Liyin Liang, Anime Expo Convention Chairperson

by Zac Bertschy,

Liyin Liang is the convention chairperson for this year's Anime Expo 2008; she held the position of vice chairperson for Anime Expo 2007. We asked her about what Anime Expo 2008 will be like.

ANN: So what can we expect to see at the show next week? What would you consider your headline events to be? What should fans be excited about?

Liyin Liang: Oh, I think our headline event will definitely be the premiere of Batman: Gotham Knight. Fans are already very excited about it, and it is going to be on Saturday,  so if fans are interested in attending, I'd recommend they get there early!

Other things fans should be excited about? Well, we have two headliner concerts in the brand-new Nokia theatre. We have professional lighting, professional sound; it'll be a great experience for the attendees, especially people who are there as true fans of our headliners.

Last year's show was sort of infamous; what kinds of positive changes can we expect to see this year, as a result of last year's con?

Well, coming from last year's show, we really had places where we wanted to improve. Last year we had issues with the heat in the lines outside, and in general getting around, even though that's even more of an issue this year because of the venue. We also had issues with registration.

You've hired an outside company to do your registration; should fans expect shorter wait times? What other convention services have been assigned to outside companies?

Well, this year we have a full-service registration system using new technology where attendees can just print out the bar code from their confirmation e-mail, scan it using one of the machines we have set up, and it'll spit out their badge. Then they can move on and collect the rest of their stuff and head in to the con. We're hoping this reduces wait times significantly; pre-registered attendees can just use the machines, and we have 100+ at-con registration terminals this year, more than twice as many as we had last year.

Last year Chase spoke about having shuttles that will take fans from their hotels to the con center and vice versa. Is that still happening? What sort of schedule will the shuttles be running on?

We have a brand-new shuttle system this year, and there's also a new 24-hour shuttle system which will take attendees back and forth between the convention center and all of our con hotels, in addition to a few others.

In regards to the heat situation, one of the reasons we chose the LA convention center was because there's plenty of space in there to manage all those lines. If you do wind up in a line outside – which might happen because we have so many attendees – there'll be plenty of shade for everyone. We also have teams of “misters” that will take care of the heat for anyone in a line outside the convention center.

So there will be outside lines, then?

Well, everything right now is designed to be inside, but in the event that some lines get too long, they will have to be outside, due to the fire code.

Another improvement we've made concerns our hotel blocks. I know the hotels sold out very quickly last year, and this year we made sure there was ample hotel space, using 11 different hotels so that attendees with any size budget will be able to afford to stay.

What do you think the atmosphere of the convention will be like this year, given the generally downbeat atmosphere the R1 industry is in?

I think for the most part, the industry and the fans have a disconnect. I think honestly the fans will still be fans regardless of the state of the industry. Of course there's something of a connection to the health of the industry, but the convention will still be a good time for fans. I don't expect there to be any issues with that. After all, they're not only there for anime; there's the merchandise and the concerts and all the satellite cultures that grow out of anime fandom.

Do you expect a growth in attendance?

We're expecting at least the same number as last year if not more.

But you're not expecting a big explosion of new attendees.

I don't think so; this is, of course, the first year we're in LA, and it is a growing year for us, and we want to make sure we can do everything well here before venturing out and expanding our programming more than we already have.

Some notable names are conspicuously missing from the exhibitor's list; most notably Viz Media, who didn't have a booth at last year's show either. Tokyopop is also focusing on San Diego Comic-Con. Other big companies have also scaled back their floor presentation at the show; is there any attempt to bring these people back?

Of course there are definitely… we are interested in having them come back, but the state of the industry is what it is. These companies have to make certain decisions. We are saddened that these companies decided not to choose us, but that doesn't mean we don't want them back or that they won't come back, but it's a business decision for them. They have to decide what the best choice is for their company at the moment.

Well, it's inarguable that Viz has the majority of the huge titles that anime fans flock to and it's clear they've shifted their support to San Diego. Is there any sense of competition with Comic-Con? Do you have any plans to try to actively woo them back to Anime Expo?

Well, to me, we have a more specialized platform for anime companies to display their wares. We have a targeted demographic, geared toward anime, manga, that side of the industry, and that's completely unique in comparison to Comic-Con. The comic genre is so huge and covers so many different areas that I think manga kinda gets lost among all the heavy hitters like Marvel and DC (although DC is coming to our show as well). So as I said, it's a business decision for those companies that choose Comic-Con. I hope they'll realize once they've exhibited there that when it comes to appealing to the fans that Anime Expo, in my opinion, is still the better choice because we have that specialized demographic.

It's probably pointless to ask this but I may as well; are there any plans to ever bring the show back to Anaheim?

Currently, there aren't any. It's not because we don't want to, it's because with the way the con is growing right now, we're not a good fit for Anaheim. There's a lot of construction going on there and the con center just doesn't fit our needs as well as LA.

So if all goes well in LA this year, are you planning on keeping the show in LA for the foreseeable future?

We are looking into other options, there are some interesting possibilities and we want to see how well LA fits our show. We'll do a final evaluation once the year's over.

Any tips for first-time con goers?

Definitely make sure you see the exhibit hall, of course! That's where all the hardcore fans go. Walk around, soak in the experience, watch the fans who put all that time and effort into their costumes. It's a totally different atmosphere from anywhere else; these people come together and they share similar interests, and they all speak the same “language”, if you get what I mean.

Finally, what are you personally most excited about this year?

Absolutely the Batman premiere! I'm definitely looking forward to that. If I have time, I have to hit the exhibit hall.

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