Inside the crowded Exhibit Hall, it was hard to not notice the countless orange placards that hung from the ceiling. Bearing the Crunchyroll logo, they served as a beacon for fans young and old, who wanted to get their shop on. Thousands flocked to the Crunchyroll booth over the weekend, buying whatever merch they could fit into their oversized bags, from Junji Ito T-shirts, to My Hero Academia water bottles, to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid lanyards. From the moment the convention opened to the day final moments of July 8, the booth was buzzing with eager customers.
Beyond the confines of the cavernous exhibit hall, though, Crunchyroll and VRV set up a small outpost near Petree, where the biggest and baddest players in the industry strutted their stuff over the course of the weekend. Crunchyroll and VRV set up a cozy outpost outside the Entertainment Hall. Against the wall, the Crunchyroll Premium Rewards booth sat nestled next to the Arby’s marketing team. Across the way, a long semi-clear quonset hut was erected beneath the escalators, which housed the VRV Gallery.
At the Premium Subscriber booth, subscribers for Crunchyroll and VRV were rewarded with a free Crunchyroll bag. Unlike the usual “Comic-Con” styled bags that seemed to be the norm around the convention hall, the team went in a more unique direction. Fans would receive a sack-pack, which each depicted one of Crunchyroll’s hottest properties. “Rather than do the same old comic-con bag, we wanted to do something more stylish,” noted Crunchyroll’s Lauren Marks-Stevens.
By the time I arrived at the booth, a line for the Crunchyroll Premium Rewards booth snaked along the wall, and around the corner. Literally hundreds of eager Crunchyroll and VRV subscribers were lined up, and waiting for a bit of sweet, sweet swag. Marks-Stevens noted that the booth had already run out of several styles over the course of the week, causing runs to retrieve backup supplies. “That’s the first time this has happened for us,” she added, her voice holding an excited lilt.
When asked exactly what went into setting up the three spaces for Anime Expo, Marks-Stevens smiled, commenting “we actually had four up until yesterday!” She explained that the team had maintained a mobile headquarters that was used for official business, and admitted that a lot of effort went into the setup and presentation of all three exhibits. Just a handful of people kept everything running, and they had been on-site and setting up since the weekend before.
But, at the same time, there was a real pride in her statements. She offered thanks to the countless folks who visited over the weekend, and to the more than a million Crunchyroll and VRV subscribers, who make it possible to keep doing their best every day.
Sadly, time grew short as the lines continued to grow behind us. By the time she stepped back, the crowd of people was snaking around the corner, toward Petree Hall.
Across the way, stood the VRV Gallery. The semi-transparent structure glowed blues, reds, and greens from the lights pulsing within. The sound of the crowds in the hall were quickly muted upon stepping inside, only to be replaced by a pulsing electronica beat. An array of art prints stood in wait, all illuminated by backlights.
In the center of the room stood a statue of Catbug, from Bravest Warriors. The stark white fixture was constantly being illuminated by footage of various shows from VRV’s library. At the back of the room was a massive VRV logo, which fans were eagerly signing as they made their exit.
“We created this spot as if VRV were a place,” explained Event Manager Khahil White, “so we got to put things that physically embody VRV.”
Each of the exhibits shone the spotlight on a different artist, Ian Bertram (1001, Secret Wars), Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez, and Ben Passmore (Whose Free Speech?) . Across each piece was an underlying incorporation of VRV’s hexagonal logo.
Between the displays stood a series of exhibits that looked like 20-sided dice that were branded with the publisher’s logo. “We commissioned a bunch of cubes via a company called Acme, who created a 3D version of the VRV logo,” White explained, adding VRV sent the cubes out to various artists that they had relationships with, and commissioned designs.
Much like the art installations, each cube was an artist’s celebration of VRV as a whole. Animation studios like Frederator and Mondo, as well as individual artists like illustrator Michael Manomivibul were placed in the spotlight, as these sculptures sprang to life on rotating pedestals. Some were decorated to resemble demons. Another, by Cuddles and Rage, was split open, as all manner of adorable edibles spilled out.
According to White, the exhibit took more than twenty-four hours to set up, starting on July 2. “I’ve been on-site since Monday,” he admitted. “I did, like, eight hours Monday, eleven hours Tuesday, eleven hours Wednesday, and the show started!” He elaborated a bit further, walking through the setup process. “We had the flooring laid down within a couple of hours on Monday night. People were working it for about eight hours on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, the structure was already up and lighting was set. Wednesday was a lot of position and getting artwork in and figuring out where things go, and just final tests.”
White was excited by the growth he’s seen with VRV as a service. He noted that the growth was “fantastic,” adding that “we thought we’d find a niche for this thing, and a bunch of people came onboard.” He nodded his head toward the Crunchyroll Premium Rewards booth, noting that even at the convention, they were seeing a growing number of folks with VRV-branded pins.
When asked about migrations from Crunchyroll to VRV, White admitted that he wasn’t too sure about specific numbers on overlap. “Of course, there is a huge overlap,” he explained, “because we created VRV, and we have VRV ads running there, so there’s a bunch of people who are like ‘light bulb! It more anime! More anime, more stuff to play with!”
For fence-sitters, he encouraged fans to just give it a shot through VRV’s 30-day free trial period. “I will say, I really love offline viewing,” he added. “With offline viewing, I was able to watch My Hero Academia on a plane to catch up! I was just watching My Hero and sobbing on a plane,” he said with a laugh.
He added that growth of the service was “pretty good,” noting that the service was standing against Crunchyroll, which “has been out for a while […] and it’s been a while since we did a new thing of this scale.”
White was upbeat about the service’s future, commenting that “there’s more to play with.” He noted that they were working with science fiction and horror, and they have been working to bolster their animation lines. “We’re always on the lookout for new content, and we’ll be talking with some people about some new stuff.” When pressed for a hint on what to expect, though, White remained coy. “Nothing I can hint at, but I can let you know some shows are coming back! Like, in the fall, of course, we’ve got, like, Bravest Warriors is still airing and all kinds of stuff is coming out.”
The VRV Gallery will return at Crunchyroll Expo, which will take place at San Jose’s McEnery Convention Center from September 1 – 3. For those looking to check it out sooner, though, VRV published a short documentary on the gallery shortly after C2E2. The nine-minute feature offers a brief glimpse within, while walking through the
At the convention, the gallery will debut a new cube, though White remained coy on the specifics. The gallery’s grown immensely from its launch at C2E2. I have to admit that I’m genuinely curious to see what they bring in next.
Thanks to Lauren Marks-Stevens, Khahil White for talking with us, and to Ellation and Aimee Lee for arranging the meetings.