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Anime Weekend Atlanta 2013: The Old Familiar

The line amasses for the Dealer’s Room. Tables promoting competing conventions line up outside, peddling their flyers to any and all passer-bys. It’s about noon on Friday, and Anime Weekend Atlanta is officially kicking off.

And yet, if you’ve gone for ten years (about half of the con’s history), it may feel all the same, but your increasing age starts to wear on you. It’s saddled right after Dragon*Con, the larger, more all-audiences, all-genre convention that gets bigger name celebrities, more hotel and convention space, and more woes to deal with. The general consensus with Dragon*Con is that it has outgrown itself. Five days of a convention? Nary a chance to move? The unmitigated confusion that is the Dealer’s Room? Only Artist’s Alley and Autograph Alley make any sense, rhyme or reason.

Not so at Anime Weekend Atlanta. The Dealer’s Room is impressively large and varied for a convention of this size and location. You can get everything from eye contacts and replica swords to the latest wares straight from FUNimation, Vertical, and more, to the classic and import gaming wares from classic vendors (one consistent purchase I have is for some sort of nostalgically obscure gaming hardware from Mad Gear; undoubtedly, you have yours). Artist’s Alley has sufficiently ballooned into a room of it’s own (mostly, more on that later), and while you may slide by a few tables, there’s sure to be some print-designs or small-press comics to take home.

One of the biggest improvements is food options at the convention. In the past, we’ve been limited to snack foods from the dealer’s room, various unique carts outside the main halls (fancy almonds, crepes, and more), or stretches out into the mall adjacent area for Subway, Chow Baby, and the like. This time, the convention really took Atlanta’s burgeoning food truck culture and packed them deep in the heart of Artist’s Alley. If you want a premium gourmet hot dog or tacos out of an idling truck, you had to make your way past all the creative types you may have completely missed at any other convention.

There were other little things that can easily be appreciated this year that weren’t traditions in the past. Including lanyards with every badge is a godsend for unprepared convention-goers. A nice, thick con booklet, treated like a student handbook, is informative, well put-together, and straight out entertaining at times.

The video schedule had everything you could possibly want, and that’s only counting world premieres. The dub premiere of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, Jormungand, One Piece: Strong World, and even high-def premieres of classics like Gatchaman, Akira, and special preview screenings of Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, Wolf Children, Rurouni Kenshin, and more. It’s not hard to even consider the cost of a convention badge to be a fair cost for a movie marathon for the weekend. In a way, this convention’s a bit of Cannes in Atlanta.

There’s a certain melancholy of attending the same convention for a decade straight; you soon realize how out of touch you may be with the audience. A decade ago, Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto were the leading names in modern pop-anime mindsets. While still around, they’re surpassed by Attack on Titan, Homestuck, and more.

And what is, in fact, Homestuck? You may see dozens of the creatures in cosplay form, with their blue/gray body paint and candy corn horns, and yet none can give you a concise answer.

It’s not part of a “problem,” but of the situation we’re in with regards to anime in 2013. With the proliferation of the Internet and the ease of access, animation fans aren’t limited to what Toonami and the ilk air, or even what gets a legit licensed release from in America. Add in ten more years of constantly-created material, and it leads to a deeper and wider well of animation. The cosplay is more diverse: more of an industry (largely to it’s negativity; much like Kevin Smith’s approach on religion in Dogma, cosplay begins to lose it’s allure when it slides from “I did it for fun” to “I did it because I want to win a prize and be a noted celebrity”), and more unfocused. Anime Weekend Atlanta is unapologetically an anime convention- why exactly are there Homestucks and Deadpools and… is that Guy Fieri cosplay?

Get off my lawn.

…. and then you realize it. You’re old. You were these kids a decade ago. The allure of the convention is over; you’re rarely learning about new shows and books here — you have Twitter. You’re not sneaking off to have a raging room party, you can do that whenever you want. The 3DS systems… everywhere! People, you are at a convention! Dave Merrill said it best at a previous convention: “We have set you up with thousands of people with a common interest; there’s no way all of you can’t find a date”. You’re the old person who can skip out on the rave (although you are curious when a friend of yours apparently DJs so hard that a speaker bursts into flames), and instead enjoy the good company of friends. You don’t need to drop $45 on the multi-articulated Sailor Moon figure; you were smart and pre-ordered that on Amazon. Did you go to any of those panels? You debated about it, but you decided time with friends was more important.

There are traditions that never change. Anime Hell is always a blast, although, there was an odd obsession with Space Pirate Harlock (which is a fitting thing to obsess over, but still). There’s the guy with the Yaoi paddle waving you down, and you will invariably take a look for that one doujin you just can’t find. You’ll end up sharing an elevator with a voice actor that you may or may not recognize by face (but as soon as they ask you to press a button for a floor, your gears begin turning).

Anime Weekend Atlanta may not change much from year to year, but it never goes backwards. Growing steadily, staying interesting… it may be you that grows beyond your original enjoyment of the convention, but it still stands as a rock-solid, perfectly-handled convention that remains a guaranteed weekend of fun.

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