Thursday, August 30, 2012

Animegacon 2012 Convention Report

Animegacon 2012
Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Convention Center
August 17-19, 2012

In North America, there are anime conventions that happen almost every weekend. It is hard for established conventions to find ways to distinguish themselves from the pack. For a new convention, it is exceedingly difficult to do so because it means building a brand name and having a strategy to separate from the endless list of conventions that populate North America. I first heard about Animegacon when reading the mailing list of ACML. They attracted attention from con executives with the bombastic tagline “the largest anime convention in the universe.” When the website opened, the convention promoted what was the largest Masquerade grand prize in North America (beating Anime Expo 2011’s $10,000 grand prize by a dollar). It also posted the expectations of the convention, between 2,000 and 5,000 attendees, which would put it near the inaugural year numbers of conventions such as Anime Boston, Fanime, and Anime Expo. A serendipitous opportunity arrived to attend the convention when a variety of factors came together in a perfect storm. I rarely attend convention in their inaugural year (with only a handful of exceptions); here is my experience in Las Vegas’s Animegacon.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Friday night with some family members. Luckily, we were staying at the Treasure Island, a casino hotel that was very familiar to me. The hotel that Animegacon was based off was in what used to be called the Las Vegas Hilton, so I decided to use the Las Vegas Monorail from the Harrah’s station. I headed toward the convention in the morning using the monorail, which arrived very quickly. As I left the station, I walked around the casino, trying to find out where the convention was located. After a couple of minutes, I stumbled on the convention site and found my way to the preregistration line. First impressions are very important; it sets the stage that will determine the tone of the event. As I walked up to the preregistration badges, I saw stacked sheets of copier paper separated into semi-alphabetized stacks. I picked up my badge, a cheap flimsy piece of paper that barely fit in my badge holder. That was not a good first impression for my convention; at least they could have used card stock, construction paper, or cotton paper. If paper were not an option, then colored wristbands with the convention name would have sufficed. Nonetheless, I hope that in the future they will consider better quality paper in the convention badges.

The convention was a new event and it was an unfamiliar layout, so I explored the convention center layout to determine the best areas to do photographs and to try to determine the logical flow of convention traffic. I did like the convention layout; it was very simple but effective. Upon entering, the extreme left side had the video rooms showing anime from Crunchyroll and Funimation. This was also the de facto water drinking area since it had water dispensers and cups strewn all over the place. The center areas have autograph rooms, table gaming, and the convention panels. The right side had the main stage, the main cosplay gathering location, and the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall had a nice layout, with artist’s alley on the side and with fashion near the wall. My friend Cyril Lumboy (aka Dolldelight) had a great booth near the back of the event. Entering the exhibit hall, you are greeted by various Toyota and Scion cars.

From MonHun Skit
After my initial exploration, I decided to do cosplay photography to take time. That led to my big question, where did all the cosplayers go? It was near lunchtime and the convention area was very empty. The designated cosplay gathering area had no cosplayers, save for one or two sitting down. Thankfully, as the day moved along, the convention started getting more and more cosplayers. There were some very familiar faces of friends from the California and Nevada cosplay scene. Talking with them and hanging out with them made the day go by much faster. As I took photos, I noticed that the lighting in the convention area was difficult to deal with. There were two distinctly different lighting setups for different areas of the convention center, and it made photography for me an exercise in frustration. I learned to deal with the lighting in Anime Los Angeles and Pacific Media Expo since the lighting was consistent across the indoor venue, but this venue was a special breed of difficult. Thankfully, I did not plan photo shoots for this location, since the venue did not have many distinct areas to bring out the characters.

From the Utena skit
As the day got closer to the end, I attended the masquerade for Animegacon. With my camera equipment, I was able to get a prime seat for the masquerade. The show was without a doubt, my highlight of Animegacon. The skits were amazing and incredible on a variety of different levels. I had several personal favorites that made this masquerade a great event. There a Revolutionary Girl Utena and Kuroshitsuji skit that would have appropriately fit a short indie film in its sheer brilliance and pacing. The Idolmaster Dance troupe, Angel Hearts performed a great dance routine with incredible outfits that would make a programmer proud. My personal favorite was a Monster Hunter skit that had gorgeous outfits and was incredibly inventive in its interpretation of the iconic Japanese game. After the skits ended, we had a dance routine from the Animegacon Maid Café. There were dual hosts, but I felt sorry for Vampy who was picked on the entire time by her cohost and the audience. She is a girl known for her buxom body, but people should give her the respect that she deserves, she was a gracious host that made the show fly. Overall, the masquerade was a wonderful event with very strong performances.

The Animegacon girls
Shortly after Masquerade, I had some time to talk with my friends from Otakon who flew all the way from the east coast to attend this convention. We had a good chat about a variety of events. After that, I made my way back to the hotel through the monorail. For its first year, Animegacon was a fun experience. My initial impression of the event was not that great since the quality of the printed badges were quite poor. The problem with the convention was that the size of the attendance did not match the size of the venue. It felt sparse and expansive, even during the busiest times of the convention. As a photographer, I enjoyed it since it meant that I had less people interrupting my photos, but as an attendee, I felt that it sucked some of the energy away. The only conclusion that I could come up with was that they did not hit their ambitious expectations for attendance for their first year. To be honest, the first year numbers were on the level of my expectations, somewhere between 700 and 1,100 people. The numbers they aimed for would only be possible in the convention world if they were in a large market that can sustain multiple conventions (ie: California) or that there was a vacuum that the convention could fill (ie: Anime Boston or Anime Conji). Not all is lost; the convention could easily build and become a large event in the future with time and patience.

In my short life, I have only attended a handful of conventions when they first started. I understand the ambitions of the people behind the inaugural year of a convention. Animegacon has the potential to grow into a larger event with its own market. For its first year, it had some successes and some improvements it needs to do. The major success it without a doubt the masquerade show which was one of the best ones I have seen in quite a long time. To compound on its successes it also needs to work on what it can improve on. The badges could be better quality so that it does not look like it was printed at someone’s house the day before. I suggest a venue that fits the size of the convention attendance would create more energy, in turn creating better memories and experiences. Animegacon has lots of potential in the future, and I hope that if they have an event next year that they can build upon their experiences from this year to make it even better.

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.

Linda Le (aka Vampy)
Angel Hearts Cosplay


amateur_cameko said...

I met some Vegas people while waiting for the shuttle during AX this year. Since I grew up in Las Vegas, I was curious as to whether AniMegaCon would have a big following considering that Vegas doesn't have much of an anime/cosplay scene except for Anime Vegas and maybe the Anime Ramen shop in Chinatown Plaza. Their response was they weren't expecting a huge turnout also...However, I would think with a city as widely known as Las Vegas, there is potential for growth...Considering it was probably a crowd of locals, maybe a more off-strip/non-gaming property such as Alexis Park would be a better draw.

KrisZ said...

That is odd considering that they have been touting that they were expecting between 2,000 and 5,000 for its first year. The largest first year attendance of any anime convention in the United States was Anime Boston with 4,110. In comparison Anime Expo's first year was 1,750 (in 1992) and Otakon's first year was 350 (in 1994). The attendance was good for its first year, but their stated expectations on the website is different than what they ended up getting.