2001 - A Year in Review: The Cons

2001 - A Year in Review: The Cons

By Mikhail Koulikov

As 2000 came to a close, many fans were firmly convinced that anime cons had finally reached a crisis stage. The controversy and rumors that Anime Expo 2000 generated sent shockwaves through the entire North American anime community. So for a while, the future looked if not outright bleak, then certainly confusing and shrouded in darkness and uncertainty. There was nothing left to do, thought, but start the new year, and see what would happen next.

Probably the major feature of the 2001 con season was the growth of conventions to far beyond expectations. Anime Expo 2001 - now at a new location - topped the list, with 13,000 people attending. (34% increase from the previous year). The growth rate for the East Coast's major convention (Otakon) was similar - a 37% increase - and it broke the 10,000-attendee border as well. Other conventions, both mid-size and smaller local ones also had similar experiences.

Another continuing trend was the exploration of new and previously untapped markets. The year's first convention, OhayoCon (Cleveland, OH), was a first-year convention in a region that had never previously had an anime convention. Other cities that suddenly found themselves hosting homegrown conventions included Richmond; Boston; Merrimack, NH; San Francisco; and - finally - New York City.

While anime festivals and other small-scale events have been held in the City before, the Big Apple Anime Fest was a different sort of beast altogether. Massive industry support, "respectable" corporate sponsors, venues which included not only hotels but also clubs, the Virgin Megastore, and the Japan Society all contributed to showing how an anime convention could be run without being stereotypical.

Another trend that manifested itself - whether people liked it or not - was diversification. Science fiction and fantasy conventions have been diversified for decades: Star Trek, Star Wars, dozens of other fandoms. And anime fans always make it a rule to state the anime is a medium, not a genre - and as a medium, it encompasses quite a lot of different things. So instead of just lumping everything that is anime together, 2001 brought us a ShoujoCon on the East Coast, a YaoiCon on the West, at least two separate groups of fans exploring running a HentaiCon, and a noble, if ultimately unsuccessful, effort to run a convention focusing on anime-inspired videogames. And Katsucon 2002, planning for which took place throughout the year, has decided to focus largely on the "old-school" anime titles from before the times of the current generation of fans.

2001 was also the year of endings. Katsucon finally outgrew its Arlington, VA location…and decided to move to Baltimore for the 2002 convention. Immediately, rumors - largely unfounded - were raised of a "competition" or showdown between it and Otakon. Fine fodder for webcomics, maybe, but by no means the reality. Another East Coast convention - NekoCon - underwent a round of staff reorganization immediately after the conclusion of its 2001 run. And Shoujocon, started in 1999 as not much more than a dream that worked beyond people's wildest expectations, made a major step towards respectability with the establishment of a parent organization, the Shoujo Arts Society.

Yet another major event, although not noticed by many people, was announced at Anime MidAtlantic. That cons compete is almost a given. But conventions cooperating is a far rarer sight - which is why the announcement that Anime MidAtlantic, NekoCon and Katsucon were entering a formal alliance signaled what may be a new direction in convention politics. The cooperation - previously implied but now formalized - encompasses sharing expertise, equipment, possibly personnel; allows for easier cross-marketing, and generally makes life easier for everybody involved - staff, industry, and most importantly fans. However, whether the East Coast's lead will be picked up by the rest of the country still remains to be seen.

Cons are cons, and anime is anime, but they both exist in the larger world. And this year found America attacked, hurt grievously, and within another month, at war. Needless to say the effect on cons has been profound. Anime Weekend Atlanta, scheduled to be held in close proximity to the nation's busiest airport less than a month after 9-11 went on, despite concerns and fears. Went on because it had to, because fans needed it. Because as cliché as it now sounds, we couldn't afford to stop living. NekoCon went on as well, but was arguably affected more severely. It is traditionally held in the Tidewater area of Virginia, which is home to a major concentration of U.S. military personnel. And this time around, while the lot of us were sitting in the video rooms watching our Gundam's and Evangelion's, several staffers - and probably dozens of potential attendees - were actively engaged "somewhere in Afghanistan" or deployed in adjacent waters. Since it is a first-year convention, no real data are available, but some people who attended the BAAF (held in New York City on the same weekend as NekoCon) claim that the convention was not nearly as well-attended as its organizers would have liked - though this may be part of a general country-wide trend.

2002 will probably bring more changes to the face of organized anime fandom in America. What these changes will be, it is probably too early to predict. Hopefully, they will be for the better. In the meanwhile, though, what we are left with is another 12 months of fun memories - and sad memories, too - but memories nonetheless.

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