Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Japan Expo USA: First Impact (Robbie's Report)

The lead up to Japan Expo USA's first year was a bit of a bumpy road, but it had a nice payoff. As with all things, it had some issues that are in need of addressing, but I think that the good outweighed the bad by far, and sets a nice starting point for its future years.

The days leading up to it were filled with last-minute announcements, event scheduling, and so on (we didn't even know if we'd be able to get our press passes until a few days before), but as this is the con's first year, everyone was willing to give it a pass. That said, hopefully that'll be fixed up in coming years, lest it be stuck with the nickname "Last Minute Con." But once everything was sorted out (and as I was without a ride, I had a lot to get sorted), a fun weekend awaited.

Friday began with me arriving around 10 to check in and get my badge. I was almost stopped by con security as I entered the hotel, but I explained that I was getting my press pass and they let me through. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was trying to find where the badge pickup was, only to learn that her confirmation email was also the badge, and would be scanned every time she entered or exited the building.

After getting checked in, we started to wander the halls before the Attack on Titan gathering. I had spent the past few days finishing up my cosplay of Jean Kirschtein, although sadly, I found that the maneuver gear I had spent so much time and effort on would not stay attached, and had to be left in the car.

One of the first things I noticed around the main hall was that it contained more than just a dealer's hall and artist alley. The events stage was located nearby, and a fair distance from that was the cosplay stage, where the gatherings were to be held. As this was Japan Expo, however, it also had several booths and exhibits dedicated to Japanese culture, which added a nice flavor to the con. While walking around, one could hear performers playing traditional music, see artists at work, and watch martial arts demonstrations.

While wandering before the gathering, I passed by the Crunchyroll booth, where it was streaming the convention. There were fellow Attack on Titan cosplayers there, so I stopped by to chat with them in-character, which seemed to please the viewers. Considering the screen began scrolling messages saying "Jean is awesome," I felt pleased with how that went. (I'd get little time at the Crunchyroll booth in the following days, but that was enough.)

Then I got to the gathering, but found that 11 AM on a Friday is not a time likely to get many attendees. Turnout was small, but the gathering still went well, and we all had a fun time. The organizer ran it nicely, and it was good to spend time with old friends and meet new ones.

Following the gathering, I decided to stop at one of the hotel's restaurants for lunch. The food was overpriced, and frankly, not that great, but there weren't many food options around, so we made do. There were other places in the hotel to eat, so perhaps the sushi bar would have been better; that's something to try next time.

The rest of the day was spent checking out the exhibits and halls. The game room contained a nice selection of arcade and console games, and I got a few games of Smash Bros in with friends, as well as a go on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game.

I also spent some time directing scenes for a cosplay mockumentary myself and several friends are making. That took a good deal of the day, but still left time for hanging out with friends.

It was around 6 or 7 that the first day of the convention came to a close. Unlike some cons, it was not an all-day thing, so when the hall shut down, so did the con until the next day.

Sword demonstrations

The female Titan prepares to kick a horse

I arrived on Saturday as Matt Engarde from the Phoenix Wright games, in preparation for the gathering that day. As with the previous day, I spent the time before wandering around, hanging out with friends, and shooting some mockumentary scenes. That day had a lot more people, compared to the previous day's low turnout, including a lot more Attack on Titan cosplayers.

Still, when I got to the gathering, it was the most active of the ones I'd attended by far. This is due in part to the character designer and soundtrack composer being guests of honor and attending the gathering, and I must say, brief though my interactions with them were, it was an honor to meet them. There were plenty of cosplayers in attendance, and we all had fun pointing and shouting "Objection!" for the cameras. I was pleased with how my cosplay went over, since that was my first time bringing it to an actual convention.

Right afterwards, I went to the Pokemon Game Show, hoping I'd be able to compete. The contestants were chosen by random drawing (quite literally) where they took a card from a deck in hopes of getting a Joker. Sadly, I did not get to compete, but two of my friends (both cosplaying as Subway Bosses from the games) both got up.

The game show itself was very good. The host clearly knew what he was doing, had some clever questions, and kept everyone engaged. Myself and some friends knew the answers to most all of the questions, but the contestants also knew what they were doing. In the end, one of my friends not only won the game, but became the year's champion, in a heart-pounding final game with the battle music playing. It was one of the most enjoyable panels I'd been to, and hopefully I'll be able to compete next year. I'll bring my Giovanni cosplay to help my odds of getting in.

Subway Bosses Ingo and Emmet
Ace Attorney cosplayers


Finally, Sunday was the last day of the con. I went cosplaying as Kariya Matou from Fate/Zero, as there was to be a Type-Moon gathering I was looking forward to attending. As this was another gathering at 11 in the morning, attendance was also minimal, but once again, it went well enough. There may not have been too many cosplayers in attendance, and all of them were from a Fate/ series, but we had fun.

Following that, there wasn't too much left to do around the con. I went out and got lunch, then spent the rest of the day hanging out with friends. The day ended with a bunch of us going out to get food, then I began the trip back home.

All in all, I must say, the convention was fun. There was a fair amount to do, although it still felt a little lacking in events, but the gatherings went well, and they had some amazing guests and concerts. They really went all-out, with booths from large companies such as Viz and FUNimation handing out free posters, multiple masquerades, and some great guests they brought in from Japan. The fact that it focused on more than just anime and manga was a nice touch, and added some class and culture to the con.

There were some things in need of improving, though, mostly regarding the ticketing system. Attendees had to scan their badges to enter and exit the convention, unless they had a VIP badge. That created longer lines than necessary, and a lot of frustration and confusion for both the attendees and staff members, who couldn't always scan guests both in and out. A simple "show your badge at the door" system would work much better, especially since it provides attendees with an actual badge they can carry and keep afterwards.

While the gatherings were a lot of fun, the timing wasn't the best for some of them. To get the most attendees, they should be somewhere near the middle to end of the day, when most people will have shown up. Friday mornings will always have the fewest attendees, which means missing out on a lot of potential gathering members for a big series like Attack on Titan. Aside from the scheduling, though, the gatherings were plenty of fun, and I enjoyed them all.

So while the first year had its flaws, and a fair amount of them, it was still a lot of fun hanging out with friends, meeting new people, seeing the guests, and so on and so forth. The good outweighed the bad by far, and I eagerly await to see what becomes of Japan Expo USA in the coming years. I know I'll be coming back next time, so I'm already looking forward to another great time.

More from the sword demo

Type-Moon cosplayers

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