Spent only one day in the fan favorite Anaheim Convention Center for this year’s bold anime industry-splinter-act-cum experiment in the form of AM2, which felt like more than enough for me. Which isn’t to say that this unprecedented free-for all anime fan event is lacking in anything that most local cons contain. But rather that it is something more akin to a well-intentioned experiment in real-time. With the concern for not only the anime industry as an entire, but for Japan in general, the impetus behind the AM2 convention was something of a means to help local Japanese media and vendors to find additional, affordable means to sell their wares within a current climate- while perhaps starting something that could itself become a fan staple in the future.
Upon arriving, and noticing that a veteran’s memorial gathering was sharing the space which was in itself sparse of people, and in many ways not unlike Anime Expo…at 7am….in 1999…
While it was nice to see that the day’s events ranged from some diverse guests performing at the Matsuri Stage located in the back of the Exhibit Hall (in which I was able to catch Midnight Shinigami, as well as Miyuki Greta Dance – there was little shortage of interesting acts playing as I was exploring), the scant amounts of activities and/or events that tend to draw a con veteran in me left a feeling that perhaps if I kept walking in circles, something would capture interest. Which unfortunately wasn’t in my favor all things considered.
Which again, is by no means a mark against the convention. It was clear that many in attendance were having a great time socializing. The thing for me is that having worked these events before, there is simply little at events of this scale for me to do except to relax, say hello to friends at booths, support them where I can. It’s not unlike the late 80s-early 90s when mall culture had become such the ingrained part of the American experience, that it became less an exercise in convenient shopping and fun, and more a place where meetings happen. Without ideas beyond the Ani-Maid cafe, various cosplay events, another visual kei act few know about, conventions eventually succumb to splintered niche farms- which ultimately is a big yawn for me.
A colleague & friend remarked to me that they themselves felt a little too old for anime conventions. A curious statement since, in my mind, anime conventions have since the early days mutated into something barely resembling the fan-centric, artist inspired celebrations they had been before. Many of the core elements; Q & A sessions with notable talent, including character designers, animators, and directors has made way for something of a masquerade playground mentality, which many modern cons have co-opted in order to stay relevant. Which leads me to my ultimate disappointment with shows like AM2; they are shows catering to this new market, while lacking the focus necessary to keep the die-hards coming back for anything more than a social gathering. And while it’s coherent that an event like this only offers a price for premium content, and free admission to others, it also pays to truly make the premium content something worth the price. in many ways, this feels more like an experiment based on looking at how value is perceived on the internet.
And seeing as how this is an event in the fleshy-real, the turnout I witnessed is telling that real life is far from the internet when dealing with price-point.
What results, is something closer to that of those free samplers that come with the purchase of body product, be it hair or skin care. Just enough for an application. More highlights reel than main feature. Almost tempted to say that it has a charm that early cons had well over a decade ago; but again, sans the nerdy stigma of having a guest of the caliber of a Noboru Ishiguro, or a Mari Iijima. Do I feel that even J-culture fans, strapped for cash deserve a place to express their love of the mediums they love so dear-YES. But I also feel like shows like AM2 have a better role to play than merely a competing force. This is a community that deserves a sense of all-inclusiveness, and to have it on the same weekend as the established giant is not the best way to do this.
I appreciate what is being attempted here, but to schedule this up against the also-financially challenged AX, the enjoyment to out-of-wallet ratio is quite clear. Should it ever return for another year, one can only hope to see it take place weeks after AX as a sort of industry-centric “encore” presentation. In the end, I know where I actually had fun despite the burning hole in my pants.