The Learning Curve

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I went to Kumoricon for a number of reasons: to proselytize for HAL-Con, to gather datapoints for the next argument I get into about why the younger fans at anime cons do what they do, to say I've been to every regular convention in Portland-- but, most of all, having been introduced to anime and manga nearly 25 years ago now, it seemed like high time I got around to getting to know some of my fellow otaku better in person.

The first impression was of an epic crowd, the sort of thing terms like "teeming" or "seething mass of humanity" were invented for. This was to be my last impression and most of the middle ones as well. I would learn later on the first day that the hotel had told the convention it could handle 9-10,000 people, and the convention had looked at the number of staff it had signed up and decided that a cap of 6000 would be more appropriate. All this in what seemed like not much more programming space than Orycon (under 1500 members in recent years) uses.

So there were crowds. No public space was not filled with people. There was hardly anywhere to sit down outside of the function rooms. Worn-out congoers littered the floors of the side hallways on the last day. (There was no con suite, and no space would have been big enough for one anyway.)

And there were lines. Every large function was ticketed. There were people with clickers carefully keeping the population at fire-marshal-approved levels on the main programming floor and even in the dealers' room. The elevators were partially disabled to keep people from sneaking around the crowd control.

Throw this together with the usual logistical challenges of the first year in a new hotel, and you get the minor meltdown that was developing as I arrived. Hordes of eager young congoers were streaming into the lobby to encounter the exact same difficulty as the first arrivals to Anticipation: registration was up on the second floor, but there were no signs, so you had to find out through hearsay.

If you were pre-registered, you had to further determine the complicated path the line took, down an escalator and into the back of the hotel. This was actually not considered a bad line. Kumoricon, like many other anime conventions, has found attendees suffering multi-hour waits on the first day in recent years. It was proudly announced at the closing ceremonies, to huge cheers, that the novel tactic of opening up badge pickup the day before the convention started had held the wait to no more than 2 hours that day, and no more than half an hour on the actual first day of the con.

Less well-received was the observation that procrastinators like me who were registering at the door had no line whatsoever to deal with. The only serious impediment to me sailing right through the process was the time spent locating the registration table upstairs, trying to work out which part of it took money, and finally being told that at-con registration was handled by a completely different table over in that corner back there. There were only two other people trying to register at the time, and they were being told politely but forcefully that they weren't going to be allowed to unless a parent or guardian was there to sign them in. They quickly hit upon the idea of asking the nearest non-teenager to sign their paperwork, which might have worked (a) if I'd been inclined to lie for them and (b) if they hadn't done this right in front of the staff member.

Badge acquired, I did what everyone else was doing: wander back down to the lobby to mingle and start getting oriented. Combine that with the increasing press of new arrivals, and space was becoming increasingly precious.

I made it down to the lower level and back, hadn't found the dealers' room, and was going to try another trip down when the shouting began. Or at least when it became noticeable. People heading for the escalators were being turned back by hotel staff who were cordoning an entire section of the lobby off and instructing people at full volume that "I NEED YOU ALL TO GO OUT THE 6TH AVENUE ENTRANCE." Entreaties that there was a convention going on at the other end of the escalators were met by decreasingly polite requests to "GO OUTSIDE." Baffled members began circulating toward the entrance, realizing that that was silly and there was no dealers' room on 6th Avenue, then wandering back toward the escalators and getting bellowed at again. Further staff members appeared and started trying to clear pathways through the now packed crowd, apparently in the belief that some people would be able to transport themselves into another dimension temporarily to make room.

Things were eventually sorted out and word passed around that the way to the dealers' room was actually out the entrance, around the corner, and down the parking garage ramp. Traffic actually flowed fairly well the rest of the weekend, aside from the lines at the clickers, but the initial experience solidified the opinion in many members' minds that the hotel staff was rude and impossible. The news that Kumoricon's contract with the hotel runs through next year was not received well.

I did actually make it to some programming. The only thing all weekend that wasn't crowded was "Naze Nani Kumoricon" (very roughly, "The Why and What of Kumoricon"), which ultimately consisted of three audience members and one person from the committee chatting around a table. It was a full hour of con-running geekiness. I learned many things, including the previously-mentioned background on the membership cap.

I also learned the full awkwardness of the situation with some of the guests of honor and a place called the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. At the time, this was hosting an exhibit of art from Girl Genius in progress, and the Foglios, who were GoHs of Kumoricon, had had fliers at their table advertising a performance of Girl Genius Radio Theater at the Nikkei Center on the first day of the convention. One of the bands invited as musical GoHs was also gonig to be performing there later that day.

Kumoricon's collective reaction, I was told, was to be irritated about another group poaching their guests, especially since the con works with all the other Japanese groups around town to put on charity events outside of the convention weekend. And their collective action taken was to not contact the Nikkei Center, but to sit in their corner and be peeved and see if the center figured out it was doing something wrong.

Hearing this, I knew I had a clear choice. If I decided to not meddle in this affair, it would mean that I had to accept that idiot plots really do happen in real life. Whereas if I did meddle... actually, I never got around to thinking up something bad for that option. Because I'd been planning to go over to that radio theater performance anyway, since the one scheduled for Kumoricon itself was up against something else I was thinking of going to.

So, in the process, I took the committee member's contact information over to the Nikkei Center, and brought a business card back to hand over to the convention staff. I also learned from chatting with the performers that the whole business was really the fault of unidentified fourth parties, who had approached the Foglios with the idea of the extra performance. By the time the Foglios realized they weren't talking to people from Kumoricon, they'd already agreed to it and didn't want to back out.

The big event of the second day was the Cosplay Contest, which was roughly equivalent to a masquerade. (I'm not sure about the differences between this and the Anime Fashion Show, which was also a costume contest of some sort, which I didn't make it to.)

First I should digress for a moment about the level of costuming at Kumoricon. Over 90% of the people there were in costume. Nearly all of these were very, very good costumes. If your costuming group is wondering where the next generation of costumers is coming from, you need to go and recruit at your local anime convention. I am in absolute awe at the amount of time and effort put into costuming in this community.

However, they need to work on the stage presentation part of it a little. Of about 20 entries, half were just the entrants walking across the stage. Only a couple groups had extended skits, and they were trying to do it with spoken instead of recorded dialogue, with the help from the sound system limited to microphones dangling over the stage which really didn't pick up much. (Recordings were allowed, but apparently no one thought of using them for anything more than mood music.)

Moreover, there's no rule against wearing the costumes for this contest in the halls, so most of the convention actually got a better look at the costumes at other times, without having to wait in line. And yet, there were huge cheers for everyone. The Kumoricon crowd was enthusiastic about nearly everything all weekend.

One thing it has over practically every masquerade I've ever been to, though-- the judges returned their verdict in under 15 minutes. Kudos to Andrea Letourneau, who was their masquerade director.

The last day, I started with the intriguingly-named program item "Anime Christmas". It turns out to be very simple: A big ball of newspaper is passed around the room to musical accompaniment until the music suddenly stops. Whoever's holding the ball then has to remove the outermost layer, revealing either some swag or, more commonly, a question that they have to answer.

Fun in theory, but there were some difficulties in practice. One was that the emcee's handwriting on the questions was damn near unreadable. Another was that they tended to be about things like how certain female anime characters would look in swimsuits, thus scoring the double play of being both age- and gender-inappropriate for most of the demographic that had turned up for this particular event. And then the host had to bring the proceedings to a grinding halt at least twice to change the batteries in his camera. Yes, the whole awkward experience is on YouTube somewhere.

Later that day, I finally made it into one of the viewing rooms to catch some anime music videos, something I always miss at Orycon because they typically start around 10pm and run until the wee hours of the morning. Also, the room contained that now most precious of commodities, chairs.

It all wrapped up with closing ceremonies, after an hour longer than expected standing in line due to some logistical difficulties that were never explained. Even after all that, the crowd cheered and applauded and otherwise enthused at every opportunity. You want energy in your convention, here it is.

Am I going back next year? Well, on the one hand, the relentless crowding and line-standing doesn't seem worth it to go back as a regular member next year. But on the other, I'm sure by now that I won't be making it to Australia that weekend next year, and this convention really needs a panel on what Japan is really like...

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