Well, I’m completely burnt out from Ai-Kon this past weekend, but that’s no reason to put off writing is it?
So now that the convention is over, I wanted to take some time to give people a sense of what happened, and my thoughts on the whole convention.
So Ai-Kon was as usual held at the Winnipeg Convention Center, and it ran the entirety of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – from noon Friday until about 5 Sunday. As always, they had a plethora of guest events, a fair number of panels, an incredible artist/vendor district, and a ton of anime showings. But the two highlights as always were the cosplay contest and the AMV contest. In addition, they also held a pre-show anime at the IMax complete with some of the committee in maid outfits serving snacks to all guests.
As mentioned above, on the Thursday before the convention started, they held an IMax pre-show for 10 dollars for anyone who wanted to go to get into the Ai-Kon mood and atmosphere before the convention started. The IMax show had a lineup going halfway around the building waiting for the doors to open, and was handled in a very friendly and quaint manner. Prettymuch the entire event handled and run by the Ai-Kon committee, even the ticket booth, and it made for a really inviting and welcoming environment.
The maids were adorable in their cosplay, and they looked like they were having a good time as well, which helped to overall make it feel more natural. The snacks were little bites of various types of desserts, which was good because I don’t think it would’ve worked as well with a full snack bar. They did still have the concessions available, so you were able to get your typical popcorn and drink or snacks to go with the movie.
Just before the movie started, the maids came and gave a little speech thanking everyone, and they did an impromptu cosplay award for their favourite costume they’d seen that day. The movie, Summer Wars, was quite entertaining, and a very good pick as apparently most of this year’s special guests starred in it.
Overall, this was a fantastic way to start the convention and I hope they do something like this again.
This year the guests were Todd Haberkorn, Christopher Sabat, Monica Rial, Brina Palencia, and of course Greg Ayres. Greg Ayres is practically the Ai-Kon mascot at this point, since he attends every year and is constantly raving about what a good time he has. Overall, the guests were fun and seemed to be very sincere about how much they enjoyed themselves. Each guest had their own panel, but they were all at a time when I was unable to attend, however secondhand accounts paint them all as being a very enjoyable experience. There were also a few general autograph panels, which all appeared to be very well organized. That being said, one problem I’ve heard many people comment on was that the majority of the guest related events happened on Friday.
During the closing ceremonies the guests were positively hilarious, and while you expect them to say how good of a time they had and how much they want to come back because it’s just polite, the level of enthusiasm most of them had towards that, even Monica who was sadly sick at the time (hope you feel better soon!!), seemed to go beyond merely being polite and felt very genuine.
This year there seemed to be a smaller selection of panels than last year, and there ended up only being a couple I really wanted to attend which isn’t really the convention’s fault since people have to volunteer to host the panels. It appeared that some of the panels they grossly underestimated the popularity of, which led to immense lines (however the committee has already acknowledged this so the problem likely won’t be present next year) and some access problems. It also felt like the majority of the panels seemed to take place either right at the start of the convention, or at the same time as the other big attractions such as the contests and the dance. Friday had more actual informational panels than the other two days combined, I believe, despite Friday only being a half day.
One very nice thing they’ve started doing recently is allowing people to host adult only events which allows for a wider range of appeal to the convention overall and a wider variety of possible panels.
The convention had dozens of anime showing over the course of the weekend with a variety that ensured that no matter what type of anime you like, there were at least a few you would want to see – and probably more than a few! Covering every known corner of the anime universe, from Mecha such as Gundam Wing to the more generic fantasy like Slayers and Bleach to comedies like Lucky Star… and much much more. Pretty-much every genre had at least a few titles.
The viewing rooms themselves were well laid out with a good spread of chairs and a very nice screen height ensuring that even people near the back could clearly see most of the screen and good volume so that you could clearly hear what was happening on screen. It’s good to see that they keep improving things, since this year the viewing rooms were a great improvement over last year. Also, it was nice to see that this time the volunteers seemed more organized at least in the viewing rooms we attended.
Once again this area was well laid out, with a good flow and a ton of amazing stuff. It is hard to not spend all the money you brought in 5 minutes when you enter this area, just because of how good quality a lot of the vendor stuff is, the amazing selection, and most of all how incredibly talented the artists are. They had at least 15 artists selling their work there, with beauty of all forms there from acrylics to fabric to pencil-drawn to digital prints and more… and everything was amazing. At the bottom of this article I’ll be posting links to a few of the artists websites that I grabbed business cards for, and if you have any love of anime or anime style artwork you are losing out if you don’t give them a visit even if just to look at the beautiful things they’ve done.
The Cosplay Contest was for the most part, very well organized this year, using a wristband policy to ensure good viewership and with an expanded audience room allowing for more people to cram in to watching it. There were somewhere around 700 people watching it, so a pretty huge turnout. Unfortunately, the way they filled the seats didn’t work too well; they started filling from the front row of one section back, and then the front of the second section back, which ended up with people who were close to the front section of the line in a back row, while those behind them got the front row of the next section. Not the most well thought out seating arrangement, but as it was their first year using the wristband method, some missteps are expected.
The contest is broken down into children, beginner, intermediate, expert, and skit sections. One problem with the Cosplay Contest was the fact that it tended to blend together since they often forgot to state when a new category started and they continued the numbering throughout. To clarify, what I mean is that if costume 15 was the end of the beginner section, costume 16 was the start of intermediate in stead of having it be intermediate costume 1. This made the contest feel longer than it should have. There were quite a few near-injuries this year, not sure if it’s due to something different about the stage or just bad luck, but there were quite a few moments where we all had that second of panic as someone tripped or fell or stumbled. Another thing I noticed was that the stairs might have been a bit narrow for people wearing costumes that involved specialized shoes, such as the Iron Man costume. This might have even been related to the injuries as well, if people were having trouble balancing on the stairs on their way up it could lead to stumbles.
The skit section was really fun. Essentially it was cosplayers performing some sort of scene – whether in the form of dancing, a story, or even just a comical series of nonsense. It also had one of the highlights of the convention as a simple Inuyasha skit turned into a marriage proposal. Congratulations to the lucky couple and thank you for letting all of us Ai-Kon attendees share in the joy of your moment and make it just that much more special. It was incredibly touching.
After all was said and done, the committee went off to determine the winners, and this was probably my only other real issue with the cosplay contest. Rather than having defined categories and picking a winner in those categories, they seemed to pick costumes they liked and then invent a category for them to win. The only exceptions to this were the best costumes from each category, the crowd favourite, and the best in show. But there were several other categories that felt really artificial, like they were created just to find a way to give x person an award. Not the worst sin in the world, as I’m all for people being given recognition for good works, but perhaps creating a more defined set of categories next year might make it a bit easier, and then having a few ‘judge’s picks’ for ones that don’t fit into those categories yet they still want to give an award to might help to create a more organized feel to the contest.
The AMV contest was a slightly smaller contest than the cosplay contest, although it still had nearly as many viewers. But for me, the AMV contest was the highlight of the entire event. The AMV’s these people created are just absolutely and utterly unbelievable. There was a nice mix of pacing, with some really high paced and some much more slow and melodic songs used for the AMVs, and a huge range of anime used in these works of art too. A fantastic showing.
This contest seemed to suffer from a few minor organizational issues as well. Nothing serious, but it would’ve been nice to have a bit more an intro to each video (even just a still screen for a few seconds saying with the title, song, anime, and creator) prior to the AMV being put on screen, and an announcement of when we switched from actual AMV contest entries to the additional ones added as filler for time. I liked the specific categories chosen for the awards (Best Artistic, Best Technical, and Best in Show) however I do wish there had been another couple of categories. Things such as crowd favourite or best compilation AMV would make for great additions to recognize people for their hard work.
As an aside, this was the first year the AMV contest was being administered by the person who ran it this year, and overall she did a great job of it if you overlook the minor issues.
And as a final note here, congratulations to the winner of ‘Best in Show’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O5_vssQ5r8&feature=youtu.be.
The organizational elements of the convention leave a bit to be desired, as there were some rather simple mistakes made. Some I mentioned above, others were a bit more frustrating yet harder to categorize. Things like they held a rave style dance on the main floor of a building that is made entirely out of flimsy temporary walls. The audio from the dance was audible and the vibrations echoed throughout the entire floor. For someone like me who is sensitive to deep sounds and to vibrations, this was torture – I had a headache in minutes despite being on the opposite end of the floor. Other minor organizational issues were present, for example the artist district opened nearly a half hour late on Saturday, the doors to the cosplay contest were around 10 minutes late in opening, and other things like that. But all told, these are the types of things that can be improved upon with time, and don’t really significantly impact the joy of the convention.
The fans really make this convention special. You couldn’t turn around without seeing yet another costume. I was taking pictures for most of the event, and I have well over a hundred pictures (note: This is why they aren’t ready yet, we’re in process of cropping, touching up, and most time consuming of all, uploading them) of unique cosplay. The costumes were literally everywhere, and many people had 3 or 4 costumes and changed each day. Add to that the sense of excitement everyone had and just how welcoming and friendly everyone was… and you have the recipe for a fun weekend.
Overall Ai-Kon 2012 was a fantastic experience. This is what I want from a convention. I want a nice atmosphere, friendly people, cosplay everywhere, interesting things to do, and most of all… passion. Ai-Kon is a true convention, it’s organized by people who just love the medium to a point of obsession. The entire event feels like a fan gathering. It feels like you got together with your friends for a weekend of anime…. and the invitation just reached a lot more people than you expected. And that’s fantastic. That’s what a convention should be. And Ai-Kon has that passion in droves, and it really takes everything over and makes you just feel like you belong. This is Ai-Kon’s greatest asset, and it really does make up for any and all minor issues that one might find with the convention.
Just wanted to list a few of the artists’ links here, there were a lot more than this, but these were a few I was particularly impressed by.