Going through Japan Expo, the event feels a lot like an American convention. The booths are all there, the fans are dressed in cosplay, and I don’t get a damn bit of sleep the whole time. But both the event and the fans themselves feel different.
I can’t hope to explain all of the differences between the two, but I hope to highlight as much of the good and the bad as possible. It is definitely a refreshing experience for someone who has been through the ringer over and over again at so many American conventions.
So follow, dear readers, and see what this bizarro world of anime conventions has in store.
Now, a forewarning: I realize that Japan Expo does not speak for the entirety of European conventions – or even the entirety of French conventions – but an event as big and successful as this is worth paying attention to. Also, some of the differentiation comes from the way that the French anime and manga industry runs.
The first, and possibly greatest thing, is that there is always something for people to do. Sure, American cons have more than enough stuff for anyone to do, but the key difference is America has lynchpin moments: events that just about everyone must see. Think of the Masquerade at most cons, for example. These events draw such a massive crowd that it impacts everyone else at the convention, either because of the line, the rush to the event, or the event’s overflow. Here, there are no lynchpins. There are concerts, but some shows are performed multiple times throughout the four-day event. There are no industry panels to trumpet marquee titles. All that is done through press release.
While that last bit takes a bit of fanfare out of the industry, it does cut out a lot of headache. No longer are there 8,000 questions regarding title X or when they’re going to license title Y, and hearing nothing but “we can’t discuss that” over and over again. I know it pains you to field the questions, FUNimation team, but it pains us just as much to have to sit through them, filled with impotent rage. Part of this is also worth mentioning: the anime and manga industry is more widespread in France, which means that there is less need for a marquee announcement: it’s just another license. Sure, some are more important than the others, but generally there isn’t the need to go ahead and wait until an event in order to announce it.
Going hand in hand with that greater acceptance of anime and manga, Japan Expo specifically makes an effort to include a greater range of hobbies than just anime and manga fandom. There are demonstrations for taiko drums, kendo, aikido, professional wrestling, quiz shows, and a hell of a lot more. Booths are set up as art galleries and multiple prefectures have booths begging you to visit them. Hell, even Japanese food stands could set up in the convention! It’s not all dirty water dogs and shitty churros at Japan Expo, something the Baltimore Convention Center or the Javits Center certainly wouldn’t allow.
As Tomas and Sean, two of our hosts from Japan Expo, put it: there isn’t the strictness that exists in America. They can do things that are considered more “dangerous” (such as having fighting demonstrations with contact), and aren’t bound by tight restrictions of American convention centers. At the same time, they do have less enforcement over quality control. In the dealers’ room, they are unable to boot out people obviously selling bootlegs, as they regularly do at just about any American event. But with a convention as big as Japan Expo, the amount of bootleggers doesn’t warrant drastic action. If some bootleggers in your event of nearly 200,000 are the biggest thing you have to worry about, then you’re doing alright.
Finally, one thing that I really wish American companies would take note of: there is a much greater fan-facing support than in the US. Some publishers, such as Kaze (a division of Viz), have multiple booths: selling wares, promoting titles, and offering up free drinks in a manga cafe.
American companies do give much greater access to the decision makers and people of import at their companies, to the point where fans can ask them to license a show in conversation, and they’ll have a real discussion about it. That truly is great. But you have to be passionate enough to warrant going up and chatting with someone. For some fans, they’re too nervous or just don’t know enough or don’t have that much interest. And that’s fine – not everyone is going to be super dedicated to the medium. For those people, giving them a way to discover new items while on the showroom floor, without having to trek over to a panel room or to the con’s manga reading room, would be a nice thing.
“Refreshing” is still the term that comes to mind when I think about this event. It’s refreshing to have all these different things available to do, but not be pressured into a schedule. At the same time, if you’re looking for something new to check out continuously, it can get tedious as time drags on. We’re going into day three of a four-day convention, and I’ve seen just about every booth. I can’t buy any new manga, and many of the toys available are overpriced. There are panels available, but so much of it doesn’t hold a ton of interest. I know these next two days will be even busier than the last two because it’s the weekend, but that inspires a bit of dread in me. Is it going to be New York Comic Con writ large?
An event like Japan Expo could do with more organized fan culture. Clearly, the staff is made up of tons of fans who are truly passionate about what they do, but there are no hentai panels. There’s no hour-long exposition on how Legend of the Galactic Heroes is akin to Sergei Bondarchuk’s Waterloo. There is a level of fan ownership that is missing from Japan Expo – and possibly other conventions – that saddens me somewhat. Not that I’d be able to understand them, but still! That is what this convention could learn from the Americans.