Los Angeles, California, USA. July 1 – July 4, 2010.
Reporter(s): Lady Sage
This year marked my eighth Anime Expo, the ninth anniversary of the first year I attended, and my eleventh con overall. In these eight years, I have attended and graduated high school and college, worked full-time and supported myself, and most recently, started preparing for a new career as an English teacher in Japan. My anime fandom has waxed and waned several times over, as has my participation in the online community.
And as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
As usual, the lead-up to this year’s Expo was fraught with drama, not the least of which included the convention becoming for-profit and the ousting of Chase Wang, the long-time press liaison. These developments led to boycotts, 80% of the staff walking out, and a separate mini-con being set up nearby. Entrance fees were hiked up dramatically, reaching $80 for at-con registration (double the cost of my first year!), not counting separate ticket fees for the Masquerade and the concerts. Plus, the venue remained the Los Angeles Convention Center, which came with its own set of issues.
And despite all that, it was still one of the strongest conventions I’ve been to in a long time.
There were still problems, of course. I had some unpleasant miscommunication issues with some of the staff early on. Having to commute by shuttle between the hotel and the convention center was a major inconvenience, especially in the mornings and evenings, when there were frequently more attendees waiting than seats on the buses. Security was borderline draconian in its refusal to allow congoers to stop and rest for a few moments, calling them a “fire hazard.” But events started on time more often than not, the programming was largely enjoyable with a strong schedule, and the guests were, for the most part, quite fun.
Con attendance was noticeably down this year—although the crowds in the Exhibit Hall did get quite thick on Saturday and Sunday, the halls never really felt as crowded or bustling as they often have in the past. I’m no economist, and this is not an expert opinion, but the drop was undoubtedly due to the huge hike in admission costs combined with the still-weak economy; cons are a major, expensive luxury, and they were likely the first thing stricken from more than a few budgets.
In terms of cosplay, there were a few visible trends, but the concentration of cosplayers to “civvies” seemed lower than usual. The biggest winners, as far as I could see, were Hetalia, anthropomorphized Pokémon, and video games in general. Of course, I haven’t been following the latest, trendiest anime, so it’s possible that a few series just slipped under my radar; nonetheless,Metal Gear Soldiers and the cast of Final Fantasy XIII seemingly outnumbered the shinigami, ninjas, and pirates several times over.
Among this year’s highlights were the guest lineup and premieres. The guests were a strong mix of industry-involved musicians, voice actors from both sides of the Pacific, and behind-the-scenes workers. The most popular, it appeared, were the girls of AKB48, an extremely popular idol group made up of, well, forty-eight teenage girls in matching outfits. To be honest, idol music doesn’t do much for me, but they easily got the loudest cheers at the opening ceremonies. My personal favorites were Asakawa Yuu, the prolific voice actress whose roles include Sakaki of Azumanga Daioh and Luka of Vocaloid; and Nabeshin, the delightfully weird director of Excel Saga and Nerima Daikon Brothers, better known for his trademark afro and red suit than for his actual work.
Asakawa displayed great sweetness and warmth throughout her panel, switching between English and Japanese, making jokes about being typecast into “tall, soft-spoken, cool girl” roles. She took even the creepiest of the attendees’ comments and questions in stride, despite politely demurring when questions about her hentai roles came up. She said that her favorite character to voice was Luka, but the one she related to most was Motoko of Love Hina, as evidenced by a story of how she beat a boy who was bullying her with a stick as a child.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to adequately describe the sheer madness of Nabeshin’s panels, but rest assured, they were great fun—if you ever have the chance to see this man at a con, don’t pass it up. Although the quality of his directorial work is fairly spotty, I’m pretty convinced now that he is a mad genius. He claims his nickname (a mash of Watanabe Shinichi, his real name) came to him from God, and that his dream is for every man, woman, and child in the US to have an afro. At one point, an attendee asked him to finance an anime of a manga, and Nabeshin responded that he would…the attendee would just have to find several million dollars to invest. Cue several guests running up and donating money—which Nabeshin decided to use to buy Pocky for everyone who showed up to his autograph session.
This year’s premieres included Eden of the East andBlack Lagoon: Roberta’s Trail, and more unusually, a play called Kisaragi. Eden of the East and Black Lagoon both attracted large crowds, filling the theater nearly to capacity. I personally did not attend the Black Lagoon showing, not having seen the TV series, but the fan reaction was generally positive. Eden of the Eastwas nothing short of fantastic, with an intriguing plot, likable characters, beautiful animation, and, to Funimation’s credit, a remarkably strong dub. The sole disappointment was that the company could not afford to license the OP, Oasis’s “Falling Down,” for the whole series. Instead, they included it on the first episode only and replaced it with a rather disappointing instrumental piece in subsequent episodes. The screening was followed by an open Q&A with series director Kamiyama Kenji, animation director Nakamura Satoru, and art director Takeda Yusuke. Oddly, the three also held an earlier, moderated panel with questions strictly about Eden of the East; I must wonder whether there was a reason the events were scheduled in this order, when it seems like they should have been switched.
And of course, the AMVs always make for a great evening. This year’s contest kicked off with a fake-subtitled film scene of Hitler ranting and raving about how his video was not accepted. It was gut-bustingly hilarious, with inside jokes for AMV lovers (“I slaved over Windows Movie Maker!”) and long-time congoers (“I’ll start a thread on the forums that will make Long Beach look like nothing!”) alike. The videos themselves were, as always, variable, but there were some strong entries. My personal favorites, which I encourage everyone to look up, were “This is Halloween” (Soul Eater; “This is Halloween” by Marilyn Manson), “Springtime!” (Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conquerer of Shamballa; “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers), and “Common Accident” (Neon Genesis Evangelion; “Wrong Hole” by DJ Lubel and Scott Baio). Unfortunately, in a typical show of poor taste, some of the weakest videos of the year were chosen by the crowd as the winners. Oh well.
Also notable, although less prominent, was the smoothness with which many things ran. There were some minor issues—apparently, latecomers weren’t able to receive conbooks, and replacements weren’t available since the staff had printed fewer than were needed, among other things—but events started on time, the schedule remained consistent, and the staff mostly seemed to know what they were doing.
I wish I could attend cons with the same exuberance that I had as a teenager, but the shiny newness has long since worn off for me, and I have grown older and more experienced, and thus less easily impressed. But they still haven’t lost their fun, weirdness, and most importantly, the sense of community they promote between the fans.