This year at Otakon we cover the ongoing registration issues, the city of Baltimore, and of course cosplay, panels, anime music video contests, and raves!
Location makes or breaks a convention. Photo shoots need good diverse locations. Con-goers need food and drink (and alcohol) and bathrooms. Plus it wouldn’t hurt if the area had a diverse selection of high quality restaurants and fast food establishments. Baltimore delivers all this and more by hosting Otakon in the middle of its’ already bustling center city. The Inner Harbor, a tiny artificially straightened inlet of water, long since having lost its’ industrial roots now adorns the center of Baltimore with its’ picturesque walkways, attractions, shops, and restaurants. A perfect location to host Otakon’s own matsuri (kanji: 祭) as well as hundreds of photo-shoots throughout the weekend...
Make sure to also listen to our podcast on Otakon.
Comic-Con is handled a lot like the coach of your favorite sports team; If you like what Comic-Con does, it is praised as the Phoenix of the conventions, it is the Alpha and Omega of all that is. If you don’t like what Comic-Con does, it is treated as the Dark Phoenix of conventions, it needs to go away fast before it consumes what little goodwill you have left for it. In our case, it was Jeremy’s second year and Jesse and Steve saw this juggernaut for the first time.
Can something as large, crowded, and uncomfortable as Comic-Con be fun, or does it need an overhaul to make itself more desirable? Well, we can’t invite you to Hall H, but we can let you know what we did see. Let’s go through it:
Jeremy: We were lucky enough to grab our first pick for our hotel selection and we stayed at the Declan Suites. These rooms are very spacious. Each room is a mini-suite with one-or-two beds behind a separate wall and door.
We enjoyed the counter, table, desk, chairs, and couches that were available. It was the first time since 2006 I have shared a room with multiple places to sit that weren’t beds. The room even had two televisions, once in the living room and another in the bedroom. We were initially told that we would not be able to plug video devices into the back of the televisions in the rooms, however, in our room, we were able to plug in two devices. They are also renovating the rooms before next year’s convention.
The hotel lobby is relatively small. There are only three attendants available at the most, but the hotel is not large and there was rarely a long line of people waiting at any time during our stay. It also took time to get used to the lobby being on the 12th floor. The lower levels are parking. We didn’t have a chance to check out the pool (due to my overscheduling), but we did go to Deck 12, the restaurant in the hotel. They actually serve very, VERY good food for very affordable prices.
The consensus was that the Declan is on our list for Comic-Con 2015.
As for the shuttles, for the second year, NBC sponsored the shuttles, so all of the buses were full chartered buses. There were no school buses or uncomfortable rides. We were lucky in that the Declan's front door was around the corner from a shuttle stop. There was a problem I didn't encounter during my stay on Harbor Island last year in that the Green Line shuttles ran a zig-zag course through the heart of the Gaslamp up to the Convention Center's front door. Though the walk from the Declan to the Convention center isn't too long, having the shuttles available to take the load off is very helpful.
The drivers are (mostly) very courteous and professional. During Preview Night, the driver for my wife and I pointed out four places we should eat and gave us tips on how to move through the area on foot. I visited a couple of those places and the driver's advice was solid. I watched one driver help someone with three over-sized Hasbro bags load them underneath the bus.
Steve: As a first time attendee, I feel lucky that the Declan was my first hotel experience. Check-in was simple, though we did have to wait about 5 min as 2 of the 3 attendants were occupied and the 3rd seemed busy with paperwork. The elevator system could be confusing at first, since the lobby was on the 12th floor. The hallways were strangely warm, like near outside temperature warm, but once in your room, things were adequate. The room was large, comfortable, with plenty of seating and bed space. My only complaint with the room was the bathroom door/s. The only access to the bathroom was from the sleeping area, and the doors for both the sink and the toilet/bath/shower were sliding hollow wooden doors. Trying to be quiet and not wake anybody was challenging even when awake... done half asleep and I was surprised no one was throwing pillows at me. The shuttle system was a first for me, and while I found it convenient to get out of the heat and saving on foot pain, you could honestly walk the same distance in about the same amount of time as it took riding the bus.
Jesse: The hallways were unusually warm, like walking outside minus the humidity. I have found evidence of an air conditioning system in place and that it was working, but the temperature felt like it was just below the ambient outside temperature. This is certainly no deal breaker but it did feel a little odd despite everything else being air conditioned to an agreeable temperature.
The Declan is pretty far from the convention center and the nearby shuttle stop is a welcome treat. For those who traveled south, by car, to this congregation, the Declan is located only a few blocks from the highway with a gas station nearby. When all good things come to an end it’s nice to have an exit strategy.
Jeremy: Comic-Con International made a major change for registration this year. During prior years, all registrants would go to the Salis Pavilion at the San Diego Convention Center. This year, for Day 0, anyone who didn’t have a 4-day badge with Preview Night or Thursday Only badges had to go to the Town & Country for their registration package.
When I read that months ago, I thought that this had the potential for a disaster. Splitting registration personnel, trying to get supplies to two different locations, making people take a long shuttle ride from one location to the next. This could make the Anime Expo registration look like a dream.
It did not.
Two of us went to the Town & Country and was dropped off by car a bit away to make things easier for the driver… It took us longer to walk to the Town & Country than it did to register. Six minutes. Six minutes was all it took for us to enter the building to the time we walked out with our convention bag, booklets, and badges. The line barely stopped moving.
Comic-Con has managed to make their off-site registration very smooth with how they disperse people to the various registration personnel and make things move as fast as possible. Their staff were also very attentive to both questions and their surroundings. They were direct and courteous with people, as well as forceful when necessary to make sure things moved well.
Not only that, they beefed up their shuttles to this location for this day to keep things from becoming ridiculous. We must have waited behind 150 to 200 people for a shuttle ride, and we assumed our wait would be a couple of hours. Nope. It took about 40 minutes to get from the back of the line to sit on a shuttle and be on our way to the Convention Center.
I didn’t experience the registration at the convention center, so I will let the others talk about that.
In short, Comic-Con International, at both WonderCon and Comic-Con, has shown that they can consistently put on a convention with the slickest registration operation I have ever seen. They are the mark to beat and the format to copy, period.
Steve: I only had a pass to the convention for Friday and I wasn't feeling well that morning. I took my time getting down to the convention center and I was expecting to pay for my tardiness. I couldn't have been more wrong. After getting off the shuttle at Hall E and being directed to Hall B for registration, it honestly took me longer to fight through the crowd than it did to register. There was NO line and the only hold-up was the wait for me to dig my ID out from my wallet. I don't think I have ever had a registration that easy.
Jesse: Day 1 registration at the convention center was a bit confusing but, big signs and well informed staff point me in the right direction. I eventually found the line, thankfully it wasn’t line-con. It moved and quick pace, in hindsight I may have cut in during a line break, the staff is very adamant about keeping pathways clear and unobstructed.
The line began outside where you had to flash your con registration papers to staff before they allowed you in. From there we were directed to a pair of escalators taking us to the upper level. We were then directed by several more staff to an exhibit hall where the onsite registration was taken place.
The hall looked like a huge sweat shop factory, that isn’t a bad thing. There were plenty of staff directing con-goers to available registration clerks. After acquiring my badge I was directed to a row of tables where they had neatly prepared huge tote bags with the essential you would need for attending, including guide and lanyard, into a grab-and-go station. The whole process took less 10 minutes, maybe less. One added note, the organizers had the foresight to bring in several industrial air conditioning units pumping cool air into the hall keeping staff and con-goers alike comfortable.
Jeremy: The building, under normal circumstances, is cavernous. The San Diego Convention-Center (SDCC) is designed to feel very open. There is a lot of glass on the font side of the building and it lets in a lot of natural light that adds to what would probably be a very open feeling usually.
The second floor is all meeting space. There are several large and small ballrooms to hold meetings and/or panels. The back of the second floor is littered with patio space and staircases that are very good for photo shoots with a lot of light. There is also the Salis Pavilion, a large glass box that held most of the registration area, the primary signature areas and lines, and an area dedicated to portfolio reviews by a rotating roster of representatives of different companies.
There are several places that it is possible to get a snack or something approaching a full lunch inside the convention center, but, as with a lot of recent convention food reviews, expect to pay a premium to get something convenient inside the SDCC.
The lower floor is about ¾ of a mile of continuous available dealer’s space, and Comic-Con has put in as many booths as reasonably possible, including several oversized booths and a small area of tables for people to sit for at least a bit. Do not expect to hang out without a chair, though. I watched staffers tell anyone sitting on the floor to either find a seat or move on.
There is one last section to the lower floor, and that is the legendary Hall H, the largest panel room that I know if (and really have yet to see). Comic-Con has used Hall H, which could be part of the dealer’s space, as the place where their largest and most-popular panels occur such as movie panels, hit television shows, Kevin Smith, etc. The line for Hall H is so large, they don’t even have it in the building. They put it in a small grassy area next to it with a full set of tents and security to keep people in line and secure.
San Diego easily has the largest convention center in California and have approved another 225,000 sq. ft. expansion to keep it as the largest.
Steve: I was honestly impressed with the convention center. I was very spacious, clean and well lit. Even with as many people (and there were WAY too many) it wasn't difficult to walk where you needed to go, as long as you paid a little attention. Even with my backpack and a bag in hand, I wasn't having to shove or jostle anyone. For someone of my size, that's actually kind of rare. Once inside the Exhibit Hall, however, things got a lot worse. I still didn't have to push or shove to make headway, but there were instances where I had to wait or aggressively cut people off just to make it to a new aisle. I started walking with my backpack in front of me to make sure no one could grab anything inside... I would have never felt it with all the jostling from other con-goers.
Jeremy: You’ll notice again that this section isn’t called the Dealer’s Hall when it comes to Comic-Con. Not every booth in this room is going to sell you something. Several of them have items to show off ahead of their retail release or will have more signings than sales.
But, don’t think that makes this room easy to move through.
This year’s Comic-Con again reached its cap of 130,000 people, and that means that this building is stuffed with bodies. During this year actually did seem easier than last year to get from section to section of the map. However, with convention exclusives being offered at several of the large booths in the middle of the map, there was a lot of crowding in that area during most of the operational hours of the hall. This was added to when other booths had celebrities for signatures in their booths. This may be able to be to be alleviated if you moved these signatures upstairs to the Salis Pavilion since there were a lot of people holding signature sessions up there that had little to no visitors.
There is an expansion scheduled to begin in 2015 to the Hall H end of the building, but that doesn’t mean that more bodies wouldn’t be added since there’s more space to put people in, to say nothing of the likelihood of more booths for dealers.
There are people that do not like the layout of the hall, but I find it more convenient as it has definitive sections for buying of comics, toys, artists, and the central section of the larger exhibitors. It involves a lot less guess work as to where to find types of dealers. But, those dealers offer a wide variance of products and purposes. I contacted dealers who helped me with signings of older books, buying graphic novels and comics, artist prints, older toys, and convention exclusives of a lot of different kinds. I even managed to score a couple of convention exclusives of my own.
The Exhibit Hall can be very intimidating and frustrating to people that have a busy schedule, but if you put in a little time and effort, you will find things that will make you the envy of your circle of collectors.
Steve: The exhibit hall was worth all the crowding, though! I had seen the map that the convention had released prior to attending... that in no way prepared me for the actual size of it. I only had about half a day due to my tardiness, and I was severely rushed to try to see the whole thing. I wandered from booth to booth, happily geeking out over the displays, items for sale, or even just the atmosphere.
Jeremy: These panels are all industry-based. Even the panels with lower numbers of fans are being put on by industry individuals and are pretty well organized in general. There is a good knowledge by the staff that things staring late on a packed schedule can drive an entire group of panels late, and they work to avoid that pitfall.
I managed to get into a small number of the panels I wanted to visit, but I still didn’t feel like I wasted my time. I had interaction with comic creators and TV stars who hosted and starred in the panels. They featured a combination of news I heard before and reveals of characters and stories I haven’t heard of before.
Panels also tend to be one of the biggest draws of registration. There are a lot of people that want to rub elbows with their favorite stars, and this is as close as a lot of them get. It’s a valid reason to attend, as well. I was steps away from C.M. Punk in the Exhibit Hall, and I found out later that a person in a Spider-Man costume was actually Daniel Radcliffe in disguise. I also heard Jack Black was running around in a costume of his own.
All in all, going to the panels was a fun group of memories that feel irreplaceable.
Jeremy: Cosplay was even less prevalent this year that it was last year at Comic-Con. I don’t believe this has to do with cosplayers avoiding the convention, as the arranged groups were pretty large and fun. I think this issue has to do with the sheer amount of people who have come for products and signatures and aren’t cosplayers themselves who are in attendance. Whereas a lot of conventions probably have about 4 out of 10 people cosplaying, Comic-Con feels more like 1 out of 20-to-30 is cosplaying.
The busy nature of the building and lack of places to congregate inside without becoming a fire hazard also doesn’t help. Cosplaying by nature is an attention-seeking hobby, but San Diego Comic-Con does a good job itself of keeping people’s attention and doesn’t leave a lot of room for free time for those that are hungry for news and panels, let alone if you’re in line for Hall H.
There is a Masquerade, but there was so much going on, none of us visited it.
Lastly, there is also the proximity of a lot of the hotels to the convention. Due to the dense nature of traffic and the local populace in the Gaslamp, my shuttle ride that should have taken 9 minutes to the convention center took about 20 minutes. Not a bad time if you’re going once, but when you multiply that several times if you change costumes, your time in such a densely-packed building quickly diminishes, so the convention isn’t helpful to cosplayers who change multiple times per day.
Cosplay just isn’t a huge deal at Comic-Con.
Steve: The cosplay was varied and scattered throughout the crowd. I found a lot of the time I'd notice an interesting costume, but by the time I could point it out to my friends, the costume in question was already swallowed by the crowd. With all the crowding, stopping people to get a picture could be very inconvenient, rude or dangerous, depending on the location and time of day. The variety of costumes was very wide. Sometimes I found myself questioning if the person in question was wearing a costume for a character I was unfamiliar with (not unheard of!) or if they were just expressing their own personal style. I had a lot of fun just crowd-watching, as there was a lot to see.
Jeremy: These people make “no” a very acceptable answer.
Before you say, “Have you lost it?!”, let me explain.
I like dealing with the Comic-Con and SDCC staff. They are very courteous and considerate throughout my weekends here. I don’t mind when they don’t have the answer I want because they treat me with respect throughout my time there. (Before people ask, no, it’s not because I was listed as Press. Comic-Con denied my application.)
I don’t fear asking them tough questions or asking directions through the building because these people are well trained in how to deal with people and with the logistics of their departments. I wasn’t dragged from person-to-person to answer a “Where can I find-“ question. No one dismissed me or pushed me away when my problem wasn’t convenient. I heard “sir” a lot as people directed me from place to place.
In fact, two of us went outside near the Ballroom 20 line to take in the view and get some air. When I got a call to meet someone, we headed back inside, and on our way, one staffer asked us, “Hey, did someone save your place in line for you?” The staffer was actually concerned we were losing our place in line for a bathroom break. I was nearly floored that the guy seemed to care about our convention experience and it was Day 2 of the convention, after 1½ days of people already running around the building.
Like I said, even when these guys denied me something I tried to do, I was okay with it just because I was treated like a person, not a walking wallet or someone that didn’t matter since they already had my registration money. This is an organization that understands that their primary service is customer service and organization, and they offer that in spades.
Jeremy: San Diego’s Gaslamp District is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Several of the buildings definitely predate my lifetime, but a lot of buildings have either been refaced or been built recently. One of our shuttle drivers did say that just a lifetime ago, the area was pretty close to ghetto status. However, there has been a lot of construction in the area. Given the changes since the economic downturn, a lot of high-earning people have moved back to the city areas. Similarly to Los Angeles, there has been a lot of gentrification in the area, meaning a lot of condominium complexes and apartment buildings have recently been built.
However, also, similar to Los Angeles, the gentrification means there are some displaced homeless people wandering the area. Just a couple of blocks from my hotel, during a food run, I spotted two homeless people sleeping right off the street, as well as another that had an odd trance regarding a newspaper stand. This is not a place to tarry at all or you will find yourself in an awkward situation, at best.
Now, don’t think I’m getting down on the Gaslamp. A lot of the stores and areas of it are good enough to walk around in. Most of the bars have private security watching them and the restaurants are mid-to-high end places that can make you a savory plate of food. There is a lot to do in the area if you need a break, and that break could be almost as interesting as the convention.
Steve: I have to say, I was a little taken aback at first. A lot of the buildings in the area were undergoing renovation, others were modern and a few were very run down. There was a lot more vagrancy than I was used to, as well. I would suggest using common sense in unfamiliar areas, traveling with friends and staying on well traveled streets. The condition of the sidewalks with the overcrowding from the convention made navigation difficult at times, but was still preferable to walking down less well lit or traveled side streets without friends.
Jeremy: This place is much more fun than Downtown Los Angeles and L.A. Live. There are a LOT more bars and restaurants in easy distance from the SDCC. Those bars can run from a cost of about $12.00 per entrée to $17.00 per entrée, so if you are not one of the ramen-only-during-conventions people, you will need to budget yourself around $20.00-to-$25.00 per meal unless you feel like walking a half-mile every time you need an inexpensive meal. But, those bars add both ambiance and good food to your meal, so you should probably consider checking out the Restaurant Guide if you’re going to Comic-Con or not and pick some good places to eat.
Most of those bars also have different types of drinks that they serve, and a lot of have tailored their menus for the Comic-Con crowd. Take a night off and go to a bar for a good meal and a good drink.
Do yourself a favor and don’t spend all of your time in the building. Sometimes, you can make a unique convention memory when it’s you and your friends laughing for an hour and sharing some food.
Steve: I can't say I'm much of a party person. I'd much rather be at home curled up with a book or playing on my PC, but when at a convention, it's nice to get out and have a good time with your friends. Man, does the Gaslight have a lot of places to get out to! Bars, restaurants, ice-cream parlors, haberdasheries (I'm serious), you can find TONS of stuff to do. A lot of the businesses revel in the convention crowd, changing menu items, drinks, uniforms, window art – all to attract convention business. Make sure to remember a food budget, or you might have to settle for Subway, though.
Jeremy: There are still problems with this convention. Some of the smaller dealers are strongly considering not going to 2015 simply because they are being crushed by the weight of the larger booths and their large share of people’s spending monies going to convention exclusives. There are crowding issues, like when the Game of Thrones cast was doing a signing at the Warner Brothers’ booth. (Good luck with little things like walking around this area.) Convention exclusives are difficult to get and the Hall H line, for very popular panels, may require over a full day of your convention time, which is significant when you only have 4½ days maximum to do anything while those doors are open.
But, the positives far outweigh the negatives. There are so many things to do and see, and you are extremely likely to either flesh out your collection or start a new one in the fandom of your choice. This is your once-per-year unique convention experience. There are very, VERY, few things like San Diego Comic-Con. Even if you don’t make it next year, keep trying. One year’s frustration can easily be wiped away by going the next year. Trust me… It took me four years to get in the first time, and it was more than worth it.
Steve: I had a great time at this convention! If you take it at your own pace, and pick and choose your events wisely, there is much to see and do here. Even without a badge, there are plenty of events to see and participate in outside the convention. Experiencing the atmosphere is an event in and of itself!
Jesse: I have mixed feelings about my time at Comic Con. The large crowds are my chief complaint, but due to the large number of attendance it is an inevitable outcome. The staff was very professional, useful, and kept things running smoothly in spite of the number of attendance. The panel lines required a level of dedication that I wasn’t willing stand in line for, and I really wanted in on several panels. This was an overwhelming event for me and I was completely unprepared for it, but next time I will know what I’m getting myself into and be ready.
THE ROLLING 20’s
JEREMY, STEVE & JESSE
P.S.: Don't forget to visit our SDCC Gallery!
It has been a relatively cool weekend during the Anime Expo of 2014, though the humidity has been making this pretty sticky. It had seemed like after four years of arguably bad leadership and some questionable moves that have left groups of fans asking about the overall direction of the convention, that the organization was finally poised for a large-scale comeback and improvement. In the current year, there was a strong shift in the guests, layout, and panel balance. Has the Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in the United States, finally reached a second renaissance?
The hotel list is large, as it has been in previous years. (At least the Hotel Figueroa has been left off the hotel block again.) There were a couple of late additions I was curious to see, and if I knew they would have been available, that is where I would have stayed. Instead, I stayed at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live. As you guys know from previous reports, I usually try to avoid shuttle systems so I can have control over my own schedule, and the J.W. Marriott made that the most likely to happen.
Well, the rooms are still spacious and have good infrastructure. Actually, they upgraded the hotel Internet wi-fi to the point that you can add five wireless devices per room. As anyone rooming with other geeks can tell you, that’s important given the number of cell phones, laptops, gaming systems, and other devices people tend to bring. There have been modifications to the lobby as well. There are new chairs in the lounge area, the walls behind the front desk have been modified, and there is a model of the proposed Farmers Field addition to the convention center.
I know, you’re asking, why can’t I see what he’s talking about? Because the J.W. Marriott added a new rule this year that I wasn’t informed about going in; we are now not allowed to take pictures of ANYTHING on J.W. Marriott grounds. I was told by a staffer to put my camera away while I was at the pool taking pictures of conventioneers relaxing. After I complied, a couple of people came up to me and said they were told the exact same thing. Apparently, if you’re using anything more powerful than a cell phone camera, you are required to have media permission by the hotel itself. It would have been nice to know that going in. If I did, I would have gone to another hotel. The staff here has been increasingly difficult to work with over the last couple of years.
I had a few rooms with friends in them, and two of the rooms, on two different floors, reported seeing at least one cockroach.
While it is still a shiny, large, ornate hotel, I am going to need to find other places to stay if I come back for 2015.
The shuttle wait did seem long. I passed the Bonaventure via cab on my way to an event, and there was a line about half as long as the front of the hotel with no bus in sight. The buses were proper charter buses, with one wrapped in an advertisement for Sword Art Online – Season II, but there was a sense that the convention was overwhelmed in general this year.
Did you know that Fanime 2013 wasn’t the first convention known as Line Con? I didn’t know that until after this year’s Anime Expo. We had a feeling that the structure of registration wouldn’t change much from last year, so we handed out some water during pre-registration. Perhaps you saw me with a handcart full of five cases of water? I saw a large group of people waiting at 2:00 p.m. on Day 0. This line has the same problems as last year with a serious lack of sun coverage, especially if you come in the mid-afternoon. You can spend hours waiting under normal circumstances, but with the humidity I mentioned earlier, it was pretty miserable outside.
To make matters worse, the registration system stopped working about 20 minutes after registration opened. There were reports of people waiting nine hours to get a badge on Day 0. That is a shame given that when the registration system was finally working, they were processing attendees at a nice clip. This is an area where the Society for Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the company that owns and runs the Anime Expo, has finally put some serious work on this system and improved it.
This is the seventh year that the convention has been held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The returning AX Staff should have a great command of the building, but it felt like crowd control was not only loosened, it was downright gone. I know people without hotel rooms like the idea of being able of being able to sit in the convention center, and I am for that in moderation, but there was way, WAY too much room taken up by people sitting around in a lot of the available indoor floor space. I’m not very claustrophobic, but I didn’t like how difficult it was to walk.
Security was also inconsistent. There were bag checks at every open front door, and the back door to the lobby of West Hall was closed, but there were multiple places to walk into the building with no security whatsoever. These are the same gaps that had my 9-year-old daughter complaining last year.
I have read the story about the E3 convention refusing to negotiate with Los Angeles for future shows to take place after 2015, and after listening to their reasons, I can see why they are moving. The Los Angeles City Council signed a resolution in June to expand the convention center and add a 4,000-room hotel on the same blocks as the convention center. While that will certainly add to the appeal of the area, I have questions as to what happens to the available space during construction? Will the West Hall be completely offline for a period? Will the planned hotel be connected to the Pico Bridge? Will the bridge be unavailable?
Could we be staring at a situation similar to Fanime 2013 with public areas made tighter due to construction?
Expect MSP to have keep researching the status of the LACC expansion project.
The Dealer’s Hall map turned into a double-edged sword.
You see, there was a large number of dealers taking up 3/5 of the available exhibit space of the South Hall space. The walking lanes, with the exception of a couple of central walkways, measured about 10 feet. That walking space is quickly swallowed up because there was a burst in registration. That influx of people made walking difficult, at best.
There were dealers selling a gamut of figurines, collectibles, and related items. You could also buy corsets, specialty clothes, travel packages and items, and convention exclusives at large dealer booths near the front of the convention center. I was wondering why all of the larger booths, which often involved convention debuts and exclusives, were at the front of the Dealer’s Hall. They can create a logjam of people without really trying and making it difficult to get to the doors to exit when you are ready to leave.
In addition, Artists Alley was at the rear of the Dealer’s Hall. The layout meant that I didn’t even have a chance to visit it for a look until mid-morning on Day 4. It’s not conductive to shopping when high dollar items are between the doors and the artists, making it possible to spend a large amount of your budget before you see the artists.
While the AX has wanted to have a major increase in foot traffic, there was no plan in place to account for the increase in bodies. In turn, shopping became more difficult. There was a few times I was swept away from tables before I could take an adequate look at what was on a table. The room was so dense that I didn’t like trying to buy some figurines for fear they would be damaged by incidental bumping. I didn’t buy anything at all on Day 1 since I needed to come up with a plan to protect the items I wanted to buy.
Even more confounding to me is that a large section of the room that the Dealer’s Hall sat it was walled off and unused. I thought the area could be used to house a large number of people waiting to register, but another attendee mentioned that the tables for seating in the Dealer’s Hall were gone. That makes this empty space not just useful, but necessary.
One dealer even took to the AX Forums to report that security was non-existent in the hall and he suffered unusual shoplifting losses.
Thankfully, there were more fan panels this year. There were many more types of panels that had news from your favorite companies and production companies, and panels involving the many voice actors, directors, artists, and cosplayers. On paper, this was a great year for an anime fan to drop into Los Angeles and meet some of the latest and greatest in the industry.
You see, the SPJA was relying heavily on a mobile app called Guidebook. I downloaded it myself and it is useful. You can filter out the types of panels, view a day’s schedule at a swipe, and get updates in the schedule. But, the AX would frequently move, reschedule, or cancel panels and felt justified in doing so with little-to-no notice. Just in the time it would take for me to walk from the J.W. Marriott to the Los Angeles Convention Center, the location of a panel could be changed and it was portrayed as my fault I didn’t frequently check Guidebook to make sure it was in the same place every 15 minutes.
There were also frequent panels and signature sessions being cut short. It is not clear if this was a problem with the guests or the organization as far as the signature sessions. One fan mentioned that the English voice cast of the 90’s Sailor Moon series not only started late, but had no assigned moderator, so the panel felt rushed and disorganized.
According to one account, a signing with the voice actresses playing the lead in Kill la Kill started late, signed approximately 50 autographs each, and then left, leaving hundreds of fans feeling cheated. Questions asked of staff were met with dismissive remarks that included four-letter words.
The number of attendees has risen, but the ratio of cosplayers seems to have dropped. The Anime Expo used to be a place where it seemed like 1-out-of-4 people was in a bright, detailed costume. While there were more cosplayers planning out cosplay for every day of the convention, there was a feeling that there were many fewer casual cosplayers around.
The fan-run gatherings also ran into multiple problems. The first is that the Anime Expo moved a lot of lines for panels outside into areas where the cosplay gatherings typically, almost traditionally, took place. A lot of groups were displaced and forced to areas without sun coverage or weren’t suited to allow the cosplayers to properly gather.
The lack of sun protection became the second problem. When cosplayers moved locations, several were too uncomfortable to spend extended time in direct sunlight and would leave at either the beginning of the group, or prior to photos even being taken. The third problem was that it seemed that organization was missing. Gatherings would suddenly have multiple leaders with different ideas of what the cosplayers and photographers were looking for.
I didn’t run into a gathering during the entirety of the weekend that was either in the place it was supposed to be or didn’t disintegrate quickly.
There are always some standout cosplayers at the Anime Expo. Some people come up with very imaginative cosplays or cosplays where it is obvious they spent many hours perfecting their craft. If you are interested in watching cosplayers, though, I would say that Fanime or WonderCon is the place where you are more likely to feed that habit.
The staffers have been a sore spot for years for the Anime Expo. I have frequently had issues with the staff over the last few years and called them under-trained and rude. I can’t tell you how much I wanted that to change. That change has not come.
Several staffers you ask the same question of can have radically different answers. One panel I tried to visit was moved. I asked where it went, and was pointed in a direction. I made it to that location and asked for the panel host. I was pointed in another direction. I went outside per instructions, and another staffer told me the man was inside. Firstly, someone was with me to watch this debacle. Secondly, I only found the man I was looking for because I came across him myself after I went inside.
You likely read above that a staffer swore at attendees who were upset over the shortened signature session of the Kill la Kill actresses. This is the second year in a row that a staffer has not kept his vocabulary under control when under pressure.
While Downtown Los Angeles has undergone gentrification, there is still a sense of danger somewhat pervasive in the area. Off the Figueroa Corridor (the area of Figueroa Avenue between 2nd Street and Pico Boulevard), the area can turn sour within a couple of blocks. To counter this, the police presence in the area is pretty strong. Still, it is not the most secure area when it is surrounded on three sides by some pretty questionable areas, especially closer to the LACC.
There are a lot of eateries nearby, however, many of their menus and prices are tailored to the people working in the high-rises or living in expensive condos in and near the area. You can find good food pretty easily, but you have to specifically set money aside for the menus or you can find yourself eating ice cubes very quickly.
While I haven’t run into any issues personally, I do see how the area can be harsh for those unused to life in large cities.
There is actually quite a bit to do if you look around. There’s a few night spots in a decent walk including restaurants like the Yard House, bars and grills like Casey’s Irish Pub, and a couple of late night spots like the rooftop bar at the Bonaventure Hotel.
The convention has set aside rooms for evening and late dances. At 10:00 p.m. each night of the convention, the dances changed gears and become 21-and-over spots. I did not have an opportunity to step into the dance due to a rule that AX Management would only let press inside with permission prior to the convention. One friend who enjoys the environment mentioned that they would not allow you to carry water inside as a security precaution, but they didn’t give out any water inside, either, leaving people very thirsty. If you leave the dance, you had to stand in line all over again to resume your groove.
The other night life at the convention is Lounge 21. This room I did visit and this is a more laid back environment. People sat on couches and talked while there was a spotlight on the main stage for a panel. I didn’t think it was the kind of environment that would be friendly to such a panel, but there were rows of people listening and attentive. There were also lines of people waiting for drinks served by bartenders. Think of it as having the social qualities of a club without the mind-thumping bass lines.
I really thought I was going to be proven wrong this year. I watched the announcements for months and went from mild disappointment to the hope that the people in charge were finally firing on all cylinders and about to push the Anime Expo to a new era of being able to balance fan needs with industry advertising wants.
Instead, this year, I ran into 3 different people who said this was their first-and-last Anime Expo. They weren’t interested in returning. I met some long standing fans that felt they had had enough and didn’t like paying for badges and tickets. I watched gatherings of cosplayers be moved multiple times just to gather as fans, and then end up losing half their group in the moves. And, inexplicably, I saw empty space in the convention center completely unused.
Everything is bigger for AX in 2014; the attendance, the Entertainment Hall, the Dealer’s Hall, the disappointment, the resentment, and the disorganization. I have no idea if the Anime Expo has the momentum to grow after this year, but they need to do something measured and energetic before people decide that there are other places to go, and quickly.
Anime Expo 2014: Ever growing but can it keep up?
Another July 4th weekend comes another Anime Expo. Being held once more at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) in Downtown Los Angeles, California, Anime Expo (AX) brings with it a guest lineup consisting of large names from both overseas and domestically as they have been doing as the largest American anime convention. With these guests also come the wide range of events including industry and fan panels, musical performances, and other attractions for people to enjoy during the 4-day weekend. If one chooses to disregard issues regarding registration, lines, and the like, they will find themselves for an overall pleasant experience at the ever growing AX.
Being located in Downtown Los Angeles, AX attendees will find that they have quite the number of options for accommodations and food. With hotels scattered about in the area, there are many choices for people to choose for their lodgings for the event. Attendees should not fear of being too far away from the convention when choosing the more distant and less expensive options as a 24-hour shuttle service is offered starting from Day 0. Of course, attendees should also keep in mind that shuttles can get very busy during peak hours, so they should take that into consideration when choosing when to travel to and from the convention center. Food options are pretty varied ranging from nearby food trucks for the sake of convenience to various sit-in cafes, restaurants, diners, and more scattered throughout the downtown area that should fit just about all budget ranges. A few stores can also be found within a half-mile to a mile radius should you need certain items from certain locations.
Included amongst their other attractions are the ticketed events of the Masquerade and various musical performances. These will not disappoint too much if you can get over slight hiccups in getting the actual event started. Premiere screenings of newly released anime like "Sword Art Online II" were held at AX, and while they might be something people want to check out because of a desire to see something before everyone else does and being able to brag about it, they tended to get a bit too chaotic in terms of crowding and noise level to the point where some people might find it hard to enjoy such screenings. Of course, people can also take a break and go to AX's regular screenings held throughout the convention up to a certain point in the evening before resuming again in the morning of the following day (Be aware that AX is not like Fanime and does not have 24-hour programming despite having 24-hour shuttle service.). For those who like to buy some goods, the grand Exhibit Hall in the South Hall of the LACC consisting of both the Artist's Alley and Dealer's Hall should not disappoint with talented artists and both big name and local vendors. One can also find distributors and the companies behind the goods themselves within this large hall during the event like Good Smile Company, Bushiroad, Aniplex, and more. Also, for those who are intent on just browsing and buying goods and nothing else, you may choose to get in line for a wristband after 4 PM of each day that will grant you access to ONLY the Exhibit Hall. Of course, due to high demand for certain goods throughout the event, getting around the Exhibit Hall can be likened to traveling down the nearby I-10/CA-110 interchange during rush hour. It's just too crowded to move around and browse in a comfortable manner. Some other quick notes I would like to make about the Exhibit Hall is the presence of counterfeit goods despite the presence of the manufacturers themselves at the venue and the appearance of non-anime/non-Japanese culture related figures like Riot Games. Yes, non-Japanese media like "League of Legends" are definitely popular, but we should stop to ask ourselves: Is an anime convention like Anime Expo really the right place to feature such things?
Being such a large and prominent convention, AX tries its best to deliver quality programming. This year, they decided to bring in big names like Aoi Eir (the singer of the first "Kill la Kill" opening, "Serious"), Danny Choo, members of the voice cast for the original English localization of "Sailor Moon," Urobuchi Gen, and many other talented members of the anime industry. Something that AX has started doing this past year's event is introducing the "Cosplay Senpai" program, featuring rising cosplayers, both local and overseas, to promote the hobby. With these guests also comes the staples of panels and musical performances, ranging from those featuring big industry names to those ran by fans. The more anticipated panels featuring famous guests will see ridiculously long lines and will fill up every seat in the rooms they're hosted in, so for people who wish to attend such panels, they should look into lining up hours ahead or look into purchasing a Premier Fan Registration, allowing one to get into panels before regular attendees. Of course, these panels have a tendency to end later than intended, causing delays for panels throughout the convention. Technical difficulties are rare occurrences, though. Of course, with such highly anticipated guests and programming, Anime Expo 2014 in particular saw a jump in attendance, and the registration department just could not keep up especially on Days 0 and 1, during which people were looking at a 4-6 hour wait to get their badges before being able to enjoy the convention in its entirety. Combined with the hot summer weather of Los Angeles, the registration lines made for a disgusting start for the July 4th weekend this time around for most people.
Anime Expo 2014 may have had various problems with lines for registration and popular events, but once people get past that, they should be able to enjoy the wide variety that AX has to offer as the largest American anime convention. With guests from all over representing various aspects of Japanese animation and other related media alongside a grand Exhibit Hall and a large entertainment facility that caters to gamers, cosplayers, photographers, and more, AX will definitely have something in store for fans of such media to enjoy. Of course, until AX can improve crowd control, being able to fully enjoy the convention is but a pipe dream. It is definitely not a convention for first-timers and will definitely put quite the mental and physical tax even on veteran convention attendees, but looking back on it, the fatigue may very well be easily worth the experience.
Rin Dunois (Azurin)
By Manny Nolasco
Words can't describe the amount of hype I had for Anime St. Louis (ASTL) 2014, held in Collinsville, IL. It was around this time last year, when my best friend, Cory Smith, brought up the idea of visiting last year's ASTL event. At the time, we were playing electro-house music on his brother's Pioneer DJ equipment, and I thought his idea was just a "spur-of-the-moment" suggestion. But as soon as he told me that we would split gas and the hotel fees, I was immediately sold. The first time I even heard of anime conventions, was in my high school Japanese class back in 2005. Back then, my focus was on getting into a good college and then obtaining a job after graduating. Little did I know, 8 years later and ASTL 2013 would be my FIRST anime/cosplay convention to ever attend! So with all the excitement, wonderful memories, and friends gained along the way, ASTL 2014 was easily my most anticipated convention for this year. Let's hope I don't try to introduce too much bias.
First Arrival and Impressions
With an ever growing, but already massive attendance, ASTL 2014 was no exception. Upon my arrival, were two lengthy, but well organized lines: one for pre-registration, and the other for regular. Just like the previous year, the staff at ASTL never cease to amaze me by their coordination, experience, and friendly personalities. Typically, regular registration is often thought as nightmarish and tiresome when considering the long lines and crowded hallways; however, I'm pleased to announce that this was not the case at ASTL 2014. Directions were announced by staff members through megaphones/loud PA systems, and attendees would gladly cooperate. In fact, they even had a separate booth for press like myself to pickup badges, when normally I would have to stand in the preregistration line at other conventions. Its comforting to know when you can count on consistent quality service, which means everyone gets to start the fun a lot sooner. Below is my buddy Jeff, who I met and befriended from last year's Natsucon (he was also part of ASTL's staff this year):
Armor with Zelda Master
As someone who's currently in the works of making his own custom samurai armor with polyurethane foam and other store bought materials, this panel caught my attention. I was even more joyed when I saw the familiar face of one of the cosplayers who entered and won her division in the 2013 Natsucon Cosplay Contest (see picture below). Unfortunately, I just caught the last half of her panel, which means that I didn't catch her name or the information she provided at the beginning. But I did have the opportunity to ask the question, "What tips do you have for sealing paint on EVA or polyurethane foam from chipping over time or when armor bends?" Her response was that paint sealant or Gesso should do the trick. She did forewarn me that I should wear a respirator or be outside when using chemicals with strong fumes, and that the armor may harden substantially in the process. Mobility may become an issue when armor hardens. This is especially important to know for those wanting to paint flexible armor, like the space suit "Commander Shepard" wears in Mass Effect, the video game. Otherwise, I also learned that putting on armor is a separate issue in itself, one that may require the assistance of your friends/family if possible. It's also a good idea to bring either some black duct tape, or a hot glue gun, in case pieces come off and you need to make some repairs back to the hotel room.
Normally, I would say that all the fun at an autograph signing only occurs at the moment of receiving the autograph, which is short lived in itself. Waiting in line for Matt Mercer's autograph (voice actor for "Leon S. Kennedy" from the Resident Evil video games and animated movies), was the exception to this rule. It's not everyday you get to stand next to a cosplay of an Iron Man suit, fused with colors and parts from Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine van (see picture below). Behind me were also some fans of the Fire Emblem series for the Nintendo 3DS (me being one myself). As we got to talking, I revealed to the others in line, that my goal was to get Matt's autograph for Cory, who could not attend ASTL 2014 due to a conflicting Russian class held on Saturdays. It was my way of saying "thanks" again for bringing me to my first anime convention a year ago. To my surprise, Matt was just as animated as his character, Leon, as he eagerly shook my hand and said that he was glad that I stopped by. After asking him the favor of addressing his signature to Cory, he then jokingly said to me to tell Cory to drop the Russian class and see him next time! Checkout Matt's autograph for my friend in the picture below:
Having attended the "18+ edition" of this panel at Natuscon last year, I honestly didn't know what to expect at ASTL 2014. So let me say this: "What happens at Anime Hypnosis, stays at Anime Hypnosis." Just joking, but seriously, the adult version was a "unique" experience. I even thought this year's panel was going to be for older audiences only, but to my appreciation, it was family oriented and everyone could be part of the fun! Now to those new or inexperienced to hypnosis, in order for it to work, you have to be open-minded (this is coming from myself, having been doubtful, but tried as a participant of Anime Hypnonsis). The "Great and Powerful Brando", leads this exercise by introducing himself and his credentials, and then proceeds to select 20 or more volunteers to undergo live hypnosis (see YouTube video link below - *this was uploaded by a volunteer from Brando's group, not MSP). Brando then proceeds the initiation, by speaking in a slowed, softer voice that is both soothing to hear, and easy to follow. The volunteers then undergo a repetitious group of varied, calming exercises, broth breathing in slowly and counting to 10. As instructed, they cotinue to imagine that they're sitting on a cloud made of their most precious memories. After awhile, even to those not yet convinced, this does sound like trippy stuff. But if you follow along and remain relaxed, your body will start feeling lighter, and more responsive to Brando's commands. It's an experience that is truly unique in itself, and one that requires more than seeing to believe, but experiencing the moment as well. If you ever have the chance to attend Natsucon or ASTL in Collinsville, IL, definitely checkout the Great and Powerful Brando, and see what his hypnotic experience has to offer.
Saturday Morning Cartroons with Kevin Bolk
Of all the panels held at ASTL 2014, this was by far my most favored/anticipated event! Having attended this panel last year, I was pleased to see the familiar Saturday morning cartoons I grew up with a kid, or learned about for the first time. The funny thing about last year's event, was that Kevin originally thought he only had an an hour and thirty minutes reserved for his panel. After some technical difficulties, he proceeded with his presentation under the idea that he only had an hour left and was going to have to cut his panel short. It wasn't until an attendee brought to everyone's attention that he actually had 2 hours reserved, and the party continued. Having all this said, this year was no exception-minor issue with needing audio cables-but only in "tradition" like fashion, as we still had ample time to cover the same shows and we all knew Kevin had 2 hours. Unfortunately, it was too dark for me to take adequate pictures or video, but here are some shows you can look up on YouTube from his panel: Silverhawks, Potato Head Kids, Dino Riders, Ghost Busters (the Scooby Doo-like, non-traditional version), Thunder Cats, S.W.A.T. Cats, Little Rosie, and many more!
Little Kuriboh Unabridged
Prior to attending his panel, I was only familiar with Little Kuriboh's work with Team Four Star, as he voiced both the narrator and the character "Freeza" from Dragon Ball Z: Abridged. Little did I know, that his greatest work is actually Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, as he voiced characters "Yugi", "Joey", and "Tristan". As a kid, I was more of a Pokemon follower than Yu-Gi-Oh!, which sorta explains why I was out of the loop on this abridged series. But after watching several episodes now, I'm thoroughly impressed with the variations and method to Little Kuriboh's voice acting. The greatest statement by Little Kuriboh during his panel, was that the original series of Yu-Gi-Oh! is quite comedic in itself. Having that said, this gave him the inspiration to build off this quirky humor, and expose the potential for harder laughs from both himself, and the audience of Yu-Gi-OhI The Abridged Series. Overall, I'd say Little Kuriboh as a person-Martin Billany is his actual name-seemed like a cool guy to get to know. He was very humble in his response to his audience, and constantly reminded us that if it weren't for the fans, he wouldn't be hosting a panel today. Without going into detail, Kuriboh also revealed that shortly before his show, he was personally going through "dark times", and the show gave him an outlet to focus on something positive. Eventually, his show opened more doors for him, as one opportunity led to another. I'm just glad to have been part of his panel, and in a way, you can too by watching this video below:
This was my first cosplay masquerade, and frankly, I didn't know what the difference would be when compared to a cosplay "contest". Unfortunately for me, this was more like a "baptism by fire" than a gentle initiation. Cosplayers would appear randomly and quickly on stage, coming from either the left or right side with little to no indication in advance. Some cosplayers took time to pose, and would even walk to the far end of the stage, which was closer to the audience. This is the kind of routine that I'm used to; however, some cosplayers would dart out from either side of the stage, do a little twirl or body action, and then quickly go behind the curtains for the next contestant. As I did not expect this kind of spontaneity, I have fewer pictures than usual as some came out blurred or had bad composition. By all means, this isn't a criticism of the coordination of the masquerade or the cosplayers themselves, but rather an observation, but more importantly, a learning experience for me. I wasn't prepared for some cosplayers to pose, while others actually conducted a 1 - 2 minute skit. If anything, next time I'll be more prepared and hopefully have more to offer you in terms of pictures and video. I would say that I was impressed with the turnout of cosplays at this event and here is a taste of the gallery that will be posted soon:
Okashi Fashion Show
At last year's ASTL, I just captured the last bit of the fashion show, and didn't have a camera on hand. I was not going to make the same mistake again. So this year, not only did I attend the entire show, but I came prepared with a Tamron 70-300mm lens. This means that I could take long distance photos without getting in the view of other audience members. I'm personally impressed with the turnout of this year's models, both in the variety in outfits, and with the overall presentation. Some of the newer additions to this year's show, was that fashion varied from melancholy Lolita, to street clothes of Shibuya or Tokyo. We even have one guy in the show! I feel that the pictures can say the most, so here's a brief selection of the models themselves (a full gallery on the way):
Q&A with Matthew Mercer and Marisha Ray (Voice Actors)
Matt and Marisha were a blast to talk to. I opened up the audience Q & A with the first question addressed to Matt, "How do you go from the 'Guns blazing, Leon S. Kennedy (a main character from the Resident Evil video game series in which Matt does the voice of), to the humble but chivalrous Chrom?" Matt's response was that he believed that there was overlap between the two characters; although, he openly admitted that Chrom has better success with the ladies, but also with people in general when compared to Leon. Leon also has a darker sense of humor and tends to travel alone, causing Matt to slightly vary the tone and approach to when voicing between the two characters. I immediately added a follow up question, asking if Matt was contacted first for Chrom's role, or if he tried out for the part. It turns out that he did audition for the role; however, he provided some insight on the audition process itself. Apparently, sometimes when applying for a role, the title of the project isn't announced, so as the voice actor, you're told that you're applying for a role in "project 269X", or something like that. Then based on your performance, you'll either be assigned or asked to voice a certain character within that project, which later the actual name of the show or video game is released. If you'd like to hear a sample of Matt's voice, click on the video below:
Here's Matt's intro to Anime St. Louis 2014!
I was less familiar with Marisha as a voice actress; however, I did remember her from her role in "1,000 Ways to Die" on Spike TV. It's a tough to act to follow when you're sitting next to the jovial and comedic Mattew Mercer, but she certainly held her own and had added interesting insight to herself as a person, and as a voice actor. As a hobby and part of her daily regiment for acting, she currently takes martial arts from a retired Marine instructor - whose name escapes me at the moment. Based strictly on her physical appearance, she said that she is often confused for "Avril Lavigne" or sometimes "Felicia Day". Aside from her hair style/color, I can only vaguely see the resemblance with Felicia, but Avril definitely. In addition to martial arts, she also plays D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) - which Matt does as well. As a fan of the fantasy genre, she struck me as someone who is well versed in the lore and can relate to her fans on an intimate level - more than just someone who does the voice of the characters. For me, she was definitely a treat to listen to and get to know about her as a person, and a voice actress. Here's a picture of Marisha:
Star Wars Costume Group (The 501st , Rebel Legion, and More!)
The first time I was introduced to the 501st and the Star Wars costumers, was at last year's ASTL. I was overwhelmed by the detail in the costumes, to the hum of the lightsabers. Even more so, I was impressed with the "family-like" relationship that the members have, and the charity work the troop does, aside from social appearances. For specific details, click here to read my blog/interview with group representative, William Homes ("Bill"), as we discuss the finer points of what it means to hang with this group:
This year's panel really focused on the detail put into wearing the costumes, and tips/tricks when it comes to costume safety. For example, you might think it's cool to wear an all white "Stormtrooper (TK329) armor"; however, did you know about the amount of bruising, limited eye vision, and overheating issues associated with the costume? Richard Heffernan, friend to Bill and representative of the local Rebel Legion costuming troop, discusses the lesser known aches and burdens of wearing the infamous gloss-white armor (see picture below). Apparently, it's not uncommon to experiencing bruising at the joints of the armor. Your vision is limited to two small oval shaped slots covering where your eyes would be. And then there's the issue of overheating, which as Bill revealed that he almost had an issue of passing out at an event and had to temporarily excuse himself from. I was glad to see the group again for another year and excitement for years to come. For links on how to contact the different Star Wars costuming factions, please see my article/blog link above as all of this is included.
Interview with Happy Badger Studio (Indie Game Developers)
My relations with Happy Badger Studio started last year when Cory introduced me to them at ASTL. I saw them again at Natsucon 2013, but this time had the opportunity to ask questions at their panel. Because I was among the first to ask questions, I was awarded this awesome swag for a t-shirt, which I consistently wear to my work on Mondays and Fridays - if you get what I mean (let's be happy!). This year was no exception in seeing the entire group and what looked like a couple newer members? As listed in the title, Happy Badger Studios is a group of Indie game developers, that consistently crank out quick, but fun mini games that you can download on Steam and through other venues. Mobile gaming has started to become a trend with them as well, as some of their games can be found on the iPhone App store and Android. Below is our interview with Happy Badger Studio, but you can also check them out directly at their website: http://happybadgers.com/
There's this unwritten rule about conventions: "No matter how great the biggest convention you'll ever attend, it will never match that of your first con." Some con-goers might not believe this, but I for one do, and Anime St. Louis 2014 was another reminder for me to why this holds true. The funny thing is, I'm not sure of even any future experience at ASTL can top my first time with them. But for me, in the end it's not about how grandiose the panels or guests are. It's the experience, memories, and making new friends, while catching up with others, is why I go to conventions. Yeah, I didn't have time to go to the "Maid Cafe'" or try my luck at the "Doki Doki" speed dating, and Cory wasn't with me. But I did run into another close high school friend, Nathaniel Stepney - we used to do Karate together. I also got to meet voice actor Matt Mercer and pickup his autograph for a friend. So overall, if I had to rate this convention, I'd give it "two thumbs WAY up" and my seal of approval. I think by now, ya'll know I don't like to give number scores, because I believe this is subjective and can sometimes be misinterpreted upon evaluation. I like how the overall experience was family oriented, and yet there were some "18+" panels for those like myself, require mature audiences. I think the spirit of ASTL, can be summed up in this group chant of the Pokemon theme song, led by none other than our friend, Rodney, (lead coordinator and liaison to Cosplacon, held in Jefferson City, MO.)
Thanks for reading this in-depth review of Anime St. Louis (ASTL) 2014! I had a great time returning to my first convention, but for the second time, while meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones. I will be posting the complete gallery of both the cosplay masquerade and fashion show. I will also upload the full interview with our friends at Happy Badger Studios on both our MSP YouTube channel, and embedded within this article - stay happy!
Again, huge SHOUT OUT to the amazing guests, staff, and panels at ASTL! I hope to see everyone again, including YOU, at next year's ASTL. Until next time, this is Manny or "ThatCosplayGuy" signing off!
^^As for my cosplay in the picture above, I decided to change things up from "Kirito" (from S.AO.) to being a jet fighter pilot.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can interact with me and other cosplayers at thatcosplayguy.com.
I have been trying to get to WonderCon for the last couple of years. Granted, the sudden and forced move to Southern California should have made it easy, but it wasn’t easy to shift money and time around between my day job and my family to make it possible. This year is the third year WonderCon has been in Anaheim, and things have finally worked out so I could get my oversize self to the second largest convention in Comic-Con International’s cycle. I’m a big fan of the product in San Diego, but does this displaced middle child live up to its big brother? Time to finally find out.
There is no shuttle system at this convention due to the compressed nature of the nearby hotels around the venue.
There are several hotels on the same block as the Anaheim Convention Center. There’s a Sheraton, a Hilton, a Marriott, and a few other non-chain hotels nearby. As I looked at the skyline, I noticed that north and south of Convention Center Way, there are new hotels that look to be finished before the end of the year.
I managed to snag one of the last reservations at the Anaheim Hilton. The last time I stayed here was in 2006 for the Anime Expo and there have been a myriad of changes. The fountains in the lobby have been removed and the floor is now level. There’s a lot of seats and tables and a bar added to the central lobby. The hotel used to be decked out in blues and whites, and they have shifted toward copper and earth tones.
There have been more additions and subtractions to the pool area. A lot of the plants that were used as backdrops for the Dead or Alive Xtreme groups in the day have been removed. The bar/grill outside of the pool has been beefed up and there’s a workable menu on it. Some of the raised garden area and all of the trees are gone. However, they have expanded to two hot tubs next to the pool, and they have a kids’ water playground.
The rooms are very spacious. We had dual queen beds to accommodate bodies and there was more than enough room to stretch out. The bathrooms were all right, though there was no exhaust fan in the bathroom, so a hot shower makes your mirror useless for half an hour and, as with some more modern renovations, there is no actual lockable door on the bathroom; it has one of those odd sliding doors. It’s something that isn’t bad as long as you keep a simple rule; if the light is on, don’t go near it.
It’s a solid hotel, though I miss the prior fixtures in the lobby.
Although this convention is run by Comic-Con International which has run the slickest registration process I have ever seen, we have seen that conventions run by the same management group can have different problems. (Otakon rocks, but Japan Expo USA, which has some of their managers, does not.) I didn’t know what to expect when I walked up to registration a little after 8:00 a.m. on Saturday (Day 2 of the 3-day convention).
I didn’t expect to walk straight into registration.
There was no line. There was zero wait. Before I could pick where I was going, there was a dozen people energetically waiving signs to get me to get my badge from them. These people were very eager to get badges processed and put more people inside the convention. Professional registration was in the same area and never had lines of more than five people in them.
In fact, all of Hall A (1/4 of the total convention hall space) was reserved solely for registration and to house the lines for the Exhibit Hall and the Arena where main events were to occur. The room was kept practically chilly for the entire weekend. They definitely expected a lot of people to linger in here, but they were doing too good of a job keeping people cycled through as necessary and getting us on our way
I have to hand it to them. These people really know how to use space.
The Anaheim Convention Center itself hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. It’s still a 6 story structure with only 3 floors inside and large ceilings. They have one of the largest convention spaces in California with a decent amount of meeting rooms and several outdoor balconies. If you were here at the last Anime Expo, the only major change is that a lot of the older monitors on the walls have been taken down.
However, that isn’t to say things haven’t changed and aren’t changing. The city recently agreed to expand the convention center with a 200,000 building to be added adjacently to the main building and connected by a bridge. Additionally, the island on Convention Center Way has been expanded to twice its size, adding a plaza between the Hilton and the Marriott. In fact, the expansion of walking space is so aggressive, Convention Center Way is no longer a street through the block. It stops at a round-about a third into the block giving access to the Marriott and the Hilton before you have to go out the way you came. The rest of the street has been converted to plaza and walking space. Even the grassy areas outside of the Arena have been replaced by more plaza space and a very little grass is left there.
There is a lot of space here.
The Exhibit Hall is busy.
Just as with Comic-Con, the main commerce is done at the Exhibit Hall. This is another convention that is an unapologetic trade show. They’re brining you in with a little bit of possibility of news, but the obvious purpose of this show is that they want you to buy and sell your collectables here.
There is a robust group of dealers here. Towers of T-shirts, classic and modern comic books, comic book grading services, models, robot toys, corsets, steampunk gear and clothes, comic book story boards, artists both professional and burgeoning, etc. It’s not as grand and all-encompassing as Comic-Con, but there is a good chance you can find what you’re looking for.
In fact, one person I ran into said that a lot of dealers have willingly come to WonderCon INSTEAD of Comic-Con. The reasons vary a bit. Some came because their customers can’t get into Comic-Con, but they were coming here, so this is where they went. Others can’t afford the booths at Comic-Con anymore and decided to go to WonderCon instead. Either way, WonderCon’s Hall is benefiting from those who can’t get to the big show.
Every member of my family walked away with something they truly wanted, and, in the end, isn’t that all you can ask for?
The list of panels was more of a hodgepodge of geeky interests. The meeting rooms had different panels regarding the future of Battlestar Galactica, women and their roles in comic books both on the page and behind the scenes, different creators sharing their process and things they would like to see, and more.
However, the larger panels were held in the Arena. There is a 7,700 seat arena that offers better seating than in Hall H at San Diego or other meeting spaces due to the stadium-like nature of the seating. In this building, there was a masquerade and a panel for the 75th anniversary of Batman starring, among others, Kevin Conroy, Kevin Smith, and Jim Lee. They talked about the projects for the year involving the Dark Knight including new comic series, video games, and animation.
I’m not sure if you can say that the panels are a large part of the convention. There are some gems in it, but the grouping of them are largely more about discussion than much hard information.
Comic book conventions aren’t known for intricate or detailed cosplay. It seems that WonderCon’s fans are seriously throwing that trend out the window.
Not only did I see a number of new cosplayers displaying some imaginative and detailed cosplay, I saw a good number of the more talented cosplayers in the California circuit had come to WonderCon with improved or new costumes. There were extremely large groups for both Marvel and DC, though there were also a good number of anime, video game, and steampunk costumes.
It does seem like comic book cosplay is starting to turn a corner and become more prominent than it used to be. I’m sure that a large part of that has to do with the comic book inspired movies gaining a serious foothold in success. There’s a part of me that wants to come back next year to see if more cosplayers and fans attend since costumes in comic books change about as often as Wolverine joins new teams.
The staff here, both for the convention and convention center, are serious, but courteous. No one seemed to be wasting any breath or time as they moved about their business. The registration staff smiled a lot and moved quickly.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of confusion over something that happened to my family while we were there. Thankfully, we were able to resolve it on our own and no one was hurt.
The staff here were more like dealing with ninjas sometimes; you know they are there, but your rarely see them unless you’re really looking.
Anaheim is one of those places that does robust business without a convention around, and, as I’m sure you know, that has to do with the Anaheim Convention Center being across the street from Disneyland and California Adventure. The city doesn’t have to be heavily involved with the local conventions because there is already a large amount of commerce happening on any given day.
The advantage to that, though, is that there is a metric ton of eateries nearby with fair prices. I say fair because it does seem that the prices in the area are a bit above normal. They know that they have a lot of the locals by the short-and-curlies when it comes to the local area and they do their best to be a bit cheaper than places to eat inside the amusement park, but they are certainly going to make sure that they get their piece.
Overall, it is a place with more choices than a lot of cities, but you should be prepared to pay for that premium.
There is no night life at the convention. None.
There were no dances or after hours entertainment arranged by Comic-Con International. The closest you come is the nighttime cosplay that some people do. Then again, you can always visit the pool at your hotel and see what’s happening there. Pools tend to draw conventioneers after the sun goes down.
WonderCon’s move to Southern California was a necessity when it first happened a couple of years ago due to their regular Northern California venue being unavailable. Now, it appears to be in Southern California by choice. You would think that such a move would hurt a convention that has been slowly building. Instead, the convention has exploded to fill most of the Anaheim Convention Center and has drawn new vendors and fans alike to it.
WonderCon has even left itself room to grow with the Anaheim Convention Center’s scheduled expansion and the fact that they did not use ¼ of the total convention space available. Cosplayers have descended upon the convention in droves and the convention responded by making sure they are well staffed and housed to handle the new bodies. The end result is a convention that isn’t quite as must-see as Comic-Con, and not as fan friendly as Comikaze, but is still a fun time in its own right. They also fall into an interesting part of the Southern California schedule that didn’t previously have a large comic book convention.
Come and see a convention that is likely to become extremely large in the near future.
By Manny Nolasco
Intro - From Hype to Reality
The first time I heard of Naka-Kon was spring of 2013. My best friend, Cory Smith, asked if I wanted to attend, but it was on the weekend of my dad's birthday and I had already made plans with the family. I had to respectfully decline this invitation, but with great regret as this would've been my first anime/cosplay convention I would ever attend. Words couldn't describe the anticipation I had for this trip. This year, nothing was going to stop me, as my calendar was already marked for the dates of March 14th - 16th.
The first thing that caught my attention at Naka-Kon, was the sheer size of the Overland Park Convention Center. The hallways were so huge, I often thought I was in a hanger bay of an airport. I also liked how in every large gathering space, were several round tables with at least 8-10 chairs per table. This was perfect for catching your breath, fixing your costume, or for staging spontaneous photo shoots. It was equally helpful if you wanted to conduct a brief one-on-one interview with someone or a group of people. Unfortunately, I did not have time for this; however, next time I hope this setup will be the same next year so this option is still available. The registration area and the vendor lobby was the size of a gymnasium (both located in separate rooms). This meant that lines were virtually non-existent and spacing was adequate for smooth crowd flow. Restrooms were also located in the vendor room, which was especially helpful for both the vendors and attendees. Security detail was at its best, as the entrance to the restrooms were monitored for shoplifters, and warning signs to prevent shoplifting were made in advance. Safety was certainly not a question at Naka-Kon, and much of this can be attributed to the awesome Naka security and staff managing the convention.
Continuing on the theme of "size", the number of attendees was the most I've ever seen! It wasn't until the last day that over 7,300 attendees were tallied for the entire weekend, and even at the time of this announcement, this number was still being determined. The hallways were constantly filled up with cosplayers or those not in costume. This meant that costumes varied drastically, including the level of difficulty in making them and the different types on display. Sword Art Online, Naruto, and Fairy Tale cosplays were the most prevalent. I was hoping to see more SteamPunk costumes, but what did surprise me, was the considerable presence of Madoka Magika cosplayers (see below):
As with any large crowd, at one point I felt like I was squished in a sea of cosplayers, shoulder to shoulder and with one person in front and behind me. This can especially feel daunting if one is not used to tight spaces. Fortunately, the con-goers themselves were very courteous. I was glad to see that folks were polite and they did their best not to push, step on, or storm their way into panels or the vendor room. At the same time, I didn't hear of any incidents of items being stolen or pickpockets, which could've definitely been an issue with so many people crammed in one area.
This was the first time I've witnessed a convention being blessed. It started with a small skit performed by Naka staff, about a goddess trying to save humanity and Naka-Kon itself. She made a bet with a demon that she would prevail over him by the convention’s end, restoring her power to rule over Naka-Kon. The play's overall message was that through the presence and camaraderie of attendees at Naka-Kon, alone would generate "good" power that could keep away the spirits of evil. By the end of the convention, if the goddess attains enough "positive energy" from the crowd, she retains her benevolent power over Naka-Kon; however, if she were to fail in her quest, the demon she placed this bet with would be the next ruler. Here's some footage of that event below:
After the skit had concluded, you were left with the impression that this goddess character would traverse the hallways of Naka-Kon. This not only gave you the opportunity to meet her in person, but further immersing yourself into the Naka-experience with purpose. By accompanying the goddess on her trip, this would also help keep evil spirits away, further aiding her in winning the bet. This was truly unique and a first for me to experience at Naka-Kon.
This was my first time attending a live death-metal concert, or Japanese musical group for that matter! Living up to the hype, these girls not only came all the way from Tokyo, Japan, but with a BANG as they rocked the crowd with ease. Unfortunately, I wasn't permitted to take pictures/video during their performance, but I can safely say that based on the crowd's reaction, nobody left disappointed. Each band member came out on the stage with varying attire. The singer had a semi Lolita black dress with a sleeveless red corset top, while the other members ranged from wearing daily school clothing, to rock shirts and fishnet stockings. What was even more interesting was their slight ability to speak English, as they spoke Japanese most of the time. But language was no barrier between them and their audience, as crowd members still sung some lines in Japanese, and screamed along with the band during their performance. After the event, I bought the band's CD album and had each member sign it. This was definitely a major highlight for me on this trip. Below is my signed copy of their album, as well as what they each look like:
Q&A with Travis Willingham a.k.a. "Colonel, Roy Mustang"
Listening to Travis-or Colonel "Mustang" if you prefer-was a treat in itself. I had no idea that the humorous, narcissistic bravado that Mustang exudes in the anime Full Metal Alchemist, is also a personification of the actor himself. Travis lit up the crowd with non-stop laughter as he addressed each question with a satirical response. Of the many questions asked about his character and his career, the question about his first con experience was by far the funniest. He explained how the first convention he attended was not only overwhelming, but how he “experienced” the definition of being “glomped” for the first time. To see what I mean, checkout the video below (I apologize for the baseball bat and samurai sword being in the picture, as these fans were trying to get Travis’ attention while patiently waiting on being called on):
With the daunting number of cosplayers that attended, I was both excited and curious as to how the coordinators of Naka-Kon would be able to do a show within the scheduled timeline. To my amazement, the theme of the show was centered on quality and variety, rather than quantity. This is not to say that there was a shortage of cosplayers that entered the contest, but those who did, were exceptionally talented in their ability to craft their own costumes. You can tell from the brief gallery below that many animes and manga were well represented in this contest. Unfortunately, another panel I attended conflicted during the time they announced the winner of this contest. But as you can see from our developing photo gallery, that deciding a winner was no easy task. Check back with us this week as we'll announce soon when the full collection of Naka-Kon pictures is posted.
SEGA: Hatsune Miku Project Diva F panel
Having recently reviewed the Playstion Vita release of "Hatsune Miku: Project Dive F" (click here for review), attending this panel was an absolute must. It's a good thing I did, because outside of the game's development, I learned that it was an equally challenging task to convince SEGA executives for its western release. With the help of an unprecedented Facebook campaign asking SEGA and Miku fans if they would consider supporting this game through at its release, was SEGA convinced to make this their next project. The result was an overwhelming positive response, which was enough for SEGA developers to get the OK to for the game’s development. Another important fact I learned was that this game is not a "port"-meaning that this title was converted from one console to another, like PS3 to Vita-but that this game is a "localization" of the title. This means that serious work went into the Japanese to English translation, copyrights to songs had to be re-acquired, and the button commands associated with the game had to be modified for western audiences. For example, in Japan, the 'X' button is typically used to exit a game and 'O' (or circle button), is reserved for accepting a setting or progressing to the next screen. This had to be reversed for the western Playstation 3 and Vita. I was equally impressed with all the little knickknacks that were being handed out during the panel. Here's a picture of the Sonic the Hedgehog hat pin I received during the panel and one of SEGA's own Miku cosplayer that danced at their booth during the entire weekend:
I also had the pleasure of sitting down with brand manager, Aaron, as we discussed the development of the game. You can checkout our video on YouTube via the link below:
Michelle Ruff a.k.a. “Rukia Kuchiki” autograph signing
Being able to not only see, but speak with voice actress Michelle Ruff in person, was the golden moment of my entire weekend. When the first couple seasons of Bleach aired on Cartoon Network, my sisters and I would watch this show religiously as a family. For the longest time, we thought we watched the show to see what would happen next to the main character, Ichigo Kurosaki. It turns out that Rukia was actually our reason for watching, as we would sit in anticipation for her rescue by Ichigo in the first two seasons of the show. I was truly surprised to personally hear that Michelle's normal voice sounds very much like Rukia's. Which makes me think, if I saw her in a grocery store, would I have recognized her just by her voice? Throughout her autograph session, she was a very sweet lady and took time to not only personalize individual signings, but take pictures with her fans-despite the long line and the possibility of going over her scheduled time. As you can see in the picture below, I asked her to sign and address two Bleach: Vol. 2 manga’s with her character on the cover to each of my sisters. I also had her sign my copy of one of the Gurren Lagann disks with her character, "Yoko," on it:
You can also checkout this brief video of her entrance during the opening cermony (doesn't she sound like Rukia with her normal voice?):
Diversity in Cosplay (hosted by Chaka Cumberbatch and "Team Whatever Cosplay")
Of the various conventions I attended in 2013, not once did I encounter a panel that addresses the critical topic of diversity and the social issues with cosplay. I was glad to see this topic brought up at Naka-Kon 2014, but I'm pleased to announce that Cosplacon 2014 (click here) will have a panel on this as well. As much as cosplay is centered on creativity and unity through fandom, issues like racism and stereotypes still exist. As the moderator of this panel, Chaka asked Team Whatever Cosplay some great probing questions like, "Does body proportion have an effect on the quality of appearance of your costume?", or "Does ethnicity play a role on the characters you or your friend’s cosplay as?"
Team Whatever Cosplay's response to the first question was, yes, body size will be criticized by cosplayers and non-cosplayers alike; however, this is not to say that this should be acceptable. Cosplay is an acceptance of yourself and your abilities as a costume designer. When you observe-or dare I say "judge"-other cosplays, rather than considering the person's proportion, one should admire the detail or craftsmanship put into their costume. Continuing with the thought of personal image, sadly, ethnicity can be a target for criticism. To answer the question on ethnicity, the group's response was that ethnicity should be embraced, rather than ignored or scrutinized. Why should there be an issue with a Black "Naruto", or a Mexican Ichigo (Bleach)? At the same time, if you are self-conscientious about skin tone difference between you and the character you’re cosplaying, there are ways of modifying your cosplay. This includes certain makeup to lighten your skin, wear a costume that shows little to no skin, or put on a mask. As the author of this article, I personally like to cosplay as "Kirito" from Sword Art Online: Elfheim Online and I'm Filipino, not Caucasian.
Lastly, during the panel I felt obligated to ask the question, “If a cosplayer gives you consent to take their picture, is he/she also simultaneously giving you consent to post their photo online?” The general response was, yes, a cosplayer typically knows (or should know) that by saying “yes” to their picture being taken, the very possible chance of it being posted online; however, out of courtesy as a photographer, you should tell the cosplayer(s) you photograph where they can find their picture online so they may share this with others at their discretion. Below is a picture of Chaka with Team Whatever Cosplay-and yes, I did ask for their consent and gave them a business card so they can find their picture online:
With all the hype that surrounded this convention with both positive and negative experiences told to me by previous convention goers, I had extremely high expectations for Naka-Kon 2014. I heard that last year's special guests topped the charts with fans including: Nobuo Uematsu (musical composer for games like Final Fantasy), Greg Ayers (voice actor for "Youhei Sunohara" from Clannad), and Kyle Heber (voice actor and narrator for Dragon Ball Z). Unfortunately, I heard that some folks had issues with long, disorganized lines and that they felt like they were treated like cattle when directed to the next panel.
I'm pleased to announce that I personally did not have any of the above mentioned issues at Naka-Kon, but that I was impressed with the quality of direction and courtesy of the security and staff. In many cases, if I needed assistance looking for a room, security would walk with me and point me the room, or provide verbal instructions if I preferred. Don't believe me, checkout this snapshot I got of security personnel at the registration line:
I never like to rate conventions on a number scale because, 1) numbers can be subjective when trying to associate the difference between "so so" vs "good" and, 2) to me any live event is a unique experience in itself, which can change in quality the following year or next performance. So I leave you by saying this: Naka-Kon 2014 was a GREAT experience and I would highly recommend everyone to visit Naka-Kon 2015! This was the second biggest convention I've attended in the Midwest, aside from the gaming convention, SGC, in Dallas, TX. But Naka-Kon 2014 was definitely the largest cosplay convention I've ever attended. Now I know why my best friend Cory-who's accompanied me on all my previous conventions-had so much to say in high antcipation of Naka-Kon this year. I'm just glad to have been part of the experience and for anyone reading this article, I hope to see you at next year’s Naka-Kon!
Thanks for reading this in-depth review of Naka-Kon 2014. I had a great time meeting other fans and sharing this experience with them. As noted in the article, I will be posting the complete set of gallery pictures and eventually my interview on behalf of MSP with SEGA's representative for the production of Hastune Miku: Project Dive F the game.
Once again, shout out to all the amazing guests and WONDERFUL group of staff and volunteers who truly made this a memorable experience for everyone! You can definitely count on me going to Naka-Kon 2015, and who knows, maybe you could be in the next photo gallery!
This is Manny or "ThatCosplayGuy" signing off!
<--Me derping around in my best attempt as "Kirito" from SAO.
By Liz High
For a second year in a row I traveled a grueling 7 hour drive to National Harbor, MD in order to expirence my favorite convention, Katsucon. Even Snowmageddon couldn't keep me away this year, though it tried when I got stuck in gridlock for 10 hours on I-81 and was in the car for 26 hours, but lack of sleep and braving the elements was worth it. Popular opinion was Katsucon was not nearly as good as it was last year, and I happen to agree. There was mass disorganization, many ridiculous rules, lack of panel variety, and mass confusion, but other than that it was an enjoyable experience even for just being able to meet new people, as with any convention.
Registration was an utter nightmare. I luckily had to go to the press and panel registration booth and could bypass the normal registration and pre-registration lines. My two friends I rode with got into the line at 8:30am when we arrived and did not get out of the pre-reg line until 1pm. In a con of 15,000 people there is expected to be lines, but the cause of the delay was the fact there was only one person working the pre-reg line, while there was multiple for the registration line. The registration line was much longer, but it took people much longer to exit the pre-reg line because of this issue.
Events and Scheduling (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly)
The Good: Once the schedule went life staff was very up to date on keeping the online schedule updated and the staff informed when a panel was moved or changed. All the panels I attended including the Funimation preview panel went off without a hitch and ran smoothly
The Bad: I could tell the schedule was going to be a huge cause of conflict and headache inducing when the schedule was not released until 2 days before the convention, and an app was required just to view it. Many people to not own smartphones and it was very frustrating that everyone who did have a smartphone or tablet was able to view it when some con-goer's are not that fortunate. In the future I think it would in Katsucon's best interest to release the schedule in the traditional online way's and also more than 2 days before the convention.
Also people who run panels were not informed about their panel acceptance status until very late. I had friends waiting until the schedule came out to see if their waitlisted panels got one of the overflow time slots.
The Ugly: While Katsucon did a wonderful job of updating the online schedule, schedule changes should not have happened after the printed schedule was released. There was a huge issue with scheduling conflict's and panel cancelations. The same people running a Hetalia panel were also running an Attack on Titan panel. Emails to the panels staff never recieved a responce. They informed the staff upon picking up their badges the panels were at the same time and to cancel the Attack on Titan panel... Instead the staff took the Hetalia panel off the schedule instead of the Attack on Titan panel which caused massive confusion when people lined up all that time to see an Attack on Titan panel when the panelists were under the impression they were still there to do the Hetala panel. In addition to this the formal ball was pushed back an hour without notice, which left people standing in line outside for upwards of 2-3 hours without any knowledge other than rumors of what was going on. Upon learning it was moved back an hour, leaving the ball to be only 1 hour long, I decided the wait in line was not worth it. This left everyone frustrated and I had spent 100s of dollars and month's of my time sewing a ballgown in specifically for this event.
Location, Venue, and surving the DC Area
The rumors are true. Driving in DC is a nightmare and if you are a slow and cautious driver you will get runover (figuratively of course) Luckily once reaching the National Harbor area where the convention center is, it is a small city within itself with many shops and resturants within a 5 minute walking distance to the convention center. Even the convention center itself is a world of it's own. Convention goer's who are lucky enough to stay inside the Gaylord hotel and convention center do not have to leave the convention the entire time they are there unless they choose to go off location for meals.
In the event you can not get a hotel close to the Gaylord Hotel and Convention center have no fear, there is a parking deck available for commuters and a metro stop that stops right by the convention center if you choose to take the metro in and save at parking. Also with hotels are out of the way there are shuttles to and from, but they stop at 10:45pm mostly so you would have to find a ride back or find somewhere to crash until the morning when you could get back to your hotel if you chose to stay for the rave.
Staying Healthy and Sickness:
During conventions you are around thousands of people and millions of germs, it's normal to experience con plague the few day's after the convention. Many people came from the convention with 103 degree fever's and having to call out of work for a week at the time. No, it was not a normal con plague just super sized. There was a legit out break of H1N1 flu that actually took the life of the Co-Director of the convention's wife.
Currently there is a GoFundMe started by a family friend to help with the massive medical bills the family was hit with while she was in the hospital which can be found at this link I can not stress how important it is to keep you and the people around you safe and healthy. If you feel sick before a convention please stay home! The convention will be there every year. Germ's travel quickly and not everyone has the same immune systems.
Some tips for staying healthy and avoiding con plague are:
-Don't share drinks with everyone
-Avoid giving free hug guy hugs. You know how many people have hugged him?
-Avoid games like spin the bottle and the pocky game
-SHOWER AND WASH YOUR HANDS
Katuson is well worth the money, and I plan to be back again next year, despite some things this year that left a bad taste in my mouth that was just simply rushed and poor planning on the staff's end. It was not like that last year and I am going to assume it will not be like that this year. Also with the giant snowstorm that came in that left many things up in the air and left travel difficult. Many flights were delayed and canceled, Greyhound and Megabus canceled their buses for Thursday, which left many people without a way to get to the convention. Would I recommend Katsucon? absolutely, but I would not recommend it as someone's first convention just for the sheer size and price. Katsucon is of course a lot cheaper than Otakon or SDCC but it will still leave your wallet sobbing at the end.
By Liz High:
This is the fifth year Ichibancon was held and each year it has tremendous growth. Last year approximately 3000 con goer's were in attendance, and this year's attendance was up to almost 3,500. For the number of year's this convention has been around I would estimate if growth continues it will easily become one of the largest conventions in the south by the time it reaches the same age as Katsucon (20 year's old this year and beaking with 14,000 in attendance last year)
So i'm thinking of going to Ichibancon in the future? Is it worth it?
My verdict says yes.
Location, Hotel, and About Charlotte:
Ichibancon is held traditionally the first week in January (but was delayed this year) keeping to the name "Ichiban" meaning first in Japanese. It is the first con of the year for most people in the southern and mid-atlantic area of the United States. It is held in the beautiful city of Concord, NC (a sub area of Charlotte, NC) in the Embassy Suites hotel and Concord Convention Center, across the street from the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Concord Mills Mall.
Being held in Charlotte could explain much of the growth the convention has faced in past years, Charlotte being the second largest banking center of the United States, second only to New York City. Charlotte is a very known area with many opportunities. Hosting a convention in this city would be a no-brainer. Concord Convention Center is also in a wonderful location for food, shopping, and sight seeing with the largest mall in Charlotte a 5 minute walk away.
In the area if one doesn't want to pay the money to stay in the Embassy there are a number of hotels that are a 5 minute walk away. It is worth the extra money for The Embassy Suites though. Each keycard carrying member get's a complimentary continental breakfast and a free drink at the bar included in your stay. In addition to those things the rooms are suites meaning many of your friends can room. The room I stayed in with my 8 friends had 2 full sized beds in one room, a main living area with a pull out couch, and in a separate bedroom was a king sized bed. It makes your life very convenient to just be able to run upstairs and sleep instead of walking or driving back to your hotel.
Guests and Panels:
Many very big name Funimation guests were in attendance this convention including J. Micheal Tatum, Vic Mignogna, Jad Saxton, Cherami Leigh, and Chuck Huber. This was the convention for anime guests. Many conventions I have attended have had many video game guests and not much anime. I went on a fan girl mission to get all the of the Funimation VA's to autograph the DVD's they voiced for. Naturally this mission failed because I got distracted but having drinks with J. Micheal Tatum in the bar and giving him a hug made up for it.
As for panels I thought the panel selection was very broad and wonderfully selected. There really was something for everyone wether you were a brony, vocaloid fan, Hetalian, Homestuck, Survey Corps member, or just an all around fan of everything there was always something to do including the voice actor's and funimation industry panels. This was the first time I had attended an industry panel and I had a blast. I attended the Down and Dirty with J. Micheal Tatum and Vic Mignogna's sunday worship service panel's. I am huge fan's of both VA's and it was amazing being so close to them and asking them questions in a panel that was much smaller than you would be in the audience for at a much larger convention such as Katsucon. Small conventions have their perks in that way.
Convention Staff and Hotel Staff:
While the hotel staff was very rude and my group is not sure if we will stay in the convention hotel next year or not because of this, the convention staff was nothing but nice. I only had to encounter convention staff a couple times, one being when I lost my convention badge, and the other times were going to con op's and entering panels. Convention staff was more strict on rules than other conventions I am use to, but they enforced rules in a nice way and for the most part let cosplayers have fun in the hall wall's and stayed out of everyone's way unless needed.
As I stated before the Hotel staff was unfortunately not as nice and pleasant to work with. On the contrary they were quite rude and overly aggressive. Saturday of the convention while I was dehydrated and exhausted and going to pass out we found out none of the key cards were working. Fortunately one of our friends was in the room to let us in so I could rest while the room leader went down stairs. Originally, as with most conventions hotels I have stayed in we were to pay the final night once we got all of the money from all the members of the room because there was a credit card on file. Unfortunately they changed policy half way through and the convention staff sent security to kick us out even though our room leader gave what we had then went back up stairs to collect the rest of the money.
45 dollars for a weekend in Charlotte with 3,500 of your closest friends and fellow cosplayers and meeting all your favorite voice actors. Is it worth it? Of course it's worth it! I have huge expectations for this convention and will make it a priority to make it to this convention next year and look forward to meeting many of you hopefully next year!
Another year gone, and another year of California Conventions started with Anime Los Angeles. It's past 8:00 on Sunday and all of my roommates and co-workers have decided to head home early, leaving me in an empty room and giving me time to sleep and gather my thoughts.
I have been staffing at this convention for five years in a row now. I think that this convention is one of the most interesting conventions of the year, but this year, two other members of the Rolling 20’s podcast and our show runner managed to try out the con. They were each lucky to make it in considering the convention was sold out days before the convention started. Did they feel with was worth the trek, or should they have stuck around Sac Anime?
As with the last few years, this convention has taken place at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. The hotel seems to have enjoyed the patronage of Anime Los Angeles. The rooms are the same rooms I remember from the prior year, however, I managed to get a room overlooking the pool. The rooms are still spacious and while the noise could be intense sometimes, if you enjoy people watching, this was a good place to be and just take a good overview of the main social area of the hotel.
Additionally, this year, the hotel made extra moves to be even more open for the convention: They added extra garbage cans to most areas of the hotel, they removed the furniture from the pool area, they extended the hours of the Starbucks in the lobby, and they reserved certain areas of the hotel for the convention only. Not only that, but the hotel staff were very interested in the convention. I walked down one hallway behind a staff member when another hotel staff member came down the opposite way. The other staffer suddenly pointed at the one I was following and said, “How did you get more ribbons than me?!” And the first staffer actually held up her Anime Los Angeles badge and taunted her co-worker, just like any other pair of con-going friends would!
I love this hotel because it’s fervor for Anime Los Angeles feels a lot like going to a San Diego Comic-Con block hotel!
The process for registration at Anime Los Angeles is fairly quick and has remained so. This year had an extra wrinkle in that there was only (depending on who you asked) only 250 badges available at the door. So, the line at the door was pretty busy, anxious, and tremendous. To the con-goers credit, they often self-regulated and made sure things were orderly. The actual processing of registration meant that no one seemed to wait for more than 45 minutes, but the near total sell-out meant there were people showing up every day who didn’t read the Facebook page and find out that there was just no badges available.
If you plan on going to Anime Los Angeles 2015, PRE-REGISTER EARLY! This convention has hit it’s cap three years in a row, and I don’t see that trend slowing next year.
You’ll notice that the title of this section isn’t “Convention Center” this time. That’s because Anime Los Angeles all takes place in one building, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. Some people would say that’s pretty small and small isn’t fun. In this case, I feel the opposite is true. Because the convention and the majority of the rooms were in the same building, it is much easier to coordinate your activities and keep in touch with your friends.
That isn’t to say that finding everyone is necessarily simple since this hotel was built a long time ago and wasn’t made for the digital age. The ballroom level, where 90% of Anime Los Angeles takes place, can be hell on your cell phone reception and you can’t get a signal, in some cases, unless you walk about 20 yards from the building.
However, the staff have done a good job of keeping the water stations filled and maximizing the available space for the convention. We have one more year at this hotel 2015. After that, it will be hard finding a hotel that can be as dedicated to this convention.
The Dealer’s Hall is small. There’s no way around that. They have people selling a lot of what has become expected at an anime convention: figures, DVDs, blu rays, T-shirts, swords, keychains, and other items. While the room is small, the people running the hall did a good job of vetting the vendors and making sure there is a fair variance of items to be found. I didn’t personally spend much time here, but there were a few items I’ve been contemplating purchasing for a while.
There was a couple of new items on the panel list this year.
One of the more memorable times I had this weekend was the first panel of World Cosplay Wrestling. It wasn’t cosplayers beating each other with chairs, but people dressed in costume cutting wrestling-style promos and the better promos win. It was a raucous crowd, but it was a fun night that even had the hosts cracking up in the corner.
There were some interesting titles such as “Haters and How to Deal With Them,” “Why Your Anime Sucks,” and the “Hentai Cupcake Swimsuit Competition.”
The list of panels weren’t the normal “How to Sew” or “How to Use Kickstarter” panels. It felt like ALA spent some time carefully selecting the panels for unique ideas and interesting ideas. I have to commend them (even though I am a staffer) for stepping outside the box and taking a chance.
There is a lot of what has become regular parts of conventions such as anime music video competitions, a masquerade, dances (dance club and ballroom style), video game room, tabletop game room, cosplay repair station, and others. If you have an itch that can be scratched legally, you can find it here.
Cosplay is DEEP here. I spent some time asking around and there is a lot of cosplay ideas that are either tested or debuted at this convention as people work up their ideas for the next year. I often see things here that I will see later on in California.
The people here will often push the boundaries of their fandom cosplaying as classic and obscure characters. That’s part of the enjoyment is that for no real reason, cosplayers will get daring here and photographers will be just as enterprising. At the pool area, at one point, I saw five different photography setups that included reflectors and flashes to maximize the exposure opportunity.
This convention is definitely a chance to put your best-dressed foot forward and impress the Internet.
Even though this is housed in one building, these people work pretty darn hard. I saw the head of the Tech Department once jog to get a job done on time.
I find it hard to discuss this section fully since I have staffed here for the last five years. Anything I say can sound biased. In all honesty, though, if they weren’t good to work with and willing to put in the work necessary to make a good convention, I wouldn't have been here as long as I have.
In reality, if you didn’t step in the hotel, you probably would have little to no idea a convention was happening. The city doesn’t get as excited for the convention like the hotel does. There’s no signs in windows welcoming conventioneers, no specialized menus or shops, or even the banners like San Jose puts up for Fanime. There’s just no indication that this section of Los Angeles marks the event as anything, really.
There are dances and late night, adult oriented panels at Anime Los Angeles, as there are at other conventions. There isn’t any supplemental entertainment outside of the building, unless you count the bevy of room parties that some people host at night.
The convention is actually very active in the evening hours. You can find people wandering between the dances at night pretty frequently. Even when we recorded a Rolling 20’s podcast in one hall at 1:00 in the morning, you can see groups of people passing behind us.
This convention comes CLOSE to being a 24-hour convention, but isn’t quite there. Even so, there’s things to do during most waking hours.
Anime Los Angeles isn’t big. It isn’t flashy. It doesn’t have a ton of money behind it. And none of those items are really a problem.
This convention has carved out an unusual identity as a good convention to kick off the year of conventions in California with innovative cosplay and panels and people finding a way to get over their holiday hangover with a lot of fun and camaraderie. I’m actually very surprised that co-workers and friends I have been telling to come have not only arrived, but they have said that Anime Los Angeles is now in their Top 3 conventions of the year, if not their favorite. That’s a strong statement for a convention that only has 4,583 people attending (according to their Facebook page).
This appears to be the Pocket Hercules of the convention world. It’s small, but it delivers like a heavyweight.
Now… if only I could get TV reception at my station so I could check in with the NFL Playoffs…
Returning to the Los Angeles Airport (LAX) Marriott Hotel for its 10th year, Anime Los Angeles comes back to stay for the weekend of January 10-12, 2014. The convention brings forth programming featuring various domestic guests ranging from voice actors and musicians to rising cosplay crafters along with featuring a wide variety of fan-run events. With events covering anime and manga alongside cartoons and comics, Anime Los Angeles continues to grow in attendance and popularity.
Being situated in the LAX area in Inglewood, CA, attendees and guests of ALA have several restaurants to choose from should they ever need to refuel for more fun at the convention and a decently sized selection of stores and even more restaurants if people wish to walk further up north the nearby Sepulveda Blvd. On top of that, ALA continues its implementation of the con suite borrowed from earlier sci-fi conventions, a room whose main purpose is to serve snacks and drinks to the attendees for some quick replenishment. For its 10th anniversary, ALA has also done something a bit unprecedented: reserving the entire Marriott Hotel just for ALA attendees and guests only along with exclusive use of the pool deck. This change has allowed for opening up more discounted rooms for attendees than previous events alongside having hotel security act as ALA security for the weekend to make sure only badged attendees are entering the ballroom floor, where most of the programming is held, and the pool deck, a popular area of the Marriott for cosplay gatherings and photoshoots. Of course, as with most hotels of this caliber, the Marriott suffers from dim orange-tinted lighting, which is not too complimentary for photos in a convention setting, so the outdoor pool deck and the front patio tend to be crowded with cosplayers and photographers.
The convention had quite the number of activities and events to offer at its hotel venue. Borrowing another tried-and-true activity from sci-fi conventions, ALA continues its tradition of con attendees passing out and receiving ribbons for fulfilling certain requirements ranging from conditions like cosplaying from a particular series to reciting certain lines. They can be attached to the convention badges in the area specified on them. Panels are held in the various meeting rooms on the ballroom floor covering all sorts of media and ran by both fans and the members of the industry. This year's convention featured guests such as professional translator Neil Nedelman, voice actress Erin Fitzgerald, comic book editor Jonathan Tarbox, and many others. Panels aside, there are many other activities to check out for the more adventurous including a rum party, two types of formal dances, cosplay chess, and of course, the standard nightly dances. ALA also has the convention staples of the Dealer's Hall, Artist's Alley, and the newly included Swap Meet to satisfy the inner collector. A room is also set aside for autographs from guests for those who want to get merchandise and other objects of interested imprinted with their signatures. For cosplayers who want studio quality photos at no extra cost, a photo studio room is set up in which photographers who are not a part of the crew can feel free to use with their models of choice should they desire to do so. For the gamers, there are both video and tabletop gaming rooms, and for those wanting to see some local musical talent, a modestly sized room is set aside for their live performances. A maid cafe has also been implemented for people who wish to enjoy a bit of the Akihabara experience without actually being there.
As for panels, with the heightened security from the inclusion of hotel staff, it is definitely mandatory to have a badge on you as attendees will be asked to show them on the way down from the lobby floor and once more prior to entering the panel room itself, showing that the convention is more serious about ensuring that the event is enjoyed by attendees only. Panels themselves were smoothly ran for the most part with little to no technical difficulties and were definitely met with positive reception from the people who attended them (or at least the ones I attended). The Masquerade was definitely quite the spectacle...if you were sitting in the front areas of the main stage. The projection screens airing a livestream to the sides of the stage for people further back to see the action more closely were not quite projecting a clear image at times. A previous complaint I had about previous conventions, I personally find it quite discerning that ALA fails to see the potential of the wide variety of local talent that takes the time and effort to bring forth a good show for a decently sized audience only to be allowed to perform in a room intended for a maximum capacity of around 40. Speaking of small rooms, the newly implemented Swap Meet was quite the spectacle. Held in one of the smaller rooms on the Ballroom Floor, the market could accommodate only around 20 customers at any given time, resulting in waits of at least an hour and then some for attendees who got to the area right as it opened or later.
Things were quite mixed in regards to how ALA made efforts to make the attendees' stay for the convention during the weekend more convenient and comfortable. On the one hand, the convention offered folks who stayed at the LAX Marriott bag check-in on the last day of the convention at the lobby floor by one of the restaurants in contrast to the 18th floor executive suites from last year. As far as I know (I did not stay at the Marriott this time around, this went quite smoothly. For people who missed out on getting a room at the Marriott, the convention supposedly offered discounted rates at nearby hotels like the LAX Hilton (which has played host to Pacific Media Expo in November for the past several years), but for most people, this discount was not acknowledged, which definitely some miscommunication somewhere down the line. ALA is definitely growing, and if they do not look into getting a larger venue, the staff should definitely at least look into offering proper discounts at neighboring hotels to accommodate attendees who plan to stay nearby the venue during the weekend.
The programming overall has definitely improved from previous events with a good amount of emphasis on the anime and manga aspect of things. Of course, that's not to say that there are no events or activities regarding non-Japanese media. The convention has definitely shown efforts to appease fans of many forms of media from both Western and Eastern cultures while still trying to keep the "Anime" in their event name. There are reasons why ALA has managed to maintain such a record of constant attendance growth, and this is one of many of them. As one of the first conventions to take place in the year as well as inviting representatives from other conventions to show off their events, ALA also acts as a gateway to both conventions that have existed for many years and those who have just stepped on the plate. With that said, ALA is a convention that many can enjoy, whether one has yet to wet themselves in the convention scene or has already explored the vast sea of conventions and wants to come back for more. With activities and events that people from all backgrounds and fandoms will enjoy, ALA will be sure to entertain you for the weekend in more ways than one.
More photos can be found in our gallery (Some photos can be found in higher resolution in this gallery.).