(Editor’s note: When intern Chaz Plager said he was going to the Anime Expo, this editor had no idea what it was and asked if he would write about it. He agreed and said that he had first discovered anime – Japanese animation – when he was eight years old, when Yu-Gi-Oh aired on television.)
Story and Photos by: CHAZ PLAGER
If you were driving downtown on July 1 through 4, you may have noticed unusually high traffic, almost zero parking, and thousands of people dressed in colorful and strange clothes around the LA Convention Center.
It was the Anime Expo, or AX for short. What’s AX? Before I can tell you about the convention, I need to explain some general terms, because not everyone watches anime.
“Manga” is a term used in Japan for comics.
“Anime” is similar, but refers to animated Japanese movies or TV. If you or someone you know watched Pokemon or Yu Gi Oh as a kid, they probably are a big anime fan. Same if they saw “Spirited Away” or the other movies produced by Studio Ghibli.
“Cosplay” is a term meaning to dress up as a character you like from your favorite anime, manga, or game. Everyone has cosplayed at least once in their life – that is, if you celebrate Halloween.
Now, while anime like Dragon Ball and Pokemon are known worldwide, most people have never consciously sat down and watched an anime or gone to an Anime Expo.
AX sold out this year, reaching its maximum capacity of 100,000 people.
The COVID-19 check line went by very fast, but the line to get into the event was another story. I waited for an hour, after going through prop check, where they check to make sure your cosplay prop isn’t dangerous and can’t hurt anyone.
Nearly every attendee was wearing a costume of some kind. Certain cosplays were far more common than others, like Anya from “Spy x Family” (on Netflix, highly recommend) and Demon Slayer (not my thing, but also on Netflix).
Some cosplay were simple, like mine, because I don’t have nearly enough money or skill to put together outfits like the Thunderbolt Gundam from “Mobile Suit Gundam Thurnderbolt,” which was made entirely by hand or Gundam Thunderbolt or Gilgamesh cosplay, “Fate Zero.”
There was so much to do at the actual convention: artist alley, dealer hall and panels, that I had trouble fitting it all in.
In the artist alley, artistically talented fans of anime sell prints, keychains, and other memorabilia they created themself. It was really impressive, and I enjoyed browsing the artwork and talking to the artists. There was also a line where you could wait to get an autograph from voice actors in the industry, which I took part in. Never again.
Next, the dealer hall sounds like a casino, but it’s not, rather, it is a large hall showcasing many things, from demo booths for new games, merchandise stores selling anime and exhibits of upcoming anime.
I spent more money than I would like to admit at these stores, following the saying pasted over one of the stores: “Regret buying rather than not buying!”
Talking to store owners and playing upcoming games was interesting, but I found the random events much more fun.
I was asked by a news channel to describe why I was attending. I won a giveaway for a new game and found seeing the crazy costumes added to the experience.
Finally, panels are basically presentations held in the conference rooms by companies or individuals. I went to a few on upcoming anime, and one by a guy talking about what exactly goes into making an anime. Even the lesser-known company panels were extremely crowded.
In the end, I came out of the experience loving every bit of it. Yes, even the lines.
There was one thing I disliked. On the first day, a group of men holding signs started harassing people coming out of the center. The signs read “Fear God” and “The Lord is the Way,” and they were calling people in costume “sinners.”
While it’s definitely an extreme example, I feel anime is too stigmatized. To be honest, there’s a lot of stuff on display that kids probably shouldn’t be seeing. AX has recently put up an “18+ Only,” but there’s still a lot of stuff being sold that isn’t quite… appropriate.
Several attendees were wearing obscene shirts, and some wore very revealing costumes. If your only experience with anime was seeing that side of the fans, I think calling people “sinners” might not be impossible to think of doing. But this isn’t an anime-exclusive problem, is it?
Anime is an incredibly broad term covering basically everything that is Japanese and animated. It would be the same as classifying all American film from the Oscar winners, to the trashy exploitive ones as the same type of film.
To use the portion of anime, which is inappropriate for kids as proof for it being “sinful” is incredibly hypocritical. While those types of anime are absolutely not for me, everyone has something they enjoy that they don’t tell people about.
Whether that’s because they don’t want to be seen as weird, have no one they can talk to about it, or just prefer to keep it private . . . .as an anime fan, I’ve felt all of these things.
I’ve been made fun of for what I like, and tried hiding my hobbies as a result. Even writing this article was tough, trying to appeal to an audience which might have no idea what I’m talking about. Being at a convention surrounded by people who felt the same, I was finally able to talk about what I really wanted to. It was liberating. I plan go again next year – join me.
Great story Chas. While I never got into Anime…more of the Rom Com type myself, I know a lot of kids who are. Creative expression comes in all shapes and forms and I enjoyed getting a little insight into yours! Thanks for sharing!
Mr. Plager captured the convention in a professional journalistic manner.
I was reminded of Hunter S. Thompson’s take on events. Chas, remember that the pen is MUCH mightier than anything ANYONE can say to you. You may have just discovered your vocation Chas. Congratulations!
I was able to take my daughter and four of her friends to the convention — along with two other parents. We had a blast on Saturday, when they did “closet cosplay” and on Sunday when just 3 of us attended. Artists alley I agree was a favorite. Unfortunately we were not able to attend all the days and all the panels we wanted but it was an amazing experience. Thank you for writing about it! And I’m happy to share any of our photos if you would like!