For the past few months word has been spreading about a new anime convention coming to Los Angeles, California, on July 1st – July 4th at the Anaheim Center. I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Chase Wang, one of the organizers of the event, to discuss their plans, challenges and other general information of running a first year anime convention on Yahoo Messenger.
Mr. Wang: AM2 (squared) is a fan convention focusing on anime, music, and manga. It will be held July 1-3, 2011 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Our event will include an Exhibit Hall, Guests of Honor, Musical Concerts, an Arcade, AniMaid Café, Workshops and Panels, Screenings and Premieres, Video and Live Programming rooms, Console and Tabletop Gaming rooms, and much more!
Drake: What is your connection to the convention, your title?
Mr. Wang: I handle the publicity and marketing strategies and the overall direction of the event. I don’t like titles… they seem so arrogant. I’m just a fan like everyone else, but that is my personal opinion. There is a time and place for titles.
Drake: Ah, okay. I like that, actually. Quite a few conventions are very big on titles, duties, and positions for their staff. Nice to see others aren’t as fixated.
Mr. Wang: Well, I personally feel that titles are important to a certain degree, but it isn’t something we should be fixated on. There are more important things to deal with than who is “higher up” than another.
Drake: Right. Makes perfect sense. So who else is on the team behind this convention?
Mr. Wang: We have a core team of over 50 Directors and Managers and line staff of over 100 people.
Drake: That’s really impressive, especially for a first-year convention.
Drake: That is certainly a very good thing, and a trend among anime conventions – everyone rallies behind the conventions closest to them to support it and get it off the ground. What inspired the name AM2?
Mr. Wang: Well, we were looking for something catchy. AM2 stands for Anime, Manga, and Music, and the 2 was perfect for us to combine with the M so it could look cleaner and was interesting in that it could also be interpreted as an event “to the higher power.”
Drake: AM2, from what we have read, is described as “A convention unlike any other.” What sets this event apart from the rest of the conventions out there?
Mr. Wang: Well, there are quite a few things. We have the largest slate of Japanese musical acts to date, a Summer Festival, 20% of our profit goes to support Japan Disaster Relief, and our event is free to the public, with the option to purchase a “fast pass” or passport which comes with additional benefits and major discounts (such as getting 40% off at Disneyland). The Passport is also interactive, in that fans can collect stamps at various events to commemorate their convention experience. We also have an arcade and exclusive film screenings for Bunraku, Mai Mai Miracle, and Yona Yona Penguin, 2 fashion shows with acclaimed professional make-up artists and hairstylists, exclusive programming such as “Behind the Voice Actor’s Studio” with talent that rarely goes to other conventions, and we’ll be announcing more soon. Also, before I forget, our Main Events stage is going to be very innovative for anime conventions. We’ll have a 20 foot catwalk which will let fans get even closer to our performers.
Drake: Wow. There’s a great deal more going on than I was aware of.
Mr. Wang: (smiles at this, then continues) We have tons of support from the industry, too. Without them, we couldn’t have made this happen. So many thanks to Crunchyroll, FUNimation, Bandai, MadHouse, Sony Music Japan, Cure Magazing, Atlus Games, Anime Jungle, many media outlets such as yours, Nerd Reactor, Anime News Network, Anime Biz News, 98.1 The Fan, and so many more… thank you!
Drake: You’re very welcome. AnimeSecrets tries to do as much as possible to help the anime community however we can. It’s a strong belief of our organization that a convention is only as good as those behind the scenes helping, spreading the word, organizing, performing, and in other ways making the convention happen.
Mr. Wang: Yes, I totally agree. This is NOT a one-man show. It takes countless hours of work from staff and volunteers, as well as from the industry members and media members.
Drake: How were you guys able to organize so much as a rookie convention?
Drake: This is actually the second event in which AnimeSecrets has taken an active role as a sponsor, and we’re hoping to continue this with many conventions worldwide as our resources continue to grow.
Mr. Wang: That is fantastic. I hope you guys will keep us in mind for the future as well.
Drake: Normally we are present in the post-convention, reporting on the experience to point out the strengths and flaws to help the convention grow stronger, and help fans find the best bang for their buck, so it’s exciting for us to be involved in a project like this.
Mr. Wang: That’s great. I am sure we will have our share of flaws and strengths, but I am sure we will learn and grow from each experience.
Drake: As you mentioned above, you were able to harvest quite a list of both American and Japanese figures from the fandom to come to your event. What do you think is the biggest draw for guests from overseas to choose AM2 as their venue over the competition, especially since AM2 is a first-year convention with no reputation?
Mr. Wang: I think the biggest draw is that the industry wants to help us out, and they know what we are all about. I’m very open about that. We are here to support the industry and help it grow and survive in the US.
Drake: How long has AM2 been in the works?
Mr. Wang: After we were done with our initial test event, “Club 2 the MAX,” early last July, we began planning AM2 almost immediately.
Drake: What was Club 2 the Max, for readers who may not have heard of it, and how does it relate to AM2?
Mr. Wang: It was held at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, I believe on July 1, and it was a one-day event that included Mano Erina, AniMaid Café, and X Japan, and from there, you can see how we came up with the name – a combination of the events and the location. We had an amazing turnout and so many fans that had such kind and supportive words of gratitude that we decided to continue the event as a full-fledged convention.
Mr. Wang: Most definitely. I love them all dearly. They’re wonderful, and they want to put on as good a show as they can. We have many new staffers and volunteers as well, and I appreciate the contributions they have all made. As I stated before, I could not have done this without them.
Drake: Does AM2 have any staff based in Japan to handle logistics and planning with the guests that have to come overseas?
Mr. Wang: Unfortunately not, but we have travelled to Japan to finalize agreements and make arrangements and such.
Drake: Makes sense.
Mr. Wang: It would be great if we did have that, though.
Drake: Now, let’s fast forward to convention weekend, how many attendees does AM2 expect, counting those with a Passport and those walking in?
Mr. Wang: We are anticipating around 10K-12K attendees, but it is hard to say due to the fact that we are a totally different convention model.
Drake: How many, roughly, have the Passport in advance as of tonight (6/23/11)?
Mr. Wang: I’m not sure. I don’t have those figures at the moment, but we only have a limited number. We want our Passport holders to know that they are part of an elite group.
Drake: How limited are we talking? 100? 500? 1,500?
Drake: Ah, okay. Now, as an attendee, what sort of environment would I be treated to over the weekend? Something family-oriented or more geared for college students and adults?
Mr. Wang: I believe the environment will be family-oriented. As with all public events, it has to be kid-friendly. But I do believe we will attract young adults/college students, tweens, and anime fans, as well as J-Rock fans. I think there are other groups that we attract as well, each for a different reason.
Drake: In respect to crowd management and safety, what steps are being taken to ensure that the con runs smoothly?
Mr. Wang: We have codes of conduct, as well as both hired security guards and staffers that have been given some training. We want our attendees to feel safe and secure, and we will have a no-tolerance policy for violence or acts of violence. All of our rules and regulations can be found on our website (www.AM2con.org). They are put into place not to annoy our attendees, but to ensure their safety and the safety of others. I also believe that the ACC campus is self-contained so there is a lot of safety, and our attendees will not need to wander the streets aimlessly to get to hotels or restaurants.
Drake: Now, as anyone who pays attention to the convention scene knows by this point, Los Angeles is also the host of the juggernaut that is Anime Expo. As a new convention, what are your thoughts on this?
Mr. Wang: I think if people compare the two events they will see a lot of differences and can see which is the better deal and event with the better programming and activities. I think it’s up to the fans to choose, but I always recommend checking out both.
Drake: So I take that to mean that AM2 is not concerned about the split attendance between two large conventions?
Mr. Wang: Why would we be concerned? There is enough space for everyone and I believe that people will choose which event best suits their interests, don’t you think?
Drake: It’s a concern we’ve seen raised around the internet, that one convention or the other will be hurt by there being two.
Mr. Wang: How so? You can also look at the other side of the token and say that this type of healthy competition will push both events to bring the best to fans everywhere. I am confident in our event and what we bring to fans and attendees in our guest list, programming, activities, pricing, and our overall package.
Drake: I believe that both can run in peace and harmony, and both will do very well. However, many forum threads I’ve seen over the past few months indicate some fans seem concerned. I recall one forum member discussing the regrets of pre-registering at Anime Expo, then seeing the guest list at AM2 and realizing they lost out on money they paid at one to skip a day to attend the other. Same for those who bought a Passport, and days later heard about a major attraction at Anime Expo.
Mr. Wang: Well, I could be wrong, but I only heard that the other event is finally offering refunds to attendees due to either something with their ticketing system failure or something to do with the additions of new types of badges and stuff. I’m not sure, though, so you’d have to check with them for that information. We have NEVER instilled a “no refund” policy. We are here for the fans and respect their decisions. We hope that they will come support us at our event because they want to, not because they are forced to out of financial obligations.
Drake: Those are the best types of attendees, those who are there because they want to be.
Mr. Wang: Yes. And I also believe that if you force people to go someplace and take away their power of choice you will create ill-will and resentment, and that is not something we want with our attendees. We want them to be at our event because they are interested in what we have to offer.
Drake: Do you have any major secrets you would like to make public that you haven’t revealed just yet?
We are very pleased to announce that we also have celebrated video game actor Reuben Langdon coming to AM2 to host a panel. He has been in Lost Planet 2, Resident Evil 5, The Bourne Conspiracy, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, Devil May Cry 3 and 4, and more, including Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Drake: You got Dante… wow.
Mr. Wang: Yup. Not bad, right?
Mr. Wang: It’s quite possible. Can’t say for now. (winks) Let’s get through this year first.
Drake: Understandable. Also, going past, 2011, what are the long-term goals you have for AM2 for future years?
Mr. Wang: Once again, let’s get through this year first, okay? (laughs)
Drake: Haha! Sounds good.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Chase. I know you have a very hefty schedule of things to do with AM2 coming up so soon. I appreciate it, and I’m sure the readers will, too.
Mr. Wang: Thank you so much, and please invite your readers to come to AM2! We are the classic underdog story at the moment.
Drake: No kidding.
Mr. Wang: I see us as the “Little Con that Could,” and I want to transform that to the “Little Con that Did.” Again, thank you so much.
Drake: I hope all goes well for you guys.