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Although Anime Expo has made vast improvements to fix the issues of the past, it still doesn't save it from being APA's Kanara Ty's most boring AX ever.
Anime Expo has already proclaimed this year as one of their most successful conventions to date; with 43,000 attendees, this year proves it is the largest anime convention in North America. However, with the wounds of Anime Expo 2007 still fresh, does Anime Expo 2008 fare any better?
From a logistical point of view, Anime Expo has definitely stepped up to the plate and solved some long suffering problems. Most notably, the implementation of a brand spanking new registration system, where attendees can now have their pre-registration barcode printouts scanned prior to receiving their badges and goody bags. Long gone are the hours of waiting in the sun or in an underground floor for a badge. Registration was so swift that attendees became officially registered in a matter of mere minutes. You'd have to wonder why Anime Expo didn't think of this bright idea before.
The large Los Angeles Convention Center is now probably set to be Anime Expo's home for the years to come, due to the fact it accommodates the growing number of attendees ever year. This year, it was a lot easier to move around the convention without having to worry about bumping into any pointy weapons or tripping over huge costumes. The fact that everything was housed in the LACC or close-by was convenient as well, since last year's venue involved a lot of walking in and out of buildings in blazing heat. Does everyone remember the ridiculous year when the entrance of the exhibit was on one side of the Long Beach Convention Center, while the exit was practically way on the other side? This year, cosplayers in heavy costumes were probably a lot happier.
Then, there's the Nokia Theatre, LA's latest and state-of-the-art venue right next door to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which seemed to scream out jackpot for both performers and attendees alike. For musical guests like Shoko Nakagawa and Jyukai, it's pretty exciting to perform at a very new venue that a lot of Southern Californians haven't yet stepped foot in. For me, I was won over by the smell and feel of new plush seats.
Has Anime Expo done a lot more rights than wrongs? For once, I'm a bit shocked by how smoothly Anime Expo was run this year. However, even with all these changes, I can't help but think: this has to be the most boring Anime Expo I've been to. Ever.
In comparison to past years (especially last year), this year's lineup wasn't quite as impressive. While Shoko Nakagawa may be Anime's It-Girl, not too many people recognize her in North America -- besides as "some really cute otaku who's also an idol." It's also pretty obvious that certain Guest of Honors were publicized more than others. Granted, not all Guest of Honors can do a song and dance, but for Director Masahiro Ando, having the premiere of Sword and the Stranger on a screen where the subtitles were blocked by rows of heads because the screen couldn't be raised high enough... I don't know, isn't that something you should catch? (It's not the first time it's happened at Anime Expo either.) Things like that can ruin a viewing experience for an audience seeing a film for the very first time. Anime Expo has always been well known for bringing high-profile guests (like the super-ego group known as S.K.I.N. or Clamp), as well as large amount of guests, so what's the deal, AX? Perhaps they needed someone like Bleach creator Tite Kubo to save this year's convention -- oh wait, he's at that OTHER convention in San Diego.
I was pretty surprised to see Yoko Ishida open for Jyukai, a relatively unknown group. Granted, Yoko's not as popular as she used to be, but to see a past Guest of Honor open up for another guest was an insult. Yoko came out in a blue frilly ice-queen gown (only fitting for the Queen of Para Para dancing), complete with backup dancers plucked right out of the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleading squad. Then, some idiot at the Nokia theatre couldn't even provide her proper stage lighting, and the majority of time her face was shadowed in darkness. So much for a return, Yoko Ishida. Well, at least she got to promote her latest Hyper Yocomix release.
Another disappointed was the exhibit hall: long gone are the towering and flashy booths provided by ADV/Best Buy, Viz, Tokyopop and Bandai. Given the state of the anime industry, it's not a surprise. But not only that, it wasn't a surprise to see the same item over and over again, as you go from booth to booth. Anime Expo is also known for all the freebies you walk away with -- free t-shirts, hats, magazines, advertisements, post-it cubes, you name it. So when there are no freebies to give away, you also won't find any overzealous attendees screaming in chaos. I even miss the karaoke booth I participated in past years --I mean, all I had to do was sing a song in front of everyone and I got a free t-shirt! Sigh. No more days of lugging cute (though admittedly useless) crap back to my car every year from Anime Expo.
Every year, I'm looking forward to what the fans bring to Anime Expo, namely the costumes that cosplayers show up with at Anime Expo or at the Anime Music Video contest, where amateurs and professionals alike duke it for AMV prizes. The third day of the convention almost always promises spectacular works of art because there are people out there who work days, weeks, months, and perhaps even all year to pimp out a costume that will draw people to them in awe (read: attention seekers). However, this year failed because there were fewer cosplayers who actually worked on their own costumes, instead getting their costumes commissioned or buying mass-produced costumes, such as the Shinigami costumes from Bleach being sold nearly everywhere. Not to say there wasn't anyone who worked on their own costumes, but it seems less and less that people are in the spirit of making their own costumes from scratch.
I tried my very best to truly enjoy this year's Anime Expo, but I found the experience to be bland in comparison to past years. Every year, Anime Expo seems to recreate this particular atmosphere that I always look forward to every year. Sometimes, even if the lines were long, I still enjoyed myself because everyone at Anime Expo was there to gather in this exchange of fandom, be it regular attendees, press, industry members, staff, or guest of honors. Maybe it is the overcrowding that made everyone feel closer together -- was the Los Angeles Convention Center too big? Anime Expo isn't growing at as high a rate as it has in the past. Can it honestly grow any more in the current state of programming it is in now?
Anime has definitely become mainstream. It's easy now to order cosplay outfits from the internet or even buy certain articles of costumes from your local Hot Topic. I remember one year, seeing Danny Bonaduce (of Partridge Family fame) at a Tokyopop buying manga with his children. That signified to me that anime had hit it big time.
However, we do also have to consider the current state of the North American anime industry. Left and right, anime distribution companies and publications are ceasing in production and operations. Manga giant Tokyopop had some restructuring earlier this year, cutting back 39 positions, as well as cutting back on the number of the releases published per month by 50%. ADV's cable network, Anime Network also ended their 24/7 cable programming in January. Newtype USA was also one of the anime publications that ceased production. It's sad -- it was just last year that they were passing out cake at the ADV booth to celebrate their 5th year in circulation. Geneon also took a bit hit, as Geneon USA closed their offices in December 2007.
Anime distribution is not as popular as it was before, especially with the introduction of new media, such as streaming video sites like CrunchyRoll, Veoh, and YouTube. Anime-watchers are more likely to turn to those who get anime out faster and cheaper (read: free), right at the click of a mouse. Even now, distribution companies take forever just to even license an anime. For manga fans, even chapters of various manga released in Japan are being translated and released a lot faster than the North American distributors. Fact of the matter is, North American distributors cannot keep up with fans and the fansubbers of the anime and manga community. So unless something is done about it, fans are going to cease buying dvds here and wait for fansubs that are coming hot off the presses. And without a healthy industry, expanding the size of events like Anime Expo will be more symbolic than truly enjoyable for the fans.
For another perspective, see William Hong's report here.
For more of APA's coverage of Anime Expo 2008, click here.
Date Posted: 7/25/2008