SMASH! 2011by Mark Sombillo,
SMASH! is a bit of an oddity. We at ANN|AU love to make the analogy that the conventions in Australia are like different kinds of musical bands. From the convention report written by our Editor in Chief regarding AI Con, he made comparisons like Manifest being a classical orchestra down to AI Con itself being an upstart indie band. But that article was written in 2009 and perhaps with the proliferation of “mini-cons” and the dominance of pop-culture conventions like Supanova and Armageddon, that musical group comparison may now need revising.
Manifest is still that orchestra, playing classical pieces that are familiar but ultimately are showing their age. Animania are more your church choir group, loved by the converted but typically has to work harder to convince the cynics. AVCon and perhaps Wai-con too are more your standard RnB group that you'll hear all over the radio, still fresh and progressive, and they'll give you what you need out of a convention. Since a couple of years ago, AI Con has moved away from what you'd consider an indie band and straight on to being a retro pop group, i.e. they eternally represent how a convention starts off.
So does this mean that SMASH! is the new indie band? This is where this convention becomes an oddity. At its inception in 2007 it was a time when all the major conventions were reaching capacity and after half a decade running, they were also not exciting the fans nearly as much. In the next couple of years amidst this “depression” that also coincided with a slump in the anime industry (e.g. the collapse of ADV Films and declining DVD sales), SMASH! became this whisper in the void that somewhere out there, anime fans were still having fun. This convention is different in that not only did it survive in this environment, it seems to have become the only convention that could be considered to have gone viral. We return to SMASH! to find out if the hushed rumours had any substance to them.
I arrived at the start of the day to find the photo booth where cosplayers and even just your normally dressed con attendees came by and had their photos taken. It was a free service, despite the fact that the set up was definitely professional and was manned by photographers that have made names for themselves in the anime communities around the country. It was an interesting learning experience to see just how each photographer conducted their shoots and everyone definitely had a lot of fun.
On at the same time that morning was the AMV competition. It played in the massive main events hall and though I missed out on seeing it all, I did manage to see the entries beforehand as SMASH!'s unique way of getting fan votes is to release them online about a week before and let the internet population decide. Suffice to say, I was surprised at not only the fantastic quality of videos they attracted but also at the amount that was submitted.
After this I moved downstairs to have a gander at the traders' hall but not before making a detour first at the registration lines. Talking to some attendees who pre-registered, the line was apparently quite long even up till 10AM but by the time I got there it was essentially just a trickle. When I finally entered the hall it was plain to see just why the convention had long lines to begin with. There was hardly space to move about despite the room being quite big. The place was filled with a generous representation of commercial and fan traders as well as industry representatives. It's reminiscent of the AVCon traders' hall in how it had the video games section against one of the walls; the difference being that there was less emphasis on video games here compared to its South Australian counterpart.
I headed back upstairs to check out the Shinichi “Nabeshin” Watanabe panel in the main hall and typical of his namesake, found him in cosplay as the famed Excel Saga character and dishing out hilarity as well. A criticism I have at this stage is for the translator on stage who, though may be fluent in Japanese, may not have been as proficient in English and as a consequence a few mistranslations from both directions was apparent. Around the back of the hall were various smaller rooms and the first of these that I circled towards was the karaoke room which featured non-stop singing escapades all day. Up next was the panel room which as I passed by accommodated the Advance Sewing class. The last room held the Bandai model kit workshop which proved to be popular all day long. The line to get in never died and why would it when participation meant you get your own Gundam model kit.
The next section I visited was the art panel and gallery room which perhaps is the part of the convention where you could most see the con's roots. As I entered, there were some guest speakers doing their spiel on the Sydney art industry and how it related to the anime fan culture. At the back of the room was the drawing competition besides a wall filled with fan art. This convention was born with an emphasis on artists, like Doujicon did and it's nice to see that it hasn't forgotten this like the other conventions which at best only give a wall in some far flung corner for artists to display their creativity in. As I headed out, I also made a quick entry into the maid and host café which also seemed like another hit as entry into it was hotly sought after by attendees.
Just before lunch, I made my way to the Madman panel where they made the usual round of announcements of the titles they were releasing as well as the new acquisitions they've made. The second half of the day was predictably dominated by the cosplay competition. The three hosts opened up with a hip hop song that ensured the show got off to an amusing start. Unfortunately the trio proved to be somewhat disjointed and repetitive and as the show neared its end, the interviews of the contestants got shorter and shorter as they realised they were running out of time. That said, the quality of the costumes on stage were quite alright and a few of the skits were even moving or just downright pee-your-pants funny. Ultimately it was a good show.
The last events in the schedule that I attended were the announcement of the AMV winners and the awards ceremony. As the day waned, I made one last lap around the convention centre just to soak in the final moments and joined everybody as we were greeted outside by Sydney's twilight skyline.
And that was it. No midnight run, no second day, nothing else to look forward to unless you were attending the Eminence concert later that night. There's no doubt in my mind that SMASH! is a major convention in its own right but above everything else that separates it from the other conventions in this country, it's this aspect of it, to be held only over one very packed day that represents its greatest uniqueness. This set up has the obvious hindrance of possibly leaving fans hanging but given the correspondingly cheaper ticket prices, fans should know what they're getting. Over-crowding can also become an issue as more fans opt to just cram themselves in this one day which was exhibited quite well by the bottleneck that formed near the escalators but thankfully the convention centre seemed to have held well enough.
So where does that leave us with our band analogy. I definitely do not think that SMASH! can be described as an indie punk band that has no real direction other than to play as many gigs as it can to get exposure. No, quantity is not what this convention is about. SMASH! is a diva, a star in the Australian convention circuit. It may only present you with a short performance but it is nonetheless sure to be memorable. It ticks all the requirements of a successful major convention with the brevity and feeling of cosiness that you might get with a mini-convention. Maybe in this day and age with the oversaturation of conventions in Australia, we should all be taking note of how SMASH! operates and why it will be an event to keep returning to. I know I will!