Anime Expo 2013

For Anime Expo 2013, I had a back door plan for going as Press. As you all know, Anime Expo has strong conditions as it is among the biggest conventions in the US. So even though I was granted Press privileges for Fanime, I already foresaw the application not working for AX, so I didn’t bother in the first place. I wanted to go as Press for obvious reasons: I can focus on the benefits for readers and attendees to have interest in going to Anime Expo, I can better understand how their business model works to lower misunderstandings that commonly happen, and I can get direct access to guests which for some are the real reason of going to a convention.


Line

This was just a fraction of the line

The first thing I would like to point out before saying anything is that general attendees should know that people called “Event Staff” in red shirts are not AX employees. They are Los Angeles Convention Center employees, and have nothing to do with AX other than guarding and keeping the convention center safe. They are adequate to inquire technical locations of the convention, but are not who you look for as far as anything AX related goes. Well, I also hope AX can fix this, because this is a repeated confusion and it frustrates all parties involved. Also it felt like the Event Staff grossly outnumbered the amount of red vest AX volunteers so they were often sought for every inquiry.

Anime Expo 2013 turned out a lot better than I expected. Or rather, with meticulous planning it went exactly as expected, meeting essentially all the goals I had and then some more. From my 2012 experience, it was very clear to me that revolving the trip around networking and meeting people was far more valuable than letting the schedule and guests dictating what I do. I’ve gone to Anime Expo since 2010, and sadly, no year was close to 2010 in terms of guest power and declined every year in quantity.

Overall AX experiences for me kind of went like this:

  • 2010 – Hey let’s try AX I heard it’s good. Wow, star names, and lots of chaos! As an attendee the fairness and organization was horrible, but at least the opportunity was there. If you missed a guest you wanted to see it’s because you went for another guest you wanted to see.
  • 2011 – Unfortunate events happened in Japan. Wished for recovery, so I wasn’t expecting much. Miku everywhere. Fantastic year for Miku fans and those that went to that concert. Underwhelming compared to 2010 in terms of guest power and things to do.
  • 2012 – I thought recovery would happen, which it did, but AX managed to be more underwhelming than the previous year. Premium badge was extremely convenient, but I don’t feel like I got good value at all.
  • 2013 – I originally had no intention of going, expecting no real improvement on guest power. It managed to be even more underwhelming than 2012, so I just decided to make the most of my adventure. I still had the opportunity to get a premium badge, but I said no to a 20% price hike, and there was little to no improvement on event/guest pool. Some say AX this year really was scraping bottom of the barrel as far as guests go, and I’d have to agree.

I just felt guest power and quantity went down, but at least staff organization with lines and such were improving every year. That doesn’t amount to much since conventions are supposed to supply exciting guests, and is supposed to be well organized in the first place. Sure they’re not required to, but lately I have been finding less and less reason to go for AX specific reasons. Going to AX just to see attendees and artists only requires going to LA, and does not really require AX itself.

Long story short I had underwhelming experiences at Anime Expo the past two years, and did not consider going to this year’s Anime Expo. In fact, I was rather adamant about not going all the way until late June. A chain of events of people I want to see again and new people I want to meet convinced me to go at the last minute. The guest pool was good but as usual it wasn’t fleshed out until June arrived. Also Mangagamer who I usually attended AX for, didn’t have any Japanese guests this year, which is also a first. I’ve already completely conceded on ever seeing certain Japanese guests after realizing that in reality, the experience for some to travel this far for a short weekend might not be on par with other things they can do in Asia. I’m better off taking a trip to Japan for better odds, as nonexistent as it is. Normally I would pay big bucks for shikishi (autograph/sign boards) drawn by certain artists from Japan at the convention, but that soon became wishful thinking with the clear decline in attendance over the years.

With that said, I took what Anime Expo 2012’s head said during opening ceremonies: something about AX being just an open event for fans to do what they feel like doing. I was mad at the attitude thinking AX is selling itself short (along with the incident of X-Games shoving AX aside, wrecking every AX attendee’s experience in more ways than one), but if I focus on solely guests and events I will be guaranteeing my disappointment. This year I decided to forgo panels and any AX hosted events and just stick to the exhibit hall or anything going on in the local vicinity. The most fun I had in 2012 was hotels, dinner gatherings, and meeting attendees so I figured I could approach 2013 in the same way.

It turns out my own experience turned out exactly as planned, despite not going as planned at all.

Day 0

The place I stayed at was the Millennium Hotel for days 1 – 3, and from what I learned from my roommate, there was no hotel discount for day 0 since it is not an actual AX day. So the group I roomed with were staying at a friend’s friend’s apartment in Alhambra before AX started. I took the Greyhound bus around 9:45 AM and arrived at 4:15 PM. Well, I did not travel from northern California to Los Angeles with anyone else and had to find a way to get to Alhambra. By the time I got to the Los Angeles Convention Center, the group missed me on the way to Alhambra by about ten minutes since the total party involves a good 8+ people overall having different needs here and there. Instead of hopping a taxi and going through nightmare traffic, I opted to stay at the LACC until 6 PM to charge my phone and find alternate dinner plans instead of attending a potentially very late dinner. I got to see the Girls und Panzer tank, and that was fun to see throughout the convention. Sadly, that was also the only remotely close to Girls und Panzer related material in the convention.

Girls und Panzer Tank

Sentai Filmworks sure went big on Girls und Panzer props!

Since it was 6 PM by that time, I decided to not bother with the pre-registration line. I also found this a good opportunity to find anyone that has already finished the pre-registration line or is in his or her hotel, so I ended up going to someone’s hotel room to chill. Met new faces that I’ve been wanting to meet for some time, and with some luck, met another attendee who has a car that allows us to eat dinner further from the LACC where potentially better food lies. The car was very impressive because it was going to get Homura itasha’d, and the license plate was already Homura customized. Because of the Alhambra mess up from earlier in the afternoon, it also allowed new opportunity for me to go to a mahjong event that was hosted on day 0 not too far from the convention center.

I went to a mahjong session late in the evening. Although the mahjong session was fantastic and joining the party was the best use of time, I also forgone dinner and consumed emergency rations. In mahjong I also did not recall ever winning a hand that night despite relatively getting 2nd place due to avoiding direct losses. The temptation to call tiles inefficiently for weak hands was too great. A great night nonetheless since the Alhambra folks had to drop off someone at the convention center to end the night, I used that opportunity to get back to Alhambra by carpooling more efficiently instead of using a taxi. It was interesting to get rides without having to use taxis, and not having to go too out of the way to do it. Planning my own schedule was one thing, but to plan to assist others on where to eat dinner and such was even more interesting. I’m glad that in the end it worked out without troubles.

After arriving at Alhambra the group stayed up until late into the evening. There were some leftovers from the Alhambra dinner that I consumed so I did not starve, and some drinking to start a fun weekend. I knew there would be much to experience in the upcoming days. This was an ideal start to an awesome convention.

Day 1

Traditionally for AX, day 1 and day 2 fall under Friday and Saturday. This year, it wasn’t due to July 4 landing on a Thursday. In other words, the first two days of AX are generally far more important than the last two because of greater opportunities to get things done. That also means that if I want to meet anyone, day 1 would be the best time to do so, especially when the exhibit hall doesn’t open until 12 PM. I contacted many Twitter folks and tried to scout out where various people were. There were a lot of timely openings that conflicted very little with the general plan. The first order of operation was to get to the LACC in the morning, and then eat lunch at Original Pantry, ordering Country Fried Steak, and splitting half of the meal to save for an artist I particularly wanted to see again. The other roommates who had badges from Day 0 went to line up for the Good Smile Company exclusive Nendoroids during the 12 PM timespan. Since there was a nearby Ralph’s store, it allowed me to get food and drinks for people at the convention, which I did go and deliver before having to go to the hotel to check in luggage. Lugging my luggage for a good four hours was interesting in it of itself, and I’m glad I came with a lighter set than originally planned.

Steak

Original Pantry Country Fried Steak

By the time the hotel ordeals were in order, it was already 5 PM. For the first day I decided to ditch getting a 4 day badge and opted to test out the free badge that nobody seemed to know about. In fact, much of staff themselves did not know of the full details of it, and I was referred through several stations before finally landing at the correct one. At the at-con registration, after 4:30 PM, the system opens up an extra badge option, called the free exhibition only badge after 4:30 PM. This allows access to only the exhibit hall after 4:30 PM. Since I had no panel, game room, lounge 21, or other badge-required intentions for the day, this was a self-explanatory action to get into the exhibit hall as soon as possible. Sadly this feature used to be open at 3:30 PM, but the change does not surprise me. Exhibition hall closed at 6:00 PM, so there wasn’t much time to play with.

Of all places to eat dinner, the rest of my roommates and I ate at Original Pantry…again. I like country fried steak, but I’m glad I was talked out of eating it a second time and opted to split a Roast Beef instead. I was informed ahead of time that a good number of roommates are avid drinkers, so naturally there was lots of drinking once we got back to the hotel. For my schedule I decided to hop into a few hotels that other attendees were staying at. Some games like Mario Party 2, Aquapazza, Idolmaster 2, and such were played in two distinct hotel rooms. It was a lot of fun to watch and play one match. Naturally, my roommates back at Millennium Hotel weren’t the only drinkers, as I had to look over some drunk people while weaving between two hotel rooms. Well, nothing out of the ordinary happened, and everything was in check for the next evening. Unfortunately it was also late in the evening like 2 AM, and shuttles weren’t in sight, so I opted to walk with a roommate back to the hotel for a good 15 minutes.

Personally, I failed to fall asleep, and only got some sleep at around 5 AM. I’m not even sure how I functioned with so little rest since I wanted to wake up before 10 AM the next day.

Day 2

Fortunately the shuttle to the convention in the morning comes at reasonable pace, so there wasn’t a need to walk all the way to the convention until later in the day. I use this time to find even more people, most whom I could not find because they were actually in the game room.

I prioritized finding people that I have not met yet, and hung out with a small group by the vending machines in the afternoon. I finally got around to finishing the Roast Beef that I kept as leftovers from last night, which also means I actually did not go get lunch. I knew I would be busy, but to be so busy that I missed meals was quite something. Everyone knows that at conventions, timings of dinner turn out extremely late, like up to 9:45 PM or later.

My original plan for Friday night was to attend an AX after party that was hosted by a cosplayer. The location was farther, like around Spring Street. Originally I wanted to go with a roommate, but said roommate was under 21, so I decided not to go alone and do something else. I ate at Denny’s with other roommates, as the long day warranted some rest at the hotel before evening activities. Speaking of cosplay, this actually would have been a good time to have worn it. Though with how hectic the schedule was, I probably didn’t have time to get around to wearing it in the first place.

I managed to join a group that included a high school friend from my hometown for dinner. We went to Alhambra to get some ramen at Daikokuya Ramen and then subsequently watched the movie Despicable Me 2. I felt bad about ending dinner with my roommates at Denny’s prematurely, but I also felt it would be rather sad to miss a hometown friend when this was the first time she’s been to Anime Expo. The movie was absolutely enjoyable despite not watching the first one, and I thought I would return to my hotel seeing a full room. Much to my surprise, no one was in the hotel room. It turns out all my roommates went to the dance.

The group came back from the dance within an hour and Melty Blood was being played at our hotel room into the wee hours of the morning. It was a lot of fun to watch, and personally I can’t quite recall what I was doing since I definitely drank some shots. I don’t think I fell asleep until 4 AM. This marks only the second time in my life where I was clearly inebriated.

Day 3

By now we all realized that going down 9 floors for an elevator actually takes a while with the amount of traffic going around. Instead of waiting I just ran down the staircase instead. Others said it’s a long walk but I found it surprisingly short.

Remind me never to walk nearly an hour by foot to get to Koreatown. I went to eat dinner at Sanya Korean BBQ for celebrating roommates’ birthdays and yet despite taking a long detour to chat with another group of friends at Yardhouse, I managed to not only catch up to my dinner group, but also pass them, arrive at the restaurant before them, AND not see them on the same path. To this day we do not know how that happened, even if they did stop by an ATM as well as a liquor store, maybe I just dashed or flew too quickly to spot them, trying to catch up to them. Thankfully the wait was reasonable. Either way it didn’t matter as dinner was delectable and we more intelligently took 2 taxis back with a party of 8.

Once again there was drinking in the hotel, so naturally more shots again. I figured more people were doing things that night, so I didn’t want to be effectively drunk that night.

For some odd reason I did not want the night to end there, so I went back to Yardhouse again to spot more groups of people. It was very amusing to sit at three different tables of three different groups, but it quickly allowed me to meet a remaining few people I had wanted to meet prior to going. It also made hanging out with each group horribly inefficient, but that’s inevitable. Despite going to Yardhouse multiple times, I have yet to eat there to this day.

After Yardhouse closed at 1:45 AM, I went to look for my roommate who tired himself out at the Luxe hotel. Then I realized it was fine leaving him there since he and I know the entire party he was staying at. I was craving some Tanto Cuore play, so I hopped over to the JW Marriott to join some people drinking at an ice room. Unfortunately, the volume was too loud, so there was mobility to other rooms and other ice rooms. There was a lot of drinking, but I had already drank prior to heading over. Unlike last night, I’m not in my hotel room, and I intended to walk 15 minutes back, so I seriously did not want to be truly drunk.

It was fun playing some IIDX, and playing drunken Tanto Cuore did not work at all. Since it was nearing 5 AM, I opted to leave for stability reasons and head back to the Luxe hotel again.

Day 4

Business Cards

I visited more booths but somehow grabbed less cards

Contrary to day 4 generally being not very useful, I figured that I could still use the time wisely to finish up any last minute things. Dashed to the con at 10:30 AM, checked out of the hotel at 12:00 PM, ate lunch around 1:40 PM, stopped by the con at 2:30 PM, and left at 2:50 PM. It was particularly chaotic, with a further distanced hotel, as well as lugging my luggage for the entire afternoon. With a 4:15 PM bus departure, I basically had to jet the convention by 3 PM. I used what little time I had to say goodbye to people and hop on Uber at 3 PM. Speaking of Uber, due to the promotional code I was referred, I was able to enjoy the fast personalized service at a fully rebated cost. There were other promotional offers flying around for half the amount, so the overall cost ended up less than a taxi. It’s a service that didn’t come back to downtown LA until recently, and my first trial run of it turned out splendid for my needs. For a first trial, I certainly was satisfied, so don’t overlook it if the promotional code cuts the costs.

In the end, this was more like a Los Angeles weekend trip than Anime Expo. I jokingly think the convention should be renamed to something that covers more things in 2D animation or whatnot. Well, I left out and put in too many minor details, but in the end I felt the trip was well worth it. For future conventions I’m likely going to put that on hold, as I have more important matters to deal with at home and work.

Personally I also do not like the direction Anime Expo is headed in. My fears of reduced Japanese guest quantity has continued to remain true, while the ratio of guests to attendees have too great of a disparity. To have to wait in line for roughly 3 hours for guest signing is a bit much, and after two guests, a good six hours in the exhibition hall have already been consumed. Not only that, but the signing was not even guaranteed, nor were there straightforward methods to show people where to go to line up properly. For those that got autographs, very nicely done. For those that did not get autographs, it’s unfortunate.

One thing I found amusing about AX 2013 was the timing of it. July 4 was a holiday and many people had the day off, and even though Saturday was supposed to have more people in general, the large crowding made it harder to navigate the convention, making traffic much slower. Usually day 1 starts slow for business and increases each day, but it was all over the place this time around, where Saturday actually was not the most busy. Not only that but so many people pre-register, that the at-con registration is actually empty. The idea was a good one until the amount of attendees exceeded how many AX can adequately handle. I worry about the crowding effect because it actually made business potentially worse. This is also why I say that AX has way too few events for the amount of people attending it. One of the reasons why some concerts/guests/events may appear so popular or in high demand is because it’s possible it’s the only relevant thing going on that’s actually available at the time. Obviously if you make a supply shock like that, the demand will look great compared to it, which is going to trigger people to want to register for next year early, buy a premium badge, volunteer for staff, or any other tactics that reel people in. I’ve seen this happen at Fanime and it blows my mind the tolerance level of certain waits.

The other oddity I found at AX was the perpetual surge in prices. Let’s say Artist Alley tables were $250 for next year in 2014. I can understand the price surged from high demand and low supply, but when compared to previous years, the price literally shot up as fast as a hot stock, if not faster or exponentially. I believe within a 3 year time span Artist Alley tables were more like $120 or possibly lower. Even last year was about a $195 price range for earlier registration. A price increase is predictable, but this is like a 25% additional cost every year, for essentially the same product. Business-wise this completely makes sense on the AX end of things, but for the general attendee this is a giant puncture in their wallet. This actually reminds me of when Magic the Gathering released Modern, and suddenly certain useful cards spiked in price exponentially. It’s not really all that healthy, even if it was foreseeable.

That Sword

My roommate really, really liked the sword design on this

The same issue pertains to premium badges. In 2012 I had purchased mine for $99.00. AX increased it to $125 for 2013. Now I hear it is $175. Usually previous premium badge holders get a 20% discount code for a premium badge of the next year, and now it appears it has been reduced to 10% for 2014. I normally wouldn’t mind this if the guest pool was the hottest ever (like in 2010, which will never happen again or anytime soon), or if the badge events/concerts were top notch. Actually, it isn’t even a quality issue, it’s a quantity issue. I just don’t feel the badge provides enough bang for buck, but since it is reeling attendees to buy it in the droves, then so be it.

I once heard at Fanime that conventions were actually just an excuse to go out drinking. Considering a good majority of my roommates did quite a bit of drinking, as well as various other parties I hung out with, perhaps this really is just a big social event. But then, the convention doesn’t allow drinking within its premises for good reason, so why bother with the convention at all? Other than checking by the exhibit hall to find people and stop by some booths and tables, essentially my entire experience was outside of the convention. Well, in the future if the timing is right, I’ll likely be more than happy to see artists, other attendees, and guests again.

Anyhow, the value of meeting and seeing people again was absolutely priceless. Whatever costs incurred, this was an absolutely enjoyable trip, and the attendees made it well worth the travel. It’s really about what you make of the trip. Absolutely do not let the events dictate what to do, unless it was exactly what you wanted to do. To AX’s credit, a lot of core problems that existed in the past seemed to have gone away. Although many issue still remains, there were many credible improvements. Still, for a convention this big, I still find the content lackluster. With rising costs, I suppose it will continue to function since it’s too big to cancel. Oddly I was able to plan meticulously throughout the weekend, as opposed to right now where I feel too lethargic to do anything. I guess that’s what you call post-con depression. Until next time!

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