It has been a relatively cool weekend during the Anime Expo of 2014, though the humidity has been making this pretty sticky. It had seemed like after four years of arguably bad leadership and some questionable moves that have left groups of fans asking about the overall direction of the convention, that the organization was finally poised for a large-scale comeback and improvement. In the current year, there was a strong shift in the guests, layout, and panel balance. Has the Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in the United States, finally reached a second renaissance?
The hotel list is large, as it has been in previous years. (At least the Hotel Figueroa has been left off the hotel block again.) There were a couple of late additions I was curious to see, and if I knew they would have been available, that is where I would have stayed. Instead, I stayed at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live. As you guys know from previous reports, I usually try to avoid shuttle systems so I can have control over my own schedule, and the J.W. Marriott made that the most likely to happen.
Well, the rooms are still spacious and have good infrastructure. Actually, they upgraded the hotel Internet wi-fi to the point that you can add five wireless devices per room. As anyone rooming with other geeks can tell you, that’s important given the number of cell phones, laptops, gaming systems, and other devices people tend to bring. There have been modifications to the lobby as well. There are new chairs in the lounge area, the walls behind the front desk have been modified, and there is a model of the proposed Farmers Field addition to the convention center.
I know, you’re asking, why can’t I see what he’s talking about? Because the J.W. Marriott added a new rule this year that I wasn’t informed about going in; we are now not allowed to take pictures of ANYTHING on J.W. Marriott grounds. I was told by a staffer to put my camera away while I was at the pool taking pictures of conventioneers relaxing. After I complied, a couple of people came up to me and said they were told the exact same thing. Apparently, if you’re using anything more powerful than a cell phone camera, you are required to have media permission by the hotel itself. It would have been nice to know that going in. If I did, I would have gone to another hotel. The staff here has been increasingly difficult to work with over the last couple of years.
I had a few rooms with friends in them, and two of the rooms, on two different floors, reported seeing at least one cockroach.
While it is still a shiny, large, ornate hotel, I am going to need to find other places to stay if I come back for 2015.
The shuttle wait did seem long. I passed the Bonaventure via cab on my way to an event, and there was a line about half as long as the front of the hotel with no bus in sight. The buses were proper charter buses, with one wrapped in an advertisement for Sword Art Online – Season II, but there was a sense that the convention was overwhelmed in general this year.
Did you know that Fanime 2013 wasn’t the first convention known as Line Con? I didn’t know that until after this year’s Anime Expo. We had a feeling that the structure of registration wouldn’t change much from last year, so we handed out some water during pre-registration. Perhaps you saw me with a handcart full of five cases of water? I saw a large group of people waiting at 2:00 p.m. on Day 0. This line has the same problems as last year with a serious lack of sun coverage, especially if you come in the mid-afternoon. You can spend hours waiting under normal circumstances, but with the humidity I mentioned earlier, it was pretty miserable outside.
To make matters worse, the registration system stopped working about 20 minutes after registration opened. There were reports of people waiting nine hours to get a badge on Day 0. That is a shame given that when the registration system was finally working, they were processing attendees at a nice clip. This is an area where the Society for Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the company that owns and runs the Anime Expo, has finally put some serious work on this system and improved it.
This is the seventh year that the convention has been held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The returning AX Staff should have a great command of the building, but it felt like crowd control was not only loosened, it was downright gone. I know people without hotel rooms like the idea of being able of being able to sit in the convention center, and I am for that in moderation, but there was way, WAY too much room taken up by people sitting around in a lot of the available indoor floor space. I’m not very claustrophobic, but I didn’t like how difficult it was to walk.
Security was also inconsistent. There were bag checks at every open front door, and the back door to the lobby of West Hall was closed, but there were multiple places to walk into the building with no security whatsoever. These are the same gaps that had my 9-year-old daughter complaining last year.
I have read the story about the E3 convention refusing to negotiate with Los Angeles for future shows to take place after 2015, and after listening to their reasons, I can see why they are moving. The Los Angeles City Council signed a resolution in June to expand the convention center and add a 4,000-room hotel on the same blocks as the convention center. While that will certainly add to the appeal of the area, I have questions as to what happens to the available space during construction? Will the West Hall be completely offline for a period? Will the planned hotel be connected to the Pico Bridge? Will the bridge be unavailable?
Could we be staring at a situation similar to Fanime 2013 with public areas made tighter due to construction?
Expect MSP to have keep researching the status of the LACC expansion project.
The Dealer’s Hall map turned into a double-edged sword.
You see, there was a large number of dealers taking up 3/5 of the available exhibit space of the South Hall space. The walking lanes, with the exception of a couple of central walkways, measured about 10 feet. That walking space is quickly swallowed up because there was a burst in registration. That influx of people made walking difficult, at best.
There were dealers selling a gamut of figurines, collectibles, and related items. You could also buy corsets, specialty clothes, travel packages and items, and convention exclusives at large dealer booths near the front of the convention center. I was wondering why all of the larger booths, which often involved convention debuts and exclusives, were at the front of the Dealer’s Hall. They can create a logjam of people without really trying and making it difficult to get to the doors to exit when you are ready to leave.
In addition, Artists Alley was at the rear of the Dealer’s Hall. The layout meant that I didn’t even have a chance to visit it for a look until mid-morning on Day 4. It’s not conductive to shopping when high dollar items are between the doors and the artists, making it possible to spend a large amount of your budget before you see the artists.
While the AX has wanted to have a major increase in foot traffic, there was no plan in place to account for the increase in bodies. In turn, shopping became more difficult. There was a few times I was swept away from tables before I could take an adequate look at what was on a table. The room was so dense that I didn’t like trying to buy some figurines for fear they would be damaged by incidental bumping. I didn’t buy anything at all on Day 1 since I needed to come up with a plan to protect the items I wanted to buy.
Even more confounding to me is that a large section of the room that the Dealer’s Hall sat it was walled off and unused. I thought the area could be used to house a large number of people waiting to register, but another attendee mentioned that the tables for seating in the Dealer’s Hall were gone. That makes this empty space not just useful, but necessary.
One dealer even took to the AX Forums to report that security was non-existent in the hall and he suffered unusual shoplifting losses.
Thankfully, there were more fan panels this year. There were many more types of panels that had news from your favorite companies and production companies, and panels involving the many voice actors, directors, artists, and cosplayers. On paper, this was a great year for an anime fan to drop into Los Angeles and meet some of the latest and greatest in the industry.
You see, the SPJA was relying heavily on a mobile app called Guidebook. I downloaded it myself and it is useful. You can filter out the types of panels, view a day’s schedule at a swipe, and get updates in the schedule. But, the AX would frequently move, reschedule, or cancel panels and felt justified in doing so with little-to-no notice. Just in the time it would take for me to walk from the J.W. Marriott to the Los Angeles Convention Center, the location of a panel could be changed and it was portrayed as my fault I didn’t frequently check Guidebook to make sure it was in the same place every 15 minutes.
There were also frequent panels and signature sessions being cut short. It is not clear if this was a problem with the guests or the organization as far as the signature sessions. One fan mentioned that the English voice cast of the 90’s Sailor Moon series not only started late, but had no assigned moderator, so the panel felt rushed and disorganized.
According to one account, a signing with the voice actresses playing the lead in Kill la Kill started late, signed approximately 50 autographs each, and then left, leaving hundreds of fans feeling cheated. Questions asked of staff were met with dismissive remarks that included four-letter words.
The number of attendees has risen, but the ratio of cosplayers seems to have dropped. The Anime Expo used to be a place where it seemed like 1-out-of-4 people was in a bright, detailed costume. While there were more cosplayers planning out cosplay for every day of the convention, there was a feeling that there were many fewer casual cosplayers around.
The fan-run gatherings also ran into multiple problems. The first is that the Anime Expo moved a lot of lines for panels outside into areas where the cosplay gatherings typically, almost traditionally, took place. A lot of groups were displaced and forced to areas without sun coverage or weren’t suited to allow the cosplayers to properly gather.
The lack of sun protection became the second problem. When cosplayers moved locations, several were too uncomfortable to spend extended time in direct sunlight and would leave at either the beginning of the group, or prior to photos even being taken. The third problem was that it seemed that organization was missing. Gatherings would suddenly have multiple leaders with different ideas of what the cosplayers and photographers were looking for.
I didn’t run into a gathering during the entirety of the weekend that was either in the place it was supposed to be or didn’t disintegrate quickly.
There are always some standout cosplayers at the Anime Expo. Some people come up with very imaginative cosplays or cosplays where it is obvious they spent many hours perfecting their craft. If you are interested in watching cosplayers, though, I would say that Fanime or WonderCon is the place where you are more likely to feed that habit.
The staffers have been a sore spot for years for the Anime Expo. I have frequently had issues with the staff over the last few years and called them under-trained and rude. I can’t tell you how much I wanted that to change. That change has not come.
Several staffers you ask the same question of can have radically different answers. One panel I tried to visit was moved. I asked where it went, and was pointed in a direction. I made it to that location and asked for the panel host. I was pointed in another direction. I went outside per instructions, and another staffer told me the man was inside. Firstly, someone was with me to watch this debacle. Secondly, I only found the man I was looking for because I came across him myself after I went inside.
You likely read above that a staffer swore at attendees who were upset over the shortened signature session of the Kill la Kill actresses. This is the second year in a row that a staffer has not kept his vocabulary under control when under pressure.
While Downtown Los Angeles has undergone gentrification, there is still a sense of danger somewhat pervasive in the area. Off the Figueroa Corridor (the area of Figueroa Avenue between 2nd Street and Pico Boulevard), the area can turn sour within a couple of blocks. To counter this, the police presence in the area is pretty strong. Still, it is not the most secure area when it is surrounded on three sides by some pretty questionable areas, especially closer to the LACC.
There are a lot of eateries nearby, however, many of their menus and prices are tailored to the people working in the high-rises or living in expensive condos in and near the area. You can find good food pretty easily, but you have to specifically set money aside for the menus or you can find yourself eating ice cubes very quickly.
While I haven’t run into any issues personally, I do see how the area can be harsh for those unused to life in large cities.
There is actually quite a bit to do if you look around. There’s a few night spots in a decent walk including restaurants like the Yard House, bars and grills like Casey’s Irish Pub, and a couple of late night spots like the rooftop bar at the Bonaventure Hotel.
The convention has set aside rooms for evening and late dances. At 10:00 p.m. each night of the convention, the dances changed gears and become 21-and-over spots. I did not have an opportunity to step into the dance due to a rule that AX Management would only let press inside with permission prior to the convention. One friend who enjoys the environment mentioned that they would not allow you to carry water inside as a security precaution, but they didn’t give out any water inside, either, leaving people very thirsty. If you leave the dance, you had to stand in line all over again to resume your groove.
The other night life at the convention is Lounge 21. This room I did visit and this is a more laid back environment. People sat on couches and talked while there was a spotlight on the main stage for a panel. I didn’t think it was the kind of environment that would be friendly to such a panel, but there were rows of people listening and attentive. There were also lines of people waiting for drinks served by bartenders. Think of it as having the social qualities of a club without the mind-thumping bass lines.
I really thought I was going to be proven wrong this year. I watched the announcements for months and went from mild disappointment to the hope that the people in charge were finally firing on all cylinders and about to push the Anime Expo to a new era of being able to balance fan needs with industry advertising wants.
Instead, this year, I ran into 3 different people who said this was their first-and-last Anime Expo. They weren’t interested in returning. I met some long standing fans that felt they had had enough and didn’t like paying for badges and tickets. I watched gatherings of cosplayers be moved multiple times just to gather as fans, and then end up losing half their group in the moves. And, inexplicably, I saw empty space in the convention center completely unused.
Everything is bigger for AX in 2014; the attendance, the Entertainment Hall, the Dealer’s Hall, the disappointment, the resentment, and the disorganization. I have no idea if the Anime Expo has the momentum to grow after this year, but they need to do something measured and energetic before people decide that there are other places to go, and quickly.
Anime Expo 2014: Ever growing but can it keep up?
Another July 4th weekend comes another Anime Expo. Being held once more at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) in Downtown Los Angeles, California, Anime Expo (AX) brings with it a guest lineup consisting of large names from both overseas and domestically as they have been doing as the largest American anime convention. With these guests also come the wide range of events including industry and fan panels, musical performances, and other attractions for people to enjoy during the 4-day weekend. If one chooses to disregard issues regarding registration, lines, and the like, they will find themselves for an overall pleasant experience at the ever growing AX.
Being located in Downtown Los Angeles, AX attendees will find that they have quite the number of options for accommodations and food. With hotels scattered about in the area, there are many choices for people to choose for their lodgings for the event. Attendees should not fear of being too far away from the convention when choosing the more distant and less expensive options as a 24-hour shuttle service is offered starting from Day 0. Of course, attendees should also keep in mind that shuttles can get very busy during peak hours, so they should take that into consideration when choosing when to travel to and from the convention center. Food options are pretty varied ranging from nearby food trucks for the sake of convenience to various sit-in cafes, restaurants, diners, and more scattered throughout the downtown area that should fit just about all budget ranges. A few stores can also be found within a half-mile to a mile radius should you need certain items from certain locations.
Included amongst their other attractions are the ticketed events of the Masquerade and various musical performances. These will not disappoint too much if you can get over slight hiccups in getting the actual event started. Premiere screenings of newly released anime like "Sword Art Online II" were held at AX, and while they might be something people want to check out because of a desire to see something before everyone else does and being able to brag about it, they tended to get a bit too chaotic in terms of crowding and noise level to the point where some people might find it hard to enjoy such screenings. Of course, people can also take a break and go to AX's regular screenings held throughout the convention up to a certain point in the evening before resuming again in the morning of the following day (Be aware that AX is not like Fanime and does not have 24-hour programming despite having 24-hour shuttle service.). For those who like to buy some goods, the grand Exhibit Hall in the South Hall of the LACC consisting of both the Artist's Alley and Dealer's Hall should not disappoint with talented artists and both big name and local vendors. One can also find distributors and the companies behind the goods themselves within this large hall during the event like Good Smile Company, Bushiroad, Aniplex, and more. Also, for those who are intent on just browsing and buying goods and nothing else, you may choose to get in line for a wristband after 4 PM of each day that will grant you access to ONLY the Exhibit Hall. Of course, due to high demand for certain goods throughout the event, getting around the Exhibit Hall can be likened to traveling down the nearby I-10/CA-110 interchange during rush hour. It's just too crowded to move around and browse in a comfortable manner. Some other quick notes I would like to make about the Exhibit Hall is the presence of counterfeit goods despite the presence of the manufacturers themselves at the venue and the appearance of non-anime/non-Japanese culture related figures like Riot Games. Yes, non-Japanese media like "League of Legends" are definitely popular, but we should stop to ask ourselves: Is an anime convention like Anime Expo really the right place to feature such things?
Being such a large and prominent convention, AX tries its best to deliver quality programming. This year, they decided to bring in big names like Aoi Eir (the singer of the first "Kill la Kill" opening, "Serious"), Danny Choo, members of the voice cast for the original English localization of "Sailor Moon," Urobuchi Gen, and many other talented members of the anime industry. Something that AX has started doing this past year's event is introducing the "Cosplay Senpai" program, featuring rising cosplayers, both local and overseas, to promote the hobby. With these guests also comes the staples of panels and musical performances, ranging from those featuring big industry names to those ran by fans. The more anticipated panels featuring famous guests will see ridiculously long lines and will fill up every seat in the rooms they're hosted in, so for people who wish to attend such panels, they should look into lining up hours ahead or look into purchasing a Premier Fan Registration, allowing one to get into panels before regular attendees. Of course, these panels have a tendency to end later than intended, causing delays for panels throughout the convention. Technical difficulties are rare occurrences, though. Of course, with such highly anticipated guests and programming, Anime Expo 2014 in particular saw a jump in attendance, and the registration department just could not keep up especially on Days 0 and 1, during which people were looking at a 4-6 hour wait to get their badges before being able to enjoy the convention in its entirety. Combined with the hot summer weather of Los Angeles, the registration lines made for a disgusting start for the July 4th weekend this time around for most people.
Anime Expo 2014 may have had various problems with lines for registration and popular events, but once people get past that, they should be able to enjoy the wide variety that AX has to offer as the largest American anime convention. With guests from all over representing various aspects of Japanese animation and other related media alongside a grand Exhibit Hall and a large entertainment facility that caters to gamers, cosplayers, photographers, and more, AX will definitely have something in store for fans of such media to enjoy. Of course, until AX can improve crowd control, being able to fully enjoy the convention is but a pipe dream. It is definitely not a convention for first-timers and will definitely put quite the mental and physical tax even on veteran convention attendees, but looking back on it, the fatigue may very well be easily worth the experience.
Rin Dunois (Azurin)