Hi there, readers. This was my first time heading to Los Angeles for Anime Expo! So, rather than write the usual barrage of panel reports, I wanted to do something a little special. I had a blast out west, and I wanted to really capture that excitement in print.
Between articles, I’ll be adding in little travelogue bits, where I discuss things like the travel experience, food, and just those rare moments where I could explore the city and the convention floor. I’ll be sharing photos and the like that don’t quite fit here and talking about topics that may or may not be 100% anime-related. So, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy these little interludes. Let us know if you like them by dropping us a line on Twitter!
I should also note that none of the links in these pieces are affiliate links, we’re not profiting off of this. However, if you enjoy these, consider backing the Herald on Patreon! We’d greatly appreciate the gesture, and every dollar will help us to give you the best convention coverage we can. That means bringing in more people for events like Anime Expo and delivering more and better content.
With that said, let’s get on with the show!
July 4, 1:30AM EDT: Off to a Sleepy Start
An alarm buzzes, cutting through the silence of a small home in a Rhode Island suburb. The cat yawns lazily before jumping off her perch on the bed, as I groggily stand up and shuffle toward a clock radio, whose vermilion numbers cut through the darkness. With a small “click”, the timepiece’s alarm switch is shut off, and silence again reigns through the homestead.
The visions of peaceful slumber were quickly dissipating, as I returned to the land of the wide-awake. The house fills with the smell of coffee, as the machine lurches to life with a small “beep,” and the sounds of the percolating black brew.
“Okay,” I think, “I have about an hour before I head to the airport. What needs to be done?”
To be honest, not a whole lot was happening at this point – I flipped on the TV, and clicked over to the Roku input, loading up the FunimationNow app. Scrolling through a few shows, I finally decided on something that didn’t need much thought.
With a click of the remote, and a hollow “blu-dook” sound, the Roku queued up an episode of Hinamatsuri. For the next half hour, my mind and body gradually came back to life as I giggled at poor Hitomi’s plight as an unwilling bar employee, and Hina’s half-assed attempts at making it on her own in Tokyo.
As the end credits rolled, I rose, stretched, and did my morning exercises – a ritual that’s become part of my every day in the past few months – before I made final preparations to leave.
By 2:40AM, I was cleaned, dressed, packed, and waiting outside with my phone. “Your driver will be here in 3 Minutes,” a bubble in the Lyft app eagerly stated, as it offered a readout of the driver and their car.
And, sure enough, by 2:44AM, we were on our way to the airport, where I would find the start of a grand adventure.
Well, kind of.
July 4, 3:00AM EDT: (Not So) Big Apple, 3AM
We arrived at TF Green airport just before 3:00AM. At the time, I thought I was being prudent. My flight to Los Angeles was slated to depart at about 5:44AM, and I was ready to hit the checkpoints and get settled in!
Key word there, though, is was. When I stepped into the airport, the lights were dim, and the counters were shuttered. A few TSA agents and airline employees milled about beyond the gates, as people found refuge on chairs, benches, and even the softer sections of the carpet. I asked one of the employees about this, inquiring when the gates would open. “4AM,” they replied bluntly.
With a small sigh, I plopped down in a chair, and pulled out my phone. Twitter would become my refuge for the next hour, darn it.
July 4, 4:00AM EDT: Anime Expo, Here I Come!
The gates opened promptly at 4:00AM, as expected. The dozens of people who were napping peacefully yawned and groaned, the sleep gradually leaving their slumping forms. One after another, they shuffled through the TSA checkpoint, performing the same dance each time:
- Present boarding pass and ID
- Step to the bins
- Take off shoes
- Take off belt
- Put electronics into a bin
- Put bin on the conveyor belt
- Put bags on the conveyor belt
- Step into the body scanner, hands up
- Collect things at the end of the line.
The harsh lights and sterile interior of the checkpoint seemed to drain the energy from those who passed through, the fluorescent lights casting a sickly glow over everybody. It was a stark contrast to the lush green carpeting and warm recessed lighting that awaited just beyond.
As I passed through the checkpoint and gathered my things, I spied several shopkeepers quietly strolling toward their storefronts. Just as our journey was set to begin, so too was their work day.
One by one, the gate numbers passed by as I walked. Lines began to form in the hall, as the shutters on the many shops began to open, and lights flipped on. Even I wasn’t immune to the siren’s call of the airport restaurant, as my stomach grumbled angrily.
I quickly relented, finding relief in a bagel sandwich and medium coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ll fully admit that this wasn’t what I’d call healthy food, or even good food for that matter, but it was comforting. I really don’t get it either, but there’s something that puts my mind at ease when I can just sit back at the airport with that familiar combo, which has seen my flights off countless times before.
With just under an hour left to wait, I popped out my tablet, and started reading through the first volume of Skip Beat! All the while, my mind started running through countless schedules and appointments in my head.
July 4, 7:53AM EDT: Run, Girl, Run!
The plane set down in Detroit a few minutes later than expected. Despite a 45-minute layover, I had to get from one end of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport to the other before boarding began at 8:10.
All I can say is “Thank goodness for moving sidewalks!” I’m sure any seasoned traveler can tell you, running with a laptop bag and a rolling suitcase will add at least five minutes to your average commute. Add in thousands of people, and you’re looking at a tight squeeze.
I reached the gate at 8:25, just in time to board for my zone. Once settled, I decided it was time for a bit of shuteye. Using my hoodie as a blanket, I leaned against the window, and let sweet slumber take me away.
For those asking for photos, well… unless you’re at the very front of the plane or the very back, you’re not going to see much. This was my view out the window.
July 4, 11:00AM PDT: Hello, Los Angeles!
I stepped out of the Lyft and looked up at the hotel that would become home for a few days. The Westin Bonaventure stood like a four-leafed clover in the city, its towers providing a striking profile against the skyscrapers that surrounded it. This is the place that you’ve probably laid eyes on if you’ve seen any movie filmed in Los Angeles, from Rain Man to This Is Spinal Tap.It was here that I met up with Seth, who would be my second-in-command over the weekend. After setting our bags down at the room, we drew up our game plan. We agreed that priority one would be lunch, followed by provisions.
Lunch proved to be the easier of the two to tackle. We settled on Public School 213, a pub that’s a few blocks away from the hotel, which offers high-end eats in a comfortable atmosphere. The restaurant was decked out like its namesake, with encyclopedias, globes, and board games lining the shelves through the room. The menus were even styled after the composition notebooks that everyone remembers having in those days – you know the type, with the black and white speckled cover and the tape-binding?
But anyway, after eight hours on a plane, I was ravenous. And, really, I just wanted something that fit the tone of the restaurant, so I eschewed offerings like the fish and chips, or the steak frites. Instead, I set my eyes on the BBQ Bison Burger, a towering tribute to tasty sandwiches everywhere, which was layered with arugula, Gruyere, bacon lardons, peppered mushrooms, and an in-house whiskey barbecue sauce. It was a brash, bold sandwich, which set out an imposing profile. The flavors were magnificent, with the Gruyere and mushrooms playing beautifully with the bison, as the arugula gave a fresh “bite” to the entire dish. It was tasty, a little messy, and incredibly satisfying.
With lunch out of the way, we set our sights on the nearby Ralph’s. Los Angeles was facing down a heatwave, and temperatures were expected to climb well past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius). With this in mind, we grabbed plenty of the essentials. Bottled water, Gatorade, granola bars, and fruit filled our cart, which would serve us well in the coming days.
July 4, 2:30PM PDT: Hello, Anime Expo!
With provisions in hand and a meal in our bellies, it was time to head to the Convention Center. Seth and I made the trek, one that would become incredibly familiar over the next few days, as we trekked the quarter mile down Figueroa Street. As we got closer to the convention, we started to see more and more hints that there was a massive party just a few blocks away.
Possibly the most striking sight, though, was seeing a massive Fate/Grand Order billboard emblazoned proudly on the Wells Fargo building. I shook my head in disbelief of the sight, hardly able to process that anime was so huge, so beloved that it was taking actual, giant billboards! Just ten years ago, we were fighting for the life of our hobby, as players did everything they could to stop the bleeding from the great industry crash! Just five years ago, we were barely finding our footing again, stepping away from “sub first, then maybe dubbed copies” model that kept players like Sentai Filmworks afloat for years.
Today, anime is on a freaking billboard! Netflix and Amazon are fighting to make more anime, and studios are fully booked through the 2020s! Heck, Netflix is even at the convention! I couldn’t help but smile, thinking about just how amazing the sight was, seeing Saber holding a proud watch over the city.
With the sight fresh in mind, we continued forward, following the ever-growing crowd. A distinct chattering could be heard in the air as we got closer to the location, as more and more people joined in the trek with every step. In the distance, we could hear vendors barking, as the smell of grilled sausages and other cheap eats filled the air.
Suddenly, it came into view. “WELCOME TO ANIME EXPO”, read a massive sign, which adorned the Los Angeles Convention Center. The building’s electronic sign pulsed with the show’s logo, as countless crossed underneath.
Literally thousands clustered around the place, as they sought out their places to find their badges. And, to be honest, we did the same, hopping between staffers until we were pointed to the press tent. Within a few moments, though, we had our badges.
After seventeen years in this industry – countless sleepless nights and far too many articles and stories, I had finally arrived for my very first Anime Expo. This was the beginning of a journey that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.