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Another disappointing Anime Expo for our APA fanboy/fangirl correspondents, but instead of letting it get them down, William Hong and Kanara Ty contribute ten ways that the Anime Expo could be better....
Photos by Oliver Chien
Captions by Oliver Chien and William Hong
There are some APA staffers who are long time veteran attendees of Anime Expo, and they are very familiar with the sometimes mild and sometimes wild gathering of otakus from all over the United States. Now, it has also become a place for new fans of anime, manga, and videos games to come enjoy the different types of programming Anime Expo has to offer.
No one’s perfect. We understand that. However, for Anime Expo to claim its title as the largest anime and manga convention in North America, surely there are standards that need to be upheld. It’s not just about having Japan’s most recognized individuals in the anime and manga industry as your Guests of Honor, but it’s also about being able to run a convention efficiently and effectively. Because we always seem to gripe about Anime Expo's weaknesses, we decided to take a different approach: suggestions. Below, we compiled ten ways that Anime Expo could improve to make the event a better experience for all attendees. Are you listening, Anime Expo?
The programming offered is one of the main reasons why an AX attendee would stay at the convention for all four days. What do we mean by programming? Anime Expo boasts industry panels from various anime and manga companies, Q&A panels with Guests of Honors, a variety of workshops, video and film screenings, concerts, and of course, AX’s beloved staple main events: the Anime Music Video contest, AX Idol, and Masquerade. However, we can't help but notice how programming was lacking this year, especially in the panels and workshops department. While it’s hard to fairly judge the programmers for attendee-generated content (as with AX’s Main Events), it's worth taking a look at the guests that Anime Expo brings in from the community to share information at these panels and workshops. .
From our experiences, panels have a tendency to be repeats from the year before (with almost the exact same information). While you may not have a problem with that, it's worse because the information is pretty much common sense, something one can read anywhere on the web. Panels like “Manga as High Art” sounded more like a Basic Art 101 lecture, rather than an innovative discussion of the reasons why manga should be looked as high art. The dreadful Japanime Belly Dancing workshop offered an instructor with belly dancing skills that were barely on-par with a bunch of newbies.
What do we suggest? Improve the caliber of the panels and workshops. Surely, there must be a committee of people who get together and map out the programming layout of every year’s Anime Expo. We wonder about how these workshops and programs are being developed and screened. It’s important to know what your lecturer or instructor is teaching to the public. Are they professionals? Do they have experience speaking to the public? It’s also safe to raise the bar on your presentations. We’re not stupid. Some of us would appreciate more stimulating intellectual findings and discussions. Perhaps Anime Expo could work with more experts in academia and in the industry on developing these panels and NOT just solely relying on someone showing up to give a presentation in their slot time.
Communication is so vital to preventing chaos at a convention. And avoiding angry otakus and fangirls. We’ll give AX’s PR Head Chase Wang two very big thumbs up for maintaining great communication and getting AX’s name out everywhere, but there seems to be problems with communication sprinkled through the rest of the department. Twitter has been a great way to get messages to Twitter users in the Twitterverse. However, not everyone has access to Twitter on their phones.
A more effective way is to pass out newsletters in areas where attendees are almost forced to take it. For example, going up the escalator to the Exhibit Hall. Check their badge, then hand them a flyer. People also don’t seem to care for the Anime Expo newsletter if random volunteers are just standing there with flyers. And what about a community bulletin at Anime Expo for the most up-to-date news? We’re not saying Twitter doesn’t work (in fact, It works quite well), but there needs to multiple methods being used to get up-to-date information out.
Anime Expo has grown into a big convention. It's time for it to act like one, by hiring more full time staff instead of relying so heavily on volunteers. Especially when it comes to the interpreters that AX assigns to their guests of honor. Something isn’t right when college students still learning Japanese are tasked with interpreting for big-time anime industry professionals. We were slightly annoyed with some of the indecisive and sometimes contradictory interpretations we were hearing from the interpreters at the Anime Expo press junket. Hiring professional interpreters would go a long way to ensure that these esteemed guests are being represented properly to non-Japanese speakers.
Speaking of volunteers, it's time to give them more tools to help them assist attendees. Time to learn from the competition: Pacific Media Expo provides a layout of the convention center on the back of the badges. Fanime gave out pocket guides featuring all the programming and events. For a con the size of AX, the volunteers that are in charge of con ops should have one on them at all times. For the second year in a row, almost everyone I asked had no idea where Sites #2 was. It wasn't even marked on the program guide. There have been way too many stories about people wasting time looking for places that should have been properly marked in the program guide.
While AX does occasionally screen classic movies and anime like Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise and Captain Harlock, it’s time they devote a video room for classic anime. It’d be a nostalgic treat for older anime fans (there are anime fans over the age of 30 that still hit up cons, by the way) and a great way to expose a newer generation to classic anime. Like, each day of the convention could be devoted to a particular generation or decade of anime. Imagine a block of programming devoted to awesome shows from the 70’s -- like the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Lupin the 3rd, and Getter Robo. Or a block devoted to the best arcs from 80’s shows like Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya, and the original Dragon Ball. There's so much good stuff from the past that's being ignored in lieu of shows Bleach and Naruto, which most of the younger attendees have probably already seen at home on their computers.
Some of the convention staff apparently didn’t get the memo that Anime Expo is open all day and all night… because there was a handful of staffers that yelled at attendees for loitering around. It was bound to happen, with Anime Expo still being relatively new to the LACC, but it’s still inexcusable. And this didn’t happen in some isolated, unused part of the LACC. There was a security guard yelling at attendees to clear out of the rather spacious West Hall because they were obstructing traffic. I looked around. What traffic? It was Saturday night, where everyone was either watching the masquerade, at the Westin Bonaventure for the late night festivities, or had gone home. Way to establish a fan friendly environment, guys. Some people simple enjoy standing around, chatting with their friends, and soaking in the con’s atmosphere. Unlike other cons that run late like Fanime, I never found that comfort zone where you feel like you want to stick around even when there’s nothing to do.
Don’t you get sick and tired of seeing the same generic costumes over and over again? Some cosplayers get their costumes commissioned or buy pre-made ones off of Ebay. Do you remember how many Haruhi Suzumiya cosplayers there were at Anime Expo? We’re not even talking about Haruhi in her various outfits, but just the regular school outfit. It’s actually pretty disgusting when you pass a group of friends who ALL COSPLAY THAT SAME PARTICULAR OUTFIT. What’s happened to making your own costumes or cosplaying a character that requires you to think about the intricacy of the costume?
Is there any way to encourage quality and diversity in cosplaying? (See Dhalsim below.) Or perhaps not allow more than five cosplayers of the same character at Anime Expo? You’d be doing everyone a favor.
For two years in row, AX screened big anime movie premieres in the LACC’s Petree Hall. Sadly, they didn’t learn their lesson the second time around. The screen was still way too low, making it hard to see over the heads of people. The fact that that subtitles always being at the bottom of the screen doesn’t help at all. As Bryan Hartzheim pointed out in his review of Gurren Lagann, it's great that the fans were so into the film that they were standing up, screaming, and emulating the characters’ signature poses... but it also makes it hard for everyone else to see a damn thing on the screen. The more hardcore fans shouldn't inadvertently punish the more reserved fans because of poor screen placement. Would it be asking too much to elevate the screen a bit more?
This is also a problem at the guests of honor panels, also held in Petree Hall. If you're not sitting near the front or side aisles, you probably won't be able to get a good glimpse of the guests. When Walter Jones, the original Black Ranger, started busting out his moves during the Power Rangers Reunion panel, I couldn't see anything because everyone was standing up and trying to look over the person in front of them. My friend and I wondered why AX didn’t make use of the huge screen in the room by broadcasting a live feed of what’s happening on stage. Yeah, it’ll cost more money to hire a camera man and a tech crew to make it possible, but you’d think the guests of honor deserve that attention in the first place. They do it at masquerade, so why not with the guests of honor, especially when they also draw huge crowds?
This is on the wish list of practically every long time AX attendee. Logistically, the Anaheim Convention Center makes sense for AX. The main hotels are within walking distance of the convention center. That means there’s no need to take a shuttle bus to a hotel to sleep or check out the late night programming, which has been the case at AX the past two years. It’s always better to have all the programming and events within close walking distance. Unlike the Long Beach Convention Center, the Anaheim Convention Center is still big enough to handle the huge AX crowds. Even more appealing is that the convention center and hotels are situated deep in a cul-de-sac block, sparing cosplayers from would-be hecklers and car honkers. There are also plenty of cheap, late night eateries nearby for hungry otakus on a budget. Oh yeah, Disneyland is practically next door, too, always a popular destination for attendees and the guests of honor when AX wrapped up. The spectacular fireworks show from the park on July 4th was a nice bonus, too. AX probably would have probably stayed in Anaheim if the Shriners hadn't rented out the ACC during the July 4th weekend for the years to come. Unfortunately, AX won’t be able to return to Anaheim unless someone can find a way to get those mini-car driving, fez wearing geezers to move to another convention center.
For the past two years, Anime Expo has taken place at the Los Angeles Convention center, which is also not too far from Los Angeles’ very own Japanese enclave, Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo? Anime Expo? Do you see a connection here? While it’s understandable that the attention should not be taken away from Anime Expo, a collaboration in Japanese culture in Japantown is long overdue. Convention-goers visit from all over the United States. Not everyone’s tasted takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakisoba or hell, a good steaming bowl of ramen (not the Americanized instant kind!).
Because the convention food at the LACC doesn’t always go well with everyone, take this as an opportunity for convention-goers to explore Little Tokyo more. We surely remember the Summer Matsuris at Anime Expo from years back. It would be nice if that came back in a bigger way, since there are more attendees this time around. While we also understand that vendors do set up booths at the exhibit hall (Kinokuniya, for example), working with Little Tokyo community members on how to improve convention programming would also be helpful.
We all know there’s a recession. We’ve seen the Exhibit Hall grow smaller and smaller in size over the past two years, as well the tall and flashy booths from ADV, TokyoPop, Bandai and Viz disappearing before our very eyes. Less and less vendors are showing up. The state of the anime industry is declining not just in the United States, but in Japan as well.
But here’s what we think. Anime Expo’s position as the premier convention in North America needs to be taken seriously, With such an important role, we feel that Anime Expo could take the lead on improving on these harsh conditions. It’s not about just bringing industry members to talk about the problems, but rather also having an open discussion on finding solutions.
Not to say Anime Expo has not done anything. In fact, Chase Wang works efficiently at bringing companies like Crunchyroll to the Expo. But for the future, there needs to be more an emphasis on boosting the morale, gathering more efforts and providing more resources. We say, keep trying on bringing pop stars over. Make it a priority to get those big premieres (Transformers was a great idea back in 2007). Anime Expo should continue to be the premier destination for anime and manga every year -- a place where everyone, including attendees and industry members want to turn to, rather than getting distracted by other conventions.
Date Posted: 7/17/2009