All posts by Shizuka

Photographer, cosplayer, and secret Japanese culture fanatic. Shizuka does too many things. Follow her on Twitter at @Sh1zuka

Otakon 2013: Chiaki Ishikawa Interview

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Anime Diet was privileged to interview singer/songwriter Chiaki Ishikawa at Otakon 2013. Perhaps best known for the OP of Bokurano, “Uninstall,” which she also performed in concert at the convention, Ishikawa has written many anime songs in the course of her career: first with the band See Saw (where Yuki Kajiura was her partner), and later solo. Her most recent work is with the mecha anime Majestic Prince.

The Paper conducted the interview, with Shizuka taking a few pictures. Questions were written by gendomike and The Paper. Translation by Rome.

What music are you listening to right now?

People ask me that a lot. I don’t have anyone in particular–for a US musician, maybe Eddie Vedder, but right now I listen to a lot of samples of new artists that sing anime songs.

How would you compare Anime Expo 2007 vs this year’s Otakon?

Well, Los Angeles had a lot of cosplayers and the hotels were a mess.* Otakon is more otaku oriented.

How was working with young Yuki Kajiura? Did you think she would be as big as she became?

The first time we met? Did I think back then that Kajiura would be this huge? Well, we got successful by doing anime songs. By the standards of the mainstream J-pop industry, we weren’t good at all. The current singers who are around Kajirua practice singing with her because Kajiura is so big, but I’d thought Kajiura was great since I started singing with her. I mean, I simply loved her songs. It’s not surprising to me at all that she’s become so famous. I thought she would from the start.

Do you plan to work with Kajiura again?

Well, we don’t have the opportunity. We never have time to get together and do songs.

Was your musical approach influenced by Kajiura apart from See Saw?

Well, I’d say we both influenced each other. She composed songs based on things I sang too. We were working really hard when we were together.

How do you write lyrics without music for anime?

I think it’s based on the flow of the anime. First you have the anime itself: you have the director’s opinion, and a good-enough scenario…so then I get the synopsis. And I write song based on the synopsis. And while there are people who write music first and then the lyrics, I write lyrics first and then the music. But since I don’t know how the ending is going to be, I imagine the plot myself and then write lyrics. By keeping a certain good artistic distance from the production, I can create a good song.

Your songs tend to sound melancholy, often written in minor keys. Why?

Since I wrote “Uninstall” for the anime Bokurano, where 15 kids die, that image has stuck to me…after that, people only bring me those sad animes where some character always dies, and nobody brings moe anime to me to write songs. So, once it’s known that I am doing the ending song, people say that means the anime is going in a depressing direction. (Laughs)

*This was in reference to reports that at Anime Expo 2007, guest of honor hotel rooms were sometimes not prepared when the guests arrived from Japan. Haruko Momoi in particular complained publicly about it and other problems, spawning controversy.

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Otakon 2013: Tomokazu Seki Fan Panel

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I was supposed to attend Kit’s panel on Utena and Madoka after my Chiaki interview but Mori was too punk for Otakon so I made my way over to Seki’s panel. I am glad I did.

I knew nothing about the prolific voice actor beforehand and still know very little. I just have an iota of interest in seiyus. Seki is different. He is super cute and even more hilarious. Really, really hilarious. Good humor is incredibly difficult to execute. It requires an extremely sharp wit and even better timing. Seki commands both like a skilled Gundam pilot.

I originally took notes but his contagious personality quickly overwhelmed me. It was far better to live in the moment. So readers please forgive me for I have only two questions below. Suffice to say, one had to be there to fully appreciate it.

I don’t even recall the question, not that it matters. His humor goes beyond context and easily relates to anyone.

“Screaming… it’s a good way to vent,” he says as if he’s just realizing it. Then he pauses before continuing, “I get paid to scream. I have the perfect job!”

Later, someone asks him about Kogami smoking in Psycho Pass. Rumor has it that Kogami smokes because Seki wanted to. Seki replies with little hesitation, “Kogami doesn’t inhale when he smokes so he’s not really smoking.”

The man’s generosity rivals his humor. Practically every fan ended a question with a request for him to repeat a line from their favorite show. He performed each one as if he was recording in the studio. The crowd cheered in thunderous unison each time. It got to the point where I started to feel that the audience was beyond polite. Yet he never showed signs of annoyance. He even took a minute to study several lines prewritten by a fan before singing it.

I am listing Seki down as someone I would love to interview. More pictures here.

Sea to Shining Sea: An East Coaster’s impression of Anime Expo 2013

As an East Coast member of Anime Diet, the largest anime convention I’d ever been to was Otakon 2012. That’s in the past tense, because in late June, I found myself somehow able to consider going to Anime Expo 2013. In many ways, these two conventions are opposites: West coast vs. East coast, Industry-focused vs. Fan-focused, Four-day con vs. Three-day con. So in a rather financially questionable decision, I decided to figure out what’s so special about Anime Expo this year!

What other convention has a tank parked in front of it?
What other convention gets a tank parked in front of it?

As I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the first time, it became clear what “industry focused” meant – a big *tank* was sitting in front of the LACC, promoting the Sentai Filmworks show “Girls und Panzer,” a show about girls who were practicing “the way of the tank.” The industry connection extended to a Danny Choo booth prominently located in the middle of the LACC South Lobby, as well as a huge section of the Exhibit Hall (called the Dealer’s Room at many other conventions) reserved for industry representatives. In fact, it was the diversity of the industry booths that surprised me: not just anime licensors, but also gaming companies like NIS America and Nexon, as well as figure companies (Good Smile Company) were on the floor.

Good Smile Company showing off its figures!
Good Smile Company showing off its Black Rock Shooter figures

Of course, I was at Anime Expo for the guests too. Huke (Black Rock Shooter character designer) and Makoto Shinkai (premiered “The Garden of Worlds” at this Anime Expo; director of “Voices of a Distant Star”) were the top priority for me this year. As for musical guests, who could overlook PORNOGRAFFITTI? I added the Visual Kei and PORNOGRAFFITTI concert to my list of things to attend.

Bored Laptop-Rock Shooter
Bored Laptop-Rock Shooter

I was lucky enough to get a reasonably good spot in the Huke / Good Smile Company panel line, thanks to awesome line-squatting friends. During the panel, Huke spent most of his time drawing a “Black Rock Shooter-inspired character” live on screen, which was awe-inspiring… and at times funny, as he would make his new character make funny faces at the audience!
As for the man himself… if only he wasn’t wearing a camouflage outfit complete with mask! I’m sure he wore it to protect his identity, so I guess we can only assume he is a incredibly talented character designing ninja! Unfortunately, the Huke panel started late, giving him very little time to talk about how he created the characters for Black Rock Shooter before jumping to Q&A. However, some of the questions at Q&A were quite memorable:

Q: How do you add texture to your character designs?
A: Huke collects pictures of ‘textured’ objects, sometimes taking pictures of the most mundane but textured objects, like walls. Huke opens up a folder full of photos on his computer, inserts one into the Photoshop file that he’s been working on with the BRS-inspired character, and applies the texture to the character. Just awesome.

Q: Why did you want to become an illustrator?
A: Well, I was terrible with my studies, so I had to be successful at illustrating!

Q: What inspired you to have Black Rock Shooter carry a huge gun instead of something else?
A: Well, isn’t it really cool to have a girl hold a REALLY BIG weapon?

Ninja Huke escaping after the panel
Ninja Huke escaping after the panel

In addition to the GSC/Huke panel, I attended our exclusive Makoto Shinkai interview and the PORNOGRAFFITTI concert (articles to be published). The last two events stand out as the best experiences I’ve ever had at an anime convention.

With an attendance of over 61,000 people this year, Anime Expo nearly doubled Otakon’s 2012 attendance. This amazing number was surprisingly hard to feel due to Anime Expo’s good use of the LACC’s layout. Cosplayers took full advantage of the LACC South Lobby to showcase their work, the exhibit hall was off to one side of the convention, and the panels and concerts were located on the LACC’s West side.

Ahri!
Not just anime, but video game cosplayers!Ahri from League of Legends!

Speaking of the LACC’s South Lobby, I was impressed with the location: well lit, spacious, indoors, and air conditioned. It was no surprise that the best costumes and cosplayers could be found here, and with enough space, it was possible for the most hardcore cosplayers to show off truly extreme costumes that would be impossible to find elsewhere.

Lineup for a Main Event - long, but worth it
Lineup for a Main Event – long, but worth it

While Anime Expo and Otakon are pretty different, the one thing I did notice was that big cons have their drawbacks too. It was very packed on Saturday, and the description of Anime Expo as line-con matched my experience with Otakon’s events too. After lining up for Huke’s panel, I realized I wouldn’t get to experience Anime Expo if I continued to spend my time lining up. Autographs for very popular guests were very hit or miss, but with a well designed system of vouchers and standby tickets, it seemed more fair than the usual first-come-first-serve system.

There is one very memorable event that stands out as unique to Anime Expo. I cosplayed a character from Bodacious Space Pirates (a Sentai Filmworks license), and as I was walking by the LACC, one of the Sentai Filmworks “Girls und Panzer” cosplayers by the Tank called out to me, urging me to go to the Sentai Filmworks booth in the exhibit hall. Eventually, I made my way there, and discovered professional cosplayer Jessica Nigri cosplaying my character’s companion to perfection! Exchanging pictures and compliments, I left with a cherished memory.

Sentai's Jessica Nigri cosplaying Marika from Bodacious Space Pirates
Sentai’s Jessica Nigri cosplaying Marika from Bodacious Space Pirates

There seems to be a hole in my wallet… reserved for some financial irresponsibility next year! I really enjoyed Anime Expo and can’t wait to see who their guests will be next year!

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Animazement 2013: A Growing Family

Animazement 2013, a three-day convention held on Memorial Day weekend, has steadily grown the past few years it has been held. 8,855 attendees came to Raleigh this year, roughly 10% more than last year. Predicting this growth, Animazement’s layout at the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) and Marriott City Center dramatically changed this year, streamlining traffic, making the increased attendance have less of an impact, and providing more space for exhibitors and guests to present their work.

During previous years at Animazement, the game room closed when the RCC did. This year’s relocation of the Game Room, from the RCC to the Marriott, gave gamers 24 hour access to the game room. The space previously occupied by the game room, close to the Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room was dedicated to fan panels, requiring less walking between very popular locations. The segregation of fan and guest panels allowed lines for guest panels to avoid crowding the rest of the convention space. The Artist Alley was expanded into the balcony in front of the fan panels, simultaneously using unused space and preventing evil attendees from dropping things on other attendees below.

I did notice major crowding on Saturday. Animazement’s growth, along with its more compact layout, led to crowding along the Artist Alley / Dealer’s Room walkways at peak times. The Dealer’s room is one place where Animazement could easily improve, as vendors only use about half of the allocated space. It seems like Animazement could space the dealers further apart and alleviate traffic problems.

The rest of the space is used by RCC-provided snacks. I thought this arrangement was awkward: the location of the food should be placed closer to the entrance of the Dealer’s Room. Very few people actually took advantage of the refreshments in the Dealer’s Room.

Animazement’s late night dance room was halved in size compared to 2012. I ventured inside there on Friday night to look at the crowd and get glowstick dancer photos, but found it rather difficult, as the dance room was over three quarters full on Friday night. I tried again Saturday night, but realized it was even worse, as the dance was completely packed. I later realized that many attendees that didn’t make it into the dance went outside the RCC’s main doors and set up their own dance.

Cosplay Chess at previous Animazements had been run as a fan panel, with a chess board in the middle of the panel space and spectators sitting on the ground around the board. This year, Animazement made Cosplay Chess a main event, giving the incredibly popular event a stage and good seating. Instead of having to follow the action by trying to figure out who was who by balloons floating from pieces’ heads, a computerized display with the chess board made it very clear what was going on.

Responding to feedback from fans in 2012, Animazement hosted a formal ball for the first time this year! Held away from the rest of the convention at the Marriott, it was supposed to be a classier dance than “the late-night one”. A strict dress code was enforced, required dancers to be in formal dress, or a formalized version of a costume in order to enter.

Feedback from formal ball dancers was mixed. The music selection could have been more classy, the dress code could have been more strict. For running a new event, I could forgive Animazement for its mistakes the first year in running a formal ball.

For me, my overall impression of Animazement 2013 are mostly positive. I feel like the panel selection was weaker than it has been in the past, and the schedule being released as late as the day before the convention gave many of us very little time to prepare our schedules. However, the convention itself ran more smoothly, even with a with a large jump in attendance this year. The post-convention feedback threads are very positive, other than some issues stemming from a miscommunication about the the photography policy. I can only hope that Animazement continue the great work they did with the improvements this year!

 

Full disclosure: I staffed Animazement this year.

Katsucon 2013: Cherry Tea Maid Cafe

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Katsucon’s Maid Cafe, only accessible from the elevators near the first floor lobby, used the Gaylord National Harbor’s 18th floor nightclub as its venue. The location of the nightclub offered a beautiful view of the harbor. These elevators were far away from the rest of Katsucon’s programming, making it a commitment to attend the Maid Cafe. In fact, The Paper and I reserved a table in advance. For those who weren’t as fortunate to reserve a table, the Maid Cafe accepted walk-in reservations.

We were quite glad to have made an advance reservation, as we were able to skip the line of attendees waiting to get a walk-in reservation. However, The Paper wished that the Maid Cafe would not accept reservations until Katsucon’s schedule is revealed to avoid conflicts with other programming. After checking in at the Maid Cafe’s ground floor lobby, we were quickly escorted into an elevator up to the Maid Cafe. I wondered what kind of atmosphere Katsucon’s “Cherry Tea Maid Cafe” would have, as each Maid Cafe is different, and this would be my first time at Katsucon’s.

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As the doors of the elevator opened, a group of maids greeted us in unison, who had apparently been anticipating us. Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated such a reception, so I failed to get a picture! We were asked whether we wanted a maid, butler/host, cross-maid, or cross-butler. While I didn’t have much of a preference, The Paper really wanted a maid. Katsucon’s Maid Cafe didn’t allow patrons to pick their maid, and so we were assigned Akiko as our maid at the Cafe.

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Akiko mentioned that we had 45 minutes for our reservation, so we ordered our food rather early so we wouldn’t run out of time halfway through our food. The menu contained Japanese snacks and appetizers. I asked Akiko who prepared the food, as these were not the usual items on the Gaylord’s nightclub menu. She told me that the food was prepared by the Gaylord; apparently their chefs knew Japanese cuisine!

As we waited for our food, Akiko offered to play some games with us. Offered at a donation of $1 per game, The Paper decided to play Toggle, a game involving balancing plastic pieces on an unstable platform. I offered to take photos to record the game for posterity, and was informed that each picture taken at the Maid Cafe was $1. Raffle tickets for a chance to win manga and DVDs were also offered at $1 each. A cheery maid carrying a gigantic donation jar collected all donations. This year, Katsucon’s Maid Cafe contributed 100% of donations to Relay for Life.

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The Paper won the game, although it was a long and drawn out battle of wits! The timing couldn’t have been better either, as our food became ready moments after the game finished. The Paper ordered gyoza (dumplings), while I ordered onigiri (rice cakes). For a few minutes, I waited for Akiko to leave our table before eating, but to my surprise, she continued to chat with us. A harp player for fifteen years who was into League of Legends, she was planning a very appropriate cosplay as Arcade Sona (a League of Legends character who plays a musical instrument).

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It was around then that I realized that Katsucon’s Maid Cafe was different: the maids never left their assigned tables other than to get games or food, and each maid only served one table. A total of 85 maids and 8 butlers serve the 110 tables at the Maid Cafe. Since not all maids were working this shift, not all tables could be used, explaining the long queue at the Maid Cafe lobby downstairs. It also became clear why choosing a specific maid would have been difficult given how many the Maid Cafe employed.

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After realizing I hadn’t touched my food yet while The Paper had finished eating, I hastily ate my onigiri… it tasted pretty authentic, although the portions were small. As The Paper and Akiko started playing a game of Connect-4, I realized that the character of Katsucon’s Maid Cafe was more about the service rather than performances or dances. Rather, the way maids served only one table at a time, leading to extended conversation with our maid, resulted in a less restaurant-like experience and a more personal, memorable experience.

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But it wasn’t as if the maids wouldn’t do impromptu performances either! At one point of our stay at the Maid Cafe, Gangnam Style played back over the audio system, which had been playing various anisongs and popular Japanese tunes. Akiko found it irresistible to join an impromptu dance session with fellow maids and some patrons.

We tried to tip Akiko as we left the Maid Cafe, but tips to individual maids were not allowed. Instead, we could donate our tips to Relay for Life. Akiko was flattered even though she wasn’t directly tipped. I left the Maid Cafe a bit later than The Paper, so we didn’t get to discuss our experience at the Maid Cafe until after Katsucon. I didn’t realize that he was a little upset that he was never addressed as “Master” at Katsucon’s Maid Cafe.

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Even with a mishap like that, my impressions of the Katsucon “Cherry Tea Maid Cafe“ were positive. I haven’t been in a Maid Cafe that focused so much on service quality to the point of dedicating a maid per table. The pictures that The Paper and I took are available here, and I would go again next year!

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Hirano Aya Concert: Review

See the full set of concert pictures taken by Shizuka here.

Aya Hirano’s concert, held on the last day of Otakon 2012, was an excellent way for many to spend the last few hours of the convention. Aya Hirano is best known for her role as the singer of the opening and ending songs for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as voice acting anime characters such as Haruhi and Konata from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, respectively.

Scheduled from 12:30pm – 1:30pm (conveniently after most area hotels’ checkout time), the line for Aya Hirano’s concert extended from the entrance of the concert hall and continued outside the east side of the Baltimore Convention Center, an effort to minimize the line’s impact to traffic inside the convention that was mostly successful. Thanks to excellent line control by Otakon’s staff, the concert hall quickly and efficiently filled with Otakon attendees, nearly hitting the three-thousand person capacity of the concert hall.

The lights dimmed, the band strolled onto the stage, and…

Aya Hirano stood before thousands of her American fans, singing “Riot Girl” from her debut album of the same name. Her second song, “Kiss Me,” was from her second album Speed☆Star. These songs were from 2008-2009, near the beginning of her career.

After singing the first two songs, Aya Hirano finally greeted her American fans to excited cheering and vigorous waving of glowsticks. The next set of songs were the only parts of the concert that press could photograph. So as Aya Hirano started performing these songs, I was madly taking pictures of Aya Hirano’s performance.

“DIFFUSION (To the Other Side)” – from Aya Hirano’s May 2012 FRAGMENTS album
Unnamed World – from Aya Hirano’s 2009 Speed☆Star album. Also the ending theme for Nijū Mensō no Musume.
BRIGHT SCORE- from FRAGMENTS as well

At this point, most fans of Aya Hirano who had only heard of her anime songs might not have recognized any of the songs just performed. Of course, she had just saved her most well known songs for last: “God Knows…,” “Lost My Music,” and “Super Driver.” These songs were used as insert songs for the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the opening to the show’s second season.

As Aya Hirano finished “Super Driver,” the stage went dark, the band departed, and the concert ended. Or did it? Aya Hirano’s fans at Otakon cheered for an encore for almost five minutes before Aya Hirano and her band obliged, singing “Bouken Desho Desho?”, the opening theme to the first season of Haruhi Suzumiya. This wasn’t just an ordinary performance of “Bouken Desho Desho?”, as Aya Hirano called out to the audience, holding out her microphone for the audience to sing along with the harmony. The last song of the concert, “MonStAR,” was a piece from her early album Riot Girl.

The concert was immediately followed by an autograph session. A line that stretched the entire way around the perimeter of the room rapidly formed. While I didn’t have time to stay for Aya Hirano’s autograph session, I heard that she stayed for more than two hours after the end of her concert to make sure that everyone who made it into the line got an autograph. Bravo, Otakon and Aya Hirano, for making many Hirano fans’ dreams come true: a live concert, an autograph, and a memory that will last a lifetime.


The full set list follows (Source: Japanator)

Intro Medley
Riot Girl
Kiss Me

MC01

Diffusion (To the Other Side)
Unnamed World
Bright Score

MC02

God Knows…
Lost My Music
Super Driver

Encore
Bouken Desho Desho?

MC03

MonStAR

MC04 and End of Concert

Anime USA 2011: Outgrowing the Hyatt (Part 3 of 3)

The third and final part of Sh1zuka‘s Anime USA 2011 report. This one focuses on the growing pains of the burgeoning convention, which will move to a new location at the Marriott Wardman Park this year.

AnimeUSA 2011 was held from November 17 – 20, 2011 at the Hyatt Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. This hotel has been used years prior to hold Katsucon and Otakon. Katsucon’s hotel, the Gaylord at National Harbor, is visible across the river from AnimeUSA’s hotel, and many of the AnimeUSA staff also staff Katsucon.

It’s interesting that AnimeUSA will also move away from the Hyatt Crystal City. Next year, AnimeUSA will be moving to the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, a larger venue that should solve many of AnimeUSA’s current problems. As an attendee of AnimeUSA since 2009, I feel that AnimeUSA has finally outgrown the Hyatt this year, so the venue change is a welcome one.

At 8:30 PM on Friday, the convention is still buzzing with activity.

Layout Changes: A Mixed Bag

AnimeUSA’s layout changed significantly this year, moving the Video Game Room and Convention Operations to the upper floors, and moving the Art Show to the B1 level. A fourth track for panels was added at the bottom floor, in a large, stadium-like room.

Placed in the middle of the Artist Alley, the Art Show garnered much more attention than last year, where it was located in a corner on the bottom floor. I feel like the new location of the Art Show is a major improvement. Unfortunately, I could not get any pictures of the new location as photography was (rightfully) prohibited.

AnimeUSA 2011 Hotel Map. The floors 3rd, 2nd (top row), B1, B2 (bottom row).

However, some of the other layout changes were questionable. I managed to completely miss the fourth panel room during the convention, as it was located in a corner at the bottom of the convention. Also, the Video Game room was moved from its location on the B1 floor to the 3rd floor and placed next to a Workshop track. I heard complaints that noise from the game room bled over to the workshop room, making it difficult to hear the panelists unless you were in the front row.

Due to having only one entrance/exit, the AnimeUSA Video Game Room could not be held in the same location as it was in 2010 because of fire safety concerns. As the convention guide was printed to show the Game Room in its previous location, it seems like the change was made last-minute due to an order from the fire marshal at the convention. As a result, the Board Game Library was cut from programming this year.

Dealer’s Room: Crowded and hot!

I have always found AnimeUSA’s dealer’s room organization to be quite good; going back this year, I found the usual booths near their usual locations. Hen Da Ne sells doujinshi (fanmade manga) and Japanese video games; Anime Sekai sells your typical figures and artbooks, etc. I also noticed a new vendor selling Asian snacks, Anime Snack Time, with a snazzy booth. I look forward to seeing them at other conventions that allow food sales.

Need yaoi?

AnimeUSA allocates space at the center of its Dealer’s Room to allow anime conventions to advertise, but surprisingly, AnimeUSA’s own Dealer’s Room table has been moved from the convention island to just outside the Dealer’s Room along the Artist Alley. I spent a little bit of time wandering through the Dealer’s Room this year, and it was very crowded and hard to move through at peak times. This is the first year that I’ve actually felt like the Dealer’s Room was very hot, and comments from both attendees and dealers agreed with this.

I really felt like AnimeUSA has outgrown its dealer’s room this year. Thankfully, the Dealer’s Room is open late and the traffic clears up then, but hopefully, the new venue that AnimeUSA is moving to will solve all of these issues.

It’s crowded in here!

Programming: Almost Too Popular

AnimeUSA offers six tracks of programming with 90-minute (or multiples thereof) timeslots for panels and workshops. The unusually long panel length of 90 minutes makes it easier to organize the schedule at the cost of programming density, as fewer panels require multiple timeslots.

“One of the goals of AnimeUSA’s programming staff is to make each attendee have to choose between many interesting things all happening at once.” –from one of AnimeUSA’s programming staff

Unfortunately, five of the six programming tracks were located far away from the rest of the convention, on the 3rd floor. Even so, lines still formed before popular panels, creating major traffic issues along the narrow 3rd floor hallway–tabletop gaming tables along the hallway reduced the width to as little as five feet wide. The small panel/workshop rooms, with a capacity for about fifty people, rapidly filled up for many panels, and staff had to limit the number of people inside the room.

The panel rooms could only fifty people.

Sound pollution has been a recurring issue for AnimeUSA’s panels. This year, non-18+ panels were finally allowed to close the room doors, solving sound pollution issues from the outside hallway. However, the wall between the panel rooms is still just a thin wall, and it was not difficult to hear the next room’s laughter drown out the voice of the panelist of the panel you are in. This was particularly tragic for the Workshop 2 track this year, which competed against the noisy video game room next door. People in the back could barely hear the panelists, even with a mic and a sound system.

See you in 2012!

AnimeUSA’s main issue this year, outgrowing the Hyatt Crystal City, is going to be solved next year by its move to the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. With four times the convention space of the Hyatt Crystal City, AnimeUSA is going to be able to finally significantly grow in size, something that it deserves for putting together a very fun convention and addressing issues each year. I look forward to attending AnimeUSA 2012!

Washington Marriot Wardman Park lobby. Photo credit: Marriott.com

Anime USA 2011: Maid Cafe and Host Club (Part 2 of 3)

The second of three guest articles about Anime USA 2011 by Sh1zuka. This one focuses on the maid cafe and host club! Photos by scout and Shizuka.

One of the advantages that AnimeUSA has is being held at a hotel with its own restaurants. During AnimeUSA, the Hyatt Crystal City’s two restaurants are converted into a wonderful Maid Cafe and classy Host Club, open on Friday and Saturday.

Since the introduction of the Maid Cafe and Host Club at AnimeUSA 2009, AnimeUSA has improved it every year. While the basic formula has remained the same, the logistics of meal tickets and accessibility have improved each year, making going to the Maid Cafe and Host Club less of a time and energy commitment. This is essential for an Anime convention with a very packed programming schedule.

Entry to the Maid Cafe and Host Club is done on the second floor, where a party can queue for entry to the perpetually busy Maid Cafe and Host Club. Food can be purchased using “tickets” bought for two dollars each at the respective location, and games can be played with the maids or hosts by paying cash. I’m not sure why food is required to be purchased with tickets, but I believe it is a regulatory issue.

 

The “My Cup of Tea” Maid Cafe

The AnimeUSA Maid Cafe, open during the breakfast and lunch hours of the convention, serves a variety of sandwiches, desserts, and Japanese snack food. All dishes are served by maids, who bless your food with “Moe~ Moe~ Kyun! ❤” before you’re allowed to eat!

All dishes served with love too.

The Maid Cafe also offers games that a customer can play with the maids, like Jenga or UNO. If a customer plays enough games, he or she can also get a picture with a maid of his or her choice. Well, it was mostly guys who wanted pictures with the maids!

It was mostly guys who couldn’t get out of this cycle…

If you’re not in the mood for games, that’s fine too; sometimes, a group of maids will suddenly burst out into dance! This made me wonder how much preparation AnimeUSA’s maids needed to work at the Maid Cafe. An application form is available on the website, but it does not go into detail about what kind of training is required or if talents are necessary.

So I asked one of the maids at the Maid Cafe. It turns out there isn’t much training at the convention. The training they do at the convention is about serving the customers’ food, as there is not enough time to train all of the maids to dance/sing at the convention. Thus, talents such as dancing, singing, or playing a musical instrument are considered big pluses for applying. So the “sudden outburst of dance” was only possible due to the dedication of the maids, who must have practiced popular Anime dances well before AnimeUSA.

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your maid.

 

The “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club

For dinner, AnimeUSA offers the “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club, located at the top floor of the Hyatt. This host club requires customers to be 18 years old or older to be admitted to the club, which is unfortunate since the average age of an anime convention attendee is less than 18 years old. As the Host Club serves alcohol to those of age, it may be a restriction due to Virginia law.

A queue to get into the Host Club, conveniently located on the second floor, allows potential customers to see how long the queue is before wasting an elevator trip. At the end of the queue, customers are allowed to ride the “Host Club Express” Elevator, which only goes between the second and the top floor. This is a major improvement for this year’s Host Club, efficiently using the few available elevators.

Unlike the Maid Cafe, you can pick your host at the Host Club.

Upon arriving at the Host Club, you or your party is allowed to choose your host for your table, who will entertain you while you wait for your food. Although the food portions are small and rather expensive, the food is good and the Host Club’s service is excellent. Alcohol is even offered at the Host Club, although prices are extremely steep.

Activities at the Host Club are similar to the Maid Cafe, with games and photos available in exchange for cash. Unlike the hyperactive excitement of the Maid Cafe, the atmosphere of the Host Club is more tranquil and laid back, possibly because the Host Club caters to an older audience. While the food at the Host Club takes much more time to prepare than at the Maid Cafe, the skyline at the top floor is beautiful and the hosts seem to enjoy spending time at their tables entertaining customers.

That skyline…so pretty!

At my table, my host played music, joked with my friends, and folded origami while our food was on the way. During my wait, I wandered around the Host Club taking pictures and noticed that almost everyone at the place was having fun: many customers played games with their host while waiting for food, and hosts would sit with their customers entertaining them if they looked bored. As with the maids, many of the hosts were very talented, knowing how to play music and engaging in fun banter with their customers.

Hosts showing off their talents and entertaining guests.

Overall, I would say that AnimeUSA runs the best Maid Cafe and Host Club of the East Coast Anime Conventions. Although AnimeUSA is moving to the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in 2012, AnimeUSA intends to keep the Maid Cafe and Host Club running at the new hotel. If you skip these and you’re going to AnimeUSA this year, you’ll miss out!

You might wonder why AnimeUSA is changing its convention venue. Find out more on my next post, AnimeUSA 2011: Outgrowing the Hyatt—coming on Wednesday!

AnimeUSA 2011: A Small Anime Wonderland (Part 1 of 3)

Report by guest correspondent Sh1zuka. First of three articles.

AnimeUSA 2011, held from November 17 – 20, 2011, is a cozy and moderately small anime convention held at the Hyatt Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s registration rate was $58 at the door, and cheaper if pre-registered over a month in advance. If you know you will arrive on Friday, you can skip the long pre-registration line by registering at the convention, saving you lots of time.

Even though AnimeUSA is a small convention, it is still a full featured convention, with usual Artist Alley/Art Show, Dealer’s Room, Video Game Room, Video Rooms, Masquerade / Skit Cosplay Contest, Concerts, and Hall Costume Contest. The convention’s small size will have you constantly running into people you just met hours ago, perfect for making new friends!

Unique to AnimeUSA is the Themed Ballroom Dance. This year’s “Military Cosplay Ball” required dancers to follow a dress code of Western formalwear or Military-themed Cosplay in order to get in. AnimeUSA introduced “dance cards” for the ladies at the ball, letting gentlemen leave their names on a lady’s dance card for a guarantee that the two would dance together on the dance floor. I really wanted to go to this dance, but I was stopped at the door: I didn’t meet dress code.

AnimeUSA also has the best convention Maid Cafe and Host Club on the East Coast, and compared to last year, it has gotten much better. Be sure to check out the forthcoming AnimeUSA 2011: Maid Cafe & Host Club post for more details!

Layout

The convention can be best described as vertical, spanning five floors. The bottom two, B2 and B1, are dedicated to Main Events, the Artist Alley/Art Show, Video Rooms, and Dealer’s Room. If you are looking to lighten your wallet, you need only head down the escalator from the lobby and descend into the madness of beautiful fanart, handmade plushies, poseable Vocaloid figurines, and more!

Can you name the Vocaloids?

The lobby, used only by AnimeUSA for registration, is usually filled with cosplayers during the day and offers a convenient shelter from the cold November weather. For attendees of age, the lobby also contains the bar (called the “Lobbibar” by the Hyatt), making it a popular destination at night when not attending raunchy 18+ panels. With a bar on the first floor and lots of 18+ programming, AnimeUSA accommodates older convention attendees rather well.

The Iconic AnimeUSA Torii (鳥居) (red archway). Photo by plumvs.

The floors above the lobby contain the bulk of the fan programming. Three panel tracks, two workshop tracks, and the Video Game Room are on the 3rd floor; an Events track, Manga Library, and the “My Cup of Tea” Maid Cafe are on the 2nd floor, while the “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club, located on the 20th floor, is only accessible via elevator from the 2nd floor.

“I choose YOU!”

All of the floors except for the 3rd floor are connected together via escalators. The 3rd floor is only connected to the 2nd floor via hard-to-access stairs, making getting to the workshops, panels, and the game room difficult.

Nearly-free Medicine

Something AnimeUSA does that’s awesome and unique is nearly giving away medicine to attendees, for a nominal fee of 25 cents per packet. Apparently there’s a law in Virginia that prohibits them from giving away medicine for free, so they charge a quarter.

I can say from personal experience based on the instructions I was given at the con that the entire leadership of the con has one goal. That goal is [to] put on [a] great convention where every attendee goes home saying they had a great time.” –forum post from one of AnimeUSA’s Medical Staff

I’m not aware of any other convention that does something like this, and it’s a great idea to help attendees stay healthy and comfortable during the convention. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to get sick during a convention, having medicine is essential to being able to enjoy the precious little time you can spend at the convention.

Elevator Hell… No More!

I always made a point of never wanting to stay at the Hyatt for AnimeUSA because in previous years, attendees staying in the hotel rooms above the convention space fought with convention attendees who wanted to use the elevators to get from floor to floor.

This year, AnimeUSA disabled access to the lower floors (Lobby, B1, B2) from the elevators, an excellent decision that made elevators much faster and more efficient by reducing elevator demand. It’s really a blessing in disguise: you might make a few friends on the way up the escalators! The only downside is that getting to panel rooms requires more exercise.

Another welcome improvement is that access to the Host Club is only via one elevator on the 2nd floor, which only goes between the 2nd and 20th floor and is controlled by staff to prevent the host club from being full when you get there.

How many people are in the elevator?

Overall, AnimeUSA 2011 was tons of fun, even though I wasn’t allowed to go to the Military Cosplay Ball. Check out the next post on AnimeUSA’s Maid Cafe and Host Club, the attraction that I consider the best part of AnimeUSA.


Photos by scout, Shizuka, and plumvs.