What a blast AX '97 was! This anime fan certainly thinks it deserves its status as the US's largest anime convention. Many, many guests, plenty of anime to watch, and a dealers' room with practically every bit of merchandise one could want... all under one roof! If you don't think a trip to the Los Angeles area would be worth that, I guarantee that I can shift your opinion by the end of this article.
Let's start with the guests. I personally went for the seiyuu guests, Akira Kamiya and Chisa Yokoyama. For those of you who are not familiar with them, Chisa Yokoyama is probably most well-known for her role as Sasami from the Tenchi Muyo! world, while Kamiya-san is well-known for his roles as Ryo Saeba from City Hunter, Ashram from Record of Lodoss War, and Shun Mitaka from Maison Ikkoku. One simply had to attend the special panel for the guest one's interested in and enjoy a question and answer session. I went to Mr. Kamiya's panel, and I found it very informative, funny, and an overall great time. Akira did many of his voices for us, compared Japanese voice acting techniques and practices to the American way, and patiently told us the story of his beginnings as a seiyuu. We even found out his favorite role, which is Ryo Saeba (woohoo!). The other guests I did not recognize by name, and because I seem to have misplaced my AX '97 booklet, I'll have to use my less-than-adequate memory to recall them. Let's see.... Nobuteru Yuuki was there, drawing sketches of Deedlit. The creator of Sailor Moon and the creator of Key the Metal Idol were also there. The singer for some of the Key the Metal Idol songs was there too, and she even performed two, to the delight of the audience.
I'm sorry to say that I didn't see much of the programming at AX. There was a total of 5 theaters running anime pretty much twenty four hours a day: one main theater and 4 smaller ones. In the hotel rooms, they hooked up "AX TV" on one of the channels, and that provided me with a little entertainment late at night. Unfortunately for me, nothing on AX TV was translated, and almost everything shown in the theaters was the same, or dubbed (bleh). Probably the only thing I would've wanted to see was The Vision Of Escaflowne, but since it is in the schedule this semester and they weren't going to show all of it, I decided against it. Please don't get the impression from this that all they showed was pretty cruddy stuff; the theaters were full every time I went to see what was showing. I just didn't come to AX with the purpose of watching lots of anime. I've been blessed with friends that have pretty much everything, and a club that shows everything else.
The dealers' room was a hot and sweaty nightmare. The initial head count that they released at the closing ceremonies was 3,600. So that meant that the main dealers' room, and the much smaller overflow room upstairs, were constantly full of people searching for merchandise. Many of the dealers I recognized from the Los Angeles area, such as Books Nippan, Anime Plus, UCI Anime Store, Ichiban Anime, and many others. CDs, keychains, tapes, animation cells, pencil boards, T-shirts, posters, scrolls, models, games, playing cards, and much, much more were in abundance. Heed this warning, do not bring credit cards! I thankfully left mine at home, but another CJAS member that I went to AX with did not (I'm not sure he wants to be named, hehe). Basically, any anime stuff you want can be found there or ordered from them there.
That basically covers the main attractions/activities at AX. If you don't think those are attractive enough, then how does "total anime immersion" sound? Mr. X (let's call him that) and I showed up wearing "normal" T-shirts, expecting to change later that day. Unfortunately, our "normal" T-shirts were quite the exception. Everyone except for the hotel staff were wearing anime T-shirts. AX T-shirts from this year and past years, club T-shirts, and custom-made T-shirts were in great abundance. One guy even had a black leather anime jacket (I had no idea what anime it was that he was sporting on the back). Another guy had a neat Neon Genesis Evangelion T-shirt that he made himself, courtesy of his color bubblejet printer. In essence, the hotel was turned into an anime community for the weekend. However, because it is an airport hotel, there was the occasional non-anime hotel guest. I kinda felt sorry for them; they looked frightened in the elevators since they were the only people not wearing AX '97 badges (proving that you had paid entrance fees).
Also happening at AX '97 were the Costume Play (Cosplay) and the Music Video Contest. I saw both, but I'm probably not going back for the Cosplay next year (there's talk of canceling it). There were about 35 entrees, and only about 10 were at an acceptable level. One girl went up with a camera and tried to pass herself off as "Kiyone on vacation." She didn't even bother to dye her hair black. On the low end of the scale were the Sailor Stars skits, which involved really skimpy costumes being worn by very overweight fans, dancing about to a not-too-great song. Mr. X inadvertently met one group of Sailor Stars and is still recovering. On the other hand, the good costumes/skits were really something else. One skit was entitled "Zeiram bites the dust" and involved a beheading (behatting?) of Zeiram, followed by the pulling out of 30 or so feet of entrails (pink ribbony cloth). Another, a Lupin skit, won the "Best Gratuitous Use of the Pope." I'll leave that to your imagination. One of the Ranma skits was also good, and quite funny too. Their lines weren't corny, their costumes looked good, and most importantly, they looked kinda like the characters they were trying to portray. Ryouga even came up the wrong way when they accepted their award. Also of note were the Magic Knight Rayearth and Fushigi Yuugi costumes, which looked very well done.
The music video contest was one of the highlights for me at AX '97 (mainly because I was thinking of entering one but didn't have time to make it). There were hundreds of entries, which were all seen by the staffers, to narrow it down to the nominees. They basically split the entries into five categories: Horror, Humor, Action, Drama, and Romance, with 3 nominees per category. This year, they threw out the Horror category, since there has to be a minimum of three entries in order to qualify that category, and there were none. Each of the winners in their respective categories was then put up for a revote, to select the "Best of AX '97" music video. The winners for this year were "Macho, Macho Man" for Humor (Fist of the North Star, Street Fighter II), "Going the Distance" for Action (Speed Racer), "The Vision Of Escaflowne" for Drama (The Vision of Escaflowne, duh), and "Don't Talk, Just Kiss" for Romance and Best of AX '97. "Don't Talk, Just Kiss" was my personal favorite, although the crowd was strangely full of people who cheered for "Going the Distance" instead. Weird. Next year I hope to enter something, but based on the quality of the nominees, I think I'm gonna get slayed.
With everything accounted for, and a gaping hole where my wallet used to be, AX '97 left me with a very happy and satisfied feeling. It really is a great experience and not one to be missed for any small reason. I certainly hope that we can get more CJAS people there next year (there were only 3 of us); people were surprised that Cornell even has an anime club. They were even more surprised at the size of our club, considering that we aren't a California-based club. If you are interested, or just have questions, please contact me at email@example.com. Ja ne!