Anime Expo 2012
Los Angeles, California, USA. June 29 –July 2, 2012.
This year’s Anime Expo 2012 marked the 21st year of the convention, and by now, it can (and does) most definitely market itself as the largest anime convention in the United States, behind only Japan Expo in Paris for conventions outside of Japan. As such, Anime Expo draws a huge amount of attendees and top-tier guests, like Japanese pop sensation LiSA and renowned composer Yuki Kajiura.
Anime Expo 2012 was nicknamed ‘Fate Expo,’ as many of the Japanese Guests of Honor were involved in the production and development of Fate/Zero – Ei Aoki, Hikaru Kondo, Rikya Koyama, LiSA, and Yuki Kajiura. Since it is the American branch of its Japanese production company, Aniplex USA ran a huge gamut of panels, from a screening of the final two episodes with a surprise appearance by LiSA and Yuki Kajiura and a Q&A with the guests afterward, to cosplay events where a handful of lucky attendees were asked to answer questions about the show and the larger Fate universe in order to win the ‘Holy Grail’ and a priority spot in line for an autograph session with the guests. Even with a smaller contingency in terms of cosplayers, especially compared to some of the other fandoms present – Vocaloid, Homestuck, My Little Pony, and of course, the major Shounen Jump series – Fate/Zero had a major presence at the con.
The biggest thing you’d notice about Anime Expo 2012 is that it had a pretty loud neighbor this year. The LA Live venues, which include the Nokia Theater, Staples Center, and general LA Live plaza, venues that Anime Expo traditionally utilizes, were taken by the X-Games. Before the convention, there was a large amount of debate about what impact this would have on the convention and its attendees. The answer? Other than logistics, almost none. Many were worried about the attendee clash and being hassled over costumes, purchases, or other identifying features while having to walk through X-Games crowds. Thankfully, these turned out to be unnecessary concerns – aside from a few strange looks and a couple of eye rolls, personally I experienced nothing worse than I would’ve expected from the normal crowd of people hanging around downtown LA. However, sharing the space with the X-Games did mean that entire streets were blocked off for Saturday and Sunday, making getting to the convention center a challenge as attendees were routed around the Hot Wheels car jump event at the X-Games (which ended up being incredibly exciting to watch, as it involved a car crashing into the jump [Editor’s Note: Look this up on YouTube! It’s not some local colloquialism for an LA curiosity. It’s a real thing, and it’s pretty amazing.]), about two blocks up from their normal route. The LA Live plaza, which AX attendees used to be able to cut through for easy access to the convention center, especially from some of the hotels, was a pass-holders only area for the X-Games, making the easiest and most convenient route to the convention center through a series of parking lots – a back route I never would’ve figured out if some friends hadn’t shown it to me on Friday afternoon. Roads being blocked off, together with the normal traffic of downtown LA, meant that the free shuttles AX provides its attendees to its further-off hotels (a necessary service, as aside from the JW Marriott and the Luxe, the con block hotels are all four or more blocks away from the convention center – not a walk anyone wants to make in the LA heat, or in costume) were consistently late. This ended up being a problem for staff and people working artist’s alley especially, as many of the staff were put up in one of the furthest hotels, the Westin. This added a lot of stress to an already stressful weekend for many of the staff, and while I never saw any examples of the stress getting to staffers while on the floor, I did hear some people comment about roving staff being short with them.
One thing to keep in mind is that Anime Expo is a gigantic convention. With attendance numbers now well over 100,000, there are a lot of people to cram into limited space all at the same time. Personally, I hadn’t been back to AX since they first moved to the LACC in 2008, and one of the first things I noticed was a much better organization of space. Artist’s Alley and the Dealer’s room occupied the same space, with Artist’s Alley in the back. While the South Hall, the area where attendees lined up to enter the Dealer’s room before it opened, still remained absolutely packed until at least an hour after opening, this did cut down a lot of logistical problems. One problem that always arises with large conventions is usually instantly apparent – the size of aisles and spacing in the Dealer’s room. Thankfully, AX could boast wide aisles with plenty of space, which was good, since the Dealer’s Hall was also home to its official autograph space in addition to Artist’s Alley. However, unless you were planning on trying to get into the Dealer’s Hall right when it opened, being in the South Hall first thing at the con was a bad idea. There were wall-to-wall people, especially since registration took place in a side corner of the same hall. I don’t know how that all sorted out – I stayed well away from the fray. However, I did hear from friends that picking up badges for pre-reg on Thursday meant huge lines out in the hot LA sun. It’s something to be expected of any large convention, but when faced with a convention that warns of heat like Anime Expo or Otakon, it’s best to plan ahead for a good time to pick up your badge so as to minimize this.
With space and their normal venue limited by the presence of the X-Games, the Anime Expo main events were placed in the convention center hall itself, which vastly limited the amount of attendees that could go to the main events. To even attend the main events – the AMV contest, concerts by the musical guests of honor, the masquerade – attendees needed to purchase a ticket, which cost an extra $10-$40, depending on the event and what seat in the venue they wanted. This could be a huge deterrent to some people, even if there was a standby ticket line where they gave out unsold tickets for free. All in all, it just added to the general crowding of the South Hall area.
One fun thing Anime Expo did this year was Lounge 21. As this was AX’s 21st anniversary, the theme was things that become legal when attendees turn 21 – gambling and drinking, to be specific. Lounge 21 was a small room set up above the South Hall that served a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with some appearances by smaller musical guests. It was a fun place to hang for a few minutes, and compared to the more pricey restaurants and options of LA Live, might end up being more of a draw if they continue it next year.
The only real complaint I had this year was with their registration system. Before the convention, I experienced a rather alarming problem of not receiving any emails from them about registration, and despite sending multiple emails from multiple different addresses, received a reply from none of them and thus spent the month before the convention distressed about the state of the press application. However, upon arrival, I was assured that it had gone through, was approved, and that all was well, and so received my badge with no problems. No one was sure what the problem was, but believe me, it is definitely a position I do not want to find myself in again. Another change to the registration system was the implementation of a cross-reference system of hotel block rooms to valid registration. Considering that they cross-referenced the email given for the room registration and the email for the badge registration in an attempt to catch attendees who had registered for hotels without registering for a badge, if attendees had given two different emails, they found themselves in the rather dire situation of almost having their hotel registration cancelled on them. For many attendees under special circumstances, most notably those attending as Industry or Dealers who register under their company but are usually on their own for a room, this system meant a lot of extra stress and worry.
Overall, given the problem of limited space with increased attendance, Anime Expo handled it very well. Although cosplayers were unable to use many of the outdoor locations they’d become used to, shuttles ran late, and attendees were often detoured, everyone seemed to understand that this year was a special case, and the Anime Expo staff handled it as best they could. Shuttles ran 24 hours, people were more understanding with crowding, and security was upped at all doors. Hopefully next year will feel a little more relaxed, and Anime Expo will continue its reign, as it did this year, as the largest, most successful anime convention in North America.