Monday, July 05, 2010

AX 2010: Post Bubble

From July 1 through 4, 2010, we attended one of the two big annual Southern California conventions we frequent: Anime Expo. AX has been going through a number of changes over the last few years, as the industries it celebrates (Japanese animation and manga) have themselves changed. Specifically, anime and manga exploded in the early to mid part of the 2000's, spurred by imports of anime shows to cable stations like Adult Swim and the rise of DVDs. That bubble burst in the late part of the decade, as it ran right into the recession, the decline in the home video market, the shrinking of retail outlets (driven by the bankruptcy of the Musicland chain), a lack of super-popular franchises from Japan, and the growth of Internet piracy of new material from Japan.

Since AX functions in large part as a promotional arena and marketplace for the industries, it has had to roll with the punches. Many of the companies that once sponsored AX and had big exhibitor booths there have disappeared. AX once hosted large numbers of American dub actors for the Japanese shows; but in recent years, the dubbing market has shrank and the actors are less visible.

Nevertheless, the convention has continued, as its other leg -- fandom -- has remained strong. The fans still enjoy coming to the con, making and dressing up in costumes, playing arcade games, buying import items from Japan, watching the latest anime, and meeting guests that AX imports from Japan.

Guest imports this year were strong. A new administration took charge of AX's parent company, SPJA, for this year; and I speculate that the administration sought to show its chops a bit by spending lots of money for guests. Hence, there were numerous Japanese musical performers (including AKB48, a 63-member girl band -- although I don't think the entire franchise was at the con); creative folks for projects such as EDEN OF THE EAST (to be released on video here this fall), BLACK LAGOON (manga creator Rei Hiroe came to celebrate the continuation of the TV series, shown in the U.S. on Starz, as a series of original videos), and TRIGUN (the movie for which was premiered at Sakuracon a few months ago, and premiered in a subtitled form at this con); and such reliable guests as "Nabeshin," the flamboyant director of the popular "Excel Saga" series.

The changes, unfortunately, are reflected in the prices. The preregistration for all 4 days was $75 a person; and there were separate charges for events such as the masquerade ($20!), the Meet the Guests reception (in previous years, around $20 a ticket; this year, a steep $50 a person for a continental breakfast), and concerts. In part this is likely because the con had use of the Nokia Theater and Club Nokia, which are high-class venues. Still, the charges added up, particularly for younger attendees; and likely cut into the attendees' spending in the dealers' room.

No matter the problems, we had a fun time. We attended the opening ceremonies, the closing, various anime premiere, and the masquerade. We saw lots of beautiful and inventive costumes. We participated in the Steampunk gathering on Saturday, and Amy participated in the Hellsing photoshoot on Friday.

As in previous years, my favorite event was the Meet the Guests reception. The attendance was small (likely because of the price), which was a mixed blessing as it allowed us to have exclusive audiences with creators. I had a 10 minute conversation with BLACK LAGOON creator Hiroe (he was surprised to have a Los Angeles lawyer as one of his readers), and we had a terrific talk with the creators of EDEN OF THE EAST.

Although AX's changes have not been met with critical acclaim, and the industries themselves are changing, I don't see AX itself going away anytime soon. Lots of people went; and as long as they do, AX will continue.

Here are some photos:

There were a lot of Guests of Honor. This doesn't even include the 16 members of girl band AKB48 who attended.

Speaking of AKB48 . . . .

One of the friendliest guests from Japan was Masakasu Morita, the voice actor for Ichigo Kurasaki in BLEACH. He made a point of shaking the hands of numerous attendees.

Here are the director and the producer of EDEN OF THE EAST, an anime series Funimation will release in the U.S. on DVD in September. We saw the first three episodes, and it looked top-drawer.

Lots of people in hallway costumes were cosplaying as characters from DURARARA, an anime TV series that wrapped up its run shortly before AX. The series was simulcast in the U.S. on, so it got lots of exposure. The most popular costume was Shizuo Heyajima, the guy in the waiter outfit -- possibly because the costume would be relatively easy to make.

More Durarara cosplayers. In the show, Shizuo often rips vending machines out of the ground and throws them. So a few cosplayers made their own cardboard vending machines to heft.

As always, the craftsmanship on several of the costumes -- like this one of Fai from Tsubasa -- was amazing to behold.

On the first day, Amy attended in the astronaut suit she embroidered for her recent birthday. Here she is with our friend Christy.

Our friends Sarah and Natalie.

HELLSING, the manga and the anime adaptation, remains popular with costumers. Here's one of the photos from the Hellsing photoshoot, with Amy in costume.

The TRINITY BLOOD manga and anime adaptation also remains a popular subject for cosplayers, in part because of its elaborate outfits.

On Saturday, we took part in the Steampunk photoshoot. No photos of me in this set - yet -- because I was taking the photos.

The gathering packed a punch!

A view from above of the food court shows the blend of cosplayers and attendees in mufti.

A sampling of the dealer's room -- somewhat diminished from previous years, as anime licensor booths have disappeared.

And so the sun sets on another AX. We'll be back next year. We'd better -- we've already bought our memberships.

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