Crunchyroll Expo was announced to great fanfare, the first convention hosted by the anime streaming website. It brought in a number of guests of all kinds, shared a venue with MAGWest, and kicked off its first weekend with a full three days. So, was the first Crunchyroll Expo a hit, or was it off to a slow start?
The convention was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, a familiar location to many anime fans and congress in the area. The venue was a great choice, with plenty of large rooms for the exhibit halls and several stages for the panels and live events. There were two entrances available for attendees, each with a bag check for anyone trying to go in; although the attached hotel had a separate entrance for MAGWest, the hallway between the two was closed off, so while going from one event to the other was allowed and even encouraged, attendees still had to take the proper entrances.
Normally, getting food in the convention center means either paying extra for convention and hotel prices or walking several blocks to get food off-site. This time, however, Crunchyroll Expo brought in several food trucks that attendees could buy from. Though the lines could grow pretty lengthy around lunch time, it was a worthwhile addition.
Inside the convention center, there were a number of places to go after picking up a badge. The exhibit hall was vast and filled with a wide range of vendors and industry exhibitors alike. Of course, the Crunchyroll store had plenty of space for itself, selling high-demand goods at affordable prices, along with convention-exclusive souvenirs. Beyond that, there were booths advertising upcoming games and series, including an Aniplex booth that tended to draw long lines for a chance to win large pins based off the characters in the mobile game “Fate/Grand Order.”
While walking about the exhibit hall, one could see plenty of attendees wearing little cardboard hats that look like pink-colored Super Saiyan hair. These were the prizes for the Dragon Ball Super scavenger hunt game, wherein players would have to travel around the exhibit hall to find and puzzles, obtain the dragon balls, get a wish from Shenron, then solve the last puzzle to defeat Zamasu. It combined videos with interactive games, making for a fun diversion for anyone wanting to participate.
Upstairs from there was one of the many panel rooms, as well as an art gallery. Several of the works of Yoshitaka Amano, guest of honor and artist behind several “Final Fantasy” games, were on full display, as well as production art from the “Hunter X Hunter” anime. For fans of either, it was a great experience to see the original artwork behind their favorite series.
Down the hallway was the artist alley, where fan artists had their work on display. It was a rather large artist alley, but even then the rows were often close enough to each other that the crowds had to squeeze through in order to fit everyone. There were some series with a significant amount of fan art dedicated to them – “Overwatch” was one of the most popular, of course, along with “Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon,” and “My Hero Academia.”
The various panel rooms hosted a wide array of presentations throughout the weekend, although the majority were industry-focused. There were Q&A panels for the various guests of honor, panels for the companies advertising and announcing new games and series, screenings of upcoming anime, and panels about Crunchyroll itself. For less industry-focused events, there were the “CRX Chats,” 20-minute panels inspired by TED Talks, which covered a wider range of topics.
Last but not least, there was the autograph hall. Crunchyroll Expo’s autograph system was done via tickets, which were in a limited supply; fans would have to line up in the morning to get their tickets, which they could then take to get through to meet the guest they wanted at the time of the autograph session.
However, while the convention’s main halls opened at 10 each morning (1 on Friday), the autograph lines opened up an hour and a half before then. That meant that attendees would start lining up at least an hour before then, if not more. So by the end of the weekend, people were lining up at 6 in the morning just to get tickets to see one of the big-name guests of honor. For a larger, more well-established convention like Comic Con that may be a given, but for a first-year event, it was an insanely early time frame, and it meant anyone trying to go for just one day would have absolutely no chance at meeting the guests they wanted to.
Additionally, there was just one line for all the autograph tickets, so anyone in line to get a ticket for a guest like Max Mittleman would be waiting in the same line as the massive crowds waiting for Amano or the cast of “Final Fantasy XV.” That not only made for not only a longer wait for everyone, but it was impossible to tell how many people were in line for the same thing as you. Whenever tickets ran out for one guest, it resulted in several people either leaving their spots disappointed or waiting in line to get a ticket for someone they didn’t care about, just so their waiting wasn’t for naught.
Now, autograph lines are almost certainly one of the most difficult things to properly sort during an anime convention, especially when you have a large number of guests in high demand. There’s no way to make everyone happy, and there will always be people who miss out. There were some ways in which the autograph system used by Crunchyroll Expo worked and others in which it left attendees disappointed. Hopefully next time it’ll be sorted out to be an even better system, where they keep what works and improve on what fell short.
That said, there were plenty of guests of all shapes and sizes. From major industry names to voice actors to YouTubers, there was no shortage of people to meet. Certain big name guests, such as Amano, Adam Savage, or Butch Hartman had lengthy lines in what few autograph sessions they had, as well as packed panels and crowds of adoring fans.
Some guests came as part of a package deal, such as the “Chocobros” (the cast of “Final Fantasy XV”), the members of Rooster Teeth, and the creative team behind “Dream Daddy.” Those, too, were insanely popular and drew in lengthy lines to meet them or see them speak.
Other guests, such as voice actors Max Mittleman, Caitlin Glass, and Monica Rial, had lengthy lines of their own. They were always willing to take the time to talk with their fans, sign anything they brought, and pose for pictures. Likewise, the YouTube stars they brought in were often seen interacting with fans and enjoying everything Crunchyroll Expo had to offer.
As the convention was held at the same place as MAGWest, there was some crossover between the events. Anyone with a CRX badge could attend the concerts at MAGWest, while MAGWest attendees could go to any of the events held at Crunchyroll Expo. That did feel a little unbalanced, as MAGWest attendees could get much more of the Crunchyroll experience, while CRX attendees were unable to enjoy the MAGWest arcade or anything that happened before 6, leaving a few CRX attendees wishing they’d purchased MAGWest badges for a greater experience instead.
Of course, a convention can invite the biggest guests and partner with every company imaginable, and it won’t make a difference without attendees. Crunchyroll Expo brought in an amazing crowd for its first year. Crunchyroll is a big name in the world of anime, so fans came in from far and wide, trusting that they’d provide a good convention.
In spite of the burning heat, cosplayers broke out their biggest and best costumes. Naturally, series that the guests were a part of were among the most popular, so there were plenty of cosplayers from series like “Final Fantasy,” “One Punch Man,” “Dragon Ball,” “My Hero Academia,” and of course, “Dream Daddy.” All around were attendees in fantastic costumes, meeting fellow fans and posing for pictures before going back to shopping.
Overall, Crunchyroll Expo’s first year was a smashing success by any metric. The guests, events, and overall atmosphere were all great, and while there are some areas that can be improved on in future years, overall the convention earns high marks. For those who were on the fence about going to a convention on its first year, you can start planning now to go to the next one.
Below is a small gallery from Friday: