This Ugly Yet Beautiful Anime Expo 2014

As AX2015 fast approaches, I took a look back my trip last year and give some highlights from my experience.

Phew! Another year at the ‘ol weeb stompin’ ground has come and gone! So, how did it go? It’s always a little difficult for me to properly sum up my experience at events like conventions. For one, I have a crap memory, so pinpointing specific moments tend to overlap or blur into one another. Second, the event itself by nature is set at a breakneck pace so recalling at any chronological order is like trying to get a solid grasp of a wet bar of soap.

One thing that people will mention who went this year (especially regular attendees) is that there were a lot of people at AX14. “But there’s always a lot of people at Anime Expo! It’s the biggest anime convention in North America!” Yeah. This year, though, it really felt and smelt like it. Previous years, there were crowds I would have to move around in the lobby or exhibition hall, but I was always able to keep moving at a brisk pace. This is the first year where I had to waddle like a penguin to get from one location to another. For an attendee that just kind of goes with the flow, this isn’t much of an issue, maybe. For someone like myself who plans the entire day on a tight schedule, this got old quick. Hell, this is the first time I felt old, being so exhausted from just walking; something I championed myself in doing with ease at AX for years. Then again, maybe I felt more tired because I didn’t get more than 18 hours of sleep at night for my entire 5 day stay in L.A. (I never learn).

Old isn’t always a bad thing, though. Having more experience means you’re able to be more prepared as to what to expect, even when things fall through. That’s what one hopes, but at AX, hope be gone with you! After years of doing what is considered routine, the people behind conventions can sometimes appear a little, let’s say, absent minded. They react not so much as in a response, but much in a way that a corpse’s muscle moves or twitches. …Was that a bit harsh? I don’t mean it to be, honestly. I believe the entity of AX and myself kind of fooled ourselves into thinking we knew what to expect, but circumstances got the better of us.

Then again, if you want to talk about harsh, we could talk about the attendees who had to stay in line anywhere from two to six hours in the pre-registration line in the July sun. As long as the sun keeps beating on these people’s flesh, I’ll keep beating on the organizer’s head to better handle this, ’cause I don’t see how this could be acceptable in anyone’s eyes. This year, they kind of showed a bit of effort. Kind of. Volunteer staff handed out bottles of water, and I heard at some point they put up a tarp. But why wasn’t this happening on Day 0? Why didn’t this happen in the previous years since AX arrived in L.A.? PUT UP A DAMN TARP. One of those with mist that come out on the side, preferably. I remember Universal Studios Hollywood having those,  and that was in the 90s.

Since we already entered the “customer comments” part of the article, we might as well get all the icky parts out of the way. Touching back on how much shoulder-to-shoulder action happening in the halls, people wonder if AX has grown too big for the LACC. AnimeCons estimated that “86,000 warm bodies” were at the con. And I didn’t see it, but even fire marshals had to step in at some point, with even AX staff stating the amount of attendance was “overwhelming.” So, has AX gotten too big for its own good? Maybe. It doesn’t seem like the con where you can just decide to go to fill in an afternoon and expect to do much other than check out cosplayers. AX never seemed like one of those cons where you just “hang out,” but then again I experience AX as one big event, not so much with the gatherings (paying $60 for a badge to just chat with cosplayers and friends seems kind of pricey to me, but if that’s your thing, que sera sera).

I have two observations on this:

1.) There is a lot of space left unused during the entire con. More than I expected, but maybe even more still. So much room for activities! Maybe it’s too expensive to have every room reserved for all four days? Well, maybe that expense could be used for…

2.) Hire staff! Or have better initiatives provided for the staff that volunteer. I think even buying them walkie-talkies will do wonders to ease the stress for both staff and attendees. Really, the first sign of there being a less visible count of staff was on the night of Day 0. There were a couple staff pointing people to the end of the line, and a few near the entrance of the building. Aside from that, it looked like we were on our own. In fact, the first panel I went to on Day 1 (Vanguard Princess), there were NO staff around to coordinate the line. We lined up around the hallway, hoping staff would take it as is, but it’s really a crapshoot with these sort of things. Staff will either give us approval, or they’ll tell us, “Nope. You line up down stairs, to the left, around the escalators, outside to the right, on the yellow lines next to the pink lines over yonder, etc. etc. etc.” I worked retail on Black Friday, so I know some people are straight up ASSHOLES no matter how clear and organized you make lines for hundreds of oncoming people. All you can do in situations like that is smile — cry on the inside, but keep that smile on as a shield. So, being on the other side of it, I’m more understanding and cooperative with the staff. I don’t blame them. Hell, for every attendee that has to stay out in the sun, there is likely a staff member that has to stay out longer. When there are three to five staff members trying to figure out where the line even starts or ends while more lines start forming for other panels on their own, that’s when it starts to gets a little silly. This usually happens in the live programming halls (rooms 511-515) where the rooms are plenty, but the capacity is tiny. Massive lines can’t be avoided, but they can be better handled, and to AX’s staff credit they did get a better hand at it as the days went on. It’s just too bad it looked like resources were already exhausted before the con even started.

BREAKING: SPJA CEO Marc Perez has addressed some of these issues in an open letter to AX attendees. Hm, we’ll just have to see how it goes next year. Phew! Since all that load was lifted off, I think we can start getting into the fun stuff!

AX14 MISSION:

    • Gen Urobuchi’s autograph
    • Keiji Inafune’s autograph
    • Have fun!

This year’s housing was a new one, not just for the con but it apparently opened just days before I arrived. The Courtyard, part of the L.A. Live hotel experience …er, or something. Without trying to sound like a shill, there are two reasons why you should consider booking at this hotel above all the others – yes, even the darling Westin Bonaventure: 1.) It’s cheaper than staying at the hotels that are part of the L.A. Live block, and it’s only across the street. 2.) It has complimentary Wi-Fi! That alone saves you $10 a day over any other hotel. Not only that, while it’s not cable modem fast, it is fast, and it was stable enough where I could upload a few videos onto my YouTube account. I’d say the word will pick up on this hotel by next year, so if you know you’re going for sure, give The Courtyard a try. (It’s also really close to Target and Subway. Big savings on meals!)

While rooming with fellow attendees at AX12 left a bitter taste in my mouth, I did take one valuable tip from one of my roommates: go to the pre-registration line as late as possible. I stopped by Target to get some food and supplies (beer and a belt buckle) and chilled in my room until 8pm. My eyes were glued on Twitter, scanning the Anime Expo tag to get an idea of how things were going. It seemed a few of the machines that processed the badges broke down and AX decided to extend the pick-up hours. Hooray! I skipped along to the convention center expecting to pretty much be in-and-out in matter of minutes, maybe close to an hour (the ‘ol roomie that got the wise idea to go in late stood in line for about twenty minutes). That was the plan, and to its credit it usually worked, but that’s no quite what happened. Actually, when I arrived, the line was about as long as it usually was when I went during the day in past years. The crowd was in good spirits ,though. Not much cosplay was happening, but it was nice to see I wasn’t the only one trying to pick up Miis on the 3DS Street Pass.

 

Here are a few short and sweet bits from my experience at AX, starting with the panels!

Panels.

Sekai Project: Visual Novel Licencing Panel — It’s always a treat to see new faces bringing in the good word of visual novels to AX. Manga Gamer and Jast USA have done great work, but new blood is what’s needed to bring in folks who want more than just tentacles and the naughty bits they grab on to. Sekai Project brought in some new titles, like the lover bird dating sim Hatoful Boyfriend. Not only that, they brought along their own guest, doujin artist Lunatic Joker. He’s apparently a huge Idolm@ster fan, too, so I tried get a shikishi sketch from him, but …nah, it wasn’t in the cards. Ah, well. I’m glad the new VN kid on the block is putting in the effort to get themselves out there, and I’m sure we’ll hear plenty from them in the future.

Gen Urobuchi and Nitro+ Panel — This was more of a showcase of who Gen is and what visual novel company Nitro+ released to date. I’ll be honest, I was SHOCKED they nearly filled the LP1 panel room (I think capacity is about 2,000 bodies. Yeah…).This is curious, because while people were huge fans of their work (Madoka and Steins;Gate, to be exact), there were quite a few loud cheers for other titles that I only see mentioned occasionally online. Maybe I’m not the cool kid I thought I was? Either way, I’m glad they have a noticeable fanbase that showed up to their panel. Now, if only more of Nitro+ and Gen’s works released in Japan would show up on our shores more often and sooner.

Jast USA Panel: Peter Payne looking tired as hell, as usual. Jast has made efforts to have a little more presence as of late. I wonder if other visual novel companies popping up in the west was the fire that lightened Jast’s smooth, eroge ass to get them moving again? I’m just glad this ‘ol company is showing more activity.

Can I Kantai? You too can Teitoku! — I was late to this panel, but the early signs were clear as the deep blue sea… I am not fit to be an Admiral. Kantai Collection (Kancolle) is a free-to-play game that was released in Japan in the previous year, but then suddenly blew up in 2014. I can see the appeal, even impressed a game like this became so popular that millions across the globe sit idly by their computers waiting until their ship daughters are refueled and ready to rip alien ass again. Personally, I’d had my fill with Moe Moe Can! as far as F2P things go. Sitting around for a lottery to even get into the damn thing just adds to the silliness, but looking around the panel room, yeah, these looked like dudes that would take the time to do that just to see fleet girls based on actual warships get striped/damaged. Really, there were a few cosplayers decked out in admiral clothing, looking so dapper and civil. What else have I taken from the panel? Not a damn thing. Other than a Shimakaze cosplayer and a selfie with her humanoid gunnners. I was never really a sea man, to be honest.

Aksys Games Panel — I’ve fallen out of the loop as to what game publisher Aksys does these days, but one thing they never fail to deliver: disappointment on fan’s faces when they don’t announce the latest Fate/Stay Night game acquisition. Maybe in 2015, guys! What they did announced, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, which actually looks and sounds pretty cool. The rest of the panel was comprised of fans being silly during the Q&A and the Aksys crew being silly right back at ’em. Oh, and there was a marriage proposal (she said YES!).

The iDOLM@STER in @nime expo — Finally, AX gets its first imas panel, and judging by the folks lining up it was long overdue (well, there was the dance workshop of Imas in 2012 that was cancelled, but then was suddenly brought back but I missed it). So, how was it? Instead of me telling you about it, have a watch for yourself! (Mind the shaky-cam, I try not to obscure people behind me while recording. Also, note which idol received the loudest cheer. Yeeah buddy!):

Actually, I’ll tell you a bit more, ’cause I lost half the recording, and on top of that the battery died towards the end. Canadian idol duo group Ally & Sally performed while the panelist taught audiences how to do calls (wotagei etiquette is complicating as hell for some reason, but thankfully imas fans have it easy. Kinda). I know, I missed recording the best part. I’ll bring a backup battery next time. Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, the line was huge for this panel! I’m pretty sure it was near cap, if not a full house of a hundred people or so. I wish one of the Bamco reps. would have stopped by and saw how much easy money they were missing out on (…I want to believe that!). Something interesting to me, outside before the panel I was talking to a young chap about Armored Core. He said it was the only game series he played. Just goes to show what an interesting bunch Idolm@ster fans are!

Naughty Figures (18+) — I’ve never been to one of those porno theaters where you’re surrounded by a bunch of horny dudes ready to get their load off, but sometimes adult anime panels kind of feel like it would be the same experience. Only here you get to share the experience with Good Smile reps.!

Project H Hentai Panel — The last panel I want to highlight is the oddest one I’ve experienced during my years at AX, even easily topping the Vocaloid panel that almost-but-may-as-well didn’t happen in 2010 (see my post on that). The panel was set to start at 10pm, but it probably wasn’t until 20 or 30 minutes later when things started to get rolling, It’s a 2 hour panel so no big whoop. After introduction of the ero manga publisher, Project H started running slides of how edit and layout the pages, that even fans could do. Not just as fantranslators, but as an employee at Project H. And for about a half hour they just pushed and pushed these intricate details of the process of editing ero manga and how much of a payoff it is for the fans wanting to do it for them. It was presented similar in vain as those seminars that bring you out to a mountain resort where you can ski and drink hot cocoa in a big log cabin in exchange for your time in a 2 hour seminar on how real estate is a really good idea for you. Really, I feel kind of bad for the horny dudes that wanted 2 hours of 2D boobie action only get a Powerpoint presentation of reasons why you should send them your resume — and, yes, there was a dude who happened to have his resume on hand and gave it to them during the Q&A.

Another bit that was odd was when they wrapped up their PR pitch, they handed out stub tickets to attendees that bought their ero manga that they were selling in the back of the room. That was actually really clever and not something I’ve seen before at AX. The thing was, there were hundreds if not thousands of people at this panel and a good chunk of them wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for having the winning ticket stub for a rare ero prize (shikishi, signed ero manga and such). Project H wanted to take advantage of this opportunity, too, so while the crowd was doing their thing in the back of the room, the reps. were doing what they could do to stretch the time until everyone -all of those who handed over cash for ero manga- got a stub to start the raffle. To be honest, I have a vague recollection of what they were saying. Some of the info was cool, such as how they send their ero manga to convicts in prisons who write to them requesting a copy (I wasn’t aware this was a thing. Good to know!), but I remember some of the things they were talking about were a little inane, even doing an I Spy game and a quiz on the fly. I absolutely must give them credit, though. These two ladies had to entertain all these ero fans right up until 1 in the morning, and they sure as hell keep them connected in social media. All in all, the fans appreciate them, and they’re just giving the lewd love back. As for next year, just ease off the biz and give more of the jizz!

Cosplay:

I didn’t take too much time with cosplayers as much as I would have liked, but then running into a Love Live gathering offered this blitzkrieg of Nico Yazawas (the fireworks in the background were appropriate enough, wouldn’t you say?):

 

Exhibit Hall:

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the hall this year. For one, there were a quite a few new exhibitors. I was pleasantly surprised to see KyoAni have their own booth. It was in a quiet spot in front of the wall, but fans made their way to them anway. I took a survey they handed out, so if/when we get those Nichijou Blu-rays, you can thank me later!

And can someone explain to me why were there so many llamas? They’re cute, but walking through every other row to see these flurry necks with tiny heads staring at me was starting to feel like a Twilight Zone episode — with llamas.

This one’s a little funny (not ha-ha funny). I’m a visual novel fan, and that extends to otome games (ask me about Princess Debut!). It was hard not to notice Voltage Inc.’s booth; it was bursting with pink and bishie dudes; cardboard or cosplay-wise. They had demos of their releases set-up, so I checked one out. Only, the rep. there was constantly making it very clear that these “romance apps” were intended for women. Damn, sorry for taking an interest in your product. It reminded me when Manga Gamer one year at AX refused to allow female attendees into their booth to view their eroge products. I’m not sure what you’d call this; culture misunderstanding, maybe? Either way, in protest, I took my time looking for my Mr. Perfect Bishie, thank you!

Artist Alley:

I made an effort to check out Artist Alley a bit more in depth this time around. Fan art never really pulls me as much as part of a fandom, but I do appreciate the skill and talent displayed in illustrations. AX is a great chance to actually meet some up-and-coming and established artists alike. I got to chat a little bit with a few artists behind Skullgirls and I finally got a those Idolm@ster pins that I missed out on last year!

To close off the post, let’s see how I did in this year’s MISSION list!

  • Gen Urobuchi’s autograph – Nope! Even standing first in line to enter the hall on the second day and making a beeline towards the Good Smile booth didn’t help at all. Those Premium badge privileges for autographs sessions can kiss my ass. Even a friend who tried to save a spot for me missed the ticket count. AX really needs to put heir heads together on events like this. You can’t please everyone, but goddamn, at least give the fans who go out of their way to get there a damn chance. Bullshit, man… I did see Gen at his table and he seemed to have a good time meeting everyone else, so good on that, I guess.
  • Keiji Inafune’s autograph. No luck on this one, either. This one was supposed to be a ticket you get in the arcade/cosplay set area (which was pretty cool, seeing Japanese settings like classrooms and shrines a few feet away from Dance Dance Revolution and Smash Bros. matches). Those tickets were long gone before I got there, and this was more understandable than on Good Smile’s/AX’s part on Urobuchi. I did make it to Inafune’s panel and that itself was a childhood dream come true for any fan who grew up with the Blue Bomber — even I got a little lump in my throat! People give Inafune crap for numerous reasons, and if they feel that strongly about it, then fine, but hearing him speak and hearing what he has to say I wonder how anyone could not feel humbled. Check out what he talks about at the panel sometime.
  • Have fun!

…Eh. Out of all my years at AX this one was really where there was a dip in enjoyment across all the parts that I experienced that weren’t new. There weren’t any events that I got excited for. No concerts, especially. Perhaps I’ve grown out of the wide-eyed phase seeing certain things, maybe even conventions altogether. Even if that’s the case, I did meet some cool people and that’s the true heart of any convention– and it sure as hell beats family functions  and eating overcooked hotdogs (I know I’m not the only who experiences this every other 4th of July). The real question is; will I attend next year? It would have to be a major pull on AX’s behalf for me to even consider it. Even then, I’ll have to take a new approach to the whole thing, a different focus, because I think I’ve seen and done what any attendee would have experienced; the good and the not so good.

Some cool shots: