An anime con doesn't just magically materialize at a convention center every year like some sort of otaku-crewed Flying Dutchman, OK? It's the product of many, many hours of toil on the part of many, many staffers who are all-but-invisible to the vast majority of blithely-content attendees.
Having had such a deep barrel of fun at this past Anime Expo, I figured at least one member of this secret order deserved a spotlight shining on him. Marlan Moore was kind enough to take some time aside and share some stories about his adventures in the AX staff. Read on, lunatics, and maybe you'll learn something about how you, too, can take your anime fandom to another level.
ANIME VICE: Let’s just cut straight to the bone - - what is the wildest, wackiest thing you’ve ever seen happen “behind the scenes” at Anime Expo?
MARLAN MOORE: There's a lot of crazy stuff that happens behind-the-scenes, and most of it I can't talk about!
One of the stranger things that happened, however, was last year when a Power Ranger came to the staff check-in area confused as can be. He was carrying his thousand dollar Power Ranger helmet with him and was looking for Bandai people or something. This kind of thing happens every so often, since we look pretty official, but it’s usually press or generic industry people who make the mistake.
And the kid in me kind of jumped seeing that helmet in person, and the guy was holding it like a biker helmet, like it was nothing. Little did he realize he was holding my childhood in his hands. T.M.I.?
AV: Once there are panels about "visual novels" and the history of hentai on your programming block, no amount of information is really "too much.”
Anyway, now that that’s out in the air, let’s back up and take care of some basics. What do you do at Anime Expo?
MM: I'm managing editor of Inside AX, Anime Expo's official news and review site. I just started this position in May, and, as you can tell, I already have the spiel down.
AV: How did you first get involved with the con?
MM: Last year was my first year, and I started helping out because my girlfriend was on staff and it seemed like a lot of fun. And, honestly, it's been great.
AV: Prior to that, had you just been attending the show as a fan? What's the origin story for your anime fandom? Everybody's got a good one.
MM: I'd been a couple of times before volunteering, but I didn't really really get into anime until recently. At least, I didn't realize I was into it until fairly recently. I loved CARDCAPTORS and SAILOR MOON as a kid, and grew up watching POKEMON, never thinking of labeling them as anime. To me they were just more cartoons.
I didn't realize what anime was until high school, when I made friends that made me watch COWBOY BEBOP, and ESCAFLOWNE and DIGIMON started showing on Saturday mornings on Fox and WB and stuff. Then they started forcing NARUTO and BLEACH on me, and that's all I really paid attention to for a few years, thinking the rest of what was out there was either too weird or just an excuse for fan service.
When I got more involved in Anime Expo last year, I realized that I had no idea what anyone was talking about when they'd talk about anime and I felt like I was missing out. So I've been catching up, watching stuff like BAKEMONOGATARI, OCCULT ACADEMY, and finally watching DRAGON BALL Z in the form of DRAGON BALL KAI.
I don't really know if that's much of an origin story, or more of a description of what I watch/have watched. Besides, I think I'm more into manga than anime.
AV: Speaking of manga, AX had an unusual attraction in a permanent manga reading room that offered shelves and shelves of books for attendees to just pick up and read. Did you take any time aside to sample that?
MM: I didn't have a chance to check it out, but I'd love to give it a go at some point.
AV: Any other attractions at AX which you really can't find anywhere else?
MM: I've seen console gaming tournaments and table top games at other conventions, as well as dances. I'm racking my brain and can't think of another convention where I've seen those crazy 18+ late night game shows. Having a fashion show this year was pretty unique, as well as having an area of the exhibit hall focused on selling fashion accessories and dresses and the like.
AV: Speaking of those 18+ panels, AX has a lot of programming and attractions that are explicitly intended for older fans only. This year, it also celebrated its 21'st anniversary by throwing a few 21+ events, actually. What was offered? What was the response like that?
MM: I think the biggest part of the 21+ stuff was Lounge 21. Maid Cafe sort of went half way by offering an "After Dark" burlesque-like show, but that only went to 18+. But yeah, Lounge 21 seemed to do really well. Every time I was in there, it seemed
AV: Cosplay Deviant's unforgettably suggestive soda, Tentacle Grape, sponsored Lounge 21, of course. How would you describe the... unique experience of drinking a hentai-themed soft drink?
MM: It was very...grape-y. I felt graped in the best way possible. No, it was good. I used to drink grape soda when I was a kid so it brought back memories of playing MORTAL KOMBAT at the arcade as a kid, strangely enough.
AV: Were there any other notable otaku food items being offered at the show?
MM: You can't have Anime Expo without Pocky, and there was an awesome Pocky booth on the show floor. Hi Chew was there as well, and they're always a treat.
AV: Any observations about cosplayers this year? There seemed to be plenty of Edward's from COWBOY BEBOP and Kotetsu's from TIGER & BUNNY but, alas, not as many Power Rangers.
MM: Yeah, I was surprised by the Edwards. I was a little surprised by all the Avengers, especially the number of movie-version Hawkeyes. And I'm always surprised by the theme park-quality costumes. There was a Sonic the Hedgehog, Pikachu, and Jake the Dog (from ADVENTURETIME) that all looked straight from a parade float at an amusement park. Where do they find the time?
AV: While the programming was focused squarely on Japanese material, the lines between Eastern and Western pop culture were pretty well blurred among the attendees. Would you say there's a lot of overlap between the audiences of Anime Expo and a convention like Comic Con?
MM: There's definitely more overlap compared to years before. The Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man, they're all part of mainstream media now. Not just known to the comic fan, but still very appealing to nerd culture. Throw in that Comic Con isn't really Comic Con anymore, and more Intellectual Property Con, and it makes sense. I wouldn't be surprised if people who would only check out something like Spider-Man because of the movies are trying out something new and seeing what else is out there by going to an event like AX thanks to films like the Avengers.
AV: What was your favorite moment at AX 2012?
MM: Oh man, by far, my favorite moment was the Jast USA panel. It was my first time going to one of the 18+ panels, and I didn't know what I was getting myself into. It was a full house, the crowd was really into it, and the presenters were top notch. The double entendres were great, and getting to play through a moment of SCHOOL DAYS (a "visual novel") with the whole audience making the decision of what happens next was a blast. I did not expect anything from the panel, and it wound up being the most glorious event I attended.
The Animetal concert was a surprise close-second. I'm not a big metal head, but that concert may have turned me. Those guys are true entertainers.
AV: What about some favorite moments from past AX’s?
MM: I'm a huge Yoko Kanno fan, so her surprise appearance performing a couple of songs during one of the concerts at AX 2010 was definitely one of my favorite moments at any AX. The fanboy in me squeed with joy. And there was one particular moment in a Masquerade from a few years back that I'll never forget. The skit started out with a few people cosplaying Clow Cards and talking about the elements, when it suddenly transformed into the CAPTAIN PLANET theme song. Captain Planet jumped on stage from out of nowhere and it was hysterical. It was a great twist to what would have otherwise been a pretty boring performance.
AV: The Masquerade's actually a pretty significant attraction at AX. Sort of like a talent show for the cosplayers (although that description feels inadequate.) How would you talk it up to somebody who's never been to one?
MM: Remember The Gong Show? It's kind of like that, but without the gong, and with a million obscure anime references. Or, it's SNL if SNL was run by otaku.
AV: Lastly, say an eager otaku reads this interview, thinks about all these crazy experiences you've had and decides it'd be fun to get involved with AX in a more official capacity - - what's the best route for them to take?
AV: Check www.anime-expo.org for a new staff application form in January for AX 2012. That's also when we start having monthly open houses in Anaheim where you can meet some of the department managers, find out what the different departments do, and have a good time chatting with some veteran staffers.
Follow @AnimeExpo for more info, including dates and times of the open houses next year, and be professional. You'd be surprised how many people fill out their application forms without even capitalizing their names or checking their spelling. Misspelling the state you're from is a good way to get skipped over.