The Fanime 2023 Experience: Bay Area anime returns

Throngs of anime fans invading the San Jose Convention Center (SJCC) on a sunny May weekend?

This was Fanime 2023, the Bay Area convention that’s held at the end of May. Now a year removed from COVID, the anime event was near its pre-COVID attendance levels. A good 30,000+ people swarmed the SJCC for the four-day, largest Northern California anime-held event.

Yet, while the con’s attendance started to rebound, the con itself still lacked many of the pre-COVID amenities of vendors, panels, and events. These were cut back from previous years, as it’s expected that they’ll slowly come back in a year or so. Fanime also decided to play it safe, requiring masks and people being a safe distance from others.

Still these restrictions didn’t stop people from attending. Since more people started coming back to Fanime, people came early to get their badges. Yet, the registration line became quite crazy on day zero and linecon was soon formed. Fortunately, the next few days were a lot better, as the con’s organization made lines go faster.

Despite the initial setbacks and the con not being at full-strength yet, there was still much fun to be had.

Here’s some of the trends I noticed this year at Fanime 2023:

Cosplayers Galore

The Genshin Impact meetup attracted a lot of cosplayers.
Photo credits: Reddit

From Demon Slayer to Chainsaw Man cosplayers, the con was filled with attendees dressing to their favorite anime characters. Gaming was also a popular cosplay, as a 10′ tall Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil 8 attracted a lot of onlookers and pictures from smartphones. The Genshin Impact cosplayers made their impact on the con as well (yup, that was a pun!)

There were meetups for popular anime and gaming franchises to cosplay and take pictures. Among the ones I briefly checked out were the Zelda, Persona, and Final Fantasy groups.

There were also cosplayers that went old-school anime and threw it back to the 90s with Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2 cosplays. Others dressed from gaming classics released in the 2000s, such as Yuna from Final Fantasy X.

I usually don’t cosplay, but I went as Contestant 456 from the hit Korean drama, Squid Game, for one day. It’s a simple green and white jogging suit, comfortable to go around throughout the con, and is an iconic cosplay.

K-pop keeps getting bigger

For the past several years, K-pop has slowly crept its way into anime cons. This year’s Fanime had several Random Dance Plays, where a ton of K-pop fans dance to randomly played K-pop songs. They had two panels by yours truly, one on K-pop Jeopardy, a pop-quiz game based on the real life show; and a panel on K-pop’s 2nd generation, a more educational panel on that generation’s impact.

K-pop was also played on the loud speakers at Stage Zero throughout the weekend, as well as on the last day, where there was a mini-Random Dance Play on Stage Zero.

When I asked what kind of music con-goers listened to at the con, an overwhelming response was K-pop. It’s great to see people cosplaying at Demon Slayer or Jujutsu Kaisen busting out some K-pop moves throughout the weekend.

The anime and K-pop crossover is real and here to stay at Fanime.

BART gets into the anime scene

BART made their presence felt at Fanime.
Photo credits:
Official BART Twitter/X

If you see an anime character adorned on BART trains, you may do a double take at first. Anime on my public transportation?

It looks like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is getting into the anime scene.

Started in the summer of 2022, the BART team noticed a rapidly growing Gen-Z audience consuming anime. Thus, BART knew that to attract new train riders and keep existing ones, cute, memorable mascots were a great way of doing both. They looked towards the East Asian countries of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan’s excellent subway systems as inspiration for anime mascots.

From this, the five anime mascots of Baylee, Nimbus, Jasmine, Mira, and Barty were born.

Throughout the weekend, BART had a booth at the exhibitor’s hall (also called dealer’s room), running raffles and giving away free merch, such as stickers and bags. It was one of the most popular booths that weekend, as many couldn’t believe that anime was now ingrained in many Bay Area people’s commute to work.

VTubing makes its mark

Hololive’s poster at Fanime.
Photo credits: Reddit

VTubing also was present at Fanime. One of the most notable booths was Hololive, as they received a lot of foot traffic. They were selling merch, checking out the anime scene, and seeing if VTubing can make a bigger presence at anime cons.

Based on the big anime-VTube crossover from many fans this past week, I think we’ll be seeing more VTubers at future cons. The anime-VTube crossover is related, as the aesthetics are similar in both, fans liking both mediums, and anime and VTubing labels collaborating more.

A little less vendors than usual

One booth at exhbitor’s hall – MJ Anime.
Photo credits: MJ Anime

As mentioned earlier, there were a lot less vendors than 2019 Fanime, the last event before COVID. While that’s to be expected, the exhibitor’s / dealer’s hall had a bit too much space. Whereas past Fanimes would take a two to three hours to thoroughly check out all the booths, 2023’s version took an hour at most. If attendees wanted to speedrun the vendors, they could visit all of them in a mere 30 minutes.

With that being said, I’m sure vendors will pick up in future Fanimes and hopefully, be at 2019 levels soon.

But the artist alley was busy as always

Photo credits – Artist Zetallis:

While the exhibitors’ hall wasn’t at full capacity this year, the artist alley across the hall was a different story. There were a lot of talented artists here, showing off their art and merch. The entire artist alley room was often congested, as there were frequent crowds around certain booths and intersections.

From talking to artists, a lot of them were coming from out-of-town, such as LA or NY, hoping to make a little profit from the weekend. Instead, many artists actually made a lot more than expected, showing that many attendees were ready to spend on their favorite anime and gaming merch.

It’s great to see artist alley thriving at this year’s Fanime.

The gaming room is a blast

Photo credits:
Fanime’s X account

One of Fanime 2023’s biggest attractions is its gaming room. It came back to nearly full-force this year, with a slew of arcade games. From Taiko Drum Master and DJ mixer game 2DX to dance rhythm games Pump It Up and Dance Dance Revolution, there was a wide variety of games to be played.

The best part of these arcade games: it’s free to play.

The worse part: you usually had to wait in long lines to play one game.

Despite the free games, but long lines to play, the gaming room was always packed.

In addition to the arcade cabinets, the gaming room played host to TCGs (tradable collectable games), board games, and a slew of console games. There were mainstream board games, such as Settlers of Catan, being played, as well as niche anime games. For consoles, Just Dance was a frequent game, as people played a mix of American pop and K-pop and danced with both strangers and friends.

I spent a lot of my time at the gaming room, as it was a great place to unwind, meet new people at the arcade area, and discover new board games.

Park Con is a blast

Park Con is a popular, unofficial part of Fanime.
Photo credits:

For those that either didn’t attend Fanime or con-goers wanting a fun, chill nighttime get together, Park Con was right around the corner. Literally.

Held at the nearby Cesar Chavez Park, Park Con is an unofficial event, not affiliated with Fanime, held at night during Fanime. The con has live music, drinking, and people singing, sometimes drunk, to some bangers blaring on speakers.

It’s a great way to unwind, enjoy the night breeze, and see what’s going on just outside of the Fanime premises.

Wrapping it up

While this year’s Fanime lacked a lot of its entertainment and vendors, the con was still a blast overall. Between seeing friends, meeting new anime friends, and seeing the con slowly recover from COVID, its only a matter of time until Fanime regains its full strength and I can’t wait.

We wanted to thank Fanime for inviting us at Popsori to the con as media / press. It’s always an honor to cover the event and see both Fanime and anime in the US grow.