Finally Back...The Conclusion of Anime Expo 2014
"Another year gone. And now, as I understand it, the House Cup needs awarding." Well, not really. But I'm finally back from the smog-filled city of Los Angeles and have dealt with all of my unpacking and other little trifles. Apologies to everyone I've handed out cards to for this post, as this was the earliest I could get to writing it!
It sure don't smell like home...
My flight in was overall fantastic, with my general paranoia of slightly flimsy planes sinking in as it violently twitched like my drunk friends at a party. I still trust the plane more than them in that state sometimes though, I swear. Regardless, no issues arose and I arrived in Los Angeles with just a short layover delay of about half an hour, no big deal. I grabbed my bags and met up with my long time online friend Chandela, of whom we have gone through a great number of anime series and even more interesting conversation topics over Skype. It was awesome meeting up for the first time, and in our five day adventure we didn't even think to get a photo together. Go me! But wow, one thing I can never fully get used to is the smog overhead in Los Angeles. Having lived in the clear skies of British Columbia half my life, I felt like I could barely breathe in the humid heat. That said, evenings rolled around and slight breezes cooled everything down. In the end, the heat doesn't bother me that much, but that polluted air really gets to me.
There's no culture like Culture Japan
Step two was to somehow navigate through LAX traffic and find where our shuttle boarded. 'Twas not a simple task, my friends. SuperShuttle had a new van every few minutes, but as for who was taking reservation numbers and which of the shuttles was taking us to our hotel was beyond me. After a long unwanted delay, we unpacked and walked to the convention centre. It was finally time to meet up with Team Culture Japan and help out with their booth. Unfortunately, due to the delay they had already finished up the main setup for the day. Regardless, I got to meet up with everyone and obtain two special badges for the expo. The "Ninja" pass saved me a gruesome lineup on Day 0, and we also got exhibitor passes that granted us full access to everything else. Considering people were mentioning that the registration terminals had broken down for several days, I'm grateful for bypassing all of that. The team was beyond awesome. From overly towering in size and friendliness Eddy to the dual camera wielding Chris, every single one of you I worked together with was spectacular. We mostly alternated tasks like greeting customers, explaining the Smart Doll details, as well as setup and dismantling parts of the booth every morning and evening. It was so much fun that it'd be a crime to consider it as work. We had a lot of great merchandise on sale, and we all got to meet many Culture Japan fans. Thanks for visiting the booth; if you got a photo with me near the t-shirts, I'll be sending them to Danny once this post is finished!
Line Expo 2014
Any regular of Anime Expo knows how rigorous and lengthy the lineup waits are, and this year was no exception. With the registration booths malfunctioning, visitors were stuck in a lineup so close to their access pass. On top of that, Sword Art Online II and Zankyo no Terror were set to premiere, forming two of the longest lines I've ever seen at the event, aside from the entry lineups. Needless to say, even though we arrived very early for the events, they had to be skipped. Of course, the Good Smile booth was horrendously packed this year as well. After perusing their sales boards however, there really wasn't anything overly special that I wanted. That sure saved me a long wait! This was also the booth where they were handing out autograph tickets for Gen Urobuchi, famous for his works like Maho Shoujo Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass, Fate/Zero and more. Though I particularly didn't bring anything for him to sign, I figured I'd abuse my exhibitor pass at least once and went into the hall an hour early to get first dibs for a friend.
Return of the Capitalist
You know how Anime Expo's Exhibit Hall is a prime location to score great deals on merchandise, especially on Day 4? Not this year! Down to the very last moment, booths were extremely stingy on prices and absolutely refused to budge, regardless of making the sale or not. Not exactly the best business sense, especially since we were fully prepared to spend small fortunes at some of these booths with a cut deal. One special booth that excluded this capitalist takeover was the beloved Kyoto Animation booth, just because they weren't selling anything at all! Welcome to what I call the "I WANT IT ALL MUSEUM". From beautiful artbooks of Tamako Market to adorable flip animation playing cards of Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai!, I was in my own little heaven. The booth owners were directly from the company, having only one member who could speak basic English to help the crowd out. Despite that, they were a very humble and nice bunch, really trying their best to get the message out about their fantastic shows. There was a quick opinion survey, so I circled every show they had on there and asked them to return next year with products for sale. I would happily re-welcome them with wide open arms.
Keiji Inafune and Love Letters
No, I didn't walk up to the autograph table with a love letter for Inafune, but god knows I could have with full determination. Anyways, lineups for autographs this year were ridiculous once again, having to first wait in a long line for a ticket, then having to wait in the actual lineup to get something signed. In this waiting period, I met with some nice fellows who introduced me to a simple card game known simply as 'Love Letters'. The setup and premise were ridiculously simple, utilizing a group of eight different cards with varying actions to take upon playing them. It was such an easy game to get into, I ended up picking up a set from the nearby booth afterwards.
And here it is, the signed poster! It's more beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined, and to have it stamped for approval by the man himself is nothing short of flooring. Without doubt, I'll have something better than an emergency rushed photo once I've framed this bad boy. Special thanks to our artist sikiie for constructing the poster, and to everyone else who is involved with the production!
Another plate, stat!
Did I mention I love good food? Who doesn't, right? Eating out with all of my friends was an absolute delight, and we had an unbelievably delectable mixture of Korean, Japanese and um... slightly less exquisite American food. After losing to another lineup at a Western grillhouse, we ventured to somewhere better, Koreatown! Can you say "All You Can Eat BBQ"? Go on, just say it and drool at the thought. I tell no lies here, but our entire table ended up paying about $16.75 for 17 massive plates of ridiculously tasty Korean meat. I'd never felt as full as I had there, but the temporary bloating was worth every last bite. Round two! Little Tokyo is a wonderful little tourism location, filled with quaint little shops and satisfyingly fantastic restaurants. Little did I know at the time, I'd be returning to this area twice more before my trip was over.
The Curry House had a bit of a wait, but once we got in, I indulged in a massive plate of pork katsu curry with a rice pilaf that was wrapped in a well-fried egg. Amazing. Little Tokyo, second visit! I met up with one of my awesome music producers, Mr. Jacob Pernell, and after a much needed visit to an American Target, we got to Little Tokyo once again. However, it was already quite late and the majority of restaurants had closed shop for the night. Absolutely craving Japanese food, we both persisted and found a little corner restaurant named Izakaya Haru Ulala. I would say that it was the hunger talking, but it was absolutely astounding. I ordered a skewer of chicken yakitori along with a bowl of tempura udon, and Jacob even got to enjoy the okonomiyaki he had apparently been scouring for. We topped it all off with a dessert plate of red bean, green tea and coffee mochi ice cream. Let's refer to the photo above, which actually belongs to my good friend Vincent. Yes, my friends and I were hungry once again, and before we all had to part, I took them back to this great place. I noticed that as the building looked a little worn down and the menus had their own little aged style of being written in crayon, some may have had some initial doubts, but we all had another meal that left us entirely satisfied.
Bro, do you even Lyft?
As any veteran traveller will tell you, taxis and transportation in general is an expensive nightmare. Taxis drive recklessly, charging far too much to get somewhere only five minutes away. Shuttles are cheaper, but require waiting for them to arrive at predetermined locations and times. Buses aren't much better, often requiring multiple transfers or connecting to one of the other previously mentioned methods to get from the stops to your destination. Along comes Lyft to save the day! I was introduced to this neat little app by Jacob when we needed to get to Little Tokyo once the streets got darker. You simply download the app, input a credit card and then push the big "Request Lyft" button. The app geotags your location, and a nearby driver accepts the request. Although they usually only took about a maximum of 5 minutes to get to us, you are able to input your destination while you wait. Let me tell you, if you're used to the big city cab drivers, Lyft drivers will be a new experience for you. We hit a total of six Lyft requests, and these drivers were all friendly, fun and just great to talk to. They leave water bottles for their passengers, encourage you to sit up front and have a friendly chat with them, and they want nothing more than to get you exactly where you need to be. If you're looking for a restaurant and they have a better suggestion, they'll happily share it with you. They even have credit coupons that give you $25 off, and with our most expensive Lyft ride from downtown LA to LAX being just over $20, it's basically the most fair system I've ever witnessed in a city. Definitely give it a shot if you're in one of the supporting cities, especially if you go to Anime Expo next year!
Alaska is EVEN colder than you think
And here was the big killjoy of the trip, the mechanical and ATS delays in the flights. I had said all of my goodbyes and got to the airport, fully prepared to get home and get a good night's sleep for an early class the next morning. My first flight went through as expected, but as we land I'm hit with a text message telling me my connecting flight was not functional. I did all I could at the service desk to get back in time for my first class of the new quarter, but they weren't exactly interested in helping me find an alternative method. With no choice, I was checked into an expensive hotel called the Doubletree, run by the pricey Hilton chain. Suddenly stressed, I felt an uncomfortable hunger that I had to satiate at their extremely expensive restaurant. I did enjoy the hotel overall, there was nothing wrong with their great service. It had just tacked on unnecessary costs and the fact that I had to miss my very first day back of my last quarter-not a good impression on my status as an aspiring student. I headed to the airport once more to board my new connecting flight, and that's when the flight was pushed back another two and a half hours. Supposedly the airport was at fault for pushing the trips back, but we once again received little to no information. On top of all of this, I eventually found that they had lost my expensive MacBook charger, forcing me to purchase another one at $110 once I landed. They even handled my bag roughly, damaging the packaging my nendoroid and SQ figures came in. It took me a total of six long calls of constant transfers and confusion to finally get a representative that was friendly and willing to help. Luckily, I got through and eventually filed a report for my missing and damaged contents. I even ended up receiving a $250 coupon for my next flight, so I was thankful for that. Overall, it was a nasty and unwanted experience that cost me too much extra money that they supposedly couldn't compensate, but I also didn't come out of it all empty handed. I'm not entirely sure on how I feel about the airline overall. I say, what's done is done, and the fact that I made it safely back is the best I can ask for.
To the spender go the spoils
Despite the lack of great sales like my previous years, some booths were luckily doing promos from Day 1, netting me my biggest AX haul to date. Piles upon piles of manga, posters, t-shirts, and even a great wallscroll and a set of figures. Here's a few photos of the collection! The purchased shirts were actually from the Anime Revolution booth, my fellow Canadians from Vancouver! I literally had about 5 minutes to talk to them and I ended up using some of my Canadian money to obtain some very comfy and colourful shirts. Speaking of shirts, working at the Culture Japan booth net me a total of four free shirts, likely totalling about $100. They were all super cute and beautifully printed, so I was proud to wear them throughout the expo.
So that brings AX 2014 to a close. Aside from the little mishaps with the airline, it was a really enjoyable trip overall. Many thanks to everyone I met, you are all awesome. See you soon for the first impressions of the new season!