#AX2019 and Future Anime Conventions

By the time I made it inside the Los Angeles Convention center on Day 1 — after two whole hours waiting in line — I knew that this would be my last AX.

I’ve attended several times over the last 10 or so years. Naturally, it has changed and grown but those changes were more pronounced to me this time around, and I think this is my stop.

On Day 1 hundreds if not thousands of people waited outside for over 5 hours just to get into the convention center. Panels were cancelled because the actual panelists were stuck in line, and the convention center was pretty empty for the first half of the day because people couldn’t get in. The lines get worse every year, but this year was just madness. When you’re missing out on 20% or 30% of activities because you have to wait in line, you’re being ripped off.

Taken at about 2pm on Day 1

Part of my plan was to scour the artist alley for prints to buy. I find that being surrounded by beautiful art of things I love is incredibly motivating and inspiring. So I headed down to the artist alley to look. It took me hours to get through the whole thing. Not only was it huge with hundreds of artist booths, it was beyond crowded, a literal sea of people. I didn’t so much ‘walk through’ the artist alley as I got ‘squeezed through’. By the third day I heard several people had suffered panic attacks after getting stuck in those crowds. While this year was not very hot, I know last year Los Angeles had a huge heat wave and artists were suffering heat strokes down there because of lack of air conditioning and too many bodies. This goes far beyond “uncomfortable” into “highly dangerous”.

A lot of the general criticism I overheard at the convention was around the lines and the crowds. Surely the organizers know to anticipate these problems. It’s not as if the convention grew to this size all at once, so why haven’t they found solutions to these things yet?

Endless lines despite having badges mailed…

My experience wasn’t all bad. I managed to make it into several interesting panels, including the Academic Symposium which was right up my alley. But, because I had to line up at least an hour ahead of time just to get a spot, I also missed out on several other panels I wanted to go to. My guess is that at any given moment, the majority of convention-goers were stuck waiting for something rather than doing or enjoying something.

Other panels I went to were just not what I was expecting. Many “panels” are actually just targeted marketing sessions for publishers or producers. I went to one looking for an interesting conversation on a particular topic, and instead was given a list of manga that only loosely matched the topic. Could I have read the program description more closely? Probably. Should they have named it something like “Tokyo Pop Presents: _____”? Definitely.

The tone of the overall event has changed over the years. AX is now largely an industry event comparable to E3. Companies are here to announce the new thing they’re working on or launch new products and special editions. These events are often accompanied by creators or artists involved in those works to hold panels and get people excited. For those fans that enjoy these more commercial things, great; but that’s not for me, that’s not what I look for in this kind of event.

I have been a big anime fan for at least 12 years and what I love most about it is the unique, creative, and imaginative stories. I love attending panels where people dig in and discuss genres and genre subversions, social commentary, issues in representation, etc. which is why the Academic Symposium was one of my favorite events this year. Of course I want to hear from creators, artists, producers, etc. about the creation of whatever media I love, but these kinds of events are the ones you have to be in line for two or three hours in advance.

There are still many events at AX that match up with what I want, but battling the crowds and waiting in lines for hours takes away from that experience.

When I attended Anime Boston in 2015, I laughed at the idea that this was a “big con”, because it certainly wasn’t big compared to AX. But after this experience, I think that Anime Boston is a great size for a con. I enjoyed my time there, found some cool stuff, never felt suffocated, and attended a few interesting panels. It was fun and I would love to go again.

I also attended HavenCon 2017 in Austin, TX. HavenCon is a small (read: tiny) queer geek & gamer convention. It is by far the smallest convention I have ever attended, and I loved it. There wasn’t that much to do and we had quite a bit of down-time between things, but that also meant it wasn’t the exhausting endeavor that larger conventions are. The panels were fascinating and obviously born from passion rather than greed. There wasn’t a lot in terms of vendors or artists, but I still found some really cool things to buy.

I think it’s amazing that the anime industry and fandom has grown to this size. I love that it’s becoming a more mainstream form of media. I’m excited to see where things go from here. But, I personally don’t feel like lining up for hours and braving those crowds again any time soon.

For what I’m looking for in an anime/geek convention:
– interesting panels and conversations,
– an opportunity to learn something new or gain a new perspective,
– and a sense of community;
I definitely think I’ll be looking to attend smaller conventions from now on.

What about you?

What do you enjoy most about anime, geek, or gaming conventions?
What are some of your favorite conventions? What’s the next one on your calendar?

Leave me a comment below.

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