Anime Expo: Lookback Special –

Anime Expo returned to Los Angeles one month ago for the first in-person gathering since the coronavirus outbreak. What was it like returning back to in-person conventions? Follow our content administrator firefractal as she navigates through her first in-person convention!

Hello, firefractal here! I had a really fun and exciting time at Anime Expo (AX) and I’d love to share some of my experiences with you guys.

Since this was my first time at a major convention, I had no idea what to expect. Where should I spend my time? Were the crowds and lines going to be as bad as I’d heard? Should I really go ahead with my plan to cosplay as the Kotori-san full-body suit from Life Lessons with Uramichi-Oniisan? These questions swirled through my head as I anxiously counted down the weeks, then days leading up to Anime Expo.

Then came the Thursday before the convention. It was time to head off to Anime Expo!

Day 0 (Thursday, June 30th)

After a sleepless night filled with excitable tension (this would be a trend throughout my time at the convention), I woke up bright and early to take the FlixBus up to Los Angeles. A few hours full of anticipation later, I finally arrived at the Westin Bonaventure, where we’d be staying for the next four days.

While waiting at the hotel for my fellow admins Kineta, tingy, and Vindstot to arrive from the airport, I struck up a conversation with a nice lady sitting by me. Turns out her daughter worked for VIZ Media and their entire family was filled with anime fans! I think that first interaction really gave me a glimpse into what kind of environment I was headed into at AX. It was one that was welcoming and comfortable, in the sense that I knew I was surrounded by people who shared my hobbies and interests.

Later, I met up with the other admins and we headed over to the convention center to pick up our badges and Covid wristbands. The lines actually weren’t too terrible and we were able to get our badges with relative ease. Like the badge line, the Covid verification line didn’t take too long to get through, but it did make me wonder how thoroughly the event organizers were enforcing their Covid guidelines. Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel to prepare for Day 1!

Day 1 (Friday, July 1st)

I don’t think I ended up sleeping a wink that night. Between my dokidoki excitement and wakuwaku tension, I was completely unable to fall asleep. At around 8AM my night-owl cohorts still hadn’t woken up, so I caught a shuttle and headed off to the convention by myself!

Convention Center

The day started off cold and gloomy, with dark clouds overhead that threatened rain. The shuttle dropped us off at the West Hall entrance and I joined the crowd of people in line waiting to pass through the security gates. The line was fairly short and quick this early in the morning.

After making my way past security and picking up a swag bag and event program, I stepped into the convention hall! I was immediately greeted by promotional anime banners all around me. It was like entering an anime microcosm. After thumbing through the event program and wandering around for a bit trying to figure out what to do, I decided to go check out the South Hall where the exhibit hall was located.

Giant Luffy

Now the South Hall was where things were poppin’! There was already a bit of a crowd forming outside the area leading to the exhibit hall and artist alley. After weaving my way through the crowd, I ended up just outside the doors to the exhibit hall where a security guard caught sight of my press badge and waved at me to head on into the exhibit hall.

Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sight before my eyes. Rows and rows of booths stretched out before me, each filled with so many colorful displays covered in posters, shirts, figures, plushies, keychains, and other merch. I had taken a look through the maps posted on the AX website during the weeks leading up to the event, but that still wasn’t enough to prepare me for the sheer scale of the exhibit hall. I really had no idea where to look first! I ended up just taking a quick walkthrough of the entire area.

Just before 10AM, people started lining up in droves outside the exhibit hall, so I used this time to make my escape before things got too crowded. I headed through the South Hall Lobby where I caught the tail end of the welcome ceremony for AX. There was a sea of people that filled the room with a thunderous roar, all to the beat of taiko drummers. I was shocked by how many more people were there compared to just thirty minutes before. All of them were gathered in this one place to celebrate anime and Japanese culture, and I felt awed to be in the presence of so many other anime fans.

As I waded through the crowd, I came across the giant inflatable Luffy that was set up by the South Hall entrance. I decided to hunker down and see if I could arrange a meetup with anime database moderator Naruleach. As an AX veteran, I was hoping she could help me navigate around the convention center and figure out where I’d need to go for the “How to Make Delicious Dishes from Your Favorite Anime” panel hosted by YouTuber CHEFPK (@CHEFPK3). Naru was amazingly kind and she gave me a quick tour of the South Hall and an insider’s look down onto the exhibit hall from the press lounge. And surely enough, she dropped me off on the upper level of South Hall and directed me towards where my panel was going to be held.

Food Panel

Going to my first panel at a convention was exciting! I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I definitely thought it would be a bit more formal. I’m glad that I was immediately proven wrong though as Chef Paul started right off the bat by cracking jokes about the lack of food at his own panel. While I hadn’t heard of CHEFPK prior to the panel (and I was in fact disappointed by the lack of food), I still ended up having a good time listening to Chef Paul’s wacky food stories.

After the panel, I met back up with the other admins and we headed to the entertainment hall. I had seen that the Bandai Namco Toys & Collectibles booth was hosting some free Nanoblock bonsai building workshops, so I ended up dragging the others there. We arrived a bit early, but just in time to try out their Demon Slayer-themed chocolate wafers. Having not had anything to eat all day, those wafers really hit the spot! After a couple more minutes, the workshop began. We were handed little plastic baggies with some parts and instructions and then we were set loose. The Nanoblocks really live up to their name; they were incredibly tiny and the finished products turned out so cute! I was the first person among our group to finish the sakura version of the mini bonsai, so the folks at the booth ended up taking a picture of me and the bonsai and posting it to their Twitter!

Once we were all finished building our mini bonsai, the other admins and I continued to wander around the entertainment hall. We continued onwards through the hall past the intricately built cosplay sets and looped back around to the entrance. Our next stop was artist alley, since tingy wanted to go do a bit of shopping. The rest of us followed, not sure what to expect.

Artist Alley

Boy, oh boy, how to describe artist alley? The crowd, the merch, and all the hubbub was just so overwhelming that I was completely caught off guard. At first, we were trying to follow tingy as she hit up all the booths selling Genshin Impact merch, but Kina, Vindy, and I quickly gave up and found some respite in one of the walkways. After some waiting, we finally saw tingy reemerge from the crowd, merch in hand. By then, we were all feeling a bit peckish, so we swung by Yard House for some dinner. I got the four cheese spinach dip and it was absolutely delicious!

With full bellies, we headed over to Crunchyroll’s Press Happy Hour at the JW Marriott where we spent some time relaxing and mingling amongst other press and industry members with anime-themed drinks in hand. Gradually, people began filing out and the event started to wind down.

As we followed suit and headed out the door, I convinced the others to accompany me to the karaoke rooms that were set up on the second floor of the hotel. We sat down and watched as one by one people went up on stage to sing their hearts out to the tune of anisong and the clapping audience. I wasn’t expecting so many people to be around, so I got a little nervous. I quietly sunk into my seat as my mind scrambled to pick out an anisong I could sing reasonably well. Finally, I settled on “Colors” by FLOW, an oldie but a goodie. Song after song flew by, and at last it was my turn to head up on stage.

Stepping onto the stage was like stepping above the clouds. My head cleared as I saw my friends sitting out in the audience, and my nervous anticipation turned into boundless excitement. The opening riff started playing, and then…

“Jibun wo!”

The rest of the song passed by in a blur. As I stepped off stage, my head swam from the cheers of my friends, the buzz of the booze, and the crescendoing excitement of my first day at AX.

Day 2 (Saturday, July 2nd)

On the morning of the second day, I once again headed out the door before the others had woken up. This time I headed straight to the South Hall and figured I’d meet up with my friends Graviity and Timcampy118. Tim is also a long-time con-going veteran, so he jumped right in and led us straight to the exhibit hall.

Towards the front of the exhibit hall, we passed by a lot of elaborate booths filled with giant displays that stretched across the entire space. It was a lot to take in! We ended up stopping by a couple booths run by Tim’s friends as we made our way through the exhibit hall. First up was the Noms (@nomsdesigns) booth, which was filled to the brim with cute food-themed shirts and stickers. It was right across the Hoyoverse booth, so there was a huge crowd gathered in the walkway to watch the live performances. We squeezed past all the people to make our way up to the back half of the exhibit hall, which was filled with smaller booths and was far less crowded than the first three rows of booths towards the front. Back here, there were a lot of vendors selling second-hand merch, Funko Pops, wall scrolls, and all sorts of other eye-catching goodies.

It was here that we stopped by the booth of another one of Tim’s friends. The good folks at Nomnivore Games (@NomnivoreGames) showed us the different board games they had for sale. Emberwind caught my eye since I’d been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a couple years now and this TTRPG seemed right up my alley. I was able to later visit their booth down in artist alley as well to play a quick demo.

We continued on with our tour through the exhibit hall and visited one last friend of Tim’s. The KINWAMONSTER (@kinwamonster) crew had set up shop towards the very back of the exhibit hall. Gravity and his friend enthusiastically took in the sight of all the cool streetwear lining the walls and they ended up buying quite a bit of merch. With heavier tote bags and lighter wallets, the four of us headed back towards the entrance of the exhibit hall.

After braving the crowd in the front three rows of the exhibit hall once again, we made it out into the South Hall lobby. From there, we headed down to Kentia Hall, which was the site of the artist alley, the annex, and the autograph and signing areas. Tim and I parted ways with Gravity and his friend as they plunged headfirst into the artist alley. I found out that tingy was also down at the artist alley, so we decided to meet up and wander around artist alley together.

In the beginning, I figured I wouldn’t buy anything at artist alley since I’ve never been huge on anime merch. However, that illusion quickly crumbled away when I spotted a hilariously cute Gintama print from Nikkeruu (@nikkeruu). A couple booths down, I also unexpectedly came across some Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san buttons, so I ended up getting those too.

Exhausting both our feet and the number of remaining booths stocked with Genshin merch, we wrapped up our trip to artist alley for the day. Then came time for some exciting industry panels over at the West Hall! First up was the “Trigger 10 Year Anniversary & Announcement Panel,” where I met up with content admin Vindy. Members from Studio Trigger came up on stage and introduced their panel. Then, they started rolling the tape for the premier of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, which was action-packed and filled with tension. The edgy, gorey atmosphere of Night City took hold in the auditorium.

Studio Trigger Panel

Once the premier ended, staff members from CD Projekt Red came up on stage and there was an interesting conversation between the members of the Cyberpunk: Edgerunners production team as they discussed the ways in which they incorporated elements of the video game into the anime and how they shaped the designs of the main characters. All in all, I enjoyed getting a glimpse into their design process and learning more about the upcoming anime. At the end of the panel, there was also a surprise announcement about the Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt sequel. The announcement caught everyone by surprise and the room was filled with deafening cheers.

Since the “Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War Panel” was held in the same room right afterwards, we stuck around and waited for the panel to start. I had watched parts of the Bleach anime before, but I was far from caught up and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to understand what was going on in the panel. Thankfully, the panel was largely spoiler-free and filled with a lot of fun comedic bits. Ichigo’s Japanese voice actor Masakazu Morita was definitely the life of the party with his energetic video messages!

With the two industry panels now over, it was time to meet up with the rest of the gang for dinner. We decided to stop by the Grand Central Market and pick up some bento at Bento Ya. The flavors were so-so, but my growling stomach wasn’t about to complain. After wolfing down our meals and returning to our hotel, the second day came to an end.

Day 3 (Sunday, July 3rd)

Sunday was the day of our MAL panel! I spent the morning rehearsing the panel with Kina, tingy, Vindy, and Naru before heading off for our tech check at 2PM. The AX volunteers and staff were all very helpful and got us ready to go for our panel that evening! The gentleman in the sound check room was particularly nice and sweet.

At 7PM, we headed towards the venue of our panel and set ourselves up on stage. Gravity and Tim helped to pass out some MAL goodies to those waiting in line for our panel. Did you pick yours up at our panel? If not, there’s always future events!

MAL Panel

The panel itself was super exciting! It was a bit nerve-wracking MCing for the first time in front of so many people, but I somehow managed to make it through. Naru really impressed me with how she organized the trivia portion of the panel. It was fun watching you guys trying to answer the questions and collectively cheering or groaning at the answers. The questions that tingy and Vindy selected during the Q&A section were really interesting too. I think some of them really ended up stumping me and Kina! All in all, the panel was a great experience and I’d love to participate in one again.

After the panel ended, we brought the MAL crew together for one final dinner at Yard House! And with that, we returned to the hotel and I finally got my first night of restful sleep.

Day 4 (Monday, July 4th)

I woke up bright and early for the last day of AX to meet up with Tim. We ended up wandering around the exhibit hall to hit up all the booths we missed on the second day. Those may or may not have included the +18 booths :guraAvert:

AX Stairs

As we looped back towards the front of the exhibit hall, we stopped by the CyberPower PC booth where they were hosting some 4v4 Valorant games. Since we had some time to kill, I figured I’d give it a try! It was my first time playing Valorant and a long time since I’d played any first-person shooters. Our team was doing pretty badly during the first half, but we somehow managed to pull off an amazing comeback in the second half and closed the lead. In the end, we lost, but it was still a lot of fun! We bumped fists with our teammates and the players on the other team as we headed out the booth.

Tim also offered to take me around the artist alley again to meet all his creator friends and I took him up on it! So, we hurried out of the exhibit hall and made our way back down to artist alley. I got to see a lot more cool art and merch and it was a fun experience getting a behind-the-scenes look at all the artist alley booths.

I picked up a really cute Komi-san button from Sonia (@SoChg_) and a whole bunch of buttons from Jin (@jinyjin). I ended up getting some Natsume’s Book of Friends buttons of Natsume and Sensei for myself, along with two sets of Yona of the Dawn buttons for Kina and tingy. Jin was kind enough to throw in a free Kiki’s Delivery Service bookmark with my purchase! I ended up buying much more than I expected at artist alley, but the cute artwork and bustling atmosphere made the merch very hard to resist!


My final trip down to artist alley on the morning of day 4 marked the end of my journey at AX. As we headed out for lunch, I could barely keep myself awake as all the excitement from the past four days suddenly released its hold from me. I found myself shuffling out the convention center and down the street in a zombie-like daze, sleepwalking through the last moments of this dream-like excursion.

A dream. That’s honestly the best word I can use to describe my AX experience. Even before I set foot in Los Angeles, I was dreaming about what my first convention would be like. Once I arrived, that dream-like feeling only grew stronger. How else could I describe an escape from my normal 9-to-5 schedule to spend a weekend among talented and charming cosplayers, hustling and bustling exhibitors, geeky and practiced gamers, creative and dedicated artists, knowledgeable and quick-witted industry professionals, helpful and enthusiastic volunteers, and so many other bright-eyed and energized anime fans?

Did this dream live up to my expectations? Definitely. At AX, I found my community of beautiful nerds. Over a hundred thousand of them, all gathered in this one place. It wasn’t just me, reading manga on the back row of the bus with my phone brightness down and screen tilted away from the person sitting next to me. It wasn’t just me, humming anisong on a freeway overpass so that the rush of the cars would drown out my noise. It wasn’t just me, sticking anime posters to the side of my bookshelf at work so that coworkers passing by wouldn’t see them. At AX, anime was on full display and the dream was very much real.


From one dream to another, cheers!

P.S. Vindy was a big meanie and made me cut out a lot of content! For the full version of my AX adventures, please visit my blog post here

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