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Anime Banzai 2007: The Great Return

Swords and Cowls
Sakura Pose!
Potential Cross-Over
Brothers Separated at Birth?
Final Fushigi Fantasy
Funky Door-to-Door Salesmen
She Looks Like She's Going to a Wedding
Space Demons are Fun-Loving
Sailor Planet Power!
Seen Any Heartless?

Same Convention, New Year, Incredible Improvements

When ASO Radio traveled to Anime Banzai in 2006, I thought, "This is pretty good for a second-year convention, but there is much room for improvement for next year." What a difference one year can make! While some things are dropped from last year, many new additions and improvements are present for the 2007 edition of Anime Banzai.

First the convention moves to a new location, the Sheraton City Centre. Then it gets the shirts which were sadly absent from the previous year's convention. Also we see the expansion of Friday from only five hours of activity to a robust 8:00 A.M. to midnight.

The schwag bag, the bag of free goodies that attendees receive, also sees many improvements, especially for those who reserve badges in advance. In 2006 Anime Banzai's sponsors were mostly local companies. This time the roster is expanded to include notables like Funimation and Tokyopop. The goodies reflect this, as they include things like tiny bookmarks, fans, many promotional materials, and even a "Sonic The Hedgehog" comic book from The Black Rose Game Center. Sure the comic is a leftover from Free Comic Book Day, but the quality is as good as ever. However like last year, Anime Banzai once again is missing the actual presence of the big anime and manga companies from both the floor and the Dealers' Room. Such a situation obviously means that no announcements or giveaways are perpetuated at the affair, but that does not take away from the fun or charm of Anime Banzai. After all, this is not a mega-convention, but a strong fan-driven event.

The Hot Drive, The Frantic Rush, and the Big Letdown

This year is no different from last in that the convention runs only two days, Friday and Saturday. While it is odd that one day is in August and the other in September, it makes sense once one realizes that this was done to accommodate the Labor Day weekend. But whatever the reason, this means that most people which want to attend the full convention must miss out on work or school. Such was the case with me: to attend Friday's activities including the live recording of ASO Radio, I have to skip out on my college classes, and I am already behind due to the late arrival of my text books.

I comment to one attendee during the convention that had I been able to do so, I would have the convention run during Saturday and Sunday to reserve the Labor Day Monday holiday for return travel. Of course some attendees do not want to attend anything on a Sunday, so perhaps Anime Banzai is making the best call for its general audience. Maybe so, yet it is not the best choice for my schedule. However it is obvious that I am not the only one with work or school conflicts on Friday, since Saturday's attendance eclipses that of Friday's people.

I awake early in the morning on Friday to travel the roads for the few hours it takes to get to Anime Banzai. Of course the Sun is unforgiving, bearing heat down on me that is enough to melt rubber. Though the drive is only a little over two hours, my automobile has no air conditioning, so when I arrive I have enough sweat on me to trick someone into thinking I had run a marathon to arrive at Anime Banzai this year.

The rush must continue though for I must get to Convention Operations (ConOps) to claim my Guest-of-Honor badge and get information on my noon-time panel. The time is now past 11:30 A.M., and nobody in the halls seems to pay any attention to my obvious need for haste.

Arriving in ConOps I find part of the dedicated crew of volunteers that operates Banzai. The room is crowded with people because it also doubles as a cosplayer prop-check and bag-check area. I do my best to get attention, and soon the man behind the desk calls on his walkie-talkie to the other volunteers, or as they call them at Anime Banzai, the other Security Ninja. Someone squawks back that the badges for Guests should be in a nearby box. Finding my badge, he hands it to me. I take it and ask for information on when and where my panel is to be. Taking a quick look at the schedule that seems to stretch on forever, he informs me that it is in the Smoke House. I give him a puzzled and probably frustrated look and ask him what the Smoke House is. As it turns out, all the rooms at the convention's hotel are named after building and businesses that would be found in an old traditional town. So I head to the Smoke House.

With less than ten minutes to go, I enter the room. Nobody is there, and I frantically get to work. The equipment I have brought with me is heavy, and I unload and open it as fast as I can. Electronics and recording equipment fly out of my bags, and I try to assemble them in a quick manner. Someone asks me what this panel is about and I take a brief moment to inform him. He takes a seat as I try to finish my task. I finish a few minutes after twelve o'clock, but when I turn around he says he is leaving for a bathroom break. He never returns to the panel.

As I begin to record the live episode of ASO Radio, my anime talk radio program which is the subject of the panel, I am perplexed. Usually there is a sizable crowd that attends ASO Radio Live!, but throughout today's recording a total of three people show including the gentleman who left before I began. The second is a girl I motion in during the middle of the recording who leaves after a few minutes, and the third is a Banzai volunteer who was looking for something but decides to take a break to listen to my program after I invite him into the room.

As I reassemble my various equipment into my bags, I think about why attendance was so low. It is then that I realize that the small showing was due to three primary reasons: the staff at Banzai scheduled my panel during Friday, the slowest day of the convention; the time I was scheduled at was noon, a time of day when most people are eating lunch, attending school, or working; and my panel was running at the same time as the Cat Ears Make and Take panel, a perennial, popular favorite of con goers, and even worse, it happened right next door, siphoning away anyone who had even a mild interest in it.

Taking in What is in Store, and Planning Later for More

Feeling understandably disgruntled, I head away with my things to take time to get my barrings. The hallway I am in appears to be the primary panel hall, with the sole video screening room at one end next to ConOps and neighboring three regular panel rooms on its other side. The last panel room is next to two special rooms designated for cards games and video games. I briefly peek inside the rooms as I pass by them during the convention, but I am never interested enough to partake of their activities.

Since the hotel's check-in time isn't until 3:00 P.M. for some unfathomable reason, I decide that now would be an excellent time to get some lunch. It is the first meal of my day, and I am grateful for it. While I eat I glance over the schedule, taking in the list of upcoming events. Saturday has the lion's share of interesting and worthwhile panels, but Friday does look to have some fun things in store. Outside lunch, I take some time to use a green highlighter from the Ops room to mark which events I want to try to see.

As often is the case at anime conventions, there are periods of time scheduled which have little to nothing of interest, and other times which seem to crowd several things together simultaneously. Such is the case at 3:00 P.M. with good events happening in the Video Viewing Room, Smoke House, and Main Events. Using strategic thinking, I determine to visit the "Old School Anime" panel in the Smoke House first, leaving to catch the second episode of "School Rumble" in the Viewing Room, and finally catching the tail end of "Whose Line is It Anime?" in the Main Room. The plan works beautifully, and I am able to attend all three, though experiencing final panel does not last long.

The "Old School Anime" panel is time well spent, and I get to learn about some shows that I may never have a chance to see. It is just as well though, because I have a niggling feeling that perhaps the hosts of this panel had not seen all they were recommending. I walk away with more knowledge than I came with, and am determined to see some of what they recommended. "School Rumble"'s second episode is nearly as enjoyable as its first, and the "Whose Line is It Anime?" shows great potential. Too bad I only get to see about a minute of it.

Sitting in the Main Events room, I wait for "Anime Jeopardy" to begin. Last year this panel gave great prizes to its contestants, and this year I intend to be one of those up on stage. However quite a long time passes by before anyone addresses the audience of this event, and that is only to inform them that things will be delayed even further. People grow restless, and many flow in and out of the room. Finally a person in charge of the event shows and apologizes for the delay, explaining that people were searching for the absent prizes. He waits for good news, but eventually realizes that his time is better spent setting up the stage for "Anime Jeopardy". At last his walkie-talkie squawks out the news that the prizes have been located and are on their way to the room. He takes a moment to select contestants from the audience by throwing out some trivia questions to the group, taking those who correctly guess first. I am about to answer the first question when I hesitate, making an opening for someone else to take the chance, and it is my downfall. I intently listen to the other two questions but am unfamiliar with the anime in question, thus losing my chance to take to the stage. Upset about having wasted thirty minutes waiting and then losing my opportunity to play, I leave the panel.

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