If you’re an anime or manga fan in Los Angeles you know that July 4th weekend means food, family, celebrating our country’s independence… and of course Anime Expo. Officially the largest North American anime convention (title snagged last year), Anime Expo is an incredibly diverse and fun event that’s great for the entire family. And I should know, since I brought mine this year and everyone from my two year old son to his grandfather were wide-eyed at all the sights and sounds. Held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Downtown L.A. for the 9th year in a row, Anime Expo sought to break last year’s attendance record of over 90,000 visitors with awesome special guests, screenings around the clock, a schedule packed with interesting programming, sprawling Exhibit Hall and Artist Alley spaces, and much more.
The four day extravaganza this year was sponsored by Shoji Kawamori’s “The Next,” Square Enix, Fakku!, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Cosplay Deviants, and of course the huge guest list included personalities from the worlds of anime and manga in addition to voice actors, cosplay experts, fashion icons, musicians and singers, and much more. Programming ranged from non-stop screening rooms to fun for kids, academic panels, workshops, premieres, fan panels, dance events, karaoke, gaming, cosplay panels, the always-popular Maid Café, and that was just part of the schedule! Attendees could also spring for special ticketed events like concerts, masquerades, comedy showdowns, burlesque, and more.
While all of that stuff is super cool, with the family in tow my time is generally spent solely in places where we can look at and buy things, and that means the Exhibit Hall and Artist Alley. I go to a lot of conventions, and AX is right up there with major events in terms of the size and quality of these spaces. This year’s Exhibit Hall welcomed nearly 400 vendors and exhibitors with the usual incredible range of things to see from the huge anime and manga companies to sponsors like Hulu, action figures, video games, clothing, cosplay weapons, candy, model kits, vintage toys, unique items from Japan, artwork and art supplies, and the list goes on. Attendees were there to shop, and the exhibitors were fully stocked with cool stuff. One noteworthy trend this year was the mystery grab bag; tons of booths offered sealed bags and boxes with unknown treasures inside… and people couldn’t wait to try their luck! Of course, it wouldn’t be an anime convention without the presence of Bluefin and their mighty booth lined with glorious display cases of action figures, models, and incredible imported toys and statues. They even had a slew of Anime Expo exclusives to tempt attendees and their already suffering wallets!
AX has grown so much that the massive main hall can’t contain both the Exhibit Hall and Artist Alley any longer, and at first I was concerned that not enough attendees would make their way down two floors to see all of the amazing “amateur” art and craft items. Well, I shouldn’t have been worried as that area was absolutely PACKED with people, actually reminding me of walking the floor at San Diego Comic-Con! Row upon row offered beautiful original art and lots of reimagining of favorite characters, plus things like clothing, accessories, jewelry, and stuffed animals. There were some really talented and innovative people here. Speaking of, of all the conventions I go to Anime Expo ranks just under SDCC in terms of the quality and imagination of the cosplayers. And the people here are by no means limited to characters from actual anime and manga; we saw plenty of those but also dinosaurs, superheroes, Transformers, Doctor Who, Stormtroopers, and unique mash-ups bending both genders and genres like a Steampunk Ood from Doctor Who and a couple consisting of a male Rey and a female Poe Dameron!
That’s just the briefest look at Anime Expo, and I managed to shoot some photos in between showing my little son all of the cool stuff and the cosplayers at every turn. If you’re an anime or manga fan I highly encourage you to come out to SoCal one July 4th weekend and take in the extravaganza that is Anime Expo. It’s huge, it’s fun, and there’s so much to do!
Photos and words by Scott Rubin