FanimeCon 2008 was last weekend. Fanime is Northern California’s largest anime and manga convention, held every Memorial Day weekend in San Jose. Attendance is now in the 10,000+ range and significant enough to warrant the city putting up lightpost banners for the con. Browse the gallery from the last day.
Fanime grew out of the transition of anime to more mainstream audiences in the ’90s and the need to fill the San Francisco Bay Area’s needs for such a convvention. Several organizations recognized the growing interest in anime and manga in the early ’90s and organized independent conventions in the Bay Area, namely AnimeCon and Anime America. There were some other anime conventions prior to these elsewhere in the States, but I’ll just talk about what I know. I missed AnimeCon and the first Anime America conventions but went to AnimeCon’s spiritual follow on Anime Expo in 1993. The t-shirt that year was pretty cool with the Silent Mobius inspired logo on the front and various SD characters on the back. Unfortunately, the Bay Area didn’t seem to be able to handle two 1,000+ person attendance anime conventions in those days and Anime Expo moved on to bigger and better things as the country’s premier anime convention down in the L.A. area. Anime America continued along until it’s demise after 1996. As a side note, for that last convention I tried to be a correspondent for the fledgling AniMecca site but like many of my activities, I didn’t get too far beyond my initial report, but that’s a story for another day.
Anyways, the move of Anime Expo to So-Cal and the end of Anime America opened the door for Fanime’s club oriented gatherings to grow over the course of the decade.
I never attended Fanime until it located to the Santa Clara Convention Center in 2000. I guess I was (and probably still am) a “con elitist”. When it was at Hayward State or Foothill College, I thought “do I really want to go to something at a local college campus?” It might’ve had something to do with graduating from school and feeling like I wanted to put all things college behind me. Or maybe I was just a little burned out on a lifetime of Creation cons, BayCons, TimeCons and the local comic shows. Who knows? Fanime kept growing and eventually moved to the San Jose Convention Center where it’s been for the last five events. The only place to go up locally is San Francisco but that requires a step up in money.
Fanime has grown pretty well. Sure there have been bumps, the occasional long lines and waits for events but all in all it’s worked out okay. Programming is pretty solid with a selection of video rooms (animated and live action), panel programming, a gaming hall, “artists’ alley”, the obligatory exhibit hall (aka “dealer’s room”), masquerade / cosplay plus a variety of modern, related events such as fashion shows and even a maid cafe.
Generally, there are two headache inducing hurdles that every convention must overcome to grow successfully: registration handling and the big attendance event(s), which for anime cons is usually the masquerade. Back when I was going to Anime Expo eight to six years ago, these gave my friends and I no end of teeth gnashing and hair pulling. Percentage-wise, they occupied a small part of the four day weekend but they were handled in such varyingly bad ways that they reflected incredibly badly on what was otherwise and management triumph. For Fanime, I stopped going to the cosplay event a few years back simply for time constraint reasons. The on-site registration process is long but at least well organized and gives good reason to either pre-reg or show up by 8:00am if you’re attending for just one day. They at least have the registration process right, decoupling filling in information from payment from picking up the badge and program bag. This is how all the professional conferences do things and it’s only a question on being able to afford to scale up computers and staff to accommodate the crowds.
As a side comment: a lot of people maybe come to conventions expecting it to be like attending a movie at the mall. It’s not. While there’s a core staff that frequently returns, every year that staff needs to train new volunteers in a very short amount of time and it’s hard work if you’re not accustomed to it.
Nowadays, I’m basically only attending Fanime one day a year. Memorial Day weekend is typically busy and it’s hard to juggle work, family, the convention and whatever else happens to be going on that weekend. Unlike comic conventions which have big mix of people, I’m really starting to feel like one of the “old” people at the anime cons. It seems like it’s 80% tweens, teens and college kids. That’s great because it speaks of the vibrancy of anime and manga. But, I definitely feel the pains of disconnect to a lot of the current popular shows. I still go for the rare but gratifying experience of finding something new that I’m interested in, like the recently broadcast Macross Frontier. More on that another time.
To wrap up, I saw my future at registration: a graying, pony-tailed father trying to get his cosplaying kids’ attention as they scurried away to get their badges and run into the event. “Girls, remember back here at 6:00pm, okay?” he said, followed immediately by a, “Baby, give me a kiss bye.” His black feather wing wearing daughter hopped back just long enough to peck him a kiss before catching up with her friends. I guess that’s not a bad way to end up some day.