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