Several members of Mission Start Podcast traveled from across California to visit what is traditionally one of their favorite conventions. Now that the long holiday weekend is over, it's time to see what they experienced and what they thought of a con
This year, I stayed at the Westin Hotel, which was formerly known as the Saint Claire. When you enter the hotel, you will notice a classy, throwback feel. This building is much older than a lot of the Fanime hotels. It even has a mail drop tube next to the elevators! Between that and the renovated lobby area with the more modern-classic feel of the fixtures, it can be very relaxing.
The staff is very courteous and concerned with your stay. I almost felt like I was being paid too much attention to, and that is a positive.
That being said, the rooms are small. I’m not saying that because I had a single King room for once; I’m saying it because this building was made before an era where televisions were normal fixtures. I don’t think they were made with the modern needs of travelers, let alone the constant over-packing done by conventioneers. Sound also carried very well through the walls. I don’t think my neighbors were partying, but they did chat and laugh late, and I could almost make out what they were saying.
This hotel may work well for single travelers or people who pack without a lot of cosplay and/or technical items, but as far as those of us that pack heavy, I think the Hilton, Marriott, or Fairmont would be a better fit.
I will say, though, that they have the nicest bathrooms in the area here. They have something that has become a bit of a rarity... ventilation fans! I have to shave my head at least once during a convention and that means I spend time in a shower. I could not fog up the mirror in the bathroom with the fan running. It was actually pretty arid in there by the time I was done. Between that and the rain shower head, it was pretty zen in there.
Two years is how long it has been since I have waited more than ten minutes to get a badge, regardless of my press status or which convention I have visited. Fanime has broken that streak.
I have heard different reasons as to why registration was so different, so let’s only touch on what I am sure of. Fanime moved registration to the second floor of the Marriott, but that was so packed with winding groups of people, the line flowed into the downstairs areas of the San Jose Convention Center. It snaked through several hallways in the Marriott, even going so far as to snake through one section of the registration ballrooms before going out again and continuing it’s slow march.
This is the longest line I have been in that didn’t end in a trip on Space Mountain.
Registration very much needs to be fixed. I have heard potential shortcuts, but that should not be necessary when last year, there was no line whatsoever.
The San Jose Convention Center is one of the most modern-feeling convention centers in California. The renovation in 2013 came with a facelift that makes the interior very bright and sharp with wood paneling offset by bright colors and LED lighting. There is a lot of good space in the convention center with a pretty open and utilitarian landscape that allows people to wander into several areas for photo shoots and relax with benches.
While the Convention Center isn’t a bad space, it does limit the growth of Fanime. Most of it’s panels were not held on-site due to space issues, and while the new badge-check choke-points prevented ghosting form occurring, there could still be pretty bad crowding when things became busy. The fear I’ve run into is that Fanime has just become too large and too boisterous to be contained in San Jose anymore. I don’t have a good solution on what they should do; a move to San Francisco would very likely raise all costs for the convention and for attendees, and a move further south would just add Fanime to a very busy anime convention schedule in Southern California.
I do think that it is time Fanime pulled an Otakon and started looking at alternative venues to fit its needs.
Fanime’s Dealer’s Hall is fairly well balanced with what you’ve come to expect in anime conventions; dealers had wall scrolls, figures, toys, ocarinas, clothes, costumes and costuming equipment, video games, and some other odds and ends. I did notice that very few booths sell DVD’s lately. I wonder if that is a side effect of the digitization of anime for sale…
The aisles were well spaced and allowed for generous movement. The design of the hall is extremely solid and I do think Fanime worked to make it the best possible for the attendees and the vendors, including some interesting third-party food vendors in the back.
Artist’s Alley is across the walkway from the Dealer’s Hall and this creates a good balance for all parties; the artists aren’t competing with the vendors and large dollar items, but they aren’t so far separated from the dealers that they could be an afterthought. All you need is ten steps from a convenient Dealer’s Hall exit to view the vibrant artwork and wares of independent artists.
Hopefully, people will take note and try to adapt this model for the betterment of all.
This is the second year I didn’t have a terrific opportunity to visit the panels. Again, the majority of panels were held off-site at the Fairmont Hotel. While the hotel is not a terrible walk from the San Jose Convention Center, it does feel odd to have to walk away from the convention itself to go to the panels. It means that it is much harder to visit panels you are simply curious about and gives a person a good excuse to skip out on the panels to visit with friends or take another run at the Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley.
Cosplay is still a strong suit at Fanime.
The cosplay community has embraced this convention and made it a hub for their expressionism and ingenuity. I had to opportunity to have a couple of photoshoots with very nice people, as well as ask questions and they are eater to share their techniques for the betterment of the community on a whole.
I am very happy to share this gallery because they aren’t just kind. These cosplayers are energetic, willing to experiment, and able to push the envelope, as well as able to do some wonderful give-and-take. If I make it to next year’s convention, I hope to do some small video interviews with a few and give people some insight into what I saw.
The organization was probably the biggest letdown of the weekend. With the strange registration fiasco, the location of the Cosplay Information table changing, and a general feeling like control was slipping, it’s hard to keep faith that things will be smooth in 2017. I’m not saying it’s impossible or that Fanime is broken, but it does need to be brought back to where it was in 2015 when things were a lot smoother.
Other than that, the staff of the convention and the convention center were very respectful and helpful. Even though I had some issues, I don’t think the staff is a serious downside to the convention. Once they are better run, this will be an incredible part of the convention again.
San Jose has a few interesting characters walking around the area. One older person sat down near the San Jose Convention Center with a sign asking for money. Twenty minutes later, he started screaming expletives at a cosplay gathering and yelling, “You’re all going to die!” While I don’t think anyone took him at his word, he was carefully watched by everyone that heard him until he was out of screaming range.
Thankfully, this one individual wasn’t indicative of most of the local homeless, or the vibe of downtown on a whole. I actually like this area quite a bit. There is a lot of places you can go to get something to eat and a very good variety, as well. Actually, the prices of the food is among the best in the California.
With a nearby park in a split in Market Street, the skyscrapers, a museum, a school, and a church nearby, there’s also a lot of places to get a terrific background if you can get a cosplayer to wander to you, just a bit.
San Jose is a perfect place to cosplay, sit in the temperate weather, and grab a terrific pita sandwich. Seriously, visit the Pita Place. It’s great grilled food.
There’s a few places in Downtown San Jose that are able to entertain the late night crowd, both higher end and closer to hole-in-the-wall. I can’t speak to any of it personally since drinking and dancing is not in my comfort zone.
Fanime itself holds raves during nights 2 and 3 and, again, dancing is not something I personally do. However, third parties have said that the raves were a lot of fun and went over very well.
It is a shame that after several years of solid attendance at this convention that they took a few steps forward and were marred by a few serious steps backward. Between that and my opinion that the San Jose Convention Center is still not big enough for the needs Fanime is presenting, you’d think I’m just negative in general on the convention.
I am not negative on it.
I see the potential Fanime has and the growth potential that it holds. I hope there is a turnaround on the convention’s 2016 problems already in the works and that they will bounce back and become a larger player in the West Coast circuit. That aside, the community makes this convention special and a needed stop in your yearly anime fandom.
Memorial Day weekend brought us yet another FanimeCon at the San Jose McEmery Convention Center in Downtown San Jose, CA. With some great things going for it from last year's event such as extremely fast processing of registration and stellar guest line-up, we would expect for this past one to have followed up on that, no? Well, let's break down the nitty gritty and look back at what has occurred that weekend during this premiere anime convention of Northern California!
FanimeCon still maintains its layout with a good majority of stuff taking place in the convention center itself, panels at the nearby Fairmont Hotel, and the featured events of MusicFest, Cosplay Spectacular (Masquerade), and Black & White Ball in other buildings a short walk away from the convention center. This slightly wider encompassing convention area is relatively close to most hotels in the Downtown San Jose area with quite a few choices to choose from with lower priced stuff like the Ramada to the more conveniently located hotels (but of course more expensive) like the Fairmon, Marriott, and Hilton. Proximity to food options is about as good as you can get with most being within a 10-minute walk including street-style bacon-wrapped hot dogs right outside of the main convention areas for extra convenience points. Of course, for those who missed out on grabbing rooms in the Downtown area, the Doubletree Hotel in the San Jose Airport area is still considered an official FanimeCon hotel with complimentary shuttle service between the hotel and the convention center.
Being at the Doubletree Hotel during this particular event had a slight advantage: easier access to a much shorter registration line. For whatever reason, the folks at FanimeCon, having went through some management changes and such, decided to switch out the previous CMR system that was finally tweaked to allow for very fast processing times and therefore much shorter wait times in line and instead opted for Experient. This was most likely due to some major fault in the CMR system, but in any case, people who had pre-registered were given Experient codes to flash at registration instead of their previous CMR codes. That said, with the new partnership with the steampunk-themed convention, Clockwork Alchemy, hosted at the aforementioned Doubletree Hotel, formed some time back, FanimeCon attendees may choose to process their registration at that venue, which has proven to process people really quickly in contrast to snail-paced lines at the convention center itself. Luckily, no one was forced to wait amidst a late spring blazing sun, but long waits were still long. Hopefully the staff at FanimeCon either can switch back to what is tried and true or can tweak Experient so that the attendees can enjoy much shorter wait times once more.
Back to the actual content of the convention, FanimeCon has 3 major events to show off some amazing talent: MusicFest, Masquerade (covered by my colleagues here), and Black & White Ball (a formal dance event that takes place simultaneously alongside the Masquerade). MusicFest has been a FanimeCon tradition of bringing in famous music artists straight from Japan and performing at the Civic Auditorium right across the street of the convention center. Usually, this musical performance features an artist or group that has performed songs for anime, and FanimeCon staff would do a survey on their official forums, asking attendees of their preferences for a musical artist. Within a week prior to the event, FanimeCon announces Da-Ice as the featured MusicFest guest for this year's convention. This J-Pop group, looking to be inspired by K-Pop and hip hop groups, does have quite a few dedicated fans who came out to the convention who sported these crystal glowstick things to cheer these 5-man group on, but doing some research, their discography shows no evidence of having performed songs featured in Japanese animated series, a bit of a curveball compared to FanimeCon's previous music guests if you ask me.
The convention also features the convention staples of a grand Dealer's Hall with many vendors showing off their wares, a large and very accommodating Artist's Alley to show off the locals' and travelers' content, a 24-hour gaming hall with arcade, tabletop, video, and computer games along with 24-hour screening rooms. FanimeCon has held a distinction in the California convention scene of offering content throughout the weekend, day and night non-stop, and it sure does not disappoint with its night life for the ones who like to stay out late to enjoy some games or indulge in animated pornography. The nights of Day 0 and Day 1 also featured the giant Swap Meet in the South Hall tent addition, definitely a more convenient spot to travel to overall instead of the Civic Auditorium or inside the Fairmont Hotel. Speaking of the Fairmont Hotel, this nearby building hosted the convention's panels featuring both guest of honor and fan panels to keep up with last year's arrangement, but for some con goers, this is a bit inconvenient, and I think most would have preferred if panels could be hosted back inside the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the convention center as in the past.
While this year's event was a bit hard to plan for with FanimeCon releasing a schedule during the week leading up to the convention, the convention staff did start up a 2017 site, showing some promise for relevant announcements to show up months before the next convention. That said, in recent years, FanimeCon has been becoming less of Northern California's equivalent of Anime Expo and more of a giant get-together of fans and such to hang around one another for good 96 hours or so, and however one may take that is up to the eye of the beholder. I do believe that if the folks at FanimeCon can get more accustomed to new changes and such, they can elevate themselves back to the convention I first encountered when I began going featuring big names that would bring in hype outside of the name "FanimeCon" alone, something I think would benefit both the veterans and newcomers.