The move to Los Angeles in 2008 was a controversial one for Anime Expo, but a lot of things have occurred since then. An increase in registration, two CEO changes, controversial procedures starting, new hotels being built and others being renovated or torn down. Now that we are coming up to a decade of the Anime Expo being associated with Los Angeles, has the Anime Expo turned a corner into a true new era. It took a while to get a real handle on the convention. Follow me on my misadventures!
Registration was a strange situation this year. Let me explain…
I was out there on Day 0 and was pleasantly surprised by how well it was running. Seriously, there had to be a dozen kiosks with a couple of people behind each one scanning barcodes and assigning badges as quickly as they could. People were moving at a good clip through the system, and when I walked outside, I saw that Anime Expo provided tents and water for the Day 0 crowd! This was a tremendous improvement to people desperate for sun coverage and in need of some strong administration to help!
As well as the system ran on Day 0, it seemed to devolve. I ran into people with Friday-only badges on Day 1 and asked what they thought of the new system. They said it was all right. That surprised me when they didn’t seem happy about it, but they were in line for 90 minutes, and that felt too long. Considering Anime Expo crowds, that seemed like a decent wait, but a bit long for the system I saw.
Any hope of things running smoothly seemed to disappear by Day 2 (Saturday). A couple of people told me they waited almost three hours for their badges.
I’m hoping this is a procedural hiccough; people getting acclimated to a new system and there was a problem that was too much to simply fix.
Yes. I stayed at the Residence Inn… again. Why would you think I would stay anywhere else?
I love staying at this hotel, and it’s not just the deep varnish fixtures, the kitchenette with a full refrigerator, the wide bathroom that can hold two people, or the ability to actually have more than a couple friends in a room for a long conversation while everyone is comfortable on the furniture and not sitting on beds as the only place to rest themselves. It’s the hotel staff.
They are very kind and seem honestly concerned about how the stay is going. The security is attentive and the people working in the Guest Lounge keep the food trays fully-stocked. This is the kind of place that makes a weekend much better by making sure you’re comfortable and not treating you like just another name in the registry.
The shuttle system ran about every 30 to 60 minutes to the Bonaventure. That confused me rather severely since you could walk the stretch from the Bonaventure to the Convention Center in about 20 to 25 minutes. I would rather hoof it than hope someone would appear in time to get me where I needed to go.
The convention center no longer works for Anime Expo’s purposes. The Los Angeles Convention Center needs a serious technical upgrade. Its fixtures and wireless network has odd gaps in the transition from one main hall to another.
The thing is, this is the very first year when the Anime Expo made use of the entirety of the building; both of the main halls from wall to wall, the theater, the Concourse Hall, Kentia Hall… even screening rooms at the J.W. Marriott. This weekend has been called unbelievably crowded by several people I spoke with. The first two days were especially miserable with the air conditioning confirmed by maintenance to be on high, but made very little of a dent with the body heat and humidity in the building unless you were in one of the panel rooms. The main halls were sweltering and hand fans were the only real relief you had.
This is something that needs to be addressed between the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (the company that runs Anime Expo) and the L.A. Convention Center immediately. It already has a few people making plans to do something other than Anime Expo in 2017.
The Dealer’s Hall had several major changes this year.
Firstly, the Anime Expo used all of South Hall for the Dealer’s Hall, and they had some decent walkways of about 12 feet set up. I ran the map across some other people and we came to the decision that there were less booths this year. The available booths appeared to be bigger, and there was a lot, a LOT, of major industry booths; Funimation, Daisuke, Bandai Namco, Tokyo Otaku Mode, Crunchyroll, and several more. The industry booths were at the very front and very back of the hall, which isn’t a bad thing in itself. Putting the industry booths at both sides encourages walking the entirety of the hall, though, it was odd that the first two rows of booths are all industry and staggered so that you have to take a couple of turns minimum to get deep in the hall.
The crowding in the Dealer’s Hall was as uncomfortable and humid as the South Hall lobby. Somehow, the crowding finally lessened on Day 3, but on Days 1 and 2, it was so difficult to move, I bought absolutely nothing. I hadn’t even finished looking at the Hall until Day 3, if that tells you anything.
Artist’s Alley and the Dealer’s Hall were finally separated with the artists going into Kentia Hall with the Autographs area. This was a mixed bag to me. I’m happy that the artists didn’t have to compete with the dealers this year, as well as putting them next to the autograph area was a good move to give people a chance to think about more buys while waiting to see their favorite creators. The only part of the artist-move I question was not moving them and the Autograph Area to the West Hall and having the Entertainment Hall in Kentia Hall and making it feel like an underground arcade. But, that’s my personal opinion.
I will say that I didn't get a look around Artist's Alley. Sure, I tried to go inside, but it was wall-to-wall people in most of the aisles the four times I visited. It didn't entice me to stay, so I headed for the exit.
There were numerous panels over the course of the weekend. It was noted that many fan panels were denied in favor of having more industry panels, and that isn’t a bad thing. I’ve argued for a bit that a convention as big as the Anime Expo should get the industry more involved with them. And there were some intriguing panels that the major companies were running, but, I guess that a lot of fans have less of an interest in industry trends and announcements than cosplay because several of them were very under-attended. That’s a bit sad since their involvement has the potential to make Anime Expo into a Comic-Con-like experience. The Daisuke/Anime Consortium Panel had seven tickets to give away to the Rock Band Battle Concert and only 12 people out of the 30 in the panel stood up to win them. A lot of people missed out on a big chance to watch two note-worthy bands play.
AX did take steps to add tents to where people were waiting outside for panels and other events, a great step to taking care of the people who pay for a badge and lessening hallway crowding. It did feel, though, like it was another sign of how badly the Convention Center is bursting at the seams.
The loss of fan panels is troubling, but I think it’s necessary for growth since fan panels are prevalent at so many other anime conventions. It’s a good thing that Anime Expo is trying to set itself apart, but they just need to be clear what kind of show they are going to be.
Cosplay at this convention is above average. There’s a lot of people that only bring their finished and finely-tuned to this convention and are eager to have their picture taken, assuming they do not have some kind of business that they rush away to.
Anime Expo has taken steps to more carefully regulate the cosplay gatherings and where they occur. This was a combination of good and bad things. The good is that there’s a clearer listing of where gatherings will happen, but with the crowding being what it was, the larger or more popular gatherings didn’t have the room they needed to be accessible to either the cosplayers or the photographers… possibly both parties.
There is a lot to view, though it can be difficult to get a good look unless you root yourself in place for a while and, honestly, who wants to stand still at a convention?
The quality of the staffing actually took quite an upturn this year. There was a bit of mis-communication between the event staff (the people wearing the EES shirts) and the AX staff that caused a couple of issues, but these are very solvable, so I won’t hold that as a negative.
Really, this is the first time since 2007 that I felt like the staffers actively cared about what was going on the building. It’s a pleasant feeling, really.
For a place that has as many vibrant locations as Downtown Los Angeles, this section of the city can be frustrating at times. The convention hadn’t started and I ran across three different homeless people that were using some pretty imaginative expletives. I even put myself between them and some young conventioneers as it is just good manners, as well as my city they are visiting.
When it comes to food, you will find a wide variance downtown of shoddy-to-fancy and inexpensive-to-costly, and just because it is expensive, that doesn’t mean it is really that good. Either way, you are very likely to find the kind of food you want for your weekend.
The city offers a lot of nice places to take a photo if you know where you are going. I strongly recommend taking a look around for your photo backgrounds since, again, the convention center was so crowded, there was really few ways to take a clean photo unless you had a place you were rooted in since the early morning.
The AX did schedule parties every night, both 18+ and 21+. Not only were there different parties, but different companies took over hosting duties, including SquareEnix and Cosplay Deviants, putting on significantly different shows in the same rooms. It created an atmosphere during the evening that kept the crowds more controllable and easier to keep together. It’s not my scene, personally, but I do not deride people for enjoying themselves as long as no one is hurt.
AX deserves credit for putting on the kind of show that caters to a lot of different types of people.
The Anime Expo’s structure has much improved, but its situation has degraded. There have been major strides in the technical handling of the convention, but there is no room left for growth or additions, and any more bodies in this building will make the whole thing unlivable for the regular attendees, let alone the casual ones. There needs to be some consideration about the location for the good of the convention’s future.
For the first time in nearly a decade, I am catching whiffs of the convention’s lost greatness. I can’t speak for every man, woman, and child, but it’s time for the Anime Expo to think not just about 2017, but the next few years beyond and have a definitive plan for their future to make sure they aren’t caught up in another series of avoidable pitfalls.
The only thing I am sure of is that this is no longer a convention… It is becoming a trade show in the vein of San Diego Comic-Con or E3, where industries go to advertise directly to their fans. This feels like the transformation is nearly complete with the lack of fan-driven events, but it is the kind of change that can make Anime Expo head-and-shoulders above other anime conventions. Now, if they can do that change correctly… only time will tell…
July 4th weekend passes us by, and so does another Anime Expo! This premiere anime convention of the West Coast sure tries to outdo its previous iteration with a more stellar guest line-up with more recognizable names and a variety of grand events to show for it. Returning again to the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), Anime Expo 2016 sure was quite the jam-packed convention full of activities and events, and it sure brought quite the number of people to come on down to enjoy the festivities!
Moving to the content of the convention proper, this year's Anime Expo featured a stellar lineup in terms of both events and guests. Thanks to a collaboration with DAISUKI and the Anime Consortium of Japan (ACJ), Anime Expo 2016 played host to the Anisong World Matsuri, a series of events featuring artists of songs played in anime! Concerts, meet-and-greets, and more were the sights to check out for the weekend. Events included a special event featuring 6 of the 9 members of Aqours, the idol group featured in "Love Live! Sunshine!!"; a "One Punch Man" festival featuring JAM Project; the Japan Super Live featuring the aforementioned JAM Project, Sphere, Minami, Aoi Eir, Haruna Luna, Ishida Yoko, and T.M. Revolution; and a band battle between FLOW and OLDCODEX. This series of events also made use of both the LACC's Hall B in the West Hall area alongside the Microsoft Theater and the Novo of the adjacent LA Live, showing that Anime Expo has plenty of space to play around with when it comes to showcasing premiere ticketed events like these. All of these live events and performances done by popular artsts straight out of Japan were definitely the highlights of this year's convention, and this whole Anisong World Matsuri shebang does give a sign of hope that the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA) will be able to establish and maintain strong guest relations for the years to come as the demand for big name guests like these continues to grow.
As for the other main components, Anime Expo has plenty to show off. This time around, the Exhibit Hall situated in the South Hall area remains exclusively for vendors covering this large space. From big industry names showing off their latest products and releases to local and traveling vendors selling wares, there was plenty for the shopper to browse during the 4-day weekend. As for the Artist's Alley, Anime Expo 2016 saw this section of creative works placed in the Kentia Hall downstairs of the South Hall area alongside the autographs for this year. While this area of the LACC is quite spacious, there were reports of overheating due to some climate control malfunctions, making browsing and selling art alike an arduous task until the problem was remedied later on that weekend. Panels kept up to their stellar quality albeit with a decline in fan panels this time around perhaps to accommodate for the bigger name industry representatives and guests from both near and afar. Hopefully the SPJA realizes that a demand for fan panels still exists despite a desire to shift towards a large-scale industry show. The Entertainment Hall in West Hall returns to give attendees opportunities to play some video and arcade games, use themed photo sets, and check out newly established exhibits of animation schematics and itasha (cars decorated with decals and such to represent a passion for a given franchise, character, etc.). As for the line issue, registration confirmation/pick-up could have gone smoother given that the staff continued on using Eventbrite for that system, but at least the wait was not too long (no more than 2 hours on Days 0 and 1 for most attendees). Ticketing for events was shifted to AXS with reserved seating (if applicable), which seemed to have worked out for the better than hours of waiting in ticketing lines because of a combination of both setting up Eventbrite and making sure there are seats allocated to guests and the like.
With that all said, Anime Expo has sure shown that it is looking to push towards emphasizing the industry aspect of its event more. It is apparent that industry and big name guests, both domestic and abroad, are making more of a stronger presence in the grounds of the convention, and this may be upsetting for those looking for more fan bonding and interaction such as in fan panels and other fan-run events. Sadly to say, but as far as things are looking for the future, Anime Expo is probably not the con if one is looking to enjoy what their fellow fan brethren have in store except maybe in the cosplay realm of things with Anime Expo continuing to spread on its Cosplay Guest and Senpai programs. For the one who does like to hear about what the industry has to offer firsthand and really enjoys concerts and other live appearances from famous guests in the industry, Anime Expo is the perfect convention on this side of the world for just that and is sure looking to keep it that way.