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By Charles On 28 Jun, 2012 At 07:20 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Reviews | With 1 Comment

No GravatarI’m kind of insane. Not the bad kind, I swear there are no women in a pit in my basement trying to steal my dog to prevent me from throwing lotion at them, just the kind that comes from spending too much time and energy doing what makes my life filling. And while in the pursuits of said endeavors, I often wreck my body (especially my voice), spend hours cramped in cars and trains, and often wedge myself into impossible crowded rooms, all for a few hours worth of validation and education. And only half the time do I get paid for all this.

All I can say is: I’m an active fan, that’s what I do. Insanity comes with the territory.

It’s been about a month since I’ve written anything here, with good reason. I spent the past 3 weeks in perpetual transit visiting conventions. Two of those weekends required 7+ hour commutes, from the southern edge of Virginia, all the way to Portland, ME. While that might sound like the prime time to spend working on a flurry of articles, trust me, it’s not (most of Portcon transit was spent watching anime and staring blankly out the window). So, instead of preparing three separate reports on the three cons I hit up, I’m going to try my best to sandwich them all into this one article, and hope I can touch on everything.

June 8-10: AnimeNEXT. 6 panels, one cosplay, 10 hours in line.

What can I say about ANext that hasn’t already? Well, it certainly was crowded. And I mean CROWDED. I’ve been watching this con grow since 2003, when it was a small social con in Rye, NY. That year I had a great time hanging in the halls and watching random people (and getting glomped down a flight of stairs, but that’s pretty much a legend now). Then there was the move to the Meadowlands, then to the Garden State Expo Center, with each successive con getting bigger and bigger…

Well, this year will forever be etched into my memory as “Line-con 2012.” Everywhere you looked, there were lines. Lines for Main Events. Lines for the Dealer’s Room (even as late as Saturday afternoon). Lines for EVERY SINGLE PANEL (i’m not exaggerating). The only places I didn’t see lines were for the Artist Alley and the LARP. It was THAT crowded. At some point, the Fire Marshal got involved, and then those lines had to be relocated outside to prevent code violations. Panel rooms were packed to capacity and shut down, sometimes with half the line not getting in. If I remarked last year that the lines for the rave were Cartman’s worst nightmare, this year he likely would have summoned Cthulhu and devoured the entire con.

But if one could look past the lines, the event itself was fun. Plenty to do (if you were willing to wait), plenty to see, lots of photoshoots and random hallway hijinks. A solid variety of panels and artists. And despite the crowding, it never felt like the con was suffocating under its own weight (at least not for me). I’ve read a good deal of scathing criticism on both the forums and the blogosphere about how the event was “mishandled” and ended up an “administrative nightmare,” but honestly…it reminded me a great deal of this past Katsucon. A bit crazy, a bit frenetic, but ultimately fun. Panels staff were courteous and kept things flowing as best they could, there was a minimal amount of “glut” and I still found time to relax. Final verdict: B+

June 14-18: Anime Mid Atlantic. 18 hours travel, 7 panels, one girlfriend.

My strongest memory of AMA has to be that I “programmed” closing ceremonies. Seriously, I spent about 4 hours of my weekend working on a video project that “opened” the closing, and got one of the best reactions I received all weekend, with numerous calls to “do it again.” All I can say to that is…maybe.

AMA is my “vacation” con. Of all the cons I attend, this is the one I use to “take it easy,” (yes, that includes the 7 panels I presented). And of all the cons I attend, AMA might be best suited for it. It’s not the smallest, not the most laid back, but it does wonders to recharge me, despite the effort I put into commute getting there and back.

This year was no exception. Coming off the craziness of ANext the week before, AMA was comparably placid. No lines, no crowding, lots of relaxation outside (courtesy of the mild temperatures and consistent breeze off the bay) and a general air of mellow that kept my head clear for the entire weekend. Also given the close proximity of everything, it lent itself wonderfully to late night wanderings (mostly to Wawa) and plenty of food choices for the gourmand (or foodie, in this case) to sate their appetite.

That’s really all I can say about the weekend, honestly. I have no complaints, no criticisms, not a single bother to recount. I got there, I had fun, I hung out with some voice actors and played a late night game of “Betrayal at the House on the Hill,” and took the scenic route back home. Final Verdict: A-

June 21-24: Portcon Maine. 4 panels, 2 hotels, 5 cheap SciFi DVDs.

I got a gift bag. Full of Maine-related stuff, my favorite brand of gum, water, and a notebook that saved my life at one point.

For a con with around 2000 attendees, Portcon was a “hot damn mess,” but not in the bad way. I had a rather flat opinion of the con last year, but this year that was rectified quickly. There was an energy that swept through the con on Friday morning that blew my mind. The lines were back too, but somehow that wasn’t a bad thing either. Yes they did block the hallway a bit, and left some of the rooms packed to the hilt, but it just added to the charm of the weekend.

Portcon attendees are both forgiving, and a hoot to be around. When my panel on Supernatural TV got swapped last second with one on Anime OPs, nobody complained. In fact, I think they enjoyed the OP chronology more. When thunderstorms rocked South Portland for a chunk of Saturday, nobody fled indoors and we got some rather unique cosplay shots. From what I’ve been told, the same rain actually made “Extreme Geek” better than usual. Newbury Comics sponsored a cosplay competition in the Maine Mall (right across the street) which drew out some of the best cosplay of the weekend. And I spent a total of 4 hours playing adult “Apples to Apples” that was the perfect capstone to my nights.

Portcon is billed as the largest, and longest running, geek culture celebration in Maine. This is true. It is also one of the best multi-genre conventions anyone can attend. The friendly atmosphere, excellent location and diversity of programming ensures that there is always something to do. I used to give out this “award” called “The Best Kept Secret in New England” on my website, and I feel the need to confer it this year on Portcon, simply for maintaining the fun and making me feel welcome for 4 days of conventional irreverence. Final Verdict: A

As for those DVDs…I blame FYE and Newbury for taking my entire slush fund on Alien movies and James Cameron.

And here I now sit, in the lull weeks between cons. Up next for me are Connecticon, a personal favorite of mine in Hartford, and Otakon, where I’m a featured panelist. Pray for my sanity, I know I will need more of it.

By Charles On 6 Jul, 2011 At 02:23 AM | Categorized As Animation, Conventions, News, Reviews, Uncategorized | With 1 Comment

No GravatarSaying I go to a lot of anime conventions would be a serious understatement. Since November of 2008, I’ve been to around 30, up and down the East Coast, from Nashua NH all the way to Chesapeake VA. For me, it’s a mix of hobby, passion and devotion, rooted in my intense interest in people, culture and their own devotions, one I find immensely satisfying…and at the very least sating my own love of travel.

 

Earlier this month, I had the chance to go back to one of the first cons I ever attended, Anime NEXT in Somerset New Jersey. I’ve been attending this one on and off since 2003, when it was still being held in NY, and have had a chance to watch it grow from a small hotel-based convention into…well, a large hotel-based convention. But one constant that has surrounded this convention is the quality of the event, in terms of programming, events, guests and general fun, all things that are important to the continued existence of such events.

Location

 

People complain about the “new location.” Since 2009, the event has been held at the Garden State Exposition Center and attached Doubletree hotel, after spending a few years in Secaucus, floating around the Meadowlands. Most of the complaints center around the general “out in left field” nature of the Expo Center, as it is located in a rather “remote” part of Central New Jersey, removed from trains and busses which ran to the old location frequently. Personally, I have never had issue with the location, as it has ample parking, is located directly off a main roadway, and is decently spread out. (I drive in, as it’s actually easier and about the same price, so mass transit options really don’t matter to me.) The con makes good use of the facilities as well, keeping Main Events and Commerce in the Expo Center itself, while spreading out the panels and viewings in the Doubletree. Both venues are connected via a walkway and a rather large lawn that inevitably gets used up by cosplayers, and people who just feel like hanging around outside. While it can be initially confusing, especially to someone who has never been to the con before, it’s generally easy to figure out the layout. Another plus is the space available in the lobbies and walkways, a rarity in most hotel cons. Gaming areas, for both video and tabletop, are in outside buildings, notably the Holiday Inn across from the Expo Center, and have been for a couple of years now. While that saves space for the con itself, sometimes it makes for quite the sight watching attendees first scour the entire grounds looking for the room, then darting across traffic when they realize where it is exactly that they want to go. Since I never partake of the gaming options at ANext, I can’t speak for layout/location of those rooms.

 

Walkway. Courtesy of AnimeJutsu.com

One downside to this year: in an attempt to increase panel space, the convention decided to move the Artist Alley out of the Doubletree and into the Expo Center. While this is a good idea in theory, it didn’t work out quite as well in practice, as it was situated right next to Main Events and was subjected to a decrease in Artist space and a whole lot of noise. Some attendees mentioned they liked it having been moved, some did not. I was one of the latter, and found the new location a put-off. As someone who is friendly with a lot of artists, I could barely carry on a conversation at all over the weekend. And since I could barely hear myself thinking, I could only imagine what kind of challenge it posed to those artists taking commissions.

 

Programming

AnimeNEXT is possibly the only convention I’ve ever been to with 24 hours of something going on, be it gaming, panels, viewings or whatnot. There is ALWAYS something to do, so, theoretically, boredom is rarely an option. And fortunately, that something tends to be worthwhile. Panel variety is always great, almost on par with Anime Boston, a good mix of fandom panels, fan panels, educational panels and art workshops. And the panels are (usually) well attended.

 

I only had time to attend 2 this weekend, owing to my time spent giving my own panels. But the ones I did see were well worth the time. “Fandom and Criticism,” which is a panel I’ve been wanting to see since last year’s AnimeNEXT, was hosted by Evan and Ink of Ani-gamers and Hisui from the Reversethieves, and was centered around ideas of “active viewing,” including reviews, multiple views and other topics gleaned towards getting more out of your viewing time. Given the amount of media out there to explore, sometimes you only get one shot at what you’re seeing, so you might as well make it worthwhile. This is something the panelists tried to get across, and they shared from their own experiences as active viewers and reviewers, offering tips and strategies on how to select, view and eventually review new shows.

 

I also somehow found my way into Bad Anime, Bad! on Friday night, a panel with a long-standing reputation for being, well, bad. But in a good way. Paying homage to the often questionable content, writing and dubbing of anime throughout history, this panel highlighted some of the truly inane, insane and downright head-scratching translations and voiceovers that not many know, but should. And while I admit I didn’t know a lot of what was shown, it made me want to see more.

 

Edward Cullen confessing his love for "Buffy" and why fangirls scare him.

I ended up giving 4 panels the entire weekend: Con Horror Stories, which turned into an open forum with tales given from “Edward Cullen,” “Pedobear,” and a whole lot of attendees who have been through some truly trying experiences in the name of fandom;  Kowai, which was a look into monsters and ghosts throughout Japanese history, and was shoved into a very small room with no AC at all, but somehow turned into a 2 hour retrospective of Japanese sacred culture; Fanthropology, which also became an open forum for fans to discuss issues in fandom, their research and some of the stereotypes and difficulties involved with being fans; and finally “An International Game of Telephone” which was scheduled late but still managed to pull in quite a few people.

 

Commerce

Over the weekend, I heard a lot of people remark that the Dealer’s Room seemed smaller this year. If it was, it would have been very hard to notice, as it was packed all weekend with people spending their money on whatever struck their fancy. It was truly refreshing to see so many people there, when at some of the other cons I’ve been to recently seemed to have less vendor presence. And it was just as packed Sunday as it was Friday.

 

But one notable remark: whereas in previous years there were a lot of places to choose from with regards to media, this year it seemed more focused on collectables and culture goods. This became apparent to me when it took about a half hour to track down 3 volumes of a recent manga. For those interested in collecting things that were not DVDs or manga, it was a solid selection. For those seeking the media that brought them out in the first place, not much luck.

 

Main Events

…continue their streak of not catching my attention. Though I did witness gigantic lines for both the Masquerade and the Rave, which I found impressive, especially given the fact that last year they were a whole lot shorter.

“Vibe”

Eric Cartman's worst nightmare…LINES LINES, ALWAYS LINES!

 

There were a lot more people this year. And by a lot, I do mean A LOT. How can I tell? Well, usually by Saturday night the hotel is a bit on the empty side, as people head to the rave or head home. Not so this year, as the lobby of the Doubletree seemed packed all weekend. Add this to the massive rave lines, and it was obvious there were a lot more people than last year. Not that this detracted from the overall experience. Hardly, as I found the crowd this year to actually be more interesting than others. There was almost no meme-shouting to speak of, and the panel audiences seemed genuinely interested in the topics being discussed.

 

Also of interest, at least to me: after spending two years here with a small presence of dedicated Doctor Who fans, this year it exploded. Which only makes me laugh at how far that fandom has come, especially in relation to anime conventions.

 

Conclusions

AnimeNEXT is hardly a perfect convention. But in this world, there really aren’t any that are truly flawless. But despite having its flaws, AnimeNEXT manages to keep producing a solid event year after year. I’m interested in seeing where the con goes now, as they appeared to outgrow their location this time around. But I will be attending next year.