Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 1)

These cons were definitely big, all right.

By any objective measure, this has been Anime Diet’s best press year ever. In the month of July alone this site covered Anime Expo 2011, AM2‘s press junket, San Diego Comic Con 2011, and Otakon 2011. Seven staff members, four volunteers, and an entire film production team of three—14 people in all!—pitched in to generate videos, articles, and pictures of the biggest con happenings this year. We’ve done tremendous work and will continue to do more.

But, again, this is a personal account, and a record of both the ups and the downs of being fan press at conventions. There were some challenges along the way, and even a little drama. And there were also triumphs and the kind of bonding that only fellow nerds can have. Perhaps, a far better storyteller can I can turn it into a gripping movie or novel. But until then, there’s just me and this after-the-fact attempt to record my experience.

So here, again, are some snapshots of what con life was like in The Year of Our Con 2011.

I: Junket

Even more than the sweaty ears from wearing a Skype telecon headset for too long—and there were many long telecons—I remember the stacks of paper scattered on my desk. Card stock for business cards, because it was too late to receive mail-ordered ones except at great cost; printouts of the daily schedules for AX; receipts and press confirmation letters. Google Maps of where we’d be meeting.

That physical mess, as reflective of the busyness of that time as it was, didn’t compare to the blood-pressure-rocketing power of certain emails and spreadsheets.

The internet has left me in despair.

There was, for example, the email that I awaited with bated breath to sign up for junket interview slots. Our timely signups in 2010 had gotten us some of the best interviews we ever had, and we were not about to lose the opportunity to do that again. My paranoia and nervousness paid off. When it came, I finished the form within 10 minutes of its arrival.

But then there was the spreadsheet that came the following week, with the final interview schedule which did not have our names under Kalafina or Miyuki Sawashiro—the two guests we wanted the most to interview. Some hope was held out for people giving up their slots on the day of. My heart sank anyway, even as I vowed to press every opportunity that presented itself. There were some backdoor negotiations. Entreaties. Above all, uncertainty.

Or the emails that cast doubt about whether our photographer would be even able to register, even though we had one free press slot remaining on our roster and we’d been easily able to fill it last year, under the same management. A reply seemed brusque at best, rude at worst. Tempers flared. Drastic solutions, considered.

I remember the heated discussions, the heavy silences, the twitching of my fingers across the keyboard as I composed emails in response to our difficulties. There were less than 48 hours before the junket. Answers had to come, and nothing could be put off anymore. This is the hardest part of being a leader for someone like me, having to go out front and be both courteous and bold in stating our desires. I wanted to duck it. I didn’t want to fight or stand up for anything or anyone: why is this worth it, all this pain for a stupid anime convention?

Just under my tight-lipped smile is a STEAMING CAULDRON OF DRAMA

But it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about getting the best for everyone who had joined us, who were pouring their time and energy and sometimes money to work with us. I had to try, at least, to fight for our photographer and our interviews. Not because we were entitled to every interview—press is nothing if not a privilege. Not because the world would end if we didn’t get exactly what we wanted. Not even because we would feel slighted if we were turned down because it was thought we (and other outlets) were too unimportant, which is what we heard whispered here and there.

No, it’s because if you are going to stand up for something, if you’re going to give anything a shot—you might as well shoot for the moon. You might even get there sometimes if you try. But only if.

I wrote the emails, proofread them, got some feedback, and sent them. The replies came. We got our photographer in and he did superb work. Despite our last-minute jockeying, we didn’t get the Kalafina or Miyuki Sawashiro interviews.

We got everyone else, though. And I’m glad we did. Every year, there are surprises: great interviews from guests didn’t know too well and expected relatively little from. Last year it was Yuu Asakawa and Masakazu Morita; this year it was both Maon Kurosaki and Nirgilis. They were spirited and generous, and even editing their interviews was a joy because they were such engaging, beautiful people. Meeting people like that working in the anime industry is one of the greatest pleasures in being press, along with meeting friends and swapping war stories. (Of which there was plenty this year, perhaps more than any other year: that will be told in a later part.)

You win some, you lose some; and in the case of Miyuki Sawashiro, you win later when Japanese otakus discover your surreptitious exclusive liveblog anyway and send your traffic to an all-time high. 🙂 I’ll accept that as some sort of vindication.

To be continued: The Miku War; or, What Crypton Giveth, Sega Taketh Away

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.