Search form

Anime Expo 2004: Bigger But Not Necessarily Better

Fred Patten went again to Anime Expo 2004 and reports back that anime convention had fallen behind the professional standards of the previous ones and there was a serious effort to stop pirating.

Anime Expos biggest convention was marred by long lines and bad organization this year. All photos by Lionel Lum, courtesy Anime Expo.

Anime Expos biggest convention was marred by long lines and bad organization this year. All photos by Lionel Lum, courtesy Anime Expo.

Anime Expo, anime fandom's biggest annual convention which started with only 1,750 attendees back in 1992, leaped from last year's 18,000 to more than 25,000 this year. The July 2-5, four-day event seemed to flood and overflow the Anaheim Convention Center and its adjacent Marriott and Hilton hotels.

Unfortunately, the chaos seemed to be due as much to unexpectedly poor management as too many people. There was almost no directional signage; attendees were constantly asking where events were. Registration lines on the first couple of days were four to five hours long! AX's Website had promised that, Self-Registration machines will be available at the convention site from Thursday, July 1st to Sunday, July 5th and they will be setup for credit card or PayPal payments only. But fans found no registration machines; only two live registrars (more were added later) to process the thousands of fans, at a table next to a sign that credit cards and PayPal could not be accepted.

For the first time, major anime labels cracked down on pirated merchandise on the expo floor and expelled some dealers. Legal action is also pending.

For the first time, major anime labels cracked down on pirated merchandise on the expo floor and expelled some dealers. Legal action is also pending.

There were lines almost as long of fans getting cash at the convention center's ATM machines so they could get their membership badge. It was also possible to buy a $10 admission ticket to the huge exhibit hall. Some fans settled for spending the day in the exhibit hall and photographers, rather than waiting for hours for the badge to get into the members-only areas of the Expo.

These were the most serious problems. Others such as many events starting late are endemic to many conventions. Once the fans finally got their membership badges, it was a weekend of fun & games.

Not for everyone, however. For the first time in the fandom's history, the anime companies began a high-profile crackdown on pirates selling bootleg and unlicensed anime DVDs. This has been an uneasy gray area since anime fandom began in the 1970s, largely through the trading and club-meeting screenings by fans of technically illegal anime videotapes. Many of the founders of the professional industry in the 1990s came out of anime fandom themselves. They have not wanted to crack down on overenthusiastic fellow fans who are, after all, not showing anime for money and are providing lots of free publicity for the industry. But going after profiteering merchants of unauthorized DVDs, including actual counterfeits, is another matter. The anime companies have actually been doing this for almost 10 years, but they have preferred to work behind the scenes.

No longer. Bandai Entertainment had a large WARNING sign at its display booth that it would henceforth protect its licenses and intellectual properties to the full extent of the law. At its Sunday afternoon presentation, Bandai's evp Ken Iyadomi and marketing manager Jerry Chu announced that they had just had four dealers at Anime Expo expelled and would be bringing legal action against them. A couple of days later, Bandai named the dealers in a press release. Anime Expo issued its own press release stating, During Anime Expo 2004, several exhibitors were given warnings to remove counterfeit products from their floors. Exhibitors that continued to sell counterfeit/questionable products were escorted from the exhibit hall floor and were not allowed to return.

The exhibit hall was packed with the booths of major anime and manga companies.

The exhibit hall was packed with the booths of major anime and manga companies.

Bandai was not the only company that sent agents through the exhibit hall checking on the small fan-run shops' stock. In addition to dealers identified as consciously selling illegal merchandise, there were several innocently doing so. The main offender in this case was Hong Kong DVDs of anime titles not yet released in the U.S., whose exporters had assured the anime specialty shops that they were perfectly legal for sale in America. They lied. Most of the anime shops selling Hong Kong DVDs had only limited quantities, and agreed to withdraw them from sale after an anime company representative explained the legal technicalities of international licensing.

Most AX attendees did not notice any of this. The exhibit hall was set up rather like Las Vegas' casinos: right inside the entrance was the largest and most spectacular trade-show displays of the major anime and manga production/distribution companies: TOKYOPOP, Bandai Ent., Geneon Ent., VIZ and ADV Films. Behind them were the booths of several smaller companies. At the back were the dozens if not hundreds of tables of anime/manga retail shops, anime costumers and dealers in imported kimonos, J-pop music CD shops, shops specializing in how to draw in the anime/manga style art books and Japanese art supplies, travel agencies offering group tours to Tokyo-area anime/manga specialty shops, the 500,000-attendee comic markets and much more.

Anime conventions such as Fanimecon and SakuraCon had their own tables. Tokyo's Gallery of Fantastic Art (GoFa) was back, this year with a display of serigraphs of character designer Range Murata's Last Exile art plus one or two prints each of a half-dozen other artists. It was easy for a fan to spend all four days of AX in the exhibit hall alone.

Cosplay was an organized, scheduled affair this year. Fans mobbed the designated cosplay areas where they could pose for photographers.

Cosplay was an organized, scheduled affair this year. Fans mobbed the designated cosplay areas where they could pose for photographers.

Upstairs in the convention center's meeting halls were the gaming rooms (separate rooms for console/video or electronic games and for tabletop/board or card games), and the industry panels where each anime specialty company announced what it would be releasing during the coming months. The huge theater on the top floor was the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, and the main evening events such as the anime music video contest, the idol singing contest, and the masquerade. The Marriott Hotel across the street was the location for the five anime video theaters, the voice acting and art workshops, a tutorial on how to play the ancient game of Go (due to the current popularity of the Hikaru no Go manga and anime), and other activities.

Last year there was such a chaos of cosplayers and photographers milling about that AX tried to formalize it this year. Several photo-op areas were designated and an Official Cosplay Gatherings Schedule was handed out: Friday 1:00 pm. Sakura Taisen/Sakura Wars (Inbetween Convention Center and Hilton). 2:00 pm. Shaman King (Hilton Lobby-Near Fountain). 3:00 pm. Hellsing (Inbetween Convention Center and Hilton). Saturday's 3:00 pm. Naruto (Convention Center Lobby Staircase) created a massive traffic jam. There were reportedly 45 cosplayers of Naruto alone, not to mention Sasuke, Sakura and other characters from the Naruto series. Three individual cosplay favorites this year were Robin from Witch Hunter Robin, Alucard from Hellsing and Nicholas Wolfwood from Trigun.

Naruto was by far the most popular anime title among those that have not officially been released in America yet. Everyone knows that unauthorized free fan-subtitled Naruto DVDs have been screening at anime clubs for the past year. Practically every company's presentation got a question from the audience, Are you going to be releasing Naruto soon? Bandai's Jerry Chu gave the most blunt answer: You fans have really shot yourself in the foot by making it so obvious how much you want Naruto! Now the Japanese licensor is saying, `So, so; if you want Naruto, you pay whatever we say you pay!' You don't wanna know how much they're demanding!

A new AX feature this year was the Traditional Japanese Summer Festival, sparked by all the anime love comedy series like Hand Maid May, The World of Narue, Mahoromatic and Space Pirate Mito, which include one episode set at an old-fashioned Summer Festival where families wear traditional kimonos and yukatas, play games, eat popular cheap foods like yakitori and okonomiyaki, and watch fireworks in the evening. AX set up a festival in the Marriott's side parking lot.

Some anime fan clubs and a few Japanese-community fast-food restaurants supplied the Japanese food that you always see in anime for fans who wanted to know what it tastes like. Those who wanted to could rent cheap kimonos and play carnival games like catching-goldfish and knock-over-the-bottle. It was a good idea, but the Festival was located so far away from the rest of AX that only those who made a determined effort to find it took advantage of it.

In the convention centers meeting halls, anime companies presented their upcoming releases at industry panels.

In the convention centers meeting halls, anime companies presented their upcoming releases at industry panels.

This year's dozen featured guests from Japan included Madhouse animation studio founder/president Masao Maruyama; character designers Range Murata, Minoru Murao and Toshiharu Murata; directors Satoshi Nishimura, Shinichiro Kimura and Koichi Chigira; screenplay author Ichiro Okochi; anime theme song vocalists MIQ and Yoko Ishida; and voice actors/actresses Tomokazu Seki and Hiromi Hirata. One of the most impressive moments of the Expo was at the opening ceremonies when MIQ (a belt-it-out singer in the tradition of Sophie Tucker or Ethel Merman) and Yoko Ishida (who specializes in delicate little-girl voices like the theme song for Sugar; A Little Snow Fairy) sang an impromptu duet that blended their voices beautifully.

This year's charity auction raised $49,035 for the City of Hope. The top item was a watercolor or colored marker sketch by character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto of the main characters from Wolf's Rain, which brought $8,000. An ink sketch of the lead character from Gungrave sold for $2,500, and four other sketches brought $2,000 each.

Anime Expo traditionally ends with the presentation of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation's annual Industry Awards. AX's attendees are asked to vote during the first two days on 20 categories of anime and manga releases in Japan and in the U.S. The ballots are tallied during the last two days and the winners are announced at the closing ceremonies. But this year there was a last-minute decision to extend the voting through the third day. This did result in more voting, but the combination of the additional ballots plus one day less to count them all resulted in a presentation of only half the winners at the closing ceremonies, and an apology that the tellers would not have time to tally the other categories until after the Expo.

The winners (available at presstime) were:

Best Manga: USA ReleaseLove Hina

Best Publication: English-LanguageNewtype USA

Best TV Series: USA ReleaseInu Yasha

Best Film: USA ReleaseSakura Wars: The Movie

Best Film Debut at Anime Expo® 2004eX-Driver: The Movie

Best OVA: USA ReleasePuni Puni Poemy

Best Music Album: USA ReleaseFLCL

Best Company (USA)TOKYOPOP

Best Booth DesignADV Films

So AX 2004 was in general a success, but with an embarrassingly high-profile foul-up at its beginning and end. Better planning next year, guys?

Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s. He wrote the liner notes for Rhino Entertainment's The Best of Anime music CD (1998), and was a contributor to The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, 2nd Edition, ed. by Maurice Horn (1999) and Animation in Asia and the Pacific, ed. by John A. Lent (2001).

Tags 
randomness