This past weekend, anime fans descended in droves upon the Los Angeles Convention Center as Anime Expo (AX) returned for 2015. Just like last year, I joined in on all of the fun, for better or for worse. So how was my experience?
AX is in a weird place right now. It is more popular than ever, but this popularity is honestly killing the con in a lot of ways. AX refuses to cap its badge sales, unlike San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), even though AX’s attendance numbers have grown far beyond sustainability. The result are SDCC-esque lines, only without the proper facilities or set-up to handle such things. More importantly, the growing numbers haven’t been met with a growing number of panels, thus leaving only a select few panels worth going to and no real alternatives. All of these issues are, of course, enhanced by the fact that LA has never really accepted AX the way that San Diego has SDCC. Everything is kept rather contained, and there is always the sense that once the allotted time has passed for the day, Los Angeles is basically like, “Thanks for the money, nerds, now get out.” LA Live and the Staples Center are not used in any way for the con, even though both are in the immediate area and would help immensely with the ever-growing crowds that are flooding the convention center. This is the main reason why even if SDCC does move in the future, I doubt it would be to Los Angeles, as LA is just not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make its own version of Comic-Con work or feel welcome. Sure, next year’s Wondercon will be in LA, but Wondercon is exactly the kind of con that LA wants—one that can be contained to the convention center and not interfere with the rest of LA in any really disruptive way.
Despite these issues, AX isn’t a horrible con, especially in light of the fact that they’ve clearly learned from last year’s mistakes. The exhibitors looked much happier this year (especially those in Artist Alley) after their severe mistreatment last AX, and the con at least prepared a system for dealing with lines in a way that wouldn’t recreate last year’s fire hazards. There were still a lot of communication issues, but this progress can’t be understated and bodes well for the future of AX. The anime industry itself also seems to be in a healthy state after the crash five or so years ago, which has allowed various streaming services like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Daisuki to flex their muscles and add to the show floor’s prestige. All of them clearly care about AX and the anime fans that come to it, which is also a very positive sign. From giveaways to cool exclusives, these major booths look like they will be continually increasing their presence at AX for years to come. Still, even with all that, the reason AX continues to work as well as it does is because of the vibrant and immense Artist Alley it allows to exist.
Artist Alley at AX is massive, taking up roughly a third of the exhibition hall space. This is in stark contrast to SDCC, whose Artist Alley is a small corner section of the giant exhibition hall. Part of this is because SDCC spreads a lot of its artists throughout, but the other reason is just that fan-created art and anime are synced in a very special way. Japan in general has a much better relationship with fan-created media than the US–think of Comiket, a convention entirely devoted to self-published works (dōjinshi). AX has adopted this spirit wholeheartedly, making Artist Alley the true gem of the convention. Artists are packed together selling artistic creations of all different types of favorite characters. No matter your artistic taste, you are likely to find something worth adding to your collection at AX’s Artists Alley. At this point you can spend an entire day walking the aisles and admiring art before you’ve really appreciated all there is to offer. That is why it was so disheartening last year when everyone in Artist Alley was completely miserable due to AX officials just not treating them with the correct amount of respect. Luckily, this seemed to be much less of an issue this year, and everyone seemed to be much happier selling their beautiful art.
Sure, there were panels, and some were quite fun, but at this point much of the charm of AX is Artist Alley and all the wonders it has to offer. I could go on and on about the minute details of what happened at AX I suppose, but it feels unnecessary. Instead I will leave you with pictures of great artwork that could be found in the heart of this convention.
Great stuff indeed–but wait, there is more! Many of the people at Artist Alley have Tumblrs where their work can be viewed, so here are some links to a select number that had some truly amazing art on display.
Sydsir: Great art for Steven Universe, Mushishi, and so much more.
Jessicamao: Lovely art style.
Linaireylance: Digimon charms and so much more.
QnQ: Lots of Mad Max: Fury Road love.
Sooyunchoi: Fire Emblem love and much more.
Automaticgiraffe: Lots of Anime goodness.
Ask-Mirajane-Strauss: Lots of Fairy Tail plus more.
Ravennowithtea: Steven Universe + charms equals awesomeness.
Aprilgen: Fun style.
Hoursago: Transistor art and more.
Well, that’s it for now. It was an abbreviated discussion about AX, but that’s what happens when you only have a couple days between AX and SDCC.