Winged sorcerers and kunai-wielding shinobis flew down Figueroa Street on Bird scooters to mark the return of America’s largest anime convention.
The Los Angeles Convention Center hosted Anime Expo from Thursday to Sunday, featuring a plethora of exhibition booths, panels and premieres.
From a Shonen Jump panel discussing upcoming titles that will appear in the popular manga magazine to a more niche workshop on Japanese religion and mythology, the annual convention offered diverse programming to expand upon the industry and culture that influences what makes it to the screen. For first-year biology student Jaymie Bernardo, Anime Expo was a chance to find hundreds of artists and content creators that she would not have encountered anywhere else.
“Being able to explore and see what everyone has to add to the genre and (anime) culture is really great – (especially) seeing different artists that I wouldn’t discover on my own through the internet,” Bernardo said.
Artist Alley was the main location for visual works – hundreds of artists’ booths that featured creations varying from gaming artwork to Shonen Jump paraphernalia lined the walkways. Alongside exclusive merchandise from popular shows and films, attendees could also find uncommon pieces, such as a foil “Dragon Ball Z” poster or Overwatch mouse pads.
However, artistry wasn’t bound to the confines of the convention hall. Cosplayers displayed their own creations while walking through the halls of the convention center. The constant presence of strangers dressed as the same characters from “Naruto” and “My Hero Academia” evoked a sense of community. Attendees masqueraded as characters from a multitude of fandoms, even ones outside the anime domain, such as Anna of “Frozen” and Miles Morales of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
For the hundreds of attendees that cosplayed as characters from “My Hero Academia,” the most-anticipated moment was the show’s U.S. season-four premiere that was screened Saturday ahead of its being released to the general public. The episodes, which are set to release in the U.S. in October, were preceded by a panel with both Japanese and English voice actors from the show. Japanese voice actress Kaori Nazuka, who voices the timid and invisible Tooru Hagakure, was joined by six actors from the show’s English version.
During the panel, the actors described their personal rituals that allowed them to find deeper connections to their characters. Jokingly, however, Patrick Seitz, the English voice for the callous and calculating Endeavor, teased the audience by saying he demoralizes grade-school children on his way to the studio. Kellen Goff recalled the time he utilized his bronchitis to create the signature huskiness of his character, Overhaul.
On a more touching note, all of the panel members reiterated their awe of the show’s popularity and their work in bringing the characters to life. David Matranga, the voice of Shoto Todoroki and acting veteran who has worked on over 100 titles, said the depth of the characters in the show demands more emotional dedication than many of his previous roles.
Nazuka recounted an instance in which her castmate fainted in the studio after delivering a powerful line for the boisterous character, All Might. Despite the physical and emotional demands of these roles, Goff said this level of dedication is what made his dream of being a panelist at Anime Expo possible.
“We, as actors, invest in our characters, and it feels amazing to get that investment back,” Matranga said.
For fans looking to build a career in anime, there were also numerous panels that gave attendees an inside look at the more technical aspects of the industry. Composer Yoshihiro Ike, known for his work on “Shadowverse” and “Tiger & Bunny,” led a panel on making music for anime and gaming soundtracks in which he detailed the process from being hired to releasing a score.
Though Ike described this process through the lens of an established professional in the field, he provided insight into the lifestyle of a career composer. From facing the pressure of redoing music for a beloved ’90s classic like “Yu-Gi-Oh!” to sometimes having to compose two pieces per day, Ike shared both the ups and downs of the job.
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Similar to Ike’s music-composition discussion, panels that functioned as workshops on animation, game development and professional cosplay could also be found in the convention’s schedule. Executives from CyberConnect2, a video game studio responsible for the single-player, role-playing “.hack” franchise, used their panel to give the audience tips on Japanese game development and production.
Zac Bertschy, the executive editor at Anime News Network, led a discussion on how to get paid for writing about anime, while Arizona State University biomedical engineering graduate-student Alyssa Henning used the show “Cells at Work!” to examine the intersection between the anime and science communities.
Outside of attending panels in the meeting rooms, attendees could wander the crowded corridors of the Entertainment Hall. Boasting a wide selection of vendors, gaming booths and photo opportunities, the hall served as the focal point of the convention. Each nook and cranny at Anime Expo was swarmed with attendees looking to discover something new about the world of anime and its inhabitants. Bernardo said being in a space of people who understand her passion for anime made it worth facing the big crowds.
“Anime isn’t super accepted in society, so just seeing so many people appreciate what I appreciate is sort of overwhelming, but also touching,” Bernardo said.