Join our Anime Expo correspondent, T.R Racki, as he shares a vivid play-by-play of Day One. From the early morning anticipation, to the high energy Opening Ceremony, to the end-of-day party and all the panels and sights in between, it’s almost like being there yourself!
A triumphant cheer welled up from the crowd below as the Taiko drum unit instantly summoned over two years of pent up anticipation. Emotions surged as bodies pressed tightly together, straining to break through the barriers that held them back, to ascend the escalators ahead.
Just one flight of stairs away from Anime nerdvana.
The roar intensified as the drums continued to pound in unison with the hearts of the crowd. AX2020! No. AX2021! No. AX2022… yes! YES!
From my perch high above in an industry-only hallway, sweat trickled down my brow. AX hadn’t even officially begun and already I was drenched from racing about, trying to absorb everything; truly an impossible task. A sweat drop hung briefly before landing with a splat on my phone, inducing instant electronic insanity as the touch screen tried to make sense of it all. My finger wiped it away hastily before snapping several photos of the mass of humanity below. So many people pressed so tightly together. It was an image not seen since before the pandemic.
Dashing across the hallway into the press lounge, I peered down from the skybox-like window, observing the activity within the Exhibit Hall below. Premier Fans bustled about, making the most of every remaining minute of their precious head start. Soon the doors would open, flooding the space with fandom mayhem. I wouldn’t be there to witness it. With a fully packed Day 1 schedule, I took off as quickly as possible for the Entertainment Hall and the impending Welcome Ceremony.
Hurry hurry hurry! There wasn’t much time! Sweat trickled profusely as I used every shortcut possible to navigate from the South Hall to the West Hall. Still, with the massive expanse of everything, it took nearly twenty minutes of fast walking to cover the distance. Thankfully, I arrived with time to spare.
“You need to go outside and around the corner.”
Excuse me? I held up my Press badge to security.
“You need to go outside and around the corner.”
Apparently, someone didn’t get the memo. Press was supposed to get priority entry into events. I inquired about this. Understaff called over higher ups. No. Go outside with everyone else.
Rather than argue, I joined the stream of bodies flowing outside and around the corner, in search of a queue that apparently did not exist. While there were red lines neatly taped out on the concrete under a covered area providing soothing shade, the crowd instead congealed into a confused mass under the warming late morning sun. The red queue lines weren’t supposed to be used?
A juicy, white bomb hit the concrete beside me. Looking up, pigeons flapped their wings and strutted along the edge of the building above. Oh boy. You know it’s gonna be an interesting day when the poo hits the concrete. A few inches to the right and I would have been their first victim.
Staff in red vests began shouting instructions. No one could hear. What was going on?
Confusion persisted as the mass somehow sorted itself into single file and headed into the cool, dark Main Events Hall. Three huge flat screen TVs hung suspended from the ceiling, counting down the time remaining. Seats were filling up quickly. I found a sound operator and inquired about the Press seating. Apparently, there wasn’t any. Taking a seat among the throng, the counter on the screens continued to tick down as music pumped the crowd up. Light beams flashed, illuminating us for brief moments.
“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!” The crowd shouted out the countdown. “Four! Three! Two! One!”
The crowd erupted into applause, their cheers muffled by masks. Had it not been for the muting effect, the noise would have been much more.
The Opening Ceremony
Music blasted as the AX Dance Corp Crew broke onto the stage, decked out in cosplay from Attack on Titan, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Dragonball Z, just to name a few. The troupe spun and swayed to several recent hits before the Maid Café joined in with kawaii soda pop sounds. Soon funky 70s Saturday Night Fever filled the hall. Not to be outdone, two Butlers leapt into the fray, slinking out smooth moves. Next, everyone was drunk dancing to promote the AX Beer Garden, before colorful rhythmic ribbons swirled about. In all, it was a high-energy dance fest that tried to tie everything AX had to offer into one grand spectacle.
Hard to top that.
With AMV finalist teasers, an appearance by Ultraman and a subsequent attack by kaiju, performances by SG5 and Diana Garnet, and the traditional filling in of the Daruma doll eye, the Welcome Ceremony pumped everyone up for what would be an intense four days of all things anime.
As the crowd slowly filed out of the room, one could already tell Anime Expo was going to hit some serious numbers. Less than two hours in and already the hallways and lobbies were packed. People tried to move but there was nowhere to go as security did what they could to keep everyone pointed in one direction. With AX announcing tickets completely selling out several days prior, this was to be expected, but it still came as a surprise to be in the thick of it.
A Little Line Lunacy
I made my way slowly to the Exhibit Hall for my interview with Maid Sumi from Asayoru Maid Cafe. Unfortunately, I arrived rather late, but Maid Sumi was more than accommodating as she detailed her maid experiences and goal to help change the public’s perception of maid cafes.
Next on the agenda was the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War -Ultra Romantic– Festival, which required traveling back across the AX campus to the Entertainment Hall. In prior years, often the size of the queue for an event would be double or triple the room capacity and many waiting in line would be shut out. To prevent that, this time Aniplex required attendees to register for free tickets in advance online. That way no one would get stuck outside.
Ticket in hand, I was expecting a smooth process with a minimal queue; however, again Press was denied priority entry. Required to go outside and around the corner, I found myself in a massive snarl of transecting lines: lines for food trucks, multiple lines for Love Is War, even a line for after Love Is War. All this line lunacy meant a lot of confusion. Finally, I navigated it all, sitting down a full 30 minutes after the start of the festival.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War -Ultra Romantic Panel
The panel was headlined by VA Aoi Koga (Kaguya Shinomiya) and producer Tatsuya Ishikawa, with both sharing their experiences of working on the series. One interesting moment came when Ms. Koga revealed that she did not have many friends in high school. Those she did find came through the power of music. She also said that like the anime, the VA cast started off distant towards one another and grew close over time.
As a big fan of the manga, Ms. Koga stated that during production she was looking forward to the final scene and when the time came she was very moved to be part of it. Whereas Seasons 1 and 2 had a lot of direction, Season 3 did not, and she felt very responsible to properly convey her character on her own.
Checking the time and considering all the queue trouble already encountered, I decided it was best to leave early in order to have extra time to get into the Spy x Family English Dub Cast Panel. Surely, 30 minutes would be enough? Thankfully, it was a short walk, but upon arrival, there was an issue. Where was the queue? It was completely vacant! A staffer in a red vest informed all those approaching that the room was already full and no one else would be allowed in. I held up my pass but was still refused entry.
The Exhibit Hall
With some time suddenly freed up, I decided to take my first in-depth look at the Exhibit Hall. Now that it was afternoon, maybe things would have calmed down a bit?
Not at all. As in years prior, I found the Exhibit Hall packed full of people all vying to get into the best booths, while a gargantuan inflatable Thousand Sunny towered over everything. Shuffling closer, you could hear the many fans hard at work within, keeping the enormous One Piece pirate ship in optimal Stay Puft mode. So many bodies made things a bit uncomfortable so I worked my way towards the back of the hall where things were less congested, passing underneath a massive Ultraman and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury banner.
While touring the back half of the hall, I happened upon Cecilia and Anya Forger (err Gwen!) from Jesus Otaku, fighting the good fight. After a chat, I continued on, noting how many booths were independent artists selling their amazing fan art and original works. One that really caught my eye was The Dog and Dragon, a collective of several artists, featuring fantastically rendered paintings of angels. Being partial to tenshi (angels), I made a mental note to return later as I departed for a scheduled private tour of the Bandai Namco booth.
Because of a scheduling mishap, the guide arrived late, resulting in an abbreviated tour. The booth was divided into halves, one side dedicated to Studio Ghibli licensed products, the other to nanoblocks (lower case is the preferred style). As a queue of fans took their turn posing with a life-sized Totoro, the guide pointed out the many Ghibli-inspired lifestyle items (plushies & puzzles), home goods (dining ware), and furnishings available, detailing plans to continue expanding the catalogue due to their popularity. One might not expect that Ghibli plates and flatware would be that popular, but given how many were in line to make a purchase and the frantic pace of the booth staff to keep shelves stocked, the idea didn’t seem so far-fetched after all.
On the nanoblock side we passed by a wall of Pokemon sets, a collection representing some of the 200 that are currently available. While LEGO is my personal block of choice, I found their nanoblock Deluxe Series particularly interesting, such as their 1,200 piece Deluxe Bonsai Matsu and astounding 2,700 piece Deluxe Himeji Castle. Because nanoblocks are about one-quarter that of LEGO, nanoblock is able to recreate compact objects with much more intricate designs. The guide explained that nanoblock sets are constructed similarly to something made by a 3D printer, with instructions guiding builders along one layer at a time. Because of the difficulty for some in manipulating such small bricks, nanoblock offers specialized tweezers and a unique playmat to build on.
‘How to Break into the Manga/Light Novel Industry’ Panel
By the title, my expectation was that the panel would present how to write and publish your first light novel or manga. Instead, it focused specifically on the translation industry. Hosted by Ben Applegate from Kodansha/Penguin, David Goldberg of JAST, Kristi Fernandez of J-Novel Club, Payton Campbell of Yen Press, and freelance translator Jan Mitsuko Cash, the team fired off a slew of information. The most surprising was their manga sales report. According to Bookscan, while non-manga book sales are down for 2022, manga is crushing it, with sales for the first half of 2022 being better than the entirety of manga sold in 2020. Furthermore, manga is close to passing annual US graphic novel sales!
What does all of this translate to? It means that US readers are gobbling up manga, now more than ever! In turn, publishers are incentivized to translate and bring over even more titles. Because of the booming manga industry, the demand for talent is fierce. However, approximately 80% of translation work goes to the top 20% of translators. This makes it difficult for newcomers to break in. The team had a lot of advice though.
First off, was the importance of developing the skill for getting stuff done on time. Each of the panelists echoed this during their individual talks, reiterating the critical need for time management and self-motivation. They also highlighted the importance of networking in the industry and encouraged hopefuls to keep improving their skills though things such as creative writing and doing personal translations of favorite series (but not uploading them to the internet).
Next, when looking for a paying job in the industry, the panel stressed the importance of perseverance, keeping your eyes on the prize and not stopping until you succeed. While you may not have enough skills now, you certainly could in six or twelve months, so it is important to keep re-applying for the job you seek. Sometimes applicants are turned down not because of how good or bad they are but because the publisher is seeking a particular skill. It’s important to remember that being passed over is never personal and you should feel free to ask for feedback so you can improve.
Lastly, there is also no such thing as a dream job. Have a plan but be flexible. Feel free to say no to things that don’t move you forward toward your goals. In all, the excellent advice shared by the panel seemed like it could apply to many careers, just not one in manga.
The Crunchyroll Press Party
Leaving the panel, I exited the AX campus for a hotel not far away from the convention center for the final event of the evening. Ever since the invite showed up in my email inbox, I had been both looking forward to and fearing the Crunchyroll Press Party. Not being much of a social butterfly—at all—the thought of spending two hours trying to make conversation with highly talented professionals in the industry was daunting. However, I felt it important to go and help rep the Beneath the Tangles name.
In the JW Marriot’s posh Mixing Room behind a giant orange Crunchyroll-branded facade, fifty plus press professionals chatted away, clustered around high top tables holding fancy mixed drinks. Feeling keenly out of place, I tried my best to avoid looking like a fish out of water. Fortunately, Ms. Tanaka, staff writer for The Nekkei came over to chat, and we spoke at length about the convention, Japan, and so on. Feeling a lot more courageous after that ice-breaking conversation, I then worked my way around the room, having a chance to speak with some big names in the anime press biz like Megan Peters, Editor and Senior Staff at Comicbook.com and Maddie Morrow, Deputy Editor for the Temple of Geek.
At some point Bianca Doria, Crunchyroll’s Communications Director, made the rounds, taking the time to make sure everyone felt welcome. We chatted for a while, discussing some of the issues press were encountering at the convention, a frequent topic that evening. At some point, AX’s attendance numbers came up, which she shared as being 100,000. Yikes!
During the party I also had a chance of connecting with Lynzee Loveridge, Executive Editor at Anime News Network. Much to my surprise, she recognized the Beneath the Tangles t-shirt I was wearing and shared how our valiant leader, TWWK, worked with her in the past.
After making several circuits of the room and feeling like I had made a lot of good connections, I headed off for my hotel room. Wow. Day 1 for AX had been so much. And there was still so much more to come!
Photo Credits: All images taken from the Anime Expo 2022 official video reel for Day One, available here on Twitter.
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