One Big Line - The Great Anime Expo of 2017
Right at the beginning of July of each year, it's my tradition to take a week off of work to visit one of the largest anime conventions in the world, Anime Expo. This overcrowded event averages a staggering 100,000+ attendees every year, featuring guests of all talents from the anime and gaming circles. This year, instead of following a formulaic layout that just details my day-to-days, I thought I would try something different and archive my experience in relatable segments. Shall we step into the huge line that is Anime Expo 2017?
Life is a Matsuri
After a breezy passthrough of the airport security within under an hour, I landed in scorching Los Angeles and eventually found my way over to the Los Angeles Convention Centre. Having arrived on "Day 0" (the day before the actual events, usually for badge pickup), I waited no more than 15 minutes to claim my badge. From what I heard, a huge crowd of attendees were stuck in a pickup line the following day that spanned up to a ridiculous 7 hours for some. My major condolences to all of you- 3.5 hours in the sun was sapping my will to live, so you must have been some real troopers. I only hope Anime Expo reimburses those who had to let their one day passes go to waste.
But for me, I had my pass in hand and promptly rediscovered the Microsoft Theatre, where my very first event was to be taking place- the Anisong World Matsuri (quick note, "matsuri" generally refers to a holiday or festival). I took a note from last year's Anisong World Matsuri and ensured I had a colour-changing penlight in hand to cheer along to the upcoming songs. With the lineup for this year including Aquors from Love Live! Sunshine!, Walküre from Macross Delta, and THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls and Wake Up, Girls! from their respective shows of the same names, this was a pure idol concert. They were missing the unforgettable music of Aikatsu!, but sadly, they're nowhere as well known as these other series. Regardless, we piled into the theatre and prepared for several hours of waving lights, chanting and cheering raucously. Before my next point, it should be noted that Anime Expo also hosted a separate "Super Live" concert that featured Mashiro Ayano, ALI PROJECT, angela, GARNiDELiA, Konomi Suzuki, and Minori Chihara. Would it have been more a single-genred show, I would have attended as well, but I must admit I leaned towards the idol-centric show, even just to listen to the powerhouse duo from Macross Delta perform their insanely catchy songs.
I'll briefly cover my honest impressions of each performer that was at the event. First up was THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, of which six selected singers made an appearance. I've mentioned this in several seasonal impression posts thus far, but I personally don't like this series as an anime. I felt it was quite unenthused, the characters were mostly forgettable and it didn't add anything to the considerably more favourable THE iDOLM@STER series from 2011. Despite that, the Cinderella Girls took the stage and performed a number of their best-known songs. There was an interlude where the seiyu reenacted some of the lines from their radio CDs and from the anime series as well, and as quirky as that was, I felt it was unnecessarily added in a spot where they could have performed more songs. It also acted as an awkward split in what should be constantly energetic flow of musical encapsulation. As talented as the seiyu themselves are, I also quickly noticed that their original roles don't have them performing together a lot. The vocals and even the dancing were somewhat off-tempo, and perhaps it's just because I'm someone who spent his whole life dealing with music theory and performances, but it was pretty painfully obvious to me. That said, I think they did a wonderful job during the songs themselves in getting the crowd pumped up and involved. The song choices were quite okay with me.
Wake Up, Girls! was next, and these girls showed us exactly what a well-choreographed, well-worn idol group can do. Even with two of their members missing, the Wake Up Girls are an actual idol group, getting much more time put into their organization and stage presence, and they showed off the clear difference from the Cinderella Girls. Out of all of the groups, I probably knew the soundtrack of Wake Up, Girls! the least, but it was really easy to catch onto the chanting cues and just be taken aback by the performance itself. Lovingly, they also left the song I believed was their most concert-friendly song ('Gokujo Sumile') until the very end, which really ramped up the excitement from myself and my fellow attendees. MCs were quite short for the Wake Up Girls, and they were actually whisked away decently faster than their prior performers.
Did anyone watch Macross Delta? While not as enjoyable as some other Macross series that came before, I still found a ton to love within many of the characters of the show. Of course though, the songs of Macross are the show-stealer, and while we couldn't get Toyama Nao at the event, we still got JUNNA and Minori Suzuki in a sort of Sheryl Nome/Ranka Lee throwback. I flew down to this event almost entirely for these two, and just seeing them live would have been enough of a convention for me. Thankfully, they were given a pretty decent length of time to perform, capping off the whole show with my all-time favourite ending song of any Macross series, 'Rune ga Pikatto Hikattara'. The cheering was absolutely insane, and even with less members than the prior two groups, JUNNA and Suzuki easily received the most applause from the crowd.
So then, who hasn't heard of Aquors? While Walküre was the reason I came to Anime Expo, the majority of attendees came fully prepared for the girls of Love Live! Sunshine!. For some reason, this show that I thought was a carbon copy of the original Love Live! School Idol Festival garnered such diehard praise and devotion that the convention was littered with shirts and merch from the series. Even special Aquors penlights were sold through preorders, with the special fandom tax that came with them. Having liked the show the least out of all of the ones involved with this Matsuri, I was actually unsure of how I'd take in this segment that is considered the holy grail of the quartet. But when the show started, something magical happened. I realized I wasn't watching the awkward Miku Miku Dance performances from the anime, I was watching the actual group on stage reenacting their actually enjoyably done choreography live in time to the music videos behind them. The stark contrast in movement quality gave me a newfound appreciation for the series that I never thought I could have discovered, despite still not personally liking a lot of their songs. I managed to quickly pick up the songs and follow along, but the really big magical moment for me was when I noticed that despite having all odds against them, Walküre garnered more praise than the unbreakable Aquors wall.
To cap off the Matsuri segment, I have to mention that it was disappointing that the actual show itself was considerably shorter than Anime Expo had advertised. Supposedly a full 4 hour show from 7-11, the long lines delayed the beginning to 7:30, and the performance itself ended a full 40 minutes earlier than 11, not to mention an intermission in the middle as well. There was one likely reason this occurred, and that was the Japanese law that disallows JUNNA from working past 10 PM, as she is only 16 years of age. I think a little more collaboration and planning could definitely have avoided this issue, however. So yeah, it was a really energetic event. I admittedly enjoyed last year's Matsuri considerably more, but by no means did I not have an amazing time at this one.
Well, Eating's a Part of the Convention Too
From what I've read and witnessed online, Los Angeles has a pretty awesome food culture, and exploring it would be something my stomach would definitely have thanked me for. However, the main opposer of this quest is Anime Expo's constant clinginess that just binds all of your time to the convention itself. As such, I made numerous stops to Tom's Urban for delicious buffalo chicken sliders, Smashburger for that fast food carb fix to get me through the lines, and a few good ramen places when my friends had the capacity to drive us around. Every year, I'm reminded of how the typical drink size seems to be a ludicrous 32 oz., measuring to almost a full litre of sparkly sweet soda (or Vitamin Water, +1 America!). It's just too much. Year after year, it's interesting to see the number of fruit/hot dog/ice cream vendors multiply and hit every street corner with their enticing wares, yet not many actually bite the line.
Shopper's Utopia, The Exhibit Hall
Every year at Anime Expo, the exhibit hall becomes a push-and-squeeze gridlock of anime fans looking to find the special merchandise they want to struggle to carry or ship back home. When I had my first year at AX, I was enamoured by the plethora of figurines, but quickly found it insanely difficult to bring them back home without finding damaged boxes when I reopened the bag. For that reason and the fact that I swapped my focus from accounting and business to art and design, I started to grow a more fond love for manga, artbooks and decorative pins. I also found out that they were much easier to bring back home, with the worst case generally being a slight crinkle in the books' structures, which could be easily remedied.
That all said, I really didn't purchase a lot from the exhibit hall this year. All of my photos are from the nifty little galleries and character cardboard stands, although I will have a section just of my con pickups near the end. This year, the exhibit hall acted like a museum of sorts, displaying upcoming games like a Bandai Namco creation of Little Witch Academia, manga like the new Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and upcoming anime like New Game!!.
While stopping by at a ludicrously packed Aniplex booth, I also chanced upon a special event where both Mashiro Ayano and GARNiDELiA made an appearance on stage. They even allowed photography, so with my chest pressed up against to the stage by the mob behind me, I got some really great close up shots of the stars of the AniSong World Matsuri Super Live.
It was just fun to sightsee this year, instead of rushing around in a panic just begging to spend money. Looking back at my time in the hall this year, I feel not like I'm losing interest in the medium or the collectables around them, but instead the fact that I probably am refining my tastes and appreciate the little rewards more and more. Maybe this is a great sign for my wallet, or maybe it just means there weren't enough exclusives for purchase this year. Who can truly say? Only I, dear reader.
Happy 35th Birthday, Macross
Created in 1982, Macross celebrated its 35th year anniversary this year at AX. Without a ton of fanfare, the duo of Walküre was announced for the Anisong World Matsuri, and quite offensively, Ijima Mari was given one simple Facebook announcement post with little promotion of how she'd have her own mini concert along with 3 different autograph signing sessions. As such, the mini-concert that should have been celebrated with thunderous applause was met with a shockingly small crowd for such a revolutionary performance from Lynn Minmay herself. But it was clear when Ijima-san took the stage and did a little MC'ing before laying out the red carpet to memory lane; Minmay may be one of her legacies, but she was nowhere near her only accomplishment. I was immediately charmed by Ijima's mildly ferocious and strong personality that laughed in the face of the difficulties of working in the industry. She felt like a very real and tenured person, and it was an absolute honour and pleasure to meet her not once, but twice.
Because Ijima-san had three signing sessions (plus one more surprise signing after her concert), she spent respectable amounts of time with each fan that met with her. I even had an unfortunate situation where her autograph for me was smudged from someone accidentally bumping into me, and during my second visit, she not only signed the Macross manga I had bought (which I had to scavenge for hours to find), but also fixed the smudge with a new signature on both her CD sleeve as well as the disk itself. I can't thank her enough. I just wish I could have capped off the collection with both JUNNA and Minori Suzuki's signatures, but sadly, they were not around long enough for sessions.
A quick blurb as well about Ijima's MC and performance. Before the Macross songs, she had a few minutes to answer some crowd questions, which ended up mostly being Minmay-related. My favourite response of hers was when someone asked "Ai Oboeteimasuka has continued to be covered throughout the years by other Macross series. What is your favourite version of the song?", and Ijima just looked back with a direct stare and firmly said "mine", it was so good. The concert took me right back to hearing the original Macross songs for the first time again, and although Ijima's voice has definitely changed, it still retains the same charm from before. Nay, you could say that she's adapted to help it evolve into the modern age, as the backing instrumentals felt more modernized as well. I may not be one for mecha series, but I hope Macross continues to live on and produce more and more idols that can save the world from destruction with their voices.
Welcome to LineCon
People know that AX is one big, constant lineup. Everyone knows that. But that's the venture and test of Anime Expo, isn't it? How far and how long will you go to be a part of something that won't be obtainable again for a long time, or maybe even ever? I mentioned earlier that some attendees were stuck in the line to even pick up their entry badge for 7 hours, and that's a testament to our tenacity. Overall, since I didn't line up a lot for merchandise in the exhibit hall, my lineups were more restricted to food, panel and other event lines. While I don't want to post every single thing I lined up for during the week, notable lines included 3 AM lineups for autograph tickets and 3.5 hour lines in the burning hot sun with no shade for a movie I had already seen twice. It's the draw of witnessing these events together with other people in the fandom that you rarely get to see that gives me the endurance to get through these rough patches. In the end, I got to see so much more than I expected, thanks to a bit of strong-willed determination and a little (nay, a lot) of help from my awesome friends. Thanks guys, for holding spots so we can go see things we couldn't otherwise see. Thanks for sticking around in the scalding heat so we can take turns drifting off into the shade for some relief. And thanks attendees, for being so open to others and speaking with me to make long lineups way less boring. I even watched Tamako Love Story with a gentleman in line at 4 AM as we waited to get autograph tickets. It was fun.
Wait, Did You Just Say..."Asian Kung-Fu Generation?!"
Yes friends, that is correct. Yours truly got an extra little goodie in his AX grab bag when he discovered that Asian Kung-Fu Generation was performing here in Los Angeles during Anime Expo week. Of course, my first thought was that they'd be 100% sold out, but yet again, my much more tenacious friends had snagged extra tickets in preparation to go, and I was now in possession of one myself.
Now, this concert wasn't hosted by AX, and it also wasn't performed in the gigantic Microsoft Theatre. The Novo is Microsoft's moderately smaller theatre in the same plaza, which I had only been to once for the Porno Graffitti concert several years back. At the time, it had a orchestra/balcony seating layout similar to the Microsoft Theatre's current spread, but entering the Novo this time, I noticed that it was more an open mosh pit area with a terraced structure that could hold nowhere near as many people as before. While it sadly meant less spots for the people, it also meant cheaper tickets and a greater sense of exclusivity for a band that literally helped shape my love for Japanese rock.
So how are these guys live anyways? Unreal. This is the Matsuri I would have loved to have had, with bands like this just rocking out without long-winded MCs and intermissions in between. Asian Kung-Fu Generation played a large quantity of songs, which included a mixture of their newer and classic songs. The raw energy in that cramped little venue was so pressurized that whenever the band reached that zenith of playing notable pieces like 'Re:Re' and 'Rewrite', the crowd would explode with excitement. These guys can rock, and they sound sublime live. Every single moment of the concert boiled up to the point where the bassist riffed the opening to 'Haruka Kanata', and I could barely contain myself. After the concert was over, I realized from the ticker on my Apple Watch that I had burned over 1200 calories during the day, despite having stood in several lines remaining mostly stationary. It was a truly unforgettable night.
Huge Thanks to the Cosplayers
Year after year, all of the cosplayers leave me speechless with their dedication to their costumes and characters. Not only do you sit in the blinding heat that would drive a person dressed in a thin t-shirt and shorts to contemplate death, but you do it without complaining while wearing thick layers of fabric, cardboard, metal and whatever else that would trap in heat and add weight. Not only that, but you gladly give up your precious time to allow people to just crowd around you and take photos of you for hours on end. You all rock. Thanks for letting me take your photos this year, and if you got a card from me and are wondering about the bit about a printed LifePrint photo, I'm terribly sorry that I couldn't find the time this year to provide that to each and every one of you. With the printer requiring a healthy mixture of good Bluetooth and internet connectivity, it was averaging an extra 5-10+ minutes per photo for a chance of it printing successfully. Instead of banking on that, I figured it was more fair to a wider range of cosplayers to appreciate your hard work instead of letting something like a gimmicky print get in the way of that. So once again, thank you to everyone for the photos. You all look fantastic.
Finally, a PSA to Everyone
Always ensure that your cab/Lyft/Uber driver has given back all of your bags from the car before letting them leave. This year, not only was my flight delayed yet again, but I had to deal with the insanely unwanted amount of stress looking for my bag via an APB from Yellow Cab central. You can't control delayed flights, but you sure as heck can control double checking for your bags. Don't let haste overtake caution, take it from me who had to spend an extra night in Los Angeles and 11 hours in the airport the following morning to even catch a flight back home.
Since I don't want to end the post on that mildly upsetting recollection, here's a gallery of everything I brought back from the con this year! Included (in order) are ClariS-branded glow sticks (honestly just a cheap print given out at the concert), a Macross -The First- manga volume and a 'Dancing With Minmay' CD signed by Ijima Mari herself, the first Haruhi manga volume signed by Minori Chihara (and artist Noizi Ito years ago), an Aikatsu! artbook, an AX exclusive Cardcaptor Sakura pin set from Kadokawa Publishing and a lovely bookmark of the same series from Book Walker with the first Clear Card volume free digitally, a Wake Up, Girls! photo book along with a live signing of a board at the booth, a Violet Evergarden postcard, a snip of the Koe no Katachi film reel, an early release of the She and Her Cat manga, and two AniSong World Matsuri 2016 penlights. Lots of this stuff was relatively cheap or even free, so aside from the extra unexpected day of having to eat, I had a resourcefully well-spent trip.
Thank you all again for joining me on my Anime Expo ventures. Whether they be good or bad, the experiences that arise ad just that, experiences. I'm taking away things to learn, things to appreciate, and things that will continue to inspire and drive me to do better work for this site. I hope to see you all very soon with more stuff!