See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's slideshow, "Anime Los Angeles 2012."
I've been to Animé Los Angeles five times now. For my first three years, I visited ALA as a regular attendee (unlike many other conventions, they don't offer press passes). But, for the past two years, I've attended as a panelist. For ALA 8, which took place last weekend at the LAX Marriott, I organized the panel, "Shibuya-Kei and Japanese Indie Music," featuring Tune in Tokyo DJs Greg Hignight and Del Martin, as well as musician Tommy Pedrini (Cats on Mars).
There's a reason why I keep going back to ALA and why I seem to get more involved with it each year. ALA manages to stay under the radar of many in the convention world, perhaps because of the lack of press passes, but it is growing steadily. The convention program notes that the first ALA, back in 2005, had 616 members. These days, ALA draws more than 3,000 members.
But, ALA isn't just growing in size. It's members are maturing too.
Luka Biffle was 18 and fresh out of high school when he went to his first ALA.
"It was more personal, that's what I like about it," he says of the convention. "It felt like you knew everybody."
Now, at 24, the L.A. area musician continues to attend the convention, but his interests have changed.
"I used to go to the dealer's hall and spend tons of money," he says. "I used to be into Gundam models."
These days, he goes mostly to see friends and check out the late-night hotel room parties.
Though it's not quite Dragon*Con, ALA has become a party con in its own right. For most of Saturday, the pool area looked more like a rave with dance music blasting from at least one hotel room. (Shockingly, I didn't hear any dubstep.) At night, after the youngsters and their chaperones left, the hotel came alive as people shouted out the room numbers of the best parties. Certainly, there are those who come to ALA just for the parties. There were plenty of people at the hotel who went without badges, meaning that they couldn't actually check out the show floor or any of the panels and official events.
But it's not just ALA that's changing, it's the anime convention scene in general. Those changes, though, are most obvious at a small con like ALA.
Biffle notes that when he first started going to ALA, Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist were massive. That's what I remember from my first trip to the convention as well. But, while you'll still see a few cosplayers, and maybe some fan art, from those series here and there, they aren't dominating the convention scene. In fact, anime isn't necessarily dominating at these cons anymore. Biffle says he's seeing more people dressed as characters from video games and U.S. movies. I would add that non-Japanese TV series and webcomics are gaining a lot of popularity within the community.
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At the convention, several artists told me that they were getting the biggest response from fan art that wasn't related to anime. Dr. Who, Adventure Time and My Little Pony were attracting the most eyeballs this years. From my perspective, there's a good reason for that. It's been a few years since an anime series has made a serious impact in the U.S. Sure, there are series like Durarara!! and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt that have become popular with people who are already anime fans. However, there hasn't been anything comparable to Cowboy Bebop, Naruto or Fullmetal Alchemist, shows that had enough mainstream appeal and exposure to bring in throngs of new fans.
Meanwhile, there are a handful of U.S. cartoons that are surging in popularity, in particular Adventure Time, The Regular Show and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. At the same time, the Stateside popularity of British sci-fi mainstay Dr. Who cannot be underestimated. Webcomics are also gaining massive popularity within the fan community. In fact, the biggest cosplay gathering I saw at ALA was for Andrew Hussie's runaway hit, Homestuck.
If one thing was obvious at ALA this year, it's that the anime convention community is changing. What that will mean for L.A. events throughout the rest of this year remains uncertain, but it will be interesting to watch.