Ai-Kon 2014 Post-Show

Well, it’s Sunday and Ai-Kon’s closing ceremonies have concluded. There has been cosplay, there has been anime, there have been panels, and there has been much fun… but it’s over for another long, long year.

This year’s Ai-Kon appeared, from my perspective, to be the biggest yet. People were everywhere, every room I looked in had a decent crowd, and there were a ton of completely new things to do. It has been amazing to watch Ai-Kon grow each year since I started attending, under the loving and dedicated hands of the Ai-Kon Committee, led – up until today – by its president Lisa whose last year this was.

The next committee president will have big shoes to fill, as Lisa herself did, since the convention has shown astonishing growth and improvement over the past few years. Ai-Kon is always the event I look forward to most each year, and while it is never perfect, it is always amazing. This year proved, beyond doubt, that the Committee truly does listen to the feedback they’re provided. Last year when I wrote my Post-Show I was pleased, as I always am, with Ai-Kon but I pointed out a few key things that happened that were definite places they could improve… and nearly every one of them was taken to heart. Since the event was, in general, so fantastic I’m going to focus this post mostly on the leaps and bounds they have made in making the experience better and better – and any flaws or faults there may happen to be.

The Guests

I’m not a huge star-gazer. Celebrities don’t usually catch my interest, so I’ve never really had much to comment on with regards to Ai-Kon’s guests. Last year was the first year I really had anything to comment on, partially since I got to meet them all in a very friendly and casual environment and it was a blast. The biggest thing last year was that they’d had their first industry guest… this year they’ve finally managed to bring in a guest, or rather type of guest, I’ve been really hoping they’d get for a long time. This year was the first year Ai-Kon has been able to bring in a well known cosplayer to act as a guest – Jonny N’ Junkers of Junkers Cosplay. But wait, there’s more! They also brought in a comedy improv troupe called The 404’s to perform a few skits and host one of the games.

The other big addition they made as far as the guests go were the addition of dedicated photo-shoot times for people to get their pictures taken with each of the guests. It’s nice to see, since I know a lot of people love our guests and it can be hard to track them down for a picture if you’re interested since they’re busy folks.

One minor comment I’d like to make is that I’m always really proud of the way Ai-Kon’s attendees treat the guests. It’s amazing to see people who are essentially, among this crowd, celebrities walking around an event casually and not have them be getting harassed or hounded by people (and no, I don’t consider stopping them for a picture or chatting with them to be ‘harassing’). It’s really good to see, and we – as a community – should be very pleased by this.

The Contests

Cosplay Contest

As any of you who read my post last year may remember, there were a few problems I felt the cosplay contest suffered from. First and foremost, the seating arrangements were abysmal. This year, I’m very pleased to say, this was not the case. After a few years of fumbling, they’ve finally managed to get it just right. They kept the wristbands – which were the best idea they had last year – but in stead of assigning seating, they let people in a group at a time and had them seat themselves. It seemed to work fantastically, and I want to thank the Committee for taking feedback so strongly into consideration on this issue, because it was a big one and it is such a relief to see it solved completely.

Now that we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room (he’s sitting comfortably in the seat he chose), we can move onto the other little things with the cosplay contest that made such a huge difference. First and foremost, Jonny N’ Junkers made such an immense difference in the cosplay contest. I have the utmost respect for the cosplay coordinators and I’m absolutely confident they know their stuff (how else could they show up in such amazing cosplay every year?) but they’re simply not comfortable with speaking in front of a crowd. And I don’t mean this as criticism – it’d be rude of me, who is so shy that I won’t even go down to the mic during the unpopular opinions panel, to criticise over this – but it does make it hard for those of us watching to truly understand why the costumes that won, won. Having the cosplay guest, who was clearly more comfortable with this, do the speaking allowed us a deeper insight into why they gave the awards to the people they did, which helps get these fantastic cosplayers the recognition they deserve.

Another great addition was having a dedicated master of ceremonies during the contest who wasn’t one of the judges. In previous years, it’s meant some awkwardness at moments – nothing that really took away from the experience, mind you – but noticeable in retrospect. This year, they had someone cosplaying as Kiryuin Satsuki from Kill la Kill who acted as the MC for the event, and it felt like they were a lot more comfortable on stage than the announcers have been in previous years. Additionally, it also meant that the judges could focus on actually being judges without having to do both.

The final major comment I’d like to make regarding the cosplay contest was that – while we did manage to entertain ourselves just fine last year – bringing in a dance troupe to perform while the judges deliberated was a really good idea. The ‘Wassup Heroes’ were very entertaining and, while I’m hardly an authority on the subject, they seemed to be quite good.

Other Contests

Moving on to the other contests… I was quite disappointed to see that the prop contest was cancelled this year (apparently due to lack of entrants). I don’t know if people just weren’t interested or if there was just a lack of advertisement on the subject… but it was very sad that it was cancelled this year and I hope they try again next year, because last year’s was very informative and interesting. I was glad that they didn’t just not award people for prop excellence though… they gave the prop award away during the cosplay contest which was a nice touch although it still did, sadly, exclude anyone who had a prop but did not enter the cosplay contest.

I had, sadly, missed the AMV contest last year but was able to attend this year. They had a new AMV coordinator this year, and overall I’d say she had a pretty good first year in that role. The production values, overall, were improved dramatically. I was thrilled that she decided to put a brief intro and outro page indicating the name, author, song and anime for each of the AMVs. Such a small change that improves it so much. She also added an audience choice award, which sadly never got announced – but it’s a small oversight overall. The biggest flaw I can see is that she didn’t really do a good job of making the ‘awards’ a part of the contest itself. The video stream ended, then she came and started talking and sort of wrapped things up before moving on to the awards. A lot of people took this as a signal to leave, which meant it was hard to hear who was winning.

The Panels, Marketplace, and Other Goodies

This year, partially thanks to the variety of guests, had a really sharp improvement in the variety of panels. Jonny N’ Junkers held a few panels about cosplaying which looked fascinating even though I was sadly not able to attend. This is something I’ve been hoping to see for a while – some really good cosplay panels. I was also really intrigued by a panel showcasing vocaloid software and showing people how to make music. Sadly, it was during a few other events that I had to attend so I was unable to, but it’s another sign of the growth of the convention.

There was one other addition that I was glad to see, even if attending it was difficult due to limited tickets: a Maid Café. A lot of people have been suggesting this for several years and I’m glad to see they finally managed to pull it off.

The marketplace seemed to be more organized this year. The lineup was better handled, with the volunteers actually controlling the flow of traffic to a greater degree and seeming to all be on the same page regarding rules and restrictions. Additionally, the layout of the marketplace seemed to have a great flow to it, ensuring that – for the most part – the area felt very open and lively. There were no spaces that felt closed in or awkward, it was just a great space.

The final comment I’d like to make about the vendor room, even though I’m pretty sure it was just coincidental, is that it was really nice to see most of the artists on the same page as far as pricing is concerned. It made it much easier to budget myself and ensured that I never felt like I was being given a bad deal. This led to me buying more artwork than I have in any previous year.

I did notice one minor issue with a volunteer during one of the panels on Sunday. One volunteer, for no appreciable reason, decided that rules apply to some people but not others. I saw one person get turned away by the volunteer for trying to bring food into a panel, but then less than half an hour later another girl sat in that same panel directly in front of me, having walked past the same volunteer openly carrying the exact same food.

Overall

Ai-Kon continues to be my favourite event to attend, and with what issues I had ironed out and the continued amazing rate of growth and improvement.. I am thrilled to get to watch this convention continue to mature. Also, as a side note – the cosplay continues to get better and better, and I am absolutely blown away by the skill and talent of those of you who engage in this hobby. Never stop, please.

 

After having numerous issues get in the way of some of the pictures from last year, including hardware and software problems, illness, work-related challenges, and other problems… I owe each of you whose picture we never got to a sincere apology. As a way of recognizing that it sucks when things like that happen, we’re going to try to get the pictures dealt with tomorrow so hopefully the lot of them will be posted this week.