The Other Half of Kumoricon

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I had a particularly excellent Kumoricon this year through a combination of planning and luck. Planning because, having been to almost all the big events last year, I decided to skip them and concentrate on going to panels and taking it easy. Luck because I decided at the last minute that I would try and make it to the 8am panelist meeting on the first day after all, meaning I picked up my badge when there was hardly a line.

I saw it later as I was heading down to the dealers' room, rising up an adjacent ramp from unknown depths and streaming away to equally unknown points upward. Hopefully it eventually reached the registration desk on the second floor. This was, incidentally, in the parking garage-- under the hotel.

By "going to panels", I actually mean "attending things which happened in panel rooms", which included the not at all panel-like new Girl Genius show, A Night at Mama Gkika's. This was a pastiche including some singing and dancing, some relationship advice by mail for young Jagermonsters ("I say you should let him get as far as he can on the first date. After all, if you set out the traps right around your house, he can't get very far."), and an extended advertisement for Master Payne's Circus of Adventure.

Another highlight for me were two presentations by Kevin McKeever of Harmony Gold. The first was "War Stories From the Conventions", recounting various mostly-humorous stories of being a convention guest all over the world. The other, much more serious one was ominously titled, "Do Anime Conventions Have a Future?"

Some of you will be relieved that his overall answer is "yes". But it comes with qualifications, the biggest of which involves facing up to the demographic challenges of the current con scene. In contrast to much of general sf fandom, anime cons have a very young crowd, and have concerns about people seemingly vanishing from the fandom at age 25.

McKeever actually puts the cutoff at 21, with the churn being disguised by the teen market not being saturated yet. His biggest complaint, as you may have guessed if you have read last year's con report or know anything about anime cons, is the lines. But here is how he explained it for anime con-runners: Adults have jobs and limited vacation time. People in their first full-time jobs put huge value on their spare time. Suddenly waiting four hours in line is extremely costly in terms of that limited spare time.

Other issues touched on were HOBO (Horrible Otaku Body Odor-- I can't say myself that I've noticed this, but then again I know to steer clear of the people who've been wearing the same costume 3 days straight) the level of drama associated with having thousands of teenagers packed together in one facility, and the need for "non-porn adult programming". Looking at the audience for hentai, ecchi, yaoi, and yuri events (for purposes of this discussion, these are all different kinds of porn), says McKeever, the age range he sees starts at the minimum allowed age of 18 and ends at 21, where people apparently lose interest. Include more stuff like industry panels, says the guy who goes to cons primarily to do a presentation about Robotech.

Fair enough, but then he says this sort of thing should be scheduled against the masquerade. Hey! Some of us old people like costumes too!

McKeever is a fun speaker, though, and I recommend him to any cons looking for a media industry guest or a toastmaster. He even emphasized repeatedly in his first panel what a low-maintenance guest he is.

Another educational diversion was Gia Manry from Anime News Network doing a talk on legal issues. More than just explaining that all fansubs are well and truly illegal, she sketched out the whole horrible situation the anime industry finds itself in and the current efforts to find any way at all out of it. If you want to help: buy the DVDs, or if you can't do that, watch the legal, official, approved streams, because they do get some money out of them.

My own panel was "I Went to Japan and Survived", in which all my fellow panelists had spent longer in Japan than me, and so I managed to shut up some of the time and let them talk. I'd gone with a one-hour slot because I'm used to that-- Kumoricon, like many other anime cons, gives you a lot of freedom to specify length, type of room, and so forth-- but I think that if I did it again, it would easily work with an hour and a half. If there were two things we all definitely agreed on, they were: (1) you should definitely go if you get the chance, and (2) summer weather makes it not a good time. Of course, we'd all made our trips in the summer.

I even managed to see some anime. Picking a viewing room more or less at random, I was treated to the first two episodes of Basquash. All I'd known was it was a show about basketball. No, it's a fantastic, hyperkinetic show about the future when all the cool people live on the moon and our hero is stuck in the slums of Earth and basketball is played with, you guessed it, giant robots. Also it's one of very few anime shows to admit that black people even exist, much less make one a major character. (No, sorry, not the protagonist.)

In the end, the only two big events I went to were the opening and closing cermonies. At the latter, the announcement was made that with the Hilton contract ending, Kumoricon is moving once again. But they've managed to avoid the convention center for a little longer, and will instead be split between two hotels in downtown Vancouver. Sadly, this means commuting to the con like I did this year is out of the question, and I may not be going. But if you do, it should be fun.

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