Thursday, March 27, 2008

Convention Season

For those who have been doing this long enough to remember when “Anime USA” was just a glorified Halloween party, you may remember a time when the “anime convention” was quite a different animal. As has been said before, there is a feeling of nostalgia that many in my situation feel for the “old conventions” which is genuine but also to a large extent more or less fabricated by those of us who look back to a bygone era through rose tinted non-digital photographs.

Obligatory Apollo Smile photo for Daryl Surat

Left to Right: Marvin Gleicher of Manga Ent., Mike Pascuzzi of CPM (later of Media Blasters), Apollo Smile, Scott Mauriello of Anime Crash, and Chris Parente of Anime Crash (owner and senior partner).

You found this blog because you Googled "Apollo Smile" didn't you...

As “con season” approaches, the massive amount of things going on seem to almost overload one’s ability to plan for a fun filled unabashed wallowing in fandom turning thoughts of summer into a “left behind” scenario of pseudo-panic. The old names that have survived have evolved into such teaming masses of attendees, that a theme-park feel (complete with long lines and annoying people from Middle America) has asserted itself as an inescapable pervasive entity firmly entrenched over many years of quite surprising growth. This massive proliferation of mass attendance at conventions with long-standing histories and the appearance of many smaller satellite conventions themselves is almost exclusive to anime. Looking at other events, one sees the same thing twenty years later as they do now with long running shows such as i-con or Big Apple Comic, which seem to operate as if forgotten by time.

The question which occurs at this point is does the door swing both ways? Is it possible to see a rapid decline in the same recent tradition of rapid growth enjoyed by anime conventions? It is important to note, that unlike other consumer based conventions, which revolve around specifically printed media, or meeting individuals like authors and actors, the anime convention has gone from a gathering who’s main goal was perhaps to watch anime titles that were new to the public or otherwise hard to find, to an event where the antics of the fandom itself are the main backbone of programming. Conventions have become large social events but the need to provide what they used to provide outside social activities, such as anime screenings, rare dealer’s room merchandise, and so on have all been proliferated via the internet and so a central event to provide such things is now unnecessary. This leaves anime conventions as nothing more than themed social gatherings, unless some other type of activity starts happening there. For a while it appeared as if actual anime business was going to start happening at the larger ones, but the way things are going now, it’s more likely that all that licensing that was supposed to happen is going to go scurrying back to MIP where it’s always lived. In fact, the devaluing of anime as a license which comes from fansubbing will probably lead to a decreased ability of conventions being able to afford the kinds of facilities that they have used in the past (Geneon won’t be buying all that floor space this time will they now?), based on the fact that exhibitor companies won’t be spending as much as they used to simply because of their shrinking revenues from the abysmal DVD downturn from which there is no end in sight.

In addition to all that, enter now the new animal. Sleek, for-profit, professionally run destination events like New York Anime Festival and Comic Con, which can change revenue formats from door-based to exhibitor based in a single year if they have to. Anime and Japanese pop-culture in general has become such an important part of American entertainment that Comic Con gets TM Revolution as a major guest. American comic shows used to be (and many in the old style still are) like kryptonite to an Otaku, and a celebration of everything that drove us away from the tacky, badly drawn domestic entertainment media we loathe. But that’s now a thing of the past in more areas large enough to support this new kind of corporate convention event, where content is king and paid employees rarely drop the ball.

Anime Convention Trifecta now in play, and completed with the last of the three kinds of anime conventions, the “hotel con.” I often vacillate between not liking these things because they are exercises only in frivolity and do not advance the fandom as a whole or the industry much, and thinking they are a very important component of the continuing development of a market and lifestyle that is ever evolving. I often think that if cataclysmic change rocks the convention world, that these humble little conventions will be the true survivors and keep alive the kinds of things that seem almost second nature to a conventioneer.

There is now a divergence, based around different groups who in reality would rather not share convention space with other groups. The upcoming convention in Providence RI that restricts entry to those only over 21 is one of the new breed of boutique conventions that serves a specific group within a fandom that is so large, normal demographic rules now apply, and the forced unity that was made prevalent simply because of a feeling of being surrounded on all sides by a community that failed to understand the otaku appeal, is no longer omnipresent and so the disunity that comes with all things at this level is forcing this new evolutionary step.

In most of the outcomes the possible rippling effect that the downturn of the U.S. Market might have on anime, the convention is probably going to be one of the last segments to feel the negative effects, which would mean a decrease in available material, but would that translate into a marked decrease in actual attendance? That alone is probably not going to be able to cause such an effect, but if coupled with a potential downturn in the popularity in general of anime in a post-Naruto world (it can’t go on forever) and the possibility for a non-profit large con to experience a single year of epic fail from poor planning, make a Bermuda Triangle that conventions as we know them today will have to navigate through in order to continue doing what they do.

I am still waiting for the American convention that restricts cosplay to one specific area... (they already do that back in the source country... you know the one I mean).

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