Why in-person events are vital to the anime industry

This April, Interpret checked out its first anime convention in over two years – Seattle’s Sakura-Con. Live events have been making a comeback in  the anime space: 2021 saw a return to live events across all eight Animeasure segments. While official attendance numbers have not yet been publicized, anecdotally Sakura-Con 2022 did not feel noticeably smaller than prior years.

In particular, less core anime viewers – such as Interpret’s Prime Timers segment – are starting to attend in much greater numbers. While core con-attending segments like the Princesses and Adventurous Shippers saw con attendance tick up between 10-17%, Prime Timers saw their con attendance go up 300% in 2021!

In many ways getting back into the convention scene felt like going home, but it also felt like an anime time skip – with series released during the pandemic not receiving the same level of fan engagement and creativity. Cosplays, AMV contest entries, fanart – all seemed to conspicuously underrepresent pandemic-era series.

There were exceptions – Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba seemed ubiquitous despite its anime premiere not beating the onset of the pandemic by more than months. But the comparably popular Jujutsu Kaisen seemed comparatively absent (perhaps premiering in October 2020 in the midst of the pandemic made all the difference). It was almost as if fans had been waiting years to roll out projects for shows they got into just before the pandemic (like Demon Slayer) but then put their efforts for new series on pause until they had a clear outlet again.

The underlying message appears to be that while many events have succeeded online, there is still real hunger for in-person gatherings. As Kyoto Seika University scholar Tsunehiro Uno put it in a 2013 Ted Talk, “we need a real, physical location […] the role of the physical location is to provide a venue for non-day-to-day events to give outputs for the online communities.”

John McCallum, Senior Research Manager at Interpret, has worked with the organizers of Anime Expo to drive initiatives around the myriad ways live events uniquely engage fans. He remarked, “It is no coincidence that ‘Live Entertainment’ has grown as a revenue source every year the Association of Japanese Animations has tracked it until the pandemic impact of 2020, nor is it a coincidence that Crunchyroll has had its own Crunchyroll Expo since 2017 (with an expansion into Australia in 2022 announced just this year).”

There has been a great deal of talk about how many new fans of anime were created during the pandemic – talk backed up by our own Animeasure data. But eschewing live events could mean missing valuable opportunities to engage with fans more deeply and in ways that truly foster community and attachment to anime properties.

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