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Con Report: Anime Expo 2009

July 23, 2009

Anime Expo, Forward March!

For the last two years, Anime Expo has settled comfortably in the heart of downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Convention Center. To accommodate for the formidable population of over 44,000+ con-goers this year, it was no wonder why the location was selected again. Having never been to Anime Expo or Los Angeles in the past decade, it was a change and something worth experiencing.

With only stories heard about Anime Expo, how exactly can one prepare for the biggest anime convention in the nation? Metaphorically speaking, what is behind the silhouette? The answer to that question may be answered in the end.

Opening Ceremony and the Beginning of Anime Expo

Opening ceremony took place in the main events room and lines were formed outside well before its start. Professionally enough, lines were well managed and going in, seats were arranged for Press members in the front row with pictures welcomed throughout the event. After a brief introduction by the chairmen of Anime Expo and a short film and speech for this year's charity auction of a Los Angeles children's hospital, guests of honor were called up one or a group at a time to introduce themselves to the audience. It was a formal but a more laid back introduction and there were even times that a few guests of honor brought camcorders to “document” the crowd as they walked up to take a seat. In an interesting way, Anime Expo demonstrated the ability to be both professional and kick-back at the same time as it welcomed some guests who have even never been to America as of then. In the end aside from a short delay of opening ceremony, everything went smoothly and people went their own separate ways afterwards in anticipation and preparation for the events to come.

Dealers and Artist Alley

The dealers and artist alley were located in the exhibit halls on the opposite end of main events and lines formed over an hour outside before entry was even granted. As the largest anime convention in the nation, one had to wonder what surprises were in store for first time Anime Expo goers as they were standing there, wallet fattened and fist clenched with that hard earned money ready to none other than spend spend spend. Doing some research before hand, it was to my attention that over 100 dealers were to be vending from the exhibit halls so it was no wonder that this event would be one of the more focused attractions. As for the line that formed, it looked amazingly intimidating even for arriving around an hour before the exhibit hall opened. Somewhere along the line as I made my way through the endless path, “you’ve got to me kidding me…” ran through my head as I just kept walking.. and walking.. and walking until finally I saw salvation about a whole city block away from the actual doors. At this point it seemed almost certain that my day would be wasted snailing to get in however after only 15 minutes past 10AM, I broke free and sailed away into freedom.

In order to truly explain the size of the dealers and artists “room”, it can’t be done with ease. Imagine the size of a Boeing 747. Now imagine 3 to 4 Boeing 747s lined up nose to tail from one end of the exhibit hall to another. Honestly, it was a sight only to be seen and experienced in person and just standing in that room would have made anyone feel insignificant. To run through the setup of the room, large banners were placed overhead by the hundreds to aid the crowd in locating where certain dealers were which in my opinion, was a very organized thing to do. However, it would have been nice if there was a large sign somewhere near the doors to tell people what dealers were in which isle. Not the biggest issue since it didn’t really matter how one went about browsing this mammoth.

With this many dealers, for many it wouldn’t be a surprise to claim it as a temporary paradise, ie. “otaku heaven”. The diversity of merchandise was surprising as dealers dished out everything they had. Walls filled with PVCs, booths completely dedicated to Manga and DVDs, pillow cases, stick posters, oppai mouse pads and even business card holders became a typical eye-witnessed product that would usually only be seen on obscure online stores. Yes, this indeed was it and imaging a whole day spent in here wouldn’t be much of a surprise either. One thing that I did notice was the lack of an anime OST vendor aside from Kinokuniya which at least had some CDs of newly released anime. I guess I really can’t blame one for not investing it them. Who doesn’t have an iPod nowadays, right? Anyways long story short, I was very pleased with the dealers here, as I, of course, picked up a few gems out myself.

The vendors weren’t the only attractions of the exhibit halls. Near mainly the entrances and exits were industry booths and their respective representatives such as Atlus, NIS, FUNimation, Crunchyroll, and many more. The set ups were anything less than extravagant and were almost a playground for the crowd. Demos of new games were made available from Atlus and Capcom for people to test out and FUNimation even had an Evangelion classroom replica area with chairs and chalkboard for Rei, Asuka and Misato cosplayers to call new home for a brief moment. Aksys, the creator of the well known Guilty Gear series and the new hit game Blazblue made its appearance with a couch, a 40 inch LCD TV and two fight sticks for people to comfortably beat each other up with. Manga Gamer, which had an 18+ area shielded from the underaged, and Pentavision, which showed off the new touch music arcade DJ Max Technika, also kept the crowd curious and “interested”. On that note by “interested”, anyone who entered Manga Gamer and saw the products near the exit knows what I mean. Either way, it was an honor for these industries to come and make their appearances to further promote and propel our passion in this fandom. Oh, did I mention free stuff was given out as well?

In the same exhibit hall as the dealers’ room is the artist gallery located on the far right corner. Much like any convention, talented individuals showed up to impress the crowd with their works of art. A few booths caught my interest such as ones which sold card board standees of characters from Gurren Lagann to Lucky Star and ToraDora. Others were just simply inspirational for those who walked past them. I was really hoping to catch a vendor who sold some Type Moon, Touhou or BlazBlue stuff but no dice. I guess maybe next year I’ll have better luck.

All in all, the exhibit halls were where much of the life was at. The delicate blend of dealers, industry representatives and artist alley made it possible for individuals to enjoy a whole day there, meet new people, and pick up a little something special in the end. It was a very good experience and I was thoroughly satisfied with how Anime Expo carried out the set up. I will definitely be back for round two next year.

Arcade and Console Gaming

The arcades were located in room 515A, directly above main events on the second floor. It wasn’t the largest room and almost seemed a bit random for a location, but everything needed for a good arcade room was there. Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Initial D, DDR and the list goes on. In the end, quality triumphs and the arcades ended up being a laid back location to cool down for people who were waiting in between for the next events. In my previous report for Fanimecon 2009, I mentioned how the arcades for Blazblue and Street Fighter IV were 75 cents to play instead of the normal 50 cents. Well turns out it caught on here as well. Again though, it wasn’t the biggest deal for me but some could be ticked off at the thought of paying more when they don’t believe they should. Not much time was spent in the arcade room by me in the end but there were a few good moments when I realized that there was a group of people who surrounded the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 machine. Not too many people play that game nowadays, not even the hardcore gamers, so it really brought half a tear drop from my eye seeing those eyes so determined to get revenge for getting beat 5 times in a row. Watching that game was actually more fun this time around so go figure I guess.

On the other end of the convention center squeezed between some video rooms was console gaming. It wasn’t exactly the easiest place to find and when I did find it, I can’t say it was the most amazing thing I’ve seen. The room was very small with a total of around 8 games that were set up with ones such as Smash Bros Brawl, Halo 3, Blazblue, Rock Band 2 and Street Fighter IV and so forth. Though the games weren’t bad and all fairly popular, it didn’t really open up the jar with the full potential of what console gaming could offer. For example why not throw in games like Trigger Heart Exelica or Radiant Silvergun? Why not Fate Stay/Night Unlimited Codes? A few import games wouldn’t hurt. Also, I personally would have enjoyed it if TVs were hooked up to a few older systems which were appreciated back in our younger years and made what console gaming what it currently is today. Whether it was the lack of resources to do so or restrictions from the higher ups, I felt as if maybe even the room could at least be a little bigger for the sake of some of the tournaments. I remember stepping into the Street Fighter IV tournament and witnessing literally half the room filled with people, huddled over one TV. Other games around the vicinity were almost unplayable as people were trying to find room to see behind the dozen people in front of them. On a positive note newer LCD TVs were used for all the consoles, which in my opinion, is something that should be done for all future console gaming minus a few games which require tube TVs for performance without the video lag. In the end, it really wasn’t about having the wrong games but about not having enough right games and space. Still, I want to thank Aksys games for sponsoring console gaming for Anime Expo.

Between console gaming and the arcades, what I really would like to see in the future if possible is for both to be closer to one another or even in the same room so people can be in one place for two similar things. Tugging back and forth across this massive convention was hard enough and to do so for something that resembled a double-sided coin made it even less appealing. Either way, I made my stay in both locations for a bit as they were well suited places to rest up while still kept entertained. Also, who stays in video game rooms all day long when there were so many other things to do?


AniMaid Café


AniMaid Café made its first Anime Expo appearance this year in room 518. For their last showing on Friday night, I was warmly welcomed to be a part of the festivity. As I walked through the door, half a dozen maids on the side greeted me with “Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama." The set up involved 12 tables with about 8 people per table. In one corner of the room was a chef with freshly prepared turkey or chicken ready to be loaded on the plates to be served by the maids or hosts/butlers. A littler bit closer to the door was a table with a container of chilled lemonade and bags of cookies as desert for each guest. As guests were properly seated, games were brought out for each group to play. In between serving time, maids would jump up on stage and perform a short little skit as the guests were kept entertained even as food was brought to them. More skits and singing followed as the maids and hosts stayed close by removing empty plates from individuals. I thought the maids did a great job, as they weren’t shy and seemed to enjoy themselves equally as much as the people who were enjoying their company. Their attires was appropriate and I, for the most part, took enjoyment just being there.

With that said, there were a few things which were brought to my attention. The first would be the presence of hosts. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of a maid café by having hosts/butlers present? If anything, it seemed like a butler/maid café hybrid. I guess the number of people for a large sized convention like Anime Expo would be overwhelming, but an authentic maid café, as far as I know, don’t have males serving guests. Also, I noticed that a few guys were spending a fairly good amount of time talking to butlers. Nothing wrong with that but again, it’s a maid café. Find yourself a maid and go nuts, I guess. In addition, I noticed groups of people were just thrown together on a random table which seemed almost a little awkward and impersonal. I would like to see smaller tables set up for either small groups of friends or individuals instead of large family size tables. If possible, make the interactions a little more personal and have video games or the maids draw something moe~ on a napkin or make a simple origami. Regardless, it was a pleasure being there and I applaud all the maids and hosts for their hard works. I look forward to seeing AniMaid Café grow and become even more successful in their future establishments in Anime Expo.

Guests of Honor

As a first timer of Anime Expo, I was fairly pleased with the guests of honor who made their trips from Japan and beyond. For some, it was their very first trip here and what better place to be than the heart of beautiful downtown Los Angeles. The guests ranged from people like Satoshi Nishimura who is the director of the new upcoming Trigun movie and Yasuhiro Nightow who is the creator of the Trigun manga. Also celebrating the recent release of BlazBlue came Toshimichi Mori who is its director, artist, and designer. These were only a few of the many guests of honors that came this year and I hope many more will follow and realize just how well they are received here on the other side of the planet. I regard all of our special guests of honor highly as they are the ones behind the scene making what we only dream of become a reality. In addition, I hope they enjoyed their stay and were treated with the highest of respect by the guests relations and fans of Anime Expo. With that said, I would like to see a few female seiyu make their appearance in future Anime Expo. Only a few hundred more days I guess. Oh come on, it’s not so bad.

Panels

Many of the larger panels took place in the live programming rooms in Petree Hall. Both Bandai and FUNimation set up camp and held panels to answer all questions needed to be answered for their fans. By the hundreds, people showed up to shower their support for the ones responsible for bringing their favorite anime stateside on DVDs. A line was formed in the middle and people cut to the chase and asked questions as they poked around to see if they could squeeze out confessions of future releases. On the flip side, the companies returned the favor and teased the crowd with verbal hints, smiles, and giggles. Another panel I caught for a brief moment was the Blazblue panel and it of course was not surprised to see the room filled up to the rim. In general, the panels were fun and organized. The questions were very conservative and carefully asked so as to not offend the representatives or the crowd. For example many people who went to FUNimation’s panel showed their support for previous licenses such as the Dragon Ball series and One Piece.

The panels are worth checking out and definitely not something to be missed out on by distro die-hards who are eager to see what their next favorite show is up for license. On that note, I hope to see Nozomi Entertainment make its appearance next year as either a booth in the exhibit halls or a panel in the live programming rooms. This newly established company has brought great but less known treasures into the Western world with titles such as Gakuen Alice, Aria, Marimite and many more. I’m sure its presence will be warmly welcomed by fans.

Morning Musume

This year, Anime Expo featured the popular all girl J-pop group Morning Musume in the main event halls. Lines were long as it snaked past the live programming rooms and beyond even as I arrived an hour before seating. As I approached the door after the lines began to move, I was formally directed towards the front where proper seating was arranged for me. Everything started on time as the lights dimmed and the girls ran up on stage. Immediately, hundreds of glow sticks flew wildly into the air as the whole crowd lite up, roaring and rumbling the entire room. Song after song, the crowd followed through with their cheers and after a few, each girl introduced themselves and shared with everyone how happy they were to be here in front of all the support. More songs followed as the crowd once again got dragged almost magically into their beats, rhythms, and the occasional but irresistibly moe “woo~~” noises they made. Only slightly knowing Morning Musume and a few of their songs, I began to realize why they were so popular: they had the passion and energy to bring the audience closer to their world, the world with the ability to cause that unexplainable urge to jump, dance and express oneself with each passing word or phrase.

After their performance Tsunku, the manager of Morning Musume, came out to announce the winners of individuals all around the world who submitted their creative music videos of the song 3,2,1 Breakin’Out. The chairmen of Anime Expo then appeared on stage to thank both Morning Musume and Tsunku for coming to Anime Expo, an action which I thought was very appropriate. Aside from the actual performance, I thought it was very nice of Anime Expo to allow the use of glowsticks for the concert. Having heard how strict main events such as these were, it was good to see that laid-back side of this convention once again. The concert also started on time and there were no delays. Other than that the only disappointment was the ending where everyone was chanting “encore” in vain. We never got a “final” encore but I guess it was probably a convention rule. It didn’t matter in the end for me as I took away another great experience from Anime Expo.


The Last Comic Stand

In the last and final day of Anime Expo just as thing were winding down and people were ready to call it a night, The Last Comic Stand stood in the way to completely counter or at least decrease any post-convention depression that could develop. I’m not going to lie: this event which took place in live programming was probably one of the most enjoyable and LOL, yes, laugh out loud event there was. Inspiring fans went up on stage one after another to do stand-ups of anime, video games and all things related. From Zelda jokes to the over-abundance of Pokemon roasting, it was nevertheless refreshing and literally breath-taking. Even the judges were throwing low blows at the contestants as humorous depictions of each individual were displayed on an overhead projector. In the end, the night ended on a very high and funny note and it was exactly the type of final major event to loosen people up and get their spirits up again. Finally, I want to congratulate the winner of this year’s competition, G-Man, and everyone else who participated in it. In the end, you were all winners for having the ability to put a smile on people’s face. That in itself is a commendable achievement. Keep up the good work.

Cosplay

With over 44,000 attendees at Anime Expo this year, cosplayers were anything but a rarity among people who trekked the convention floors. I want to take a brief moment to acknowledge their hard work in making anime conventions even more fun and diverse. Your valiant effort in making that costume through those countless hours is not without recognition. I will now dedicate 5 slots for cosplayers which I think deserve a moment in the sun and I hope more will follow to further diversify this community. Keep in mind there were many…MANY cosplayers which were equally good so the decisions were of great difficulty. However for everyone who cosplayed, give yourself a big pat on the back. You all deserve it and I hope to see even more cosplayers next time around!


Afterthoughts

For my first Anime Expo, I could safely say it was a very fun and laid back experience. When I started my first day at this convention, I will admit that it was overwhelming with so many things there was to do. One could have easily just followed the events in a single room and be kept busy until convention closed. Simply put, it was probably why this convention was so great: there was a little bit of everything for people of all variety and their respective preferences to do. So many things weren’t mentioned here such as the Manga Café, AX Idol, Masquerade and the list goes on for probably more than any single person to write about. However what I did realize in the end with my first Anime Expo was my enjoyment was from simply walking past the different rooms. I did things as I went and I enjoyed things as they came. Of course I don’t mean I was stumbling around without a clue. Minus a few of the bigger events mentioned previously, time was too short to follow some guideline and I blew around the convention “with the wind” so to speak. For me, Anime Expo was a comfortable and humble place to settle down. It gets two thumbs up from me.

Another aspect of Anime Expo I really enjoyed was how well-organized and controlled the whole convention was. Having tens of thousands of people can be a nightmare but staffs of Anime Expo really made sure everyone behaved accordingly. Though anime conventions serve as places to have fun and expand the horizon with everything to do with this fandom, people shouldn’t act without responsibilities. Enforcing the no glomping policy is something I highly approve of. Up to this day, I still don’t understand the full concept of glomping and tackling the living air out of someone else. Is it an indication of “fun” or an inconsiderate act which could lead to serious injury from carelessness? Either way, I believe the safety of individuals come first and Anime Expo responsibly took convention goers’ well-being under their wings. Another aspect of Anime Expo which surprised me was the efficiency of line movement. I’ve heard stories that the lines for registration and exhibit halls could be painful and hectic. However upon asking a few people throughout the busiest days, people were able to obtain their badges in less than an hour. From personal experience, the exhibit hall line which snaked around twice on Thursday took me only 20-30 minutes before I made it through. On Friday it was even faster. Talking with one of the line-control staff, I was told this was one of the best years in being both efficient and organized. Good job to the hard working staffs. Keep it up.

This year, it was only the beginning of a different path for me, a new door that I opened. It was worth it and I would do it again.... the long hours on the plane ride across the country and the drive down Highway 5 in blistering triple digit heat. I could imagine myself inching closer to the heart of Los Angeles, passing Hollywood as I go. Through downtown Los Angeles and finally near the convention center, I would once again see the bright looks of future anime fans I imagine for many convention generations to come, staying true with passion and respect for this sub-culture. Along side as an ally is Anime Expo, extending its arms to those fans with full dedication and upholding its position as the number one society for the promotion of Japanese animation. It was a pleasure to be invited as both a guest and a fan and I truly believe Anime Expo will continue to shine brighter and brighter. Until Anime Expo 2010, adios amigos!

- Robert Lu


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