Anime fans pack sold-out Crunchyroll Expo 2022 in Bay Area after 2-year hiatus


Tina Tran participates in the K-Pop Dance Play at the Crunchyroll Expo in San Jose on Saturday, Aug. 6. In its sixth year, the festival featured meet-and-greet sessions, screenings and exclusive merchandise. Photo: Don Feria / Special to The Chronicle

Dressed in furry robes and masks reminiscent of ones worn by plague doctors, Katherine Tung and her friend hopped to and fro in a corner of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, drawing in passers-by with their flashy costumes and funky steps.

“This character’s known for being an annoying gremlin, and that fits my personality a lot,” Tung said in explaining how the two dressed as abyss mages, enemies from the popular video game “Genshin Impact,” before letting out a highly convincing screech akin to the sound made by the characters in the game.

Katherine Tung (right) of Seattle dressed as an abyss mage from the game “Genshin Impact” with her friend to attend Crunchyroll Expo. Photo: Stephanie Zhu / The Chronicle

Tung traveled from Seattle to join the thousands of anime fans who attended Crunchyroll Expo, the three-day anime convention that took over downtown San Jose Friday-Sunday, Aug. 5-7. The sold-out event transformed the normally unassuming convention center into a vibrant space dubbed “New Crunchy City,” complete with “city districts” dedicated to fan-created art, shopping and star-studded shows and panels.

Banners and screens were decked out with Crunchyroll’s mascot known as Crunchyroll-Hime, a pony-tailed female anime character dressed in an orange ninja outfit.

San Diego artist Caitlin Carr, also known as Birdybomb, works on a piece for a client at the Crunchyroll Expo. Photo: Don Feria / Special to The Chronicle

The Expo, inaugurated in 2017 by Japanese anime streaming service Crunchyroll, returned this year to an in-person format (with an online component) after two years of virtual programming due to the pandemic. For fans who love meeting new people, the event going live again was a relief.

“Seeing all the other people in costumes struck a chord with me,” said Santa Clara resident Theo Gardiner, who dressed as a character from the show “Jujutsu Kaisen” with an added twist: a banana suit.

For those unable to attend in-person, the recorded live stream is available until 10 pm Tuesday, Aug. 9.

Javier Guerrero (left) and Shana Guerrero, 10, pose with Nintendo characters Mario and Luigi at the Crunchyroll Expo. Photo: Don Feria / Special to The Chronicle

Mary Franklin, head of events at Crunchyroll, said the hybrid design of the show was a choice made with the comfort and convenience in mind. Important factors in having the expo in San Jose were accessibility, including availability of public transit, relatively low admission costs for both fans and exhibitors, and a pop culture con-friendly neighborhood. (The convention center is the birthplace of Silicon Valley Comic Con, now known as SiliCon with Adam Savage, which plans to return Aug. 27-28.)

Safety was also a concern this year. Attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of full vaccination in order to enter the venue due to the ongoing pandemic and local monkeypox outbreak. Producers also decided to amp up security in the wake of recent mass shootings around the country.

A state-of-the-art security system was added, Franklin said, with scanners that were “quick for fans to go through, but also more accurate than others.” No props resembling firearms were allowed and cosplay weapons had to be made of a light material like cardboard or foam.

Mekena Ramos, dressed as Jinx from “League of Legends,” carries her weapon Fishbones and makes her way through the crowd at the Crunchyroll Expo. Photo: Don Feria / Special to The Chronicle

On the programming side, Crunchyroll added a new music festival, featuring popular Japanese acts such as Atarashii Gakko!, SiM and Burnout Syndromes as headliners.

Each night, fans gathered at the music stage to sing along to hit songs from shows like “Haikyuu!!” and “Attack on Titan.” Things reached a fever pitch on Saturday, when SiM vocalist MAH called out to the crowd: “Shut up, get on your knees and be ready to jump!” Nearly everyone complied.

Another new element was a series of panel discussions that covered topics ranging from Japanese vegetable carving to Asian American and Pacific Islander representation in entertainment, many of which reached maximum capacity. The “Genshin Impact Jeopardy” panel, for instance, closed due to capacity constraints on Friday and a collective groan could be heard from attendees lined up for a chance to witness Anne Yatco, the voice actress for a character in the game, in action.

As for Crunchyroll as a product, the streaming service is looking to expand even more next year, said Terry Li, head of emerging businesses and games. Through experimentation with augmented and virtual reality, the company hopes to bolster events like the Expo in the future.

“We tried really hard to showcase all aspects of the Crunchyroll business — we have a more diverse lineup of panels, a significant build-up of games and huge presence for store commerce,” said Li. “We’re really trying to engage the community.”



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