Houston, Texas, USA. March 14–16, 2014.
Reporter(s): Mika Leas
This year, Anime Matsuri was held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas from March 14-16, 2014. Now, Anime Matsuri has become a big name in Texas anime conventions since its beginning in 2007. They were notorious for promising big and delivering little, and even I had been warned about the cancellation of panels, guests, long line times and overall disorganization. While there were multiple issues this year, as to be expected with any convention, I do believe they are working hard to improve their reputation.
The biggest change came in the one of the most important parts of the convention: the badge. They used a new RFID-enabled electronic badge, which utilizes radio frequency identification technology for security. It cannot be duplicated and is non-transferable. I can see how using this technology must help any convention’s counterfeit concerns, but it did not cut down any time spent in a line considering that half of the time the staff would have to scan your badge electronically or just visually check it as usual. They also did not have enough staff members to check badges, which caused terrible lines that made it take up to three hours to get into the dealer’s room. I applaud the use of new technology, but the benefits are more for the staff rather than the con attendee.
Lines are another big aspect of any convention. There are always lines for everything – picking up or buying a badge, the dealer’s room, artist’s alley, panels, shows, etc. Having experience at big conventions such as Akon, I was expecting there to be long lines, but Anime Matsuri unfortunately failed at providing an organized structure to those lines and the few staff members there to direct con attendees seemed irritated and annoyed, for a multitude of reasons I am sure, when giving any directions or explaining procedures. There was even a sign at a help desk that read “We don’t know where anything is.”
This next topic also deals with the organization of the convention, and that would be the time delays. I have never attended a convention with delays as long as the ones at Anime Matsuri. For the majority of the panels, like Cosplay Chess or the Q&A panels, if they were not cancelled, they had the average 5 to 10 minute wait in between in order to reorganize the room and such, which was perfectly fine. However, this paled in comparison to the two biggest events at Anime Matsuri; the J-Fashion Show and the Cosplay Contest. The J-Fashion Show had a 2.5 hour delay and the Cosplay Contest had 1.5 hour delay. I understand having technical difficulties or what-have-you, as I have a background in Theatre and know the horrors of live shows, but there really is no excuse to make attendees wait for so long. They are missing other panels or shows to see an event; the J-Fashion show was scheduled to be only an hour long but ran way over time because of the delay. This is an extreme issue that needs to be fixed next year.
Other than the time delay, the J-Fashion show also suffered other issues, but did have some amazing guests and designers participating. The J-Fashion show, named “Once Upon A Wish,” had a very cool concept; it was a young girl’s journey through her dreams, and each sequence of her dream would be the different designers’ models and lines. The guests that participated were Aya, Misako, Midori, Akira, Yui, Mai Yamamoto (an aerial artist), and Reika, along with designers Kano (of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright), Nakamura (of Alice and the Pirates), and Hasegawa of Putumayo. The models walked well and the clothes were breathtaking, but it was the technology that fell flat. First, there were three monitors positioned in the center of the stage at the base of the cat walk. There they displayed an animation to introduce the audience to the story of the show, and later on showed the designers’ names and logos when each segment started. This was a great idea, but the monitors were facing front so the audience sitting to the side of the stage could not see anything on the screens. On top of this, the middle of the three monitors was recessed, making it difficult for even those in front to see the entire picture spread across the screens. They also had issues with the animation and powerpoints themselves; the font was too large in some cases to see the entire designer’s name, which is obviously not ideal for the designers promoting their brand. Second, the volume was either too loud or soft, and their live violin accompaniment was not properly plugged in so the audience could not hear her last song. The piano accompaniment was fantastic and had no issues, though. The show had great clothing and models and really neat ideas, making the fashion show something so much more than just beautiful girls and boys promoting brands on stage, bringing forth an enjoyable story and theatre-like performance. However, it was the terrible technology fallbacks that kept me from suspending my disbelief.
The next important event of the weekend was the Cosplay Contest. Aside from its own time delay, the contest, held in the same ballroom as the J-Fashion show, had even more technical difficulties. First, I would like to applaud all the participating cosplayers, as I have never seen such high quality and awesome cosplays and skits. The League of Legends representation in particular was amazing! I am disappointed that it was overshadowed by the sloppy organization of the show and the technological fallbacks. Each contestant was given the standard 30 seconds to come walk and show off their cosplay, however Anime Matsuri also played short music clips (or videos) from the show or game they were cosplaying from during their time. This was a great idea and could really aid the contestant getting into character and supporting their costume, but the music would lag and not start until the contestant had already walked across the entire stage, or it would finish before the contestant was off the stage. There were also times when there was no music at all, breaking the flow of the show. Other sound issues included the host’s mic losing sound. There was a miscommunication on how the contestants would exit the stage, so each time the host would remind them to exit using the stairs to the right, and later gathered the help of the audience to remind them, which was cute and interactive, but became a drag when each contestant seemed to forget to exit properly. I did appreciate the small Reika and Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on Titan, appreciation moment when other SnK cosplayers got to take a picture with Reika (a well-known SnK cosplayer herself) on stage. The Cosplay Contest is an important aspect of any convention and while the contestants, host, and audience did a fantastic job, it was once again the technology that failed.
For the most part, the panels seemed spot on. The Cosplay Chess was amazing. There was a small delay as they needed time to sign up each cosplayer participating, but they filled the time with some improv comedy games that involved some audience participation. The host of this panel did a fantastic job of keeping it interactive. The crowd for this panel was large, and I was told that some other panels had been cancelled so those audiences came to check out Cosplay Chess. Next, the Maid Cafe, which had great staff and a very informative page on the Anime Matsuri webpage, did not deliver on anything other than those two aspects. The Maid Cafe was more of a snack bar than a cafe. Anyone who has seen Ouran High School Host Club would expect a very decorated, friendly, and comfortable environment, but no such luck here. I would suggest heavy decoration, some soft background music, actual servers, and perhaps someone at the door, a host, to explain the procedures of the cafe. These improvements, along with their already cute staff, would make for an excellent cafe. The Japanese Car Import Exhibit was more of a show than an event, but I do want to applaud the convention’s hard work for making it happen. It was really impressive! They had so many cars and motorcycles on display, and also invited Waveya, the K-Pop dance group, to perform during the show, who were also fantastic. It was a laid-back event and attendees were free to roam and look at the cars and take pictures.
This next aspect may need to go unstated, but I would definitely like to applaud Anime Matsuri for their dealer’s room and artist’s alley. There was a great variety of shops selling the standard asian snacks, anime, manga, plushies, prints, etc, but the designer in the J-Fashion show from Baby, The Stars Shine Bright also had a store, along with some K-pop- and video game-based stands. The dealer’s room was well-organized, with a flow to the crowd and strategic placement of food at the front and back of the room, making it easy to take a break, sit, eat, and then go back to shopping. It was also kept extremely clean. I also liked that the artist’s alley was put in with the dealer’s room, as it brought the artists more traffic. This is something that every anime convention should do!
Overall, the Anime Matsuri experience was fair. The dealer’s room and guest artists were amazing, but could not make up for all the time delays, lack of organization, or technology issues. I will definitely attend Anime Matsuri in the future because I believe the issues they had this past year can be fixed and, once they are, Anime Matsuri can be a great convention for everyone to attend.