Full Circle: My last Anime Weekend Atlanta
by Jonathan Cook
I can't believe it's actually over. Have I really attended my last con? Probably not. But next year will be the first time since attending AWA 2 in 1996 that I will neither will be working or attending AWA (or any cons for that matter). I don't want to bother you with my personal thoughts on my "leave of absence." Instead, let's write about what you want to read: the trials and tribulations of what it takes to run one of the top-ten biggest conventions in the country.
Like all anime conventions, Anime Weekend Atlanta started out small with only 360 attendents in 1995. Today, the average con attendence is 4,000+. AWA's success can be largely attributed by Atlanta's "central" location. The states surrounding Georgia are within 3-6 hours driving time. AWA is also the only anime convention in America that is themed around the "old school" genre of anime. It was shows like Speed Racer, Captain Harlock, Astroboy, and Star Blazers-Yamato that basically started it all and paved the way for the blockbuster anime shows that we have today. Even if some of them are "segregated" by the Cartoon Network brass.
So now that we have gotten the basic rundown of AWA, let's talk a little about what my job is. I'm with what is called "Events and Guest Relations." Stan Dahlin happens to be my director with Jason Merrill as the second-in-command. At my side are Edward Albayalde, Jennifer Reeves and Rob Smothers. The mission: Keep the con running on schedule and the guests happy. The benefits: You get to hang with the movers and shakers of the subculture. Not a bad trade-off when you think about it.
I arrived in Atlanta on Thursday fifteen minutes after noon. I had already gotten a printed e-mail of flight times and airlines from Stan and was prepared for the traditional follies of "airport duty." Myself, Stan and Ron drove down to Hartsfield to pick up Peter Fernandez (voice of Speed Racer), Ms. Corinne Orr (Trixie from Speed Racer), Robert and Emily Dejesus, Andrew Kent of ADV Films and ADV voice actress Lauren GoodNight. And there's a reason why her last name is Goodnight. Because when the boys see her..their heads turn into wolves and yell "GOOOOOOOOODDDD Night!"
But more on that later. ^_~
I later went back to Hartsfield alone in PT Cruiser to pick up some people I knew very well: Rick and Tavisha Simmons from studio Tavicat and the legendary Carl Gustov Horn from Viz. The trip back up to the hotel-con center was an interesting one. I played some cuts from my Sushi Bar radio show in which Carl was very pleased with my audio performance. He's a big fan of local public and college radio so it was a real treat for him to hear one of my airchecks. During the trip back to the convention center, I took the wrong interstate and ended-up going nine miles off the original course. No one however, seemed to care. We were too busy debating the finer points of anime voice acting in regards to performances of characters done in English and Japanese. It's those kinds of moments that I live for. By the time I had dropped them off, most of the other departments were finishing up and the convention was about ready to open for business the next day.
On Friday I donned my Nabashe costume, hooked myself up with a radio and proceeded to comb the convention circuit. Most of the guests had been picked-up the night before and the room I was managing (Main Events) wasn't due to open until 4 pm. So what's there for an events staffer to do when he's not issuing schedules, helping in other rooms, relaying messages and so on? Cosplay! Cosplay! Cosplay!
Although this would be magnified several times over on Saturday, it was without a doubt that Inu-Yasha was THE series most represented in cosplay. Five years ago, I was the "only" Inu-Yasha attending AWA. This year, there were eight to ten Inu-Yashas, about seven Kagomes, one REALLY good Shippo, five or six Mirokus, five Sangos, three Sessho-marus, two Kilalas, one "female" Koga and so on. Love them or hate them, one can never underestimate the power of Cartoon Network.
Later on in the day, I took a two-hour break to attend the world premiere of Otaku Unite! Eric was really excited about his work. But with me, it was hard to feel excited . The movie hadn't even started yet and already there were "jackasses" making smartass comments about it being a carbon copy of Trekkies (which it was) but at least it was "our" Trekkies. What's worst was those same jackasses were enjoying making commits at my expense. But I'm use to it. Overall, Eric did an outstanding job with the film and at least got me in a couple of clips saying something intelligent. Of course, all of America is going to think I'm fat and I still talk like a hick but that's life. Hopefully, the next movie will be better. It has to be..I'm in acting school for crying out loud. ^^;;
Before the start of opening ceremonies, I sat-in on the last part of Fred Ladd's panel. For those of you new to the subculture, Fred was the man who literally "started it all." He was the one who gave the first anime icons the ability to speak English and to have their adventures broadcast over national television. Even though he's getting on in his years, he's still as active today in anime as he was 40 years ago. As most people should know, Astroboy was re-introduced in Japan in light of the character's 50th anniversery. Sometime later this year, KidsWB! will be broadcasting the new Astroboy series. Mr. Ladd himself brought the "official" full trailer to AWA. One word on the new series: smok'n!
After opening ceremonies, it was time for the Clamp Ball. Long story short, junior-high dance..only more fun. I got to dance with Lauren herself..and boy was she beautiful. I'd love to show off the pics from the Clamp Ball, but that roll somehow "disappeared".
Those responsible have been "sacked".
Oh..and just to ease the minds of the horndogs and dames: nothing happened. But I was just happy to be able to something sociable with a woman who wasn't afraid to be seen with me in public. Everyone should feel like that once in a while. So Friday ended on a high note which made the transfer to Saturday a lot "less" painful.
Saturday started out with a panel by AWA's guests of honor, anime director Mr. Hiroyuki Kitakubo and Studio Gainax founder Mr. Toshio Okada. Mr. Kitakubo was a little under the weather but being the trooper he was, he did take the time to answer fan questions and debate the cultural differences between Japanese and American anime fans with Mr. Okada. Towards the end Mr. Okada made a statement that if he could host a con, he would invite American men to meet Japanese women and then later American women to meet Japanese men.
As Ed himself would say, Dear Diary: JACKPOT!
The dealer's room scene was happen'n all thoughout the day. Besides buying anime goodies, an amusement store in Atlanta specializing in old arcade games set up shop in a corner of the dealers room for us "old-schoolers." You'd be surprised the number of commits I've heard from men (and some women) in their late 20s-early 30s saying "I remember playing this when I was 10!" On a side note, I remember when the "original" Street Fighter II came out and the long lines just to play it. But compared to the Naruto-fighting game for the Gamecube, SFII isn't even a blimp on the radar. And yes, we did have the Naruto-fighting game in the regular video game room.
A massive advacement to this year's AWA compared to year's past was the fact it was held at the Cobb Galleria Center. Meaning that the convention center was connected to the Galleria Center and neighboring Cumberland Mall across the street. So fanboys and catgirls didn't have any problems with "finding a place to eat" which can be a problem at most cons.
This year's cosplay had several "over-the-top" costumes competing for best-of-the-best. Some of this year's winners included a Belldandy with real angel-wings, a chocobo rider from Final Fantasy X, an authentic Captain Harlock and Captain Emeralde team and some "overly-cute" cosplay kiddies! The night ended with con-goers staying-up late and dancing the night away to the hardcore sounds of Anime Sushi.
Given some of the minor problems from last year in regards to having "fun", the staff at the Cobb Galleria Center had gone beyond the call of duty in regards to "a time and a place" for everything. A lot of convention go-ers left on Sunday saying that was one of the best AWAs in a long, long time.
I have to admit that after eight years of attending AWA, it's going to feel really weird not going to it next year. But when I told Patrick Bohnet what I was doing, he said it plain and simple: "outside your family, your career comes first. We'll be around when you're ready to return." During my five years as a events staffer, I have met a lot of wonderful people. I have also shared some rather unique adventures and some interesting moments. But, I've also have had my fair share of heartbreak, failure and just plain hard-luck. I even tried to make amends with the one person I've known the longest than anyone in my eight years of going to AWA. But she'd rather be eye-candy for ugly drooling fanboys than see the forest for the trees.
So to Stan Dahlin, Lloyd Carter, Capt. Dave Merrill, Patrick Bohnet, TJ Hamilton, Dr. Laura, Jason Howard and ESPECIALLY Big Ed...Thanks for making my last AWA something for me to remember being a part of.
P.S. Stan, your daughter showed a lot of maturity and leadership this weekend. You've done a good job raising her..and thanks for dinner.