Friday, 05 August 2011 15:10

Anime Expo and AM2 2011 Report

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Anime Expo 2011 and AM2

Before I begin, I would like to note that I'm combining the two convention reports due to the fact that they occurred at the same time, but I was unable to attend more than a day at AM2 (that '2' is for 'squared') due to the Hatsune Miku concert. Therefore, there's really not as much to AM2 as I would have if I attended the entire time. So what I covered at AM2 will be included in this report, but will have its own distinct section.

Anime Expo 2011 was a decent convention. Not what you'd call overwhelmingly good; like most of ACEN's offerings or earlier Anime Expo's, but was decent. It lacked much of the drama that plagued Fanime (except for one small problem which I will discuss later) and previous years of Anime Expo, which is a very nice change. My only real concern is that I do believe it's getting too big for me to deal with, which is a personal problem and not one with Anime Expo. It's much like Comic Con in that regard in that it's far too massive for a fan or a member of the smaller press (yes, make your jokes now) to adequately cover; even if you have a team of two or three people. It's also getting too expensive, even for a member of the press. Every event, except for AMV's (and you can bet that'd be ticketed if the RIAA wasn't on their necks) is ticketed, even for members of the press outside of the two complimentary passes they're allotted. So you're looking at $20 per main event, so around $60 for the main three (Battle of the Bands, The Masquerade, and AX Idol) in addition to however many concerts you go to. This is in added to the $75 you're paying for general admission. This is not a college kid's convention at a college kid's price, and in today's day and age, this sort of spending on top of food, gas, and lodging, is almost impossible to justify. This is your vacation…hope you can afford it.

For this year's convention I acquired a Panasonic HDC-TM900. This new camcorder allows near the same level of control in terms of white balance, shutter speed, aperture set, and other manual functions that your basic DSLR gives you for still pictures. I actually wanted a Canon Vixia HF G10 as it has somewhat better manual controls. However, its far larger price and lack of appreciable gain for that price, as seen here on Camcorder Info (compared with the HDC-TM700, an almost identical camera to its replacement the HDC-TM900 which I have), it really made the decision for me. Problem is, as before, our dear friends at Panasonic have made a camcorder that can record for hours, but without a battery that can power it for hours since they changed battery architectures again to foil the third party providers. I knew none of my current externals had the juice for what I wanted done, so going online, I found the XPAL 18000, a battery this company makes in conjunction with Energizer (some are made with the Energizer logo) which provides to your device about 18000mah at approximately 5v. Given the unique power requirements of the new video camera, you can order both a modified tip for their cables and a special converter that is attached to the 16v to 20v output port for its use. If you combine the 9v cable with the converter cable using the new tip, and one of the other already provided tips (which fit the camcorder a lot better than the new tip that you order) you get a fairly long cable that makes this truly useful. How long does it last, you ask? Well, put it this way, after nearly four hours of recording at the highest settings on this camera, I exhausted maybe a bar and a half out of four bars…it's got the power. This was going to be required as I figured I'd be recording for nearly eight hours in one day without any possibility of recharging…I quickly nixed this idea after day 2 unfortunately.

I'd like to talk a little bit about Day 0. That day, I actually went to AM2 first to interview Neil Kaplan who is known by many as Hawkmon from Digimon, Optimus Prime from Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and more recently Tychus Findlay from Starcraft II. Unfortunately he was classified as an Industry Guest and not a Guest of Honor, and so was not present that day. It was likely he'd be available on Saturday, but by the time we managed to get to AM2, we were unable to attend his panel to ask. I wound up heading to AX right after finding this out, and probably a good thing, since I hit LA's rush hour traffic. Despite this, I wound up at the Hotel Figueroa (a hotel that for some reason does not show up as being right next to the convention center unless you're looking for it) right at the same time as everyone else. Probably the cheapest hotel they had, not only in terms of rooms, but also in terms of parking as we would not be paying another day's stay per vehicle here as we would anywhere else. The hotel itself was old, and it showed; damn place barely had any grounded plugs for power strips. The rooms used old fashioned keys rather than electronic locks, and though it seemed pretty run down and small, we still managed to all fit in there fairly easily, and make things work. Then it was off to registration.

For press, registration was a minor quest; up two floors from the main entrance and right above the food court, such as it was anymore. For everyone else it was back to the side of the convention center and the huge lines there. Given that myself and Mayhem got our badges before everyone else, it was on us to take care of some issues, such as a supply run to Food for Less. The Food for Less next to the convention center was in a part of town that I may have mentioned before in other reports as being a demilitarized zone, and it has not changed in the least since then. This sort of endeavor takes…time; time which we were rapidly running out of for the day. By the time they got out and we all went to eat, it was about 2100 hours…and we'd started this at 1700. Also, while the rest of the food is good at The Yard House, and they have about a billion beers (I recommend their hefeweizens) on tap, I do not recommend eating anything with the mushrooms. Let's just say I did not digest them, and you don't want to know how I know this. I did not sleep for shit that night. Hmm…probably not the best choice of words.

The point of all this was to illustrate where it's gotten to the point that you need a day before your day 0 to just get everything together to be ready GET everything together for the convention itself. I do believe that's getting just a wee bit out of hand.

The first video that was shot by us this year was the Red Carpet Even which you can view on our Youtube Channel. Given our aggressive schedule this year, we didn't really plan on attending the Opening Ceremonies, so this was a welcome opportunity for all of us. We meet the Guests of Honor and then be about our business. The only real problem was the rather tall asian looking individual that you see getting in everyone's way and crowding onto the carpet there in front. Did not give a damn there were others trying to get pics, only that he got his. Given that he was the tallest person there, and his camera's lens looked to be around the 18mm to 105mm range, he could have easily done this from behind. There was also no real coordination from AX, but then, they're just there to keep the peace…they really didn't care if we got our shots at this point or not (not sure I blame them exactly either). The guy in question was a dick, plain and simple. If you ever want to find out what not to do or how to be the biggest jerk in press, watch him as he does his damndest to get into the GOH's face and in everyone's shot.

Main events this year started out with Battle of the Bands at Club Nokia, the location for Club 2 the Maxx of last year. The biggest problem Anime Expo will face is that when they deal with outside venues, they will have to deal with their staff and procedures. That staff does not care that they are dealing with Anime Expo who is giving their company money. In fact, they probably don't even like the attendees from Anime Expo, and will often do everything in their power to make your lives a living Hell. While not quite that bad, what we are getting are about three levels of leadership that if they've talked to each other, do not usually wish to talk to each other again, and their subordinates REALLY don't want to communicate between the various companies or even to their bosses. The sooner you shut up, do what you're told, and go away, the better. Typically this is Anime Expo, L.A. Live, and the Nokia Theatre, but in this case, the final one was Club Nokia. Basically everyone got shoved into the same line (Press? Don't care, stay in line), everyone got searched (I'm fairly certain this wasn't a flight), no food or drinks (not even water…they could probably be sued for that), and then once inside no one had any idea of where Press was to setup. Not even the MC, who obviously did not care. So I set up my camera in a corner and went with it. The event itself can be watched here on Dragon's Anime. The finalists this year were Fault, Sounddrug, Little Alto, Dream Rush, Black Crystal (not to be confused with The Black Crystals), and Midnight Shinigami. The overall event was rather good, though Mayhem quickly lost interest due to the technical problems plaguing and delaying the event. On that note, we did get to see how good some of them were at dealing with unforeseen events, and for that, I'd have to give Sounddrug the credit for dealing with that the best…actually, I'd have given them competition myself. Though as far as energy, one cannot fault Dream Rush…too bad this was a Battle of the Bands competition and not a full blown concert with a mosh pit. Saw these guys at AM2 as well in the dealer's hall doing live music (at least, it looked like them). Midnight Shinigami, the final band, were the actual winners, and their vocalist was Mandy Mefford, who you might recognize as Anime Expo Idol 2007's winner (who, while no doubt good, I'd not have given her the prize for that one either).

Next up for Day 1 was the AMV contest. They held it this year in the Concourse Hall, which is the hall right towards your left just after you go up the escalators in the convention center's main entrance for the west hall lobby. First year at this location and I was surprised at the size; about the only other thing they've had there is some dances in previous years. It did not seem that big then, but it fit everyone fairly well from what I could tell. There was some crossover with Fanime's AMV's, but that was to be expected as many of these creators take their yearly creations on the convention circuit. For a full listing of the AMV's that were shown, I refer you to this list over at the Anime Expo Forums, and for the winners this post on that very same thread. You can find them on the usual sites like Youtube and Animemusicvideos.org. Being half dead while you're watching something like this is a lot like being half drunk, which increases the enjoyment tremendously of anything, which is one reason that the abysmal Mortal Kombat: Annihilation movie is still one of my favorites (as I watched that one totally blitzed…the colors…the colors!) Still this year was phenomenal, and a welcome change from some of the earlier years. All categories were well represented, but in particular the AMTV-Pro was outstanding; especially the EVA Glee Club (just a lot of fun), Extra Ball (which gets in your head), and Flash (which used a song you don't play at any level other than deafening you heretics!) Drama was well done, like the others, but I would like to point out to all the creators that tragedy is not the only drama out there…try some different emotions would you? Comedy was…evil. There's no other way to put it, it was evil, and the biggest reason why this event was rated at ages 14 and over. Damn funny though. Action is arguably the hardest to do, as it requires a far greater degree of rhythm and flow when dealing with the action on screen and the music being played to tell the story you want to tell. Like dancing, you have to animate to the beat…so to speak. While not as well done as 2009's action offerings, it was still pretty damn good in this regard. Also this year they had a new experimental category called Fun/OVA. Originally this is wat AMTV was supposed to be, but that's become a discipline all its own. This one was not relegated to just music, but could also include dialog. Think of longer versions of what you sometimes see in AMV Hell's skits, and you'll have an idea of what you're about to deal with in this genre.

The third main event we went to was the Hatsune Miku concert. Hatsune Miku and her fellow singers are vocaloids, which are actually super sampled voices that one can use to sing songs they write without actually needing the singer in question. Hatsune in particular was sampled from the voice actress Saki Fujita, and her character design was created by the artist KEI; all under the auspices of the company Crypton Future Media. The character you see in most of the youtube videos at her live action concerts is a 3D CGI image projected behind a piece of glass, to give her the illusion of being in real space (not a hologram); her motions obviously being motion capture. Being press, we were actually allowed to take video of the first few songs and pictures throughout without flash photography. Given there is supposedly to be a DVD of this event, I felt no need to take any video. Rather instead, I found taking pictures of the audience as they rocked out, which you can see both mine and eventually Gensao's pics here on TFA Cosplay. The concert itself was quite fun; though we were at the back, behind the only pricks who were jumping up and down in their seats. I find it amusing we had to show the people in charge, about four times, the statement from AX that stated we could, in fact, both film and take pictures. It was even more amusing when the Nokia guys challenged the AX guys, which required the AX guys to pull out a flashlight and highlight their HUGE FUCKING RED BADGES (that you could see for miles in the dark), which meant that yes, they could wander around. It kills me, really it does.

I think we've hit a wall with AX Idol. The quality is exceptional, make no mistake. Often better than professional quality to be honest; however, we've been hovering at this level for awhile. I don't see this is a problem per se, but unless we get a Susan Boyle in here, we've gotten probably to the collective highest point we're likely to see at this competition. You can watch it all here on Dragon's Anime. This year's winners were Rachel Heger for singing, and a well deserved win at that, and Amanda Lee, which I figure actually tied with one of the male VA's this time around. However, we all know what happens in this competition if the men do not blow everyone out of the water; you do not dare tie with a girl. Basically it's back to girls winning everything again people. Ah well, and we were doing so much better for the last couple years too.

For the past few years at the Masquerade, we've…not really had what you'd call a 'good' one per se. Some years you have good ones, and some years you have yawners, but for the past two or so, we've had some yawners. This year was a most interesting break from that, and you can watch the whole thing here on Dragon's Anime . Some of the best skits included Sephiroth vs. Goku, Portal Hetallia, Nadesico the Musical, the skit Touch my Bankai Kuroshitsuji 2 (and yes, my dear, that cloak did not suit you), and the Final Fantasy VII Advent Children break dance fight. Yes, you read that correctly…a break dance fight. Special mention goes to the MC's Kyle and Darryl who wound up having to stall for a great deal of time during the judging and after the midshow entertainment which featured Danny Choo introducing Toshiyuki Morikawa who did a live dubbing of the recent Naruto movie for us. There were supposed to be music videos, but apparently they screwed that up which forced these guys to get EXTREMELY creative. My hat's off to you good sirs for placating a crowd of hyper energetic otaku numbering in the thousands. For a list of who won the Anime Expo 2011 Masquerade, you can find it here on the Anime Expo forums. $10,000 for the grand prize winner, and no, that was not real cash they gave those guys, heh. I would also like to point out that this is where we had our biggest load of drama. As has become far too usual during events, there was apparently no one who told the guys from Nokia that there would be press filming the event from the front…just that there'd be people in back taking pictures and they were already there. Given the problems they had getting the people in back taking pictures (which I did not find out 'til later), I probably shouldn’t be surprised this happened. The ushers up front didn't know where or if we should be setting up, and their supervisors were definitely not informed, nor were they at all willing to go and talk to ANYONE to confirm this. This required that I go behind the Nokia Theatre (after they scanned me out, which was nice of them), and get ahold of anyone in charge of the event to straighten this out, as we are not the only outfit to do this. The overall coordinator was a young woman in a tan dress, who, bless her pretty little heart, listened to my story, stated something like, "What the Hell?", and made a few phone calls. For this she has my thanks, but she never did send anyone back to check up on me after…so I had to ask again for someone. This guy was only trying to make me go away and had no interest in solving any problems, especially legitimate ones. I would like to say to the man, he needs to recall that solving legitimate problems is part of his job, but first he requires a solid morals foundation to know when a problem is truly legitimate. Simply trying to make people go away does nothing, especially when I have to ask who his supervisor is (the lady in the tan dress), and have him go talk to her (which would have been my first response had I been in his position; I'd have also recognized a legitimate complaint when I heard one). She had taken care of the issue, and they sent someone to me to escort me back. He had to go in before me, but directed me to find the man in the pink shirt that would be setting up his own equipment. Finding him was most easy, and I believe he may have been from American Cosplay Paradise, but I could be mistaken…I knew I should have gotten his card. I didn't like having to deal with that level of drama, but it wasn't unrecoverable, and everyone is okay. I harp on this over and over and over again, but communications people…also some spine…you NEED these, and more, you need to know when and where to apply them. Fortunately this was the final main event, and that which required the largest effort was finally done.

I really wish I'd known in advance the English VA's for K-On were going to be performing a concert of K-On music in full cosplay. I didn't go, but Gensao did, and this was the reason why I'd brought my second video camera. He got some video, but that event is now lost to us, and I damn myself for a fool. What he did get, I'll be sure to upload when I can. If anyone managed to get the whole thing recorded, let me know, and I'll be sure to link to it. It looked to be a lot of fun.

As far as convention photos goes, I didn't take as many as I did at Fanime. Being a few dozen times busier tends to do this to one, not to mention heading to another competing convention, but I did get some fairly decent photos (shown here on TFA Cosplay) regardless. The theme this year was obviously Vocaloid, specifically Hatsune Miku, though every other one was generously represented as well which you can just go through the site and check out. This year, what struck me also were the odd ones. Such as this Reimu Hakurei Storm Trooper. Others include this female version of Squall Leonheart, this couple who were cosplaying Fate and Nanoha (I don't care how much I loved my girlfriend, this would never happen to me), Megatron and Starscream, the Legend of Zelda group being mobbed by some barbarians , and this final one that took me some time to realize that the guy was cosplaying Keiichi with Belldandy and Urd. I usually only take the time to photograph those that actually put work into their cosplay, so you typically won't see too many ones that fall under the category of 'why bother?' There are many that are quite incredible this year; just not too many that created a narrative in my mind about them outside of the ones listed above. On the whole I'm most satisfied, but I wish I could have spent more time walking around and taking pictures as it's something I really enjoy doing at these conventions.

We managed to do one day of AM2 on Saturday which was taking place at the old Anaheim Convention Center that Anime Expo had been forced to abandon several years back. The day we were set to go, we wound up spending nearly an hour and a half in traffic as opposed to the thirty minutes it should have taken. I didn't get it myself, it was morning on a Saturday of a holiday weekend…I figured most people would have already gone the day before, and that everything else would just be some residual corporate traffic. Shows what I know, anyway we managed to eventually get there, unfortunately well after the Neil Kaplan panel, get our press badges and check out the convention.

I'd forgotten how much more…cozy…a smaller convention can be. You can go through and photograph a few cosplayers, and still have enough time to attend panels and main events without feeling like you're running around about to die a horrible death. You can find the pictures taken for AM2 here on TFA Cosplay. One of my favorite pictures are of this Hellgirl, who is indeed both real and shorter than me…she even has a presence on cosplay.com, for those of you who've asked for proof. A couple more are of this Rin Tohsaka and this cute woman who was so adorable I swear the girls taking her picture were about scream like Rena Ryuuga, "I'm taking her home with me!" Finally we have this Morrigan who takes up all of page seven…the succubi I ran into this year seemed often to be beautiful, but missing their wings; shame that. Wing petting is a must, dontcha know?

We even managed to attend the Kanon Wakeshima concert, some of our coverage you'll find here on page three and continuing to page six. You might recognize her from her single "Still Doll" which was the ending theme of Vampire Knight (a series I really have no interest in to be honest). I had wanted to interview her, mostly because she dressed as a goth loli and played a cello (so she at least had an interesting presentation), but due to my unfamiliarity with her work I refrained. Her performance style followed an almost impressionistic singing style you see more in opera than in pop or even in Visual Kei . During her performance she'd switch from singing to performing with her white cello she has named "Mikazuki-san", rarely mixing her singing and her playing, if she even did it at all. I quite enjoyed her performance and would like to attend another if at all possible. We did manage to stay for one song with her new band Kanon x Kanon which she formed with An Cafe's bassist Kanon, but we couldn't stay for the whole thing due to needing to be back for Mikunopolis and having to make a few side trips on the way there to pick up some supplies. We went through two large Costco type cases of water this time around…fuckin' Hell, that was nuts!

I'm beginning to feel a little overwhelmed with Anime Expo, and not because I'm getting older, though that may contribute. I find that as it gets larger and more complex, I'm really just not able to do everything I want. More and more I'm beginning to need a crew of people, and I'm wondering if I should go that route. Two of us have usually been more than enough, but the K-On concert really clued me in and there's also the way AM2 needed to be handled. I should have relied more on Gensao as I did with Peo during Fanime. They were both good conventions, aside from the usual hiccups (and how sad is it that I now consider them 'usual hiccups'), but I very much get the idea I've reached some sort of limit, and I need to figure out where to go from here. There's also the problem with money at Anime Expo, in that everything is beginning to cost more and more, and quite frankly not too many of us have that sort of cash. Alternatives like AM2 are going to be looked at hard, and it was only due to a singular Guest of Honor, that being Hatsune Miku and her fellow vocaloids, and the fact that AX threw a shit ton of money at their Masquerade (something I know they can't keep doing), that I didn't spend more time at AM2 and even film some of their events. This may have been a last hurrah of sorts, in that it was a last indulgence before we all have to sit down and really look at how we do business. Heh, then again, it seems like everyone everywhere in every organization is doing that to one extent or another. Plan what you can, and take the rest as it comes. I was wondering if Fanime could adapt and overcome…now I'm wondering if we can too.

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