AVCon 2009 - Full Report

by Jon Hayward, Aug 4th 2009

When I sit down to write these reports my primary task is to relate my experiences in a readable and possibly entertaining manner. My desire is to explain what it was like, how did the event feel, what are my critical thoughts on the event at hand. This task gets harder the longer it has been since the convention, it's easy to hash something up while you're running on con-adrenaline and alcohol but far harder once you return home and suffer from the aptly termed “AVCon Influenza” for a couple of days. But while the report is hard the convention was easy, an absolute delight to attend. This was AVCon's first year in the Adelaide Convention Center as they could no longer secure their previous venue (the University of Adelaide) and they had to cover a lot of ground to pay for this high class venue. But this left many attendees with the same question “Would AVCon lose their identity in the move to a professional venue?” So what makes the identity of a convention? Is it what's run? Where it's run or how it's run? Lets take a closer look at AVCon 2009 and find out.

The convention center itself is less than 100 meters from the Adelaide train station and about 1km from the Rundle St Mall (center of town) so it made getting to the convention this year easier than ever. The convention used the two smaller halls at the back of the centre, the large swath of foyer space and using two halls of the performance hall for cosplay and videos respectively, plus a couple of smaller rooms for panels. The space was a similar distance between the various components that made up AVCon in previous years but there was a lot more things (and cover) packed inbetween. Artists literally had a alley between the front of the convention and the direct access to the gaming room, the far back of the foyer was used for events and a kids corner along with a canteen supplied by the convention center. The main hall was split into video traders and video games with people having to walk through traders or by artists to access the awesome rock band stage, massive gaming area or impressive indie games tent. Plus it was all undercover and on the one level! A definite improvement to be sure.

But the best part was walking through it all, the convention was large enough so that when you didn't know what to do you could just slowly do a lap of the full convention and guaranteed by the time you were finished you would have found something to do. Check out a trader here, sit in on a panel there, kick back to some anime or just chat to people. In fact I spent quite some time just marvelling at the excellent job done by the “with the band” group for the rock band stage, full lighting, smoke and stage made a amazing experience for players and audience alike. Being able to just find ‘stuff’ at random without consulting a timetable or guidebook makes for a excellent convention, but just what made it all tick?

A major addition and expansion this year was embracing gaming even more. AVCon has traditionally been the home of video games across the Australian anime convention scene and this year they added focus on game development aswell. This begun with a large independent video game pavilion filled with local creators and their titles. From the indie sidescrolling fun of Artificial Perfection to the slick smooth graphics of Driving Speed Pro. Throw in several educational institutions in the traders area encouraging people to join their courses and a hefty group of panels focusing on the game development industry with well respected industry representatives and you have a great feature. The games area also got a large shot in the arm, large wide open space complete with control tower, screen that could be seen across the entire games / traders floor, many many tvs and consoles with free play games and even booths dedicated to... less popular music games like Guitar Hero and Singstar. As well as the aforementioned Rock Band live stage.

The other half of the main hall was the traders area, it was large wide and dark. Twenty One traders filled the space, the main stalls being Madman Entertainment, Pulp Fiction Comics and GameTraders. The standout had to be cheap manga, Madman selling volumes ridiculously cheap and by the end of the convention Pulp Fiction was selling 10 volumes for $50. Gifts for the Geek, Oztaku, Voodoo Baby and other smaller traders filled up the rest of the spaces. There was not much in the way of plastic anime merch i.e gachapon, figurines, keychains etc etc but that wasn't a deal breaker. AVCon has never had a large amazing traders room, they have always had a reasonable one but it's never been the focus of the convention. Considering the glaring lack of that kind of stock and apparently massive success of the local anime retailer in the main mall combined with the success numbers wise of this year's convention I would not be surprised if AVCon would be able to land that kind of retailer for next time. But this year the lack of that kind of retailer was felt, along with eye strain from the darkness and flashing lights.

But where the traders hall was lacking the artists alley made up for it in spades, excellent artists, all kinds of awesome stuff to check out and purchase across an amazingly varied range. Posters, comics, trading cards, bookmarks and a admirable focus on personal artwork instead of reproduction of recognisable anime characters. Bright colors and friendly artists were everywhere, one artist in particular could not believe how much fun AVCon was and felt that it was a very personal and friendly convention.

Speaking of large gatherings of people, the largest portions of the convention is easily the Cosplay, followed up closely by AMV's. This year AVCon had the only round of the Madman National Cosplay Championship held outside of Supanova Expo, this was held on the Saturday of the event while the main cosplay competition was held on the sunday. Both days each 1500 person theatre was full and apparently on Saturday they screened the cosplay to the other theater, stopping claymore and delaying the start of the AMV comedy hour. The neat part was the video feed was screened into the traders hall on the large projection screen, a small and nice touch linking the seperate halves of the convention together. The other impressive fact was the 400 seat theater filled with people for AMV screenings and the well attended panels on making them. Having your attendees make the content you show off in events is nothing new, but the time and effort put into properly embracing Cosplay, AMV's and Art shows.

One complaint that appeared after the convention was a lack of anime screenings, I am not quite sure which convention the people who made these remarks attended. There was almost two and a half days of solid screenings which only let up for the AMV screenings. Negima!?, Mushi-Shi, xxxHOLiC, Darker than Black and Genius Party were among the screened titles. What I suspect these few attendees are really complaining about is the lack of newly released anime, usually available only on fansub releases at this time. Every single one of these titles are commercially released (apart from FMA: Brotherhood, but that's available online at Madman's SR+) and while they are solid titles, I could understand why some people would be disappointed that they couldn't discover something brand new at AVCon. Unfortunately this appears to be the trend that all anime conventions in Australia have to adhere to, there are ways around this but it requires slightly more organisation for what one can argue is (ironically) a small portion of any con.

Speaking of small portions, the panels were interesting and varied. Held in two conference rooms near the entry to the main theatre a wide and varied schedule ran for half the day every day. The aforementioned industry panels took up one theatre for Saturday morning and interest panels took the other half. Smash karaoke using the smaller room for both afternoons, and to great effect as they were quite popular. But while the individual panels were well run and interesting (especially the ANN|AU panel ^_-) the panels program as a whole felt lacklustre, especially the gaping hole in each afternoon. Good panel streams are hard to do and while the quality of the content was there it could have been improved.

The final interesting part of AVCon starts with a Maid Cafe. I do believe they finally have a model that works (after a fashion) for Australian conventions. You see the problem with these professional venues is that you have venue catering and food handling licenses are tricky. What AVCon organised was a group of tables outside the convention center canteen, if you paid for a badge at the cheap price of two dollars a maid would “wait” on you. You could select anything off the menu and give the maid the money and she would scoot off and get priority access to the line (and there was a line –Starvin' Ed) push in front and bring back the food on a silver platter, literally! The best part was that over 200 people used the service over the weekend and it was all donated to charity.

The charity in question was Games For Kids, a group that goes and buys video games for children in hospital. This came into play when AVCon held their closing ceremony and auction, all money from the auction going to the charity. Now this is excellent but it was topped by the silly bet that is made every year that if AVCon reaches a certain attendance record they will shave the convener and vice convener's heads. They reached 3635 paying attendees and 4064 people total attending the convention. So off went the rights to shave Mitchell's (the VC's) head and in the end the entire audience of the closing ceremony ended up donating over $800 to get the ringleader of Games for Kids to shave the VC. An excellent result, even if it ended up being a long winded and drawn out affair.

And on a quick personal point, please do not end your convention late on a Sunday evening. The weekend has been long and we need a quick and painless end to the proceedings, not a long drawn out affair which is keeping us away from enjoying the evening. Many conventions are guilty of this and it was tiring sitting through AVCon's closing ceremony (if you could call it that) especially with food and refreshment a mere 200 meters away.

But ultimately that sums up who AVCon is, they're the people who are not quite with it, the mates that drag a joke on or stay around that little bit too much. But you have a lot of fun around them. A professional venue does not make a professional committee or a professional convention. The location changed but the heart of AVCon did not and while they can stand to make some more improvements they continued to deliver the event with a spin of the feet, snap of the fingers and a cheeky grin. AVCon style all the way.

AVCon 2009 Picture Gallery

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Photos with thanks to Mark Sombillo, we had two reporters at AVCon! It's crazy!

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