Fanime 2014

Location: San Jose, California
Dates: May 23-26, 2014
Report by: Katie Cunico

There were a lot of expectations riding on Fanime this year; after last year’s registration “line-con” fiasco and Artist’s Alley movement, the staff of Fanime had a lot of slack to pick up if faith was going to be restored in their ability to run a convention. Early signs weren’t hopeful; registration and hotels went up around the same time they do every year, but went up without a full convention site or really any information about the convention other than location and dates. When registration and hotels are going up four months out from the convention, no information and no site isn’t a great sign when most conventions at least have a site up by that point.

There was also the announcement a week before registration opened that registration and a badge number would be required to make a hotel reservation in the block this year, which, after a year when the hotel block sold out in an hour, in addition to a couple site crashes, caused a huge round of panic from attendees, especially since there would only be a week between registration opening and hotel blocks opening. This caused a lot of panic on my end as well, since registration for non-general attendees hadn’t even opened yet, which would have left a huge contingency of the convention out in the cold – panelists, artists, exhibitors, industry, and press all had no indication of what they were supposed to do, and an oh-so-helpful “don’t panic, we’ll work it out” is so very not reassuring when decisions need to be made. This policy ended up being taken down (at the last minute, so many attendees did end up scrambling to organize their groups and finances to register), and hotel blocks were sold off with only the normal amount of panic and site crashing. However, this policy may make a reappearance next year, so potential attendees, be warned.

Worries continued to crop up as the con loomed closer and closer with no official site opening, no announced guests, and no information for staples like Artist’s Alley, Masquerade, and the Swap Meet. Assurances from staff that they were working on it and continued “if there’s something you’d like to see changed, join our staff!” attempts to sweep worries under the rug did nothing but increase them, especially since they were only on the convention’s Facebook page – not a great mode of communication.

In the end, though, Fanime 2014’s motto, thankfully, is “everything went better than expected.” There were still a lot of hiccups closer to the con: Artist Alley registration was switched to a juried system instead of first-come first-serve, with no information as to expectations and judging; Masquerade had little information and communication, causing some groups to back out; and Swap Meet registration didn’t go up until a week before the convention. However, everything ended up working out: Artist Alley was moved to the expansion we’d been waiting three years for and was spacious and wonderful; Swap Meet went for two days instead of the traditional one and had a line of people waiting outside to get in the entire time it was running; and Masquerade was still full-up with wonderful skits. It really feels like this year the staff  of Fanime realized just how many things had gone wrong in 2011 and 2012 and really buckled down to fix them. It’s just unfortunate that we had radio silence throughout all of it; a lot of potential attendees decided not to come because they saw no sign that the staff was doing anything to address the issues.

All the pain and hassle we went through the previous years was worth it in the end, though; the construction we suffered through left us with a gorgeous expansion that updated and modernized the look of the hallways and entranceways of the large halls and offered much more hallway space for people to spread out and wander and sit, instead of blocking the main routes while trying to rest their feet. The biggest complaint from last year was the length of time it took attendees to pick up their badges. This year, a number of attendees elected to pick up their badges at the simultaneous convention, Clockwork Alchemy, a steampunk convention run by the same staff and which shares a badge (Clockwork Alchemy attendees can attend Fanime, and vice versa), as the wait times were only minutes, rather than the hours from last year. However, those attendees had nothing to worry about. Pre-reg badge pickup on Thursday opened earlier than announced, and it took longer to walk through the winding rows of tape that had been set up to get to the badge pickup booths than to actually pick up pre-reg badges. All throughout the weekend, I can’t recall if I ever saw a long line of people waiting in those rows of tape. While South Hall, home of Artist Alley last year, was on the convention map, nothing was down there, meaning that Artist Alley, stuffed to the brim with a variety of works – the jury system seems to have worked out well, even if initial decisions meant that a lot of people ended up sharing tables (which, hey, meant more artists and works to buy!) – was in the new hall and much more central to the rest of the goings-on. Dealer’s Hall felt a little understocked this year, but that might just be because I’ve been finding more and more ways to buy things outside of conventions. The Game Room is always a really fun stop – the purikura shop in Japantown up in San Francisco always rents out a couple photo booths for the convention, and in addition to tournament gaming, arcade-style games, and a huge array of console gaming setups, it’s always lively. The Game Room is also host to the card game tournament tables, and attendees are encouraged to bring their decks and compete.

One of the areas where Fanime did feel lacking this year was in guests; while Fanime usually never gets super big-name guests – it is still a fan-run convention with zero industry presence, after all – their guests are usually numerous and represent both Japanese and American sides as well as both production and voice talents. This year, there were only a handful of guests of honor, and most relied heavily on the American side. MusicFest, Fanime’s concert, got Home Made Kazoku, which was a bit of a blast from the past (they’re responsible for a number of anime openings from the mid-2000s, and personally, they fit right in with making this Fanime a nostalgia year for me), and ended up being their biggest name guest.

Panels this year were also a bit of a mish-mash. As a fan-run convention, Fanime relies entirely on the attendees to supply ideas for panels and to run them (there are a few “official” panels going on, but are for things like Fanime’s sister convention, Yaoi-Con, or for short announcements and updates from smaller companies), which makes the programming hard to predict. Interestingly, this year saw a pretty good mix, but with a much heavier shift towards 16+ and 18+ panels. Fanime has always been a 24-hour convention, with all-night video rooms and panels going until 2 or 3 in the morning, lending itself well to what the schedule called “red-light programming.” Late at night, things like Hentai Voice Overs are a lot more fun when you’re exhausted and not taking things as seriously.

Overall, Fanime really pulled it together. There’s still room for improvement, especially in communication with attendees, but huge strides were taken this year to really pick things up and address concerns. While some things felt sacrificed for the sake of these improvements, I think we all walked away from Fanime much happier than any of us were expecting and truly looking forward to next year with anticipation instead of apprehension.