It would have been difficult for anyone within a mile or two of the Anime Expo (or AX as it's called) to avoid smiling at the fanciful characters making their way to and from the Los Angeles Convention Center this past Thursday through Sunday. But the inevitable lines to get in and enter certain areas were worse than ever this year, so inside the event a lot of smiles were hampered, especially those of longtime attendees.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 anime fans, most of them cartoony, costumed characters inspired by Japanese animation, swarmed what has become the premier anime convention in the United States (and almost as popular as Comic-Con in San Diego). The attractions that summoned them ranged from film and television series premieres to toys and memorabilia, but for most in attendance (from all corners of the globe) it was about meeting and mingling with like-minded anime fans and enjoying all the vibrant cosplay looks.
For cosplayers like Cheslyn Diloy, who was attending AX for the fourth time, the increased popularity of the event has taken away from its former cult appeal; however, the presiding attitude of the crowd serves as vindication. “It definitely gets bigger every year, and more crowded,” she says. “For me, I guess it kind of gets a little bit annoying because there's just so many people, and the lines get longer, and the halls get crowded, but I mean as long as everyone else is enjoying it, then it's OK.”
Diloy went on to point out that the increased security protocols (including having to scan attendee badges in order to enter the various exposition halls) made the event more of an inconvenience to navigate. She and four of her friends had made the drive up from San Diego to experience the con and, on this day, three of those friends had joined her in their elaborate cosplay of characters from anime series My Hero Academia. In addition to the series, which Diloy explained is based on the manga series about a boy attending a school to become a superhero, one of the main attractions at the festival was the premiere of the My Hero Academia film, which will be released to the public on Aug. 3. Another main attraction at AX was the premiere of Attack on Titan season 3, officially released on July 22.
As Diloy’s group and a huge sea of characters wandered the gigantic Entertainment Hall, they could interact with elaborate selfie stages and sets, meet anime voice performers and experience a variety of games. There were large areas for e-gaming and card games, a vintage arcade game section and even Pachinko machines. Other smaller halls featured premieres. The concourse, which bridged the way to the enormous Exhibit Hall, was decked with colorful banners advertising various exhibitors, and the stairway leading up from the South Hall lobby was painted with anime characters. Backdropping colorful cosplayers in every direction, the decor totally immersed guests in anime imagery.
Inside the Exhibit Hall, the wallets came out as guests swarmed vendor booths. Lines formed around the exhibition areas for various companies as attendees thirsted for first looks at new products, opportunities to purchase items from their favorite brands, and the chance to slip behind the 18+ curtains to drool over hentai (anime porn).
Cosplayer Sadie Cat Mosley addressed the dynamic of sexuality in this world and why many cosplayers dress as sexually charged characters. “Cosplay is all about being liberated. When you cosplay, it is about becoming the character and not about your weight, sex, background, etc.,” Mosley says. “So in your real life you may not dress as sexy, but since you are taking on the role of the character, you can feel like you can or you are more confident to do so.”
As for unwanted attention from onlookers, Mosley adds, “There are issues with creepers, though. In the past it became a huge issue — still can be — with people only seeing the character and not the person cosplaying. So cosplayers would need to deal with unsolicited touching. It still happens where someone will not ask your permission to put their arm around you for pictures or other touching.” Overall, this didn't appear to be an issue at the convention this year, as most attendees seem to understand the boundaries inherent within the community. Additionally, there were stations committed to informing guests about guidelines for respecting one another and promoting safe cosplaying practices.
As it was, Mosley’s main disappointment was the level of attendance. She was not able to get in to see the premiere of My Hero Academia, and overall, she felt that the crowds diminished the experience. “This year was not as enjoyable as the rest. Every year it seems they sell more and more tickets, which is great, but they don't have the space or organization to handle the growth,” she says. “For some autographs you needed to stand in line to get a ticket but for others you needed to get a ticket from Eventbrite. It was not well posted, so people were confused and missed out on tickets. Also, a lot of walkways were cut off due to special events, but the staff was not sure how to stop the crowd in a safe manner and ended up blocking exits. It is disappointing to see it get so unorganized since I have been going to this con for 10 years.”
As the friendly, meet-up–based community of characters continues to grow, the core appeal seems to be giving way to increased marketing and increased frustration for longtime fans. It seems many couldn't even get through certain doors to see the things they came to even as their Anime Expo phone apps pinged them to attend (and wasted no time letting them know that tickets to attend next year’s convention go on sale today). Hopefully, the promoters of the convention will make adjustments based on the concerns of this year’s attendees before 2019's gathering.