Pigs, Corn, and… Anime? Anime Iowa 2008 (Mania.com)
Date: Sunday, August 24, 2008
I remember as a kid seeing a commercial for this water park in Indiana called “Indiana Beach.” Their advertisement, done in this annoyingly catchy jingle, was, “There’s more than corn in Indiana.” Now I haven’t been to Indiana that many times, but the times I’ve gone I’ve never seen too much corn. Iowa, on the other hand… but I’m here to tell you that there’s more than corn in Iowa! There’s pigs too… oh, and an anime convention.
Years ago when my friends told me about Anime Iowa I laughed and asked them things like, “Is it in a barnyard,” or, “Is the dealers room surrounded in hay,” and other lame Iowa jokes. You see, I had always gone to Anime Central, which is one of the bigger conventions that always has thousands of attendants. It also doesn’t help that I’m from Chicago so the only time I had even heard of Iowa was when my cousin went there for college and I ended up doing the same. But all joking aside, Anime Iowa is a great convention to go to and I have been going for years, and every year it just gets better and better.
It’s hard to believe that a short time ago the Coralville Marriot parking lot had been underwater due to the flood, but when driving down the street we saw plenty of businesses that had been closed down because of it. But the convention still went on and the staff was ready to take on close to 3000 anime fans.
I think what impresses me the most about Anime Iowa (besides the hotel, the staff, the events and all of that jazz) is the fact that it makes fun of itself. The program books are full of pig mascots of various anime icons. Ever wonder what Naruto would look like as a pig? How about Vash, complete with heart boxer shorts? I can’t remember the year this started but the convention is sticking with it and it always makes me laugh to see the little pig Naruto eating ramen.
The convention took place in the same location as last year. The hotel is gorgeous, from the cobblestone road that leads to the front entrance to the rooms complete with flat screen TV and some of the largest pillows I’ve ever seen on a bed. The space in the hotel was used very well; all of the events and panels took place on the first floor along with the dealer’s room and artist alley. The second floor was used for the consuite (which was divided into two rooms: one for food and one for drinks) and video rooms. There were a couple of inexpensive places to eat close to the hotel for those who wanted to eat more than just popcorn and jellybeans, but the hotel also came equipped with a café, a restaurant, and small area full of caffeine and snacks that people could buy at the front desk. Complimentary internet was offered to everyone… unfortunately, it rarely worked for me.
There were so many areas that were great for cosplay photos; the patio, the little strip of small shops, and even the rusty buildings we spotted within walking distance on the way back home--where are the Silent Hill cosplayers when you need them? Speaking of cosplay, there were a lot of great costumes this year and quite a few that I didn’t expect to see: Harvey Birdman, Ghostbusters, Hellboy, Ironman, and even though I’m use to seeing the normal Naruto/Death Note/Inuyasha cosplay there was the most adorable Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru at the con. The baby Inuyasha was crawling around the hotel lobby, his wig falling off of his head while Sesshoumaru, who was probably around two or three years old, cried for attention… and for a Sierra Mist that his parents quickly gave him to keep him quiet.
Despite being able to “cheat” and do artist alley registration, which avoids all lines and lets the artists go straight to artist alley and set up their tables, the standard registration went unbelievably fast this year. Last year the pre-registration lines and the at-door registration lines sort of merged, or at least it felt like it since the hallway was so jammed, but this year the two lines started in two different areas and left plenty of hallway space. Not only that, but this year registration started at 9 in the morning on Friday instead of in the afternoon, giving people plenty of time to register early and not miss out on any afternoon panels. I checked out the line at around noon and saw that it had dwindled down quite a bit, and my friends who had been waiting had gotten through in less than a hour. Very impressive for any convention.
There were a ton of panels to keep everyone’s interest and staff was always around to help with equipment when necessary. There was always something to do at the convention all weekend, whether it was sitting in on a panel, doing some Anime Improv, or stopping in the video game room and playing Smash Brothers or the new Soul Calibur. I myself had four different panels which were, unfortunately, schedule on the same day which meant… I was exhausted by the end of Friday. But they were still a lot of fun and staff came prepared with a projector and sound equipment. Hurray! Video games were talked about in the afternoon then at night yaoi was to be had by all… who were over 18, that is.
One of the main reasons why I love the small conventions is because there’s a real chance to talk to the guests, both inside and outside of panels. There’s still the autograph sessions and things like that, but it’s real easy to spot Kyle Herbert or Carrie Savage walking around the dealer’s room and saying hello to them. They’re always friendly and more than willing to take a few pictures (I snagged a rather humorous one of Kyle enjoying his new role in Gurren Lagann) and chat with fans. Attendants also got quite a treat at the dance where Greg Ayres was the dj, which I thought was awesome of him to do.
The not so Good
There are very few complaints and I have about the convention, and the complaints I have are ones that I’m sure the staff is working on fixing.
About a month or two prior to the convention Anime Iowa announced that no fanart would be allowed at artist alley. This would’ve been a huge drawback, but the staff was willing to find ways to work things out with the artists. 3-D art and parody art was allowed, and artists were allowed to “display” anything they wanted at their table. If someone showed interest in their work arrangements could be made outside of the convention for selling the art. Yes, this was a hassle, but I was happy to see the staff so willing to find ways around this rule that wouldn’t get either party in trouble instead of not letting artists show their work at all. I’m not sure how it worked out for the art show, but I think it worked out pretty well for artist alley. Artists themselves also came up with ways to get around this new rule (raffle tickets, for example).
The one complaint I had with artist alley this year was how it was set up. Last year, it was right in the middle of the dealer’s room, which gave artists a lot of exposure and a lot of space. This year artist alley was once again in the dealer’s room (which is always the undoing of my bank card), only it was in a corner of it and the tables were set up in a V-shape that allowed for no room whatsoever. It made it hard to get from behind the table, and it made it hard for attendants to walk over and look at the art. Thankfully, one of the artists came up with the idea of putting each set of tables in an L-shape, which gave a lot more room. The only thing that made the poor set-up a bit more tolerable was the head of artist alley promising a better set up for next year.
The masquerade had a very efficient process of getting attendants in by letting people get passes to the event ahead of time. This way, instead of waiting in line for hours attendants could still enjoy the con and simply come to the masquerade an hour before it started and get grouped by the number on their ticket. The staff then called out a certain of number of people in each group to go in and get seats (think of an airport, for example, “Seats 1 - 25 may now enter”). This worked very well and there wasn’t a huge chaotic rush to seats; it’s unfortunate that the masquerade itself suffered from technical issues that caused a mess for some of the skits, especially since many of them were pre-recorded.
A couple of attendants had to be moved to another hotel because there were people staying at the con hotel to help out with the flood. The second hotel wasn’t very far and from what I hear it was actually cheaper with 24-hour shuttle service to the convention hotel… that ended at 2 in the morning. According to a friend of mine on staff, this was discovered on Friday night when some attendants stayed after 2 am to volunteer for the convention. Oops. Needless to say, the volunteers weren’t very happy.
All and all I had a great time at Anime Iowa this year. The panels were fun, the cosplay was great, the staff and people were friendly, and well… there was a baby Inuyasha sucking on a pacifier. Cute! What a great way to spend the weekend, and I snagged myself a Guilty Gear art book and Morrigan figure and I’m happily drooling over both. And I got to ride in a car with some great friends and listen to “Rock me Sexy Jesus” in the middle of the night. And in the end isn’t that what life is really all about?
Before I end this report I would like to thank a few people for taking some great pictures over the weekend. Being in artist alley makes it hard for me to run around and take pictures, but thanks to good friends (and facebook), I have quite a few pictures to share. So many thanks goes to: Derrick S., Kelly Ng, Brandon Hughes, Bin Valentine, and my good friend Nate Anderson who took pictures and put "Rock me Sexy Jesus," on his ipod just for me. Thanks Nate... I think?