Anime Expo 2015 Part 01: mused and abused

Yes, indeedy! It’s true, it’s true! There were some vast and noticeable improvements, but how was the overall experience? Let’s start from the ground up.

For many years, including the ones before my time, the preregistration line to pick up your badges for AX were garbage — and, if you were caught in broad daylight in the July sun, harmful. This year, AX had some help from Eventbrite, a platform that helps organizes tickets and events. Usually the fastest you can expect to get out of the pre-reg line was maybe under two hours. When I went to get my badge on Day 0 I was in and out of the lobby in under five minutes. I couldn’t believe it. I was handed the tote bag with the AX booklet, went up to the counter, let the clerk scan my ticket stored in my smartphone via the app, and I was done. I had prepared to get to Downtown L.A. so early that after when I got my badge I had the entire night to do whatever (I went to Target and bought new jeans and shoes. Yay, adulthood!). If this is the new standard for AX then this is an incredible game changer on the convention scene.

Tarps. TARPS. TAAAAAAAAAAAARPS. Finally, what a difference this made for the attendees made to stand outside. My concern always was if you anticipate people to be out in the sun why not prepare for it? These attendees are already exhausted from walking from through the exhibit hall and standing on their feet all day, so throwing them out in the sun just adds too much stress and is just cruel. These tarps covered entire lines of hundreds of people and that was a major victory for fans who have had enough days in the sun at the ‘ol anime stompin’ ground.

Something else that was always pressured by regular attendees on AX were the staff. For whatever reason there always seemed to be some issue to take up with the staff and volunteers that I noticed from those who write about their post-con experience. I certainly had some issues in the past with the staff. Glad to see that there were improvements in not only the atmosphere of the staff, but also an increase in numbers of them. More friendly staff? Yes, please! Now, while there were more staff that were kind enough to help, were they useful? This is where things fell apart in my experience. The panels I were interested in were mostly in what they labeled as workshops, which is really just rooms closest to the exhibit lobby hall. Apparently, the lines for these panels were made to be outside. I didn’t know that, but that’s what the staff are for, so I ask them. The first one didn’t know. No prob. I ask another nearby, one with a clipboard– surely they’ll know! No dice. This wouldn’t rub me the wrong way if I weren’t told to go downstairs, go outside, then find out that I was told the wrong thing, so I go back inside, up the stairs, then get told I have to outside to somewhere else, so I go back outside again, and just kind of feel my way around which staff member sounded like they knew what was going on. This happened twice, then I finally wised up and just asked fellow attendees nearby. Can’t win ’em all, I guess. I did notice they did have more staff with walkies, so something was done right; just somewhere else, apparently.

Concerts were something that I thought AX were lacking in, especially when other anime conventions showed some consistent effort in bringing in talent of some notoriety. I would say that 2012 was the last year that AX brought in a great lineup (Animetal USA, LiSA, Yuki Kajiura with FictionJunction)– and, even then, having them perform in a hall room that gave the impression of seeing these fantastic acts performing in a high school gymnasium was pitiful.

While AX might not have made up for the lost time, this year, along with Crunchyroll, they stepped up their concert game and offered something core fans and anyone else could enjoy.

Momoiro Clover Z was the act I was anticipating the most this year. Before the day of the concert, the group was kind enough to have a small screening for anyone who wanted to check it out. As someone who knows only one song by the group this was a great way to get introduced to the MomoClo by the members themselves! It was a full evening of Q&A, a quiz with prizes, a short lesson on calls, and some banter. It was quite reinvigorating to be there with excited fans and MomoClo being energetic and charming all the while. It was also great that as the audience were leaving we all lined up just so we could say hello/goodbye to each of the members.

Fast forward to the next day, I sat almost dead center of the Micorsoft Theater with two battery powered light sticks on hand. Looking around, most people were seated in the middle section, probably already experienced past AX events held here. The side sections of the theater weren’t nearly as filled; in fact, they were pretty much empty. I felt a little sad about that. Here’s a group that that was voted as one of the most popular acts in Japan and performed in front of thousands, and then see a couple thousand, maybe, filling in only the middle section of the venue. It’s always hard to gauge the turnout for acts, and this is a niche here in the U.S., no matter how hard you try to justify it. My only justification: we’re here. LET’S ROCK.

If you’re wondering how it went, have a look at this video with snippets of the performance:

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In the words of Coolio: Ah, here it goes! In my Day 0 post I mentioned that there was a special guest unannounced for the concert presented by Crunchyroll. Electric drum roll, please …Porter Robinson! Yeah, I had no idea who this cat was or why CR thought anime nerds would dig him. I recall one of the CR representatives even introducing him on stag saying along the lines of wanting an act that even those who didn’t know who he was would leave the concert as a fan.

Am I a fan? Well, leaving the concert I thought, “Even if the music style isn’t up your alley, the concert presentation was an awesome experience of lights and VIBRATIONS.” Seriously, during one part of the concert the bass was turned up so high that I felt like my lungs were bouncing around my chest, massaging my guts. It was a new experience and one I could really seeing myself seeking more of. I’ve never been to an EDM concert. I figured it was a lot of dancing and drugging– No, I’m not old. Just not sure what the millennials in the younger bracket are in to, as I’m completely absent from the current dance scene (I am not shy about my love with Italian disco!). I know, in the internet age I have no excuse. DJ and journalist Liz Ohanesian asks if this was a sign that the EDM and anime culture will clash into something more. After that night, I’m hopping so. I still don’t much about Robinson or his following (they were eagerly and clearly there for him judging by how they were singing along), but this concert set a new standard for not only what I want to hear, but to experience at a concert. The sound, the lights, the creative coordination of it all. If this is the face of music for the next generation, I say it’s about damn time.

Another interesting thing to note, there were a  surprising amount of people sitting with me in the nosebleed seats. They probably had the same idea where we weren’t sure if the surprise headline guest was going to be all that. After Porter kicked it off, a man in a suit came to our section and told each row that we could all go down to the front and fill in the sections that weren’t occupied. These were the same vacant sections as the MomoClo concert. Once the word was got out we all jumped at the chance to get as close as the premier+ members at Crunchyroll’s site had a chance to get. If you were wondering if I had to inched my way up at some point going by the photos I took, I’m telling you I had permission! I was about seven rows away from Porter, just close enough to get those long strands of paper confetti dropped on me during the climax of the show. There was even a girl standing behind me blowing bubbles. I don’t know if it was the CR people, Porter’s or the venue’s people who had the idea to let us join the front of the show, but it was a brilliant move and very much appreciated. So much so that I even spent another 10 bucks for a cup of draft beer!

Ah, IA. I can’t had my love for Vocaloid concerts. There’s just something awesome about people gathering to rock out in front of a hologram. It’s like we’re rocking out …in the future! I knew this wasn’t going be a spectacle like the Miku concerts in L.A. For one, this was being held at Club Nokia. It’s smaller, but one thing to highlight: the bar is always open and ready to serve whiskey in the back!

It wasn’t just the drinks that made it feel like an adult atmosphere, it was standing room only in my section (ground floor) and we were free to move where ever we wanted. Spending a little too much time at the bar kind of lead me to a view next to two columns that kind of narrowed my view of the band and the hologram rocker. Not enough to curb my excitement, no Sir. I made sure to buy two pink glow sticks from the official IA booth at the exhibition hall to make certain of that. I wasn’t familiar with the music, but the band was sharp, the dancers lively and fans keeping up with it all. All of this while loosening up from Jack & Coke, hell yeah I was having a good time. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on my side for too long. I had, yet, another concert to get to, which meant I had to skip Wagakki Band’s performance altogether. You can see a clip of what the AX staff gathered from the event and just see how awesome they were, though:

I really do hope I get a chance to see them, and IA again, some day. So, then, what was the other concert that I absolutely had to get to? There’s a little build up before I get to that, and it’s a rather painful one. It hurt a bit of my pride, but also my hand…

After getting back to the hotel, I grabbed my backpack with the electric light sticks I had used for the MomoClo concert. I was going to need these for sure. While I let my phone charge a bit, I felt I could use another shot of whiskey. Remember when I said I was going to be plastered or this event in my Day 0 post? That was a big mistake. Feeling ready to get my glowing groove on, I made my way to the Westin Hotel up the street. For some reason I believed that was where the screening was being held. I was sure there were screenings held there before during Anime Expo, so it wasn’t just a guess. I walked up to the lobby clerk, then asked where the screening room was while desperately tiring to hide my breath drenched with the smell of whiskey. She wasn’t aware there was one, even checking with her manager, and kindly told me I was mistaken. I kindly/drunkenly thanked her, then made a mad dash to where I was certain where I was supposed to go. It’s amazing that even in my state that I knew where to go without even checking my ticket (which didn’t even list which hotel it was, anyway). I was pissed at myself, but I didn’t have time for that. I was already 20 minutes late and I had five city blocks pass first before I could do that. That would have been it, but there was one lesson life needed to teach me that day.

As I was crossing the last block before I made it to the hotel, already tired and frustrated, walking at a jogger’s brisk pace, I fell. I fell pretty damn hard. I’m not sure if it was because of L.A. shitty maintained and uneven sidewalk or the new shoes I bought the day before that haven’t had enough time to break in or maybe I was being a tipsy idiot, but I tripped forward. Over 6 feet tall and 185lbs. of meat (and whiskey) slammed face forward. Thankfully, I didn’t directly on my face– I already had a chip tooth to deal with since last December. But I did bang my right knee and I must have landed my left hand in a way that nature didn’t intend it to, ’cause even as I write this (5 days after the fact), my hand is still hurting. It seems I fractured it. It doesn’t hurt as bad as did later that night, but it still stings, and I have, yet, another concert to attend to in less than 10 days in Japan. This really bummed me out, but perhaps the whiskey gave me courage to press on. So, what was the lesson? Probably a lot of things, but one I realized when I made it to my destination is this: the shit I do for high school anime idols.

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I damn near broke my hand running and falling to a screening of a Love Live! concert.

The funny thing about all of this, I’m not even a Love Live! fan. I watched both seasons of the anime, played the mobile game that fans when apeshit over (rightly so), but I never could grasp what this franchise has done that could rival the likes of The Idolm@ster. It’s fun, I enjoy for what it is, but what’s the fuss over? I sat down, grabbed my light sticks, injured hand and all, and transferred the pain through my calls on cue. To be honest, the pain wasn’t too noticeable then, but I was fading out hard and fast, only snapping out of it when the calls from the front rows were really belting out. Even when my body wanted to shut down it wasn’t allowed to. An idol fan’s job is never finished until they have poured all the energy they have to show support towards their favorite idols! At least, that’s the thought I had swirling in my dumb, drunk head. I had some pretty bad crashes during my time at AX over the years, but this one felt a little out of my control. I still fought like hell to stay away, too, because I paid about 30 bucks for the ticket.

My life spiraling out of my control aside, I did take a moment to observe the audience. These was no doubt the most pumped audience I’ve seen at any concert– and, yes, I’ll include a screening like this one. For one, the calls were loud and on point. Before my eyes had a chance to roll to the back of my head to look at my brain, they were fixated on the complexity of the calls. I wish I had a video reference to better illustrate this, but basically what I saw was akin to Parappa the Rapper; the cues weren’t so much based on the beat as they were based on the rhythm (Christ, I hope you played Parappa to know what the hell I’m talking about). Usually in songs performed by idols the calls are connected to the time signature. They’re either on a beat or, say, the song is in 4/4 signature then the calls can be called out as half notes (e.g. “Oi! Oi! Oi! Oi!”) or, if the song is really pumping, quarter notes (e.g. Onegai! Cinderella, “Fuwa-fuwa-fuwa-fuwa!”). The Love Live! song I heard went behind this. I could grasp the beats and called on such, but I noticed I was out of step with everyone else. It took three verses before I realized what I was doing wrong, but by then the song was over. I did not know the concentrated effort it took pull off a call until that moment. Instead of feeling defeated, I felt challenged. This was the call …to calls. If you’re curious what song that fuwa’d my ass, just track down a copy of Muse’s →NEXT LoveLive! 2014 ~ENDLESS PARADE~; the film that was screened at the event. You can tell me if I was being a punk or being punked by Love Livers. Eh, doesn’t matter much. Snow halation is the only µ’s song I really like, anyway.