Japan Expo is a large anime convention in France that has gone over the 200,000 attendee mark and which I have been curious about attending. Instead of having to travel to France though, which I would'n't mind, as I have a positive view of France, the con debuted in the US this year in the form of Japan Expo USA at the Santa Clara Convention Center from August 23-25, the weekend before Labor Day.
I had heard about it a few months earlier at FanimeCon but after checking it out wasn't sure if I would be attending. For one, I hadn't heard of any of the guests and at $50 for a 3 day ticket and $100 for a Premium, I would need some good reasons to shell out that much for a ticket, especially in the latter case. The tipping point came in July when the con announced that Yoshiyuki Sadamoto would be attending. Wow. For anyone who is an Eva fan, he is one of the two biggest names in the Eva pantheon, second only to Hideaki Anno. I held out for a little bit on spending that $100, but after discussing it with two acquaintances from FanimeCon who are also autograph and artwork collectors, I decided to take the plunge and spring for it. And was it worth it as the con utilized two means of getting autographs: first come first served and via a lottery system. This really favored the Premium memberships and made it more difficult for everyone else. Premiums got in at 8:30, a half hour before prereg at 9 and on-site attendees couldn't get in until 10, allowing them to line up sooner of the first come first served signings, which tended to be the initial ones if the guest had two in a day. For the drawing system, every other registration type could get one automated lottery draw per guest per day, while Premiums had additional autograph coupons to let them draw up to five times.
Originally Sadamoto was supposed to have been at JX for all three days but his schedule was cut back to Saturday and Sunday and he only had a single panel on Sunday, originally there was another one on Friday. My plan was to get as many other autographs as I could on Friday to free up space for him. Another change was that initially there was a limit of one autograph per person for the entire con, but due to the lower turnout, this was relaxed to one per day.
On Friday I recognized several of the Premium attendees as I had also seen them at FanimeCon before. A good number of us would be going for Sadamoto on Saturday so on that day I got up the earliest as he would be doing two signings, a first come first served and a lottery. I got down to the convention center at 7:30 and after obtaining a ticket, camped in line for a couple hours.
Girl band Deepagumi.inc started signing at 10 and as they had a lot of people waiting, their signing pushed Sadamoto back by about 15 minutes. His signings turned out to be the most restrictive: personalization required and no photos. Even VIP and press were told they couldn't film and the next day You Kikkawa, who was covering the con as a reporter, got told to move. Sadamoto is the only guest who doesn't have a likewise or representation of his work on the con website. It seems that JX kept him on a tight leash during the con and his interpreter, Emmanuel, in particular was very much the guard dog, which turned people off, although I didn't have issues with him. I tried to get an Asuka sketch by telling Sadamoto that Eva was my favorite series and Asuka was my favorite character, which didn't quite work, as I got an Eva-02 mini sketch instead. Hoever I can't complain, as other people ended up with King from Nadia. Other sketches were Pen-Pen and the other pilots. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't get any photos of the Rei sketch, it being Rei being the likely reason. There was another Sadamoto signing at 3, which was draw only. It was more restrictive than the first one - no blank shikishi, thus only the two con shikishi or merchandise.
On Sunday I got down to the convention center at 8, which was my latest arrival time, but the heat was off on getting Sadamoto's autograph since most everyone had gotten it on Saturday and was back for seconds, although this one would be a draw. This was where having the autograph coupons helped out as I got a ticket with my first coupon but did hear of an instance where someone used up all five allowed coupons but didn't get a ticket at all. The signing was later at 12:30.
Sadamoto was late by half an hour due to an interview and again there were no shikishi at all, although I did ask first before pulling one out. So I had the con shikishi signed instead. At the Tatsuro Iwamoto signing I noticed that Sadamoto had sketched a mini Haruko on the FLCL con shikishi for him, which the latter had done before he started signing and set aside. When I congratulated Iwamoto on it, he replied that he was a fan. As I hadn't been able to get all five members of Gamushara Oendan on Friday, I rectified that by getting a second shikishi signed by them. They noticed my Eva shirt and when I revealed that my favorite character is Asuka, was congratulated by two of them.
The final event of the con that I attended was Sadamoto's panel. He was originally scheduled to have had 1 on Saturday as well but his original schedule was scaled back. No photo or video allowed for this panel, which was late by 15 minutes. In addition to Sadamoto and Emmanuel, Carl Horn appeared to provide commentary. It started out with a video compilation Sadamoto had put together of all the anime he had worked on from the beginning. Next was a brief Q&A. I was hesitant to ask a question but decided to do so and happened to be the last person who got to ask. I took notes on the Q&A. A couple as you can see are borderline spoiler.
Q: Why did you decide to make the manga different from the series?
A: The TV series wasn't the true ending. The manga was a way of thinking about Eva and a different line of thinking.
Q: What influenced you growing up in your art?
A: Tokusatsu was an influence. (missed some other things he mentioned)
Q: What is your favorite genre?
A: SF but not too far into the future.
Q: In 3.0 why is Asuka's eyepatch over her left eye and Ritsuko has a shorter haircut as she was one of the more feminine characters?
A: Didn't write anything down since I was shaking my head at this one, but IIRC the designs are what was asked for and he didn't give a concrete explanation.
Q: Favorite scene from Rebuild?
A: The end of 3.0 when the 3 are walking in the desert.
Q: Who was the most difficult to design and who was the easiest? (my question)
A: Mari was the hardest because he wants to show the difference between the current characters and the new ones but couldn't do this with Mari. Note: this was from Felipe Smith's liaison who said Emmanuel's translation was off. From what I wrote down: Mari was the hardest because he had to show the technological advances vs. being freer with the TV series. With Rebuild he had to conform with what was requested. Gendo was the easiest and Sadamoto even did the Gendo pose to emphasize.
We then saw that Sadamoto had started a large drawing in pencil that he started to fill in with marker and were told that this was the first time he had drawn in front of an audience. While he was drawing Emmanuel and Horn had a discussion about Gainax and Sadamoto's role as well as anime in general. The sketch, and it is a masterpiece of course, was Asuka perched on the hood of an AC Cobra with Eva-02 at the top left. When Emmanuel asked for guesses as to what the car was I correctly identified it as a Cobra and got some applause. Before Sadamoto finished Emmanuel pulled out a second sketch but didn't reveal it, asking the audience to guess element associated with the area that appeared in it. These turned out to be the Golden Gate Bridge, palm trees, the Winchester Mystery House, and a sea lion surrounding the 3 pilots, Nono from Diebuster, and Nadia. I was dreaming that the Asuka on Cobra sketch would be given to the guy who correctly identified the car, but both are probably back in France now. A month later, ANN published their interview with Sadamoto and included a photo of the Japan Expo USA sketch. I also found a photo of the sketch he worked on during the panel.
As for Eva merchandise, I only ended up getting an Eva-05 LM HG model kit from Tatsu Hobby, which was the best priced Eva item that I found. I opted to pass on the Complete Records Collections for 1.0 and 2.0 at the Kinokuniya stall due to their 50% markup and calculation that I could obtain them cheaper, as well as Sega bedsheet with Asuka on it as the Rei one was missing and both are cheaper on Amazon.