Anime Expo 2004
Anime Expo - Thoughts

by Mikhail Koulikov,
More so than any other anime convention, maybe even more so than any single anime that is shown on TV in North America, Anime Expo is the public face of anime and manga in the United States. More than just a way for fans to take over a chunk of the California landscape for four days at a time, it is a chance for thousands of people to look at the industry they sustain to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, for the industry to look at and meet its customers, and for the fans to look at themselves, not as disassociated photographs on websites and handles in forums, but as real people. It is, first and foremost, a celebration, where merely being there is frequently far more important than actually participating in any convention activities

The first thing one notices about AX, even if the observer is merely coming back after a year, is the sheer size of the event. The traditional anime convention setup is spread out over one or at most two hotel buildings. AX covers the entire Anaheim Convention Center and a significant portion of one adjacent hotel. Special events like the dance and the guest reception are located in two others nearby. And because of the layout of the driveway from Harbor Boulevard to the convention center, as well as the plaza in front of the building, those spaces are appropriated into what is AX as well, even if they are not, properly speaking, function spaces. And of course this is only the beginning. Panel rooms that can comfortably seat 800 people, a cavernous dealer's room that easily accommodates two-story tower structures and can probably comfortably play host to towers twice as high, for once, a registration setup that does not have attendees lining up outside a building, or snaking through corridors - the AX physical plan shows one part of what a lot of money can buy.

The other part is shown by the programming. Especially after the recent management changes at Anime Expo, there were persistent rumors throughout the first half of 2004 regarding the supposed troubles AX was undergoing in securing guests. Well, in the end, rumors were all they were: AX presented almost thirty Japanese guests, including star voice actor Tomokazu Seki. Likewise, in terms of video programming, just because of its size, AX is able to offer premieres of a number of anime titles, including those, like Samurai Champloo, that are headed for U.S. distribution, but release is scheduled for so far in the future that the only version that can be made available is the raw Japanese episode. In addition to the standard – expected – art show and artist alley, karaoke contest, and video rooms, AX was also able to feature both a console videogame room and a separate arcade for coin-operated games.

Of course as with any event of this size, some level of friction is inevitable. In the case of AX 2004, the two problem areas consistently identified by attendees were scheduling and registration. That some events are not able to start on time, and that others have to be rescheduled is expected of any convention. On the other hand, simply because of its size and complexity, fans are frequently less willing to put up with friction of this sort at an event like AX than they would be at a smaller local convention. And when the schedule distributed to attendees at registration turns out to be incomplete, if not flat-out incorrect, that rises above the level of inconvenience, and into what feels like disregard for fans who have paid for admission and want to be treated in a professional and business-like manner. Complaints related to the registration process itself, on the other hand, are far easier to explain, between a new location for the registration set-up, a first-year director, computer glitches, and ultimately, the fact that the registration demand has long ago outpaced the ability of AX to supply enough staffers to deal with it. Nonetheless, one hopes that next year, Anime Expo will take the appropriate measures to make sure that attendee pre-registration and dealer registration are available by an appropriate date, and that once at the convention center, attendees and dealers alike will not have to wait in a four hour line to get their badges.

Ultimately, when reflecting on Anime Expo, the term "world anime party" (originally trademarked by the Big Apple Anime Fest) comes to mind. Like any good party, the most important thing AX does is provide a place for people to meet and interact. In fact, whatever events there are at AX often feel almost besides the point. And the point is that for four days, twenty-five thousand people come together under a sunny California sky to enjoy each other's company and to realize – or be reminded – that being an anime or manga fan is rarely, if ever, about merely consuming anime and manga, and almost always about being able to go ahead and create your own identity, based on your own likes and dislikes, and on no one else's terms but your own.

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