Manifest 2009 - Full Reportby Jon Hayward, Sep 22nd 2009
The Melbourne Anime Festival (Manifest) has always been a bit odd, in previous years there has been a lot of problems, screwups and just plain old no fun to be had. This has occurred for a variety of reasons over the years mostly to do with the Manifest Organising Committee (previously known as the Manifest Communist Blob) and how it was run. However this year Manifest instituted several changes, moved to a new venue and quite literally stepped up. So as Australia's largest not-for-profit convention did they succeed and was the event a massive success? Or was it business as usual?
For those that do not know, Manifest was previously held at the University of Melbourne, an odd affair with multiple buildings, levels and rooms that was confusing to get around and very cramped. This year Manifest made the move to the Melbourne Showgrounds, a very large venue which was situated about 20 minutes out of the Melbourne CBD by tram. But it was pretty nice, several buildings with a large open area in between where you could see from one side of the convention to the other. The areas were Registration and Events, Panels, Three screening theaters, activities hall and food / grassed area, as well as the general outdoor area linking everything together, but more on that later.
The thing is that this year Manifest started first thing on Friday morning! That's right, this year Manifest started first thing with a interesting innovation, school tours! The day was mapped out with more cultural panels and interactive events in order to attract school crowds, apparently 14 schools and over 600 students came through on the friday joining in on drawing panels, Japanese manga translation, more cultural panels and screenings galore.
In fact lets take a moment to talk about what Manifest had going on, three full days of panels, screenings, traders and workshops. Two full days of events with cosplay, live events and AMV's (anime music videos). Every day the con started at nine am and went to nine pm. That sounds pretty large to begin with but lets break it down further,
- Screenings: Three theatres with 12 hours of anime running for three days, that's approximately 108 hours worth of anime! - Panels: One theatre with 26 hours worth of panels, oddly enough there was 26 panels. Coincidence? I think not ;) - Events: There was approximately 22 hours worth of events - Traders Hall: Spanning over 3000 sqm the activities hall opened at 10am and closed at 6pm, containing workshops, gaming, dancing, rpgs and of course, traders galore. - Workshops: I can't quantify how many workshops were run as the only way to find out was to visit the vague location on the map and find out what was going on.
As you can see, that is a very large amount of content that is physically impossible for one person to attend, a staggeringly huge tower of stuff to do. But this is both a blessing and a curse as the majority of people walked around aimlessly wondering what to do.
Don't get me wrong, too much choice in events causing indecision is a excellent thing and at the new venue it was better than ever. Manifest was held between the main hall (a giant permanent tent essentially) and the events building. The whole weekend would have been even more compressed had the wind not taken off the roof off what was to be the Madman Anime Theatre (requiring it to be moved inside the massive exhibition hall). The events building was basically another massive hall with full stage and lighting gantry using a setup similar to Supanova, massive stage in the middle, a large projection screen on either side and 1500 seats in the audience.
The panels room was a nice large room with seating for about 250 people, windows out onto the outside area so if you were easily distracted there was always cosplayers to watch. Next to the panels room was the medic area and next to them was the Siren Visual theater playing their titles (Genius Party, Tower of Druaga, etc) and classic anime. Behind these two theaters was the best of the lot, the Peppa-chan theater with comfortable seating, lounges and a packed house of about 50 people at all times. Beside this was a grassed area with some food vendors but the less said of them the better. Oh and a giant pie on top of a tower was in the background the entire convention, just to round things out. This lead to a excellent outside area with cosplayers, attendees and attendees in cosplay milling around, chatting and enjoying themselves.
Occasionally they were entertained by taiko drumming or some amazing cosplayer/s showing off how cool their work is. And I think the convention was all the better for this, having a much easier layout between various rooms lead to much more mingling and enjoying the atmosphere. Hell, having an atmosphere is a large improvement over previous years and it should indicate what was so different about this year.
Speaking of differences, having one traders hall encompassing so many different aspects of Manifest is a marked improvement and it showed! The hall itself had a bit of a confusing layout but considering what it contained this is not surprising. You start off with all the traders which came to over fifty different stalls including Ozanimart, Pinin, Tamarket, Siren Visual, Alternate Worlds, AVCon, Anime Zone and Madman Entertainment plus many more. This isn't including the healthy artist presence selling all manners of posters, prints, stickers, bookmarks and more.
I was a little disappointed by the lack of indie comics to purchase and surprised to see many of the artists selling similar stock. I guess this isn't bad if you like bookmarks with chibi versions of your favourite anime characters. But after having seen this kind of stock at every single convention this year from different artists, well, i'm just not that inclined to even linger if I've seen it all before. Anime merchandise-wise Manifest continues to have the best collection I see in Australia. Plush Gurren Lagann drills seemed to be quite popular (you shove them over your hand and pierce the heavens) with chibi gachapon figurines following close behind. If you were after mecha many traders had you covered but if you saw a particular figurine or statuette you wanted it was worthwhile taking a little time to look around the event to find one at a slightly cheaper price. And between Alternate Worlds and Madman any manga tastes were well and truly covered.
Beyond the traders lay a far reaching field of things to do, a smattering of tables held what the map called the Oztaku drawing area, collectable card games and cultural demonstrations. However all I saw running during the weekend was Oztaku drawing demonstrations and people using the tables to relax. Dead in the center of the hall was the Conquest role-playing dark monolith of doom and despair that many people did not seem to go beyond, I did get reports that role-playing sessions that were run were well done and entertaining but all I saw was a black maze of table and chairs with gruff old bearded fans guarding the entrance with laptops. However if you ventured beyond the monolith you found the other workshops and events one could participate in.
Now you will have to forgive me as a couple of the following events were not even listed in the booklet beyond the map and to an outside observer it looked like a spread out mess. The first grouping that was easily recognisable was video gaming, one large screen TV dedicated to DDR, another dedicated to tournaments and a whole pile of 15" units dedicated to free play games including an amusing set of commodore 64 display units running nintendo 64 games. The tournaments seemed to pull fairly decent crowds and there were always people using the freeplay machines but it just seemed quiet. I blame AVCon for ruining my impression of this as after their gaming room everything else seems sedate. Along the back wall you had the art show gallery (which didn't pickup much artwork at all), cel painting and the cultural workshops by the Monash Manga Library. Last but not least you had the Mecha Workshop which had a massive pile of people come through, pick out a kit and paint over the weekend. I won't say anything else on that due to the person running the workshop also writes our column "Cracked Plastic" but I have yet to see any other convention grab onto such a great, basic and well run workshop. And that is the last of the activities hall, loads to do, see and buy if you could figure out where to find it.
In terms of finding things, this year's Manifest had a bit of a odd problem. You see, attendees to any kind of festival or convention usually receive a booklet or sheet of paper explaining the layout and the basics. Anime conventions in Australia tend to give out a booklet with much more detailed information on everything that is running. Now Manifest handed a nice full color booklet this year (which from reports, is better than last year's no-show booklet) and an amendments sheet with the full timetable on one side and the terms and conditions of entry on the other. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but the amendments sheet we were informed is entirely incorrect and you shouldn't look at it (it was only included for the terms and conditions) and that all the information required was in the booklet.
The booklet itself being a nice and well presented with a cover of Peppa-chan as various anime artstyles, the contents inside were nice and readable and you didn't need instructions on how to read the map or the timetable. Plus everything that was being screened was written down in massive detail (taking close to 40% of the book!). The problem was finding comprehensive information, the timetable was correct for the most part but was a pain to turn to in a hurry. The map of the activities hall was poorly labelled, there was no information on the traders, there was no information of many of the events that were run. Perhaps I'm being too harsh but more people might have found things to do had the information been displayed in a better way.
Another innovation this year was the Mani-Midnight session. Basically Manifest was open overnight for those people who wanted to continue playing RPGs, Video Games, watching anime and more. All they had to do was pay for a specfic entry ticket and they were in. The Mani-Midnight session ran so well that they were forced to send people running the midnight session home for some sleep as they just didn't want to leave! While I didn't make it to this event, over the weekend I spent a large amount of time in the Panels room, not only running panels but watching panels being run by other people. The schedule was pretty good with multiple interests and aspects of anime, manga and japanese culture covered. Despite some technical problems the room tended to run on time and with fairly large crowds. I won't go into individual panel detail but after some prodding most of the audiences would participate and get into the swing of things which is always good to see. I do hope that Manifest continues to develop it's panel stream and encourage people to participate as it was easily the best run panels room I have attended so far this year.
There was a slight problem at the event and it comes down to food. One needs food to continue to hit the pavement and water to make it through the day. These are two things that were in short supply which bewildered me somewhat as Manifest in previous years had copious amounts of drinks (esp water) at every two turns at the Melbourne Uni and food was usually scrounged by dropping a donation to FESA for a sausage in a bun. This year there were two japanese food vendors selling takoyaki, yakisoba and teriyaki chicken skewers. There was also a nicely run Maid Cafe with sandwiches, cake and drinks which did help in a pinch. However if you were just grabbing a bottle of water (and they proved to be the easiest source) it was just a tad overdone for something so simple. In terms of the other two vendors, it was edible but I do not have much more to say than that. From what I understand the food vendors were sourced by the venue and Manifest had little control over them but this is definitely something that will be improved next time.
I will say that the massive Coles supermarket opening one week after the event was a large kick to the groin. Especially with it's convenient location being just over the fence. Many of the people I spoke to started to swear when they realized it was not open yet. But it provided comedy over the course of the weekend.
Now I should talk about the main events that were run over the weekend, cosplay and fashion being the focus. Fruits cosplay was run on the Friday and Cosplay events were held on the Saturday and the Sunday. Most of the events ran well with a excellent standard of cosplayers making an appearance over the weekend, the standout for me being a Gundam Exia suit that was extremely impressive. Cosplay started late and had a massive line to get into the event on both days due to various issues. Both days suffered from a timing issue where the people earlier in the line-up could perform their entire skits while people later in the line-up were hurried quickly off the stage without even receiving a quick interview. Despite the issues there was a lot of good chatter about some of the acts and the cosplayers who participated. Ultimately while cosplay took a while to start, once the event got going everyone started to enjoy themselves.
Unfortunately running a hour over time lead to Operation Peppa Chan starting late and with tired and hungry people exiting the theater at 6pm taking off in search of food well, there was no way this reporter would be hanging around. This also meant that the AMV Extravaganza was run even later and many of the interstate AMV editors had already dissapeared off to greener pastures. Running the AMV competition late did bewilder me somewhat as AMV's continues to be the second largest event run at any convention in Australia and why wouldn't it get a prime position?
Over the course of this report I pointed out there was problems, issues and more. But for every one issue you had to get through two or three really awesome things. Sure there was a lot of wandering around aimlessly, but I was doing so in the company of awesome people (Hi to people from Team AVcon, Aicon and SMASH! You know who you are) and that always makes things more entertaining. Manifest continues to illustrate a extremely important point, conventions are what you make of them. If you go by yourself and don't interact then it doesn't work, but if you bring a pile of mates and just generally enjoy everything, it'll work out fine. And for the first time, the entirety of Melbourne's anime community could attend with over 13300 attendances by 6700 people over the weekend (approximately) and 147 people were mad enough to attend the midnight session!
So in summary, some issues didn't stop Manifest from organising the first solid enjoyable effort in years. I look forward to seeing what MOC brings next year.