Monday, February 3, 2014

Ray Reports: Animation on Display 2014

I've been attending AOD since 2011, and this was my first time at the new location. At first, when I heard of the move from the Kabuki in San Francisco Japantown to the Hyatt near San Francisco International Airport, I was rather annoyed because this greatly reduced my options for food, shopping, and activities. It's understandable that AOD is expanding fast, but I still longed for being able to poke around in Japantown, where there were many things to do. Nonetheless, I still had my share of fun at the new location--for those who keep up with the Bay Area convention scene, yes, this is the same hotel that Yaoi-Con 2010 was held. Plus, I wanted to see my friends, who are the number one reason I visit conventions, after all.

Day 1

So for the week leading up to the convention, one of my main concerns was finding a place to change into before the convention and out of after. I asked around on Facebook, and eventually a friend offered to let me change at their place, on the condition that I be out by 9 AM because that's when they had to leave, presumably to catch Caltrain.

I got to my friend's house around 8:50 AM and tried to call my friend, but no response. Eventually I saw my friend and their friends leaving the house, and I decided I was just going to put up with changing at the hotel bathrooms. I drove off alone down the 101 and arrived at the Hyatt around 9:45 AM, securing a parking spot near the elevator.

As I stepped in, memories of Yaoi-Con 2010 came to my mind for a bit. The hotel itself is very spacious and beautiful on the inside, with plants, a restaurant, a few stores, and some waterfalls for safe measure.

I came to the front desk to ask when my room was ready. To my pleasant surprise, the desk staff informed me that my room was good to go! This was definitely better than checking in at the standard hotel check-in time of 3 PM. After checking in, I came up to my room on the 2nd floor--sadly, unlike the last time I stayed here, I got a room on the outside rather than the inside (for the fantastic view of the atrium), but hey, I was just glad to have a room so early.. I informed my roommates, and made about three trips transporting the food I bought for the con. Also came down to press registration and got my badge with trivial effort, unlike the case last year, where things got...complicated, to say the least.

Nate and Pablo were the first two to arrive, with Katie coming in about an hour or so later. I showed them the food I brought, which was comprised of a couple loaves of bread, bagels, peanut butter, sandwich meat, and a pack of about 18 bottles of water. (Yes, I really did carry that much. A bit of a workout, to say the least.) After all, I wanted to make sure that those I room with are well-fed--never attempt to survive on instant noodles alone!

It may have been carb central, but it was better than Unlimited Sodium Works.
Alex also showed up--though not a roommate, he was a good friend of ours, so I let him change in my room. Nate and Pablo parted ways for now, so Katie (cosplaying as Parsee), Alex (cosplaying as Sakuya), and I left the room to explore the convention.

As if taking a page from other conventions such as Sac-Anime, artist alley and dealer's hall were consolidated into a single large hall. SEGA was on the floor promoting Hatsune Miku Project DIVA F and allowing people to play on one of the several demo units, a trend that they seem to be carry to many Bay Area cosplay events such as J-Pop Summit Festival and Japan Expo USA. I decided to not spend anything in the dealer's hall, at least for today.

We made another stop at one of AOD's new additions: the arcade. If the cabinets looked familiar to you, they're the same cabinets from GameCenter, an arcade that sadly lasted for two years only, from 2011 until 2013. GameCenter owner Myung was there answering questions, staffing the machines, among other things--apparently he still owns the cabinets, just not in a location to do business for now. Most of the cabinets were of fighting games or Gundam games, but the Neo Geo cab had, in addition to two other games, Magical Drop III and Metal Slug 3, and the adjacent cab had Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble, a Puzzle Bobble / Bust-a-Move game featuring the cast of slice-of-life series Azumanga Daioh.

Also shown, by accident: My Reimu gohei and donation box. Which I used to store quarters.
Afterwards, we made a stop to another gaming room: Console and PC gaming. In addition to the usual fighting games and first-person shooters, there was a DDR setup--which I didn't play on lest I ruin my Reimu cosplay--as well as an iPad setup for music games, which I took full advantage of, as I'm a music game nut and don't have an iPad for the several awesome rhythm games that are available for it.

"Cytus is awesome! I got rank S on Future World/Hard and scored 995,105! Come and play too! bit.l--what the hell, did I miss the last note?!"
As for the cosplays we saw, there's the usual "big two"--Homestuck and Attack on Titan. Since the three of us were in Touhou cosplay, we kept on the lookout for fellow TH cosplayers, and managed to sight four of them. The month before, I considered hosting an informal Touhou gathering but I forgot about it after I came back from vacation. To be fair, last year when I tried to host such a gathering, very few if any people showed up--the Touhou cosplay community is a bit small and spread out so it's hard to coordinate a notable gathering at smaller conventions.

Around 7 PM, Alex offered to drive us out for dinner, so we called Pablo and he offered to join us for dinner. Since hotel guests had in-and-out privileges, I had him use my card key so we could get back into the parking garage later. We went to a place down the street called Max's Restaurant. (No, this is different from the Philippine restaurant chain Max's of Manila.) There were a variety of food options on the menu, from burgers to salads to pasta, all in the $12-20 range. I had a pasta with tomato sauce among other things, and it was fairly good, though indeed a bit up-priced. In addition, I also got a free chocolate cake slice as part of a Foursquare deal, which I had difficulty finishing because it was a surprisingly large portion, so the rest of us volunteered to get in a few bites. Besides, taunting my friends by having a free dessert cake myself just wouldn't do. ;)

The four of us decided to do something new--in order to discourage the practice of constantly checking phones or other electronic devices (e.g. portable games), we put all of our electronics in a stack and whoever answers theirs first would have to do something embarassing back at the room. We also decided to cheat a bit by putting our phones on silent to reduce the temptation to pick them up. This experiment turned out surprisingly well, as we spent the entire time either eating or talking, with none of us prematurely picking up our devices.

We got back to the hotel around 9 PM and by then activity was starting to die down. After a little more activity on the convention floor, I made back for the room, changed into sleeping clothes, and lounged around with my roommates for a bit before getting some much-needed sleep.

Day 2

I got up around 9 AM, before everyone else in the room, so I just had some breakfast and played Monster Hunter for a little bit. As soon as my roommates were all up, around 10 AM, I started changing into my Renko Usami cosplay.

Thankfully, I had the option of checking out by phone, so around 11:45 AM, I called the front desk and they checked me out with few problems.

There wasn't much to do compared to yesterday, as is typical of the last day of most conventions. All of the Touhou cosplayers were either gone or now wearing non-TH cosplay. On the plus side, I saw a few Ace Attorney cosplayers, and I've been considering bringing back my Apollo Justice cosplay.

I did buy a few things in the dealer's hall / artist's alley. ChinAnime was hosting a booth there; I believe this is their first time at AoD. I picked up a pack of Touhou trading cards for $15, as well as a ChinAnime Touhou lucky tote bag for $20. I just wanted the bag; I didn't care much for the goods inside since most of them were not relevant to my interests. There was a Touhou card game inside but it's in Chinese, and I don't read Chinese. I also visited an old acquaintance's artist booth, where he and his friends were selling Monster Hunter weapon class stickers; very relevant to me, because that same day, away from the convention and on Twitter, Capcom announced Monster Hunter 4 Unite for the 3DS.

Speaking of 3DS, this was my first time taking my 3DS to a convention for more than an hour (I also took it to Further Confusion, which I only visited for an hour), and hoo boy, was it a 3DS party! I kept having to empty out my StreetPass queue, and sometimes I'd flush out my queue only to immediately get a new batch of Miis. On the plus side, I received a lot of StreetPass data, particularly for Fire Emblem Awakening and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.

Other than that, not much really happened on Sunday, due to the fact that activities ended early and people were leaving; Saturday was a more fun day for me.

Around 4:30 PM, my phone battery and power bank mostly depleted, I rounded up my roommates, all of whom needed rides back. I got confused trying to leave, because my parking stub had a charge of $52 and I was worried I would have to pay that to exit; fortunately, that was made unnecessary by swiping my room key to exit. We stopped by In-N-Out Burger across the street before I ferried everyone back to their respective homes, stopping by at Nate's to change back into my regular clothes and remove my makeup, before heading back home to unpack and doze off for a good 12 hours.


Some of my friends said that AOD should expand to a three-day con so we could have a full day of convention activity; I want to agree, but I'm sure if AOD is to remain a 2-day con, the staff would have good reasons for it.

At any rate, I was just glad I could attend a convention again. The last time I attended one was Japan Expo USA in August of last year; I decided to skip Anime Destiny and my vacation plans forced me to skip Sac-Anime, let alone ALA, and Otakon Vegas. Getting a chance to spend the day with friends in a setting full of fellow fans is always a good experience, and I managed to get by on what was available--I suppose if I want to see cosplay in Japantown again, there is always the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival coming up in about two months. This was not the best AOD experience, but it was the best the staff could do due to their growth making future shows at Japantown very difficult. Perhaps next time, a new approach to conventions, such as checking out events, could help me get the most out of an event that had to make compromises.

Will I come back next year? Considering that I'm slated to graduate and start working soon, probably, if time and money permit. My interest has taken a hit, but if the right people come, and the right things come to this convention, it'll still be worth spending a night at the Hyatt SFO.

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