California (Side B: Los Angeles)

Posted on July 5th, 2012

Filed under: General — Karl Olson @ 12:35 am

As if attending Google IO 2012 wasn’t enough, the shift in its schedule from years past put it right next to Anime Expo 2012. When I went to book the trip, I figured I might as well get a long overdue dose of the biggest anime convention in North America. So, right as IO wrapped up, I trundled down to the Greyhound depot, and hopped on a bus headed to LA. I ended up seated next to April Vance, a BET staffer heading to their awards show. She was quite sweet, and she has a rad charity that aims to help foster children make it to college. Anyways, it was nice to actually be able to converse with a good person on the trip down, as it was quite a long trip by bus, mediocre WiFi aside. It was nice to have a perspective check too. As crazy as my week and weekend were and were going to be, it wasn’t going to be partying with Tyga or Drake crazy.

The bus finally pulled into LA at about 1 am, but thankfully, the hotel where I was to stay was a very short drive away. The digs were definitely classier than San Francisco, and it was nice to not be alone. After a nice sleep, it was time to head down and pick up my badge. Of course, it would figure I couldn’t take the shuttle between the con and the hotel without the badge, so the first day I just payed for another taxi down. It was then I realized the hotel and con were not that far from the same wholesale neighborhood my friend Masood had taken me through years ago when I first visited LA. It was a welcome dose of the familiar, even though I wouldn’t get time to explore the area on this trip.

Anyway, I finally arrived. After grabbing a free energy drink from one of the many energy drink promo trucks near the convention center (by the way, the X-Games was going on next door to the convention center,) my friends split off to various cosplay gatherings, and I snagged my press badge. Since I didn’t have a panel to immediately get to (speaking of panels, here’s my con coverage,) I ran to the dealers room to get the one item I knew I wanted and that I’d hoped would be there, the limited run Katawa Shoujo artbook. I had to get directions from another attendee to find the unassuming table in the artist alley, but once I had, I found that the book was still in stock. I proactively withheld from buying two, though I made sure to give the artist manning the table a business card with a download code. I owed them that much as I had found the game to be unexpectedly touching. Maybe once I finish music production commitments, I can finally 100% the game.

After that, I would manage to catch the panels I was supposed to hit, even if at point I would get turned around in the convention center and end up at places like the Homestuck cosplay gathering, which was so large it could probably be a con in itself. I’ve never actually read/played any of the MSPaint Adventures, but that display certainly has me curious, since it had the cosplay draw similar if not greater than mainstream anime like Naruto or One Piece have had at their peaks.

Later on, I managed to catch up with an old friend of mine from ToonZone, Corey Barnes. He went from being a forum mod and writer for us to being a successful animator whose worked titles including Archer, China, Il and SuperJail. I hadn’t seen him since 2008, and it was great to catch up with him. He had a number of great stories about working in animation and how a lot of these shows operate. Though, I’m a responsible guy and can’t relate the crazier bits. It does get crazy though.

It was great to hang with him though. For starters, he drove me back to hotel every night and down to the airport. Having a driver in LA who is used to that traffic might as well be like having a guardian angel. Everything is easier. Plus, it means if there is any place they think would be cool to see in LA, like a restaurant, well, you get to see it. It’s rad. Secondly, it was cool to see a creative and bright individual like him actually get work. Back in the ToonZone days, he’d have little animated projects and webcomics, and it was cool to see a peer turn that into a career. Of course, most importantly, he’s just a funny dude to hang out with. Plus, hanging with him meant going to Anime Expo’s Last Comic Standing events, and while I’d always been curious about those kind of panels at cons, I’d always ditched them for hanging with friends. This time, there was no trade off.

I also managed to catch up with my old friend Ben Applegate, who is another ToonZone success story. He’s gone from being a cool friend who got me my mod and reporting positions at ToonZone, to being a manga business wunderkind doing Kickstarters to translate classic manga from Osamu Tezuka. He was quite busy at his booth, and it only occurred to me way after I’d committed to splitting a hotel that I probably could’ve stayed with him, but still, it was great to see him if only for 20 minutes. I hope he can keep at these Kickstarters in the future. It may be how most niche manga are licensed and released in future.

The con as a whole was a bit weird though. I didn’t find much in the dealer’s room that appealed to me, but people clearly gobbling up merch. In fact, they were so aggressive that Panty And Stocking boxset (one of the few things I wanted besides the KS artbook,) was sold out before I even made to the con. It was the first time in a long time I left with a relatively robust wallet, that was kind of a downer. Meanwhile, I loved the news coming out of the con – the anime industry seems to be in much better health that it was after the crash, and while it’s not the zany excess of 2007, that may be healthy. Don’t get it wrong, I loved those days; it was a lot of fun coming home with a suitcase full of DVDs I received just for asking good questions at panels. However, it nice to see that the huge cons are still full of fans, and that more people keep coming into the medium.

In fact, I expect to see the US otaku population to continue to rise. On the flight back, I ended up seated across the aisle from another person who had attended the con, so we chatted a bit. On the way out of the terminal down to baggage claim, the chat continued, and this person happened to let slip that her first anime was Gundam Wing, which saw on Toonami at age 8. I was 17 when Wing aired on Toonami, so this was a little bit of perspective I’d forgotten. Namely, while the industry has changed, the seeds that were sewn during the boom era are still flowering into devoted, creative fans. Not everyone bailed when the anime bust came, and for a number of teens and young adults, it’s clear anime has just been part of the background of their lives. I’ll bet some of them end up on working animated series or manga translation just like people in my generation, and in turn they’ll inspire future generations.

It’s weird, but the California trip ultimately feels like it was about the future. Google IO was about the physical details, especially with the Google Glass announcements. Anime Expo was the human factor, and it was more cyclical than purely progressive. Yeah, we may live in an amazing future with amazing portable computers in our pockets connected to the greatest knowledge repository our species has ever known, but for now at least, that doesn’t mean there aren’t passionate nerds sewing up cool outfits and flying out to distant cities just to share them with people who are strangers by name yet not by culture. There is something wonderful about that all, and I needed to see that again.

I’m back in Vancouver now, and supposedly the weather this week will pick up and match what I had in LA and San Francisco. However, it’s clear it wasn’t just a dose of sun I needed, but rather perspective as well. I’ve got that now, and I intend to use that energy. I have brilliant albums to finish with my friends, I have a degree to wrap up, and there are “endless possibilities stretched out before [me].” No complaints anymore, because I how dare I waste the time on it takes to make them.

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