Anime Expo 2023
The Largest Anime Convention in North America Continues To Impress
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Anime Expo was back in a big way for 2023. The largest anime event in North America attracted people from around the world and the excitement for this year’s convention was palpable. Social media was alive with posts about cosplay con-crunching, eagerness to meet guests, and hopes of getting exclusive items from the vendor hall. Admission sold out the weekend prior, leaving many people with regrets for waiting until it was too late to purchase admission.
The largest anime event is also the most expensive. General admission for the four day convention started at $145 when registration became available in January and stepped up to $185 in the final month of sales. After adding in shipping and numerous fees, the lowest total cost for a four-day badge was $166. If you paid for the $185 ticket you would be in at least $206. While that’s a hefty price for an anime convention, you have to take into account what it offers.
Anime Expo has a massive vendor hall and artist alley. If that matters to you, the ticket price might be justified. Not only do you have an incredible selection of merchandise, you get to see some impressive artists and displays and booths from the largest anime companies in the world. If you’ve only been to cons under 50k attendees then you probably have never seen these kinds of displays. They can be interactive, meaning you go inside and experience… something. A new game, a sneak peak, an interactive encounter. They can be multi-story structures, reaching to the ceiling. Lights, video walls, sound systems. They’re almost a concert-like experience.
The number and variety of guests is also a big draw. A hallmark of large conventions like Anime Expo is the ability to invite numerous international and celebrity guests. Anime Expo brings in guests from around the world including Japan and Korea. This alone is enough to bring in attendees. While fetching my badge from registration I met someone, who I’ll call “Tom”, who attends Anime Expo specifically to get autographs from Japanese guests. He’s a fan of their work, whether they’re an artist, director, or producer. He was already in line on Day 0 to get autographs. He’s met some of the guests so many times that they know him by first name. Tom doesn’t care about anything else that Anime Expo has to offer, and that’s okay. To him, it’s worth the cost of entry to meet these guests.
Rounding out the draw are staple anime convention events like panels, cosplay contests, concerts, masquerades, AMVs, and gaming. Besides the vendor and artist halls there’s a third hall which has gaming, cosplay guests, photo setups, and more. There are queues for these events also, organized under tents just outside the building. Throw in some food trucks and thousands of cosplayers and you have a complete anime convention.
It’s clear that the vendor hall is the big draw of Anime Expo. When people line up for Anime Expo, they’re really lining up for the vendor hall. Queues form early in the morning and stretch around the facility. Even with multiple entrances spread around the buildings, it can take hours to get in. When the doors open, people flood inside and it's packed shoulder to shoulder. Shoppers fill up giant reusable bags with Funko Pop characters and figurines. Exclusive merch is a big deal. Sometimes you have to wait in line to get a special placeholder token just so you can return later and wait in another line to buy the actual item.
The amount of square footage dedicated for panels and other events pales in comparison to the square footage of the vendor hall and artists alley. The difference highlights the focus of Anime Expo, which is as much about the anime industry as it is the fandom. Given the size of this event, the gaming area is particularly undersized. For comparison, Otakon has perhaps one-third the number of attendees, but has at least three times as much space dedicated to gaming. Otakon also brings in just as many international guests.
Multiplying the high cost of entry by the high attendance count equates to high revenue. This convention operates on a budget that most can only dream about. This budget allows for renting the spacious Los Angeles Convention Center, flying in international and celebrity guests, and it affords a high level of professionalism in its marketing and advertising campaigns. Anime Expo is a big business and it presents itself well through its marketing materials. Take a look at its promotional videos to get a feel for the level of professionalism. They have fully animated mascots with swooping backgrounds and motion graphics. It’s above and beyond what any other convention does for its advertising.
Additional revenue is generated through massive ads inside and outside the venue. There are banners and displays covering every surface promoting some new game or anime. The biggest banners are wrapped around the outside of the towering glass atriums of the west and south halls. This year was particularly egregious in that pretty much every surface in the south hall lobby had some kind of advertisement on it. The large concrete pillars were surrounded in displays. There was a video wall and fully decorated displays for bilibili and a mobile fighting game. The latter even hired celebrity cosplayers to portray the characters.
The feel of Anime Expo is certainly more corporate than most conventions. It’s clear that this event relishes in being in the upper echelons of conventions, anime or otherwise. There’s no pretense of being a grassroots organization. There’s no heartfelt “by fans, for fans” motto. This convention has full time staff with salaries. It has influence in the anime industry and beyond. It has a large financial impact on the region. This is the reason why people either love it or hate it. It can be too big and overwhelming to enjoy. Too soulless. The overcrowding is enough to keep some people away, and yet it still sells out every year.
Anime Expo is the weeb event of the year. A bucket list item which people want to experience at least once. It's the place where people want to be seen. Cosplayers strut and pose, hungry for attention. Photographers and attendees alike are eager to give it to them. It’s a strange mix of casual con-goers, influencers, industry professionals, and celebrities. It’s loud, crowded, sometimes crazy, and just plain fun. It’s worth attending once just to see if you enjoy it. Maybe you will or maybe you won’t, but at least you can say you’ve been to the largest anime convention in North America. Cross it off your bucket list and move on to the next one.
There is certainly no shortage of cosplay at Anime Expo. Pretty much everywhere you look, there's someone in cosplay. It's the place where everyone wants to see and be seen. Get your camera ready because you'll see all kinds of cosplays, from anime to comics to movies and TV series. When the main lobby gets crowded, the cosplay moves outside near the parking garage. It's not the most glamorous shooting location, but at least has variety and space to shoot. Thanks to everyone I met and shot with at AX!