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Back from Anime LA

I’m back from Anime LA, and so far (knock on wood) I’ve managed to avoid the dreaded Convention Sickness. Keep your fingers crossed…

I”ll try and schedule a recording session with The Gang soon to record our A-LA recap podcast. Look for that in the next week or two. In the meantime, here are my initial impressions and thoughts. Anime LA, and the staff that runs it, continues to amaze me year after year. According to Chaz (the A-LA head honcho) this year’s attendance was just shy of 3,200, which, in this tough economic climate, is pretty amazing. I hear that some attendees came from places far outside of California, even. The Spoony Bards, this year’s musical guests of honor, came all the way from Indiana – Anime Los Angeles was their first appearance west of Chicago. Even more amazing is the fact that one of the Bards, who recently quit the band when she got married, rejoined the band especially for this appearance – and traveled here all the way from London, UK! One attendee even came from New Zealand! Anime LA is truly becoming a global phenomenon!

I definitely noticed the increased attendance, especially on Saturday (traditionally the busiest day). There was a certain buzz in the air; it had a certain energy to it that I normally only associate with much larger conventions. Even with the extra attendees, it didn’t feel crowded at all (except for Masquerade, which always feels crowded). It looks like A-LA will be able to stay at the LAX Airport Marriott for a while to come, which is good, because the hotel and facilities are really quite nice. Decent convention room rate, easily accessible from most modes of transportation, and a reasonable selection of nearby food.

Anime LA bills itself as one of the friendliest fan-run conventions out there, and I believe them. Every time I interacted with their staff (or saw others interacting with them), they were kind, courteous, and truly helpful. I didn’t detect a hint of the “attitude” that can often be found at larger conventions, or those that take themselves too seriously. The events (or at least the ones I attended) were well-staffed and it looked like they had enough people.

There were, I felt, a decent selection of events, including some that go beyond typical anime-related topics. (I don’t have a schedule handy, but the ones that come to mind are the Japanese calligraphy workshops, martial arts demos, handicrafts, Japanese ghosts and demons, and Tadao-san’s Japanese sword demo, which, sadly, I was unable to attend.) I’m always in favor of having events at conventions that go beyond typical anime fandom and explore other aspects of Japanese life and culture. One of my favorites were the food workshops (Sushi, fried foods, etc.) that Anime Expo featured several years ago.

The (always excellent) program guide and pocket schedule did a pretty good job of laying out the schedule of events and describing what they were all about. However there were a few that were described in vague terms, or even not described at all — for example, “Egg Samurai” — I’m still not quite sure what that was about… Also I was very pleased that A-LA posted a draft event schedule before the convention – for those of us obsessive types, it really helps us begin to plan out our convention time. However it might have been nice to have that up at least a week, maybe even two, before the convention – the extra time would really help those who are traveling from out of area and may not necessarily be traveling with a computer and Internet connection. I realize that sometimes it’s hard to nail things down until the bitter end, but even a rough preliminary schedule is better than nothing.

They did a pretty good job of communicating event and schedule changes. Changes were indicated on signboards outside each room, plus they also published a daily newsletter (the Shinbunshi) with scheduling changes as well as other items of note. These were fairly liberally scattered around the convention area, and were hard to miss. One thing I’d like to see for the future is for them to start using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. We are living in the age of social media, and almost any cell phone these days can access it ubiquitously, making it an excellent way of staying in touch wherever you are. FanimeCon stands in my mind as the “gold standard” in this department. Their Twitter account was extremely active both before and during con, with frequent updates when schedules changed, and they also sent out reminders of when certain “big ticket” events (concerts, Masquerade, etc.) were to start. With FanimeCon’s Twitter loaded on my phone, I almost never had to consult their pocket program guide. They also used it to remind people before con of certain important dates (pre-reg closing date, hotel reservation, etc.).

The guest list was pretty impressive for a small/fan-run convention. (unfortunately for a convention of this type it’s difficult to get those “big draw” guests, Japanese guests of honor, etc.) They had a pretty good musical selection. I got to see some of the Spoony Bards’ Sunday concert and they were pretty awesome; they played a nice selection of anime and video game music that had me nodding and thinking to myself “Oh yeah, I remember that one…” They also entertained the crowd lined up for Masquerade during the long interminable wait to get seated. I was also surprised to see the beginnings of industry support for A-LA; for example this year FUNimation chose Anime LA for an advance screening of their latest title, RIN ~ Daughters of Mnemosyne. (Unfortunately I was unable to attend)

I really hate to overuse it, but Masquerade can only be described as “awesome.” There were 29 entries consisting of a total of 76 people, and the costumes and routines continue to amaze. There are truly some talented people out there! As I recall it didn’t start too late, and there were only a few minor technical glitches (which are pretty much par for the course in an event such as this).

AMV, on the other hand, was, I hate to say, made of fail. I wrote about this previously so go read that post if you haven’t seen it already. However, none of the problems (I think) were the fault of the staff – they were all technical issues which, perhaps in hindsight, could have been avoided, but may not have been easily anticipated. My recommendations that I wrote about still stand, and hopefully they will take steps similar to the ones I outlined to make next year’s AMV contest a success. (They did replay all AMVs the next day, without a hitch, and the audience was invited to cast ballots for the Pro category that was skipped during the actual AMV contest.)

(I’ll post a list of AMV and masquerade winners shortly. Unfortunately not all of the AMVs have made it online yet.)

The dealers’ room and artists’ alley were impressive, and definitely felt bigger than last year, and most of the traditional vendors you see at dealers rooms were well represented. For one thing, they actually had some decent DVD vendors. Yay! I picked up some good deals on some stuff I was looking for. Of course, I’ll be reviewing my purchases for Otaku no Podcast. They also had several cosplay-related sellers, weapons sellers, character goods, etc. And it looked like artists’ alley was doing some good business – every time I looked in on it it was always pretty packed.

The video screening rooms had a decent selection of titles and genres. Support came from FUNimation, Nozomi Entertainment/The Right Stuf International, Bandai Entertainment, AnimEigo, Central Park Media (apparently this support came from beyond the grave — creepy!), Section 23 Films, Sentai Filmworks, Viz Media and Media Blasters. They also featured certain “Dealer’s Choice” titles, which, presumably, were whatever the dealers in the dealers’ room wanted to promote sales of. One thing I really liked was that they had big bright LCD screens outside of each viewing room showing the name of the title being played and what looked like example scenes from the various anime that they were showing. Really nice touch there. They also split the titles fairly equally between dub and sub, which prevented the holy war to end all holy wars from occurring.

I am once again thoroughly impressed with Anime LA. It’s the little con that could, and is showing no signs of letting up on its growth. It serves as proof that, even in these times of economic hardship, anime conventions are still needed, and are still viable. My congratulations to the staff and volunteers for yet another enjoyable year of Anime LA.

I’ve got about 1500 photos to go through, edit/retouch, and post; I’ll try and get to that by this weekend. I’ve also got about half an hour of video that I’ll edit down into a highlights reel and post soon.

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