Sunday, 20 September 2009 20:03

Anime Expo 2009 Report

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Anime Expo. Fuck, what a year this was. I mean, of all the strange, outright and utterly weird ass shit that went down; things that happened that didn't need to happen; things that didn't happen that probably should have; and the painfully obvious fact that this year AX was strapped for cash. Hell, I could go on, and I will momentarily, but the overall theme of this year was me leaving the place with a "What the fuck was that?!" attitude.

Press registration was grandfathered in this year, which was rather convenient, though there was some confusion on how that would work, given that I had an assistant this year. Mayhem had decided to come on down this year given the glowing praise we had for last year, and let's face it, AX last year was about as perfect a convention as one could get. Still, registration was easy enough to correct, and it was going to be good to have someone else to carry some of this equipment (Tripod!) around.

Getting to the convention was a nightmare of dodging L.A. Traffic; do not take the 101 whatever you do. In the end Cap'n Moonie, who had flown down to attend the convention this year, and myself were taking directions from Mayhem on the phone who was plotting us a course over surface streets via a GPS. Fortunately we made it to the hotel with time enough to get to the convention center, but it was still later than I would have personally liked. I find the experience to be the one holding things up to be rather unpleasant and something I will do my utmost not to repeat.

Arriving at the convention center, we found that instead of the place they had last year for registration, they had co-opted that as the main events hall since they couldn't get the Nokia theatre. The biggest advantage to the Nokia theatre was the fact that people could generally enter that for the main events at their leisure; as long as they exited after and had a ticket for the next one. Outside of some Anime Expo staff, there was none of that shoddy ass line control or floor management since that was provided by the Nokia staff which was smart enough to be hands off unless there was a problem that needed rectified. I didn't realize just how much of a blessing that had been last year until we returned to Anime Expo business as usual with the ad hoc main events hall managed by AX staff.

Registration was now in Hall B, I think it is called, which is where the AX Battle of the Bands took place in '08. It was here Mayhem and I found professional registration and...basically the professional's home office. At first these guys didn't even have chairs, for fuck's sake! Never more have I quite felt as much as an unwanted bastard child as I did when I looked upon the worn visages of the press and pro registration personnel in this make-shift office in the back of normal registration as I did right there. Just that feeling of being in the back corner, tucked out of sight...yeah, t'was kinda screwed already, heh. Regardless, we got our badges and signed up for what events we could then, as daily we had to get up early and get in to get signed up for press tickets...of which they had limited quantity. It was our first major indication of just how much this recession was affecting Anime Expo, much less the industry itself.

Like Fanime, Anime Expo had the same interesting occurrence with cosplay where the vast majority of cosplaying girls were being escorted by one or more guys (in and out of costume...mostly out). Considering this impressed itself on even my dull senses should tell one just how prevalent this behavior was. There were also several occurrences of going up to a nice looking cosplayer and finding out they were married...I actually saw that about three times myself (once on my own, twice more watching it happen to others). While I've never really been all that interested in hooking up with anyone at a convention, opportunity presenting itself not withstanding (seriously had the perfect one at Fanime...probably should have done something about that), I'm thinking that this may no longer be the kind of place for that if it ever was. This, despite the insistence of a few people I know, that they were getting laid every convention they went to.

Regardless, cosplay is, and always has been, top notch at Anime Expo. Strangely enough no one cosplay stands out in my mind this year as being truly spectacular; to be honest there were far too many. Don't take my word for it, see it for yourself at TFA Cosplay where I have both mine and Mayhem's pics of AX up. I can comment on a trend I noticed though. Mizore from Rozario + Vampire was a very popular cosplay choice. This in itself is not surprising as she is a fan favorite; even the producers liked her so much they put her in the series far sooner than she would have otherwise been introduced. The shear quantity I ran into this year reminded me of the amount of Chi's I ran into a few years ago; I know for a fact I didn't photograph near all of them. There were also no big stories about them that stick out in my mind. Typically one or two are noteworthy for one reason or another, but for some reason, nothing sticks out this time around. Strange times.

I didn't actually go to any panels this year since nothing really stood out to me as all that interesting. I know Cap'n Moonie went to a few, so if I can get her to write about her experiences at them, I'll post them as an addendum to this article, along with whatever else she wishes to write about. Actually, if that were the case, I'd just post that as another article.

It was, at the main events, that we were thrust into the heart of a very unpleasant fact we've actually managed to dance around since we've been going to this 'con: Anime Expo has the worst internal communications I've ever seen in any organization. Seriously, it's surprising anything gets done sometimes. And this is not a criticism of the Press Department at all. Chase Wang and Michael were absolute gods at taking care of the problems we presented to them as they occurred. However, the fact we had to go to them as often as we did, in the manner we did at all is well beyond normal levels of fucked up-ness, and honestly was getting just a hair creepy there in the middle of it all.

This entire experience started with Opening Ceremonies. We walked in with our camera gear, and asked where we could set up as members of the press. We were given a lot of blank looks, which is pretty typical for AX floor staff, since they're not told anything, but even so, the idea that a member of the press would want to film an event of this nature is not new. You'd think they'd have had a place for us to set up and do this, take pics, and what not. Well, they did have a press area...looking straight at the stage it was about two sections to the right, in the front, leaving press at an oblique angle unable to see or take any pictures. This forced several to walk around to get a good shot of anything, which was actively interfered with by the floor staff. Throughout this entire convention, it was obvious that there was a concerted effort to keep press sat down, in the corner, quiet and not doing anything that press would normally do. It wasn't until I grew impatient with waiting for an answer with the floor staff and decided to set up next to the sound stage. Here, I had my first encounter with the person responsible for this situation. He wasn't the main events manager; he was simply the floor manager, who then informed me that there were no tripods...period. I asked him to repeat that, since I couldn't quite believe that. Which, he did. So I packed up with the intention of going back to the press office and asking the usual, "What the fuck, over?" Fortunately I saw a couple of guys in the way back with their tripods out not being harassed, so I set up next to them, and put my doubler to work for the first time. They told me similar stories to what happened to me; so we fully intended to go back to the Press Office and ask them about what was going on.

The opening ceremonies themselves drove the point home that AX was hurting BAD for money. Their banners on the projection screens weren't animated and looked like something someone had taken a picture of with their digital camera and made with some scissors and a red napkin. Their guests of honor weren't nearly as high profile as they had been before, though the voice of Sephiroth was there, all things considered. In a moment of pure fitting irony, he claimed to bring doom to us in Sephiroth's voice. Those cute music video intro's were replaced with photoshop'ed pics I could have done in about ten minutes per. Finally, the voice acting college didn't come this year as they had done for many many previous years. It wasn't until later that we found out that attendance was way down this year too. The other conventions I'd seen little of what the recession had done, but this year at AX? Damn man, they cut corners everywhere they could to keep the costs down. If that's what they had to do, that's what they had to do, but it was more than obvious that they did, which is not something that was at all obvious at ACEN or Fanime.

Towards the end, we had another run in with the floor manager who seemed rather irked we had dared to find a way to film and photograph this event despite his objections. However, since this wasn't something like a concert where they can quite legitimately eject you for that, he simply settled for rather rudely requesting to see our badges (again), which we provided, and walking off in a huff. Already I could see how this convention was going to go, as we proceeded to make our way to what amounted to the Press Office to explain what had just happened to both ourselves and others. He then worked with the tickets guy to get press better seats for the rest of the main events. We also worked with those two on the next main event, which was Battle of the Bands, on a better place for camcorders and the sound box which probably would be better put right there in front of the sound stage, which is actually where I recorded everything. I don't think anyone actually used the sound box, but it was very nice of them to provide that; not to mention the power strip.

This year the main events were far better scheduled so as not to conflict with each other. This resulted in the Anime Music Video contest actually being something I could attend. This year turned out to have a special treat in that the finished chapters of Dead Fantasy by Monty Oum were played between the categories. Before I talk about them, I'll go ahead and list them, with links either on Youtube or on Anime Music Videos; all ones in bold text are won their category:

Action:
You Know My Name by Nic Neidenbach
The Good Ship Lifestyle by LC_Lapen
Roritech Mk II by Lolorori
Untamed by Fuzzworks (Jonathan Ho & Andrew Ferrel)
Spin On Simon by Solomon Smith
Ready To Drift by Diakun Productions (Daniel Elak) [YOUTUBE]
Fate/Eternal Inferno by MilleniumStrife [YOUTUBE]- Best of Action

Drama:
Death Note Rhapsody by BaitMaster - Best of Drama, Best of Show
Amor Fatali by TearX (Areeba Khan)
Happy Mess by AMVTHUG (Leonardo Rodriguez) [YOUTUBE]
Shoot The Moon by Marimari
Story Of A Girl by BaitMaster [YOUTUBE - and a very bad recording of the screen at that]
Sacred Maiden by Caleb Taylor
Monsoon by Ryvannis (Dean Seirafi)

Comedy:
CODE: Roll by Matthew Yan [YOUTUBE]
Genma™s Lullaby by Nills Houghton [YOUTUBE]
Left 4 Wired by Isaac Fischer DMRA
Perfect Day by Brad DeMoss
The Assumption Song by BaitMaster [YOUTUBE]
Robots by Benjamin Chu
We Need You by Vlad G. Pohnert - Best of Commedy; AX staff Favorite

AMTV-Pro:
Valhalla by Ryvannis (Dean Seirafi)
Haunting Hour by M.Preciado [YOUTUBE]
Oblivious by Lark (1MoonGoddess7)
Blue Orchid by BTaing8 (Billy Taing)
Lord Of The Anime by RiderG (Victoria Galietta) - Creator’s Choice award
Dance Dance Celebration by TERYH1984 (Kuok Hor) [YOUTUBE] - Best of AMV Pro
Tick Tock by Lark (1MoonGoddess7)

The Action Category was the best action I'd ever seen at any convention. Truthfully there weren't too many throw aways of any of the categories, but the Action Category stood out from all the others this year, which is not something the Action Category usually does. For me it, was a toss up between Roritech II using the anime Lyrical Nanoha A's and the song Unstoppable from E.S. Posthumus and Ready to Drift using Initial D's anime and the song Ready to Roll from the only good song on the album Jet Black Stare released it on. I liked the one that won, being both a Fate fan and a Dragonforce fan, but I didn't think it was quite as good as the others. In the end, I felt that Roritech MK II edged out Ready to Drift, if only just by a fraction, though neither won. In Drama, we had a bit of cross pollination, with the Death Note Rhapsody which probably should have been in commedy. However, it won both the category and best of show. For myself, I chose Monsoon by Ryvannis, as I felt the song fit '5 Centimeters Per Second' quite well. Commedy is a category that is usually entertaining, but this year, they went out of their way to be as wrong as possible. Just go through the links, you'll see what I mean. The winner was We Need You by Vlad G. Pohnert which was a montage of anime set to the song "It's a Good Day to Die" from the movie Starship Troopers 3. I really had a tough time with all of them...I finally chose "Code: Roll" for the shear balls it took to Rick Roll the entire Anime Expo convention. AMTV-Pro was a category that also suffered from cross pollination, in that a couple of those vids likely should have been in Drama. This is really the only category where my choice reflected that of everyone else's, and that was Dance Dance Celebration by TERYH1984...though if you're prone to seizures I'd not watch it if I were you. This was also my choice for best of show, though it didn't receive that one. Overall, a damn fine AMV competition this year, one well worth attending. Oh, and if you want, head over here for the preshow AMV's...also well worth looking at if you can find them.

Battle of the Bands was...insanely good this year. I was told last year was a step up from the game they had stepped up the previous year when they'd first started. This year was a step up from even that, and I definitely look forward to next year's contest to see how they'll top this one. Defending their title again this year was Broken Lane with a cover of 'Ask DNA' from 'Cowboy Bebop'; though just barely. The band Makenai came up and performed 'God Knows' from 'The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumia' there at the end as a sort of half time show. If you're wondering why one of their singers looks familiar, that's Pamela Moss who was last year's AX Idol singing winner. Also rather amusing was The Voice of Rock who was messing with the cute little blonde MC there on stage. While she was actually kinda annoying, it was more of a staged annoying...as if the character she was playing was semi-tsundere. With The Voice of Rock to talk to, the whole thing became a show in and of itself. Still waiting for someone psycho enough to try and perform 'Hagane no Messiah' at one of these things.

Actually managed to make it to the Morning Musume concert; though originally I wasn't planning on it. Still, everyone else was going, and we went if only to fuck with those TV Tokyo guys who signed up ten of their people on the very precious Press ticket sing up list. They weren't there to claim said tickets, so I expect several of their people got the shaft. Seriously guys, that shit is rude. If you're going to take that many, just buy the fucking premium tickets for the greater portion of your party and support the band. Still, what can one say about them? I can think of two things off hand: First, why not just ditch the mic's, get some pom pom's, and just be honest about what it is you're really doing. Second, I did not bring near enough insulin to weather this. If you will, imagine roughly eight adorable girls of various asian ethnicities (as I seem to recall not all of them were Japanese) in those cute little pop idol outfits (which changed depending on the song that was being performed) singing in tune quite well, while doing ever more complex line up's and dance routines. I think I've grown back all my teeth by this point, but occasionally one still rots out when I even think about that hour I spent watching the cuteness...one would think I'd have a tolerance for it by this point. The only problem I see is having them be spokesmen for "Global Warming" back in the 70's referred to as "Global Cooling" (linked since most probably weren't born or even know about this little scare, as it's been dropped down the memory hole) and now as "Climate Change". This following I send to the producer of Morning Musume: I'll thank you kindly to keep your damn politics out of my adorably singing and fantastically choreographed dancing moe.

Hitting up Anime Expo Idol, we had another run in with our good friend, the main events floor manager...and things were going so well too. Since we had caused him much grief as we were not the type to back down from someone being a jerk, we had been singled out to be harassed. He was attempting to tell us that no one gets to use a tripod (while the Anime North guy was standing right next to us, already set up and plugged in to the power strip set in that space for us), and that Press has to sit in the corner, shut up, and do what they're told. We asked whose policy this was, and he mentioned it was just the rules, which doesn't quite fly since THEY MAKE THE RULES, and there is usually a good justification for such things which men of intelligence will share with others so that all might be understood. Not in this case though, since it was obvious what was going on, so we asked to see his manager, to which he blatantly refused (much like he said the Press manager was not accessible to us). We simply walked back over to the Press Office and informed them of what was going on, prompting Chase himself to have to go and talk to his boss, who came out and politely informed the floor manager that yes, Press was in fact allowed to set up a tripod in this spot, and that the power strip and sound box was provided to facilitate this purpose. After a reminder from Chase that if the rules weren't followed that we could be ejected (hadn't broken any yet, but the situation required that we be reminded), he left, and that was that.

AX Idol itself was a hilarious affair. I say hilarious, because for this year's voice acting session, they brought out four guys and one girl. I must remind everyone that a guy has never won this competition, so to see them do something like this was practically daring them to keep up the trend. It's more than blatant this competition is unfairly skewed to picking girls; they really need to split it into a split gender competition since they can't be relied on to be fair about this. I hate to say it though, but if Amanda Miller had actually won the VA competition, she would have had to do so in such a way as to plant everyone else's entry, no matter how good, into the dirt in order to make it a legitimate win. This did not happen since with Sean Chiplock's rendition of Kenshin actually got him a standing ovation, and did what I wasn't sure was possible: Won him the AX Idol VA competition making him the first guy to win. Congrats man, you more than earned this one.

For the singing portion of AX Idol...Christ, did they have to make it so hard? Jose Sanchez came back for another round this year, lookin' damn good and singing damn good, in this case the song "Get Free" from Macross. The lead singer of Broken Lane this year, Joshua Bracks, reprised the song that won his band The Battle of the Bands, "Ask DNA." To me it was a toss up between these guys as to who was to win, but then, I also knew who was judging this, and that man needs to be replaced for a couple years. Seriously, the best girl there was Jane Estantino performing "Tobikata Wo Wasureta Chiisana Tori" from Star Ocean 3. And while Victoria Galietta and Charlotte Camp both did very nice renditions of "Sorairo Days" from Gurren Lagann, they did not outdo Ms. Estantino in my opinion. Seriously, as noted before, they need to replace their main singing judge for a couple of years. I like the cute girls too, but by this point, I'm certain that mentality's skewing the judging of the talent far too much in this event.

Final main event was the Masquerade, probably the most popular event at Anime Expo. Having actually submitted a formal complaint against the main events floor manager, and given that we'd been forced into harassing the Press Office after every event, Chase and the Main Events Manager herself were there just to make sure. Talking with the other press guys, they were scared out of their minds. A couple were saying stuff like, "Keep it down that you're press. They don't like us here." Yeah, I kinda got that impression too. There's no telling what these guys went through elsewhere since most I hadn't seen 'til now. One small problem: The area they had us stationed was right in front of a huge crowd of people. Originally we had planned to set up right in front of the sound stage, but this proved impossible when it was discovered that the seats had been pushed up right to the sound stage. Gee, wonder how THAT happened? /sarc. So we got creative, and wound up scattering all over the place to get good shots and stay out of the lanes of foot traffic. I wound up getting placed right in front of one of the main cameras...which is both good and bad. Good because it's a great place to film from. Bad, because I can breathe wrong and cause his camera to shake. Wound up hugging my tripod, and was still warned later to quit leaning on the stand (I wasn't...three guesses as to who sent that message).

Now, the Masquerade itself was pretty amusing, but plagued with technical problems. This manifested mostly as lost audio, audio cutting out, and audio not starting on time. I got the distinct impression that those running it were first timers which wouldn't surprise me in the least. It would be far cheaper to do that than hire and keep on all the professionals that should be used in these events. The Nokia theatre is a far better venue for this, but we're back to that expense thing, and the Nokia theatre is extremely expensive. One of these days I'd like to get some real numbers just to see what exactly Anime Expo is dealing with when it comes to a four day rental of that particular building, but I probably shouldn't hold my breath. Getting such itemized numbers is near impossible, even if their books should be publicly available given their non-profit status. Anyway, after all that, came the half time show which involved Pamela Moss and a High School drum line/band. This annoyed me even more than the audio cutting out on the skits, as she was singing "Do You Remember Love," a song I very much enjoy and I'd have very much like to have heard that without it cutting out all the time. What I did see and hear though was beautiful, and I hope that one day I get a chance to hear it all again without said problems.

For the other items on the itinerary that were done, I'd have to say that there's really a lot less 'randomness' at this convention than there is at other conventions. This can be good or bad, depending on what it is you come to do. At least this year, there were a lot more places to eat around the convention center, though one of these days I'd like to get to the Curry House over in Little Tokyo. We even managed to get everyone together for a dinner, and that's become harder and harder over the years. I'd like to have visited the dance, which was actually in the hotel we were staying at, but the way we were to get our tickets, staying up that late would have killed us. There were several Power Rangers, both actors and voice actors, in attendance this year, and if I may put a lie to my previous words, if their panel didn't conflict with one of the main events, I would have very much liked to attend their panel. Still, I did manage to have a lovely conversation with Catherine Sutherland, the 2nd Pink Ranger who took over from Amy Jo Johnson in the third season; relating how I watched that while in the Navy and asking her about her experiences and some specifics on her being originally scouted for the role of Dulceia in the first movie. I'm actually proud of myself, I didn't come off creepy at all. Managed to get some of the Transformers I wanted at one of the few booths that was selling them this year. Though I think the highlight of that was finding out that a company had managed to get a hold of the original Shuffle PC game for the English speaking market. It's also labeled as Uncensored, which means I'm going to need to get a copy of this myself. Finally, I lost my video camera's battery attachment, which would have been very bad if someone hadn't turned it into lost and found. Whoever that was, I thank you...and should we ever find out who, we owe you a beer. Also owe the young lady up in con ops for the help in finding it in the Lost and Found bin. Again, thank you both.

I'm not too sure what I'd like to say overall about this convention. I really could have done without the drama. Seriously, what the fuck was wrong with a member of the press just wanting to go in and cover the events that we could cover, by filming and photographing? It helps to promote the Convention and saves the events for everyone to enjoy...it's a win win situation. On the other hand, when the shit finally stopped, it was a lot of fun to record, despite the weird way we wound up having to do it. Next year, I'll have to buy the premium tickets, because getting up that f'n early killed us pretty badly. Then again, I may not go back as Press. Everything I'm doing is being covered by someone else. Perhaps not as well as me, but it is, finally, being done and shared...which is the most important thing. Hell, American Cosplay Paradise's Youtube Channel has shit going back to '99, and possibly before if you want to see Masquerades from all over the convention-sphere (though their cameraman needs to remember one thing: Location, location, location!) Honestly, the lack of communication between departments (and even interdepartmentally) and outright belligerence towards Press is wearing on me, and really making this no fun at all. On the other hand, it was fun once we finally got it sorted, and outside of those moments of pure insanity, everything seemed to run pretty smoothly, aside from the technical glitches. In any event, Anime Expo was feeling the economic crunch hard, and it showed, even more so than any other convention I've been to. Actually, overall, I'd have to say it's somewhat disappointing given how smoothly things ran last year. However, last year, they had professional staff running a lot of the events, which is far different than the floor staff and line staff, which are unpaid and extremely young/inexperienced/unlearned volunteers or just plain fun Nazi's that they had this time around and every other time AX takes care of its own business. Anime Expo needs to clean its house a bit more, and work a lot more on communication. I'd also recommend a bit more preparation in that everyone who's in charge needs to start attending daily meetings with each other and then have meetings with those who are staff under them, at least a couple of days before the convention. And for everyone there to remember one thing: What's your ultimate goal? Is it to ensure smooth running of the convention and for everyone to have a good time? Or to suppress, put down, and or otherwise make sure everyone sits down and is quiet for something you'd rather not be at, and want to get over with as soon as possible? Keep making the latter choice, and you may find that Anime Expo will have to close up its doors since obviously the massive crowd that should have come didn't choose to come to this particular convention this year...which is telling.


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