As conventions cautiously try to safely resume, the latest to make its return is Crunchyroll Expo (CRX). After a few virtual conventions, CRX returned to San Jose, while still providing an online experience for those who wished to attend virtually.
So, how was Crunchyroll’s return? Let’s take a look…
Return to New Crunchy City
Crunchyroll Expo returned to the San Jose Convention Center, also known as the home of Fanime and Adam Savage’s SiliCon. The location is no stranger to anime fans and congoers, with hotels connected to the convention center and plenty of restaurants within walking distance (although, admittedly, many had closed or changed in the time since the last con).
While the 2019 convention went all-out with the “New Crunchy City” theme, including adding building-like sets and crosswalks to the convention center, the 2022 show didn’t lean into the theme as much. There were still some signs of the city, like with a large area used for cosplay gatherings, but it was less of a focus.
However, getting into the convention center was another matter, since they fenced off the entire area outside the con center. As such, outdoors areas that were often used for photographers or people who passed by and were curious about the con were unavailable. Security checkpoints were placed well before the convention center’s doors. Admittedly, that did seem to help with traffic leading into and out of the convention center, so that’s the trade-off. (A good way to prevent ghosting, or overkill? You decide!)
And even if you couldn’t see the convention from outside the fence, you could certainly hear it. Anime music and J-Pop was blasted outdoors throughout the day, adding an exceptionally loud soundtrack and resulting in many outdoor dance parties. This was something of a double-edged sword, because while it was great for energetic attendees looking to bust a move, it was less enjoyable for anyone trying to get outside for a quiet breather or cosplay gatherings taking place outside. (And if you wanted to sit down, you pretty much had to go outside, because there were no tables set up inside the convention center outside of the tabletop gaming area. So the walls were basically lined with tired attendees resting their feet throughout the weekend.)
A Hybrid Convention
After two years of virtual conventions, CRX was ready to return to in-person cons! But also… why leave virtual attendees behind? So this year, they did a hybrid show, with separate virtual and in-person events. Attendees at the con could go to panels, meet-and-greets, and do everything they normally could for conventions, while virtual attendees could still watch panels and shows from the safety and comfort of home.
Considering Crunchyroll Expo sold out of all its in-person tickets, the virtual option made it possible for those who couldn’t get tickets on time to still enjoy the convention’s programming. At the same time, it let them bring in virtual guests and panels that otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend, which brings us to…
Guests of Honor
One thing that Crunchyroll Expo went all-out on was the guests of honor. They brought in guests from all areas of the anime industry – voice actors, producers, directors, artists, character designers, composers, musicians, and so much more.
For in-person attendees, they had voice actor guests like Adam McArthur (voice of Yuji Itadori in “Jujutsu Kaisen” and Marco Diaz in “Star vs the Forces of Evil”), Rosalie Chiang (voice of Meilin in “Turning Red”) and Zeno Robinson (voice of Hawks in “My Hero Academia” and Cyborg in “Young Justice”).
(Keep an eye out for our interview with Zeno Robinson, Aleks Le, and Kyle Hebert soon!)
The con also brought in industry professionals like Baku Kinoshita (animation director, character designer, and illustrator for “Odd Taxi”), Hiromitsu Iijima (music producer and director for “The Rising of the Shield Hero” and “Made in Abyss”) and even Studio Bones co-founder Masahiko Minami.
Heck, they even brought in professional sushi chef and food carver Okitsugo Kado, who carved fruits and vegetables into amazing anime designs.
And then there’s the musical guests, which included groups like Atarashii Gakko, Burnout Syndromes, and Madkid. Throughout the convention, attendees could see them perform on stage, or hear their performances broadcast through the dealer’s hall.
On the virtual side, they brought in Japanese guests like voice actress and singer Akari Kito (Nezuko in “Demon Slayer” and Kanata in “Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club”) and screenwriter Keigo Koyanagi (known for works like “The Rising of the Shield Hero and “Made in Abyss”). This made both the in-person and online events distinct, so those attending virtually wouldn’t feel like they were only getting a fraction of the experience.
In past years, Crunchyroll Expo gave out autographs in a “first come, first served” ticketed system, where attendees would have to arrive before the con opened and line up to get the tickets they wanted, and those who arrived too late were out of luck. This year, they tried something different: each guest had a sweepstakes for free meet-and-greets, so attendees who entered before the con had a chance to meet each one. Anyone who didn’t win could still attend their paid autograph sessions.
This is a more fair system than the early morning ticket line, since it doesn’t penalize attendees who couldn’t show up in the earliest hours of the day, although with all sweepstakes, it did come down to a matter of luck. So including the paid sessions offered an alternative for those who weren’t so lucky, and gave them another chance to meet the guests they really wanted to see (paid autographs or photos were typically around $40).
However, there was one group of guests whose presence was unavoidable, and were one of the biggest draws for the in-person crowd in spite of not being physically there themselves. That’s right, I’m talking about none other than…
Yes, Crunchyroll Expo also managed to break the barrier between in-person and virtual guests by bringing in guests who are nothing but virtual. VTubers (who, as the name suggests, are “virtual YouTubers”) use virtual avatars designed to match their movements and expressions as they stream. They’ve become exceedingly popular, and CRX managed to invite a large number of members of the group Hololive to attend.
So how, exactly, did that work? Like the other guests, Hololive guests had meet-and-greet sessions and panels, although they were all done over video. Those who won their meet-and-greet tickets (and there was a lot of competition for them) got three minutes to talk with their favorite VTubers over video chat, so the VTubers could attend as their virtual avatars. Panels, similarly, were broadcast over a video screen, but the VTubers could still see a video feed of the audience and interact with them accordingly.
Along with that, they had a “Hololive Experience” room, where attendees could walk through and see pre-recorded video clips of the various Hololive VTubers. Plus, there was an entire hall with monitors showing several of the Hololive guests they had attending. Even Crunchyroll’s mascot, Crunchyroll-Hime, had a virtual avatar welcoming attendees on a digital screen.
For those who are into VTubers, it was an exciting, one-of-a-kind (or at least first-of-its-kind) experience, allowing them to actually meet and talk with their favorite virtual stars. Each new Hololive guest got attendees more and more excited, and the entire floor set aside for VTubers was packed.
For those who aren’t interested in VTubers, well, there was still the rest of the con to enjoy.
Panels & Areas to Explore
CRX took up the entire convention center, and they made sure to put it to full use. There were multiple panel rooms and packed halls for attendees to enjoy.
For starters, there was the dealer’s hall (but that’s a given for any convention). A wide range of vendors were set up and selling their wares, and, well, you don’t need me to explain what a dealer’s hall is. In the same area, they had the artist alley, where fan artists could sell prints and take commissions throughout the con.
CRX also made sure to include plenty to see in the dealer’s hall and around the con, such as large displays for PlayStation games, photo stations for new and popular anime, and even a chalk artist who spent the weekend creating a massive “Genshin Impact” mural.
In fact, the musical events stage was in a room connected to the dealer’s hall, so attendees could listen in and watch a live video feed while they wandered.
And of course, there were the panel rooms. The panels varied, including guest Q&A panels, industry panels, and even a few fan panels (“Anime Taboo” was one that was not to be missed). And of course, there were plenty of anime screenings, but these included special screenings like the world premier of “Mob Psycho 100” season 3 and the “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” movie.
The programming did tend to lean more towards the industry, given Crunchyroll’s position as a major player in the anime space. But there were still interactive events like game shows, and of course, voice actor Q&A panels were always big draws (as were the Hololive panels, naturally).
Outside of the shopping, panels, and screening rooms Crunchyroll Expo included an arcade with a nice variety of games, and a manga lounge for attendees to relax in and do a little reading. Near there was a tabletop game area, where attendees could borrow games or bring their own, or even participate in a stamp rally to test their “Naruto” trivia and win a 20th anniversary ninja headband.
Cosplay and gatherings
What’s a convention without cosplay? Boring, that’s what. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue for Crunchyroll Expo.
Of course, attendees came dressed as their favorite anime characters. Some came dressed for specific series or guests (there were more than a few Hololive cosplayers in attendance), others showed off their crafts, and others just wore what costumes they thought would be most comfortable.
Naturally, this included cosplay gatherings, as there were gathering spots indoors and outside. All of them drew nice crowds of cosplayers from popular series or genres, like “Genshin Impact,” “Chainsaw Man,” and any series from “Shonen Jump.”
While the gatherings were a great way for fans to meet, the outdoors gatherings did have to contend with the loud music coming from overhead, which often made organizing a challenge. That’s something attendees and organizers are hoping will be addressed next time around.
And when it comes to cosplay competitions, Crunchyroll Expo knows how to make it a big event. The Crunchyroll-Hime’s Cosplay Cup was a big competition, where finalists submitted their cosplays and were selected in advance of the convention, giving them time to shine at the con. This included video portions alongside in-person appearances, allowing even remote entries to compete. The contest was judged by experienced cosplayers with a long history in the community and passion for the craft, so competition was fierce but fair.
However, there was one common concern that came up at the con: the prop policy, or more specifically, how it was or wasn’t enforced. While the convention’s prop policy included the usual standard fare against metal props, realistic guns, and so on, it also mentioned that “plastic and wooden props may not be allowed.” Some security guards took that to an absolute extreme, turning away anyone with a wooden prop, no matter how harmless or how many times it’s been allowed at other conventions. (One cosplayer remarked that “If Gandalf asked them ‘you would not part an old man from his walking stick?’ they’d have turned him away too.”)
At the same time, that enforcement was incredibly inconsistent – cosplayers reported being allowed in with a prop earlier in the day, getting it peace bonded, then told later on that they wouldn’t be allowed in with it. Other cosplayers reported being turned away at the door for their props, only to later see someone walking around with a similar one without issue. There are also reports of props being damaged by the security staff checking them, or cosplayers being forced to scrape their own props on the ground to remove any semblance of a pointed bit.
This was a common complaint among cosplayers, and one that hopefully the convention will be able to address by next year’s con.
Speaking of security, there’s one important aspect no convention should overlook these days: their safety policy. COVID-19 continues to spread and mutate into new variants, so a proper safety policy is important.
Fortunately, Crunchyroll Expo had that. To enter the convention, attendees needed to show proof of vaccination and get a wristband verifying they’re vaccinated. And the convention had a mask policy requiring attendees to be masked up while indoors, which was mostly followed and enforced. (There were still a few attendees walking around maskless, or wearing their masks down under their noses, but for the most part the attendees remained masked.)
Even with all the safety precautions, there’s always a chance of breakthrough infections, especially with large crowds. A few attendees have already reported catching COVID at the con, so those who attended should make sure to test themselves over the next few days. Still, Crunchyroll Expo took all the right precautions to minimize the risk and spread, which is deserving of praise.
All in all, it was good to have Crunchyroll Expo back. It brought in some excellent guests (especially for fans of Hololive) and the autograph sweepstakes was a step up from the previous ticketed system. The location was great, and the show held nothing back in the decor, organization, and scheduling.
Were there still issues? Of course. The prop policy enforcement was a big one, and the noise levels outdoors could be a problem at times.
But overall, it was good to have Crunchyroll Expo back. They brought in some amazing and exciting guests from across the industry, had a nice variety of panels and events, and knew how to give the people what they wanted. The combination of in-person and virtual events also allowed them to reach a wider audience, making the convention even bigger than its (sold out) ticket capacity.
Now then, did you attend CRX 2022? Let us know your experience and share your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll see you at the next con!