Anime Expo 2010: First Step

This was supposed to be written some, oh-four years ago? But something suddenly came up.

Actually, one reason why I wanted to start a personal blog was to share my experience as a first-timer at an anime convention. You know, like how you can save big bucks by walking a few blocks up the street and eat at a Subway or how you can use the ATM across the street and get what you need in less time than using the ATMs inside the convention center, and such. I’m four consecutive years deep into the biggest anime con in Southern California, so maybe I finally have a grasp on the whole experience. Maybe.

That’s the thing when you’re at a place with dozens of events happening at once, and you’re among the tens of thousands of curious and thrill-seeking fans (well, as much of a thrill you can find at a con!). It’s a memorable and unique experience, but I can barely remember what I eat for breakfast, let alone what exactly I did step-by-step at a non-stop convention- I suddenly realize why so many bloggers try not to put off their con reports off for more than a week…

Well, that’s where pictures come in! Thanks to the modern technology of cell phones (and my Nintendo DS Lite for AX2010), there are cool moments that I caught on camera that I can fondly look back on. Maybe even make sense out of!

Let’s start with Anime Expo 2010.

Last day of August, and last minute packing. I had to be at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel around 2pm and I was rushing to pack my clothes and print out my registration barcode. I get really motivated when time starts closing in; that’s just how I roll! Once I throw some cookies and chips into my backpack I finally head out. As if the panic of forgetting something important wasn’t enough to make me sweat, the humidity made my butt feel like two steamy White Castle  burger buns fresh out the microwave. Well, we’re off to a smooth start!

I can’t remember if the Millennium Biltmore Hotel was the only place that had bookings from Wednesday to Sunday, but it was cheap, and with the decor and claustrophobic interior to match! It’s actually decent. There wasn’t a mini refrigerator in my room, so my Power Aid bottles just had to deal with what I could fit in the canister provided by the hotel. I really can’t complain, because the real highlight of this hotel is the service by the staff. After watching Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to kill some time until registration opens at the convention center, I start to head out. Only… Where? And how!? I queried this with the doorman and the dude was kind enough to outline a bus route, bus number and all, just so I didn’t have to walk 20 minutes. What a gentleman! He was probably used to trifling tourists, but still, thanks doorbro!

This was my first anime convention. I’ve been planning to go since the con first made its move to Downtown L.A. It was slightly closer to where I lived (Anaheim is actually about the same driving distance, but I thought the L.A. area was easier to navigate – Oh, what a naive asshole I was!). At first, my impression of anime or any fan convention was, “Why would I be with a bunch of smelly nerds?” (Don’t hate! ‘Cause I’m honestly not. But think of three adjectives that immediately come to mind when describing an anime fan while trying not be negative in at least one try. Go on, I’ll wait…) Well, when you’re an avid anime fan, it only makes sense to go at an anime con at some point. It’s like the poor souls in Silent Hill; somehow, it will call to you by unknown forces, and suddenly you’re in a strange place with naked-looking creatures trying to wrangle you. Yes, Silent Hill and anime conventions are that interchangeable.

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When I arrived at the convention, there wasn’t a whole lot I had to see, yet, so I chilled in the Gundam panel. It was an insightful experience to see Gundam fans in their natural habitat. When the exhibit hall opened, I was ecstatic to see AiRI (known then as Ur@n) greeting all the attendees by singing songs that were featured in Overdrive’s Kira☆Kira in a free mini concert. She’s quite energetic and it was infectious to the crowed that surrounded her at Manga Gamer‘s booth. She had a performance each day of the con at their booth, and also performed a couple songs at the Manga Gamer panel. It was just amazing to hear AiRI in person and be only just a few feet away. Funny thing, as I was just trying to get  a decent few from the side to not block the crowd coming through the aisle, one of the staff from Manga Gamer pushed me in closer until I about a leg’s length away from her. Man, I was starstruck in that moment. Here’s someone who I watched a filmed concert of where there were hundreds, possibly thousands of fans, and I was right there hearing my favorite tunes by the artist herself.

This is just my personal take on it, but compared to cons in the past where you go to just gather among fans and perhaps meet a guest or two, now it feels to me more about connecting with specific communities. At least, that’s how I observed the atmosphere as someone who just stepped into the convention circle for the first time. I don’t have any history here, so there was not bias or familiar instances to mark on a bingo card. I’m just soaking it all in as I make mad dashes between panels and booths. Also, I’ve always had the impression that anime cons in the East coast, like Otakon or Anime Boston, have a more festive nature to them (for the record, I’ve never been to either, but comparing reports on those cons to AX, it really feels like two different beasts. Not better or worse, just different), but there is so much happening at this particular convention that it really is impossible to experience it all in one fell swoop- or in my case, a handful of years.

For instance, what finally pushed me into going to AX was that Manga Gamer, a visual novel localization company, would attend again that year at the convention and I wanted to meet these lewd dudes in person. Particularly, Shinji Katakura, the character designer of Kira☆Kira, a visual novel that I BAWLED at the end when I finished it shortly before the con date. It was also the first convention Yuu Asakawa would be a guest at, and she was the seiyuu for my absolute favorite character of the anime ages as Sakaki-san in Azumanga Daioh. So, you see now? It’s having these particular interests in the anime realm that just pulled me to this event. I’m curious how things would have went differently if I had other interests during that time of my life. Maybe if I had stuck it out and pursued my dream of becoming a dancer…

 

Since this is getting a bit long-winded, I’ll continue my story in another post about my con experience, but will close this out with essential tips for first-time anime con goers. This will mostly pertain to AX, but it’s general enough for most conventions, I suppose. Be sure to tell your friends, your grandma, your dog, your mailman- It could save your life!

  • Bring a brick-fist full of cash. I noticed as the years go on that the shops set up in the exhibit hall have card readers (even a couple have those card readers attached to their iPads!), which is convenient, but still, cash rules all. Also, I would say it’s easier to budget the longer you stay at a con when you can look inside your wallet, and to serve as a grim reminder that on Day 2 you already spent 3/4 of your budget on figures… How much cash should you take? That’s up to you, but a general rule of thumb I swear by is: have a enough to get you home.
  • Eat outside the con. I don’t have any photographic evidence, but you know what the crowd looks like while they’re waiting for the exhibit hall to open up, right? Just picture that with a few tables and chairs dotted across that image. How long they waited to eat a limp hotdog that probably won’t even fill their tummies, I don’t want to know. Walk a block or two outside the con center and eat at a fast food joint. Less lines, more cash to save, or at the very least a complete meal. Google Maps even list a few places nearby, and I have friend that uses Yelp, so you can pretty much plan on the fly as to where to eat. Between con food and overpriced restaurants, these places are a godsend to the anime con goer.
  • Registering outside or: OH GOD MY SKIN IS MELTING. Anime Expo has been improving on their time on Day 0, or the day to pick up your registered badge. Still, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the duration of the wait is held outside. In July. In Southern California. So then, where’s what you can do:
  1. You can wait until the last hour before the registration line closes where you can pretty much walk in and out in a matter of minutes (I swear I felt my head inflate when my roommate at AX12 arrived back at the hotel with his badge in less than 20 minutes), or
  2. Line up early and pray to Jesus the line stops in the shade. If He has forsaken you, I suggest; wear a hat, put a dab of sunscreen on your face and back of your neck, wear some shades, have a small umbrella on hand and bring a plastic water bottle. Not just one 12 oz Dasani bottle; a plastic bottle that holds more with maybe chunks of ice. It sounds like I’m making the registration line to be like a vacation on the beach- Well, it’s a vacation trip for me, but I know how miserable it can be standing in the summer sun for hours. I felt terrible for the Japanese dude wearing a red tank-top, swatting drops of sweat from his face while trying to hold a conversation with a Touhou cosplayer. AX13 wasn’t so bad in terms of weather, but let’s face it, the sun can be a real asshole. So, the choices are yours and yours alone!
  • You can (not) go alone. Many people say it’s worth it to go a con  only with friends, implying you’re not getting the full experience if you go by your lonesome otaku self. Poppycock! You’re just getting a different experience. I wouldn’t have went to a con at all if I relied on my friends the first time I went. Really, if there is ever a full experience of a con trip it would be the exploring part. There’s so much happening and you’ll be on so much of a high enjoying something that you won’t mind the smell of con funk (…too much). Being a bit of an introvert myself, as with probably many fans, I do fine on my own and know where fun can be had. Really, even going with a couple friends will tie me down unless they’re being used as a save-spot in line for a hentai panel. Yes, I am a horrible friend, but you can make better ones at a con!

I think that covers the skinny of it. Uh, well… If you’re at the L.A. Convention Center, just know that literally across the street are neglected and desolate buildings. There are homeless people scattered across the scenery. It’s quite sad, and it was a culture shock to me in my first trip. While exploring the area I would get lost (being the classic dumbass that I am), and suddenly I would find myself in streets that reek of piss. Fresh piss. Just a few blocks south of yuppies wearing suits and sipping their coffee are hobos sitting on cardboard trying to keep their asses warm on that cold pavement.

And there I was with Vash the Stampede. Figueroa St.

Broken dreams and no ice cream.

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