January 23, 2009

Looking Back on the Anime Conventions of 2008

by Patrick Delahanty, Senior Editor

Another year has passed and in this 800th news post it's time to look back on the previous twelve months of anime conventions. Compared to everything that happened in 2007, 2008 seems rather tame. There weren't nearly as many canceled events as there were in 2007 (and some of those managed to return for 2008), but there were a number of other significant events in the anime convention world in 2008.

There were 259 events listed in our database for 2008. That's up only slightly over 2007's 254 events. After only one year of low growth, it's too early to say that things are leveling off. This period of low growth can very likely be attributed to the poor economy with fewer people having the necessary funds to found new conventions.

One convention founder, Lawrence Stuckey, the chairman of T-MODE, passed away unexpectedly in early March. Lawrence was an active member of the forums and his passing took people by surprise. In memory of Lawrence, his wife, Sharvonique Renee Fortune-Stuckey, kept T-MODE going and the convention took place in September.

Later in March, the sixth Anime Boston took place with The Pillows performing in concert. Unfortunately, Anime Boston's at-con registration system was not equipped to handle the 14,339 badged people and many of those who showed up were stuck in line for most of the day on Friday. Some quick streamlining was done overnight and Saturday's lines weren't quite so bad. The convention has promised to make fixing the registration process their top priority for their 2009 convention.

Anime Central also had problems with excessively long lines when they had technical problems with their registration system. The convention organizers at ACen have also been working to avoid repeating the same issues in 2009 and have been discussing the corrections in their forums.

In May, it was reported that KnoxCon's webmaster had taken the web site design from MatsuriCon without permission. Rather than getting upset about it, MatsuriCon offered to help KnoxCon fix other issues with their site while continuing to use the same design.

On July 13th, Anime Evolution announced that they had to postpone their August convention on the Burnaby Campus of Simon Fraser University due to an orientation being scheduled on the the same weekend. Amazingly, it was announced less than two weeks later that the convention would be held the same weekend, but on the campus of University of British Columbia.

In August, Otakon announced that they were looking for information about fraudulent convention memberships which had been sold by a former staff member without permission. This certainly isn't the first time that someone has been caught selling fake convention memberships, but serves as a good reminder to only register for a convention and purchase memberships from reputable sources such as the web site of the convention itself.

On the first weekend of October, the New England Anime Society's grand experiment, Providence Anime Conference, took place. The conference (commonly referred to as "PAC") was billed as the world's first 21+ anime convention. Although the conference greatly missed its attendance estimates, it was considered extremely successful in every other aspect with rave reviews about its panel discussions, selection of video programming, social events, and general open and friendly feeling. Although there is not another PAC planned for 2009, there is a possibility that it may return in 2010 in a smaller venue.

Not long before November's JaniCon, the convention announced that it was cancelled as a result of the economy and the depletion of their resources. However, just a few days later, they had merged with Tri-County Comic Con to form TriCounty JaniCon and the convention would be moving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando. Anyone unable to attend was offered a full refund or free admission to Mizu Con.

This web site has continued to evolve throughout the year as well. In May, we began posting news updates to Twitter, the popular micro-blogging service, allowing people to subscribe and even get updates on their cell phones if they wish. We also quietly added a new section of articles which will be made more prominent as more articles and guides are published.

We're also very proud to announce that we will be releasing the first episode of our monthly podcast on anime conventions on January 31st. The podcast is hosted by Sketch and is written and produced by other members of the staff. Episodes feature anime convention news, lists of upcoming conventions, a question and answer segment, convention reports, and other content related to attending anime conventions. Some segments, such as convention news and Q&A, will appear monthly with other segments appearing periodically. People will be able to subscribe to the podcast for free in iTunes or watch episodes on this web site.

In terms of attendance at conventions, has continued collecting attendance figures from anime conventions around the world. Sometimes a convention will report the total number of paid attendees and other conventions will report the total number of people with a badge (which includes paid attendees, staff, guests, dealers, and others). We strongly encourage conventions to release both figures. Whenever available both figures are available, we list them on this web site. All numbers reported here and elsewhere on this site were reported by the conventions themselves.

The ten largest anime conventions in North America during 2008 were as follows:

  1. Anime Expo: 43,000 estimated warm bodies
  2. Otakon: 26,394 paid attendees
  3. New York Anime Festival: 18,399 warm bodies
  4. A-Kon: 15,000 estimated paid attendees
  5. FanimeCon: 14,926 warm bodies (13,685 paid attendees)
  6. Sakura-Con: 13,600 estimated paid attendees
  7. Anime Boston: 14,339 warm bodies (13,248 paid attendees)
  8. Anime Central: 13,900 estimated warm bodies
  9. Anime North: 13,300 estimated warm bodies
  10. Anime Weekend Atlanta: 11,101 paid attendees

In last year's review, Anime Expo 2007 had a reported attendance of 44,000. Their 2007 attendance has since been corrected to 41,671, which means their attendance for Anime Expo 2008 went up less than 2000 people. Otakon's paid attendance went from 22,852 at Otakon 2007 to 26,324 at Otakon 2008, an increase of 3,472 people. It's quite likely that the relatively low growth rate for these two large conventions is a result of the poor economy since larger conventions are often more expensive to attend than smaller ones, so people may end up looking for more local options rather than traveling to a large convention.

Third on this year's list is New York Anime Festival. With their 2007 event being in December, attendance numbers for that year were not available in time for them to be in last year's yearly review article, but their fact sheet for NYAF 2008 listed "15,000 attendees" for 2007. For 2008, they're reporting 18,399 people, which seems to be on the high side to many people who attended the convention and have also attended other conventions of similar size. Some have wondered if NYAF is reporting "turnstile" attendance (counting someone three times if they attended for three days), but NYAF staff have denied this counting practice. What seems to be more likely is that dealers were reportedly receiving ten exhibitor badges per space purchased, regardless of how many people they had working for them. We have also received reports of other badges being liberally distributed to industry and press.

In the fourth spot for the first time since our 2003 list is A-Kon. Coincidentally, the last time they were in the four-spot was when another New York convention was number three on the list.

Moving up one spot with about 3,000 more attendees than last year is FanimeCon.

Seattle-based Sakura-Con moves up two spots to sixth. The convention has achieved remarkable growth over the last few years. They weren't even on the list in 2003.

Even with its line problems, Anime Boston 2008 stays solidly in the seventh slot. It seems likely that the convention would easily have surpassed 15,000 people if it had not been for the excessively long lines. With this problem promised to be fixed in 2009, the only remaining question is how many people will decide to attend Anime Boston over Anime North, FanimeCon, Animazement, and JACON, all of which are being held on Memorial Day weekend this year.

Anime Central drops three spots to number eight while Anime North falls five to number nine. However, the conventions in fifth through ninth positions are so close together in attendance that they're all essentially tied.

Rounding out the list is Anime Weekend Atlanta with their first year of more than 10,000 paid attendees. With New York Anime Festival's addition to the list, its New Jersey neighbor, AnimeNEXT, gets bumped off the list as the 11th largest convention in North America in 2008.

As we do every year, would like to stress that the above list is not a list of the "best" conventions, but only the largest. There are many, many other great anime conventions out there worth checking out. Each year, thousands of anime fans have a great time at many of the smaller conventions that are out there and many people say that some of the smaller cons are their favorites. You'll also find that smaller conventions are often less expensive to attend once you factor in travel and hotel costs. That can be an important consideration in the current economy.

As for what's ahead in 2009, there are already a few new conventions on the calendar and many of the conventions held in 2008 seem to be returning. We encourage everyone to head on over to the Forums to talk about their experiences from 2008 and their plans for 2009. The forums are a great place for anime convention attendees, guests, and planners to come together to share information.

UPDATE: (January 29th) - After this article was written, FanimeCon submitted corrected attendance figures which moves them from ninth to fifth on the list. The text following the list has been updated to reflect the change in order.

Patrick Delahanty is the creator and senior editor of He is also host of The Chibi Project, Anime Unscripted, and is one of the founders of both Anime Boston and Providence Anime Conference. He has attended over 50 anime conventions, cosplaying at most of them.