My S5’s alarm chime said otherwise. 8:30 AM. Beep-beep! Anime Expo Day 3. Beep-beep! Get going! Beep-beep! NOW!
I… just… couldn’t. It felt as if every single muscle group in my legs were on strike. You could almost imagine them, Cells at Work! style, walking the line, complete with picket signs and megaphones.
‘Hey ho, all this walkin’s gotta go!’
Can you blame them? That’s what nearly 40,000 steps over the last three days will do to you.
We worked out a truce. Day 3 would be a half day.
Eventually I summoned enough reserves to stagger down to a Starbucks across the street from the Marriott where a long line of cosplayers stretched out the door. Inside, all the foam body armor and prop weapons made things seem more like a cantina out of Star Wars than Downtown LA. Servers yelled over the din of voices.
“Iced mocha frap!”
Wow, even an alien language!
After finishing a light breakfast, I returned to my room to continue to recover and finish up the AX Day 2 recap. On the television, an anchorman warned everyone to stay hydrated. Saturday would set an all-time record high temp for LA. Yeesh, the programming queues would be mega brutal. I packed extra water bottles into my shoulder bag.
Day 3 started just before 1 pm.
Stepping into West Hall, the enormity of the epic crowds proved daunting. Woah. Here I thought Friday was insane enough, being twice greater than Thursday. Saturday had to be double that of Friday! Weaving my way through the masses, I headed for the Entertainment Hall, the last major portion of the con to be seen.
First off, the Overwatch Payload Tour and a Fate Grand Order VR experience already out of tickets for the day. Beyond that, a massive expanse of players seated behind rows of monitors playing console video games. And wayyy beyond that, multiple collectable/trading card game tournaments going on. You could easily lose all day in that scene.
Not wanting to run out of time, I headed around in the wrong direction, ending up in what I first thought was a B-grade movie set for a space station. No, wait, there’s a Japanese classroom, a post-apocalyptic street, and a magical girl’s bedroom? Turned out I had found the cosplay sets, including droves of well costumed peeps waiting in line to take their turn snapping photos. The floor offered more than ten different sets, an excellent nod to all those who make cosplay their passion, especially those who invest many hours and hundreds of dollars into the creative process.
Checking the Entertainment Hall off my list, I’d finally managed to see everything at Anime Expo at least once. And it only took three days! Since there was still some time before the first panel of the day, I decided to head back towards the Exhibit Hall.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the concourse, the flow of traffic ground to a halt. Too many peeps, too little room. To make matters worse, EMS shouted to make way as a stretcher slowly navigated through the throng, patient unseen under a privacy sheet. Talk about having an audience! How embarrassing. The procession soon faded into the crowd.
Several minutes passed. Still no movement. People started pushing. Tempers started flaring.
“Keep moving!” someone shouted. Nothing. How could we, with nowhere to go? “Keep moving!” You could feel the air turn uncomfortable and testy.
“Keep swimming!” someone yelled.
“KEEP SWIMMING!” echoed another.
Suddenly crowd broke into unison:
“KEEP SWIMMING, KEEP SWIMMING, KEEP SWIMMING!”
I smiled as laughter broke out, the Nemo reference lost on few, as humor helped diffuse the situation.
All said and done, it took 20 minutes to travel less than 200 feet.
Finally in South Hall, and realizing I completely missed the Annex, I headed there first. Finding it mostly vacant, I returned to Artist Alley to try to get in a second walk thru. With so much to see at 500+ tables, it’s easy to miss things on the first pass. The plan was to walk in the reverse direction of Friday morning, but the thick crowds made seeing much of anything difficult. After squeezing, jostling, and squishing through about a third of the isles I gave up. Maybe the Exhibit Hall would be better?
On second thought, no. Reaching the Exhibit Hall and finding it packed, I decided that if I wanted to make my 4 pm panel it would be better to head that direction and get in line plenty early, especially considering how many panels I’d missed already on Day 1 and 2 due to full queues.
While navigating outside took some time in itself, once again I had issues finding the line for the panel. It turned out that Workshop One was segregated from all the other lines and located on a completely different side of the convention complex. Argh!
Eventually I found the line and ended up standing beside an exhibitor. Spotting my industry badge they struck up a conversation, asking about Golden Plume Comics and our titles. I provided the usual elevator pitch along with some signed Crowned! swag. Afterwards we talked shop, with the exhibitor reporting that everyone was doing very well with sales at the con, with one even completely selling out of inventory on Day 1.
At last the line started moving and it was back into air conditioned bliss for the “International Women of Manga”. In my mind I’d built it up as a professional event with multiple female creators explaining how to improve your craft and advance your manga career. Regrettably the panel turned out to be only one creator with the rest being company representatives from TokyoPop. During the hour I kept hoping they would get more under the hood about the creation and distribution process, but the time was spent primarily on promoting TokyoPop’s 2018 releases.
At the conclusion, Stu Levy, CEO of TokyoPop, slipped in, likely scoping out the attendance. He didn’t announce himself, so only one other person approached with a question. Had I not heard him speak on Day 0, I would have not approached.
For those unaware, sadly TokyoPop made a series of bad business decisions in the mid-2000s, and the company went under when the economy tanked, even though TokyoPop was a huge factor for manga in America in the first place (e.g. Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket). As head of the company, Stu endured a huge amount of criticism for how he ran things, especially concerning contracts with some of its in-house creators. Since then, all of that criticism, negativity, and gossip mutated into something of an online boogeyman, to the point that when Anime Expo announced Stu as a 2018 guest-of-honor, there was immediate outcry on Twitter.
Basically, if there was an arch nemesis of manga creators, he was the guy. And here I was about to face him.
Shockingly, I found Stu to be very open, humble and honest, even when I pressed him with some hard hitting questions. Here he was getting all his failures dredged up again for the umpteenth time in a decade, no less by a no-name editor from a tiny press, and yet he took the time to answer them all at length. During the convention I had a chance to speak with multiple company owners, all of who had many other things to do, with only a moment to spare. Contrarily, Stu was immensely generous with his time. We discussed many things, including his underlying desire to help manga creators worldwide achieve their dreams. Wow. Definitely not something spoken by an arch nemesis.
Fifteen minutes whizzed by. In the end Stu excused himself to other responsibilities.
The whole experience left me stunned. For years I had read so many negative things about one individual that I came to blindly accept it as truth, without ever considering any alternative or letting the other party speak their side. If a small group of individuals can get that fired up about something, it must be true, right? During our conversation I asked Stu why he didn’t mount more of a personal defense. His response was that at some point trolls are going to keep trolling and you need to move on.
And so we see the terrible dangers of gossip and hearsay.
The reality is we serve a God who offers seven times seventy in the way of second chances. Yes, Stu made mistakes at TokyoPop. But should he be forever condemned and defined by it? Should any of us be forever defined by our failures? No.
As I headed off to take dinner off site, I realized that if there was a peak moment of personal growth during the entire convention, this was it.
Who knew that Anime Expo could be so much more than just anime.
Just like that, Day 3 was over.