10 AM and the promenade outside the convention center was already the equivalent of a baking sheet. Despite the conditions, fans lined up by the droves to pass through bag check and find air-conditioned refuge within.
Standing within the Priority queue alongside the building, the radiant heat seared, turning me into a melting human popsicle. Trailing perspiration across the concrete, I shuffled slowly forward while others wondered aloud if our queue could actually be longer than the standard lines. If this was a foreshadowing to the rest of the day, I realized it would be a doozy.
Four strides into West Hall confirmed that and then some.
Like ants climbing their hill, fans scaled every available space as they crammed their way forward, easily dwarfing Thursday’s crowds. I steeled myself to prepare for the jungle known as Artist Alley while slowly threading my way through the concourse to Kentai Hall.
For those unaware, AX’s Artist Alley has a history of infamy, after conditions one year turned critically hot, resulting in the EMS responding to multiple fainting incidents. Kentai isn’t an actual hall, but a repurposed parking garage. With this knowledge, I prepared myself for the worst.
The staff of Artist Alley delivered quite the opposite.
With extra wide aisles and generous air-conditioning, fans moved about the many isles packed with copious talent. My own drawing skills on par with The Order of the Stick, the next few hours became a jelly fest, as I scoped out peeps whose fan art rivaled, and in some cases bested, that of the original. Artist Alley is always a good barometer for what properties are the hottest. Hero Academia stood the hands down winner while Steven Universe surprisingly seemed on ice. Our good neighbor Totoro still has it, especially with the more mature artists, who aced it in the details category. Even on an 11×17, you needed to dive in within six inches to absorb the level of artisanship. Bravo.
After taking lunch off-site, it was back into the fray to try to catch a Wacom/CLIP STUDIO workshop, however, when arriving ten minutes before the start, I was informed the room capped early. Hmm, well then, time for the grand tour of the Exhibit Hall instead. On Day 1, the intensity of the crowds made navigating the space a mere crawl. This time, with the novelty waning slightly, traversing the Exhibit Hall was more feasible, though a fully armored samurai Hello Kitty, made me double back from the sheer level of feminine feline ferocity. Oh, that and the mobbing fans snapping photos.
The sheer size of the hall made it where I missed several rows accidentally, though you could not miss the massive Sakura who reminded everyone that magical girls are not going anywhere any time soon. It seemed that magical girls are popular with the gents as well, given the surprising number strolling about the floor with shaved legs and donned petticoats in the ultimate display of fandom. Hardcore.
2018 also appears to be the “Year of the Cube” given the sheer numbers of Funko Pop! and Mystery Boxes on sale. Some exhibitors made walls out of them, while one even constructed an entire fort. There seemed to be a bit of unspoken castle rivalry going on given the Shadowverse Keep just two rows away from Fort Mystery.
After five hours of near continuous walking, my feet were starting to rubberize. Sitting in for a screening of the first four episodes of New Game! seemed like a good way to recover. My only familiarity with the series was from a manga sample in the August issue of Otaku USA. I found myself in the screening room moments before the start. Despite an all-female cast, all I saw in attendance were young men.
While the premise seemed promising, young kawaii women working on new video games, unfortunately I found the series too shallow from a writing perspective. The main character Aoba seemed an afterthought as the series chased after a menagerie of secondary characters behaving so oddly that you wondered how any could hold down a job, let alone key leadership positions within the company. It felt as if I was sitting through an anime version of The Office by how the scenes jumped around and consumed far too much thought to try to keep up. I hoped things would improve, but by the end of the fourth episode, I realized the series is for a certain audience.
Learning from my previous missed panels, and seeing that over 1,800 fans booked the Your Name screening into the AX App schedule, I took an early dinner off-site, passing a Kantai Collection destroyer-class girl and Eclipsa from Star vs. on the way out. Glad to see the secondary characters getting some much deserved attention.
The Your Name screening topped off a huge day at AX, beginning with a humorous start as the videographer hopped between English dub and Japanese on the selection screen. A rancorous moan arose from the crowd when English lit up, quickly followed by a roar of approval as the pending choice bounced to Japanese. Subtitles yes, then ACTION!
For the next two hours everyone laughed, cheered, and shed tears with such passionate unison that it almost felt like a new release. By the end, I changed my mind that Makoto Shinkai made the better choice for the ending, as the crowd gave their thunderous applause of approval. Walking out, I wondered, as a writer myself, perhaps I should reconsider a better ending for the light novel I have in progress.
Flopping into bed, I hit the lights. Day 3 would be here in no time.