PopLurker Convention Coverage: Anime Expo 2018

By Loryn Stone

PopLurker would like to thank Anime Expo for generously providing Press Passes in exchange for convention coverage.

I’ve never been to a convention that so clearly hates its attendees as much as Anime Expo hates theirs.

Allow me to explain.

When I was but a wee Otaku, Anime Expo was held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. The show has always been the biggest of its kind, even as far back as 1999 when it was a sprawling exhibition hall with local vendors and a few sponsored booths. It doesn’t matter- for what Anime Expo was, it’s always been the biggest. That’s something to keep in mind when attending a show as huge and spread out as Anime Expo.

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I’m ready to party

Yes, it is going to be crowded. Yes, there will be an insane number of people. No, you won’t be able to just hang out and chill. That’s part of what comes with the territory when you go to monster-Goliath shows like Anime Expo. Understanding this reality is part of finding your way within the convention, staying safe and happy and having a great time.

But to the trained eye, there were small nuances surrounding this reality that really showed how little the hidden show runners really didn’t care about its attendees. Anime Expo has become nothing but a peacock-flashing its feathers. And while it’s wonderful that attendees are able to meet up with their friends, see other people cosplaying from their favorite fandoms, and buy all the merch in the room, there were a few things that stood out to me that could have been so easily addressed and fixed that it bordered on sickening.

First, we have to discuss the actual process of obtaining your badge. Holy mother of stars in the cosmos, was that hellish. Not only was there one ticket booth outside of the convention center, but there was a second ticket booth across the street from the convention center where Press, Exhibitors, and other guests obtained their badges. And there was zero signage directing us to this exorbitant change in procedure. There was no email sent educating press and other members of the floor of this change in procedure. It was a matter of waiting in sprawling, unmarked lines until you caught the attention of someone who looked enough like a volunteer was goodly enough to consider answering your question.

Anime Expo started up with this badge-scanning system this year, another thing that was all flash and hardly functioned. I overheard a multitude of confused convention dwellers complaining to the confused volunteers at the badge booth that their badges weren’t scanning in and out of doors and I’m not even kidding when a look of fear crossed the faces of the unprepared employees who knew they actually had to assist with an issue they weren’t qualified to do. I don’t say this with judgment or cruelty. I felt bad for the poor employees! Everyone was overwhelmed and in way over their heads. But this was the reality of the situation.

It took over ten minutes for a young volunteer issuing my own Press Pass to scan my ID, scan my badge, get my outlet name adhered to it (that’s POPLURKER, buddy) and have me ready to walk to the nearest Porto-Potty. (Hey, you drink a liter of water and a Venti Americano, drive to downtown LA, circle 40 minutes for parking and tell me how you survive it.) It got to the point where this kid was just silently scanning my stuff (unsuccessfully) and I asked him “Dude, what are you doing?” He gave me a nervous smile and didn’t have an answer for me.

Badge acquired. Let’s move on.

For those of you who have never been to the Los Angeles Convention Center, it’s basically two large buildings connected by a very long hallway. Anime Expo, not surprisingly, took place in the entire thing. The Expo hall (shopping) took up one area, there were panels wherever the hell else, and there was a separate universe for the Entertainment Hall.

Let’s talk about the Entertainment Hall for a moment. As Press, I had several interviews scheduled for the Expo. One with KLAB Games, one with Anime PLS, and another with another mobile game company. Mobile games are HUGE news in Anime New Media, something that wasn’t around when I was a young anime fan in the late 90s, so talking to these companies was a very exciting prospect.

I missed every single one of my interviews. And no, it’s not because I’m disorganized, sloppy, or apathetic. It’s because I wasn’t able to use my Press Pass to adequately enter the Entertainment Hall. Instead of allowing people to walk through the copious number of doors entering the hall, Anime Expo staffed forced people outside (and it was blistering hot outside, like 105 degrees) and re-enter the Entertainment Hall in a single file line. It was this insane, winding experience of about eight rows of idiots all trying to get into this nearly empty Entertainment Hall. My Press Pass did nothing to get me into the hall, preventing me from the coverage I very much so wanted to do at the Expo.

Anime Expo must have realized how stupid this method was, because they cut the crap later in the afternoon and just let people use the doors.

Earlier in this review, I mentioned something about Anime Expo hating its attendees. This is reflected in the lack of accommodations made for people forced to just wait…and wait…and wait for whatever panel, etc. they wanted to be part of next. Lines for panels  and autograph signings wrapped outside of the convention center and there was no canopy outside to help with the sweltering heat. There were no drink vendors selling water to people outside (I get that’s not a usual practice, but I think it would have been better for the convention to make an effort rather than have someone die of heat stroke on convention center grounds). Even a convention employee walking around, talking to people, trying to keep the crowds in a good mood would have been some kind of effort. There was literally nothing other than staff and volunteer screaming for attendees to move over, get out of the way, stop crossing the lines, and so on.

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Inside, there were no tables or chairs set up for people, other than those in the designated cafeteria and eating areas. And if Anime Expo had its way, those would probably be taken out too. I don’t understand these conventions that are so against letting people chill out. It’s typical to see people pressed against the walls taking breaks. But really, conventions shouldn’t look like the aftermath of an episode of The Walking Dead.

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The best part of the expo, per usual, was the Expo Hall. It’s no surprise: I love shopping. And some of the figurines and full sized statues available for viewing were nothing short of incredible. With the increased budget of Anime Expo and the increased numbers of commercial vendors and brands, things just get fancier all the time.

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Anime Expo is still an amazing convention. It’s incredible to see how they’ve grown. But it’s also important to acknowledge how they’ve outgrown. With new policies in place to “keep attendees safe”, they really need to ask themselves if all of these efforts are effective, or a mirage? How can Anime Expo keep the lines moving, provide safe spaces for meet ups and photography? What security efforts can be made to keep lecherous men from taking up-shot photos of young girls’ skirts? Did that young man really need to spend three minutes digging through my bag while my friends made their way deeper into the crowd? Did we really need to be forced outside and into wrap around lines?

Keep these moral growth questions in mind while you continue to physically grow, Anime Expo 2018, and maybe 2019 will be as good as 2017 was.

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