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nz17 Monday, 17 September 2007 02:54:02 +0000
Subject: Anime Banzai 2007 Convention Coverage
Anime Banzai 2007 Write-Up

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.

Dealing with the Dealers' Room
Taking a glance at my schedule I note that the Dealers' Room closes each day at 7:00 P.M. An odd choice, I think, given that the Dealers' Room is where many of the sponsors of Anime Banzai make back the money they spend on the convention.

Before entering the Dealers' Room, I am glad to finally be able to check-in at the hotel's front desk and get into my room. The Sheraton City Centre Hotel where Anime Banzai is hosted this year is an expensive hotel with few amenities in each room, and those that are available usually come at an additional price. The rooms themselves are nice enough though. I free myself of my recording equipment and bring in my bags from my hot car, glad to be able to stop worrying about them at last.

As a Guest-of-Honor, I have a table reserved for me in the Dealers' Room. I decide that this is not a thing to waste, and enter the room to take a look. There are many tables there, but nary an anime or manga production company in sight. However there are several retailers, many more than last time. This is quite a good thing, because a lot of those dealers that attended last year had exorbitant prices. Several of those dealers are back this year, doing things like charging $9 USD for a simple keychain, but the new dealers and some of the old ones are underselling these ridiculous prices. I skip past the dealers which want too much for too little, and I skim over the contents of the other tables, noting which things I will come back for at a later point.

For now I want to get my table set to start selling. I produced 200 anime bookmarks in advance for the event. These are from series such as "Fruits Basket", "Bleach", and "Inuyasha". I also bring along several coolers full of ice and water bottles. After all, every con goer needs to stay hydrated, and at one dollar apiece, I have the lowest price for bottled water at the hotel.

The only problem is that I can't locate the table designated for Nz17 Productions/ASO Radio. I ask the Security Ninja at the door about this situation, and he tells me to ask at ConOps. I head around the corner and down the hallway to finally reach the room. Asking the same man who was behind the desk earlier, he tells me to wait while he contacts the girl in charge of the Dealers' Room. Eventually she shows, and she is much younger than I anticipate. She has me follow her back to the Dealers' Room, where she goes from table to table, glancing at her chart of where dealers should be. Eventually she discovers where I should be, but someone else is already there. Those there claim that they were told to situate at that table by someone else in charge of the convention even though their table was to have been on the other side of their neighbor. We three come to the agreement that I will take the unoccupied table that they were originally designated to use.

Then I bring my car around to the nearest doors, unload the ice coolers, then bring in the boxes of bottles. I realize I forgot some things back in my hotel room, and have to walk around the floor to get back there. Setting up, I realize I forgot another thing or two back in the room, but I am not about to take another trip there to get them.

After setting up everything, I wait for my first customers. I don't have to wait long before I make my first sale. Feeling a sense of pride, I stash away the money. But soon enough a noticeable pattern emerges: though I am selling bottles of cold water at a respectable rate, not a single bookmark is sold. I begin yelling out like a farmer or a fisherman at market, trying to get people's attention and dollars. But aside from a few quizzical looks, I don't get anything new.

The Return of T-Man777
Standing there flummoxed by my bookmarks not selling, I have a person approach me in a strange manner. He seems to find me familiar, but at first I don't recognize him. Then it dawns on me -- it is T-Man777, the long-absent co-host of ASO Radio! I have not seen him in years, and his hair is cut short, different than I remember. He has on a funny Pac-Man t-shirt which had also confused me at first because it is somewhat unlike what he used to wear. He is groggy and tired from the events of the last few days and is slow to get his energy.

At first there is a feeling of awkwardness, of two friends who have not seen each other in such a long time trying to remember exactly what each other is like and how this plays off his own personality. But soon that strange feeling subsides and we begin to pick things up like we had never missed a day. We laugh and have fun, telling each other of our convention experiences thus far.

When T-Man arrived at the con he didn't know where to reach me, but reasoned that he would find me in the Dealers' Room. However he does not expect to find me as a dealer! He agrees to help with my table in the room, and after two hours the room closes. Though I do not sell any bookmarks in that time and only a few water bottles, I have a fantastic time talking with T-Man, laughing and joking. We clear out of the Dealers' Room, leaving the coolers but taking the rest with us. More adventure awaits outside the Dealers' Room for the two friends, now reunited at Anime Banzai.

Late Friday Night Meets Saturday Morning
We go to the Smoke House, which has now almost become our theme for the convention. We are there to see the "Bootlegs and Bargains" panel. We show up nearly halfway through the course of events, and by this time the host is finishing talking about how to spot bootlegged DVDs and merchandise from the authentic. He then turns to finding good deals on Japanese animation and opens the discussion to the audience. T-Man and I contribute our own thoughts on the subject, from renting to fan-subs to buying used videos. After a few minutes we realize that the panel has gone beyond its prime, and we take our leave.

Looking at the schedule, we realize that we have an hour free. We take this time to travel to the nearby Denny's restaurant that is across the street. Eating there at this time is great fun because there are so many other fans and cosplayers who are also having dinner. Having a meal among your peers can be greatly satisfying, and this is no exception.

Coming back from the restaurant, there are only a few panels left in the first day of Anime Banzai. T-Man wants to go to the "Japanese Honor Stories" panel. We leave after only a few minutes once we discover that is was merely a girl reading scary stories from a computer screen. The showing of the anime "Please Save My Earth" is more to our liking, and we sit to enjoy the show. We stay a bit longer to take in some of the "Anime Shorts Program" which features short Japanese animation sequences from advertisements and music videos. While some of it is interesting, I leave after a short time to be joined by T-Man minutes later as I am talking with an older person sitting in the lounge outside the AMV Dance. He says he left the panel after it became obvious that the rest of the anime shorts were a bit too weird and confusing.

Not content with leaving the rest of the night unused, we decide to spend some time checking out our Dealers' Room purchases. I have assembled a small collection of patches, pins, and keychains and a DVD box set of "Brain Powered", and T-Man has at his disposal the first DVD release of "Kekkaider". We head to my room to watch the anime, but end up spending the night talking and watching dozens of anime music videos. T-Man had wanted to attend some early morning panels on Saturday before he leaves for Wyoming on that day, but when he leaves my hotel room the time is 4:00 A.M. He decides it would be best to get some sleep and skip the panels instead.

Waking to the Morning that has Already Gone
Hotel rooms are deceptive things. They change our perception of reality. And in my case, when I awake mine makes 12:00 P.M. seem like 8:00 A.M. Once I discover the real time, I go into rush mode, desperately trying to get ready for my 1:00 P.M. panel on Rumiko Takahashi. Dashing to the Smoke House yet again, I discover it is locked, and the dozens of awaiting attendees lining the hallway. I rush over to ConOps to make the Security Ninja aware of the situation and to attempt to open the room. But everyone is overworked and disheveled, so it is not until several minutes are the scheduled start that we can begin. The room is quite full, a stark contrast to the previous day's panel that I hosted. Several people leave once they find that the panel is a history and discussion about Rumiko Takahashi, and not an appearance by her. The convention's listings appear to have confused many people into thinking that Rumiko Takahashi is to be here, and many signs are altered to say, "She's not here," or "Discussion, not appearance."

Finally starting, I begin with a brief overview of Rumiko Takahashi's life including the fact that this year will be her fiftieth birthday. We then move onto her various popular serial works and some of her short, lesser known pieces. Halfway through the time I open things into group discussions, having each person tell about their first and favorite Rumiko Takahashi works. We have several interesting people in our group, including a married couple who tired of the slow release of Spanish-language editions of "Ranma 1/2" and imported the entire show in the form of English DVD box sets instead. Another woman reveals that she is an employee of the Salt Lake County Library group and is responsible for the acquisition of anime and manga for all of Salt Lake county's libraries, and that she is here to scout what is and will be popular in the world of anime and manga. I have the room give her a well-deserved round of applause. Our Rumiko Takahashi panel proves to be so popular that we decide to go for another hour since no other panel is scheduled to use the room. I have such a good time that I find myself wishing that we did not have to leave. However there is much left to cover so our group of Takahashi fans disband for other destinations.

I take this opportunity to get some food. An otaku can not run on an empty stomach. Referencing my schedule once again, I decide that though I did some respectable sales of my bottled water in the previous day, the expense of attending Anime Banzai is too much to waste any more time operating a table in the Dealers' Room. I briefly view some anime music videos from outside the screenings in the Main Room before setting up station in the southern hallway to take pictures of cosplayers. The next hour sees lots of people traveling through this hallway to avoid the crowds in the northern hallway where the panels are. This proves an excellent time to take pictures, and I get many scores of photos. I take another break for food, and then I am back to take more cosplayers' photographs.

A Night of Delight
It is six o'clock now and I decide to break for some events. The "Old School Video Games" panel is overflowing the room, so I skip past there. The Censorship panel also look intriguing, but is standing room only as well.

I leave for the Dealers' Room, having decided to look for some good closing hour deals. I pick up several manga volumes, including a few for three dollars. The vendor I buy them from has discounted their price twice now because they were not selling. However they are from one of my favorite series, "The Slayers", and so I know that they are good, and a good deal to boot. I also get some volumes of "Ranma 1/2" and "Bleach".

The Main Room is supposed to now host the Cosplay Contest, but is instead hosting an encore performance of Artbeat, a local Japanese-American rock music group. I then return to the Dealers' Room to take my coolers out to my car and clear off the table we had used.

I visit the Granary to sit in on "How to Survive a Zombie Attack", a panel based on the cult-classic book of the same title. It is a funny discussion, made all the better by the girl in the front row wearing demon wings who keeps jumping at the descriptions given by our host.

Eventually the Artbeat concert ends and the Cosplay Contest begins. The zombie panel lasted longer than expected so I miss the beginning of the contest. However if what I do see is an indicator, the Cosplay Contest was fabulous from beginning to end. I catch an excellent performance by the Ichidan performing group, and all of the costume awards winners definitely deserve their prizes. The room is hot and full of energy, but like all good things must come to an end.

I hold a little after-con party outside the Main Room, where I am joined by others who haven't had quite enough. Some people come and go, and eventually the party members split for other locations. I decide to call it a night. As I leave, I walk back to my room reflecting upon how far Anime Banzai has come.