This was the first year of a new convention, and as such, there were problems. In this stage, the convention is very reminiscent of the current Anime Conji, with the exception of a much larger and better lit lobby. We will be covering the convention from a cosplay point of view, since we did not attend any panels.
The good news is there were a lot of cosplayers in attendance. It felt like the ratio of attendees in costume to not approached almost 1:1. Unfortunately, even the convention had even admitted to dropping the ball on taking care of their cosplay attendees, and our review of Anime California is in line with that assessment. The convention was a good opportunity to gather like-minded enthusiasts together, but the execution of that fell a little short on their first year.
Anime California officially posted: “We just wanted to let you guys know, we are aware that cosplayers were interested in a good new con, and we let you down a bit. So for 2015 we are creating a new division in our staff called the Cosplay Division. The main purpose of this division is to help make sure all the AC15 cosplayers are taken care of with cosplay gatherings, cosplay guidelines, cosplay panels, the masquerade, cosplay repair room, and everything cosplay related. We’re looking to create a stronger relationship with you guys, so that we can give you a safe and wonderful place to show off your amazing cosplays.”
Parking: Great! Close and convenient, only $8 a day for convention attendees, with validation. Plenty of parking during our mid-morning arrival. All we needed to know was that the ticket needed to get stamped inside the convention, which we found out by ourselves after we got there. Hopefully the website will have clearer instructions to this effect for next year. Around 1pm the lot filled up and attendees had to find parking elsewhere.
Location: In theory, this appeared to be a perfect location for the con. The area was nice, plenty of food options in walking distance.
However, from a cosplay/photography point of view, this was not as friendly of a con as we would have hoped. There seemed to be no welcome places inside the actual hotel to take photos (apart from the one photo room, earmarked for specific cosplayers at specific time slots). Unfortunately, if your attendance is only 3,000 people, it’s hard to justify a convention center.
Clearly, the hotel and hotel staff were not prepared for the way that cosplaying attendees are used to using the space at a venue. There were a number of incidents we observed with hotel staff trying to clear the lobby and telling people that they were “loitering”. The hotel space only had the lobby, two restaurants, a Starbucks, and two elevators/stairs leading to the two towers where the panels were. There was also a hallway where registration took place, and two pools outside.
As a cosplayer, if you can’t use the open, main lobby as a location, then where are you supposed to go? This is where you presumably paid to be. The panels and side rooms weren’t meant for cosplayers looking to take photos. So, no lobby. The pool was also made off-limits by the hotel staff for the most part except for approved con events. So, no pool. The outside fountain became the de facto gathering spot for displaced cosplayers, but quickly became a traffic hazard. So, there was limited use of the fountain area, just not enough to accommodate all the people there. There were a few islands of grass and trees, and the outside walls of the convention to shoot at. Most of the things about this location that would have made it special were off limits for shooting, unfortunately. Still, we made use of what we had available, and made it work.
*Cosplay Gatherings: I would have to give the gatherings the lowest score in any convention gatherings I’ve attended. The gatherings we attended were unfortunately not as well moderated as we have been spoiled with at bigger cons. The “Ultimate Sailor Moon Summer Splash” (pool party) for example, didn’t seem to have much of a plan besides arrange for a group of Sailor Moon cosplayers to be there. It wasn’t easy to find official information about what this was on the website, but we heard mentions of it on the official Facebook page. There were several staff present as well as a person on a megaphone, but they did not lead the event so much as occasionally bribe attendees to jump into the pool in exchange for rewards sponsored by Crunchyroll. They used the megaphone to tell the regular hotel guests to get out of the pool, but that was mostly ineffective. With a lack of any clearly planned activities, many attendees who came to watch the event just stood there talking to each other. A majority of photographers took a few shots and put down their camera, or left. With no one to direct the cosplayers and photographers, or involve the guests (apart from telling them to jump in the pool), it was somewhat of a non-event.
While the Sailor Moon Pool Party seemed to be an official Anime California event, I don’t believe that the other gatherings were. There was a thread on cosplay.com that listed official Anime California Gatherings that other people organized, but the convention staff didn’t seem to take the step to clear the gatherings with the venue and get the necessary permissions with the hotel that the official Sailor Moon event did. The “Free! Iwatobi Swim Club” gathering was kicked out from the pool by hotel staff because it was not a formally scheduled event. This caused the gatherings previously planned at the pool to change meet locations.
As some gatherings were shuffled on-the-fly from one forbidden location to the next, it became difficult for some others to find where they moved the gathering.
Once they were moved, the location we were put for the Kill La Kill shoot was too small to fit both the photographers and the cosplayers. Photographers were uncomfortably squeezed together, although that’s often the case at group shoots. The organizers were ordering which characters should be on stage for photos, and counting down to switch out to the next set. Unfortunately, they had difficulty balancing the needs of the photographers with keeping the schedule moving along. In several of the sets, there were out-of-character photobombers, and instead of asking those people to get out of the shot, they just moved on to the next set of characters. They also did not advise the cosplayers where to look and did such a short countdown that we sometimes had literally 5 seconds to shoot the large group before they switched. It was just chaotic and hurried. Another gathering we tried to attend did not seem to be organized either.
Basically, the gatherings felt like, “Show up here at this time as a character from this series…” and…wing it from there.
Dealer’s Hall: This was a first for me: A line to get into the dealer’s hall. I was told that this was due to fire marshal’s regulations, but once we got inside, it was dead! There were only maybe 30 guests inside of the dealer’s hall. On the plus side, you get time to browse booth to booth casually, but the room could have safely accommodated everyone who was waiting in line.
The doorman regulating the entrance into the dealer’s hall was by himself, checking for badges and counting attendees to enter as others left. He became overwhelmed by several attendees bombarding him with questions, and we arrived to the scene of him yelling at the guests to speak one at a time. Clearly he needed someone else to help with his duties, as his frustration towards the attendees could sour anyone’s mood.
I‘d think it was bad business for the vendors at the booths, because the line wasn’t moving and many people saw it and left, meaning no business for the people that paid for a booth. I seriously hope that the artists and dealers still managed to overcome these difficulties. Around 3pm the line was eliminated, never to return that day.
Staff: Overall the Anime California staff were good people. They communicated well and would try to be helpful. After they told us not to do something, they usually tried to calmly explain why, and that was appreciated. Unfortunately, there were the small handful of staff that seemed to be yelling at attendees with no good reason. Simply asking people to move off to the side in the lobby would work. There was also one staff member that was interrupting photo shoots to check the cosplayers for their badges, presumably to crack down on “ghosting” – attending the convention without a badge. Yeah, but dedicated cosplayers know to remove or hide their badges during a shoot. It would have been more considerate to both cosplayers and photographers to ask for badges before or after a shoot. Let me just say once again, the convention staff overall did a good job.
Hotel staff seemed to be a mixture of bemused and annoyed with regard to the cosplayers, and at least a few of the hotel staff were observed yelling at the cosplayers. Some cosplays were deemed (and sometimes rightfully so) inappropriate for the younger, non-attending guests staying at the hotel. Some con attendees were getting rowdy and noisy while the concierges and hotel reception tried to answer phones.
Directions/ Signage: Once again, Anime Conji syndrome. No signs to lead you where to go. The maps of the convention were not easily found on the hotel TV guides, so you would have to use the guide book that was given to you during registration. Outside the convention and in the halls, have signs that point to areas of interest. Registration, Exhibit Hall, Stage, Gathering Locations and so on. Larger signs overhead that say “Registration” and an arrow that points in the direction, with a map of the hotel and the locations where you are standing marked. There was in fact a registration sign, but on posterboards that would get blocked by other registrants waiting in line. More signs with maps would have been preferred, but as it was a small convention we could just walk from door to door to find out what was going on in each room. At least have these signs at every entrance to the hotel, so that you know where you’re going. We did not know where things were so this layout encouraged exploring – of course we explored down a corridor and was chased down by convention staff saying we weren’t allowed in this area, and it was off-limits to attendees. A simple prominent sign would have saved everyone the trouble.
Overall Impressions: This is one of those conventions where it’s up to you and your friends make it fun. If you attended alone, just hope that you made some new friends at the convention, because the lack of things to do might not justify purchasing a badge. Certainly if you come to cosplay, it’s hard to justify purchasing a badge as it only grants you the limited freedom to outdoors. For most everyone I talked to, I was told that if not for the chance to hang out with friends and meet new people, the convention would have been boring. The response was still generally positive despite the expected first-year problems.
On the bright side, the location is superb, with dozens of places to eat within walking distance and not too far from people in SoCal to attend. It also was held on reasonably ideal dates, with enough time to recover from Comic-Con and Anime Expo. Another very positive side is that registration was not line con. There was a small line, but you could get through it in 15 minutes. The longer line was to get into the dealer’s hall, which will continue to baffle me.
I’d say Anime California succeeded in creating an event where people had a reason to gather and share their common interests, but the actual venue and follow through will benefit from a few more iterations of refinement. We intend to come back next year, and hopefully the promised repairs on their cosplay side will be present.
*Please note that the cosplay gatherings were events created by individuals that were not associated with Anime California. However, the Sailor-Moon event was in fact a convention organized event.