More so than any other con I go to throughout year, Anime Expo tends to keep scheduling issues on my mind at all times. The programming's neat and tight, don’t misunderstand me - - it’s just that the show’s always blocked on the Fourth of July, or right around it. That directly butts head with the quality family time you’re pretty much obligated to get for the holiday. As it happens, I’m sneaking in a couple hours to do this write-up, right now, just before everybody together for a BBQ, so I’m sorry for not getting this to you lunatics with crackerjack timeliness. I’m sure you’ll understand.
To put another scheduling coincidence on top of that usual one, this year’s AX actually went down in the same three or four block area as the X-Games. One major street nearby was walled off for high-speed racing, a major parking lot was turned into an enormous Hot Wheels loop-de-loop and the usual walkway to the LA Live mall was transformed into a serpentine maze of oddly placed half-pipes which surreally recreated the experience of walking through a TONY HAWK PRO SKATER level.
I’m not going to lie, this “grouping” made walking to anywhere outside the convention into a wholly-inconvenient endeavor. I could at least step back a little and appreciate the chaos, though. It was also endlessly amusing to watch cosplayers butting heads with biker jocks on the sidewalk.
If you’ve paid attention, you’ll know that I go to a lot of pop culture conventions. This year alone I’ll be at around nine cons, so there’s a lot of weight to me saying that AX 2012 was the most fun I’ve had at a con - - or on any weekend, honestly - - in as long as I can remember. It’s basically your college or high school anime club blown up by a factor of twenty. The whole experience is designed more to give fans a good, fun time as a community as opposed to the stiff-collar trade show purpose of other shows. Seriously, if you’re concerned about justifying expenses, your dollar’s going to go the farthest as a fan at Anime Expo.
This was my third AX. When I think back on the first two I went to, I realize I’d only just barely been scratching the surface of what was available. This year, some staff at AX actually reached out to me about doing some videos and interviews, offering an elusive All-Access pass that opened up the con in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. I went to J-pop concerts, Otaku comedy events, panels on erotic "visual novels" and, yes, even maid cafes. I interviewed anime superstars, Lolita fashionistas and monster metal gods.
It was one of those of wonderful “weird weekends” where you find yourself constantly grinning over the sheer absurdity of situations you keep finding yourself in. The convention center never seemed to close, as well, and the whole experience strangely felt like being back in college. No lie - - I capped one night off at the con's giant arcade with an old school fighting game bracket (seven match winning streak in TEKKEN 6, natch!) and had such a vivid sense of deja vu that I would've sworn I was back in the student center.
The Maid Café - - This was almost solely an exercise in stepping outside the comfort zone for me. I had no interest in going last year, but I won’t ever forget the towering security guard at the cafe's door and the list of rules on that door which made it explicitly clear that patrons weren’t allowed to touch the maids, take their picture or even ask when they got off of work.
I got the sense that there were concentrated efforts to make the café more gender-inclusive this time, since there were actually a few couples in attendance and a lot of male “Hosts” to complement the Maids’ girly-girl dance numbers with boy band standards. It wasn't the creepy "Hooters with French maids" situation I was expecting, at all. As strange as it sounds (and this was all about the strange,) I wound up playing some very intense games of Jenga with the maids.
Just... take that as you will.
Animetal USA - - Based on the promo image I saw, I was sort of expecting some Japanese Kiss tribute band that'd maybe done some anime soundtrack songs. As a metal head, I was thus legitimately surprised to find out that these guys are actually a legit super group with members who've played in the likes of Judas Priest, Slayer, Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne (just to name a few.)
While talking through interpreters to likes of Yuki Kajiura and the MUV-LUV team was wonderfully novel, I couldn't get over the fact that I was chatting seriously with dudes in full make-up and armor. Or course, as these guys demonstrated so graciously and articulately in our interview, they're all real otakus, so believe me when I say that this is one of those rare music projects that really seems like a fanbase's wish come true. They put on a hell of a rock show and, for as much as I couldn't stop smiling over them covering the DBZ, EVANGELION and ONE PIECE themes, their act really has a lot more going for it than any one gimmick.
I knew there was a reason I liked the theme to ROCK LEE so much...
Super Epic Fun Time! - - Like I said, the community-driven content at this show was really tops. Between this and the anime Last Comic Standing, I was laughing so hard that I'd be tearing up at times - - and that's high praise from a guy who generally doesn't enjoy "geek comedy." This event was basically a dating game show wherein a panel of five pretty cosplay girls and three comedian hosts ran ten would-be suitors through a series of challenges testing their anime trivia knowledge, break-dancing abilities and Shakeweight-handling skills. Again, goes to show that you don't need a huge budget for a panel to make for one seriously entertaining Friday night at a con like this.
Unfortunately, my iPhone’s camera app seems to be designed with the sole purpose of taking cosplay photos in a well-lit foyer, so I don’t have too many up-close and hi-res pics of these adventures to share. Check in at Inside AX’s website, though, and you’ll find some videos of these hysterics soon. I was joined my frequent co-conspirator, Sam “Real Folk Bluesman” Weller... so you can imagine how wacky the on-camera shenanigans got. Otherwise, you’ll just to settle for these (wonderfully evocative) words to convey my AX experience to you.
Actually, here's a pic. From Sam and me to all of you lunatics....