"I've been through some tough times to get to Japan," says Anime Expo 2011 guest of honor Danny Choo.
Raised in the U.K., but now living in Japan, Choo has turned his love of Japanese culture and language into more than a business. His website, Culture Japan, is a destination for many with an interest in the country and, he says, particularly popular in the United States. Through the site, Choo has helped shed light on Japanese pop culture phenomena across the world, including Vocaloid pop star Hatsune Miku, Black Rock Shooter, anime K-On! and ball-jointed dolls, in particular Dollfies (which he calls "daughters").
But, it took a long time for Choo to get to where he is now. On his site, he detailed his journey from being a British youngster whose interest in anime and Japanese pop music prompted him to learn the language on his own to how he managed to finally move to the country he loved.
"I wanted to be able to share my experiences with folks because I know what it was like...I know there are many folks outside of Japan who want to be in Japan," he says.
In some ways, Choo himself has become a cultural icon himself. The videos of him dancing in Tokyo in a stormtrooper outfit made him a viral star several years ago, but his work since then has made him an authority on the latest from Japan. More recently, it was announced that Mirai Suenaga, the mascot for Culture Japan, will be making her anime debut in the forthcoming series Twin Angel.
Last year, Choo launched Culture Japan, the television show. Presented in Japanese and English, the series mixes chat show-style interviews and travel segments. The show holds a specific appeal for people who don't live in Japan, giving them insight into the aspects of a culture that they might recognize from watching anime or reading manga.
"We did the pilot episode last June," says Choo. "Then we made a full season, season one, that was broadcast in October. So that was broadcast in Japan and all across Asia."
U.S. viewers can check out the first season online via Crunchyroll.
Last year, Choo screened the pilot episode at Anime Expo. This year, he returns on the eve of the show's U.S. television debut. Culture Japan will begin airing on Mnet on July 5.
"It was fantastic to see so many people really enjoying Japanese pop culture," says Choo of last year's convention. "I've been to a few events around the world and it really is nice to see that people share the same passion and consume it in the same way. There's not really any difference between the passion."
Choo embodies that same passion that he sees in fans at anime conventions. He's popular not just because he's hip to the latest things, but because he's so enthusiastic about what he covers. That kind of enthusiasm spills over into his convention presentations as well. Last year, we were impressed not only by how Choo was able to relate to his audience, but how he was able to motivate the crowd to take what they love and use it to improve their lives. When he closed last year's panel with a photo shoot of the crowd, and their dolls, it made for a very sweet and real convention moment.
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Choo says that responses to his work are "varied." There are people who don't like what he does. There are people who were readers of his site, but really aren't into the doll scene. The detractors, however, don't seem to matter to him. His work has clearly meant a lot to many people. Choo told us about correspondence he had received from readers who said that his work, which is frequently motivational in nature, helped them through hard times.
"There are some folks who are encouraged," he says. "I feel very happy that I am able to help them. "
Danny Choo's Anime Expo panel is tonight at 8 p.m. inside Petree Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Bring your dolls with you.
For more from Anime Expo, follow @lizohanesian and @ShannonCottrell on Twitter.