By Michele Brittany, a West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
This was my second year attending the nation’s largest convention dedicated to anime and manga, the Anime Expo (AX) held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from July 3 – 6. Last year I only attended one day (Saturday) and knew that the expo had too much going on to take it all in one day, so this year, I purchased the four-day pass. I attended Friday through Sunday. In those three days, there were several things I observed – good, bad and different – when comparing the expo with the Southern California comic cons I attend throughout the year.
Let’s start with the problems I saw with the expo. Lines and particularly line management. With 61,000+ attendees (last year’s figures according to Wikipedia), this expo needs to be able to move a lot of people from point A to point B, efficiently and quickly. I arrived up to an hour early to pick up my badge Friday morning and waited probably an hour, which I felt was not bad because line did not have long periods of standing, more of a stop and go feel to it.
However, there were no lines once inside and everyone was forced to huddle in a mass waiting for the doors to open. Lines were funneled down to three escalators or from a second area near the food court on the second floor, where that crowd was funneled down into a single line to enter the hall through one door. Unfortunately, I don’t think lines could have been formed efficiently in the lobby area, but one thing that would have helped: open up a little early to relieve the stress of the waiting crowds. Wondercon typically opens up 30 minutes early and let me tell you, attendees remember cons that let you in early so you don’t have to wait nearly has long in a line. Unfortunately, the expo took the opposite response to the burgeoning crowd; they opened the doors up to 10 minutes late each morning I attended.
I experienced some stress Saturday because the program had a misprint and I was looking for a volunteer that could direct me to a particular panel. It so happens that a head volunteer was trying to move people from a balcony area, so he could tape off a path for attendees waiting to attend some other panel. He actually demanded that the red vested volunteers in the area to not answer or assist attendees that were trying to ask for help. I know that getting the tape up was important, but so is helping people who have paid hard earned money for a ticket to the expo.
And, one last point about panel lines. Here in Southern California in July, it gets warm! There were panel lines that were set up in the full sun. Just think about standing, or sitting, in the full sun for up to an hour or more, waiting and hoping you’ll get into a popular panel?
Well, if standing in line was issue, so was trying to find a place to sit on your butt and rest your feet. Volunteers were routinely patrolling the perimeter of the exhibition hall and corridors, telling people to stand up since sitting was a potential fire hazard. I completely understand if the building is burning, I don’t want to be tripping over people, but there must be some way to accommodate people that want to rest, but not be far from the hall the epicenter of activity. I know this is a problem that plagues the bigger cons and I wish there was some solution.
Now on to handing out some kudos. First, the line to pick up my badge went pretty well. I especially liked the self-service kiosks for checking in because it was a quick scanning process and at the end of the station, I picked up my badge that had just been printed. All very easy and fast.
There were several volunteers that were very friendly and helpful. They proved they could direct people without coming off as domineering pricks. Going back to my problem with trying to find my panel, I approached another volunteer and explained my predicament as well as the negative encounters I had just had. He explained that unfortunately the program had a misprint and he understood my frustration and confusion. He apologized for the earlier issues, appreciated my patience, and directed me to my panel location. As I and the rest of the line waited, he provided periodic updates about when we could expect to go in the room.
The vendors on the exhibition floor were laid out well with aisles that felt as though they were spaced generously. I didn’t feel I needed to refer to the program map after a general review because there were enough landmark vendors to navigate the large hall. That said, I think the artist alley continued to be problematic and I think that was due to trying to put too many rows between the vendor section and the perimeter wall of the hall.
The biggest plus for Anime Expo can be summed up in one word: variety. AX offered so many events over the four days that I sometimes had some hard choices to make of what I wanted to do. I’m glad that this year the organizers chose to include panel access to the general tickets. Evening events continued to have a separate admission cost, which I expect. Panel choices throughout the day were varied. I definitely had to balance panel attendance and exhibition hall time for shopping and looking.
I did want to touch on a few observations I made since I will assume that many Bleeding Cool readers may not have attended events that are exclusively anime and manga oriented. First, the merchandise offered is not dissimilar to what the cons have. Prints, buttons, bags, key chains, stickers, trading cards, statues, and stuffed animals/characters abound. In the artist alley, probably the most pervasive product were the 11 x 17 prints of digitally created fantasy and anime scenes and popular characters in provocative poses. The prints were often taped together to form walls along the front of the artist table, with a small window left open for conducting business transactions. I asked a couple of vendors about this practice since at the cons, most artists have a series of portfolios on their tables for people to flip through, giving a very open feeling and appearance. However, I was assured that the walls are typical and are effective ways of showing off their wares to the large crowds.
There was a lot of cross-pollination of IPs. I saw a lot of references to Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Sherlock along side of Attack on Titan, Sailor Moon, League of Legends, and others. I often saw signs that stated photography forbidden at booths where artists were obviously using popular IPs without permission. Sadly, original art and stories were in the minority.
There was also a blending of well-known artistic styles with popular anime and manga characters. For example, I saw illustrations that took on Adventure Time’s thick torsos with gangly appendages. However, much more often to my surprise, I saw illustrations that imitated the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha’s unique style from the early 20th century. I found it fascinating that his artistic style as persevered and blended with contemporary art.
All in all, I had an enjoyable time and I’m glad that I went for more days this year. The AX has a lot to offer attendees. It’s an opportunity to look at another sequential art form and all of the associated merchandise and tie-ins that go hand-in-hand with the IPs. Although there were some bumps – every con has them – they were overshadowed by the positives the expo got right. I’ll definitely be back next year.
All photographs by Michele Brittany.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer currently editing an upcoming anthology on the influence of James Bond on popular culture. She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.