In my review of Omni Expo 2015, I called it “possibly the most ambitious geeky infant to spring up in Florida since 2010” and commented that “it’s undeniably a Con that gives more than it gets by presenting an event that’s clearly made by fans, for fans.”
Four years later, the annual 3-day convention is reaching new tiers, making good on its promise to be “the biggest little Con you’ll attend all year.”
Omni Expo shrugs off the claustrophobic, fame-weighted bustle of mainstream conventions for a far more intimate and personalized experience. Attending even a single day of the event affords VIP-like treatment, whether you purchased the specialized weekend pass or not. Shopping the vendors hall and artist alley allows for leisurely stops and rich conversations with artisans and crafters, without the nagging stress of having to make room for the next peruser. Enjoying your box of strawberry pocky or browsing the images from your photoshoot is easily done—not from your seat on the well-tread carpet or hard flooring, but from the comfort of a clothed table in the specious game room.
Panels, events, and contests aside, Omni Expo, at its core, provides more immediate entertainment by carefully selecting acclaimed representatives from every corner of otaku culture. Bruce Edward Carr (known as “No Ordinary Balloon Man”) pumped and twisted anime character commissions into rubbery life next to a larger-than-life Nine-Tails Naruto crafted entirely from balloons. Gaijin Taiyaki, a beloved staple of Florida’s southern conventions, brought its confectionary-flavored fish cakes to the show. Green screens, set pieces, and even all-day livestreamed interview opportunities made every moment of Omni Expo’s showfloor an engagement fest for the senses.
The proverbial pickled plum on top of this delightful riceball, however, were the caliber of special guests in attendance. With the advent of the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III, Omni Expo wisely invited Paul St. Peter (voice of Xemnas) and Derek Stephen Prince (voice of Vexen), adding timely fuel to an all-too-important year of nostalgia for the fandom. Tia Ballard (Darling in the FRANXX, Fairy Tail, Fruits Basket), Matt Shipman (My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan), and Brittany Lauda (Made in Abyss, Tokyo Ghoul)—representing some of the winter 2019 season’s hottest anime voices—signed autographs and posed for photos with fans throughout the vending hall hours.
Fans of subbed anime and JRPGs often find themselves traveling north to AWA or far west to Anime Expo in order to meet the creators behind their favorite series. Omni Expo, however, has taken a bold step forward in bringing some of anime’s most timeless names stateside without dragging multi-hour-long lines along with them.
SAWA, the singer renowned for her performances in Final Fantasy Type-0 and The World Ends with You, made a special return guest appearance—marking her second-ever USA performance at Omni Expo.
Making their Omni Expo debut, Hisashi Kagawa (animation director for Sailor Moon) and Mamoru Yokota (animation director for Death Note and Naruto), provided free autographs to attendees along with a highly limited number of art commissions. At a larger Con, only a lucky few overnight campers could hope to score such a rare prize, but at Omni Expo where small is the new big and every experience is VIP status, several attendees were able to take home a special one-of-a-kind keepsake of their favorite character.
Omni Expo delivers exactly what it promises—a small event with all the rare experiences of a Comic Con that won’t break your budget or leave you exhausted at day’s end. Annual convention-goers would be wise to keep their eye (and planners) trained on Omni Expo in 2020. It could easily become the next otaku giant to rise from the Floridian convention scene.
Just because it can, though, doesn’t mean it should. And if my experience with Omni Expo this year is any indication, this is a convention that places the value of personalized experiences over conglomerate business culture. In both the geek scene and the hearts of its fans, Omni Expo has rightfully earned its place as Florida’s Biggest Little Con.