By BRETT FUJIOKA
Fans flocked to the Los Angeles Convention Center Thursday, dressed as their favorite characters in celebration of this year’s annual Anime Expo. Last year’s bash stood as the nation’s largest anime and manga event, boasting an attendance of over 44,000 people.
Brandon Funai traveled from Honolulu with his mother and younger sister, for whom the trip was a graduation present.
“I really like robots. I really, really like robots” said the 17-year-old, who was dressed as Exia from “Mobile Suit Gundam.” He spent weeks constructing the costume for the Expo.
Funai added that his mother wasn’t simply along as a chaperone, as she herself is a longtime fan of the Mario Brothers video games.
Thursday’s special guests included an autograph signing from musician May’n and Japanese rock group SOPHIA. The all-girl pop group AKB 48 made a special performance in the Nokia Theater for their fans in America as well. Other guests included Catherine Sunderland, Karan Ashley, Steve Cardenas, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Walter Jones of Power Rangers fame. In addition to that, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a special appearance to commence the activities.
SOPHIA vocalist Mitsuru Matsuoka was one of the dignitaries who were greeted by Mayor Villaraigosa during a brief ceremony to open the Expo.
“This is not just about anime and manga, but also about music and culture,” said Matsuoka. “This is representative of Japanese pop culture in general and Americans seem to have embraced it.”
There were screenings for various animes including “One Piece,” “Nana,” “Samurai 7,” and “Bleach” among others. There were even booths for gamers to play Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and the latest Blazblue installments. A corner section was also dedicated to freelance artists to show off and sell some of their work to the public.
Among the vendors at Anime Expo is Evan Tensing, a former runway model in Japan who is now the owner of the Num Num Kawaii store in Little Tokyo. Out of her shop on First Street, she has brought a wide variety of her handcrafted accessories, eclectic clothing and lingerie.
“I did really well here last year,” said Tensing, 27. “Having lived in Japan, I love all those cute and tacky [items]that are catching on in America.”
Steven Torres of Apple Valley was a near mirror image of Lupin III, the scoundrel thief from the popular Japanese cartoon of the same name.
“Enjoying the convention, with a chance to show off costumes of characters everyone knows, that’s the fun of all this,” Torres said.
Other projected guests include Hapa pop musician Beni Daniels (Beni Arashiro/BENI), the director of “Ghost in the Shell S.A.C.” and “Eden of the East” Kenji Kamiyama, and internet star Danny Choo. Anime Expo’s last day is Sunday. Pre-registration tickets are on sale for $35. For more information go to www.anime-expo.org.
—Additional reporting by Rafu entertainment editor Mikey Hirano Culross.