Anime Los Angeles 2023
A Southern California Fan Favorite
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I’ve attended enough conventions to recognize a well-run event. Considering its size, Anime Los Angeles (ALA) is an impressive convention. With an attendance of 16k, ALA offers a lot and presents itself in a professional manner. There’s a lot that goes into putting on a convention and the success or failure rides largely on the competence of the people running it. I have no relationship nor personal knowledge of the folks behind it, so these are just my impressions.
As is common with conventions, the staff seem to operate from the shadows, remaining anonymous while keeping things running smoothly. Prior to the convention you can get glimpses of their competence by observing their social media posts and website content. Helpful information about registration, hotel block openings, artist alley and vendor applications, and panel submissions are announced in a timely manner. The supporting artwork through which the con is advertised, the signage at the con, the program guides and mobile app are all done with consistency and thoughtfulness. They even have a proper “promotional assets and guidelines” document that specifies how their logo and name are to be used (part of which I ignore in this article 😮). Way to go ALA! Following state and local guidelines regarding COVID, there were no vaccine or mask requirements. This came as a surprise given the general political leaning of Californians. Masking is pretty much only found at medical facilities and anime conventions these days. It's likely that the decision to drop these longstanding requirements was aided by the time and cost savings to not have staff checking them.
While there were queues running out the door for registration, they were relatively normal. Being a four day convention helped spread out the distribution of badges. Security was present at all entrances, checking bags and backpacks. Other than the additional time waiting to get through, I found it to be barely an inconvenience even with a large camera and light stand.
Poised for Growth
As anime becomes more and more popular, I would expect conventions like this to continue growing. ALA is particularly poised for growth due to its location and the aforementioned organizational prowess. Los Angeles is the second largest metropolitan area in the USA, and that’s a key factor. If you want a lot of people to come to your convention, you need to hold it where the people are. Why do you think Anime Expo is the largest anime convention in North America? Sure, it’s been around for 30 years, but it also has a huge audience at its doorstep.
Having competent staff is equally important. If you don’t manage your event well it doesn’t matter how many people live in the area, which guests you invite, which venue you book, or how big your vendor hall is. People will complain and sometimes those complaints go viral on social media, which can affect the long-term reputation of a convention. I’m not aware of any scandals surrounding ALA. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist – most cons have at least one ugly incident in their past. It’s more a matter of the good outweighing the bad and managing the fallout.
There are numerous examples of poorly run conventions. The infamous ball pit from Dashcon stands out for its comedically ridiculous attempt to correct for mistakes made. People will forgive innocent mishaps and noob mistakes, but not outright mismanagement and poor behavior. I’ve seen some shockingly rude comments on social media made by staff of a not-to-be-named convention. Not every staff member knows how to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Financial mismanagement is quite common and often goes unnoticed until the proverbial crap hits the fan. When it does, it usually spells the end of the con (ahem, Daisho Con). Thankfully, ALA is far removed from such disasters. It has enough confidence in itself to host a three-panel series on how to run a convention. Had I learned about this earlier I would have attended just to hear what they have to say. I’ve always been interested in how conventions are run. Having been on staff for a convention in my hometown, I know quite a bit about con running. The lure of cosplay is too great, though. I spend 99% of my time at conventions recording video of cosplayers. That’s the choice that people make when they attend. “Do I want to spend my time cosplaying, or do I want to visit some panels, peruse the vendor hall, and just hang out with friends?” There is no wrong answer.
Vendor Hall, Panels, and Events. Oh My!
You have many options to entertain yourself at Anime Los Angeles. The vendor hall is sufficiently large enough to keep you busy for a while. This year it was combined with the artist alley into one large space which occupied the largest room at the Long Beach Convention Center. I’m not a big merchandise person, so I can’t really comment on the quality of the vendors or products. In all honestly, vendor halls start to look the same after a while. How do booths full of t-shirts, figures, and other anime trinkets set themselves apart? ALA may not have grandiose displays from the likes of VIZ, Sony, or Crunchyroll, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable. Besides, those kinds of booths are reserved for the mega cons with deep pockets and industry connections.
Beyond the vendor hall you have the panels and events. Similarly, I don’t spend much time at those. I learned long ago that for the most part they are pretty much the same from con to con. “How to become a voice actor 101”. “Exploring the dark side of My Hero Academia”. The investment of time spent at a panel doesn’t always pay off. Every now and then you find a panelist with a strong knowledge of some particular topic and those can be quite interesting and educational. For the most part, it’s very much hit and miss. I once attended a “Big Trouble in Little China” panel at Dragon Con. Suffice to say the name was more exciting than the panel itself. Voice actor panels can be very entertaining, as the guests tend to be comedians as well as actors. They guest at so many conventions that they’ve learned how to keep a crowd entertained for the full hour. I can’t help but think of a quote from a friend of mine: “That con is just a voice actor petting zoo.” 😆 Comic cons are particularly guilty of this. They bring in a bunch of big-name celebrities and put them at a desk signing autographs and taking pictures at $100 a pop. It’s like going to a zoo and taking photos with the animals. That’s not to say that ALA is like that. I don’t think voice actors are a main draw for the con, nor a major focus. They are there, as is to be expected. If that’s your thing, go for it.
Musical guests can also be very entertaining. Japanese bands are often unique in both their sound and presentation. Anything in the “visual kei” style is almost a must see. It’s kinda like hair rock, but with more goth and lolita influences. Unfortunately, Anime Los Angeles isn’t quite large enough to bring in Japanese musical guests. Give them a few more years and perhaps you’ll get that chance. When they do, I’ll bet that there won’t be any additional charges like there are for Anime Expo. Granted, AX rents out the adjacent arena, so an additional cost beyond the registration fee is expected. This year at ALA there were a number of performances from local musical acts. No matter how you entertain yourself at ALA, I recommend doing it with friends. It makes the experience more memorable and enjoyable. Even if you don’t have friends who are into anime, invite them along. It’s genuinely entertaining just watching their reactions.
I have to say, the cosplay was pretty good this year. Los Angeles has a lot of great cosplayers, both big and small. I enjoy them all equally and will record video of any of them. It’s always nice to see familiar faces and maybe take extra time filming them. Making cosplay music videos might seem like a silly hobby, but making connections with people and building friendships is never silly. You don’t have to cosplay to enjoy it. Half of the fun is just people-watching. Please enjoy these cosplays.