Photo Credit Alejandro Chavez

Participants from last year's Expo.

If you’ve never been to Anime Expo, it is an adventure worth experiencing. The largest convention in North America devoted to the art of Japanese animation, Manga and culture will be held July 2-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and under an agreement inked this week between the city-owned venue and convention organizers, it will stay in L.A. for the next five years.

Where else can you see the characters from animation and Manga comics come to life in costuming so elaborate that it’s difficult to imagine that it’s home spun? It’s the love for the art of Japanese animation that brings out so many, mostly young people — including many from the San Fernando Valley — who come together each year.

“There is always a sense of community at the Anime Expo,” said Joseph Stevens, a member of the Anime Club at Cal State University Northridge. “People build and wear costumes, and participate in Cosplay to show their appreciation for an animiation series or a character and this event gives us an opportunity to come and chill together.

“It’s an event that we look forward to each year to see friends and the costumes they’ve created, watch Anime together with people who understand it, and you can learn more at the workshops.”

 “It’s all about the story,” said Marc Perez, CEO of The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation and creators of the event. “It’s about people connecting with the story.”

Perez, who started as an event volunteer many years ago and enjoys the longtime friendships with the people he’s worked with at the nonprofit organization that first started the event, said, “There is really an appreciation for content in Japan and developing that story base, which are fun and entertaining stories and are different than what you see here.

“Anime offers a different experience, and at our show people can take part in Cosplay or see a favorite musical act or fashion brand, or see the toys and merchandise. There is something to be said about experiencing it in person. at our show. You  are around people who have the same appreciation [for the art form] that you do.”

Anime Expo is now in its 24th year and continues to grow.  This year is expected to break previous attendance records, with an expected crowd of 100,000 fans.

It’s now being compared to the early days of ComicCon, with attendees who travel from points throughout the United States and internationally. It has generated $55 million to L.A.’s local economy.

“When we see those traveling outside of the region we know we are now also attracting an older group. It continues to grow, and like Comic Con it strives to promote the industry. It has expanded to a much wider audience. It will always be a promotion of Japanese culture with Anime and Manga being the focus,” said Perez who points out that the Anime Expo features many new up-and-coming artists in the industry, as well as those who are well established.

Featuring new talent he believes helps to expand the industry, Perez  encourages people to go to the Expo even if they aren’t into animation or Manga, they are sure to come away from it with a different impression and a new experience.  

“We have people from every race, age and walk of life, come and check out the  show, bring your kids, it’s fun for all ages and just to people watch and see the costumes. Our show is a celebration of Japanese animation and culture,” Perez said.

The year’s expo includes 300 exhibitors. The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys will produce and present its biggest and best AX customized Japanese garden for attendees to visit and photograph. There will be a special music concert on the first day of the expo featuring KISS co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, who will introduce the number one pop singing sensation from Japan, Momoiro Clover Z.

The nonprofit VGC (Video Game & Computer) Foundation will present a truly unique exhibit comprised of “One Example of Every Video Game Console Ever Sold to the Public.”

But perhaps the most popular event continues to be the Cosplay competition, where people show off their creativity via “costume play.”

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Fashion Show

Among the events at Anime Expo: On July 3, Sanrio will present a special Fashion Show featuring Sanrio’s 40 Anniversary of the “My Melody” character from Sanrio’s “Hello Kitty” series.

On July 3, the English dubbed version of “Sailor Moon Crystal” will make its U.S. debut. This is the first episode of the “reboot” version of this classic anime series.

On July 5, at 1p.m., AX will present a 20th Anniversary Celebration of the classic anime series “Evangelion.” Noted musical acts Anamanaguchi, Aimer and Mashiro Ayano, and the Wagakki Band will give concerts. Japanese virtual pop star and hologram IA will also appear in concert. Attendees to AX will have the chance to compete in an Original Costume Contest in which they can show off their best cosplay (costume play) outfits. Attendees can also participate in an Original Music Video Contest in which contestants infuse their own music videos with anime.  AX’s Interactive Hall A (West Hall) will feature PC, cabinet and console game stations, along with 10 cosplay background sets for photographs.

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