AM2 2011

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 3rd 2011

While all the industry panels were in full force at the Los Angeles Convention Center for Anime Expo, there was a smaller, quieter convention happening just half an hour south at the Anaheim Convention Center. Located in the previous home of Anime Expo, this weekend marked the inauguration of the Anime Music Manga convention (AM2). Focusing on Japanese music and pop culture, the event was free to all attendees, charging only for “passports” that allowed for benefits like priority seating at main events, meet and greets with the guests, and tokens for the Summer Festival.

The free entrance fee did have an interesting effect on the attendee demographics—most were teenagers or in their early 20s, and judging from the mostly empty parking lot, AM2 seemed to be a good destination for those local enough to be dropped off by friends or family. Not everything inside was free, though. All of the activities at the Summer Festival required the purchase of tickets, much like at a county fair, including the Arts & Crafts table. Other activities included throwing plastic balls into an empty wine box, and tossing rings at a palette of water bottles. One particular highlight was “Shan the Candy Man,” a sugar sculptor who made lollipops shaped like birds and flowers.

The main show floor also included a stage, where attendees could enjoy a musical performance while eating their lunch, blessedly provided by two food trucks parked behind the center. Of course, if visitors didn't want truck food, other dining options included convention staples like nachos and churros, or, for a relatively low premium, access to one of the maid cafe “shows,” where cute girls played Jenga with diners while boys served catered food and glasses of milk.

Although the dealer room was small and sparsely attended, it did have one big upside. Unlike the sometimes panic-inducing crowds of Anime Expo, the aisles were easy to get through, and there were no waits to purchase wares. Upon talking to a few of the vendors, they mentioned also having booths at Anime Expo, but for a first year convention, they were pleased by the number of visitors. On Saturday, things heated up a bit more, with throngs of convention-goers passing time in the dealers room before the big concert. It was also a good place to shop for fans looking for older items; a few tables had merchandise from a few years ago, like a Rei Ayanami statuette doing a wheelie on a BMX, an item that is now increasingly difficult to find.

AM2's biggest draw, though, was the musical guests, and it was in the main events room that all the attendees were packed around 500 strong. With fan favorites throughout the weekend like heidi, Sadie, SCANDAL, Kanon Wakeshima, and kanon x kanon, the convention was a J-music lover's paradise. Many of the attendees, when asked why they chose AM2 as their weekend destination, said that they were interested in the concerts. Others admitted that they were going to a few concerts, but were then planning on spending the rest of their weekend at AX.

Admittedly, there were some glitches at the convention. A few of the games in the arcade were either not plugged in, or not functional, and the MC in charge of the main events stage was clearly unprepared for his role, which resulted in some awkward standing around with some of the fashion and music guests. But for a first year convention, it showed a lot of potential, especially as a hotspot for Japanese music. If AM2 re-centered their focus on just the music aspect of the convention, it could conceivably be a wildly successful Japanese pop culture festival, especially if they also moved to another weekend. As it is, competing with Anime Expo likely affected its numbers; the large convention center was largely empty, with the exception of the well-attended main events stage. By the time the first floor filled in, it was thanks to the co-booked annual retreat of the Loyal Order of the Moose, a fraternal organization largely made up of the elderly.

Having spent several stressful hours wading through the crowds at Anime Expo, it's nice knowing there's a place down the road where fans can quietly peruse merchandise and hang out with their friends. It has the feeling of a small-town convention, with all the conveniences of a big city location, and with some tweaking, it could be a great addition to the Southern California Japanese pop culture scene.

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