Anime Expo 2005: The World of Anime Brought to Life

Anime Expo 2005

For some, July 4th weekend was a time to relax, see family, and have picnics in the park.  For others, it was a chance to spend a whirlwind four days at the largest animation convention in North America (and now, with statistics coming in, possibly the entire world).  Put on by the SPJA (The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation), Anime Expo was the place to be this weekend for all Japanese animation and culture fans.  With a record attendance of over 30,000 people, one can only say that the interest in anime is just beginning to grow.

Probably the most well-known con in the anime fandom, AX was in its 14th year and bigger than ever.  With the Exhibit Hall boasting the largest collection of import and domestic anime and manga merchandise, galleries of recent famous Japanese art, panels and workshops with insiders from the industry, video rooms playing non-stop anime, concerts with some of Japan's most popular stars, and the highly competitive AX Idol and cosplay Masquerade, there was more than enough to do during the four days of the convention.  And if you had a moment to take a break, there were always elaborate cosplayers (fans dressed as their favorite characters) walking by to watch.

Ready? FIGHT!

I was there on Friday to check in and attend the AMV (Anime Music Video) contest.  Fans from all over had put their talents to the test and had created music videos with scenes from their favorite animes.  And this was just the beginning of the display of fan talent.  Saturday morning was spent mostly in the exhibit hall, milling with the crowds among the numerous trade booths.  If you needed anime merchandise, this was the place to get it.  Stretching from end to end in one of the Anaheim Convention Center's large halls, the exhibit hall had no shortage of products to be sold.  Next I headed to one of the main events, a festival put on by Geneon, one of the largest production and distribution companies in anime.  Hosted by Johnny Yong Bosch and Wendee Lee, two of the most well-known voice actors in the business, the festival showed clips of upcoming releases, including the highly anticipated new Hellsing OVA, which was greeted by a roar from the crowd.  There was an even better surprise when they brought in Kouta Hirano the original creator of Hellsing himself.  He held a short Q & A session before the next main event the KOTOKO concert.  A major J-pop artist who sings sold-out concerts in Japan, KOTOKO performed her first concert in America to huge, appreciative crowd, singing such favorites as the opening theme to the new anime Starship Operators, as well as 'Wing My Way,' the official AX theme song.  With a full-fledged band behind her, she was successful in rocking the house.

My ears still ringing from the loud but enjoyable concert, I headed into the voice actors' panel, where several of the most prolific actors in anime shared their amusing experiences and gave inside tips to those interested in joining the business.  After the panel, there was time for a quick bite to eat before I headed to AX Idol, Anime Expo's take on the world-famous talent show.  Hosted by popular voice actor/director Crispin Freeman, AX Idol showcased more fan talent, as six actors and six singers (who had to go through qualifying rounds the previous days) competed for the top prize in their respective categories.     

Cosplayers pose for the cameras

I was up the next morning for the voice acting panel with, again, Crispin Freeman, who shared his valuable insight on the voice acting world, and even gave fans to the chance to dub their own voices into favorite anime shows.  He was more than happy to share his talent and expertise with interested fans.  I grabbed some food and made a few purchases in the exhibit hall afterwards, then made my way to the Maaya Sakamoto concert, which was already full with thousands of screaming fans.  Though an accomplished voice actress, Ms. Sakamoto is even more well-known for her lyrical singing voice, which was beautiful to listen to.  She performed many fan favorites, including the themes to Escaflowne, Rahxephon, and Wolf's Rain, to a roaring crowd, many of whom had waited a long time to see Ms. Sakamoto's first appearance in America.

After meandering my way through the thick crowd, I headed next to Geneon's panel about the eagerly awaited Hellsing OVA series.  Creator Kouta Hirano was there, along with other guests directly involved with the project, and answered a long line of fan questions.  Based on the popularity of the first anime series and manga (comic), the show is sure to make a huge splash on the anime scene when it comes out. 

The evening was entirely devoted to the Masquerade, which lasted long into the night, as over fifty entries competed for the prizes.  Some were single entries, who paraded across the stage to show off the massive effort they had put into their gorgeous costumes.  Others were groups of cosplayers, performing hilarious skits and parodies of their favorite animes.   It was around midnight when the Masquerade attendees finally began to filter back into the hotels, and even then, the night was not over, as some headed over to the karaoke room to sing the night away.

Anaheim Convention Center

Monday slowly began wrapping up the event-filled weekend, with everything from autograph seekers lining up for their favorite guest in the morning, fans seeking to see Maaya Sakamoto in her panel, disgruntled attendees voicing their thoughts at the Gripe Session, and fellow fans with streaks of humor enjoying Whose Line Is It Anime?

Other honored guests of the weekend included Akihiko Yamashita, animation director for the new movie release Howl's Moving Castle; Ugetsu Hakua, artist of Burst Angel; Tomokazu Seki, voice actor in many animes including Vision of Escaflowne, Fruits Basket, and X; Ryo Horikawa, most well-known for his role as Vegeta in the Dragonball Z series; Hiroyuki Kitakubo, director of Blood: The Last Vampire and animator of Akira and Gundam; Osamu Kobayashi, writer and director of Beck; Range Murata, character designer of Last Exile; and popular dub actors Colleen Clinkenbeard and Greg Ayres.  And these were just some of the many notable names in the anime industry that showed up at the con.  There was no question about it: if you were a true anime fan, or an appreciator of Japanese art and culture in general, this was one con you did not want to miss.

Musicians perform for the fans

Besides seeing the special guests, there were plenty of other things to do.  The karaoke room remained open late into the early hours of the morning for aspiring singers; there were anime music video panels, mythology panels, traditional tea ceremonies, kimono demonstrations, sushi lessons, and video rooms continually showing anime, among tons of other events. 

So next time you've got that free fourth of July weekend, and you want to delve deep in to the colorful, fantastic, exciting world of Japanese animation, or just check it out for a bit, give Anime Expo a go.  Just a brief warning to y'all:  Anime is extremely addictive.  Once you're in, there's no going back.

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