Thursday, July 5, 2012

Anime Expo 2012 Convention Report

The Famous AX Banner
Anime Expo 2012
Los Angeles Convention Center
June 29th, - July 2nd, 2012

On a special weekend, anime and manga fans take over the city of Los Angeles for Anime Expo, the biggest anime convention in North America. Regardless of age, sex, income, religion, country of origin, thousands of anime and manga fans migrate to Los Angeles to celebrate a common passion. For the year 2012 the convention was celebrating its 21st year at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year is also a special year, the Summer Olympics is taking place in London. Due to it being an Olympic year, the X-Games moved the summer X-games up a month to run the same weekend as Anime Expo. With two massive events with vastly different demographics taking over a small area, this Anime Expo would be a very different experience. Here are my experiences for my ninth Anime Expo as a cosplay photographer and as convention executive.

Kat, I did 4 Anime Expo
2012 shoots with her.
Day Zero first started with me arriving at the convention center in the late morning. I proceeded to check in my hotel room and drop off my luggage. I attended many convention meetings as soon as I arrived due to certain issues that came about in the week before the convention. After the meetings ended, I walked over to the convention center with my good friend, the President and Chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation Takayuki Karahashi. As I walked to the convention center, I noticed that there were X-games signs all about. I looked at the maps and made mental notes that the area around West Hall was mostly being used for X-Games. This is important because as a cosplay photographer, the outside of the West Hall is a popular cosplay gathering area and one of the best locations for photoshoots during the convention. With this section mostly closed off, photographers had to get creative with photoshoot locations.  Later that night I went with the rest of the Board Directors to Opening Ceremonies, which was moved to Day 0 of Anime Expo. There was a red carpet event inside West Hall, but the difficult lighting made it hard to capture shots. The set up for the stage was great, it had a center stage that used the Anime Expo colors and it had a horizontal orientation to allow for a maximum amount of people to see the stage. The MC's for the opening ceremony was Danny Choo and Courtney Kraft, they were great on stage and they dealt with the delays very well. With the first night of the convention done, I headed back to the room and enjoyed the night.

The first day of Anime Expo ran smoothly, I proceeded to do my first photo shoots in isolated areas inside and outside of south hall. Due to X-Games isolating the West Hall, the convention attendees crowded the convention center more. It was so crowded that it felt more like Saturday than a Friday of the convention. The crowded atmosphere really showed itself in the Exhibit Hall, which was difficult to maneuver. Convention security did a good job since I had my badge checked multiple times as I walked inside and outside the convention center. There were not many X-Games attendees walking around the convention center area. The programming was interesting, but due to personal scheduling issues I could not attend many of the panels I wanted to attend. One of the new places in Anime Expo was Lounge 21. It was a room on the third floor that had live music and offered various drinks. This new lounge was a welcome new addition to the convention since it does acknowledge that the attendees for Anime Expo are getting older. The first day of the convention was fast-paced and it made me wish I had more free time to let it all sink in.

Awesome Sailor Moon cosplay!
Saturday of any anime convention is the busiest day, Anime Expo is no exception. It was my most Sailor Moon-filled day since I had two Sailor Moon photoshoots and I also attended the Sailor Moon cosplay gathering. The convention center was extremely crowded and the Concourse Hall between West Hall and South Hall was packed to the gill. As I looked around, I saw several people walk around with X-Games and Anime Expo badges, which admittedly put a smile on my face. On the other hand, a quick glance around South Hall made me realize that there were lots of people walking around with no badge at all. These people we term as "ghosting a con" since they are a group who do not contribute financially to a convention, but they do reap the rewards of the convention space. The first of the two major Sailor Moon shoots I had was with Jennifer Barrios, who cosplayed as Sailor Jupiter. Her rendition of Sailor Jupiter was perfect, her outfit was awesome and she nailed down the personality and spirit of Sailor Jupiter. The second shoot I did was later in the day, and it was with Meghan and Catherine (and many more), they had a team of that cosplayed many senshi. They were the group I did photos with in Anime Expo 2011, and I was very happy that they decided to go with me for a photoshoot in Anime Expo. Returning photoshoot requests mean that I am doing something right! There were several occasions that my cosplayers were stopped in the middle of a photoshoot, but that is par for the course. I had to be creative with the shoots since I mainly had South Hall as my main area for shoots. With the other members of the Research and Development Committee, I had the pleasure of running the Future of Anime Expo and the SPJA Panel that was positively received by the audience and the press. That night was the night of the Yuki Kajiura concert, and I missed it due to additional responsibilities assigned to me during the con.

The AX Fashion Show
The first three days of con flew by very fast, with Day 3 coming out of nowhere. I attended two main events, the LiSA concert and the Anime Expo Fashion Show. The first main event was a memorable experience, LiSA knew how to work the crowd and her concert was incredible. The crowd was very excited and the energy in turn inspired LiSA to really get into the concert. This was a great concert since we could take photos without flash, but I was quite a distance away so my photos didn't turn as well as I would have liked. As I walked outside, I saw the biggest lens I have ever seen in Anime Expo, a Canon 400mm f2.8L lens. It was amazingly large and I have never seen anything like it in Anime Expo. The second event I attended was the Anime Expo fashion show, featuring Dolldelight. With my large lenses I was able to get a front row seat. Danny Choo did a great job as MC, and he kept the show moving at a fast pace. The outfits was gorgeous and it was awesome seeing many of my friends onstage wearing the cute Dolldelight designs. For its first year, the Anime Expo fashion show ran very well and I see so much potential to grow this into a far larger event. Sunday was especially difficult for photoshoots since there was the rally race in the front of the Concourse Hall. The loud noise meant that I had to find very creative ways to be very far from that area.

One of my favorite con photos
The last day of Anime Expo was quite an interesting day to say the least. We had the SPJA Board of Directors meeting which was sparsely attended. It was a pleasure to have all the current directors answering questions and telling the general public how we view things. After that, I attended the Convention Feedback Panel, better known as Con Gripe. I do not work in an operational level, and many of the complaints were at the operational level. It was interesting to see what were the critical complaints from the perspective of the members. Interestingly enough, X-Games was only brought up a few times. As the day ended, I attended Closing Ceremonies where Takayuki Karahashi officially announced that SPJA is adopting Anime Conji and announced dates for that convention. The crowds were energetic and fun, thus ending another exciting and successful convention.

One of the great concerns of people going to Anime Expo was how X-Games affected Anime Expo. From my perspective, X-Games affect Anime Expo a few ways. The first was that the convention center itself was more crowded than normal since the West Hall area was pretty much closed off. Having the events of X-Games also meant that walking back and forth between LA Live and the Los Angeles Convention Center would take longer than it normally does. Secondly, one of the big issues I had was the conduct of X-Games attendees. I had several issues where X-Games attendees rudely interrupted my photoshoots without asking permission. There was also another issue of them shouting out catcalls to the more scantily clad cosplayers. The rude conduct bothered me, thankfully it didn't impact the high morale of the cosplayers I was doing photoshoots with. Having two events also packed the food areas in LA Live, it was difficult getting a seat in ESPN Zone and other food locations. Ultimately, aside from traffic issues and some rudeness, I did not observe any major issues.

The quality of the cosplay this year was great, people continually are stepping up and improving their skills. I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with many friends that I haven't seen since Anime Conji or Anime Los Angeles. My friend Katrina continues her dominance as the cosplayer with the most photoshoots with me at con, having one shoot a day for her cosplay. That is ultimately what makes events like Anime Expo successful, it provides a venue to make friends and to hang out with old friends. It exposed me to new experiences while showing me why I love the hobby so much. The wonderful staff of Anime Expo made everything run as well as can be. While this is my ninth Anime Expo, it shows me that the convention continues to surprise me. See you guys in Anime Expo 2013!

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

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