[Virtual Con] Anime Expo Lite ’21

I got my Nozomi shirt on with my Pikachu slippers – let’s go to Anime Expo Lite! Anime Expo Lite is Anime Expo’s second virtual convention. Anime Expo Lite (or AXL) went virtual on July 2 to July 4. AXL ’20 was pretty good and I generally had a great time having non-stop programming about anime and Japanese culture throughout my weekend. This year, AXL was also celebrating Anime Expo’s 30th Anniversary. The event opened up with a montage of different programs through their 30 year history played to the sounds of a local taiko drumming group. It was too bad we couldn’t fully celebrate the 30th anniversary, but even then, AXL’s virtual programming was still pretty solid.

My favorite part about AXL is the cultural programming sprinkled throughout the day. Between industry panels, we had cultural lessons and trivia spread throughout as a way from one panel to transition to another. There were presentations on wearing kimonos and how to create a character inspired kimono; kinda like Disneybounding, but with kimono’s. There were stories from a Japanese candymaker that showcased his Demon Slayer candy. We also took a trip to rural Sakata where we learned about maiko and an inn that preserves the maiko culture. I really feel this programming is essential to Anime Expo. Learning about the culture where anime comes from gives it so much more context…and an itch to visit Japan. Please keep bringing these back!

Anime Expo is all about celebrating the anime industry. I always recommend people check out a premiere at Anime Expo. Jared the Greek and I watched the new series of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Quest. You could only watch this 90 minute premiere live; there were no on demand versions. I’m fairly new to Dragon Quest, so I had Jared the Greek fill me in with what’s up the with the world. It’s a cute, shounen kids series that was fairly easy to follow. If you have an affinity for Japanese role playing games, this is a good one to follow. The animation is very old school, but feels polished. The humor was a lot of fun and I found the characters very likeable. This isn’t normally my wheelhouse for anime, but if I needed a feel good, wholesome anime, I’ll definitely check out this new entry to Dragon Quest.

Another highlight of AXL was the Star Wars Visions, or “Star Wars Anime” panel. Lucasfilm hosted this panel where they talked about the studios and creative minds behind the next entry for the Star Wars universe. These would be standalone stories in the Star Wars universe directly inspired by anime and bushido culture. Though the OG Star Wars trilogy is inspired by Akira Kurosawa films, we have come full circle seeing Japanese creatives creating stories in the Star Wars universe. Most of the anime style felt modern, American-anime style based on the concepts we’ve seen. Studio Trigger is also lending their unique style to the franchise, but let’s hope we don’t see Reylo power a TIE Fighter on all fours. Otherwise, I’m very happy that Production IG is lending their talents to this given they have done so much for the Western market and time and again have done amazing science fiction anime (I was sad when I didn’t see Sunrise in the studio listing; who wouldn’t want to see a Tomino directed Star Wars story?). Star Wars Visions is coming to Disney Plus in September 2021.

Anime Expo was celebrating their 30th. This virtual panel brought some familiar faces who were there on Day 1 at Anime Con ’91. Anime Con ’91 was the one that began this 30 year journey. Mike Tatsugawa lead the panel and talked about how he was running the convention while being a student at UC Berkeley. I found it to be very interesting learning about anime cons before the age of the internet. This was a fascinating archival of history that I’m glad AXL included. I would have loved to have seen a 30 year retrospective because Anime Expo has so much history behind it, but it was still cool deep diving into Anime Con ’91.

We also got a sneak peak of upcoming anime. I was pretty hyped for Love Live Superstar. This is the fourth series in the school idol anime universe. Though I think it’s too soon to have a series four; I’m still getting to know Team Njigasaki! We got to meet the cast and learn who’s who. We also learned that local bakery, Honey and Butter will be having a Love Live Superstar collaboration. Another big event was the Jojo panel. So many Jojo fans were hyped to see that the future lies for Stone Ocean. We did get to see past interviews with David Production which lead to a 20 second preview showing the design and voice for Jolene Joestar. We had a date of August 8, 2021 for the next Jojo announcement. Suffice to say, this disappointed a lot of fans in the chat expecting more than a voice clip and a .png file of the character.

One of my other goals with any anime convention I attend is to find a new fandom I want to get involved in. Since the start of the virtual con, Obey Me! stans were in the chat getting hyped up for the Obey Me! voice actor panel. I had to look this up because I’m very out of the loop with husbando games. As it turns out, Obey Me! is a visual novel featuring demon husbando’s. I gave it a shot after Anime Expo and I can say I’m much more hooked on this than Atelier’s mobile game. I did peak into the voice actor panel and I was quite amused. I do stream Obey Me! every now and them on my Twitch channel. Be sure you’re subbed to get updates when I stream.

I did appreciate Anime Expo had proceeds for this virtual event go towards Hate is a Virus. Sadly, not many west coast conventions have made a statement about Stop Asian Hate. Ticket sales would go towards the charity that would assist Asian Americans with mental, legal, etc help. Anime Expo also had a panel featuring prominent Asian Americans in Los Angeles talking about the Asian American experience. They clarified the problems with the model minority. One presenter even talked about the Go For Broke squadron in World War 2. Another presenter talked about the 5 D’s of de-escalation when confronted in a violent situation (but sadly, did not cover how to defend oneself if retaliation is the only answer). This was a needed addition to Anime Expo’s 30 year history. While so many love to consume Japanese pop culture, it does come from somewhere. In an age where violence against Asians is shrugged aside and not reported by mainstream media, this was important to have.

I had two major issues with Anime Expo Lite. I couldn’t tell if the moderators were bots or people. Some offenses seemed automated by accident (ie: I’ll post a resource link to help out an attendee, but it will be flagged as spam). If there was a human or a link where I can submit a screenshot to, I think that would be better than to drag the report onto Twitter to get attention. AXL had quality programming. It was sad that paid attendees were bashing the cultural and educational programming because it wasn’t “anime” or “Jojo.” Perhaps they need to find out where their anime comes from first? My second issue is more of a community issue. Now, I did appreciate attendees calling out people for bashing cultural panels. That’s great. Yet, it’s simply sad when I see fans of Japanese pop culture go into the chat and begin bashing the presentation.

Overall, Anime Expo Lite provided some quality programming throughout the weekend. Even for panels and events I did not have much interest in, I still enjoyed having them in the background. Some panels were simply fun like going back to Right Stuf’s industry panel where they show off how tight and durable their packaging is, New Japan Wrestling talking about their latest mobile game and how we need to train with the mobile game to power up our main (so theatrical!), and the creative team behind Trese talking about Filipino mythology and superstition. It was fun seeing The Survey Corps premiere their new Demon Slayer featuring Michael Jackson with a breakin’ Nezuko to the tune of “Dangerous.” Hee-hee, indeed.

Anime Expo 2022 has been announced to return to Los Angeles for a physical, together-again event. Anime Expo Lite was amazing while it lasted. Perhaps this might be another avenue for Anime Expo? I believe AXL can still be a thing (maybe 6 months after the con, perhaps run a 2-day virtual event for charity?). I felt this year’s AXL was run better than last year. I really appreciate the support for Hate is a Virus. Seeing a major convention like Anime Expo step up for Asian Americans is amazing, but the fandom itself is something else. See you in 2022, Anime Expo. I look forward to when we can be together again.

Written by Dame Aznable
IG: @damescarletaznable
Twitter: @dameaznable
TikTok: @damescarletaznable

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