Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Anime Conji 2012 Convention Report

Anime Conji 2012
Town and Country Resort
March 16 -18, 2012

Specialization is a buzzword that is known in the world of business. This word is attributed to how an organization can find its niche and develop it well. Anime conventions when they first started were novelties that were far and few in between. Fast forward to now, where anime conventions have become so ubiquitous that it is not unusual to have several conventions running in a weekend. The number of conventions have increased so much that conventions have to find their specialization or niche that they get very good at doing. In Southern California, Anime Los Angeles has built a reputation as a very popular party convention. Anime Expo is known for its great guests of honor and for its massive size. Anime Conji has built a reputation as a great San Diego convention with one of the most beautiful venues in the con world. I started attending this convention last year, and 2012 marks my second year in Anime Conji, a convention that only started in 2010. Here are my thoughts on this convention.

Saturday was a very wet day, I started my day leaving the Inland Empire and driving down to San Diego. As soon as I arrived, I found a rather unpleasant surprise, a sign in front of the convention center that said that the hotel parking was full and that it was open only to overnight guests. I proceeded to enter to ask the hotel where can convention attendees park. The response was rather tepid, with the parking attendants saying park where a spot was open around the hotel. A rather vague answer that left me frustrated. I drove around the hotel area, noting that mall parking was not welcome to hotel guests and with threats of towing strongly outlined. After driving around the convention center for an hour, I drove back to the parking attendant for hotel parking, clearly frustrated. They let me park in the hotel area where I was able to find a decent parking spot. I am outlining these frustrations since parking for this year’s convention has been horrific, and my anecdotes matched many of the attendee’s experiences. I do not blame Anime Conji for this because the fault mainly lies in the venue of Anime Conji, the Town and Country Resort. The venue triple-booked the venue and had three conventions running concurrently which made the parking a total nightmare. On top of that, the venue does not have a relationship with the mall parking so they cannot recommend it as overflow parking. The tight-lipped attendants combined with no alternate signage and having three concurrent cons made the parking situation a terrible experience.

After I parked, I walked through the venue, which was gorgeous. I said it last year in my previous Anime Conji con report, but the Town and Country Resort is a beautiful location for photography, with gorgeous gardens and unique areas all about. The venue has grown, so they have taken over the Town and Country Convention center. Picking up my industry badge was a breeze (although they ran out of industry badges and I got a press badge instead). As I walked in the convention hallway, it became obvious that the interior lighting was terrible. Not only was the venue poorly lit, what lighting they had was not good for photography. I found two areas in the convention center where the lighting was tolerable, the Dealer’s Hall and the clear glass doors that let in lots of light. Due to the heavy rain throughout the day, most of the cosplayers congregated in the convention center with dim lighting. The convention center became packed and I found myself wishing that they had a larger venue for this convention (or taken more of the convention center).

There were several times when the rain stopped, and in those short periods, I was able to get lots of photography done in the convention. The venue was gorgeous and it was easy to move from one location to another and get a different feel for the pictures. Due to the heavy rains, what shoots I had were hampered due to a limited variety of areas to photograph since most of the photogenic areas were outdoors. There was a cosplayer who did not mind the rain and we went all over the convention center. Unfortunately, the rains also reigned in my shoots with some cosplayers cancelling, arriving late, or forcing me to do photos in an area that does not do the cosplay justice. Instead of taking 2,000+ pictures of random cosplayers, I only ended up taking around 500 of them.

Tadao Totomatsu, MC for
I was not going to let the rain get the best of me, so I decided to attend the convention’s masquerade. I got a prime seating position as press/industry, but unfortunately, I did not get the best spots because they were reserved earlier. This did affect the quality of my pictures since a row ahead pretty much limited my field of view. Anime Conji’s masquerade was fun, but very short. There were one or two skits, but a huge majority of the cosplay on display was walk-ons. The masquerade went by very fast, with only 15 major entries. The halftime show as the judges deliberated was an Idolm@ster dance group known as “Angel Hearts.” They did an amazing job with the choreography and it was one of my favorite parts of the show. Another highlight of the Masquerade is none other than Anime Los Angeles’s Toastmaster Tadao Totomatsu. His stories and commentary were great and it made the show run very well. After the awards were given out, I helped stack the chair to prepare the room for dance.

Due to the heavy rain, I was not doing as much cosplay photography as I was socializing with convention attendees. From industry to cosplayers to cosplay photographers, I always saw a familiar face in the con. I spent time hanging out and catching up with old friends, sharing stories and hanging out. Moments like that is what makes a con like Anime Conji so great, even if I was not doing photography I was still going around and catching up with friends while making some new ones. I even had a chance to hang out with cosplayers who cancelled their shoot due to the rain.

Angel Hearts cosplay
I left the convention shortly after midnight. On my drive back to the Inland Empire, I normally reflect on my convention experiences and enjoy the ride back. The ride back was an adventure by itself. As I drove past immigration inspection going northbound on Interstate 15, I hit heavy downpour. Then I started going down the hill before the exit to a major Temecula casino. As I started going down the hill, I lost control of my car and it started spinning violently. I went from 65 miles an hour to zero after spinning around 4 or 5 times (the exact number escapes me, but it was too much). As the car came to a stop, I was one foot from the guardrail in slow lane. I noticed that the road was full of black ice that was impossible to see. My car was facing traffic, but thankfully, there was no one behind me due to it being around 1am in Sunday morning. As I slowly moved the car forward, I saw the carnage ahead of me, a couple of cars who sped ahead of me in the immigration checkpoint where in the guardrail and the center divider on the highway. I slowly drove away with a car that was undamaged, but I was traumatized from the event. It is true what they say, you really do see your life flashing before your eyes before you think it will end. The fact that I did not crash is a miracle because I was very close doing it. Had fate given me a different card that night I might not even be alive today to write this article and continue my life.

Anime Conji is a great convention, still one of my personal favorites. It is just unfortunate that the convention was dealt with bad hand after bad hand. A much larger convention moved to Southern California and placed itself on the same weekend as Anime Conji. Weather was not kind, giving California the much needed rain during an outdoor convention. The venue parking officers made my arrival miserable and they put me in a terrible mood, and they likely created negative experiences for many people. The volatile weather also reared its ugly head by almost killing me on the way back home. With that said, I had a lot of fun in the convention. The photoshoots I had were amazing and I got even better at my photography skills. Anime Conji’s Masquerade was a short and sweet event, highlighted by my friend Tadao and the awesome girls of Angel Hearts. I also had lots of fun socializing and hanging out with old friends, while making new ones. I will continue to go to Anime Conji since I felt that the convention is a great convention. I just hope that the weather cooperates next time and does not try to kill me so I can continue to enjoy this con for a long time to come.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

Anime Conji 2011 Con Report
Angel Hearts Cosplay
Tadao Totomatsu

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