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.
Sigh.
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,
Wizzywig.com.  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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