Anime Expo: Inside Out
To preface this commentary, I'd like to point out that this is perhaps the first article written about a convention by one of its former department heads, and so the content of this will be from somewhat of an insider perspective; an insider whom is now an outsider and looking in.
Perhaps the best place to start in reviewing the performance of Anime Expo this year would be the location. It was touted as being held at the Long Beach Hyatt and Convention Center, but this was hardly the case. A better description of the convention's location would be: Southern Long Beach, CA. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out exactly where functions were at the convention, since there was no function map in the initial registration package, and the convention events were spread out over The Long Beach Convention Center, the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, and three hotels: The Hyatt, The Renaissance, and The Long Beach Westin. In fact, had I not been attending as a member of the press this year, it might have taken me a few days to find the maps that were finally provided, along with the missing programming schedule.
The layout of this convention has been questioned for several years, ever since the staff first walked the site in 1998, and has not been looked upon with much enthusiasm, if any. With the Westin being two city blocks away from the main convention center facilities, and the Renaissance another two blocks in the opposite direction, the "Warm California Sun", and the humidity, it is a wonder that fans weren't suffering from heat exhaustion. And this is, of course, if they survived the walk to the different hotels after dark. Long Beach has one of the worst crime reputations in the Los Angeles area, and spreading out the convention site over the greater(?) Long Beach area is perhaps the worst idea in a long string of bad ideas that have been considered and/or acted upon by the SPJA.
Once one learns to accept the flaws of the location, the convention did run fairly smoothly overall, with events starting closer to their scheduled times, and the severity of lines being lessened by the use of the Terrace Theatre in The Long Beach Performing Arts Center this year. Perhaps the walk had its benefits in the fact that the attendee's of size got a chance to come out of their closets and get some exercise, but this also added to the general "Fanboy Funk" pervading the air in the function areas. Adding to the "Fanboy Funk" was the "Funk" coming from the Long Beach harbour, which was constantly lingering in the air over the convention site. No escape from foul smells this year, ladies and gentlemen.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing announcements that the SPJA announced this year was the plan to hold an Anime Expo East in New York, New York. Considering the amount of work required to put on an Anime trade show on the west coast, and the fact that the majority of the staff required to do so are located in California, this prospect is nearly unthinkable. The SPJA has had a very difficult time in the past with scheduling events and meeting their schedules with a local staff, and with a fan base that has learned to be patient over the years. Among the many things New York is reputed for, lack of patience and low tolerance for slipping up is perhaps one of the most noteworthy. It remains to be seen how New York will react to the constant delays and shuffling about of schedules and programming that already infuriate their current attendees. New York is also reputed to be the city that never sleeps, and the thought of putting on a show that never starts on time might change that reputation; people would fall asleep waiting for events to start. Or worse, they might just leave altogether.
Another problem facing the SPJA in this venture lies in the equipment and sponsorships that have been the keys to successful conventions in the past. One of their largest sponsors, Pioneer Entertainment, is local to Southern California only, and has collaborated with the SPJA by allowing the use of some of their equipment for the video programming rooms. Without Pioneer to provide many of the televisions and video equipment, it is very likely that AX New York will be forced to find another local sponsor or use staff equipment. Either way, this could be an expensive dilemma for the SPJA. Pioneer is not very likely to ship their big screen televisions to the other side of the country simply for the SPJA without some sort of compensation. And it is not likely that East Coast fans that are already attending AX will want to settle for watching anime on a thirteen-inch television as opposed to the thirty-inch that they are used to.
On the flip side of this coin, there is the possibility for the SPJA to survive the weekend experiment of seeing if the market is ready and if the expenses, both fiscal and physical, are worth it. Many times the SPJA has performed what has seemed to be the impossible when odds were against them, though this may prove to be one of the largest challenges of their career. Should the first year be successful, it is possible that they could build up a local staff in the area and not have to fly their current staff out to the east coast each year, even though they'd likely be a skeleton crew.
One of the more intriguing surprises at Anime Expo this year was the introduction of the Virtual Master of Ceremonies, Maxine. The highly talented technical staff at Anime Expo has been working on the concept of an Anime-themed virtual MC for a few years now, and thanks to their diligence and perspiration, a real-time, wireless motion capture device was worn by one of the staff, Stephanie Morse, bringing to life the original character of Maxine, designed for the SPJA by Akitaka Mika.