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A Look Back At Fan Expo Boston 2021

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Is this heaven?

It had been a year and a half since I was that close to it. As I walked with haste on the Summer Street bridge, I could feel my heart racing. It was hard not to get a little emotional. I was drawing ever closer to the entrance of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the site of the 2021 edition of Fan Expo Boston, which took place on Labor Day weekend.

The last time I had been to Fan Expo Boston was in 2015 when it was called Boston Comic-Con, and took place at the Seaport World Trade Center. The BCEC was more recent, as I was there for PAX East 2020, the last major event in Boston before quarantine started. Our world has changed since then. The way we interact, the way we conduct day-to-day business, all of that changed. And with a mask mandate in place for those attending Fan Expo, it was a reminder that we’re not out of the woods just yet. The risk factor was there but mitigated somewhat by the use of masks and vaccines. But just being there for the convention was encouraging.

The experience was immediately different in comparison to what I had seen at PAX East. The main lobby at the Summer Street entrance was completely vacant except for some security on standby. Attendees entering from Summer Street had to wrap around the corridors on the east side of the building (which was to my left). The northern half of the expo hall was closed off and not in use, so we had to enter through the other side. For PAX East goers, it would be where PAX Arena, tabletop, and freeplay would be located. Crew members (the staff out on the field of the convention) were at the ready in case anyone was lost trying to find the entrances. 

Be the leaf

At her panel, I asked Janet Varney, the voice actress for The Legend of Korra‘s main protagonist (Korra), for the best life advice she was given. Her answer was simple: “Be the leaf”. For the uninitiated, that’s a reference to a quote in the Legend of Korra series, to a hilarious scene during Korra’s training. She’s tasked with avoiding some swinging barriers and in order to do so, she has to learn to “be the leaf”, so that she can sense, feel, and move as if carried by the wind itself. It was kind of like that at times when navigating through the crowded areas of the expo hall. But it was something I welcomed rather than be annoyed with because it was just so nice to be back among others like me.

While the size of the operation was noticeably smaller, there was still an impressive volume of attendees. It was still a welcome sight for me to behold. The expo hall was teeming with life. A vast array of cosplayers, along with all sorts of merchandise and artwork on display. It was a great energy to be surrounded by. Even the sight of masks everywhere didn’t detract from the experience, you could practically see the smiles in peoples’ eyes. Perhaps I’m projecting my own feelings of the experience to those I observed around me, but I feel like the joy in the atmosphere can’t be overstated. As I said when I wrote down my first notes of the convention, “good to be back in BCEC”.

Something for everyone

What makes Fan Expo so appealing is it’s not confined to one specific niche. It’s for comic book lovers. Star Wars lovers. Video game lovers. Anime lovers. Movie lovers. It’s an all-encompassing celebration of nerd culture. There’s something for just about everyone to enjoy at Fan Expo.

A little shoutout is in order for the local barcade VERSUS in Downtown Crossing. They hosted an unlimited freeplay night for all Fan Expo attendees. I wish a few of the arcades there had their sticks and buttons fixed, as I wasn’t able to show off my Street Fighter II prowess or fully enjoy NFL Blitz. But I had enough of a good time playing through and finally beating Cruis’n World, an arcade I sunk many quarters into back in the day. It was also neat to see people playing Mario Kart at the bar itself. I love places like this and would be remiss if I didn’t mention them as part of my overall weekend experience.

One of my favorite hobbies I’ve picked up since the pandemic is watching Vtubers, specifically Hololive. So it was an absolute joy to be able to attend two panels that featured members of the first generation of Hololive EN. Both panels had Ina’nis Ninomae, the first had Amelia Watson, and the second had Kiara Takanashi. It was adorable to see them interact with the fans in attendance. Even prior to the panels, it was fun for me to talk with other Hololive fans in line. I’m the only Hololive fan that I know of personally, so it was nice.

The aforementioned Janet Varney panel was what punctuated my Fan Expo weekend. Given the reduced size of the expo hall and event in general, I’d already seen most of what I came to see in the first two days. But I did check out those merchandise booths for one last look at goodies. I walked out of the BCEC with some holographic posters that I liked and some Hololive commemorative merchandise (a t-shirt and collectible pinback buttons to be more specific). All in all, I had a great time even though I didn’t sink as many hours into it as I have with previous events. If I really wanted to, there would’ve been so much more to do. Fan Expo is always loaded with industry guests: actors, artists, professional cosplayers, etc. Perhaps next time I’ll prioritize meeting some guests for photo ops.

If you can’t make it to Boston, no worries, it’s not the only place Fan Expo goes to. As a matter of fact, over the next year, they have 17 events planned for 15 different cities across USA and Canada. Remember Wizard World? That’s Fan Expo now. You can check out the full listing at their website at https://fanexpohq.com/home/events/.

Closing thoughts

I’ve taken my time in sharing this in the interest of caution. As of this writing, we’re still dealing with a pandemic, so you’ll need to take the proper health precautions should you choose to attend these events. But if you’re ready to, I highly encourage you to take part in whatever Fan Expo convention is most convenient for you.

Perhaps I’m guilty of putting too much stock into these conventions, but as a long-time congoer, I can’t help but be invested and be grateful to be amongst my kind. Especially after quarantine, it’s something I’ll never take for granted. Fan Expo Boston in 2021 was something of a healing experience for my soul, and I look forward to going back when it returns in August this year. Hope to see you there! Thank you Fan Expo!

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