Ten years is a long time, especially for a convention. Managing to create and implement a successful event over the course of a decade is often met with challenges, as the convention grows and tries to find its identity in a rapidly changing fandom world. Add to this the stresses of being located in the center of a large urban city, and the task might seem insurmountable. For every long-standing event like Otakon there will be an Inochicon, fizzling after a single year despite positive reviews and solid numbers.
Which makes this year’s Anime Boston event that much more special. Celebrating its tenth annual event at the Hynes Convention Center (it’s home since 2005), one can see just how far the convention has come since its humble beginnings in 2003. A veritable ocean of cosplay, panels, game shows and merchandise, the convention broke the 20,000 person mark this year (22,065 to be precise) and showed no signs of slowing down.
It should also be noted that this year’s event coincided with the 2012 PAX East gaming conference, which was being held on the opposite side of Boston. Concerns (and predictions) that Anime Boston would see a decline in attendance were ultimately unfounded, however, as attendees from both conventions managed to find time to swap events. The sight of Anime Boston and PAX badges on the same lanyards wasn’t commonplace, but not rare either.
-Variety. One of the benefits of having such a large space as Anime Boston is the sheer amount of space available for programming and events. A casual look at Anime Boston’s schedule validates that assertion. Panels from 10 AM until 2 AM, every day, along every conceivable line. Want some mindless screaming and fan-gasming? They got you covered. Want a serious discussion of folklore or fan culture. Check. Want retrospectives on noted games and studios? Ditto. Want to recapture the glory of yesteryear? Mike Toole’s got you covered. Anime Boston has one of the best programming tracks of any con on the East Coast, so its easy to take advantage of it.
The same holds true for goods and services. Boasting the largest Artist Alley, and second largest Dealer’s Room, of any East Coast con, NOT finding what you want ends up being the challenge of the weekend. (Which I discovered firsthand, when I couldn’t find a ninja outfit.) This is one of the few cons that makes money budgeting a necessity- you can, and likely will, blow everything on day one if you have poor impulse control.
-Location. Middle of Back Bay Boston, attached to the Prudential Center and a block away from Newbury Street. This is the business and commercial hub of the entire city. Reasonable food, fancy stores and aesthetic buildings. For the people-watcher, cosplayer or serial tourist, this is heaven.
-Fandom cohesion. This is a point of contention for a lot of attendees- Anime Boston, like all larger cons, is also a hub for multifandom pursuits. While the con takes a conservative line towards Programming, that doesn’t stop the people from cosplaying as comic book, BBC or internet characters, and scheduling photoshoots to prove they were there. It’s very easy to discover the other side of fandom at this con, and make plenty of friends while doing it.
-Costs. Back Bay Boston, for all its pleasures, is also expensive. Rooms at the con hotel started at $200/night, making it one of the costliest conventions currently running. In fact, finding a room in Boston for less than $100 is all but impossible. As a result, rooms crammed with 14 people became commonplace (happened to a friend of mine, in fact). Not the fault of the con, in this case, but it should be noted for all first-time attendees that BOSTON BE EXPENSIVE, YO.
-Crowds. Almost Otakon-level crowds now. In earlier years, the full capacity of the Hynes was never as apparent as it was this year. Taking upwards of 5-7 minutes just to cross the entrance hallway was frequent, especially on Saturday. Throngs of people stopping short for cosplay pictures also slowed things down. Those in the know about the Hynes could avoid the worst of the glut, but it was still a problem at the height of the weekend. But growing pains like this are expected.
-Fandom breakdown. While Anime Boston has one of the most welcome atmospheres for multifandom love, this year it suffered from some breakdowns. Photoshoots scheduled right in front of panel rooms (thereby blocking access) and in the middle of hallways, rude cosplayers acting entitled, flaming and trolling were actually visible this time around. While this has always been a part of the modern anime convention, this year the fact that it could be seen and experienced by the general attendees was a bit disheartening.
Anime Boston suffered some growing pains this year. Which is to be expected when your con surpasses the 20,000 mark. Crowding is an inevitable issue, which leads to confrontations in the hallways, and can spoil the mood. But it also shows how far the con has come- in 10 years, it went from 4000-22000, and has become one of the best known, and best loved, fan conventions on the East Coast. And it will likely continue to grow. Anime Boston is one of those rare large events that is extremely accessible to newcomers (I should know, it got me back into congoing in 2007). Next year it will take place on Memorial Day Weekend. That should be VERY interesting.