Los Angeles, California, USA. July 1 – July 4, 2011.
I’ve attended various cons and events in Canada and Japan, including Anime North in Toronto and the famed Comiket in Tokyo, but AX2011 was my first event in the USA. Straight off the bat, I could say that the scale was quite impressive, not as large as the biggest Japanese events but certainly an order of magnitude greater than Anime North. This was reflected in the ridiculously large pre-registration line, a beast which snaked along and around itself in the heat outside the LA Convention Center.
Typical of Western cons, AX can be thought of as not just an anime event but more a celebration of anything and everything even loosely related to Japan and Japanese culture. The word “matsuri” is a Japanese word meaning “festival,” and evokes the image of many like-minded people getting together for a lively joint celebration, food and fun aplenty. With a multitude of panels, a massive dealers room, live performances, cosplayers, and a vast amount of anime screenings, Anime Expo really does seem to embody the concept of “matsuri.”
From the music side of things, the highlights of AX2011 can be summarized by the following: Mikunopoolis, Kalafina and Kurosaki Maon! 2011 was also a year in which AXcompeted with rival con AM2 and reigned victorious, evidenced by the fact that this year AM2 has given up on butting heads directly and is being held a full two weeks earlier.
Although viewed by the locals with reactions ranging from curiosity to disbelief, Mikunopolis was a big success. I did have the personal experience of being accosted by one irate lady trying to make her way through the area, and the local news station also ran its fair share of interviews highlighting some of the more “eccentric” ofVocaloid fans. However, the turnout was impressive. Thousands of people attended and enjoyed a fantastic musical performance powered by talented live musicians and technological prowess. Indeed, the appearance of the virtual pop idol on stage was quite convincing, although the best views were from center seating—further to the sides meant more distraction from reflections.
Also at AX2011, Crypton held a panel explaining the typical trends and processes in Vocaloid content production, and laid out it’s roadmap for North America. The predicted surge in popularity in this market combined with Crypton’s efforts to put English Miku software out the door make it no surprise that AX2012 will be attended by several top Vocaloid producers.
Kalafina held a concert at Club Nokia, a more “human-scale” venue, well-suited for human singers. This powerhouse group comprising of Wakana, Keiko and Hikaru wowed the crowd with their eclectic fusion of often darkly overtoned, chorally driven sound, with an ample serving of orchestra backing.
Kurosaki Maon got her start at Dear Stage, a fantastic hangout in the Akihabara. Dear Stage is like a “live house,” café and bar all rolled into one. Given her roots in a more “independent” vein of idol singer, it’s no wonder that she seemed much more down to earth and personable, which really showed in her evening mini-concert that could have nearly been considered a full performance. I had a chance to visit Dear Stage last October, and the atmosphere was great—a tight knit bunch of hardcore members who were very friendly to newcomers, and energy abuzz. It’s a place where idols try to get their big break, and Maon, the one who’s made it the biggest, is practically enshrined there.
What’s in store for AX2012? Internet users have dubbed it “Fate/Zero Expo” due to the large number of related guests making an appearance this year, including director Aoki Ei and producer Kondo Hikaru. LisA, an up-and-coming vocalist best known for her work in Angel Beats and Fate/Zero, is certainly one of the headliners to look forward to. In 2010, I had a chance to see her on tour, and she rocked the house with ex-members of Japanese rock-pop group The Scanty as Girl’s Dead Monster. Fiction Junction Yuuka and famed composer Yuki Kajiura will be performing at AX2012, a definite treat to anticipate. Guests for this year’s Vocaloid panel also include well-known producers Dixie Flatline, Deadball-P, and Vocaliod-P. The full list of guests can be found on the Anime Expo official website.