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Sunday is always a funny day at Anime Expo. It’s usually after the hustle and bustle of the main events has passed, most of the major cosplay gatherings have wrapped up, and people are getting in their last-minute shopping sprees at the dealer’s room. What marked this AX as one different from all the rest was the wild decision to host arguably the second most anticipated world premiere of the entire weekend on this day. The darling amongst many anime fans across the globe, Attack on Titan, was finally renewed for a new season and would be airing its first episode at AX before anywhere else. To hold this event on the last day of AX was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Suddenly, there was a renewed vigor on the 4th day, and with it, a torrent of humans all looking to snag their precious admission wristband to the festivities.
I had opted instead to not face off against those thousands of die-hard fans, instead making my way to all the other sectors of the con to complete the AX 2018 experience. More shopping is always a struggle, trying to nab that limited edition or deeply discounted merch before it disappears. So much moreso than that, I enjoyed going to the Entertainment Hall once more, this time giving more time to the many games available for your consideration. Console gaming was still going strong, with many folks hanging around for their turn to crush the competition at Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, and much more. Rather than getting rocked at games I’m not proficient in, I decided to check out a special demo area dedicated to Shovel Knight on a super-fancy PC gaming rig. I had always wanted to give Shovel Knight a try, having heard it described as a pinnacle of modern indie gaming technique and dedication. What I did not realize was how damn difficult that sucker was! It took me a bit to get used to the pixel precision and platforming skills necessary to advance in the stage, but what I did survive through was superbly entertaining. No promises, but I definitely look forward to covering Shovel Knight in a future episode.
Though I didn’t personally purchase anything there, the ever-popular Artist Alley made its return, this time with wider hallways and better ventilation. While last year was cramped and stifling, this year saw much-needed improvements to the experience. Were there still more people than I’d prefer bumping up against me all throughout the hall? Sure. But it was clear the management team had heard the concerns from the previous year and tried to fix the issues. Lounge 21 had plenty of space to host the crowd looking to just relax in the dark and be serenaded by nerdy live music renditions, but the line for getting an adult beverage was MUCH longer than I would have preferred. Enough so that I didn’t even find it worth my time to wait there at all. And if I did not have press line privileges as AX Premier Passholders have, I know the rest of the crowds for basically everything else at the con would have justified the endearing and enduring nickname of AX as “Line-Con.”
Certainly the biggest complaint every year, this year included, is the size of attendance. Unfortunately this continues to be an issue, and where the blame lies is certainly at multiple levels. For one, we know that the LA Convention Center is quite large, but it is being jam packed to capacity now by an ever-growing fanbase of Japanese animation, cosplay, video games, and Japanese culture as a whole. The current contract Anime Expo has with the LA Convention Center is set to expire with the upcoming AX 2019. They have already confirmed they are “exploring options for 2020 and beyond”, so here’s to hoping they can make the switch to either the San Diego Convention Center, proven to handle San Diego Comic-Con’s world-famous crowds, or shift back to the Anaheim Convention Center, which recently completed renovations to make it the largest exhibit space on the West Coast.
The second issue is regarding how quickly AX has expanded in recent years. If you look at the attendance numbers, between 2012 and 2018, they have skyrocketed from about 50,000 unique attendees to 110,000 over the course of the weekend. Those are some massive numbers, and I think that the team is simply experiencing growing pains associated with this process. Many people cite how lines are not handled as efficiently or effectively as they are at SDCC, and I think this is to be expected because of how much experience that con’s team has over AX. SDCC had the same issues back when it was taking off, but it was so long ago that it just seems like they’ve always had their stuff together. I trust that in time, AX management, paid staff, and volunteers will figure out how best to handle the growing populace.
Overall, this was one of the best AX’s I’ve been to, though it may have been helped along quite a bit by my premier member status as press. If the badges didn’t always sell out immediately, I’d highly recommend grabbing a premier fan pass in order to experience AX as I did this year. For those not lucky enough to snag one of those, I can still heartily recommend Anime Expo for its unparalleled level of programming and content for almost any interest or fandom. My fingers are crossed the crowds next year can let up a touch and line management can hone their craft to make the (possibly) last year in Los Angeles the best of them all.
Photo credit: William Tung