This past weekend my New England journeys came to a close with Another Anime Convention 2010, at the Radisson Castle hotel in Nashua, NH. I had learned of this convention last year at Connecticon, but was unable to attend due to a previous commitment to AUSA. I promptly forgot about it. Then, earlier in the year while doing my thing on Otaku Social Network, I discovered the con again on the forums, talking about having a theme this year of Gothic and Horror. Three things immediately clicked in my head: 1- the con was in New Hampshire, a place I had not been to since I was 10 or 11; 2- The theme was Gothic and Horror, something I crave in excess during the month of October (I love Halloween, changing leaves, ghost stores and crisp weather); and 3- it was being held in a CASTLE (not a real castle, but honestly, who cares, its a castle). So I went about my usual business of submitting panels, booking hotels, mapping routes, and waiting for the con to begin.
A week later, I’m sitting here, back home in NY, and wishing I was still there. AAC 2010 was THAT good. For a convention that only pulls around 1800-2000 attendees, I found it to be a busy weekend, full of good panels, good people and good fun.
As I have said, the con was held in a castle...or at least what Radisson Hotels thinks a castle would look like. Medieval theme tapestries line the halls, armor guards the doors, wood paneling is everywhere, and the basement corridors look like something out of a Castlevania game. Gimmicky, yes, but ultimately fulfilling. Radisson Nashua was, in essence and practice, the perfect location for this convention. The rooms were spacious, the foliage beautiful and the facilities inviting. One critique: there was little access to food if you did not have a car, or were not willing to walk.
I say this time and again- cons need food close by, and the hotel restaurant doesn’t aways cut it. I made this remark about the lack of anything close to AMA, I made it about the early closing times of Hartford, CT and I reference it frequently when I talk about the unmitigated disaster that was Tekkoshocon 08 (which was also held, interestingly enough, at a Radisson). Fortunately, AAC was located close enough to food that if one was willing to walk to the bottom of the hill, where Spit Brook Rd met Daniel Webster Hwy, there was a Starbucks (inside a Barnes and Noble), IHOP, Burger King and McDonalds, all within close reach. Walk a bit further, and the Pheasant Lane Mall had a very sizable food court to choose from. Of course, the walk down would inevitably result in a walk back up the hill, which is a blessing or a curse, depending on the person in question. For my part, Aleks and I alternated between a splendid Taiwanese place a bit further down the road from the Mall, and a Smokey Bones BBQ just across the border in MA.
Back to the hotel itself, I have heard some complaints that the hallways were too crowded, but never found that to be the case outside of the Dealer’s Room. Indeed, the layout seemed to fit the con perfectly, and was very well contained. None of the panel rooms were out of the way, main events was just the right size, and if you were ever feeling cramped, a quick walk down the hill in front of the hotel lead to a lovely lake and fresh air. Normally I am very critical of “hotel cons,” but AAC is one of the few that does it right, and does it well.
I remarked on twitter before I left that I was impressed with the scheduling. Indeed, it’s been a long time since I attended panels that weren’t mine, often because I find a lot of cons go overboard on either industry-specific fare, or load up on “fandom panels” that degenerate into shouts of “OMGKAWAII” and mass glomping of in-character cosplays. AAC, thankfully, did not go either route, but presented a rich and varied fare that included those aforementioned industry and fan panels, but also art panels, culture panels, steampunk panels (of which there were a lot) and assorted 18+ fare that actually made me glad I’m pushing 30.
The first panel I attended on the weekend was entitled “Steam Rises from the East,” and was, you guessed it, a steampunk in anime panel. And not just a steampunk-at-the-anime-con-panel, an actual exploration of steampunk elements within anime and Japanese culture, a list of steampunk anime and video games, and a brief discussion of the genre itself. There is no real way to describe this panel in a review of the con as a whole, so I plan to give it full justice in subsequent postings. Needless to say, it threw me for a loop, and I came away satisfied.
Next up for me was Internet Memes 101, yet another panel that I can’t do a proper review of here, so let me summarize: there’s more to meme culture than shouting in the halls, despite that being what most people experience it is. Reviewing the origins of the internet meme sheds new light on the phenomenon, and the panelist did this well, without resorting to cheap laughs and “flavor of the month” examples, though that’s not to say there wasn’t anything funny about the panel. I haven’t laughed so hard in months.
Meanwhile back in Nashua, I attended the Christopher Sabat panel with Aleks, and it was the first time since the summer of 03 that I actually went to a voice actor fan session. And all I can really say about that is that Mr. Sabat is one truly funny guy who knows how to poke fun at himself and anime in general without coming off as conceited. I can respect what he has done, and his views on the fandom as well.
My last panel of the weekend was “One Hell of a What? A Look into Kuroshitsuji,” and it turned out exactly how I expected it to. I generally refuse to attend these types of panels because I know what’s going to happen, but it was Sunday morning, the panel was before my Miyazaki one, and since I have been enjoying the anime a good deal, it made sense to drop by. After maybe 15 minutes of going over the differences between anime and manga, and looking at the characters and storylines from both seasons, it swiftly turned into a “Q & A” with the “characters,” and after the third glomp, I made a retreat to setup for my panel.
AAC was not perfect, mind you. I missed out on the chance to see the L33tStr33t Boys yet again due to scheduling, but when I swung by for the Zamza concert on Sunday, the music was so loud it hurt my ears and made the band sound awful. The video game room was large but underutilized, and I found myself playing the Xbox 360 I bought on Saturday more often than sitting in the game room. I never found the tabletop section at all. Several events ran over, which led to Aleks and myself having to wait an hour to get into the rave, but once we were in it was an interesting experience. As usual, I never really made it into Main Events, since the Masquerade filled up extremely fast.
As for my panels, the crowd was interested, but small. I don’t think I had 40 people the entire weekend. Coming from full rooms at NYAF, it was a little disheartening, but I am glad for those who did attend and spoke with me after the panels were over.
Oh, and my weekend experiences ended with two glorious, and very appetizing, words: Chibi Cookie. I think every con should have a panel like this.
Aleks said on Friday that the Dealer’s room was “just the right size,” and I agree completely. Much like Inochicon back in August, AAC had a merged Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley, but unlike the previous con, this one was shoved into a smallish room at the end of the hallway. While this led to some cramped conditions for sure, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. There were just enough vendors, just enough variety and just enough cute handicrafts to make browsing the room a pleasure. And unlike some cons that seem to be just a commercial area with some panel space attached, AAC included their vendors an artists as a complement to their programming. It made perfect sense to visit the room between panels, or to get some shopping done, without it feeling overblown or unnecessary.
More than many cons I’ve attended, AAC gave off the feeling of being a strong community centered around their love of fandom. In addition to some of the best cosplay I’ve seen all year, the convention never felt cramped or rushed, but rather felt like a family atmosphere accentuated by love of anime (and Doctor Who, I wish I had brought my outfit for this one). Despite huge crowds, I never felt lost or alone, never felt the world rushing by or closing in. This is something I have felt before at other New England cons like Anime Boston or Connecticon, which leads me to wonder if this is indeed a trend in the area. But for those seeking a small con with good feel to it, and good people to meet, AAC is an excellent choice.
An interesting side note: AAC had some of the best cosplay I had seen all year. From a duct-tape Maes Hughes (trust me, it worked) to the demon from Legend, to the mess of Kuroshitsuji characters and everything in between, AAC faithful showed off their costuming skills with gusto. One great example: there wasn't one instance of "felt hair" the entire weekend- people either kept excellent wigs or, in other cases, their own hair.
Wow, I’ve sure said a lot. I hate to reshash for closing thoughts, but sometimes that makes the most sense. I was surprised in the end how good AAC turned out, and also surprised how it manages to stay small despite being less than an hour from the megalopolis of Boston. Whereas the latter’s con can pull 17000 people rather easily, AAC is content to remain small, under 2000 attendees and happy to be that way. Maybe it’s content to be my new “best kept secret in New England,” (sorry Connecticon), but I can only imagine what would happen in the faithful from Boston knew such a great experience existed a scant 36 miles north of the city. But for what it is, it’s a great con, full of good people and good memories. I’m very glad I attended, and I hope I get to go back next year.
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