Im still surprised I survived. Fall con season came to an end last weekend with Anime USA 2010, at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, Virginia, the culmination of 10 months and 11 cons for me. And while I would like nothing more than to sleep for a few years, there is no rest for the anime researcher. So instead, I’m taking this time to formally go over my last con of the year before I throw myself headlong into the holidays and the remnants of my Master’s Thesis before year’s end leads to a new year with new challenges and new experiences.
Anime USA has fast become one of my favorite cons of the year. (And this was only my second attendance.) I will admit, I initially balked at the idea of attending this year- it was so close to the odyssey that is Nekocon, and I found myself facing the prospect of attending alone. At the same time, I’ve made a lot of friends who attend, and I’ve had some great times with some of the staffers. Add to that I wanted to interview their Evil Overlord since last year, and it won out in the end. So I grabbed a friend who had never attended a con before, loaded up my car in record time, and made the much more manageable 5 hour jaunt down 1-95 to Arlington for the last time this year.
AUSA is one of the truly unsung heroes of the con circuit- smaller than neighboring Katsucon, sandwiched in between Nekocon and Thanksgiving, and yet it manages to put together one of the best experiences for any congoer, new or otherwise. Taking the space it has, in the location it resides, it can easily fill a weekend with thrills, chills and fun, something that a lot of other cons seem to be lacking of late, and can hold its own against the “big boys” of the con circuit.
AUSA was held at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, VA, a very pretty, if not very big, hotel with convention facilities dropping three floors underground. Much like the TARDIS, it is indeed “bigger on the inside” than the exterior would suggest. And, much like the TARDIS, there is a lot of space that is expertly utilized. The expansive lobby opens out onto a series of escalators that can take congoers down to the very bottom of the hotel (where the Artist Alley and video rooms were located) or up to the second floor (with gaming tables and some programming rooms). Attendees were also greeted by a giant traditional toori (or gate, for the uninitiated) leading from the registration area to the hotel lobby bar and seating area, which had been renovated since last year. All in all, the hotel was a very lovely place to hold the con, easily on par with the Radisson Castle of AAC, but fitting a lot more people.
The space is not without flaws, mind you. The renovation led to a few movement flow issues on the main floor, mostly relating to where lines could extend, or where people could sit an relax mid-con. And one of the biggest movement issues first day was how to actually access the third floor of the hotel, where the panel and workshop rooms were situated, without using the often packed elevators. The hotel lobby seating area filled up very fast, and after a certain time, could not be used without first ordering food or drinks. Not a big issue by any stretch, but certainly a concern when someone is in a rush, or simply looking for a place to sit down.
For those looking for quick, cheap eats, Crystal City offered a lot, some searching required. The obvious choice for many congoers was the McDonalds across Jefferson Davis Hwy, and it was interesting watching so many “games” of “Frogger” over the weekend as people darted in between cars to reach food and then back. But down many of the side streets, there were more options from Chipotle to affordable but very good steaks at the Sports Bar. (For my part, the best meal of the weekend was at Jaleo, but tapas gets expensive...at least I had friends there with me to differ cost and keep me filled.)
The night I got there, I had the chance to interview the AUSA “Evil Overlord” Nathan Devonshyre and ask him how AUSA differentiates itself from other cons. He told me that AUSA prides itself on offering a near unbroken stream of quality programming for attendees looking for pretty much anything. And AUSA delivers this and more. There are precious few cons that offer 12+ hours of programming, but at its peak, AUSA offers almost 20 straight hours of panels and workshops, alongside viewings and gaming for all. Attending this con and finding nothing to do would be a true anomaly, as it is extremely easy to find something. The friend I brought along with me for this con (and whose experiences I plan to post in the coming week) managed to stay fully occupied from morning to night, between tabletop gaming, video gaming, auditions and panels. To give another idea, I provided 9 hours of programming through 6 panels, and I still had huge gaps in my schedule with which to fill with more panels and workshops. Only Otakon, Anime Boston and Anime Next come close, and of them all, only Anime Next can stay open for 24 hours straight.
Highlights of the weekend included the Psychology of Anime panel (which I only saw part of due to conflict, but was impressed), Mecha Studios voice acting panel (which drew predictable crowds), two Japanese Rope Arts panels (hosted by the Evil Overlord himself), the Comedy AMV showcase in the AMV theatre, Uncle Yo’s stand up show and Dave Lister’s Pokemon Party, which is always a hoot. Aaron Clark of Eva Monkey hosted a great look into the worlds of Evangelion, showcasing a lot of the side stories and merchandising that has come out of the show. And Cosplay Comedian Joe was there taking lots of video and providing laughs all weekend.
Again for my part, I threw down 5 panels by myself over the weekend, including a double header Modern Mythology/Worlds of Miyazaki 3 hour marathon on Friday (Miyazaki was unscheduled, I just did it because I had the three hour slot), late night Shinigami hijinks, Con Horror Stories with Eric Stehmer of Toonzone and a back to back Evangelion and Weekend Nihonjin feature. Many thanks to Aaron Clark and Jed Blue for providing discussion on symbolism in the Eva panel. My throat might not have survived without it.
I’ve become immune to Dealer’s Rooms. I suppose its just an expected side effect to attending so many cons, but I went through the AUSA room without spending a dime on anything. Not to say that the selection was lacking, because it wasn’t. But I had a clear idea of what I wanted, which nobody was carrying, and such I emerged unscathed for the first time since Anime Boston. Anime USA’s Dealer’s Room is middle of the road for cons I attend, and caters to more than just anime fans, which is a plus in these days of multi-fandom attendance. Plus it is literally located off to the side, away from the main hallways, so it doesn’t congest flow at all, a fact that I am thankful for.
I might have dropped more in the Artist Alley, had I not seen many of the same artists the previous week at Nekocon, and done my commissions there. That said, the Artist Alley, which has become my favorite part of the con commerce experience, hands down, was full for the weekend with one of the best varieties I’ve encountered all year. There I spent some money on prints and buttons, and had I been carrying more money, I would have spent more.
Main Events...were untouched by me, as usual.
This has become one of the main criteria with which I judge cons these days. Programming is important, so are sales, but in the end, if nobody is having fun, then the con isn’t really worth attending, is it? Coming from the the somewhat downer that was Nekocon 2010, I was hoping that AUSA would redeem my November and kick my rear. And it did. Maybe it was the close proximity of the attendees while in the con, maybe it was the feel that the con was always full, maybe it was the general goodwill being spread around by each and every attendee, but AUSA was a truly good time for me. I read enough tweets on the official feed of attendees speaking of the friendship and goodwill being spread around to know that I was not alone in feeling this. But by the end of the weekend, I was positive that AUSA was one of my favorite con experiences, and I full plan to keep attending in the future.
AUSA is a mid-sized con at the end of the con year for most people. But that is by no means a detraction from what goes on there. Solid programming, good people and a fun time is what attendees will find at AUSA, and find it in droves. It’s a great way to close out a year of cons, and a great way to gear up for the next year. After all, Katsucon is only 3 months away.