Saturday, May 23, 2009

Animazement 2009: Wait, What?

I said there'd be another post this week, and here it is. There'll probably be at least another shorter one next week too, in addition to the usual one.

This time, I talk about what's exhausted me this weekend! (Exciting, no? Relevant, no? What do you mean, "no?")

So Animazement '09 was this weekend. Technically still is, but nothing much tends to happen on the Sunday, and I only went for one day this year. This after I intended for last year to be my final year in attendance, after having attended all 11 years since the convention began back in 1998. And thus, now I've technically attended all 12 years, though I was only there for about 6ish hours today as opposed to the whole weekend. None of my friends came this year, after all, two of the usual three I hang out with there off in Japan, and the third being at home with family.

I attended the convention as a normal paying attendee from 1998 through 2002, then after I started writing for Anime Dream back in 2002, I started getting press passes, attending for free and doing media work (Reporting the news, interviewing guests, transcribing guest panels, writing up con reports, etc.) between 2003 and 2008. Some years produced more content than others, depending on the schedule and how much access the press got to guests. (When I first started reporting, they were able to give members of the anime press access to a few guests at a time for interviews and a sort of round table discussion in a small closed room, in which I had the good fortune to sit and talk with quite a few industry celebrities. (The likes of whom the vast majority of Americans have never heard of and could care less about - but as a nerd in this sort of subculture, it was a pretty powerful experience.) Since then, the press pretty much lost any real direct time with these people and just had to try to get questions in during guest panels, competing with the regular attendees. That's about it.) I plan to do more press coverage of cons in the future - probably some more Animazements at some point, and ideally some others, not having attended any of the numerous others across the country yet. But this time, I attended as a VIP panelist.

So now I've basically attended as everything but an invited guest, with a collection of passes from over the years ranging from normal attendance through press work through a VIP pass now. My mother - a local textile artist specializing in the tie-dye-like Japanese fiber art "Shibori" - attended to run a Shibori panel and invited me along to be her assistant, helping to move all the equipment and film some of the panel for the local Artists in Schools program she's participating in.

When we first arrived earlier in the morning, I was still pretty wide awake despite not having slept since the previous day. (I'd opted to oversleep then anyway, as so to better prepare for staying up all night and going to the convention.) One of the reasons I'd decided to attend this year was curiosity about the convention's new setting - this year, it moved to the Raleigh Convention Center. The closest to home it's been, and the biggest location by far. (I can't remember if I'd been there before, frankly.) We spent an hour or so getting our bearings and learning the layout of all the rooms. Gradually planning a potential future novel - one I'm pretty sure may materialize further down the line - set within the subculture, I wanted to get a feel for the place. It was a little tiring getting around with all the staircases to climb and descend - but all things considered, given the highly concentrated nerdiness of the attendees, that kind of exercise was undoubtedly needed by most in attendance. As usual, the convention was loaded with people cosplaying ("Costume Play," essentially dressing up as characters from anime and video games with typically homemade costumes. Sort of the appeal of Halloween without having to wait for a single day in the year to dress up and pretend to be someone else.), some of whom were fairly scantily clad, and some of whom couldn't exactly pull that off.

After unloading the car with everything needed for the panel, we had to wait quite a while outside our scheduled room, since the preceding Origami panel ended up going on for about 10-15 minutes overtime - things being off schedule are something of a con standard. While we waited, some guy started hovering around us babbling about various con matters - I couldn't decide if there was something off about him or if he was just trying to get in a little face time in realizing that we were panelists, and therefore "more important" than regular attendees. After all, again, pretty much everybody wants to be noticed by somebody at these things, whether they're looking for attention from panelists - even in the less attended cultural panels, though Animazement has more cultural panels than any anime convention on the east coast, which is certainly something good - or even momentary acknowledgment of their existence by one celebrity or another at the guest panels. (And three of the guests - two elderly industry figures I've talked with before and a shamisen player - ended up cancelling their appearances at the last minute this year due to swine flu concerns.)

In this fixation on being noticed and acknowledged that the con-going geeks have, you'd almost think that this sort of event would conceptually be an ideal nerd mating ground of some sorts, if not for how awkward everybody is.

While we waited, some other guy with dyed spiked hair ended up approaching us and specifically asking me if I'd been on American Idol. Of course, I haven't - I don't even sing. I have a pretty terrible singing voice, though I'd like to get back into music again someday. Oddly enough, this isn't the first time I'd been mistaken for someone on American Idol, as when I was getting a hepatitis vaccination that I was overdue for at my university's student health center a few years ago in preparation for a study abroad trip to Japan that fell through, a nurse working there somehow mistook me for Bo Bice of all people. I usually grow my hair out, yes, and I often let myself get a little scruffy, but I couldn't really see the resemblance. Not exactly keen on "southern rock" myself, anyway - I'm more of an indie pop rock/shoegaze kinda guy. Suffice to say, this guy kind of weirded me out too, and before we headed in to start the panel, he basically forced a similarly confused friend who had no idea what was going on to take his picture standing next to me, since he kept going on about how he was convinced that I was famous. When I told his friend I had no idea what was going on, he said he was just as clueless. Naturally, I made a disturbed face. For such a short amount of time spent there, that was one of the strangest encounters I've had at an anime con yet - and those things are havens for the strange to begin with. I'm kind of inclined to think he was trying to pull some kind of nonsensical prank that didn't really go anywhere, but I didn't get that sense at any point, and I'm usually good at intuiting these things. I'm not sure if it's good to have a face that stands out or not, in the grand scheme of things - if I have to be remotely famous for anything, I'd rather it just be my writing, and at this point, I'm nothing but extremely obscure at best in that regard.

After getting into the room late, we ended up taking another 10-15 minutes to set up. Out of the thousand-plus attendees, only around 20 showed up for the panel: a mix of college age students, older attendees/parents, and a very few high school kids. About the sort of mix you'd expect of the tiny minority of anime con-goers actually interested in cultural (As opposed to simply pop cultural) and arts-and-crafts type events. Despite some setbacks, the panel was a success, overall - everyone got to dye a piece of fabric with their own design and take them home with them to wash. In the end, it seemed to be a successful, universally enjoyed panel. As it drew to a close, I got to enjoy being mistaken by one of the older women in attendance for someone high school aged (Probably another reason why women don't tend to acknowledge my existence much to begin with - when I bother to shave, I basically shave off a good 8-9 years and look like a kid.), shocking both her and a college student there when I pointed out that I'd been finished with school (Even after five years of college) for well over a year now. It turned out that said college student was finishing up the same Asian-focused International Studies degree I had at my alma mater, UNC-Charlotte, so she and I spent a little bit talking about the Japanese program and some of the International Studies professors there, with a mix of anecdotes and gripes.

We only had about an hour or so to do the panel, and after setting up, I spent the whole time sitting on a table behind the attendees filming a good bit of the panel, killing my arms trying to keep the lightweight camera steady and killing my back in there being nowhere to sit down with any kind of support for my back, after standing up for hours on end. (A typical problem when attending the convention in each of its past locations as well, back in the North Raleigh Hilton from '98 through 2000 and the Imperial Sheraton Hotel out in Durham from 2001 through 2008. Too much standing up, never enough places to sit down with good back support - you always end up stiff and sore after a long weekend at these cons.)

We cleaned up after the panel and hit the Dealer's Room for about an hour and a half - I picked up an import copy of Taiko no Tatsujin DS, an excellent and innovative touchscreen taiko drum-based music game, Japanese music games being amongst the easiest to get into for the non-fluent with limited knowledge required to fully enjoy the gameplay - most of which amounted to waiting around while my mother talked to various people. She ran into one of her old students from her Japanese classes she's taught over the years at a local high school who recently returned from Japan - when she and I were introduced, we didn't have much to talk about, since were strangers, of course, though we'd gone to the same high school - and saw one or two others. Then she ended up caught up in conversation with a Japanese import dealer selling kimonos, masks, koi no bori-like bags, and other little interesting things, and made a connection that could eventually lead to their selling her work as well, since they were interested in her shibori panel but had been unable to attend. So out of all that, I also got the experience of hanging out with a vendor in the dealer's room behind their table for probably about an hour while they discussed kimonos, importing, shibori, and more.

When we finally headed out around 3 PM when all was said and done, my mother bought me an ice cream cone from a street vendor parked outside, the con being an absolutely ideal place to set up outside this weekend, in thanks for my patience. She had an important morning and afternoon both as a local artist and teacher, and while I didn't do a tremendous amount - not nearly as much as I would have if I were hanging out with friends as usual - it was nice to be there to witness all that and help her out with the panel. I like to think of it as a "good son" day, something to ideally make up for what a pain in the ass I know I was to my parents back in my adolescence. At least as an adult, I've figured out the importance of having a good relationship with one's parents, so things have generally been much better since those days, even if I'm still technically a freeloader with no idea when I'm finally going to be able to leave the nest, so to speak. (Though I'd hope that iPhone game and novel publishing might potentially lead to some kind of demand for my writing - assuming people actually end up enjoying what I write - that could open some doors to making a little money and getting out of the south.)

After returning home, I took a nap for a few hours and had a late dinner. What little I saw of and participated in of the con this year still amounted to some new and different perspectives on things. If my friends weren't so scattered, I would've loved to have attended with them, and I definitely hope to go back and attend as press again in the future to do some more coverage and make good memories with friends there again. (I didn't even get to go to Anime Hell this year, for the first time in probably something like 8 years, and I've always loved that event in all the weird international and retro commercials, cartoons, and so forth that they manage to dig up on the internet.) It's nice to see the con continuing to grow in a new, bigger location, and I wish all of them running it the best of luck with continuing it. I've got no idea if I'll be going again next year after I hadn't even planned to attend this year, but I suppose only time and various other factors will tell. Either way, the convention's played an important part of my nerdy youth, and even though I'm not quite as much of an otaku as I used to be - not that I can deny still being one with my ever-growing huge game collection and the fact that I still watch and write about anime, the subculture, and industry, so I guess you can technically say I've "matured" some as an otaku, anyway - I want to see more conventions all over the east coast and country as time continues to move forward, and ideally see my friends at more of them if I can. As we continue to scatter around the world, special planned weekend events like this may increasingly become our only means of seeing each other in person every once in a blue moon, after all.


CrazyCris said...

SOunds like an interesting weekend to me!

I have trouble imagining what these big conventions must be like... from what I've read online they actually sound rather nightmarish due to the insane amount of (often insane) people! But on the other hand they sound like they could be an entertaining experience... The only thing I've remotely been to along those lines would be scientific conferences with multiple sessions running in parallel (which always leave me frustrated 'cause there are invariably several talks I want to listen to going on in different rooms...) but event though they can be chaotic they don't seen as crazy as the Cons...

Benjamin Fennell said...

It was indeed. The con's always a surreal, amusing experience, even if I'm only there for a few hours like I was this time. When there with my friends, half of it's just finding places to hang out where we can most effectively observe and make fun of people.

Yeah, for most people, I imagine they could be fairly nightmarish. It didn't feel AS crowded as in the past this year though, largely due to being in a much bigger space - there was actually room to walk and breathe, and they even had a little comic library room run by the local public library where people could get away from the constant noise to someplace quiet. A definite good addition. When set in hotels in the past, I'd often spend at least a few hours of the con hanging out with friends in their room, just to get away from the craziness on the first floor. But yeah, at least with scientific conferences are much more academic. At anime cons, you've got a bunch of - frequently hyperactive - people (Mostly teenagers) dressed up in costumes who're obsessed with Japanese animation, comics, and video games. There's a lot to be made fun of in that, obviously, but if one is interested in any of these things, there's still fun to be had. And the cultural panels tend to draw a more interesting crowd than the typical over the top pop culture panels.

When doing the shibori panel, a rock group who'd come from Japan and performed a concert the previous night was in the next room over, and people kept cheering loudly, drowning out my mother's attempts to explain the art. That got grating fast.

Lindsay Champion said...

Haha, Bo Bice!

lindsay ||

Benjamin Fennell said...

No kidding. I hung my head in shame after realizing who I'd been connected to online. I'm not sure what's been worse - being mistaken for a high school student (Or freshman by kids younger than me who happened to tower over me in college), female (Pretty much just by old people or people with glasses who weren't really looking at me), or Bo Bice.

Eric said...

Sorry to bump an old post, but the question I wanted to ask you relates to this topic.

I've never been to an anime or comic con, but they do sound like a lot of fun. Your experience sounds awesome. Big surprise indeed that they didn't abuse the shows or games you talked about with the fmv videos.

I watched deathnote and found it pretty boring honestly. I thought the concept of it was interesting, but the episodes I've watched are just the same thing with slowness and poor execution. Luckily, it's only 30 something episodes long. To be honest, I really like shows or things with supernatural themes, but a lot of the ones I've read about or seen come off really goofy or just to convoluted as if it was pulled out of a wet dream or fanfiction. (Oh look, I can destroy an entire planet with an energy ball. I have the power to go to the underworld with the swipe of a sword.)

Which animes have you seen and which ones are your favorites? I can assume One Piece is one of them since you said you like it. From the ones I've seen, I like One Piece and Avatar the last Airbender.

Have you ever seen Inuyasha by an chance?