Con Report: DerpyCon 2014

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Brand new cons are exciting for all their possibility, but I imagine starting out has got to be tough. Even with the multitude of cons from which to draw inspiration or ask advice, defining the identity of a new one — deciding the not only the what, but how that what is to be offered — must be a difficult process. The inaugural DerpyCon, which took place at the Hyatt in Morristown, NJ from December 5–7 in 2014, chose to name itself after a small, mentally challenged horse. While this self-proclaimed multi-genre sci-fi con more than owned the adoption of its namesake in a few ways, the con itself was (for better and worse) not nearly the horror I was expecting and has a lot of promise depending on some crucial future decisions.

Location (Putting Its Best Hoof Forward)

Morristown is a great location for a small con. Not only does the Hyatt, walking distance from a train station, offer free (validated) parking, but the venue is surrounded by all types of eateries in a pedestrian-friendly, skyscraper-free, Chicago-like downtown. A bit of bad luck: Friday and Saturday were 24-hour periods of precipitation. This, mixed with the bitter cold, kept everyone inside the hotel and did not allow much chance to properly explore the surrounding area in order to catch a breath of fresh air (so to speak). This wouldn’t have been too bad if there were more distractions available at the con other than the hotel bar.

The venue itself was more than spacious enough to comfortably accommodate the con’s 727 attendees. (Whether or not that count was due to the aforementioned weather is anyone’s guess.) The panel rooms were tiny, with the smallest seating 15–18 people at most, and rarely full. In fact, many panelists spoken to cited empty rooms for multiple presentations. This could have been because of the general layout, which was initially a little bit befuddling for its rooms scattered between floors and inside and outside of the main registration area, but spending so much time inside at least fostered acclimation pretty quickly.

Organization (Not Derping Around)

Things seemed to be handled admirably for an inaugural event. My own experience with a vanished registration was handled professionally, courteously, and relatively quickly. Less could be said for details which really should have been ironed out well before the con got started, like — as I overheard while waiting for my registration issue to be resolved — whether the con’s dance was to be formal or casual. (It ended up being “optionally formal,” whatever that means, in case you were wondering.) DerpyCon provided attendees with badges, pocket schedules, and guidebooks that were of a quality on par with those of veteran cons. Signage was, for the most part, clear and abundant and branded to the nines, and staffers were very helpful and friendly in answering any other questions throughout the weekend. Despite its schedule's incompatibility with Windows phones, I’ll also praise DeryCon’s website, which was fully fleshed out with forums and an interactive schedule that let visitors check off and isolate events of interest. This did not seem like the effort of a first-year con.

Allocation of space in a small venue can be tricky. While sticking the sole video room between the Panels 4 and 5 seemed a poor decision in concept, the arrangement ended up being of little consequence in the end. Bleed-through from the sound systems in each room was minimal. Actually, I heard more sound from Panels 4 in Panels 5 than I did anything from Video 1 in either of the other two rooms. (I cannot speak to the effect of a similar arrangement of the karaoke room right next to the manga library.) Main Events, where the concerts and “Dance Party” were held, was situated well away from most goings on and thus very audibly isolated despite the obvious amperage (and at least one blown-out speaker).

Programming (The Big Derp)

Even though DerpyCon took its name from and was heavily branded after the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FiM) character Derpy Hooves, the programming was not focused on that cartoon. There were pony panels and events, of course, but they were vastly outnumbered by those dedicated to other fandoms. Despite my hopes and fears that this con would be overrun with psychotic pony proselytizers, DerpyCon felt more like an all-inclusive nerd con. While I’ve no complaints about this, other than the sheer disappointment of not being able to poke fun of MLP:FiM fanatics, I will take a second to rail against some of the presenters I encountered.

I wouldn’t even have to use my toes to count how many good panels I attended at this con. While most were either innocuous or offensively bland, a few were presented by incendiary personalities. The worst of the latter that I encountered: a presenter who went out of his way to emphasize his pseudonym ending in “-fag” (conveniently omitted from the con guide/website description) during a consequently uncomfortable and subsequently unfunny MST3K-ing of the Equestria Girls movie, and a group of presenters who were asked to clear the room but refused to “until they kick us out” despite the next presenters and audience members already waiting in the halls. There’s no real way to prevent the former, but it speaks to what was chosen for the programming tracks. As for the lingerers, con staff should have stepped up and evacuated the room. Tough skin comes with time though. And, obviously, I could not attend all the panels, so saying there was a total lack of interest is unfair. What sounded interesting to me, academic panels and their ilk, seemed lacking, however, and I spent a large part of the con trying to kill time.

Stuff and Junk and Stuff (When in DerpyCon, Derp as the Derpers Derp)

Mingling amongst the usual wares of the Dealers Room were a few unexpected rarities. There was a money pit offering figures (12 in. and othersize) from Space Battleship Yamato, die-cast Mach 5 replicas, and other classic bits of nostalgia at insane prices. Another vendor offered some absolutely gorgeous, Sailor Moon-inspired tree ornaments that were laser-cut from wood and olive oil-cured with scorch accents and intricate cut outs. Artists Alley, in addition to a ton of stuffed sushi, offered a decent representative mix of the usual fan/original prints as well as official DerpyCon merch. The standout offering here consisted of large feathers made into quill pens featuring painted images on their lacquered surface.

Something a little more unique to this con was the Traveling Pony Museum, which promised “exemplary works by talented fans.” The tour guide for this 10 x 10 ft. room — lined and filled with tables featuring plushes, paintings, prints, and other works of (fan) art inspired by MLP:FiM — also promised works based off of both the old and new My Little Pony series. While there was plenty of fan art inspired from MLP:FiM, the sole example of art from the original series was a lone(ly) record of the soundtrack. A record player, I was told, would be in the following day (Sunday) to play the sultry sounds of Danny DeVito. As Artist Alley-typical as this all sounds, there was actually one piece of real magic: a handmade storybook; one page was ceremoniously turned every hour on the hour.

From indie games that employed everything from standard controllers to the Oculus Rift to standard FPSs and LAN-party brawls on more recent consoles and mobile platforms, the video game room was a small but successful offering. I’ll cover the games I played during the Indie Games Showcase in the forthcoming panel report. Working my way from the electronic to the primitive, I did spend a decent chunk of time in the tabletop room … throwing rocks. The game was Attraction, which is akin to marbles but with magnetized rocks. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that are the most addictive. Or maybe desperation is the best spice. Either way, people were constantly in the tabletop room, which offered a decent selection of distraction for all manner of traditional gamer.

So, Should You Go? (The Lowderp)

DerpyCon had the weather working against it from the start, but bad weather cannot be blamed for what was otherwise a pretty trying con experience for a panel-hopper such as myself. Guests were better than what is expected for a small, first-year con, but more high-profile fan panelists might be better in terms of content and draw (and economy). On a similar note, I’d like to see a small con do away with “Ask a Character” panels but also realize that those types of panels may be the necessary evil for initial attendance growth. Either way, stronger panel choices would be appreciated. As a panelist and panel attendee, I’d also advise 10–15 minute breaks between panels for setup/breakdown and travel time. Also, kudos must be given for opting for live music via two actual bands. (Related: sympathies to the bands and DJ that played to crowds of 10–20 people.)

I had a decent enough time at DerpyCon, but there just wasn't enough content to compel me to make the 1.5 hour trip a third day in a row. The con’s heart is in the right place and its framework is solid, so all that's left is for the organizers and the fans to come together to build it year by year with increased focus and more appealing/targeted programming. It's close enough that I'll check back in 2015 with high hopes.


For more Derp, derp here.

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Con Report: Otakon 2014

Hey, buddy, can you spare some anime production costs?

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As much as Otakon 2014 reflected a welcome return to form in terms of the convention's organization, it was also an Ani-Gamers reunion! Evan, Ink, and David once again converged on the BCC in Baltimore, MD to … briefly say hi and then run around for three days following either the wind or hectic schedules of our own creation. But hey, our one-track minds are your reading pleasure. After the break, check out our thoughts on the procedural, the educational, the surprising (and not so surprising), the guests, the panels, and everything else we saw fit to relay to you.


David

It’s a minor thing like the lack of paper schedules that can set the tone for an event like Otakon. For every administrative decision such as the use of plastic badges, we get unfortunate lapses in judgment like this. There’s a tactile immediacy in a paper schedule that an online guide doesn’t offer, and even if schedule changes render the print version only partially accurate, the map alone is worth the dead tree.

Coming hot on the heels of an inexplicable streak of disastrous Day 0 problems across notable conventions on the west coast, not even Otakon was spared catastrophic computer failures and clustering mobs of attendees clamoring for their badges. I get to bypass that mess as a member of the press, however this sort of stumble out of the gate normally doesn’t bode well for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, Day 0 was not a reflection of the con proper. With two decades of experience under their belt, Otakon staff rebounded quickly from the initial setbacks. Once the con was actually underway, I was pleased to see that they were implementing more effective measures to manage the crowds. This year, there were dividers in halls to form a two-way lane for heavy traffic, the welcome abolishment of the Dealers’ Room line, and a number of patrolmen wandering the conspace to herd the kids flopping on the ground. People are never going to learn to stop holding impromptu photoshoots in areas where people are trying to get through, but it does give some peace of mind that someone recognizes the common frustrations of the con experience.

I’m glad I can give the management some praise for turning around an awful showing in 2013, though in terms of content, this year didn’t quite match up. After the Kanno/Watanabe double knockout, Otakon 2014 was unfortunately a year to not get terribly excited about much. One notable Japanese voice actress, two showcase projects that may or may not actually get made, and way too much Sailor Moon means it was easy to tune everything out. ALTIMA turned out to be a great musical guest, though the sort of reverence attributed to any events featuring Yoshiki was a major turn-off when I know it’s already going to be difficult to get to see the things I really wanted to see. I’d love to get to see In This Corner of the World and Under the Dog eventually come out, and the industry people that showed up to promote these titles were great, but it’s hard for me to provide a vested interest while they both sit early in the pre-production phase. I’m not easy to sell on unproven work, and I sincerely hope industry guests arriving at conventions for the purpose of crowdfunding/panhandling doesn’t become a trend.


Evan

Panhandling indeed! At Otakon 2014 this year, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the panhandlers on the street and the Japanese industry guests, since both saw Otakon as a golden opportunity to ask a bunch of cartoon nerds for their sympathy, money, or both. Under the Dog (three days to go in its Kickstarter!) was the most blatant example, but even In This Corner of the World seems poised to be the title that teaches Masao Maruyama how Kickstarter actually works; guests working on the film repeatedly voiced their distaste for traditional anime funding methods and mused suspiciously about how they might be able to use their fans for some sort of funding… from a crowd… if only there were a word for that.

Sure, the guests weren’t huge names, but they brought a lot of really insightful information to the table. Not only was Madhouse/MAPPA founder and producer Masao Maruyama in attendance, but we got to hear about anime directing (and ridiculous levels of background art detail) from Sunao Katabuchi, and character design influences from Yusuke Kozaki and Hidenori Matsubara. Plus, Hiroaki Yura, the charismatic leader of the Under the Dog team, speaks fluent, Australian-accented English, and by sidestepping the translation that so often dulls the impact of Japanese guest panels, he was able to hold a frank conversation directly with American fans, a rare feat at an anime con. As an anime production process nerd, I left all of the guest panels with a big grin on my face, having learned some cool new nugget of knowledge about the inner workings of anime studios.

Fan panels at Otakon are so consistently good that it’s rarely even worth mentioning, but the usual folks brought their usual A game, from Anime World Order panels about ninjas and pro wrestling to Mike Toole joints about literal devil cartoons. The most disappointing experience this year was the battle between my stomach and my brain as I crawled Baltimore in search of good food that I could eat fast enough to get back for a spate of awesome panels. Too often my stomach won.

After last year’s disastrous crowd control, Otakon 2014 was an enjoyable return to form. The eight-hour flight from San Francisco to Baltimore (complete with an obnoxious layover) might be a bit too much to justify for any other con, but I wouldn’t miss this one for the world.
 


Ink

This year’s Otakon, for all its joys, will go down in history as Good Weather Con 2014. Baltimore’s usually a haven for the vile likes of Scorching Heat copulating outdoors in plain sight with its unkind mistress 98% Humidity, but this year was … a set of lovely summer days! Hell, there could’ve been outside panels. Thursday’s matsuri must’ve been great for those who attended. (I missed all events due to dinner and a horrible sense of direction.) Aside from circumstance, the aspects of this year’s Otakon which endeared it to me so were the guests, panels, and organization.

As Evan already noted, the guests weren’t TRIGGER. But the honesty and openness of MAPPA and Creative Intelligence Arts, Inc. representatives concerning their creative processes, their own work, and their own concerns were directly in line with what I saw exemplified during AnimeNEXT 2013 and 2014. Separately in Q&A sessions, and collectively through a panel about their current project, In This Corner of the World, guests Sunao Katabuchi, Masao Maruyama, and Hidenori Matsubara all commented in varying degrees on the importance of creative freedom and breaking the current mould that is the anime industry’s creative committee system. This was further compounded by guests Yusuke Kozaki, Jiro Ishii, and Hiroaki Yura, who started a KickStarter campaign Otakon weekend to attempt to gain funding for a pilot episode of Under the Dog that could be shopped around as evidence of the power inherent in retaining their creative control over the project. I thought this was not only a great excuse for their time over here but also a good test of “put your money where your mouth is” challenge to American fans.

The measure of a great con is how much you cannot get to do for all you want to do. I sacrificed panel attendance for the basics of life (food, hydration, libation). I sacrificed panel attendance to see Artist’s Alley (in order to come up with some questions for a Q&A panel). I sacrificed panel attendance for my one and only Dealers Room foray to run errands for friends not attending the con. I sacrificed concerts for panel attendance. But for all I missed, my schedule was still packed, and there's not one moment about which I'd complain.

The other wow that left me positively giddy was the adjustments to schedule inclusion, panel scheduling, and traffic coordination. Even before Otakon started, the posted schedule displayed cosplay photoshoots. Whether cosplay is merely window dressing or represents the mainstay of a con for you, the decision to integrate it was a solid one. Panel hopping was facilitated by 15-minute breaks and size-appropriate room allocation. Lastly, regarding organization, a (very short) story: upon walking down the main thoroughfare (where Panel 1, Ota-Chan, etc. were located), I saw Otakon staff walk down the middle of the aisle, turn sideways, then extend their arms to split the hallway in twain. “That’s cute,” I thought, but are they just going to stand there the entire con?” After I came back that way after a panel or other such happening, strap barriers had taken the place of staff. These barriers also appeared in other high-traffic areas, namely the bridge between the adjoining hotel and BCC, and made travel a relative breeze.


Click here for more coverage of Otakon 2014.

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Con Report: FanimeCon 2014

Discovering the True Anime Con

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It’s been eight months since I moved out to California, and in that time I’ve tried to scope out the West Coast convention scene as best as I could. Naturally, my tendency is to compare all of these conventions, including Animation on Display and Kraken Con, to their East Coast equivalents. Three weeks ago I attended a con that I can best describe as “Otakon West Coast” (ignoring, for a moment, the existence of Otakon Vegas). At 25,000 attendees, it’s the San Francisco Bay Area’s largest anime convention: FanimeCon. This year the con ran from Friday, May 23 to Monday, May 26.

Fanime bills itself as “by fans, for fans,” and attendees love to differentiate its DIY attitude from that total sellout pop-punk band, Anime Expo, but other than a conspicuous lack of industry booths in the Dealer’s Room, Fanime is pretty similar to every other large nonprofit-operated anime con you’ve ever been to (hint: that’s most of them). I enjoyed my time at the convention, though I had a very different experience than I’m used to. About that...

I spent only a brief time among the “con kids” before immediately transforming into a grumpy old man at 19 years old. Since then I’ve generally stuck with an older crowd, attending panels and hanging out at room parties where the wildest thing to happen is one podcaster beating another one in Street Fighter. At Fanime, however, I roomed with my cosplaying coworkers Victoria and Danika (hear us on the latest Ani-Gamers Podcast), and got to see what the True Anime Con is like. It turns out, as expected, the True Anime Con is just a bunch of young people partying into the late hours of the night, then waking up and putting costumes on the next day.

As my friends informed me, Fanime is a big deal for cosplayers — people come from all over the country to cosplay at the con. Unfortunately that’s not really my scene. I stuck to panels for most of the convention, both running three of my own (Introducing Studio Trigger, The Beautiful Backgrounds of Anime, and The Changing Faces of Anime) and attending a lot by other panelists. The fact that all three of my panels were approved despite me never having presented at Fanime previously should clue you into my next point: the panels lineup wasn’t nearly as strong as I expected from a con of this size. I certainly saw some stuff I really liked (I’ll describe the specifics in my upcoming panel reports), but there were large stretches of panels about cosplay, voice acting, and other topics that don’t particularly interest me. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by conventions like Otakon, AnimeNEXT, and Anime Boston, which make an effort to bring in panelists like Mike Toole and the Anime World Order podcasters, but I’m not used to being at a large convention that doesn’t have a packed schedule of these sorts of educational panels.

On top of that, the panel rooms were all in a separate hotel, the furthest building from the convention center unless you count the one housing the awkwardly partnered steampunk convention, Clockwork Alchemy, that runs concurrently with Fanime. Yes, the message here is clear: panels aren’t that important. They’re a sideshow for the main attraction, which is a chorus of teenagers and 20-somethings in costume singing that Mulan song in the lobby of a convention center.

Speaking of 20-somethings, I noticed some strange demographics while wandering the halls of FanimeCon 2014. Whereas I’m used to seeing teens, often between 13 and 17, at conventions, I saw mostly young adults, who appeared to be between the ages of 18 and 30. I spoke with podcaster and Comics Conspiracy owner Ryan Higgins about the changes, since he’s been attending Fanime for years, and he says it’s not that the con historically has an older audience; the con has been aging consistently for the past couple years. What this means for anime cons as a whole is unclear, and not the subject of this post, but I certainly see it as a warning sign of a fandom that isn’t drawing in enough new fans. On the bright side, this seemed to bring with it a greater interest in the artistry behind anime (or maybe it's just something about Fanime's audience or location), with packed panels about anime studios, the production process, Japanese guests, and other topics that usually equal empty rooms at Otakon.

The Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley took up cavernous halls, as expected. I noticed, however, a surprising number of old-school anime booths in the Dealer’s Room, selling Japanese posters and vintage toys (I bought a Japanese Astro Boy poster and some out-of-print manga at one of them). The Artist’s Alley featured a lot of Kill la Kill artwork, reflecting the focus in cosplay as well. Yes, without a doubt, Studio Trigger's Kill la Kill was the most popular anime cosplay at the convention, and might have even beaten the dreaded Not-Anime Homestuck for cosplay saturation. In contrast with the aging of the fanbase, this development is an encouraging one. With series like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill, anime is taking back its conventions, and even better, it’s doing it organically, without forcing the equally sincere fans of Homestuck and Adventure Time out of the events.

Between some surprisingly great guest panels and a lot of wandering around the pleasant college town that is downtown San Jose, I absolutely enjoyed myself at Fanime. It doesn’t give me the same rush as Otakon, but its considerable size and unique four-day length somehow makes it feel like a more immersive experience than most other anime cons. It’s the sort of thing I’m very glad to be able to experience locally, but if I still lived back east, I’m not sure I’d fly out just to hang out at an anime party for four straight days.


Looking for more FanimeCon 2014 photos? My photo album is up on Flickr, featuring guests, cosplay, and panels!

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2014

It's settled.

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After a risky but ultimately successful move from its unstable base of operations in eastern Pennsylvania in 2013, Zenkaikon returned to the Lancaster County Convention Center for 2014. It really is a great space for the multi-fandom convention, especially when, like this year, there weren’t any other events being hosted concurrently at the venue. Programming occupied every available room, the size of those rooms were more than enough to accommodate the crowds (now and as they grow in the future), and there was enough space in the hallways to feel the presence of fellow fans without getting frustrated by traffic. If the attendance of 4,100, an increase from 2013’s 3,300, supports it, I think Zenkaikon has found a good home.

Zenkaikon starts early; the video rooms started showing anime at 10:00 Friday morning, and the first panel started a little after 11. But even as I was checking in (a little before 11 AM), cosplay was flooding through the doors. That trend continued throughout the weekend, with costumes from all walks of fandom being admired by flashes from mobile phones and digital cameras alike. Sunday, usually a day of decline as far as energy and effort go, felt like opening day (with some sleep-deprived sluggishness thrown in). Lancaster knows how to con, and its people are in it for the win! But fans weren’t the only attendees out in force.

I’ve been going to Zenkaikon for a while, but this year more than any other seemed as though it saw an increased guest and featured panelist presence. If you’re as old as I am, you’ll utter the same squee I did upon hearing that VA Jim Cummings was there (and was interviewed at length and in grand fashion by fellow guest Uncle Yo). Other talented VAs included Brina Palencia, Greg Houser, and Bill Rogers. There were not one but THREE live musical acts — Lolita Dark, The Extraordinary Contraptions, and (ironically) Trifeca — as well as a multitude of authors, Internet personalities, and cultural presenters (Side note: I hope kimono demonstrator Kuniko Kanawa becomes an institution at this con). Each added a distinctive presence, authority, and personality to the event for what felt like a solid B+-list offering.

Since I usually attend cons more for panels than guests, the A-list personalities that were featured included panelists Charles Dunbar, GeekNights, 20 Sided Designs, and The Manly Battleships. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to catch any panels from the latter two, but the former two presenters offered up (as usual) content that ranged from thought provoking to celebratory. An extended panel report will be coming along soon, so watch out for it and read it to gauge which panels you might want to see in the future if they come to a con near you.

GAMES!!! I actually spent time in the video gaming room this year. It wasn’t an extended period, but since the room had TWO arcade machines (at least one of which was a Multicade), I failed at Donkey Kong for a good 20 minutes while killing time between panels. It was while roaming around this room waiting for said Multicade to free up that I also got my first glimpse of an Xbox One in the wild. It’s purty. Real Purty. I didn’t get a chance to play it, but it was a decent piece of tech to have two of amidst the various older generation consoles which catered to a room full of people waiting to get in on a LAN party.

STUFF!!! There was stuff, though not the stuff I wanted, in the combination Vendor Hall and Artist Alley. Melon bread, which I usually procure once a day, was not represented. Zenkaikon, you made Shana-chan cry. Shame. Otherwise, nothing stood out. Or rather the only things that stood out were squishy: a huggable corgi and Cerberus as well as some hand-knitted bulgy-eyed MLP plushes made me circle ‘round a few times for reactions of aww and eek (respectively). There was also a vendor, Koricha Kawaii, selling chibi figures from various series, and it was a fun table around which to linger (if not for the actual products, for the exclamations from visitors thereto).

Despite there being only 2 video rooms, there was a good selection of titles from across the years. (Heck, mix Mushi-shi in with any programming and I'll sing your praises.) And while unlike CPAC, which had a dedicated room for streaming video, Zenkaikon at least offered a 4 hour block for open anime streaming. When I stopped in during this time, the stream was much smoother than at CPAC. As I arrived some time into this block, however, I could not find anyone to ask about the particulars of how this block was carried out. Regardless, kudos should be given for making this a thing at least on a small scale.

Between elements of con, Lancaster offers a great respite. The food market directly diagonal from the convention center as well as the multitude of eateries and bountiful craft brew bars (not to mention the local shops lining every street) are just as much an attraction at Zenkaikon as is everything the con has to offer. Staying at the Lancaster Marriott (integrated into the convention center) literally feels like staying at home and walking to the con next door. The only issues are the elevators, which are consistently maxed out by con attendees, but that’s bound to happen at any con. Zenkaikon continues to grow; be part of it — the experience is its own reward. Click here for more pictures from Zenkaikon 2014.

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Con Report: Spring Kraken Con 2014

Release the... oh forget it

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One-day cons are a rare treat. The three-day convention is the standard format, and sometimes results in events that overstay their welcome, stretching into lazy Sundays with very little in the way of interesting programming. My first con experience out here on the West Coast was Animation on Display 2014, which still felt a bit too long at two days. My second West-Coast con was another local joint, but instead of two days, it was only one: the fledgling Kraken Con, held on Sunday, April 6 at the Oakland Convention Center. This was only the second event for the convention, which runs one-day cons twice a year in October and April.

The coolest thing about one-day conventions is that they're low-commitment. Show up in the morning, hang out all day, go home. Done. There's none of the laborious back-and-forth or pricey hotel worries of a longer con. Kraken Con nails that convenience. The Convention Center is located directly outside a BART station, providing easy access from San Francisco and most other spots in the Bay Area, and some nearby restaurants provide ample diversions when con events get a little boring.

Luckily, that didn't happen all that often, as Kraken Con packed a surprising number of events into its single-day run. Adventure Time writer and storyboard artist Natasha Allegri ran a panel about her new web animation series Bee and Puppycat, where she walked the audience through her storyboards (with hilarious live narration) and answered questions about her work and its anime influences. Viz also ran two industry panels about their anime offering and Haikasoru, their Japanese sci-fi novel imprint.

Despite a pretty full schedule, most of the other panels weren't quite up my alley, as they seemed to focus on how-to's about typical fan creative pursuits like cosplay and fiction writing rather than analysis, history, or comedy relating directly to the actual content that Kraken Con purports to center on ("anime, cartoons, and comics"). In fact, my panel "The Beautiful Backgrounds of Anime" was the only non-industry event that was explicitly about anime. This is something I noticed at AOD too, such that I'm beginning to wonder if this focus on creating your own fan works rather than discussing the things you're a fan of is symptomatic of Bay Area con culture or West Coast con culture as a whole. It's certainly apparent in con dealer's rooms and artist's alleys across the country, but I've rarely seen it so perfectly reflected in panel programming.

Speaking of dealer's rooms and artist's alleys, Kraken Con's exhibitor's hall was a fairly interesting small-con twist on the typical layout; dealers, artists, video games, screenings, and a maid café all occupied the same ballroom, which overflowed into the panels hallway as well. At a larger convention this open layout, with screenings and video games circumscribed by nothing more than some stanchions, would have resulted in pure chaos, but at Kraken Con it actually kept the convention centralized. In fact, I feel like it helped maintain a nice consistent energy throughout the day. Most attendees spend the majority of their time in the dealer's room and the video game room anyway, so why not mash these things together so they both happen in roughly the same area? (Body odor might be a good reason not to, but I learned years ago not to breathe through my nose at conventions, so I couldn't tell.)

Kraken Con is hardly a standout experience, but as it's only on its second year, I could see it growing into something much larger. It is extremely well located, went off without any major hitches, and attracted a fairly interesting guest lineup, so there's really nothing to complain about. Really, the best part is how short it is. If you're in the Bay Area and looking to sate your appetite for anime conventions without blowing a whole weekend on it, there’s virtually no reason to skip out on Kraken Con.

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Going Gonzo: Genericon XXVII

Sleep is for the Weak

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My favorite thing about Genericon — a sci-fi-turned-multi-fandom convention in Troy, NY — is that it runs nonstop from its 5PM Friday opening until its 5PM Sunday "GO HOME!" Panel programming may pause in the wee hours of morning, but there are plenty of other opportunities with which to whittle away the meantime: video rooms, electronic and tabletop gaming, LARPing —all the usual con mainstays but at … unusual hours. Staying at the con 24/7 is not prohibited, but sleeping there is. While some may view this as passive-aggressive evacuation, I take it as a challenge! After all, I got a late start and had to make it up somehow.

The road to Genericon XXVII was dark and cold … at least until the heat came up in the cabin of my 2002 Hyundai Accent (complete with Powerpuff Girls floormats and Fullmetal Alchemist decal). From thereon in, the trip was dark and warm. I’d just finished answering questions about poetry from the bottom of a pint of smoked porter in New Jersey on Friday night when I realized I had a con to get to. sci-fi, anime, and gaming: Genericon was calling. Sure, I woke up at 5 am that morning to make chili, but that gave me just enough fuel to answer.

“Of course you can get your badge,” one of the graveyard shift staff stationed in Ops (Operations) replied, “that’s why we’re here!” I couldn’t tell whether his ecstatic tone was a result of it being the third hour after midnight, his genuine enthusiasm for his position, or the fact that my mere presence there justified his own, but it didn’t much matter; we both occupied the same lot: stuck at a con of our own volition. The person who I was going to stay with was probably already asleep, so I fled with that consideration to the only respite I knew: anime.

It was something past 3AM, and the choices were Psychic Wars or M.D. Geist; surely Anime Coordinator Annie Sardelis was either a sadist or a genius. Regardless, the "THAT Guy" in the audience of maybe fifteen people, who read every single bit of on-screen text just in case everyone in attendance was blind and 98% deaf, ruined what could’ve been a very laughable experience. Space piracy was to follow, but luckily in another location — one with a captain’s chair … OK, several captain’s chairs.

The chairs of Video 3, even without the influence of abusive substances, required an odd mix of submissive surrender and reckless abandon. I spent more time amused by my own efforts trying to stabilize myself than I did watching Space Pirate Captain Harlock attempting to resurrect his legacy with the aid of his barfly crew. There wasn’t a "THAT Guy" in that room, but there was an oddly persistent hiccup, which, like a water drip, raised my ire in steady intervals until my bloodshot eyeballs beamed wide and accusatory. Otherwise, after a couple of hours (and many a suppressed chuckle) battling gyroscopic balance, programming called for a switch to Trigun. But since that couldn’t be found, a quick substitution of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt filled the void.

I watched it stream, I own the DVDs, and I have watched the dub, but my favorite thing about watching P&SwG is doing so in the presence of those who’ve never seen nor heard of the series. This is the best reason to visit video rooms at anime cons. The audience's disbelief, as opposed to my early sleep deprivation or the show’s excellently executed jokes and voice acting, was the source of my multitudinous grins. But the hiccupping persisted, and after vicariously reliving my initial fascination (and in want of some serious leg stretching), I decided to leave my seat to greet the sun for some fresh air and silence.

It was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I saw the sun, part of its promising rise, and my breath and quickly returned to the heated, hiccuppy oasis of Video 3, where, by then, they’d found the missing Trigun DVDs. There I remembered laughter in spite of circumstance, recalling a show I’d long since forgotten and all the joy it brought. But time is linear and, at times, unforgivingly slow. Now at a little past 24 hours of consciousness, I decided a sustained bout of cold air was in order. After walking to the door and quickly back in, I remembered my duty to check out the Video Gaming room.

To be fair, nothing was on the schedule that early. But as I stepped over the last of the stairs, I couldn’t help but laugh at the bodies I saw sprawled on the floor to my left: either sleeping or in the midst of a lethargic LARP. The occupants of the video game room, while more conscious, weren’t any more defined. When I popped my head in, Staff shirts were clustered together MST3K-ing the second installment of the Star Trek reboot; not a single monitor attached to a video game machine was turned on. If I hadn’t already seen the movie, I might’ve stayed. But I had, so I left. With the sun in the sky and panels close to starting, I moved in to start my ping-ponging between the con’s two panel rooms and Main Events A and B. (To read more about that, check out the forthcoming Ani-Gamers Panel Report.)

In-between sitting down in hour intervals for various demonstrations and listening to fans squee over or attempt to justify their fandom of choice, there was ample time (due to egregiously large and numerous programming gaps) to roam the hall. The level of energy continued to rise as attendees poured through the front gates wearing costumes from all walks of geekdom. By midday, the Great Hall saw congregations comprised of titan slayers, maids, Homestucks (who asked ya?!), elves, a dandy guy form the space, …was that a Sengoku period-style Sailor Moon? Yes! Some were modeling Lolita fashion, some were cosplaying old cartoons, some were cosplaying newer games, some just threw on whatever they found on the way to the con. All were busy talking amongst each other excitedly or posing silently at the business end of strangers’ cameras.

While costumes were pretty or pretty interesting (homespun cosplay always warms the cockles of my heart), some were also pretty in the way; instances where neither poser nor stalker chose to abandon their across-the-thoroughfare-photo-session to let the ever-queuing throng through numbered many. Needless to say that as the hours inched on, my patience wore thin. I’m sure I appear as an inconvenient blur in many such attempted shoots. Likewise, crowd control was not even present at the bottleneck which was the badge check point of entry, where, for some reason, an errant vendor table caused traffic troubles during all but the lightest traffic flows throughout the entire weekend.

Navigation anywhere else was absolutely unhindered. The grounds were not so full of people as to hinder a healthy stride, and clear, comprehensible directional signs were EVERYWHERE. These came in handy particularly when finding my way to the vendors, even if I didn’t unintentionally follow a young woman, a stranger to me, who was literally narrating every aspect of her trek there. Repeating, almost singing, “vendors” with a ring to her voice, she oft ad-libbed common objects as new verses. “Stairs,” she’d exclaim as she encountered stairs. “Doors,” she’d grunt as she opened (and held) a door. (Thank you!) Whatever the vendors area (Dealer’s Room) lacked in geospatial relativity to the con proper was more than made up in … materialism.

Aside from a rather sizable manga centerpiece, the vendors were smart in their choice of showcased wares. Items which would incur large shipping risks/costs if bought over the Internet or those that would be bettered by a pre-purchased fitting seemed sold in abundance, whereas media almost seemed an afterthought. The usual anime food tie-ins were all there, with the very sad exception of melon bread (Where’s the Shana love?); dice and other tabletop supplies stood at the ready for those discovering they forgot their own or misplaced them along the way; and model kits with fragile wings and figurines with dainty waists abounded—unaffected by any would-be manhandling by the USPS.

After I’d done my walk-around and snapped a few photos (inadvertently catching figure buyers…ahem…inspecting the goods), my next stop was the stepchild relegated to the con’s basement: Artists’ Alley. The three or four rooms comprising Artists’ Alley were in serious want of flow control. Most if not all rooms had 2 doorways, and even just an enforced “entrance only” and “exit only” policy would’ve helped alleviate some confrontational traffic patterns. Then again, who’d want to leave?! The best thing about this incarnation of Artists’ Alley was that only one room was 99% fan art prints, while the other rooms were 99% print-free. Plush and jewelry seemed the order of the day, with one artist in particular catching my eye with bedazzlements made from electronics (broken bits of PCBs, capacitors, batteries, etc.).

Speaking of, my batteries were low. Luckily Ani-Gamers, Vertical, Inc., and others were going to get food. This foreshadowed my downfall. Despite knocking back a shot of Turkish coffee and devouring the residual sludge like Garfield on a Monday, no matter how many stairs I climbed or buildings I ran between, nothing could negate the food + empty stomach = sleep formula. After roughly 36 hours, some duration of which included me almost falling asleep in the front row of a panel (thank heaven for voice recorders!), I grabbed an hour nap which got me through 6 more hours of con.

By the end of the last panel I attended on Saturday (actually Sunday at 1AM), I’d been without sleep for 44 hours over a 45 hour period—delirium at its peak. I was starting to see people in costume I could’ve sworn were dressing as friends of mine; I’m certain there was an Uncle Yo clone and someone dressed as Badass Viga. Small hallucinations started occurring on such a regular basis that I thought I was IN an anime. Naturally, this was the best state in which to drive (my passengers will attest to this).

Why drive? Because Troy has a few pretty wonderful eateries and bars peppered throughout the downtown area, which is but a few minutes away from the con. Several delectable-sounding establishments were rattled off to me, but the splendiferous discovery this year was Brown’s Brewing Company. Forty-some hours of unanswered consciousness had nothing to do with that fact. The burger I had there, with smoked gouda and baked-in delicious, was amazing enough even without the several tasty beers I saw on the menu. Also, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a must-visit staple for BBQ and decent microbrews. My visit there on Sunday afternoon was to be, sadly, my farewell toast to Troy. After a good drink to compliment a Flinstones-car-tipping side of ribs, I could hear New Jersey beckoning. But while returning (and trying desperately to not fall asleep at the wheel), I could hear a steady voice repeat: “See you next year.”

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Con Report: Animation on Display (AOD) 2014

Welcome to the West Coast

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The main hall of AOD 2014It’s perplexing that Animation on Display is as small as it is. The San Francisco-area convention, which began as college con Anime Overdose, has grown over 11 years into a multi-genre event catering to the whole geek spectrum (hence the new, less Japan-specific name). This year — my first time at AOD and my first time at a West Coast convention — the con had a new, more spacious location near San Francisco Airport and a bevy of big-name guests. Somehow, though, AOD remains a tiny convention, coming in at around 2,000–3,000 attendees over two days (January 25 and 26, 2014).

Typically, the caliber and volume of guests at a convention is a good indicator of its size and influence, but despite AOD’s attendance numbers telling the story of a larger-than-average college con, the event grabbed a lot of great guests. Anime voice actors Cristina Vee and Mike Sinterniklaas were in attendance, as was Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series creator and Internet superstar LittleKuriboh. Melissa Hutchison, the voice of Clementine in the award-winning Walking Dead video game, and Tommy Yune, an ex-game dev and current Harmony Gold creative director, brought up the video game contingent. Then there was Ken Pontac, creator of Happy Tree Friends, and Noelle Stevenson (a.k.a. Gingerhaze), creator of webcomic NIMONA. That’s a nice list with a variety of guests, but the issues became apparent when I glanced at the schedule.

While the guests had a few interesting panels scattered throughout the convention, AOD 2014’s events schedule was embarrassingly bare. Blocks were filled with barely thought out fan panels in which dubious “experts” answered questions about how to be Internet famous or get a job doing nerd stuff, with only a few going for the unique approaches and level of detail that I look for in panels. Heck, I actually attended the cosplay masquerade at AOD because there was so little on the schedule that appealed to me!

The Walking Dead voice actors share a laugh at their panel

The most interesting events were invariably guest and industry panels, such as the excellent Walking Dead panel, which featured most of the cast of season 1 of the episodic game series in a frank and funny roundtable discussion. The fan panel "Philosophy in Anime" was a surprisingly fulfilling conversation too, and a late-night block of game show-style panels featuring the guests seemed fun, though I didn’t get to attend. (Also of note: I was on my very first Crunchyroll panel at AOD, which was pretty exciting!)

There was a strong focus on gaming, as the con featured a video game room, a tabletop gaming room, and an arcade showcasing both cabinets and speedrunners playing on a projector. Despite playing a lot of video games, I’ve never been big into gaming events at anime cons. Still, for the multi-genre con geek, AOD provided some nice variety outside of its traditional anime programming.

A glimpse of AOD 2014's combined Dealer's Room/Artist's AlleyDealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley were conveniently combined into a single large and centrally located ballroom, and there were just enough exhibitors in attendance to make it manageable but still worth a look. A lot of vendors were selling imported anime products (model kits, figures, accessories, etc.), something you don’t always see at a con of AOD’s size. Unfortunately, my mainstays Sci-Fi Continuum rarely make it out to West Coast cons, so I passed on most of the overpriced anime and manga. However, I did buy some adorable Kill la Kill stickers from fan artist Gus Gutierrez.

A line snakes out from Main Events, separated from the hotel proper under an outdoor awning.AOD ran smoothly from start to finish, with very few hiccups that I could see. Press registration was a breeze, and when I checked in periodically at public registration it looked extremely efficient, with anywhere between three and ten staffers, depending on the volume of registrations, handling forms and speeding attendees on their way. I never once saw a crowd control issue or an obnoxious panel hijacking by an audience member (something that’s become all-too-common at lots of other conventions lately).

Despite a very well-organized convention and well-behaved attendees, I often felt like something was missing from AOD 2014. Maybe it was the lack of a vibrant and unified con culture, likely caused by the fractured hotel layout that split fans into small groups in isolated alcoves. (I’ve also heard that West Coast con attendees are often more subdued than their East Coast counterparts.) Maybe it was a panel schedule that left me perpetually waiting around for something to do. More likely, it was just my newcomer status. AOD seems like the sort of small convention that lives and dies by the strength of its local community. Attending when you know only a few people doesn’t deliver the full experience, because AOD is much more about hanging out with friends than it is about bouncing from big event to big event. That’s a shame, since the convention staff seem to have the chops to create a much richer experience that blends great guests and events with that friendly local atmosphere.

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Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2013

We're gonna need a bigger convention center

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The entrance to the Garden State Exhibit CenterFour years ago, New Jersey anime convention AnimeNEXT made the big decision to move from the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus to a bigger space further from New York City: the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. Now the Garden State Exhibit Center can no longer contain the yearly growth of AnimeNEXT. The 2013 event was bigger than ever, with over 10,000 attendees (likely closer to 11,000 by my estimation) as compared to last year's 9,800. "Growing pains" would be putting it lightly; AnimeNEXT is obviously too large for the convention center and nearby hotels, and there were clear consequences at this year's con.

Attendees waiting in line in the rain

Navigation was a nightmare at AnimeNEXT 2013. Large crowds were constantly milling around the small hallways on either side of the DoubleTree hotel, which housed all of the panels. Of course, it didn't help that it was rainy on Friday and Saturday, forcing many attendees inside (and squandering the location's beautiful outdoor areas). In one extreme case, staff had to close off the hallway that provided access to the large ballrooms (Panel 1 and Main Events A and B) on Saturday because it was over capacity. That's right, there were so many people in the hallway (not just the rooms themselves) that it was unsafe to let anybody else in. This was phenomenally inconvenient for lots of attendees, as the hallway provided access to three rooms containing a wide mix of programming. To be clear, however, I think the con staff did their best given the circumstances, and it's really a case of needing a much larger space rather than poor planning.

Panel rooms had consistent space problems as well. The DoubleTree is cursed with an uneven distribution of room sizes; the first floor contains three large ballrooms and the second floor has four small conference rooms. As a result, panels in the large ballrooms consistently did NOT fill, while panels in the small conference rooms were almost always filled to capacity. Exacerbating this problem was the staff's policy of performing a full room clear and lineup for every panel. There are valid reasons to perform a room clear (preventing squatting is one of them), but by instituting them for every single panel in rooms too small to contain even half of the people in line, staff inadvertently created needless inconveniences for people who wanted to see a string of panels in the same room.

Panelists from "Samurai Stereotypes in Anime" panel

But hey, those long lines for panels were also a good thing in a way, since they represented AnimeNEXT's continuing dedication to excellent fan panel programming. Our buddy Vinnie (from All Geeks Considered) was in charge of panels this year, and he pulled together a really nice mix of topics, from a panel about anime "Pilots and Precursors" to another on "Respect and Positivity in Cosplay." In fact, in a first for me at AnimeNEXT, there were very few points when there wasn't a panel I wanted to attend going on, and when there was, there were often multiple interesting panels taking place simultaneously. It's a testament to the great panel lineup that I barely made it to half the events I was interesting in attending. (For more detailed discussion of the panels, check out our upcoming panel reports.)

AnimeNEXT has had a somewhat spotty history with guests, but this year delivered just the kinds of guests that I like — Japanese anime creators. Namely, Sayo Yamamoto (director of Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Michiko & Hatchin) and Hiroshi Shimizu (key animator on Fujiko, Michiko & Hatchin, and lots of other stuff) were in attendance, and a combined four hours spent with them over the course of the weekend (two panels, a press interview, and a signing) really drove home how nice it is to have prestigious anime creators at a convention like AnimeNEXT. The con's relatively small size means that Japanese guest events are poorly attended, which is bad for the con, but good for the few people who do show up, as we get to ask a lot of questions and spend a lot of time having conversations with awesome directors and animators.

Mike Toole presents "Anime Cult Classics," about anime commissioned by cults

The convention also made the bold choice of inviting Mike Toole (anime blogger and host of Anime News Network's The Mike Toole Show) as a guest. Mike's got a lot of name recognition among bloggers, con veterans, and his online audience, but he hardly has the sort of star power of an anime voice actor. However, his panels are some of the best out there, and he's made a name for himself at Anime Boston, where he routinely fills huge ballrooms with panels like "Dubs that Time Forgot" and "Anime Hell." Unfortunately Mike's panels weren't as popular at AnimeNEXT — though they were just as good — which I think is only because it's his first year at the con. Give him a few more years and NEXT attendees will finally realize that they should get on line early to see Mike's stuff.

I did my share of wandering the Dealers Room and AnimeNEXT's charming Artists Alley, both of which were basically the same as last year. [INK'S NOTE: I thought Artists Alley had a tad more craft representation and noted the presence of some of more interesting prints, such as the 1940's yaoi booth by Grave Impressions.] Anime distribution giant FUNimation, however, didn't have a booth in the AnimeNEXT Dealer's Room, a conspicuous absence since they were there last year and there was no conflicting convention on the same weekend. I stopped at Vertical's table to pick up volume 1 of The Flowers of Evil (check out Ink and David's impressions of the anime!) and grabbed some $5 manga at my go-to dealer, Sci-Fi Continuum, but not much else jumped out at me in either Dealers' or Artists' Alley. [INK'S NOTE: I also stopped by Vertical, where I picked up a copy of Utsubora, and elsewhere found a Penguin No. 3 keychain (Mawaru Penguindrum) to keep my dangling Clara (Princess Jellyfish) company.]

A plushie booth in the Dealers' Room

It's no secret that I'm a little bit of an AnimeNEXT fanboy. The con's proximity to my house makes it accessible, and its mix of small-con spunk and big-con organization make it a really enjoyable way to kick off my summer. This year's problems are largely a symptom of a healthy, growing convention. I have no doubts that a larger space will solve most of the issues, but unfortunately NEXT is slated to be back in the Garden State Exhibit Center next year (though I hear rumors that they're looking for a new space for 2015). Knowing that, I've got my fingers crossed for some creative reorganization in 2014 to make better use of what space the con does have. I'm not worried, though. If there's anything I've learned in nine years of attending AnimeNEXT, it's that this is a nimble con that's quite good at changing itself to fit new circumstances.

Looking for more photos from AnimeNEXT? We've got you covered. Panels, cosplay, and more: Ink's Flickr Set. Evan's Flickr Set.


Click here for more coverage of AnimeNEXT 2013.

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Con Report: Genericon XXVI

How I learned to stop worrying and love the con

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I (Evan Minto) was the Convention Chair for Genericon XXVI. However, I have absolutely no control over the tone of Ink's coverage of the con (press relations was handled by someone else and other than some tiny copy edits, I kept my editorial hands out of his report). The opinions below are solely Ink's.


What started over 25 years ago in Troy, NY as a strict sci-fi convention has morphed into a post-apocalyptic-themed celebration of sci-fi, anime, ponies, Homestuck, gaming, and just about everything geek. Genericon is run annually by a volunteer committee comprised of RPI (Renneselaer Polytechnic Institute) students, and the 26th iteration (this one) was chaired by Ani-Gamers Editor-in-Chief Evan Minto (Vampt Vo).

Genericon ran from 5pm Friday straight through to 5pm Sunday. Panels were stop-and-go in the wee hours, but the gaming areas (video and tabletop and everything in-between) and video rooms were always open. While I cannot speak to the gaming side of the con, a lot of the video content was right in line with the post apocalypse theme. This also carried over into many of the panels, even those not directly related. Since this was a multi-fandom con, it was easy to relax and just let everyone do their thing without judging and melt into the fun of it all. Homestuck cosplayers, ponies, anime fans, belly dancers, belly dancers AS anime characters, and even a genuine, award-winning science fiction author were all in attendance!

I have to say meeting and talking with guest Tim Maughan after enjoying his Twitter rants for some time now was one of the highlights of the con. I never took sci-fi seriously before. I liked sci-fi movies and TV shows but solely as entertainment. After a few panels on apocalyptic fiction and cyberpunk, however, I was raring to get my hands on some solid sci-fi literature. Luckily, Maughan had a handful copies of his book of short stories, Paintwork, on hand. They sold out after the “Meet Tim Maughan” panel, and I was one of the lucky ones who got a copy. On top of hearing how and to what he spoke of concerning sci-fi, what really convinced me to take the genre seriously was a “rough draft” of a short film Maughan premiered.

Genericon had some insightful panels last year, but this year’s selection blew it away. Panelist Walter Amos relayed an experience of hearing one of the Antipode belly dancers remark, “at least there’s something intellectual at this con” (or something to that effect) after noting Walter’s “Science in Anime” panel in the con guide. But that was just the tip (of the iceberg). There was also a history lecture, a biographical retrospective, genre retrospective, artwork analysis, manga industry insight, and so much more! Apart from the academic, there were a range of fun panels, including anime-themed game shows, “Convention Horror Stories,” and (admittedly my favorite title of the lot this year) “Pony Should Pony Pony.”

With all the appealing panels, one would think it would be difficult choosing what to attend. This was not the case in my experience, and upon speaking with the con chair (who’s incredibly hard to get a word with), he commented how much care was taken not to schedule panels dealing with like fandoms opposite each other. There were also only two panel rooms (plus Main Events), so that also facilitated things. Still, good to know someone was looking out.

Vendors also benefitted from good forethought, specifically space allocation. Previously segmented betwixt several small rooms, the vendors got an exclusive and spacious area (with slight spillover into tables lining the Great Hall) at Genericon XXVI. The resulting lack of crowding and congestion was a great relief and gave everyone breathing room. The organization was such that it felt like a Dealer’s Room at any other con rather than reminding attendees that this event took place at a college. The fare to be found was fairly nominal, though the con’s history, theme, and multi-fandom added a decent bit of diversity to what is a fun-size version of larger cons’ Dealer’s Rooms.

Artist’s Alley was likewise commodious. It was still segmented amongst several small rooms, but the lack of traffic from vendors created a comfortable air in which to appreciate the artists’ offerings. The more relaxed atmosphere was especially more conducive to custom commissions, like furry portraiture and custom scrolls. The latter were actually quite lovely and out of the ordinary, as were a couple other offerings which made AA worth attending.

Speaking of addictions, there are (at least) two food joints worth checking out while in Troy: The Brown Bag, a burger joint that serves this, and Dinosaur BBQ, which does not serve dinosaur but does have a tasty craft beer selection and some very yummy BBQ (that isn’t dinosaur). Food is never so tasty as it is with friends, and it’s here I’ll whole-heartedly say hanging out and attending panels at a small- to medium-sized con with old and new friends really made the weekend wonderful. This was the first con I was actually sad to see end.

Well-organized (aside from the occasional extended panel room handoff) and enjoyable from start to finish, Genericon is wholly recommended for those near Troy, NY. Ani-Gamers will keep the coverage a rollin’ in the following weeks with in-depth panel write-ups and a general panel summary. For now, I’ll leave you with a few shots I snapped of cosplay, panelists, and areas around the con:

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Con Report: Otakon 2012

There's a Reason for the Reputation

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"All roads lead to Otakon." I've heard this phrase repeated by lots of anime bloggers, podcasters, and pundits, and this year's version of the annual Baltimore anime convention really drove home this message. Otakon isn't just a convention: it's an unforgettable experience, something that I find at no other con in the United States.

The Comic Cons in San Diego and New York get lots of mainstream media attention for their massive attendance numbers and appearances from celebrities, but these conventions are industry-centric affairs, in which fans serve only as passive spectators to the latest Marvel film, DC reboot, or vaguely sci-fi-themed TV show. Otakon is different. Run by volunteer fans, Otakon is a weekend-long party, a chance for East Coast anime fans to get together and celebrate their shared fandom. It's a chance to be a part of something bigger than a simple anime club or local convention. Indeed, all roads lead to Otakon, because when you're looking for a connection with your fellow fans, you go where everybody else is. And everybody is at Otakon.

Everybody from Internet anime giants Anime News Network to studio Madhouse founder Masao Maruyama to "Anime Anthropologist" Charles Dunbar to podcasters Anime World Order. More importantly, though, that "everybody" includes far less famous names. Friends. Members of your local anime club. People you've met at other conventions. Otakon pulls in people from all across the East Coast (and quite a few from out west), and the huge, varied crowds are what makes it such an amazing experience. At no other con have I felt as connected to the collective experience of American anime fans than at Otakon.

That said, the programming, the guests, and the other technical and organizational aspects of Otakon really aren't all that important to its success in anime culture. If the convention has a string of poor guests in the future, their attendance might drop a little, but their reputation as the be-all-end-all American anime convention will remain.

Luckily, Otakon has hit no such stumbling blocks. The 2012 convention featured a number of voice actors from the latest hit show Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Ai Nonaka, Christine Marie Cabanos, Lauren Landa, and Sarah Williams), the previously mentioned Masao Maruyama, Madoka and Fate/Zero writer Gen Urobuchi, and a bunch of music, fashion, and other guests either directly or tangentially related to anime. While I wasn't particularly looking forward to any of the selected guests this year, I think it was interesting to see so much representation from Madoka. As David and I mentioned in our podcast about the series, Madoka has been touted by some as a landmark show, something that may stand with the likes of Evangelion and Akira in terms of its influence on fandom. Surprisingly, despite a bevy of voice actors from both sides of the Pacific, the lead writer of the series, and a recent DVD/Blu-ray release all on display at Otakon, Madoka cosplayers seemed to blend into the crowd during the weekend. In fact, no costumes from any particular anime series stood out, which I see as a symptom of a fragmented, increasingly niche fandom. Of course, cosplay from the popular webcomic Homestuck continued to dominate most anime series, a curious paradigm shift I discussed in a recent Ani-Gamers feature.

One thing that distinguishes Otakon from every other convention in the country is its panels lineup. Since everybody who's anybody in East Coast anime fandom makes the yearly trek down to Baltimore, Otakon is able to pull in some of the best anime con panelists, from the versatile Mike Toole ("Dubs That Time Forgot") to the convention veteran Walter Amos ("Hetalia History") to the prolific Charles Dunbar ("Beyond Castles, Forests and Bath Houses: Politics and Philosophy in the Films of Studio Ghibli"). We discussed the panels we attended at length in our panels write-up, so I won't get into the details here. However, I will mention that there were a few odd panel scheduling choices. I met with a number of "dead zones" where there was nothing I was interested in, followed by two or three panels I wanted to go to all at the same time! (In fact, Otakon scheduled Daryl Surat and Gerald Rathkolb of Anime World Order against each other AND against their friend Mike Toole, whose panels attract a similar audience.) As someone who has worked on panel scheduling in the past, I understand the difficulties in the task, but some of the mistakes — like the AWO/Mike Toole mix-up — seem pretty obvious.

It's also worth throwing in here that, as Kate from the Reverse Thieves pointed out throughout the weekend, the Artist's Alley this year was pretty excellent. I always try to do at least one quick round through the alley at every con, but I rarely buy anything (alas, shirtless Naruto/Doctor Who crossovers just aren't my cup of tea). This year, however, not only were there a bunch of artists who I legitimately considered purchasing from, but I actually bought something from one of them. To be more specific, I highly recommend Emily Smith (from whom I bought a very cool print of a surreal cityscape) and "Mike Hates Meathook" (who makes robots out of old video game parts)!

I can talk all I want about how great the programming and the guests are at Otakon, but nothing compares with the true experience. From cruising into Baltimore with Ink and All Geeks Considered's Vinnie, blasting Soulja Boy's magnum opus, "Anime," to stopping for a conversation with a group of complete strangers I met at a panel, there's nothing quite like Otakon. I'd claim that it's because of the 32,000 people who streamed into the Baltimore Inner Harbor this year, but numbers don't tell the whole story. Otakon is an experience like no other. I've loved it every year I've been, and this year was no different. All roads really do lead to Otakon, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Otaku Bingo!

This year we brought back Otaku Bingo, our cheeky dig at the silly shenanigans of anime con attendees. Our bloggers participated, as did some of our friends and readers. Below we've included some scans of the Bingo cards from the participants.

 

Feedback!

Before I finish up here, I'd like to remind you that Otakon currently has a panel feedback form up on their website. We ran two panels — "Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing" and "The Changing Faces of Anime" — and we would really appreciate you heading to the Otakon site and letting their staff know what you thought of our panels. This form is used to decide which panelists to invite back to the convention, so leaving nice feedback will increase the likelihood of seeing another Ani-Gamers panel at next year's Otakon!


Click here for more coverage of Otakon 2012.

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2012

Or How I Learned to Forsake My Watch and Love the Con

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IMG_3221Zenkaikon Map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to rising popularity and corresponding attendance levels, Zenkaikon has never been lucky in terms of venue. That is until last year, when there was even space enough to account for future growth. Unfortunately, the hotel decided to put in a casino and thereby displaced Zenkaikon. All things considered (all things being the last-minute rush to find a new venue and all the prep work involved thereafter), the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center served as a lovely temporary home for this con, especially on the short notice in which it was procured. There was definitely enough space to accommodate the 2,743 attendees without feeling packed, and the single-level, open layout negated cramped hall navigation. And while attendance was down slightly from last year, enthusiasm was not.

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As the good so often comes with the bad, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the sound issue. As the Main Stage was located in a hangar-like room shared by the Gaming "Room” (a partitioned corner), Autograph Area, Photo Booth, and Demos areas, it was pretty much guaranteed that whatever was being featured was being heard throughout for better and worse. In terms of the better, the lack of walls meant you could take in multiple events simultaneously ... a con-goer’s dream! Unfortunately, this arrangement also meant that regardless of what was going on, con goers were experiencing it all. This wouldn’t have been all bad, actually. Imagine playing in the Halo Reach or Modern Warfare tournaments to the sound of the taiko performance! That would have been awesome, but the taiko was actually scheduled opposite the Dance Central tournament to pose a rhythm vs. rhythm battle. Still, most gaming/main stage pairings seemed to work, with raves supplying energetic background music for retro gaming and sports tournaments, while other main stage events — masquerade, comedy, weaponry demos — were relatively unobtrusive.

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Panels were strong this year, with presenting talent such as Geek Nights, Uncle Yo, and Charles Dunbar as well as myriad fans tackling some genuinely interesting topics. The location of the panel rooms, relative to the rest of the con, made them both easy to find and accessible. The only problem was the location of the panel rooms in relation to each other: back to back ... with only a flimsy divider betwixt them. Depending on the presenter’s lung power and adeptness for mic volume adjustment, the rooms were often fighting for the attention of their respective audiences.

Aside from the aforementioned issue of sound bleed, the gaming corner looked cozy. It was stuffed with a good variety of systems and featured a few large screen monitors for select systems and games. Whenever I peeked my head in, I never saw an empty chair (or at least one that didn’t fill quickly after being vacated), and yet the area never seemed overly crowded. Tournaments were scheduled every two hours, and other games were constantly in play.

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The Dealer's Room/Artist's Alley, which was perfectly sized and well organized, was even able to accommodate the ever-annoying mid-aisle cosplay shoot without much disturbance to flow from vendor to vendor. Artists seemed a little under-represented, but all the consumable usuals seemed present (with only a notable shortage of figures). I ended up getting an excellent vintage kimono from Yokodana Kimono, a few Portal 2 buttons with which to adorn my bag in honor of the con’s theme, and a few other gifts for friends who couldn’t be there.

There was some great cosplay during the two-day con (which ran on both days to a lovely 1:30 AM in a very sleepy town), though I saw very few costumes that coincided with Zenkaikon’s Retro Sci-Fi theme. Madokas were omnipresent, but my favorite, for what will be an obvious reason if you’ve seen the show, is the one who attended with her friend who came as Medusa, the witch from Soul Eater. My other favourite bit of cosplay was this wonderful Count from Gankutsuou!

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Friends made this con. The programming, purchasing, and learning were great, but hanging at the bar and talking over a meal or drinks, lounging the off-time away in a hotel room tradin’ memes, and after-parties discussing everything that had soaked in during the experience was priceless. Zenkaikon’s website mentions a 3-day event next year, and shortly after this con ended, some guests for 2013 were already announced! As confirmed via email and video, Zenkaikon will be moving once again, a little further west, to the Lancaster County Convention Center, which looks to be very spacious. Will it be worth the trip? Come and find out! Here’s looking forward to next year; I hope you can make it.


Click here for more coverage of Zenkaikon 2012.

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Con Report: Genericon 2012

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Held at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, Genericon has now been running for 25 years, but despite such a legacy, Genericon remains a small-ish convention. Size does not denote quality, however. The classroom atmosphere instantly gave the already distinguished panelists — Erin Finnegan, Noah Fulmor, and Scott Fermeglia, among others — either a scholarly air or at the very least the instant focus of everyone in a chair. My full-on panel report is forthcoming.

There were two rooms dedicated to panels, but the programming was well balanced between the expository, the entertaining, and the academic (last link is of the crowd at the "Fandom & Criticism" panel). Sequentially, there was never too much of one type of panel or the other; the rooms were close together, which made transitions a breeze; and scheduling was such that I experienced no real conflicts of interest or extended periods of panel drought. Even during times when I deemed both panel rooms skippable, there was still plenty to occupy my time throughout RPI’s campus during the 24/7 (ok, 24/2.5 if you wanna get all technical) con.

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Three video rooms were allocated for live programming, animation, and a mix of both, all showing a good range of shows and movies. To test these rooms, I stayed awake from Saturday through Sunday, catching Excel Saga and the dub of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion for the first time (both are extremely funny when sleep-deprived, in case you were wondering). If watching away the early hours of the morning wasn’t enough, the video game room and tabletop gaming areas also remained open for attendees. Though definitely sparse compared to the daytime attendance, the con remained populated and appreciated by the night owls (and those without accommodations). So thanks, Genericon! (EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, I did offer to let you crash in my dorm room.)

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Being held on a college campus, Genericon did a wise thing and segmented its Artist's Alley and Vendor areas into multiple, smaller, side-by-side classrooms. This seemed to alleviate some of the crowding, but the vendor areas were still packed, and inter- as well as intra-room flow was still a bit chaotic. Also, completely square rooms made it difficult to determinine which dealer was responsible for which items(s). Though the range of products from vendors seemed to dwarf the offerings from Artists’ Alley, there were still plenty of attendees circling both areas.

While I’ve never felt video games to be an integral part of a con, Genericon left open a 24/2.5 room for such, and I can definitely see (and indeed saw) how it would be appreciated by attendees...especially those covering the graveyard shift. Since Genericon’s video game room “runs on charitable donations,” the mix of consoles and games, coupled with the amount of available stations at which to play said games, was as excitingly eclectic as it was sparse. While this certainly did not hinder the late night crowd, I could see how the more enthusiastic daytime masses might arrive en masse and quickly turn around in impatient disappointment.

To the contrary, Genericon’s mobile app — complete with con schedule, interactive indoor maps, and more — looked like it would have been amazing. I have a dumb-phone, however, and the app was not compatible with my Kindle Fire, so I cannot report firsthand the awesomeness it seemed to offer. You, however, should totally check out its page and features and come around next year in hopes that you too can use it. Speaking of mobile device compatibility, RPI offered free (if only somewhat finicky) WiFi. That, combined with decent cellular coverage (at least for AT&T), made keeping in touch with friends much easier than in NYC’s Javits Center.

IMG_2793Though you wouldn’t guess it from the pictures I took (for some reason, being a 30-something non-student asking to take pictures of kids that were of college age or younger just seemed wrong on a campus), fandom was in full swing at Genericon. Cosplayers were everywhere, from recent series such as Madoka and Hetalia to older cartoons like Inspector Gadget and anime legends like Space Battleship Yamato. In short, the kids are, in fact, alright, and they also know how to rock.

While I wasn’t expecting anything from a rock band that calls itself “Eyeshine” and is fronted by an American anime voice actor (I’d never even heard of the band until Genericon), I have to admit that I underestimated it. Eyeshine had me bouncing from song one or two, and the hypnotized crowd eagerly filled in clap rhythms and screamed in enthusiastic appreciation after each song. Songs ranged from straight-out rock and pop-rock to anime OP (J-rock)-sounding pop but never lost an ounce of energy. My pictures of the concert can be found right here on anigamers.com (via Flickr)!

If you’re close to Troy, I’d recommend attending Genericon. There’s honestly nothing here I don’t think you won’t find at any other con (aside from the 24/2.5 openness ... which was AWESOME), but it’s got a great sense of programming, good layout and administration, and decent geographical placement (not but a couple miles away from two fantastic bars: Kokopellis and Dublin). I traveled 3.5 hours at break-neck speeds to get there, and do not regret a single moment spent.


DISCLAIMER: Ani-Gamers editor-in-chief Evan Minto was the Vice-Chair and Public Relations Coordinator of Genericon XXV. He was involved in copy-editing and fact-checking this article, but did not contribute to the value judgments of Genericon detailed above.

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Con Report: Castle Point Anime Convention 2011 @ Stevens Institute

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April 10, 2011
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ, USA


Ed. Note: My bad! Here's the (very late) Castle Point report — the lateness is all my fault, not Ink's!

Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken was the first anime con I ever attended in my home-state of good ol’ Nieu Joisy (and perhaps the second con I ever went to outside of my first Otakon). It was also where I first met Evan Minto of Ani-Gamers fame, who launched me into this high-profile world of aniblogging. While it remains a small, one-day con, the 2011 incarnation of CPAC has experienced very clear growth as seen via its inter-building pathway traffic and increased panel attendance.

This year promised a decent selection of panels, which I generally look forward to most at any con. Spread out between 3 rooms, there was always some title of interest with which to whittle away the span of the con via one- to two-hour sessions. Immediately, however, the first panel I was looking forward to, “Otaku on a Budget,” was cancelled. CPAC staff was on the proverbial ball and made sure audiences didn’t wait around in false hope, but this event ended up foreshadowing my overall panel experience.


The substitute first panel – “Lost in Adaptation,” which addressed inter-medium inadequacies – was lacking in anime examples and focused instead on video games. This was fine given the inclusive nature of anime cons as well as the highly transitory nature of the videogame medium, but the proverbial straw that broke the panel’s back was that the host called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within a GOOD movie ... not to mention his unreasonable assertion of its claim to the “first occurrence of a space marine.” While he tried to tackle differences of various examples with humor, redundancy made of his pre-programmed wit little more than an annoying and stuttered rant.

“Otaku Culture 101,” the second panel I attended, was definitely not what I was expecting but in a very good way. It focused on the Tohou and Vocaloid aspects of Otakudom, things with which I was and still am not very familiar. I left early, however, as watching the panelist play video games and video game videos, without relevantly linking together cultural poignancies, seemed ... well, pointless. As explained to me later, the panelist did manage to tie together some relevancies at the end.

The unexpected pinnacle of my panel-going experience was the arbitrary attendance of the most academic-sounding offering on the schedule: “Asian Ball-Jointed Dolls as Visual Culture.” Despite the panelist’s seemingly creepy and frequent doll caressing, there were offered up multiple vantages on and aspects of the appreciation of said hobby as well as a rather adept examination of external media bias towards it (review/summary forthcoming).

Trying to end the panel experience on a happy note, I attended “Jawdropping Moments in Anime.” Two words: editing needed. Even if you forgive the showing of the entire Naruto Sports Festival episode, the subsequently selected clips could’ve been shortened with no adverse effect to the intended shocking/humorous situations, which were, to the panelist’s credit, decently chosen from fairly mainstream series. The only thing that made my experience lackluster, however, was that I saw this clip-show last year and, aside from a couple of new inclusions from anime I’ve already seen, everything was regurgitated and consequently seemed neither shocking nor worth more than an inconsequential chuckle of acknowledgement.

On the whole, CPAC staff and organization were superb. Room schedule postings and amendments were clear, and there were people at every turn to help attendees get wherever it was they were going. The space allotted for the combined Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley, moved from one gym to another on the evidently athletically oriented Stevens campus, was more than spacious enough to accommodate the traffic without necessitating the insult of the staggered wait lines of yesteryear. Also, tabletop and electronic gaming rooms offered a decent selection given their respective allotted areas, and video rooms were offering an eclectic mix of accessible anime. Additionally, I have to say that my inner-otaku regrets not having my picture taken with a maid at the newly instituted Tenshi No Ai Maid Café! or attending Cosplay Chess, especially as this year saw a significant increase in cosplayers.

All-in-all, despite disappointing panels and my own event choices, CPAC, which attracted such voice talent as Michelle Knotz, Bill Rogers, and Mike Pollock, still managed to serve up a decent, otaku-themed Sunday getaway from the everyday. The experience would not have ended on such a copacetic note, however, if not for dinner and discussion with Alain (Hisui of the Reverse Thieves duo) at the Japanese restaurant, Robongi. That conversation seemed to fill in everything CPAC panels left out.  I think, for next year, problems with panels could be well on their way to being solved by listening to suggestions on the CPAC forum's Guest Wishlist thread and inviting Charles Dunbar as well as the aforementioned Reverse Thieves.
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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2011 – Room to Grow In

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March 18-20, 2011
Valley Forge Convention Center
King of Prussia, PA, USA


Zenkaikon, the follow-up to Zenkaikon 2009, escaped the previously exclusive and cramped confines of the Radisson Hotel in King of Prussia and took over the entire* Valley Forge Convention Center. The extra space, more than adequate to accommodate the 3,168 paying people who attended (not to mention guests, vendors, artists, staff, and press), was definitely worth the extra four-month wait caused by rescheduling that consequently eliminated the chance for a Zenkaikon 2010. Floor space allowed for generous registration and autograph queues; two Artist Alleys, the main one incorporated into the Dealer's Room and a small hallway that bordered the upstairs panel rooms; and navigation that was fast and easy compared to last con's experience of swimming through Con Funk-flavored JELL-O Pudding. The Dealer's Room, also benefiting from increased breathing room, was capacious and easily navigable, while the sole Main Events room was capable of hosting a riotous crowd.


The abundance of space in the Main Events room, however, also seemed an overbearing presence at times with regards to some of the scheduled panels and acts. On Friday, the Ancient Greek-themed Opening Ceremonies at 1pm brought in a decent crowd, but one that only occupied 1/5 of the room; Uncle Yo's standup around 5 pm almost filled the main section of the same space but saw sparsely populated wings; and Gelatine's concert at 7 pm catered to roughly 17 people total (some of whom unfortunately and very noticeably left during the performance). Though I didn't attend them, events such as the Sakura Cosplay Ball Dance, its after-party, the masquerade, as well as anything involving guests Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn most likely saw much better attendance due to scheduling (at least).

Thankfully, the echoes of footsteps audible on Friday were stifled by Saturday's deluge of congoers. The main parking lot was mostly full as of 10 am, registration lines snaked with eager attendees, and the aisles between rows of dealer tables bustled with patrons. Almost every panel I attended seemed to bring in a decent size audience that either almost or completely filled generously sized rooms. Some panels even turned people away due to being over capacity. Sadly, I left early on Sunday and did not get a chance to gauge attendance. I hope the trend continued; the last panel I saw, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar's Miyazaki presentation, was pretty full.


As with the previous Zenkaikon, events scheduling was a bit awkward. Some of the troubles could be pinned on the fact that other groups had reserved certain rooms in the convention center during the con and Zenkaikon had to work around such obstacles, but the programming coordination, set to 15 minute intervals, led to awkward overlaps that often forced attendees to decide whether to leave early or arrive late if seeing consecutive panels in separate rooms. With that said, room proximity and general utilization of the convention center's layout made for effortless transitions between events.

There were myriad points of interest, enough to cause internal conflict within even the most focused con-goer. Regarding live music, NYC's Gelatine put on a fun, energy-filled show — I regret not being able to see them for their second concert on Sunday, and Tokyo's own Rose Noire gave their U.S. concert debut to the applause of many decked out in goth/lolita fashion. Of course there was no shortage of good panels. Some of my favorites included "Iron Artist," "Feminism and the Ladies of Final Fantasy," and Charles Dunbar's Modern Mythology and Miyazaki sessions. Zenkaikon also hosted karaoke, electronic and tabletop gaming, as well as a con-long LARP (Live Action Role Play) event. All this was supplemented by video rooms showing a decent range of anime and live action series and movies.

Panels and guests weren't the only focus of this heartfelt convention. Held just one week after Japan was subject to an earthquake as well as the resulting tsunami and nuclear plant crises, Zenkaikon put sympathy front and center. $3,750 in donations were collected throughout the venue, supplemented by some dealers and artists passing on all or a portion of their profits towards specific charities of their choice. Perhaps the most heartwarming sight was that none of said donation stations were ever empty, illustrating the love and concern shared by all attendees for the nation and people whose culture and art have given us so much.


Thanks to a very dedicated staff (I overheard members on many occasions offering to forsake breaks in order to help out wherever needed), Zenkaikon was efficiently run and easy to enjoy. The availability of a Press Ops room was also a welcome addition for productivity as well as actual and proverbial battery recharging, and the Scanticon Hotel's bar certainly didn't hurt either. At its current rate of expansion (there were 1,988 attendees in 2009), I have no doubt that Zenkaikon will fill those spacious rooms without any problem and for very good reasons. Looking forward to 2012!

* minus select rooms dedicated to other organizations**
**what other organizations? THERE IS ONLY ZENKAIKON!!!


Click here for more of our Zenkaikon 2011 coverage
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Con Report: New York Comic Con vs. New York Anime Festival vs. You (2010)

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Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Jewels's Photo Gallery
New York Comic Con / New York Anime Festival
October 8 – October 10, 2010
Jacob Javits Center
New York, NY, USA
Official Site



It's hardly a secret that anime fans are often driven to their fandom by their desire to be a part of something "different." It's one of the primary reasons that anime fans tend to be so much younger than fans of other media. So, what's the most logical thing for Reed Expositions to do with their successful New York Anime Festival, which has been running as the dominant New York-area anime convention since 2007? Obviously, merge it with pop culture mega-event New York Comic Con, where anime fans can finally be integrated with American comic book readers, cartoon fans, sci-fi geeks, and all other manner of nerdy folks. A little counter to the wishes of most anime fans? You bet!

This year, Reed rented the entire Jacob Javits Center, providing a positively massive space for all sorts of panels, events, and dealers. The entire top floor was dedicated to a series of exhibitor halls, featuring everybody from indie comic artists to small press to comic dealers to massive video game companies. Meanwhile, the bottom floors featured dozens of panel and video rooms, the IGN Theater (for large screenings), and — as I dubbed it upon my first visit — the "anime ghetto."

It almost seems like Reed was trying to have it both ways: get the anime fans to come to New York Comic Con without making them feel like they're "just like everybody else." The result? The anime segment was shoved off to the hallway on the south side of the convention, where attendees could go to find the anime panel rooms, maid café, and "Anime Artist's Alley" (yes, completely separate from the Real Artist's Alley).

This setup doesn't make any sense for anyone involved. Clearly regular Comic Con attendees, who tend to skew a little older, don't want to be surrounded by squeeing, glomping anime fans, which explains the implementation of the ghetto. If so, though, why combine the two cons? Surely not for the convenience of anime fans having access to both anime content and comic/game/etc. content, since fans interested in more than just anime would just be attending the all-inclusive Comic Con in addition to (or instead of) the Anime Festival. And the non-anime fans don't gain anything by the addition of anime fans except more people and booths to take up space in the Exhibitor's Hall. It would seem that the only reason for the integration was to save money on running two separate, annual conventions in the exorbitantly expensive Javits Center.

The 'anime ghetto,' packed to bursting with frantic young anime fans Speaking of space, the hall was a complete nightmare to navigate. Open until 7pm on Friday/Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, the Exhibitor's Hall was absolutely massive, and yet was filled with people at all times of the day. In fact, due to the intense masses of people throughout the Javits Center (but particularly in the Exhibitor's Hall), it took me a full 15-20 minutes to get to a booth from the anime hall. That's right, my "commute" to and from a booth required 30-40 minutes of my time, due to both distance and volume of people.

So while anime fans might enjoy the feeling of being "separate" from those "un-cool" comic fans down the hall, the inconvenience of having their anime-specific dealers right next to giant booths featuring Michael Jackson dancing games neutralizes any sense of uniqueness. Most anime fans spend the bulk of their time in the Dealer's Room at any convention, so the all the integration seems to have done is made it harder for everybody to move around the con by stuffing everyone in one Exhibitor's Hall. Additionally, the inconvenience of getting back to the anime hall — which featured a number of great panels and events — made it utterly impractical for anyone but the most hardcore con-goers. (In fact, one of my friends never stepped foot in the anime ghetto except to see the Gundam 00 movie premiere.)

I'm being very harsh on the convention, so to be fair I should point out that the programming itself was still top-notch at this year's NYAF. A number of East Coast anime gurus (the Reverse Thieves, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar, the Ninja Consultants) ran fascinating panels, companies from FUNimation to Vertical to Bandai Entertainment held industry panels, and guests — both official and otherwise — like Masahiko Minami and Minori Chihara made NYAF's programming well worth checking out for fans both young and old.

On the non-anime side of things (which I only really got to experience through the Exhibitor's Hall), Comic Con continued to prove itself to be a stunning hub of pop culture for the East Coast. With giant video game booths, movie studios, local comic dealers, and independent artists, the show provided a little something for everyone, even if navigating the mass of shuffling shoppers and obnoxious cosplay photographers was often terribly frustrating.

The Exhibitor's Hall, featuring both Anime Fest and Comic Con booths As I mentioned earlier, I don't think that this strange merger-but-not-merger is good for anyone on either side of the fence. The supposed convenience of having lots of anime content at Comic Con didn't amount to anything in practice due to the long commute between the anime section and everything else, and the Comic Con attendees still had to deal with anime fans clogging up their dealer's room hallways and registration lines.

I only see two viable solutions to this problem, and both are bound to leave some people unhappy. One: completely integrate the two cons, essentially making it "New York Comic Con, but with more anime content than usual." Two: separate them into two different conventions at different times, just like previous years. The second option is not going to happen for obvious reasons (i.e. Reed has already committed to the combination), but the first option makes a lot of sense. If you're going to merge, go all the way. Anime fans will have to learn to be more mature in a con setting and Comic Con regulars will have to just suck it up when faced with the occasional (and often understandable) immaturity of teenage cosplayers.

Sure, young anime fans might be disappointed that they're not "special" anymore, but if you're screening things like The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and inviting guests like Minori Chihara, what are they going to do? NOT attend? Without another anime con competitor in the NYC area, I wouldn't count on it.



Special thanks to Jewels Lei for providing a fantastic photo gallery from both the Comic Con and Anime Festival, and Hisui of the Reverse Thieves blog for providing me with a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on over the weekend.



Click here for more of our New York Comic Con/Anime Festival 2010 coverage.

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Con Report: Otakon 2010 and the Generational Divide

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Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Ink's Photo Gallery
July 30 – August 1, 2010
Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Official Site



I'm getting older. (In fact, I'm older than I've ever been and now I'm even older.) This is pretty normal as far as I can tell, but as many folks have pointed out in the past few years, anime conventions aren't growing up with me. EDIT: After four days at Otakon, one of the largest anime conventions the United States, I realized that, at the tender age of 19, I was finally starting to feel the widening of this gap. The strangest thing of all, though, is that it doesn't really bother me very much.

Indeed, the theme of this year's Otakon seemed to be immaturity, as staffers at the massive Japanese pop culture event fought to contain epidemic shouting of popular memes such as "Buttscratchers" — a one-time joke from Family Guy — and "Marco Polo." Vuvuzelas, the strident noisemakers popularized thanks to their appearance during the World Cup in South Africa, were preemptively banned weeks before the convention even began. One attendee even pulled a fire alarm during peak time on Saturday for a laugh. Unfortunately, though, containment was a near-impossible task when Otakon's staffers were faced with thousands of teenage troublemakers, many of whom probably view memes as a way to make an impression on their fellow attendees and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Naturally, most of the bloggers with whom I shared two adjoined hotel rooms for the weekend (including the Reverse Thieves, Carl Li, Scott VonSchilling, Dave Cabrera, Caleb Dunaway, Kyle "Lwelyk" LaCroix, and Patz) couldn't stand the immaturity of these kids and their memes. Truthfully, I can find no reason to defend their actions, but to me, they represent the continuing strength of the anime community, even when their "unique" form of comedy may fall on unhappy ears.

Otakon's sign proclaiming that the blowing of Vuvuzelas would NOT be tolerated

You see, the anime fandom is still growing. Attendance rises every year for many conventions — including Otakon, which saw an increase of nearly 3,000 members — even as Japanese studios deal with financial troubles, North American distributors close their doors, and fans grapple with the moral repercussions of pirating the content they enjoy. Anime fandom might not be moving in the ways that some its opinion leaders want it to go, but it's difficult to ignore the continuing flow of young fans coming into the medium.

That said, it's been a couple of years since I attended a convention from the perspective of an average con-goer, which is to say, without any preparation nor knowledge of the guests and their previous work. I was flying by the seat of my pants for the entirety of the weekend, which, though it was far from intentional, resulted in a refreshing experience. It also helped to highlight some of the unique challenges facing anime conventions due to their overwhelmingly adolescent audience. You see, most young fans simply aren't aware of the myriad Japanese guests Otakon brings to the convention every year (including veteran guest Masao Maruyama, founder of studio Madhouse). Last year I even wrote a post from Otakon 2009 about the need for more curiosity from newbie con attendees.

This year, when I saw nearly empty panel rooms with the creators of the new anime Rainbow (Hiroshi Koujina) next to hallways ringing with memes and lined with fans waiting for English dub actors' autographs, I didn't despair. I didn't get angry at these kids for being "bad anime fans." I simply saw it as a missed opportunity. And I realized that, despite my interest in Japanese creators, I too was, to some degree, ignoring these great guests, mostly because the "typical" convention experience simply does not include poring over the details of the con book.

The creators of Rainbow pose for a picture with the criminally small panel audience that came to see their Q&A.

When I walk past young fans screaming annoying in-jokes at Otakon, I don't see the death of conventions. What I see are people who have an interest in this medium, but are not being given the correct tools to seek out more information. They are being sold an experience that is all fluff, all Vic Mignonas and pop idols and J-Rock pretty-boys. (Fluff is, of course, acceptable in limited quantities.) When I see packed rooms for panels about Japanese mahjong (run by Carl Li and Dave Cabrera), anime about cults (Mike Toole), and obscure anime (the Anime World Order podcasters), and hear spirited praise from surprisingly young audience members in my character design panel, it is clear that fans desire substance. Furthermore, large cons like Otakon deliver that substance in the form of big Japanese guests and an incredible variety of fan panels; they just fail to make a big deal about it. The director, producer, AND character designer of Welcome to the SPACE SHOW are certainly more important to fandom than a dub actor, so there is no reason why the latter should be the guest that gets more attention from the convention.

My Otakon experience, a unique one for this longtime convention blogger, has re-opened my eyes to the way the rest of the fandom sees conventions. Yes, screaming a tired, tasteless Family Guy line, blowing a vuvuzela, or pulling a fire alarm are all incredibly stupid things to do. Yes, they take away from my fun. Nevertheless, they are the icky things that remind us that fandom is still young, strong, and involved. Helping to engage it in more productive activities is, I think, the most commonly forgotten responsibility of anime conventions.



Click here for more of our Otakon 2010 coverage

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Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2010

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Or click here for the Photo Gallery
June 18-20, 2010
Garden State Expo Center, Somerset, NJ
Official Site


AnimeNEXT is my "hometown con," so to speak. This is in part because it is New Jersey's largest anime convention, so it is the closest major con to my house, but also because I've attended it every year since my freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, for the past few years AnimeNEXT seemed to be struggling to find their footing. While the convention has certainly grown considerably — enough to make moving from Secaucus to the Garden State Exhibit Center an absolute necessity — it has also lacked a true Guest of Honor for about three years now. Despite some continuing stumbles on the convention's part, AnimeNEXT 2010 represented a refreshing return to form for the sizable NJ event.

Most notably, this year marked the return of the Guest of Honor spot, which housed Kenji Kamiyama, director of Eden of the East, Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, and Seirei no Moribito. With signings and Q&A panels spread throughout the weekend, it was clear that the AnimeNEXT staff was making the most of this exciting guest. I wasn't particularly impressed by his showing, but it may have had something to do with his translator, who — despite some noble efforts — didn't seem to communicate the questions and answers very well. (For more on Kenji Kamiyama, read the questions and answers from our brief round-robin interview with the director at AnimeNEXT 2010.)

Guest of Honor Kenji Kamiyama at his Q&A panel

As always, I was quite pleased with the panel lineup, as it included a number of popular panelists as well as brand-new presenters. A lot of the new panels that I saw (History of Mecha, Cosplay Comedian Joe) were pretty disappointing, but I'm always glad to see new faces presenting their stuff. In terms of known commodities, I attended the Sunday morning panel "Otaku: Perceptions and Misconceptions," run by the girls from the IchiP dance troupe. In my con report last year I remarked that they ran a startlingly interesting and thoughtful discussion during the first iteration of the panel, and this year they built on their previous success. Crowd control was much better than last year, though the panelists' discussion meandered a little more than I liked. Nevertheless, I enjoyed their open conversation about the "otaku" lifestyle and the stereotypes associated with it.

Brian Price, rocking out after his Bad Anime Bad!! panel

I checked out a number of panels run by convention veterans Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who presented a compilation of odd video clips from Walter and Rob (These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes), a bad anime clipshow from Brian (Bad Anime Bad!!) and a presentation on French animation from Walter and Rob (It Came From France!!), among other panels. I attended the first two, both of which always manage to entertain me with stuff I've never seen before, but I ran into a bit of a problem in going to It Came From France!! Namely, I had been avoiding lines with my press pass throughout the convention, but when Narutaki of the Reverse Thieves, Brad Rice of Japanator, and I tried to get into Walter and Rob's panel, the staffer said that we would have to wait on line. Naturally, we hadn't grabbed a spot on the line, since press usually don't have to do that, so we just ... didn't go. I heard some complaints from staff later that members of the press had been "abusing their privileges," so in the future, I would highly suggest that AnimeNEXT write out what those privileges ARE (and what privileges we don't have) instead of complaining that the press are doing things that they're allowed to do at every other convention.

Meanwhile, I ran two panels of my own, which generally went over smoothly. Convention staffers were very helpful in making sure I had all of the equipment I needed, and did their best to keep crowds under control while waiting for panels to begin. My first panel was the Friday afternoon "Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing," which featured Ink, Uncle Yo, and me in a roundtable discussion of critical thought and its application to anime fans and critics. We did our best to engage the audience, and actually ended up getting quite a few very interesting responses from the crowd. On Saturday, I stuck it alone for "The Changing Faces of Anime." To my delight, there was actually a sizable line of attendees waiting to see the panel, in which I described the history of anime character designs, pointing out important artists and paradigm shifts. The crowd had a lot of great questions at the end, and they seemed to really enjoy it!

The pathway between the Expo Center and the Doubletree hotel, which only had space for two lanes of people and often got quite congested.

At times, I felt like the Garden State Exhibit Center, Doubletree Hotel, and other areas, despite reportedly being much larger than the space provided by the Meadowlands Expo Center and nearby hotels, was actually smaller that the convention's previous location. However, it might just be because of the attendance, which must be growing at an alarming rate if NEXT is already feeling cramped in its second year of the new location. A handful of the six panel rooms were tragically tiny, allowing for something like 30 attendees, and only one of the rooms was actually a large-scale panel room for particularly popular events. In fact, with such a wealth of great panels and panelists at AnimeNEXT, one of my top suggestions to the staff is to get bigger panel rooms. I would think that the last thing they want to do is drive away these presenters who provide such a great backbone to the convention.

Overall, I certainly enjoyed my time at AnimeNEXT this year. The convention seems to still be settling into its new location, which should hopefully be remedied for next year when they've figured out better ways to optimize their space. Regardless, I was very glad to see a Guest of Honor at AnimeNEXT 2010, which shows without a doubt that AnimeNEXT is still going strong and hasn't completely faded into the background as the little brother of the New York Anime Festival.



For more AnimeNEXT 2010 coverage, click here!

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Con Report: Kitacon II (2010) – Packed with People and Goodness

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Kitacon II, held in Northampton March 25-27, 2010
Park Inn, Northampton, UK
Attendance: 650 (full capacity)
Official Site


AUTHOR NOTE: I apologize for the delay in presenting this report — a house move dragged out the editing process. –Elliot

First of all, I wish to give a small disclaimer. I am assuming that the majority of people who view this site are from the US and so I want to make obvious here that UK anime conventions are a lot smaller than what you may be used to hearing about.

At 650 attendees, Kitacon is a respectably sized fan-run con by UK standards, fitting snugly into the confines of the conference rooms of Northampton's Park Inn. (Sometimes a little too snugly, as with the exception of the main events hall many of the other event rooms were often packed out with attendees during panels.) The games room in particular was a victim of this, and while the staff running it (DDR:UK) did a stellar job setting up the room, there simply was not enough space for it to accommodate everyone who wished to enter.

Thankfully this kind of crowding never became a major issue, due in part to the 16+ age requirement that the convention enforces. This age requirement is starting to spread among fan-run conventions in the UK, and as someone old enough I heartily endorse this measure. It helped to set a much more mature, measured tone for the convention, as well as a marked lack of idiotic “Hug me” signs and random glomping. From talking to staffers it appears that this move was made in order to prevent insurance costs from crippling the convention, so don't think this was an act of ageism!

While some of the convention rooms were rather small, the events within them were excellent. The main defining event of the convention, and something I want to see stolen and put on at all anime conventions, was something called “Build-a-Mecha.” Provided with a basic set of materials such as cardboard, tape, pens and wallpaper, different teams were tasked to build a robot shell around one of the team members. The whole thing was great fun, with lively joking and a great sense of humor throughout. Not to brag, but my team won the event. Shout-outs to Zelly, Caroline, Chris, and Guy, my teammates! You can see our horrific entry, “Ravager, Warrior of Love”, below.

Ravager, Warrior of Love, our winning entry in the Build-a-Mecha panel

Another of the stand-out events was "Kita's got Talent?!," a send up of the recent trend of reality talent shows that are on UK TV. This differed from the usual "Omake" event at conventions as none of the sets were anime-based, and because it was actually good. I could write a whole additional review of this single panel, but it would just be a thousand words of me gushing about how pleasantly surprised and genuinely entertained I was by the event.

Some fan-run panels were available, such as the “Cosplay On the Cheap” panel, the “Metal Gear Solid Fan Panel”, and more than a few boisterous quiz events. All those I attended were good fun, well presented, and well received by the audience. Personally I would have liked to seen more on the timetable, but the practice of putting on a panel is not as widespread in the UK as it is elsewhere, sadly.

I also presented my own panel “Anime You Should See”, to introduce fans to a wide variety of well-regarded anime. (Credit to Geeknights for the name.) This was my first time putting a panel on and I was nervous as hell, especially as there were a few difficulties with the equipment and the timing of the event. Despite initial nerves the panel went over well, and at one point I remember mimicking the signature “Piston Punch” move from Big O to an amused crowd. Rather predictably, some experienced fans attended (not the target audience!) and after the panel gave me some very solid advice for developing the presentation. One kind person even bought me a drink, which shows you the friendly atmosphere of the convention.

There were a number of problems early on with event scheduling, including for my own panel, due to one simple issue: The printed con guides that staffers handed out at registration were out of date mere hours after the convention started. One inspired idea that the convention had was to provide a constantly updated copy of the timetable in xhtml format on the website, which was a great help when planning what events to attend. However as not everyone present at the event had a smartphone like myself, there was some confusion with events until halfway through Saturday. At this point updated color-coded printouts of the revised timetable suddenly appeared next to every set of doors and convention room and all confusion was dispelled.

The convention staffers handled registration (usually a horrific rigmarole at UK cons) with the utmost efficiency. The staff even put on an impromptu pre-registration session the day before the convention started, and I was one of the lucky 50 people who were present for this.

The hotel staff was helpful for the most part, with the notable exception of the cleaning staff. These brave souls were also acting as room checkers for the duration of the convention to prevent over-capacity hotel rooms. I am not against room checks in principle (and will admit I have stuffed a room with extra people at other conventions to lower the price of the stay), but they border on insulting when they occur at 7:45 in the morning. We were then told to vacate the room, along with our hangovers, so that the staff could start cleaning. There was no budging on this demand.

A good measure of a con is how willing people are to return next year. At the bombastic closing ceremony the staff announced next year’s convention date and venue to roaring applause. I have to admit that this is a masterstroke — get people when they are most pumped and sell them on the next event. Kitacon was, without a shred of hyperbole, the best convention experience I have had to date, and I cant wait for next year!

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Con Report: Setsucon 2010 – Over-packed at Penn State

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Setsucon 2010, held at The Pennsylvania State University January 15-16, 2010
Days Inn State College
State Collage PA, USA


Editor's Note: I apologize for the lateness of this article. We got held up in publishing it because of Tezuka Month. – Vampt Vo

I was once asked what was the better convention experience was: the small convention or the big one. I responded with the small convention, and to this day I still really love the small cons. So when I was able to go to Setsucon at The Pennsylvania State University, I immediately jumped at the chance.

The con was on the small side for sure, with only two panel rooms, two video rooms, a game room and a Dealer’s Room. However, what it lacked in size it gained in popularity with the addition of special guest Vic Mignonga, the voice of Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist). If there was any doubt that this man can draw in crowds, it was dispelled at this con as Setsucon reached maximum capacity at 3 PM on Saturday.

Lucky, there was more to the con then just the presence of a voice actor. The con had multiple events going on throughout the day, including, of course, the normal "How to Draw" panel and a Q&A with Vic, but Setsucon still brought some very interesting ideas to the table. For example, the “Iron Cosplay” panel pitted four attendees against each other in a contest to see who could create the best cosplay in 40 minutes out of their “special secret” medium.

Another great event was the Cosplay Auction, the basic concept being that the staff of Setsucon would put on their best Wild West versions of our favorite anime characters and auction them off for charity. Some of the best moments were during the bidding wars, when some characters were sold for as much as $200!

The favorite event, though, was “Rock Band Idol” where over a dozen bands competed on Harmonix’s Rock Band. The format of the event was the most interesting part: while notes hit was a part of the game, stage presence, crowd control, and several other factors also lead to the decision of the winners.

Vic later moved from voice actor to musical guest as he preformed a medley of his greatest hits on stage for a packed hall. After that, the dance went on until the con closed at midnight on Saturday.

The Dealer’s Room was actually a mix of dealers and the Artist’s Alley. However, for the con being on the small side, the Dealers Room had an excellent amount of choice,s from cosplay to line art. My buddies from Tekkoshocon also showed up to promote Tekko this year and test-run a Scavenger Hunt to be fully instituted at Tekko itself.

The Game Room was probably my highlight of the convention. Never did I walk into the room and not find a game being played or a game that I wouldn't mind playing. I also got my butt kicked in the Pokémon tournament.

Like I said, I love the small con, but with over 900 attendees over the two days of this con, next year it will be anything but. Fortunately, however, next year they will have yours truly to help keep the peace!


For video and interviews from the con check out Kit's independent video report here.

Setsucon Official Website

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2009 - Cramped But Competent

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Zenkaikon 2009 November 7-8, 2009
Radisson Hotel Valley Forge
King of Prussia, PA, USA


A merger of two formerly separate and smaller cons (Kosaikon and Zentrankon), Zenkaikon 2009 is the fourth incarnation of a relatively small (but rapidly growing) Pennsylvania anime convention that serves up the standards: guest speakers, industry- and fan-run panels, video game rooms, and live performances.

There were only two very cramped gaming rooms (with an admirable amount of systems squeezed in) and as many video rooms, which were split between live action and anime. While some might consider this a horrible decision given both the size and purpose of the con, I thought it was a ballsy effort to offer something more despite the smaller space and projected number of attendees (they vastly underestimated). The highlight of the viewing I was able to see was the first three subbed episodes of Princess Tutu.

The attending bands, with the exception of J-pop singer Rina Mimura, were only moderately alluring as a taste of J-music. Eyeshine, geist, and Eden Star all had members of Asian descent and were all/mostly influenced by J-Punk/-Pop, but sounded too little like it to evoke an Asian feel. That’s not to say they weren’t good, however. I’ve seen Eden Star before, and the lead singer as well as the drummer exhibit very impressive energy and talent. It just seemed a little too tellingly inauthentic. Hell, even Castle Point Anime Convention got Peelander-Z.

The dealer’s room was about the size of a classroom, and did just about all it could with the space provided, but navigation was frustratingly tight and rewards far too few. Similarly, Artist’s Alley was a joke. Very few artists were actually displaying their work (the room was smaller than the dealer’s room), and what was there seemed lackluster.

Panels were many, but scheduling was, as usual for any con, poorly arranged (at least for my tastes). All the uninteresting panels seemed grouped together to form hours of free time, and all the interesting panels overlapped separate rooms. In addition to a wonderfully informative kendo demonstration, my particular interests were with “Anime in China,” “Moe Anthropomorphism-tan,” “Psychology of Anime,” and “Do Anime Conventions Have a Future?” Luckily, I was able to catch all but the last, and reviews/summations can be found on this site for those who could not attend these enlightening and well-handled panels.

So, if you were looking for a lily pad to serve as a fix between New York and Hoboken or wherever anime pops up next – a place to commune with your fellow lovers of anime, cosplay, and all other aspects of American otaku-dom – then Zenkaikon is a decent enough pit stop. There is vast room for improvement with regards to venue, organization, and space allocation, but that will hopefully come with time.

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Con Report: New York Anime Festival 2009

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New York Anime Festival 2009
September 25-27, 2009
Jacob K. Javits Center
New York, NY, USA

Last month we saw the final hurrah for a fantastic convention. The New York Anime Festival, started three years ago by the folks at Reed Exhibitions as an anime response to the New York Comic Con, is finally folding back into its sister convention. The merge means that the new version of the con will be filled with an incredible amount of events for all kinds of fans, but it also means that the anime focus of NYAF will be gone.

This year the New York Anime Festival once again impressed me with its wide variety of programing from both fans and professionals. There were the typical guest panels, with introductions to voice acting scheduled next to Question and Answer sessions with Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, but there were also a fair number of fan-run panels about things like Korean MMOs and Japanese ghost stories.

Even so, I was disappointed with the way the events schedule turned out. There were times (mostly early in the morning) when the convention was hosting three different events that I wanted to go to, followed by hours of a thin schedule with panels in which I had little to no interest. Perhaps this year's events situation was perpetuated by the lacking industry presence at the con this year. Bandai Entertainment's massive booth from last year was missing in action, and Yen Press, a New York-based manga publisher known for their great convention showings, was almost entirely AWOL.

The Central Park Media Retrospective panel on Sunday

But with all that free time came a chance to delve into things that I would not normally check out. On Friday I watched Cencoroll, the new anime short created almost entirely by one man (Atsuya Uki), and later that night I stopped by the Cosplay Variety show, thinking I would find nothing more than silly fanboy/fangirl antics as usual. Much to my surprise, however, I was rewarded for staying through some of the more inconsequential presentations with an operatic performance by Mario Bueno and a whole troupe of cosplayers, who acted out the final scenes of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion to the tune of Coldplay's hit single "Viva La Vida." Not being a huge fan of cosplaying myself, I didn't think that anything at the Variety Show could impress me, but Bueno's breathtaking performance completely blew me away.

Saturday night was my personal highlight of the con, despite the fact that most of the fun wasn't even directly related to the con. (Not a ringing endorsement of the NYAF schedule, unfortunately.) We started off with a massive "Bloggers Roundtable" panel, featuring ten different outlets (Anime Almanac, Anime Vice, Anime wa Bakuhatsu da, Manga Worth Reading, The Gaming Dungeon, Manga.About.com, Ogiue Maniax, Reverse Thieves, Subatomic Brainfreeze, and, of course, Ani-Gamers) representing our varied views on the anime blogging scene. The panel – on video thanks to Anime Diet – went pretty well despite our being scheduled opposite the cosplay masquerade and the resulting lack of attendees, but the best part of our whole blogging reunion was the karaoke right after the panel. There are few things more fun than hanging out with a bunch of insane anime bloggers, singing "Take On Me" and "God Knows" late into the night.

Overall, I think the New York Anime Festival was really starting to come into its own this year, despite the crowded Javits Center with its expensive food and out-of-the-way location. With a truly big-name Guest of Honor (Tomino) and an open floor plan that allowed for more free navigation, it seemed like the folks at Reed Exhibitions were beginning to balance the needs of a professional convention with the desires of fans. It's a shame that the con will be folded into Comic Con next year, but my hope is that the lessons learned in organizing the past three years of NYAF will carry over to next fall's gigantic event. If it's anything like 2009's New York Anime Festival, it's sure to be a blast!


Click for our New York Anime Festival 2009 coverage

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Con Report: Otakon 2009

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Otakon 2009
July 17-19, 2009
Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, MD, USA

In the Compromise of 1790, the North and South – who had been perpetually at odds with each other – agreed on a location for Washington D.C., placing it between Virginia and Maryland in a spot that sat nearly in the center of the Eastern Seaboard. Just an hour away from our country's capital is Baltimore, the site of geekdom's own version of that North-South negotiation. I am, of course, talking about Otakon, a convention that is, without a doubt, the capital of North American anime fandom.

There are a number of factors that make this convention the "capital." Of course, it is the capital in terms of sheer numbers, since people from all across the East Coast (and even other parts of the country) flock to Otakon's location, which allows for attendees from both the north and south. But it is also the cultural capital of anime fandom, in that it is where the panelists, podcasters, bloggers, cosplayers, and other folks come together and meet each other. It's like the American dream of a giant melting pot, except with a lot more sweaty guys dressed as Gaara.

Otakon might not have the industry presence or attendance numbers of Anime Expo on the West Coast, but it is the largest fan-run anime con in the United States, and when that fan-run nature is unleashed in the wide halls of the Baltimore convention center for an entire weekend, it's sure to be the craziest weekend EVER. As a first-time Otakon-goer, I can confirm that, yes, it was indeed the craziest anime convention I have ever attended.

Anime Recruitment

The biggest difference between Otakon and everything else is numbers, and with official attendance at 26,586 this year, it is clear that Otakon has once again proven itself as one of the biggest cons in the country. As a result, a panel about an obscure anime series scheduled opposite a Saturday night concert (often considered a "death slot") can pack the panel room, simply by virtue of the fact that, with so many people at the convention center, there are bound to be hundreds of people who are bored and looking for an event to attend, even during the concert.

That, combined with six panel rooms (not counting workshops), meant that Otakon had, without a doubt, the greatest panel lineup I've ever seen. There was a Leiji Matsumoto panel, a Mecha Appreciation panel, panels about Neo-Shonen and Yoshinobu Nishizaki (run by AWO's Daryl Surat), a panel about recruiting new anime fans (run by the Reverse Thieves), a panel about the word "otaku" (run by Alex Leavitt), a Japanese pro wrestling panel, as well as all of the typical Evangelion and zombie apocalypse panels and such things. Pretty much, if you were interested in anything anime-related, you could find a panel about it at Otakon.

And if you couldn't find a panel about it, you could sure as hell find a dealer selling it. While I only spent about two or three hours total in the Dealer's Room and Artist's Alley, there were a ton of great dealers (including Science Fiction Continuum, with $5 DVDs!) and artists (like Hieng Tang, who sells awesome clothing designs that are actually not even anime-style at all).

In terms of convention organization, things went pretty smoothly. Panels had no significant problems starting up (save for a lack of sound at the GeekNights' "Know Your Creators" panel), and there were techs on hand during all panels to keep any computer problems from slowing down the show. This unfortunately didn't help Daryl Surat, who had his panel shut down by the convention when his clip from Apocalypse Zero during his "Anime's Craziest Deaths" panel went too over-the-top for the staffer who was on-hand moderating.

Fred Schodt Q&A

The guest lineup was simply amazing, and while some guests didn't get as much attention as they should have, there was certainly a guest for nearly every interest. Whether you wanted to meet a director, producer, character designer, voice actor, musician, or translator, whether you liked moe or sci-fi, dubs or subs, you could find somebody interesting at Otakon. The con's ability to bring in high-profile guests should be a model for other fan-run conventions who say "we're fan-run, we can't get the big guests that NYAF and Anime Expo get." Otakon proves year after year that a popular fan-run convention can get guests on par with any professional convention.

As many readers might notice, Ani-Gamers hasn't posted any interviews from Otakon 2009. That's because we were unfortunately not approved for interviews with any of the four great guests we requested (Ishiguro, Yamamoto, Schodt, and Willingham), an outcome which I was not altogether surprised by. What I was taken aback by, however, was that I was never once notified of if I actually was approved for an interview or not. If I had known that the answer to all four requests was "No" by, say, Friday night, I would have been able to adjust my schedule so I could attend the Q&A panels for each of the guests I requested. As hard as the press folks at Otakon worked, with their constant Twitter updates and frequent accommodation of press requests, I would have very much appreciated some prior notice about interviews.

Cosplayers from Space Battleship Yamato

In all this hubbub about panels and press ops, though, let's not forget that conventions have been and always will be about hanging out with fellow fans. Being that it is both a fan-run con AND the "capital of American anime fandom," it is, bar none, the best place to meet other fans. I stayed in a hotel room with the Reverse Thieves and Ogiue Maniax, attended a room party filled with fellow podcasters, ate dinner with Twitter friends, and even ran into someone who I had only met briefly a year ago at a summer program. The greatest thing about Otakon is that you probably already know someone who is at the con, and if you don't, it is the absolute best place to meet someone new!

So, long story short, I loved Otakon 2009 and, time and funds permitting, I will be back next year to experience it all over again. As a fan-run convention, it definitely has its organizational flaws, but nothing beats the attitude that, for one day, pervades the entire Baltimore Convention Center: "We're all fans, and we're all friends. Now let's party!"


Click for our Otakon 2009 coverage

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Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2009

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AnimeNEXT 2009
June 12-14, 2009
Garden State Exhibit Center
Somerset, NJ, USA

There is little to say about AnimeNEXT for those who have never attended the New Jersey convention. That's not because there was nothing to do; in fact, quite the opposite. The reason is that AnimeNEXT is a fan-run convention that feels less like an organized series of events, and more like a giant, three-day party. It's an experience like no other.

Those who have attended previous AnimeNEXT conventions will know the crowds sprayed across the grass, taking cosplay photos and fighting with their newly-bought wooden swords. The panels, run by an ever growing crowd of intelligent and funny panelists both young and old from around the tri-state area, will also be familiar. Then there is also the huge concrete convention center, filled with cosplayers in its massive open area.

The difference is that the lawn, the convention center, and the panel rooms were all new this year, a change that came with the convention's move from the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus to the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. The move brought the AnimeNEXT about 45 minutes southwest of its previous location, which posed a significant problem for New York-based convention-goers. Driving to the con was impractical, and public transportation could only get one as far as the New Brunswick train station (though AnimeNEXT kindly provided a shuttle bus between the train station and convention center in the absence of taxis). For lucky folks like myself who live in the suburbs of New Jersey, the drive was relatively short and painless, clocking in at around a half hour in my case.

Prior engagements unfortunately got in the way of me attending the convention on its most densely-packed day, Saturday. But during Friday and Sunday, I did my best to get an accurate picture of this year's three-day-long anime party. First on my list were the panels, which never fail to impress at this convention. Friday night featured a string of panels run by Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who I praised for their wonderful presentation at AnimeNEXT 2008. This year, they ran "Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool," a new panel revolving around the idea of powerful, political female royaly in anime versus flowery, helpless female royalty in American cartoons. I didn't catch very much of the other two late-night panels, but they were "My Stereotypes Are More Offensive Than Yours" (a new one about differences in cultural stereotypes) and the three panelists' old classic, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes" (a clip show).

Voice actor Kyle Hebert and his co-host Marc Swint showed up at the con for a live episode of The Big Bald Broadcast, and even invited voice actors Bill Rogers and Michele Knotz to join in on the show. While I wasn't able to attend most of the events, I know that Kyle, Bill, and Michele ran tons of events throughout the weekend, from storytime for kids to Gravitation open discussions. (Wanna hear more about Kyle Hebert? Check out his appearances on Ani-Gamers Podcast episodes #006 and #015!)

Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions

One of the most surprisingly enjoyable panels at the con was something called "Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions." Run by the "IchiP!" anime dance troupe, I was quite honestly expecting a very silly, inconsequential discussion at the panel, considering the group hosting it. However, they really wowed me with some serious discussion of the way in which people view anime fans, and how those perceptions are at times correct and at times woefully misinformed. They opened the floor for questions and comments throughout the panel, which resulted in some very off-topic discussions as well as thoughtful commentary. The "IchiP!" girls definitely have some room to improve their concision and crowd control, but I can't say that I'm not looking forward to seeing their next panel.

The funny thing about AnimeNEXT, though, is that much of its charm comes exclusively from its attendees and panelists, who form a generally friendly and fun-loving group that is always a joy to be around. As such, this year's convention was still lots of fun despite being even more dreadfully disorganized than the year before. The location, as mentioned before, made public transportation difficult, but the big problem was in scheduling. Most panels that I attended were moved to new times and/or locations, which cut down panel attendance significantly. (The blogging panel, for example, was attended almost exclusively by... fellow bloggers.) There were also some less significant panel scheduling problems, as Walter, Rob, and Brian pointed out when they noticed that their panels had been inexplicably given an 18+ rating. To the convention's credit, they published a sheet of last-minute scheduling corrections, but this noble attempt was made mostly useless with all of the new corrections being made mere hours before panels started.

Cosplayers on the lawn

As was the problem last year, there was no Guest of Honor for this year's AnimeNEXT, resulting in a decentralized feeling that left the convention with a list of main events that did not capture as much attention as it should have. Of course, it didn't help that the convention center was new and events were still scattered into various nearby buildings, further confusing convention-goers looking to check out all that AnimeNEXT had to offer.

Regardless of these defects, I continue to promote AnimeNEXT as a fun New Jersey convention, especially now for those living too far to make it to New York Anime Festival. It might not have been well organized, but there was "usually a lot of stuff to do," as one attendee remarked. If you can't make it to a bigger convention like New York Anime Festival or Otakon, AnimeNEXT is certainly a viable alternative for those in the area. It might not drag in the big guests of those cons, but what it has is heart. And that is something that money, organization, and reputation just can't buy.



Oh yeah, and finally, my highlight of the con...

Golguie
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Con Report: Castle Point Anime Convention 2009

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Castle Point Anime Convention 2009
March 29, 2009
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ, USA

Why do we go to conventions? To meet thousands of people who love the same silly cartoons that we do? To scout out great deals on DVDs, figures and the like? To meet guests and attend fascinating panels? Nobody has the same answer, and that's why it is not just the Otakons and the Anime Expos that are running the anime con scene. That's why a college anime club at Stevens Institute of Technology can concoct a new convention in 2008, and pull a startling number of attendees and panelists (EDIT: 1,016 attendees to be precise) to a college convention held in a small venue, with one guest, on a Sunday!

The reasons why fans flocked to Castle Point for the second year in a row are numerous. First was the price point, bumped up $5 from last year, but still at the low figure of $10 for the whole day. Also, the con was only one day, so all of the programming was packed in, making for a very dense, satisfying day. Finally, the Stevens campus is in Hoboken, right down the street from the train station, so commuting was easy from either New Jersey or New York City. All of these factors add up to an experience that doesn't require the time or money commitments of a big convention, with its high fees for travel, lodging, and attendance.

The programming was astounding for such a small convention. My favorite part about CPAC has consistently been that it provides the sort of panels that you get at bigger cons, but in a smaller, more personal venue. For example, CPAC 2009 was home to C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. and the Super Mario Super Panel, two popular panels that are often run at AnimeNEXT and MangaNEXT. Walter Amos and Rob Fenelon – typically seen at AnimeNEXT – were even in attendance, running two panels in which they described old-school anime fandom ("Otaku History 101") and showed clips of their favorite scenes (appropriately, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes").

Otaku History 101

Of course, the convention also featured Ani-Gamers' first panel: "You Wanna Be a Blogger/Podcaster?", in which Ink, Hisui, DJ Ranma S, and I laid down the basics of how budding Internet superstars can create and maintain their very own blogs and/or podcasts. I've been talking up the idea of running this same panel at both AnimeNEXT and New York Anime Festival, so keep your eyes open for that. (And JT Maguire kindly recorded part of the panel, which you can view in its sweet video-tastic glory over at blip.tv.)

Unfortunately, despite its great programming, CPAC 2009 faced some fundamental problems. First and foremost was the fact that it only had one guest: locally-based voice actor Bill Rogers. (Michele Knotz was supposed to come, but canceled at the last minute.) That meant that there was very little in the way of Main Events programming, lending to the con an unstable, decentralized atmosphere. The other major problem was that the staff had decided – for some unfathomable reason – that no panels could possibly compete with their concert/rave, which featured some 8-bit musicians and other geeky music. So naturally, there were no panels during the concert, while the video game and dealers rooms both closed up shop right as the show began. For the considerable number of people who weren't interested in the concert, that meant that the convention was effectively finished a full two or three hours earlier than they had thought.

Despite these flaws, the convention staff volunteers (made up entirely of Stevens Anime Club members) were very friendly, and they could be found nearly anywhere at the con. There were occasional complaints from attendees, panelists, and staffers about registration and other logistical issues; probably due to the inherent difficulties of a college club organizing a quickly growing anime convention. One attendee inexplicably wasn't in the system when he arrived, and had to convince the folks at registration that he had a panel that was about to start before he could be allowed upstairs to set up. One anonymous staffer expressed some exasperation at panelists who were simply not showing up for their panels.

I really enjoyed my time at the Castle Point Anime Convention. It's a small, personal environment in which fans, guests, panelists, and staffers can all get together and talk about anime, a pursuit that is so often forgotten in our age of big conventions and the Internet. "Little guys" like CPAC provide a way for us to connect with each other as our predecessors did – through the amazing technique of "talking to each other." If, years from now, anime conventions cease to be, it will not be for lack of money or guests; it will be because fans will have forgotten the simple, priceless significance of their own interaction.


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Con Report: New York Comic Con 2009

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New York Comic Con 2009
February 6-8, 2009
Jacob Javits Center
New York City, NY, USA

I remember the first time I ever went to an anime convention. It was Anime Boston, and I stepped onto the stairs overlooking the main hall, full of 13-year-old excitement, only to find a sea of cosplayers in front of me. Terrified, I contemplated going back for a good two seconds, as I stared into the gaping maw of nerddom. But soon I steeled myself, and took that fateful step into the craziness of anime convention culture.

This year was my first time ever attending a Comic Con. I stood atop a staircase once again, somewhat older and slightly less terrified, but I still felt the echoes of that scared 13-year-old stir inside of me. But just like that time at Anime Boston, I stared into the abyss, took it all in, and finally took that step.

The New York Comic Con has been held annually at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City since its debut in 2006. It is essentially the younger cousin of the San Diego Comic Con, where most of the big action happens, but that doesn't stop NYCC from being one of the largest human gatherings in New York City. Plus, the best part about Comic Con is that it is not simply about Western comics – it's a convention that embraces all segments of pop culture, from Western comics to cartoons to video games anime/manga to movies and even to television. Nothing is off-limits at this con, and so it is littered with geeks of all different shapes and sizes.

On that note, Comic Con is littered with lots of geeks. I mean lots of them. The attendance was around 77,000, and it was clear from standing in the sea of people that the New York Comic Con was the largest convention I had ever been to. There were people like Ani-Gamers' own Karl Custer who were at the convention, but who I never ran into for all three days.

The convention center is luckily large enough to handle such a huge number of people, but sometimes navigating it was a little difficult. The exhibitor's hall was the centerpiece, and there were various entrances into it from different floors. However, the panel rooms were off in a corner, down a flight of steps, and the press room was completely on the opposite side of the convention center from the panel rooms. Exacerbating the situation, the press room was nudged against the "IGN Theatre," meaning that we had to push through a massive line almost any time we tried to get in.

Yen Press's Comic Con booth

Most of the panels that I went to (predominantly industry ones) were well-run, and the Comic Con staff did a good job of keeping things orderly, setting up tech, and transitioning between different panels. For example, a con staffer was on-hand during the Yen Press giveaway, and she nobly kept the crazy forces of teenage anime fandom at bay by making sure that they lined up in a mature, orderly fashion.

The feeling that I got from the anime and manga industries at their panels was that, while the economy is in shambles right now, the companies will move along with their normal plans with only minor setbacks. Some excessive programs are being cut back, such as FUNimation's podcast, but in general the strategy seems to be the same as last year, with niche titles still getting licenses alongside more mainstream ones. On the mainstream front, Yen Press seems to be picking up some real money-makers, including the new shonen posterboy Soul Eater and the long-awaited Yotsuba&! (which was announced at NYCC). I am of the opinion that over the course of the next year, Yen Press will rise to be as big as Tokyopop once was, and will be Viz's primary challenger in the shonen arena. (Think Naruto vs. Soul Eater)

The anime industry, on the other hand, didn't announce any new licenses, but FUNimation, Bandai and Viz focused heavily on their new online streaming services. This is going to be the future of the anime industry, so it's great to finally see the distributors giving up on single-volume releases and moving to boxsets and streaming video.

The New York Comic Con was also my first time attending a con as video game press. I checked out games like Velvet Assassin, X-Blades, Prototype, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, The Conduit, MadWorld, and Red Faction: Guerrilla, most of which should have hands-on coverage on the site soon. I must say that at some of the gaming booths, I didn't receive very much help from the reps, but the SouthPeak Games booth was really fun and inviting. I received some very informative walkthroughs from developers and representatives for Velvet Assassin and X-Blades, as well as a great interview with the voice actor starring in Velvet Assassin.

John Martone, Gia, Scott, and Evan

Outside of scheduled convention programming, I also got to hang out with some really awesome people throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, I stopped by the "Versus Mode Live" panel, featuring Bioshock director Ken Levine and Fallout 3 producer Todd Howard, and moderated by legendary gaming journalists N'Gai Croal and Stephen Totilo. After the panel, I chatted for a bit with the four of them, and they even recorded openers for the Ani-Gamers Podcast. Both on Friday (when the Vertical panel ended early) and on Saturday (when the same happened for CMX), I had a fun chance to meet a bunch of fellow anime/manga bloggers, journalists, and industry professionals – including Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki, Casey Brienza, Ed Chavez, Erica Friedman, and Michael Pinto.

One of the highlights of my personal con experience was a "blogger dinner" on Saturday night, wherein fifteen or so other bloggers and I headed down to the Tick Tock Diner on 34 St. and 8th Ave. In attendance were friends like Gia Manry, Scott VonSchilling, Hisui, and KuronoK, as well as new acquaintances like Michael Pinto and John Martone. My table was particularly fun, as I sat with Narutaki and Kohaku (from Reverse Thieves), Dave (from Subatomic Brainfreeze), and Carl (from Ogiue Maniax). We discussed ninja self-destruction, Segata Sanshiro, and pedo high school teachers, but quickly noticed that the other tables were all talking about actual anime stuff. (Hah, silly them!) The other highlight was, of course, on Sunday, when I sat down with Brigid, Scott, Hisui, and Narutaki for Ani-Gamers Podcast #012.

I really enjoyed the New York Comic Con, despite my general preference for small, anime-centric cons. I would without question recommend it to any geek with an interest in anime, manga, games, or (naturally) comics – as long as they are okay with large conventions. It's big, it's crazy, and it's hectic, but dammit if the New York Comic Con's not fun as hell.


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