Anime Expo, abbreviated AX, is an American anime convention held in Los Angeles, California and organized by the non-profit Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA). With rare exceptions, the convention is traditionally held on the July 4th weekend and lasts for four days. While currently hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Center, in the past Anime Expo has been held in other locations such as Anaheim, San Jose, New York, and Tokyo. Anime Expo is notable as the largest anime convention in the United States and is also known for hosting high attraction guests due to close relationships with both the Japanese and American sides of the anime industry.
Anime Expo features many events and activities during the convention for attendees to take part in such as guest panels, table top gaming, competitions, an arcade, and concerts.
Top attractions include events such as the Masquerade cosplay contest, the Anime Music Video competition, Battle of the Bands, and SPJA’s Charity Auction. In addition, Anime Expo hosts a multitude of industry Guests of Honor (GoH), including notable music artists who often hold large concerts at AX. Anime Expo also has a large variety of focus panels, workshops, and events, some of which are fan or industry sponsored. Finally, there are also a number of film and video rooms presenting anime screenings that run all day and night.
Much like other conventions, Anime Expo also features a large scale exhibit hall where attendees can purchase a variety of products from a wide range of exhibitors. This exhibit hall also features an artist alley where attendees can purchase fan-created art work, as well as other varieties of crafts such as wigs, pins, and cosplay material.
Anime Expo began as an anime and manga convention in Northern California. Many of its original staff came from Anime Con, an anime convention held in San Jose, California in 1991, and later absorbed by the SPJA in 1992. In 1994, Anime Expo made a strategic relocation to Southern California and has resided there since.
The convention continues to thrive due to the growing popularity of anime and maintains a strong draw due to the many notable Japanese guests it has been known for. It currently holds the title of America’s largest anime convention, a title which it has consistently held every year except 2003 in which its attendance was slightly edged out by its rival east coast convention Otakon. From 1,750 attendees in 1992, Anime Expo’s size has increased to over 44,000 in 2009, which makes Anime Expo the largest anime and manga convention in North America.
The SPJA has twice run conventions outside of California: Anime Expo New York in 2002, and Anime Expo Tokyo in 2004.
Anime Expo New York (AXNY) was held in 2002 in the Times Square district of New York City, New York. The event was originally a joint effort with Central Park Media and its industry event, Big Apple Anime Fest (BAAF). Due to differences, the event ran as separate entities within the same time frame and venues, with BAAF hosting the theatrical film screenings, and Anime Expo New York hosting the convention. The events shared some resources, with notable guests listed in the program guides of both events. The SPJA ran the event in order to demonstrate that it could run events outside of its home state of California. The event was a precursor to Anime Expo Tokyo which ran in Tokyo, Japan in 2004. The SPJA has not run any events outside of California since 2004.
Anime Expo Tokyo (AX Tokyo) was held in 2004 at the Sunshine City Convention Center in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan. It was not technically organized directly by the SPJA, but rather was organized by the Japanese Association for Science Fiction (JASFIC) with assistance from the SPJA. JASFIC had two goals for Anime Expo Tokyo. The first goal was to establish in Japan a non-corporate sponsored convention dedicated to anime. The second goal was to demonstrate to the organizers of the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) that Japan could serve as a suitable venue for conventions that attract foreigners. Although Anime Expo Tokyo did not go on to a second year, JASFIC was ultimately successful in attracting the 65th World Science Fiction Convention to Japan in 2007.
Anime Expo Tokyo had a staggering list of over 40 guests such as manga artist Ken Akamatsu, MiQ, Under17, Hiroshi Aro, and many others, although a small handful had to make last minute cancellations. Anime Expo Tokyo was also the very first Anime Expo that officially hosted guests from the U.S. anime industry such as producer Fred Gallagher and voice actor Crispin Freeman.
Of Anime Expo Tokyo’s 4,249 attendees, approximately 300 of that number were estimated to have traveled from abroad. In addition to the attendance numbers were 240 members of the press, 40 of which were from overseas. An additional 430 people were composed of dealers, guests, or staff.
No plans to host another official Anime Expo outside of California have been announced.
The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the parent organization which produces Anime Expo, is a federal and California state registered 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation. The staff of Anime Expo is structured by divisions composed of multiple departments. The Divisions are: Membership Services, Operations, Programming, Audio Visual Services, Exhibits, Interactive Events, and Guest Relations. Additionally, the SPJA arm has several departments that also service Anime Expo. These departments include Marketing, Staff Resources and Finance. As of 2006, there were over 500 staffers and volunteers in Anime Expo.
Although Anime Expo is primarily staffed by volunteers, there are a small number of paid positions whose roles are to conduct the organization’s year-round operations. Such positions include the Chairperson, Directors, and Division Managers. With the exception of the Chairperson, these positions receive a token wage that is mostly a formality to avoid running afoul of California HR laws. Anime Expo’s parent organization, the SPJA, employs a small number of salaried staff among which are the CEO, CFO, and office manager. The SPJA also hires consultants for outsourced functions such as marketing and legal representation/consultation.
As of March 27, 2009, Chief Executive Officer Trulee Karahashi, who had been a part of Anime Expo and the SPJA in various capacities for 11 years, left the organization.
In September 2009, former Universal Studios executive Michael Lattanzio was hired as the SPJA’s new CEO.
In January 2010, eight members of Anime Expo’s upper management team (ConCom) publicly resigned over irreconcilable disagreements over the direction of the organization set forth by the SPJA’s new CEO. One significant point of contention was the new CEO’s decision to refocus and restructure the SPJA’s marketing efforts starting with the dismissal of a PR and marketing contractor that the organization had a close working relationship with since 2004. Additionally, two other personnel had already left for other reasons, leaving only the the vice chair and two others as returning members of the previous year’s team (the remaining Interactive Events manager had previously declared an intent to step down for personal reasons).
As of September 2010, Michael Lattanzio was released from his CEO position.