Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Japan Expo USA 2014

I've been to many different functions at the local San Mateo Event Center.  Maker Faire, the County Fair, a flower show - heck, even my professional engineer's test was held here.  So I somehow knew we couldn't pass up the event center's first(?) anime con.

But believe me, I tried to pass it up.  At $35 a head (just for Saturday), it was pricey for a newbie con.  Japan Expo is a popular French convention that they brought over to the Bay Area last year, to very mixed reviews.  My initial thoughts were that it seemed very forced - something worked very well in France, so they picked it up and moved it here.  They didn't start with a local fanbase, meaning a small con and a small entrance fee. Instead they planned for many people, charged an established-con price, and expected the otaku to show up.

However, with some coaxing from my friend, and the appeal of a great guest list,  I parted with my money and Sak, Sis and I were in the gates right at the 10 am opening on Saturday.
Wish they would have had nicer program guides for my collection, but eh, the lanyard is nice.
First thing first, we scanned our badges for chances at getting guest autographs! I liked their system actually. A portion of the tickets were first come first serve (only one per scanned badge), and the rest were lottery style, so you still had a chance even if you came late! Then if you get a ticket, they take your picture and print it on the ticket so you can't get people "scalping" for autographs.  Not bad. We'd come back later in the day to get signatures.

In the morning, it was pretty empty.  We sat at a shady table and ate breakfast, and then went to check out the exhibit hall (dealers/artist alley).
Though it was smaller than I'm used to (especially light on the artist alley), I felt like everything was pretty high quality.  Plus Kinokinuya/Animate was there, which I don't think I've ever seen at a con before.  We bought clear files, buy 3 get 1 free.
My sister's choices. As you can see she likes the bishounen. 
Noragami (squee Yato!) for me and Rail Wars for Sak. I don't understand that show at all. Why do all the women have shiny bums? Are their uniforms made of plastic?
They also had several art exhibits, which was interesting.

Hunter x Hunter character art
Yusuke Nakamura exhibit. Such amazing art (most recognizable from the Asian Kung Fu Generation album cover?)
There was also a booth doing free manicures! How fun!
And another making broken porcelain into beautiful new creations.
I got some more goodies too :)
There's a story behind the pouch - it's made from kimono fabric by women affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the proceeds go back to them, as many are still displaced from their homes. Runs through the San Jose Japan Town.

The cute Eevee card is from Lorraine Yee, who also did that pretty mermaid card I sent my sister at camp this year. And the otter was a random beanie thing I just couldnt pass up.  I think originally it was a gachapon toy or something.

Anyway, so I was fairly impressed by the variety in the exhibit hall. Let's go back outdoors.
Sword art online car
Cultural stage
Okinawan dancers
So. Here's a major difference between this 'festival' and your average North American convention. This one had a ton of traditional cultural events.  And I'm not saying that's bad - I like culture a lot, but it really did not seem to "mesh" well with the otaku culture.  And it doesn't even mesh that well in Japan, so it's not really surprising that it'd be a little weird here too.  There were a few bewildered looking normal people around, so I'm not sure if that works.  Speaking for myself, I like to feel totally free to be otaku at cons, and here I was even a bit self conscious just to wear my Tamama hat.  So I'd personally prefer a strictly otaku-culture con.

But it was cool, I admit. I didn't know the Bay Area had so many Japanese culture/martial arts clubs.
 They had legit katanas on display too, though there was a sign on one that said it'd be confiscated if it was ever brought back to Japan. :P I feel like things like that should probably belong in a museum.

Anyway, moving on now to the more standard con-fair - panels and video rooms were few.  There were two rooms of each, and none of the stuff I love the most - AMVs or fan-made videos. Bummer. We did go to one game show panel though, which was great! We all loved it, and the trivia was just the right amount of difficult to make it interesting.

Kind of reminded me of the "scene it" franchise. Unscramble the anagrams to guess the anime!
 The game room was small.
Sak was very mildly dressed as Switch-kun from Sket Dance. :P Lol.
Cosplay was a little scarce, but there were some really good ones.
Battleship girl!
I'm not sure if this is a cross of the Sailor scouts somehow? But I LOVE that accordion folded orange skirt, so cool!

The cutest! Swimsuit Taiga from Toradora! AHH makes me want to watch it all over again!
My sister debuted her Cubone cosplay, too!
I think it's awesome that her ear looks like an eyeball. HA.
Cubone and her friend L!
In the afternoon when our ticket times were coming up, we went to get autographs! I bought an Aldanoah Zero book - it's a new mech show out that I (surprisingly) like.
And Gen Urobuchi signed it for me, how awesome! He's the writer for the show (and also other famous shows like Madoka Magica and Fate/Stay).
I wanted to ask him not to kill off my favorite character, Slaine, but I'm pretty sure he's already finished writing the whole thing :P
Poor baby! I just want to give him a hug :/
Sak and my sister got signatures from Daigo Ikeno, who does art for Street Fighter!
He was amazing, doing a custom sketch on each person's autograph board. He must have drawn hundreds of them! Sak asked for his name in kanji, which I erased out, but that was pretty cool.

After autographs, we were famished, so we ate at a combination of the four food trucks in the center.
The food was reallly good. All solid Japanese food trucks. Prices were high of course, but at least it's better than standard con-center hot dog/pizza food.

We found our friends, M and S (unfortunately they had already changed out of costume at this point).
See? I took my hat off and have bad hair. :P
As evening came we bought a delicious nutella crepe and marveled at all the pretty stage lighting.
We watched a J-Pop singer, Mayuko, in concert.
And after that, Akira Yamaoka, best known for the music of Silent Hill. He came out to the sound of air raid sirens, looking like this:

Though his music was mostly like, 80's hard rock, so we weren't scared once he took the mask off. haha!
Not scary looking normally.
We left about 10 PM, tired and sunburnt (just me =_=). A full 12 hours spent at con!!

So, pros and cons!

Pros: A lot of variety in the dealers hall, interesting cultural exhibits, no crowds, good food trucks, and relatively good chance of getting guests' signatures.
Cons: Pricey, too much outdoors, no sound isolation, limited fan panels, and no fan-made video programming.

And to add to the negative, just a general lack of convention vibe.  Maybe owing to the lack of sleep-deprived otaku running around in cosplay? Maybe because there were too many normal people there for the cultural exhibits?  Maybe because the location wasn't "exotic" enough for me to relax? I mean, it's practically next door to my house :P

However, if it's held in San Mateo again next year, I will attend.  I do think it's worth the one-day ticket price if you are interested in the guests attending.


  1. My favorite was the Street Fighter sketch. :) Love your reviews!

  2. i think that in general, any sword that someone tried to bring into Japan would probably be confiscated. i've known people who lost swords that way.

    1. interesting...made me go read up on sword laws. kinda complicated @_@

    2. The exhibit owner actually buys his swords from Japan ^^

    3. good to know. I think I got the impression from one sword which had a sign that said it was a garage sale find from like, fresno. I will edit the post though to avoid misinformation!

  3. Oh mannnnn, this is the kind of thing that makes me wish I stayed in CA!


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