Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Japan Expo USA Second Impact: Robbie's Report

Last year’s Japan Expo USA was a fun convention, although not the busiest event. As such, they decided to move to a smaller location - the San Mateo Event Center, where HyperCon once held its event. Those who had been to the event center before were wary, due to there being no hotels attached and a $10 parking fee with no in-and-out privileges, but attendees remained optimistic nonetheless.

We arrived a little before noon on Friday, before the convention even opened. As I prepared my costume (Trunks from “Dragonball Z”) my girlfriend went to the entrance at Gate 8, and was told that the entrance was at 2. Well, it was only after we walked to Gate 3 that we were told we were at the right entrance before, and they meant the entrance time was at 2:00. A small misunderstanding, but no one’s fault.

However, as it was around noon, we wanted to get lunch, and were not allowed past the gates to get to the event center’s cafe. We were told that there was a shopping center nearby, but the area was gated in, making walking there not an option, and we didn’t want to drive out, given the “no in and out” thing. Instead, we ordered pizza and waited at the sidewalk until the lines started forming.
The line before the con

Yet even before we were let into the con, there were some concerning issues. A fair amount of registered attendees never received their confirmation email, and instead brought other records to show that they paid for their tickets. Thankfully, it seems they all got it sorted out. Picking up the press badge took a good while as well, but I managed to get mine and got into the con a little after 2.

One thing I do like about Japan Expo is that it is not purely an anime convention. Rather, it focuses equally on Japanese culture, so there were many booths and performances throughout the con to reflect that. Throughout the weekend one could see traditional Japanese dances, calligraphy with giant brushes, and even purchase a kimono if they could afford it. There were also food trucks set up outside, selling food such as okonomiyaki and curry sandwiches, although the lines tended to grow pretty long later in the weekend.

Of course, most of the attendees were there expecting an anime convention, so that’s what they got. Along with sets showing character art and videos from “Hunter x Hunter” and “Knights of Sidonia,” there was all the usual attractions of a dealer’s hall: tables for wigs, toys, books, videos, and of course, an artist alley. All this was inside a large building that reminded me of a county fair.
Hunter x Hunter
A booth selling costumes and props

Sega's "Project Diva" booth
Outside of that area, near the food trucks, were two large stages, separated by a fair distance but still facing each other. This made for a few times where there were performances on each stage, and the noises clashed, drowned out one another, and made it difficult to hear one individually.

There was also a cosplay stage, where the gatherings hosted by American Cosplay Paradise were held. However, the stage faced away from the rest of the event center, so those not looking for it would mostly see a blank wall, until they’d walk around and see it. Additionally, the cosplay gatherings were not particularly well advertised by the convention, so attendance was more or less minimal each time.

The first thing I wanted to do was sign up to get an autograph from Izumi Matsumoto, mangaka behind “Kimagure Orange Road,” an old favorite of mine. However, after getting through the line to sign up, I learned that professionals were not allowed to get autographs. An error also prevented attendees with certain types of badges from signing up as well, although at least that was fixed. The “no professionals” rule, however, not only prevented me from getting autographs, but other attendees who got professional badges for helping set up a booth, or for being a member of a group performing, such as “Angel Hearts” couldn’t get autographs from the guests they had come to see either.

As my earlier attempts at emailing Press Relations for the convention had not worked, I instead sought out the Press Room. There, I was able to schedule interviews with Izumi Matsumoto and Gen Urobuchi for the coming days, so at least that was handled well enough.

Continuing my exploration of the convention, I decided to compete in “Anime Farkle,” hosted by Greggo’s Game Shows. I had tried to enter the Pokemon Game Show at the last Japan Expo, but didn’t make the cut. This time, however, I got lucky, and was one of the two competitors to enter. Greggo has hosted these game shows at conventions worldwide, and his experience kept everything running smoothly. “Anime Farkle” was a combination of a trivia contest and game of luck, where those who can answer the question get to roll a set of virtual dice to determine how many points they win, or if they strike out, with prizes determined by what you roll.

My opponent was equally knowledgable about anime as I am, and it was a pretty good back and forth with the scoring. Occasionally we had to wait out a question, leaving me to take a shot in the dark, but I still came through. At one point, I was forced to roll the dice when only two remained, giving me a very good chance at getting a strike. At that moment, I looked to the audience and said, “There is a word. A word of great power and courage to those in need: ALLONS-Y!”

Amazingly, the dice rolled snake eyes, earning me more points as well as a free re-roll for when I’d need it.

In the end, I did manage to win, and went on to the bonus round, where I earned a few more goodies. I ended up taking home a Strike Witches BluRay, a three month subscription to Crunchyroll, and a set of Sailor Moon pearler beads, as well as some Jen (a gift currency for the convention) which I managed to exchange for a Blue Exorcist towel. All in all, I was quite pleased with that.

During the rest of my exploring that day, I stopped by the game room, which I found to be a little lacking. The only games there seemed to be Super Smash Bros. and Marvel vs Capcom, which are fine games, but still needed a little more variety. There were also only enough controllers for two per console, which limited the multiplayer options, and many of the controllers were worn out. There was one game of Mario Kart 8 available, but it had quite a wait for anyone who wanted to play that.

I also took a look at the panel room, which was in the same room as the martial arts demonstrations. While both were interesting, there was a good deal of noise competition; apparently some big panels were right up against the loudest demonstrations, making it nearly impossible to hear what the guests were saying.

At one point, I was told by a security guard that I needed to get my weapon checked. As such, I took it to the front desk to ask about peace bonding, but they didn’t seem to understand what that way. Instead, I showed my sword to the man working there, he confirmed that it was okay, and sent me on my way. I was told that if security had a problem with it, I could take them there and he’d confirm that it’s fine. However, I heard that others were not allowed into the convention due to their props in the first place, which seemed to be an issue of communication between the convention and the event center security.

After a while, I grew hungry, and decided to leave for dinner. There was no going back to the convention after that (at least not without paying for parking again), so my day ended there. There were many nighttime events, such as concerts and raves, but anyone who left to get food outside of the convention center would miss out on those, unless they wanted to pay for parking again.

Saturday is always the biggest day of any given convention, and Japan Expo was no exception. There were a good deal more attendees that day, which made for a more active atmosphere.

I was debuting a new cosplay - Prince Endymion from Sailor Moon. As it was my first time making armor of its kind, of course it fell apart on me repeatedly. Thankfully, the Bay Area Propmakers group was there with a booth and a cosplay repair station to help fix it up whenever I needed it. Which was often.
Bay Area Propmakers at work

A little after 3:00, I went for my interview with Izumi Matsumoto. With all the years of experience he’s had as a mangaka, he’s seen the face of manga and its perception change. When he started, the romantic triangles tended to consist of multiple guys to a few girls, rather different from the harem-based series that are predominant today. In fact, his own series may have featured a guy in the center of a love triangle as its main plot, but included many rivals for the hearts of both Madoka and Hikaru, the two girls he had to choose between.
Izumi Matsumoto and his translator

As for the state of manga today, there are a few shining series that stand out to him, such as those by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (the team behind “Death Note”). While he doesn’t follow too many of the newer series himself, he still seemed optimistic about the future of manga.

And of course, no interview with a successful creator would be complete without asking for his advice to anyone trying to get in. He recommends not only to read a lot of manga (or whatever you may want to create) and try to copy and learn from those styles, but to take what you’re passionate about, what you have a drive for, and integrate that into your work. That passion will show in your work.

I thanked him profusely for his time, and he sent his wishes for everyone in attendance to have a good time and enjoy the convention. When the interview was over, I donned my armor again and went to the Sailor Moon gathering.

Although I had been asked if I wanted to enter the masquerade earlier, I had to pass, as it conflicted with the interview. As such, I’m afraid I don’t have any masquerade coverage. The Sailor Moon gathering was small - again, there was little to no advertising for the cosplay gatherings - but still ran well and resulted in some good pictures.

The gathering was my last stop of the day, so afterwards it was more wandering, checking out the various rooms, and hanging out with friends. We decided to leave for dinner, and found an affordable Japanese restaurant just a short drive away. The day ended well enough, and I prepared for the next.

Sunday was the final day, and had a somewhat smaller turnout than the last, though still somewhat greater than Friday. For the most part, though, everything I wanted to do had already been done. There was one thing certainly worth looking forward to, though, and that was the Gen Urobuchi series cosplay gathering. Once more, there were only a few cosplayers in attendance, but Urobuchi himself stopped by to get pictures with everyone.

Knowing his nickname of “Urobutcher” for his tendency to kill off characters, I suggested that we all drop dead for a few pictures, which everyone seemed to find entertaining. At one point, he checked me for a pulse, and I weakly called out that our deaths were his fault. (I was cosplaying as Kariya Matou from “Fate/Zero” that day.) At the end of the gathering, he gave us all signed pictures, which was the highlight of that day.

I was supposed to get an interview with Urobuchi that day, but sadly, he wasn’t feeling well and had to cancel the last interviews, mine included. Of course, that is completely understandable, and at least I got the chance to meet him earlier.

However, for the remainder of the day, there was simply very little else worth doing. I had checked out all the exhibits and game room multiple times by that point, and though I viewed “Anime Jeopardy” for a bit (and even answered a few of the questions that the competitors couldn’t), the close proximity to the martial arts demonstrations really was distracting.

In fact, the convention was pretty boring at that point. There wasn’t anything new to keep me engaged, nor anything to really participate in. I ended up going back to the car to bring out my own games of “Red Dragon Inn” to play with friends for a while.

Japan Expo USA Second Impact was not the best convention I’d ever been to, but it wasn’t the worst (though it shared the location of the worst one). It had some great guests (though I could only meet so many), and a nice combination of Japanese culture and anime-related attractions. However, it also had many organization and communication issues, not to mention many things were poorly-placed (like the aforementioned panels and martial arts demonstrations being next to each other). The location was a poor choice, with no connected hotel and the problems with the parking lot, and there wasn’t enough variety each day or anything to really engage attendees.

Now, I understand that Japan Expo is originally from France, where they are used to a different kind of event. There were some issues with the transition last year, and there were some remaining this year as well, although they did fix a lot of the issues with last time (for example, having actual badges that you don’t have to scan before going in or out). There is still much work to be done, but I haven’t given up hope yet.

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