CharaExpo 2018

I am sure by now you’ve heard of the absolute clusterfuck that went down at CharaExpo last weekend. On Friday night, the night before the event started, I saw people already in line at 8pm like it was Black Friday or something. CharaExpo staff mentioned that lining up before 6am was prohibited, but I guess nothing was really stopping them. They even wrote numbers on their hands so they can remember thier position in line — as if that nonsense would work. I wasn’t so far removed from sense to line up for 14 hours to have some seiyuu scribble on a piece of cardboard for me. I was in Anaheim and I was going to spend Friday night having fun with my fri-HAHA JUST KIDDING

Two months ago, I decided to confirm to CharaExpo after seeing the guest lineup and how it would feature both BanG Dream and Revue Starlight; two franchises that I absolutely adore. Judging by the size and narrow focus of the event, I expected a chill, easygoing convention and to see some seiyuu and maybe watch a live.

So you can imagine my surprise Friday night when I got to the hotel room as nemu (@nemu_no_mune) and his friends were pulling out camping gear. A bit of a heads up next time would be appreciated…

The way CharaExpo autographs work is you spend money at the merchandise booth to exchange for an event ticket ($30 per ticket, max 3 per day). The event tickets can be exchanged for an autograph session or a concert. There are 100 tickets to autograph sessions, first come first served.

At 8pm, the only people in front of us were this group of Japanese people who have apparently just flown in. These motherfuckers are the most hardcore people I’ve ever seen; they still had their luggage on them! I have deep respect for people who love their hobbies so much as to fly to another country and wait in line overnight for something.

Over the next few hours, more people started to gather. One person in our group came up with an idea to write numbers on the back of our hands so we would have an idea of our position in line in case we get kicked out. I was especially concerned for our Japanese guests and the possibility they would lose their place after all the suffering they went through. By midnight, the last number was past 100.

Lo and behold, we were kicked out a bit past 1am. My group went back to the hotel and took a nap before returning at 3:30am. To our pleasant surprise, our numbering system worked! People more or less respected our previous places in line and we patiently chatted until the sun eventually rose.

Here’s the crew and I at the front of the line Saturday morning. We don’t appear to be that passionate because… it’s been a long night.

Finally, we were let in (and it turned into a potentially dangerous scramble towards the merchandise booth). I spent $90 as quickly as I could and got all the signing sessions I wanted.

First up was Aiba Aina, a seiyuu whom I’ve taken a huge liking to in the past year thanks to BanG Dream: Girls Band Party and Revue Starlight. While in line, I couldn’t think of what to say to her, so I was messaging a friend of mine for ideas. When it was finally my turn, I greeted her with “bonjour”, which elicited a warm smile. I was just glad spaghetti wasn’t falling out of my pockets.

Aiai asked if I liked Revue Starlight to which I responded that I loved it. She finished her autograph and gave me a “merci” in Claudine’s voice. Yeah that line was worth it.

Next up was Suzuko Mimori. Her autographs likely ran out first and necessitated my insane decision to line up so early. My friend Nobue (@VVVSnow) had something come up at the last minute and couldn’t make it, so I figured I would surprise him with this as he is a huge Mimorin fan.

I admitted to my group that I never really understood the obsession with Mimorin. I don’t really like µ’s but even then I get the vibe that Umi isn’t that popular anyway. I don’t pay attention to her music career and I don’t really think her pictures look that pretty. But when I saw Mimorin in the flesh while I stood in her line, it all clicked.

She gives off this aura of gracefulness that is not captured by photographs and not something easily described. She was also rocking a super cute ponytail. Two girls in cosplay behind me were gushing over her. They were so excited to meet their favorite seiyuu and I felt really happy for them. Knowing what I had just gone through, I am glad their miserable night was getting vindicated.

Finally was Koyama Momoyo, who plays the lead character Aijo Karen in Revue Starlight. I love Moyomoyo, she is so adorable and even more so up close in real life. I was around fourth in line for Moyo’s autograph and nemu was right in front of me. After signing nemu’s board with what appeared to be a sharpie, she muttered something to the staff about the marker, and pulled out a different marker for my autograph.

Until the day I die, I will believe Momoyo said “yo, I’m pulling out the T H I C C marker for this kevo person.”

She complemented me on my Japanese which is a boldfaced lie and we both knew it, but that was ok.

As for the rest of CharaExpo, it was fine. I met a bunch of people I didn’t expect to see there, but also a lot of familiar faces from the convention/eventer circuit. For day 2, I took it a bit easier and only got to the line at 4am, which was good enough to get me tickets to Roselia. I didn’t expect to break 25 UO’s to Roselia, but life sometimes is unpredictable. I flew home to Chicago at midnight on Sunday, arriving Monday morning just in time for work. Overall, it turned out to be an incredibly exhausting convention with very unique experiences I could not get elsewhere. My body aches and I think I have a slight fever but meeting all these seiyuu was a hell of a time.

Before we end, let us have a discussion about how CharaExpo was run this year, and changes I would like to see in the future.

CharaExpo is small — the entire event takes place in a place that is around the size of Anime Expo’s dealer hall. The focus is narrow: Bandori, Revue Starlight, wrestling, and card games. Given those parameters, once you are in the door, I felt like CharaExpo was run wonderfully. Events started more or less on time and everything was clean and fun.

The discussion more or less dominating the discourse is the first-come-first-served system for event tickets. There is no way to distribute limited goods in a way that will make everyone happy. Mimorin is only going to sign 100 boards, so only 100 people are going to be satisfied no matter what system you implement. But incentivizing people to line up the night before is not healthy or safe.

Now that I have experienced it, I know precisely for whom I actually would line up all night. For hardcore fans, it’s a straightforward system — we are fine with working hard to get something we want, as long as our efforts are actually paid off.

In the case of CharaExpo, we know we were not supposed to line up before 6am, and would likely be asked to leave after midnight. We came up with our own system of numbers which luckily for us mostly worked to keep the peace on day 1. We did not appreciate the peanut gallery on the Bang Dream Discord while we were in line, but we got autographs while you got sleep.

I was not involved in the politics of day 2, but I am certain funny business took place at the front of the line. When I got there at 4am I was 146th, but by 9am I was around 300th. When you have people making unofficial lines and coming up with unofficial numbers, people are going to cheat. And if people are willing to line up for 14 hours to get an autograph, you can bet people are willing to cut in line and exploit the system to get an autograph. By the way, if you are one of those people, fuck you. People gave up valuable time and made potentially expensive trips to Anaheim just to see their favorite industry people and get something nice from them, and you cheated them out of it.

While we were waiting day 1, czub (@mczub) came over to us and said, “yo, this sucks.” I agreed that the line was pretty boring but he clarified that he meant the system sucks. There had to be a better way to distribute event tickets than “who is most effective at circumventing security and taking advantage of queue policies.”

One idea is chuusen (a lottery), which is a system much beloved by us eventers. Chuusen are absolutely fair, and don’t require lining up for anything, but are extremely painful to lose because you can’t do anything. If CharaExpo institutes a lottery for seiyuu autographs and ties it to your member registration, I guess the only way to increase your odds are to register several times to take multiple cracks at the lottery.

A more creative idea that czub mentioned is a Dutch auction, which are very good (for the seller) when the good in demand is inelastic such as this case. They would post some kind of ridiculous price for each autograph ticket, let’s say $1000 for Aimi’s autograph session. And that price is valid for one day. After one day, the price drops to $900, then $800, etc. until all 100 are sold. Like first-come-first-served, this ensures the really hardcore people that will do anything for something like this would be satisfied. It is a trade of money instead of time.

Either way, I feel like something has to change. Conventions are supposed to be fun and waiting in line all night is not fun. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make depending on who it is, but it’s definitely not fun. I hope in the future CharaExpo will give me a reason to return, and when I do return, it is less painful to get things that I want.