San Jose, CA, USA. May 24-27, 2013.
All of us have favorite conventions, and it’s no secret that if I could only go to one con a year, it would be Fanime. It’s local to me, it’s during a gorgeous time of year for weather, it falls over a three-day weekend—making it easy to make it a five-day convention without having to battle for time off, and it’s a good size—not too big and overwhelming, but not small and easy to get tired of, either.
Fanime has always stuck by its motto, “By Fans, For Fans,” meaning no industry presence in either the convention itself or in the dealer’s room. Even so, Fanime is able to get some fantastic guests, and this year I got the opportunity to interview two of the people responsible for some of my absolute favorite shows (you might have heard of them: Baccano!, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Princess Jellyfish, and Durarara!!, to name a few), Takahiro Omori, director, and Yumi Sato, producer for the studio Brain’s Base. (link to interview here)
However, the nature of having an entire staff of volunteers is a double-edged sword. Sure, you get dedicated staffers who love their job and the convention, but you can also end up with a high staff turnover rate or some rather strange choices. Last year saw the implementation of a new registration system that, unfortunately, faced the issue of a block-wide power outage, making it impossible to give badges to everyone who turned up. Construction on the convention center also caused problems, blocking off entire areas and making the space hard to navigate. While the power outage thankfully didn’t return this year, the construction was still a factor, which—combined with some pretty intense staff turnover numbers—led to some unfortunate decisions. First was the choice to move the artist’s alley to South Hall, a tent behind the convention center that wasn’t actually connected to the building. Most attendees, even returning ones, had no idea South Hall even existed, much less how to get there, and a lack of signage until Saturday meant that there was little to no traffic for a good portion of Friday while people figured things out.
More worrisome was the appearance of lines over five hours long for badge pick-up. People stood in line until midnight or later on Thursday to try and get their badge, and apparently some staff didn’t even turn up on time for registration on Friday. This meant that while registration opened at 8AM, the length of the line meant that many attendees were left waiting and unable to take part in the convention until the afternoon or even later. Apparently, only 6–8 machines were in place to begin with, and at a convention that boasts 12,000+ attendees, it was definitely not enough. Fanime is not the first con to have these problems, and I’m actually really startled; I remember them having many more booths open in previous years and, aside from Day 0, badge pick-up going fairly quickly, with waits no more than an hour or so at most.
Communication seems to be a big issue with Fanime these days; I’ve had friends decide to stop going because they’d been running a specific panel there for years only have it not renewed with no explanation. Masquerade participants had their rehearsal time changed at the last second. Even I didn’t get any indication of when my interviews were scheduled until less than a week before the convention. There’s a steep learning curve when running a convention, and while we can all allow a little patience for staff changes and construction woes, most people’s patience only goes so far.
Thankfully, despite all that, Fanime was still a great time. With a huge gaming room boasting both console and arcade games, a large, well-stocked dealer’s room, and a great artist’s alley (once you found it), Fanime’s main staples were in fine shape. New additions included a cosplay lounge, where cosplayers could fix their costumes as well as take a break from the convention (which, as someone who was involved in an altercation with an attendee who didn’t understand that when a cosplayer is eating and says no to a photo, that means no, and it’s rude to take it anyways, I appreciated). One of the best things about Fanime is that it truly is an all-hours convention—video rooms run from opening ceremony to closing ceremony. Late-night karaoke (and by late-night I mean 2AM) has become one of my favorite traditions. The panels at Fanime are fan-run; the guests of honor all have panels, of course, but most of the panels consist of fans talking on their areas of expertise or passion, so we get panels running gamut from Weird Manga to How to Build a Halo Suit to Create That Anime.
All in all, Fanime was still a fun convention for me this year, but I know a lot of people for whom Fanime had a huge, dark shadow cast over it, and it’ll take some work from the staffers to clear up the convention’s reputation.