Crowds, cosplay and more crowds – An AX 2016 report

It’s been awhile since I posted anything on this blog hasn’t it?  Well after five months of no posts, I figure no better way to start off than to write up my belated recap of the 4 day party that was Anime Expo 2016!

Before I start, a disclaimer: let’s not kid ourselves that Anime Expo is a fan convention by any stretch.  As AX continues to distance itself from other cons as the largest of its kind (just a little over 100K this year) in North America, it’s going to continue to be an industry driven con where the biggest movers and shakers in anime come to showcase themselves.  This much is obvious by the ever more elaborate or large booths book-ending the front and back of South Hall which this year was used in its entirety for the Exhibit Hall, which if you can navigate around is an attraction itself.  That aside, as this year was to be the 25th AX ever held (but not technically the 25th anniversary, which is next year) it promised to be one of epic proportions and the stacked guest list certainly led many to wonder what they would have to sacrifice to attend some of the panels and events on the schedule due to popularity of said guests or to conflicts in schedules from overlapping panels.

As has been the case since 2011, my AX began ahead of the madness on Day 0 to check in to our hotel and get badges and try to prepare myself for 4 days of long days on little sleep and lots of walking.  Checking into our hotel (the Doubletree) was smooth and a much less hectic experience than last year as I was able to get into our room right away and get situated with roommates.  It probably helped that the Doubletree is a little under two miles away from the convention center and not nearly as many attendees stayed here (the lobby was fairly empty when I arrived).  Conspicuously absent from our hotel and what seemed like every other hotel was the dreaded wristband policy where guests would need to wristbands to access guest elevators as a means to curb room stuffing (which is very common at AX and many other conventions).  Once settled in, it was time to wander around Little Tokyo for dinner and stocking up of snacks and beer for the room before we went to get our badges.  As Day 0 pickup was open till midnight, we took our time heading over to pick up our badges and found ourselves staring down a still very long line at around 8:30 PM.  Long though the line was it was constantly moving and all told badges were obtained in around 30 minutes, a far cry from the 30 seconds it took to get my badge last year.  Still better than the 3+ hours from years past, though I hope next year for Day 0 AX brings back the secondary badge pickup location by West Hall.  After badges and goodie bags (a large backpack style bag sponsored by Sentai Filmworks which for me only lasted 5 minutes before ripping) were obtained it was time to head back to the hotel to rest up for day 1.

Day 1 dawned bright and early before the sun was even out as I woke up with a roommate who would spend the weekend getting up and leaving the hotel room by 5:30 AM every day to brave lines for a chance to get an autograph ticket for the many notable guests of honor attending. I had planned on trying to get autographs from JAM Project, but as I took my time getting ready and had to wait awhile for the shuttle I figured that my chances of getting a ticket were slim and none which was reinforced by a picture of the long lines a friend shared.  On a semi related note, I struck up a conversation and made fast friends with a fellow attendee who had come all the way from Buffalo to attend his first AX (and his first trip to LA).  One of the best parts of any con is getting to meet and make friends with people from all over and AX is no exception to this.  Due to my extra early start and the fact the first panel I would be attending didn’t start until later in the afternoon, I found myself wandering around the convention center aiming to kill time all the while deciding that while I wanted autographs I would not be doing anymore 5 AM wake-up calls the rest of the con.  In my wanderings, I came across a display of itasha in the Entertainment Hall which provided for good photo ops:

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After meeting up with a few friends and attending the VIZ Media and Aniplex industry panels I once again found myself splitting off and doing my own thing which meant making my first foray into the ever crowded Exhibit Hall, a trek that didn’t last long as the hall was crowded and my stomach protested the fact that I had gone too long in between meals so it was off to find food before attending the Anime Music Video contest.  While there were other interesting panels and events going on at the same time, the AMV contest is one thing I cannot miss each year (also the only free main event).  As with the past few years, this year’s contest was again full of some talented creators who made it very hard to pick  winners.  All in all, a good end to the first day even though I did not do much.

While still an early wake-up call, day 2 started a bit later as I opted to get more sleep and not rush around to wait in lines for autographs.  After a filling yet pricey breakfast buffet in the hotel’s restaurant it was off to the con with a friend for more crowds (and day 2 by far was the most crowded).  Owing to the unreliable and infrequent shuttle service between our hotel and the con to this point (and the long line already waiting), I opted to use the slightly more reliable LA Metro system as we were cutting it close on time to make the beginning of the special Love Live Sunshine event we were attending. Unfortunately for us, while we arrived to the con on time, the line to get in and through the bag check was the longest I would see it at during any point at con.  Fortunately for us though, despite getting in well past the 11 AM start time, AX was true to its extensive history of often not starting events on time meaning we didn’t miss any of the event.

I may be biased as a huge fan of the Love Live franchise, but the Sunshine event was one of my AX highlights.  Despite not getting to see all 9 members of the new idol group Aqours, the event was still high energy and featured clips from promotional videos as well as a Q & A with the present cast.  The highlight was a showing of the first episode of the new anime to a very enthusiastic crowd which was met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction.  I’ll post my thoughts about the anime in another post, but suffice to say I think the Love Live franchise is in good hands with this new group of idols.  The next few hours were spent wandering all over a very crowded Exhibit Hall people watching and after a relaxed dinner, it was time to line up for the Japan Super Live which featured 8 prominent Anisong artists and groups.  Unfortunately due to the long and slow moving lines and AX this time actually starting an event on time, we missed the first few minutes of the concert but overall it was still a great time and another highlight of my AX to see acts like JAM Project, TM Revolution, Yoko Ishida and others on the same stage in one massive concert and in front of what appeared to be a completely sold out Microsoft Theater.  Like with my thoughts on Love Live Sunshine, I’m going to devote a separate post for my review of this concert which despite sometimes poor sound quality was an amazing concert.

After a restful few hours of sleep, it was time to head down to the convention center for the Official Sailor Moon panel.  I opted to use the Metro system for transportation as I once again refused to waste an hour or more waiting for the shuttle.  Despite my lack of significant amounts of sleep catching up to me at this point, the Sailor Moon panel was a fun one featuring Q & A with many of the voice actors from the new dub and announcements about pre-orders for Sailor Moon S and Crystal.  No news on anything related to Super S or Stars yet, but that was to be expected as VIZ is probably still finishing up the dub for S.  Owing to the fact that I found myself nodding off during a couple of panels I sat in on and was starting to get a headache, I spent some time in the Quiet Room, something which AX introduced last year as a place for attendees to get away from the hustle and bustle and recharge.  I don’t know who came up with the idea for this feature, but it is a great new feature to AX and was a much needed respite from the madness outside the doors.  Feeling refreshed and free of any headache I spent some time wandering Exhibit Hall and stopping by the Bushiroad booth to try my hand in a head to head Score Match on the Love Live School Idol Festival game which I finished last on, but it was all in good fun.  By this point, I decided to forgo any evening panels I was interested in to have dinner before getting in line for the Band Battle concert with FLOW and OLDCODEX which was yet another highlight of my AX experience; as with Love Live and Super Live, the Band Battle will be a subject for another post.  After a fantastic concert, I decided to check out the video rooms in the JW Marriott as I had found my second wind.  Not seeing much I wanted to stick around for, I eventually got back to my hotel room for a few hours of sleep with my ears still ringing.

The last day of AX was another early start as many of my roommates were opting to get an early start on their drives home.  I was in no real rush so I lingered in the hotel room taking my time making sure I had everything together before checking out and storing my bags before one last trip to the convention center.  Unlike the previous two days, I decided to wait for the shuttle as since the last day fell on a holiday I wasn’t sure how often the Metro was running.  There really wasn’t much on my schedule for the last day, so I decided to do one more last walk around the Exhibit Hall and buy a JAM Project and OLDCODEX CD along with season two of Love Live (I was bummed to find that I had waited too long on the movie which was sold out). During my wanderings of the Exhibit Hall, I did manage to get in a few pictures:

As I had yet to eat anything substantial I once again decided against a couple of panels I was interested in to find some food before attending the last panel I would be attending at AX which was a panel with the English voice actors from the series Cowboy Bebop which like so many other fellow anime fans was one of those series that really got us hooked on the medium beyond that of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z. The panel was your standard Q & A type with some interesting stories shared by the cast about their time spent recording the series and the doors it opened up for them beyond the show through other roles and projects.  A fun panel with an enthusiastic audience turned into an emotional and powerful moment as an attendee addressed the cast and thanked them for providing a light during a dark period in her life when she had contemplated suicide.  Whatever question she had intended to ask of the cast was lost as she broke down crying which prompted the staffers and the entire cast to come offstage and embrace her in a group hug which left many in the room including myself in tears. A short time later after a few more questions from the attendees and a photo opportunity in which I failed to get a decent photo, it was time to leave the convention center for the last time until next June and catch my train home.  Though more exhausted than anything by this point, I was pleased with my AX experience this year even though I attended far fewer panels then I usually do.  It’s something about being with great friends and being among so many fellow anime fans that makes a convention vacation so refreshing mentally even though it is a far from relaxing vacation.  If this year’s guest list for the 25th AX is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see what is in store for the official 25th anniversary of AX in 2017!

Cosplay, panels and more – An ALA 2016 recap

The holiday season is always a hectic time of year full of family commitments, parties and dealing with crowds at the malls but for many anime fans in Southern California, the end of the holidays signifies the beginning of con season.  Usually situated about a week or so after New Years, Anime Los Angeles took place this past weekend on new later dates at the end of January and in a new venue for the first time since 2009 when the con started its 7 year run at the LAX Marriott.  The new venue, the Ontario Convention Center and surrounding hotels promised plenty of room for the con to spread out and grow in the coming years (ALA is contracted through the 2018 con in Ontario).  While some complained about the fact that the con was now a further drive than normal most people eagerly anticipated what the new home would bring, myself included.  Considering that ALA was making the jump from being exclusive to one hotel to not only a convention center and a neighboring hotel, but also having attendees spread out across numerous other area hotels it was only natural to assume that there would be some growing pains that went along with it.  From my experience, if there were growing pains at all I didn’t notice it as things were run smoothly and I observed no major issues aside from some unruly guests at the Radisson (a topic for another post).

My ALA weekend began on Day 0 as I picked up the rental car I was going to use for the weekend to spare the strain on my own car which is pushing 17 years and well over 180,000 miles.  Unlike past ALAs I’ve attended this was all new to me as this was the first year I was going to stay onsite at a nearby hotel as opposed to commuting like I have in the past.  Sure, I could have commuted but the drive to and from Ontario is not something I’d want to do especially after a long day at con, plus cons are more fun when you share a room with friends and absorb yourself in the con from beginning to end.  Anyway, after picking up a friend who was carpooling with me on the way up and being stuck in traffic on more than one occasion, we arrived in Ontario right on time for hotel check in and with no real rush to pick up our badges.  After settling into my room and making a run to stock up on beer and soda for the weekend, it was time to get my badge which took all of less than a minute…a good start although I’ve never had much issue with waiting in long lines for badge pickup at ALA even when registering on-site.

Opting to forgo the night 0 panels and activities to instead relax and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen since AX, I awoke on Day 1 ready to get the party started as it were.  The programming with the exception of an informative panel called ‘The 10 Tips to Know About Living In Japan” was fairly light at least in my opinion, but that didn’t stop me from running around and soaking in the familiar vibe and atmosphere of being among fellow anime fans that comes from attending a con, a feeling that I find myself longing for throughout the year.  In between running around and bumping into friends every so often, I also made it a point to participate in an ALA staple of collecting badge ribbons with the goal of surpassing my total of 31 from last year which I barely managed by the time I left on Day 3 (I ended up with a total of 34):

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As the day wore on, the programming picked up considerably from earlier in the day as I found myself attending quite a few panels including a panel in which a friend was going to debut a film he had been working on for the last 2+ years only to have ALA drop the ball and not providing the necessary AV equipment to play the movie that they said they would.  Well what do you know, ALA wasn’t completely issue free after all!  Aside from that disappointing failure on the con’s part, day one ended without incident and after a casual get together of friends in the room I was sharing, it was time to call it a night and prepare for what promised to be a busy day starting with the Love Live cosplay gathering.

Unfortunately for me, while Day 2 started well enough with an awesome Love Live cosplay gathering it spiraled out of a control owing to a headache I had been nursing during the gathering which combined with the noise of the convention going on around me had turned into a full blown migraine.  Opting to seek out the peace and quiet of my hotel room, I spent the better part of 2 hours basically sitting still with a towel over my head waiting for the pain to subside to the point where I could go back to attending the con.  After some time, I was finally able to re-join the con in progress having missed a few panels I wanted to attend which bummed me out, but was not something that completely make or break to my enjoyment of the con.  I wrapped up Day 2 attending the main panels I wanted to attend that night and ended up calling it a night earlier than I planned originally so as to not push myself.

Day 3 was mainly about getting packed up and checked out of the hotel; I had planned to leave my car parked at the hotel until I was ready to head home but as it was raining and windy I opted to instead park at the convention center for the remainder of the con.  I only attended a couple of panels including a panel presented by staff members from Anime Expo who talked up this year’s con and highlighted a few staff members and their journey from attendee to staff as well as a Q & A session.  This panel was part of a day long programming track entitled ‘Your Next Convention’ that ALA runs every year to allow other local anime and sci-fi cons to promote their yearly events, a nice touch to help people discover other conventions they might not know about and help the conventions drive up interest and attendees.  After running around and getting one last look at Exhibit Hall as well as one last run at collecting more ribbons I opted to call it a con and head home earlier than I originally planned to, but as I wanted to head home while it was still daylight and I was exhausted I felt no reason to stay much longer than I absolutely needed to.

Overall, despite issues with a friend’s panel and a migraine causing me to miss a chunk of day 2 (which obviously I can’t fault the con for), I felt that this year’s ALA was pretty solid overall.  The extra space that the new venue afforded allowed for people to spread out more and to avoid the cramped hallways that were common in the last few years at the Marriott.  While the charm and feel of a small con that ALA had while at its old venue did seem to disappear a little in a convention center setting, the vibe at any given time while walking around was no less exciting and the attendees still as loud and happy to be among fellow like minded individuals as ever.  The convention facilities used at the Radisson across the street still maintained the touches of past ALAs from the beanbags scattered all around to the con suite which provided attendees a quick snack in between meals and provided a good spot for convention staples such as gaming rooms aplenty, karaoke, maid cafe and manga lounge as well as additional rooms for programming.

Was it the best ALA I’ve been to? No it wasn’t, but it was still up there as the pros outweighed any cons that I may have experienced along the way whether it was something that the con itself did wrong or it was my body trolling me.  I’m looking forward to seeing how ALA continues to grow and spread itself out and make further use out of the space available to it that previously wasn’t there.  As this con continues to grow, I can see it eventually starting to attract a couple of Japanese guests down the road and basically turn into a Southern California version of Fanime, a fan friendly small to medium sized con with a more laid back and relaxed vibe as opposed to the constant hustle and bustle of a large con like AX.  I’m looking forward to continuing this journey as an attendee who is eagerly awaiting their 9th ALA; but for now I’m content to get back to real life as I plan for AX in a mere few months.

 

The Force Awakens – A belated Star Wars Review (some spoilers)

After a long hiatus without any posts I’m back to post on this blog on a hopefully much more consistent basis (it’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions).  I figured I’d start off with my belated review of this little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  You might have heard of it? It’s that movie that’s making a whole lot of money and just might challenge James Cameron’s Avatar for the worldwide box office crown.  Sure, this review is late considering I saw it opening weekend but hey, the holidays got in the way.  Anyway, onto the review and before I continue I must warn you that there are some SPOILERS AHEAD in case you have not seen the movie yet.

Let me just say that few things give me goosebumps like the Star Wars theme does so when that familiar piece started playing along with the customary crawl in the theater? Goosebumps all up and down my arms!

As the crawl tells us, it’s been 30 years since the Battle of Endor and even the Empire was defeated, a new evil has risen from the shadows of the Empire in the form of the First Order and nowhere to be found is Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi who is now sought after by both the First Order and the new Rebel Alliance which goes by the name of The Resistance.  While the very beginning of the crawl alerts of Luke’s disappearance, that is only a small part (albeit an important one) of the movie as a whole which will set up the currently untitled Episode 8.  There are many callbacks and similarities between A New Hope and The Force Awakens but in this newest installment of the Star Wars franchise those similarities while blatantly obvious a lot of the time are necessary to move this story forward and set up the rest of this newest trilogy while setting itself apart from the prequel trilogy which was at times unwatchable.  While this movie leans a little bit on the likes of Han Solo, Chewbacca and General Leia, it also does a great job of figuratively passing the baton onto the new heroes of this trilogy in Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron (who are played very well by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac respectively).

While this trilogy’s new big bad villain in Kylo Ren is clearly no Darth Vader, he is at times terrifying in his raw power and unpredictable nature as he finds himself conflicted between the Light and Dark sides of the Force more so than Darth Vader was until the end of Return of The Jedi.  I feel like Adam Driver makes this role his own and honestly if this was the way Anakin Skywalker had acted in Revenge of The Sith I might have been a little more inclined to cut him some slack.  Where Anakin was clearly toyed with and easily manipulated, Kylo Ren seems to battle with his inner conflict and presumably will still have some conflict even after his cold blooded murder of Han Solo and his defeat at the newly Force adept Rey.  As far as the other villains in this new trilogy, none are entirely too memorable or are otherwise used very little but then again this is only the first movie of a planned trilogy so I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of the likes of Supreme Commander Snoke and Captain Phasma.

This movie sets off on a breakneck pace from the very beginning with the massacre of an entire village in order to get a clue to Luke Skywalker and even in moments of downtime, the frenetic energy and snappy one liners add to the suspense and enjoyment of a movie that is much closer to the original trilogy than the prequels could have ever hoped to be.  While its callbacks to the original trilogy do make some things predictable, there are still a few plot twists that at least for me came out of nowhere and even though I spoiled myself on a couple of things (namely Han’s death) were still done well enough that when it happened onscreen, I was still in shock along with the rest of the audience.  Is this movie perfect? No, not by a long stretch but no movie is ever perfect and this movie does have its flaws but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the first good Star Wars movie in 30 years.  If you’re a fan of popcorn big budget blockbuster movies chock full of special effects and action then you’ll more than likely enjoy this movie as much as I did and I look forward to seeing it a couple more times before its theatrical run is over.

Grade: A-

Love Live the School Idol Movie – A Rundown and Brief Review (Spoilers ahead)

Here’s a fun fact: I watched the first two episode of Love Live: School Idol Project and dropped it, thinking it just didn’t click with me even though I do like idols a little bit and was a big fan of the Idolmaster anime (the good one, though I really should check out Cinderella Girls).  Anyway, before I get too sidetracked and go off on a tangent, let’s get back to the purpose of this post which is a review of the Love Live School Idol Movie which has been playing at select theaters across the United States the past week or so.  I went to see the movie in Los Angeles last night trying not to get myself too psyched up and my expectations too high lest I bet letdown with a movie that fell short of what I had come to love from this series.  I couldn’t help but go in psyched up and with high expectations anyway based on early posts about the movie on Twitter and various other social media outlets, but I was in the end very happy with what I saw and it re-enforced my love of the series as a whole.  While I could just end this post here, that wouldn’t make for a very good review at all so allow me to continue but be forewarned that the following review contains spoilers aplenty so if you haven’t watched the movie yet read at your own risk!

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The poster for the movie with all 9 members of μ’s

Synopsis:  The movie begins immediately after the conclusion of the second season; Nozomi, Eli and Nico have all graduated and as was decided towards the end of the season, this was to be the end of μ’s as an idol group.  However, not so fast as Hanayo, the new Idol Club president gets wind of a new Love Live contest that is set to be held at the Akiba Dome which would be the largest venue yet to host the Love Live competition…but in order to make the contest a reality, more interest and exposure for school idols as a whole is needed and as such μ’s is invited to perform in New York City to try and get exposure on a grander scale.

The girls arrive in New York City in awe of the new surroundings and perhaps a little bit overwhelmed at the enormity of it all as they settle into their hotel and go about planning their performance and where to hold it in such a huge city.  Along the way, the girls have a few encounters with the locals who by all intents are portrayed to be nicer than anyone expects New Yorkers to be, but the production team obviously did their research as the sights and sounds of New York are well captured while μ’s is in town.  After some misadventures in which Hanayo has a mini meltdown over the lack of white rice, we get a new song from the first years and Honoka gets lost after ending up on the wrong subway train and meets a mysterious new character who for all intents and purposes is basically Honoka all grown up, we get to the big overseas debut of μ’s which is fittingly held in Times Square. The performance goes off without a hitch and was so succesful that when the girls return home they find themselves mobbed in the airport and now see banners, billboards, merchandise all over Akihabara and TVs every which way showing off their New York performance.  While the fame is welcomed by some, it’s not exactly the best thing to happen as this sudden popularity dictates that μ’s should continue on and keep doing more concerts which flies in the face of their decision to disband.  Eli, Nozomi and Nico while conflicted stand by the decision to end μ’s though everyone seems to be wavering a little bit.  In the end, as the leader and founder of the group it’s up to Honoka to figure out exactly what course of action they should end up taking.

Honoka is in a dilemna as she wrestles with the decision, she has an impromptu meeting with A-RISE where they reveal they are taking their idol career to the next level and becoming full blown idols after graduating from high school and offer up a business card for the management group they signed on with.  Honoka once again runs into the mysterious singer she came across while lost in New York and gets some advice which strengthens her decision that μ’s disband all activities.  The group which was started as a way to save their school from shutting down and led to lifelong friendships and new adventures was only meant to ever be just that, a school idol group.  However, Honoka has an idea which she runs by Tsubasa and the rest of A-RISE which involves showcasing the school idols all across Japan in one huge concert with as many groups as they can get together in the short time they have left.  It’s prior to this concert when Honoka reveals to all assembled that after one last concert performance, μ’s will be no more which is shocking to many and causes a few assembled idols to break down and cry but far from putting a damper on the performance, it goes on as planned without a hitch and the movie ends with a new school year beginning and the formation of a new school idol group as headed by Yukiho and Alisa who talk up μ’s and school idols as the group in question perform their last ever concert fittingly enough in Akihabara.

Impressions:  First of all, this movie had everything I expected from the anime series in equal parts comedy, catchy new songs and costumes (which I expect to start seeing at cons soon enough) and just the right amount of drama to tug at the heartstrings and keep things well balanced. The pacing could have been better in parts, but overall I found that to be a minor flaw as the movie as a whole was very enjoyable and made even more so with a very enthusiastic audience that reacted at every key moment of the movie.  Some may complain about the focus on Honoka and the fact that the other members maybe didn’t get as much screen time, but it works here seeing as Honoka after all is the one that started the group and is the leader.  The rest of the group have their memorable moments in the movie, some of my favorites being the following:

  • Hanayo’s rice mini meltdown
  • Rin sporting a cat hoodie as she shared a moment with Hanayo in their hotel room
  • Maki and Tsubasa working on a song for the big performance as Nico, spying from outside reacts with shock as Tsubasa leans in rather close to Maki with her idea for a song

Along with most of the audience in the theater there was a sense of sadness as the movie ended with the last μ’s performance as this movie wrapped up the Love Live series pretty well and provided closure on the journey that μ’s has made from their beginning to the very end.  As was the case with the K-ON! Movie, I felt that the Love Live movie served its purpose and provided the perfect end to a series which has captured the enjoyment of so many other fans over the past few years.  However much longer the seiyuus continue to hold live concerts in front of packed stadiums remains to be seen, but considering how this movie wrapped things up and the fact that individually each of the seiyuus are pursuing solo careers and other projects it would seem that the end of μ’s on the live action side of things as well; if that’s the case then it has been one hell of an enjoyable ride.  As they say, all good things must come to an end but μ’s will always live on through the anime, their live concerts, the catchy song and this movie.

Grade:  A

What a ride it has been…a Sailor Moon Crystal review

If you are a Sailor Moon fan, then the last year has been a great one.  It was in May 2014 at Anime Central where it was revealed that VIZ Media had acquired the rights to Sailor Moon and would be re-releasing the original series in its entirety, uncut and uncensored with a new dub. To this day, as a long time Sailor Moon fan myself I still can’t believe that the day has come when we’re getting a proper release of the series that helped launch many people into the anime fandom even though I now have physical copies of the first season and part of one of the second season.  Also of note to Sailor Moon fans was the debut of the long promised new Sailor Moon anime, the first new anime in the series in 15 years here in the US (19 years in Japan).  A year later and we have come to the end of Sailor Moon Crystal, a more faithful adaptation to the manga which just wrapped up with the end of the Black Moon arc.

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When it was first announced that we would be getting a long awaited new Sailor Moon anime, there was some general discontent at the fact that new episodes would be released twice a month on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.  At times, the wait between episodes especially after cliffhangers seemed to be rougher than expected even though as a fan of the original series I knew what would eventually happen as the Dark Kingdom and Black Moon arcs played out over the course of 26 episodes.  This impatience at the wait was of course tempered by the alternative of not having any new Sailor Moon, but still that didn’t make the wait any easier.

Crystal had its share of hiccups early on in the series, namely animation quality first and foremost but as the series went on and the quality of the animation improved, the series was full steam ahead.  While there are differences between new and old, the differences I felt were an improvement overall namely in Usagi and Tuxedo Mask.  In the original series, Usagi is about as whiny, clumsy and all around useless of a main character as you can get; when the chips are down though Usagi steps up and delivers.  In Crystal, Usagi is still whiny and clumsy (and very bad at school) but she takes to being a Sailor Guardian much more quickly and has more confidence in her abilities while taking the bad guys head on.  The difference between classic Tuxedo Mask and Crystal Tuxedo Mask is perhaps the most welcome in my opinion as the new version of Tuxedo Mask as shown in the manga actually uses his fists and various attacks when helping Usagi and friends out versus the use of a single rose.

Gone from Crystal are the filler episodes and the monster a day battles that bogged down the original series (which don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed); also gone for the most part from Crystal that came from said filler episodes are the lighter interactions that provided respite from the battles that the Guardians waged against the forces of evil as being more true to the manga, Crystal took a much more somber approach to each episode in a much quicker pace (26 episodes of Crystal covered what took 89 episodes in the original).  Despite this, Crystal still doesn’t lose sight of what made Sailor Moon so good to begin with which among other things is the fact that girls can stand up and fight on their own and the fact that above all else, friendship and love will always win over evil.

Overall, despite the odd release schedule and the shaky start with the animation quality, Sailor Moon Crystal breathes a new life into this iconic anime series and I hope that there will eventually be more of this series as we move onto Sailor Moon S and Super S.

Grade: B+

Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan – A series review

If like me, you’re a big fan of the Haruhi Suzumiya series you were surely at least a little bit excited for The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, the first new Haruhi-verse related anime in a few years. While it’s not a third season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, this series at the very least served to provide us with some new adventures with familiar characters and not really much else.  This series follows the spinoff manga which is set in the alternate universe that is seen in the film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya in which all of our favorite characters return with some differences.

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The story centers around the title character, this time a shy high school girl with a crush on her classmate and fellow Literature Club member Kyon.  Along with fellow club member and Yuki’s best friend Ryoko Asakura we get your basic slice of life semi rom-com anime in which by the end, no real resolution is brought to the burgeoning relationship between our two main characters which isn’t all that bad considering the manga is still ongoing at the moment.  Along the way we get appearances from other Haruhi-verse mainstays such as Tsuruya and her well endowed, yet clumsy friend Mikuru along with the ever important involvement of one Haruhi Suzumiya and Itsuki Koizumi who despite attending a different school find their way into the daily activities of the North High Literature Club.  Aside from a dramatic three episode arc in which Yuki develops a split personality after nearly being hit by a car this whole series is again, your basic slice of life comedy with plenty of references to the original Melancholy series that any fan of the franchise would spot easily.  While watching the original series is not a pre-requisite to watching this anime, I found personally that it was more enjoyable going through each episode seeing just how many references I noticed.

On its own, this series stands on its own well enough by using the same generic formula for each episode and providing plenty of entertainment from the antics of the main characters that we all know so well.  Let’s be clear, a masterpiece this anime is not, but it is a much longed for taste of the Haruhi-verse that maybe (hopefully) leads to a proper third season of exploits by the SOS Brigade.  Though once the Nagato manga wraps up, I wouldn’t mind a second season of this anime since I still enjoyed it all the same and am eager to see how it wraps up and whether or not Yuki and Kyon’s relationship develops any further and becomes something more than just awkward friendship.

Guess I’d better start reading the manga just to see how this series stacks up to the source material and because I want to see what happens after the anime wraps up (the anime ended with volume 5 of the manga) seeing as there is no guarantee of a second season.

Grade: B-

The Post con season wrap up: Rating the cons

For me, another con season has ended successfully which was spent having three very fun and equally tiring weekends with friends over a six month span.  Each con had their weak points and their high points, their missteps and successes but despite all that each convention only reminded me why I love attending anime cons so much.  Even though I’m biased being an anime fan, there is no greater atmosphere than spending a weekend among thousands of like minded individuals sharing a common interest.  I guess the same could be said of any geek related fandom and their respective conventions, but I’m just going to stick to what I know best.  I am aware that there are conventions pretty much every week all across North America and while I would love to attend countless other conventions and travel to more places I am at the moment limited by my budget and how much time off I have available to take. While cons like Otakon, Anime Boston among others are on my list in the future I am done with major cons until early 2016 when the cycle starts all over with Anime Los Angeles.

Rambling aside, on to the real topic of this post which is my ranking of the three conventions I’ve attended this year.  While I do plan to attend Anime California next month, it is ineligible to be counted on this list seeing as the only conventions I rate are ones that I attend for more than one day and/or stay at a hotel for.  To come up with my rankings, I scored each convention on a variety of factors in every possible aspect of the convention experience totaling nearly 40 different categories.  If it in some way affected or would affect the experience, it was given a score on a scale of 1-10.  Without further ado, I present my rankings in order of first to worst with details about each convention and a little blurb about the highs and lows for each convention:

Sakura-Con_logoSakura Con

Venue:  Washington State Convention Center

Attendance (unique): 23,000 (estimate)

Notable guests: Kana Ueda, Garnidelia, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Kanako Ito, Toshimichi Mori

Score:  9.38

What went right: Do you have a few minutes to spare?  Basically, from beginning to end this convention for lack of a better term knocked it out of the park.  Whether it was the deep programming schedule over the course of the weekend that provided plenty of choices (and equal conflicts) to the strong guest list which included the US debuts of musical guests Garnidelia in concert and seiyuu Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, there was always something to do during the con.  So stacked was the programming that I had multiple conflicts even on the last day which if I hadn’t spent a couple extra days in Seattle would have eliminated any chance of sightseeing, not to mention that at the end I felt as wiped as if I’d attended a bigger con like AX.  Add in a bright, open and easy to navigate venue with plenty of easy to read signage in the middle of a vibrant city like Seattle and it seems like at least for this year, Sakura Con could do no wrong.

What went wrong: Running out of program guides before I could get one; a very minor detail but as I like to collect guides from each convention I go to, this was enough of an issue to count against Sakura Con.  Also, it took a good 30 minutes to get my badge on day zero…oh the horror of waiting so long when AX and Fanime are each prone to multiple hour wait times.  Both of these items are really just nitpicking for the sake of finding something wrong, but no convention is perfect.

 

2008-07-Logo_BW_txt_outline_600x600Anime Los Angeles

Venue: LAX Marriott

Attendance (unique): 4,500

Notable Guests: Kaiji Tang, Christine Marie Cabanos, David Vincent, Carrie Keranen, Erica Mendez

Score: 9.08

What went right: Are you surprised that such a tiny convention compared to Sakura Con and AX competed so well with the bigger conventions and almost finished atop my rankings while soundly beating one behemoth of a convention in AX? You really shouldn’t be that surprised!  For ALA, like Sakura Con, stacked programming created multiple conflicts which for a convention as small as ALA seems unlikely, but the programming track for this year’s convention was ripe with panels that interested me enough to be running around all over the venue.  Normally ALA is known as the laid back chill con due to its small size, but I was busy the whole time I was at this convention.  In addition to stacked programming, ALA boasts one of the best convention experiences in my opinion in terms of the overall vibe and community feel.  From the con suite providing quick snacks to tide attendees over to the ribbons that attendees trade and give out to foster socializing and other conventions promoting their events in a community space, there’s no doubt that this con is a tight knit community that’s still for the fans and by the fans.  I just hope the move to an actual convention center doesn’t diminish these qualities, but I have confidence it won’t seeing as I can see ALA growing into the Southern California version of Fanime.

What went wrong: This was the last year of ALA using the LAX Marriott as a venue and as this con proved, the move to the Ontario Convention Center is definitely a welcome and much needed move.  Due to the size limitations of the venue, ALA has had to institute a hard cap on attendance and eliminate onsite badge sales to keep the crowding down which thanks to a rainy day on the second day of con made the 4000 attendee cap feel really packed into the hotel like sardines and kind of took away from the enjoyment a little bit.  Adding to the marks against the venue was the sometimes rude and indifferent hotel staff towards the attendees; granted the hotel has a reason to be irritated due to immature and irresponsible attendees in the past, that’s no reason to treat paying customers like less than nothing.  In addition to the venue issues, parking nearby is at a premium if you’re not staying in a hotel and if you’re hungry you’re limited to what’s in the hotel or Carl’s Jr. and Denny’s within easy walking distance, otherwise the majority of food options requires driving.  ALA should score much higher in this category next year thanks to a bigger venue with room to grow and a wealth of food options a short drive or brisk walk away.

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Anime Expo

Venue: Los Angeles Convention Center/JW Marriott LA Live/Club Nokia/Microsoft Theater

Attendance (unique): 90,500

Notable Guests: Ayako Kawasumi, Momoiro Clover Z, WagakkiBand, Aimer, Isuna Hasekura

Score: 7.98

What went right: As is to be expected, AX provided endless programming that once again required one to have to pick and choose what to actually attend while sacrificing other panels in the process.  Despite the continued attendance growth to a once again record level of just under 91000 people convention for the most part didn’t feel too completely packed (outside of South Hall lobby) thanks to the wise move of making use of Kentia Hall and the entirety of South Hall while shuffling around programming rooms to fit panels accordingly with the biggest industry and guest panels making use of West Hall B and Petree Hall.  Registration this year was the best it’s ever been in all my time of attending as pre-printed badges and two locations on day zero lead to me walking up to one of the registration stations and securing my badge in less time than it took to pull out my ID and badge confirmation (about 30 seconds), while I’m not a fan of paying additional fees for my badge on Eventbrite I’m willing to put up with it if it means continued smooth registration.

What went wrong: They say bigger is better, but in the case of AX this year that doesn’t necessarily fit.  While I applaud AX for finally deciding to spend some of their budget to invest in canopies to keep outside lines out of direct sunlight, there is still the matter of long lines for nearly everything which when you get into 90K+ attendees is a given and can’t be avoided.  Let’s also not fool ourselves that AX is an affordable convention even if you buy your badge at its lowest price.  AX is the only anime con which charges extra for all concerts, masquerade and as of the last two years also charges for certain ‘special event’ panels.  If you go to a couple of concerts (priced at anywhere from $25-55 depending on concert and venue), that adds up real quick in addition to the growing costs of hotel rooms in downtown LA.  Sadly, as long as people keep spending the money and the demand is there AX won’t stop what they’re doing anytime soon and for as outdated as LACC is the convention is staying put until at least 2019.  Don’t even get me started on the Premier Pass which continues to skyrocket in price while the perks seem to dwindle and be less and less worth the high price tag (which considering the starting price of $350 for next year is only $100 less than what I paid for hotel, airfare AND badge for Sakura Con is way over the top).  Not helping the case of AX this year was also the staff of the JW Marriott which from what I heard gave plenty of attendees a hard time this year in addition to trying to pull a fast one with a last minute wristband policy to try and somehow enforce the limit of 4 people to a room (only people with wristbands would be allowed access to guest elevators), a policy that I never once saw actually being enforced.  All in all, despite a few shining moments it seems like AX did more bad than good this year in my book.  Maybe next year for their 25th convention, they can redeem themselves; they certainly have their work cut out for them