AiCon 2009 Report

by Jon Hayward,

Anime conventions can be compared to bands, metaphorically speaking of course. You have Wai-Con in Perth which are like a pop band i.e. gaining a larger fan base all the time with competent well done catchy music. Manifest are like a chamber orchestra, they're large and you know that they should sound fantastic but the individual musicians cannot decide on how to tune their instruments and the conductor cannot control the group. AVCon are the quintessential pub band, loud brash and fun but you always know what you're going to get, and usually that involves getting drunk. The Anime Island convention (AiCon) in Tasmania are the indie upstart, a small and dedicated following who doesn't care that they make a few mistakes along the way, but no-one knows who the hell they are. And here I was in Hobart to figure it out.

This is most of AiCon's committee, no joke. Can you spot the Anime critic?

At first sight AiCon doesn't look like much, I quickly found out that they had a small and dedicated committee and only 15 volunteers. For a con that pulls in about 400 people that seemed like way too few and on the day it was worse with only half the volunteers turning up but these few volunteers proved to be worth their weight in gold. The venue they use is the University Centre at the University of Tasmania, a labyrinth venue involving a main theatre, panels theatre, screening theatre, studio theatre for cosplay events (or as I coined it, the cosplayer pit), traders hall and the gaming / arts area. All this over three compact levels, this wasn't much of a problem but the screenings theatre was at the very top of the convention, kind of ostracized and the audio from the main theatre leaked through to the other theatres.

Con wise, it opened on time with about 20 people riding the line ride and the convener holding a countdown to opening the doors. It's fantastic to see the small touches like this, helping get the attendees into the spirit. Unfortunately the traders hall was a disappointment due to traders paying and then not attending the convention. Transreality, Area 52, Madman Entertainment and two others. This was not helped by the spare tables being left out, but with all the volunteers being busy running the actual convention it's understandable.

What we don't do is take decent photos.  

Saturday started out with the Madman panel, no new announcements but a Q+A write-up will be out soon. The Ann|AU panel was again well attended, thanks to everyone who came along but the con didn't really start until Cosplay. But damn is Cosplay something AiCon goes all out on, the competition having a couple of stellar entries. The interesting this is that they still use a judging panel that asks the cosplayers questions, the panel themselves adding to the entertainment and it really worked for this smaller focused event.

In fact, this was a theme for much of AiCon, they do things the old way, smaller and in many cases more personal to the individual attendees. I cannot stress enough how refreshing it was to attend a smaller convention, the attendees and the staff were fantastic and friendly reminding me in many ways of when I first attended AVCon. Sure I may have offered some assistance and even served drinks a couple of times, but hanging around and interacting with the people who run and attend this convention is a lot of fun, and that was the opinion I received from the attendees as well.

Pictures that were in the Tournament of Win courtesy of the tamed art monkey.

Actually, let's take a moment to talk about the speciality of AiCon, their competitive spirit. Three quiz style events (Tournament of WIN, AVCon quiz night and Tentacles and Mechs), a pile of gaming competitions, cosplay of course, art, AMV. Just by rocking up you had a massive selection of events to enter with a great chance of winning. Audience participation is the key to AiCon, with a pile of encouragement and many opportunities to get involved. And speaking of the competitors the two major groups competing were sets of school friends, that's awesome to see! In fact with the majority of attendees being 16 to early twenties it's a really encouraging environment, something which I personally think they should capitalise on in the future.

The Tentacles and Mech show was two teams of three battling it out Spicks and Specks style on a variety of topics, nothing unusual really but when the audience wins compared to the two teams it makes for a very amusing show. The other thing that AiCon specialises in is theatre sports. They had cosplay and fruits fashion and added to that was Cosplay Mystery Date and Thank Kami you're Here! The former is exactly as it sounds, cosplayers in character are asked questions by a character seeking a potential partner. Simple to execute and fun all round. Unfortunately "Thank Kami you're Here!" wasn't as nice and clean, one random cosplayer was thrown into a skit with a cast in a set scenario i.e. Akito from AirGear trying to drive a car containing Zorro (One Piece), Yachiru (Bleach) and Light (Death Note) to rescue Ikki, naturally hilarity ensued. But the main complaint was that the skits dragged on a little too long, this is inherent in the entire convention but timing is a very fine and mysterious art.

The gaming room was pretty basic with all the bases covered, but being one of the few rooms that had working AiCon made it a welcome respite. To my surprise the Pokémon card game is quite popular there and half the gaming room was taken with people selling and organising tournaments and games. This is brilliant and with the other conventions only starting to take advantage of local tournament groups we will be seeing more of this in the future. Video gaming tournament wise the competition was all at an average level making many of the matches tightly fought at a casual level meaning anyone can pick up and play in a great atmosphere.

Now art is the other area which I felt AiCon stood out. While there was no art traders the art area had a decent group working away almost the entire convention with a broad range of talent. It's been odd in recent years to see art taking a little of a back step especially during the convention but the local artists were a blast to chat to and were doing some quality pieces.

On the Sunday I did attend something very weird, a panel titled “Anime at University” which I originally believed would be the local clubs talking about themselves. I pleasantly found that it was two PHD students and a lecturer talking about Asian studies at the University of Tasmania and the opportunities that can present themselves for people who would like to study topics associated with anime and manga. There is more to what we do than the video and books we consume and more academic perspective is welcome within Australia. Definitely got my brain fired up on the Sunday morning.

And now to the biggest fault of the convention, AiCon was a one day convention put across two days. They only had three streams of content, anime screenings, panels / gaming and main events. There was a lot of gaps in the main theatre, panels and studio theatre, events alternated between the main theatre and the studio theatre due to the studio theatre having a changing room which was ideal for the theatre sports. I was bewildered that anime or other things were not being screened in the main theatre as whenever the studio theatre was being used the main theatre was neglected. Also the content on the Sunday was thin on the ground and I ended up staying just so I could attend the closing ceremony.

Cosplayer Pit: There can only be one.  

But what a closing ceremony, it was a gathering of people who had attended the convention and were happy to be there. Special mention to the trained art monkey who used his skills and a camera projector to pop up humorous sketches through the event and keep people entertained as the convener tried to wrap his mind around finishing this great endeavour. Oh and for something completely different everyone who attended the convention through the weekend was always reminded they could join in the after party at the local pub. AiCon had its flaws but it delivered a solid friendly event and will continue to improve as it builds the local anime scene in Tasmania. To be honest, I will definitely go again and I don't think you can have a better result than that.

The absurdity of this photo is only topped by the expressions in this one.

Ed's Note: I would just like to take a moment to thank the AiCon committee for making the event enjoyable and our stay in Hobart fun, if only that blasted wooden boat festival wasn't on >.<

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