It's shocking how many people will be drawn to an event merely because it's free. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised -- that is, after all, why I'm here, in the cold, or at least as cold as LA ever gets.
But there are many more of us than the hall can hold, far more than the thousand or so I think they expected, and you can tell that they're overwhelmed. There's a bit of fear in the air, though it's well-masked by professionalism.
I look for the PR guy who's got me on his list, but no luck. I wait in line with some friends, who are at least able to get me past most of the line. Still takes an hour.
Artwork on display. . . and of course, cosplay.
When I finally get in, the room is bathed in red light, with loud music. I'm surrounded by displays that evoke the storied and glorious history of Street Fighter, which truthfully was never my thing -- I'm more of an RPG and tactical game kind of guy. It's kind of strange for me here, at the center of these adoring fans, people who obviously grew up with the game and made it the center of their childhoods. The displays -- the figures, the arcade machine side panels, these immense and crafted pieces of artwork-- these things remind me that there's a vast universe of fans with an emotional vocabulary I don't quite understand. I resolve to play a bunch of Street Fighter IV after it comes out.
Street Fighter 4 custom sideart.
There is, however free stuff all around, and that's something I can relate to. I can barely take five steps without someone wanting to give me some trinket, but I am a man with a plan. I know what I want. I want to see the guests and ask for a sketch. Long Vo, of UDON, is the main event for me.
Accordingly, I have arrived prepared with your standard Japanese-issue square sign board. I look around, see that people are trying to get sketches on the backs of their program booklets, and I shake my head in disdain. We're talking about an area the size of a video game manual, back when games had manuals. Glossy yellow paper to boot. It's tragic, really, to imagine someone waiting in this hour-long line with only the little booklet to sign on.
When I get to the front, the PR guy says that, to be fair, I should only have the same size of sketch as everyone else. I shrug and smile -- his event, his rules, and I can't win all the time -- but I also see a sparkle of joy in Vo's face. He scribbles all over the board, uses the entire space on this fantastic drawing, and the PR guy watches and says nothing at all. I think he may be rather overcome with fascination himself.
Producer Ono and artwork.
After getting the sketch -- which you can see for yourself is glorious -- I go bounce around the arcade for a bit. There's something primal about fighting games on an arcade machine. Man against man, steady hands and lightning reflexes, the chance to look your defeated opponent in the eye and acknowledge a game well-fought. I just hang around for a while, soak it in. Yasunori Ono, the game's producer, is doing the same. He looks like he's having a lot of fun chatting with the fans, and I can understand why.