EVENT COVERAGE: Anime Expo 2012
Forget the Dragon, This is the Year of Tiger & Bunny...
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Coming to Southern California every year during the weekend closest to July 4 th is the largest anime convention in the United States: ANIME EXPO. 2012 saw the convention return to the Los Angeles Convention Center for the fifth year in a row, and it was quite a weekend. From concerts to screenings, panels to cosplayers, and of course the incredible exhibit hall, Anime Expo is the premiere destination for fans of animation, manga, toys, and just about everything else from Japan. AX also continues to evolve, bringing in new and interesting vendors and special events. Let’s take a look at what went down this year; you’ll definitely want to come by next time!
As I mentioned last year, the anime industry and community took a big hit during the recent recession, and nowhere was that more apparent than at Anime Expo. Thankfully, the trend from last time continued; while AX still doesn’t feel as big and impressive as it did about a decade ago with the enormous booths and endless giveaways, it’s gotten much better over the last few years. The exhibit hall was fun and busy, panels well-attended, and the attendees were enthusiastic and ready to buy. Spirits were high even with the dual inconveniences of the X-Games next door and Downtown L.A. streets closed for filming.
The Anime Expo excitement started before even entering the convention center. Even more giant banners decorated the building than in previous years, announcing to everyone in Los Angeles what was going on. Parked in front of the main entrance was the Firefall mobile gaming unit. This futuristic bus-like vehicle had gaming stations for attendees to try out the beta version, and friendly staff gave away inflatable weapons. Inside the center was pure anime pandemonium. The large entrance hall was always full of cosplayers and their admirers, surrounding the best costumes with huge crowds. This was also the location for the official AX merchandise store and a Toyota display. Of course, beyond all of that was the exhibit hall where the real action took place.
Upon first entering the sizeable exhibit hall attendees got to check out the largest and most impressive booths including producers/distributors FUNimation and Aniplex of America, game companies Namco Bandai and NIS America, and online video service Crunchyroll. Each one of those showed off its newest wares with special promotions like free items, raffles, products not yet released in the United States, and fantastic deals. At FUNimation you could meet cosplayers from your favorite shows and watch them hang around a stripper pole, or head over to Crunchyroll for karaoke.
Next door to Aniplex was the massive Bandai/Bluefin Distribution booth. If you’ve ever seen these guys at Comic-Con or AX you’ll be familiar with their impressive display. Standing out front was a huge Gundam model and beyond that rows and rows of display cases full of awesome toys and models. In addition to the usual hundreds of Gundams of all sizes there were characters and ships from One Piece, a collection of Super Saiyans from Dragonball Z, dozens of Kamen Riders, S.H. MonsterArts kaiju, other robot lines, and more. Of particular note was the brand new RX-0 Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee (Destroy Mode), a beautiful translucent blue and gold mecha that came with its own exclusive black bag, and the lineup of models and figures from the hit show Tiger & Bunny. This show would be the dominant presence this weekend with brisk sales in the exhibit hall of its products.
Beyond the large booths were hundreds more to check out. Even more distributors like Section23 and VIZ were selling their DVDs and Blu-rays, while dozens of independent sellers offered older and hard to find anime series and live action movies. Bushiroad let fans try out its Vanguard card game and a surprising number of gaming related booths had everything from Munchkin to Dungeons & Dragons. Dressing up is a huge part of the anime culture and to satisfy that urge were dozens of booths selling maid attire, headwear, tails, accessories, and much more. One of the most popular and unique items at AX this year was the Necomimi, a headset with cat ears that move independently according to your pulse and brainwaves! Not cheap at about $100, these were nevertheless a big hit and could be seen all over the convention. Watch out for more Necomimi news from SDCC next week.
You name it, you could buy it at Anime Expo: toys, models, dolls, plushes, clothing, artwork, anime, manga, Tribbles, airsoft weapons, swords, cards, steampunk attire, leatherwork, dice, ocarinas, candy, adult items, books, art supplies, graphics programs, contact lenses, etc. In the back of the exhibit hall was the Artist Alley chock full of great independent artists selling their works, whether that be in paint, digital art, clothing, stuffed animals, stickers, cards, and more.
For toy and figure enthusiasts in particular there were some great smaller booths in addition to the Bluefin megalith. Kuso Vinyl was in attendance with their cool figures and an exclusive three-pack of their unique Thundercraps figures. Based on their “Spiki” design, the Thundercraps are Thundercats knock offs with bad attitudes. They debuted at SDCC last year with Lion-Oh-Really and Tigrowl, and AX added to that pride an exclusive trio of Evil Lion-Oh-Really, Siberian Tigrowl, and Cheatarah (in both OG Colorway and chase “Show Me The Money Honey Goldigger” versions). Also on hand was Frombie with their great assortment of Zoras, SBs, plushes, and of course their great pins. In a display case they had some really cool new colorways and prototypes like new Robo-style Zoras, Cami the Jackalope, and fully painted Aldara sama in two different versions!
Beyond all the fun in the exhibit hall, and you could spend days in there, there’s a ton of things to do at Anime Expo. Live Programming rooms host panels featuring anime and manga companies, convention guests of honor, Q&As, in-depth looks at specific titles, fan groups and like-minded gatherings, and much more. As always there were plenty of opportunities to hear from industry professionals and get tips on how to make it in the biz, whether that’s animation, voice acting, or game design. Workshops ranged far and wide from dance to model building, makeup, drawing, drumming, software, and more. Then of course there are the five rooms screening anime and movies from 8am to midnight! The content there ranges from kid’s stuff to adult content at night and features everything from classic shows to sneak previews of upcoming releases. And if all of that’s not enough, there are also gaming rooms (video, card, RPG, tabletop), karaoke, lots of concerts, music video contests, charity auctions, cosplay masquerades, and even a 21+ lounge featuring adult beverages mixed with AX sponsor Tentacle Grape!
Taking a look at some specific panels, it was clear from the start what was going to be among the most popular: Tiger & Bunny on Saturday. If you haven’t heard of this show then you’re probably not a fan of anime. Released last year in Japan by Sunrise, T&B is a superhero anime unlike anything that’s come before it. In the futuristic city of Sternbild heroes decked out in sponsorship like NASCAR drivers compete on a reality show to save the most citizens and defeat as many bad guys as possible. The show was an instant hit in Japan and has continued to ride a wave of popularity around the world. The main panel for the show was packed, and attendees got to hear a lot of interesting stories from the producer as well as get a preview of the upcoming English dub. And while the series is technically over at 25 episodes, there are at least two Tiger & Bunny movies on the way, tons of toys and other products, and a stage show in Japan (and maybe internationally?)! The first film, titled “The Beginning,” will tell the story of how the two main characters met and will fit in seamlessly with the stories in episodes 1-3. Check out some photos from the panel HERE.
Besides specific shows and people, industry panels featuring companies previewing their new slate of properties are always the most interesting. This year I was able to make it to a few of these and I wasn’t disappointed. First off was something a bit different from VIZ Media. While they are known for distributing anime and manga, VIZ is now embarking on a pretty cool new venture, a 24 hour anime channel that you can access via subscription on “a game console” (they haven’t yet announced which one, though early hints point toward PlayStation). Neon Alley will consist of the “best and most popular anime” series in dubbed, uncut format with weekly premieres and movies. It will be in HD when possible, supporting the slowly growing HD movement in anime. In addition, there will be special features, OVAs, music videos, etc. While VIZ is heading up the project, they are working with other studios as well to make this a powerful new avenue. The service will cost $6.99 per month and it will include limited advertising. Anime News Network will provide Neon Alley’s online community as well as some onscreen content. The first announced anime titles were Blue Exorcist, Zetman, Lagrange, Vampire Knight, Naruto, Tiger & Bunny, Inuyasha, Death Note, Kekkaishi, Berserk, and Bleach. Neon Alley will also feature classic live action Hong Kong martial arts films from the 70s and 80s from Tai Sang and Black Belt Theater.
The Sunrise panel started with a really cool Gundam history lesson before moving on to new and upcoming releases. These included:
• Mobile Suit Gundam Seed HD Remastered
• Mobile Suit Gundam Age
• Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
• Short Peace
• Battle Spirits -Heroes-
• Natsu-Iro Kiseki
• Phi-Brain Puzzle of God
• Accel World
• Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere 2
• Binbogami ga!
• Nerawareta Gakuen
• Code Geass Akito the Exiled
• Tiger & Bunny -The Beginning-
Check out the slides from the panel to see what all of these look like HERE.
Next up was Aniplex with their slate of properties:
• Blue Exorcist (release of Vol. 4 means the entire series is available on DVD)
• Madoka Magica
• Fate Zero
• The Garden of Sinners
You can see slides of all of Aniplex’s current and new releases HERE.
One of the special treats of Anime Expo is the Production I.G. panel. While it’s true that the company puts out some amazing product, that’s not why the panel is so good. Instead, it’s due to its hostess Maki. Vice President and expert in fan relations, Maki is quick witted, generous, and never without a smile on her face. After apologizing for the early time (Sunday at 9am - Production I.G. put in their application late) she got down to the important business of distributing a crazy amount of prizes including signed items and exclusive products from Japan. In between joking with the audience Maki introduced some cool new Production I.G. titles:
• Guilty Crown Next Phase
• The New Prince of Tennis
• Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne
• Kuroko’s Basketball
• Star Blazers 2199: an update on the classic series
• A Letter to Momo: described as very “un-Production I.G. like” with no violence, sex, or blood.
Similar to a Ghibli film, it’s for kids and adults and is educational. From the director of Jin-Roh,
Momo took seven years to produce and is 100% hand drawn.
• Blood C - The Last Dark: a dark, erotic new chapter in the Blood saga in partnership with Clamp.
Will be distributed in the U.S. by FUNimation.
• Library War: The Wings of Revolution
• 009 RE: Cyborg
Check out photos from the panel HERE.
Building on last year’s progress, Anime Expo 2012 was a very enjoyable convention with lots to do for all levels of anime fans. As always there was a wide range of attendees from hardcore older collectors to young children marveling at the spectacle and enjoying the bright colors. Apparently attendance dipped slightly this year after last year’s record numbers, which is a shame because the convention was very enjoyable. Hopefully next year will continue to improve, and if you’re in the L.A. area I highly recommend at least one day at the biggest anime convention in the country. Next year’s event will take place once again at the Los Angeles Convention Center, July 4-7, 2013. Hope to see you there!
- Scott Rubin