Hello everyone, it has been a while since I've done a review for a convention, and this year was really quite something. So without further ado, let's get straight down to business.
I've been attending AX since 2009, and I've attended every one except for 2012. Due to circumstances outside of my control, I thought about maybe not attending all together, especially when our press badges were still in limbo. I will be writing this review from the perspective of both a fan and press.
When we first applied for press, we got turned down because apparently we didn't have enough credentials. Although I did eventually get a press badge along with my colleagues, even before the convention started it was a small strike against AX. It felt like they were stringing us along and the person on the other end did not know what they were doing. Either do the research and deny us outright instead of taking their word back like that. I also want to say that I had work on both Day 0 and Day 1 meaning I was not able to help my colleagues with the Press Junkets this year.
I still had work Day 1 so I wasn't able to get to the LACC and pick up my badge until 4:30pm. Picking up the badge wasn't too difficult and time consuming I mainly just did a quick run through of the Exhibit Hall, took a few photos, and just scouted out what I can. At first glance, the convention seemed decent, people were lining up, getting their badges and the staff didn't seem too rude and overall pretty polite, though again, with the convention being its size, it could be hit and miss as to how the staff treated you. Ever since the debacle in 2014, I noticed that they always had those large tents up, though I don't think they were handing out waters this time. The weather was a bit cooler than it was in the past few years so that definitely was a plus. The biggest thing I wanted to see was the NIS America and ZUN panel later on in the evening. As a Touhou fan, this was one of the craziest moments, seeing him on stage like that and up close, and hearing about all the new games that NIS America is going to be releasing soon. The panels were really amazing and yes we had to line up outside behind the concourse before being led in. Again, five years ago, there was no need to do that because when the line moved, the staff had to stop cross traffic. It wasn't bad, that's just how things have become. After the panel, it was pretty late so after hanging out with friends for a little bit, I headed back home. So far things were looking good, but only seeing half a day, it was too early to call.
My sister and I drove in that morning and the West Hall parking garage was already full by the time we arrive shortly before 10am. We had to park in the back parking but that wasn't too bad. Again, due to the fact that Kentia Hall was now being used, and due to more and more people coming to AX, parking is now at a premium. In order for me to get autographs, you had to line up to pick up your tickets. I was directed to the correct location by staff who game me correct info and I was able to find it no problem. It seemed like it was the busiest day and moving around the halls were getting difficult at best. I didn't see too many people get yelled at and the staff did seem a bit more professional this year at least compared to last year, but again, the convention is really large so I could have gotten lucky.
Day 3 was the big day for me. I walked upstairs to the press junket room as I wanted to interview one of the guests. However, after half an hour waiting, it turns out that the guest didn't show up, and the next junket wasn't going to be until 3:00pm. That was a flop. The rest of the day however went pretty smoothly. The biggest thing for me was the Touhou Gathering, and ZUN autograph session. Everyone congregated either at the site before hand, or at the NISA booth. Luckily they were pretty close together, and I was able to help lead and direct everyone to where they needed to go. We started on
time and kept things organized and the meeting itself and autograph was pretty crazy for me as a fan. Without doubt that was the highlight of this year's AX for me and that's what essentially made the convention decent.
Not much to discuss for Day 4. I didn't cosplay and took the Metro to the con. Again, I checked my schedule and tried to ask a few questions for some of the press junkets. But each time it seemed like I got turned down due to scheduling conflicts or a pecking order. I know there are teams that are more qualified than we are, but I feel we still deserve an equal shot at interviews. Heck even when I emailed AX about interviews and time slots, they didn't get back to me at all. There were a couple times were I was in the press lounge waiting for a junket and the guest didn't even show up.
Now comes the part where I analyze the pros and cons of this year's Expo.
AX this year seems to have put more consideration into its attendees and are trying to cater more to the cosplayers. For instance, there are designated areas (Sites) for Cosplay Gatherings. There's a map available on AX and cosplay.com, but what made it really nice and easy is AX added large banners to where the sites were located. Again, it may not be much, but it makes organizing and finding those locations very easy as taking a picture of the location and sharing it on social media. There's a saying that sometimes it's the little things that matter, and one of those little things were that the AX started adding seats along some of the main hallways. One of the best things AX does have going for this year were its massive Exhibition Hall, several concerts and a wide variety of good, solid guests. I also saw there was a room for bag check ins. I'm not sure if they've done that previously, but that was definitely a plus. Access to food wasn't an issue as there were plenty of cafes and food trucks to choose from in the vicinity and across the street and the weather did seem a bit cooler than in past years, which all contributed to the pros.
As noted above, because the entire South Hall was dedicated to the Exhibition hall, I feel that the Artist Alley got shafted, and after speaking to several artists and attendees, the overall consensus seems to be a mixed bag at best. Many of them tried to make the best of it, others were sweating before they turned their air on. For one, the Artist Alley got moved downstairs to Kentia Hall, which is not even a hall, but a parking lot. Although there was definitely more space to walk around compared to last year, there was practically no ventilation. Also, when you got towards the end of the hall, the autographs for Guests of Honor were next to them, so you had to walk all the way back down to get out. Another issue was communication. I know that press and premier badges got to line up first, but if even press got there late, or the line was capped, you were turned away. And there was not a lot of consistency with that policy. Although all the panels I did see were very good, meaning that it was well run, they were open for questions and feedback, there were few, if any fan panels and there was a lot more hurdles and bureaucracy. Another drawback I didn't like this year was the press junkets were done via groups rather than one on one. It's not bad, but I did prefer the more intimate one on one interviews in previous years.
So what are the take home points from all this?
We as fans need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Not only about the Expo, and its organizers, SPJA, but also about how we come to this convention.
Over the years, there has been more and more hurdles to jump through for us as press to go to the various events and panels. For regular attendees, the days of spontaneous are over. With the way how AX has been growing, and its size is a factor, they are becoming the Comic Con of anime. Some people might see this as a good thing, but people also have to realize by going down that route, they are also bringing in those problems as well. For instance, I have said this before several times, but the LACC is getting too small for AX, and the convention is getting too big. Compared to Anaheim and San Diego, the LACC is relatively small, and due to its double-hall design, walking around is becoming more and more of a hassle. It all comes down to what the fans are looking for. If fans think they can just come to AX without a plan, without looking at the programs and autograph sessions, and try and still do everything, they will be sorely disappointed. Fans and press cannot treat AX like another anime convention and that's the harsh reality of what's happening.
So as a fan, I'm very happy and satisfied with AX, but as press, it was lackluster at best. While most other conventions are a lot more enjoyable and relaxing, AX has become more of a job than just enjoying the show and I think that's what the vast majority of the fans care about.