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By Inactive or EX ROG Staffer On 24 Feb, 2014 At 06:52 PM | Categorized As Animation, Comics/Manga, Reviews, ROG Fashion, ROG News | With 0 Comments

No GravatarI stumbled upon a little documentary while I roamed around Youtube and while it’s far from perfect I think it gives a balanced overview of otakus. It’s so well made in fact I think it’s the one documentary to show any questioning parents so they have a good understanding of our little subculture.

The piece True Otaku: The Documentary is an amateur documentary that explains the otaku fandom by going straight to the source, questioning regular fans and industry professionals in Otakon and Anime USA about many different topics related to the subject.

Looks like our old banner!

Looks like our old banner!

It explains the anime boom that occurred in the US and how it led to the surge in anime fans that created such large conventions, lolita fashion, fan groups, and cosplay. Granted, they focused too much on cosplay and not enough on anime and manga, nor popular otaku video games such as visual novels and the unbelievably popular shooter Touhou nor fighting games like Persona 4, and not even on collectors of anime merchandise, but it’s a good introductory film to any questioning individual and I believe if  everyone saw it they’d have more respect for the otaku community.

You can see the film for free on Youtube where it’s split into 3 parts: You can watch the first part here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdv0n5DUb4E and see the rest at leisure. Happy watching!

By Charles On 28 Jun, 2013 At 06:34 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Otaku Events | With 0 Comments

No Gravatar

Always bring a banana to a party.

Always bring a banana to a party.

Well, well, well- look who’s back. It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance on here, and with good reason: since the beginning of May, I’ve been on a whirlwind of convention travels- all the way from Charlotte, NC for KiraKiraCon, to Sandusky, OH for Colossalcon, and most recently, Portland, ME for Portcon. In between I’ve dropped by VA for AMA, Boston for AB and a splendid little event in Pittsfield, MA called BAMcon (currently my favorite event of the year). And one of the constants I’ve had all 6 of those weekends is new congoers, from those who have always wanted to attend, to curious friends dragged along for the ride, to the confused parents wondering what their children have been jabbering on about incessantly since last summer.

For those of you who have never been to a con, there really is no time like the present to start attending. Explosive community growth, huge influxes of new fans and fandoms, cosplay galore- this is a great time to start hitting up your local con scene, or even traveling someplace new and exciting for a weekend unlike any other.

Wow, that sounds like a sales pitch.

For those of you who have never attended, or find the entire process intimidating, allow me then to provide you with some tips for selecting and navigating your first convention. You don’t need to heed my advice, because everyone’s experiences at the con are different- that’s what makes them so enticing- but at the same time, there are always common pitfalls that have the potential to derail a previously fantastic weekend.

Author’s note: these tips are not the standard sort of “drink plenty of water,” or “sleep and shower once a day” type- the basic precepts of health and hygiene are common sense, and we all are aware of them. And if we are not, the con staff will definitely make sure you observe them. Rather, these tips will (hopefully) allow you to have an enjoyable weekend, free of drama, hassles, and unplanned roadblocks.

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Dressing like this might get you dinner…or arrested.

Rule 1: Friends make the difference. This might sound obvious, but nobody wants to be attending their first con alone. From the overstimulation of the crowd’s emotions, to the often hectic environment itself, to the huge platter of events and programming, it is extremely easy to get lost in the mix. Flying solo at a con can be one of the scariest, and overwhelming experiences any fan can encounter- so much so that even veterans often dislike attempting it.

Thankfully, the solution is simple: go with your friends. Make new ones at the con. Build a ‘network’ of people you enjoy spending time with, and coordinate schedules so everyone has fun over the weekend. It’s easier than it sounds, because at the con, everyone is a prospective new friend, and many are actively seeking new people, new experiences and new comrades to share them with. Try it out next time, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Rule 2: Budget, please. Everyone has a con story that proceeds something like this: “I brought $200 with me to cover my weekend, and blew it all within fifteen minutes of hitting the Dealer’s Room. Now I can’t afford to eat.” If this sounds like something that happened to a friend (or even yourself), you are not alone. All congoers fall into this trap at some point- I once spent $400 at a single con on commissions in the Artist Alley, and lived off the charity of my friends for the last day and a half. This often is accompanied by guilt, fear and the knowledge that you just spent a large amount of money in a short period of time, sometimes with little to really show for it.

Budgeting is your friend, throughout the weekend. It’s extremely easy to survive on the cheap at most big cons (especially ones in urban areas, with easy access to fast food), but when the temptation to blow your hard-earned cash on figures and DVDs arises, rely on those friends you went to the con with to keep you in check. Make sure you never take all your money with you anywhere, or give it to a friend who you know budgets well and have them reign you in. Your first con will fill you with impulses you might never have felt before, which invariably leads to impulse buying, and “shoppers remorse.” If you have your friend with you, keeping you from throwing cash left and right, you will make it through the weekend unscathed.

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The freaks might not come out at night, but the yokai certainly do.

Rule 3:Don’t try to experience everything. Simply put, you can’t. It’s not possible to do everything at the con over one weekend, especially if your first con is on the scale of Otakon (which is a popular choice for East Coast congoers), Anime Boston or *shudder* Anime Expo. Often events on that scale are massive, with dozens of panels and programs running concurrently all across the convention space. Trying to “keep up” will drive any neophyte congoer insane.

The best strategy is to find a few things you really want to see, and then allow the weekend to progress organically. What do I mean by organically? Well, even the best-laid plans can run awry. Sometimes friends have different plans, or there could be a completely spontaneous decision to do something other than what you planned to do. Looking at the programming schedule beforehand helps you whittle down what you have time for, but it can never forewarn you about random photoshoots, dinner plans, or bumping into that friend you know online who wants to catch up outside of the internet.

Progressing organically, then, is to just ‘go with the flow.’ Enjoy yourself, enjoy your friends, and decide what’s really important when the moment arises. You might wander into a random panel and find yourself interested in the subject. You might discover that a certain cosplay event isn’t what you expected it to be. Or you might just latch onto a cluster of new people and follow them. This is usually one of the best ways to approach congoing, especially now, so just enjoy yourself, and see where everything takes you. Becoming preoccupied with pre-planned events is a surefire way to ruin your weekend. The real appeal of the con is just being at the con.

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Navigating the halls sometimes requires skills with a lightsaber

Rule 4: Utilize discretion.  On par with common sense, just because you are at a con, doesn’t mean you should run around like a blithering idiot, get wasted, hit on anything with two legs, and consume things you would never touch in your daily life. Discretion, common sense, a bit of skepticism- these will allow you to circumvent any number of unexpected shocks and potentially toxic situations.

Now this might SOUND like a given, but bear in mind- the energy exchange from cons is powerful, and has the potential to itself become intoxicating. And people who start to fall to intoxication lower their inhibitions and act in ways that might be completely unexpected, even to THEM. I’ve witnessed young adult males doing questionale things for a girl’s attention, seen teenagers drink themselves silly because they can, and witnessed all sorts of…unsavory behavior, simply because one person wasn’t paying proper attention at the time.

Now do not take this to mean that cons are dangerous. They’re incredibly safe. But at the same time, even the safest places are not immune to stupidity and bad decisions. Be aware of yourself, and utilize discretion in your interactions. It will save you more than your fair share of drama.

 

When meeting your favorite voice actors, please remember they are people too.

When meeting your favorite voice actors, please remember they are people too.

Rule 5: Don’t feed the trolls. Just like on the internet, trolls exist, and prowl around cons. They can be the guys with the cameras taking candid photos without permission. They can be ‘that guy’ in the back of the panel room who never stops commenting on how ‘wrong’ the panelist is. It could be the kid in the mask throwing water at people. They are present, and sometimes highly visible at the con weekend, and can contribute a huge chunk of unwelcome drama. More than a few new congoers have been driven off by their antics, or reduced to tears in the hallways.

Remember, trolls are a part of the fandom experience. You will eventually encounter one, that’s a given. The real tip here is not just not let them bother you. They are actively trying to provoke a reaction, often for no reason other than their own boredom. They thrive on conflict, and making you feel terrible. If you give in, they win. If you shrug them off, they find someone else.

Look all the way back at rule 1 for the best way of dealing with them- your friends. The words of some anonymous congoer might sting, but remember that your friends are there for YOU, and will help you deal with any trolls you might encounter. Rely on them, and your weekend will be a success.

Note: Also, do not confuse trolls with the grey-skinned denizens of the popular webcomic Homestuck. Those are also trolls, but not of the same variety.

So, first time congoer, go forth and enjoy yourself.

For more information, check out some of my earlier blogs on the subject:

Con-Ventional Wisdom

Con Advice

By Charles On 5 Aug, 2012 At 11:00 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarEarlier in the summer, I posted a recap of three weeks of consecutive congoing. This, alas, was neither unusual, nor the end of my con season. Summer, particularly June and July, are busy months for East Coast congoers. So while on the one hand I was able to get a few weeks rest after three straight, the busiest weekends of the season were still in the cards.

Two Guys with Glasses

I will preface what follows simply: ConnectiCon and Otakon are two very different shows. One is a multi-genre con with a huge internet and gaming presence, situated in a (mostly) dead city in the middle of the year. The other is thrice as large, located in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Mid-Atlantic and focused on a diet of pan-Asian culture. They are separated by a thin barrier of weeks, during which time (generally) the same attendees prepare for both. I have been attending them for the exact same amount of time, and have had both amazing, and awkward, years there. But if you asked me to choose between them, I was steadfastly refuse. They are NOT the same con, nor should they be thought of as such.

Let the reviews begin.

ConnectiCon: July 13-15. 5 panels, 3 roomies, 2 pillow wars.

I’ve written many critiques of the city of Hartford, none of them particularly positive. I’m fond of saying that CTCon is the best part of the city, a point that anyone who has actually been there will likely agree with. But that does no real justice to the scope and breadth of the actual con. Started as a webcomic-focused convention, ConnectiCon has grown into the largest multi-genre event in New England. While attendance lags noticeably behind Anime Boston, the con more than makes up for it in community and content.

Friday night fun…on Sunday morning.

I started attending in 2009, and have made it a point to return each year. Unlike many other fan conventions, CTCon takes it’s mission statement to heart: their goal to present a “massively multi-genre” event, coupled with a huge space at the Connecticut Convention Center, allows them an unprecedented flexibility in scheduling panels, tournaments, interactive events and vendors. When the con succeeds, they do so splendidly. But when something goes wrong, it becomes more visible.

Much like Katsucon and AnimeNEXT, CTCon was hit hard by the “line effect:” a huge jump in attendance that forced the fire marshal to shut down panels at capacity, relocated the registration line outside into the summer sun, and caused backups in the halls as attendees lined up to (hopefully) grab a seat in panel rooms. More than once, the top floor had to be completely shut down to accommodate crowding for Main Events. Events ran over, panel rooms filled long before the start time, and traffic had to be re-routed in the vendor spaces. This led to grumbles and complaints online and in person. Which was a shame, considering the wealth of options attendees had to choose from.

Those Hartford parking prices can be insane…

However, those options ended at the vendors. While CTCon had a huge artist and dealer space in previous years, reshuffling forced the number of exhibitors down visibly this year, resulting in more complaints and grumbles from both vendors and attendees alike. The visible devotion to gaming space effectively capped merchandise, and left some people going home with less stuff and more cash.

For my part, I caused several of those pesky code violations with over-capacity rooms, and spent little money anywhere, but the weekend was a rousing success. Looking past the lines and lacking selection of goods, was a well-structured weekend full of panels and gatherings for any type of fan. While I hope CTCon manages to correct some of the flaws in execution that hit it this year, it’s still one of the best conventions in New England, and one that I highly recommend.

Otakon: July 27-29. 5 panels, 32000 attendees, 1 purchase.

Otakon. The granddaddy of east coast cons. 19 years going strong. The second largest anime con in the country. This behemoth of an event has come from humble roots into one of the more dominating of culture festivals. And all I could think about going in was “there are HOW MANY seats in Panel 3?”

See, this year I was selected to be part of the featured panelist programming track, which right off the bat scared me. While I give panels at upwards of 10 cons a year, and have been a guest at about 8 of them, there was something different about Otakon. And I’m not just talking about size here. Yes, this is the largest event I’ve ever presented at. Yes, this con has a long, glorious history that I am now a part of. But imagine trying to live up to that legacy, when you’re used to presenting at small-mid size cons.

After seeing multiple members of the Avengers, Loki calmed down and let this photo be taken.

Otakon is more than just a con. Otakon is a way of life. People have been known to spend all year looking forward to JUST this convention. The variety of cosplay, programming options, Japanese guests, vendors, artists, and PEOPLE is greater than all the other cons I go to. Combined. Otakon is not a convention for fans of anime, it a gathering for fans PERIOD. There are no easy words to describe the power and appeal of Otakon, though I’ve tried repeatedly to do so before. It’s something one must experience for themselves- hollow words just cannot convey the scope. It’s such a powerful concept that after it was done, it practically erased ALL the emotional connections I had to the four cons that directly preceded it, until only Ota-memories remained. AMA, for all my love, feels like a lifetime ago, compared to what I experienced last weekend.

And now there I was, with everything I had to offer displayed before tens of thousands of people. You can imagine the stress there.

But I survived.

Saturday night Death God panel: who’s more morbid? Me for hosting, or all these people for showing up?

I wish I could say more about the con than just those words, but there really is no other way to describe the immensity of the Dealer’s Room, or the hordes of costumed attendees that arrived on Thursday decked out and left Monday the same way, or the snaking lines and energetic high that permeated the weekend. I can’t elaborate on the laughter booming through the room during “Anime’s Craziest Deaths,” or the cheers during “Beyond Miyazaki.” I can’t put into words the exhaustion from arriving as the doors opened and leaving when the BCC closed, grabbing ice cream before heading back to my room for an impromptu party. That was my Otakon, and mine alone, one of many stories going on that weekend.

Oh, and Panel 3 had 1700 seats, most of which were full when I took the stage.

And with Otakon, my summer of cons came to a close. My year isn’t over, and I have between 2 and 4 more left to attend before November is out, but looking back on where I’ve been…Fall is going to be so easy.

So long, Otakon. Until next year!

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 16 Apr, 2012 At 04:43 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Featured, Reviews | With 1 Comment

No GravatarTen 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.

Pros:

-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.

Cons

-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.

Overall:

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.

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 8 Nov, 2011 At 10:28 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarHere is more of the Convention Coverage provided by the Staff of Real Otaku Gamer.

It’s always good to see something you like grow and prosper. There’s the satisfaction of knowing where it came from, and the pride in seeing where it’s going. And there’s also the inevitable bragging rights that come with having been there “first.” I’m feeling a bit of this right now, as I have just returned from Nekocon, a medium sized convention held annually in Hampton Roads, VA. I have been a regular attendee of this convention since 2007, when I first attended with a group of friends because I had the free time, and wanted to try something new. Along the way, Nekocon has been an influence on my life akin to the anime and games that I’ve been reflecting on of late, possibly larger than both other mediums at the end of the day.

He makes decent cookies. Courtesy of CIDXII

Nekocon was the first convention I ever deemed a “relax-a-con,” or a weekend where I didn’t do anything (this is also a term I applied to my experience at this year’s Otakon). Neko 07 for me was the first time I ever saw a con as a place where I didn’t need to rush, could take my time, maybe catch a panel, slow-browse the Dealer’s Room, lounge around my hotel room and maybe try my hand at LARPing or something else. And experiencing this kind of casual con environment was extremely easy to attain at Neko, because in all honesty, there was very little to do that year. There were few panels, most of them of the “OMGKAWAII” fan-type, which have never held my attention for very long. The Hampton Roads Convention Center was this huge expanse with lots of empty space for hanging out. And the attached Embassy Suites was (and still is) my favorite hotel of all time, the perfect venue for retreat after a long day in the halls of the con. And for me, this was perfect. I didn’t really need anything else. Neko 07 was the first con I attended where I didn’t attend panels, just made friends and spent money.

This trend of minimal panels and casual vibe persisted for the next few years, as I continued to make the long drive from NY to VA. The 2008 event went by too fast, but was significant to me because it was where I got the idea to do my fieldwork. The 2009 event was where I hosted my first ever panels. And the 2010 event, while a bit of a letdown, was nevertheless a reaffirmation of the same core experience I had come to expect from a south-VA event.

And then came 2011.

I want to preface this by saying that Nekocon 14 was the best experience I’ve ever had at this convention. And I truly mean that. Watching this convention evolve over the past few years has always been something of a trip for me, but seeing the leaps and bounds by which it grew this year was nothing short of amazing. Gone was the notion that this con had minimal programming. Gone was the general idea of lounging in the hall. Gone was the laid back vibe. Nekocon 14 felt more to me like Anime Boston or Anime Next than the Nekocons of old, and believe me, this is a good thing.

Location:

View from above. Courtesy of CIDXII

The Hampton Roads Convention Center is one of the main reasons why Nekocon manages to keep the feel of a small con despite having larger numbers. It’s a wide open space, more akin to the Hartford Convention Center where Connecticon is held, with plenty of floor space, and the panel rooms tucked into the walls. Nothing to disturb the flow, plenty of places to sit. The attached Embassy Suites fits the con as well, with giant, spacious rooms and free breakfast, perfect for a con scene that often relies on cheap food and cramped conditions. I had upwards of 9 people in my room this year on Friday night, but I never felt boxed in (and I even had bed space). The surrounding area of Hampton, VA has plenty of food options within walking distance, enough that I never ate at the same place twice. Plus the shopping mall across the highway is the perfect place to retreat to when the energy of the con starts to get overwhelming. (I actually outlined an entire panel there on Saturday between two other panels, and it was quiet enough to get everything done in under and hour.) But then again, I’ve always extolled the virtues of Nekocon’s location, and have often cited it as the main reason I attended the convention in the first place.

Programming

I was always used to light scheduling at Nekocon. This was one of the only cons that actually had panel space devoted to “Make Your Own Panel” back in 2007 and 2008. And those panels that did happen were either mostly composed of fluff and fandom, or filled up too fast to get into. Nekocon 14 managed to completely reverse this trend.

The theme of the weekend was “Steampunk,” but don’t let that fool you. Aside from having some very good panels looking into steampunk art, design and culture, this was truly a convention for people with diverse interests. I have to open by saying the majority of the panels I attended were ones I was hosting. I delivered 8 panels this year, a personal record for me, and still found time to drop into some others. Also unlike previous years, there were 3 programming rooms in the Embassy Suites devoted to 24 hour video, one straight panel and one workshop.

Courtesy of CIDXII

The reason I compared this con to Anime Boston was due to the nature of the programming. Gone were the majority of the “OMGKAWAII” fare, replaced by serious explorations into anime and Japanese culture. Aside from my own contributions, I sat in on panels devoted to the nature of otaku in Japan, beginner’s guides to both anime and conventions, “Mythbusting” anime, an exploration of Moe culture in Japan, and even one on being a good Dungeon Master. In fact, the variety of panels at Nekocon 14 was among the most varied of any con I’ve been to this year entirely. A lot of this was owed to programming head Bernie Klein, who wanted to expand on the nature of the event and bring in more educational fare, a decision I highly applaud as both a panelist and an attendee. Unlike previous years, this time around there were plenty of events to choose from, regardless of why any particular attendee was at the event. One major surprise of the weekend: Anime Jerry Springer, which was less about anime and more about fandom, but was ridiculous fun nonetheless, and a fine alternative to the crowded rave going on right upstairs.

Commerce

Saturday Night

I’m often very critical of how Nekocon manages it’s Dealer’s Room space, often citing the wide-open avenues that can make the room seem less populated than it is. This year that was less of an issue. In fact, there was more variety at Neko 14 than at many of the other cons I’ve been to this year. But that’s about all I can say about it, as I went into the Room only twice over the weekend, and didn’t really buy anything.

In contrast, the Bazaar was even larger and more open, holding not just artists, but the art show and tabletop gaming sections. Nekocon has always had a thriving artist community, and this year was no exception. But like the Dealer’s Room, I was only in there a few times before panels managed to snag my attention away.

Main Events

…were still skipped by me, but this year in addition to two live bands, they also hosted a Fashion Show by DJ/Designer Takuya Angel. From what I heard, the bands were okay. My full experience with them consisted of bumping into their lead singer twice in the same hallway on two different nights.

Vibe

Real Mandalorians wear kilts. Courtesy of CIDXII

I’ve always loved Nekocon’s vibe. Like any true community-centered convention, it’s the people which make the time well spent. And after a slight hiccup last year, that feeling was back in droves. At no point during the weekend did the energy stop flowing, nor did the con feel “dead.” From early in the morning until late at night there were always people streaming around the HRCC, and casual encounters were once more the rule of the day. Though I didn’t make any new friends this year, it felt good catching up with all my old ones, and I often found myself being dragged off to dinner by different groups each night.

Nekocon 14 exemplifies my assertions that cons are first about community. While this is something I have found to be persistent in many, if not most, of the cons I attend, Nekocon was where I first noticed this phenomenon, and it persists still. From cosplay to conga lines, Nekocon’s true strength has always been its community and the devotion of its attendees, and this year was no different. I’m not surprised the con grew this year, you could see it in the halls and feel it in the air.

Conclusions

I was ready to write this con off after last year. But thankfully that was just a stumble. Nekocon 14 proved that this con can grow and evolve with the best of them. From top-notch programming to strong community energy, Nekocon has a long future ahead of it. This was my “Most Improved” con of 2011, with good reason: if the programming continues along this track, and the community continues to take notice of the quality of the event, Nekocon can be for southern VA what Anime Next is for NJ- a welcome oasis in the sea of fandom, and a place where fans can come to grow in both their social circles, and their participation.

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.