Trisha’s Take: Anime Fusion 2013

AnimeFusion2013-logoAnime Fusion 2013

October 18-20, 2013
Bloomington, Minnesota

Ever since I moved to Minneapolis in Minnesota, I have slowly been exploring the geek spaces around me by going to geekish concerts and movie showings. I even have a local gaming store which is three or four blocks away from me where I play in a weekly role playing game campaign and where I’ve begun playing more Magic: the Gathering.

However, when it came to conventions, I just didn’t have the time or the money to attend any this summer, including gaming convention Con of the North in the late winter, Anime Detour in the spring, science fiction convention CONvergence in the summer, or any number of larger group gatherings that take place in and around the Twin Cities.

All of that changed when I noticed from a Facebook post that voice actor (and friend) Taliesen Jaffe was going to be attending Anime Fusion in the nearby suburb of Bloomington, home to the Mall of America. The convention was taking place the weekend after my wedding celebration, so I thought it was a perfect time to get myself back out there and to attend my first anime convention since 2008.

The first thing I’ll say about Anime Fusion is that it was very easy to find walk-in registration information on its website and that for a Saturday pass, the price was very reasonable. Their harassment policy was also easy to find on their FAQs and Policies page, as was the hotel location information and full convention schedule. When you’re deciding to attend a local convention at the last minute, it’s important that all of this information is easy to find because you could just as easily stay home if you can’t find the information you need.

Because I know the area around the Mall of America well, I decided to arrive around 1:00 pm because I wanted to pick up some fast-food to have for lunch on the way down. The problem is that there aren’t any fast food places around that aren’t inside the mall and I also know that hotel concessions are often pretty costly. Later, I would inwardly congratulate myself on my decision when I encountered two attendees who were pouring through a phone book, looking for a nearby restaurant which delivered to the hotel because they’d traveled to the convention by bus and didn’t want to pay for the hotel concessions.

When I entered the hotel lobby, there was an ample amount of signage directing me to the walk-up registration desk. The actual registration didn’t take very long because there were few walk-ins, but waiting for a receipt for my cash transaction took a bit longer as the person assisting me didn’t know how to generate a receipt and the person who did was helping someone else find their pre-registration information in their database. However, once that person became free, generating the receipt was as easy as a few taps on the iPhone with credit card reader dedicated to the task and within minutes, the receipt was in my Inbox.

While I was waiting, I asked some basic questions and learned that Anime Fusion was in its second year and were anticipating that this year, they’d have about 1,000 attendees over the 850 they had last year. I also noticed that for a smaller convention, there were more people in cosplay than I expected, mostly from shows or fandoms that I’m not a part of like Homestuck and “My Little Pony.”

Due to the hotel, the layout of the convention was also something I’ve never encountered before. All of the meeting rooms were located on the second floor, which can be typical. What isn’t typical is that there are also guest rooms on the second floor along long hallways that connected the board gaming, con hospitality suite, and convention operations room to the CCG area and circling back around to the Main Programming and panel rooms and the Dealers Room and Artist Alley in a sort of triangular formation.

Merchandise on display from local guests Studio O.N.Y.

Merchandise on display from local guests Studio O.N.Y.

And speaking of the Dealers Room and Artist Alley, the two were combined into one room with one half dedicated to the Dealers and the other half to the Artists. I thought this was a great way of creating a bigger commercial space without slighting either the Dealers or the Artists with placement concerns. There was also a great selection of vendors on both sides and I didn’t feel as if there was too much of one kind of merchandise or too little of another.

While buying some random Magic cards, I had a great conversation with two vendors from Source Comics and Games who let me know about other good conventions in my new convention metro area, which apparently extends west to east from South Dakota to Wisconsin, south as far as Iowa and part of Illinois, and even north to conventions in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They reported that business was pretty good for them with this convention and they were likely to return for the next one.

A badass Rumplestilskin from "Once Upon a Time."

A badass Rumpelstiltskin from “Once Upon a Time.”

In the Artist Alley, I found that there were more male than female artists, a fact that gratifies my little feminist heart. Many of them had buttons and other crafts for display along with their portfolios; several were even working on commissions at their tables. One of the best moments was when one of the artists squealed over seeing someone in cosplay. The outfit looked familiar to me, and I ended up squealing as well when I learned that she was cosplaying as Rumpelstiltskin from “Once Upon a Time.” As this is a show that I’ve recently gotten into, we had a great time talking about the series and its characters.

As I walked along the Alley, I picked up several business cards from local artists with whom I’d like to work, craft artisans whose work I’d like commission, and other stores whose merchandise was gorgeous but out of my price range for the day. I was very impressed with the friendliness and professionalism of everyone I met and they all treated me well, even if it didn’t look like I was interested in their wares.

Once I’d finished touring the room, I wandered along the hallway with the panel rooms, noting the location of the two panels featuring Jaffe later that day and their relative locations. Unfortunately, none of the panels going on at the time appealed to me, so I walked along the hallway until I found the con hospitality suite. The idea of a con hospitality suite is somewhat new to me because even if they had them, I don’t recall seeing one at the California or East Coast conventions I attended or for which I volunteered.

At the con suite, they were dishing out white rice and offering instant oatmeal and in the room next door, they’d set up tables and seasonings for the rice. The room had several occupants and conversations were lively. Opposite the hospitality suite was the convention operations room, and just as I glanced through the open doors, I noticed Jaffe standing there with Josh Grelle, another voice actor guest.

I went over to briefly say hello and to let Jaffe know that I’d be seeing him during his panels later that day. At the same time, I overheard that Jaffe and Grelle were going to be off-site for a bit as the hotel’s kitchen had closed for the time being and neither had eaten lunch due to being at an autograph session which had started at noon. Speaking as a former guest relations coordinator, I don’t know if that was an error on the hotel’s part for not anticipating the demand for concessions or the convention’s for not knowing that the hotel regularly closes their kitchen for service at that time on weekends and having a contingency plan in place other than taking them off-site for a meal.

Jaffe also would later tell me that the programming department had made much use of his time while he was at the convention and that every day he was rather busy. Both of us also remarked that it was an excellent idea for there to be a 30 minute space before and after each panel taking place in the same room, to allow for speakers who want to go “over” an hour’s worth of time and/or for a panelist to use the facilities between two panels in different rooms.

Since there was over an hour left before the Voice Actor Q & A panel started, I wound my way along the hallways to the board gaming room where I found a group deep into a session of Arkham Horror. I was pleased to be asked to join them, but as I really only had an hour or so of time before the panel started, I knew that I couldn’t play with the group and expect to finish the game. As I looked over the selection, another attendee named William expressed interest in playing a game; we eventually settled on Munchkin using a very large amount of cards from various standard sets, two official level die, and the official Run Away die.

It took a while for us to get going, but since I decided to become a Halfling early in the game, I was able to sell Treasures for levels and get to 9 rather quickly. William took a little longer to get to level 9, and for a while it was touch and go as to who would win. I even forgot that I couldn’t sell Treasures or use auto-level cards and claimed an early victory, but William quickly disabused me of that notion. Instead, I attempted to fight a monster that was Level 18, but using his Transference Potion, he stole the monster from me, easily defeated it, and won the game. I love it when Munchkin games come down to the wire like that.

Who wouldn't want to attend a panel featuring this handsome guy?

Who wouldn’t want to attend a panel featuring this handsome guy?

By this time, it was about time for me to make my way back to Main Programming for the panel. One thing I noticed when I got there was that some chairs had placards on them noting that they were reserved for specific attendees. I can only imagine that this was a VIP-level perk for sponsors-attendees and I have to say that it’s a very clever idea that could work for other conventions of this size up to the 5,000-attendee conventions. I found a seat in the second row and settled in to wait. At one point, two of the other guests came in with two beautiful Akita dogs for their panel about the breed and their history in Japan; unfortunately, they’d gotten the room wrong and had to leave, taking the beautiful dogs with them.

Finally, all of the panelists arrived and the panel began with Grelle, Jaffe, and Petrea Burchard introducing themselves. It took me a while to recognize Burchard as the voice of Ryoko from the Tenchi Muyo franchise; when I realized who she was, I could then totally hear Ryoko in her voice.
Since I’ve been attending anime cons and voice actor panels in particular since 2000, I idly sent out this message on Twitter:

If I had made up that drinking game, I believe I would have been pretty well-toasted by the middle of the panel because many people asked the same questions that I’ve been hearing at voice actor panels for over a decade. In a way, though, it’s nice to know that there’s still a love and an interest in voice over acting in anime even if subtitled anime is available through legitimate means less than a month after the show is aired in Japan.

Highlights of the panel for me was hearing Josh Grelle’s impression of Vic Mignogna which he had to perform for his role as Kenichi in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple and that Petrea Burchard once worked with Harlan Ellison and Robin Williams while recording a story called “Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” for an NPR serial. Her description of Ellison as an “interesting” man may have been the best example of Minnesota Nice I’ve ever heard by a non-Minnesotan.

After the usual flurry of post-panel autographs, photos, and schedule-checking, Jaffe and I chatted as we walked to his panel room, stopping once to use the bathroom. And since there weren’t many people in the room at the time, we continued to chat about life and business, right up until it was time for his panel to start. It was called “How the $&(@ Did I Get Here?”, and the format was inspired by our mutual friend and frequent anime con guest Jan Scott Frazier.

Just before the panel started, Jaffe showed me a sheaf of 20 typewritten pages and four or five handwritten pages of notes for the panel. What followed was a long but interesting ramble through Jaffe’s youth as a child actor, his years in Japan as a cultural liaison for the CEO of an import/export firm, and how he got into voice acting. Along the way, I learned many new things about my friend that didn’t come up with I interviewed him back in 2002 for Sequential Tart. He even was sidetracked into talking about the Western Expansion into Japan in the 1800s as well as telling the story of Admiral Perry’s “Black Fleet” and cautioned the audience to do some actual book research into the tale rather than relying on Wikipedia for more information.

When the panel was over, Jaffe and the other guests had to part for dinner, and we agreed to meet at the hotel bar when they were done. I left the convention to pick up my husband for dinner, and when we were done, we waited at the hotel bar for Jaffe to arrive.

What followed was a great conversation with an old friend as the three of us talked for a long time about the sad state of feminism in the comic book industry, his involvement in the “Heroes of Cosplay” reality series on the Syfy network, and potential projects that both of us had in the works. Alas, we had to get going so we parted at the bar, and that ended my Anime Fusion attendance for the weekend.

Looking back, if I were someone attending an anime or other genre convention for the first time, I couldn’t recommend a better experience than going to a convention of this size in this kind of area. It was large enough to attract a good variety of vendors and guests, yet small enough to make you feel as if you could reasonably see and do everything you wanted to do on any given day.

For a long-time con goer, though, I don’t know if there’s enough within Anime Fusion yet to make it an addition to a regular yearly convention schedule. The discussion panels that were scheduled for Saturday didn’t seem to pop out at me, and Saturday is traditionally the best programming day of a three-day convention.

You may say that it’s not fair to judge a entire convention by a single day, but I think that if a convention really wants to put its best foot forward, the second day is when they really need to shine. Anime Fusion has the potential to be a really great small or medium-sized con—but they’re not there just yet.

Posted on October 23, 2013 at 19:01 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: Opinions/Editorials, Reviews · Tagged with: , , , , ,