Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ray Reports: Fanime(Con) 2017

FanimeCon, as those reading this blog may already know, is the largest anime-focused convention in Northern California, held annually on Memorial Day Weekend at the San Jose Convention Center.

Its longstanding gimmick has been its mantra of "By Fans, For Fans," with minimal industry presence compared to other conventions of similar attendance size such as Sakura-Con, ACen, and Anime Boston. Can this convention continue to really thrive the way it does in its current state, especially for longtime customers like myself? To give an honest answer: Maybe. Maybe not.

For this year, I ended up with a room at the Fairmont. I had heard horror stories from others about the Fairmont overbooking and forcing rejected guests to go to the Marriott in Santa Clara instead. Not the Marriott in San Jose, the one in Santa Clara, an 8-mile drive away, with no shuttle service, putting a snag in the plans of those who did drive to the convention, and outright ruining the plans of those who didn't, as they now had to rely on public transit, taxis, or taxi-like services such as Lyft and Uber just to get to and from the convention.

Fortunately, I had managed to luck out; I called the Fairmont about a week in advance just to check if I had been screwed over like this, and they confirmed that I was still good for my room and had charged my deposit to my credit card.

Not really much else transpired involving the con itself besides getting roommates and myself ready for the convention.

Day 0 was generally painless, with everything still being set up. Many folks had assumed that registration would take ages like last year -- Fanime 2016 notably being the year that turned back into "LineCon" after two years of averting it -- only for this worry to be proven false with the modernized registration system; once more people were getting their badges in 10 minutes or less. There wasn't much else to do but check out the game hall still being set up and leave; I could've gone to the swap meet but it was quite a walk to the tent and I wanted to finish packing.

And as usual, I was dropped off at the hotel, not wanting to deal with the expenses of parking. There are some hotels I'm willing to park at, but that's only when there's no charge to to do so. 

We soon checked in, me arriving around 3 PM by myself so I could locate the room, drop my belongings off, and inform my roommates. I'm not sure when the Fairmont started doing this, but now they have a service for contacting the front desk via SMS, which was quite convenient. I didn't really use this service a whole lot but I appreciated the gesture.

For the most part, the convention ran smoothly, other than the hotel issues:
  • Like last year, access to even just the concourse was restricted to registered attendees, unlike in past years where only event rooms, exhibitor rooms, and the game room were badged. This meant that those who didn't bother with badges were effectively locked out of most of the con grounds, but on the plus side it meant that there were far less badge checks. Oh, and don't think that taking elevators will get around this: there's staff posted by the elevators too.
  • The Dealer's Hall offered the usual share of goods, including its own dedicated food court. Given that I'm not a fan of food served by the convention itself due to the high price:quantity ratio, it was nice to have other options, though of course they were cash-only. 
  • Artist's Alley ran pretty smoothly. Something new I did this year: I took business cards and scanned them using my phone's scanner app, and uploaded them to Google Photos for digital safekeeping. I barely spent any in AA, so I wanted to at least wanted to follow the social media outlets of artists I like as a simple form of appreciation.
  • Gaming -- admittedly the place I spend more time at than in any other room -- had the usual things -- PC gaming, arcade, and console gaming. I had previously been averse to going to PC gaming as I didn't really play any popular online games for the longest time, but this year I decided to see how queueing for PCs work. Wait times usually go upwards of an hour or even 90 minutes, maybe half an hour if I'm lucky. In order to ensure that everyone gets a chance, time per turn was limited to 30 minutes, about enough for maybe a couple rounds of Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm, with exceptions being made for League of Legends and DotA 2 due to how long these games take. Somewhat irritatingly, though understandably, PC use was restricted for large chunks of time on Saturday and Sunday during the rather long tournaments. It also seems like the old PC gaming setups are gone, meaning that people who wanted to play Touhou games and other non-Steam, non-Blizzard games had to bring their own laptops to use with their friends.
On the topic of food, perhaps what makes this convention well-received by California congoers -- even those who also go to bigger-name cons like AX and San Diego Comic-Con -- is the variety of food options. There was a Subway right across the street from the convention, where I had breakfast three days in a row. Going a bit further, there is a food court on South 1st Street called SoFA Market with some local eateries, though given the high foot traffic due to the convention this meant that these places would easily sell out on their menu options especially in the evening. And for those willing to walk for about 15 minutes, there is the San Pedro Square about three blocks away, featuring another pair of food courts; in fact, on Day 1, a group of friends I was with went there for dinner and socialization. Most of us went for Konjoe Burger Bar due to being a bit more familiar than other eateries and having some great burgers for the price range.

I did choose to attend a panel on the second-to-last day: Cosplay Wrestling Federation, which I also saw last year. In short, it's all the flair and theatrics of wrestling, minus the actual wrestling for obvious reasons. I don't actually watch wrestling; mostly I just look it up on various wikis, but it's still entertaining to see the many personalities boast and brawl verbally, in one of the few panels where the audience is not only alllowed to boo the performers but are encouraged to do so. This was by far one of the most popular fan-run panels at Fanime, reflected by it having the biggest panel room that Fanime had to offer.

I also attended the Overwatch gathering, which was on Sunday at 12 PM, or as fans, myself included, put it: high noon. I didn't come in cosplay, mostly I just wanted to watch and get photos. It went pretty well with almost no mishaps, although it ended about half an hour early. It seems like most gatherings end early, with the 1-hour timeslot just serving as enough buffer room in case things don't go as planned.


Some cosplays and other things of note I got to see:

Chocola and Vanilla, from Nekopara.
Eli and Nozomi, from Love Live!

What if Tracer from Overwatch dabbled in motorcycles?

Beyond that, there wasn't really much for me to do, which I've started to find to be a problem in recent years, although some may argue that this is a more "worth it" con than Anime Expo due to the overall cheaper costs and closer affordable food options. An 11-year atttendence streak and me realizing I have interests that other cons cater to make it a little hard for me to enjoy Fanime nowadays, outside of seeing friends I normally don't get to see. Still, I went anyway, just in case I missed out on anything important like seeing friends; I don't regret attending, but I've had better experiences at other conventions.

If you're looking to hang out with NorCal friends or find fan-coordinated activities to do, Fanime is a decent convention. If you're looking for AAA guests, industry presence, and big things being announced, you might want to shift towards other conventions.

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