@Con 2011

by Mark Sombillo,

Way out west, Perth hosts Wai-con and Supanova. Adelaide has AVCon and Armageddon. Down south, Hobart has AI-Con and another Armageddon. Brisbane has Supanova and two renditions of Animania. Sydney, of course, has more variations of Animania and then Supanova and Armageddon. Melbourne hosts Armageddon, Manifest, Minifest, Supanova and Animania. That amounts to about 18 conventions a year, with dozens of mini gatherings and cultural events that incorporate promotion of anime fandom.

Now there's @Con (derived from A.T.-con or Anime Traders Convention), a new off-shoot convention brought to you by the guys from Manifest. Arguably, anime fandom is at a high, but it can be said that it hasn't been as profitable as in the past economically. How does the introduction of another convention, one which has both economic and fan related objectives, in a country saturated with them affect the playing field? We attended the one day convention to see if we can figure out an answer.

@Con was held in the University of Melbourne, as many other Manifest events were in the past, but this time they used a relatively new building outside of the main campus precinct. The classical architecture that was often adored by cosplayers for their photo shoots was replaced by modern facades and a main events theatre that looked like a starship bridge or a sterile meat grinder, depending on your imagination. The events were split into three levels; traders and main events in the basement, more traders and registration in the ground floor and auxiliary events like video games on the first floor.

As "traders" were the primary focus of this convention, we proceeded downstairs first to check them out. @Con was designed to be a companion convention to Minifest, which is held in the coming months. Minifest has always been a way of thanking the previous year's volunteers and is geared solely towards the fans. It had no trader presence until its merger with Doujicon last year, but even then, no big name commercial traders were available, only art traders. @Con was brought into line to address this gap and satiate the shopaholic side of being an otaku.

Straight off the bat, I can say that it was disappointing. For a convention that's meant to be about traders, it seemed to be a bit thin with them. Indeed, there were two or three tables set up for traders ending up as no-shows. Big names like Madman were unrepresented. According to some long time fan traders who chose not to get a table, table prices were atypically high. Coupling this with the fact that this is a one day event and hence would logistically be uneconomical, it's not hard to understand trader hesitation to sign up.

Speaking to some committee members, the break even point of the convention was around the 500 attendee mark. With the final tally at over 700 attendees, @Con was a success at least where fan numbers are concerned. This was plain to see as people congregated and barely contained squeals when they found cosplayers in characters they adored, or found friends they only encounter during conventions. The day gave the anime fans of Melbourne yet another opportunity to make memories and new friends, with much fun and frivolity to tide them over until the next convention.

The main events included a cosplay parade, Iron Artist and karaoke. They were reasonably well attended and ran smoothly enough; Manifest staff have long experience in running these kinds of events by now and it would be hard for them to mess up. They can't be considered premier events which you'd normally expect from full conventions, however, though perhaps that's expecting too much for 6 to 7 hours of scheduling.

And therein lays the crux of the matter. The major conventions have expanded and moved to bigger and better venues, but they have all remained the same at their cores. @Con is the first in recent years to try offering a new(ish) angle to a population of anime devotees which, over a decade, has probably seen and done it all now. The general vibe beforehand was that @Con was going to be the same as any other convention, but the hype that the organising crew tried to peddle us seemed to indicate otherwise. So when people attended the convention and found it to meet only their barely-floating expectations, it becomes very easy to lump it into the "optional viewing" basket rather than "the must see events of the year". In truth, there was more fun had by the attendees by themselves than what was provided by the convention. The only difference between them organising their own get togethers and coming to @Con is that to get in, they had to pay for it.

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