Monday, September 7, 2015

Sac Anime Summer 2015: Robbie's Report

The lead-up to this Sac Anime was full of excitement and anticipation, with a bevy of fantastic guests announced. Actors from Futurama, Legend of Korra, Power Rangers, and more were due to be in attendance, so I was anticipating a great convention. Sac Anime had been an enjoyable convention in previous years, although a change in staff and management meant anything could happen. So let’s see what did.

The first change we here at CCB noticed was that only one of us would be allowed to cover the event. As such, I’ll be the only one with a full report on the con this time around. (As it was a new press staff for the convention, they wanted to start their relations with press outlets anew, so everyone was limited; not just us.)

(Editor's Note: When I first found out that the convention was only going to give us one badge, I gave it to Robbie since he was going all three days and I had work which prevented me from going at least until Saturday. But as they added more guests, the need for more than one person was warranted given the sheer size of what this SacAnime become. However, that wish did not come true. -Matthew)

I also learned that press was no longer allowed into the free autograph lines, as we were in previous years. However, there were a few guests with paid autograph sessions, and Sac Anime did institute a new way to get through the autograph lines: fast passes. For about $20-30 per guest, one could bypass the longer, free line and hop in a shorter one that got priority.

Of course, those prices were far too much for any but those with a lot of money to burn or a burning desire to meet one or two specific guests. I later learned that upon reaching the front of the line, attendees learned that they would be charged $20 up front for any items past one per person that they wanted signed. When a friend expressed surprise at this, the staff working at the booth began insulting them for expecting things free, comparing it to people who want free artwork from artists and tossing around the word “entitled” frequently.

VIP autograph sessions were also available at various times throughout the weekend, available to those who had paid the extra money or booked a room early enough to receive a VIP badge. I have not heard how smoothly those ran, so I cannot speak for them.

The setup of the autograph system was a lot different this year as well. In previous years, there was one long line that led into the autograph room, where each of the guests had their own tables. This time, the autograph area was held inside the exhibit hall, and split into three separate lines, each leading to different tables of anywhere from one to six actors, depending on the shows being represented at that time. After going through one (a process that could take well over an hour, even for those who lined up early), the only way to meet any other guests would be to get back in line, at the very end, and go through the whole process again. Except the lines would inevitably be cut off by that point.

In short, the autograph system had been changed to make the experience take longer, cost more, and provide fewer autographs. Nearly everyone I spoke to expressed disappointment at this new system.

However, there were a few guests doing paid autographs: David Faustino (the voice of Mako in Legend of Korra), Matthew Wood (General Grievous in Star Wars), and the Power Ranger actors in attendance - Austin St. John (Jason the Red Ranger), Walter E. Jones (Zach the Black Ranger), Karan Ashley (Aisha the Yellow Ranger), and David Fielding (Zordon). They tended to be at their booths for most of the day, allowing fans to walk up, talk to them, and buy photos or autographs. Those I spoke to were welcoming and showed real gratitude to their fans. (Although sometimes they couldn’t be reached, due to the area being blocked off by convention staff and the long lines for the free autographs.)

The way it was set up made me think more of conventions like Wizard World, where there would be rows of guest tables with smaller lines at them throughout the day. In fact, given that San Jose Wizard World was held that same weekend, it seemed as though Sac Anime was trying to copy WW’s style. But the thing is, if I wanted to go to Wizard World, I’d have gone there instead.

Sac Anime is known for its great guests, and the free autograph sessions that allow fans to meet them. The changes this year were trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, and the experience suffered for it.

Rock the dragon!
Still, I’ve spent enough time talking about the autographs for now; the rest of the convention awaits. I was cosplaying as Trunks from Dragonball Z, and actually managed to run into quite a few other DBZ cosplayers that day as I explored the exhibit hall.

As always, the hall was split in half, with the dealers near the front and the artists in the back half of the hall. This time, however, there was a little less space, as a section of the room was used for the guests and autographs. The vendors were mostly unchanged from previous years, with the usual assortments of manga, figures, t-shirts, and other assorted anime goods to buy.

Later in the day, the hotel was finally ready to let my room check in. It looked as though hotel staff was also upping its fight against room-crowding, by asking for the names of everyone in it, and saying that they’d be checking at the elevators to prevent anyone extra from going in. Inevitably, though, the line for the elevator grew so long that nobody was asking for names, there were just disgruntled security guards making sure the lines moved properly and no elevators were over-crowded on the way up.

Wall-E and EVE
There were a few events worth checking out; cosplay chess was held a few times, and the game rooms were always open for tabletop, card, or video games. And of course, there were panels held throughout the weekend, hosted by fans and industry guests alike.

Though why they needed two different fan-made Attack on Titan Q&A panels in the same day (and back to back) is anyone’s guess.

That evening, I met up with several friends to get dinner. It’s basically a tradition to go to Upper Crust Pizza at least one night, so we got the buffet special there and hung out until getting in line for the swap meet.

The Sac Anime swap meet was held in a decently-sized room, but given how crowded it got, perhaps a larger one is necessary. Even hours before it opened, the lines were getting long and crowded, and because it was in the hotel near the check-in rooms, people were going in and out of it (and various spots in line) as they pleased. When the doors opened, the line was no more, and a swarm of people began moving around from swap meet seller to seller to get cheap goods quickly. (Although since I managed to come out of it with a new DVD and Digivice, I can’t really complain.)

Toph Beifong
Mabel, with a sweater that really lit up
Saturday morning I woke up bright and early, and dressed professionally for the Futurama cast interview I had signed up to do. I was scheduled for two interviews that weekend - Futurama Saturday morning, and the Legend of Korra cast on Sunday.

I waited in the press room as more reporters came in. 15 minutes past the time the actors were supposed to show up, and we were joking about how late the guests always were. 20 minutes in, and we began to wonder if anything had happened to them. 30 minutes in, and one of the SacAnime press representatives contacted the press head to see what was going on, since they were just as confused as the rest of us. We were then informed that all interviews had been cancelled.

After asking both the press ops and guest relations what had happened, what I managed to piece together is this: both of them had separate schedules for the guests, which they set up without coordinating with one another. Neither would or could adjust their schedules, and they refused to communicate with each other to sort anything out (both the press ops and guest relations told me the other refused to speak with them). Additionally, since the press room was in the Sheraton, and the guests were spending most of their time in the convention center, the time it would take to go between the two would reduce the interview times to barely ten minutes.

In short, because the people responsible for the guests and those responsible for press weren't communicating with each other, everyone got screwed out of interviews. People on both sides were incredibly apologetic about it when I asked, which I appreciate, but it didn't change the overall situation.

Even the guests were surprised that this happened; when I told Janet Varney that I tried to get another interview with her (if you’ll recall the previous in-character interviews from last year), she seemed saddened that it didn’t work out.

Still, the day was just beginning. So I donned a new costume, and returned to the convention hall. There, I did manage to get a quick three-question interview with David Fielding at his booth, which you can see below.

At that point, the guest lines were so long that even if I wanted to buy a fast pass, I wouldn’t be able to get through in time to meet anyone. But at 1:00 it was time for the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Q&A panel, moderated by Andre the black nerd, so I met up with some friends to watch. Most of the actors were there, with the exception of Johnny Yong Bosch, who was busy with Bleach-related things.

It’s been 22 years since the show was on the air, but the fans still have fond memories of watching the show as children; some even have their own children they’re introducing the show to. Many of the questions were about the actors’ understanding of the original sentai show, Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger; Karan mentioned how she watched it somewhat recently, since they were told not to watch it while on the set, and Austin talked about what it was like to learn that while he was the first Red Ranger in America, his Japanese equivalent was number 16.

There was one peculiar question where the audience member went off on a long conspiracy theory about how the Red and Green suits were cursed so that their wearers would hate each other, but everyone was quick to explain how that was not the case.

Power Rangers cosplayers meeting with the actors
Perhaps most noteworthy was the questions about what the actors had done after their time on Power Rangers. In the years since, many have continued in acting, some have done some writing, and of course, they now all have families of their own. But a very impressive one was Austin St. John’s career path, working as a medic and firefighter; the man may very well have saved more lives off-camera than his fictional counterpart did on-screen.

Still, to see them all so many years after first watching them on TV was a delight, and they were all very welcoming and entertaining.

Saturday night there were two big panels to see: “Chillin’ With Voice Actors” and the “Cosplay Wrestling Federation.” Both drew huge crowds, one entertaining audiences with voice actors reading lines from War of the Worlds, the other with pro wrestling-styled trash talk. Those looking for entertainment on Saturday night would be amiss to miss either.

What one shouldn’t do is try to go for Korean BBQ, only to find that the place had decided to discard your reservation.
Rick and Morty crosses over with Gravity Falls
Digimon are the champions! Or, y'know, Mega, in this case.
That brings us to Sunday, the day where I decided there were a few autographs I was willing to pay for, given the lack of other options. So I spent my day in line, and I can confirm what I’d heard about how slow they went. I was near the front of the Futurama line, but John DiMaggio wasn’t there, as he was in an Adventure Time panel at the time. So a representative of the guests marked our wristbands or badges with “XJ,” telling us we could use that to meet him at the later signing, although he didn’t say how.
Futurama actors setting up for autographs

Legend of Korra cosplayers came to meet Janet, David, and Seychelle
Later on, several of us were gathered to find out what the situation was, but another staff member said that it just meant we’d still have to get in line again, claiming we were told of that several times, even though I can attest that no such thing was ever said. Of course, we weren’t told that until after the line had already been capped off, so my streak of failing to meet John DiMaggio continued.

Apparently the “XJ” was also used by other staff members to indicate “This person has already met John, do not let him get another autograph” as well.

But I did manage to get through the Legend of Korra line before that. I was cosplaying as Shiro Shinobi, the Pro Bending Announcer from the series, and entertained everyone I was in line with by doing random “interviews” with them in-character. When I reached the front, Janet remembered me from our previous interview, and Seychelle Gabriel (voice of Asami) got a video of my Shiro impression.
Legend of Korra actors signing autographs
At the end of the day, I was worn out from all the lines, and decided to call it. I had managed to accomplish a few of the things I had set out to do, but the lack of communication between departments and individuals had caused no small amount of frustration. Fortunately, I had many friends there to spend time with and who helped me enjoy the con in spite of that.

Do not take this as a condemnation of the convention. I have been going to Sac Anime for years, both Summer and Winter, without fail. I’ve seen the convention grow and change, and I want it to do well. They tried new things, and not all of it worked, but the new management is trying to find its pace.

There needs to be more communication, and the departments need to work together to keep everything coordinated. Many staff members, particularly those speaking to attendees, need to make sure they’re not as rude as I saw and heard. And the autograph system needs to be fixed, after it was broken this year. It was doing fine before, there’s no reason to change it now.

And in spite of my criticisms, I still like Sac Anime. I want to be able to keep going and having a good time. I want to keep interviewing guests, and bringing readers new information, news, and thoughts about these events. In fact, I’m already looking forward to the guests they’ve announced for Winter (particularly Crispin Freeman).

(Editor's Note: When I heard all the things that Robbie told me about what had happened, my heart sank a little. To see my hometown convention faulter at a pivotal point was just devistating. Hopefully everyone, including myself and Robbie, can learn from this experience and build towards a more successful Winter 2016 show where we can expand our coverage once again. -Matthew)

So after all is said and done, I hope the hiccups encountered this time serve as a learning experience, so that Sac Anime Winter can make things awesome again.
As awesome as this Omnimon. Which is really freaking awesome.

1 comment:

  1. This was my first time at SacAnime and I enjoyed it. I did not encounter the problems you had, but I didn't get autographs or speak to staff. I thought it was a nice, little convention. I'd consider going again. Mostly, I liked the friendly atmosphere. Great pictures, btw.


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