Brian and I set out to the Long Beach Convention Center early and paid the dubious $5 parking fee at the Westin's parking garage. We arrived at the Convention Center to find a huge line for the opening ceremonies. As I stood in line I was once again reminded with one of the reasons I missed California: All the beautiful Asian ladies walking around. It was threatening to strain my neck. The line was fairly well controlled and after only running 30 min past the start time for the opening ceremonies, we streamed in to the Terrace Theater.
The ceremonies opening up with a motion captured CG figure on the big screen projector, Max. Not a bad touch although the high-pitched voice did grate a bit on my nerves. We heard some opening words from the head honchos of SPJA and then the Guests of Honor roll out. For each guest a little clip of their work was displayed before they stepped out. Haruhiko Mikimoto, Kikuko Inoue, and Yu Watase were greeted with the most enthusiasm. However, Scott Frazier had the best entrance, escorted on stage by three beautiful ladies. Not present at the opening ceremonies was Noboru Ishiguro. He was still in Japan supervising the move of his studios to a temporary location following a fire at the original location. However, he did put together a video clip for the AX staff to show. It gave a virtual tour of the burned out studio and the new location. I must say, his staff seemed camera shy as few looked directly at the camera or responded to its presence. Maybe it is a cultural thing. Interspersed throughout the video were various moments when Mr. Ishiguro would hold up a sign "Translate" to cue the translator on stage to do his thing, which was greeted with laughter from the audience. Mike Tatsugawa, president of SPJA, also announced that for 2002, AX would have two locations: New York City and Southern California. This was greeted with cheers from the masses that had come from beyond California's borders and even louder by the East Coast crowd. I must admit, although New York is now closer to me, I will still go to the one in California since the trip will double as a chance to visit old friends.
Opening ceremonies came to an end and Brian and I met up with Seamus who was filming in the back of the room. He was getting instructions from his boss on what to focus on. Brian and I spoke with him briefly before I headed to the Mikimoto panel. As I headed to the panel room, I immediately noted one major gripe with this year's AX, having to go all the way around the Arena to get to the other half of the convention. It was a winding path that went around the massive arena and through some loading docks!
I finally made it to the panel and immediately met up with my old friends, Jesse Mai and Freddy Moncada. Jesse I had met the previous day helping him pack stuff for AX and Freddy I hadnít seen since I departed for my assignment. We caught up on life while waiting in line. I was looking forward to the Mikimoto panel as he had worked on the renown Macross. As we sat down in the panel I looked around the room and was pleasantly surprised to see my old friend, Jingmon Leong. We hadnít seen each other in about 4 years so we were pretty enthusiastic at our reunion. As we waited for the panel to begin, we caught up on life.
Mr. Mikimoto walked in about half an hour late but the panel did not disappoint. One very interesting fact I learned was that he had not worked on the beloved Macross Plus project as he was working on the development of Macross 7 at the time. He also teased us with a new project he was working on to work on new techniques in in CG animation to eliminate the "doll" look of present works.
After the Mikimoto panel I went to the Kikuko Inoue panel. She is well known for her multitude of roles in anime but probably best known for Belldandy from Oh! My Goddess!, Kasumi Tendo from Ranma Ĺ, and Li Shaoran's mother from the Card Captor Sakura movie. She has a tendency to voice sweet, saintly, too-good-to-be-true characters and her popularity comes as no surprise. I was surprised to note that her normal speaking voice has a light, airy quality to it that is not too far from Belldandy's and Kasumi's voice. There were a lot fans in this panel who praised her work, in anime and in music. She seemed to be surprised that she had such a following on this side of the Pacific and especially that her CD's had sold here. There were some requests for her to sing and she obliged, singing the opening theme to Oh! My Goddess!, "Cotton Boy" from one of her albums, and the theme to Sailor Moon (Japanese lyrics thank God). One really good question she got was from someone who wanted the number to the Goddess Relief Hotline. She responded that she would like to know herself! She also got a lot of praise from die hard fans including one marriage proposal! Alas, she is married. My friend Freddy made a particularly long speech telling her how much he liked her work and started going into such detail about characters she voiced and memorabilia he had collected that I was worried he'd scare her into thinking he was a stalker. It was when Freddy went on about the life size Belldandy wall scroll he has and how he gushed about her roles that really raised my eyebrows and start inching away from him to get some distance. Luckily Ms. Inoue only seemed surprised (Hopefully amused too). I tried to keep my own comments short (and tamer) and this is what I said to her when my chance at the mic came: "Like Keiichi Morisatoís character, I was also a science/technical major in college. Although it has been years, I am still dialing random numbers and waiting patiently by the mirror. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very, very much for bringing a goddess to life. And I know this role is often overlooked so I also wanted to say, 'Rune Venus hime-sama, suki da!'" After translation she smiled and said thank you. I'm just glad I didn't scare her.
After the panel, I was tired from the lines and had to meet up with Brian for his interview with Seamus, which ended up did not taking place on this day. I took the opportunity to grab a late, overpriced lunch and wander through the dealers' room a bit. It was madhouse as always. Lots of bodies jostling for position, excuse me, pardon me, coming through, breathe in when the guy next to you breathes out, and get off my foot! I purposely did not bring much money with me as I wanted to peruse the aisles and not spend anything the first day and wait for prices to go down. That would turn out to be a mistake as I will later address. I met up with Brian and we went to the Anime Villains Panel. Only we read the time wrong. We ended up on the tail end of the Bishounen Lover's Anonymous Panel. Brian and I were a bit horrified at first but calmed down quickly when we realized we were in a room with lots of pretty women. So we sat back and enjoyed the scenery. We then went out to dinner with Brianís friend, Chris, and Seamus and his assistant. I won't go into detail but dinner dragged on a little bit longer than I think should have. Especially with what I went through just to get leave not to mention AX was something I had paid for.
I got back to AX two hours later and was able to meet up with Jesse and Freddy at the end of the cel collector's meeting. I was very impressed with the cels some people had there and a bit jealous too. However, cels are EXTREMELY expensive and I could not bring myself to plunk down the capital to purchase any. They make great items for the Guests of Honor to autograph but the time, effort, and money spent on cels prevents me from getting into it. I was also able to meet a fellow officer from Hanscom AFB, MA who took leave to come to AX. We chatted a bit and it was great to meet another otaku in the military.
I met up with Brian at the DJ Dance at the Renaissance Hotel and, once again, the dance was a supreme disappointment. The DJs were hired without consideration to the audience and all they played were mediocre dance mixes. I pleaded with Jesse to bring his CDs of great anime theme dance mixes but he was to shy to. It would have been a vast, exponential improvement over what they were playing. Someone also had the bright idea to sell glow sticks. OK, I'll admit, they look neat but you need A LOT of room to use them properly. Which was sorely lacking in this room. So many folks were trying to show off swinging those things around, it turned into a nunchuku-fest. People were getting whacked left and right with flailing glow sticks or getting limbs tangled in the strings holding multiple sticks together. I left early to catch some sleep to prep for the next day.