The Anime Expo just signed a contract to occur at the Los Angeles Convention Center through 2018! That news has caused several questions to come up since 2014 was a huge year after several moderately disappointing Anime Expos. The convention has been here for several years and undergone several price increases during that time. Has this convention found a way to justify its large increase in costs, or has it become to big to succeed?
Residence Inn at L.A. Live; you are now my favorite host.
The Residence Inn is approximately one year old. It only came on the AX block as of last year, and I heard incredible things about it. So, I booked a room during Comikaze, fell in love with this hotel, and decided this is where I wanted to go. Thankfully, I lucked out and managed to get what I was looking for, and that gave me and my roommates more than enough room to move around.
The rooms of this hotel are mini-suites with full refrigerators, two-burner stoves, a dishwasher, place settings for four, and couches in each room. We didn’t find out until after we arrived and someone was poking around that the couch is a fold-out bed, adding to the potential sleeping space in this hotel. Do not misunderstand the existence three beds in the rooms, the maximum occupancy of the hotel rooms is still four people.
Adding to the desirability of the rooms was that they have a second floor lounge that serves a complimentary breakfast every morning. Knowing for sure what you are eating in the morning takes a huge worry off the beginning of your convention experience.
The staff here is also some of the most gracious and approachable professionals I have met. They asked questions about the convention and actively asked if we needed anything to make our experience better. They showed Comic-Con-level of professionalism and accommodation, and that is a high-level to meet.
Forget the J.W. Marriott… I am going to the Residence Inn for Los Angeles conventions from now on.
We didn’t ride the shuttles, so I have no opinion on that.
I must say, though, that Par Avion, the housing bureau that replaced CMR for Anime Expo this year, is not receiving high marks from me. I cancelled rooms on June 18, but on June 30, I received an email from the hotel under a cancelled name saying they couldn’t wait for our stay. It turns out that rooms cancelled two weeks ago was not done despite receiving email confirmation. Not only that, but changes to the rooms over a month old were not completed either. If you have to use Par Avion’s services, check them frequently. They are not what I would call trustworthy.
It has been years since the SPJA made promises to fix registration, and 2015 is the year they finally started delivering. We have heard that they would shorten registration times and add tents to help people’s problems with long-term sun exposure. This year, the former promise came to fruition.
Not only were there now two processing areas for registration (one in the South Hall lobby and one outside the West Hall entrance), but the lines for registration were pretty much non-existent after 2:00 p.m. on Day 0. Registration processing in 2015 has become a bright spot for a convention.
The badge quality was finally acceptable, as well. These were sturdy plastic badges and nylon lanyards. But, in a baffling move to speed up processing, AX decided not to print any labels or names on the badges. It is a strange move to have everyone carrying generic badges. It created a bit of paranoia for fans; after all, if you lose your badge, someone else now has free registration to the convention. It also prevents you from identifying someone that has accosted you during the weekend.
Two steps forward, one step back.
The Los Angeles Convention Center needs an overhaul.
While it is a very large set of buildings, it isn’t well situation to a large convention like this with two separate exhibit halls connected by a ½ mile bridge over Pico Boulevard. When you have items spread out all over the building and the building is beyond capacity with people sitting in nearly every wall space available, you can spend 15 to 20 minutes fighting your way to your next panel/event/shopping trip.
The building is also very aged compared to other similar buildings. I don’t think it has been retrofitted for the cellular age like a lot of hotels and other convention centers have.
We weren’t shooed away like in previous years by LACC staff, but we still didn’t feel welcome on a whole.
This was also well improved this year.
There entire South Hall exhibit space was FINALLY in use this year, and that space wasn’t translated into more booths, but wider walking lanes. I actually did some shopping on Day 1 for the first time in four years simply because I finally had room to look around and not watch my feet as people were crowding around. This was a nice change.
However, I still have a problem with the layout design of the Anime Expo’s Dealer’s Hall. Artist’s Alley is sequestered at the back of the Dealer’s Hall, and I don’t think this is good placement for them. The artist’s wares tend to be low cost, and they sit at the back of the room behind the large mega booths and big vendors, vendors of videos, figures, collectables and other items. By the time a lot of people head back there, they have already spent large amounts of money. There are more than a few unhappy artists with this situation.
If you want a good hall design in the same building, look up Stan Lee’s Comikaze. They spent time balancing their vendors.
I actually don’t have anything to report here. I didn’t visit any panels. When the major panels have ticket prices from $35 to $55 before processing fees, I can’t pay that and still be able to do much else at a convention. I have a lot of trouble with the aggressive nickel-and-diming that Anime Expo has done in the last couple of years.
I did participate in the Cosplay Wrestling Federation, though, and that was still a lot of fun.
Cosplay at Anime Expo is interesting, but it is changing.
While the convention is still large, there’s more and more people that seem to be going to AX not for anime, but for parties, and those people don’t cosplay as much. The cosplay wasn’t as dense as in prior years and some of the details weren’t paid as close of attention to.
There are still talented and imaginative cosplay this year, but the divide between the cosplay at AX and the cosplay at Fanime and WonderCon is growing quickly.
“AX is finally on the upswing.”
I heard one staffer say that to a friend, and… I agree. You know, as much as I complain, the organization of Anime Expo finally turned around and it felt like a lot of things were finally fitting together to create a better show.
The staffers were much more courteous and understanding this year. I was glad to finally feel like the staffers wanted people at the convention, rather than just our wallets.
One thing that did not go well in this respect, though, was communication. It did feel often that while individual departments did their jobs well, they weren’t meshing well with the other departments in the convention and that created a serious problem with scheduling and other items going on. Even the communication with the convention and the press was intermittent, at best.
If you have to set a schedule at the convention, leave frequent gaps. Unless something changes, between some things starting habitually late and a lot of last-minute notifications, the communication here will throw your whole day out of whack.
Downtown Los Angeles has a lot of construction going on. Driving into the area, I saw five new condo buildings, with two more being built, as well as at least one hotel. There is a lot of possibility in the area. The problem is that with this much more money in use in the area, there are some really aggressive panhandlers in the area. One person used a story of just arriving from Cleveland with his wife (who was there with three facial tattoos) and needed some money until they found work.
The food down here is still not easy to budget with. I would plan about $17.00 per bought meal on the average. While some would recommend going to Denny’s on Figueroa, I wouldn’t say to go there. The food quality is already bad on non-convention days, and their staff gets too stressed too quickly. I would recommend the local IHOP on 8th and Flower, instead.
I can still walk around by myself, but I couldn’t recommend it for a lot of people.
We still have not been invited to look at the AX dances without standing in line for half of the night, so we declined to do so.
Then the Cosplay Deviants held the Crystal Tokyo party and invited us to come by. I am not a dancer or a drinker, but this was interesting. This wasn’t people trying to show off their practiced dance moves so much as a dance party of nerds. It was more relaxed while this party occurred in Lounge 21. I give the Cosplay Deviants a lot of credit. It’s the first convention party in years that was fun to be at for me.
As many steps were finally taken in a positive direction, there were other steps that left us scratching our heads. We are looking for a major turnaround that hasn’t happened yet.
While this is the biggest anime convention in the United States, it is far from the best. With the more interesting guests locked behind doors that require you to get a badge and pay for another ticket, it is very hard to say that this is a place to be or will feed your fandom for anime. Between that and the culture of the convention seemingly shifting towards partying, I can think of a short list of more interesting conventions for you to spend time at in California.
There is still a possibility for greatness, but, for now, it’s buried.
Being situated in Downtown Los Angeles, attendees have access to wide variety of hotels, restaurants, and more to fulfill lodging, food, and other needs during the weekend. With most of the hotels affiliated with the convention for the weekend being quite some ways off, AX offers a convenient shuttle service between the hotels and the convention center with very few delays to boot (except during peak hours, of course). Attendees staying at hotels further off should plan accordingly so as not to miss any events, panels, and such they wish to check out.
As for the features, the convention has its usual grand Exhibit Hall, including both the vast Dealer's Hall and Artist's Alley all in one room. One thing that was definitely missed by those who considered themselves savvy buyers who do not think of themselves as con goers by heart was the Exhibit Hall-only passes, but conventions of this scale are indeed getting popular even moreso than its smaller counterparts regardless of increasing attendance prices, and AX is definitely aware of it. The Exhibit Hall would definitely keep one in there for quite some time with so many vendors, artists, and other exhibitors with tons of merchandise to browse through. On the opposite side of the convention center is an entertainment hall of comparable size including tabletop, video, and arcade gaming, cosplay photo studios, and even a cosplay repair station, making it quite the popular destination for attendees. The photo studios and the repair station are definitely quite the welcome additions, and hopefully they'll be here to stay for future events. The convention center venue may not be the best for photos, but the surrounding area of L.A. Live and JW Marriott can make for some nice backdrops if the lines to the photo studios are too long.
Being the largest of anime conventions in the U.S., AX brings guests of high prestige straight from Japan including the music groups Momoiro Clover Z and Wagakki Band along with Kidani Takaaki, President of card game maker Bushiroad, amongst many others. Panels featuring such guests were ran very smoothly for the most part and seem to well-received by their audiences. Concerts at the Microsoft Theater (formerly Nokia Theater) were a bit of a hit-or-miss, though. Momoiro Clover Z's concert on the evening of Day 1 experienced a not too noticeable delay, but I was informed by those went to Wagakki Band's event later that weekend that there was at least an hour of delay from when the concert was scheduled to start. Concerts did prove to be a mixed bag, but perhaps future conventions will be better used to any renovations and other changes made between the transition of ownership to prevent such delays from occurring for future concerts.
Some major changes were made to the logistics of Anime Expo, particularly when it comes to registration and main event ticketing. One major change that attendees to this past event have noticed was having to use Eventbrite to make purchases and confirmations. This would take the load off the SPJA's own servers for processing things through its own system, which was a major problem in previous years, causing lines that stretched several blocks away from the LACC especially when the servers went out just last year. Moreso than the switch, the odd omission of names on regular attendee badges sure helped to expedite the process to the point where there was pretty much no real line even on the busy Day 0 and Day 1. This did cause problems in regards to theft, though. Technical delays were also incurred when it came to the live performance events, but once things got up and running, lines started to be process at a reasonable pace. Hopefully with a now stronger familiarity with the Eventbrite system, should the SPJA stick by it for ticketing, we should expect expedited processing of badges and live performance tickets for future conventions.
AX 2015 may have had a few hiccups, but it is proving to be striving for improvement. Convention veterans will definitely appreciate what this con has to offer, but first-timers may find themselves easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff to do at this convention despite it not being a 24-hour convention like its northern counterpart, Fanime. That said, with a fun and memorable AX 2015 having come and gone, here's hoping to an even better and more exciting time at AX 2016!