By KYRA KARATSU

Anime Expo 2022 kicked off earlier last month, running from July 1-4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Having received an invite from the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, I was lucky enough to experience my first anime convention (or really, first convention ever) this year alongside both fellow first-timers and longtime veterans. After navigating through the many faces in the crowd, I began to appreciate the numerous fans, cosplayers, vendors, and collectors that came together to celebrate their favorite anime characters and beloved shows.

As in years past, participants were able to choose from single-day passes all the way up to the full, four-day access pass. New to the convention this year, however, was the queue checking for negative COVID-19 tests or vaccine cards. Situated on Chick Hearn Court next to the Crypto.com (née Staples) Arena, attendees could then expect to receive wristbands authenticating their pass through the COVID check station.

The convention center’s COVID-19 protocols weren’t without criticism, however. With fluctuating vaccine requirements and shoulder-to-shoulder alleyways, grievances against the Expo generated both in-person and online discussion.

The pandemic had another hold on the convention as well. Attendance rates have been steadily climbing since the convention began in 1992, with 2022 being no exception. But, as the first in-person Anime Expo since 2019, some longtime fans argued that this year’s increased attendance stemmed partly from quarantine boredom.

“I think it had a lot to do with people being bored and wanting to find new hobbies and explore different types of media,” says Imogen Yang, who has been attending the Expo with her family since childhood. “With a lot of free time, it’s easy to want to find new movies and shows to get into.”

Yet, despite the convention center’s newfound changes, Anime Expo 2022 kept the spirit of cosplay and creativity well-fueled. From the subtle to the ornate, cosplayers novice and experienced alike took to the convention center to showcase their talent and craft.

Leon Vanguard, a cosplayer that I chatted with on Day 1, spent well over 800 hours on his cosplays.Having never missed a convention since 2005 – and even meeting his wife at 2008’s Expo – Vanguard transformed into Mumen Rider (“One-Punch Man”) for this year’s Expo.

“I’m a blacksmith, so I made that out of cardboard, then out of metal. I had to do a few redesigns for the first time,” he says, pointing to the Alphonse Elric (“Fullmetal Alchemist”) armor he also displays in a wooden cart attached to his bike – a cosplay that he wore at previous Expos.

“And this was made out of copper and leather,” he gestures back to his Mumen Rider cosplay.

Cosplaying at Anime Expo is its own unique experience, with mobs of photographers – amateur and professional – flooding the halls as well. With cameras in hand, cosplayers can expect an entourage of fans and enthusiasts, all eager to snap a photo either of or with their favorite characters.

“People like to take a lot of pictures. I think we’ve had our picture taken more than we’ve actually seen of the convention,” laughs one cosplayer, Olivia, clad in a Maki Zenin cosplay from “Jujutsu Kaisen.”

“I don’t mind it though,” friend Anna adds, cosplaying as Nobara Kugisaki (also from Jujutsu Kaisen). “People are excited. They’re excited to see our costumes, and I think that’s super cool. I love the energy that people bring to the convention.”

Aside from taking photos with cosplayers, attendees were free to explore the Expo’s various events and activities. Among the many scheduled were TV show premieres, Q&A sessions with voice actors, industry and informational panels, maid and butler cafes, film screenings, musical performances, and walks through the Exhibit Hall. Vendors were also an integral part of the convention’s livelihood, with the Artist Alley attracting thousands of patrons across all four days.

Japanese and Japanese American culture, too, were among the highlights of the Expo’s agenda. Proceeds from the annual Anime Expo Charity went to the JACCC while the Little Tokyo Historical Society, “The Fall and Rise of Little Tokyo,” and “Tanabata Festival Community Kazari Workshop” panels were among the many events showcasing the tradition and history. A taiko workshop hosted by the Torrance-based UnitOne gave Expo-goers an introductory course to the spirit of Japanese taiko as well. Calling up participants row by row, the hosts gave attendees the opportunity to have a go at the drum after a skillful demonstration.

“I thought it was a great experience because being able to see it and then being able to experience it was so different. It’s so much harder than it seems,” one participant commented after the panel.

Other events were likewise brimming with that signature “otaku” energy – so much so that a handful of events reached their carrying capacity. Fans waited in countless lines that snaked both in and outside of the convention center while some of the more popular events were capped at a certain number entirely.

Regardless, Anime Expo 2022 remained quite the spectacle and, at its very core, embodied the heart of all things anime. Although I was arguably a flea next to giants – my mere months of watching anime paling in comparison to those who have been consuming the medium for years – it wasn’t hard to sense the fervor and passion that settled upon the masses.

“What has been your favorite event so far?” I asked my final interviewee of the convention, veteran Expo-goer Mariah Balandran.

“It’s kind of hard to say,” she says with her eyes looking up at the ceiling, deep in thought. She looks back to me with a smile and has her answer: “They were all super fun.”

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Kyra Karatsu is a second-year college student and writes from Santa Clarita. She can be contacted at karatsu.kyra@gmail.com.

Photos by KYRA KARATSU

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