Criticizing Cons: Not “Why” But “Who”

JP sums it up. But I think there are a few things that need to be couched in the right contexts.

Let’s do the refrain:

[#1] interaction with pros,

[#2] procuring goods,

[#3] gaining new information, and

[#4] interacting with fellow fans.

JP explains further how anime cons don’t quite meet his needs for #1-3, and I can see that to a degree. Again, the context is kind of off.

First of all, “anime cons in general” are not Otakon or Anime Boston or even PMX or The Chase Wang Spam Con (aka AM2) (It’s a dumb joke by the way). It’s your garden variety vendor show. It’s the cons in Florida that you hear people tweet about but nobody ever goes to unless you are already local. You go those cons to meet up with other locals and buy crap (#2 and #4) because it’s easier to buy IRL than over a URL. There are like, almost a con a week in North America alone. But maybe this is kind of a hit and miss thing.

Second, let’s look at the actual criticisms of anime cons in JP’s post.

#1. I basically go to cons largely for access. My raison d’etre, as they say, when it comes to cons. The fact that I actually go to cons makes the criticism not particularly poignant. Even at NYAF (well ok NYCC) I was able to score this. Access! You get the idea. I can crack jokes about “splash” or “Ask [insert person] to draw Anaru” because of my chances at interacting with pros. Interacting with Takaaki Suzuki was great at this past AX. Listening to Shinkai talk at Otakon was insightful. Seeing IwakamiP being true to his word gives me hope for the future. [As an aside I think everything he said about Madoka and Fate Zero during his Otakon panel came true, right?]

But JP is right in that if you didn’t care for anything like “the industry” or “character designers” or “mechamusume” or “yaoi” or “weeaboo merchandising” any of the sub-section of anime fandom represented at the con, you probably wouldn’t care. There’s something also to be said that I don’t go to many cons, like this year’s AnimeNext, which is like minutes away from where I live. And AnimeNext is a top-ten anime con this year I think, in terms of population.

Interaction with pros is something that anime cons bring at various levels. But it’s good to take a bigger perspective and realize that compared to Japan, US fans are context-poor and starved of interaction. Not everyone is a Halko Momoi. Not everyone cares for dub actors (but I guess a lot of people do). Anime cons bring us a little bit of that interaction, but it’s like what you can get if you just buy this month’s Newtype or Seigura or something, for example. Heck, US-based dub actors have no commercial press out there to publish their dealies! No exposure besides what ANN picks up, really. That’s not all there is to interacting with pros at cons, but even with the internet helping out, there’s a sizable gap between what hardcore fans over in Japan knows versus what fans in the US knows.

With that said, the main thrust behind JP’s argument on this point is perhaps the realization of how even for the top-attended anime cons in the US, most people don’t care too much about creator access in this sense. Just go to Otakon forums and talk about Japanese GOH panels and their attendance. It’s kind of sad coming from a certain perspective to see a fan panel getting more attendance than some creator’s GOH panel, when that creator makes the anime that fan panel is about in the first place.

I can probably write a post or three on just point #1, so let me just wrap it up now and say that at AX this year, there were a lot of Japanese otaku doing the same things I was doing. Because they were able to interact with some of these pro guests in ways impossible in Japan.

#2. Likewise, most people at any con don’t blow their wads at the charity auction. In 2011, no thanks to the tragedy in Tohoku, that was the #1 place where you could have spend and bought some seriously awesome stuff. That was just an observation but let me get that out of the way.

Anime Expo’s dealer room was also a solid place to pick up stuff. Vendors like MangaGamer had some really cool stuff that it would take a ton of effort (and additional costs) to buy if you wanted to proxy them. Specialty Japanese vendors occasionally appear at the bigger cons. I’ve spotted Cospa at least a couple times over here on the East coast, for example, and just by bringing over a fraction of their wares you’ll likely see something you want to buy that you didn’t know even exists.

And then there’s the more R1-centric type swag that’s worth less. I have a Madoka charity poster that you can’t get anywhere, for example. Funimation offers a whole lines of trinkets and t-shirts that you can only get at a con (I still want that Eden of the East t-shirt they were giving out last year). It’s a very different mode of buy-and-sell, very different than the horde of neckbeard dudes flipping their comic books on eBay or whatever that you can see at NYCC, but I’m at a place in my collector’s life where I’m seeing a lot of stuff in my collection that you can’t just walk in a store (online or otherwise) and buy. At least not easily. The biggest anime cons in the US offers at least something to check out in their vendor halls, imported or domestic. The examples are numerous, but I think the truth here is that most of that money is out of marketing, not because there is a secondary economy healthy enough to support it (well the RULERS OF TIME may have something to say about it). This is drastically different than what goes on in Japan.

As to buying crap, while the internet basically renders a lot of this a moot point, there’s still something to be said of having the physical shopping experience. On top of that certain goods are just better purchased in person (posters, figures, etc). I think we can safely say that buying stuff hasn’t changed that much in terms of mode, for any con versus what you can get online. That’s why there’s still shows and cons packed with small vendors, for video games, comics, TCGs, anime things, books, whatever. People still go to them to shop. As fans in a first world nation, ultimately that is a core competency.

#3. God bless bayoab. This kind of blurs into the point about access, but that’s kind of true–you get better news from people reporting at the con than being at the con. I suppose that is also why now I play with a press badge. Anyways, all of that just points to the fact that cons have new info. I’ve had a dig or two, but that’s more something unique to the circumstances and not because the general attendee had access to that information.

To sum it up: cons are big marketing pushes even for anime companies. But it is only the larger cons where that is true. NYCC is one of them. Perhaps the anime con circuit is too centralized (or not amorphous enough?) and it will miss a large parts of the megacon audience.

#4. Contrary to JP I think this point kind of is the least relevant to anime cons. As oppose to most people who do cons as a social event, I don’t, at least not primarily. The internet is a great way to talk to and socialize with other people, don’t you agree? But just like #2 and #3 I don’t think the internet replaces existing types of human interaction. It just supplements that.

Of course, it’s much more fun to do a con with a group of friends, and a con is always a great excuse to party, so those things happen. But in the proper “learn to offkai” mentality, I socialize to socialize. If it happens at a con, great, but that’s not why I’m there in the first place.

To wrap this up, I think I agree with JP here:

You can’t apply the megacon style to an anime con, and anime cons are too amorphous and unfocused for the megacon attendees.

But that has more to do with the people going to anime cons than how anime cons are run. Considering attendance, Otakon and AX are proper megacons. It’s just that unless you are a weeaboo, you wouldn’t get much out of the programming at those cons. I would even go further to say that AX and Otakon’s attendees are too amorphous already. To give an example, looking at the guest requests threads at those two con’s forums, you’ll get requests of things that are just “geek” and not even anime related. And that is more and better representation than even some of the most popular anime-related people in Japan. [Every con should request Yamakan btw.]

So there you have it. I mean just think about it a little–no anime con has proper 4chan programming (other than Otakon for a few years) but every major anime con is a internet meme con, why is this? It’s because the people who go to anime cons are largely internet … people. I think Intel and MLG might get better reception if they target those events than mainstream cons! I mean, LOL.

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