Coming back to the LAX Marriott in Inglewood, CA for its 9th year, Anime Los Angeles brings a variety of guests from both amongst the industry and the fans and various forms of programming. Its name may be soon a mere misnomer or a name just for the sake of having a name as the events have been extended to cover more from comics, fan media, cartoons, and the like instead of anime and manga as its name would imply. Regardless, the convention still continues to keep on growing with more attendees to the point where it may have to consider moving to a different venue.
Of course, as with PMX held at the LAX Hilton last November, ALA is also near several restaurants for the attendees' convenience. On top of that, ALA has also incorporated the con suite, something seen typically at sci-fi conventions, a room that provides enough nourishment to prevent fatigue but not quite enough to satisfy hunger. Unfortunately for users of the T-Mobile and Verizon mobile services, the ballroom level where most of the events of the convention are held has little to no cellular reception, so people who are customers of those companies may want to prepare for that when it comes to arranging photoshoots, meet-ups, etc. Speaking of which, as with most hotels, the atmosphere can make for yellow-orange tinted photos, which is not too suitable for cosplay shots, but luckily, the pool area and the patio out front have been designated as the locations for cosplay gatherings, the former of which is a great spot for photographers to hang around in for nice shoots.
Various voice actors at the "Video Games Voice Acting" panel Sunday morning including Richard Epcar (3rd from left) and Johnny Yong Bosch (5th from left)
ALA had quite a bit to show off on the 3 floors it had occupied (ballroom, lobby floor, and the executive suites on the top floor). Panels featuring fan interaction, cosplay tutorials, and industry guests were amongst the live programming along with the standard anime screening room and the nightly dances. On top of that are the Starlight Ball and the Rum Party (which is alcohol-free, mind you), two events that were known to have been pretty popular that weekend due to their unique character. Convention guests included voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch (Ichigo Kurosaki from "Bleach," Lelouch Lamperouge from "Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion," and Nero from "Devil May Cry 4" to name a few), local talent Momotama, and Toastmaster Tadao Tomomatsu (has been the main MC for masquerades at other conventions and has fulfilled various TV roles along with starting up his new show, "Anime Sushi"). For people who want bragging rights for having been able to see certain guests at the convention in person, autograph sessions were set aside in a separate room along with designated areas in the convention's guide for signatures (Convention staff also got spaces.). Concerts by various fan talent are also offered as a form of entertainment on top of the masquerade (which requires one to line up really early to be guaranteed seating space) albeit in a small room (seating capacity of 30-40).
Mikari Takeriya and Tama Shinshi of Momotama
Speaking of panels, I went to a few, but I have noticed that there were times where badges would not be checked prior to entering. The panels were ran smoothly for the most part with little to no difficulties, so that's a plus. In regards to the concerts, I do wish a larger room could be provided. Yes, the talent featured is not exactly too well known, but they would definitely appreciate a larger performance venue. For consumers, the Dealer's Hall and Artist's Alley were quite standard of a convention this size with a decent selection of merchandise ranging from little trinkets to model kits to cosplay wigs and outfits and a wide variety of commissions offered by the various fan artists though a Swap Meet would be well appreciated in my opinion. Ribbon collecting, a tradition that started with sci-fi conventions if I recall correctly, continues to be a popular activity at ALA with more and more people making their own custom ribbons for people to collect after fulfilling interesting tasks or just simply running into certain people. The activity is something worth taking a look into if people want to be a little more adventurous at a convention.
Samurai are always welcome, right?
On another note, ALA came up with a way to make things more convenient for its attendees that stayed in the hotel during the weekend. Instead of having people wait in long lines in the relatively small lobby on its final day to get their bags stored, ALA attendees were re-directed to the Executive Suites on the 18th floor. People who woke up early enough were able to get their bags checked-in with little-to-no waiting. Those who decided to get up later were forced to drop their bags off at the lobby restaurant that was conveniently closed that day. This system would have been well-implemented were it not for the heavy elevator traffic during this late-morning/early-afternoon rush to the point where hotel staff had to eventually limit elevators heading down to a maximum capacity of 5, leaving people stuck waiting for half an hour or so. ALA had something going for this, but hopefully they will learn from this mistake and implement this system more effectively for next time.
This may be more of my own personal gripe with the programming, but as mentioned above, I have noticed an increasing trend of panels and such that are associated with media that is not anime or manga as the convention name would suggest. In fact, I believe such panels tended to get a larger audience and were closer to fulfilling the maximum seating capacity of the rooms or even exceeded it than those that were more in line with anime and manga. Not even the panels featuring industry guests could reach such an audience. I am in no way biased toward one way or the other in regards to this scenario, but when I go to a convention that clearly features "Anime" or "Manga" in its name in any way or fashion, I do expect to see a higher proportion of events related to such media available and more people to be attending such. Yes, events featuring other media is perfectly welcome at such conventions, but I do not think it would be suitable to emphasize them above all else. Luckily, the convention's Masquerade is still judged based on the concept that it has to be related to anime or manga (though skits and performances implementing other media can easily blur the line and raise questions regarding the distribution of awards) and there is still the standard anime screening room and anime music video (AMV) contest for those who are interested in that. Perhaps Anime Los Angeles should consider renaming itself to something along the likes of New York Comic-Con and Anime Festival?
All in all, ALA continues to grow with more and more attendees especially with its welcoming arms for all kinds of fandoms as shown in the variety in its event line-up. Bringing the staples of an anime convention and the unique features of earlier sci-fi conventions together, ALA made an environment where people can feel more welcome to establish new friendships whether it would be through meeting each other at a panel, cosplaying from similar media, or collecting ribbons. If you are looking for a convention with a friendly environment, this is definitely it. Do not be surprised to find that the name could indeed be a misnomer with the rising popularity of children's cartoons, web-comics, and the like and ALA response to the phenomenon with including more events that are related to such media, though. Of course, the days of "pure" anime conventions might as well have come to an end years ago.
Anime Los Angeles 2013 – A Small Powerhouse
This review is going to have a different feel to those that have read our past convention reviews. There’s a simple reason for that; I staff at this particular convention. In the Volunteers Department to be precise. Anyone that walked by the Volunteer window and saw a bald man sitting behind it saw me. Now that we have that out of the way…
Anime Los Angeles has a very different vibe from other conventions in California because of how social it is. There’s a lot of people put into one hotel and there’s a festive atmosphere whether you’re wandering the halls, involved in a cosplay group, checking out Artists Alley, or doing karaoke. Let’s look at the components and see how it went.
The rooms in the Los Angeles Airport Hilton are more than suitable for the convention experience. The rooms are spacious enough and they recently upgraded the televisions to flat monitors with HDMI and USB ports for your PC or gaming devices. There were only two issues with my personal room. One was with the desk. There wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with it, but the desk had this slide out component to increase the surface area. However, no matter how far back you pushed it, there was always a section sticking out. For me, this is frustrating to my OCD and was a source of minor frustration. The other item was that I checked in at 6pm on Thursday (Day 0 of the convention) and since I was one of the late comers, there was no refrigerator in my room which is usually standard. A quick call downstairs and I found out that they were just plain out of refrigerators. It was a good thing I forgot to buy milk on the way there for my raisin bran.
Other than that, the staff was very helpful and eager to problem solve. I guess my gripes are more personal issues than real problems.
Technically, the convention took place in several places throughout the hotel; the Ballroom level where most of the functions and events occurred, including the patio space underneath the Lobby driveway; the first floor where the Manga Lounge and pool deck (the primary gathering spot) are; the Lobby level (second floor) which is where Artists Alley was; and the Executive Floor (eighteenth floor) where the Maid Café took place. It sounds like Anime Los Angeles (ALA) took over the entire hotel, but we did not. Though, we did get a LOT of cooperation from the hotel in that they set aside the entire pool deck and executive suites for our use.
The hotel also made sure there was ample water on hand for the conventioneers. It was a little packed at times, but I have to hand it to the hotel staff, they did adapt well and kept things running pretty well.
This is how ALA looked at midnight... Wait... I think the butler sees something she likes...
My personal gripe is that Verizon has TERRIBLE service in the Ballroom level of the hotel. If you didn’t know where to find me ahead of time, I couldn’t be contacted. That’s frustrating when you have 3 rooms of people counting on you. My choices were to either head to another floor or outside to get any messages, and in the digital age, a message an hour old is pretty ancient.
It can be a bit crowded, but that’s because ALA has hit its attendance cap during the last two years. But, this doesn’t stop the CEO from parking himself on a couch in the main causeway and actively visiting with fans and answering their questions. That’s a rare thing these days, and I like to see it when the CEO takes such an active hand in the convention as it occurs.
"Still trying to save Zelda..."
EVENTS/THINGS TO DO
ALA has a lot of the components that are fairly well expected these days such as a Dealer’s Hall, Artist’s Alley, masquerade, anime music video competition, video gaming, table top gaming and dances. They did manage to add a few things that I’m surprised aren’t more widely used like karaoke and martial arts exhibitions and lessons. There was supposed to be a Rock Band and Dance Central room, however the person providing the gear for this room became very ill before the convention and wasn’t available. Events and rooms go well into the nights making a lot of possibilities for entertainment of all kinds. But, they aren’t the only thing to do.
In fact, this is the second most active convention during the late nights I’ve been to with the exception of Fanime. Where Fanime has the advantage of being a 24-hour convention, ALA feels like a social convention and it brings out the party animal in a more than a few people going. I think you’d be surprised to see how many fans bring out their A-game cosplay and really let their inner flag fly for the three days of the convention. I’m not exaggerating when I say on Day 3, after the convention officially ended at 5pm, the lobby still had a ton of anime fans standing, talking, and handing out Facebook and Instragram info. I sat at dinner with some friends and most of them were still there about 75 minutes later.
Pirates in Los Angeles that aren't Raiders.
A lot of conventions are starting to have formal affairs where people dress in full suits and gowns, or formal cosplay variations of characters for ballroom dancing, and ALA has its own version called the Starlight Ball. It's a little surreal as an observer to look around at the original takes on characters and trying their hand at more reserved forms of dance. There is a certain charm to it, as well, though.
One of the more interesting things I saw was Captain Jack’s Rum Party. The autograph room was turned into a series of tents and tables where you could play games for faux gold coins including Liar’s Dice and trying to toss a hoop on to a lady’s leg. Since this is a party for all ages, rum was substituted by cola and tea, but a good time was being had. There’s something special about seeing people dressed up as with capes, nekomimi, and pirate hats around a table joking and having fun. Unfortunately, Captain Jack retired with this past rum party and is handing over the reins to his lieutenant. Though, I’m sure that the party will still be boisterous and loud.
I know someone that works for another convention that rates ALA in his top 3 most fun convention list.
You’ll excuse me if I’m kind of cagey on this one. I really like the people working for ALA. That’s not a kiss-up or a dodge. I wouldn’t be staffing for them for three years straight if I didn’t like working there. They take complaints seriously and work to do things better if there’s an opportunity to do so. Are there issues to fix? Sure. There always are. They, and I, are working on them. If you have any more to forward though me, send me an e-mail, and I’ll be glad to hear them.
Like Pacific Media Expo, the Dealer’s Hall is small. It is one ballroom and it is stuffed with things to view. Like PMX, they do a good job of making sure there’s a little bit of everything of anime fandom for a person to view and gauge their interest in buying. There were more usual items than you’d think for a smaller convention of around 4,000 patrons.
The guest list is fairly robust with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Richard Epcar, M. Alice LeGrow, Johnny Yong Bosch and his band, Eyeshine, Justin Sevakis, and Panda Cubed, among others.
Actually, I had a fun experience where Richard Epcar made a point to come by the Volunteers desk and sign some stuff for us. As he put it, “You guys are trapped working all weekend and can’t go see anybody, so I came to you. What can I sign?” I can easily say all of us were stunned and scrambled for anything the man could put a pen to!
"Leaf Clan?" Now I've heard it all...
While ALA doesn’t have a forum on its website, it monitors the Cosplay.com forum dedicated to it as if it were its own, so it stays very dialed in to what the fans think.
I’ve mentioned before that this is a social convention, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. There were parties of all kinds, including a Taco Party on Night 2, the Con Suite, where convention goers could pick up snacks for no cost, the dances where people filed into after the clock struck midnight, and people working almost as hard as the convention staff to make things as fun as absolutely possible.
Personally, I ran across a late Avengers photoshoot and the people there were very fun and didn’t shoo me away for being curious. In fact, I met a pair of cosplayers who asked I not use their names dressed as Captain Marvel and Spider Woman who put up with my requests and antics. You’d think that two young girls would be more put off by the strange older guy, but we bonded a bit when there was a gathering earlier in the convention. During the Avengers Initiative gathering, I was at the back with the Captain Marvel, and neither of us are overly tall. So, I bit the bullet and put the Captain on my shoulder. If you go through ALA photos and find someone flying at the back of the group, that’s why. When I put her down, she thought it was awesome. If only I knew that trick in high school!
I’d like to see things grow further, though Anime Los Angeles is contracted to the Los Angeles Airport Marriott through 2016. That’s not a terrible thing since we’re very used to the space and know how to use it to its utmost. There’s a couple of things that need to be worked out, but I’m confident that the CEO will make sure that everything is talked about and begins the process to make things better in the years to come.
Most conventions are the place where you go to shop for those few things you didn’t know you wanted. ALA is where you go when you don’t want anything but to hang out with other fans. This is where you go to start a conversation and make new friends for no other reason than because we all share the same hobbies and want to geek out for three straight days. Come on by and see what it’s like when your Facebook anime group is brought into the real world.