Crunchyroll Expo 2018

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For those who are not familiar with Crunchyroll and it’s service, it is probably the largest provider of anime streaming content on the Internet. Through mobile and console apps via Roku, Amazon Fire, Playstation and XBox, they have grown very popular as the default service for licensed legally available anime. One of the pluses is their licensing deals with Japanese studios to allow simulcasts of current anime seasons. That means as an episode airs in Japan, it is streamed online with subtitles that same day.

In 2017, Crunchyroll had their first Crunchyroll Expo (CRX for short) at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It was quite a good turnout as a medium-sized convention, Not San Diego Comic-Con numbers, and that is a good thing. This year, CRX was held in San Jose, a larger venue and at least as big a crowd if not bigger. To be fair SacAnime was also going on in Sacramento and the behemoth of Dragon Con was also going in in Atlanta.

CRX differs a few ways from other anime conventions in that since it is run by a specific company there is of course bias towards Crunchyroll and it’s content. If you’ve ever been to Sony’s PSX, then this might sound familiar. Fortunately, Crunchyroll has enough content worth running a convention over.

The exhibit hall of the convention center had much to offer, including food from outside vendors whose menus included katsu curry sandwiches, takoyaki, and what has become a mainstay at geeky conventions in San Jose’s convention center, Psycho Donuts.

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In addition to the main hall being a vendors room where you can get all sorts of anime related merchandise from blu-rays to cosplay wigs, figures, plushies and even body pillows, there  was an extensive artists area. This artist area is a great place for finding art prints, postcards, even crochet. And to me the examples of creativity is really well represented in anime conventions.

This year, there were quite a few premiers and retrospective screenings of anime films all throughout the day. GKids, which is celebrating its 10 anniversary, brought in their library of Studio Ghibli films and even their Irish import, The Secret of Kells.  A major stand out for me was the premier of the English dub of Maquia. It had previously made the rounds in limited release subtitled and is now about to make the rounds again dubbed. If you get a chance to see this in the theater do so — and call your mother. Seriously, you’ll want to. It is truly a beautifully animated film that is also incredibly emotional as well.

Another premier was for a new anime about to make the rounds called Penguin Highway. It’s quite a charming and at times surreal film about youth, inquisitiveness, and of course penguins. I’m a sucker for pengins already adn penguins in anime will score huge points from me.

Both films came courtesy of Eleven Arts Studio which was responsible for bringing over the truly remarkable film A Silent Voice — which , by the way, still doesn’t have a North American home video release. I had to import the Region B UK blu-ray. Luckily I had a blu-ray player that can switch regions. More in-depth reviews of both films are forthcoming.

One new upcoming show I got to see was the premier of The Rise of the Shield Hero coming in January to Crunchyroll. Yes it’s yet another Isekai anime, a genre where a protagonist is brought out of their regular mundane world and transported to a fantasy RPG like world. And frankly for the first half of the premier episode I was cynical, but after a twist it does become very interesting and becomes a little darker. I’ll be looking forward to where they go with this in January. Meanwhile there have been several light novels and manga already translated and available already.

Of course, as with most anime conventions, there are guests. One of the most popular animes right now is My Hero Academia, an anime that is heavily influenced by Western super-hero comics. So it’s no wonder that it has a cross appeal not just because its influences but because it’s a darn good show. In my opinion it is also a show that is very well done in the English dub and several of the English voice actors were on hand having fun swapping their roles from several scenes from the show.

Crunchyroll was just recently acquired by AT&T and I don’t know how that will effect the service going forward and also the future of any more Expos. But if AT&T were smart and cared (seriously, I doubt that from my experience) they will grow and continue on with CRX. So until next year — hopefully…

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Harry Potter and the Brisket of Beef

So a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending LeakyCon 2018 a Harry Potter Convention. It was in Dallas  Texas and since it was in the middle of August it was muggy, and it was rainy, actually. So of course with tradition among all convention centers, the air conditioning was turned to about 60 degrees inside while it was in the 90s outside.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, when you find yourself in Texas, and you like barbecue, y’all gotta try Texas barbecue. I found my way to Lockhart Smokehouse which is a place where you place your order at a counter in a back and they give you your food wrapped in butcher paper, then you find a place to sit. As my hobby is smoking barbecue, it was damn good brisket. Seriously, getting good authentic barbecue should not be that hard in San Francisco. Okay, onward.

If you discount the Harry Potter Celebration Days at Universal Studios Orlando then this is my third Harry Potter inspired convention my first was Azkatraz 2009 which was held in my hometown of San Francisco It was fun. And of course, being that kind of nerd, I really liked the academic panels, especially about the mythology and influences of the books.

My second was LeakyCon 2016 in Anaheim. It was similar in many ways to Azkatraz. It was a small convention, maybe less than a thousand attendees, but that made it all the more friendly. Sure, the passes I got allowed me autographs with some of the actors, but I was not actually interested in getting anything signed. The highlight of the event was one night just hanging out in the lobby with a couple of those same actors who were having a great time playing the bar piano and belting away Broadway tunes.

LeakyCon 2017 was held in Dublin, Ireland. I was hoping for Dublin, California. But no go there. So I missed out on that.

Which brings us to LeakyCon 2018 in Dallas, Texas. For me I had not planned on going post Dublin. In fact, since I ain’t rich and have to work for a living, by mid 2017 I already planned my nerdy convention going, Baycon in May, Wordcon in August and CRX (Crunchyroll Expo) sometime in the fall. In fact I already paid for Baycon and Wordcon a year ahead of time. So of course I ended up going  to Dallas anyway, which happened the weekend before Worldcon.

I don’t know what the final numbers are for the attendance of LeakyCon 18 were but it was far bigger than I had imagined it would be and frankly beyond the intimate convention that I was expecting. Instead it was like something between a Wizard Word Convention and Wondercon size. Hurray for the attendance, but there were sacrifices of that small intimacy and of previous experiences and as huge and diverse as the panels were, there were a couple of things lacking, one of which was no panels on cosplay or costuming. And there were basically no or little academic panels. There were quite a few sorting of other fictional character though.

I’m sure there were several factors that contributed to the size of this sold out convention, part of it was that there has never been a Leaky convention in Texas. Another part was that since last year’s was in Dublin Ireland, those that could not make it overseas wanted to come to this year’s. And of course guest actors from the movies (with autograph opportunities) were a big draw. Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol (Kowalski and Queenie respectively from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) have great chemistry and play off each other well off screen as well as on.

We are at a cusp now. Harry Potter is now entering into its third decade and it is remarkable that the fandom is not slowing down. But it should be noted that many of those fans in 1998 when the first book came out are still around and possibly raising their own children. Which brings me to the point about the panels, they still skewed towards a YA crowd but a good percentage of the crowd were over 25.

Next year, I’ll be in Boston. They will have one in Dallas too, in August again. No thanks to that. Anyway, I hope they realize that diverse panels also include panels for some of us old folks and some of us nerdy college grads and English majors would totally love more academic tracks in the programming. If you are fan of Harry Potter, going to one of these is still a joy and definitely an experience.