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AX2007 - Full of CONtradictions

This is an AX2007 sandwich, it is made of win and fail.

Now, for those familiar with that meme, you’re probably chortling about that contradiction. However, it’s entirely true. AX2007 was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.

Let’s start with the good:

– Makoto Shinkai’s new film, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and premieres in general. Shinkai’s film premiered at the multiplex across the street. The movie is, to put it bluntly, freaking outstanding. It’s one of the finest animated films in over a decade – brilliant storytelling, lovely animation and a gorgeous soundtrack come together in a fashion even Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata would be hard-pressed to beat. It’s so good, in fact, that if everything else during the convention had been completely and irredeemably terrible, the movie would have made it worthwhile anyway. Of course, for those looking for something with a little – or a lot – more action, AX2007 managed to also score a screening of the new Transformers film. That’s very impressive, and frankly, a sign of how much the con matters. If 3000 otaku who saw it for free all thought it was awesome (and everyone I ran into after the screening said it was a blast,) well, that probably ended up being a lot of good word-of-mouth. Of course, there were tons of new anime series being premiered there with their freshly minted dubs too (including the English dub of Pretty Cure) so when it came to seeing new stuff, AX2007 was an all-you-can-watch buffet.

– Some very fun panels. Between some surprise announcements (Funimation grabbing Love Hina!? Right Stuf snagging Lost Universe?!) and some generally fun goings on (Rock, Paper, Scissors for autographed DaCapo posters at the Circus Panel and straight up insanity at the Mega64 panel,) there were some really fun times to be had.

– Serendipitous Cosplay Moments. An insane Naruto shoot in the fountain at the convention center. An L from Death Note sitting out on the corner with a couple of energy drinks around him. A pair of Utena Cosplayers in a bookstore. Mojo Jojo running into Bubbles and Buttercup. Akuma running into Dennis Rodman; no, really, this actually happened. I can only hope photos of this glorious moment surface. Basically, there were some cool pictures, and that’s not only always good fun, it’s a big part of why people enjoy anime conventions.

– The location itself. Long Beach, relative to Anaheim at least, has plenty of businesses nearby the convention center, including several banks and restaurants – essential for dodging long lines and excessive prices for ATMs and food at the convention center. Additionally, by being a stone’s throw away from the ocean, it’s actually pretty balmy, unlike in Anaheim, where it felt like the surface of the sun last year.

However, not everything was peaches ‘n’ cream. Some lows permeated the convention:

– The location itself. The Long Beach Convention Center is both smaller than the Anaheim Convention Center, and yet, manages to be spread out over vastly more area. Add to that a few things like video rooms and game rooms being relegated to various hotels near the convention center, and the result manages to feel cramped, yet annoyingly disparate. In general, it was hard to get the whole flavor of the convention. Most of the cosplayers were nowhere near the panel rooms, dealer’s room and the artist alley; none of this was near the press room, which was near to one video room but was about 4 blocks way from the other video room and the arcade room; this was all across the street from the concert arena and the majority of the cosplayers, and none of that was conveniently nearby to the virtually hidden Natsumi Matsuri (Summer Festival) area. Whew. If you wanted to do a little of everything, you’d have to have been ready to walk all over downtown Long Beach to do so. That is, assuming you can find everything with the map in the con guide – which, by the way, you couldn’t, not even one of the industry panel rooms. In short, the location was at best a wash.

– The organization. The previously mediocre convention guide was compounded by a generally confusing and scattered layout, less than knowledgeable convention staff, missing press badges, plenty of delayed starts, a good number of cancellations and an unclear list of special guests. Case in point: Vic Mignogna, dub VA for Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist was in attendance. I only found out because I spotted him at the ADV booth, on Sunday – I could find him in the con guide. I later heard from other convention attendees that apparently he’d been around the con since Friday. The dealers’ room exit and entrance were at opposite ends of the convention center from each other. While that was fine for Industry attendees (who basically had carte blanche to go where ever they needed to, including leaving through the entrance), it was a real hassle for everyone else who, should they have wanted to get a panel, better have budgeted at least 10 minutes to make the loop back to the convention center’s panel area. As many other sites have noted, the AMV contest had to be pushed back a couple days because they managed to lose the only DVD with a copy of the AMVs on it, which is crazy. Press badges, outside of skipping the line for concerts, were nigh-useless this year. With many of the one-on-one interviews canceled, press people getting kicked out of the room with everyone else between panels, and no reserved press seating at panels, it really gummed up the works a bit and made coverage more difficult.

– Lines. Now, every con is going to have some degree of problems with this, especially as they become very, very large. However, trying to keep them to a minimum is usually a good idea, particularly in warm weather, particular when people aren’t dressing right for warmer weather. Things like, oh, not allowing a line to form until 1 hour before event might have been good (rather than the lines that often formed several hours before a major concert or screening event started, and that always formed before the dealers’ room was open.) When it came to lines for entering the convention, even on day zero it was crazy. Thankfully, that line was at least in the shade, for the most part.

– The Dealers’ Room’s Selection. 90% of what was there, I could buy at my local anime stores, if not at Best Buy and Borders (actually, there was a Border’s across the street from the convention center, and yes, they had a better selection of manga), and typically for less than what they wanted in the Dealer’s Room, save a few really nice deals. Another 5% is the kind of stuff I could find in the International District back in Seattle, or to be more pressing given the locale of AX, Little Tokyo in LA. Another 2% are the kind of booths that make it every single convention, always selling the same stuff you either don’t want, or you already own (IE: mediocre animation software, Copic Markers and so on). In short, it was pretty uninteresting, and almost evocative of the reason Japanese cons typically don’t bother with Dealers’ Rooms: everyone has the same stuff. In fact, the only really interesting and unique stuff were a few figures that happened to not be brought over by Diamond, Kotobukiya or AAA Anime, an art book my local Kinokuniya didn’t have and the Doujinshi (though that arguably falls under that you-may-or-may-not-care 2%). The rest of the spending I did was on stuff that was discounted significantly, like $2 for back issues of Newtype and $2 clearance DVDs.

– Industry Attendance. For what is supposedly the big-industry oriented con, the absence of 3 of the major manga retailers in the dealers room (Del Rey, Tokyopop, and most suprisingly, Viz) was disappointing. The number of industry panels was also quite scaled back. Viz put on at least three panels last year; this year, we only got one. To be fair, Funimation had a whole room which had some extra panels, but they were show-related panels, as opposed to industry news panels. Actually, a lot of went on were just screenings of new shows, which may have been cool but is something that’d happen with or without a special room.

– Panels, or the lack there of. All things considered, while there were a lot of announcements this year, it was thin on the number of panels, particular when it came to stuff like general VA interaction. There was no late-night crazy VA panel for example. Con goers love that kind of thing (they certainly ate it up last year), and it was absent this time. The number of fan panels was weak even compared to conventions as small as SakuraCon, let alone AX’s biggest competitor Otakon.

On the whole, there were definitely some fun moments, but that was as much luck as it was planning. I didn’t intend, for example, to go the Circus panel, in as much as I have no interest in what Circus pedals (H-games and mediocre anime adaptations there of). However, I ran into someone who happened to be a fan of my music at another panel, and I figured that since there wasn’t anything else cool going on late night that evening, I might as well go. Turned out to be a fun and surprisingly clean panel. Better still, I won something. Pretty sweet deal, I’d say. Another example is 5 Centimeters Per Second – I had no idea it was going to be run at AX, and I didn’t expect it to be so outstanding and magnificent. Good? Sure. Crying in theater good? That caught me by surprise. However, that’s largely to ADV’s credit, not necessarily to the credit of the con.

However, I’ll probably be back for AX2008, so clearly, even though it wasn’t perfect or even as good as last year, it hasn’t put me off their con either. I guess that’s a success. Maybe it’s just because I know they won’t be back in Long Beach. Anyone know how the Staples Center is for conventions?

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