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The Anime Expo Fallout From a Staffer’s Viewpoint – Tuesday Talking Point

Posted on: January 12, 2010

Boy, 2006 seems like a long time ago.

This sign has probably hung over more drama than any soap opera.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Tuesday Tunes – which was going to be I was originally going to be about the release of the Nanoha movie single – to talk about the highly publicized Anime Expo board brouhaha from the perspective of a man who’s spent years on the karaoke and press staff of the West Coast’s largest anime convention.

Staffers gossip like you wouldn’t believe, and my IM window has been busy today after last night’s news of a mass resignation from the Anime Expo Convention Committee. The news has been interesting, to say the least, and there’s a lot to dissect about why it happened and just how it affects the convention. Let’s start.

This whole mess was touched off by the termination of Chase Wang of BAM! Marketing after the new CEO of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, Michael Lattanzio, had a well-publicized professional disagreement with Chase. There is a lot behind that that I would like to keep confidential, but according to an SPJA board member I know, all of the AX ConCom members who resigned were friends and supporters of Chase Wang and they’re all unhappy with how Lattanzio is running Anime Expo (you know, like a business).

Their claims about bringing 80% of the staff with them need to be taken with a grain of salt, as a number of the staffers I know have spent the better part of a day asking each other “Are you staying?” and generally answering in the affirmative. I’ve confirmed that press staff is staying on,while karaoke, cosplay, AVS, and office staff are all staying too. So while this whole thing sure does sound like a mess and I assure you that it is just as messy as it seems, I don’t see it as being as bad in the long run as people think it will be.

I attribute this whole kerfuffle to a classic anime convention problem: continued growing pains from fan event to big business. Anime Expo definitely has the most high-profile struggles in this regard, but the general rule is that any convention that wants to grow eventually has to switch gears: what started as a small, fan-oriented event run by enthusiasts must by necessity become a professionally run enterprise or it will collapse on itself under the weight of its own poor logistics.What exacerbates the problems in this process are the people who refuse to change with the times, and people in charge who aren’t equipped to make tough business decisions that will affect what is often a tightly-knit group of friends. It’s a hard job balancing fan friendliness with financial viability, and the stress of the process has destroyed more relationships than I care to count – and that’s just within the confines of a few people I know who happen to be board members or chairpeople for a handful of anime conventions in the United States.

Anime Expo hasn’t quite balanced the twin drives of fan friendliness and financial sustainability in recent years – AX 2007 was a particular low point – but it’s made plenty of steps in the right direction, and this is the latest sign that they’re still working out the “drama” of the balancing act.

Do I think it’ll affect the convention this year? Of course I do. Do I think it’s the end of the world? Heavens, no. These changes are all coming at the top, and in my opinion, attendees of the show will never know the difference. Most of the staff I know of is staying on, and all this changes at the end of the day is who we have to call when things go pear-shaped. It sure isn’t nice to hear about all this board-room drama, but at the same time, it really doesn’t affect enough for me to care.

Come 4th of July weekend, I’ll be there at AX working long hours to make the event as enjoyable as possible for the fans just as I have been for almost a decade, and I’m pretty sure the attendees will be there for the exact same reason they’ve come year after year: to have fun at a weekend dedicated entirely to their hobbies of anime, manga, and Japanese culture.


3 Responses to "The Anime Expo Fallout From a Staffer’s Viewpoint – Tuesday Talking Point"

I’m with you Dom, I fully understand the move from fanbased gathering, to a real logistical nightmare when I was running LAN parties locally, not quite the same scale, but the same problems arise. Agreed that most people won’t notice the difference, although the change may make some more advertisements more blatant, or other marketing changes, those kind of changes can do a lot of good too, and really, what’s one more banner for K-On s2 going to hurt, if it pays for the venue?

Ah AX many fond memories and not so fond. AX 2007 was a logistical nightmare, bad decision to have it in Long Beach…i am still haunted by the lines going out to the parking lot even though i had pre-registered and wasn’t told i could go to the front till i was almost at the front. That was the last AX i ever attended as i vowed i wouldn’t go unless they have a GOH that i really wanted to meet.

I am hoping that AX will eventually get its act together and run things like how it is done at ComicCon. AX has gotten to big to be run as a “fan event”. Maybe with this new CEO, AX can be run professionally and give it a breath a new fresh air.

I find most of these types of things are overblown and, in the end, forgotten by all but the most intimate participants. I agree with what you said about the logistics. How will you support thousands (or hundreds, whatever) of people without someone who can make the tough decision and say: ‘I’m sorry we can’t do that, it would cut off people flow’ or ‘No, we don’t have the money for it’.

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