The days before a convention can be stressful and a little bit overwhelming, what with schedules releasing and plans finalizing and vendors announcing their wares. Cosplayers struggle to finish their projects before Day 0 and the overarching excitement makes it hard to focus on real life. For first time con attendees, the uncertainty of what to expect sometimes makes forming a gameplan difficult.

We’re here to help, though! Continue on for some of our tried and true tips for preparing yourself for Anime Expo, general ideas of what to expect from events, and a few of our personal recommendations for panels and events that are absolute musts.

PLANNING

The MySched webpage and app can be your best friend when trying to organize your days, especially when you want to attend panels, gatherings, or screenings. The interactive schedule allows users to sort by event type, search within the schedule, create their own personal lineup, and share with others. It’s also a good way to gauge interest in a particular event, since clicking the more info on any listing shows how many people added it to their personal schedules.

We definitely recommend utilizing this tool for organization….and for your sanity! It’s nice to see everything laid out in prettily color-coded boxes.

For those who’ve booked a hotel room, make sure to explore the shuttle routes and hours so you can account for travel time and ensure that you’re on time to any event you want to attend. We have a handy packing list if you’re gearing up for the event but want to make sure you don’t miss anything!

Exhibit Hall

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The big, bad Exhibit Hall might sound scary in theory–it’s intimidating in real life, too. Familiarizing yourself with the layout helps some, but staring at it from your computer screen and actually walking into the mass of vendors, people, and noise are two completely different experiences. There are a lot of big names about, and they tend to be situated in the first few rows from the entrance, meaning you walk into the most populated areas first. The bigger booths host special events, giveaways, live entertainment, shopping, and previews throughout the day. Oftentimes new releases or points of interest are accompanied by giveaways–posters, bags, buttons–so if there’s something you’re really hoping to find swag from, we suggest following the social media behind the series for constant updates.

If you’re not hoping to score anything in particular, wandering around will bring you random bouts of luck. Many a time we’ve sauntered past a booth just as they’ve started lining people up for some special treat. It’s a fun, sometimes overwhelming experience.

Another important tip: If you’ve been thinking about signing up for some of the services offered by companies like Crunchyroll or FUNimation, or perhaps an anime-based subscription box like Loot Anime, joining during a convention often brings you special sign-up bonuses. It’s a great time to find new services and products.

PANELS

You’ve plotted out your schedule, made room on your memory card, and are ready to see your chosen panels! Great! A few words of warning and advice:

  • Beware of overstacking your schedule. More popular panels may require you to arrive in line an hour or more beforehand, especially for the main events, so trying to hop from one panel to a new room may be completely impossible. Make sure you prioritize; pick the panels that are absolute musts and make sure you have ample time for securing your spot, if necessary.
  • Understand that things happen. Sometimes, you’ll be in line for a super cool exclusive button giveaway and realize that your next panel is in 5 minutes and the line’s end is nowhere in sight! Oops! It’s your call whether you rush out of line immediately or stay put, but expecting to make every point in your plotted agenda is asking for trouble. Besides, many of the smaller panels will still be open for walk-ins even 15 minutes after beginning. Just make sure to enter quietly!
  • Industry panels are a great way to keep up on upcoming releases and streaming announcements, as well as learn about the behind-the-scenes aspects. There are also lots of panels that are gearing towards explaining how you can get into the business.
  • Trust the line staff. The volunteers have been trained and know (or will figure out!) where you’re supposed to be. Not sure? Don’t be afraid to ask! It’s better than standing in a line for something completely different and ending up disappointed.
  • Be polite to the volunteers. They really are there to help, and they’re trying their best. Even when things are kind of a mess (i.e. the last three years), remember that it’s not their fault. They’re just people.
  • Asking questions is a great way to interact with panelists, and a wonderful way to get more information on something you may have always wondered about. But there are definite no-no’s along the way. Avoid standing up there and talking about how much you love the show, actor, or creator. Everyone in the room feels the same, and it’s wonderful, but there are also a lot of people with genuine questions. Also, getting too mushy on the microphone can make the panelists uncomfortable, and that’s not fair to them. As a matter of fact, avoid any awkward or overtly personal questions. The entire atmosphere of the room can be thrown off when this kind of thing happens.

COSPLAY GATHERINGS

Cosplaying? Or maybe you’re just a huge fan of a certain series. Either way,unofficial gatherings are held every year that allow cosplayers and fans to organize together for meet-ups. Find the missing group your cosplay needs, talk about the latest release and what it’s done to your heart, or discuss theory with other fans. Anime Expo provides 8 official gathering spots that are then organized and divided by the forum members. The official AX app does list the final gathering line-up as presented by the Cosplay.com forum. The fabulous and free NerdOut app also has an extensive list of cosplay gatherings and meeting time/places, so be sure to check that out as well!

Make sure to search for your favorites or check back often for the lists to be posted. These gatherings are great ways to join in with the fandom!

AX offers a slew of cosplay friendly options nowadays. Cosplay Senpais will be on hand for meet ‘n’ greets, advice, and general nerding out. A large selection of backdrops will be available for photographs, as well, so make sure to get some great snaps of your cosplay!

ANIME SCREENINGS

Anime screenings are cool for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a great place to sample new shows and find new series to binge watch shortly after getting home from AX. This is especially helpful if you’re not subscribed to an all-access streaming service like FUNimation or Crunchyroll. The screenings provide a good sampling of the most popular series, and as a bonus you get a group experience. This is the second, and possibly biggest, reason the screenings can be a lot of fun. Fans come together to watch a beloved series on the big screen. It’s always interesting, and usually fun. New fans can see what kind of passion an anime inspires in others, and current fans have a chance to mingle and share their like-mindedness. The screenings are yet another way Anime Expo brings fans together.

They also run until the wee hours of the morning, something that gives AX the edge over many other local conventions. There’s no shortage of nighttime entertainment for those who’ve traveled to be there or are spending the weekend in a nearby hotel.

GAMING

Anime Expo also boasts a large selection of gaming, with live demos available in a wide range of genres. An expansive tabletop gaming area is available in the Entertainment Hall, allowing tabletoppers new and experienced to engage in friendly competitions as well as daily tournaments. Visit the Arcade within the main show hall or settle into a great eGaming setup for head to head competitions. Whether you’re looking for casual or competitive play, AX is set up to offer options.

Vendors within the halls will also have many a demo setup. Take a chance to play a game before release, or walk through some features of games you may have been on the fence about buying. Any way you look at it, it’s a great opportunity to learn more and get some hands on experience.

TICKETED EVENTS

Aside from the included panels, cosplay setups, and gaming halls, there are a slew of ticketed events outside of the convention. These events are still a part of Anime Expo, but high demand or specialized circumstances mean they require tickets either simply signed up for or purchased. Concerts, the cosplay Masquerade, and the highly popular Maid and Butler Cafes are all ticketed events. Be sure to read through AX’s ticketing FAQ and follow the links for obtaining tickets of your own. Most events still have available tickets, and there will be an onsite ticketing booth to purchase tickets and avoid the Eventbrite fees, but we recommend ensuring you have tickets to your must-attend events ahead of time!


However you prepare for a convention, make sure you’re having fun with it! Conventions are about the fans, after all, and they’re designed to bring the industry and fans together. Panels exist to create a stronger link behind creators and fans as well as to inform people of the goings on. Check the updates often, don’t be afraid to reach out to other fans for guidance, and remember to just take a step back if things get overwhelming.

Writer. Cosplayer. Binge Netflix Watcher. Anime Dweeb. Book Enthusiast. Harbours inappropriately strong feelings about Shakespeare and William Blake. Once lost a whole day theorizing about Game of Thrones. The most motivated procrastinator she knows. Sometimes it works out in her favor. Mostly just causes widespread panic. It’s all good though, because she never forgets her towel.

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