Interview with the Team Behind Anime Impulse

Anime Impulse started as a small convention in 2016, bringing together anime fans during the weekend before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Originally an event part of the Asian American Expo, Anime Impulse expanded rapidly over the past two years and has, arguably, eclipsed the partner events surrounding it. The price of one ticket (average ~$35) for the two-day event will get you access to four events: Asian American Expo, Anime Impulse, K-play Fest, and Sneaker Expo. It’s a cost-effective strategy that hits all facets of the Asian community, and it’s an easy way to entertain cross-generational families. The younger generation veers toward the anime, sneakers, and K-pop programming, while the Asian American Expo tailors cultural events to attract the interests of older generation Asians. Of course, the night market atmosphere and factory-direct cheap goods straight from importers appeals to everyone. 

Kicking off its biannual convention in August 2022 with a special NIJISANJI Luxiem panel, Anime Impulse will be expanding to four regions in 2023: Los Angeles, San Diego, Bay Area, and Orange County. But what led to Anime Impulse’s rapid success from a local celebration to a full-blown touring convention? APA explored the details with two leads at Anime Impulse: Rachel, the director of branding and programming, and Randy, the director of media. Together, they shared how they integrated their interest in K-pop and anime into curated fan experiences with Vtubers and K-pop idols. 

APA: Could you please introduce yourselves and explain your roles?

Rachel: As director of writing and programming I’m usually the one who’s in contact with the talent who we bring on. Some other voice actors, cosplayers, even NIJISANJI. I’m usually at the forefront of outreach and continuing negotiations and whatnot. Aside from just planning the event on all levels, I could be talking to clients, but I could also be setting up chairs for a panel and stuff. I kind of do everything with our site, and I think that’s everyone here. We all kind of have our hands in almost every part of the convention in one way or another.

Randy: My name is Randy I’m the director of media. I do pretty much all the social media stuff, the graphics that you see online, and I create the videos and promos. I do a lot of the programming with Rachel. Whether it be the voice actor stuff, panels, and main stage and other miscellaneous things at the convention like what we did for gaming tournaments. Everything that is kind of fun and community-esque. I do a lot of the things that Rachel says too, and other stuff like setting up chairs. 

APA: I remember going to Impulse in 2019, but it’s always been part of the Asian American Expo. I think before K-play and Anime Impulse, I don’t recall official programming. 

Rachel: I think it was just more the start of ticketed programming because in previous years we’ve done “theme curation” because in 2020, that was all about Fire Emblem Three Houses. Leading up to that convention, we were collaborating with a lot of the Fire Emblem Three Houses voice actors and created a very strong theme. Curated the programming that was featured, whether it was having two major cast panels on both days and doing something that we called…

Randy: …the high touch meet and greet. It’s kind of a K-pop thing that we try to implement within our programming as well where you get a chance to high five all your favorite voice actors in a line. It’s kind of a community thing. It’s more about interacting with some of your heroes. Programming for us was stronger starting in 2020. Prior to that, it was just mostly stage stuff, small outside performances or special guests coming here and there. But 2020 was when we really expanded on programming for themed curated things.

Rachel: We kept that up in January 2022 with Genshin Impact because that was when we had the majority of the English voice actor cast attending. Another one that we also hosted that was low key but still significant, was bringing out a lot of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure voice actor cast across the series because it is a pretty long-running franchise.

APA: How did Anime Impulse start initial discussions with ANYCOLOR/NIJISANJI to bring Luxiem to Anime Impulse? You can see the growing numbers from year to year as more people come specifically for Anime Impulse as opposed to other events that are happening within the Asian American Expo.  

Rachel: This is really going to be the least exciting answer, but we simply reached out to NIJISANJI through their contact form on their website. Thankfully they saw our email and said they were interested in what we had to offer because usually we would pitch things. Like our recap video from past years, our deck, and just a good amount of conversations afterwards. What could we do to make something exciting and memorable and unique for uncharted territory because no one’s really crossed the medium of bringing Vtubers in person.

Randy: When we contacted them, it was still relatively new. A lot of these companies that were doing it throughout this year like AX, Crunchyroll, all that stuff wasn’t announced yet, so we felt like we wanted to hop onto Vtubers. Kind of like a clairvoyance of what’s going to happen in the future of anime conventions implementing VTubers and digital guests. We took the step forward and tried to reach out to some of these VTuber groups to try and do something together for this year. It was great that they were receptive. 

Rachel: They emailed us back the next day. We all are nerds in our own way. For me, I was the one to pitch reaching out to NIJISANJI because, as a fan on social media, you see where trends are going. Artist friends that draw My Hero Academia suddenly start posting these cool, color-coded guys and you ask, “Which anime is this from?” It’s funny [to learn that] it’s not anime, they’re VTubers. You get curious and then suddenly you start noticing these people more and more. That’s kind of what led us to reach out to NIJISANJI and thankfully we were able to start negotiations for OC.

APA: I know that they were also very interested in their international expansion especially when they launched their EN VTubers, and now it’s been over a year since that happened. Where did the idea of doing those one-minute meet and greets come from? Anybody who’s ever watched a YouTuber or Vtuber knows that Super Chats are not cheap, and barely last a second. I remember when I saw Impulse selling one-minute tickets, and I thought it was kind of crazy because that’s an opportunity that nobody else can get. You can’t do that with regular streams. 

Rachel: With Anime Impulse, it goes hand in hand with K-Play. K-pop is all about those meet and greet packages. High touches that you pay a certain amount to maybe see your idols from five feet away. When you look at typical Vtuber meet and greets, especially the ones that have been happening with the English side. Whether it’s Hololive or other groups, they’re kind of lottery-based. You sign up for the opportunity to get the link to purchase, and we thought to make this as affordable as possible. If you have the money, and you can do it, then here’s the opportunity. 

Randy: It’s implemented from the digital world where you watch them online, but you never get a chance to talk to them other than Super Chats. [This opportunity is] having that in person where you can see and interact with them [one-on-one] for a certain amount of time. It’s almost once in a lifetime because you never know if this opportunity will ever happen again or even in your area. It makes us very happy to see people interact and enjoy the stuff that we do and seeing their oshis in person. 

APA: When I went to Crunchyroll, I saw they did something different with Hololive. There was a maze where you could watch your oshis talk to you. But I felt the Luxiem event was more fan-oriented as people could talk to the members of Luxiem. Impulse also did themed drinks and a whole section of the convention was devoted to Luxiem outside of just the panel.

Randy: That’s one of the things that we wanted to do with VTubers. It’s only an hour of interaction and it’s like Disneyland where you go to a themed area and you just feel like you want to immerse yourself within that realm. [This was where visitors could] have themed drinks, and take pictures of the cutouts and backdrops. We strive for experimental stuff here at Anime Impulse. We have a leg up against the other anime conventions because we don’t have the corporate backing like they do, but we still try to do the best we can with community-driven stuff.

APA: Anime Expo and Crunchyroll are industry conventions, and because they’re focused on the industry, they’re not as concentrated on being fan-forward. There’s not a lot of opportunities for fans to get to interact with oshis or even voice actors. Back in August, you could see all the people who were gathering around waiting for the Luxiem panel. I was able to talk to other fans about their experience, and I was surprised to hear many of them weren’t from Los Angeles and they flew in from other countries.

Rachel: Yeah, we even saw people travel out of Japan to come to this event because of the meet and greet opportunity. It’s interesting because fans here in America want to go to Japan for a country specific event, and now we’re seeing the opposite effect where you have fans in Japan and other parts of Asia who come to America just to see their oshis. 

APA: Are there any plans in the future to do more NIJISANJI concerts like the HOPCONcert as Anime Impulse goes on the road?

Randy: We’re planning for it, since this is our first step hosting a VTuber concert. We’ve done concerts and music festivals before, so it’s nothing new to us. But the aspect of having online entities performing on stage is a new thing for us. Typically you have to physically come on stage, but now everything is projected on a screen and through a Zoom call. If this turns out well, we can do bigger and better shows later this year or even upcoming in the next year.

APA: In terms of the upcoming Anime Impulse events in San Diego and other cities, will Anime Impulse be its own program or will it be bringing the other events such as K-Play and Sneaker Expo?

Rachel: It’s all of us together, especially with the main focus on Anime Impulse, K-play Fest, and Sneaker Expo. Asian American Expo will be kind of there to an extent but not as heavily in the case of them having their own section. I think they’ll be supporting the event with food booths.

Randy: For our festival, all three of our events have synergy. Everything’s a Venn diagram in our convention. You get more bang for your buck since it’s an anime convention, a K-pop convention, a sneaker convention, and a bunch of food.

APA: Personally speaking, Anime Impulse has really been the pioneer in this space. In comparison to Crunchyroll, the setup for Hololive was crafted with walls sectioning off the area. It’s a far cry compared to Impulse’s August 2022 event that had brought in Keith Silverstein and treated the audience to a surprise live interaction between him and Vox Akuma. 

Randy: We pride ourselves in creating a culture where you want to be there instead of feeling like you’ll be in lines all day. We pride ourselves in creating things that we like and what we think other people would. Sometimes you go to a convention and end up at a panel and have no idea what’s going on. There’s no theme going on, and you’re just trying to get whatever you can at some of these conventions. For us, you get a group of people that love doing what they do and you get good music and good programming. 

Rachel: To add onto that, something that I personally enjoy watching is when fans get to see reveals live like at Evo when they see a new trailer. Or a new character gets revealed when Smash was releasing its new roster, and people would go to the Nintendo store in New York and watch the reveal together. We want to curate that experience here at our events with Luxiem and Genshin Impact. For example, we know there’s a Venn diagram between fan bases especially because VTubers like Mysta and Vox play Genshin. You bring out someone as iconic as Keith at the panel and hear him do his Zhongli line, and fans get to watch their favorites and freak out over this together.

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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