Anime Boston '10: Improving!*

The Video Game Orchestra performs a Final Fantasy medley, and composer Nobuo Uematsu makes a surprise appearance

Anime Boston, the largest Anime convention in the Northeast, took over the Hynes Convention Center this past weekend. The size overwhelms me every year -- but not this year, since I attended PAX East and AB back-to-back. After wading through 52,290 gamers last weekend, 15,000 anime fans felt like no problem.

Back in '08, Anime Boston received the brand of "Line Con." The insult has stuck despite that there's nary a line to be found at AB nowadays. Long-time attendees still talk about how terrible 2008 was and theorize that the Line Con year is the reason that the con hasn't managed to earn many new attendees. (Line Con had about 14K, the following year and this year had about 15K -- slim numbers compared to the 26K who attended Maryland's Otakon last year, very slim compared to PAX East, and not even close to the 60K cap that the Hynes has.)

Enough about attendance -- does the con actually deserve attendees in the first place? Short answer: yes -- assuming that anime's your thing.

Anime Boston has proven one thing over the past few years, and that is its ability to learn from past mistakes. Last year's cosplot -- the overarching story told by cosplaying actors throughout the con -- was just too complicated. The Masquerade cosplot sequences suffered from poor sound editing, plus nonsensical videos that felt more like filler than story -- and the AB Masq is long enough without extra filler!

Thankfully, the cosplot didn't suffer from any of the above this year. Even though the con's "Mad Science" theme translated into a story involving time travel -- always a complex plot choice -- organization and good sound editing saved the day. I have to admit, though, the entire idea of a cosplot turns me off. I don't like the idea of alienating some attendees just because they can't afford to attend all three days of a con. My recommendation would be: a simple plot for the Masquerade, with only occasional references and in-jokes elsewhere.

Speaking of which, if you don't enjoy the major cosplay-oriented events (the Dating Games, Masquerade, and Chess -- plus cosplay karaoke and trivia shows), Anime Boston doesn't have much to offer. If you want in-depth panels with industry experts like you can find at, say, PAX -- don't look here. Voice actors and special guests (like Nobuo Uematsu for this year, see above video) have Q&A panels, but the real action at AB is for cosplayers. The visual overload of complex costumes is one of the con's main selling points. Although hardcore costumers will tell you that you'll find more impressive skills on display at Otakon, New England cosplayers manage to do all right at AB.

Anime Boston's atmosphere can't be discussed without at least one mention of age. Listening to scads of younger attendees inform me that I had "lost the game," not to mention the endless shouting of "Marco!" (followed by a chorus of "POLO!"), made me wonder when the anime con circuit was going to grow up already. A lot of the hyperactivity and screaming happens because, for some of these kids, this is a first foray into a world without parental supervision. Even so, was I that much of a brat at my first con? (Friends of mine who read this blog: don't answer that.)

There are plenty of older folks interested in anime -- and plenty of anime is chock full of gore and sex, and not for the under-18 or the faint of heart! -- but the average cosplayer/attendee is high school or college. And at this con, the average attendee acts even younger than they look. I don't remember my fellow congoers seeming so young and immature in past years, but maybe I am just turning into a cranky old lady much sooner in life than I'd planned to.

You won't find too many people in the 21+ circuit still attending the nightly "informal dances," and definitely not at the "formal" dance -- not when they could be in a real bar or nightclub. The older attendees would probably have more fun in the dealer's room (that's where I spent the con) or in the quieter panels. Unfortunately, AB isn't exactly famous for its panels so much as its programming for cosplayers, especially cosplayers who enjoy performing. There's no shame in being an older cosplayer -- the main reason why older cosplayers are rare is that after a few years in a row of uncomfortable shoes, armor, and spandex, most people either give up on the lifestyle or try to find some way to get paid for it (e.g. getting hired by Disney, or getting hired by the con to judge/direct/host events, etc).

I did have fun at Anime Boston, but personally, if I had to choose to attend only a few cons per year, this one wouldn't make the cut. It's not only because most of the attendees are a decade younger than I am (or they just act like it), it's also because -- much as I love constructing and wearing ridiculous outfits -- I don't understand the concept of having an entire convention about Japanese culture. There's a common joke about how Japanese youths want to be American and American youths want to be Japanese, but I think that's just the USA trying to console itself. The Japanese don't have conventions to celebrate American geek-culture -- but wouldn't it be great if they did? They could drink Red Bull and talk about Venture Brothers!

Next weekend: Boston Comic Con. No, I am not sick of conventions yet. Not even close!

EDIT (04/06/2010): Turns out that PAX East's 50K body-count refers to turnstile attendance, not the number of bodies on an individual day. That figure was in the 15K-16K range at PAX, whereas AB's count for this year fell in the 17K range -- according to Tuan Pham, AB's PR Director.

So, Anime Boston, you win this one for being far better organized than PAX East, a con which felt significantly more cramped, crowded, and line-infested. Which convention deserves to be called "Line Con" now, hm? (And lest I unwittingly insult PAX, I will say that Tycho & Gabe plan to bring their con to a larger venue next year, thank goodness.)

And thus, I have changed my title from *"Improving, but not growing," because AB is growing ... and may even surpass its big brother Otakon one day, which would certainly make Boston (and the rest of New England) proud.

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