In its first run in Australia, Crunchyroll Expo (CRX AUS) kicked off in Melbourne at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC). Held over the weekend on the 17th and 18th of September, I had the opportunity to attend this new convention on the Sunday.
With fans eagerly lined up indoors to enter the venue still, even after my arrival mid-day, I entered the convention halls greeted by Crunchyroll-Hime, displayed on a panel screen with her cute smile, ready to greet patrons with her various dialogue.
I quickly zoomed passed Crunchyroll-Hime, curiously wandering through the stalls until my eyes caught on a row of Bandai gashapon machines, something I thought I would only ever see in Japan but could access right here in Melbourne thanks to Capsule Station Australia. Excitedly, I purchased tokens, but then noticed a workshop where patrons were on desks making cyber face masks. With the next crafting build-along session scheduled to make mini Kingdom Hearts Keyblades, I made sure to secure a seat so that I too could wield my very own Keyblade, even if it a much smaller one in comparison to Sora’s.
Run by Lumin’s Workshop, the crafting sessions only span an hour, but it is run in a way that even if you feel you’re falling behind, you still have more than enough time to complete your project. It wasn’t all Keyblades though, the workshops had sessions to make shields, cat ears, Sailor Moon’s headband, and even horns.
Admittedly, I did feel I was running a bit behind and quietly panicked, as you had to share one knife and a pair of scissors between two for cutting out the stencils and through the foam, which is time consuming because you spend part of your session waiting for your turn. But the instructors were never judgemental, were patient, helpful, very kind, and they came back multiple times during the build just to make sure you’re progressing okay or to offer any help. In the end, I emerged with my very own mini Keyblade that I could take home and keep.
There are many photo opportunities for cosplayers and anime fans alike from Demon Slayer, Jujitsu Kaisen, One Piece, and Spy X Family to name a few. I also noticed a photo opportunity for the upcoming Makoto Shinkai film Suzume no Tojimari, which I’m super excited for. I am a fan of his work, and I didn’t even know he had a new film coming this year until I saw the promo art.
Like most conventions, there is the shopping area that I mentioned earlier with stalls where you can purchase your favourite anime merchandise including plushies, figurines, manga, and even items you can use to assist your cosplay. I personally love a good plushie and there were so many to choose from!
There was a video game section if you want to play against your friends or pick up something to play on your own. The popular game of the area was Capcom’s Street Fighter 6 but the booth that took my interest the most was a preview for upcoming 2023 JRPG, Loop8: Summer of Gods. Now I’m super excited for this game to be released, if even I have to wait until next year. At the Loop8 booth, there was also a brief fishing game to win popular Japanese candy Hi-Chew, and a photo opportunity where you could take photos with the characters of the upcoming game. You also could get your photo taken with the characters with instant film, that you could take home as a souvenir with the Loop8 logo on it. If you shared your photo, you had the opportunity to win a bike (unfortunately, I did not win the bike, aha).
If games aren’t your thing, there was the appropriately named ‘Artihabara’ where you can sit down and draw art which can be placed on the walls of the area once you’re done, creating a patron curated temporary art gallery (of course, provided your artwork is family friendly). If you are more inclined for reading, next door to Artihabara is the manga library, where you can set yourself down and curl up with a good story. While I did browse through Artihabara and admire the hand drawn art, I didn’t stop to chill at the manga library because there was so much to do. Artihabara wasn’t the only gallery at Crunchyroll Expo either! There were a few galleries on the show room floor that went through, and they were all very pleasing on the eye.
Speaking of art, there were various displays of class cabinets with gorgeous figurines, including Pokémon figurines, and I must also mention the giant Gundam statue that I was in awe of. It made me wonder if there would still be any giant Gundams left in Japan, considering that Covid and lockdown restrictions have forced some wonderful tourist attractions in Japan to close permanently, including the Gundam cafés.
There were various stages with performances throughout the day. I managed to catch a bit of ASCA’s performance on the Crunchyroll Stage with fans excitedly waving around their lightsticks to her tunes, on the Yuzu Stage I saw the Crunchyroll Maid Café performance, and even peeked at the maid café section later in the day, just to see what it was all about. There were also convention guests and some panels available but I found I didn’t have enough time to fit these in.
I do regret not stopping by to attend as a guest at the café part, but it is something that I definitely need to make time for next opportunity. I even liked how the café was set up. It was open, the maid café didn’t look stuffy, small, and confined like I have seen at other conventions in the past.
The most random thing at Crunchyroll Expo was by far the Attack on Titan trampoline kids and the kids-at-heart could strap themselves in and literally jump around. Not something I would do personally, but everyone that tried it that I witnessed appeared to be beaming with joy.
Obtaining some of the freebies at the event, which consisted of a bag, some Dragon Ball badges, a ‘My First Con’ badge even though for me that is a lie, a Spy X Family Anya mask, and the ultimate collector’s item, a Spy X Family star pin, there were other awesome things at the event to collect.
Rushing back to the gashapon machines where I finally obtained my capsule toys, consisting of a pink bunny plushie, a bunny pin, and a tiny pizza (yes, a tiny pizza), the most impressive part of Crunchyroll Expo for me would be the artist area. Never have I ever seen such a large area dedicated to independent artists at a convention. It was huge! And I really wish I had more money to spare so that I could obtain more various and unique trinkets than I did. I ended purchasing a cute pug enamel pin of a pug from Kocuri, and two bird pins from Oh Jessica Jessica, one of a seagull eating a single French fry, and a fairy penguin flapping its wings wanting to fly (if you can’t tell by now, I’m a sucker for enamel pins).
Other great art stalls included Luck of Kings, an independent artist that made custom playing cards and guitar picks with anime art on them, and Hyper Finch, an independent artist who doesn’t shy away from her love of birds, with an excellent collection of keychains and pins, mostly of Australian birds. For the art stalls I couldn’t purchase from, I made an effort to pick up their business cards for reference so I could buy from them later, long after the convention. It’s a wonderful way to keep the convention going long after the halls of the MCEC are empty. And honestly, I am waiting for Hyper Finch to have penguin pins, and I’ll throw money at her (not literally).
When I first went to the artist area, it was a bit squishy and there was a lack of room. I felt I was forced to move forward and could not stop at the stalls, just to keep the flow of traffic going. It was much easier to browse through all the art stalls around the end of the day and I’m really glad I didn’t give up and circled back at the end part of my day.
Overall, Crunchyroll Expo is a very fun experience – once you get inside. By the time I was leaving around 4ish on the Sunday, there was no line outside. I’m hoping everyone got in, it looked really busy when I arrived, but I can’t tell for sure since I wasn’t around to witness the experience with the lines. I saw more cosplay in the lines than on the showroom floor, although I did see this one awesome Persona 5 Joker cosplayer. I also cannot write about things that I did not experience, as I only attended on the Sunday.
And while I believe the floor space at Crunchyroll Expo this year was by far much bigger than any specified anime convention in Melbourne in the past, I believe that the demand and excitement for conventions, specifically an anime convention, is much bigger now due to Crunchyroll Expo being the first real anime convention in Melbourne in 2 years. The event could have easily utilised another hall, and I hope that next time the event caters to this by hiring additional space to meet demands, regardless of restrictions. I’ve also attended conventions for years and it’s not uncommon for the first held con to have teething problems.
I genuinely am looking forward to Crunchyroll Expo next year as I had a lot of fun at this new event, the first time it has been held outside the United States, and it would be great if people had the opportunity to experience the same amount of joy that I did. Next time, I’ll have to attend the whole weekend. Hopefully next year will be bigger and better.
Crunchyroll Expo was held for the first time in Australia in Melbourne at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) on Saturday the 17th of September and Sunday the 18th of September.
For more information, visit: https://crunchyrollexpo.com.au
Photography by Jodie Becker and Stephanie Chin.