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Anime Expo 2004
Anime Expo - Main Events

by Bamboo Dong & Christopher Macdonald,
Licensing excitement filled the air at this year's Anime Expo, but even with all the buzz, there was still plenty of fun to be had at the many convention events. From time-honored activities like the Anime Music Video contest and the Masquerade, to J-Pop concerts starring MIQ and Yoko Ishida, the main events played the host to thousands of excited fans.

Stephanie and Reina
Anime Expo 2004 opened with its traditional opening ceremonies, which were once again MC'd by Stephanie Fernandez. Joining her this year was Reina Yoshimura, who was the Master of Ceremonies at AX Tokyo. Together, Fernandez and Yoshimura provided the first ever completely bilingual AX opening Ceremonies.

Opening Ceremonies included solo musical performances by MIQ (pronounced Mee-Koo) and Yoko Ishida, as well as a duet that they spontaneously decided to do together over dinner the previous evening. The duet was Evangelion theme song, Zankoku na Tenshi no Te-ze (Cruel Angel's Thesis ) and was extremely well received by the audience. For many people, the duet was probably the high point of the opening ceremonies.

Back again in 2004 after a year of absence in 2003, the Nippon Engineering College once again provided a live anime dubbing demonstration. They demonstrated the same scene from Galaxy Angel that they demoed at the 2002 opening ceremonies.

Hiromi colors in the Daruma's left eye
In typical AX tradition, each of this year's guests of honor was invited up onto the stage to say a few words, and as usual, some guests could not make it for opening ceremonies. Not present this year were Tomokazu Seki, Range Murata and Satoshi Nishimura. Present were Masao Manuyama, Hiromi Hirata, Koichi Chigira, Toshiharu Murata, MIQ, Minoru Murao, Yoko Ishida, Shinishiro Kimura and Ichiro Okochi.

Once again this year, Anime Expo was officially opened when a guest, Hiromi Hirata this year, colored in the left eye of a traditional Daruma doll.

The big event on Friday was the Anime Music Video contest. The entrants were placed into four categories: drama, comedy, action, and A(nime)Mtv. Although each section only had seven entrants, all of the videos shown had already gone through several rounds of preliminary judging. What ended up being shown was thus undoubtedly the cream of the crop. As usual, many people left after the anticipated comedy category, but those who stayed were treated to more stellar videos. The winners list was as follows:

Best in Show
“FOOTBALL!!” by Suberunker Studeosh, with various anime set to “The System is Down” by Strong Bad.
Best Drama
”Essence of the Heart” by Good Luck Studios, with Kingdom Hearts set to Celine Dion's “My Heart Will Go On.”
Best Comedy
”Disney in D(wchang) Minor” by Dark Side Productions using Naruto and “One Jump” from Disney's Aladdin
Best Action
”Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by CrackRabbit Studios with Naruto and Citrik's “Endorphin Express.”
Best A(nime)Mtv
”Personal Jesus” by Marisa Panaccio, using Depeche Mode's song of the same title with Witch Hunter Robin.
Special Judges Favorite
Apocalypse Macross by Rednova Studios, using Macross Zero and Muse's “Apocalypse Please.”

The fan favorite was overwhelmingly “FOOTBALL!!” which used the “The System is Down” song from the Strong Bad Sings album and set it to various anime, like Azumanga Daioh, Mini-Pato, Naruto, and others. Aside from Best in Show, the video also won the award for Staff Favorite, Fan Favorite, and Creator's Favorite.

Saturday saw even more exciting events, starting before noon with a concert appearance by MIQ. Responsible for theme songs from famous robot series like Aura Battler Dunbine, Gundam 0083, and Heavy Metal L-Gaim, she performed several of her songs to resounding cheers from the audience. Between each song, she paused to tell the audience little tidbits about her life, which were well received by her fans. She started off her singing career as Mio, but when she moved back to her hometown, a personal lifestyle planner suggested that she change her name to MIQ. With a pronunciation that sounded like the Japanese word for “everlasting royalty,” she took the new name as a symbol for how she started afresh in life. She also mentioned that the concert was being taped so she could show it to her students back in Japan, to whom she gives singing lessons. Possessing a rich alto voice that's a refreshing change compared to the high-pitched idols of today, she wowed the audience with her music. She finished up a successful concert with a performance of “Men of Destiny” from Gundam 0083.

Not to be outdone, Yoko Ishida performed to a packed events hall later that afternoon. Sponsored by Geneon, she followed MIQ's lead and entertained the crowd with friendly prattle between each song. Starting off with a few themes for Geneon-licensed series, she sang pieces from Ai Yori Aoshi, Texhnolyze, and Gunparade March. She followed up with two selections of her “Sweets” album. Then, while she was talking about the Hyper~Yocomix CD she was releasing in Japan in August, six para para dancers came onto the stage. As she delivered her rendition of the opening from Chobits and Uchuu no Stellvia, the dancers presented a choreographed routine behind her. Through the concert, fans had the chance to learn a lot of things about the young performer. She got her break when she entered a singing contest. The prize was the chance to sing a theme for an anime series. When she won, she got the chance to sing something for Sailor Moon. Since then, whenever she's gotten the chance to sing for an anime series, she has always tried to familiarize herself with the story by picking up the manga first. An already amazing concert was rounded off by the opening theme to Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~.

Of course, even with the success of the weekend's events, there was nothing quite like the smash hit that Masquerade always is. This year, pre-judging started early Sunday afternoon so judges could determine craftsmanship awards for individuals. The presentation awards for groups and individuals were decided later during the actual Masquerade. Sponsored by ADV Films, the event kicked off to a late start after 45 minutes of trailers for upcoming ADV properties and increasing audience agitation. When it finally began, though, it was well worth it. With only 55 entrants this year, every masquerade group was well-rehearsed and skillfully costumed. Unlike previous years when the occasional bad entry would slip through, this year's event was short and sweet, and all worth it. A complete list of winners and their pictures can be seen on Fansview.

Once again this year, the Anime Expo Charity Auction was held for the benefit of City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment center located near Los Angeles. As in past years, Mr. John Taylor, a City of Hope volunteer, spoke a bit about the good that City of Hope does, and the contributions made by Anime Expo and anime fans.

The auction itself covered a long list of items, from signed DVD sets, to signed posters, t-shirts and original signed art boards. As with most years, the original art boards were the most prized commodities at the auction, with a signed, full color picture of Kiba (in Wolf form) and Cheza from Wolf's Rain going for $8000. In all, $49,035 was raised for City of Hope, not quite the $68,000 raised in 2000 when a full-color Madoka sketch by Takada Akemi went for $16,000, but still a very respectable amount raised for a very worthy charity.

The Anime Expo closing ceremonies were held almost immediately after the charity auction. As with the opening ceremonies, the closing ceremonies were once again MC'd by Stephanie Fernandez.and Reina Yoshimura and presented in English and Japanese. The event started with the presentation of the SPJA Industry Awards and the Anime Expo 2004 awards for various events such as AX Idol and the masquerade. Following the awards, Fernandez and Yoshimura thanked Anime Expo's principal sponsors, Geneon Entertainment, Animerica, Viz, Gravity Interactive, Bandai Entertainment and ADV Films. Finally, the guests were once again brought up on stage, and Tomokazu Seki filled in the Daruma doll's right eye, marking the end of Anime Expo 2004.

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