Will anime conventions come back after COVID-19?

Ask GONZO is a weekly column comprised of reader submitted questions.

Anime conventions have been a critical part of fandom for longer than I’ve been alive. The first US anime convention was YamatoCon in 1983. This single day show was held in a hotel in Dallas, Texas and had around 100 attendees and 8 dealers. The main event was a 13-hour Star Blazers marathon. YamatoCon was so successful that the organizers decided to do it again.

Three years later.

A lot has changed in 30 years. Now there’s an anime convention every weekend. Even the small shows host thousands of attendees. The largest convention is Anime Expo, which draws over 100,000 fans each year.

At least, that’s how it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. April 2020 was the first month in over 40 years to have no conventions, anime or otherwise.

This left anime fans all over the world asking the same question — when will they come back?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Many people falsely assume that COVID-19 will simply go away and life will go back to normal. While that’s not impossible, it’s also unlikely. Even with a vaccine, I expect we’re going to be wearing masks and doing regular tests through next year.

Does that mean no anime conventions for another year? Not quite. In fact, smaller shows are still happening now. You can argue the moral implications for running an anime convention during a pandemic, but without government restrictions of large gatherings, there will always be someone willing to take the risk.

The real question that you need to ask yourself is, “If your favorite convention comes back, will you be comfortable attending?”

If Otakon returns next year, I don’t know if I’ll attend. It will depend on a lot of things that we don’t have the answer to yet. Now that more people are going back to work in my area, positive cases are on the rise. In some parts of the world, they’re back in lockdown. Many people fear that a second wave is around the corner.

In the meantime, people like me have attempted to recreate the convention experience in the digital world. Virtual anime conventions may not be the perfect replacement for the real thing, but they’re a great alternative with their own strengths.

When you don’t have to worry about fire codes, panels can be attended by an unlimited number of people. There’s no more waiting in line either. It also expands the potential audience for each event to anyone with an internet connection.

The online anime convention scene has slowed down, but I hope they don’t go away completely. While I will always prefer to attend a convention in person, it’s not always possible. Online conventions also make programming accessible for people that can’t attend because of disability, financial stress, or not having conventions in their area.

For some people, shows like Anime Lockdown are the first time they’ve ever been able to attend an anime convention. And that’s pretty cool.

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