Anime Expo, the largest US anime convention, opened big at the Long Beach Convention Center over the Fourth of July weekend. The show was expected to draw a record total of 15-18,000 fans and industry participants over its four day run, straining the facilities but making for an exciting, upbeat event. That attendance would represent a 15-35% increase over the approximately 13,000 attendees in 2001, a living testament to the rapidly growing fan base for anime in the US. And it's a far cry from the 1750 attendees at the first Anime Expo at the Red Lion Hotel in San Jose, California in 1992.
Unfortunately, the show organizers, the non-profit Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, were surprised by the more rigorous enforcement of the Long Beach fire marshal, who limited the number of people in the dealer room and caused long lines to get in. At around 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon, fans at the front of the line said they'd been waiting around an hour and a half to see the exhibitors and dealers, and at the end of the day there was still a two-hour line to get in. Dealers reported that the show organizers polled the exhibitors late Saturday to see if they would keep the dealer room open an extra two hours, but the decision was made to close the dealer room as scheduled at 6 p.m., turning away many fans.
Even had it proceeded as expected, the show was too big for the Long Beach Convention Center, requiring that registration take place at the Westin Hotel, almost three blocks away. So some fans waited in line for an extended period to register at the hotel, then waited in line to get into the dealer room, and were ultimately disappointed. Panels and other events, however, went on as planned, drawing good crowds.
Exhibitors were mixed in their evaluation of the impact of the fire marshal's new-found exactitude, with some bemoaning the fans waiting outside with money to spend and others, like Bandai's Jerry Chu, happy with the attendance and excited about the ability to reach so many fans with panels and other events outside the dealer room.
Costumes based on anime, manga, and anime-style video games were everywhere, taking 'cosplay' to a level far beyond what's seen at comic and game conventions. At times it seemed that 10% of the attendees were wearing some kind of costume, and the collection of photos of the elaborate get-ups led to many tableaus of costumed fans surrounded by other fans taking pictures.
Long-time exhibitors noted the ongoing expansion of the show demographic from its primarily male origins to a near 50/50 split between male and female attendees, and the growth in the number of younger fans attending, probably drawn by the increasing presence of anime on children's television.
Surprisingly, the dealer room was not sold out, with reports of last-minute exhibitors buying space on set-up day (and tables were only $700). Given the number of fans with money to spend on anime, manga, toys, CDs, and other merchandise, the opportunity missed was substantial for LA-area retailers with an appropriate product mix. Major retailers were also in the house, with ADV allied with Suncoast and Pioneer with Wherehouse to retail their products on the floor.
With plans for the first New York Anime Expo Labor Day weekend, and a move of the West Coast show back to the larger Anaheim Convention Center next year, the conglomeration of anime and manga fans at summer conventions seems destined to go nowhere but up in the near future.