Manifest 2012by Mark Sombillo,
The 13th rendition of Manifest has come and gone and we visited the Melbourne Showgrounds with the typically pessimistic Melbourne weather forecast making us wary of how the weekend would turn out. There's been many things that have happened surrounding Manifest prior to this weekend and suffice to say, the general atmosphere in the social media was as sullen as the predicted weather. Regardless we still attended with the hope of seeing a bit of the magic that made Manifest the best convention in yesteryears.
We came late on Friday evening to see the last of the AMV Extravaganza. This is where AMVs that were submitted to Manifest gets shown, including the winning entries. Amaranth, the convention's ball also occurred this night and reports from attendees indicate it was an enjoyable enough affair. All in all, Manifest Friday opened up in good strides but the next day is always going to be when Manifest really gets started.
The conditions were indeed blistery as we entered the showgrounds in the morning. The first thing that we had to do was familiarise ourselves with Manifest's new layout. It is reminiscent of the first year they came to the showgrounds but this time placed all the traders, video games, panels, card games and gundams into the extra large Exhibition Pavilion. The good thing about this new arrangement is that now all of the buildings that Manifest occupied were next to each other. Better yet, their proximity and the larger floor space within the buildings meant people could be indoors and not be exposed to the elements.
The Hanabee industry panel was the first big event we attended. Here they announced their upcoming line-up as well as the exciting new acquisitions they've got happening in the coming months; the title that we personally got excited about is Ef: A Tale of Memories (And Ef: A Tale of Melodies will be coming out aswell - Ed). Being the latest guys in the industry, the most interesting part of the panel was actually the questions and answer session at the end. Everyone was quite interested to know not only what they were going to release but also about the company itself and for a lack of a better word, the company's “personality”. In that respect Eric and the gang did marvellously in convincing us that they were a company to watch out for and that their releases are in good hands.
Just a bit outside the panels room was the Hanabee maid café hosted by DokiDoki Station. It is perhaps the grandest maid café to grace Manifest's grounds. There was always a line stretching out from its front door, never dissipating even when popular events like the cosplay competition were going on in other parts of the convention. Inside it was modelled in the theme of Hanabee's premiere title release, Toradora!. Friendly maids served good food by La Petite Creperie. Their cheery service, mixed with a photobooth at the back where you can take pictures of your experience with the maids reminds me most closely of how these cafes are run in Japan back when I visited there. In essence, it wasn't just another place to eat, but actually something to add into your list of Manifest favourite memories.
Guest signings by voice actors Rachel Robinson, Stephanie Young, Darrel Guilbeau and John Swasey occurred in the morning as well as later in the day. In perhaps one of the more serious failing of the Manifest organisers this year, it certainly felt like a missed opportunity to give fans out there more reason to attend Manifest when so little time, if any at all, was devoted to actually making everyone aware they were coming. In a scene were celebrity pulling power seems to be the new game changer such a line up would have definitely gotten people excited.
The morning was waning when we arrived this day and though it was noticeably more overcast, the warmer temperature (15 glorious degrees) and lack of biting wind definitely helped give the whole con a more relaxed feel to it. The also noticeably thinner crowds roaming around the grounds contributed to this atmosphere and as the day progressed, the more subdued pace never really picked up.
Madman held its panel around noon where it was greeted by a sizeable host of fans that seemed larger than any panel crowd I've seen in quite some time at Manifest. It was not unexpected given the number of new acquisitions that they unveiled today. Titles that got a good response from the attendees were Code Geass: Akito the Exiled and Rurouni Kenshin: Shin Kyoto-Hen, though a personal highlight was the announcement that Star Driver (and Oreimo) were set to be shown on TV in the coming months. Prizes were given away in the traditional game of rock-paper-scissors at the end of the show rounding up another successful Madman panel.
We wandered off to the Boulevard Hocker building afterwards for some food. This used to be the traders halls previously but was converted this year as the standing room area for Manifest where people lined up in the back for registration or for food stands of the standard kinds you find in festivals. You couldn't really complain for having food stalls offering hot chips and fried chicken but perhaps there ought to have been more Japanese food made available. The “line ride” may have been a bit overestimated this year but this building certainly felt under-utilised at times with just how massive it was. On Saturday it hosted a DJ that played music and let people dance through some popular internet memes but today even the sparse number of seats were only half occupied.
The cosplay competition was the next item on schedule and as per usual with Manifest having done this many times before now, the format was sound and the entertainment was delivered without exception. It may not be set up like the amphitheatres of convention centres that other intestate cons used but I do have to give full credit for their very professional camera and lighting set up and a sound system that just blew everyone away.
This audio and video set up definitely helped to make the AMV Iron Chef, the last event we attended on the day, to 'pop' just that little bit more. The judges, as has become tradition, were the special guests which really gave the show a reality-TV feel and added an extra dimension of enjoyment. It was however a bit dulled down by flakey hosting and event choreography. As the contest reached its end and the scores needed to be tallied up, there was a bit of a kerfuffle as to what to do next to keep the crowd from losing interest. Somewhat even more unwieldy was how the judges eventually took on the role of being hosts as they announced who the winners were. Thus the day ended and Manifest was over for yet again another year.
As a reputable online news source, we here at Anime News Network AU are hesitant to propagate information without substantiated sources. We couldn't get an official attendee count from the committee before we left the con but the persistent rumour was that for the first time in the history of the anime scene in Australia, the numbers may have actually gone down. Rumour or not, just by personal observation, you do get this feeling that there were less people. Maybe blame the worse than usual weather forecasts or even attribute it to people spending more of their time indoors but it never really felt crowded when you walked out on the grounds anymore like I used to remember.
There were a multitude of other issues throughout the weekend too. These include the panels room being a bit too bright for the projection system to cope and the constant announcement in the hall interrupting the panellists. There was also a recently erected fence that seem to serve no purpose other than to make people waste energy walking the extra 10 minutes from the tram stop to get to the registration lines (which we were later advised was something the showgrounds organisers put up). Of course there was also the schedule which was only released on the day of the convention itself, and of all places, to be found only in the Manifest Facebook page. Many other problems cropped up and one could argue that these are things that aren't exactly new to Manifest given how long it's been running now. More worrying, and saddening too, is that the organisers seem to have really put marketing of the convention as fairly low in their priority list.
Let me lay it out straight; despite the things that went wrong with Manifest this year, there were actually more things that the committee did right. The bigger halls were utilised very smartly and perhaps with a few tweaking may actually prove to be the winning formula for Manifest to keep following from now on. Food was plentiful and indoor areas with tonnes of seating space really helped make things convenient. As far as the events were concerned, they all ran without hitch and you got what you expected out of it. Finally, a bigger line up of celebrities this year has proven that it can still tough it out there in the over-saturated convention scene of Australia.
And here lies the heart of the matter. No matter how well you might pull off a convention, if you didn't market it effectively and get the attendee numbers, it definitely is not going to be as appreciated as you'd like. Manifest is big; once upon a time, it was the biggest player out there but the playing field has changed and the only way to keep up is to redouble your efforts. With a volunteer workforce who has to earn their living outside of Manifest however, the effort required may mean a paid personnel or a PR group is the only solution. If it hasn't been clear to the Manifest committee since 3 years ago that this festival is well and truly a big business then let's hope it is now. Otherwise the spark that kept this convention in 2012 shining will be snuffed out and our lives just that bit gloomier as a consequence.
To end in a more positive note however, it is good to see the anime industry in the country still experiencing some growth. Anime is practically mainstream when it comes to children's line ups on TV these days and having Madman Entertainment, Siren Visual and now Hanabee around and bringing us titles means these kids have a lot to look forward to as much as we in our adult lives have been enjoying the ride.
Lots of thanks to Ron Ha for the extra photography work and to Helen Vant Hof and Daniel Johnson of the Manifest committee for helping us in for the weekend.
Manifest 2012 Gallery
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