JEREMIAH FAJARDO WRITES – Despite lengthy lines and oppressive heat, L.A.’s annual Anime Expo broke its previous attendance records, embodying the growth and impact of Japan’s pop-culture diplomacy.

One of the convention's many delightful cosplayers. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rafanan.

One of the convention’s many delightful cosplayers. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rafanan.

Each Independence Day weekend thousands of passionate fans descend upon Southern California for North America’s largest convention for all things related to Japanese pop-culture. This year, for the first time in its 22-year history, Anime Expo sold out, capping the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) at an estimated 80,000 attendees. What began as a small fan gathering started by a UC Berkley’s anime club is growing into an event comparable to San Diego’s prominent Comic Con.

What lesson can we learn from this feat? Anime, manga, and Japanese pop-culture as a whole, are far from being fleeting fads. They are a dominant presence and a testament to the global influence of Japan’s soft power. With their enormous crowds and eminent guests, Anime Expo, and the numerous conventions similar to it, are reflections of this trend.

Staff members Ryan, Lexie, Yvonne, & Jeremiah in the South Hall lobby. Photo courtesy of Tom Plate.

Staff members Ryan, Lexie, Yvonne, & Jeremiah in the South Hall lobby. Photo courtesy of Tom Plate.

This year’s Anime Expo treated attendees to a wide breadth of guests and events, covering numerous fandoms. Between voice actors of classic anime series, namely Sailor Moon, and some of Tokyo’s latest fashion designers, there were guests for even the most discerning attendee. Further, the massive list, which included a staggering 36 Guests of Honor, represented several countries, such as Italy and South Korea. Without question, the variety of guests a major factor in this year’s attendance spike.

Complimenting the eclectic guest lineup was an equally impressive batch of events and attractions. Among the highlight of this year’s convention was a special event for Studio Trigger’s latest work KILL la KILL. Currently one of the more popular series, the show’s event was a combination of the English dub premiere, cast panel, and concert. Another major draw was the expanded Entertainment Hall, which housed arcade games, tabletop gaming, and the immensely popular Cosplay photo sets.

Excited attendees making the slow march to the Exhibit Hall. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rafanan.

Excited attendees making the slow march to the Exhibit Hall. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Rafanan.

Fanfare, guests, and excitement aside, this year’s record-breaking attendance had its drawbacks. The immense surge in people inherently brought about issues of crowd management. With only about 1,000 volunteer staffers, the challenge of maintaining orderly lines and traffic flow through the LACC was constant over the 4-day event. While this naturally brought about much ire amongst attendees, it served as another indication of the convention’s significant growth and need for logistical adjustments.

But, even with crowds and July heat, the show went on.

From the classics such as Pokémon and Hello Kitty, to the newer hits like Sword Art Online and Kill la Kill, Japan has left its mark on the pop culture landscape. Through these series and more it has been able to reach out to other countries and bring people together. Nations looking to do the same can learn a lot from Japan, but first they may need to pick up a manga.