Mission: Anime Expo, Part 3

/// 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. While he was able to arrive at the Smile Mart to recover Codename: Orange, line woes nearly resulted in an altercation. Crisis adverted, now the wait persists. Can Orange continue to hold out or will he succumb to the many? Find out in our thrilling conclusion!>

Los Angeles, CA
12:30 Hours

Keep it tight. No gaps. Stay up against the wall.

As the line slowly worked its way around the Smile Mart booth, we inched our way past the Good Smile Racing car, a souped-up itasha Porsche 911, parked conveniently facing toward the Exhibit Hall exit. Sweet. In an emergency, some hot wheels for a quick getaway once I’d recovered Orange.

Time in the Smile Mart line went from being measured in minutes to hours. If the waiting line for Grand Archive was an appetizer, this was the main course. As I came around the third turn, Uma Musume’s “Glorious Moment!” racing music pulsed from the Cygames space, offering much-needed hype and emotional support for fatiguing feet.

Run! Run!
(Running to the top! Running to the top!)
Run! Run!
(Running to the top! Glorious 1-one-moment!)

As the line finally completed a near full-perimeter loop around Smile Mart, I started to get excited about completing the mission… only to discover yet another back-and-forth snake-y line within. Sigh.

Uma Musume’s “Girls Legend U” urged me on.

Don’t stop! No, don’t stop ’til finish!!
(Wo oh oh)
Don’t stop! No, don’t stop ’til finish!!
(Wo oh oh)

I craned my head to see if I could spot any sold-out signs indicating that Orange was overcome by the mob and sold out. No. Nothing I could see. Hang in there, Orange, I’m coming for you!

As the line snaked slowly back and forth within Smile Mart, I started to realize that standing in line for this long for just one thing was sort of crazy. During the wait, however, I came across Madoka and Homura chillin’ atop a lightbox. Now I’m not one who is all that interested in merch or figurines but Puella Magi Madoka Magica remains one of my favorite series. It is the anime that brought me back into the medium after a very bad experience with Princess Euphemia’s forced mass murder in Code Geass made me cold quit anime altogether for years.

While there are several different takes on the series, Puella Magi for me is a story that focuses on agape love and sacrifice. In the series, Homura repeats the same six weeks over and over in a sort of Edge of Tomorrow (another Tom Cruise movie) time loop trying to save Madoka and her friends from a terrible fate. She repeatedly witnesses their often graphic deaths, only to rewind the clock and try again and again, nearly 100 times, according to series creator Gen Urobuchi. The sort of psychological toll endured by Homura reminds me of a similar experience in my own life, losing four years of time working volunteering in vain with a studio on a project that remains indefinitely delayed to this day.

I’m certain many of us have our own experiences of self-sacrifice that seemingly go unnoticed or make little difference. Why should any of us stand in line for a plastic toy for someone else?

The answer is: Because it matters. It always matters.

While the sacrifices I make in life may not seem like they matter or make much difference at the time, we rarely see what the true aftereffects are. Being kind often has a cascading effect, where others will pass it forward. And even if that doesn’t happen, and it may seem like what you do isn’t seen or valued, the reality is God always sees it. And that, frankly, is enough. We are called to be the “hands and feet,” physically serving others because the Holy Spirit cannot. Sometimes those feet travel great distances. Other times they stand in line. For hours.

As I reached the front of the line, I decided to purchase Madoka, Homura, and the rest of the Puella crew as something to remember the Smile Mart experience by. The host then offered me a menu but it was more like a cypher card. Apparently, you ordered items based on numbers, not names, much like Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” (They’ve given you a number ~ And taken away your name).

“Go see Big (smol) Sister over there, she’ll take care of you.”

The Smile Mart was much like a long row of bank tellers. Through here you only deposited money. The tellers were situated in front of a plain plywood-walled mini-warehouse full of rows of cardboard boxes. I fired off the ordering numbers: 9. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. Smol Sister printed the receipt and passed it off to several gofers to fill. Minutes later, a bag came back filled. I would have certainly accepted it no questions asked, but Smol Sister took the time to check the bag—going the extra mile—just to make sure.

In true Puella Magi fashion, Sayaka got forgotten. Again. Poor Sayaka. Why does this keep happening to you?

With the order corrected, I finally left the Smile Mart, objective complete. I snapped a shot of Orange in hand to DM it to a waiting audience of one. The response was immediate with lots of crying emoji.

Based on their response, it seemed like they were going through a lot at the time and they needed this win. I let them know that God loves them because I felt called to do so.

Humans are the most valuable thing on earth. So much so that the Son of God died for them all. Anything you do for another human has the greatest value, more so than money or prestige.

At this point, the final mission was to go after the signatures in Artist Alley.

Since AX has a blanket policy against Artist Alley pictures, you’ll just have to envision long rows of back-to-back artist tables displaying mostly posters for sale collaged as 8’ high walls. Since every square inch of display space is precious, most tables offer only a small “drive-thru” window that the artists look out from and transact through. The alleys themselves are quite tight and if attendees don’t remain constantly moving, then everyone jams up behind them. Like walking through a moving art gallery, the eyes are bombarded on both sides by every skill level and fandom.

In comparison to everything else, this ended up being the easiest of the three missions, other than wading through even tighter crowds than in the Exhibit Hall. Connecting with Agent ‘HC’ was a smooth process, though a comical one. Initially, as we met, she tried to hug me from behind her artist table, as if it wasn’t there, only until it was. Whoops! Instead, we chatted through the little drive-thru window in the center of the wall of prints on display as a multitude of signatures were uploaded and allowed to dry.

All in all a successful day.

And what about Triskit? Success in the end! On Day Four, I was notified that she was present at the Grand Archive space. An exchange was made and now an individual is able to travel to Grand Archive‘s first national-scale event in Houston later this year.

Return to base. Packages sent. DMs and Discords read.

Mission accomplished.

Be sure to read parts one and two of T.R. Racki’s coverage of Anime Expo 2023 if you haven’t already, and follow him on Instagram!

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