Editor’s Note: So I just realized I never posted my full review of Anime Expo 2018 on the site. Let’s resolve that, one day at a time!
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My name is Chris and I LOVE anime. Back when I was a wee lad at the tender age of 7, I first encountered a brand of cartoons I had never experienced before. There was a local movie theater that would show kids movies on the cheap every summer, and it was here that I was exposed to the iconic Ghibli film Kiki’s Delivery Service. The other children I went with thought it was slow and boring, especially the boys who were much more interested in superheroes and punching evil in the face. For me, this was a cartoon that spoke to me on another level. The combination of Joe Hisaishi‘s masterful score, the attractive character designs of Kiki, Jiji, and Tombo, and this general atmosphere miles away from the worlds of Power Rangers and Spider-Man taught me animation can be way more mature than I previously thought.
From here on, it was all about anime. I couldn’t tell you where it came from or why it was so special to me, but the dozens of adorable Pokemon and skilled Gundam pilots quickly became some of my best, lifelong friends. My interests continued to expand as more Japanese animation was dubbed for US broadcast and as the Internet became commonplace in homes.
Now, I may not remember all the episodes of the anime I’ve watched since then, but I will never forget my first Anime Expo. AX 2004 would mark my discovery of how massive, diverse, and talented the anime fandom was at proudly showcasing their passion for the craft. Here I was in a little homemade cosplay my mom had made me. I had recently played through the first 3 discs of Final Fantasy VIII and wanted to express my love for the game by dressing as pugilist Zell Dincht. I never expected to find 3 other Zell cosplayers, in their 20s and 30s, actually replicating his special moves, backflips and all, clad in picture-perfect, authentic leather vests. I felt so outclassed and the opposite of cool in the moment, but by the end of that weekend, I couldn’t imagine celebrating future birthdays any way besides attending AX. My parents would groan every year when I told them I was going to AX during my birthday weekend instead of spending it with them. “How about dinner with mom and dad instead this year?” Sorry guys, last year’s AMV contest was out of this world and I just gotta see what’s debuting this year.
I would have never guessed this tradition would continue on a decade and a half later, with not even one AX missed entirely. Doubtlessly, the industry has absolutely exploded over the past 5 years in particular, with major players like Netflix and Amazon staking claims in the growing popularity. No longer do we have to pirate episodes of niche series like Noir or Gungrave, when they are always available for streaming on services like Crunchyroll and Funimation. During this time, I think it’s fair to say Anime Expo has experienced some growing pains. Its tenure at the Los Angeles Convention Center began as a breath of fresh air, with way more space than the Anaheim and Long Beach centers were able to provide, but would later shift to literally 5 hour lines in 100-degree weather just to get an attendee badge. I will say AX management has been communicative with the community as more issues have arisen, and it has certainly led to a higher quality event. As much as we may complain about long lines out in the blazing LA sun, we keep coming back because no one else can deliver the same star power of special guests straight from Japan, world premieres in the double-digits, and an infrastructure to support over 110,000 people annually.
AX 2018 marked my 15th anniversary attending Anime Expo, and my first time attending as press. The experience from Day 1 Hour 1 was vastly different from anything I’d experienced before. After last year’s debacle of registration, the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA) and AX management had decided to start mailing out preregistered badges, saving tens of thousands of people the frustration of waiting in line. As press, my line was literally walk-up, walk-out, and the staff seemed more pleasant than any year prior. Though there was a mob of people gathered at the front doors waiting for the convention center to open, there was at least an attempt at managing lines. The entrance for press and industry, on the other hand, was well-kept down the side of the complex, and though we were let in at the same time as regular attendees, it saved me a lot of stress. Also of note: the badges were now RFID-enabled, so all attendees would just need to tap their badge to access points in order to go in and out. Quick, easy, and effective.
Day 1 had arguably the most hyped event of the entire weekend: the world premiere of the My Hero Academia movie, Two Heroes. The horde of fans that showed up to get an early wristband were rowdy, but the excitement was nothing short of palpable. AX staff on hand were very careful to give only one wristband to each attendee, attaching it directly to them to ensure there would be no secondary market for this high-profile premiere. With a couple hours to spend until the movie would start, I decided to hop in line for early access to the Dealer’s Hall. There I was, treated to a sight I’d never seen before: a nearly empty exhibit hall with booths relatively devoid of life. However, that’s not to say there was no energy. In fact, quite the opposite, as exhibitors were gearing up for the nonstop chaos about to unfold in the coming hours and days. I counted my blessings that I could wait in line at the Atlus booth before everyone else came storming in to throw their hard-earned dollars at the rows upon rows of merchants. By the way, all that Persona series merch? Be still, my beating heart and crying wallet.
When I finally arrived to be seated at the My Hero Academia: Two Heroes premiere, I found myself surrounded by industry folks from all walks of life. In front of me, staff from an acclaimed anime studio. To my left, local SoCal podcast hosts as hyped for the movie as they were for the voice actors flown in from Japan. To my right, a world-famous Youtube personality with almost a million subscribers, casually chatting to everyone about HeroAca without a hint of arrogance or haughtiness. Needless to say, I was seriously starstruck and amped up, and the movie was still almost an hour away. Once everyone was inside the hall, after the lights were dimmed and attendees could safely store away their sweet HeroAca swag set on every seat, the crowd swelled. The onscreen appearance of fan-favorites All Might, Deku, and Bakugo all commanded an awesome presence over the audience as shouts of “YES!” and “WHOO!” were in every corner of the room. Regardless of the quality of the film itself (which, by the way, was a hearty HeroAca side-story worth the ticket price if only for the last fight scene alone), the energy of the AX crowd was all I needed to have a blast.
Another big event Day 1 included was m-flo’s “OTAQUEST”, which a dear friend treated me to for my birthday. I was sad I couldn’t stay for the entire performance, though Hachioji-P, Yuc’E, Crystal Kay, and most prominently, TeddyLoid had me nonstop head bobbing for a good 2 hours. Seriously, those Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt remixes were, as the kids say, straight fire. Alas, my yearly AX tradition kept me from staying to the end, so I hustled on over from the Microsoft Theater to the Main Events Hall once more to reach my friends in line for my favorite part of every AX – Anime Music Videos.
Without a doubt, every single year since 2004, I have watched the illustrious Anime Expo AMV Competition. Through the ups and downs, the change in staff, the infamous 2008 AX Long Beach Incident, the year Monty Oum passed away, the years they were 18+ only, the years they toned down the 18+ material, I’ve been there and lapped it up voraciously. No other event can top the AMVs for me. Nowhere else do I see the passion of anime fans and what they are capable of. In some of the most awe-inspiring, colossally-edited, bust-a-gut hilarious, truly tear-jerking exhibitions of their love for the art, this is where I find myself year after year. 2018 did not disappoint, with some really standout videos like “You Will Never Leave Me” by Maboroshi Studio, “Lost Determination” by Trenzilla, and “Familiar” by shoreisquared. Though I’ve noticed the Comedy section continues to struggle with getting laughs from the crowd like in years prior, there are still SO many quality videos in other categories, the shortcomings can be overlooked.
All in all, Day 1 was everything I’ve wanted from AX, without the pains of registration lines, crowd control woes, and iffy volunteer communication. Day 2 couldn’t possibly top it…. could it?
To Be Continued in Part 2