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Anime Expo 2009
Opening Ceremonies

by Mikhail Koulikov,

Eighteen years of history, from humble beginnings to its current status as North America's largest gathering of fans of Japanese popular culture have allowed Anime Expo to have an unmatched level of access to Japanese guests. And at this point, the convention is now at a size where it receives recognition not only from attendees, but also from various public figures, both American and Japanese. AX's program book opens with a letter from the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, that applauds the convention's organizers and attendees for "adding to California's diversity of artistic and pop culture traditions" - and nowhere was this diversity exhibited best than at the Anime Expo 2009 opening ceremonies.

This kind of event is an expected part of every conference or convention, but every show puts a different spin on it. And the first speaker brought on stage was not an anime director or manga artist, but rather, a Japanese diplomat, Junichi Ihara, the head of Japan's Los Angeles consulate, who talked about how he grew up a manga fan himself. Even as an adult and already a government official, he followed the manga Silent Service to get a different perspective on the nature of how the U.S. and Japan interacted with each other in the 1980's. And now, as the official representative of the Japanese government in California, he praised AX for its effort to promote not only anime and manga, but the culture that they are born out of and represent.

After Ihara's speech, which was followed by a short video introducing the Children's Hospital of Orange County, the beneficiary of AX's annual charity auction, it came time for the convention to introduce its guests of honor. Each of the twelve individual guests, and members of the two music groups invited to this year's convention thanked AX and the fans for the invitations, then sat down next to the others...and as the convention was officially announced open, it was hard not to think about the sheer entertainment value of a guest line-up that included nine stereotypical Japanese idol singers in white blouses, four band members in outfits that make Kiss's get-ups look like hastily thrown-together costumes for a junior high school attempt at a musical, the creator of a manga character eventually voiced in an anime incarnation by Samuel L. Jackson, and the director of an anime series that includes an instance of a character actually punching a hole in the universe.

And then, Anime Expo 2009 was officially declared open, and the several thousand fans in Hall A of the Los Angeles Convention Center began filing out of the cavernous room, and into four days of panels, workshops and contests, dozens of hours spent watching anime episodes, and hundreds if not thousands of dollars spent in the Dealer's Room.

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