See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery “Anime Los Angeles 2011.”
Over the past few years, Anime Los Angeles has become a special convention for us. It was the first convention one of us attended and, after that, the first Shannon Cottrell and I covered together. This year, it became the first con where we sat on panels.
We think ALA, as it's often known, is an important convention for more than personal reasons. Though the con has grown (according this year's program, they were expecting over 3000 people), it has maintained a strong identity and sense of community. Below are a few of the things we love about ALA. While we know that not everything here is unique to this particular convention, we think that the combination of elements is what can make a con truly a wonderful experience.
8. It's a convention by and for fans.
ALA is volunteer-run and has a convention family vibe to it. You'll likely see Chaz Boston Baden, chairman of ALA, walking through the hotel and chatting with guests. The staff does a great job of creating an environment that says “everyone is a fan here.” They even have signs outside of the bathrooms that read “Fan Boys” and “Fan Girls.”
7. It's low on advertising.
While we love the big conventions, sometimes we get annoyed with the bombardment of advertisements. When we go to ALA, we know that people aren't going to be trying to sell us stuff outside of the designated Dealer Hall and Artist Alley. The signs on the trash cans were created by ALA artists and the posters that line the hallways are photos taken by attendees (even a few of Shannon's shots were posted this year). It's nice to go to a place and know that just because you're a fan doesn't mean that you're targeted as a constant consumer.
6. It's artist-friendly.
The first time we covered ALA, we wrote about young artists who attend the convention. The first thing we noticed about the convention remains one of the reasons why we still love it. ALA isn't just artist-friendly, it encourages people to create. We're strong believers that fan culture breeds creativity and it seems like the people from ALA are on the same page. Like a lot of other anime cons, they have Anime Music Video contests, an artist alley and a masquerade for cosplayers. Unlike some other conventions, the focus isn't on what's new in the anime industry, rather it's on your need to express your love for your favorite characters and stories. Their panel schedule is heavy on how-to discussions, for everything from photography to wig styling. In addition to the fan-created art that decorates the hotel, they have an annual contest to design ALA postcards, with entries published in the convention program.
5. They have the best convention program we've seen.
What makes ALA's program special is that it's part convention-overview and part yearbook. Each guest bio is accompanied by a space for autographs. The listings of the Executive Staff members feature illustrations, a great way to help you recognize staffers at the conventions, as well as a space for their signature. The back pages of the booklet are blank so that you, or people you meet, can doodle on them.
At ALA, you'll find a lot of people walking around with ribbons hanging from their convention badges. Ribbons come in different colors and have different designations. For example, we had press ribbons, others had ribbons stating they're fans of different genres of anime. At ALA, collecting ribbons becomes part of the experience, with many gaining enough so that their badges appear to extend down to their waist.
3. It's Parent Friendly.
ALA attracts a younger crowd that many other conventions and, perhaps for that reason, it's very parent friendly. Fans fourteen and younger can bring a parent for free. There's also a room for parents to chill and a special panel called “Parental Panel– What Did My Kids Get Me Into?” We think this is a great way to encourage young people to go to conventions and help their parents understand their interests.
2. If you cosplay, this is the place to be.
When we did our Best of the Cons 2010 round-up, we named ALA the best convention for cosplay. This is probably the most cosplay-heavy convention we attend. Certainly, you'll find the biggest crowds hanging out by the pool for photo shoots. On Friday, you'll find scores of people on the lower-level hotel patio playing cosplay chess. There's a repair station in the hotel and a variety of tutorial panels too. Cosplay meet-ups are constant. This year, there was even a poolside cosplay wedding for a couple dressed as characters from Naruto.
1. They embrace other fandoms and conventions.
ALA doesn't exist in a bubble. On Sunday, they open the floor to other convention committees to speak about their own events. These range from Gallifrey One to Anime Vegas. Throughout the weekend, several conventions, like Pacific Media Expo and the brand new San Diego steampunk con Gaslight Gathering, hosted tables to hand out information and answer questions.