|A photo from the main room during Late Comedy Showdown. (Photo Credit: Ryan Silva)|
Editors Note: Here at the California Conventions Blog, we are always looking for people who share our passion for the convention culture that we live in, especially if it is an unique point of view that is new to most of us. Today is a hopefully a start to a new part of our convention reviews, titled "Community Reviews." These are reviews written by those who are not on the blog but are interested in telling stories and experiences. This is a way for these people to get a foot in their door, like all of us who started out reviewing conventions and telling stories & experiences because we wanted to share it with the world.
Our first ever community review comes from Ralph Jeriko Serranilla, bringing us an expeience that we've been wanting to write about for years: a permier fan.
Anime Expo. The biggest anime convention in North America held on the July 4th weekend. Four (now five!) days dedicated to everything anime, manga, video games, and almost anything peripherally related (I saw you Games of Thrones cosplayers!).
A weekend in which Downtown Los Angeles becomes riddled with anime fans, ranging from casual watchers to hardcore followers, much to the bewilderment of the local downtown populace, a sentiment I’m sure Downtown San Diego has felt all too often since San Diego Comic-Con inception in the 1970’s. Anime Expo has seen tremendous growth in attendance in the past couple years, with the convention reporting that it had a record 100,420 attendees just this past convention. That’s more than double the amount of attendees since its move to the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2008! We may expect AX to rival SDCC in size in the years ahead as the years go by. Despite with the influx of growth and popularity, registering for AX is still a relatively inexpensive venture. Provided if you were to purchase one early enough, 4-day registration wouldn’t cost you any more than $70, a bit more than the price of a brand new video game. As with all the other attendees however, you will have to plan out your day in order to maximize the amount of activities you can do in consideration of everybody else doing the same thing all at once. Meaning to say, lines galore if you want to get into that popular panel everyone else wants to go to or if you want a slim chance of getting that Guest of Honor autograph. You want to get a decent seat for that concert you want to go to? Better queue up two hours before it starts for those close-in seats. Hell, just to get through registration requires waiting in long lines. What’s an anime fan to do?
Starting in 2012, Anime Expo added as a registration option, the Premier Fan Badge. Considered “the ultimate fan experience”, the Premier Fan Badge not only gave you a standard 4-day registration, but a myriad of benefits and privileges for the holder to use at their disposal. A stellar option for sure, but at a hefty price tag. In order to register as a Premier Fan, you are going to have to pay a significant higher amount in order to have it. When it first started, it was no more than $100 for a Premier Fan badge. Nowadays? The Anime Expo website has it listed for $375 for the 2017 convention, more than triple the price of when it first was introduced and almost 1.5x your standard SDCC registration with preview night option. And yet almost every year, thanks in part to the limited quantities AX has put on them, Premier Fan Badges sell out like hot cakes. But why? Why would an anime fan drop the amount of money it would take to purchase a new video game console for perks regular attendees do not have? I hope to answer some of those questions as I share my experience this past AX as a Premier Fan Badge holder.
For the record, and for the sake of objectiveness for anyone reading, I’ve been a Premier Fan Badge Holder since its inception in 2012. The Premier Fan experience has changed in several ways since then. Some good, some bad. However, with every year, I have always utilized the benefits available to me. A new privilege AX included this year for Premier Fans, and one of the most useful, was the introduction of the Premier Fan Hotel Booking Block. To quote the AX website, “The Premier Fan Hotel Block is reserved strictly for Premier Fans and is not part of the general attendee housing block”. Not only that, but Premier Fans also had the added benefit of having priority access on hotel choice before general attendees, with Premier Fans being given reservation access some days before it was open to the public. In my case, I was able to reserve my first choice in hotel, the extremely popular and AX HQ hotel, The Westin Bonaventure. Soon after the AX Hotel Block was open to the public, almost all of the popular hotels ran out of reservations within a couple of hours going live.
Another benefit I’ve used since its inception was the Premier Fan early access to ticketed events and ticket discount. The early access was extremely advantageous this year as Anime Expo held the first ever Anisong World Matsuri, an event showcasing some of the biggest artists from Japan that made a name for themselves from the songs featured in hit anime series. With no doubt, tickets were going to be popular and I didn’t want to miss out. As a Premier Fan, we were given early access to event ticketing as events were announced. Included as well was a $50 discount off any event order I wanted. I used both of these to my full advantage and got myself and my friend seats pretty close to the stage in the Orchestra section of the Microsoft Theater to watch the Japan Super Live, in which JAM Project was really good! Again, within hours of going live to the general public, tickets sold like hot cakes and almost every good seat in the theater was taken within the hour.
Now the real bread and butter to the Premier Fan Badge would have to be access to the convention itself. One of the first things included with registration was being mailed the Premier Fan Badge itself. As these are created in limited quantities and few are replaced and reproduced at con, this let’s any Premier Fan badge holder into the convention center to complete registration at the Premier Fan Lounge instead of having to wait outside in regular attendee registration. Although significant improvements have been made to the registration process recently, especially with the move to Eventbrite to handle it, due to the influx of new attendees and the rising popularity of the convention, unless you were at Day 0 of AX and already pre-registered, registering at the convention on Day 1 reportedly took a significant portion of the day. The time it took for me to register as a Premier Fan on Day 0? Literally five minutes. Scanned my barcode off my phone, picked up my Premier Fan exclusive swag and lanyard, and out the door I went. Right after, after having shown my badge and confirmations for my will-call tickets, it took almost no time at all to grab my tickets for the Japan Super Live. All I had to do afterwards was to wait on my friend to finish up at regular attendee registration.
Another one of the main perks of being a Premier Fan was early access to the Exhibit Hall an hour before it was open to regular attendees. That morning on Day 1, I traveled with fellow contributor Ryan Silva to venture into the Exhibit Hall to take advantage of the early access. However, despite policies stating the contrary, Ryan had to wait outside the Exhibit Hall despite holding a Press pass and policies stating Press had early access as well. Fortunately, I was able to get in myself and was able to grab some footage of the hall before it officially opened up for the blog. While there, I was able to grab as much free swag as I could from the numerous booths offering it. I love the Persona 3 movie poster I grabbed but miffed that Atlus USA wasn’t selling merch this year at their official booth; Sanshee were the only sellers any Persona and Catherine-related merch. Happy with what con exclusives I could grab, nothing could prepare me for what I saw as soon as I came out of the main doors minutes before the hall was to open for regular attendees. A sea of people greeted me when I looked out beyond the stairs and escalators leading down into the South Hall of the LA Convention Center. I planted myself off to the side of the stairs as I heard the countdown to when they would open up the hall. As soon as they opened up, taiko drums accompanied the massive swarm of people to their entrance into the exhibit hall, as if to amp up the excitement and hype to the official start of Anime Expo proper. When I re-entered the exhibit hall, anywhere that was giving away free swag was immediately swarmed by attendees in line to grab some for themselves.
One of the greatest advantages to the Premier Fan Badge would have to be the priority access and entry to panels, workshops, and events. If you wanted to attend a popular panel or a movie screening, say the world premiere of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, you’re normally expected to line-up at least one to two hours before the start of it, somewhere outside the hall itself, in a designated line with the chance that the room has met its room capacity. And with the numerous panels, workshops, screenings, cosplay gatherings, and events happening throughout the convention, unless you have planned out your day to account for all of the wait and travel time, there is not a whole lot of room for error or free time. With the Premier Fan Badge, getting into these events and panels was almost cake. For example, the Studio Trigger panel was extremely popular and had a line starting almost two hours before it started. I went to go lineup myself, but staff told me to come back in an hour and a half due to my Premier Fan badge, since they haven’t made a line yet for us. So instead, I dicked around in the Entertainment Hall for the time being enjoying the arcade games available and listening in on Captain’s Savvy Sing-along Crew. Man I love those guys! Come half an hour before the panel, I was sitting comfortably in line on a chair with other Premier Fans and ADA attendees before letting us into Kentia Hall proper, grabbing a seat in one of the first ten rows of the panel room. In comparison, I had a friend of mine lineup an hour before the panel started and he was stranded almost all the way to the back of the room. Another example was getting into the aforementioned worldwide premiere of “Your Name”. Unfortunately, I was running a little late to the opening of the room, but not too late that they started showing the movie yet. Going up to the moving line, I thought I had to make my way to the back of it. As soon as I shown my Premier Fan Badge however, staff immediately let me through the entrance and I was able to get myself a decent seat near the sound booth. The movie was a masterpiece and I will be submitting my review of it pretty soon. Having this privilege saved me so much stress and time, that it let me enjoy Anime Expo to my leisure.
Now the badge doesn’t come without its criticisms though. Autograph tickets, although had a block reserved for Premier Fans, was made almost inconsequential due to the fact that numerous fans line up the night before in order to grab one. And as much as I wanted to get Shoji Kawamori’s and Yoshiki Fukuyama’s autograph to add to my growing list of Macross signatures, I didn’t have the commitment, will, nor time of day to wait untold hours in line to get autographs. And although I didn’t frequent the Premier Fan Lounge, I haven’t heard a word about Guests of Honor popping in for short meet and greets throughout the con unless they did, then I totally missed out on them. Another complaint that many Premier Fans like myself had was the switch from having a free event ticket of our choice to the $50 discount off a ticket order. In the past, Premier Fans were able to have one free ticket of our choice to any of the ticketed events at Anime Expo. They have since changed that to the current discount system instead.
To be fair, if you do not frequent panels, the exhibit hall, and attend ticketed events like concerts and such, the Premier Fan Badge is not for you. If you go to Anime Expo to socialize, hang out with friends, cosplay, and/or enjoy events outside the con, then going as a Regular Attendee is the way to go. There is absolutely no need to spend any more money than you should to enjoy Anime Expo. But if you’re someone like me, you want to be able to save yourself time and stress while enjoying all that Anime Expo has to offer, then the Premier Fan Badge is definitely worth the investment. It may cost half an arm and a leg after hotel costs, food expenses, and spending money in general, but in my opinion, being a Premier Fan has always been the way I want to experience Anime Expo and I will, in all probability, continue to do so. At least, if my wallet allows me at least.
Until then, I hope to see you all at the next convention!
If you would like to contact me in regards to this article or want to drop any criticisms or commendations my way, email me at email@example.com. If you like covers of anime themes and other songs want to check out my (relatively sparse) YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/TheSingingOtaku. I take requests!