Anime Expo returns to LB bigger and better than ever

After three years in Anaheim, Anime Expo officially came back to the Long Beach Convention Center Friday. Anime Expo (AX) is the nation¹s largest anime/manga convention and serves as a key meeting place for the general public to express their interest in anime/manga and explore various aspects of it as well as for members of the industry to conduct business.

This year’s convention saw record-breaking numbers in attendance, with over 35,000 attendees by the third official day. The schedule was packed with events, including live concerts, AX original programming, industry panels and an exhibit hall.

Many attendees participated in the convention’s most important element, “cosplaying” (dressing up as their favorite anime, video game or movie characters). It feels like you’re in another universe when you see, touch and sometimes even smell what these characters could be like if they were real. Also, Anime Expo is the only place in the world where girls cosplaying with revealing outfits have no problem getting their picture taken by nerdy overweight guys who haven’t showered in weeks.

There was a great selection of Japanese pop and rock concerts this year. Among the acts that performed live was the all-female group Oreskaband, which recorded a song for the anime “Bleach” and has appeared in commercials for the popular Japanese candy Pocky.

Singer Anna Tsuchiya also performed, with most of her songs coming from the popular anime series “Nana.” Tsuchiya told her fans, “This concert is special because I’m going to play my favorite songs for you.” She delivered on her words and gave an amazing concert that left everyone cheering for more. Showing her love for her fans, Tsuchiya and her band came back on stage for two encore performances.

Original AX programming included an anime music video (AMV) contest, “AX Idol” and a masquerade contest. AMVs are created by chopping up an anime and setting it to a certain song, resulting in an original piece of art. The AMV contest was divided into categories (action, drama, comedy, etc.), and attendees voted on which one they liked best.

“AX Idol” borrowed ideas from “American Idol” and twisted them for Anime Expo. There was a singing contest and a voice-acting contest. Finalists in the singing contest sang songs from anime series, and judges critiqued them just like in the popular television series. The winner got to record his or her own professional demo courtesy of Anime Expo.

More interesting was the voice-acting contest. Finalists recorded their voices to a section of an anime. The section was played in the original Japanese voice so the finalists could get an idea of how to act as that character. Then their voices were recorded over the same section and played back to the crowd. Judges then voted on how well the voice goes with the character, voice clarity and audience feedback. The prize for this category was a voice-acting workshop compliments of Bang Zoom entertainment.

The masquerade contest had people waiting in anticipation. The masquerade is one of the biggest traditions at Anime Expo. The best cosplayers from all over the world took the stage with their amazing costumes and performances. However, this year’s halftime martial arts exhibition stole the show. The exhibition had attendees cheering as it tried to answer the age-old question, “Ninja vs. pirate: Who would win?”

Other key attractions were conference panels that gave companies the opportunity to interact with their target audience about their products. Creators got to hear feedback from a U.S. audience via a Q&A session, while fans got the scoop on what’s happening next. At the Bandai Visual panel, the company talked about making the jump to high-definition with Bluray and HD-DVD before asking the audience if they had any questions or comments about the topic.

Also, the exhibit hall this year was massive. Companies such as Tokyopop, Bandai and Funimation had giant booths selling and advertising their products. Companies also flew out Japanese artists and voice actors for autograph sessions with fans. It’s always exciting to get your anime/manga autographed by the people who work on your favorite projects.

Anime Expo keeps improving each year. Events like Anna Tsuchiya’s performance, “AX Idol” and the masquerade contest will have everyone coming back in 2008. The anime industry will also be there to let its target audience know what’s in store for them in the future. With more than 35,000 attendees this year, and anime gaining popularity, there is little doubt that next year’s convention will be bigger and better than its predecessor.

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