Recently this devil decided to make her way down to Georgia, but instead of looking for a soul to steal I went in search of cosplayers and anime merchandise. Anime Weekend Atlanta is rather large anime convention, reporting in with 18,000 in attendance this year, in the heart of the south in the city of Atlanta Georgia, making this con numbers wise much larger than Katsucon, which was previously thought to be one of the largest anime con's on the east coast, coming behind Anime Boston and Otakon.
Location and layout.
The convention is spread out between the Cobb Convention Center and connected Renaissance Hotel, even leading into the adjacent park featuring the popular group photoshoot area "The Amphitheater." Navigating AWA is very confusing in the beginning, more so than some of the other convention's I have been two because technically it takes place in two buildings, Once you have learned the layout and have walked the convention several times over it becomes second nature where to go, you even learn several short cuts. At the end of the weekend I was still discovering new passageways and routes to get from one area to the other faster than following the flow of traffic.
Downstairs of the convention center is an area known as "the mall" it features a full food court and several shops. These eating area's are relatively reasonably priced because they are retail locations and not convention food venders. I ate more subway 5 dollar footlongs that weekend than I probably have in my entire life for this reason. Unfortunately if you plan to eat in the food court I would suggest budgeting at least half an hour for meals due to line wait and finding seating, but it's worth it to not starve and to have options.
Hotel and Parking
For Anime Weekend Atlanta the Rennissance Hotel and the Sheraton, located across the street and connected to the convention center via a skywalk are the two "con hotels"In addition to these two hotels there are a large number of hotels within walking distance and all in one group of each other. There are a number of perks of staying at The Sheraton or The Renaissance, but if money is tight staying at one of the further away hotels is a wonderful money saving option, especially since parking at convention center is free. The parking garage does fill up very fast, Sunday being the worst day, so another option is to take the free shuttle to the convention. (Above- Black Butler cosplayers outside the Renaissance Hotel)
Programming and Panels.
(As a disclaimer when I critique an event or how an event was run that is my personal opinion from my experiences. My opinion in no way represents the opinions of the entire Mission Start Podcast staff)
I can not say from past AWA experience due to this being my first, but this years variety of panels was excellent. In past reviews I have played heavily on not enough diversity in fan panels approved, but paneling was something done right at this year's AWA. There was catering to every demographic of convention goer whether you were a fanboy, photographer, plus sized cosplayer or wanting to plunge into lolita fashion.
While the panels where wonderful and a nice variety, though running on "otaku time" (15 minutes late for everything) I can not say the same about other programming such as the formal ball and the rave. The AWA ball can be described as a glorified prom with food and cosplay. I have heard from numerous sources this as well. While balls are usually included in your ticket price at the con's I have attended, this ball costed extra to attend. I paid extra to listen to top 40 music in a overcrowded ballroom and eat. I will say this though, Go at least once, it is worth the experience and you might possibly enjoy it. My personal experience is just that, personal. Also I attempted to attend the rave this year. Keyword attempted. Saturday night's rave stated 2 hours later than scheduled, allowing guests in at nearly 1am, then once the ballroom it was held in filled to fire code everyone else was left waiting in line for up to 3 hours until someone left the rave and many did not get to attend at all. Once inside the rave after a 2 hour wait we left early due to no space to dance or move. During the rave there was excitement though. Before hand while waiting in line we witnessed someone steal the fire extinuisher and then be chased inside the rave by con staff, then once inside the rave one of the amplifiers caught fire causing panic and everyone to bomb rush the exits. Don't worry the fire was put out nearly instantly.
Overall Anime Weekend Atlanta is a wonderful convention with exceptionally friendly people. Though many personal events almost ruined the entire convention for me, the warm atmosphere and equally warm weather were able to put a smile back on this otaku's face. My advice to anyone attending this convention in the near future is to 1, stay hydrated. In September the south is still quite hot and humid causing you to sweat far more than if it were not humid. 2, wear good shoes and prepare for a lot of walking, having the convention center spread between 2 buildings lead for more walking than I was use to and by the end of day 1 I couldn't wear heels the rest of the weekend. and 3, come with an open mind and have fun. Also check out the dealers room and artist alley, both conveniently next door to one another. For a con it's size the dealer's room was pleasantly less crowded than at many cons and there was plenty of space to walk in, making buying items an even more enjoyable experience (until you realize how much money you actually spent.) All in all I would recommend this convention for someone who is a bit more experienced in conventions and trying to branch into going into bigger cons, but is not quite ready to face the crowds of Otakon.