The Black Moon wrote this critique of Anime Expo in the summer of 2001. It expressed our growing frustration with the hyper-commercialism that we felt ran counter to the spirit of the original
fan-based appreciation for Japanese animation. Since the publication of this critique, it is our opinion that matters have only become worse. Gone are the days of wonder and discovery that once imbued so much of the original grassroots "movement" in the west. Today's anime scene has become much too corporate for our tastes... anime fans have largely become passive consumers instead of pro-active and creative advocates. We hope that our stepping back from this hyper-commercialism will inspire others to revive the spirit of internationalism and exploration
that we originally embraced.
______________________________

(originally posted on: July 2001)

BLACK MOON Staff attended AX 2001 and found that many attendees shared our observations that from an organizational standpoint, AX 2001 was the worst convention we've ever attended. We've never experienced a convention so "user unfriendly." While Anime Expo held an onsite "gripe session" at the very end of the convention to allow attendees a platform for constructive criticism... we felt that was inadequate since most attendees had already left. We are presenting our critique of the convention in the hopes that it will help to correct mistakes and assure higher quality expositions in the future. In no way are we attempting to discourage people from attending upcoming AX Cons... far from it, we want people not only to attend, but to become active participants. Only fan input and participation can keep Anime Expo from becoming stagnant.

Anime and manga are some of the greatest artforms in the world today, and everything should be done to help promote these popular arts. An anime convention is about the anime community coming together to share and celebrate. The most exciting parts of AX 2001 for us were the hands on, fan only events like panels, cosplay, and the fansub room. The BEST part of any convention will always be the people who attend... and for Anime Expo 2001, that was the only saving grace.

You can write to the organizers of AX, the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), at the following address: SPJA, 7336 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 640. Hollywood, CA 90046.

1. "HAS THIS CONVENTION BECOME TOO LARGE?" AX 2001 took up the Long Beach Convention Center, as well as three Hotels. While the Convention Center was adjacent to one Hotel, the others were two blocks away. If we hadn't looked at the AX Website before we left home, we wouldn't even have known what building the registration was in! There were few signs to direct you anywhere, not even to the registration area. Attendees were exhausted trying to get from one event to another, with the huge sprawling site an unwelcome minefield for the elderly, handicapped, and out of shape. The official program guide was useless except as a memento. The convention's "events schedule" (which you can see pictured below), was a cheap printed flyer whose type was SO SMALL it was illegible! If you had perfect vision you would still have to squint to make out the ultra-tiny type. For everyone else, the schedule of events was just an unreadable blur. We gave up trying to read it and preferred to let others guide us to worthwhile events.

Ever feel like you've been cheated?
This is an ACTUAL SIZE scan of a portion of the xeroxed events schedule. With an estimated 10,000 people in attendance paying a minimum of $25.00 each for a one day ticket, THIS totally unreadable "guide" is all that AX 2001 could offer convention goers?

2. "TO HELL WITH ART... LET'S SELL STUFF." There was massive corporate presence at AX 2001. After first registering at the convention you received a bag full of advertising which included the official AX 2001 Program Guide and a publication from one of the sponsors, BPM ("The magazine of Electronic Culture"). BPM's magazine was larger than the official program guide and completely dedicated to the genre of Trance-Hip Hop-Rave-Techno music. It's vapid "we're so hip and pretty" content had NOTHING to do with the world of anime and manga and the magazine's inclusion as a give away was nothing more than a cheap ploy aimed at capturing "the youth market."

The "Merchants Room" was like entering some grandiose Las Vegas showroom complete with huge corporate displays, flickering TV screens, and blaring sound systems. ADV Films had a gigantic banner for it's non-anime title FARSCAPE in the window of the merchant's room. All of the commercialism made you wonder if anime was from Japan, or from TokyoPop and Suncost Video! While I realize everyone wants to make money (the BLACK MOON included), can't we do so with a less mercenary spirit?

3. "ARTISTS IN THE ALLEY" Tucked away in the back of the hall behind a dividing wall where few bothered to venture... was the area AX put aside as the Artist's Alley. In this virtually unmarked location one could find the artworks of fans, plus three brilliant art exhibits... original animation cels from the latest Vampire Hunter D movie, the Lithographic Prints of Onishi Nobuyuki (who illustrated the credits for the classic Wings of Honneamise), and the Digital Prints of Asamiya Kia (creator of Silent Mobius). AX 2001 made sure attendees had easy access to merchants and their wares, but placed little emphasis on accessiblity to exhibits of art.

4. "IS THIS AMERICAN OR JAPANESE?" Anime Expo is staged by The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA)... so it would be nice if they followed in the footsteps of the US JAPAN EXPO (the largest Japanese Culture Exposition in the Western Hemisphere, which is also held in the greater Los Angeles area). The US JAPAN EXPO actually has the feel of being in Japan, and one can hear and see live traditional performances, sample delicious Japanese foods, and yes... buy anime goods! The food available at Anime Expo was very expensive, consisted of mostly meat dishes (we happen to be vegetarians), and was typical American fare only. It would be nice to be able to buy JAPANESE FOOD at a JAPANESE ANIMATION Festival! At the US JAPAN EXPO you can buy snacks like onigiri (rice balls), soba (buckwheat noodles), and mochi (sweet rice cakes)... all of which would have been well received by attendees of AX 2001, since the anime characters they adore EAT these foods on screen!

5. "PSSST... HEY KID, WANNA WATCH A FANSUB?" The Fan Subtitled anime room was listed only as "assorted programming" in the unreadable events schedule. You got to the room by maneuvering through a maze of corridors and stairwells from one of the Hotels, and the "room" was actually an outside tent equipped with plastic lawn chairs! It would have been impossible for the handicapped to access this room. From past AX conventions we expected an easel with the show schedule outside. There was no such schedule.

After talking with several volunteers, we were told that they were not allowed to post the schedule anywhere at all, and that they could not have any written record of the events that occurred there. One had the feeling that one was doing something illegal by entering the room... it was like a 1920's "Speak easy" club. Finally, on the second day, somebody wrote up a schedule on a mere piece of notebook paper that was then hand held by a volunteer stationed inside
the darkened room.

Previous Anime Expo conventions featured the fan sub room as a place to see the latest works not yet picked up by American companies (for instance, years ago I saw a fan subbed copy of the still unknown Vision of Escaflowne TV series). At AX 2001, organizers stuck the fan-subbers area in a small dark corner and pretended it wasn't there. While the masses were feeding at the SUNCOAST, VIZ, ADV, corporate trough... brilliant but unknown fan subtitled anime like Grandeek, Master Keaton, Excel Saga, Boys Be, Himeko-den, and Yami no Matsuei where being secretively screened in "the tent."

6. "WHERE DID THEY HIDE THE FREE LITERATURE TABLES?!" For the huge sprawling complex that was AX 2001... one could find only ONE literature table set aside for fans. As all of you convention goers know, having such a table available and accessible to conventioneers is a vital part of the experience. Not only does it provide fans with a place to leave leaflets announcing conventions taking place elsewhere... but such a table provides anime clubs, cosplayers, small stores, and others, a platform for reaching the anime fanbase. One of my favorite things to do at a convention is to visit the literature table. I've picked up incredible little fan produced zines, weird flyers, art, stickers, posters, and all types of otaku artifacts. But for AX 2001 all that was provided was a single four foot long table, virtually HIDDEN near the entrance to the dealers room! Since there was NO OTHER PLACE for fans to leave flyers and literature, the table filled up quickly and became a gigantic mess. The last time I saw that table, some jerk had spilt their drink on it... ruining many piles of flyers. Of course, there were no AX staff around to control and straighten out the table.

At past Anime Expo conventions there were not only MULTIPLE tables available for flyers... but there were also bulletin boards available where fans could post messages like, "Rei-chan, sorry I missed you at the dance, you'll find me at the panel." There was only one set of bulletin boards available at AX 2001, and they were located near the tiny literature table by the dealer's room entrance (the dealers room closed at 6 p.m., so access to the table and bulletin boards was impossible after six). You needed a staple gun to post anything on the bulletin boards, and of course there were none around, and no staff people to provide them! There were only two or three notes on the board as a result... and those were posted by staff announcing raffle ticket winners.

7. "DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT'S SHOWING?" There were four large screening rooms for watching movies... three of which clearly did not have schedules posted outside their doors announcing what was going to be shown over the course of the day. One evening we attempted to find screening rooms 2 & 3, and could not figure out how to get there until a fellow fan gave us directions. That kind young woman explained that she had found the rooms after some effort, and had since been directing others to them since they were so difficult to find! (one would think this an appropriate duty for AX Staff!). Once we reached the fourth floor area where the rooms supposedly were... we still couldn't find them! Instead there was a large crowd gathered around game and dance machines, and they were making quite a racket, by accident we peeked behind a large cloth partition enclosing this game area... and lo and behold... there were the doors to the screening rooms, unmarked and without any posted schedules! We spent some time in screening room 2 watching the terrific series Petshop of Horrors, while the din of the dance machines outside the screening room penetrated the walls and our peace.

8. "BATMAN IS FROM JAPAN?" Non-anime titles like Iron Giant and Batman Forever were screened at AX 2001, and while we're not against crossovers... this was afterall a convention celebrating JAPANESE animation, was it not? What is the point of going out of your way to attend an anime convention only to see what you could otherwise rent from ANY video store?

9. "IS THIS ANY WAY TO RUN A CONVENTION?" We have complaints abounding.... about the lack of access, about the impossibility of access for the handicapped or the elderly, and about the lack of AX staff directing people to destinations (though there were plenty of AX staff loitering about). Complaints about literally having to walk MILES from one area to the next... only to find that something scheduled was NOT being held or was filled to capacity. The Long Beach Convention Center was ENORMOUS yet we saw hundreds of people being made to wait in line OUTSIDE the Hall in the boiling hot sun in order to see scheduled movies. However, the ample space inside the Hall could easily have accommodated such a line!

Critique written by Jeannine Thorpe and Mark Vallen - Black Moon . Copyright. All rights reserved.