What happens when you go to a convention and it seems nothing is set up to allow the attendees to have fun? You make your own fun.
AnimeNEXT 2013 had a lot of things go wrong. I’m not even talking about the torrential downpours on Friday that flooded the covered walkway between the convention center and the adjacent hotels where the panels and contests were held. You can’t control the weather. I’m talking man-made errors that put a damper on the weekend.
I was really excited to attend AnimeNEXT this year. They’re the same group that put together the wonderful MangaNEXT convention that I raved about last year. I assumed they would, once again, put the focus on the fans who pay to show up and have a good time. They didn’t.
When I arrived on Friday morning, it was chaos. The rain couldn’t be avoided but the inconsistent directions from volunteers/staff and lack of signs could have been. When one person says to get out of the building through the front door (straight into the rainy parking lot), another says to head into the convention hotel, and another says to go to the show floor immediately, you kind of freeze up. You can’t split in three to follow all the directions. It doesn’t help that there were security workers trying to get people to leave the information booth because too many people were confused about what to do.
But that’s first day registration chaos. Maybe you could write that off as a simple series of misunderstandings.
I walked into the convention hotel and got all my gear ready to go to my first panel. I just needed to find where it was. I looked at the schedule and it said to go to room 2. I decided to locate all the panel rooms listed on the map so I would know where to go all weekend. 1, 2, and 3 were found without issue. 5 and 6 were a bit more problematic; there was no room 6. Room 5 was switched to 4 and Room 6 was switched to 5. All I heard when going to panels that day was confused people trying to find the mysterious Room 4 that wasn’t on the convention map. There were also unlabeled workshop rooms and the decision not to distinguish between Main Events A and Main Events B on the schedule.
Typos happen. It couldn’t be that big a deal, right?
The first panel I went to started 15 minutes late. It would have been 10 minutes late, but the convention staff decided to browbeat the panelists for showing up late for five minutes. Their excuse? The roads were starting to flood and the drive in took longer than expected. They ran a great panel on samurai stereotypes in anime and manga but they were clearly flustered for most of it.
Maybe there was something in the contract about the lesser-known panelists being penalized if they showed up late. It could just have sounded worse to the line wrapped around the corner than it actually was.
I showed up to the second panel and got my notes set up. I recognized the panelist from MangaNEXT the year before; she ran a great manga drawing workshop. Then she informed the room that her Japanese language and culture workshop had been moved to this room at this time slot and she had no idea where the panel on gender tropes in josei manga and anime was. She repeated this over and over until she started her workshop.
The staff at the door had no idea why the schedule at the door wasn’t changed or where the other panel was. They did nothing to help the panelist answer questions or restore order. The workshop itself was great and I’m now far less intimidated to learn Japanese. I did have an article planned that was going to contrast the samurai panel with the gender trope panel for a broader look at gender identity in anime and manga; that’s not happening now, obviously. I tried to find out if the other panel was cancelled or rescheduled, but no one I asked could give me a straight answer.
This is where I began to think that the people running the convention weren’t really focused on the fans at all. The panels were high quality. The guest list and main events looked impressive. The organization left a lot to be desired.
My next big event was the Opening Ceremony. I looked up some videos from previous years and was excited to get some photos and film the event. I had a huge video planned that was going to represent fan culture at AnimeNEXT 2013 with clips from the big events, photos, and interviews with cosplayers and attendees. I knew that wasn’t going to happen before the hour-long Opening Ceremony was finished.
Press were instructed to check in with one of two staff members 10 minutes before the Main Events started. We would be seated at that time in a special press section. Two minutes before the Opening Ceremony started, the three lingering press badge holders walked in and set up. One took a seat in the front and kept his tripod really low; another crouched on the floor between the front and back half of the auditorium; I went to the back of the room where no one was sitting and set up.
I expected to have my badge checked since no one guided me to press seating and I did; I did not expect to see an aggressive security guard doing laps between the three press people in the room, talking directly into the shotgun mics on the cameras so the footage was routinely ruined. New rules were made up on the fly about who we could or could not video or photograph that could have been explained if the press policies were actually followed at the event. When I packed up and left for another panel, I heard the convention staff complaining about how the press just walked in and did whatever they wanted and how it couldn’t happen again.
That was when I knew that video shoots and main events weren’t happening for me at AnimeNEXT. If they can’t even stick to the rules we all agreed to, I wasn’t even going to try to push it. I’d do my standard con write-ups of individual panels and cosplay and write it off.