AM² 2012by Bamboo Dong,
For the second year in a row, AM² opened their doors to anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture fans at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. Free to all attendees, the convention focused on “Anime, Manga, Music,” offering open access to an exhibit hall, artist alley, panels, fair-styled booth games, and lounges where specific fandoms could gather, such as the “Brony Lounge,” targeted towards fans of the recent My Little Pony animated series. Fans also had the chance to participate in interactive events, such as dancing along with ladies from the maid cafe, or taking classes at “Blue Rose Academy,” an area that offered instruction in crafts, sing-alongs, and trivia. To gain access to Guest of Honor panels, special screenings, and some of the main events, though, a for-purchase AM² Passport allowed preferred access, although certain events were Passport Only, such as the concerts and meet-and-greets with the Guests of Honor.
With an attendance of almost 15,000, not counting staff, volunteers, exhibitors, or artist alley contributors, the convention was a marked success, especially given its young age. It was a large improvement from its inaugural year, in which it ran concurrently with Anime Expo, North America's largest anime convention, which was held just up the freeway in downtown Los Angeles. This year, however, whether it was due in part to the adjusted schedule (it took place two weeks before Anime Expo), or just having more experience under its belt, AM² was well-attended and full of energy, and the positive vibes were definitely noticed and appreciated. There were plenty of cosplayers at the event, and even during the main events, there were plenty of attendees milling about the premises, which made the event much more vibrant than last year. At one point, an aspiring DJ set up his equipment in the main lobby next to the registration table and entertained a growing crowd, adding to the fun, laidback atmosphere that permeated the convention.
In speaking with AM² representative Chase Wang regarding improvements with last year, he mentioned that there were three things that the convention strove to change for 2012. The first was the layout; the convention space was more condensed, leading to a "more intimate feel, with more interaction between the fans." Their programming also stressed more fan-driven programming, trying to appeal to what attendees wanted to see the most. The third was "respect and understanding towards vendors and exhibitors." Mentioning the down economy, Mr. Wang said that while the convention couldn't do anything to drive exhibit floor sales, they could do their best to "get people to see the wares, and create a friendly environment." One example he mentioned was eliminating freight costs by allowing vendors to drive their own vehicles as close as possible to their booths so that they could unload their own goods. "We wanted to take a lot of those costs away," said Mr. Wang. Looking towards next year, he wanted to remind attendees that it does cost money to run the show, and he hopes that fans will help support AM² by purchasing Passports and continuing to attend.
Although the free entry fee may have been a large part of the attendance, it may have also contributed in part to reportedly low sales in the exhibit hall and Artist Alley. Several artists mentioned that very few attendees were actually purchasing items, in comparison to other conventions they had purchased booths at. Although only speculative, some mentioned that low sales could have been as a result of the convention's target demographic, namely those interested in going to an event in which most of the events were free. Even in the exhibit hall, while there were plenty of attendees milling around, sales were low in comparison to other anime-oriented conventions.
Still, while the convention may not have been as successful for those with wares to sell, for attendees, the convention atmosphere seemed to have the right intangibles. The attendees were visibly having a good time, and the convention just felt like a comfortable place for fans to hang out with their friends. With attendance up from the first year, with careful tailoring and a critical eye for improvement, AM² could have a good future ahead of itself.
Sixh Fashion Rock Opera
One of the weekend's biggest draws was the Sixh "fashion rock opera," a fashion show backed by lead singer IBI's haunting vocals. Also the lead visionary and designer for the Sixh fashion label, IBI first started collaborating with noted gothic and lolita fashion designer Naoto Hirooka (known for the h.NAOTO label) in 2007 along with design partner MINT. IBI considers his aesthetic to be "ghost-kei," a portmanteau of "gothic" and "host”—from host and hostess clubs— although his recent runway offerings seemed to take on some punk influences. Currently, the musical side of Sixh comprises of IBI on lead vocals, MINT on bass, and guitarist NIBI.
Performing earlier this year at Anime Central, Sixh made their second US appearance early Saturday afternoon at AM². The show, for those who weren't quite sure what they were in for, was well-designed and well-produced, blending rock music with the occasional fashion modeling. The looks showcased were a bit more muted than the 2011 collection currently gracing Sixh's website, but the smartly tailored outerwear and well-styled ensembles showed a more ready-to-wear aesthetic that could very well populate the closets of those outside of the line's intended niche. In contrast to many of the fashion shows that typically dot the anime convention-sphere—typically slanted heavily towards gothic and lolita and visual kei—the Sixh show was remarkably fashion forward, and something to recommend for those interested in fashion for mass consumption.
Perhaps as a result of the fashion show's more consumption-friendly, ready-to-wear style choices, versus the decidedly more alternative and niche looks in Sixh's collections over the past few years, the energy at the event was unfortunately low. While ends of musical numbers were met with supportive applause, the event felt lackluster from an audience participation standpoint, with each look receiving only tepid applause, and attendees sitting motionless throughout what was a subjectively entertaining musical performance. It certainly was no fault of the band members, who played charismatically enough, but perhaps either the venue or content wasn't necessarily best suited for the audience.
Afterwards, the members of Sixh went back to their booth, where they willingly met with attendees and signed autographs, as well as sold some of the one-of-a-kind pieces that were showcased in the show.
Whether it was the increased attendance or the noticeably energetic vibe that rang through the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center, AM²'s second year was truly enjoyable. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, and they seemed genuinely interested in making sure all the attendees had a memorable weekend. For those there to cosplay or photograph cosplayers, there was plenty to look at. For those there to shop, the exhibit hall was well-stocked with convention staples, from DVDs and manga, to t-shirts and lolita dresses, to swords and plushes, to character merchandise galore.
While AM² still has plenty of room to grow, it was a good local show, and one can't help but want to see it succeed. It's hard not to smile at cosplayers doing the Melbourne Shuffle in front of an improvised DJ station blasting “Party Rock Anthem.” As long as people are having fun, it's a good show.
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