For better or worse, Crunchyroll is perhaps the biggest face of anime fandom in the English-speaking world. They currently have the largest catalogue of streaming anime, they provide news articles and blog features, and they have a heavy social media presence, to the point you could argue it’s much too heavy. They have their detractors, sure, but they’re unarguably one of the biggest players in the game. So when they announced they’d be holding their own convention, it was a logical step that plenty of people were excited about. But as I look through the guests they’ve announced to this point (the morning of August 8th), I’m worried that it’s going to be, as the title of this post implies, a fucking shitshow.
There are currently 27 guests announced, and the choices of most of these guests are…puzzling, to say the least. Let’s check out what exactly these guests are known for.
Only 4 guests are Japanese creators. That is to say, the people actually involved in the creation of anime, manga, light novels, etc., are surprisingly underrepresented. These four include Hiroshi Shimizu (prolific animator who’s worked on a number of well-regarded works), Yoshitaka Amano (an artist, character designer, and illustrator), Kore Yamazaki (mangaka for The Ancient Magus’ Bride), and Keiichi Sigasawa (author of Kino’s Journey).
The selection of these guests isn’t disappointing by any means. The disappointing part is how few of them there are, considering Crunchyroll’s industry pull. While I’m aware that scheduling and travel are difficult, you’d think their connections would pull over at least a few more people. They have at least some direct involvement in funding and production for anime, and since licensing is vital to their business model, they need to be maintaining good relationships with various production companies.
Maybe they’re adding more Japanese creators as guests. It’s entirely possible. Hell, the number went from three to four last night, when I first began formulating this post. But at the moment, it’s a surprising amount of underrepresentation.
The people involved in production on the Western side of things aren’t faring much better. Only 4 guests are American creators heavily involved in the anime industry. These are Caitlin Glass, Monica Rial, Max Mittelman, and Gray Haddock…who’s not even billed primarily as someone with involvement in anime voice work. Again, fine choice of guests, and 8 of 27 guests directly involved with the anime industry in some capacity doesn’t seem like too big of an issue. But then you start looking at some of the other stats.
Of the aformentioned 27 guests, 6 are Rooster Teeth employees. This is, incidentally, what Gray Haddock is billed as, over his anime voicework. Now, the people involved with RWBY do obviously have some experience writing, directing, animating, and acting for something that has the appearance of anime, but at the risk of opening up the can of worms that is definitions…RWBY just ain’t anime. It takes inspiration from anime, sure, but Rooster Teeth’s productions (even the 2D ones) almost certainly have a wildly different process than what most congoers are going to think of as anime. And really, if I wanted a con dedicated to Rooster Teeth shows, I’d just go to fucking RTX.
A whole SEVEN guests are YouTubers. Obviously the YouTube anime fan community has some sway, but of these seven, only four (Digibro, Gigguk, Glass Reflection, and Mother’s Basement) are doing any sort of meaningful analysis on anime or actually contributing to the community rather than just whoring for attention. Prozd puts out low-quality meme content, Octopimped puts out the sort of shit that makes me hate YouTube, and while Freddie Wong is legitimately talented and arguably has trancended the label of “YouTuber,” I’m pretty sure that very little of his content is even tangentially related to anime.
Which leads us to the big problem: the number of guests that have little or nothing to do with anime is strangely high for a convention by a company whose primary focus is anime. In addition to the aforementioned Rooster Teeth employees and YouTubers, we have video game actors, western live action television stars, and the creators of Dream Daddy. But the most egregious examples are the Guests of Honor.
In addition to the four Japanese creators, who are rightly deserving of the title “Guest of Honor” just for coming from overseas to give their time, the two other people who are being given top billing are Adam Savage and Johnny Weir.
I’m sorry, what?
Now, look. I’ve got nothing against either of these people. I’ve watched my share of Mythbusters, and I’ve seen some thoughtful comments from Adam. I know his pedigree and I think he’s a great guy. Johnny Weir I know very little about, but as an Olympic figure skater and medalist, he’s obviously a very talented person. But…I don’t think an anime convention is the place to be highlighting them. Weir in particular is a confusing case, because his inclusion seems to be based on the fact that he got into anime through Yuri on Ice. And I want to make it clear I mean no disrespect to him as a person when I say that if a Guest of Honor at your anime convention is less knowledgeable about anime than the average congoer, you’re doing something wrong. While I know Savage has done some impressive anime-based cosplay,* I’m also not sure just how much knowledge he has about the medium either. This is not to say they have no place at this con. On the contrary, I think a figure skating anime converting a professional figure skater into an anime fan is an awesome thing that should be celebrated, and a well-known television personality being open about his anime fandom is only a good thing for anime.
The problem is that this convention seems to be focusing on big name personalities more than anime itself. And as Crunchyroll is one of the biggest faces of anime here, that’s disheartening. I want to see this fandom grow into something bigger and something great, but when the company doing the most work attempting to increase anime fandom decides to bring in the guests Crunchyroll Expo is bringing in, it feels hollow and a little corporate. Why so many Rooster Teeth employees? I know Crunchyroll is releasing RWBY. Are there obligations there? Is Johnny Weir’s inclusion just to drum up more hype for Yuri on Ice, Crunchyroll’s most popular recent show? Is Adam Savage actually going to bring anything to the table, or is he just a big name they can throw up there to say “wow, look at this get?”
Again, not all the guests are announced, and maybe the numbers will start evening out more as more are revealed. Maybe all of this will be invalidated. But as of now, I don’t have a lot of hope for Crunchyroll Expo, and as a result, what direction Crunchyroll seems to be trying to take anime fandom.
*Since there’s really no good way to work this into the post, I just want to bring up Mostflogged’s inclusion as a professional cosplayer and say that I’ve got no beef with that choice since cosplay is an important part of anime fandom and one or two guests like that seems to be a good inclusion.