Anime Expo 2019 came and went as it does every year, but it seems like this year was far more chaotic than it generally is. My name is Christian Prudencio, and I’ve been attending Anime Expo since 2014, and while I might not be an avid con enthusiast, I’d like to consider myself pretty used to the long lines, staff management, and crowded merch halls. If you’re new to the scene of anime conventions, cosplay and what it entails, then you might be learn a thing or two about Anime Expo and conventions in general. If you’ve been to Anime Expo before, you probably know what you’re getting yourself into. I’ll give a quick run down of how the convention started out, and then I’ll give a few tips on how to survive the convention itself. So check out the official BentoByte Anime Expo Survival Guide below:

            Anime Expo has had a long history, starting back in 1992 in the Red Lion Hotel in San Jose, California with a small attendance of around 1,750. Since then, it has exploded in popularity large enough to make the biggest venues seem small by the sheer volume of people packed into one place. From then on, as anime slowly began getting attention in the western part of the world, AX’s popularity has brought it to Southern California in 1994; a move that would ultimately contribute to its growth. Between the years of 1994 to 2008, it has been hosted at the Anaheim Convention Center, various Marriot’s and Hilton’s, and the Long Beach Convention Center until deciding to settle in the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2008. Around this time, Anime Expo had been slowly growing from its humble 1,750 guests to a larger 43,000 by 2008 (adding between 5,000 – 8,000 guests each year). Then in 2013, Anime Expo’s previous 49,000 attendees exploded into 61,000, a move that would result in the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Anime (Anime Expo’s non-profit organizer) to employee over 1,000 volunteers. Every year after, Anime Expo has been growing larger by increments of at least 10,000, adding more and more staff and volunteers to organize and control the mobs of people that attend.

BentoByte anime expo guide

I’m not going to lie, it’s been pretty chaotic for the past few years after hitting the 100,000+ attendees. Now that it’s become so large, many things have changed about the convention itself, such as time it takes to prepare, unaccounted costs, etc. As a SoCal native, Los Angeles has always been a pretty busy place; we’re know for having the worst traffic in the U.S., especially going into DTLA. I can, without a doubt, say that AX does not help the situation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your weekend! I’ll give you some tips for making it through the area and weekend without succumbing to the blistering heat, chaotic freeways and massive lines you’ll experience.

Tip #1: Pack Water like a Cactus

            You will need to be prepared. There’s no question about it. Whether you’re cosplaying or not, pack as if you were preparing for a walk through Death Valley. Water is one of the most important ways to combat the heat in Los Angeles around July. While some years are hit or miss, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Last year in 2018, record heat over 100 degrees was definitely noticeable and for those unlucky enough to be without water, heat exhaustion was definitely a real risk. I feel like this basic enough to know on your own, but a few bottles of water can make the difference and save you a few bucks as well!

Tip #2: Pack your Own Food or Go Outside the Convention Center for Food!

            As one can imagine, food can be overpriced at an amusement park and Anime Expo is no exception. The long lines and wait times are definitely something to be feared as well. AX brings food trucks from the surrounding businesses and while some might seem convenient, you’re better going into the actual city for some food. It’s also probably going to be cheaper and tastier! A quick Uber ride put you into Little Tokyo. Located just a few blocks away, Little Tokyo offers you authentic Japanese food and snacks for a much more reasonable price than one of the food trucks might run you. If you want to go even further, Korea Town is a few blocks away. It also offers you a chance to take a break from the packed convention lines and crowds for a breath of (not so) fresh air.

            If you’re more set on getting your bang for your buck and staying the whole day at the convention center, bring some sandwiches and protein bars from home. You’ll be doing a lot of walking the entire day, and with not so many places to sit, you’ll be tired by the afternoon. Something nutritious will take you much further than a box of Pocky and a bottle of Ramune. 

Tip #3: Consider Parking Away from the Convention Center

            Especially if you don’t have a hotel or Airbnb near it! Parking lots near the convention center get to be pricey for one day of parking. If you’re lucky and early enough, parking at the actual convention center is pretty affordable. For those unlucky enough to get there by 6:00 a.m., parking in the surrounding areas can be brutal. I’ve seen some parking lots cost upwards of $50 for an all-day spot near the convention, and others aren’t so far off from that amount. You can begin to see how much that adds up over a 4-day weekend. Even if it’s a little further and a little more walking, you can save much more money by parking a structure a few blocks away.

Tip #4: PLAN YOUR PANELS AND EVENTS

            I don’t think I can stress this one enough: You MUST know what you want to see/do. Just showing up and expecting to get into a panel isn’t going to cut it. Anime Expo has become so large, that people wait an average of 1.5 – 2 hours for the panel or event they want to see. Realistically, you might have to wait even longer depending on its popularity. Events no have capped amounts of people they can allow, so showing up last minute isn’t going to cut it. Even in the Merchandise Hall, exclusives sell out almost instantly if you aren’t early enough. Know what you want and be realistic about the amount of time its going to take to get there. Nothing’s worse than missing out on your favorite event.

Tip #5: Bring a Backpack or Poster Holder

            This might seem obviously, but it’s going to be hard to hold all that exclusive anime swag that you’ve just acquired, especially if it’s your first AX and you overspend a little in the Merch Hall (everyone does, you’re not alone). Throughout the day, you’ll get free things depending on the booths you visit or little keychains and posters from Artist Alley. It all adds up in the end, and soon you’ll be wishing you had something to carry them. If you’re a cosplayer, a backpack or bag is almost essential. Little things can go wrong (and often do) with your cosplay after spending a whole day in it, so it might need some repair tools throughout the day. A cosplay repair shop exists at the convention itself, but for small fixes it might be more convenient to have a sewing needle set or some duct tape on hand.

Tip #6: Set a Limit on How Much to Spend

            I mentioned briefly before that first timers can overspend, but regular attendees also do the same. My first AX I spent nearly $250 in an hour finding small trinkets and figures in the Merch Hall! All the anime products and merchandise might be tempting, but it’s better to set an amount for yourself and stick to it. It’s going to be an expensive weekend if you’re there for all 4 days. You’ll need to account for food, hotel costs, transportation/parking, and your anime goods. Sometimes it’s even cheaper to find things online. The atmosphere and excitement is certainly like no any other, but getting caught up in the moment can be deadly, financially speaking.

Tip #7: PROPER HYGIENE

            While I can’t personally say I’ve had the BO horror stories some people tell me, I’d prefer to keep it that way. Practice proper hygiene and keep some cologne/perfume with you throughout the day. You’ll be surrounded by thousands of people for 4 days in the SoCal heat in a convention center, and you’ll be shoulder-to-shoulder with people on more than one occasion. Video game tournaments and conventions have violated Health and Safety orders before, and no one wants to have that happen again.

Tip #8: Get Your Ticket Months Before the Con Starts!

            You might be shocked to learn that a 4-day ticket to Anime Expo can cost you upwards of $150 for a badge if you buy it the day of the convention. You might also be shocked to learn that you can take advantage of Anime Expo’s Black Friday sale they have in November where tickets for the entire weekend are usually $70! Plan according and you might save yourself some money for those anime waifu figures.

            These are just a few tips you can use to prepare yourself for Anime Expo 2020! Next year is expected to be even more attendees and even crazier than this year. I hope you guys learn something and enjoy yourselves at your conventions!

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