Firsthand: Anime Expo '97

Video games and Japanese animation collide at the largest anime convention in North America.

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This past weekend, anime fans from across the country gathered in Los Angeles to watch, buy, and participate in all things anime.

Japanese animation has recently grown into a more mainstream medium in the US; no longer is it just a fan-supported industry. This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that this year's Anime Expo broke all previous attendance records set by the convention. Luckily, I packed up my trusty backpack, brought along some disposable income and headed to LA for a weekend of otaku madness.

For those interested in the video game side of anime, there was plenty of merchandise to be had in the dealer's room. A wide selection of CD soundtracks, from Tokimeki Memorial to Final Fantasy Tactics, everything imaginable (albeit Japanese) was there.

Plus, there were more than a few games available for purchase and play at AX this year. One video game store had a booth at the show and was selling the latest Japanese PlayStation and Saturn games at what might be considered above market prices.

Of interest to some may be DVD (Digital Video Disc) announcements, the foremost of which came from Pioneer Entertainment. It will be releasing the Tenchi Muyo movie "Tenchi in Love" later this year, in addition to Armitage III: Polymatrix, scheduled for VHS, laserdisc, and DVD release on October 3.

Viz Communications, long known for its US localizations of the Fatal Fury anime series (both TV specials and the movie) was in force at the show, showing off the Japanese tape of the Vampire Hunter OAV (Original Animated Video). It will be releasing the first of the OAVs in English in November, although no official date has been confirmed yet. Viz has Fatal Fury One-Two Punch, subtitled versions of the previous dubbed TV special releases, ready for September and a subtitled version of Fatal Fury the Motion Picture due out by the end of the year. At the Viz panel, Trish Ledoux and Toshifumi Yoshida said that the company hopes to bring out the soundtracks for the Fatal Fury movie and TV specials.

Urban Vision, which debuted its first few anime titles at AX, is planning some video game related releases too. In addition to its Biohunter, Psycho Diver, and Gatchaman releases, word has it that the company has also acquired the licenses to the Final Fantasy OAVs. Based on Final Fantasy V, a game that was never released in the US, this excursion into the lives of its characters should please fans of Square's Japanese FF series.

Central Park Media was showing off the uncut Battle Arena Toshinden dub and also had the DVD of Toshinden available for purchase. Art of Fighting, yet another SNK anime release, is also now available for release from CPM.

Away from the video game related anime, CLAMP's X movie had its North American debut at AX. Hopefully this one will be released in the US soon because the animation and battles, along with the mystical storyline, make for one great film. Gamers may know CLAMP's work from Magic Knight Rayearth, soon to be released in the US on the Saturn from Working Designs.

By the end of the weekend, I had been introduced to several anime films and TV shows, including Escaflowne, You're Under Arrest TV, Eat-Man, Fushigi Yuugi, Shin Kimagure Orange Road, Vampire Hunter, and many, many more. Plus, I have a lot more anime goods like CDs, posters, and a plethora of videotapes I picked up but have yet to watch. As if that wasn't enough, I now have a blue stuffed Totoro sitting on my bed.

After all is said and done, despite insanely huge lines for many of the guest panels and premieres, it was a fantastic show.

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