Anime Boston 2011 is rapidly approaching, and I have yet to write about my adventures at the 2010 offering for a variety of reasons. It mainly boils down to one simple fact; there was little for me to write about. Though the industry has been declining for the past few years, this was the first Anime Boston where I really felt the impact. Top it off with the usual line wrangling problems the con seems consistently plagued with, and I just didn’t come away enthused or excited for this year.
Two words… Uematsu Nobuo… Prior to the announcement that he would be a guest of honor, there was nothing compelling me to attend Anime Boston 2010. I had my pre-purchased three day pass but no enthusiasm to really make the most of it. After the announcement, my mission became singular and focused; get him to autograph my original boxed copy of Final Fantasy for the NES, the same box that was autographed at Anime Boston 2007 by Terada Kenji, the game’s writer.
This mission almost failed due to another utter failure of policy and procedure by the AB staff (more on this later). However, fortune smiled upon me, and I managed to get into the autograph room and bask in the glory of this icon. I handed him my box, and the translator, a man who I believe has worked every Anime Boston, asked who had previously signed it. I told him who and when, and we spent a few moments reminiscing about that particular guest. He mentioned this to Uematsu, and Uematsu took a minute to look at the signature. I wondered if he was getting nostalgic about those days and that title. He signed that and my copy of Final Fantasy 6 for the Super Famicom (best FF game ever!); I thanked him and walked out of the room a very happy man.
Uematsu is as impressive in person as he is through his prolific body of music. First, the man is a demon when it comes to autographs. The whole reason I managed to get in was due to the AB staff recognizing the pace he was keeping would manage to get in more people than they thought they could fit in the allotted time. And he just seems like a laid back, cool guy you could hang out and talk about anything with. He had a smile for everyone and seemed genuinely happy to be there.
The bright spot in the dealers room was managing to pick up more volumes of the Gyakuten Saiban manga (that’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney to you US game players) for Jm from Sasuga Books. We didn’t know at the time that it would be our last purchase from them; they closed their doors a few months later.
Rounding out the good was having lunch with Chris of AnimeOnDVD.com and others at the California Pizza Kitchen. The iPad had just come out, so there was plenty of discussion around it, the tech industry, anime, and more.
The anime industry in the US has been decimated over the past two years; there is really only one major player left to come out to conventions – Funimation. To compensate, Funimation had two panels, one to show trailers and previews and another to have the more traditional industry panel. I made it to the trailer panel but ended up skipping the industry panel. It was not due to lack of interest though; instead, it was fatigue caused by the panel being moved back to a later time. I had already grown bored of being at the convention; the dealers room and artist alley had been circled numerous times. There were no panels or showings I was interested in; the thought of killing another two to three hours to hear news I could find adequately summarized the next day was less than appealing.
That last thought is the core of my Anime Boston 2010 experience; I was just killing time instead of enjoying the convention activities. Most of the showings was material I had seen before or owned; none of the panels piqued my interest. You can see the best cosplay within an hour of wandering the halls. So why was I there outside of meeting Uematsu Nobuo? I was hard pressed to come up with an answer.
My one major regret was missing the Video Game Orchestra concert. Following the forum threads after the Uematsu announcement, the con reps indicated that his contract would prevent him from performing in the concert or solo. I never saw any information that contradicted this and went under the assumption this was true. However, my gut said that he would play regardless, and I should have listened to it. He did indeed perform at the concert, but again, I would have spent hours killing time. Odds were that I could see the concert on YouTube shortly after. True, it is not the same as being there live, but it would suffice.
A minor regret is missing out on Uematsu’s panel; Jm and I went for a snack and a walk outside. I thought we would make it back with time enough to get in the back of the line; wrong… we just missed the cut off for the room capacity. It was surprising to see there were no overflow measures in place. The man is an icon, a legend, a rock star of the anime and video game industry. If you couldn’t have his panel in the main hall, there could have been overflow rooms with TVs simulcasting the panel. Still, I had his autograph and was able to engage him directly. That more than made up for this.
Flogging the dead horse one last time, one vendor in the dealers room was another sad reminder of the state of the industry. Every year, they would have a long, sprawling section of merchandise with two or three people running back and forth helping out customers. This year, their section was two, maybe three tables long and staffed by only one man, and the merchandise was not as diverse. I silently hoped that their on-line business was still flourishing. Then I remembered there were figures I needed to pre-order from Hobby Link Japan. Direct (kind of) purchasing killed the dealers room star.
Lines… What is is with Anime Boston and mismanagement of lines? Before I get into the debacle for 2010, I would like to highlight the one time they got it spot on, 100% correct. It was Anime Boston 2007, and I was in line for the autograph session for two of the Japanese guests. That year, they had implemented a ticket system; only the first 100 people in line would get a ticket guaranteeing them entry for an autograph. I and others queued up for the 2PM start time but soon learned from the staff that the session was being moved to a different time.
It took a bit of prodding from those of us in line, but the staff decided on the spot that the best course of action was to give those of us already there a ticket. When the line for the new time started up, we were then arranged in our original order due to the sequential numbers on our tickets. Brilliant customer service there; it defused any potential resentment around the time change and held to the spirit of the rules they had set up.
Sadly, this ticket system never caught on for all the lines for major events over the years, and no policies or procedures for wrangling lines have developed. The convention has been at the Hynes long enough to plan accordingly, but this never seems to happen. Lack of planning and preparation were evident once again for the Uemastu autograph line. It started with the messaging, or rather, the lack thereof.
Apparently, there was supposed to be a sign in front of the autograph room indicating that early lines were prohibited. However, this sign was located behind the closed doors of the room itself; that should be some staff member’s checklist item one for the day. Ensure signs are properly setup. The second failure was lack of quality assurance on documents printed in advance of the convention. The unfortunate staffer that had to walk the line of disgruntled (puts it mildly) attendees commented to many that the policy was outlined in the program.
Bollocks; I had read the program and its policies the previous day to ensure that coming early and camping the line was an option. Nothing was outlined in the program with the policy the staffers were citing. When the staffer reached me, I politely pointed this out to her. She asked to see my program, thumbed through it, and let out a long sigh. She had told the writer to include it and was disappointed that it was left out. Yet, why had she not checked the policy text before the program was sent to the printer? This isn’t your first time at the rodeo Anime Boston; policy documents should be boilerplate at this point with alterations only coming due to special contractual issues of the guests.
You might be wondering at this point “Luis, if you were there early, how did you end up at position in the line that could have been cut off?” That’s an excellent question; thank you for bringing that point up. Many of us had camped early and were brusquely shooed away, told to congregate "over there without forming a line". We did as we were told and patiently waited to try to queue up again. However, another group had formed around the corner and further down the hall. They were not there as early as our group but were closer to the start of the new queue when the staffers opened things up. Many expletives were hurled by those around me when we rounded the corner to see a line already formed.
In a small sense, we were potentially going to be punished for the mistakes of others – a missing sign, missing policy text. And having our group not be allowed to queue up first just heaped a huge dose of poor customer service on top. Though others raged, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and hope for the best; it certainly wasn’t the first line I’ve been in that Anime Boston has mishandled. And given their track record over the years, it certainly won’t be the last. Fortunately, Uematsu’s speed allowed me in and salvaged my convention experience for the year.
And finally… Hope for the future?
Now, Anime Boston 2011 is slightly a month away, and I pre-registered again after much debate. It will be sad to not see Sasuga Books in the dealers room; hopefully there will be some impulse item to pick up that has flown under my radar of Japanese retailer and toy fan RSS feeds. The industry hasn’t exactly rebounded over the past year, so I hold little hope for many interesting panels or showings this year. However, I am excited by the announcement that Iijima Mari will be a guest. My Japanese DVD of Do You Remember Love? is begging to have her signature next to the film producer’s signature. Picked up his signature back at Anime Boston 2007; ah, 2007, you are the year that keeps on giving… Now, don’t let me down for the line this year AB! I really want to recapture the joy of attending you again.