Anime Expo 2022: Model rigs and frilly dresses

The Los Angeles Anime Expo makes its return after two years on hold with tens of thousands of fans arriving to celebrate their favorite anime and video games. The event stands as a testament to the cultural imprint Japan has left in the West, and the new media born out of that bond.

Photo of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

After two years of absence, Los Angeles’s Anime Expo made an explosive return this past weekend.

The four-day event draws in more than 100,000 fans from across the globe annually to celebrate anime, video games and Japanese culture as a whole. There were so many attendees on the first day that the Fire Marshall and the LA Convention Center barred any further admission. The continued popularity even after the pandemic is a statement on the resilience of Japan’s cultural influence in the United States, and its ultimate impact on the west.

The event kicked off with a welcome ceremony with performances from artists like the Corps Dance Crew from California, SG5 from Japan and American singer Diana Garnet. The ceremony also included the official in-person debut of Japanese icon Ultraman in the United States. With its electric opening, the convention promised to be just as large and bombastic as ever before.

Photo of Ultraman kicking a monster on stage.

“We know that technically this is the 31st Anime Expo,” the emcee said during the opening ceremony, “but we are completely prepared to hold onto the last strands of youth and reset ourselves all the way back to the 30th anniversary again.”

For those who attend, the convention is a place for them to dress up as their favorite characters, or “cosplay,” meet fellow fans and see the biggest announcements in the industry.

One attendee, Phorntip Sayamnath, was visiting the Expo for the first time ever. Dressed as Jin Sakai from the video game “Ghost of Tsushima,” he sat down in the halls of the convention center playing a wooden flute for passersby.

Despite being from a Lao background, Sayamnath grew up surrounded by Japanese culture, including works like “Astro Boy” and various video games. Although he said he’s not the biggest fan of anime, he appreciates it because of its influence on America.

“I think Japanese culture and media can open a gateway into other media–like Chinese media or even Lao media,” Sayamnath said.

Photo of cosplayer.

It’s not just cosplayers who are growingly influenced by this culture. Down in the underground Artist Alley, artists and designers set up booths to share and sell their original works. One such brand is Dreamily, an apparel line dedicated to “cute weeaboo clothing,” says an attendant (who goes by GoGo) at their photo booth in Artist Alley.

Along with this display, they are also running a stamp rally. Here, people can complete tasks at their booths to redeem a free prize. With these activities, they seek to promote their brand, a line that, according to GoGo, is “like anime-style streetwear, but cute.”

The clothing line takes Japanese elements reminiscent of anime and applies them to more western sensibilities, creating something completely new. However, Dreamily is not the only brand to blend cultures with its style.

Person posing in front of a photo booth.

One of the most anticipated events for day two is the Anime Expo Fashion Show. This year, the theme is “Lost in Lolita,” focusing on the Japanese fashion style that draws upon Victorian clothing often characterized by frills and voluminous dresses.

Emphasizing the concepts of “cuteness” and “elegance,” six fashion lines, including Dreamily, showcased their clothing, each of them vastly different from the next.

One thing that made these lines so distinct and unique was their place of origin. The brands featured showed global representation. According to emcee Michelle Nguyen Bradley, besides the United States and Japan, there were lines based in Hong Kong, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Lolita itself plays into the notion of cross-cultural interaction. Not only does it mix Japanese and European fashion, but the global application of this style of clothing is representative of Lolita’s cultural reach.

Photo of a model on a runway.

Although media and entertainment is evolving at warp speed, anime and Japanese culture has kept pace and left its mark.

One recent innovation in the world of live entertainment is Vtubers as a means of streaming. On this platform, streamers are given the chance to make live content as an anime-style avatar that is motion-tracked to match their real-life movements.

One of the most popular companies in the industry, VShojo, held a panel at Anime Expo this year.

“For me, Vtubing was always the future of creators on any media… and allows you to be your true self,” said VShojo CEO Justin “theGunrun” Ignacio, “when you’re Vtubing, you can be who you want people to see you as.”

A technological practice that became popularized in Japan through companies like Hololive and Nijisanji, Vtubers quickly became a global phenomenon with thousands of talents either joining with agencies or pursuing individual projects. VShojo is one of the first successful American Vtuber companies, and has started to expand globally.

VShojo announced at the panel that the newest branch of their company would be based in Japan. This announcement was also marked by a surprise in-person appearance by popular independent Vtuber Kson to announce that she would be joining the company.

With this, it is evident how far anime culture has established itself by even making an impact on new technological frontiers. Now, companies are building bridges internationally to deepen those connections.

Photo of a group of people squatting on stage.

The sheer vastness of the Anime Expo makes it very clear how much the genre has blossomed and diversified around the world.

Anime Expo is where one can find “Chainsaw Man” cosplayers being led through crowds by their ties. It is where hundreds of fans cheer and chant with light sticks for a “Love Live” concert screening. It is where voice actors celebrate the 35th anniversary of “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” while fans scramble to find a seat closest to the stage. The world of anime allows for individuals to be anyone they want and to be in any universe they choose through technology, art, fashion and media.

Photo of two cosplayers.

Despite all the long lines and crowded halls, fans are willing to bear it for the sake of what they love. Anime Expo 2022 certainly proved that even after a two-year dry spell, the crowd’s shared passion for anime knows no geographic, cultural or social bounds.

Anime Expo 2022 was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center between July 1-4, 2022. They recently announced a new, additional convention to be held between November 12-13, 2022 in Ontario, California.