Anime Expo 2007: Fans Unite!

It looks like another beautiful day in Long Beach, California.   The summer sun beats powerfully down, glistening off the waves that lap up against the waterfront.   A large Ferris wheel stands in a stately manner, overlooking a group of giggling young girls walking past.   They're not heading for the beckoning call of the waves, however, but the long building that stretches away from the imposing Long Beach Arena, painted with all manners of sea creatures.   "Let's go!" one of them calls excitedly.   "I don't want to miss the Hellsing panel!"


Hellsing voice actors tease one another.

It is noon on a Saturday, and there are swarms of people roaming the Long Beach waterfront.   It's a hardly surprising scene in and of itself, especially on a summer day, but a second glance reveals that most of them are coming in and out of the Long Beach Convention Center.

Another glance reveals that they're all dressed up in costumes.

Anime Expo 2007 has rolled in with full force.

The sprawling Long Beach Convention Center.


From June 29 to July 2, Anime Expo made its presence known in Long Beach.   And as the nation's largest anime/manga convention, AX certainly had a presence.   Over 35,000 attendees had stormed the convention center by the third day, while hundreds still waited patiently in a huge line, chatting with fellow fans and attempting to bear the sun in their elaborate costumes.

The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA) states that its mission is to "popularize and educate the American public about anime and manga, as well as provide a forum to facilitate communication between professionals and fans," and they hardly disappointed with AX 2007.   An impressive list of guests of honor was enough to draw hundreds of excited spectators.   Day after day, the Long Beach Arena was filled with fans rocking out to different acts, ranging from singers like Anna Tsuchiya, Chiaki Ishikawa, and Halko Momoi, to the teen girl ska sextet of ORESKABAND, to the J-Rock band of S.K.I.N.   Other guests included Japanese voice actresses Aya Hirano, Yuko Goto, and Minori Chihara ( The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), animator Eisaku Inoue ( Saint Seiya, One Piece - Adventure of Spiral Island), actress and director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn ( Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain), character designer Masaru Kitao ( Death Note), and director Tetsuro Araki ( Death Note).   Numerous popular American voice actors like Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Blum, Monical Rial, Laura Bailey, Crispin Freeman, and many others were present too as industry guests.

ORESKABAND group photo. Photo by Mayumi Nashida, All Rights Reserved.

There were also plenty of programs to encourage stars in the making.   An AMV:101 workshop encouraged anime music video makers, while the AMV contest gave recognition to the already-experienced video makers.   AX's first ever Battle of the Bands gave a step up to gifted musicians, while the ever-growing annual AX Idol showcased the talent of singers and voice actors.   An inking and coloring workshop held by COPIC, the marker company, gave tips to aspiring artists, while a Gundam Models & Resin Building Seminar gave a chance for all giant robot lovers to recreate their dreams.

All the prominent anime and manga companies (Bang Zoom!, Anime Network, Geneon Entertainment, ADV, and Dark Horse manga, to name just a few) were present, with their own roster of impressive guests, and panels to announce their upcoming releases.   They were an even bigger presence in the behemoth exhibit hall, where wall-to-wall vendors sold anything anime-related, from art books to toys.

Mortal Kombat cosplayers pose for photos.

Anime is quickly becoming a hot commodity in the United States, as conventions continue to grow, DVDs continue to fly off the shelves, and people become more interested in Japanese culture in general.   One fan smiles at me as she staggers across the Exhibit Hall, carrying three wooden kendo swords she's just bought.   Another excitedly tells his friend about the job he's just gotten in Japan.   A group sits on the floor and swaps newly-purchased merchandise as they wait patiently for an autograph session to begin.   Two girls wear cat-ear hats and laugh at each other.   "It's awesome," one of them tells me.   "Who wouldn't like spending a long weekend with their friends, who happen to be into the same things you are?"   Her companion nods.   "We're going to marathon some anime together tonight," she adds.   "It's great; I get to see some awesome friends that I only get to see at cons.   But we've spent so much time chatting online, I feel like they're my best friends."

ORESKABAND rocks out the Long Beach Arena. Photo by Mayumi Nashida, All Rights Reserved.

Her statement encapsulates the reason many are here – to bond and enjoy in like company.   Despite the famous guests, the prominent companies, and the star-studded concerts, in the end, Anime Expo is still a convention for the fans – the largest one in North America, yes, but still a haven where fans can just come and revel in their love for the culture.   And, as the sun sets over the waves of Long Beach and costumed revelers make plans to meet up for drinks later, everyone agrees that that's what matters most.


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ORESKABAND rocking out some more. Photo by Mayumi Nashida, All Rights Reserved

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