Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An Anime Expo Retrospective: The Long Beach Years

Anime Expo, a Thirteen-Year Retrospective
Part One: the Long Beach Years

When I came back from Anime Expo 2014, I realized it was my 13th consecutive Anime Expo. 


Yes, a sigh, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a sigh of exhaustion from all the different things I did.  It’s a sigh of both joy and sadness as I saw, but had to say goodbye to, some longtime friends.  It’s also partially a sigh of some deep thought, since Anime Expo used to be the most exciting thing of the summer, at some point even more than San Diego Comic Con.  Now, it’s not, and not simply because of SDCC. 

The Long Beach Years (2001 -2003)

I first went to Anime Expo in 2001, the summer after my junior year in high school.  These were the years (2001-2003) that it was at the Long Beach Convention Center, right after AX was asked to not come back to the Anaheim Convention Center, for one reason or another.  I think it involved cosplayers going to Disneyland and being mistaken for character workers, and this was the mid 1990s, where cosplay was anything but mainstream.  

The convention would be mostly held within the convention center itself, with the lower 2-3 halls housing the exhibit hall, the ballrooms above would have the panels, workshops, karaoke, and viewing rooms.  The Long Beach Terrance Theatre housed the main events, which were the opening and closing ceremonies, the concerts, the Anime Music Video contest, and the Masquerade. 

There was one limitation of this venue, which was the space in the exhibit hall.  It got to the point that the fire marshal had to close down the exhibit hall for being too crowded, since it violated fire ordinances. Thinking back, that seems so odd, because it never felt crowded like it was in recent conventions.

AX2001 Pricetag: $120, most marked down from $200.  these days, Ebay has them for around $500.  Thank goodness for the recent Fortress Maximus re-release, eh?

This was also the time that the internet and shopping was a bit of a novelty, and you could count the large online sources of Japanese Imported Collectibles one one hand.  I think there was Hobbbylink Japan, Bigbadtoystore, and in a distant third,  Certain things were at high demand.  I was very much entrenched in the Transformers fandom, and since the Transformers convention at this time was not always in California, AX became my defacto “Botcon.” 

In 2001, the FIRST thing that caught my eye was BigBadToystore’s $120 pricetag for a Transformers: Car Robots Brave Maximus.  That $120 pricetag is ridiculously cheap for a remold of Fortress Maximus.  All the other sellers were slashing their prices (from as high as $250)  to match their awesome price.  Sadly, I was a high school junior with no job, so even $120 was too much for me. 

(That's God Ginrai in the bottom center... Yup, 2/3 of this pic came out of past Anime Expos while the remaining 1/3, the right side are American toys that i wish i had obtained at an Anime Expo )

The year after that, while my friends and I attended the opening ceremony, I left halfway through because it bored me.  I went into the exhibit hall, and saw Hobbylink Japan’s booth with their Japanese Rereleses of G1 Transformers (this was the early 2000s, so it was the first time this was happening).  It was just the opening hours of the convention and they were at their last Reissue of God Ginrai and G1 Megatron, and both were discounted.  The God Ginrai was down from $120 to a mere $30, and the G1 Megatron was down from $150 to $80.  I quickly snagged the toys, but that was it for most of my shopping budget.  I rounded off my shopping with the then-Japanese Exclusives of the Transformers non-transforming PCV figures…. Yes, Transformers that neither transformed, or moved… Yup. 

I was also a giant robot fan, but Soul of Chogokin toys were too expensive for me to afford, so I settled with the larger, but less functional Vinyl Mazinger Z and UFO Grendaizer figures that I got for $30 each. 

Since I ran out of money fast, I learned to appreciate the other activities.  The guest panels did not appeal to me much, since I was not caught up with the latest anime and manga at the time.  The karaoke room, which was open for 24 hours for most of the convention became the standard meeting place of the group of high school friends I carpooled with.  Even though I was mostly a spectator, I enjoyed the different kinds of performances, and actually got me into the anime that had more interesting songs. 

A masquerade entry: Jon Talbain, the Warewolf from Darkstalkers.  Still awesome by today's standards!  (this pic also shot on film and scanned, hence the overexposure)

The viewing rooms were great because they were air-conditioned, but not saturated with people.  They also, at least during those and the Anaheim years, had these waterjugs at the back of the room, so you could get refreshed and recover in the room, and even fill up your water container while you were at it.  The anime being shown were pretty nice, too.  If I can remember, the rooms were separated loosely by type.  One room would have the current popular Americanized anime being shown in their dubbed versions.  Another room ran 1-3 episode tastes (basically 1 volume of a series) of the current popular anime from studios like CLAMP.  Another couple of rooms (this was the majority of the rooms, maybe 2-3 viewing rooms) showed not-so-new anime, but ones that were being sold and distributed on DVDs (and VHS at the time).  

These were the days when Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross cosplays were new and popular!

This is also the time I started to appreciate cosplay.  Back then, in late 1990s and early 2000s, the cosplay community felt very elitist, so I was afraid to start out and be anything but amazing.  At the time, I was only a spectator, and far away from being a participant in the cosplay scene.  Heck, I barely even took pictures, as this was the time when people still used film on their personal cameras.  That makes it around 24 shots per roll of film, plus accounting for mistakes/retakes, and that’s not a lot.  My first year, I think I ended up with 12 pictures that developed well.  

One of the groups participating in the Masquerade: an Ah! My Goddess group. 
My first cosplay was barely even chronicled for posterity, since I either had them in film and lost the negatives, or I had them in digital versions, but chose to store them on some late 1990s media-storage sites.  I know some of them made it to my old Xanga (yes, it’s that long ago) blog, but even that data is now lost.  It was, however, a simple costume, one that I thought at my level, I could pull off.  I was into Digimon back then, so I thought I would go cosplay as Henry Wong from Digimon Tamers.  I already had a black shirt, brown pants, and white sneakers, so all it took was a quick trip to the local store to get an orange vest and some white wristbands.  

No pictures exist of my first cosplay... I think. 
Since it was also a time of limited internet imports through very specific stores, between these Long Beach Anime Expos and my first US convention, Transformers Botcon 1998, I had started a friendship with another transformer fan.  I met this dude at 1998, and it was not until I saw his products again at Anime Expo 2001 that I remembered him.  We talked about Botcon, and Transformers, and thus  Dahveed Kolodny-Nagy became my first convention friend.  For those in the Transformers Community, Dahveed’s store, Toy Hell, is still rather prominent.  He finds and sells a lot of very odd Transformer and Brave Saga toys, some knock-offs, and a lot of licensed Korean versions of toys.  He would also later film the documentary “Transform Me,” a documentary about the Transformers Fandom.  Back then, he was just my friend who gave me a good discount on a knock-off G1 Daialtas, and threw in for free an amusingly named knock-off of Beast Wars Magnaboss Silverbolt, “Super Cock.”  I would eventually start working part time for him in his Smorgasbord Productions, helping create awesome characters.

Dahveed peddling his "Super Cock".... No, really, look at the name of the action figure!
By the end of 2003, Long Beach was getting to be a little too small for Anime Expo, and the problems of the exhibit hall filling up became more and more frequent.  By 2004, there was a new venue, and I suppose the problems have, at that point been resolved, so Anime Expo can return to the Anaheim Convention Center.

Next Stop: AX, the Anaheim Convention Center Years!

John Garcia is an English Teacher, Cosplayer, and fan of robots.

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1 comment:

  1. You’ll find a variety of different posts on the I’m a writer by trade and education, but I love to dabble in different aspects of anime, so you’ll find that sometimes I’m writing about themes, others about cinematography, others about my personal experience with a show, others just about the technical aspects of the writing. In my mind, all these ways of analyzing a show are methods to unlocking deeper, more fulfilling, and more valuable artistic experiences.