Will The US Ever Get Stand-Alone Otaku Music Events?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matthew asked:

With the recent announcement that Aqours will be back on in Los Angeles for Anime Expo, once again an idol appearance on American soil is tied to an anime convention. Meanwhile in places like Taiwan and Singapore as well as Japan, fans of the franchise get the full experience with Fan Meetups that are stand-alone and are not tied to any other event - concert, autographs, and opportunities to see them up close and personal. My question is when will North America and eventually the rest of the world outside of Asia will get to experience what Japan and Asia experience?

Well, it's not as though this sort of thing never happens for any Japanese pop group - it just almost never happens, and when it does, it almost never happens outside New York or LA. There have been appearances by bands like L'arc-en-ciel and Puffy Amiyumi over the years outside of conventions, but idols are another story. There are a few major obstacles to the US having small events, separate from the major anime conventions.

A major one is that events take careful planning. There needs to be a local promoter to coordinate with the venue, work through all the logistics and legal requirements, and get all of the necessary government visas for the talent so that the show can take place. This sort of thing simply cannot be done remotely from Japan.

There are small companies in New York and Los Angeles that specialize in promotional events for Japanese companies. They do things like stage photo-op premiere screenings for Japanese films that take place in America, so that the PR agency can show an audience crowded with Americans to the news media and show that Americans are going wild for it. Most of these companies could handle putting the show together, but getting the word out and "getting butts in seats" would be a challenge for them; they're not concert promoters. They're not used to having to market a whole brand.

Which leads me to the next problem: while some anime fans may know these bands, they are nowhere near as popular in the US as they are in Japan, even among otaku. While there are quite a few Love Live fans Stateside, we're probably talking in the mid- high-thousands, and they're spread all across the country. And that's Love Live. There aren't that many other idol or talent that are that popular. The vast majority of idol groups and even Japanese voice actors are not well known in the US, and would have a very hard time filling even a small venue in a major city. Marketing to a country as large as the US is very, very expensive, and can take a long time. Most idol groups don't last very long, and don't grow very far beyond a grass-roots level. Given the relative lack of popularity of idols in the US fan community, the idea of enough people showing up to an outside event is a huge gamble.

But the biggest problem is that the US is huge, and the fans are SO spread out, that just an hour-long concert and a meet-and-greet may not be enough to entice people to drive for hours or fly to see it. Conventions make that less of a problem, since people from all over travel and stay for a few days, and manage to cram into one weekend a whole menu of otaku-related pleasures that would happen on completely separate days in Asia, if they were to happen at all. The fans are already there, pumped, and ready to have a good time. Even if they aren't big fans of the group or idols in general, con-goers have a well-earned reputation for showing up, cheering loudly and having a good time for nearly any musical guest. For many younger con-goers, the concerts at conventions are the first concerts they've ever attended. It's only natural that they're pumped. For a talent manager, a show at a convention is a slam dunk - and if you've ever been to the elaborate concerts at a show like Anime Expo, you can see how appealing that kind of venue and reception would be to any band.

And so, if you're promoting an anime-centric idol band to a US audience, bringing them to anime conventions is a no-brainer. You're guaranteed an audience, and you can be sure that the promotion is going directly to a receptive audience. The convention takes care of all of your venue and logistical arrangements, and even better, you don't have to pay for them. Taking advantage of that is just common sense.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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