Party Time! An Unforgettable Anime Expo 2016
Well, this post is certainly running a bit late. Admittedly, I've been taking a couple days to get myself back in the mindset of daily work and enjoying anime off of a computer monitor instead of face-to-face with the fellow friendly fans I had the pleasure of meeting at Anime Expo this year. Nowhere in there will I admit to allowing Pokémon Go to poison my schedule. Regardless, I owe it to the hard-working cosplayers and the anime enthusiasts to post up what I had promised, so let's take a good look!
Day 0: Getting into the "FLOW"
Flights this year left a little bit later this year, giving me an additional 2 precious hours of sleep before heading to the airport. Knowing my usual sleep schedule at the con, that was beyond huge. This year, my good friend Cass was joining me in the flight down to Los Angeles. After a very quick passthrough at airport security, the plane took off and promptly landed about 40 minutes ahead of schedule. Great!
Not so great was the signal at the Los Angeles airport. Both Uber and Lyft started suffering, endlessly attempting to find a ride, easily wasting the free time gained from the early landing. Regardless, we met up with a great friend of mine, Kevin, and we got into the FLOW hype early with the help of an iPhone and a rather impressive Sony speaker. This would have been great back when AX line waits creeped closer towards 3 hours instead of 30 minutes, but y'know.
AX passes in hand, we now had a decent chunk of time to burn in Los Angeles, as Day 0 staff kick out people early now for some reason. A tad bit on the peckish side, we grabbed a car to Little Tokyo and enjoyed a mix of udon, BBQ and sake for dinner. Quite good, but a tad bit expensive.
Kevin parted ways with us here, taking the smart initiative and getting some rest for the busy days ahead. Being the tourists that we were, Cass and I felt 6 PM was way too early to turn in. One more ride share later, we ended up at the energetic complex known as the Grove. I had been here 5 years earlier during my very first year of AX, but it was just as exciting and lively to return. This was my one chance to add another impressive Apple Store to my visit list, and well as a quick stomp through the rest of the district that featured several live shows and some nifty little handmade goods stalls.
We ended by heading over to meet up with a new friend David, who so graciously offered us apartment space to crash for Day 0, which ultimately saved us a good chunk of extra hotel fees.
Day 1: What Should We Do?!
Day 1 is always the most difficult day to plan for me. As AX happens only once a year, you're most likely desensitized to the crowds and the need to make adaptive and constantly changing schedules- very different to usual, mundane work schedules. Once again having taken the resolve to tackle the frightening autograph ticket lines at dawn again, we set our alarms appropriately and proceeded to call the morning Uber to our location. All was well...until a rather sensible move to lock the front apartment door backfired almost immediately. You see, during the night, my super important AX pass rolled off my neck and was now locked behind this one solitary wooden gate of hell. As much as I hated myself in doing it, we started pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell like psychotic madmen, hoping to wake up my new sleeping friend who we had promised not to wake the night before. David, if you and your friends are reading this, we're insanely sorry!
Anyways, I don't want to recall that for too long, so let's get to the lineup! We arrived at around 4:30 AM because of the unexpected delay, but luckily it still looked decently reasonable. If you missed my 2015 AX post, the ticketing flow looks a bit like this:
- Line up super super early to fight for autograph tickets. Each guest of honour has a certain number of days they run autograph sessions, and per day, Anime Expo only gives out 75 guaranteed priority tickets. After that, you can opt to take one of the 50 chance standby tickets, and it's hit-or-miss if they have the time to get to your spot in line.
- With your ticket in hand, you now have to hit up the exhibit hall to try and find something for them to sign. With luck, you already had something that you brought from home, but a lot of the time, you have to hunt for specific relatable merchandise or go for an autograph board.
- Finally, when the guest of honour's autograph signing time begins, you have to take your precious ticket and item to the session, where you'll wait in another lineup for your actual autograph.
My Day 1 fight rewarded me with a signed copy of volume 1 of my Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso manga by mangaka Arakawa Naoshi. Much like most creators I've met over the years, he was very humble and spent solid amounts of time thanking each person for reading his excellent manga and watching the excellent subsequent anime series.
I'll just mention right now that panels this year seemed pretty sparse in comparison to previous years. One would think with the overflow of guests this year, more industry panels would be present, but such was not the case. Kevin wanted to see what upcoming works were coming from the Seven Seas publishing company, so that was the Day 1 panel for us.
Of course, we spent a good chunk of time exploring the exhibit hall. To me, the important thing was not looking for Day 1 special items to burn money on. Whilst waiting in the early morning autograph ticket line, I furiously rummaged through my Twitter account to find what industry guests were doing for special events and signings. This is where the Day 1 Sentai Filmworks booth secret was revealed: P.A. Works founder, CEO and producer Horikawa Kenji was giving out exactly 100 special Shirobako posters and was signing them as well. Of course, we jumped into that lineup as soon as the exhibit hall opened up. Surprisingly, I had still spent no money aside from buying food.
Speaking of food, our meals for the day included some decently expensive chicken strips from Smashburger and some not-so-decently overpriced tacos from inside the convention centre. Honestly though, with the Uber and Lyft prices surging at the time, we would have wasted a lot more money eating somewhere else.
To cap off the day, we took the anime-themed hotel keycards we grabbed earlier to drop off our bags, and we re-entered our room, ready to meet our roommates for the event. As Anime Expo sadly took down their forums, we resorted to the Cosplay.com forums to find our living quarters for the event. It should be quickly noted that a scammer struck the forums last year, causing me and many others endless headaches during and after the con. For safety, I can vouch for forum moderator Freight's booking system, so try and sign with him if you can. That, or you can fight for one of the very limited Anime Expo hotel block spots. I'd just like to quickly end off this section by thanking our roommates for being fun, civil and just plain enjoyable to hang out with. This is the community feeling that I always appreciate at Anime Expo.
Day 2: Twist and Shout until you go Numb
So we arrive at the fabled Day 2- the entire reason in which myself and several of my friends showed up this year. Anime Expo dropped an announcement hype bomb when they revealed that the annual AniSong World Matsuri would be held at their convention this year. This is an epic event featuring not one, not two, not three, but 8 different anime superstars in a hardcore concert for the ages. JAM Project, Eir Aoi, Haruna Luna, Minami, T.M. Revolution, Yoko Ishida, DJ Kazu and even sphere. But more on that later!
Day 2 started with another early morning autograph lineup. This time, I was going to go for the autograph of Chika Anzai, the well-known voice of Kosaka Reina from Hibike! Euphonium, Chaika of Hitsugi no Chaika, amongst various other anime series. So as you'd expect, I had to hit the exhibit hall afterwards to find the ever-so-elusive Hitsugi no Chaika merch to get signed. But before all of that, breakfast!
So tell me, do you like $30+ breakfasts? You actually may, after experiencing the breakfast we did. Our expensive L.A. Live Marriott hotel had a rather posh restaurant featuring an American buffet breakfast, which included waffles, french toast, croissants, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, seasoned potato chunks, and succulently flavourful fruit. While everything there was to die for, these incredible waffles I'll probably never forget. It's a vacation anyways, $30 was definitely worth an amazing kick to my day.
I luckily found a Chaika artbook at the Kinokuniya booth. Afterwards, I visited the Capcom booth and played a really fun demo of the upcoming Phoenix Wright game. Look forward to it, my fellow Remnants of the Past team! As Kevin had separated to grab his autograph from FLOW, I had a bit of extra time to kill. So hey! Let me try and find that awesome Kyoto Animation booth from last ye...oh. Oh, they're not even here this year? Why? :(
Regardless, I may have struck out with KyoAni, but my other favourite animation studio was definitely here, P.A. Works. However, their fantastic 15 year anniversary showcase was held at the opposite end of the convention centre, so off I went. I was expecting a few nice cardboard standups with little pictures of shows everywhere at best, but P.A. Works had a massive wall for fan postings, special events like a Shirobako animation cell giveaway, displays of rare assets from their incredible series, and even a shop to buy merch! Oh no, goodbye money. I ended up buying an Angel Beats! and Shirobako wall scroll and a Charlotte sketch artbook from them. It's really interesting to personally witness how my purchases have slowly changed from buying nendoroids and figmas before I went through design college, then my influx of artbook purchases after graduation. I definitely gained a huge appreciation for designs as a whole, and these books to me are like a window into a creator's mind. I look forward to studying them further. Check out the bottom of this post for the P.A. Works gallery of photos!
There was only a little bit of time left until the events leading up to the AniSong World Matsuri, so I popped by the Aksys booth and grabbed my copy of Zero Time Dilemma, the new instalment of the excellent Zero Escape series. Unfortunately, I had left my 3DS at home, so I had to wait until I got back to play. Luckily, the booth was running a special challenge specifically made for AX attendees- a photo hunt mixed with puzzle solving! This involved players having to keep an eye out for special landmarks and signs in both Little Tokyo and at the convention centre, then take the associated clues to solve the flyer's puzzles. Finally, you return the completed puzzle to Little Tokyo for a raffle prize. It was really well made and fun!
So enough about that. You want to hear about the Matsuri, right? Great! The lineup just to pick up tickets was pretty long, so we were a bit pressed for time after ticket acquisition for grabbing our evening meal. We hit up a pub called Tom Urban's, where I quickly wolfed down some of the most delicious buffalo chicken sliders I ever had. They were not cheap, but they were packed full of delicious carbs I would need to get through this 4 hour concert. (Credit to YouTube user 'Tassadarmaster' and my AX bud Charles for the videos ahead!)
Cass strictly came for his favourite band, JAM Project. After our meal, we powered into the Microsoft theatre to hear them already performing their first song. Concerned we had already missed his favourite song "Skill", we rushed into our seats and immediately started the party. I have always recognized and somewhat enjoyed the presence of JAM Project songs, but this live show made me really appreciate their awesome energy. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of their songs I remembered from my earlier days of anime. Not only did they perform their new single hit from One-Punch Man, but they played huge classics like 'GONG' and even 'CHA-LA HEAD CHA-LA'. They even closed it off later with 'Skill', which we indeed did not miss. Fantastic energy, I can't say it enough.
Next up was Eir Aoi, and even though she had performed at Anime Expo before, I had skipped the concert because I wasn't super familiar with her music. After seeing her perform here, I can safely say that she has a fiery presence. What better way for her to showcase that than starting off with probably her best-known track from Kill la Kill, 'sirius'? The crowd cheering with bright blue torches was electrifying, and we also got to hear Eir Aoi's other hits like 'Innocence' and 'Lapis Lazuri'. As she left the stage, Luna Haruna came on stage.
Haruna was one of the performers I probably followed the least. But deep down, I knew I had heard her music everywhere. So with great energy, she burst into 'Overfly', which was an immediately recognizable Sword Art Online track. Her appearance was a bit deceiving, as I almost expected a really bubbly performance, but instead got a very soothing but powerful vocalist instead. It was a very pleasant surprise that lead into other enjoyable songs like 'Ai wo Utae'. I'm sure I'll hear recognize her voice a lot more after this. But let me tell you, when Haruna's setlist ended and Eir Aoi returned to perform Porno Graffitti's 'Melissa' as a duet, I got this ridiculous rush of nostalgia from not only the Anime Expo concert from a few years ago, but also of the very first anime DVD I ever purchased, Fullmetal Alchemist. I got it signed that year and have been following their music releases ever since. Eir Aoi and Luna Haruna's duet of it was a new take on the iconic song that gave it a different rock feel, and I loved every moment of it.
So Minami was another artist I hadn't actively followed, but I probably knew a lot of her songs as well. Good god, I knew I recognized her name somewhere when she played the Mai-hime opening, 'Shining Days'. While I never watched the series, I remember my random anime song collecting phase where I listened to this song over and over. I also recognized 'Straight Jet' from Infinite Stratos (which I also didn't see), and Cass picked up on 'Kimi no Naka no Eiyu' from Gundam AGE.
Taking the stage next was Ishida Yoko, who I knew right off the bat from one of my favourite shows from recent times, Shirobako. Her performance of the opening theme 'COLORFUL BOX' sounded so much like the actual recording, it was frightening. It then transitioned into something I didn't know she did, 'FOREVER HERE' from Fairy Tail, which I also did not see but heard a lot of music from. How about capping it all off with a really special classic, 'Otome no Policy' from Sailor Moon R? Really cute and memorable. Just like the Haruna/Aoi pair teamed up for their duet, Ishida and Minami joined forces. When the words 'God Knows' escaped their mouths, I almost died. The height of fandom lies in this very moment, my friends. It was an amazingly hype piece that everyone was just screaming for, and you bet I was getting down most of the lyrics too.
T.M. Revolution is a performer that I remembered for a long time for one single song only, 'Heart of Sword' from Ruroni Kenshin. What I had never experienced was his stage presence, and man is it chillingly powerful. I'll never forget when Cass turned to me and mentioned how his performance felt like what a true star would deliver, and I couldn't agree more. T.M. played a larger setlist, including songs that I had never heard before from the Gundam Seed series like 'INVOKE'. The big surprise for me was the Soul Eater opening, 'Resonance'. I completely forgot he did that! Let me tell you though, when he slowly built up into the very iconic start of 'Heart of Sword', I couldn't contain myself. That is such an amazing song.
So there were artists like Luna Haruna and Eir Aoi that I kind of knew by name but not by tracklists, but DJ Kazu is someone I had never ever heard of before. I expected some sort of compilation of something like dance/club/nightcore remixes of popular anime songs, of which I am generally not a fan of in any way. Shockingly, it turned out to be one of the most memorable performances out of them all. DJ Kazu didn't remix or change any overall originals. Instead, he cleverly crafted a medley that he could mix between, giving new life to these songs we all knew and loved. Tracks like 'CONNECT' by ClariS from Maho Shojo Madoka Magica, 'SPARKLING DAYDREAM' by ZAQ from Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai, and even 'Secret Base ~Kimi ga Kureta Mono~' from Ano hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. The tears almost came flooding right back, it was beautiful.
But it all paled in comparison to the hype I was bottling in for sphere (which is one of the only groups nobody got a video of, shockingly!). While their overall discography has been a bit hit and miss for me, some of my favourites like 'HIGH POWERED', 'Hello, my love', 'Hazy' and 'Now loading...SKY!' were just ripe for the live playing. Very sadly, none of these were played at all. 'Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong!', 'MOON SIGNAL', 'vivid brilliant door', 'GENESIS ARIA', these are all songs that I definitely knew, but were nowhere near my favourites. I think everyone had fun with the sphere block, but it definitely did not muster the same amount of excitement from the crowd as some of the others. I suppose 'Hazy' would have been a little bit slow for a rock concert, but 'Now loading..SKY!' and 'HIGH POWERED' were made for crowd hype. I was pretty sad that it didn't happen, but it was still all worth it just to see these insanely popular seiyu like Toyosaki Aki and Tomatsu Haruka live. They were so busy in fact, that that after the concert was over, they had to return to Japan before signing any autographs. My one chance to add such an iconic group to my Hanasaku Iroha blu-ray, squandered!
Oh well. The whole concert ended with JAM Project returning to the stage to perform as a group. At the beginning of the concert, they had been performing these songs as individual members of the band, but this is where things got really hot-blooded. Ending everything with 'Skill' and the crowd slowly yelling "Motto! Motto!" louder and louder was something you can only experience at a live show like this.
The aftermath of the show basically consisted of my ears slowly realizing the ringing, my arms slowly realizing the pain, my voice slowly realizing the destruction, and my consciousness on the hotel bed slowly taking away my life force. Yes, my unforgettable day was at an end.
Day 3: Guests of Honour Done, Time For Industry Guests
Day 3 then. I didn't have a guest of honour I wanted to line up super early for anymore (well I did, but I lost the resolve after burning all of my energy at the matsuri), so I got a really good sleep in for the first time. That morning, I got a message from my friend Vincent sharing a tweet from famed singer Lia, who I knew was at the convention simply to perform at the Opening Ceremonies and I also believe the Masquerade as well (could be wrong). However, this tweet stated that a mere 50 lucky people would be able to receive her autograph if we visited a certain booth and bought one of her CDs. You can guess what we started with, right?
Lucky ticket in hand, I headed over to the PonyCan booth, where I bought a little gift for my fellow writer Echoes. Last year I sent over a little package which included a Hibike! Euphonium shirt signed by Kurosawa Tomoyo, so this year I bought up the first blu-ray set for the series and got a special booth autograph from Chika Anzai. It's on the way, Echoes!
But that's not all. Day 3 was charted out in preparation for the madness that would be the Makoto Shinkai world premiere of his new movie, Kimi no na wa. Little did we know that Anime Expo's shaky scheduling would strike here, placing his autograph session right next to his premiere and panel. Okay with waiting who knows how long to watch this movie at home, I jumped at the more rare opportunity and skipped the premiere to stand early in line. Priority ticket in hand, I soon received a text from Cass, who greatly appreciated Shinkai as his favourite producer and had gone to the premiere. A small miscommunication sent the wrong impression that he could watch the premiere, attend the panel and also grab his autograph after, but that was not the case. To salvage, he left the panel early and rushed over to the autograph line, which was rather busy already. While there was a bit of initial turbulence with the misunderstanding, we do what good Canadians do- we put up a solid understanding and got him into the lineup. Luckily, Shinkai was humble and generous enough to not only personally thank every person that came up to him, but he also let everyone in the long standby lineup receive an autograph. The immediate thing that struck me when seeing him was that he had lost a decent bit of weight since I last saw him, and since he was already a skinny fellow, I was a bit concerned the dedication to his work wasn't allowing him to eat properly. Regardless, he signed my copy of Byosoku 5 Centimeter, and personally thanked me when I congratulated him on Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko receiving an anime adaptation. He is one of the most well-spoken industry guests that I can remember.
I wish I had more time to bottle up that fantastic moment, but I was already running a little bit late for my Lia autograph. CD in hand, I rushed back to the booth where they snuck me in the side for having a priority ticket. Now I have heard many Lia songs from her various contributions to KEY works like 'Tori no Uta' from AIR, 'Ana' from CLANNAD, 'Saya's Song' from Little Busters!, 'My Soul, Your Beats!' from Angel Beats!, and even a feature performance of 'I scream chocolatl' from Kokoro Connect. What I didn't know was her impressive grasp on the English language. Her pronunciation was beautiful, and her presence was almost ethereal. I suppose there's a great reason why everyone knows her as the crystal voice songstress.
We got pretty hungry after all of this, so we traveled yet again to Little Tokyo for dinner. Everyone remember that amazing little Japanese restaurant I went to a couple years ago? Permanently shut down. Shame, since it was such a small shop that made amazing food. Instead, we hit up the Curry House and enjoyed a plate of piping hot curry katsu over omurice. It was all great except for the police invasion that struck Little Tokyo at the time. About 10 police cars and an overhead chopper being visible to us admittedly brought about a bit of concern, as it almost looked like a desperate manhunt was going on. In the end, we found out that an interesting fellow had wandered into a knife shop, started arguing with security, and had armed himself with a katana. Wild stuff, let me tell you. What a way to close off Day 3.
Day 4: "3, 2, 1, Let's Jam."
Things moved far too quickly yet again, and we were faced with the last day already. As Cass wanted to sleep in again, I stepped out a bit early and grabbed our tickets and VIP gifts for our last event, the Cowboy Bebop Jazz Experience. Most of you probably know just how iconic and fun the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack was, and a live show of that sounded really enjoyable. Tickets were cheap too! Having paid an extra $5 for the VIP front row seats, we also received really cool t-shirts from the performers, Alice Underground.
The music itself was as expected, instantly memorable and upbeat. The band did a great job recreating them and even had some cool stage dancers to perform in their smokescreens. Their double bass player even tipped his instrument sideways, got on top of it and played it while mounting it like a skateboard. Crazy stuff. It was unfortunately segmented with a bit too much of the English dub voice actors talking about their experiences with the show, which I didn't mind was included, but it left out the chance to play so many other great tunes. Also, when 'THE REAL FOLK BLUES' started, I got super excited, but a tiny little thing did bother me. In the original lyrics, everything is in Japanese except for the title of the song, which Alice Underground ended up changing as well for their translation. I do appreciate the lyric-writing chops, but there was a lot of meaning in that lyric, and I would have liked to hear it incorporated into the English version. Still, the song itself was performed beautifully.
After the concert, it was time to trudge through the exhibit hall one last time. Deals are harder and harder to acquire, so I just went to the KEY booth to pick up an autographed book on the new Rewrite series (currently airing). Merchandise-wise, I definitely went for the more "less-is-more" approach this year, saving up for the most sentimentally valuable items. As our flight approached, I spent a bit of time in the main convention hall trying to hand out the last of Hiroi Sekai's 2016 cards, take more cosplay photos, and even print them out this year for them. It was a really fun little bluetooth Polaroid printer I brought this year that ended up acting more as a solid icebreaker.
We were going to leave a little bit of time to grab one last meal around Little Tokyo before heading home, but I got a sudden message mentioning our flight would be leaving early for some unforeseen reason. We ended up taking the Uber all the way back to LAX and grabbing some tasty fish and chips from Slapfish. You guys have such aggressive restaurant names in the States like Smashburger and Slapfish. I love it. We even met up again with our friend Leandra, whom we ran into a few times at the convention. We were on the same flight back, so we ended up watching a few shows from the season on the plane, including Orange, Rewrite, and Love Live! Sunshine.
Clearing customs was easy once again, nothing like years ago when I traveled alone. Thanks to everyone who hung out with me this year, and thanks for contributing towards making this the most unforgettable AX to date!
A Shout Out to One of My Favourite Animation Studios, P.A. WORKS
One of the special moments of Anime Expo this year for me was finding the P.A. Works 15 year anniversary showcase and booth.
Not only was there specialized P.A. Works merchandise to purchase, but they had essentially set up a museum of their past 15 years of series, with figures, scripts and other goodies that you just don’t see after the production has concluded. In addition, they even had giveaways like the Shirobako animation cells and the Hanasaku Iroha wish tablets to hang up on their board. They also had a separate board where fans could write messages to the company and post them up for them to read. While the majority of these was a mixture of “Shirobako/Angel Beats/Charlotte S2 when” and “420 blaze it”, but there were some longer ones and some really sweet ones as well. Check out the photo in the gallery and see how many you can read!
But really, a huge thank you to P.A. Works for bringing forth many of the series that I will never forget in my lifetime. Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari, Nagi no Asukara, Shirobako, Uchoten Kazoku, Angel Beats, and the list goes on. Your animations are beautiful, and your presentations give these stories so much life.
Many Thanks! Here's to You Cosplayers.
As promised, here are all of your great shots capturing our short but sweet time meeting at Anime Expo. Thanks to all cosplayers for your hard work and allowing me to snap a photo for the memories! For at least most of you, I hope I was able to successfully print out a photo for you, but there were a few battery and connection issues that got in the way for others, not to mention time. Please keep an eye out for me next year, I'd love to take a new photo and print you out a copy!