It’s been five days since I arrived in San Jose to take part in Fanime 2013. After everything is done and I look at the last few people file in and out of the San Jose Convention Center, I’m still unsure of the words to summarize the weekend. There were a lot of hopes and a few expectations that were met jarringly and with mixed results. Let’s take a look at the different things I experienced and we’ll see how our notes compare.
Without a doubt, this was a nightmare of fubar-like levels. I ran across a lot of people who didn’t read the e-mails Fanime forwarded saying that the registration was moved to the Fairmont down the street from the convention center. (I’m sure this is due to the construction). I think I directed about 20 people to the proper location. Even into Day 1, there were a lot of lost faces wandering around the ground level.
I was fortunate enough to have to go to registration for press and didn’t have to sit in the lines I heard about. I did drop someone off in a ballroom in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel at registration at 1:00 p.m. By 6:00 p.m., this was the conversation we had via text:
Friend: They moved us once to a new room, then they cut us in half and brought us back to the other room. :|
After 8:30, he still wasn’t done with registration. He just arrived at the room after I finished dinner at 9:30 p.m. He had legions more patience than I would in that situation. There were others who didn’t make it to their room until after 3:00 a.m., supposedly. In the days after the convention, there's word that a few people even fainted and required paramedics.
I understand that the expansion construction at the convention center put a serious cramp in their usual plans, however, I thought there would have been a solid plan in place considering there was no secret about the work happening at the convention center and the areas that would have been restricted as a result. There was further confusion when I was told that pre-registration was an issue because the organizers didn’t think that many people would show up. In all fairness, they should have an exact number of people that pre-registered. Shouldn’t they have been fully aware of what could happen if three-quarters of their records show up for Thursday?!
Again, I stayed at the San Jose Hilton. It is connected to the convention center and uses mostly neutral and soft colors throughout. It’s an odd juxtaposition to the Marriott, which has a much more vivid color palette. Though the Marriott is physically closer to the main fan gathering areas, I prefer the Hilton due to its very friendly and accommodating staff and the mini-fridges as a part of their standard rooms. There is a bar and grill in the center of their lobby that actually has some very good food at fair prices, though it is a bit higher of a price that some of the local fare.
Downtown San Jose is beautiful. There is a park across an intersection from the same block as the convention center with a gorgeous fountain and several statues. They skyline has some smaller skyscrapers and other buildings and there is a lot of places to choose from if you want to eat. In walking, I found one premium lounge, a microbrewery, two grills, an Italian restaurant, a Siamese restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a premium doughnut seller, a McDonalds, a Jack in the Box, a pita-specialty restaurant, a Johnny Rockets, and many other places to go. There’s a Safeway in easy walking distance, and a couple of mini-markets for whatever utility needs you have. My sole complaint about the area is that there are several homeless people wandering around, including the ones that mutter about the “f&%#ing cat-whores and sluts walking everywhere.” I think I’ve seen more of these types in one day in Downtown San Jose than in four trips to Downtown Los Angeles for Anime Expo.
The Jose McEnery Convention Center was a really pleasant surprise. The majority of the building has had its interior refaced as part of the expansion project. They’ve chosen vibrant and energetic colors trimmed by varnished wood paneling and under-lighting in the right places. They also added to sets of risers built into the sides of the staircases, giving a place for some moderate gatherings to have pictures taken of everyone in an orderly fashion. It was unfortunate that the construction wasn’t done. I would have liked to have seen what the final product would have been.
This had another unfortunate side effect of the convention being PACKED. Similar to Anime Expo 2012 when the X-Games flexed its superior marketing muscle in the area, the San Jose Convention Center had several new choke points for walking due to the work in the building and several places people usually stood were now off limits. There were several times where fans muttered, “So is this a one-way walkway now?”
The dealer’s hall, in my opinion, was all right. There were several new products I hadn’t seen before, however, it did seem like there were a lot of sellers with these same products. Trying to find something truly unique or new felt very difficult this year, at least if you weren’t in a position to pay well above retail to get them. I saw items I had a passing interest in, but I didn’t find a lot of things that were must-have items or missing from my personal collection.
I didn’t see many new sellers either.
This was easily the highlight of my weekend. I’m confident in saying that Fanime has some of the best cosplayers in the California circuit appearing in it every year. I see a lot of imagination and quality construction. They’re also very friendly and usually very accommodating to people with requests. I only had one group turn down a request because they were rushing to get to a private photoshoot. I can’t argue with that. It was unfortunate that the one group I was taking part in, the Marvel/DC group, was so widely attended that it was moved, which led to about 100 cosplayers filing through the convention center and taking over the courtyard on the Marriott side. There were some outstanding and obscure cosplayers who were so frustrated with the crowding that they left without having their pictures taken in the subgroups and requests.
There was one woman who held up the Sword Art Online gathering for about 8 minutes while she configured the cosplayers the way she wanted them. I found out later she was Fanime staff. While I respect trying to get the picture you want, someone really shouldn’t presume to take over a gathering she’s not a part of when there’s a bevy of people waiting to take a single photo.
I’ve never sold my art at a convention, though I often wonder about it. If I did, I hope I wouldn’t be stuck in a set up like this year’s Fanime. There were more artists than ever at the convention, but they were stuck in South Hall. South Hall is a tent-style hall that is behind the convention center. It was a hot and muggy environment. Though they received a fair amount of foot traffic, it did seem to me like they were being mistreated, especially when there was a hall that Fanime used for 4 food stands, sparse tables, late night archery, and the overflow line for the dealer’s hall.
This has become an expected part of Fanime where there are systems both new and vintage set up for people to use, as well as LAN networks, board games, card games, and arcade machines to use. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, though it's become another part of Fanime without significant changes in three years, it's become repetitive. I hope that next year, there will be some different machines added. Though, the taped grid for games of Ninja was a nice touch.
OVERALLUnused space in Exhibit Hall 1? Time for "Ninja!"
I’ve had a few times heading into Fanime that I almost wished I hadn’t gone in the first place. I was looking for inspiration to convince me that this was where I had to be next year. For me, I didn’t find it. The organization seemed harried and trying hard to keep up, but there was just something oddly lacking. People had fun, and so did I, but we felt that there was something oddly missing and keeping the weekend from being truly great and what we’ve come to expect from this yearly event. In the trade, I may have to miss next year due to a combination of money and my availability. I should feel worse about that than I do. I want to feel a need to come back. I hope there will be some early announcements next year to motivate me into putting the effort into the convention and show me that the people running it are also putting in that effort.
Though, we had a couple of interviews take place that were more interesting than I thought, and pending permission from one band's parent company, we'll put those up soon!
Memorial Day Weekend has come and passed, and what does that mean other than barbecues and paying homage to the brave soldiers who put their lives on the line of duty? Another Fanime has swept over the Silicon Valley. This year's event was full of surprises, some that were good and some that would go down in history as big mistakes the convention staff has ever made. With the construction work that has continued from last year's event into this year's, this convention continues to bring forth quite a bit of new spectacles that either amused or angered the fans that it intends to cater to.
Coming back to the San Jose McEmery Convention Center (now to be referred to as the SJCC from this point onward), FanimeCon hosts most of its panels and the main attractions of the Dealer's Hall and Gaming Room in this giant facility along with the various video screening rooms. Just like previous renditions of the event, most of the panels are hosted on the 2nd floor of the connecting Marriott hotel with the Dealer's Hall and Gaming Room being located towards the Hilton side of the center. The Dealer's Hall was fairly standard with special guests Little Kuriboh (known for the "Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged" series) and Yaya Han (renowned cosplayer and craftswoman) showing off their goods amongst a sea of anime, manga, and other Japanese goods throughout. A major change that people will have noticed at this year's Fanime is the re-location of the Artist's Alley from Exhibit Hall 1, which was converted to a 24-hour food market with a short demonstration of archery during the convention and played host to the Friday night Swap Meet, to a giant tent-like structure in the South Hall area to accommodate the increasing number of artists who applied to show off their work. However, I can agree with people who went to check it out and coming out slightly disappointed due to the dim lighting of the area, making it difficult to determine whether or not a piece was colored in a desired manner (not necessarily accurate). As per usual with the Gaming Room, there is an Arcade section where you are responsible for obtaining your own quarters for play (There are change machines if you need to break those paper Washingtons, Lincolns, Hamiltons, etc.) along with a variety of standard console and tabletop gaming. I should also note that Bushiroad, a Japanese card game company that has started making big endeavors in the West with Cardfight!! Vanguard and Weiss Schwarz, held tournaments and workshops for these two card games where participants could be rewarded with some nice souvenirs in the form of card supplies, shirts, and more. A little flyer was placed into the goodie bag that is received upon completing the registration/badge pick-up process that attendees can redeem from Bushiroad for a Sword Art Online Weiss Schwarz magnet.
Line for MusicFest or Cosplay Spectacular? Nothing compared to Registration.
Speaking of registration and badge pick-up, this is where one of the surprises pop up. Due to the construction still being done at the SJCC, registration was moved to the Fairmont Hotel this time around. On forums, social networks, and word of mouth, people were complaining about waits exceeding 5-6 hours. While the weather was not as warm as it was in previous years (I for one feel so grateful for the cooler weather the convention got this time around), there are reports of people experiencing fatigue while waiting in line for so long. However, if the volunteers and staff bothered to inform people that they can go complete the registration process over at the Doubletree Hotel, which played host to the partnered steampunk-themed convention, Clockwork Alchemy, free for all FanimeCon attendees, perhaps there would be fewer complaints about long waits. People who opted for this option that I have spoken to have told me that there was practically no line at the Doubletree despite them having the same registration database as the obviously understaffed Registration Department stationed at the Fairmont. A much more efficient information network amongst the staff and volunteers would have been appreciated amongst the fans.
As for accomodations, the SJCC is conveniently located near various hotels including the aforementioned connecting Marriott and Hilton. A lot of other hotels are within walking distance such as the Sainte Claire, Fairmont, Hyatt, and Ramada. Being offered at Fanime's discounted rates, the outlying Doubletree Hotel and Holiday Inn were also options for lodgings with shuttle service going back and forth between them and the SJCC. A variety of restaurants can be found throughout the area near the SJCC with a fair share of them being near the Doubletree and Holiday Inn. They cover a wide range of budgets with choices from fast food to sit-in, formal style.
Event-wise, Fanime has quite a lot to offer for a convention of its size. Stage Zero had performances ranging from cosplay showcases to live dancing and even accomodating fans of non-Japanese media with events like "Brony Morning." Panels ranging from fans enjoying the franchises they like to industry ones attracted quite a lot of attendees as usual. The main attractions of MusicFest and the Cosplay Spectacular (Fanime's take on the masquerade) continue to bring in large crowds to the point where people would line up several hours early just to be able to get some nice seats for the event, and in the few minutes before the event begins to seat people, the line will have looped around the block to the street right behind the large Civic Auditorium where these 2 big events are held. This year's MusicFest featured ROOKIEZ is PUNK'D and 7!! and had a large showing and cheering enthusiastic fans as usual. The Cosplay Spectacular was something left to be desired, though. In contrast to last year's martial arts demonstration, the opening act for this year's event was a live performance by Bay Area local band, The Trims. The sound seemed to be experiencing some difficulties at times, but overall, it was a pretty decent performance especially when compared to how bumpy the masquerade performances went. With a major change in the Cosplay Spectacular staff this time around, there was clearly a lack of information amongst the MC and the backstage crew especially when the first several walk-on performances were not even properly introduced because the MC did not have a script on hand until later. Technical difficulties such as missing and incorrectly timed audio pieces could be found throughout the duration of the event even to the point where one of the performances was given a second opportunity to shine.
Of course, Fanime has much to do and explore especially with its 24-hour schedule during its duration. For those who like to live the nightclub life (or at least have something close to it), the convention offered some nightly dances featuring various DJs. On the more elegant and formal side is the Black and White Ball, which was (un)fortunately scheduled in the same time slot as the Cosplay Spectacular. Of course, I did not go myself, but based on what I saw at the masquerade, I think I would have had a better time overall at the Black and White Ball (given I had a date). Autograph sessions were also done outside of the SJCC this time around because of the accursed ongoing construction.
All in all, 2013's FanimeCon was quite the bundle of surprises. A lot of attendees who came this year would not have expected to wait such a long time to be able to complete the registration process even though Fanime has been often compared to Southern California's Anime Expo for the past several years. Even so, Fanime's Registration Department in particular should have prepared for an ever increasing attendee count. A better information network would have been appreciated as several people including myself have noticed some confusion and shock amongst the staff when being asked questions about where certain things are located. Of course, one can still enjoy the convention if they choose to look beyond these problems in with such a wide range of programming and events. However, for people looking to attend a convention for the first time, you might want to look elsewhere. Those with experience who have yet to attend, I would say jump right in but do take caution due to various staff changes that have taken place. Regardless, I would confidently say that a lot of problems with this year's Fanime will be invalidated when the construction around the SJCC has been completed.
More photos can be found in our gallery here.