Supanova Melbourne 2009

by Mark Sombillo, Apr 14th 2009

Coming back to Melbourne for a second time, Supanova is the premiere pop culture convention in the country representing all the various forms of hobbies and entertainment media that many of us enjoy like video games, comic books, fantasy and sci-fi and of course anime and manga. Here you will find fans of all ages who can tell you why there are different coloured lightsabres, or show you a cool finishing move in the latest Street Fighter game, all the way up to those who can assure you that Mudkip is the best Pokémon in the world. In short, this is where fun lives.

At least that's what it's supposed to be anyway but like any other event of its kind and particularly of its size, there is never any guarantee that everything will go according to plan. Arriving at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, its home in Victoria, I set about with one goal in mind; to find out if Supanova 2009 is indeed fun. Oh and to see if I can save the Cheerleader.

Saturday

The Supanova website just screams of fun the way it's chockfull of information and graphics all meant to let the visitors know what's going on. It's an organised chaos with a lot of contrasting colours and arrangements complementing their logo which, incidentally exhibits a starburst behind the text. It really does feel like something is about to explode. So it was always going to be a bit of a let down initially when we arrived to find that lightning wasn't splitting the skies above nor were the expo's gates guarded by robots shooting lasers from their eyes. However the moment passed and I realised that the clear blue skies, delightful attendees and the orderly management of shows and the crowd was something to be thankful about.

I began circling the things in the program guide that I needed to see as soon as we got our weekend passes and show bags. First up for the day; the Vic Mignogna Q&A panel. Undoubtedly one of the big names in the anime English dubbing industry, Vic was here this year not only to visit the fans but also to premiere a couple of the new titles he has been involved in, of particular note is the popular series Ouran High School Host Club as well as promoting some of his work in music. Having been a voice actor for many years and having had his fair share of convention appearances, it came as no surprise that he easily won the crowd over with unadulterated charm and amusing stories of his career thus far. As a finale, he had planned to show a music video of one of his more loved songs “Soldier A”, however some technical difficulties apparently meant he was only able to show the video without the vocals. That didn't faze him however as he treated the crowd to a live performance ending in a rapture of applause.

Next in our itinerary were the Cosplay events however these were scheduled for later in the day so we took this opportunity to have a wander at the trader's hall. First thought that came to mind was how much more space there was here compared to last year. The building was the same but this time around the Madman Anime Theatre was moved to a separate hall in another location. Not only did this mean that the traders had more room to spread themselves around, it also meant you didn't have a stream of attendees trying desperately to get a seat at the back of the hall for the current event. This made me feel somewhat that the crowd volume in the expo in general wasn't as thick as last year. Whether this is due to just having spread the attendees out a bit more or a real reduction in numbers, I couldn't tell, but breathing space is always welcome.

The major event of the day was definitely the Madman National Cosplay Championships. Organised to be a roaming contest jumping from convention to convention around the country, the winners of the competitions will be invited to attend the grand final in Melbourne later in the year with the grand prize being a trip to Japan. On top of sewing sessions to create fantastic costumes lasting months, the competitors also then had to perform on stage to exemplify their characters further. There were only five contestants this time around, illustrating just how fierce the competition was; definitely not a competition for the uninitiated. With that in mind, it was then not surprising to see quality cosplays on stage, though I have to admit I don't think these cosplayers put forward their best yet. I can only imagine that we will see some truly inspirational creations as we reach the finals in months to come, but for now, at least from the fan's point of view, the first episode of the Madman National Cosplay Championships was an entertaining success.

The normal cosplay competition followed soon after and this was where the majority of the convention's cosplayers participated in. As expected, this competition had a lighter air to it where first time and experienced cosplayers all had fun on the same level. This was helped by the wonderful host John Robertson. Remarkably witty and patiently understanding of the various nuances of the geek world, he provided for one heck of a show that just never became boring. In fact, he made short work of an otherwise dull moment in the competition when a technical glitch happened during which he interviewed the cosplayers and audience, played the ukulele and brought in a guinea pig puppet whose performance unfortunately had to be cut short as the show had to go on. There were definitely more than enough entrants this year to fill the timeslot the competition was given, which was very nice to see.

As the show wound up, we made a quick pass at the trader's hall once more and had a brief glimpse of the panel by Katee Sackhoff; one of the stars of Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman. Lastly we soon discovered that the autograph and photo lines for the guest stars of the expo had thinned to a very comfortable level and one of our crew just couldn't pass up the chance to meet Hayden Panettiere, a.k.a. Clair “The Cheerleader” Bennet from the TV series Heroes. After a photo opportunity that ended with a lot of amazed smiles, we began the trek home during which I tried to come up with a verdict of the expo thus far but I decided that would have to wait till the next day.

Sunday

The Madman anime theatre as expected screened some of their latest release titles throughout the weekend and it was a fantastic way to just sit down and catch your breath from all of the excitement of meeting your favourite stars or finding that rare merchandise, while at the same time be treated to a good show. This was where we found ourselves heading towards on yet another beautiful morning but not with anime on our minds. Enamoured by the previous day's events, we decided we couldn't pass up the Hayden Panettiere Q&A panel. This was arguably just a pretty face talking on stage, not like the full on entertainment experience we had in the Vic Mignogna panel, but nevertheless it was one more item to tick off the list of geek life goals.

It was midday before we left the panel. Normally lunch would have been the next item of the day however we had actually eaten before arriving at the convention. Most likely through venue imposed restrictions as well as the fact that the Showgrounds were quite far from the nearest cheap eateries, convention goers had no choice but to dine at the in house café. The food was not remarkably good but it was nevertheless probably at least twice as expensive as you'd expect from your local fish n' chips shop. Why am I talking about food in an expo? Simply, it's because it was a big negative to everyone's experience. Being stuck in a line for a good dozen minutes because everyone flocked there certainly didn't help temperaments either, heck it was quicker to get through the registration lines than to get a sausage roll. A good service that was added to the facilities from last year was an ATM, which funnily enough I believe ran out of money before the weekend was out, possibly from the overpriced food, who knows (it was located within the café).

All up though, besides some niggling issues, the Showgrounds still proved to be a good location to hold Supanova. A huge plus this time around was employing a separate entry point for vehicles around the back of the buildings. This meant that unlike last year, you no longer needed to have staff directing traffic and pedestrians as well as the obvious safety improvement. The trek from the city where a lot of people came from was still quite substantial whatever kind of transport you took. Extrapolating from last year's big number of people who came and how it seems like they attracted just as many this time around, the issue of transport may not be a big one after all to the diehard fans. There also seems to have been bigger attention paid to anime which I might pay to Madman's credit. Some news items and events throughout the weekend point out to Madman keen on listening to what fans want and we can only hope more exciting things come out of the works in the near future.

That said, the trader's hall was however slightly lacking in anime merchandise. Tamarket and Madman were the dominant stalls as always but I could count maybe only two or three others that you would consider as catering for the anime fans. But I suppose I can't say that it was only anime that was lacking in things you could buy; I couldn't even find one Force FX Lightsabre on sale when once there would have been three places selling them. What there were more of were information booths and demonstrations. I suppose I can be thankful at least that I didn't have to part with my money, but in these tough economic times, I would have at least wanted the opportunity to help stimulate the country's finances back up, or at least that's the excuse I go by when I get the urge to purchase yet another cute figurine.

The most important event of the day for many of us anime fans was of course the Madman panel, hosted by Sly. Before the weekend, I had hoped to come to the Madman panel mainly because it was the respectable anime correspondent thing to do but on the Saturday and a little sneakily on anime forums, there was word in the wind of some big news about to be revealed on this day and from that point onwards, my interest was piqued down to the level of a kid wondering what Santa has in store for him. And boy was Santa generous this year. There were the usual announcements of the titles that Madman was releasing like Ouran High School Host Club as well as new acquisitions such as Gurren Lagann and finally going into production of blu-ray titles, spearheaded by the original Transformers movie.

They paled in comparison though to the news that Madman has earned the rights to screen the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series, firstly live in Supanova Brisbane the following week and then a couple days later every week for the rest of the season streamed from the Madman website. This will be the first time in Australia that we have experienced anything like this. Websites like Crunchyroll have offered similar services for some time now with shows like Naruto, however to avoid spoilers you would have had to ignore internet discussions on latest episodes a week or more after it is screened in Japan as the earliest releases are only available to American homes. Since Madman's announcement, other companies and TV stations around the world have also released news of doing the same thing, but as far as one can see it, Madman's release will be ahead of anyone else's. Now it's our turn to discuss the spoilers!

To close off the day, we stayed around for the Sunday Cosplay competition were once again much hilarity and fun was had by all. In fact, I might be even be so bold to say that this weekend's lot of cosplay events were some of the best run I've ever seen. Hence, our day ended on a high note and at last we rode off into the sunset.

Summary

I liked it. Supanova was fun.

There wasn't a singular major thing or issue that really detracted from the enjoyment of the expo. Sure, there was the food debacle but more than likely, short of moving to another venue, this was not something Supanova had much control over. Though the merchandising department may not have been as good as one would hope, it was compensated by having a bit more in the way of things to experience. Basically it was hard not to find at least one thing to enjoy. There were reports of some individual being hauled away by police for having very questionable merchandise for sale but to me this is more of a positive in the way of the convention being responsible to its fans and the community. Prevalent convention issues like a shortage of volunteers occurred, but judging from an attendee's point of view, these weren't as apparent.

Perhaps it's come down to experience and judging what events or items to come and visit or maybe just plain luck that I didn't wander to a boring panel. It could also of course be that there was genuinely enough material to keep fans entertained wherever they turned. However it broke down to, one thing was clear to me; once more Supanova Melbourne 2009 was a success in its own right, with or without the robots shooting lasers out of their eyes.

Thanks a lot to the Supanova staff for being so accommodating. I would also like to thank my camera guys Jai and Sorrell who alternated during the weekend to help me capture the moments.


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