With COVID-19’s boot on our necks in the form of crippled global economies and widespread quarantines, it’d be easier to breathe if we had less obligations and more in our bank accounts.
On Friday April 16th, Ray Chiang (CEO for The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation) announced Anime Expo would not be held this year. In Ray’s words, “This was one of the most difficult decisions we have had to make in the 29 years of Anime Expo.” Suffice to say AX is a monolith in the con scene—a veritable keystone in many anime fan’s summer plans. Its absence leaves another gaping hole in the age of Corona alongside other annual milestones like SXSW and E3.
Aside from chances to unwind by trading your bank account for PVC and turning up at MOGRA’s famous sets. Anime Expo is a premiere venue for artists, cosplayers, and other ani-community members to sell wares and make contacts. For many, AX’s cancellation means missing out on potentially crucial economic opportunities—a sacrifice likely considered by Chiang and the powers that be.
I won’t pretend to know everything there is to running a convention or similar large-scale event, but I do have experience wrangling groups of people with different work schedules into cohesive travel and board arrangements (shoutouts to Tekko). By the time you manage to drag the stars into some semblance of an alignment, you’ve made so many calls and compromises. Not to mention the surprising amount of prep-work associated if you’re vending what with the inventory, pricing, marketing, banking, and shift planning. Transportation and setup are two whole beasts on top of all that.
This is exactly why you’d rather scrap your plans sooner rather than later.
Wasted effort is demoralizing, but you’d rather find out your plans won’t pan out ASAP to avoid wasting energy that could go towards efforts that still have promise. If it were a a bad breakup, disappointment and heartache is bound to happen no matter how long you put it off. You’re better off being merciful to all parties involved by getting it over with so everyone can start looking for an alternative to a situation that clearly isn’t working.
To add, these are uncertain times—not just now, but also what’s to come. A post-quarantine world begs a lot questions about things like PPE, employment, and family care.
On the superficial end, how many people would need to rethink their cosplay to incorporate or hide masks? Would any “decent” group photo need a super-wide lens to compensate for the 6ft of space between everyone? How many false flags would get raised by people who think they caught the ‘Rona but really it’s just standard post-con sickness?
How about finances—could you comfortably splurge on a long-weekend’s worth of room, food, and merchandise if you’d been laid off during non-essential business closures? If you still have a job after isolation restrictions lift, there might not even be the option to take time off if your workplace needs all hands on deck to make up for downtime.
Maybe most concerning, but hopefully less common—would you be fine taking time off while your loved ones are fighting off or recovering from a case of COVID-19?
You could argue this is the perfect time for a recess from hard days, but good luck finding an escape from the source of your troubles while it still permeates every facet of daily life and ignoring it can actually make it worse. Even if quarantine restrictions are lifted in time, there’s too many complications for AX or similar summer gathering to feasibly resemble past years’ events.
Canceling Anime Expo this year must’ve been a hard call, but it was likely inevitable. What’s more, the staff has offered to return badge fees to their patrons. This gesture goes a long way considering a little more cash in-hand these days can mean the difference between resting easy and selling current collections to get by.
While many organizers have done the necessary cancellations due to health and logistics, not all have done so with Anime Expo’s level of empathy. Many anime conventions and other organizations have either not considered their patron’s well-being or have chosen to play dumb by rolling expenses over to “credits” or 2021 equivalents. Of course businesses as well as consumers are struggling to stay afloat, but this strategy has yet to work out for any group.
Ticketmaster, Stubhub, Livenation, and several Airlines tried resisting refund requests until a wave of backlash, including lawsuits and criticism from government officials, forced their hand. Other services like VRBO and Airbnb have actually doubled-down by making the refund process as excruciating as possible in a move that will likely cause many to scrap the refund in pure frustration. As shown by comments towards Ticketmaster (already disliked by performers and ticket holders prior to COVID-19), this is not good business.
For cash-strapped organizers still planning large summer events—your best bet is to cut losses to invest in the future. Organizing big events is expensive, but not as much as losing customers.
Either rip the band-aid off now and return the funds your clientele didn’t expect to need in case of a global pandemic so they can rough it long enough to (hopefully) show up next year. Or, you can risk having your hand forced by formerly-loyal, currently-stressed ex-patrons who will remember how you treated them in their moment of need. If you don’t think online communities hold grudges or impact finances, you’ve never dipped your toes in comic and video game media circles.
People appreciate kindness in moments of desperation. Care for your audience in their time of need and they’ll respond in kind because they know their dollars are going towards a cause that recognizes them.
It’s time to call it.