Over 100,000 People Gather at Anime Expo 2018
The first weekend of July hosted the 16th annual Anime Expo, an anime convention that has been held mostly in California throughout its history but specifically at the Los Angeles Convention Center for 11 straight years now. Considering the continual growth of anime and other forms of Japanese popular culture in the Western world, anime conventions, and AX in particular, have thrived. This year, AX recorded an attendance of 110,000 people, retaining its status as the largest anime convention in North America.
I didn’t decide to go to this convention until about two months beforehand. Initially, I had no connection to it and would have felt fine just staying home, but there was a concert there I wanted to attend so I ended up booking the full four days. Living relatively close to California, before the cost of food and merchandise, the trip ended up costing around $640. I stayed in the Sheraton Grand hotel with a friend of mine I had known online, and two of his friends who were both really fun to be around. This was also my first real trip to unfamiliar territory by myself, as well as the furthest I have ever been from home. I really had no clue what to expect.
Upon landing, my first note was that it was hot. It stayed hot, and even reached 108 degrees at some point during the convention. I have since been told that this is a rare occurrence even for California, but it was certainly peculiar having such a violent temperature change overnight. On July 4, the night of the concert, I got in line with my friend for merchandise related to it. We ended up running into a handful of people from the online community we were both a part of, and being around several people like that made the wait so much easier. We reached the line at 10 a.m., two hours before the merchandise booth opened, and we did not reach the end of the line until 4:30 p.m. or so. I could not imagine how that line would have been if it were just the two of us instead of having a group of people to hang out with. Aside from the horrible sunburns, it was actually quite incredible.
When I showed up for day one of the actual convention on July 5, it was overwhelming just how big it was. I entered the stadium-esque building and there were people everywhere. The main grounds was filled with people dressed up as their favorite characters getting photoshoots from random passersby. It was surreal seeing people I had witnessed on a mere television screen come to life. My most memorable one was with someone dressed up as Cloud from the Final Fantasy series. What was notable about him was that he put together a full-scale version of Cloud’s sword, which had to measure between four and five feet in length, and utterly massive to boot. It was incredible the amount of dedication and time people put into preparing these.
The big place to be for most people was Exhibitor’s Hall, which was the place for people to sell merchandise. I arrived with limited funds and had an idea of what I wanted to get ahead of time, but the amount of options available for even a casual viewer like me was nothing I could have prepared myself for. I ended up getting far more than I was prepared for, but it was totally worth it. I loved seeing all of my favorite shows getting recognition in the form of merch. There was Love Live, Konosuba, Re: Zero, you name it. One of the people I was staying with was looking for a specific limited-edition figure from Spice and Wolf. It cost him $450, but he found it and got it signed by the author of the light novels even.
The other big place for people to spend money was in Artist Alley. The booths here were real people looking to sell the art they worked hard to create. There were prints, posters, charms, and even legitimately standing figures that people had made. As someone who wishes he could draw, seeing all of this high quality artwork in one place was truly a phenomenal experience. I probably walked the two-hour path to see everyone’s booths three or four times throughout the convention. In the end I came away with several artists’ names and information so I could commission art from them over time, since I couldn’t buy them out right then and there.
These were the best suited parts of the convention for a casual anime viewer such as myself, but there were specific events that kept going deeper. There was an AMV theater where creators could show off their work in adapting scenes from anime to a song. There was a 21 plus lounge where people could get wasted and enjoy special events. There were cosplay meets and panels and interactive workshops so that people of all fandoms could find something they enjoy.
Most importantly, there’s a specific sense of serenity where I didn’t feel judged at all for what I like. I walked around in my Love Live shirt, and someone even asked how much it had cost me. It really helped boost my fascination with anime as a whole, and I already want to go again next year. I’m watching more anime and I want to be more prepared to be there and enjoy it to the fullest extent possible. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.