Sun, Surf and Anime: Florida fans flocked to Anime Festival Orlando
by Jonathan Cook
You'd figured given the fact Tampa's first anime con was on the previous weekend that not many would be in attendence for Orlando's con right? Wrong. If there is one thing Florida anime fans have in common, they all like to support each other's conventions. Although Metrocon was still fresh in people's minds, both the camaraderie and guest-line up was strong at this years Anime Festival Orlando.
Normally, I don't attend many Florida cons given the 600+ distance (one way) from my hometown of Chattanooga. But I do have one or two close otaku friends who live in the state and who always made the trip to my "home" con: Anime Weekend Atlanta. So I figured why not go down there for one of their cons. Not to mention it's not everyday you get to interview Wendee Lee for your radio show.
I left for Orlando early Friday morning after spending the night in Jacksonville. After sitting in Orlando "lunch traffic" for an hour, I was able to exit onto International Drive and pull into the Wyndham Resort. The place was set-up like an apartment complex rather than a luxury hotel. After checking in and getting my pre-registration packet, I asked to see Karen Trudeau. Karen is the events coordinator for AFO who also was pulling double-duty as con-chair for that weekend. We had communicated prior to the convention about me being able to schedule pre-recorded interviews with Wendee Lee, Tiffany Grant, Monica Reil and Steve Bennett for the Sushi Bar (the name of my radio show in Chattanooga). After going over the schedule with me, I walked out and about that Friday afternoon to see what all there was to do and most importantly, who was cosplaying as what?
Now for people who attend cons on a regular basis, it's a well-known fact Friday is the "slow" day. But even then, one could get an idea of what's the popular series to cosplay off of. At this con, it seemed EVERY OTHER girl cosplaying was dressing up like one of the MANY incarnations of Chi from Chobits. How many Chi's do we need? The second theme was Final Fantasy X with some cosplay girls dressing up as Yuna and Rikku from FFX-2 (which last I checked hasn't even been officially released yet). And the third is something of a sleeper hit: Naruto. There was at least one person dressed up as a different character from that show in order to make a complete set. Then you had the usual gambit of cosplay inspiration: Inu-Yasha, Ranma, Sailor Moon, Evangelion, The Clamp Universe and individual characters from video games by Capcom, SNK and non-FF titles by Squaresoft.
Sorry guys, no Bondage Fairy costumes.
Friday night had opening ceremonies with a brief history about AFO and an intro to the guests. The only problem was the master of ceremonies just read straight from the program guide word for word. This in turn, caused a lot of people to lose interest or act restless. But they more than made-up for it with that night's entertainment: an actual Japanese ceremonial drum band!! The team of Yuka Noguchi, Ryo Kikuchi and Sayaka Kikuchi put on a traditional drum performance that is normally found in Japan itself. But given Orlando's well-rounded Asian population, you didn't have to travel to that far. The night ended with people talking with old frends, hanging out at Artist's Alley or talking with the many guests at this convention.
Saturday morning was a blast. It started with the voice actors panel at 11 am. The Panelists included Wendee Lee, three voice actors from ADV Films: Tiffany Grant, Chris Patton, and Monica Rial, Doug Smith (who started with ADV before taking a job with Studio Ironcat and is now back with ADV at their Austin branch) and ADV co-founder and producer, Matt Greenfield. The panel started with a discussion on the basics of anime voice acting, how each actor/actress got started and answering the common question "How do a I get started?" Most people seem to think anyone can voice act. But having known some of these people personally for years, I know what the real backstory is. To explain it short and sweet, anyone can be a voice actor if they want to. It's just the level of commitment along with professional learning of acting in general are factors no one wants to mess with. One also would have to move to wherever the work is. In recent months that has become harder since the recent closing of Coastal Carolina Studios in Wilmington, N.C. But the fun part was yet to come. A tradition at AFO with the voice-acting panel is 30 minutes are set aside for fans to "put their money where there mouth is." Steve Bennett would quick-draw a character for a con-goer and he or she would have to come-up with a voice for that character and then perform a scene with another V/A. I won't go into explicit details about my senerio other than when the smoke cleared, both the con-goers AND the V/As knew "who got game."
I spent the rest of the day either interviewing Wendee and Tiffany for my radio show or recording radio "drops" from typical con-goers. In case anybody was wondering, I was dressed-up as Nabashe from Excel Saga. Chicks dig the 'fro when they're not gigging to each other over yaoi every 2.5 seconds. Other notes of interest includes the commerical release screening of "Risky Safety" with intros by Wendee Lee who directed it and Steve Bennett's famous cel-painting workshop.
Later that night, I participated in this year's cosplay performance. This was something I haven't done in a while due to past cons that I've attended with a reputation for "favoritism". But I thought "Okay, I got a good one." Long story short, I pretended to be Nabashe at the beach and pulled an 8 oz bottle of Corona out of my 'fro. The audience loved it, the staff hated it and I got disqualified before God and country. Denied the trophy again..ahh who cares. I had fun.
Since I did my cosplay monologue using the closest Brett Weaver impersionation I had, I ended up getting a very "unusual" phone call. Someone screamed at me "Dude, I got Brett Weaver on the phone!" I was like "yeah, right!" Sure enough, it was Brett calling from his home in Austin, Texas. He said "When did I give you permission to impersonate my voice and flagship character?" Brett knows who I am and we ended up having a nice conversation until the guy wanted his cel phone back because I was eating his minutes up. Knowing him, he's got something cooked up for me for AWA.
I wrapped up Sunday with a very thought-provoking interview with Steve Bennett over the business of anime and manga and what the future holds. I didn't get a chance to interview Monica but she did let me record some radio drops from her.
Overall, this year's Anime Festival Orlando was enjoyed by the masses. A special thanks to Anime Gaijin America and their volunteers for all their help and trying to keep everything up and running and on-time.