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Report and Notes

If there is one thing Anime Boston 2008 will be remembered for, it's the registration debacle. Should you not already know about this, here is the long and short of it. Most people would expect a two or three hour wait for registration and consider it acceptable. This year, attendees, both in preregistration and at-con registration lines, waited well over five hours, some up to ten or even more. Though the jump from 11,000 attendees in 2007 to 15,000 attendees in 2008 was expected, a new registration system had a critical flaw that caused a huge bottleneck in the process, eventually leading to huge waits. Both on the website's forum and at the convention feedback panel, the Director of Registration explained a number of the problems, but the main issue seemed to be that attendees had to enter their own information into a computer terminal. Between a small number of terminals and people taking much longer to enter their information than expected, processing went very slow and the line to register had to be moved into an otherwise unused exhibition area. In the end, it seems like it was an unfortunate turn of events, and experiment gone wrong. At the convention feedback panel, the Director was visibly shaken and often on the verge of tears while reading from a pre-written apology letter.

Despite the problems of registering, the convention was quite full with many people on vacation for Easter, and even Friday when many were still in line, the convention center was packed. Unlike previous years, the neighboring Sheraton hotel was unavailable due to a modeling event going on in its meeting space. Luckily, the Hynes Convention Center is very large and had more than enough room for the whole convention. With three floors and two large banks of escalators, moving about is no big problem and most events are easy to find if you know where to look. As a location, I can't think of anything that could beat the Hynes. It is attached to the Prudential Center, which has a number of upscale stores, walking access to the Sheraton and Marriott hotels, as well as easy access to many other commercial outlets in downtown boston. (The Shaw's 24 hour grocery is probably a boon to many a convention attendee.) And of course, the large foodcourt provides plenty of fast, cheap food for everybody, though better and pricier options also abound.

Though the Masquerade had slightly higher attendance, the most anticipated event was certainly The Pillows concert Saturday in the early afternoon. Lines formed several hours before the event, and with the delay before the performances began, many people had more than a four hour wait to hear the band. Opening for them was the group Luv & Response, a pop/hiphop group with a big focus on style and dance. At long last, though, the Pillows came on stage and the room literally surged with energy. The floor of the main ballroom shook noticeably with the excitement of several thousand fans. The band played favorites from the anime that got them popular, FLCL, as well as new material off their newest album. Despite reportedly not sleeping in three days -- they had a concert in New York City just the evening before -- they had a great performance.

The most common complaint about the concert, aside from the expected delay in starting, was that the speakers were too loud. This is for many a matter of opinion, but as a technical matter, speakers cannot produce sound outside a certain frequency range, leading to distortion. Given the less than optimal acoustics of the ballroom, several people at the feedback panel complained that they got more of "a wall of sound" than music. And, of course, many people complained of the sound level being physically painful. I was wearing high-quality earplugs and still thought it was a bit loud. The Pillows have a sound engineer that travels with them, and overall the sound -- and of course music -- was great. Given that they probably didn't arrive on site until the day of the convention concert, the extra hour or so of delay was probably to get set up.

With the delay, seating for the masquerade started practically as soon as the concert let out. This was maybe enough time to get some dinner, as the the masquerade was scheduled to go from around 8 pm until just short of midnight. The close-by food court came in very handy in this situation. As such, attending both the concert and the masquerade pretty much took up the whole day for many people. After seating and some overflow delay from the concert, the masquerade "started" about fifteen minutes late. However, the start of the masquerade was a video of the convention mascot (a lobster) going through the convention. It's not clear to me if this is set up for the inevitable case of needing filler material to stall while keeping the audience entertained, or if it was a scheduled part of the masquerade show. The first skit was also a non-competing, convention-organized entry. This was obviously planned, as the MC accidentally came out on stage too early, had to stop mid-introduction and leave for the skit, and then came on again afterwards.

Despite some too-obvious confusion backstage, most entries came on and performed (or just walked on and off) without much apparent hassle. Many skits were obviously thought out and practiced, and I personally didn't find any skits particularly bad. Inbetween almost every skit, though, the MC and Technical Head chattered back and forth and kept making jokes about the MC's eyepatch. While many people seemed to enjoy it, this same schtick has been going on for several years and some people are considerably annoyed by it. Matters of taste aside, while some material ready to have to use during an inevitable delay is good, it seems odd that it would have to be injected between every single entry. The masquerade is long enough, and many of the cosplayers have to be there for six or more hours on end, in full costume. (Note, I hear the masquerade coordinator let them escape for food and water on occasion, but the point still stands.) Between performance, evaluation, and awards presentation, the whole process is fairly long. The AMV contest winners are shown during the half-time, and argueably some of the best (non-competing) skits take place during the intermission, which makes the wait much more enjoyable. Ultimately, though, the whole affair should be kept as short as reasonably possible. Additionally, just as in the concert, the volume was too loud, and even people in the back of the ballroom complained about the excessive noise level.

Other big events included the Cerulean (Formal) Ball, which took place Friday evening before the regular dance. It was overcrowded last year, and many people were not impressed. So as a result, it was less attended this year, giving people room to actually dance. Or try to dance, as the case may be, though this year it seemed everybody on the floor was honestly following the instructions from the dance instruction class earlier in the day.

The Anime Music Videos are a perennial favorite, though personally I feel the innovation and originality has gone down over the years. That being said, I was surprised by the quality of the videos this year. Had I not made it late to the showing, I could see myself staying for the whole event. Finally, the Iron Cosplay event was a big hit, though unfortunately was stuck with a small room and many people had to be turned away.

Many people did not attend Anime Boston this year due to the timing; many people simply could not or decided not to try to fit both a holiday and a convention into the same weekend. For many people who did make the effort, it was a big disappointment as Friday was used up for registration and Sunday was a holiday. Of course, the holiday is a very good excuse for many to travel, so the overall effect on attendance is probably minor. After the hassles many faced, though, Anime Boston may not experience the same explosive growth as it has in the past. Other than just the registration debacle, many people felt that each part of their convention experience was marred by poor planning and other problems that could have been avoided though better organization and planning by the staff.

Even with many conventions sprouting up all over the place, the east coast sports just two conventions with more than ten thousand attendees, Otakon and Anime Boston. (I'm not counting Dragon*Con and AWA doesn't have as many attendees to the best of my knowledge.) Otakon is run by Otakorp, Inc. which has a board of directors and a charter, all on top of the convention management. At least from viewing the Anime Boston website, the entirety of the management seems to be within the convention itself (despite being run by the New England Anime Society, which runs other smaller events in addition). Most of the problems of Anime Boston seem to stem from organizational impasses. Communication between departments and divisions seem to be minimal and conflicting, each group working too independently of others. While a smaller event can afford to work without some greater oversight or control, any larger event needs a stricter hierarchy in order to make things work out. Anime Boston will undoubtedly recover from the big and little snafus of 2008, but it will certainly take a while, and even longer without some restructuring of their organization.

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