Manifest 2007 Full Report

by Jon Hayward, Sep 21st 2007

Manifest is the largest dedicated anime convention in Australia. Always held in Melbourne in September the event attracts over 3500 attendees over two and a half days. And surely you could be mistaken for thinking that to attract so many people it must be an absolutely fantastic weekend, right?

Friday

I received some stats before attending the convention, and 2800 pre-registration memberships were sold through the website. Roughly 1400 memberships were available to purchase at the door. Upon arriving at the convention the pre-registration line was easily five times longer than the purchase memberships line. Imagine a line over 200 meters long and five people thick. Did I mention this was well after the convention had “opened” its doors? It turned out that the registration system had a fatal flaw; printed only on paper (no computer), the pre-registration information had been sorted by registration number and not name. This caused massive delays resulting in many people waiting in line for over 2 hours. Now the Manifest Line Ride is nothing unusual, but this year was getting to be beyond a joke. Fortunately, the committee did act responsibly, and they apologized for the heavy delays through the Manifest website.

The saving grace was a local band, My 6 Cents Worth, who entertained the crowd with rock renditions of various Anime themes and their own musical compositions. While their singer couldn't quite do the vocal gymnastics that the range of songs demanded, the guitar heavy group helped take the line's mind off waiting in line. And as an added plus, the convention apparently received noise complaints because of the band's performance. Very rock and roll indeed!

So what awaited manifest attendees after waiting in line? The schedule still leaves a lot to be desired, with Friday being wasted on grabbing your convention pass. The choices being AMV's (for the few who got in on time) Anime Screenings, Video Gaming or DDR for those not already tired of standing. Otherwise there was FRUiTS Fashion at 6pm or Introduction to Yaoi at 7pm. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of bad scheduling, but it seems to be a Manifest hallmark. I did attend the AMV screening, but from what I understand the “Peppa-chan & Friends AMV screening” was AMV's that were unable to be included as part of the main AMV competition. Basically they were the ones that just didn't make the first cut, had no chance of winning whatsoever, or contained youtube footage. Seeing little else entertaining, I felt that the Friday offerings were yet another waste of time.

Saturday

I arrived at the convention in time to catch the end of the opening ceremony. They had a nice animation sequence that rounded things off by reminding attendees of the convention events. First stop of the day for me was the Zoids Customisation Room. I'm personally a sucker for kits, and I won't go into details but this feature is one of the best parts of Manifest for me. If you do go in the future I recommend checking them out. Another item of note was the Shamisen performance by Phillip Flavin. He was setup next to the Oztaku drawing room, and I will admit that I only realised later that he was a cultural event and not a busker. It was poor form to not have any setup for the event, or even go “hey, we have Shamisen” beyond what was written in the booklet. Nice idea, poor execution.

The day really started with the Manga Industry panel, chaired by Avi (from Oztaku), with Kumar Sivasubramanian (translator for Dark Horse) and James Rampant (from Monash University). They started off with introductions and then looked at the Manga industry from several angles; academic, self publishing and major publishing. This panel is usually poorly prepared but it's always entertaining, especially the large amount of discussion on paper, and had Dean Prenc (the anime brand manager of Madman Entertainment) come in late to discuss what Madman's doing with Manga… and more discussion on paper. Did I forget to mention the discussions about paper? The group did go into how distribution is handled, and depressingly, how Australia is considered to be a market that isn't worth the time from a US perspective. It was also amusing watching Avi talk about how to merchandise and work your readership without going into the basic facts of comic production such as regularity. Some good news did come out of the panel, Madman will have a full time Manga brand manager starting in October and Kumar is currently translating MPD-Psycho. Overall, the panel was definitely worth attending.

I didn't get to attend the cosplay event on Saturday, but it initially seemed organisation was better this year. The line snaked down a smaller set of stairs and out the front doors of Economics, and avoided repeating the crushing crowd of last year. The Cosplay was said to be entertaining, and Saturday had some excellent cosplayers with very high standards. Unfortunately, the event started a hour late and ran a hour over time, putting events following cosplay out by two hours. The host, Dani, probably could have assisted the proceedings by hurrying along a few cosplayers and keeping them to the time limit, but considering she has a job that can only be described as herding cats she and her team did a fairly good job… for the Saturday.

While the cosplay was on I took advantage of the quieter convention, and had a look around the vendors hall. More on the hall later. I was surprised to see that all the theatres displaying cosplay overflow were full (that's the Wood theatre, PLT and Panels). Unfortunately I didn't get exact numbers, but believe me when I say that's a lot of people. Even more surprising was the two Anime theatre streams, compacted to standing room only! Also worthy of note was the two day Samurai Pizza Cats marathon and the theatre dedicated to DDR. Both events were awesome and well attended. Sadly mid afternoon I had to head off, I did spend the majority of the day in the Zoids Customisation Room, and as I said earlier, it's my kind of fun. I also was able to check out Cosplay Chess on the way out… I'll be perfectly honest, it's not a spectator event. But the cosplayers were having fun, which is what counts.

Sunday

When I got to the convention that morning I went straight to the traders' hall. I tend to avoid the hall on Saturday due to the sheer size of the crowds. Just a little explanation on the venue for traders, this year it was in union hall, not the fantastic Wilson hall from last year. From what I understand they could not get the Wilson Hall and Old Arts and Economics at the same time. The solution was to book the buffet hall in the Union Hall. This was on the third floor, and on the Saturday was accessed from the outside by a set of steel stairs. Manifest had several volunteers on the stairs throughout the day to tell people the safe way to navigate the stairs, but on the Sunday they decided to make people walk the extra distance and take the internal stairs up to the buffet hall. Having the path detoured was not a good solution and left some people with trouble finding the hall, but it was the right call for safety.

Internally the hall was tiny compared with last year, and there was no pulling back into the middle of each “corridor” for a quick breather, so you just had to go with the flow. Combined with Melbournite's apparent lack of manners (i.e no-one moving aside a little so other people can get a look) you needed constitution and a little bit of shoving to get through the entire hall. Traders included Madman Entertainment who had the majority of DVD's and Manga available at the convention. Plastic Figurines and Kits, Plushies and general trinkets were supplied by a range of traders including Anime Anytime, Ozanimart, Tamarket and Anime Zone. All up there were about a dozen traders in total, however they were all placed on one side. As you can imagine this left the other side looking very empty. Speaking of the other traders we had Animavericks, a trader selling indie style t-shirts, Manga Arts, but sadly nothing too fantastic. The only item that wasn't really available was Manga. Why don't traders bring manga to conventions? The fans are hungry for manga sold at cheap prices. It can be done, Anime Anytime proved this last year. I do personally understand why traders dislike bringing manga, it's physically heavy and it can hard to find the right selection to sell. Madman does have a selection of Manga titles but it's currently limited. If you consider that Manga and Anime are the two main mediums that are the reason why conventions like Manifest exist, it's a little sad to see so little Manga presence in the traders' hall.

On the bootleg side of things, one trader was ejected from the convention for selling bootlegs and pirated deviantart prints. Others were told to remove bootlegs from sale. Apart from people that bought some wallscrolls before they could be removed from sale, bootlegs were not that bad this year, and sales were fairly safe for attendees, which is excellent to see. It must also be said that bootlegs can be hard to catch out, and legitimate product can appear to be bootlegs. So while it is more of an art than an exact science, Manifest caught what it could. A little more thought in layout and if possible a better venue and we will see the return of one of the best trader halls in Australia.

I did also attend the fan traders' hall, which was situated downstairs next to the main theatre. Most of the artists were not doing on the spot commissions, and there seemed to be less fan traders than last year. This could perhaps be attributed to Oztaku running their stall upstairs in the drawing rooms by the entrance. I did purchase almost every single fan comic I could find, and once I receive my copy of the fan comic “Detergent” (no prizes for guessing what anime series that parodies), I will hopefully have a review on all the fan comics. Overall though, it was basically a disappointing showing this year.

A quick note on the Hare Hare Yukai Dance Competition, what it was is a attempt to get a large amount of people to simultaneously dance along to the closing theme to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Apparently over 70 people joined in the dance to Hare Hare Yukai, there is currently no official video but you can view the attempt on you tube and there will be a official video from Madman available soon.

Next on the cards was the “Running a Anime Event” panel, I can't speak too much on it but it was great to question the convener about running Manifest. It was also very amusing to see that the room consisted of the Avcon crew, MOC volunteers and SMASH people. The most frustrating thing about this particular panel is gaining an understanding of how Manifest comes together requires. This makes writing my report harder. What was good to see is that the Manifest Communist Blob (MCB) has some direction now with a core, and a tighter mandate on proceedings. I look forward to seeing what else this quicker and more streamlined committee can do over the next year.

On Sunday I actually got into the cosplay beforehand (thanks to Sian) and got to see what was happening. It's kind of scary when the cosplayers take up a large proportion of the theatre before it's due to run. Apparently about 120 cosplayers signed up for Sunday, which is fantastic and horrifying (for me) at the same time. Sunday's event consisted of a lower quality than the Saturday and instead had several large groups placing style over substance. Fortunately, there were no on stage displays of poor form similar to what occurred last Manifest. The same could not be said for the cosplayers during the setup of the event, like several cosplayers of a group not turning up in time, but then the same group substituting several more cosplayers to replace those that did not show up. Dani was sharper with the hosting on Sunday, it could be the Franziska von Karma cosplay she was wearing (from Phoenix Wright) or it may just be that she wanted it all to be over. But regardless the result was more enjoyable for the audience.

Next up was the Anime Industry Panel, basically the Madman Panel. This will receive its own separate report later. Final event of the day was the AMV Iron Chef. The event is always amusing as Mark (the organiser) puts on a pretty good show, complete with opening from the chairman and a capsicum! Judges this year were not as entertaining, with only one of them even trying to be amusing. Thankfully the videos are always entertaining, with the contestants having to use Byousoku 5cm, Murder Princess, The Girl Who Lept Through Time and ten seconds of Naruto manga to make their videos. And that was about it, followed by a quick closing ceremony containing a plea for more MOC members to organise the event. A short video and they were done.

Summary

Manifest yet again tried very hard and almost succeeded. The Friday is severely underutilised, and the massive problems with receiving the convention badges this year is a black mark. The Manifest Line Ride was not a fun one but the band did help offset some ill will. On the flip side, this year's convention bag was more impressive and thankfully lacking in pamphlets and advertising. The included convention booklet was both readable and informative, and it seems that almost every Anime convention has adopted the AVcon standard for booklets.

I must also put a quick note in about the Anime Ball, Amaranth. I was unable to attend but I have it on very good opinion that the event was a massive success and a really fun time, with the venue being completely packed. It's good to see Manifest experimenting more with events and I look forward to seeing where Amaranth goes in the future.

Saturday was enjoyable, due to the schedule there is very little for me to personally attend and report on (leaving more time for Zoids kitbashing!) But seeing packed theatres was a surprise, and proof that if you have an anime stream worth watching, the fans will stay to slake their thirst. I did walk around the convention during cosplay again, the event didn't run as far over time as Saturday, and yet again the cosplay overflow screenings were full. Volunteering needs more work, and volunteers need to do their duty after they agree to. This is nothing new, it's just sad to see that only 30% of people who volunteer actually show up to assist. It would make the jobs of the people running the conventions so much easier if they all rocked up. But there were volunteers when they were mostly needed, and their work is to be commended. Especially in terms of a particular promotions committee member and a fairy floss machine.

Sunday is the busy day from the reporting perspective, with several panels on that must be attended. This year Manifest did have fewer events, panels and generally everything but this could be attributed to the smaller MCB. It was perhaps good that there were less panels, as the organisation both last year and this year was lacking. In the future it would be nice to see a broader range of topics and possibly some embracing of the other parts of Manifest i.e general anime / manga discussions, rather than just “we have this stuff coming out” and possibly something for the gaming aspect that Manifest tends to tuck away out of sight. Traders' halls definitely needed some more forethought in terms of layout and a there is always room for a little more training in checking for bootlegs While cosplay is a major event, the Iron Chef AMV's were the highlight of the day for me. If Manifest put as much effort into the other events as there is placed into the presentation of AMV's and cosplay you could see something fantastic occur.

Overall Manifest is a fun enjoyable convention. It still isn't “the best convention” and has several glaring faults, but it is worth attending at least once. I just hope that over the next year the MCB's core will try and steer in a direction that will result in an event worthy of the crowd of Anime Fans that it attracts.

Thanks to Eugene O'Sullivan for assistance with cosplay and some photography.
Thanks also to Avi, Dani and Mark for helping with MOC inquiries.

If you would like to see your report or gallery linked here, please either email the editor (jon at animenewsnetwork.com.au) or leave a message in this article's discussion.


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