I used to call Anime Mid Atlantic “the Little Con That Could.” Out of all the conventions I attend yearly, this was one that always seemed to skirt around the perimeters of my time- it dueled with Anime NEXT, with the latter always getting more attention and raves; it moved around a lot, thereby limiting the chances for me to develop a solid rapport with the location; it always felt small despite pulling in decent numbers. In short, it was always something of an anomaly to me. I would go, I would enjoy myself immensely, and then I would move on to the next con and forget about it until the following year. It was a constant in my life- I always knew it was there and waiting, but it never stole the spotlight from cons like Anime Boston. Until last year, when it might have been the best weekend I’ve had in a long time. But this isn’t a rumination on 2011.
For the past few weeks I’ve been soul searching, looking back into the cons I’ve attended and the memories I’ve made. Looking for motivation, positivity and, most importantly, some grounding in the ever-changing world of conventions. I thought it would be fitting, then, if I took a look back at one of the cons that seems to have paralleled my own search for “the big picture.”
Anime Mid Atlantic 2009 was a con in the middle of a stormy sea. It had moved out of the Richmond area that had been its home until 2007, and was still seeking safe port in a new territory. The 2009 event found itself at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, a place I had come to know and love from repeated attendances at Nekocon. Right off the bat, this put me at a disadvantage, as I knew in my heart I would just keep comparing it to Neko at every turn, which is something I try my hardest not to do. But given the strong emotional ties I have to that particular con, and hotel (in particular), I knew going in that things might be different.
Different ended up being an understatement.
I attended AMA in 2009 almost as an afterthought. While going over my schedule of cons for fieldwork (which at that point was literally a couple of cons in), I made the decision to attend AMA mostly because of location. In addition, I was going to be celebrating my one year anniversary with Aleks, which added a bit of special poignancy to the weekend. I grabbed a handful of surveys, loaded up a rental car, and began the drive down.
Almost immediately things started going wrong. The car wasn’t ready on time. It rained like hell the entire way down. Rather than arrive at 5, like I wanted to, we finally made it to Hampton Roads at around 9:30. We missed our chance to grab badges, missed our chance to grab food and the hotel room was on the second floor, right over the breakfast area. This didn’t bode well for the upcoming weekend. I distinctly remember after it was over, and we were heading home, that I felt something lacking the entire weekend, like the energy had been sucked out of the room. It was the first con I had ever been to that felt dead inside, at least when compared to my previous experiences.
That was then. Today, three years after the fact, I can recall AMA 2009 as one of the more enlightening experiences I’ve had at cons, and one that I frequently mull over. Things that bothered me then, when placed in perspective with things I look for now, are ultimately not only trivial, but also added to my enjoyment in hindsight. In many ways AMA challenged my preconceived notion of cons, and started me down the path into something new.
While it was Anime Boston that shattered a lot of my notions, AMA gave me a lot of new ones, as well as strengthening my insights into what I was exactly looking for. The crowd was young- very young, in fact, when compared to other cons I attend. Normally I managed to pull in a decent amount of responses from a variety of ages. Not so with AMA- the average age was somewhere around 15. Likewise, I noticed a lot of variation in the attendees- many of the older ones were not college students, but rather working people who had a deep love for the convention lifestyle and the people they met there. There were a lot of creatives in attendance, and art panels were popular. There was a good deal of random interaction, but very little of it based around internet memes or hallway games. The community there was very strong, and very dedicated to the prospect of fandom, and it showed.
This was a very different community than the one up north, where I had been plastering surveys for a few months. They wanted something else from their convention, and they were more than willing to “get dirty” achieving it. And while AMA has never truly had the same level of energy flowing around that I was used to feeling from other cons, the energy it has is far different. I often remark about the hectic explosion of randomness that permeates other cons. In contrast, AMA has a more intimate feel, like a family gathering than a conjunction of fans. This is in part reflective of the administration, which has stated before that they want the con to be a family friendly affair, promoting the ways in which family ties can strengthen fandom. Different than other cons, but also very welcome. While I can easily recognize it now, at the time it was something wholly new to me, and I mistakenly viewed it as being missing, when in fact it was right there all along, I just needed to look for it.
I made quite a few friends that year, a few of which I still run into regularly at AMA and Neko. If I can say one thing definitely about the cons in southern VA, they have a strong attached community, likely stronger than even Anime Boston or Connecticon- two cons which thrive on the unique nature of New England congoers. And while I had been an attendee of that con scene for a few years by that point, it wasn’t until I stopped trying to prove my perceptions correct and actually paid attention to the congoers themselves did I begin to notice the forest in front of me. So maybe AMA 2009 wasn’t perfect at the time, but in hindsight, it probably was better than any other con I attended that year, if only for the illumination it brought to me.