Some people spend Easter Weekend visiting family and old friends, sharing in meals and attending religious services. Some people take advantage of weekend sales and nicer weather. Some people stay in and reflect over the long weekend. And some other people go conning, taking advantage of all three above paths by spending the time among likeminded fellows, shopping for what they love and reflecting on their fandom through participation and communal activity. How many, you may ask? Well, depends on which con you went to.
I spent this past Easter like I have the two previous years: at Anime Boston. And I would first like to mention that I was not alone in this endeavor- some 22,000+ people packed into the Hynes Convention Center this weekend for the annual celebration of Japan, Media and Pop Culture. Anime fans, BBC fans, Homestuck fans, hundreds of Hetalia nations, confused parents, Bronies/Pegasisters and local youth looking for an outlet during a Spring holiday. Rumors and ruminations that the nearby PAX East would derail AB’s recent spate of growth were proven wrong by the middle of Saturday, when the visible crowd was at its fullest, and cosplay became the norm rather than the exception.
As for this humble blogger, I found myself caught between a myriad of worlds, buffeted on all sides, trying desperately to pull as much from the weekend as possible while still maintaining a grip on my (often) fragile sanity. While this was hardly my first Anime Boston (I’ve been to 5 now), at times I felt like the same confused 20-something who first wandered into the Hynes in 2007 after a 2 year break from congoing. While not as refreshing as 2010 or illuminating as 2007, it was still a far cry from the “WTF” con I went to last year, that was over before I realized I was there. Far from perfect, but not the abject failure some sentiments have expressed in the past week or so- Anime Boston 2012 showed growing pains and some awkwardness that only comes naturally when your con breaks the 20K attendee mark and tries to re-establish itself with a brand new identity.
Oh look, I’m bringing this formula back. Anime Boston was hit hard by programming changes in the weeks before the con. Cancellations, rescheduling and almost-nightmare logistics forced the programming staff to work long overtime to get slots filled and schedules out. And for the most part, the weekend was a success on that front. Panels started at 10 AM, ran until almost 2 AM, and featured a wide array of topics related to all thing Japan. From old favorites (the Japanese Folklore panel was especially fun this year) to new journeys (What Mushishi Teaches Us...) there was plenty to look into for the discerning fan who sought more from his weekend. The “fan-gasm” panels were there in force, joined by such hybrids as “Latin Latin Madoka More Latin” and “Digimon: The Panel” (hosted by the dynamic duo of Froborr and Viga).
I tried my best to get into other panels over the weekend, but on my plate was a daunting 10 presentations (7 official, 3 “hey you get up here” types) spaced out over the three days. I will say I was surprised by the turnout for my 11 AM Friday “Chocobos Ate My Baby,” my 9 PM Saturday “Real Ninjas” (both held in large conference rooms) and 10 AM Sunday (when I would normally be sleeping) “Joseph Campbell Sends Out Mew.” Aside from the above mentioned talks, I also snuck into “All The Mecha You Ever Need” and “Evangelion Deconstructed.” I almost went to the splendidly titled “Philosophy in Gurren Lagann,” but owing to the Castlevania panel I skipped it. As it was, “Philosophy” turned out to be a hentai troll panel, which somehow snuck some of the topic into the Q & A section at the end.
I also briefly hung out in the Yoko Kanno Jazz Lounge, a 21+ mixer event on Saturday evening, but aside from the recorded music it was nothing to scream about.
I actually spent money in the Dealer’s Room this time. It’s true- I haven’t spent a cent in the AB dealer’s room since 2009. But this year was too hard to resist buying the Dororo Omnibus and Nintendo Magic books from Vertical Publishing. Aside from that, I browsed a few times and decided to pass on any large purchases (though I did watch my friend Tomoaki buy the entire collection of Nausicaa manga, and felt slightly envious). My biggest gripe: not one vendor was selling ninja outfits, which I was hoping to find for “Real Ninjas.”
I have frequently said that Anime Boston has the largest and best-stocked Artist Alley on the East Coast, and that remained true for this year as well. For the truly discerning congoer, this is where the majority of spending goes- in many ways it outstrips the variety found downstairs with the vendors. And, like the vendor space, it was consistently packed out for most of the weekend. I actually had to wait until late at night for the crowds to die down before venturing inside, but to their credit, the artists were welcoming and (thankfully) not sold out of goods.
...streak continues: 50 cons, I still haven’t been in there at ANY of them (unless forced to by guest obligations). But my roommate over the weekend was part of the Yaoi/Yuri Dating Game, and said it was a veritable hoot.
This is where AB 2012 starts to waver. Yes the crowds were huge this year. Bordering on too huge, in fact. Crossing the floor of the Hynes took a whopping 7 minutes at the height of it, with the Artist Alley seeing the worst congestion I’ve ever experienced. The energy coming off the attendees was mostly frenetic, and chaotic, leaving me more on edge than part of a community high. Photoshoots stopped foot traffic frequently, and even blocked in panel rooms at times. Some of the larger ones (like the BBC shoot) moved outside to the courtyard or front of the Prudential Center to accommodate the crowd, but still others just parked where they were and started taking pictures. For me, this led to a confrontation with a Homestuck group that almost literally barricaded the doors to one of my panels, and bordered on rude when I asked them if I could pass through.
Marco Polo was back in force. I hadn’t really heard it since the middle of last year, and had though it a dead meme, but no- it was the single most shouted phrase of the weekend. I’m still at a loss on why they shout it (aside from the irony of the situation, as one congoer pointed out), but it was there, at all hours, all weekend. Thankfully ONLY Marco Polo was represented.
The cosplay was another matter that defined the weekend- in particular, how much of it wasn’t Japan related. Now, I’m not going to condemn this practice (as I dress as The Doctor), but it was more visible than ever this year. I saw more non-anime cosplays than anything else, which was a contributing factor to the spontaneous shoots of the weekend. My one gripe is tied in with my above experience: some of the groups were wonderfully courteous. Others were downright rude. I can’t explain why this is. Normally the con floor is a wonderful mixture of fans and fandoms. This year there was more visible fracturing than before, which bothers me. Anime cons are one of the last multifandom communities left, and it was painful to see the kind of fan fracturing that I normally witness at Comic Con driving wedges between normally sublime groups.
Growing pains suck, but they are inevitable. I felt them when I first attended Otakon, felt them when Nekocon started getting big and was bowled over by the merging of NYAF and NYCC in 2010. But they rarely last. Anime Boston managed to put together another fun weekend of fellowship and fandom, which in the end is all a con can really do. They will learn from it, try to remedy whatever flaws were present, and return next year to do it all over again. As I have said before, this one is worth attending.