A look at one of the best conventions around.
Hoooo boy, Last week’s interview was WAAAAY more popular than I expected. Thank you for all those who read it. Squeaks is a wonderful person. So please check her out (on her facebook … what did you think I meant?).
This week I want you to check out something just as awesome!
Being located in Maine, where the closest major city is over 4 hours away, I don’t often get to go to the major conventions that are held. Every so often I go to Otakon in Baltimore but usually I stay local for my convention schedule. Even though Maine is not a highly populated part of the country, it does have a convention scene of it’s own with such cons and Bangpop!, PortconMaine, and the convention I attended this past weekend, AniMaine.
AniMaine is a small convention held in South Portland, Maine, usually later in the year in November. Now in it’s fourth year, the convention is built on a message of anti-bootlegging/anti- anime piracy theme and organized by Anime Defense Project INC. a non profit organization that promotes the industry and those involved in it. I’ve been involved with the con for all four years running my Damn Write! writing panel. I consider this my home con and am friends with many that run and staff the convention. It is a small con, only a few hundred attendees at a small Best Western but it has a big message to send.
The first day of the convention was actually preceded by an event the night before at a local video game themed bar named The Arcadia that raised money for the Anime Defense Fund, a community fund that goes to various causes related to the industry. The convention space at the hotel is a narrow hallway with one large room and several smaller rooms connected to it. For this year’s convention, AniMaine rearranged where their events were held from previous year’s events. The main convention room was split with registration near the entry door of the room, followed my video games and table top gaming tables in the middle, and the artist’s alley up a small set of stairs near the back. The vendors were split into two rooms, panels were held in two rooms with one large room having the ability to be walled off to make 2 separate rooms. a lounge in the hotel itself that had been previously used as a con staff green room, was turned into an open video screening room. This made registration very easy and fast moving, so when we arrived, there was no line to get inside and registered for my badge and receive my schedule. Some shows were being shown but the real events didn’t start for a few hours after doors opened to give time for people to register and be able to look over the schedules and get their bearings.
The Opening Ceremonies were held in a second floor room (where the video games had previously been held) and not only served to open up the convention but also served as the legal opening of the Anime Defense Project’s official annual meeting. The guests were all introduced (voice actors Tia Ballard and Greg Ayres, Sentai Filmworks bigwig David Williams, fan parody/AMV make Scott Melzer, and cosplayer Katherine Zan) and with the usual words from the heads of staff we were sent on our way.
Early panels for the convention featured an hour panel with Tia Ballard, a panel on why a person pirates anime, as well as my own panel. It is a very relaxed atmosphere with staff and attendees alike. No packed hallways, no 30 minute wait lines to get into every panel, and the staff are both very friendly and informative as well. A big advantage of a smaller convention, but also just in the people this con brings in for their staff. It doesn’t matter if you are a 4 year veteran of the con, or if this is your first convention ever, you are treated with a welcoming manner.
The big première at this year’s convention was the English language version of Log Horizon from Sentai Filmworks (A long time sponsor of the convention). I hope to do a more in depth review of this later, but it got mixed reviews at the con itself. Those who have seen the original Japanese language version weren’t fond of some of the English casting choices and how some of the characters were portrayed, but those who hadn’t seen it before generally enjoyed it.
After 8pm was the “Anime After Dark” portion of the con where all panels were aged 16+ and many were 18 and up only. Tia Ballard held a panel about the audition process for voice acting as well as had attendees try their hand at voicing characters. Adult visual novel producer MangaGamer also held a panel announcing their future releases including the most controversial title they have done, based of the adult themed anime Euphoria (I STRONGLY use discretion with this title as it is NOT for the weak of heart). Greg Ayres held a panel for telling very salty stories of his adventures, mostly at cons and in the industry. This panel is a popular one that packs the room every year. Most of the stories aren’t repeatable here, but telling the stories of the fan reaction to the recent English voice casting for the anime Free! was a blast. Staff also held several panels including Anime Pub Trivia and their own game called “I’m Not Gonna Lie” featuring staff and guests alike. The game features two teams against each other. Each team member is given a story and the other team has to decipher if the story they told was real or not.
The night officially ended after midnight with showing of anime fan parody videos including Hellsing Ultimate: Abridged. However, while the official programming ended, everyone would break off to just hang out. To show how close the AniMaine group could be, guest Scott Melzer (A friend I’ve known for over 10 years), me and my best friend, and the convention chair grabbed a table in the video room upstairs and played Lunch Money until 4 in the morning.
A lot of people feel like smaller cons don’t matter. That unless it’s something like Otakon, Anime Expo, or NYCC with big industry guests filling the schedule that cons like AniMaine aren’t worth it. I totally disagree with that. Sure, there were industry guests and the exclusive showing of Log Horizon, but this con is more than that. It’s about a gathering of friends, both old and new ones that never met. It’s about spreading a message of what piracy and bootlegging can do to the anime industry, both here and in Japan.
Main Hall as seen from Registration table.
An odd sign no one knows where it came from in the video room.
There was a “Restroom for people who Sit Down” but getting pictures of that would just be weird.
The official stand up display
Main Hall as seen from the Artist’s alley.
Tia Ballard doing her thing.
Saturday morning of AniMaine was a late start for most everyone at the convention. The convention space was opened at 9am, even if the first events didn’t start until 10. On the way down to the hotel’s restaurant, The Maine Table, for the complimentary free breakfast buffet to hotel guests, the hallways were vacant. Only two security staffers were seen as everyone else was either still asleep or getting food.
The panels started up with a Furry panel and a few cosplay panels, one for cosplay life drawing and another for cosplaying on a budget, both hosted by guest Katherine Zan. There was a Name that Anime Tune panel as well as an autograph session with the guests.
The first big panels of the day didn’t start until 2 in the afternoon. Greg Ayres hosted a panel which was a cleaner version of the panel the night before. He told stories of different shows he had worked on and went into the detail of the zaniness of the Free! English casting announcements along with some of the other things he has worked on and experiences he has had in the industry. Greg not only fills a room, but he holds your attention with the stories he tells. If you ever get to sit in on a panel with him, I recommend it. The Animaine cosplay craftsmanship judging also took place during this time. This was a new venture for the con. Traditionally cosplay contests are a BIG part of a convention, and while cosplay has always been a part of it, this con never really held an organized contest for it before. The advantage of having a cosplayer as an invited guest.
Later in the afternoon I attended “Awesome Anime you may have Missed” hosted by Scott Melzer. This was a look at anime for before the year 2000 that either flew under the radar or has just been left to the sands of time. Had to admit that panel made me feel pretty old as I either knew of or had seen almost everything on the list. Next door a Candy Sushi workshop was being held that turned out to be a major draw, so much so that the con underestimated how much people would attend. A fashion show for the cosplayers at the con rounded out things before what is regarded as AniMaine’s MAIN event was being set up. That event is Bootleg Bomber.
Bootleg Bomber is an event that is unique to AniMaine. Since the con is based largely off a anti-Bootleg/Piracy theme, they make it a point to take donated bootlegs and destroy them in an over the top way. Anyone who has attended the past conventions ALWAYS asks themselves “How are the destroying the bootlegs this year?” It is THE major draw of the convention and even have an unofficial rule to not schedule events opposite it (A rule named after me actually. I had a writing panel scheduled against Bomber in it’s first year and got ZERO attendees). It is a two part event. The first part is hosted by Greg Ayres as well as convention chairman Colin Harvie. It is a panel to inform people how to identify bootleg anime merchandise and the effects it has on the industry, and even the dangers of bootlegs themselves on people (Plushies stuff with fiberglass anyone?). Some of the examples used are an EVA poster that has a mysterious woman with an odd look on her face, a character who isn’t in the show at all (despite attempts, no one has ever found out who she is, she has been dubbed Mary Sue jokingly by the staff), as well as a terrible Bleach wall scroll that was….sticky… with something.
The second part of course is what everyone came to see and that was the destruction of the bootleg merch. The first year of the con featured a steamroller, the next convention was a piñata and merciless ripping and cutting, last year featured a suped up blender, and this year we were taken outside and bootlegs were burned and set on fire with a torch. Now, this was not a careless action as every possible safety measure was made during this panel, as it is every year. No plushies were burned for fear of their contents, we all were kept several feet away from the torch and the burning bootlegs so we were all safe.
Once Bomber had concluded it was time for the evenings activities. Greg once again hosted a rave in the combined panel rooms with lots of oontz oontz oontz while Scott Melzer hosted Saturday Night Fan Parodies. Shown during the panel was DBZ Abridged’s Dead Zone movie, The newest offering from Trigger Mortis spoofing the team of five/combining robots shows from Japan called Combatler V, Floating Wombat, and AMV Salad 7, along with a music video from the YouTube cosplay group Oliroux Cosplay. The night finished off with a showing of the hysterical English dub of Ghost Stories, a David Williams panel, as well as a panel on hentai tentacles. The night once again ended for me and my friends breaking off for several hours of board games and Lunch Money (again, lost every single time, but man was that fun) with members of the staff.
Saturday tends to be a very busy day at cons, but once again you had no problems getting around from room to room. Hallways were not clogged or congested and to my knowledge no one was ever locked out of the room. There were only two long lines that had a wait, that being to Bootleg Bomber and to get into the Rave, but that is mostly for set up time, especially the rave. Everything was well run and while people got to let loose and have fun, things never got out of hand or out of control.
Greg Ayres doing his thing:
Heh. Rawk On!
Scott Melzer being awesome:
Greg prepping us for destruction:
The Rave *oontz oontz oontz*
Sunday is always an interesting day as people start to drag, but there is still things to see and do and this con does provide some quality events on it’s final day. It not only keeps the weekend guests entertained but also give something for the people coming in for the day to do as well. AniMaine offered Sunday for free, so there was an influx of new attendees on the final day, but even with a lot of new people coming in, space was never a problem.
Sunday started quickly for me with getting packed up and food before I got to sit in on the DLW: Since the Dawn of Time panel hosted by David Williams. This is another panel that has been held every year of AniMaine. This year however, David spiced things up by talking about the English dubbing and distribution of anime in it’s early days, showing off several old magazines and catalogs from ADV’s early days. Unbeknownst to me, David also dabbled in AMVs and early fan parodies, showing us stuff produced in the 80’s and a live action parody he was a part of from 1991. This panel was a great look at the behind the scenes of the early adventures in anime distribution. David is also a great story teller and personable guy so his panels are a joy to sit in on.
In the upstairs panel room, Scott Melzer was hosting his Great AMVs: Theory and Technique panel. This panel was more than just watching Anime Music Videos, but also how to appreciate them and seeing what makes a AMV good to you and enjoy them. Also being held during this time were panels on creating Characters, How to make an Role Playing Game, and a Q&A panel for the show Adventure Time. Beyond panels, people were also getting last bits of shopping in with the dealer’s and the artists as well.
The afternoon of the con brought the other major panel Greg Ayres is known for, It Gets Better. These are more serious panels he runs that help people deal with the bullying and bad behavior that can come with this fandom. He did two this year, based on bullying based on sexual orientation/preference and a panel about mental illness. The aim of these panels is to tell people exactly that, It Gets Better and not to give up on yourself. A great message to carry and he is a great influence on the fandom for delivering that message.
The last of the major yearly events took place at 2 in the afternoon with the AniMaine Charity auction. Every year the convention holds an auction for a particular cause. This year we were raising money for one of the regular vendors who suffered some injuries at a convention a short time before and to help pay for his medical bills. Items up for bid were DVDs donated from Sentai Filmworks and Funimation, posters and wall scrolls, and even the official AniMaine stand up poster:
BTW: that sold for over $250. I’m pretty sure it broke the record of the highest bid at this con’s auction, ever. Gotta love bidding wars! In all the auctions raised around $1400.
The con’s final events were the Closing Ceremonies and the Feedback panel. The Closing Ceremonies served as the official close of the meeting of the Anime Defense Project INC and a way to make announcements for next year. AniMaine 2015 was announced for the weekend of November 13th, with next year’s theme being Giant Robots. Also announced was the first guest, Voice Actor Monica Rial who voices in just about everything.
The Feedback panel was just that. Issues were brought up, such as the lack of a map of the hotel, and some of the panel rooms not having labels on them, but outside a few things there were no major complaints and the feedback was very positive. I am inclined to agree. There were no major issues with anything that I noticed and was a very well run convention.
As I said before, I can not recommend this convention enough. It is a very relaxed and easy going atmosphere, but at the same time the staff are very professional and do their jobs very well. It is a great weekend to meet up with con friends and make new ones. You make connections and get to meet people in the business. It sends not only a great message of how much harm piracy and bootlegs do to the business, but also a place to make people feel welcome and invited as part of a community. The panels are entertaining, the guests are wonderful, and the hotel it is hosted in is a great location. If you are located in the New England area, come on up and take a look!
David Williams taking us back, old school:
A full up Main Hall:
The hotel Marquee on our way out:
AniMaine’s website is located here
Their Facebook account can be found here
You can find my books here
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