Within the span of five minutes, you encounter three different versions of Luffy from One Piece, half a dozen pink-haired Anyas from Spy x Family, the entire blood-spattered cast of Chainsaw Man, and a handful of starring players from the volleyball anime Haikyuu. Japanese electro pop and cult-classic anime theme songs pulse through the loudspeakers, pulling you away from your weekday reality and into a multicolored, two-dimensional reverie…
Is it one giant anime crossover? A fever dream after an all-night binge session?
You’re at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, in the thick of Crunchyroll Expo 2022. Outfits vary in extravagance from full-on cosplay — brightly colored wigs and makeup, life-size prop weaponry, Japanese school uniforms, thigh-length maid outfits worn by all genders — to simple graphic tees adorned with fan-favorite characters. Cosplayer or not, everyone has come to revel in their shared love of anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture. Hosted by anime streaming service and distributor Crunchyroll, this bustling expo features three jam-packed days of art, live music, industry panels, shopping, gaming, manga-reading, and theater-size anime-viewing.
You might wander first into the Shopping and Arts districts, two labyrinthine networks of merchandise booths that span three halls, or approximately 2.5 football fields. Here, you’ll find clothing, accessories, pins, backpacks, masks, figurines, posters, artwork — all adorned with characters and motifs from popular anime and Japanese and Asian pop culture (imagine: boba-shaped candles, LED-lined kitsune [fox] masks, skate decks featuring scantily-clad anime girls, prints of video game characters incorporated into classic ukiyo-e style scenes). On the south side of the hall, vendors sell taiyaki, spam musubi, and hot dogs topped with bonito flakes and Kewpie mayo... Wander far enough left or right and you’ll encounter half a dozen itasha, Japanese sports cars adorned with colorful anime-style wrap, alongside photo-ops featuring small scale replicas of popular anime settings.
CRUNCHYROLL EXPO 2022 Celebrates Anime with Live Music, Cosplay, and Panels
It’s an all-day vortex of shopping and art, and it might take some concerted effort to pull yourself away in time to get a seat at one of the scheduled panels — but these are well worth your time (and planning), in this writer’s opinion.
Through live interviews with a diverse range of industry professionals, fans are given a behind-the-scenes look at all levels of anime production and distribution. Some panels provide broad glimpses into the industry (a studio’s decision-making process for optioning a series; how they keep pace with ongoing manga plotlines), while others take us behind the curtain for extremely specific aspects of production: how translators convey rural dialect; the recording environment of a Japanese voice acting studio; how a composer arranges musical notes in order to match the dynamic of an ensemble cast. Anime fans will likely find great satisfaction in learning about the layers of creative and technical work that precede the release of a finished episode.
Less educational, though arguably the most fun, in this writer’s opinion, are the high-energy concerts and performances at the New Crunchy City Music Fest, where attendees can listen to famous anime theme songs performed by their original creators. Pulsating dance beats and shredding electric guitar fill the crowded hall as fans jump and mosh through a lineup of DJs and Japanese pop, rock, and metal groups, concluded by a resounding performance from the Japanese rock band Burnout Syndromes (famed for their rousing theme songs on high-grossing anime like Haikyuu and Gintama). Attendees might be surprised to find such high-energy concerts and dance-ready crowds in the middle of an anime convention — but this writer found the party-like nature of the music fest to be a perfect way to round out the expo, offering a satisfying, almost cathartic contrast with the nonstop whirlwind of panels, shopping, and visual stimulation.
With its wide variety of activities and content, Crunchyroll Expo is an easy recommendation for anime fans of all levels. Whether you’re an avid follower of all the most current, trending shows, a former fan nostalgic for anime and pop culture of the past, or a casual viewer wanting to learn more about the industry, you’ll likely find something of interest and delight at Crunchyroll Expo — and best of all, a place to share it with people who relish all of your obscure anime references and love the genre as much as you do.
For more information, visit the Crunchyroll Expo website.
Photos by the author, unless otherwise noted
About the Author: Lily LeaVesseur
Lily LeaVesseur has harbored a fondness for the arts since she was a few months old, when her parents took her on her first of many stroller rides through the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even after moving to San Diego as a child, she returned many times so that she could stare down her favorite pieces, combing them over again and again for clues to their greatness.
She carried this enthusiasm like a missionary, and in high school petitioned to re-open the single Art History course on the roster so that she could study it with her friends. She loved feeling like she could unlock some sort of intangible mystery behind works of art, and looking for herself within the artists that created them.
Since then Lily has continued to explore art both analytically and creatively. She now writes poetry and non-fiction, sometimes accompanied by illustrations or watercolor, and hopes to one day collect these works into a graphic novel. When she's not writing or drawing, she can otherwise be found skating with friends, experimenting with new food combinations, and/or lying on the floor contemplating the transcendental nature of TikTok.