All images courtesy of Aniplex of America.

The first weekend of July usually hosts the biggest gathering of anime fans in North America at the Los Angeles Convention Center with Anime Expo. With the COVID-19 pandemic still being a serious threat to everyone’s health, Anime Expo was cancelled for the first time. AX, Funimation and Aniplex held their own digital events to give fans both news and entertainment. While Anime Expo Lite and FunimationCon were on July 3rd and 4th, Aniplex Online Fest started on the second half of the three-day weekend.

From July 4th 9:30AM PST to its final program on July 5th at 11:00PM PST, AOF’s stream was up and running. 22/7 member Sally Amaki opened the show with fellow MCs voice actor Maxwell Powers and Hana of Aniplex. They introduced some of the programs but also conducted little Q&A segments using questions sent via Twitter.

The majority of the the panels conducted with a host and a small group of either the cast or production crew in a room. The exceptions were the Sphere live stream and Aniplex of America Industry Panel with the participants in separate locations. While some would be worried about the amount of people in the room, they were seated several feet away from each other and tables had clear partitions as spray guards. It was interesting to see how they dealt with spread prevention.

Featured titles of Aniplex Online Fest 2020.

The panels provided a lot of insight to the particular series and news but unlike a typical panel at a convention, many of them provide a little fun segment. The Misfit if the Demon King Academy cast did a quiz on their own show title in different languages while Red Blood Cell Kana Hanazawa and White Blood Cell Tomoaki Maeno tested to see how in sync they were with each other. Even the three MCs did an athletic challenge to keep themselves healthy throughout the event. The most surprising one was the tiny parody of popular show “Wednesday’s Downtown” during the The Day I Became a God panel. It appeared to give host and Yoshimoto comedian Tenshin Mukai  a bit of a shock but was fun to see a little taste of Japanese TV for international fans. These portions really gave the programs more of a variety show feel.

Some of the featured artists of Aniplex Online Fest 2020.

Along with the panels, AOF provided music for fans to listen. DJ Kazu was in-house to mix requests in a playlist. His mini-concerts had cool projections as he worked the booth. In the “Songs and Messages from Artists” sections, it featured concert footage and music videos from fan favorite musicians of Aniplex series. The artists also recorded messages for viewers to express gratitude and how they’re doing during the pandemic. Between programs, AOF also showed anime opening and ending sequences including the first “Black Butler” and “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”.

The Aniplex of America 15th Anniversary Anime Marathon kept the stream running during the late PST hours and showed several episodes including from the latest Persona title and the classic English dubbed Gurren Lagann.

Overall, the online event had a high level of production quality. Most of it seemed prerecorded to provide accurate subtitles for non-Japanese speakers but some provided a bit more elaborate sets like the Cells at Work!! background and the studio for the Kaguya-sama: Love is War? Special Panel. The subtitles definitely help let international fans to understand but also may have helped let panelists speak more freely without waiting for an interpretation. The footage had a bit of a relaxing atmosphere and felt like viewers got to see more of the participants’ personalities.

As it is still unsure when in the future we will be able to have large gatherings and conventions, I do hope Aniplex and others continue host online events to update and entertain fans. This first run was definitely enjoyable and as mentioned before, had a high quality of production. I would just like to suggest having an extra set of hosts in order to rotate and get a bit more rest during the 38 hours (according to Sally and Maxwell).

Though the event finished, fans can still access videos until July 12th. Almost all of the content has been made available. The MCs portions and the Aniplex of America 15th Anniversary Anime Marathon will not be released and the Sacra Music Festival 2019 video will not be out for streaming for the English regions. Head to the AOF website for more information.

Please look forward to our coverage of events throughout the week.