Mission: Anime Expo, Part 2

/// Your mission, should you choose to accept it… ///

<cue theme music>

<Voiceover: Previously, on MISSION: ANIME EXPO, T.R. was in a race against time to complete multiple missions on Day One of Anime Expo 2023. Unanticipated delays in securing the mini-boxes that could contain the ‘Triskit’ angel card resulted in a late arrival at the Welcome Ceremony. Surprising assistance from a foreign operative however led to a front-row seat for the rest of the program. With the first Daruma eye filled in, the chase is now on to recover Codename: Orange before a complete sellout.>

Los Angeles, CA
11:50 Hours

As the attendees poured out of the Welcome Ceremony, stuffing hallways unable to handle the load, the full breadth of Day One’s attendance was on complete display. AX2018 had approximately 115,000 in unique attendance. AX2022 was approximately 100,000. This felt beyond both…by a significant margin! Having attended Kentucky Derby 138 (attendance: 165,307), AX2023 felt closer to a Derby than an AX. As it turned out, we found out later that AX2023 crushed all-time attendance records at 160,000, with even the fire marshal shutting the convention doors on Day One due to the convention center reaching capacity.

Of course, all these bodies meant not getting anywhere fast. In an attempt to escape the morass, ribbon-like lines of attendees started cutting through the nearby Groundwork Coffee shop, as if ants streaming from their flooding nest. Being my third AX, I called on every known alternate route, and even an industry-only restricted area, to make my way to the Exhibit Hall with as much haste as possible.

A view from the press lounge above offered a taste of the insanity to come in the chaos below. Checkpoint sighted! Amongst the swarm sat the Smile Mart, though Smile Mob would be a more accurate representation of what I was about to get myself into. After grabbing a couple of shots of sky juice—swirled, not shaken—from the press lounge cooler, it was into the fray.

As usual, the Exhibit Hall floor was a shoulder-to-shoulder, no-personal-space-here experience in trying to consume an overwhelming amount of input. Displays. Merch. Cosers. Videos on jumbotrons. With so much to take in, there was no way to see or experience it all. Prioritize your checkpoints and complete primary objectives. Heading for the Smile Mart, I observed uniformed officers looking down from above, sweeping the crowd for operatives to apprehend. Best keep a low profile.

Approaching the Smile Mart, a courteous Smile Fellow held a big sign stating that the line for the Mart was closed due to capacity. “Come back in fifteen to twenty minutes,” he advised. Drat! Turning about to get a better idea of my surroundings, I headed in what I thought was the right direction for my next objective, only to realize a minute later that I was going the wrong way. Double back!

I passed by the Smile Fellow for a second time. … Wait. Why was the line… longer? “Sorry, the line is closed. Come back in fifteen to twenty minutes.” I inquired as to why the line was longer than it was just a few moments ago. “Oh, we reopened the line but it’s closed now.” What? How does ninety seconds equate to fifteen minutes? “Sorry man.”

Noticing a nearby ceiling support column, I figured it was best to just camp there, sniping the line as soon as it opened. It appeared others had the same idea, with dozens loitering beside the giant solemn gray column, their eyes locked on to the Smile Fellow and his open/closed sign. Heading over to the column, I almost reached it before I heard, “The line is now open!” from behind.

WHAT?! (Yes, I had –that– manga expression on my face.)

Everyone at the column surged at once for the line. I wheeled about and propelled myself for the Smile Fellow who expertly spun that sign around like it was an arrowed Open House sign for “New Model Homes!” “We’re closed!” The Smile Fellow could see my manga expression still inked into my face and reached out, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“This guy is the last one in line.”

Whew! I pressed into the line before he could change his mind.

Others were far less happy.

“I’m in line.” “No, I’m sorry sir, you’re not.” “NO. I’m in line.”

The quick change in tone signaled this was going to be a rapidly escalating situation.

Smile Lady seemed to arrive as if on cue, inquiring why the line was too long, giving Fellow directions on keeping things shorter and tighter. She turned to Not Smile and told him that the line was closed. Not Smile wasn’t having any of it. “NO. I’m. In. The. Line.”

Oh my, is this the part of the mission with the fight scene?

Smile Lady, a good deal shorter than Not Smile, cranked up the tension. “NO. YOU’RE. NOT.”

Things hung for a moment where it looked like it would get physical. Over Nendoroids. I started to run through my options in an altercation. No one had trained me for this!

I could only see the back of Lady’s head, so I’m not sure what her eyes were communicating. Maybe she’s a black belt in TKD and she shot the guy a look that said, “You don’t wanna piece of this.” But we’ll never know. Then just as quick as it escalated, Not Smile wordlessly turned away. Crisis adverted. Lady asked if Fellow was okay, then proceeded on to other staffly duties.

The almost fight seemed to cause the crowd to lose interest in hanging around and they moved on, leaving Smile Fellow and I to small talk for a while about the convention at the tail of the now peaceful line. Apparently, this was both Fellow’s first time attending AX and first time working at AX, a double whammy. Wow. Getting thrown in the deep end with crowd control on Day One. Eventually, the line reopened and Fellow and I lost contact. So much for having an inside man. I’d have to complete this mission on my own…

Be sure to return next week when T.R. completes his three-part report on his mission at Anime Expo 2023!

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