San Diego Comic Con 2014by Bamboo Dong; Photographer: Matthew Downen, Jul 28th 2014
For many self-ascribed nerds, attending San Diego Comic Con is a rite of passage. Whether it's the chance to snag exclusive merchandise in the seemingly endless exhibit hall, or glimpse an A-list Hollywood celebrity from afar—in the infamous Hall H, perhaps, or quietly dining in the nearby Gaslamp District—or rubbing shoulders with some of the comic book industry's biggest rising stars, San Diego Comic Con is The nerd event of the year. Even if just registering is a Hunger Games battle worthy of Homeric epics.
Of course, SDCC's status as the ultimate geek destination also depends a lot on your interests. The average attendee likely has many passions—superhero comic books, perhaps; Adventure Time or Legend of Korra, maybe; Doctor Who or The Walking Dead; maybe Game of Thrones with a little slice of anime and manga fandom thrown in for good measure. The same people you'll see at the Sailor Moon panel can often be seen later at the Avengers panel—provided they can get into either.
But say, for the sake of argument, you're just an anime fan. Say you've done the anime circuit—big boys like Anime Expo, Otakon, and maybe some of the smaller or mid-size regional conventions, and you wanted to check out the SDCC hype for yourself. The question then becomes, is SDCC worth it for an anime fan?
For the most part, no.
Like other conventions, SDCC has its reasonable share of industry panels, for those who enjoy hearing about the latest releases and being on hand for new acquisition announcements. But given how much anime is downplayed at SDCC versus, say, the next big Marvel Cinematic Universe property (the difference in room size between a 200-seater and a 6,500-seater), many of the anime companies save their biggest announcements for AX and Otakon, which bookend the summer convention season. Those who are coming fresh from AX might even recognize a Powerpoint presentation or two, as companies rarely change their slides between shows, minus some fresh releases and a small announcement or two.
For manga fans, it's a little more plush. Companies like Udon Entertainment, Drawn & Quarterly, Kodansha USA all announced new title acquisitions, with Udon announcing a 2015 release for the manga adaptation of the fan-favorite Kill la Kill. The upside, of course, is that fans who are interested in hearing from stateside manga publishers will not only get a chance to do so, but because of the relatively small numbers of attendees who are vying for seats in these panels, there are virtually no lines. Udon, for instance, had a largely empty room—great not only for those exhausted from waiting in SDCC's endless lines (this year's Hall H lines easily numbered in the thousands, while those simply wanting to cross the street sometimes had to wait upwards of 15 minutes), but also for those eager to take advantage of SDCC's no-room-clearing policy for later panels.
Where SDCC also shines in terms of anime and manga content is their moderated round-table discussion panels, with topics like "Anime Programming in the US," "Making A Living in Manga in Japan," "Lost in Translation" (regarding the translation and localization of manga in the US), and the "Best and Worst manga" panels. (For those who missed the first three, they are transcribed in the bulk of their entirety and can be accessed from the links above.)
This year also saw a Sailor Moon panel, hosted by Viz Media. While it was a good opportunity for Sailor Moon fans who missed "Sailor Moon Day" at Anime Expo, and won't be attending the East Coast equivalent at Otakon, some attendees Tweeted sadly about not making it into the room before attendance was capped, despite waiting in a lengthy line. Those who did make it in were treated to a new English dub clip featuring Kate Higgins as Sailor Mercury and Christina Vee as Sailor Mars, and an extended clip of Usagi transforming for the first time. Those who missed the dub clips can check them out on Hulu or Viz.com. If reaction on social media and in the panel room was any indication, fans were excited to hear confirmation that indeed, the relationship between Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune would be restored.
Anime fans who can't get enough of cosplay can usually have a good time at SDCC as well, although if you're there simply to gawk, the cosplayer-to-normal attendee ratio is much lower than at anime conventions. Likewise, there is a higher percentage of film and Western comic book costumes, although that won't deter many cosplay enthusiasts, who simply enjoy the craft and the passion. Nerdist hosted a cosplay panel Friday evening, featuring cosplayers Chloe Dykstra, Holly Conrad (both who can be seen on Syfy's Heroes of Cosplay), and Jessie Pridemore, along with costumers Hilly and Hannah Hindi. Those unwilling the sit the several hours required to get into Ballroom 20 for the masquerade contest could have checked out the cosplay contest held offsite by Courtyard by Marriott, including celebrity judge Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) with a "crowning" ceremony presented by A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) author George R.R. Martin. As with many conventions, SDCC also had gatherings and photoshoots for cosplayers from specific properties or publishers, like the DC Cosplayer Photoshoot organized by the Southern California DC Cosplayers Photoshoot and the Gotham Underground, and the Borderlands cosplay meetup presented by Nerdist and hosted by cosplayer Jessica Nigri.
And of course, there's Stuff. As in, stuff to buy, and stuff to try, and stuff to watch and play with. Those wanting anime and manga merchandise, or to speak with company representatives and check out new wares could swing by booths by companies like Funimation, Viz, Dark Horse, IDW, Vertical, Del Rey, Drawn & Quarterly, EigoMANGA, Udon, and more. Those wanting to add to their figure collections could check out Bluefin, Kotobukiya, Diamond, or others. Those wanting merchandise could swing by the dozens of anime merchandise retailers. Gamers had plenty of chances to check out new games as well, with booths by the likes of Bandai Namco, CAPCOM, Konami, Ubisoft, Microsoft, and more. Then again, the vast majority of booths are dedicated to Western interests, with the show floor largely dominated by large studios. Though—a tip for anyone who's planning on battling the SDCC crowds in the future—Thursday and Sunday are the best days to wander the exhibit hall, as the crowds are the least dense and aggressive (although many of the guests signings don't take place until Friday and Saturday). By Sunday, also, any chance of getting any kind of show exclusive is out the window, as most sell out within the first day or so (or even first hour).
Programming-wise, the anime content is present, although not overflowing. Those interested can view this year's screening schedule here. While series new and old were featured, fans who want to see world premieres of new movies, shows, or dubs will likely not see them at Comic Con—that kind of programming is reserved for dedicated anime conventions, where those events not only draw an impressive audience, but also special guests from Japan like directors, artists, voice talent, and even musical guests. While Japanese industry stars do make their way across the ocean for SDCC—it is ripe ground for business meetings, after all—they are less publicized, and certainly less accessible than at dedicated anime conventions, where production staff and actors not only give panels and Q&A sessions, but also lengthy autograph sessions.
For those who just want a taste of the spectacle, though, without sinking in the time and money to go to Comic Con, there are increasingly large amounts of things to see outside of the convention center, including displays by some of the Hollywood studios, as well as large-scale advertisements for TV shows and video games.
Undoubtedly, San Diego Comic Con is worth attending if you're a fan of Western comics and Hollywood films and TV shows—and maybe even fringe interest in anime and manga. It's not without some headaches, of course—first-time registrants will find the online system brutal and unforgiving, and even with a new wristband system, those eager for a peek inside Hall H will definitely find themselves in sleeping bags outside the convention center and fighting line-cutters—but there are few events in the world where one can say, "This weekend, I saw Christopher Nolan, Mike Tyson, and Benedict Cumberbatch, and also shook hands with my favorite web comic artist, and chatted with Scott Pilgrim fans from Italy."
As an anime fan, though, which is what this all circles back to, is the kerfuffle worth your time? Perhaps not. Many would argue that these days, there are only some who profess to only be fans of manga and anime and nothing else, but for those who are, you're better off battling the crowds somewhere else besides Comic Con.
Gallery images by Matthew Downen; in-text images by Bamboo Dong
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