July 4, 3:00PM PDT: The Calm Before the Storm

With our badges in hand, Seth and I made our way inside the convention center, eager to collect our tickets for the Anisong World Matsuri concerts. Our footsteps echoed as we walked on the gleaming floors of the convention center, and I couldn’t help but marvel at some of the larger-than-life displays that were erected throughout. Massive ads for Persona 5 Figma toys, Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online, and Dragon Ball FighterZ hung from the rafters, and standees for various other goodies could be found placed in every corner of the building.

Anime Expo 2018 - Scenery - Convention Center Interior - Persona 5 Figma Banner.

Image Credit: Samantha Ferreira

Even the stairways were decked out with whimsical murals, as the very entrance to the event was lined with massive advertisements.

Anime Expo 2018 - Scenery - Convention Center Interior - Event Entryway

Everything just felt so grand, so surreal. I’ve been to my share of anime cons over the years, from Anime Boston to Otakon and beyond, but it already apparent that Anime Expo was on another level entirely.

Anime Expo 2018 - Scenery - Convention Center Interior - The main welcome banner sits above the entrance to the Exhibit Hall.

I couldn’t help but pause to get some B-Roll shots, as I knew that it’d be impossible to do so once the crowds poured in. While taking photos from an overhang, Seth and I couldn’t help but notice that we weren’t alone. Glancing to the left, we noticed Go Nagai looking down with us.

You don’t know how hard it is to suppress a fangirl squeal until you’re within five feet of Go Nagai. Still, professionalism reigns supreme. We exchanged a brief “hello,” and went our separate ways. Seth and I made our way to the Press Lounge, which would become somewhat of a refuge over the next few days. We chatted with a few of the other journalists on-site and waited for the team to arrive. By 4:00PM, we were heading out the door, tickets in hand, as we headed back out, into the sun.

July 4, 4:10PM PDT: A Quick Pick-Me-Up

With an hour before doors opened, Seth and I were basically in a holding pattern. Rather than wait in line, though, we took a stroll to the area near the Microsoft Theater. The lane was lined with restaurants, from Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill to the trendy Tom’s Urban.

None of them were open yet.

With some time to kill, we wandered down the lane, and took in the sights of the city, watching the thousands of eager convention-goers as they passed by. By 4:30, we started back to Restaurant Row, where the lights remained dim, and tables were empty. One location was just opening its doors, though, sushi bar Katsuya.

Here, I opted for the chef’s choice, as well as a pot of green tea. The meal with delectable, with beautifully realized flavors that shone a spotlight on the fish, without it becoming overpowering. The rice was perfectly prepared, with a sweet bite that could be felt afterwards. If I could make one major complaint, it’s that the meal included a California roll, which isn’t exactly the most delightful of sushi rolls in my eyes. The combination of imitation crab, avocado, and cream cheese just never manages to stand out as a flavor profile. Still, it was enjoyable enough, and a decent companion to the rest of the plate.

With dinner sorted, Seth and I made our way to the theater, where an evening of idols making steps from zero to one aboard the Happy Party Train awaited.

July 4, 6:00PM PDT: Aqours, Sunshine!!

Photograph - Microsoft Theater Exteria (c. 2008)

By Minnaert [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

By the time we arrived at the Microsoft theater, the room was already beginning to fill out. The front rows were packed, as numerous glow sticks lit up the rows in a rainbow of luminescent LEDs. Before long, the room was packed, with nary an empty seat visible in the three ground-floor sections. The room was a sea of color, as fans held glow sticks for their favorite Aqours members. Chika fans shone the orange lights, Mari aficionados cast off a violet glow, Kanan followers flew green colors, and so on.

Before long, the lights began to dim, and the screen on stage kicked on. The crowd erupted in cheers as Aqours rushed out to the stage, getting into position just as the opening to Aozora Jumping Heart started up. From there, the group introduced themselves to the audience, before running through another of their greatest hits. Each of the main sub-groups, CYaRon!, AZALEA, and Guilty Kiss all had a chance to shine, bringing their biggest hits, to a symphony of cheers that erupted through the room.

That said, of the three groups, I have to admit that Guilty Kiss rocked the house the hardest, opening with the rocking Strawberry Trapper, before moving into the bouncy, poppy Guilty Night Guilty Kiss. Everything came to a head for the finale, which saw the entire group return for Taiyou o Oikakero!, followed by a grand finale in Yuki Wa Doko Ni? Kimi No Mune Ni!.

Through it all, the energy of the room was unmistakable. Every song was met with a roar from fans young and old alike, as they gave their very best wotagei. The packed auditorium buzzed with excitement, even after Aqours left the stage, as attendees eagerly chatted up their favorite songs, and traded debates on which of the nine idols was the best of all.

The concert proved to be an amazing end to an evening and a wonderful welcome to Los Angeles, which offered promises of an unforgettable experience to come.

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