I thought I knew anime, but reading about Anime Expo 2012 made me realize I know nothing about anime. Although my attendance on the AX showfloor for a few hours garnered little more insight, I did develop an appreciation for how broad the anime universe is, and how dedicated its fanbase turns out to be.

For the uninitiated, anime is Japanese animation, a stylized art form popularized in TV, film, video games and other mediums. Western audiences are likely familiar with examples such as Pokemon, Dragon Ball, Naruto or the anime-inspired Avatar: The Last Airbender and Speed Racer animated series, which I grew up on.


More recently, I became a fan of movies such as Ghost in the Shell (GitS), Akira and The Secret World of Arrietty (whose director, Hayao Miyazaki, and his Studio Ghibli have created other popular films like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle). I now also own GitS: Stand Alone Complex, the GitS: SAC video game and the GitS manga.

So imagine my surprise when looking at the schedule and guests list for AX and not recognizing a single name. Given that the mission of the show's sponsor, the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, is to popularize anime and manga as well as educate the American public, AX seems the perfect vehicle.

In fact, the show has a packed event schedule including industry panels, guest speakers and films. My limited time restricted me to the showfloor, which was packed with vendors and other exhibitors related to the industry.

Gaming

A few exhibits showcased video games, such as for Namco Bandai's Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which is inspired by Studio Ghibli (a co-developer on the project with Level 5).

Namco Bandai also displayed its Dragon Ball Z for Kinect. While the presentation is suitably stylish, the motion controls clearly will take some getting used to. There was difficulty getting sensors to recognize one gamer, and the others' frantic punches were mostly out of sync with the on-screen action.

The mech shooter Hawken was also exhibited, with attendees able to sign up for the game.

All your leveling up in prestige was for naught. But pity the noob that matchmaking places in that lobby! In fact, although many exhibitors offered T-shirts, books or DVDs/Blu-ray, there was a variety of exhibits with disparate offerings.

Cosplay

This Warhammer veteran was an imposing figure, though polite enough to wear his badge at all times as requested.

Apparently Adidas is a proud sponsor of the Umbrella Corporation. I knew there was something fishy about them!

More often than not I couldn't place the costumes I saw, though many resembled Final Fantasy designs.

The sword returns to its rightful owner, who barely tolerates the gaggle of attendees.

I didn't realize costumes could be elaborate and spare at the same time.

Many cosplayers were in character on demand, and more than a few seeming princesses were on hand. And while there were some repeat characters, the breadth in general was impressive.

These cosplayers, who I think were strangers, had some fun hamming it up. His costume in particular was inspired, especially the jumping/spring stilts that enabled him to bounce around the showfloor, though standing still proved a challenge.

Her smile belied the glowing red eyes and matching horns. But truth be told everyone I stopped for a picture was friendly and accommodating, and all attendees genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves.

There was more than one Assassin's Creed costume at AX, however, the one that drew the most attention was this outfit with its workable, retractable hidden blades. Indeed, the mechanics and sound delighted onlookers.

From attendees who fashioned a minecraft head out of a box or wore a bag with writing indicating his character to dedicated cosplayers who clearly spared no expense in time or money to fashion their outfits, the level of craftsmanship was as diverse as the people on the showfloor. But all shared a passion for the medium.

These two characters were probably the most well represented, at least on the first day. However, this Link was the most creative that I saw.

The word "resplendent" comes to mind.

This attendee appeared in constant threat of toppling over, but gets kudos for bearing the burden of his costume with such aplomb. Similarly, another wore a boat at his waste that likely was about 10 feet long; turning was likely no easier than on the open sea.

As a Skyrim fan I can appreciate this Dovahkin's devotion to detail, though he's likely a better blacksmith/tailor than warrior given his wielding a sheathed sword.

A motley crew that proved indicative of the broad range of outfits to be seen at AX.

Amusingly, there was a weapons check-in desk at the show. I can't say for certain that that's what this is, but regardless the entire ensemble was impressive.

Fan art

The Artist Alley on the showfloor features amateur and semiprofessional artists selling their creations. As with cosplay, there was a wide range of interest and creativity throughout, with some genuinely awe-inspiring artwork on exhibit.

Some artists displayed a welcome sense of humor in their subject matter, such as a comical treatment of the Avengers.

There was so much on display that one can overlook interesting details. For instance, it wasn't until I downloaded this picture that I realized the image on the right included Bayonetta walking Amaterasu!

Yes, Bronies, you were represented by more than a few artists, even if it sometimes clashed with the artist's other works.

Many of the illustrations and paintings showed off dynamic images in stylish presentations. The level of detail and coloring on some truly was beautiful.

The artists were surrounded by examples of their work, whether hanging in sheets above them or spread out on their tables. Many offered original pieces or prints, and some even offered to create commissioned artwork.

Artwork varied from iconic characters to more original fantasy motifs, from violent to contemplative, from serious to whimsical. The "Wait for Morning" Minecraft image amused with its knowing take on an important gameplay element.

One exhibit on the showfloor offered mostly poster carrying cases, which proved popular with attendees who walked away with their favorite artwork.

Some artists demonstrated a flair for mixing mediums, such as these creations that found inspiration in marrying anime with Quentin Tarantino's films.

Collectibles/merchandise

Among the scores of vendors at AX were some that offered cosplay merchandise. Watching in-character attendees shop for weapons was amusing in its own right.

Book sellers were among the most common vendors. Many offered popular manga series though other anime related publications were also available. Among the most compelling were Japanese art books depicting the creative processes behind some well known franchises, even if the text remained a mystery for American readers.

Vendors selling DVDs/Blu-rays likewise were ubiquitous. While their prices weren't always competitive, they did have many titles that you likely would be hard pressed to find in stock at most retailers. I was compelled to pick up The Happiness of the Katakuris and Casshern, but instead opted for the complete Samurai 7 anime series.

One large, striking booth displayed a variety of collectible figures though the majority, if memory serves, were related to the Gundam universe. They came in many sizes and designs, but all showed quality craftsmanship.

Portal was another franchise that had its share of merchandise, whether T-shirts, bookends, a plush companion cube or a portal gun! All should be appealing to any fan of Valve's series.

Minecraft also had its share of products, as its popularity and simple design have created a large fanbase of potential consumers.

This vendor had a pretty good stock of appealing steampunk clothing and related materials.

All in all, Anime Expo 2012 was a treat for anyone walking the showfloor. I didn't have an opportunity to sit in on any of the panels, the cosplay events or the gaming tournaments (mostly fighting games) and, truth be told, I might not have been able to glean much anyway as my understanding is sorely limited.

Still, the show's energy, the dedication and creativity of fans, and the broad anime universe on display is certainly inspiring. It was even worth braving the hot, crowded, smelly convention hall to experience AX. And clearly I was not alone in that sentiment, as the show's attendance in recent years is virtually the same as E3 (about 47,000 in 2011, though admittedly E3 is much reduced over previous years).

This show is the 21st annual production and the expo shows no signs of letting up. Here's to a bright future for this growing medium.