I remember telling a friend that I was heading to Anime Expo a few months ago. Their advice was simple: “Be prepared to deal with more people than you’ve ever imagined possible.”
At the time, I took this a bit lightly. I’ve attended large gatherings in the past, and braved crowds of up to 25,000 people with ease. With a larger venue and more space, things shouldn’t be that bad… right?
How naive I was.
To be honest, nothing could have prepared me for the crowds that awaited at Anime Expo. To show pictures is a disservice, and to explain in text is a fool’s errand, but I’ll try my best.
Taken on its own, the Los Angeles Convention (LACC, henceforth) Center is a labyrinthine maze. Corridors snake throughout, with numerous wrapping routes, dead-ends, and blocked routes. Major rooms like LACC 411 are tucked off to the side of a corridor, while major focal points like Petree Hall are set far from the major exhibition hall.
Taken on its own, the LACC isn’t badly designed. Numerous landmarks stand out, and rooms have distinct appearances and layouts, and the signage is usually clear and easy to follow. While you might want to keep a map handy, the facility is very learnable and easily navigable under normal circumstances.
Note the qualifier “under normal circumstances.” Normal circumstances don’t normally entail the population of two Rhode Island counties cramming themselves into its four walls. (No, really. Anime Expo’s attendance nearly matches the combined population of Newport and Bristol counties!)
When one crams so many people into the four walls of the building, the LACC becomes a literal sea of human bodies. People push and shove, and they keep things moving, whether you want to keep going or not. Movement in the halls becomes a matter of entering and following the “flow” as you do your best to keep track of the situation. All the while, tired attendees find refuge in the tiny alcoves and window recesses, where they catch their breath and watch the dizzying spectacle unfold.
Inside the river, things are always moving. feet march through the halls, and the chatter of people drowns out the noise around you. The heat grows ever more oppressive, as more people start going with the flow.
And honestly, I began to worry about the actual safety of packing so many people inside. There were points within the LACC that become utterly impassable, where a person stumbling could stop up traffic for literally a hundreds of feet. In the case of an emergency, many would be trapped, and even more trampled as herd mentality kicked in and people began to dash toward the exits.
Still, though, for the daring, there was some whimsy to be found within the building. For those seeking all things swag, Crunchyroll hosted a booth for Premium members, which promised goodies to those who signed in. Right next door, the now-famous Arby’s social media team were building an interactive display, which revolved around a statue of Nightmare from Soul Calibur.
That said, while much of my time was spent getting carried from panel to panel through the corridors, I did have a few chances to take a look into the side events, like the Exhibition Hall, Artist’s Alley, and Entertainment Hall throughout the weekend. Though the Artist’s Alley and Entertainment Hall were impressive, nothing really prepared me for the main Exhibit Hall. I’ve been an anime journalist for well over seventeen years at this point. I’ve been to more than two dozen conventions, and I’ve seen far too many photos of the Anime Expo show floor than I’d like to admit.
Still, when you walk through those doors, to see the massive displays… the booths, the demos, the signs hanging from the ceilings, and the literal thousands of people gathering to see every little inch of the room? It’s pretty awe-inspiring! There’s this interesting energy to the room, which seems to crackle and hum among the many who are gawking, shopping, or just passing through. You’ll see Persona 5 cosplayers of all sorts posing in front of the Atlus booth, as all manner of people line up at KLabGames to try the Captain Tsubasa VR display. Lines will wrap around J-List, as folks decked out as the Naruto crew geek out at the mini museum in Viz Media’ booth.
The entire experience, from the crowd surfing to the booths, to the quirky art installations, are just part of the overall experience. Every piece, every small facet was part industry display, part festival, and part celebration of everything that makes us love this quirky medium. It was chaotic, brash, and, well… it was us, in a nutshell. Anime fans, as a whole, we’re loud, chaotic, and eager to show our stuff whenever we can. We preen on sites like Anime-Planet and MyAnimeList, and we rush to tweet whatever we learn at a lightning speed. We’re nerdy, we talk nerdy to each other, and we’re proud of that. To see it all lain out like this, well, it just kind of makes sense, and that’s pretty awesome.
That said, though, I do hope they do fix the crowding issues next year, because that is pretty treacherous.