We had a whirlwind trip to Ax this year – in on Wednesday afternoon, out Sunday morning. Between the walking, shopping, eating, and meeting, I saw some things that kind of alarm me. One was the lack of industry support for this year’s AX. In the dealer room, the manga publisher presence was minimal. Netcomics was there, as well as Aurora and DMP. DMP was actually my one stop shopping source, and my travel companions soon grew tired of daily visits to the booth. How could I resist, though, with older books priced to move at $3?
In the panel rooms, things were just as sparse. CMX had a panel, and Viz commandeered a room, packed to the gills, as well. Yaoi Press had a booth and a panel, where Yamila Abraham discussed the launch of their new imprint, Yaoi Prose. That was about it as far as manga news went. I was very disappointed by the lack of turn out at the biggest anime convention in the US. Deb Aoki pointed out that most people who watch anime don’t necessarily read manga, so perhaps I was expecting too much in this crappy economy. I remember with fondness running from panel to panel for most of previous Anime Expos, and being bombarded with licensing announcements. No such giddy memories will follow me from AX09.
So, publishers, what’s the deal? Are you saving your marketing muscle for the king of cons, San Diego? Unfortunately, I have scheduling conflicts with SDCC, and haven’t been able to attend for the past four years. I also feel that the convention has outgrown San Diego – getting a reasonably priced hotel room near the convention center is like winning the lottery. Capacity has been outstripped – the con is now at their attendance limit of 135,000, and tickets sold out this year in the blink of an eye. It isn’t a good thing that SDCC can’t accommodate all of the eager pop culture fans who want to attend.
Even if they didn’t have a booth on the dealer floor, I was hoping to at least hear from Yen Press, Vertical, go! comi, Del Rey, and Tokyopop. What are their plans for the future? Are they confident that they can deliver fun and exciting books in this challenging sales environment? Even if they didn’t have any new licenses to announce, it’s always fun to attach a name and face to the companies I shell out so much money to. You guys give me a much needed break from reality, you let me escape from the stresses of work and real life. You have even conspired to make Thursday my favorite day of the week. How? It’s the day that Right Stuf announces their studio sales. If all of those discounts don’t get your heart racing, you aren’t a true manga maniac.
Now I’m at a crossroad. For years, Dean and I trundled across the country to SDCC. But all during those visits, the con that I really wanted to go to was AX. There wasn’t much of a manga/anime presence then at San Diego back then. Then I finally did get to go to AX, but the pendulum has swung again. Now it’s SDCC that’s the place to be, but like the kid standing outside, looking in the candy store window, I just can’t get inside to indulge in my taste for sweets.
Is AX still a fun con? Yes. You can travel the halls, admiring wonderful cosplay, visit the manga cafe, or work up a sweat in the arcade playing DDR or ITG. It’s very much a fan’s convention now, where people who are passionate about anime and manga can get together and hang out. I think the focus of this year’s convention was more on celebrating being a fan, and less on celebrating the trappings of fandom. I still long for the excitement of hearing about new titles, but I think the economy has worn away the glow that once encircled the convention. Only time will tell if the spotlight will once again burn brightly over LA during that first tantalizing weekend in July.