It’s time to bid farewell to another Ai-Kon. This was Ai-Kon’s 15th anniversary… an impressive feat for a convention in such a small city. But what is more impressive is that Ai-Kon has grown so much. Looking from last year to this year, it almost seems as though the size of the convention centre may have been the only thing previously holding it back. This year’s event showed almost explosive growth… but has it grown too quickly?
The marketplace was probably close to twice the size of previous years, and it was nearly packed from open until close for the entire event. There was a massive number of vendors, artists, and clubs showing their stuff within – it was a great sight to see. And despite having tall displays and huge crowds of people, the ventilation was still pretty good. They also had a great layout that promoted the artists first, with them being the first things you see upon entering, which I really approve of. People who want, say, Pocky, decorative weaponry, or art accessories, know that they’re going to look for that and will find the relevant vendor even if it’s way in the corner. The artists, however, can go unnoticed if their displays are not visible to people.
This is just a good example of the convention’s overall organizational improvements. They had a better idea of how to arrange events, with a wider array of ‘high profile’ events, rather than just all of the high profile events at the same time. They also did a better job on the registration line, and even moved a few of the ‘all day’ rooms to more appropriate locations. For example, bag check was no longer in the hall on the second floor, but rather within sight of the main entrance. Even the show rooms seemed pretty well set up, although this is nothing new as this convention has been running efficient showing rooms for years now. These were all good steps in the right direction, and they took full advantage of the new space afforded to them by the renovations to the convention centre.
Things weren’t perfect, though. While their macro organization was much improved, on a more micro scale, in terms of line management aside from registration and the costume contest, the event was lacking in direction. There were lineups that were completely unsupervised, there were lineups that nobody was really sure were lineups, and there was even one line where they, in stead of leaving people in a relatively straight line, moved everyone into some strange snake formation that just didn’t work at all. Talking about lines, something really strange happened while we were watching the cosplay contest line. Some dancers, who had just finished their concert/panel, came by the line and started performing. Maybe their goal was to make the wait feel a bit shorter, but I can’t help but feel this should’ve been done somewhere else because the end result was a massive cluster of people right in front of the front doors and the escalators. Not a good place to have such congestion, fortunately there didn’t appear to be any harm. I can only hope it wasn’t officially sanctioned.
The convention also made one decision that was uncharacteristically selfish of them. While there are often minor organizational errors throughout Ai-Kon, you can always tell that the goal of their decisions is to provide an entertaining and safe environment for those attending… so I am willing to generally forgive them their mistakes in the long run. Running a convention is not an easy task after all, and they’re chronically overworked for the weeks, and probably months, leading up to the event itself. But this year they made a decision that was the opposite of their normal selves. They decided that nobody except their official photographers deserved to get good pictures of the cosplay contest. To clarify, they gave a monopoly on flash photography to the official photography team, forbidding anyone else from taking flash pictures of any of the ‘main events’ (which basically means the cosplay contest). This is not exactly a stupid decision, it’s just selfish and unfriendly to their attendees – basically saying it’s more important that their pictures be good than the attendees be able to share their memories with their friends. In my eyes, it’s far more important to have a ton of good quality pictures floating around in a variety of galleries than it is for the Ai-Kon photography team to have perfect shots, especially since the room layout doesn’t allow anyone past the first few rows to see the full costumes of the contestants. The more places people can find good pictures, the more word of mouth can spread. As a result of this awful decision, there was no reason for me to attend the contest, which sadly means fewer pictures for all of you out there to enjoy. It’s a pity, but that’s the reality.
Note: The above paragraph was written based off of the information provided during the opening ceremonies, where they advised us that ‘the photographers had asked us to not use flash as it interferes with their flash’. Today, over a week after the event’s conclusion, the convention’s cosplay co-ordinator reached out on their official forums to clarify that the real reasoning is for the safety of the cosplayers, and that it applies to their photographers as well, which is perfectly reasonable. This, of course, doesn’t change the fact that getting good pictures 0f the event will be nearly impossible, but it does at least provide a logical and understandable reason for the restriction.
Enough doom and gloom though, the convention did a lot right this year. Of course, the organizational improvements are important, but they also just upped the scale on everything. There was a great variety of panels and events this year from cosplay instruction to a variety of informational panels, from comedy to dance lessons. And the panels I was able to make time for were all quite good. They also got a lot more vendors around to offer coupons and goodies for the swag bag than usual. The final great sign of growth that I wanted to highlight here, which is one that I hope to see a lot more of down the line, is that they got a food truck to camp outside the convention for most of the event. I really hope that they try to get more food trucks, whether culturally relevant or not, to attend in future years.
While I can’t deny that their one big blunder really disappointed me, and I can’t help but hope it is not a sign of things to come, the overall event was better than ever. They’ve made some vast improvements, and it’s been an almost startling growth from last year.