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By Charles On 23 Nov, 2011 At 08:38 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Otaku Events, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarI always found it interesting that my con years start and end with events in the same geographical region. Katsucon, which rolls into town in February, is right outside DC at one of the largest venues I’ve ever been to (Hynes/BCC notwithstanding), and generally sets the tone for the coming year. Anime USA, on the other hand, is a much smaller, decidedly more intimate affair even closer to the city. But these two cons provided the bookends for my third year in the con circuit, and likewise provide the bookends for my con reviews.

True story. Courtesy of Simon Ladd

AUSA is one of the truly unsung heroes of the con circuit- smaller than neighboring Katsucon, sandwiched in between Nekocon and Thanksgiving, and yet it manages to put together one of the best experiences for any congoer, new or otherwise. Taking the space it has, in the location it resides, it can easily fill a weekend with thrills, chills and fun, something that certain other cons seem to be lacking of late, and can hold its own against the “big boys” of the con circuit.

I first attended Anime USA in 2009, as the last stop in my principle fieldwork. I was lucky  enough to snag myself a table near the artist alley, and over the weekend I took in around 150 responses to my survey, making it the most productive weekend of the project. In addition, it was also the second con where I had the privilege of holding my now-retired mythology in anime panel. While that project has long-since ridden off into the proverbial sunset, I still jumped at the chance to return for a third time this year, eager to reconnect with friends and spread more of my love for the con community.

Location

In my three years as an attendee, Anime USA has been held at the Hyatt Regency, a lovely hotel situated on the edge of Crystal City, one of the adjoining neighborhoods to Washington DC. I’ve always liked this location due to its attractive facade, ample options for food, and interesting aesthetic. I also will admit I love staying at different hotels in the area, as they all offer different views of the con itself. For example, in 2010 I had a room overlooking the entrance to the Hyatt, where I watched cosplay gatherings from late Thursday until Monday. This year I was situated at the brand-new Renaissance Capital view, which gave me a view of the loading dock, something I gladly took advantage of on Thursday and Sunday nights, watching the vendors unload.

Artist Alley. Courtesy of Adv1sor.

As for the Hyatt itself, I the description I made of the con floor hasn’t really changed since last year, save the fact that it was far busier. I actually ran headlong into a line of attendees trying to make it to the third floor at one point, jamming up the stairway (in a sort of ironic humor, they were actually headed to one of my panels). The elevators were predictably crowded, and the Lobbibar was full up all hours of the day. For attendees who love “people watching,” this year was a welcome joy, and it showed. At one point on Saturday, photoshoots started blocking the lobby and had to be relocated. While this might sound like an inconvenience, it actually showed how much cosplay had increased at this event.

One thing I particularly loved about this year: all the water stations. While I rarely partake of the cold water lining the hallways, this year I was struggling with throat inflammation from Nekocon, and a low-grade sinus infection. So having simple access to water was much appreciated as the weekend wore on.

Programming

I used to be surprised to see more theoretical and cultural fare being offered at smaller cons. Not so much anymore, as AUSA managed to fill its schedule with new panel offerings with a decidedly more educational theme. On the plus side, this gave attendees a chance to delve deeper into the culture and experience of Japan and its media. In fact, with offerings like “Neo-Traditional Inking,” “Japanese Literature for Anime Fans,” “An Iron Chef Retrospective” and one panel on yukata/kimono fashion, I would deign to say that AUSA had one of the best cultural panel tracks of any con I’ve been to recently. This was on top of a healthy amount of time devoted to fandom interests like Chiptunes, Bad J-Commercials, Homestuck, one “Brony” panel for the fans of My Little Pony and some forays into philosophy and psychology. And some of this programming ran until 5 AM as well.

Uninitiated. Courtesy of Simon Ladd

On the other hand, it also left me with little free time (at best) or disappointment that I was scheduled up against panels I wanted to see. Case in point: Friday at 1PM there was a three hour block devoted to “Anime and Cognitive Narratology,” or a look into anime’s relationship to the social sciences. This is the kind of panel I would usually attend (or inadvertantly hijack- its been known to happen), but it was scheduled up at the same time I was presenting two panels on Politics in the worlds of Miyazaki and Mobile Suit Gundam. Later in the evening, I had to choose between Crime Fiction in Anime, Parliament and Con Horror Stories. I went with Horror Stories…because I was one of the hosts. This ended up being a trend for part of Saturday as well.

But in truth, I would rather have too much to do than too little, and Anime USA was definitely the former. It also gave me the chance to do something I had never done before: I managed to break 10 hours of programming (with a little help from Disorganization XIII). On Saturday night I was part of the “expert panel” brought in for the “Meta-panel,” a quasi game show where attendees are given the chance to present a 5 minute panel on a topic of their choosing, with the winner being given the chance to come back next year and present the panel for a full slot. I wanted to attend as a contestant. But the moment I walked in the door I was pulled up on stage and paired off for a spiel on Ergo Proxy, aka “Watch My Favorite Pretentious Anime.” Before this panel, i had never been to a DOXIII panel. Now I want to join them.

My one critique of the weekend was my own scheduling- I had 4.5 hours worth of panels…on early Friday afternoon. While this ended up being a benefit in the end, it was hell on my aforementioned inflamed throat, and I kept having to drink iced water just to keep my voice constant. All of this was thrown out during my last panel, “Kowai-” a look into yokai in Japanese folklore, where I ran myself ragged, being as animated as possible to a fully packed room, the end result being satisfying for both myself and the attendees.

Commerce

Courtesy of Simon Ladd

Borrowing a paraphrase from my Otakon review: “I didn’t buy #@$% this weekend.” And I didn’t. The only money that went out the entire time I was there went towards food. I think this was the first time that’s ever happened to me. But I also wasn’t the only one. I went into the Dealer’s Room 3 times over the weekend, and found it surprisingly under-attended. Not that there wasn’t any variety, because there definitely was. It was simply lacking any merchandise worth spending money on. The same went for the artist alley. Normally I drop around $100 on commissions over the weekend. This time, I didn’t. Again, not the fault of the artists, who definitely brought a lot of solid fanart and quality crafts. I just didn’t see anything that I haven’t seen before (or already own in some form).

Main Events

I saw the room. I was there for the last half of Uncle Yo’s Otaku Standup Experience. But other than that…

Vibe

Let me fan out for a second: “OMGWTFHOLYSWEETMOTHER.” Okay, that’s out of my system.

Anime USA had one of the highest and brightest displays of energy transfer I’ve felt all year. And I’m not just talking about during panels either: it was hard to not notice how much energy was flowing through this convention. I remarked a couple of weeks ago about how Nekocon’s energy had improved this year. Well Anime USA had much of the same high riding it. While on the con floor, one could not help but smile. And much of this energy was also blissfully devoid of meme shouting, which as many of my reader know, is my least favorite part of the con experience. This bevy of undiluted energy infused not just me, but my friends as well, giving us all a wonderful weekend we were reluctant to say goodbye to.

Conclusions

Anime USA is moving next year. It will be hard to say goodbye to the Crystal City I’ve come to love these past three years, but the new location is bigger, better and full of new experiences. As a sendoff, Anime USA 2011 was easily one of the more satisfying experiences I’ve had all year. But as an event, Anime USA has grown and prospered in the time I’ve been attending, this year being no exception. I full hope that this trend will continue in the future.

Photos Courtesy of Adv1sor

Comics courtesy of “Conventional Wisdom.” 

 

 

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.