Anime Expo 2018: All Grown Up
Every year in Los Angeles, the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation hosts the largest anime and Japanese pop culture convention in North America, dubbed Anime Expo (AX). With humble roots starting back in 1992, Anime Expo has become a destination for lovers of anime and Japanese culture the world over.
This year, I went on my yearly trip to Anime Expo with my fiancé, Nacho, with painful memories of 2017 in hand. Let me briefly explain what 2017 was like to demonstrate the difference between it and 2018.
I have attended AX since 2001, and it’s one of my favorite summer time things to do, it is my summer vacation. With happy hearts and excitement, Nacho and I went to Anime Expo in 2017 waiting to go on an adventure, and we went on one we very much didn’t expect, nor want. The majority of our convention experience for AX ‘17 was waiting in a line that was literally miles long, which wove its way through homeless encampments, under freeway overpasses, and into neighborhoods of the surrounding area. After 5 and a half hours in line with only the Pocari Sweat we brought with us, and no bathrooms or shade, we made it to the front of the line to get our badges, only to realize that the Exhibit Hall would be closing in an hour and a half.
We’d waited all day in line to barely use a badge that should have been a ticket to an explosion of weeby goodness. Long story short, we went to the Exhibit Hall, ran around quickly to try to make some purchases, and begrudgingly headed home, me with second degree sunburns on my shoulders from waiting in line. My only solace in this devastation was that I was able to grab a Bishoujo Edward Scissorhands statue.
Fast forward to a few weeks after AX 2017, when it was announced that badges would be mailed out for 2018, which would raise prices, but hopefully cut down on lines and wait times. I was skeptical, but appreciated the attempt at quelling the chaos that was Line Con 2017. After some time, Nacho and I ordered our badges so they would be mailed to us. We received them without any sort of issue. I also had downloaded the Anime Expo app to keep track of different exhibitors and panels I was interested in. When a heat wave hit Southern California Day 1 of Anime Expo (I only attended Day 3), I received many notifications from the Anime Expo app warning people of the heat and to encourage them to stay hydrated, in the shade/inside, and to refill their water bottles at the convention. This foresight pleased me, but Nacho was rightly doubtful about how well these areas for water bottle filling would be maintained, if they even existed at all.
The Saturday of Anime Expo 2018 arrives, and we make sure to get to the convention early, having learned a very harsh lesson the year before. We quickly and easily find the end of the line for the entrance, something that was virtually impossible the previous year. We prayed that the lines would be less egregious this time around. Even an hour-long line would be perfectly reasonable, given that it’s a huge convention, which attracted 110,000 people when all was said and done, so lines are understandable. We crossed our fingers and hoped the line would move quickly.
And it did. Twenty minutes. That’s how long it took for us to make it through the line outside, through bag check, and into the convention. Thanks to much improved organization and the addition of RFID technology with the badges, the line moved swiftly and smoothly, much to the surprise of Nacho and I. We made it into the convention before any of the halls had even opened. Nacho and I stood there, in shock, amidst the ever-growing crowd of people. This was the best entrance experience either of us could remember in this history of Anime Expo, especially since they had become larger. With the opening of the Exhibit Hall, we began our journey around the convention.
While I wasn’t able to get hands-on time with different games that were present in the Entertainment Hall, such as Kingdom Hearts 3 and Dragon Quest XI, but seeing their booths and their setups was a great experience, one that we had never really had time to do in the past due to the organizational issues that usually would plague the con. It was great to be able to experience the whole convention throughout the entirety of the Los Angeles Convention Center and not feel rushed, or as though we would miss anything. I also was able to pick up some more fun merchandise this time, including a few Persona 5 shirts and a Madoka Magica blind box (which had all Homura stuff, much to my chagrin).
While my convention experiences are always as a casual con-goer, Anime Expo 2018 is the most successful I have ever seen Anime Expo be in terms of ease for the consumer. Nacho and I left the convention when we felt our feet were about to give out and headed home with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that we hadn’t gotten from the convention before. We didn’t feel rushed to make our purchases, or to try to see if something was still open. It felt like the fun of a 4 day convention experience wrapped into one quick and exciting day.
Through either their own planning and desire to be better than last year, or the potential involvement of the city government after the safety disaster that was 2017, it’s great to see Anime Expo growing into its “big kid” pants. The growing pains of trying to reconcile starting from a small con to becoming one of the largest in the world less than a decade later definitely put Anime Expo, and its attendees, through the ringer some years. But 2018 is a testament to what can be done when a large convention really tries to plan itself well. Here’s to hoping that 2019 can follow in its footsteps and potentially be even better that 2018.