May 29, 2007
This weekend was Anime North 2007, and convention goers made the most of it with plenty of cosplay, hours of video, and panels that stretched long into the night.
As a four-time panelist, I introduced myself as a blogger for fps. My panels included musings on Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan, and cyborgs in anime. I was a panelist alongside Dr. David Stephenson and Derwin Mak, among others. Being a panelist is very rewarding, and lends structure to what otherwise might be an incomprehensible whirlwind of photo-taking, squeeing fangirls, and scrambling to find that last-minute steal in the dealers' room.
As an anime convention, Anime North is the laid-back, easy-going Canadian cousin of Anime Expo or the Big Apple Anime Festival. It's not American, so distributors are sceptical of debuting new titles there. On the other hand, last year's convention boasted ten thousand attendees. There seemed to be a little something for everyone -- one hotel was designated "Yaoi North," featuring both yaoi-themed panels as well as viewing rooms for teens 18 and older -- with all-night anime, gaming rooms for all platforms, and pencil-and-paper RPGs, and multi-franchise masquerade competitions, fashion shows, tea parties, midnight ballroom dancing, J-rock and J-pop performances, multi-hour AMV competitions, autographs from the likes of Wendee Lee and Johnny Yong Bosch, and chocolate fountains. There was even a pool party.
All of this is very fun, especially if one is staying in one of the three or four hotels involved in the convention. But the trade-off is that with programming and attendees spread over multiple locations, volunteers and programmers have no central authority. Several times during the convention, I would ask volunteers for assistance, and was given misinformed or conflicting advice. Case in point: when joining a long autograph queue, I asked a volunteer where exactly the end of the line was. "I have no idea," he said. He pointed, and said: "It's there, I think." Naturally, the line changed direction after an hour, proving both the volunteer -- and my good sense -- completely wrong. When I asked another volunteer why the person I had spoken with earlier was so misinformed, she said: "He just didn't know we were going to change things around." This kind of misunderstanding ruled at the convention, with volunteers posted at doors proclaiming them to be "exit only," (instead of, say, clearly-posted exit signs) and volunteers loudly complaining "I don't know what my job is!" to their alleged supervisors while waiting anxiously in panel-designated areas.
This is not to say that I do not endorse Anime North wholeheartedly. Anime conventions in general are like a kinder, gentler three-day Mardi Gras, and there's something good for the soul about basking in the presence of other fans. Watching first-time visitors, talented cosplayers, and wide-eyed parents with their much-savvier children is always a treat, and part of the convention experience. "I've had such an awesome time," said a first-time attendee to me on the final day. "I don't ever want it to end." And it's that sense of comfortable wonder and community that fans and friends-of-fans should attempt to facilitate at these gatherings. I fully intend to visit next year. You should come, too.