All posts by Shizuka

Photographer, cosplayer, and secret Japanese culture fanatic. Shizuka does too many things. Follow her on Twitter at @Sh1zuka
Maid Cafe

Katsucon 2014: Cherry Tea Maid Cafe

Maid Cafe

Bamboo is really, really intelligent. There’s a thoughtful demeanor about him that conjures some mystery. He spent practically the entire time listening to my colleague Mori, rarely speaking unless a question was posed towards him. He was perfunctory.

That’s not to say he was a bad butler. In fact, just the opposite. He immediately sensed Mori’s gregarious nature and proceeded accordingly, serving the role of an engaged audience making succinct comments when suitable.

All proceeds from the Katsucon Cherry Tea Maid Cafe go to Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society. Even if it did not, I was perplexed by Mori’s reluctance to pay $1 per game. The maid cafe is the place where one visits to indulge. It’s silly to have money as an objection.

I played four games of Connect Four with Bamboo thanks to the generous funding from Mori.* Bamboo showed no pretense of letting me win. He won twice and we stalemated once. That was the highlight for me. The one raffle ticket from my sole win was just an added bonus.

Maid Cafe

The food proved better in appearance than taste but that’s never the focus at the maid cafe. The exorbitant prices mean the charity of choice benefit handsomely.

Katsucon changed venue from the bar restaurant upstairs to the Pienza located in the atrium of the Gaylord. The notable change in lighting may hold the most impact. Warmer and darker, it provided a more intimate ambience compared to the upbeat brightness of last year.

Unfortunately, the space seems to have shrunk. Located in the rear section of Pienza, it comprises roughly a quarter of all available tables. No doubt the parent establishment wanted to ensure it will not have to turn away regular customers. The section occupied by the Maid Cafe is fairly well hidden. Shrubbery blocks sight of the busy walkway infront while architecture elements does same from the rest of the venue.

The Katsucon Maid Cafe continues to exercise good judgement in requiring an advanced reservation. This allows the maid or butler to provide undivided service to the patron. It’s magical to have your very own servant all to yourself for an hour. And I am grateful that they honored our reservation, even when we were fifteen minutes late. That said, I was disappointed that we were not offered a choice of servant like last year. I really preferred a maid. Bamboo is still great though!

It’s a shame I only visited on Friday. Katsucon Cherry Tea Maid Cafe remains a mandatory stop for any attendee.

More pictures here.

Maid Cafe

 

 

 

* I had no cash on me.

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Katsucon 2014 – Lolita Dark Concert

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Lolita Dark gave a tight performance to an unimpressed audience Saturday night at Katsucon.

Guitar work was solid and unremarkable. Vocals were indistinct, taking on an almost shoegazer-like quality. The bass and drums worked together well on some of their older songs, interweaving their notes to create a driving beat. The meter of songs was instantly recognizable, even classic, though the chord progressions were anything but. In many ways, that exemplified Lolita Dark – a technologically and culturally hip reworking of a rock formula as old as the Rolling Stones.

Media-savvy and brisk-paced, the band paused for the briefest of explanations of their songs and reminders to like their Facebook page or visit their website before launching into more. Lead singer Ray’s harmonies were operatic, even shrill at times. Where her gestures were sharp, imperative, forceful, keyboardist May’s movements were bubbly and effusive. Bassist Rain played his part to the hilt, contributing no vocals but strutting along the stage. Drummer Joey and rhythm guitarist Patrick, while technically flawless, were also flavorless.

In many bands, the effect would seem overly prissy, even sophomoric, but Lolita Dark delivered the occasional apology without giving away their hard-edged passion. Alas, the audience’s lack of familiarity worked against the band. Though visually flawless, bearing costumes inspired by cyberpunk and – what else – gothic Lolita, Lolita Dark struggled to engage the con-weary audience. Cosplayers leaned on props, texting, and only seemed to muster up the energy to engage in fist-pumping or baton-waving when prodded by the band, or for the final song, a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name.’ When the set was over, over 80% of the fans filed out, not even waiting for an encore.

Lolita Dark has the potential, and they are developing the connections. They lack only the audience. Time will tell if there is truly support for US-based J-rock.

Anime USA 2013: Club Ikemen Paradise Host Club

Stanley

“Well, I have to do what you tell me to.”

The top buttons of Mr. Stanley’s crisp white shirt were undone. His suspenders framed the stylish sight with titillating precision. Picture such a deliciously dressed butler delivering the above phrase in a thick, obedient voice and with his enchanting eyes slightly downcast. In that instant, I transformed into Ciel with my very own Sebastian!

We were discussing dinner and I debated sharing my food. The Club Ikemen Paradise, like My Cup of Tea, forbids staff from eating food on the clock. However, there is no denying the wishes of a Master.

My butler restrained himself to one piece of sushi. He exercised far more liberty in a lively conversation. I can’t explain how it happened. We chatted the time away like old friends running into each other. We covered Watamote, competition between Host Club and Maid Cafe, eating habits as it pertains to condiments, wardrobe choices in conveying one’s confidence, his three week long busted lip*, the circular logic of bad pirates** and Pantheon.

I believe we spent close to an hour on Pantheon alone. He’s Mr. Stanley’s favorite champion from League of Legends. Another butler stopped by and they launched into the mechanics and tactics of gameplay in exceedingly high detail. It was absolutely adorable and enlighteningly entertaining listening to my butler excitedly explain the specific steps to counter Darius.

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It’s fascinating to note that the usual awkwardness of eating alone while another watches doesn’t materialize here. A servant naturally does not dine with his Master, after all. It speaks volumes of the efforts the hosts summon to bring the magic to life.

And there’s plenty of magic. The night crowd proved more rowdy than their morning counterparts and the hosts were ready to meet the challenge. A large table next to us had a grand time ordering hosts to perform certain acts. They started with purposely dropping items and enjoying the view. It quickly escalated to hosts passing flowers among themselves. Using their teeth. If that wasn’t enough, you also know it’s a party when DJ SiSen reserved his own table.

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Assistance from the hotel restaurant’s wait staff in handling service and checks provided a vast improvement from last year. As noted by my butler, it allowed each host to spend more time with the patrons which directly and significantly adds to the experience. Undivided intimate interaction allow hosts to blur reality with fantasy. One truly feels like a Master.

I have one single complaint. Mr. Stanley had wanted to show me a card trick but there were no playing cards on hand.

Friday night was slow so I was able to overstay the hour mark. I wanted to stay forever, no longer caring about the Formal Ball or any of the other panels I had scheduled. I was in paradise. Of the Club Ikemen variety. And I didn’t even play any games, having run out of cash at the Maid Cafe earlier. Even if I had stayed an hour or ten more, it would still have felt far too short. Time flies with Mr. Stanley at your service.

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More pictures here.

* An avid airsoft gun enthusist who sports a suit in action complete with shoes, Mr. Stanley once turned a corner and got shot right in the lip. My poor butler :/

** Shizuka cosplayed Bodacious Pirates. She was getting tipsy from just a handful of sips from her martini which makes her a bad pirate. Mr. Stanely remarked as much then we realized that pirates are supposed to be bad. Yea.

Anime USA 2013: My Cup of Tea Maid Cafe

Shiori

I am in love.

With the Maid Cafe. And with my maid. You will fall in love too.

My Cup of Tea was the ichiban event I looked forward to at Anime USA since my magical visit last year. Like last time, I declined to choose my maid. There’s something about picking a person like a chattel that disagrees with me. It’s ironic really because I am completely enamored of the fantasy of My Cup of Tea. I take advantage of my hour as Master to its fullest. It’s just the one initial hurdle that irks me.

With the memory of yesteryear fresh, I was disappointed that my maid did not offer to take my bag. Can you tell I was spoiled? Then I realized that Shiori is love personified.

I could spend a lifetime attempting to capture the euphoria of having a maid address me as Goushiji-sama and probably fail. To attempt the same for my very own Shiori is certain failure. It’s simply something one has to experience. I can only say that each time her lips uttered that one word, my heart would skip a beat or ten because she wields the sole arrow to my heart. All the maids at My Cup of Tea are talented in her own special way, but…

Shiori plays the violin.

For those who are unaware, I don’t live for music. I breathe it. And violin was the one instrument I played before I realized I had the talent of a brick*. It took every atom of my willpower not to leap over the table and crush her in a hug. I didn’t even get to fall in love. I drowned instantly. Watch the video at your own peril.

The love continued. Shiori made her way around the cafe, proffering her lovely services and seducing everyone at each table that she stopped at. While I can imagine the courage it takes to do that, I do not want to. She wasn’t familiar with the “Moonlight Sonata” that I requested and inquired how it goes. I could only offer that it was three beats to a measure.

Did you see what she did there? Reminds me of my middle school violin teacher who penned “Happy Birthday” on the spot by humming it so that I could play it from the sheet. I must admit some jealousy. I would kill to be able to play something simply by hearing it.

Not skipping a note, Shiori immediately improvised with another piece that I regret not recording. Not that I could given that the only muscle capable of moving at the point was the thumping of my stolen heart.

The rehearsed turn of her wrist on each stroke and the rich agility of her fingers would’ve fooled anyone except I could sense a slight tremble behind the beautiful smile. Her display of courage only endeared me further. I won’t even bother depicting the sound because to call it love would still be a gross understatement.

The love deepened. She solicited for another request and we were at a loss when she revealed that she could play any Disney song. Mere notes into “A Whole New World”, time stopped. The clatter of the cafe faded. For those achingly precious few minutes, as I sat a kiss away, the only thing that existed in the universe was…

<3

 

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Upon reflection, part of my reluctance to choose a maid may stem from my wanting to be a kind Master. I don’t want her to be my maid by force. I would rather she serve of her volition. It’s in this vein that I wish maids may dine with patrons should they choose to (or ordered to). I will gladly pay for it. It will also be really, really awesome to have Maid Cafe run all three days.

I need to say something negative. Er, let me think. My colleague Shizuka thought the food was mediocre before quickly adding that no one visits for the food. Um, Shiori’s hair is too perfect. Well, that applies to all the maids! Uh, she didn’t tell me they had Battleship to play -_-

battleship

Actually, the same complaint applies from last year. A wall separates the performance place from the vast majority of the cafe which means most patrons are late to notice when dance breaks out. The logistics of the venue make this unlikely to change however. It’s ok. I will just order my maid to inform me of performances beforehand next year!

Speaking of which, why isn’t it next year yet???!!!

More pictures here.

Maid Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

*Albert (I like to pretend I know Einstein personally) is my second idol and I wanted to imitate him by learning to play the violin then dropping it to become a nuclear physicist and change history. Instead, all I got to be was a Master. Which is better^^ Oooohh My Cup of Tea, how I heart thee~

Porno Graffitti, Live at Anime Expo 2013

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Prominent J-Rock band Porno Graffitti performed their many anime songs and others live at Anime Expo 2013 this year. Both Monsieur LaMoe and Shizuka were on hand to cover it, with Shizuka taking photos along the way. These are their joint impressions of the show.

LaMoe: So when the concert started–yes, that’s right, I’ve heard this song before, their debut piece, “Apollo.” That completely blew me away. I heard this song more than a decade ago, but it still sounds so vivid and fresh! It made me nostalgic, that speedy and powerful that I still remember so well. It’s amazing how Akihito projects his voice! I’d never heard him sing live until now, and it was incredible. He’s close to 40 years old, but still jumping and running around during the entire show. Such admirable stamina! Listening to the live performance is so much better than listening via iTunes with earbuds on.

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Later they played “Saudade,” which is a song that has a Latin feel to it. The word “saudade” is the fundamental feeling behind bossa nova music, the music pioneered by Antonio Carlos Jobim. But “Saudade” did not sound like bossa nova at all, but more like Santana-like Latin music with a very J-pop sound. They told us during their press conference that the word fit their song, so the mood was still recognizable.

And then there were the recognizable anime songs, especially from Great Teacher Onizuka and Bleach, that made the crowd go wild. Yes, when I first heard “Hitori no Yoru” (the GTO opening song), instead of “Lonely, lonely,” I heard, “loli, loli.” So, I thought it was about a lolicon song, just like The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Yup, Mr. Onizuka is a lolicon! “Loli loli, I want to see you~♪” Darn! But turned out that was only my soramimi (“mishearing” literally “empty ears (空耳)”). But seeing the crowd dancing to a lolicon song would’ve been so hilarious.

And that Fullmetal Alchemist opening, “Melissa,” oh, such nostalgia. Yup, this anime was from a decade ago! Reminds me… Ah, so good. Yeah, listening to the anime songs live felt so great after all.

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Shizuka: Porno Graffitti delivered an incredible performance for their fans, keeping the energy high within the crowd, as they got the audience to sing along in “Century Lovers” and swing towels (which had been thrown into to the crowd) like cowboys swinging lassos during “Mugen.” But I wasn’t just impressed by Porno Graffitti’s ability to keep the crowd excited – I was equally impressed by their dedication to the music, as the lead singer of Porno Graffitti took out and played a real harmonica during “Winding Road!”

And then, “Melissa” played. My (and probably most fans’) most anticipated song, it was so much better performed live that all I could do was bask in the music. The audience’s response to this song after it was over was so strong that Porno Graffitti played this as their last song in an unexpected triple encore!

It was a give and take relationship between Porno Graffitti and the audience. With Porno Graffitti giving such an energizing performance, the audience gave an incredible show of support through their towel-swinging, “porno-porno” cheering, and frenzied hand-waving back to Porno Graffitti. I’m sure they weren’t ready for rabid American fans, as Porno Graffitti had to tell the audience to quiet down so their voices could be heard at the end of the concert… so they could announce that they would be back!

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LaMoe: Between the encores everyone was screaming, “Porno, porno, porno!” That sounded really weird, but refreshing. It’s something just lost in translation in Japanese. The word porneia (πορνεία) originally meant “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in Greek. Yes, as a rock band, that’s the name it should be. The term”rock’n roll” also meant “fornication.” So, it’s a music for fornication. They provide the kind of music that gets everyone horny. Yes, sexual burst, an outlet for the daily repression of capitalism!

Set List

  1. Apollo (Debut song)
  2. Koyoi, Tsuki ga Miezutomo (Bleach 3rd movie ending song)
  3. Matataku Hoshi no Shita de (Magi 2nd opening song)
  4. Hitori no Yoru (Great Teacher Onizuka 2nd opening song)
  5. Anima Rossa (Bleach 11th opening song)
  6. Saudade
  7. Winding Road (Ayakashi Ayashi ending song)
  8. Ai ga Yobu Hou e
  9. Century Lovers
  10. Mugen
  11. Melissa (Fullmetal Alchemist opening song)
  12. Haneuma Rider
  13. Music Hour

Encore:

  1. Agehachou
  2. Dilemma
  3. Melissa

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Porno Graffitti at AX 2013: Photo Gallery

Anime Diet was privileged to attend and take photos of J-rock band Porno Graffitti at this year’s Anime Expo! Pornograffitti is best known for anime OPs and EDs for Great Teacher OnizukaFullmetal AlchemistBleach, and most recently Magi. They named themselves after the album by Extreme (see their remarks in our liveblog of their press conference about that and more), and currently consists of Akihito Okano on vocals and guitar, and Haruichi Shindo on background vocal and guitar.

Here we present to you our best photos of the concert, taken by Shizuka. Our full review of the concert, as well as a full translated transcript of the press conference, is coming very soon as well! Stay tuned.

Otakon 2013: Maid Cafe

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Maid Cafe returns for its sophomore year at Otakon. In hindsight, my lack of excitement beforehand foreshadows my conclusions. I feel bad because in some respects, it isn’t exactly fair to make comparisons. After all, Zagat rates restaurants on individual merit and this should be no different. That said, my lukewarm feelings toward Otakon’s Maid Cafe stems from an inherent expectation that I felt went unmet.

The main selling point of a maid cafe lies in creating an illusion of a Master/maid relationship. Otakon fails to deliver this essential on multiple fronts. For one, patrons do not have the pleasure of choosing his/her maid. For another, they are seated together with strangers with eight to a table. The magical illusion cannot materialize without the possibility of an intimate rapport between patron and maid. It also creates a possible, albeit tiny, conflict when choosing a game to play. In short, Otakon’s Maid Cafe is merely a glorified café where wait staff cosplay as maid or butler.

Speaking of which, the service left more to be desired. I didn’t time the duration but for someone who didn’t even order anything, it felt long from the time of order to receipt of one’s drink.

The Maid Cafe suffers from a limited menu. While located in the Hilton, the space is not adjacent to a kitchen. This meant food choices were only of the dessert variety which is clearly publicized beforehand. It’s just that I am sure there are others like me who enjoy having a full meal at a maid cafe and are disappointed that cannot be part of their Otakon experience.

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A larger venue could help bring the experience to more Otakon members. The ability to sit more people per session should translate into shorter lines (assuming demand remains flat). Because despite all of its faults, there is plenty to love about Otakon’s Maid Cafe.

The maids and butlers are charmingly cute! This is true in both appearances and personality as demonstrated throughout and at the beginning of each session where they introduce themselves. The contagious cuteness doesn’t stop there. The decadent desserts look so absolutely adorable that one might feel a sad sting in devouring them. Also goth maid <3

Hours of operations is an immense improvement from last year. Not only are there more sessions per day, the Maid Cafe is open on Sunday as well. This, to my knowledge, puts Otakon as the sole convention to achieve this feat that I am confident others will likely emulate.

Shizuka and I didn’t know what to expect when we opted for the surprise session. Turns out it was a birthday song to celebrate Crabby-chan’s 20th complete with cake and candle. Otherwise, patrons are treated to one delightful performance of song and dance.

Including a raffle ticket with the price of admission sets a festitive mood. Prizes range from the appropriately maid headpiece to decorative ornaments. While holding little intrinsic value, they certainly provide a priceless keepsake for three lucky patrons.

Those not as fortuitous will still leave with a framed photo of the lovely maids/butlers that is given to everyone. Patrons will treasure this special souvenir because each maid and butler take turns among all the tables to personally autograph the frame.

Those specifically hoping to magically transform into a Master/Mistress with a maid or butler will find Otakon’s Maid Cafe disappointing. For everyone else, it is a sweet time of fun and games sure to rot your teeth away! See more pictures here.

maid cafe

Otakon 2013: Chiaki Ishikawa Interview

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Anime Diet was privileged to interview singer/songwriter Chiaki Ishikawa at Otakon 2013. Perhaps best known for the OP of Bokurano, “Uninstall,” which she also performed in concert at the convention, Ishikawa has written many anime songs in the course of her career: first with the band See Saw (where Yuki Kajiura was her partner), and later solo. Her most recent work is with the mecha anime Majestic Prince.

The Paper conducted the interview, with Shizuka taking a few pictures. Questions were written by gendomike and The Paper. Translation by Rome.

What music are you listening to right now?

People ask me that a lot. I don’t have anyone in particular–for a US musician, maybe Eddie Vedder, but right now I listen to a lot of samples of new artists that sing anime songs.

How would you compare Anime Expo 2007 vs this year’s Otakon?

Well, Los Angeles had a lot of cosplayers and the hotels were a mess.* Otakon is more otaku oriented.

How was working with young Yuki Kajiura? Did you think she would be as big as she became?

The first time we met? Did I think back then that Kajiura would be this huge? Well, we got successful by doing anime songs. By the standards of the mainstream J-pop industry, we weren’t good at all. The current singers who are around Kajirua practice singing with her because Kajiura is so big, but I’d thought Kajiura was great since I started singing with her. I mean, I simply loved her songs. It’s not surprising to me at all that she’s become so famous. I thought she would from the start.

Do you plan to work with Kajiura again?

Well, we don’t have the opportunity. We never have time to get together and do songs.

Was your musical approach influenced by Kajiura apart from See Saw?

Well, I’d say we both influenced each other. She composed songs based on things I sang too. We were working really hard when we were together.

How do you write lyrics without music for anime?

I think it’s based on the flow of the anime. First you have the anime itself: you have the director’s opinion, and a good-enough scenario…so then I get the synopsis. And I write song based on the synopsis. And while there are people who write music first and then the lyrics, I write lyrics first and then the music. But since I don’t know how the ending is going to be, I imagine the plot myself and then write lyrics. By keeping a certain good artistic distance from the production, I can create a good song.

Your songs tend to sound melancholy, often written in minor keys. Why?

Since I wrote “Uninstall” for the anime Bokurano, where 15 kids die, that image has stuck to me…after that, people only bring me those sad animes where some character always dies, and nobody brings moe anime to me to write songs. So, once it’s known that I am doing the ending song, people say that means the anime is going in a depressing direction. (Laughs)

*This was in reference to reports that at Anime Expo 2007, guest of honor hotel rooms were sometimes not prepared when the guests arrived from Japan. Haruko Momoi in particular complained publicly about it and other problems, spawning controversy.

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Otakon 2013: Tomokazu Seki Fan Panel

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I was supposed to attend Kit’s panel on Utena and Madoka after my Chiaki interview but Mori was too punk for Otakon so I made my way over to Seki’s panel. I am glad I did.

I knew nothing about the prolific voice actor beforehand and still know very little. I just have an iota of interest in seiyus. Seki is different. He is super cute and even more hilarious. Really, really hilarious. Good humor is incredibly difficult to execute. It requires an extremely sharp wit and even better timing. Seki commands both like a skilled Gundam pilot.

I originally took notes but his contagious personality quickly overwhelmed me. It was far better to live in the moment. So readers please forgive me for I have only two questions below. Suffice to say, one had to be there to fully appreciate it.

I don’t even recall the question, not that it matters. His humor goes beyond context and easily relates to anyone.

“Screaming… it’s a good way to vent,” he says as if he’s just realizing it. Then he pauses before continuing, “I get paid to scream. I have the perfect job!”

Later, someone asks him about Kogami smoking in Psycho Pass. Rumor has it that Kogami smokes because Seki wanted to. Seki replies with little hesitation, “Kogami doesn’t inhale when he smokes so he’s not really smoking.”

The man’s generosity rivals his humor. Practically every fan ended a question with a request for him to repeat a line from their favorite show. He performed each one as if he was recording in the studio. The crowd cheered in thunderous unison each time. It got to the point where I started to feel that the audience was beyond polite. Yet he never showed signs of annoyance. He even took a minute to study several lines prewritten by a fan before singing it.

I am listing Seki down as someone I would love to interview. More pictures here.

Sea to Shining Sea: An East Coaster’s impression of Anime Expo 2013

As an East Coast member of Anime Diet, the largest anime convention I’d ever been to was Otakon 2012. That’s in the past tense, because in late June, I found myself somehow able to consider going to Anime Expo 2013. In many ways, these two conventions are opposites: West coast vs. East coast, Industry-focused vs. Fan-focused, Four-day con vs. Three-day con. So in a rather financially questionable decision, I decided to figure out what’s so special about Anime Expo this year!

What other convention has a tank parked in front of it?
What other convention gets a tank parked in front of it?

As I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the first time, it became clear what “industry focused” meant – a big *tank* was sitting in front of the LACC, promoting the Sentai Filmworks show “Girls und Panzer,” a show about girls who were practicing “the way of the tank.” The industry connection extended to a Danny Choo booth prominently located in the middle of the LACC South Lobby, as well as a huge section of the Exhibit Hall (called the Dealer’s Room at many other conventions) reserved for industry representatives. In fact, it was the diversity of the industry booths that surprised me: not just anime licensors, but also gaming companies like NIS America and Nexon, as well as figure companies (Good Smile Company) were on the floor.

Good Smile Company showing off its figures!
Good Smile Company showing off its Black Rock Shooter figures

Of course, I was at Anime Expo for the guests too. Huke (Black Rock Shooter character designer) and Makoto Shinkai (premiered “The Garden of Worlds” at this Anime Expo; director of “Voices of a Distant Star”) were the top priority for me this year. As for musical guests, who could overlook PORNOGRAFFITTI? I added the Visual Kei and PORNOGRAFFITTI concert to my list of things to attend.

Bored Laptop-Rock Shooter
Bored Laptop-Rock Shooter

I was lucky enough to get a reasonably good spot in the Huke / Good Smile Company panel line, thanks to awesome line-squatting friends. During the panel, Huke spent most of his time drawing a “Black Rock Shooter-inspired character” live on screen, which was awe-inspiring… and at times funny, as he would make his new character make funny faces at the audience!
As for the man himself… if only he wasn’t wearing a camouflage outfit complete with mask! I’m sure he wore it to protect his identity, so I guess we can only assume he is a incredibly talented character designing ninja! Unfortunately, the Huke panel started late, giving him very little time to talk about how he created the characters for Black Rock Shooter before jumping to Q&A. However, some of the questions at Q&A were quite memorable:

Q: How do you add texture to your character designs?
A: Huke collects pictures of ‘textured’ objects, sometimes taking pictures of the most mundane but textured objects, like walls. Huke opens up a folder full of photos on his computer, inserts one into the Photoshop file that he’s been working on with the BRS-inspired character, and applies the texture to the character. Just awesome.

Q: Why did you want to become an illustrator?
A: Well, I was terrible with my studies, so I had to be successful at illustrating!

Q: What inspired you to have Black Rock Shooter carry a huge gun instead of something else?
A: Well, isn’t it really cool to have a girl hold a REALLY BIG weapon?

Ninja Huke escaping after the panel
Ninja Huke escaping after the panel

In addition to the GSC/Huke panel, I attended our exclusive Makoto Shinkai interview and the PORNOGRAFFITTI concert (articles to be published). The last two events stand out as the best experiences I’ve ever had at an anime convention.

With an attendance of over 61,000 people this year, Anime Expo nearly doubled Otakon’s 2012 attendance. This amazing number was surprisingly hard to feel due to Anime Expo’s good use of the LACC’s layout. Cosplayers took full advantage of the LACC South Lobby to showcase their work, the exhibit hall was off to one side of the convention, and the panels and concerts were located on the LACC’s West side.

Ahri!
Not just anime, but video game cosplayers!Ahri from League of Legends!

Speaking of the LACC’s South Lobby, I was impressed with the location: well lit, spacious, indoors, and air conditioned. It was no surprise that the best costumes and cosplayers could be found here, and with enough space, it was possible for the most hardcore cosplayers to show off truly extreme costumes that would be impossible to find elsewhere.

Lineup for a Main Event - long, but worth it
Lineup for a Main Event – long, but worth it

While Anime Expo and Otakon are pretty different, the one thing I did notice was that big cons have their drawbacks too. It was very packed on Saturday, and the description of Anime Expo as line-con matched my experience with Otakon’s events too. After lining up for Huke’s panel, I realized I wouldn’t get to experience Anime Expo if I continued to spend my time lining up. Autographs for very popular guests were very hit or miss, but with a well designed system of vouchers and standby tickets, it seemed more fair than the usual first-come-first-serve system.

There is one very memorable event that stands out as unique to Anime Expo. I cosplayed a character from Bodacious Space Pirates (a Sentai Filmworks license), and as I was walking by the LACC, one of the Sentai Filmworks “Girls und Panzer” cosplayers by the Tank called out to me, urging me to go to the Sentai Filmworks booth in the exhibit hall. Eventually, I made my way there, and discovered professional cosplayer Jessica Nigri cosplaying my character’s companion to perfection! Exchanging pictures and compliments, I left with a cherished memory.

Sentai's Jessica Nigri cosplaying Marika from Bodacious Space Pirates
Sentai’s Jessica Nigri cosplaying Marika from Bodacious Space Pirates

There seems to be a hole in my wallet… reserved for some financial irresponsibility next year! I really enjoyed Anime Expo and can’t wait to see who their guests will be next year!

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Animazement 2013: A Growing Family

Animazement 2013, a three-day convention held on Memorial Day weekend, has steadily grown the past few years it has been held. 8,855 attendees came to Raleigh this year, roughly 10% more than last year. Predicting this growth, Animazement’s layout at the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) and Marriott City Center dramatically changed this year, streamlining traffic, making the increased attendance have less of an impact, and providing more space for exhibitors and guests to present their work.

During previous years at Animazement, the game room closed when the RCC did. This year’s relocation of the Game Room, from the RCC to the Marriott, gave gamers 24 hour access to the game room. The space previously occupied by the game room, close to the Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room was dedicated to fan panels, requiring less walking between very popular locations. The segregation of fan and guest panels allowed lines for guest panels to avoid crowding the rest of the convention space. The Artist Alley was expanded into the balcony in front of the fan panels, simultaneously using unused space and preventing evil attendees from dropping things on other attendees below.

I did notice major crowding on Saturday. Animazement’s growth, along with its more compact layout, led to crowding along the Artist Alley / Dealer’s Room walkways at peak times. The Dealer’s room is one place where Animazement could easily improve, as vendors only use about half of the allocated space. It seems like Animazement could space the dealers further apart and alleviate traffic problems.

The rest of the space is used by RCC-provided snacks. I thought this arrangement was awkward: the location of the food should be placed closer to the entrance of the Dealer’s Room. Very few people actually took advantage of the refreshments in the Dealer’s Room.

Animazement’s late night dance room was halved in size compared to 2012. I ventured inside there on Friday night to look at the crowd and get glowstick dancer photos, but found it rather difficult, as the dance room was over three quarters full on Friday night. I tried again Saturday night, but realized it was even worse, as the dance was completely packed. I later realized that many attendees that didn’t make it into the dance went outside the RCC’s main doors and set up their own dance.

Cosplay Chess at previous Animazements had been run as a fan panel, with a chess board in the middle of the panel space and spectators sitting on the ground around the board. This year, Animazement made Cosplay Chess a main event, giving the incredibly popular event a stage and good seating. Instead of having to follow the action by trying to figure out who was who by balloons floating from pieces’ heads, a computerized display with the chess board made it very clear what was going on.

Responding to feedback from fans in 2012, Animazement hosted a formal ball for the first time this year! Held away from the rest of the convention at the Marriott, it was supposed to be a classier dance than “the late-night one”. A strict dress code was enforced, required dancers to be in formal dress, or a formalized version of a costume in order to enter.

Feedback from formal ball dancers was mixed. The music selection could have been more classy, the dress code could have been more strict. For running a new event, I could forgive Animazement for its mistakes the first year in running a formal ball.

For me, my overall impression of Animazement 2013 are mostly positive. I feel like the panel selection was weaker than it has been in the past, and the schedule being released as late as the day before the convention gave many of us very little time to prepare our schedules. However, the convention itself ran more smoothly, even with a with a large jump in attendance this year. The post-convention feedback threads are very positive, other than some issues stemming from a miscommunication about the the photography policy. I can only hope that Animazement continue the great work they did with the improvements this year!

 

Full disclosure: I staffed Animazement this year.