21 December 2010

2010 in review. Or, return of the con year

When I first began doing this project, which has now encompassed the better part of two years of my life and 20 conventions in all, I wasn’t keeping track of a lot. I knew I would be traveling a lot, I knew I would be talking to a lot of people, and that by the time it drew to a close, I would have had an experience I would always remember. It’s impossible looking forward at something to judge exactly how much of an impact it will have in the long run, you can only anticipate and try to relate it to previous experiences in all. But once it’s over, when you’re finally looking back at it, everything feels different. You know it will when you start, but sometimes it takes strange twists you never quite expected.

That’s the best (and probably only) way I can describe the last two years of my life. That, and rushed. Chaotic. Unpredictable. And above all, enjoyable.

When I first envisioned the project as it now stands, I was expecting 6-10 conventions in all, maybe a few hundred replies, and I’d be done inside of year 2009. I did a lot of traveling that year, more than I ever had before. I learned a lot about booking hotels, mapping routes and packing. I also had to learn how to talk to people, if that makes any sense. I had to learn to network. See, when I started doing this, I had no idea that there were other people doing the same thing...and clearly not so many of them. I thought I was alone in my work and was forcing my way through by myself. I had no idea of the friends I would make, or how things would explode in 2010. And explode they did.

First off, I have some acknowledgements. This project has led to me meeting a lot of people, many of which have helped me move forward. Be it sharing rooms, sharing ideas or showing me around the vast landscape of anime blogging and journalism, I have made many friends this year that I wish to thank now.

Ed Sizemore has been probably my biggest help coming from obscure little talker to the blogger I am now. He’s helped me out with editing my thesis, giving me ideas and having some wonderful talks with. I highly recommend hanging out with him if you get the chance.

Pat Delahanty, founder of AnimeCons.com gave me some wonderful statistics related to cons and attendance that helped me write half my thesis introduction. He’s also a fellow Whovian navigating the landscape of anime and multi-fandoms.

Lauren Orsini has shown me that I indeed can be a journalist if I try. Check out her website at http://www.otakujournalist.com

Ed Fortner, founder and Chair of Anime Mid Atlantic, for giving me a wonderful look inside how cons are crafted and run. His interview at AMA formed a good section of my closing section for my thesis. He’s also a fellow Hordie. Lok’tar Ogar!

And it goes without mention that I thank Aleks. She is my single greatest motivator for everything I’ve done. Not to mention, she’s a good sport for letting me drag her into my world and hurling her on the fires of fandom. She likes anime, but the cons were something completely different. And she stuck by me. For which I am eternally grateful, and I love her all the more.

And now some numbers. I sat down and actually worked out how much traveling and talking I did in 2010. While I didn’t for 2009, since I went to a lot of the same conventions, you can only imagine how similar the numbers are, and how many miles I racked up on my old car. (Not to mention on my rewards card. I’ve already blown through $500 in cash back rewards.) A lot of the costs associated with these numbers were subsidized, so the $3000 I spent last year was actually a lot smaller for my out of pocket expenses, but trips like these rack up a lot of money, the lions share going to gas, tolls and hotel rooms. This year, I felt it, for the first time, as I footed the bill for a lot of my trips.

Year 2010 “Stats”
-11 Conventions: Attended, not counting ICON (which is, at best, a day trip I take with friends because they want to visit the Dealer’s Room). Up 2 from 2009, most because I added Inochicon and Another Anime Convention to my list this year. Otherwise, I hit the same 9 cons this year that I did last. I loved the travel, I loved the different crowds, but this will be the last year I even attempt to do this many (unless I hit the lottery or something, and I doubt even then I’ll be able to pull this off again).

-3 Back-to-back Con Weekends: As in when I was attending cons on sequential weekends. I know a lot of people cringe when they think of the idea of doing back to back weekends, especially when you’re not an artist or vendor. The first two weren’t so bad (AMA-AN, NYAF-AAC) because one of the cons in each was essentially “local” and I either didn’t need to pack much or travel more than an hour to get there (I also did ICON-AB back-to-back, but don’t count it because I was only at ICON for a day and it’s maybe 50 miles away on Long Island). But the third combo, Neko-AUSA, royally killed me. Both were 5 day cons, both required 230+ mile drives (which I made myself) and both required large suitcases to pack. All with 2 days in between to rest. It took me a full week to recover from them.

-44 Days: This is how many days out of the past year I was away from home at cons. Counting convention days themselves and travel days necessary to get to and from them. As I’ve said before, I disdain “weekend conning,” and prefer to be there a day early. Sometimes, if the con is far away, I also tend to stay and extra day so the long drive doesn’t kill me in the end. But in 2010 I spent the equivalent of a month and a half away from home, spaced out over 10 months.

-2126 Miles: Total traveled. This might have been what killed my car in the end. After logging about this many miles last year, right after Anime Boston my beloved Oldsmobile started dying. And Boston was the second con of the year. By August, it was gone. And I’ve already put a few thousand miles on its replacement. Now I love driving, I really do, but much like days spent away, I never want to try to accumulate this many miles again. It’s almost the length of a cross country drive, mercifully broken up into multiple short jaunts. (This number also does not take into account miles driven while AT the con itself. Sometimes I am forced to drive places during the weekend, so tack on an additional 20-25 miles for a more accurate number.)

-213 Miles: Average per con. The actual range is 42 miles for Anime Next on the short end to 383 miles for Nekocon (NYAF notwithstanding). But average everything together and this is how far I tend to travel for each con. Roughly the distance from Queens to Boston.

-43 Panels: Not panel hours (those are higher), but the actual number of panels I gave in 2010. Now compare that to what I gave in 2009- 7. A 600% increase. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, they were a blast to give, and I’m already looking forward to next year. But when I look at that number, and try figuring out how many people I met through them this year...well, that’s a number I could never figure out.

52 Hours: ...of programming. Over two full days worth of speaking. And it’s a wonder my throat gives out as much as it does. But much like number of panels, this is something I would never trade for the world.

Looking back at the numbers, I’m still shocked I survived. And also impressed I managed to throw each of those weekends together, often with friends in the mix. None of them turned out badly, either. It gave me a chance to not only conduct follow-up research (340 replies from Boston-Otakon), meet even more new people and see how much of my data actually fit in with observations. it also gave me extra time to revise and revisit the work I’d done, and modify findings for the final project.

I hate ranking cons. I hate ranking anything, actually, because I hate implying that something might end up “last,” even when it was a good experience for me. So rather than list off my favorite cons, I’m going to just list which experiences stood out most for me, and the ones I would like to repeat in future years.

Best Con Experience: Anime Boston. Look at that, second con of the year and it was the best. But in truth, it was. Anime Boston has become my favorite convention to attend. Best array of panels, best location, best events. I can’t find any fault with this con at all, and it is one of only a few cons I plan to attend every year faithfully. I’ve made good friends and shared good times at this con.

Best “Local Flavor” Experience: Another Anime Con. The con itself was fine. But what struck me the most about it was how much fun being in Nashua was. Between the atmosphere of the hotel itself, the season and the local fare to do outside of the con, Aleks and myself had such a good time that we still talk about it, and she wants to go back next year. This is truly a case of the con’s location adding to the experience of the con itself.

“Busiest” Weekend: Anime USA. And I mean busy in a good way. AUSA kicked my rear and didn’t let up until I was safe in my room Sunday night beginning the recovery process. Between panels (I gave the most hours of any con at this one with 9), gatherings, events and just getting caught up in the flow of the weekend, AUSA impressed me by leaps and bounds, and will join Boston on my list of faithfully attended cons. I’m looking forward to 2011 very much.

Most Relaxing Weekend: Connecticon. In contrast to AUSA, Connecticon was one of those weekends where I had a lot of “downtime.” It wasn’t the con I gave the fewest panels, or even panel hours, at, but it was the one weekend where I actually had time to explore the con, lounge around, and generally not feel rushed. Everything I had to do was spaced out, I had a chance to crash frequently in my hotel, and came away feeling very relaxed.

Most Memorable Event (At the con): Pocky Dogpile, Anime Next. I often bring boxes of Pocky with me to various cons, where I give it out just for fun. It’s a tradition I started at Katsucon 2009 and persists even to this day. But at Anime Next, it took a turn for the strange. I was walking between the Expo Center and the Hotel on Saturday night and I saw a cluster of girls playing a game of some sort. I quickly grabbed some Pocky and said “Hey girls, Pocky!” and threw it up in the air. I witnessed a complete chaotic breakdown as they jumped on each other for the one pack I’d thrown, followed by the streaking shadow of a person running around the side of the Expo center, and a lot of laughs. Random, irreverent, but also an interesting look into what people are willing to do for some chocolate covered butter sticks. (A similar event happened at Nekocon, but the Pocky was summarily smashed to dust.)

Most Memorable Event (Panel-related): Castles, Forests and Bath Houses. Rather than list one event that stood out the most for me, I want to point out that this panel has given me some of my best con experiences this year. Examples: At Anime Next I was moved from the smallish Panel 3 to the much larger Panel 2 when it became apparent there was nowhere near enough room to fit all the attendees in there. They left the doors open and the cheering for the related films could be hear across the hotel. At Otakon, I arrived at the panel space a half hour early to find it filled already. I treated the attendees to a 30 minute “Pre-panel Party” of AMVs and music. And at NYAF, I had the largest crowd I’ve ever had for a panel. This panel has quickly become my favorite to give at cons.

But I can’t pass up memorable panel experiences without also mentioning the “Fanthropology” event at Otakon. I’ve covered this in my Otakon-In-Tweets review, but it deserves a summary here: After the panelists never showed for the “Fanthropology” panel on Saturday night, myself, Jennifer Fu (of the MIT Anime club and Comparative Media major) and two other girls got onstage and proceeded to host our own version of the panel. Spontaneous, fun and satisfying.

Most Memorable Event (Con-related, but not at the con): The Katsu rush. Three days before Katsucon was set to begin, NYC (and most of the 1-95 corridor) got slammed by a blizzard that dumped almost 2 feet of snow on my house and driveway. This led to me not being able to leave for Katsu when I wanted to on Thursday (it took me most of that day to dig my car out). Because I lost a travel day, the morning of Katsucon I had to do something I hate doing- I woke up wicked early, jumped in my car, and drove all the way to National Harbor by myself. 5 hours alone in my car, doing 70 on I-95, all the way to the Gaylord. I made it there a little after 1 PM, more than enough time to grab my badge and meet my friends. But that set the tone of the entire weekend for me, and before I knew it, Katsucon was over and done.

Most Improved Con Experience: Otakon. I learned from last year. In 2009, I went into Otakon with the expectations of it being a larger version of the small cons I was used to, and it destroyed me. I did not have that good a time and wondered why people wanted to go so badly. This year, I learned my lesson. I went into the weekend with the knowledge and foresight I had picked up from 2009, and had a wonderful time. Now that I know how to have fun at Otakon, I can look forward to it that much more.

Most Random Event: Hetalia “Abduction.” This one comes courtesy of Otakon. It was Saturday night and I was walking the convention center, looking for something to do. I was also dressed in a green velvet smoking jacket, frilled shirt and colonial style wig, from my time at the Doctor Who photoshoot. I had previously been referred to as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Washington and various other colonial era people. But this time I was jumped from behind by a gaggle of girls, who proceeded to call me “Austria!” and drag me across the floor to the outdoor fountain where a Hetalia shoot was going on. Before I could explain myself, I was being thrown into various poses and group shots. I went along with it as best I could for about a half hour until the general excitement had died down. When the girls exclaimed how unusual it was to see a guy cosplaying a Hetalia character, I pulled out my sonic screwdriver and explained I was dressed as the Third Doctor. Which led to yet another round of squeals and shots with my being “in character.” A very random and fun way to end my weekend.

Most Unusual Weekend: Nekocon. Wow, I never thought I would be saying those words about Nekocon. I’ve been attending Neko for 4 years now and I usually love it, but this year...it felt off. There were a lot of people there, yes, but I didn’t see them most of the time. The energy was severely lacking most of the weekend. I didn’t spend any money in the Dealer’s Room, and spent a good deal of time away from the con itself. And then it was over and I was home. I felt it, my friends felt it...we weren’t disappointed per se, but we had hoped for more in the end. Well, there’s always next year.

So what not for 2011?
Coming off the past two years, which really felt like one when the dust settled (I still confuse Anime Next 2009 with 2010), what do I have to look forward to for 2011? Well, first off, fewer cons. I have 6 on my radar for next year, but it will probably end up closer to 8. Fewer, but not few. It’s going to be hard to choose which ones to cut, because I’ve made friends at all of them and the chance to not see them stings a little. But since I’m turning 30 and looking into PhD programs, I know I will have to cut back a lot. But the bulk of the cons I plan to attend are between February and April, which is very manageable right now.

I’m hitting Zenkaikon for the first time. A lot of people have raved about this one and I want to see it. It’s much closer to home than any of the others I attend, so travel won’t be as crazy.

I’m also a guest for the first time at a con, Conbust 2011 at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Needless to say, I’m excited. I’ve been asked to give panels before, but never invited as a guest. A new experience for me in the end.

And look at that, those cons are back to back. I guess some things will never change.

As for new panels, I have 3 I’m working on. One is a “sister panel” to Dead Like Us, building upon a lot of what I’ve learned about ghosts, monsters and Japanese mythology. Expect that one in the summer. I’m also spinning off a religion panel from the first half of Dead Like Us, so I can focus more on traditions and beliefs of the Japanese people, and their historical contexts. Look for that in the spring. The third one is a secret for now, only in the planning stages, but I’m aiming to debut that at AUSA. I’m also revising “Modern Mythology,” so I don’t plan to give it at all after Zenkaikon, not until the new ideas are fully formed and executed.

So keep look out for me in 2011, I’ll still be around. Don’t ever hesitate to say hello at a con. As usual, just look for the Ninth Doctor.

PS: I know I don’t update as much as I used to, but there are three reasons for that. First: Thesis takes a lot of time. I had to finish and edit it the last few months, and it took priority.

Second: I’m writing content for Weekend Nihonjin, which I want to relaunch in January. So a lot of what I WOULD have written here, I am writing for there.

Third: I have two other writing gigs right now. For those not in the know, I write movie reviews every few weeks for Insert Disc. Nothing anime related, just US movies I go to see and enjoy. But I also am one of the staff writers over at Real Otaku Gamer, where I review games, anime and manga. So if you can’t find me here, look for me there.


  1. I just wanted to let you know what a pleasure it has been reading your blog this year. I attended your Miyazaki panel at Connecticon, and have since followed your work. Particularly, I really like your perspective on convention culture and fandom. In a certain sense, it's very unique and very ordinary at the same time. Many academics and journalists would attempt to frame their observations of this type through an extrapolated, almost ethnographic lens. You don't. From what I can tell, you see yourself as much a part of this culture as any other attendee; you just have a better vocabulary to express your sentiments (perhaps due to your academic background and con experience).

    Bravo! Keep up the good work, and get in touch when your thesis is complete -- I would love to read it!

  2. What a great project you have! I was wandering what kind of studies about anthropology and anime I could find, and yours sounds really good. I wish I could attend to you panels, but I live a little far, in south america actually xD
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Keep up the good work my man. I'm hoping to see you sometime in the future.