARASHII GAKKO!’s show was a vivid illustration of the complexities and contradictions of cultural exchange. It was a testament to their skill as performers and their depth as cultural commentators that they could simultaneously embody the fanciful elements of Japan as seen from afar and the authentic cultural nuances that define it from within.

Words and photos by Eric Han