After spending some time in the smaller conventions in Southern California and waiting another few months, Memorial Day Weekend has come and go, and you know what that means. Being originally from the Bay Area, I feel Fanime is one of those conventions that I have an obligation to go to with its mixture of both locals and people afar and its nostalgic environment for those who have attended previously. However, this year's Fanime in particular is quite different from past ones I have been to, and it's not only due to the construction work being done around the convention center for renovation purposes.
Unlike the smaller conventions of Pacific Media Expo and Anime Los Angeles, Fanime is held not at a hotel but rather an actual convention center, the San Jose McEmery Convention Center (I will now shorten it to SJCC.) to be exact. With that being said, the SJCC is connected to the Marriott and the Hilton hotels. The main convention center hall contains the essentials of an event such as this: Artist's Alley, Dealer's Hall, and Gaming Room, all of which were well structured and organized. Fanime's Gaming Room in particular features not only tabletop and console games but also various arcade machines (You will have to pay to play, though, like an actual arcade.) The main hall also contains the video and dance rooms along with the exclusive attractions of Stage Zero and Fanimaid, Fanime's take on the popular Akibahara-style maid cafe. Panels are held in the connected second floor of the Marriott, ranging from fan panels to industry and Guest of Honor panels. Of course, the panel rooms are not created equal. The rooms designated for Panels #1 and #2 pale in comparison to that used for Panels #3 in terms of seating capacity and space, which is why the latter is used for panels Fanime knows are going to be popular such as the “Axis Powers Hetalia” Fan Panel on Day 3. For those looking into more action, Fanime's MusicFest (a concert featuring music artists straight from Japan) and Cosplay Spectacular (their unique name for the masquerade) are held in the Civic Auditorium across from the SJCC and the famed Black and White Ball was held at the nearby Parkside Hall this year. Another notable change is the shift of the Swap Meet to the Imperial Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel, a short walk from the SJCC.
As for accommodations, Fanime has a wide variety. Whether your choice of hotel is near or a bit far away from the convention, Fanime is most likely easily accessible from most hotels. Folks staying at the connecting Marriott and Hilton hotels will be really close while those in the Fairmont, Four Points, Sainte Claire, and Ramada will have a short walk. For those at the Doubletree and Holiday Inn, there are shuttles traveling back and forth, which is good news for those who attended the simultaneous Clockwork Alchemy at the Doubletree Hotel, a steampunk convention presented by Fanime which was free admission for those with Fanime registrations (I personally did not attend due to time constraints and the like.). In terms of food, there are plenty of choices. From fast food joints to premium restaurants, the area around the SJCC has much to offer for any budget all within a short walk away. For those who are considering the Doubletree, there are a couple of restaurants like Denny's in the area.
The music events this year were still quite impressive despite some changes. Stage Zero had performances worth checking out and provides a place to rest and relax from the rushing mobs walking around the SJCC and the area nearby. This year's MusicFest featured voice actress Aizawa Mai and Igaguri Chiba, the vocalist of Sendai Kamotsu, both of which gave some nice performances despite the former's lack of stage experience and the latter's situation of not performing with the rest of his band. Towards the end of the concert, a tidbit of a Vocaloid concert showed up on the dual screens in the Civic Auditorium. Speaking of which, the rising Vocaloid producer group Vocalekt Visions, now with support from Crypton Future Media's (the company behind the Vocaloids featured in SEGA's “Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA” video game series) CEO, Itoh Hiroyuki, and in a partnership with Vocaloid social networking site Mikubook, had a concert of their own at nearby Camera 3 Cinema that same night. At the event, Tempo-P spoke about how Fanime would not include his event into its programming, prompting him to rent the theater and host a charged separate event instead. The group also officially released its full album, “Vocaloid Vacation,” at the event. Its dance troupe, World Vocaloid Dance 01, was performing at Stage Zero as well as during the concert. With the Vocaloid phenomenon in the West having nowhere to go but forward, perhaps it is time for Fanime to consider following the steps of Anime Expo and host a Vocaloid concert for its attendees.
Along with the music events, Fanime has some more up its sleeve. The Masquerade was also quite enjoyable featuring cosplays and skits of various kinds from both recent and past franchises along with a standard far higher than that of masquerades at smaller conventions. Something that was unfortunate for some like myself is the simultaneous scheduling of the Black and White Ball, Fanime's very own formal dance event. I'm hoping Fanime would look back on this and notice it was a mistake to schedule two or more of their largest events at the same time. The dances that took place at night in the SJCC's ballrooms were still enjoyable despite technical difficulties occurring every now and then and slower than desired transitioning of DJs. Fanime also offered a variety of panels on subjects varying from current Japanese trends and the Western animation scene, to even Internet phenomena. Unlike my past experience with conventions that are held at hotels, I have found Fanime's transitioning between panels to be prompt and smooth for the most part despite long lines for some of the more popular ones. The Dealer's Hall and Artist's Alley are definitely more impressive than those of smaller conventions though I can't really say the same for the pricing of items. If cheap goods are what you were looking for, the Swap Meet had a large share of products for low prices.
As a large convention that is continuing to grow in terms of attendance, Fanime is getting closer to being the Northern Californian equivalent of Southern California's Anime Expo. I was informed of long waits in line for people picking up their badges for both pre-registration and at-con registration. Of course, there was a power outage on Day 0, but regardless, the increase in wait time is an indication of Fanime's growing popularity (For comparison, it took no more than 1-3 hours to pick up pre-registration badges in previous years. People this year have reported substantially longer waits of 4 hours or more.). Another thing to note about Fanime is its schedule. Unlike most conventions, Fanime has a 24-hour Gaming Room and screenings throughout the night. With this and the SJCC's close proximity to hotels, it is tempting for people to spend the night at the con. If you are new to the convention scene, I recommend that you be wary of Fanime for its large pool of offerings can be easily overwhelming. If you are a convention veteran, Fanime is definitely worth spending your Memorial Day Weekend at with its variety of events and programming.
More photos can be found here.
Henry Huynh (Rin Dunois)