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DTLA's Anime Expo's Still Happening This 4th Of July Weekend — Just Online, For Free

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Anime Expo is one of Los Angeles's biggest fan conventions, with more than 100,000 anime otakus packing the L.A. Convention Center every July to celebrate the Japanese animation style. The event rivals Comic-Con for size and intensity of fan devotion. Except this year, because, well, COVID-19.

Instead, the convention is packing a virtual convention center for a slimmed down livestream event, "Anime Expo Lite" — and unlike Anime Expo, it's free. The Lite version of AX (as it's affectionately known) runs Friday and Saturday online, as opposed to its usual four-day-long analog extravaganza. And you can watch the main stream above.

The virtual convention had some technical difficulties starting out — its YouTube stream was pulled almost immediately for violating the site’s terms of service, but they’ve since gotten back online. You can watch the full livestream above, with events on multiple channels until midnight Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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The panels include interviews with creators and voice actors, socially distanced cosplay, Japanese culture from calligraphy and cooking to karate, and more. The guests range from hardcore cosplayers to the stars of iconic anime like Sailor Moon and Naruto. Some of the panels are pre-taped, though there’s still plenty of live programming too.

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People dress in costume to attend the 24th annual Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California on July 2 , 2015, the largest Anime convention in North America. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the biggest parts of attending a convention like Anime Expo is geeking out with other fans who love what you love, or learning more about it from the most devoted. Beyond comments on the video streams and social media, the convention is also offering some panels in virtual meeting rooms that include features like interactive Q&As, allowing for some semblance of that in-person interaction.

There’s even a virtual version of Artist Alley for you to browse and shop for art or a custom commission. And dozens of companies are exhibiting their wares in a virtual exhibition hall — you can buy anime, toys, cosplay attire, Japanese fashion, and more.

The shortened convention will be running programming on YouTube, Twitch, and in interactive online meeting rooms. You can find the full schedule here. So get your best cosplay on at home and get in front of a screen faster than a Naruto run. It may also give a bit of a preview of what to expect later this month when San Diego Comic-Con launches its own free virtual convention.

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Oh, and this might be a little scary in these times given all the images of fans packed very tightly together, but they've also put together a video simulating the experience of waiting for the convention to start in the crowded lobby — check that out right here:

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