Or alternatively, Should-Have-Gone-To-Wonder Con.
Now, let's not beat around the bush here. Anime Conji is a fairly new event, and Southern California already has a ridiculously large amount of conventions in it. However, this is the only con whose primary focus is anime fans to be hosted in San Diego. Perhaps my expectations were a bit too high, considering this city is also home to Comic Con--you know, "the big one."
If we had to use the old 1 to 10 scale from the Tsunami Scoreboard--1 being absolutely terrible and 10 being the biggest event of the year--this con just barely squeaks by with a 5.
I should have known, though, since the con's website itself is particularly unorganized. It's clunky, image-heavy and very slow to update. Most of the important information or things that most general attendees would be looking for, such as a schedule, a map of the hotel and a list of guests (voice actors, industry names, musical acts, etc.) were just queued into the newsfeed sporadically and whenever it seemed to suit the admin's fancy. Most of the lists of things were not completed until the night before con, which was inconvenient to me, since I don't make a habit of lugging my computer around with me at cons and I don't have a smartphone.
The list of cosplay events was pretty much non-existent because, again, the website admins seemed to have dropped the ball altogether. There was an announcement during the week prior to con explaining that the list of cosplay photo shoots would not be included in the schedule because the list had not been organized in time for it to be printed with the rest. There were signs posted near the registration desk during the weekend, but this didn't exactly stop people from approaching the desk frequently to inquire upon the locations of things.
The hotel, while extremely appealing aesthetics-wise, was very difficult to navigate. The Town & Country Resort has several gardens and gazebos, outdoor patios and even two cantina-style restaurants (complete with the traditional convention center's jacked-up price list), a nice semi-indoor-outdoor room where the concerts were supposed to take place, a hall stuffed with teeny tiny conference rooms to house several large panels and several different buildings for lodging in a grid-like pattern that more closely resembles a labyrinth.
Did I mention that the entire layout of this hotel is identical to itself? I got lost about six different times trying to get from registration to my room--all on the very first day.
There were several different signs pointing to the Swap Meet, but for whatever reason there weren't signs for anything else. Con Ops was pretty much a bunch of guys wearing Umbrella Corps uniforms while carrying radios and the usual peace-bonding gear. The rest of the staff, as far as I could tell by looking around, were stretched unbearably thin with special attention paid to the registration desk and badge checking at the doors to the dealer's room.
I don't really think six people was really necessary, though. At one point on Saturday I counted three volunteers checking badges at the entrance to the dealer's room and three more just standing around at the exit. I think they could have been doing something else at the time, since the registration line had become particularly swollen and blob-like in appearance that afternoon, which caused one heck of a traffic jam just to get inside the building.
The weather was definitely not on Conji's side this past weekend, either. It began to rain Friday night and just kept right on pouring until Saturday morning when it let up a little bit. It was sprinkling until about lunchtime and then it became very windy, very cold and very rainy again by around 4 or 5 PM. On Sunday, the sky became a chameleon and just couldn't decide if it wanted to be overcast, rainy, sunny, windy or just dump hailstones the size of airsoft pellets on everything for 15 to 20 minutes.
There were some canopies set up in front of the building registration was in, but attendees preferred to crowd around indoors instead, which basically caused a very predictable chain reaction from staff-who basically started telling people to move here and there and shifted us all around like so many herds of sheep so that they could prevent a fire hazard. Sound familiar?
A similar issue with crowding was the area chosen for panels. There was a smaller building with maybe four or five conference rooms sandwiched inside. The whole thing was a short walk away from registration. One would have to brave the elements to get from point A to point B, so when it came time for the Homestuck panel (which I participated in at the last minute along with some friends) the narrow hallway was congested with cosplayers and fans trying to get in and out of the building. It probably didn't help that the My Little Pony panel had been scheduled for the timeslot immediately before it and in the room adjacent.
The Homestuck panel was forced to close its doors temporarily because the room was filled to over-capacity, but someone from Con Ops returned later to open the doors separating it from the room the Bronies had just been in so that chairs could be added for more seating options. It was extremely difficult to hear the organizers of the panel no matter where you were in the room anyway, mostly due to bad acoustics and people being excited and chattering among themselves, though. I'm surprised Con Ops didn't set up any tech for the panel rooms, but I don't think they'd have been able to fit any equipment in there even if they tried.
The dealer's room itself was very spacious. Booths belonging to vendors, Artist Alley participants and fangroups were blended together so that everything was all in one place, but still easy to find. No one was crammed in a back corner by the bathrooms or anything. In fact, this area was the most enjoyable place to be throughout the entire weekend. Shop keepers and artists and fangroups alike met in a clashing of similar interests and subcultures that culminated in a very marketplace-like atmosphere. I really liked that about Conji. If this were the only feature of the con, it would have scored a perfect 10. I wish I'd had some extra pocket change to spend at FAKKU!'s table. I've had my eye on some of their merch for a while now.
I was a little bit annoyed that the only place to find pitchers of ice water and empty cups around con was a back corner of the dealer's room next to the exit. I suppose I have been spoiled by almost every other con I've attended for having more than one table like this. Hydrating yourself at con is very important and even though the weather was cold and wet, I was overheating from walking around the entire layout of the hotel and getting myself lost regularly. It's just personal preference, but I really think having more of these water-cooler setups would have been a good idea.
Gaming was split into two rooms--consoles in one room, PCs and tabletops in another. According to a friend who staffs in the gaming room at both Conji and ALA, this area was basically deserted for most of the weekend. This was both good and bad. Good, because it was easier on the staff members. Bad, because... there wasn't anything really going on. Gaming was pretty much stuffed in a back corner on the second floor of the main building above the dealer's room, though, so my guess is that this is the reason.
The only thing about Conji that I have a completely positive opinion of was the hotel experience itself. My lodgings were shockingly pleasant and comfortable compared to basically every other con I have ever attended. The hotel staff at Town & Country seemed very used to conventions and were very friendly and polite. Housekeeping was optional, and while we didn't ask for anything to be cleaned, I was very surprised that room service didn't get sick of us constantly asking for more towels. Parking was only somewhat daunting, but easy to figure out once you were used to the layout of the hotel and by the time I'd gotten myself turned around the fourth time in a row on Saturday morning, I was able to find my way back easily on my own by asking for directions--that's a first!
I would not recommend attending Anime Conji to someone who isn't local to San Diego. The two-and-a-half hour trip in the car may seem like it's not that much to sneeze at, but for a weekend like this, I would prefer that extra forty-five minutes on the 405 to Anaheim for something of the caliber Wondercon provided. I have heard a lot of great things about Wondercon, and I am disappointed that I missed out on the one year it would be local to me. Word on the street is that they're bringing another Wondercon to Anaheim next year, so I guess I know what I'll doing next March--not attending Anime Conji.