*This looks super long, and while there’s a lot of text there’s also way more pictures than I ever usually use as well as some video clips!*
I only went on Saturday this year, so this isn’t really indicative of the entire 4-day (+/- day 0) experience. However, the fact I DID only go one day this year says a lot about the quality of the con and how much it’s dropped – I don’t even remember if I went last year, and if I did, it was the year we only spent about 2~3 hours a day there before just going home each day which we did the year prior as well. The guest list was atrocious then and it was again this year – with basically nobody worth seeing in terms of panel-style guests. From Japan there were some relevant people for sure, but nobody really exciting aside maybe ZUN if you’re into Touhou. I am a fan, but not enough to truly care about seeing ZUN or putting up with the shitty fanbase of /jp/ shitlords and reddit meme spewers just to do so. Plus they oddly didn’t allow ZUN to sign anything that wasn’t his OFFICIAL art, blank signboards, or AX merchandise, which is ridiculous when the guy himself has official documents he wrote up and signed basically making all fan work as legitimate and as official as his own and the fact “fan work” makes up almost EVERYTHING that Touhou is aside the godawful shmups with original release Higurashi quality art.
Actually, there were SOME alright to even really great guests – but they were all hidden away outside of the guest list and even not listed in the program anywhere, such as the Tales of producer and stuff like that. They were industry guests but they were very hard to find out existed there at all, using that same example he’s not listed at all anywhere and I only found out he was there after seeing a tweet saying he was doing a talk at the Bandai Namco booth. The closest HINT you could find anywhere was there there was a Zestiria panel but not even on their official site (AX or Bamco’s) did it mention anything about who, if anyone, would BE THERE or what it would even be. The same goes for others I would have loved to know were there, like Crispin Freeman, Cherami Leigh, and several other English VAs, not to mention several Japanese guests of course just like that Tales producer. All basically impossible to know were there. I’m sure there are plenty more I had no idea were there too and will keep finding out by chance as time goes on. Like just now I found out the director and producer of My Hero Academia were there and to spoil my own eventual review or even possible AOTY, I really fucking love that show and I would have loved to have seen them or got their autographs – but nope, no mention so had no clue.
However, the majority of the guest list that was actually advertised and listed was, and I do this first one on purpose to hurt you – “cosplay senpais” as the official guest of honor list describes them, shitty youtube fandubbers who Funimation hired to avoid hiring unionized VAs as they do these days by just hiring nobodies and firing them 6 months later, and godawful Trigger staff members. A few seiyuu and some others were good but, just like ZUN, not people who I care a huge amount about – not ones that justify the now insane costs of coming to AX or the physical toll of it all 4 days. There are some guests I’ll get to that were amazing and weren’t hidden, but as I specified I was only talking about panel type of guests at this point.
Anyway, speaking of the physical toll, I spent about an hour in the medical room with some EMTs because I was vomiting up absolutely everything I ate for lunch about 20 minutes prior and it wouldn’t stop until about 60 minutes later and a few bouts of 10~15 minute nonstop chunk tossing events. It was actually, aside the vomiting and feeling horrible, kind of alright though because the two EMTs were chill and it was a very good experience in a very shitty situation. It felt safe and not awkward or uncomfortable at all, try to avoid bothering them for minor issues but if you have anything serious going on don’t be afraid to go there.
I will say it’s probably not a good idea for a cripple, let alone one who is crippled both mentally and physically with a lot of problems in the former and a completely devastating knee injury from high school football over a decade ago for the latter, to spend almost 12 hours without sitting or getting away from big crowds aside maybe for an hour or so. The panels and viewing rooms were pretty shit this year, especially on Saturday, so we (I keep saying we, to clarify I mean me and my brother) spent almost 5 hours in the exhibit hall first. The exhibit hall, or the shops basically, was fucking enormous this year – maybe bigger than it’s ever been but I don’t remember too far back. At the very least bigger than it’s been in years.
It took up the full building and was basically as stuffed as ever and those 5 hours? They weren’t going back and forth and shit, that was just going through ONE PASS of MOST of the shops, it was fantastically huge this year. Not only that, but a lot of the booths – and all the industry ones – were getting pretty close to how they used to be. Very big, very cool, and aside selling stuff some had some cool shit going on.
You had live stages, you had giveaways, and you also had some very unique but great things (which seemed to be a popular trend this year) like the little mini-museums. It was great to see so much going on in here and actual booths worth seeing with some really big displays and props (the last few years they’ve been barebones “here’s a table and like a small ‘wall’ with art on it type situations even for the biggest companies) again as well as seeing booths from Japanese companies you wouldn’t expect to see having a booth at all. Goodsmile, PonyCanyon, Toei, etc. Also lots of big TVs with pretty recent anime trailers and loud anime OPs from this just-ending season playing all over from the big booths.
As for the non-industry exhibitors – all the regular shops – there were a shit ton and there was a lot of cool stuff for sale, though I have to admit there was a lack of…a lot of things? Usually things being sold here are from a year or so ago along with your typical big-name goods like Railgun, AoT, fucking Naruto and stuff like that. There was basically NOTHING from any big franchises I really saw aside some Mikasa and Levi figures in a couple booths – I didn’t see a single Railgun related thing aside a small hug pillow of Mikoto that sadly had Index largely present as well so I didn’t get it. And like yeah, even Naruto, Bleach, one piss, Love Live, and I’m not great with examples right now because I feel like shit but you get my point – I didn’t see much. I did see a good number of Idolmaster figures but that’s about it. I also, of course, saw NOTHING from recent shows with the exception of a Deku prize figure from My Hero Academia which I really wanted but they were asking $60 for something that’s actually worth about $15. I’m fine with marked up prices at a convention, that’s just part of how things are, but this was ridiculous and only that price because they saw “oh shit, this is that kid on the GIGANTIC wall at Funimation’s booth, I bet we can make it 60 instead of 25 like all the other figures we’re selling. Saw a big Danmachi poster I passed up on which maybe I should have gotten but whatever.
There were a lot of unique items though so this year I got kind of a grab bag of some weird shit essentially. Sadly no new clock for my collection – yes, I have an anime clock collection, a pretty good sized one too and usually I always add at least one from AX but I didn’t see any for sale this time. It’s okay because I got one in the mail some time late last year anyway. While the number of shops was huge this year, I’d say the amount of good shit was pretty typical? I didn’t look TOO closely at every both (another sign of how big it was this year that it took 5 hours to look at not even all of the booths + not looking closely at most) and I’m sure there was plenty of worth getting stuff, but nothing really stood out to me. Though I will say I liked the trend this year of putting the figures out from the box so you can see more clearly what you’d be buying, it looked cool and really did give you a much better visual aid than some images on the box or trying to see anything through shiny plastic in a not super bright place.
At least what I did buy I had a cool Ushio and Tora bag to put it in – there were different types of bags given away by AX when you picked up your badge, luckily I didn’t get the others because they were all shit shows. Have to say I don’t really appreciate the ‘backpack bag’ idea though, they were too cheap to hold up under that amount of work and also it was just a pain to carry around as well as impossible to keep closed (and on your back that means a big open thing of shit to steal!).
There was a lot of Jojo at reasonable prices because it GOT really popular from the anime adaptations but at the same time that explosion of the fanbase ended up cooling off by now so they had the goods but they weren’t extortion prices. I got a really nice artbook and a pretty cool Jotaro figure.
Lots of Touhou goods because ZUN was there, but at the same time not that much – just a lot at a couple specific booths. I got a collection of Touhou drinking glasses that were very well priced and look nice.
Along with that, I made sure to stop by the Manga University booth, I have practically the whole collection of every non-drawing-related book they’ve released (probably have some of those somewhere too) and absolutely everything that’s been done by the artist of the Manga Moods books. I picked up the Manga Tarot thing this time because it’s this same artist again plus seems interesting, and apparently she’s also doing an actual manga soon that’s Alice in Wonderland themed but involves somehow recipes for green tea stuff or something.
Found a pretty cool Code Geass thing which I first noticed due to delicious juicers poppin out but then realized I just like how it looks overall, so I got it. It’s a cool thing I don’t know how to describe (it’s matted, then matted again, and the background is behind the actual picture as in there is a physical gap there slightly and also with a layer above them with some stuff on it) but I really like the style and the outfits they have, it wasn’t too expensive either.
Then I also found a Sadaharu plushie so I had to get it as well as a prize figure of Rise in her Dancing All Night outfit which I thought looked nice even though it’s kind of slutty because it’s Rise and that’s just what she is so it just comes off as a nice Rise fig rather than a fanservicey one. I thought it looked good so I got it.
And oh right, I did actually find one other Railgun thing – a T-shirt from S that luckily had ONE in my size so I made sure to get it.
I also got a free souvenir from the EMTs.
It was fun to just see the spectacle of the amount of shops and people, as it is every year for the latter, and I’m happy with what I got. A lot of unique things I wouldn’t have otherwise even known were around or thought to buy, and seeing some of the booth displays was great on it’s own. Next we went and ate and I vomited in that medical room for awhile but then we headed on over to…I’m not sure what the area is called, but the big hall of similar style to the exhibit hall but with special cosplay set-ups for photoshoots (cherry blossoms, school rooms, stages, etc), gaming tournaments (video game ones only, card games were in the Artist’s Alley), and another cool thing we didn’t expect at all.
Itasha? Yup, just a bunch on display including some official GoodSmile Racing ones, who had not only their own cars displayed (albeit not their actual supercar they use in races) but also all the various Miku merchandise they’ve had over the years in a mini-museum fashion to look at and some nice stuff for sale. I was going to buy a flag or shirt but didn’t end up doing it. I don’t know who the other cars belonged to, but yeah there was also an area just full of itasha and a few motorcycles with anime liveries as well…though a big missed opportunity, not a single Bakuon one.
Next to all that was another great surprise of a less “mini” museum setup from P.A. Works which was really cool and very well done. It had concept art, actual designs, and even the storyboards for bits and pieces from a bunch of their shows as well as some cool posters and a little place to leave messages for the staff on a big wall. I liked it a lot and would love to see more things like this from the various studios, especially J.C. even though they’d have to pick and choose what to put on display from their giant catalog. Hell, give all the production studios a big area like this and let them all have their own displays – I’d pay just to go see that if it had a bit more to it like behind the scenes stuff to see and read and such like an actual museum style thing.
After that was the Artist’s Alley which would be more correctly called the Artist’s Parking Lot because it was literally placed IN ONE OF THE PARKING LOTS for the convention center this year. People complained about the AC being broken without realizing it’s just not well air conditioned because IT IS A PARKING LOT. No, literally, it even is just “Parking B” and has speed limit signs on the pillars and parking spots painted on the floor. Artist’s alley was huge this year even compared to the last couple (when it already grew exponentially from the small thing it was prior) which meant a lot more SHIT too. The same percentage of good artists were there but the number of complete trash surrounding them was quadrupled at the very least, making them impossible to find. In looking around I found one single booth with some alright but overpriced art.
Cosplay wise…well I was in pain a lot of the time or fighting spewing chunks all over (before doing so) so I didn’t really notice much, I know there were some pretty good My Hero Academia ones I got glimpses of and some woman with her big underboobs hanging out as some big spider thing which I should have taken a picture of. Also one I did for sure see, but sadly also didn’t get a picture of, was probably the very best Barret cosplay I’ve ever seen. As for what shows and such people were from, oddly not much from recent series aside the occasional Hero Academia ones I mentioned which weren’t even that many really, and I didn’t even see ANY Touhou cosplayers (I know there were plenty though – but not as many as you’d expect) even though ZUN was there, same with Love Live, while I completely despise it I’d still probably kind of recognize someone cosplaying it but I didn’t see anyone that looked like they were meant to be an idol of any kind really aside a group outside around lunch.
I saw ONE Lime, that’s it, and it was some short stubby girl but I mean at least she was Lime – nobody fucking else was, so it was cool to see someone trying and costume wise it wasn’t bad. I know there were GROUPS of these meeting and stuff for photos…but even seeing pics from the gatherins I feel like there just wasn’t as many as you’d nearly expect and only of a few things that aren’t even the most popular right now. It was strange, just like the stuff being sold – not BAD just…weird?
But, after all that, it was finally time for the actual reason we went this year. Oh, did I forget to mention it? We went to the Anisong World Matsuri, the whatever specific 4 hour long one was called with all the people aside, sadly, FLOW and Old Codex – both great and would have loved to see them live buuuut it wasn’t really any worse for not having them there either because it was just unbelievable.
A literal nonstop 4-hour concert that went from 7pm all the way to 11pm without any breaks, featuring kings of J-Rock JAM Project and T.M. Revolution, and some other top-tier acts such as Sphere (if you don’t know them, you still know them – look up the idol group and you’ll recognize at least 2 or 3 names immediately because all 4 of them are very prolific seiyuu), Eir Aoi, Yoko Ishida, Luna Haruna, Minami, and some DJ nobody has heard of who actually ended up a really cool and fun dude who created the closest thing to “breaks” during the concert both at the start and in the very middle where he’d play a bunch of anime music and get people into it while giving time for the band to rest.
The band which, insanely enough, played all 4 hours aside that middle short break, for every single singer or group that was on stage. The fact they went not only nearly 4 hours straight of playing but that it was also playing VERY DIFFERENT styles of music constantly and one guitarist even switching out guitars multiple times between songs (and once during one) and having to just be alright with doing that on the fly regularly makes it all the more incredible that they were able to do this. It’s hard enough to play your own music for an hour or two, but imagine having to play 7 incredibly different group’s music for 4 hours straight. What makes them even better is that they were fucking loving it, the bassist especially who by the end was jumping all over the fucking place along with JAM Project and singing along to himself and dancing around throughout almost the entire concert all while wearing pajama pants – which learning after the fact makes a lot more sense both why he was so extra pumped for JAM Project and why he, in general – and the entire band – was so intense, so fantastic, and lasted 4 fucking hours. They’re JAM Project’s band, I’m pretty sure, having seen them in several music videos.
The concert was fucking amazing, there’s no real other way to put it. I’ve been to a lot of concerts at Anime Expo since we first started going in like 2002 or 2003, and they were all pretty fucking fantastic even when AX would fuck them over and shove them into some convention hall room instead of a proper stage (though early on they literally couldn’t afford better, no excuse for more recent ones though). Seeing Kajiura, possibly the best composer since those held as esteemed classics globally, live a few years ago left me awe-struck even though I already loved her music so goddamn much it showed me an even deeper layer to it and to the vocalists. The Macross Frontier concert with the surprise guest appearance of Kanno was also amazing with May’n and Megumi Nakajima singing some of the best anime j-pop to-date from the best Macross has to offer. Even going way back to Kotoko and Maaya Sakamoto, Miku, or the year when the three girls from Haruhi did their concert, they were all just amazing and it’s hard to believe I got the chance to see them and plenty of others live.
Yet something was different with this concert – it was a mish mash of various styles and it just felt so different. Not only because of the way it was presented but maybe because none of those concerts I mentioned were anything but Jpop. This was the first time I’ve actually seen any sort of Jrock live and it feels completely different, especially when it’s not just that type of music, but from people who really stand as the best the genre has to offer. The order they had for the concert was also perfectly planned out and it did it’s job at keeping you from ever sitting down or even wanting to and kept the entire auditorium completely hyped up every step of the way – but even that hype didn’t get old because it was constantly a different TYPE of excitement and enjoyment. You’d go from everyone cheering on and jumping around waving their glow wand things to some cute idol girl to fucking T.M. Revolution just going fucking HAM and stealing the ENTIRE show with not only his fantastic music but also his stage presence. That’s something I never realized with him specifically, he’s incredible at being a rockstar – he keeps the audience engaged constantly and he never stops being wild and flamboyant and being as stereotypical of the genre as you could ever imagine.
He made you never want to take your eyes off him or for him to leave the stage because he just has that charisma, attitude, and aura of a real star of the stage who is loving every moment of it and is so into it that he pulls you in too. It was incredible and easily the very best part of any concert I’ve ever been to. I had heard T.M. Revolution before a few times but never thought much of him or his music, this really changed both of those things.
That isn’t to say the rest of the acts weren’t unbelievably good – the girls were all super fucking cute, especially Sphere which is easy to imagine given it’s got Aki Toyosaki who can’t help but BE Yui Hirasawa even in her real life in how she acts, sounds, and even looks (and Tomatoes who is just one of my top favorite seiyuu of all time – plus SPHERE as a whole just really mixes up 4 totally different styles and personalities in such a great way), and of course the lady of JAM Project was great as usual and in her punk boots for her earlier solo part. Which yeah, every member of JAM project had their own solo bits early on, only forming the full group for the final act which was easily the best thing in the concert aside T.M.’s part. JAM Project is as good in person as you’d imagine, and while they don’t lock you in visually as much as T.M.’s wild rock personality they aren’t far behind. The music was exactly what anyone would expect from them – awesome – and yes, they did the One Punch Man opening.
Oddly enough even though it’s one of my favorites of theirs, it was easily outshined by their final two songs which included Skill. They weren’t just great very pumped up energetic songs, they also were ones that they got the audience involved in due to so many parts with repeated lines that they’d have the whole audience yelling out.
It was the perfect way to close out the show. T.M. ending it would have made everyone leave with a feeling of excitement and energy that would go to be never paid off – having him in the middle-ish was perfect because it reenergized the whole crowd, while JAM closing it out got everyone into it in that “we know this is the end so let’s all just say fuck it and go for it” mindset and felt like a good payoff to the whole night especially given their music tends to have a feeling of closure or climax to them.
Overall, AX this year was shit and yet at the same time it was really fucking good. There were other issues I heard about but didn’t encounter so I don’t really want to comment on them, but what I did get out of it was a mix of literally vomiting all the contents of my stomach up for 60 minutes and possibly the best concert I’ve ever been to and never imagined would be that good – which I guess is a good metaphor for how the convention is these days. The concert alone would have been worth coming for and worth the price, and it literally was in my case essentially all I paid for aside shopping (which is of course always fun), yet aside that there was fucking nothing. Hopefully future years will fix the guest list by having actual worthwhile guests – or at least fix the “oops we didn’t put 50% of the guests – all the important ones – into the list at all or on the schedule :^)” bullshit that went on this year. I’d really recommend people to, if it makes sense (not having to stay at a hotel or fly/drive an insane amount to get here) to just come for 1 day unless there are guests you ABSOLUTELY want to see no matter what and they aren’t around all on the same day. And hell, even then, get a one day pass and just upgrade it later if that happens. What I went for was damn great, but that amounts to two fucking things in the end and it’s more aggravating when you consider there ACTUALLY WAS A LOT MORE worthwhile there going on but NONE OF IT WAS PUBLICIZED AT ALL in any capacity until literally the DAY OF these guests being there or having panels/signings and only through unofficial (AX-wise) channels like the funimation and CR twitter accounts rather than the fucking program or AX site.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t buy these socks.