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This year Crunchyroll brought anime back to San Jose for the first time since 2019, with the sold-out Crunchyroll Expo!
Over the three-day weekend, the purveyor of Japanese pop culture brought live performances and film premieres to a crowd hungry for all things anime. As in the past, the convention was organized with an overlay of New Crunchy City–a metropolis made up of various different areas of interests.
The Central Shopping District featured over 100 exhibitors selling merchandise and providing impressive photo opportunities for shows and games of all types, while the Arts District consisted of more than 150 artists displaying their wares. Whether it was a 9 foot x12.5 foot chalk mural of Genshin Impact, the Forger living room from Spy x Family, or a row of (mostly) inflated corgis, there was no shortage of things to see and experience.
One of the big events of the weekend was the insanely popular New Crunchy City Music Fest which went on throughout all three days and provided high-energy performances from rock and J Pop artists like SiM, ATARASHII GAKKO! and Burnout Syndromes.
For people seeking a more interactive experience, there was also a Super Arcade that featured all-day gaming, both video and tabletop, and a manga library which provided a quiet place for people to read and decompress from all the excitement.
As usual however, the highlight of the expo was the Theater District, which played host to anime premieres and over 80 panel presentations.
In Anime Insiders, a group of reporters on the anime beat came together to discuss some of the trends and issues significant to the current times. One of the biggest new topics they cover is VTubers–people who live-stream shows behind an anime avatar. This is a concept that really took off during the pandemic years, as people at home searched online for things to entertain them and make the world seem less bleak. They also discussed the problem of live-action adaptations that are so frequently disappointing from both critical and financial standpoints and felt that the people who raced to put them out often had no knowledge of the field and were just looking to quickly monetize something. They did have hope that as anime has become more popular, the people involved with future adaptations will approach them from a standpoint of genuine respect for them and pointed to Speed Racer and Alita as examples of they enjoyed.
As for upcoming shows, the whole panel was very enthusiastic about the upcoming Chainsaw Man, streaming on Crunchyroll in October.
Later in the weekend, Chainsaw Man had a chance to display its drawing power as a panel with MAPPA CEO/Producer Manabu Otsuka and MAPPA Executive director and Rights Management Director Makoto Kimura filled three rooms of fans excited to learn more about the upcoming show.
Along with discussing how enthusiastic the whole MAPPA team is about the project, the panelists brought a video from Chainsaw Man manga editor Shiehi Lin, who expressed how much the creator, Tatsuki Fujimoto, enjoyed the trailer that came out that weekend: “There was a lot of blood and I loved it!”
Both Aniplex of America and Crunchyroll had Industry panels where they ran through their large stable of current and coming soon shows at breakneck speed. From Aniplex, some of their featured shows were Lycoris Recoil, Engage Kiss, and Demon Slayer, Swordsmith Village Arc.
From Crunchyroll, the highlight shows included Fuuto PI, Mob Psycho 100 III, and Jujutsu Kaiden 0, which actually premiered during the expo.
One of the painful parts of any convention is trying to navigate a schedule that seemingly always puts everything you want to see at the same time. Of the several premieres during the weekend, I was able to catch two of them–Shinobi no Ittoki and Kaina of the Great Snow Sea World.
Shinobi no Ittoki follows Ittoki Sakuraba, a completely normal boy, who finds out after a hectic night of near-assassination that he is a pivotal point in the war between two ninja clans, and must become a master of ninja skills to have any hope of survival. I thought the first episode they showed us was pretty funny, and seiyuu Ryouta Oosaka does a fun job as the completely bewildered and out-of-his-depth Ittoki who has to confront not only certain death but the fact that everything he thought he knew about ninjas is wrong. Catch this show when it starts streaming on Crunchyroll October 4th.
The first four episodes of Kaina of the Great Snow Sea in contrast, were not particularly funny but did a lot of heavy lifting as far as world-building is considered. Kaina is a young adult in a small group of elderly folks who, we learn, are the last remaining people living up in the sky on what is known as “the canopy,” which may or may not turn out to be a metaphor for the ozone layer. Down below, war is brewing between different countries in an environment that is in both perpetual winter and a state of drought, all of which may be tied to the poor health of the enormous trees that span the two surfaces. The setup seems interesting and likely to be a cautionary tale about climate change, but the characters, at least in the few episodes I saw, didn’t seem particularly groundbreaking in personality or design. We’ll have to wait until its streaming debut in January 2023 to see how it develops.
In keeping with the new VTuber phenomenon, another large part of Crunchyroll Expo was the holoMeet Experience Zone, in which there were living photo opportunities featuring 24 prominent VTubers, and the holoMeet Showcase Theater where hololive production talent had made exclusive presentations just for convention attendees.
As a whole, Crunchyroll Expo continues to be one of the most well-run conventions on my annual slate. The fact that it’s generally a smaller convention than behemoths like SDCC helps to make it a much more chill experience. I was impressed that out of all the events I’ve been to this year, this one had the highest rate of mask compliance with almost everyone I saw wearing them correctly–likely a contributing factor to this also being the only event I’ve been to this year where I didn’t get a COVID exposure warning afterward.
Despite having over 60 guests, programming still felt a little light, as you might expect for this first year back for everyone. The majority of the panels with overseas talent were pre-recorded videos which was definitely a safer situation for them, but had the feel of the virtual conventions we’ve gotten a taste of these past two years. There is something about seeing live guests that really can’t be replicated through video, as their panels with IRL guests from Oddtaxi and Spy x Family demonstrated.
For people interested in going to an anime convention with a more intimate/less crowded feel than the large and mostly mask-avoidant ones we’ve had earlier this year, I can strongly recommend Crunchyroll Expo. I still have hope that as time goes by more of the programming from past years will return, such as the all-day anime viewing rooms and the Thursday night pre-convention reception, but this year was a nice step back towards business as usual, that felt safe and provided a lot of interesting content.
Folks interested in attending Crunchyroll Expo next year, August 4-6, 2023, should sign up for the newsletter at http://CrunchyrollExpo.com and keep an eye open on the website for information about ticket sales.