Anime Expo 2014

Happy hot summer everyone! Half of 2014 is over just like that. Nekotea is back from vacation so there’s finally a little time to write after a busy study month.

Amoirsp here reporting on Anime Expo 2014. Originally I hadn’t intended on going, but hearing that Lunatic Joker would be coming and doing commissions as a guest gave me enough incentive to purchase a bus ticket to Los Angeles. I had the fortune to stay at a friend’s place not too far from the convention center and had time off from work, so it was only desire which determined whether or not to go. The last time I was primarily motivated to go to AX due to a Japanese artist being present was my first AX in 2010 when Fumio of FrontWing came. Funny how things come full circle, because there weren’t really any Japanese artists present in AX 2013 who were available to draw on autograph boards and I largely gave up on ever seeing that again.

I opted to forgo day 0 and majority of day 1, as I expected that Anime Expo 2014 would have a huge surge in attendees given how 2013 turned out, which would create extensively longer pre-registration lines. Not only was there nightmare of a line that was longer than last year, further issues such as some kind of system error delayed the lines even further. Long wait times were expected, but this was a reality where such a wait was beyond atrocious.

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We hit an all-time record for the waiting time at the day 0 pre-reg queue. Image used with permission by @aralonia

I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center on day 1 after 4 PM expecting to see no line for at-con registration like I did in 2013 to register for a free exhibit hall only pass. Unfortunately not only were there many people in line, but I was told that apparently there was a separate green line for exhibit hall only. While seeing a line wasn’t too surprising, I did have a problem with the fact that incorrect information was provided, as the green line turned out to be something else entirely. I didn’t bother lining up in the wrong line since waiting over an hour to get a temporary two hour badge to go in the hall for less than an hour seemed pointless. Without any other choices I forked over the $65 for a 4 day pass after applying the Crunchyroll discount. 2 day passes were eliminated, so I effectively wasted half the benefits.

Clearly I didn’t play my cards right, as a surge of attendees hitting the 80k mark (15k more than 2013) would naturally cause every possible line to increase in wait time, including at-con registration. Still, paying $20 more than the earliest 4 day pre-reg pass to bypass day 0’s nightmare line was an easy choice. My first and only stop at the exhibit hall was Sekai Project at booth 1530. As far as dealers go, that was the only booth I really wanted to go to. I literally was willing to sacrifice the entire time at the exhibit hall just so I could focus on Sekai Project, see Lunatic Joker in person, and get a commission. I was immediately regretting coming late on day 1 because Lunatic Joker not only maxed out on day 1, but his queue had to carry over through day 2 as well. There was never a fresh opening of a color commission, seeing that the reality made the projections over-promised and unable to be delivered.

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Some goods at the Sekai Project booth!

I give much props to Sekai Project for properly handling the situation as best as they can. It was remarkable that the commissions were very reasonably priced. The fact that a large demand accrued and the events transpiring the way they did come as no surprise, since drawings on sign boards have historically been like this.

I dined with the members of Sekai Project everyday. I was particularly happy because I was aware of the company since their inception many years ago. They are a company whose single goal is to get greater exposure to indie creators. Their Kickstarters have so far been successful, so it was enjoyable to see the reality of their efforts in person. I only wish things continue to go positively for them as I do like their approach and support this concept. It really does feel it’s by fans for fans.

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LunaticJoker sketches for AX attendees!

When looking back at the roots of how I enjoyed and learned about visual novels in the first place back in 2006, Sekai Project and its members really were among the very introductions. Getting to know and meet the people face to face was an absolute joy, much like meeting new people at conventions, but this time with some more familiar history and interests spawning many more years. I had not been playing any visual novels in recent years, and had actually forgotten how much I used to like the stuff.

In some ways AX 2014 was the best and worst convention I have ever attended. It’s the best in the sense that the social atmosphere is really enjoyable. It’s also the worst because the schedule lead to a myriad of missed opportunities, where several panels overlapped each other and made it impossible to attend them all. For panels, it was really odd to have the Mangagamer and JAST panels 15 minutes apart from one another. Sometimes I wonder if this was intentionally structured to make attendees have to choose between industry competitors. This marks the only AX year I missed out on seeing Mangagamer. Autograph signing had its own set of problems which I will not get into as I anticipated the experience would be rather awful.

On a social aspect, I could not find enough time to attend much of the gatherings. I couldn’t stay up late into the night like in 2013, and arranging to meet people is very difficult with all the chaos going around. Just like in 2013 I had a blast socially, but majority of it was after con hours at hotels and dinners. AX 2013 itself was disappointing enough to not want to return. Still, I never truly ruled out taking a bus to Los Angeles just to hang out.

Best Wolverine cosplay at AX.

Best Wolverine cosplay at AX.

Since there was literally 80k people, the convention being crowded was truly noticeable to the point that there was a delay for letting people in for a good hour on the first day and second day. I’m all for genuine growth sometimes, but this is a case of a big convention growing too big, for the sake of being big with more profits, and not for the right reasons.

Although it was appropriate that the CEO of AX addressed the many known AX 2014 issues in an open letter, I’m rather appalled there was no mention of the fact of AX adjusting to the LACC capacity limit. One reason is because actions by the fire marshal are technically independent of what AX can do. The fact that the fire marshal was very close to shutting down AX means that there were too many people, which means the building cannot host more than 80k people without serious adjustments, or AX must move to a location that can house more people. Unprecedented growth is only to be raved about, so the open letter would never address considering capping the number of attendees and leaving people out.

The open letter often mentions improved streamlining which is potentially useful, but like the LACC capacity limit, as long as the number of events and guests stay static, AX will only end up with more people waiting on the same lines. AX can only achieve less people in the panel rooms and autograph signings if AX has more rooms and signings or events for others to go to or less people in general. While it’s great that big events such as the Kill la Kill one at AX were successful, it’s possible the turnout was more than expected because many people were stuck with few events to go to, forcing everyone to migrate to the same few events. Lines become worse by default, and streamlining only solves the waiting time, not the capacity limit. AX only opens from morning to night, so no matter how well the events are segmented, there will be overlap regardless. It is literally impossible to seat everyone adequately.

If I used a negative outlook, I could foresee an unlikely location movement of AX going to past AX locations such as Anaheim or Long Beach, since there’s bound to be even more attendee growth. At this time I would anticipate 2015 would still be in LACC. Without setting an attendee cap, it doesn’t matter how many registration or systematic improvements are made if the number of people at LACC exceed the capacity limit of the building, becoming officially declared a fire hazard. AX would be declared unsafe and suddenly you’ll have long queues just to get into the building, or a shutdown of AX entirely. That would be a horrific situation, where you would wait hours just to get into the building and have to wait for people to leave in order to get in. Not only that, but several areas of LACC are open to the general public such as the lobbies and walkways, so even if you do set a cap on badge distribution, it’s still very easy to go over the capacity limit of the building itself.

Base prices for 4 day badges also only increased to $46, a trifle change, as opposed to premium badges, which managed to shoot up nearly another 75% to $300. Remember when premium badges were only $99 two years ago? Clearly people caught on to premium benefits and spiked demand, but I don’t agree with the price hike when the benefits hardly got better. Even autograph signing for premium attendees was an awful experience, and usually one big incentive is the priority lines.

Guest quality has remained about the same as 2013, but not greater in quantity. I had two friends I met back from AX 2010 who haven’t been to AX since then, and they were so disappointed with the convention in 2014 they never want to go to AX ever again. I don’t blame them, since 2010 was a chaotic big name guest dream, whereas 2014 seemed dull in comparison, having much less. Using 2010 as the only past experience, naturally 2014 would be horribly disappointing, despite many improvements 2014 has shown over 2011-2013. There’s no point in ever expecting 2010’s guest pool ever again, so this might simply be the best AX can do.

Where will AX go from here? Honestly I think next year won’t be fundamentally different. Big promises will continue to be made. There will be plenty more people, roughly the same amount of guests, and scheduling conflicts that will force attendees to have to pick and choose which panels and events to miss out. Not exactly the most ideal of a weekend getaway. At this time I don’t plan to go to AX 2015, but when July rolls around, I’ll probably end up going last minute anyways due to an unforeseen opportunity. There have been incremental improvements, and AX 2014 is far different than say AX 2008 due to rapidly changing times with technology and all, but at the end of the day, it’s more or less the same.

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