[Editorial] Crunchyroll Expo Convention Report

The AniFem August Con Reports conclude with Crunchyroll Expo! Amelia, Lauren, and Frog-kun flew in to meet Peter in San Francisco, CA, to check out the very first CRXperience! Frog-kun, Lauren, and Amelia weigh in below.

A blonde woman on a TV screen marked "ZTV" holds a microphone and looks serious

Frog-kun

Disclosure: I own a premium Crunchyroll subscription. I’ve also written articles for Crunchyroll News and am friends with members of the Crunchyroll staff. However, I had no involvement with organising the con itself, and I attended as a member of the press for Anime News Network.

General Thoughts

CRX marks the first time I’ve ever been to a U.S. anime convention. Actually, it marks the first time I’ve been to the U.S., period.

I must say, coming to this con almost straight after Comiket was a huge change of pace. CRX’s attendance was over 10,000 (which is really high for a first-year anime con), but it obviously can’t compare to the hundreds of thousands who attended Comiket.

Honestly, I preferred my experience at CRX, not just because I got to meet so many great people and Twitter friends, but also because the crowds and venue weren’t so suffocating. From an attendee’s perspective, CRX was very well put together and organised, especially for an event that was only announced four months or so beforehand.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that sexual harassment was taken very seriously at CRX. A prominent sign was displayed in the hall warning against harassment. Even the admission badges mention CRX’s harassment policy. The con’s website goes into a lot more detail and even gives specific examples of what harassment looks like.

If I could fault the venue for one thing, it would be the lack of accessibility for attendees with disabilities. Some areas were only available via a flight of stairs. Fortunately, the con staff does provide special assistance to those who ask for it, but I hope that general accessibility is something that the staff takes into consideration when they choose the venue for next year, especially as the con grows bigger.

Left image: A cluttered shot of 3 girls holding colorful guns in front of a brown building covered in fantastical monsters. Left: "Urahara" text plus the same 3 girls in casual clothing (skirts) standing in a line
Urahara initial art

Diversity and Representation

As members of the AniFem staff noted in their Otakon reports, there was a great amount of racial diversity among the CRX attendees, as well as roughly equal attendance from men and women. This is a reflection of the bay area’s youth demographics, but it’s as good a reminder as any that anime fandom is full of all sorts.

Unfortunately, the guest list wasn’t nearly as diverse as the attendees. Japanese guests aside, most of the guests skewed white and male. This trend was particularly noticeable with the YouTube “Influencer” guests―not a single one of them was a woman. Not only did this lead to a missed opportunity for female YouTubers to speak about their experiences, but the question of who exactly these male influencers were influencing was never addressed at all. Canipa has told me that, according to analytics, his audience is predominantly male, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the other YouTubers had similar demographics.

(On that note, go watch ceicocat’s videos.)

CRX does win a lot of points, though, for bringing over the team of Urahara as well as for making the project happen in the first place. For those unaware, Urahara is an upcoming TV anime produced by Crunchyroll and the Chinese streaming site Bilibili. It’s rare among TV anime productions because it has a predominantly female lead staff (even many producers behind the scenes are women). CRX also hosted a special panel called “Women in Anime” for the staff of Urahara to talk about their experiences.

Those expecting a harsh indictment against the sexism in the anime industry may have been disappointed by the panel, as it was mostly just advertising for the Urahara anime. I wasn’t surprised, however. I have personally been told by a woman in the industry that just having your face out there can make you a target for harassment on Japanese social media. Talking openly about these issues could have resulted in an ugly situation for the women, and I fully respect their decision not to discuss it publicly.

Nevertheless, giving the Urahara women a choice and a platform to talk about themselves and their positive experiences as creators was a great way to boost the visibility of the many talented women in the industry, and personally it has made me very interested in checking out the Urahara anime when it comes out. The anime will be about “girls who want to create,” and will focus on their struggles and relationships. Look forward to an AniFem premier review about it when it comes out.

The AniFem Panel and Beyond

Last but not least, I’d like to talk about the AniFem panel. I had no personal involvement with the presentation, but I thought that Amelia and Lauren did a fantastic job with it. The audience was very engaged too; many of them stood up to take photos, especially when Amelia and Lauren talked about how to make a positive contribution.

In general, I thought the panels I went to were interesting and informative. I’ve been told that fan-hosted panels at U.S. cons can be hit or miss, but it was clear that the organizers of CRX had put a great deal of effort into curating the content. Everyone who hosted a CRX Talk or panel was very well-informed in their respective fields. I’m extremely happy (and honored!) that Anime Feminist was given the chance to present.

Overall, CRX was a hugely positive experience for me. I was stoked to meet Amelia, Lauren, and Peter in person for the first time, as well as numerous Twitter friends and feminist allies. A big thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.

 

Lauren

Disclosure: I’ve been a premium Crunchyroll member since 2011. I was a judge in the 2016 Crunchyroll Anime Awards. I attended Crunchyroll Expo as a member of the press for Forbes.

America is so big, conventions in different regions each have their own vibe. Close to MIT and Harvard, Anime Boston is the most academic one I’ve been to, while Dragon*Con has more of a party feel. Being from the east coast, it wasn’t until 2012 that I went to a west coast convention, the modestly sized Animation On Display in Japantown, San Francisco. It was at the point where I was beginning to build my career in fandom, and my jaw just about dropped when I attended a fandom networking event where everyone handed out business cards!

I didn’t go to another west coast convention until I bought a ticket to Crunchyroll Expo. With AOD still in my mind, I planned to go purely to network, self-promote, and put faces to the names I’ve been working with for years. (For example, one of the people I met up with, Patrick Macias, co-edited a magazine with me, and only now did we finally meet in person!)

It was a safe bet. What better place to mix business and pleasure than the inaugural Crunchyroll Expo, a corporate convention either organized or attended by anime fandom luminaries? On the smaller side, it gave me the space I needed to shake hands with everyone I set out to meet, from anitwitter influencers to fellow industry professionals.

For me, the highlights were the presentations I gave. On Friday evening, I presented on Otaku Journalism, the title I’ve given to my self-published book and personal reporting manifesto. It was extremely well-organized—an announcer (fellow east-coaster Mario Bueno) introduced me, I had a mic and a slide clicker, and there were two cameras recording so I could share the entire talk online later. I was happy to get 50 attendees to come to my extremely niche discussion.

Attendance was dramatically more impressive at the talk Amelia and I gave on Saturday for Anime Feminist. We’ll be sure to get that online soon, too. I was thrilled when one attendee came up afterward to tell us she’d specifically gotten a ticket to Crunchyroll Expo to see our panel! In our polarized political climate, the overwhelmingly positive response to a panel about intersectional feminism says something about CRX’s welcoming environment.

I live in a city with four regular local anime cons, and I still traveled cross-country to get to CRX and I’m glad I did. I got to meet everyone I wanted to, do some great interviews for Forbes (my talk with Johnny Weir is already posted), and spend some more quality time with my Anime Feminist pals Amelia, Peter, and Kim.

 

Amelia

Disclosure: I pay for a Crunchyroll premium account…wait, aren’t we only obligated to disclose when we get compensated for things? Crunchyroll has never paid for anything to do with Anime Feminist, and while we have some freelancers and a lot of friends in common (as do all the major English-speaking anime sites; it’s a very small world) our connection ends there. We are funded 100% by patrons through Patreon, supplemented on occasion out of my own pocket, and have never had a problem criticising Crunchyroll or its properties–as you’ll see in this report.

The final con in my three-city geek tour extravaganza, Crunchyroll Expo felt like the most overtly progressive so far. Where Otakon seemed to shy away from words like “diversity” or “feminism” and AnimeFest supported it mostly through fan panel programming, Crunchyroll Expo also had a number of fundamentally progressive official panels.

For example, it began with “A Brief History and Introduction to International Co-Productions,” busting the myth that anime is a homogeneous industry of pureblood Japanese creators. There was a very well-attended panel featuring the creative team behind recent smash hit Dream Daddy, a game known for its explicitly inclusive approach to race, gender, and sexuality. A guest of honour was Olympic figure skater and queer icon Johnny Weir. For anyone not paying attention: while they stay diplomatic in public communications, this San Francisco-based company is pretty liberal at its core, and that shone through in the programming schedule.

That said, I don’t want to give too much credit where it’s not due. Kim is right to note the lack of female YouTubers or influencers in the industry, and there were certain times in the run-up to the con when a spate of guest announcements made the event feel more like an advertisement for VRV rather than a celebration of Crunchyroll. There’s no shortage of anime influencers who aren’t cis men, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so to look at Crunchyroll Expo’s guest roster.

As an example, it was a wasted opportunity to invite someone like Miranda Sanchez of IGN only for a single panel to chat about anime in 2017. I’ve been having casual conversations with Miranda over Twitter for months and was thrilled to have the chance to meet her at Crunchyroll Expo. We bought coffee, took three steps–and were instantly surrounded by a group of anime fans from across the nation and beyond who thanked her for her work building up the IGN Anime Club community which made them lifelong friends.

Miranda built up an inclusive community of anime fans via a podcast hosted on a video gaming website–not exactly an easy feat! She would have made a great guest and hosted a fascinating discussion. Though I know she was moving house that weekend so this lighter option probably worked out well for her on this occasion (I have not discussed what I’m saying here with Miranda, so I also don’t know if she was actually invited and turned it down), Miranda is the kind of influencer I would have liked to see Crunchyroll Expo acknowledge and promote. And she’s far from the only choice.

Diversity in anime and manga

Kim has already noted the importance of bringing over the all-female creative team behind Urahara. While they didn’t delve into the experiences of being women in the anime industry as much as I would have liked, particularly in the panel entitled “Women in the Japanese Anime Industry,” when moderator Deb Aoki did press them down this path they gave illuminating tidbits such as being willing to hold long meetings and debates without worrying about maintaining the appearance of being polished and ladylike.

Just having three women on stage of different ages and aesthetics talking about their professional contributions was in itself very powerful. For director Amica Kubo to sit in fluffy, floaty, frilly, pastel-coloured clothes and talk seriously about the demands and responsibilities of her position is an image we just don’t get to see. Perhaps most striking for me, though, was how the women built each other up on stage, praising each other’s work and temperaments at every opportunity. That kind of mentoring is essential for women in many industries, and it was beautiful to catch a glimpse of it in how the two more experienced staffers, director Kubo and writer Natsuko Takahashi, spoke about young character designer Mugi Tanaka.

More impressive for me, however, was the actual “Diversity in Anime & Manga” panel, featuring panelists from diverse manga publishing companies Noir Caesar and Saturday AM. The panel was almost 100% black creators, and as a woman of colour it was probably the most emotional experience of any convention I’ve been to this month. The opening questions around how the panelists first got into anime brought up some funny stories of VHS-era fan “translations” and of running home from school to be able to catch Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing on TV. It set us on common ground as anime nerds, an essential foundation for the conversation to come.

A black boy in a red jacket shoots lighting from his hands while falling backwards
Screenshot from Noir Caesar’s current project, Primus 7.

From there it moved into painfully relatable territory for me personally, as they spoke about the power of seeing yourself represented in media, the impact you don’t even realise it has until you experience it. I saw white people around the room nodding, and I can only assume they had other experiences they could map that onto: seeing their queerness or disability or mental illness represented in the media somewhere and feeling the gut punch that I felt the first time I saw anyone who looked like me who was not related to me. It was proof in action that discussions around diversity are neither “niche” nor alienating; people feel excluded from media for all sorts of reasons, and the voices of creators working to actively increase that representation will resonate further than you might think.

My one criticism of the panel would be the lack of opportunities for a more intersectional discussion. There was only one black woman on the panel, who at one point raised the issue of lack of positive representation for black women–only to be essentially talked over by an older black male panelist who insisted this was a recent problem and that representation of black women was much better in years gone by. Which may well be true, but this woman was asked to speak about her own experiences and she got shut down by male privilege, a pattern we see when women of any colour try to take up space in a conversation with men. Just one more black woman on the panel to offer some support for this viewpoint or even to challenge it from a less privileged perspective would have gone a long way.

That said, the fact that this panel existed at all was hugely valuable, and, again, was by far the most emotional response I had to any panel at all three cons. I encourage all AniFem readers to check out their work and support them financially. Saturday AM has a subscription option, while Noir Caesar has a subscription option and is currently running a Kickstarter for an anime film, Primus 7, starring characters of colour.

The Anifem panel

Finally this was the first con where AniFem had a real presence, and I couldn’t happier for us to have made our debut along with Crunchyroll Expo. It’s no secret that our success has over the past year involved a certain amount of backlash for Crunchyroll staff, as people overestimate our connection (see my disclosure above if you want more details on that, and I will always be happy to answer questions on this matter anytime – we have nothing to hide). This event was no exception, as Crunchyroll was criticised for even permitting a panel with ‘political’ content and ‘boring’ analysis – apparently by people who have been to even fewer US conventions than I have, since analytical and political panels are everywhere.

For the record, we submitted a panel application just like everyone else, and had no idea how well received it was by the people arranging the programming, with whom we had no contact until we received an acceptance email from the media company Crunchyroll engaged to help with logistics. Looking at the range of progressive content that made up the rest of the programme, as noted above, it’s clear that our panel, A Feminist Survival Guide to Anime Fandom, was a good fit for Crunchyroll Expo in a way that it may not have been for Otakon (which rejected our application for the same panel). We asked for no special favours at any point, and Lauren and I worked hard despite very limited time together to prepare a useful and insightful panel for our attendees.

General consensus is that we succeeded. The room was mostly full and stayed that way until the end of the session, when we were surrounded by people with questions, praise and gratitude for some time afterwards. When I’m sat behind my computer in the UK, where my anime network is almost non-existent, I have near-zero awareness of the impact our site makes. To be told so directly was humbling, awe-inspiring and made me determined to do better, just generally better, for our readers and supporters in the future. If you made the time to attend our panel, whether you spoke to us or not, I truly cannot thank you enough, and I certainly hope we’ll meet again in the future.

I feel personally unworthy of most of the thanks and compliments I received that day – except on the substance and presentation of our panel. We offered valuable content in an appropriate context, and I’m extremely proud of how it went. (We will be making the slides available as soon as we’ve done a little work on them, thank you for your patience!) If anyone with any perspective wants any convention to offer them space and a microphone, they only need to submit a panel application that will draw as many people and as positive a response as ours did. We earned our spot, we delivered, and I couldn’t be prouder of how it went.

Finally, I have to mention a major con highlight for me: hosting a party in collaboration with Woke Weebs, an LA-based organisation that runs regular social events for progressive anime fans. I spoke to Ally, the inspiring woman who runs Woke Weebs, months before, mentioning that we should collaborate sometime, and she was instantly on board. Full credit to her and her team for booking the space and inviting their network, and to so many of our guests for taking the time and making the effort to attend. The AniFem/Woke Weebs mixer was attended by creators, entrepreneurs, journalists and marketers from across the anime and manga industries, as well as a good number of regular con attendees we were delighted to have the opportunity to spend more time with socially. The success of the event was a testament to the diversity of anime fandom and the acceptance of progressive values throughout the industry.

To end on a reflective note, it’s actually exactly one year to the day that I bought the animefeminist.com domain, at a time when my network was minimal and I was about to be dogpiled for an article I wrote on another feminist website. I hope that seeing how far Anime Feminist has come in less than a year will reassure any marginalised fans that they have more support than it may feel at times. There is no bigger testament to that than our reception at Crunchyroll Expo, and I will always be pleased that we were able to be a part of this landmark (and thoroughly enjoyable!) convention experience. It’s already on my calendar for next year, and I hope to see some of you there.

 

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