What is Anime Expo? The Largest Anime Convention in North America, Explained
2022 Was Probably The Biggest Yet
Every sub-section of nerd-dom has their big event. Comics, comic-derived movies, and US cartoons have San Diego Comic Con. Gaming has E3 — or, at least, had E3. Specific IPs, like Star Wars, are getting their own con, all while smaller scale, local conventions for all these passionate fandoms have been on the rise. But the fact remains that the biggest convention for anime in the US is Anime Expo. And we’re talking big — in crowds, in guests, in features, in the size of Luffy’s inflatable butt.
Anime Expo takes place over four days at the Los Angeles Convention Center on the weekend of July 4th — which explains why, if you’re reading this story near its publishing date, you’re hearing a ton about Anime Expo right now. Anime Expo distinguishes itself by getting more big names in from Japan than any other con. Directors, voice actors, producers, and other industry-types from the biggest studios fly in from Japan to talk about the biggest shows in anime — and, often, reveal new footage, or announce new shows or seasons. In 2022, we had panels on Demon Slayer, One Piece Film: Red, Spy x Family, Jujustsu Kaisen, and much more. The CEO of freaking MAPPA was there. In short, anime fans know to keep an eye on Twitter on Anime Expo weekend, because of the inevitable slew of announcements.
The Expo incorporates other major facets of anime fandom into its fold. Japanese companies like Good Smile, make figures, have panels, too, all while they show off their hottest products in the exhibit hall — and usually sell out of everything by day four. The additional Anime Expo twist is that two characters from VShojo might show up one day via stylish TV panel and talk to fans. Gaming companies like Bandai Namco show off demos for upcoming games — in AX 2022’s case, One Piece Odyssey — while others, like Atlus, gave away exclusive merch. Staples of small cons, like an artist alley, exist at Anime Expo, too — just super-sized, like everything else at AX. Everything at Anime Expo goes so big that there was a giant inflatable Luffy at the entrance to the con this year.
I’m still awash from the stimuli of being at Anime Expo for all four days. AX has been getting steadily bigger and bigger every year. In 2019, the con attracted 115,000 people. I’m certain that the final count for 2022 will be even bigger. During the pandemic, AX streamed a “Lite” version of the con on YouTube — a tradition they kept up for this year. But, as we’ve all learned over the COVID period, the virtual version of something rarely beats the in-person experience. And people flocked to the Los Angeles Convention Center. There was a line for absolutely everything: the bathroom, water, coffee, food, and the panels themselves.
Considering the super-sized crowd, I’m very much hoping I did not get COVID. Anime Expo reversed their disastrous decision to not require vaccination or negative tests, but the enforcement of their masking policy was disappointingly lax. Every new day of the con, it felt like less people wore masks. As has become disappointingly typical, this left mask enforcement to individual vendors. It was not uncommon to see a vendor in the artist alley post a sign to their shop which said, “No Mask, No Service.”
To be fair, Anime Expo relies mostly on volunteer labor. These volunteers are literally not paid enough to police people on mask-wearing to the extent that the convention organizers should have been preparing for. Plus, everything was chaos. The first day especially, it was evident that everyone was confused and malfunctions were everywhere. The Wifi at one of the entrances was spotty, so I had to run back and forth around the expansive outside of the LACC just to entrance that it wasn’t my badge which was malfunctioning (and I wasn’t the only one this happened to). Everyone was doing the best they could, because everything was a lot. I kept wondering: how do you make something as huge as Anime Expo not a shit show?
Indeed, I found myself wondering whether Anime Expo is getting too big. What started as a small gathering in the basement of a hotel in the early 90s now requires the LA Fire Marshal to come and beg organizers to open up more sections of America’s biggest city’s biggest venues. Fans were left disappointed as multiple big-name panels — most notably for Demon Slayer and Mob Psycho 100 — ran out of room and had to turn people away. The fiasco of the Mob Psycho panel was especially heart-breaking, as fans who had been waiting in line for possibly hours were turned away because so few people attending the previous panel left. I felt guilty as I was ushered into the room with my press pass. (But at least I can tell you the new OP is fire.)
I did notice the specter of Crunchyroll Expo — which takes place next month in San Jose — looming quite heavily over Anime Expo. Crunchyroll ran many of the AX’s biggest panels — Mob Psycho 100, Chainsaw Man — and teased more, arguably bigger announcements for their own expo. No matter how you feel about Crunchyroll’s increasingly large foothold over anime streaming, if Crunchyroll Expo slowly begins to take from traffic away from Anime Expo, that’s probably a good thing. As someone who has to travel to California to attend these cons, I’m wondering if I show eschew Anime Expo for Crunchyroll Expo next year.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast at AX. I got to meet several of the amazing people who make Spy x Family (more on that soon!), Monkey D. Luffy himself, and many of effusive, delightful, amazing people who love this absurd thing as much as I do. But, as with any weekend where you go very hard, you come out on the other side with sore feet and feeling exhausted. (Plus, as press, you get invited to a bunch of open bars, so.) Please excuse me while I nap on my friend’s couch for several days.
Image credit: Kirsten Carey
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