Attendees dressed as anime characters arrive at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday. Some 130,000 fans converged for Anime Expo 2012, North America’s largest gathering for devotees of manga, anime and other expressions of Japanese pop culture. (Photos by Craig Muranaka)

Special to the Rafu

Fourth of July weekend means it’s Anime Expo time in Los Angeles.  The expo, in its 21st year, took over nearly every inch of exhibit space at the L.A. Convention Center, with events on all four floors and in the large south convention hall.

American otaku (nerds for everyone else) braved heat, throngs of people, a giant Hot Wheels track being constructed outside for the coinciding X Games, $40 parking across from Staples Center, and the closure of Figueroa Street to both car and foot traffic due to the X Games.

The convention continues to grow with panels, dances, film screenings, and costume contests that began at 8 a.m. and ran past 11 at night.

A welcome trend this year was finding otaku outside of the convention center at businesses on First and Second Streets in Little Tokyo.  For instance, the staff at Suehiro Café on First found themselves with an overflow crowd on the third night of the expo, as attendees recharged over a bowl of udon or a plate of sushi.

The artistry in the costumes worn by the conventioneers is nothing short of amazing. A cosplayer (costume player) named Ryan made a suit of armor for his costume as Alfonse Elrich from “FullMetal Alchemist.”

Others came in costumes from “Cowboy Bebop,” “Gurren Lagan” and hundreds of other anime and movie titles.

While most think of anime expositions as big costume parties, it is possible to actually see anime.  This year’s screenings came from titles released in Japan over the past few years.

New this year were classic videos on laserdisc from the 1980s, such as “Robotech.”  Several other shows were new to North America.  Nearly all of them were shown in Japanese with English subtitles.

If animation interests you, consider joining as many as 130,000 otaku at next year’s Expo. It promises costumes, screenings, concerts and one long Japanese lesson.

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