It is one of the saddest times of the year… that day where you realize that it’ll be another full year until Ai-Kon…
But there is a bit of happy amid the sad… because we get to reminisce about this year’s convention… the good times, the not so good times, the pretty sights, the hilarious moments, and the people… oh the people.
The Not So Good Times
I want to start off by just quickly getting the not so good bits out of the way at the beginning… first and foremost, the schedule seemed to have some minor hiccups… it felt like a lot of high profile events all took place at the same time while leaving large gaps in the schedule that were just begging to be filled. Not being on the committee, I can’t say whether there were restrictions that made this required… maybe certain panels HAD to be done at these times due to restrictions relating to the guests or the panelists… I can’t say. But whether it was a requirement or not, it did leave the schedule feeling a bit lopsided.
It also kind of felt like the people running the panels that weren’t related to the guests, with the exception of the Japanese Erotic Culture panel (which was hilarious, disturbing, and everything in between), seemed to be ill-prepared. That didn’t make the panels less informative or entertaining, it just led to a sense of disorganization overall. I imagine this is largely because most of these are run by individuals who don’t have experience in public speaking, and as such is likely going to be hard to avoid… but as the convention itself begins to feel more and more polished, this begins to feel a bit out of place. I suppose it’s kind of a double edged sword… these types of panels are a big part of what has helped to make the convention into what it is, but as it gets more polished and more impressive in its entirety, some of these panels can feel out of place in a way.
My last criticism ties to something that I’ve already left much more detailed feedback about on Ai-Kon’s forum, and that was the cosplay contest’s seating arrangement. Their seating setup had a few major flaws… for starters, there were several seats on each side of the stage that were positioned such that they were unable to see around half the stage due to the layout. Secondly, they seated people from the outside in which meant that if you were right at the front of the line you got those lovely seats way off to the side that couldn’t see anything. Unfortunately for me, I was at the front of the line (thanks to a prize I’d won at Winterfest), which meant that my wife and I got quite literally the worst seats in the entire theatre. And, talking to the people sitting behind us, they weren’t terribly pleased by this arrangement either – having waited for 3 hours to get seats so that they could barely see anything. But I don’t want to go on about this for too long, so I’ll cut it short here. I’ve already left feedback in a lot more detail on their forums, so no reason to blather on forever here.
The Good Times and the Hilarious Moments
During the Opening Ceremonies, one of the committee members had made an offhand comment that he wanted everyone to make a new friend, a good memory, and pick up a new hobby. Ai-Kon 2013 had plenty of opportunities for all 3.
The above criticism may make it sound like I didn’t enjoy the cosplay contest, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure I got a sore back from sitting way in the middle to get pictures, and wasn’t able to use my tripod because of it… but I still had a blast and was absolutely blown away by the talent displayed by these individuals. The costumes were gorgeous (well some of them were hideous but ya know… they were meant to be), the skits were fantastic, and the kids were adorable. It never ceases to amaze me how incredible cosplayers are at taking on these characters, and how dedicated they are to creating these marvelous costumes. And while we were waiting for the judges to deliberate, the cosplayers put on a show, getting on stage and dancing to the music in costume. Now, this alone would’ve been fantastic… but it turned into a dancing baby (one of the cosplayers had brought her baby in cosplay with her and put him on stage) and his cosplay army, which was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen in my life. I wish I’d been in a position to record it, because it was a moment to remember.
But not just the cosplayers themselves were recognized this year… they also for the first time ever featured a prop contest/panel. For someone who respects the type of people who can create these masterpieces as much as I do, it was an awesome event to watch. I got to not only see the best props around (and my god they were amazing, the Loki Helmet… the Asuna Rapier??? THE KNITTED METAL BRACELETS????), but also got to hear them talk about how they made them. It feels like this contest was underserved in terms of publicity, so hopefully we can help to bring attention to a wonderful idea and a fantastic learning experience.
As always the contests were a highlight, and as I was unfortunately unable to attend the art or AMV contests (I’m only one person!) I can’t speak to them personally, but all accounts have them painted as fantastic experiences for those who went and I sincerely hope to get the chance to watch the AMV entrants on youtube (and if I get the chance, I’ll make sure to do an AMV spotlight for at least my personal favourite, if not more than one favourite).
But moving on from the contests, they’ve also added on some new attractions. First and most promising, Funimation rep Sarah Sullivan was there to host panels and sign autographs – talking on more than you’d expect. While she did have a spot about what Funimation was up to, she also hosted a panel about bullying that was present right at the start of the convention. Also noteworthy was the addition of a Crunchyroll viewing room, showing some of the best anime Crunchyroll has to offer – even some of the anime I’ve previously covered like Another, Sword Art Online, and Fate/Zero.
In terms of panels, there were continuations of some old favourites – like the Voice Actors uncensored and the Japanese Erotic Culture panels – as well as the addition of some new, and fantastic, panels. The above-mentioned ‘Bullying and the Fandom’ panel was a fantastic idea to help expose and address a huge problem, though one that Ai-Kon has fortunately thus far managed to keep to a minimum. But additionally there was a mixer panel to help people make new friends, panels exposing different subcultures(such as Visual Kei, Furries, and Lolitas) to people who might be curious or interested, and an awesome panel entitled ‘Unpopular Anime Opinions’ that I only caught the end of this year, but will be making sure to attend next year in full if it makes a triumphant return. Apparently it’s an idea stolen from another convention, but it gives people the chance to air out their dirty little secrets – popular things they hate, unpopular things they love, or just general things they’re ‘afraid’ to talk about elsewhere. Hilarious.
The last little thing I’d like to mention is that they managed to snag a Videogame Tribute band to perform a very brief, but quite entertaining rock concert just prior to the closing ceremonies. They did a fantastic job, although they had the drums a little bit over-amplified which made the guitar pieces a bit hard to hear. The band’s name was SuperFX and for those of you in Winnipeg, they’ll be having a concert at the Park Theatre on Osborne this Friday. Tickets are half price for people with Ai-Kon badges, and depending on whether my wife and I come down with con-flu, we’re currently hoping to attend so hopefully we’ll be able to see you there.
The People and the Pretty Sights
I had the fantastic luck this year to get to attend the Guest Brunch: a limited seating free buffet brunch where you get the chance to spend time with Ai-Kon’s guests of honour. It was probably the best Ai-Kon experience I have EVER had. It was, for starters, the first real food I’d eaten since Thursday I think – this is a convention after all, food is rarely on the agenda. But far more importantly, the guests are some of the most entertaining, witty, and friendly people I’ve ever met. This year’s guests were Sarah Sullivan, J Michael Tatum, Greg Ayres, and Chris Patton. I wasn’t expecting them to be mean or anything, but I certainly was not expecting the level of humour and openness they showed, and it made for a fantastic memory and one I will be glad to have for a long time to come.
But it wasn’t just the Guests that were fantastic… Ai-Kon truly is a convention where the biggest highlights are always the attendees. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met attend this convention every year, and if you were there you should pat yourself on the back for being fantastic. I can honestly say that out of the hundreds of people I met in some form or another(whether I was just sitting near you at a panel, whether I took your picture, whether I waited in line next to you, or whether I bought something from your table in the vendor room), there was only one person I wouldn’t be more than happy to get the chance to meet again. And for some of you – you know who you are – I learned way more about you than I know about most of my friends… so does that make us friends just by virtue of that?
The costumes were the best I’ve ever seen at a convention that I’ve attended. Better than any previous Ai-Kon, better than C4, better than the two Blizzcons I’ve been to. The cosplay this year boggled my mind with how fantastic it was, and I’m saddened to admit that I didn’t get pictures of even half the good costumes I saw this year. The floor was awash in gorgeous Asunas, traumatized Mikasas, noble Sailor Scouts, and heroes of Final Fantasy games everywhere you looked. We had a Seto Kaiba, several Vocaloid characters, Ezios, Warios, and so much more.
Ai-Kon was a pretty good sized event in 2011 when I first attended. But I’ve watched it grow by leaps and bounds over these past years – I don’t know the numbers, so I can’t say if attendance has grown, but if the lineup for the registration is any indication I’d say it probably has… the convention has become a real contender, a convention that I hope will soon be at least a national name because despite growing so much, it hasn’t lost its charm. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again – at its heart, Ai-Kon is a convention that lives up to its tagline: “For the Love of Anime”. If you love anime, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you missed it this year, and I cannot wait for next year.
I would like to offer a heart-felt thank you, and an offer of hugs(digital if nothing else) to all of the volunteers and especially the committee members who make this convention such a fertile breeding ground for fantastic memories. If you came to Ai-Kon, I don’t see how you could’ve left without at least one awesome memory. I know I have several.
I spent most of this weekend taking pictures. Unfortunately my camera was acting up, so some of them didn’t turn out as well as I was hoping, so I’m sorry for that!
As the pictures have finished post-processing they’ll be posted in my Gallery. Thus far around 50 of the pictures have been completed, and have been posted here: Ai-Kon Cosplay 2013. Thus far the gallery just contains pictures I took in the hallway, but I also have pictures from the Prop and Cosplay contests, as well as some from the Concert and Closing Ceremonies that will go up later.
Thank you to everyone who is visiting the site, you’ve helped to make this past week the busiest week in Shadowed Blade’s history, so I promise we’re working hard to get all the cosplay pictures touched up for you to view!