As anime and manga grow in popularity, South Bay continues to be a hotspot for fan bases | Pro Club Bd

Crunchyroll Expo in San Jose returns as an in-person event after two years of being virtual due to the pandemic. Photo: Crunchyroll

The South Bay is home to many cultural innovations and movements, from tech startups to skateboard tricks and mystery houses to La Victoria Taqueria’s orange sauce. But in the world of anime and manga, the Valley of Heart’s Delight has proven fertile ground for Japanese animation, comics, and graphic novels to thrive and grow.

San Jose in particular is a prime destination for fans of the genre. It’s already home to two major anime-friendly conventions – FanimeCon and Silicon with Adam Savage – who fill the streets of downtown San Jose with professional and civilian cosplayers. The next big show, Crunchyroll Expo, will be held Friday through Sunday, August 5 through 7 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

Crunchyroll, the popular streaming service specializing in Asian entertainment, launched this event in Santa Clara in 2017. After going virtual for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the self-proclaimed “hypest event in anime” returns in-person exclusive premieres (the first two episodes of “Mob Psycho 100 III”), appearances by voice actors from ” Jujutsu Kaisen” and “My Hero Academia” and other special guests.

There will also be a music stage, a play area, etc Hololive meet-and-greet experience (face-to-face interaction with VTubers like Mori Calliope and Takanashi Kiara) and “districts” dedicated to art and shopping. And in case you’ve always wanted to see a Grogu sweet potato rendition (aka baby yoda), professional vegetable carver Okitsugu Kado will be there. The fair will also be streamed online.

How did San Jose become a global destination for anime and manga fans? The knee-jerk answer, of course, is that San Jose and Silicon Valley equates to a lot of nerds (I live and defend San Jose all the time and can attest to that).

The real answer, of course, goes a little deeper.

The Crunchyroll Expo in San Jose. Photo: Crunchyroll

Mary Franklin knows a lot about fandom. As Events Director for Crunchyroll, Franklin oversees the team hosting the San Jose show (a second show is planned for September in Melbourne, Australia). She joined the company after helping launch Comic-Cons overseas and having worked at Lucasfilm for 14 years, where she led events and fan relations, including the Star Wars Celebration fan festival.

Franklin admits that she was unfamiliar with anime and manga before joining Crunchyroll three years ago, but her previous experiences helped her bring to lightspeed how passionate fan communities can be.

“One thing I love about both Japanese animation and ‘Star Wars’ fandom is their appeal to the community,” Franklin said. “They are not passive fans; They create their own communities, are passionate about connecting with people and sharing information.”

When asked what makes the South Bay an attractive travel destination, Franklin points to the logistics: easy access to three airports; a good convention center staff; and a manageable downtown area with hotels, restaurants, and meeting places. And, of course, a fan base: “We’re very fortunate to have a lot of anime fans throughout the Bay Area,” Franklin said.

Down the street from the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose’s Japantown neighborhood is Nikaku Japanese Arts. The humble shop above the Minato Japanese Restaurant has been in the anime and manga game since 1986. Nikaku is a family-run business that mainly sells Japanese handicrafts — decorative plates, tea sets, figurines — but also houses a wide range of anime and manga merchandise. It does brisk business online and was an early supporter and contributor to local conventions like WonderCon (held in Oakland and San Francisco from 1987 to 2011) and sci-fi-focused BayCon (first held in San Jose in 1982).

The Crunchyroll Expo in San Jose. Photo: Crunchyroll

Nikaku executive Tyler Kogura believes that Silicon Valley’s mix of disposable income tech workers and suburban families with children ages 16 to 20 provides important demographics. It also helps that the content has become more accessible and general. Hot Topic at Standby Mall stocks anime merchandise in addition to Nirvana t-shirts. Even Target sells manga, toys, and posters of crossover hits like My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, and Haikyu!!

“A lot of the stories are more complex and elaborate than people initially think,” Kogura said. “There are genres for everyone: horror, romance, action. There are manga for girls, boys, kids and adults.”

The new generation of Japanese animation fans start collecting early. For the past six years, the Santa Clara City Library has had its own one-day Comic Con. Featuring guest speakers, vendors, discussion boards and even lightsaber lessons, the free event has grown in scale and scope. The next one is scheduled for October 22nd.

Librarian Danny Le helps organize the family-friendly event. He said the aim is to provide a welcoming place for the community, particularly those who cannot afford to attend the bigger and more exciting conventions, to explore their passion for culture.

“It’s not just for kids,” Le said. “We’re offering all people who enjoy the culture – anime, manga, games, ‘Star Wars’ – a one-day convention to experience it on a more local, more personal level.”

Because SCCL Comic Con is a library, it also functions as a place to educate and normalize comics and graphic novels as a literary genre. Millions will be lining up to see the latest Marvel or DC movie, but many shy away from reading the comic it’s based on openly.

Le believes comics are still stigmatized as children’s food.

“This oversimplification doesn’t give creators, writers and artists the respect and recognition they deserve,” Le said. “The need to feed our imagination with allegory, with intellectual understanding, can arise wherever stories are told. Western comics and comics from Asia like manga is a medium that hosts great storytelling. It’s just that they’re also equipped with visual aids.”

Crunchyroll Exhibition: 10:30am-9:45pm Friday; 10:30-21:15 Saturday; 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, 5.-7. August. $25-$135. San Jose McEnery Convention Center, 150 W. San Carlos St., San Jose.

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