IS ANIME EXPO STILL A MARQUEE EVENT?
The biggest anime convention in the U.S. is over! How did it turn out?
This is a case of starting off on a terrible foot.
On Day 1, there was a line a over a block long just to pick up badges on site. If you didn’t pre-register, you can wait up to two hours just for a chance to buy a badge. Meanwhile, that isn’t your only stress in just trying to get in. For security, all but two entrances were sealed to fans. With bag checks, this made people wait over three hours to get inside. Once inside, several people were afraid to leave since there may not be time to get inside again.
Moreover, this building’s age is now a crutch. Its unusual layout of two buildings connected by a long bridge is inconvenient for people who try to see a lot of the convention. This is one of the big reasons E3 has announced an intention to move away from it. Additionally, other than some recent refilling station installations, the building is obviously aged and in need of renovation.
The layout is one used by Anime Expo for the last few years, and I find it frustrating. They put all of the larger industry booths up front. This front-loading means all of the exclusives are right behind the front doors and it also makes fans gravitate into the front third of the Dealer’s Hall. This makes an initial logjam that takes work to get through before you can get to the back half and more conventional part of the hall.
Additionally, there can be astonishing repetition in what is sold by vendors. I found three booths with the same foam plastic replica guns for cosplay within eight minutes of walking. I also saw a lot of the same vinyl figures over and over. Moreover, some of the more unique booths are in a pocket at the back of the hall.
On top of all of this, the Dealer’s Hall is often too crowded to move. However, I was in early enough on Day 1 that the horrible bag check line allowed me to check out the entire hall and the Entertainment Hall before 12:30 p.m.
Anime Expo has tried to change its image from just another convention by adding more industry guests. This year included Studio Trigger’s U.S. premiere screening of Promare, announcements of new projects by the creator of Akira, Kazuhiro Otomo, and the second concert in two years by AQUORS, an idol group based on the Love Live! series.
There is a notable push-out of a lot of fan-based panels this year. However, this isn’t simple corporate insensitivity. Fans have long requested that AX have a bigger industry presence. I would say though that Anime Expo is trying to strike a careful balance. Although they are struggling with this balance as they seek to redefine themselves. In the meantime, this convention does not feel like it connects with Japanese culture, fan culture, or even anime culture currently.
This convention does a lot, but it does not stand out in any particular way other than size and the unusual line snafus that have become way too regular to ignore. By the end of Day 1, I found myself jealous of the people that were at home with a hot dog and getting ready to watch fireworks. In my personal opinion, you can have a better fan experience by either booting up Crunchyroll for the day, or holding your own fan cosplay gathering and barbecue in a friendly park.
There are bright spots in the convention. Although they are few and far between. As far as conventions, I would recommend most others in the U.S. before Anime Expo. Most have better fan connections or industry connections. Some are just plain more accessible at a cheaper price.
Anime Expo usually takes place during July 4 weekend in Los Angeles, California. As of the date of this review, next year’s convention dates have not been released.