Monday, June 13, 2016

Ray Reports: Fanime 2016

Fanime staff seems to have this pattern of doing everything late, from announcements to hotel rooms to professional registration, and things somehow working out in the end. On top of that, it's undergone a few gamechangers this year that have made it a make-or-break experience for many.

For this report, rather than a day-by-day breakdown--as I don't go to many events at cons for the most part and I've written about Fanime four times now--I'll switch to a more topical style, covering things like housing, registration, and programming in their own blocks.

Housing, or Lack Thereof

Let's look at a particular element of registration that took place months before the convention: housing. In past Fanimes, those wanting to get a room hop onto the website used for Fanime hotel rooms, pick a hotel they want to get a room at, and reserve their room. In practice, as the convention became more and more popular over time, with the number of hotels partnering with Fanime, trying to get a room soon became a matter of getting onto the housing site as soon as it opened, trying to get a room before they all ran out, and often being met with server overload in the process, forcing many users to refresh the page repeatedly (which doesn't help matters) or just call housing services.

To address this, a new system was implemented: only those who had pre-registered for Fanime could reserve rooms, and reservations came in blocks of registered attendees so as not to overwhelm the site. Sounds a little more fair, right?

Well, if you're asking, "but what about those in professional registration, which typically comes some time after the hotel reservation period?" you know what the problem with this is: those in pro reg, such as myself, could not join non-pro attendees in getting rooms. To address this, Fanime gave pro reg its own hotel block as well.

Come about a month before the convention and pro reg opens up followed by rooms for pro reg. We applied and got the green light. Seems like CCB is good to go and we'll have our own cozy room, right? Wrong. Matt was supposed to receive an email confirming that we're set to book rooms and then leave it to me and Nate to reserve rooms. Problem is, we never got the email, as we learned about a week later when all of the rooms for pro reg had already been filled.

We didn't know what kind of breakdown had happened; maybe whoever was in charge of sending emails accidentally glossed us over? Or email systems were being wonky? (I remember having to cc emails to my cousin when I was a child because his firewall would block my emails sometimes.) At any rate, we were all nonplussed that, for reasons unknown, we had been screwed over for housing. Granted, Tally had already made her own rooming arrangements and Nate and I are from the Bay Area, but imagine if we weren't so lucky with being so close to the convention: we'd have to seek out alternative means of weekend housing, or just no go at all. Even barring that, I do a lot of things at the convention that necessitate a room or are far more inconvenient without one, such as finding someplace safe to store my con purchases and finding someplace safe to get into and out of cosplay.

Of course, where there's a will, there's a way. On my end at least, I happened to come across a Facebook post of a friend who was looking for a replacement roommate, which I of course jumped on. It was only a 3-night room instead of four, but at $95 for my share and the hotel being the Hilton, I wasn't really going to complain.

With my housing problem fixed, I was free to focus on my pre-con preparation (and anxiety!) as usual.

Registration: Revenge of LineCon and Convention Ground Access

Now, remember the lightning-fast registration lines of Fanime 2014 and 2015? Due to some last-minute changes in infrastructure, we got what I like to call the "Revenge of LineCon". I mostly didn't experience it, being in press and everything, but I did see the classic twisting registration queue on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. From what I've been told, however, it was still better than 2013's notorious 8-hour waits; some who spoke to me told me that waits were about an hour or two at worst.

Additionally, registration was handled at the Marriott rather than the mezzanine as it was in 2014 and 2015. As for why this was the case, this was the result of a little switcheroo: Due to the new badge policy (see next paragraph) and the request of video content distributors to not require badges for their video rooms, Fanime had to move video down to the mezzanine which, along with the first floor, did not require a badge.

Another dramatic change since last year is Fanime now requiring a badge to access the concourse level of the convention at all, unlike in previous years where badges are only required to get into video, panel, dealer's, artist's, and gaming halls as well as major events--one way to address the issue of "ghosters" (people who attend a convention but not register a badge, restricting themselves to non-badged areas), it seems. I personally thought this was a good chance. On the safety side of things, it meant that attendees who caused problems and had to have their badges revoked were locked out of a much larger portion of the convention space, as well as keeping troublesome non-attendees from Downtown San Jose's nightlife off of the convention floor. On the practical side of things, attendees didn't have to flash their badges to get into artist's alley, gaming, etc., anymore, though volunteers were still stationed to keep attendees from going through one-way doorways the wrong way.

Some probably thought negatively of this, given the ever-increasing price of Fanime badges, so I can understand that perspective too. But I feel like going to a convention and not purchasing a badge, even with Fanime's prior "only need a badge for key areas" policy, means missing out on the full convention experience, especially if one has friends who do have badges and therefore have to leave their friends behind when coming across badged areas.

Swap Meet: "It's yours for a dollar; just get it off my hands."

The swap meet in the South Hall "tent" came and went with nothing really out of the ordinary; I went on Friday to grab a few deals, including from an acquaintance who really wanted to get rid of their stuff and as such sold things like video game guidebooks for a dollar.

Gatherings: Pano Mode, Activate!

I decided to cover two gatherings on Saturday: The Love Live! gathering and the Undertale gathering. Both gatherings were remarkably big; in fact, the Undertale gathering--the first of its kind for Fanime--had to be relocated from its initial location because there were too many cosplayers for where it was going to be. Both gatherings were smoothly ran and I ended up having to use panorama feature on my phone camera to get all cosplayers in one shot several times.

Panels: BL and Wrestling

I went to a few panels over the course of Fanime.

The first of which was Yaoi Mad-Libs, which is exactly as it sounds. I only saw the last 30 or so minutes but we all came up with silly and incredibly work-unsafe ideas for filling in the blanks, and a lot of laughs were had.

The second was Yaoi Bingo, another BL-themed panel, this time in the form of rounds of bingo. I didn't really expect to win, but I bought about 10-15 cards anyway to unwind and enjoy myself. Without getting into too graphic detail (not to worry, everyone was clothed! Well, at least minimally), the folks who were the focus of these games were quite entertaining, and we all had some great cheers and laughs. I would've participated in and stuck around for the raffle, but the requirement for entering was to write my name on the backs of my bingo cards and I didn't have a good pen on hand, and I wasn't terribly concerned about winning prizes anyway. This was all good fun for me.

The last panel I attended was Cosplay Wrestling Federation's Fanimania. For those who have never been to a CWF event, picture the wild and colorful personalities and tropes of wrestling, as well as the crowds that come with them, minus the actual wrestling (because that would take years of training and equipment that neither Fanime nor CWF staff could afford); the focus instead is on the speeches the "wrestlers" give out, why they should be the next champion, with maybe some trash-talking of each other thrown in the mix. If you've ever wanted to cheer on heroes and, more importantly, get to jeer and boo villainous characters, but can't afford or make time to attend a full-on wrestling event, this is pretty much the panel to go to. This particular show, however, was quite packed, and I lined up maybe an hour or so in advance to ensure I got a seat. Being able to throw my hat down in pretend-anger as part of CWF's "kayfabe" was a lot of fun, as was watching the various contenders verbally duke it out.

Shopping and Gaming

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the Artist's Alley. Undertale had just been released in the past year so many booths were selling art of it. I picked up a few prints, including one for a friend of mine who lives on the other side of the country.

Dealer's Hall was same old same old for the most part. There was one vendor who had an Overwatch setup--the game had just been released less than a week ago at the time of the convention--so I got to play a few rounds and discuss strategies with some fellow players. There was also a small food court in the area so people could snack on things other than the usual convention refreshments--they were expensive, but there were some great eats such as the takoyaki stand.

Since I had a 3DS this time, I decided to check out gaming's handheld section. There were very few people there at any one time, however, not helped by this section being tucked away behind PC gaming. In fact, there were more 3DS players on the tabletop gaming tables. I tried to get a few rounds of Monster Hunter in but interference caused my hunting buddy's 3DS to randomly disconnect from me--not sure why that happened, but we could only guess that smartphone interference made it difficult to stay connected.


Aside from the usual Downtown San Jose hotspots, I noticed a few new ones this year.

First was the SoFA Market on 1st and San Salvador, which seems to be SoFA's smaller counterpart to San Pedro Square's Market. It has a burger stand, a coffee shop that was closed both times I went, a ramen shop that was constantly packed, a bar, an eatery whose name escapes me at the moment, a Hawaiian "Poke Bowl" joint, and a shop serving fresh popsicles.

The poke bowl in particular was unique, featuring sushi-style fish over rice; Hawaiian cuisine seems to enjoy borrowing from Japanese cuisine at times. I tried the spicy tuna bowl for one lunch and while it was a little expensive for the quantity of food at around $14, I enjoyed myself with it.

I also had one of the popsicles--specifically the strawberry-flavored one, getting some chocolate syrup and almonds to go with it, as a nice after-dinner treat.

A couple new coffee shops opened in town since last Fanime; neither were packed whenever I went, probably because most people tend to go to Peet's or Starbucks for their caffeine fix? Voltaire Coffee House served me an iced "Spanish Latte" (a latte with condensed milk) and later some cold-brewed ice coffee. Social Policy was across the street from the ever-packed Thirstea and Starbucks, and had absolutely zero line when I went, not even any congoers lounging around inside, and their iced tea kept me cool. In essence, it was my "secret spot"...time will tell if Fanime's attendees will catch wind of it in subsequent years.

Other Loose Odds and Ends

I kept hearing from friends about some sort of drama or negative atmosphere, but most of it flew over my head and I still enjoyed myself as best as I could. No one gave me any particular outstanding issues.

The weather was hot all weekend, around 30 C if I recall correctly, and even in a costume that mostly let me breathe I still stuck to the air-conditioned con center interior.

Closing Thoughts

Despite some dramatic changes that Fanime underwent this year, I still had a largely smooth experience at the convention center; of course this doesn't mean everyone else had a good time nor am I in any position to complain about people who didn't. Pro registration really needs to be moved back earlier and give those in pro reg more room priority; I'm still feeling that sour taste in my mouth after having been treated as second-class attendees with regards to the hotel issue, and especially after the whole email problem. Sure, I was able to still get a room for all three nights of the convention, but what if I hadn't been so lucky? I can make do with the new "badge on the second floor at all times" policy since it cuts down on having to flash one's badge for entry into areas of interest, and it helps keep the convention a little bit safer.

Beyond that, I did most everything I intended to do, and I got to see friends I don't get to see often, including a few that I only get to see at Fanime.

Am I gonna come back next year? Normally I'd say yes, but I'm planning on going to Anime Central next year which is too close to Fanime for comfort; I want to explore more conventions outside of California, with MAGFest in Baltimore next year being a high priority for me. If I decide to go to Fanime again next year I might just only go for a day or two, on Saturday or Sunday.

Some say the magic of the convention has come and gone. I ask myself: Has it, really? Even if I've been going to conventions for 10 years, there are still reasons to go, reasons to look back and tell myself, "Yeah, I had fun this time, and good things happened that wouldn't have happened if I stayed home." One person's trash con is another person's "best con ever", and vice versa. Fanime may not be the best convention of its scale, something I worry about as of late, but I try to remember two things: Worrying it won't be fun raises the chances it won't be fun.

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