Manifest 2013

by Mark Sombillo,

Manifest 2013 was held at the Melbourne Showgrounds, its home for the fifth time. And as with most homes, the air of familiarity is ever present. But just like with every home there's a mix of things that you look forward to and then things that actually give you the drive to go out. From the onset I must declare that I had a lot of fun attending Manifest this year, however it's for reasons that aren't typical.

Cosplay is ever a major event for Manifest. There was an easy interaction between the hosts in this year's competition and the quality of the cosplays was also quite well done. The overall presentation though, especially in regards to the audio-visual side wasn't anything to write home about. Still, the subdued atmosphere brought back the feeling of yesteryears when the contest was held in lecture halls and there was no expectation of a grand show; just fun interactions all around.

Anime Idol is also one of Manifest's enduring mainstays. The indefatigable host of the show put on a Scottish accent for no reason whatsoever and between that and the interaction with the contestants boasting fantastic voices, the crowd really got into the cheering. It ensured that everyone was made to feel good by giving it a go and that you were singing to a room of people that appreciated you; a cosy feeling that fellow otakus are opt to hand one another.

The traders hall was filled with the expected main players in the merchandising scene but a little more prevalent this year has been the presence of the fan traders. It was great to see original creations on sale and one of the stalls was even doing live drawings of your likeness in anime-form. The mood was that of a country town market where you meandered from stall to stall where you didn't just stop by to buy something but to actually have a casual chat with the artists and maybe even find inspiration therein.

With the inclusion of what looked like a medieval fighting arena and mixed with the panels rooms and the Hannabee maid café, the trader's hall felt like a carnival scene. Magic tricks were shown by the panellists showing just how to conjure up their creations for cosplay. The maid café can be equated to hawker food stalls where you knew you were trying things out just for the heck of it and it didn't matter what you actually ate; it was just cool to do so.

When the fire brigade had to make an appearance on Saturday to respond to an incendiary device, the organisers responded in a calm manner despite the initial confusion. No one was seriously affected though precautionary measures were undertaken. With a crowd of thousands, it was a well handled affair where everyone was able to return to the traders hall in no time at all. Despite this emergency, the Taiko drumming was told the show must go on and indeed with the sound of drums thumping, the crowd waiting outside almost felt like in a party mood.

For the entirety of the convention, the prevalence of Shingeki no Kyojin cosplays was very noticeable. It has shown that Melbourne fans are well and truly still up with the current trends and ultimately means that an anime-only convention still has a place in this city. Rather than focussing on comparing Manifest to big ticket events with all the bells and whistles, I've gone back to the past when the community was still smaller and more tight-knit. What I found was that what made Manifest great was still there somewhere but it perhaps has become buried underneath the torrents of expectations by comparing it to other cons.

Maybe this is a naïve way of looking at Manifest's conditions. Maybe this is an overly pessimistic spin to cover up the image that there have been less attendees coming in recent years or the fact the price of entry continues to go up despite the offerings being essentially the same. But even after taking into account the smoke bomb incident, there wasn't any major foul ups on the part of the Manifest committee. Maybe all this just means that Manifest has to now change our expectations and not to live up to what it isn't. With key members of the committee announcing their retirements after the convention, I think it's about time that this oldest of Australian cons now enter a new chapter but only after looking back at what it has achieved.

Thanks to Helen 'Tank' van't Hof and the rest of the team at Manifest for allowing us to report at the con.

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