Anime Expo, which runs July 1-4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, provides one of the best people-watching experiences you can have in the city — and that's without even having to pay to go inside.
Last year's turnstile attendance was 260,700, which was a 40,700 increase from 2014, though 2015's unique visitors numbered around 90,000. Attendees can expect more this year after the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the organization that puts on the Expo, expanded the exhibit hall space by 40%, according to the group's new CEO, Ray Chiang.
"There's not only the exhibit hall and panels, but also parties, concerts, a fashion show and so much more," Chiang said.
The "so much more" includes a new partnership with Anime Consortium Japan and with Anisong World Matsuri, a two-day music festival that brings Japan's top anime theme song bands and individual artists to downtown L.A. for concerts in Microsoft Theater, the Novo by Microsoft and in the convention center's West Hall B.
Chiang, who grew up a big fan of "Dragon Ball" — his introduction to anime and manga — knows what the biggest draw is for the event. The Japanese animation society makes sure that, alongside multiple karaoke panels, butler and maid cafés (for adults) and voice actor appearances, the cosplay crowd is well taken care of, not only with panel discussions about technique and history, but also with practical assistance.
"We have a repair station with a plethora of supplies available for cosplayers to use to fix up their costumes in the event of unexpected breaks or tears. We also enlist cosplayers in the community to act as 'Cosplay Senpai' [mentors] to give advice, answer questions, encourage attendees and just generally promote positivity in the community," Chiang said.
Here are Chiang's three must-see activities — other than cosplay — for Anime Expo:
Exhibit hall: "The Exhibit Hall offers the largest selection of Japanese culture goods in the entire country. This year, there are about 400 vendors and exhibitors. Leading industry companies preview upcoming releases and offer exclusives that fans can't find anywhere else."
Artist alley: "The talent and creativity of the anime community is on full display here. Amateur and semi-professional artists will have their work on display, and attendees can purchase handmade creations, original artworks, clothing and a whole lot more."