Time flies when you’re having fun. It also crawls when you aren’t. Both statements applied to this year’s Fanime which took place on May 24-27. Downtown businesses and the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose are well accustomed to this Memorial Day fixture and it continues to be one of the largest conventions that the city sees. Currently in its 19th iteration, this year is estimated to have surpassed the 22,000 mark which makes it the largest anime convention in Northern California.
Even the theaters get in on things.
Let’s get the bad out of the way. The greatest down this year is, without a doubt, the registration and badge pickup process. From time to time a convention is labeled “Linecon” and this was definitely one of them. Multi-hour waits were not uncommon. Thursday, also known as Day 0, had people in line for upwards of four or five hours depending on when you arrived. Friday and Saturday followed in similar fashion. Unless you arrived very early in the morning it made buying a single day ticket a losing proposition as by the time you acquired your ticket half the day could be over already. If I had to point a finger it would be, in a word, “numbers;” not enough computers available for onsite registration, too many printers malfunctioning, and not enough hands to help find pre-printed and labeled badges for attendees just picking up badges. Fanime staff have stated are going to consider all options in order to prevent this from happening next year. Once you finally did get your badge it was smooth sailing and by the time Monday rolled around I had that “it’s over already?” feeling.
The reason you never turn down San Carlos if you’re in a hurry
The guest list was small compared to previous years. Long time attendee Ric Meyers and his Kung-Fu Extravaganza were notably absent. Voice actor Chris Patton had a family emergency right before the convention and was unable to attend. What guests that did remain were a small, focused bunch and included animation director Takahiro Omori and animation producer Yumi Sato (who worked together on Baccano and Kuragehime), mecha designer Tsuyoshi Nonaka of Super Sentai (better known as the Power Rangers for us Americans) and Kamen Raider fame, voice actor Darrel Guilbeau, author/scholar Gilles Poitras, and of course, Hiroyuki Yamaga, who has been attending for over a dozen years.
Japanese bands 7!! (read “Seven Oops”) and ROOKIEZ is PUNK’D provided this year’s musical entertainment. I’m very satisfied by the concert. Fanime’s MusicFest is free to attend for anyone with a Saturday or Weekend badge and proved very popular with a line that initially wrapped all the way around the San Jose Civic Auditorium . The night was lead by ROOKIEZ and their high-energy punk rock set containing many songs from Durarara!! as well as Ao no Exorcist (”Blue Exorcist”). In a change from the usual, all attendees were allowed to take photos and even video likely because of the fact they are independent. ROOKIEZ’ love for anime is shown by the fact they released an entire album full of Durarara!! themed songs. Originally not huge anime fans before first being contracted, all the band members quickly became fans of the medium and in the case of vocalist Shinnosuke surpassed the level of fanatic.
Band up front, lots of fans in back
Seven Oops (7!!)
ROOKIEZ was followed by 7!! and you could tell fans were ready when one of their music videos played on the overhead monitors and the crowd burst into cheers. With work on Kimi to Boku (”Me and You”), Naruto Shippuden and the live film adaptation of High School Debut, 7!! is well known to the the industry. You might wonder what Seven Oops means. It’s quite simple; the vocalist’s name is Nanae. In Japanese, Nana is Seven. “Eh?” is a Japanese expression for “oops,” or so drummer Maiko tells us. Combine both and there you go. Their first album titled “Doki Doki” was released in March and is available on iTunes and Amazon.
A lucky fan receives a signed poster
Let’s talk a bit about the convention center itself for a moment. The McEnery Convention Center was built in 1989 and is flanked by the Marriott and Hilton hotels which also provide panel rooms and ballrooms. There are three main halls contained within the convention center and behind the center is the South Hall for additional room. Over the last year and a half the center has undergone renovation to add an additional grand ballroom which can be used as another hall. This renovation is slated for completion in the fall and means a huge addition to the available space. It is still up in the air whether or not the trademark fountains out front will be reinstalled but I hope they return.
On the right half of the photo is the convention center’s extension
In the entry hall you can see the two side staircases which came in handy the whole weekend as a resting area for attendees.
Hall 1 contained the swap meet on Thursday and Friday and in the meantime served as a rest area with tables for attendees. Satellite shops for Psycho Donuts, Jamba Juice, and one of the local Japanese restaurants provided a couple of in-center food options. A 24-hour vendor booth of Japanese snacks and drinks also inhabited the hall to provide refreshment round the clock. Later in the day it was used as a demonstration area for archery and others events.
The Friday night swap meet proved to be very popular as attendees hunted for good deals and things that they might have little chance of finding elsewhere. Stacks of manga, old J-rock magazines, figures, and even things like anime posters and Japanese lolita fashion clothing were available.
It’s basically an anime garage sale
Hall 2 is the dealers hall and filled with your usual assortment of vendors selling a variety of snacks, swords, shirts, figures and more. If you’ve ever been to a convention you’re very familiar with one of these.
The 24-hour gaming hall contained in Hall 3 offered a mixture of games both physical and electronic. Even on an early Monday morning around 2am it was packed with people who refused to go to sleep. Large scale games of ninja, giant jenga sets, and cosplay chess were all popular. For those looking to play some video games there was a wide array of consoles spanning multiple generations and even a few top of the line computers lent by Fremont’s Digital Storm. A bunch of arcade cabinets including Beatmania IIDX, Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Time crisis were also available.
Where else are you going to see Kingdom Heart’s Sora play a game of air hockey with Vocaloid’s Rin?
The object of this Wii game is to chase a thief who has stolen your protein powder while making bodybuilding poses. I’m not making this up.
The crucial first move of cosplay chess
Purikura machines getting some action
In the South Hall was Artist’s Alley. Usually located in Hall 1, the Artist’s Alley was relocated to allow for more artists and to accomodate for more rest areas in the convention center itself. Initially I felt that the AA was being effectively exiled but there was a good amount of traffic within. A couple of people did complain about not being able to find it easily but lots of people were always walking to and from the South Hall and the convention center proper. I did get the impression of being in a hangar much like the famed Hangar One in nearby Mountain View which once contained a US Navy airship. It was also a little dark inside due to the very high ceilings.
Oh yeah, it’s big
I can now say I’ve seen anime pinatas. Great for certain magical girls…
3D pixel art
And of course, prints galore.
Cosplay was good this year. One of the more prevalent has to be Shigenki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan). There were, as expected, Scouting Legion members everywhere and even a few titans to boot. Type-Moon’s Fate (both Stay Night and Zero) also had its fair share of fans. I’ll be posting just a few photos but there were quite a lot to choose from.
I’m always amazed at the number of people who know Hard Gay
Creepy, yet cool
Even had a giant EVA cockpit
They actually walked around the convention center like this
The Fanimaid cafe was relocated to the Fairmont Hotel’s Club Regent, a much better location than the random assortment of tables in the convention center especially with all the construction going on. Maids attended to their ojousama and goshujinsama and helped attendees have fun and eat a bit of good food while they were at it. The maid cafe proved quite popular as the line out the door attested.
2014 will be Fanime’s 20th anniversary. The San Jose Convention Center expansion will, assuming no delays happen, be completed. This will be Fanime’s time to shine once more. The convention has been constantly growing in size and Fanime needs to show that they deserve all the support people have given them over the years. They’ve had some great years and great lineups in the past and it would make sense for their 20th to be huge. I’ve got faith they’ll figure things out and that 2014 will be a year to remember, this time for the right reasons.