Japan Expo 2nd Impact Review

Greetings everyone! We here at Neko’s Shiritori had the wonderful opportunity of experiencing Japan Expo Second Impact. The convention moved to San Mateo, in a location that is more central to the Bay Area Peninsula.

At first glance, clearly Japan Expo was adjusted from last year’s feedback. As usual, we felt like Japan Expo had a clean template as the schedule was segmented clearly and not overwhelming. The venue was half outdoors, making use of an open environment in which Japan Expo felt more like a festival rather than a convention. This was perfect for the performance exhibitions that were displayed during the weekend.

We were mainly looking for a few things: more attendees in the second year, improvements over the first year, and content at Japan Expo that differentiates itself from other local conventions. All of these were very clearly seen.

Day 1: Friday, August 22, 2014

There was only one goal the instant Japan Expo’s dealer hall opened at 2 PM: go straight to Sekai Project’s booth, where KEY from Japan would be. The booth was very large with limited KEY goods and Planetarian noted for a September 12th release on steam. KEY singlehandedly attracted a very large wave of attendees. Their appearance alone was monumental considering the fact that KEY coming to the West was not even in remote consideration in the past. Deliberating the possibility of coming is very easy, but actually coming requires serious commitment. KEY was never one to test the unknown waters unless it is very clear they have something to benefit. We felt that the timing of their appearance was mostly due to being after Comiket 86, which was the weekend before, as opposed to Japan Expo being KEY’s top pick to be present in. Clearly there are many other reasons, but there’s no question that 2D content in general along with attendee counts in conventions have been much higher recently. To no surprise, majority of their goods were sold out within the first day.

Sekai Project Booth

As for other dealers, there was quite a selection of goods. We did notice that several notable dealers from the previous year did not return. However, given the limited space of the venue, we felt there was not a lack of dealers by any means. We were happy to see SEGA’s return with Project Diva F 2nd as they had brought over Project Diva F last year.

In regards to the artist alley, while we weren’t surprised many artists from Japan Expo 2013 did not return due to poor sales caused from a lack of attendees, we were definitely surprised at the ones that did return. The artist alley was noticeably smaller in the far corner of the dealer’s hall, but for that same reason appeared to be more concentrated. We made good contact with a few of the artists and will post ad hoc interviews at a future date.

Artist booth

Although Friday usually slowest for conventions in general, it was also very opportune. This was the prime day for purchasing limited goods and getting autographs. Big guest names such as Daigo Ikeno and Gen Urobuchi were available, and they were certainly in high demand.

The first noticeable item on the schedule was the time: Japan Expo ended at 11 PM, as opposed to 7 PM from last year. The extra time allowed the schedule to spread out some more, such as evening autograph times, as well as having concerts in the open area during the evening. This was a huge improvement.

Due to the smaller venue, we were able to scout out all the areas and analyze them. We had the opportunity to speak with dealers and artists new to Japan Expo, meet new faces, and attend panels.

Day 2: Saturday, August 23, 2014

In all honesty, Saturday was a great day. KEY starts the day strong with a restocking of T-shirts which inevitably sold out quickly. If each day performed like Saturday, Japan Expo is well on its way to establishing itself as a go-to event. We felt this was the best single day to go to Japan Expo and it did not disappoint. We brought along people who normally don’t attend conventions to Japan Expo to get insight on the thoughts of a newcomer. To summarize, new attendees mentioned that going on just Saturday was sufficient to get a feel of the convention. Limitations of attending on Friday and Sunday were caused either by work or school. Other causes of limited attendees were due to simultaneous events going on in the same weekend, notably Anime Revolution in Vancouver, Anime California in Orange County, and even Best of the West, an annual music rhythm game competition hosted late August each year in Sunnyvale Golfland. This caused potential attendance to be diluted a bit, leaving those who live nearest the Peninsula to likely be the majority.

We tuned into Akira Yamaoka’s panel, in which he stated that he did not have any content pre-planned, so it turned into a Q&A session. One of the key things to note was that Akira Yamaoka found his popularity on Silent Hill to be a bit strange, considering the game is well over a decade ago, trumping nearly all of his other more recent works. Here are some highlights from his panel below.

Although he does compose for video games, he also composes for movies too. He has been doing this line of work for 25 years. This marks the second time he’s been at Japan Expo (France in 2011 was the first). He always wanted to do something to exert Japanese culture out to the world. 25 years ago Japanese culture wasn’t really project in entertainment media. Although Silent Hill has been out for 15 years, the idea spawned 18 years ago. People keep coming to him through Silent Hill. He’s very happy that Silent Hill was known around the world. People talk about it as one of his greatest works. There’s also a part of him that is always working on new stuff. It’s a mystery to him why even after 18 years he is known and seen for that masterpiece. He would like to know why people still look up to him for that even after all these years.

Later in the afternoon we were extremely happy to interview Akira Yamaoka, which you can read about here.

The most exciting news of the night was that Sekai Project announced a Clannad localization during their 9 PM panel. The excitement level was reminiscent of 2008 when we were completely into such games. We find Clannad the most suitable pick because it is inherently an all-ages game, diffusing all issues with content reduction or Steam regulations. We wish Sekai Project the best in their endeavours.

Day 3: Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday rounded out evenly. KEY literally sold out of over 90% of their goods by the time Sunday started, a near perfect performance. We were told that KEY’s representatives were very happy with the results of their attendance, which is an excellent sign for future things to come. Quite honestly we were concerned that the reality might not come up to par with their expectations, but the local fans have spoken with their wallets, and rather swiftly to boot. Even after 16 years since KEY’s inception, the fandom stays strong.

We primarily used the time to watch the Japanese exhibition performances and take photos of cosplayers. The attendance count was much less than Saturday, which was to be expected.

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What better way to end the convention by interviewing Gen Urobuchi?

Overall Impression

Honestly, Japan Expo itself is fine. Its performance is rather good considering that it is only a second year con. The problem was that attendees felt that Japan Expo was too expensive leading it to feel underwhelming for the price paid. There’s also a significant lack of fan driven panels and meetups, so the amount of things to check out are actually quite few. Once Japan Expo grasps a guest or event that drives people to go out of their way to come, the festival environment will be set. At this time only music and food comes to mind, remotely similar to j-pop summit.

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At the end of the day, what is the goal of a convention? While it varies from person to person, we feel that if personal objectives are met, then it’s fine if there’s not a large amount of content. Does Japan Expo suffer from “linecon”? No, they do not. When there was an autograph session and attendees lined up on time, they got the intended autograph without an issue. When there was a concert, it went according to schedule. The ideal convention size is one where the venue is filled up adequately, as too many and too little attendees are very bad. For the limited square footage of the San Mateo Event Center, we believe Japan Expo made as much use of the space as possible. This efficient use of space also had a downside where the rooms echo enough to be able to hear other ongoing events in the same room.

Sure, it was possible to see every building at Japan Expo within a few hours, but that also meant everything that was intended to be done could be done. We would go as far as believing Japan Expo can actually outscale other US conventions in the long run due to their pre-existing network in Europe. We also believe Japan Expo should continue to promote the exhibitions and Japan culture festivities, as it is definitely unique here. At this time, we feel that Japan Expo’s European strengths simply don’t translate well into the American market, which is why it feels sluggish. Give it more time and it’ll adapt. We look forward to Japan Expo’s progress in a future 3rd impact.

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