Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The nature of the karaoke box.

One of the things that's always fascinated me about Japanese television shows is their depiction of karaoke nights. Starting with Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon back when I was in college, I was intrigued by the idea of private karaoke rooms, as the girls based their operations out of a massive karaoke party room rather than a shrine. Then as I watched more shows, I became more aware that that was the norm... and that our performance-style karaoke at American clubs and cons isn't all there is.

Being Anime Mid-Atlantic's karaoke person for 11 years running now, I sort of felt an obligation to experience this myself. Well, that and it just seemed extremely fun. My friend Mai-Anh told me that there is a place like that just across the water (and I'm learning there are others, too), so we went for it after a fish-heavy Pok√©walk.

Amplitude Karaoke is tucked away in an unassuming corner of a shopping centre, but as soon as you go in, you know you're in the right place. While there are private rooms (which you need to reserve in advance), there's also a main restaurant/bar area where you can get up and sing 'in public' as I'm generally used to. We didn't spend much time at all in that area, but it seemed nice and comfy from what I saw.

The individual karaoke rooms are snug, and the one we were in seated five comfortably. Song selection was done on a small tablet, and the video was on a nice large flat-screen right in front of us. There were menus available, but we'd just had burgers at 80/20 so we were pretty good for the night... still, what I saw looked to be some really fun Asian fusion cuisine, with bubble tea and a nice big sake section. I do intend to order at least some small snackies next time I go.

Like I said, I've been doing karaoke in some form for a long time... But dang, there was something just nice and cosy and fun about the small party room. I can see why it's popular in Japan this way and why America is digging it, too. There's no performance anxiety, you can muck around (one friend and I did the literal version of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' along with the video), and while you can set a singing order, you can also just throw in 'Fat-Bottomed Girls' or 'Everything Is Awesome' and hold the microphone out.

My only complaint with Amplitude -- my only -- is that the song search was not terribly intuitive all the time. The waitress explained it sufficiently, but actually operating the search (which wanted you to enter the initials of the singer or the song title) was very hit-or-miss. I was especially disappointed to see that, while they had a massive list of Japanese songs, there was literally no way for me to search them unless I went for a song whose title or singer happened to be listed in romaji.

To be fair, they do have a song list on their site, and you do have the option of searching by song number, so researching in advance may save me this problem in future. Because I do intend to go back.

In costume.

Oh, right. That's a thing. Once a month they have cosplay nights where you get in half price if you're in costume. You'd better believe I'm dragging friends along in group cosplay. See if I don't.

If you're in the Hampton Roads area, I definitely do recommend Amplitude, especially if you've never done private karaoke before. They're very friendly, their prices are extremely reasonable ($6 per hour per person for room rental not including food/drink), and they're open 'til like 2 AM. And you can pretend you're Kona in Lucky Star and screech anime tunes until your friends make you stop.