It’s a new year and a new era. I continued my staff duties as Twilight Gala cosplay contest coordinator for the first day. I’ve always liked the Long Beach Convention Center as a venue for fandom celebrations. It’s not as overwhelming as the Anaheim Convention Center and it’s far more picturesque than the Los Angeles Convention Center. Being that this occurred right after the 2023 holiday season, we were in for some chilly Southern California weather. We were in the low 60’s and had a nippy wind chill in the evening.
Even from an outsider looking in, I do praise Anime Los Angeles for being one of the last of its kind in an era of ever-changing conventions. The norm in Southern California are two day weekend events that highlight American voice actors, local vendors, maybe an idol performance or two, a low key cosplay contest (if available), and a small selection of panels ending the day at 6PM. Anime Los Angeles, in contrast, is a four day all weekender party for anime enthusiasts. And the cost? $65 for all four days – one of the best value conventions on the west coast.
The Twilight Gala traditionally takes place on the first night. I love helping this event out because I got my start staffing conventions at Anime Expo 2004’s formal ball. I had my team of judges – Angel, A Cosplaying Tofu, and Kira Masquerade – inspect and interview our signups for the cosplay contest. We’re really looking for creativity and conceptual presentation. The contest is meant to be beginner friendly and a fun way to showcase formal interpretations and versions of cosplay.
The vibe of Twilight Gala can best be described as “otaku prom.” It definitely adds to the nightlife of the event. Additionally, there were other dances throughout ALA. I did take a peak into the Cosplay Deviant Dance which was your typical rave. Alcohol and light sticks was also being sold at this 18+ event. If that was not your tea, there were random hip hop dances in the lobby of the convention as provided by attendees. Don’t be surprised if you see a line of “Soulja Boy” bust out. Other nightlife choices included karaoke, 18+ shibari panels, and the 18+ cosplay contest.
I wanted to see masquerade, but I had to help co-host a panel given that the main co-panelist and the backup panelist backed out at the last minute. Masquerade moved to the larger and impressive Long Beach Terrace theatre giving it the venue that this destination cosplay contest deserves. There were cosplay fandom meetups throughout the con. Outdoor cosplay gathering locations were very much spread out from the theatre, swan boat lake, and right in front of the Hyatt lobby. I attended the Sunday Genshin meetup and it was one of the largest meetups at con!
While I was at the Genshin meetup, I was giving away Jean ribbons. Jean is one of my mains in Genshin Impact (we all need a healer). Ribbon collecting and trading is part of ALA’s unique con culture inherited by the Boomer ran Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions. You can find attendees settled in the convention center lobby trading and showing off their ribbon collection. Even if you’re not familiar with ribbon collecting and trading, it can be a very addictive hobby to get into during the four day weekend. You will find attendees that have hundreds of ribbons attached to their convention badge!
Anime Los Angeles 19 had a theme of video games. They did move the video games to the Seaside basement. The arcade had a very humble selection of rhythm games and console games. For a medium sized convention, it was fairly small, but there was hardly a wait for a round of Dance Dance Revolution or Para Para Paradise. I did drop by table top gaming to play card games with friends on my down time. I ended up winning a brand new card game – I just need a group of friends to try it out (LFG, anyone?).
Anime Los Angeles has a very strong programming schedule. I was very busy with my staff duties that I wish I had time to check out the robust panel line up. Idol Showcase took place on Sunday and the fashion show took place on Friday. I attended the Diversity in Cosplay panel which focused more on African American representation in cosplay and in media. I also attended Most Extreme Elimination Challenge: Anime Besties edition where an intrepid team of entertainers had to argue and debate who were anime’s best ever besties. Such answers included Ash and Pikachu, Ash’s Mom and Mr. Mime, Nina and Man’s Best Friend, Sailor Moon and the Squad, Takumi and the Hachi Roku, and my personal favorite, Sakura and Tomoyo.
ALA is my go-to event in Southern California, but we all know that not every convention is perfect. I wished there were more choices for food trucks. I love Okamoto Kitchen, but I’m more likely to pay $30 for a sit down meal (entree and drink) than to stand in line for half an hour for a quick service quality meal. I would have loved to have had more variety of food choices given that Long Beach does have choices, but the wait times for Island’s were reportedly two hours for food delivery. While not in ALA’s control, we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, which was going under construction which meant no convenient Starbucks in the morning. Additionally, it caught me off guard that the vendor hall had a timeshare booth. While I get that vendor halls need may be one or two non-anime booths for balance, I feel this would be better serviced by another fashion or snack (ie: beef jerky) vendor.
Overall, ALA is a convention that I do recommend my out of town friends to check out if they’re curious about Southern California (or “Cali”) convention and fandom culture. Anime Expo can be too overwhelming (and too hot) for a vacation convention. If vibes and programming is what you’re looking for, Anime Los Angeles can best service your little otaku heart!