Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Anime Matsuri 2018 Roundup

Having recently moved to Houston following a year-long hiatus from conventions, finding out that Anime Matsuri was less than a thirty-minute drive away was a sort of blessing in disguise. Slated to begin the same weekend as Anime Boston (Which I've cited as my personal favorite convention for several years now), I was sure that Matsuri would be the substitute needed to fill the void in my heart once occupied by eastern conventions. What I wasn't sure of, however, is how exactly it would measure up in terms of content. I even saved myself from looking up any information about panels (Apart from the highly advertised Evangelion Exhibit) and limited my search to strictly foreign and local guests. Unfortunately, the seams of Matsuri's neatly presented package started to unravel at this very moment.

You see, what I didn't know about the convention prior to registering was that it had been subject to a pretty big scandal over the last year or so. And while this is in no way confirmed or official, it seems like said scandal laid a pretty huge impact upon one of Houston's largest annual conventions. What I mean by this is- there was pretty much no one notable there. Sure, some of the Japanese guests were okay. Doug Jones was even there (You may recognize the name from Del Toro's recent Academy Award-winner, The Shape Of Water.) And if that doesn't ring a bell, you'd probably recognize him as every other monster in every monster movie ever. But even though his appearance is much more than just 'notable', there's already the issue of the biggest guest at an anime convention having...well, zero affiliation with anime. Combine that with the next biggest guest being a former Japanese AV actress (Yua Mikami) and you have a rather...interesting lineup, to say the least.

But hey, I can look past an unimpressive and rather offroad guest list. I mean, Anime Boston is a much bigger convention and I'm sure that plenty of the VIPs flocked over there instead. I'm also sure that some of the American industries like Funimation and Sentai Filmworks will be there. I mean, Sentai is literally stationed in Houston and- Wait, what? Neither of them are going to be there either? Well, what about Aniplex then? No? 

So, as you can see, Matsuri already had an underwhelming itinerary before even kicking off on Thursday. The bright side, however, is that this meant shorter lines for everything. And, to be fair, these lines were managed rather well. What was not managed well was literally everything else. I've gotten accustomed to the whole "You can't go in through this door! This is an exit!" spiel that you'll get when trying to enter the dealer's room (Or exhibit hall or vendor floor or whatever the hell you call it), but Anime Matsuri kicked that up a notch. If my counting was correct, there were about six different double-sided entryways. With two doors at each passage, this equates to around 12 different ways of getting into the only exciting area of the convention. You'd think this would make things easier but, in all actuality, it was one of the most unnecessary, tediously micro-managed processes that I've ever witnessed at a convention.

For those of you who haven't been to the George R. Brown convention center, it's huge. The main hallway is probably twice the size of AnimeNext on its own. That being said, there was significantly more walking room than I am accustomed to at things like this. So why on earth would anyone think it's a good idea to space out exits and entrances to the point where I honestly contemplated hiring a Lyft just to chauffeur me to the correct door. Hell, what's even the point of designating two or three areas to let people out of the room? What can you possibly gain from that? It's not like the halls were busy or the entrances were crowded or anything- I'm talking huge double-sided doors with no other visitors around that staff will literally prevent you from exiting out of as if someone would kill their family should they fail to uphold that.

What was even more confusing, however, was the escalator fiasco. In the words of the great Mitch Hedberg, "Escalators don't break, they just become stairs." Well, at Anime Matsuri, they were apparently never working to begin with. Across the approximate four-mile long hallway, there were two escalators you were actually allowed to take. This doesn't seem all that bad until you realize that there are around six in total. Hell, maybe there were even more. And while I understand that one or two of them had to be closed off due to the sprawling Evangelion Exhibit (Which I will get to momentarily), there seemed to be zero purpose to close everything else off entirely. The only thing I can think of would be the fact that, at certain intervals throughout the day, there were 'escalator police' stationed at each one. I kid you not (This is entirely true and not an exaggeration. I'm not the type to fool around on heavy, stair-based machinery), I was actually screamed at by a woman at the top of the elevator for turning my head 90 degrees to answer a question from someone behind me. I was so confused that I actually looked around for who she might be talking to. Upon reaching the top of the escalator, I was lectured on the dangers of them and how I should be very careful about which way I'm looking. Hey, I might have even agreed with this if I wasn't thirty seconds away from the top at the time she denounced me.

At the end of the day, though, all bad conventions must have something good going for them, right? I mean, the panels were a bust because of the whole nazi thing (Which I will also get to momentarily) but at least there was the Evangelion Exhibit. This exhibit, in all honesty, was the highlight of the convention for me. Even after waiting in line for around two hours (Sidenote: This was probably the slowest-moving line I've ever been in. The two guys taking tickets at the gate were almost definitely half-sloth), I still managed to enjoy my time in the art-gallery style, maze-like display room. As you walked down each hall, you'd be greeted by cell art and models from both the original Evangelion serious as well as the reboots. There were even sections with video loops and angel displays that breathed life into an otherwise dead convention. Traversing the labyrinth was akin to walking directly beside the timeline of the series itself. The press liaison for the event (Shout-out to you, Philip) was very welcoming as well as the rest of the staff who had been running the inside of the exhibit. Photography was strictly prohibited for anyone other than press and they did their best to ensure that we'd be able to get the footage we needed (See below).

But even though this particular event was a diamond in the rough, nothing was able to make up for how poorly run and almost embarrassed the rest of Anime Matsuri seemed. The first and only panel I went to opened with a literal Holocaust joke. The panelist then proceeded to read fanfiction about Anne Frank while the vast majority of the room slowly trickled out and, when brought to the staff's attention, was met with a simple, "Well, what do you us to do about it?"

Oof. I even brought this to the attention of Anime Matsuri via Twitter just seconds after the panel kicked off and the only thing they had to say about it was a vague response-Tweet to someone the next day about how "They don't condone his actions" or whatever generic excuse they pulled out of a hat. And as if that wasn't enough, the dude literally got in dressed as a Nazi. Here is a picture of him.

But wait, it gets better. Apparently, the panel he hosted was actually meant for a completely separate organization, Geeks 5 Ever, and was actually cancelled over a month prior to the event. So not only was the panel not removed from the schedule despite being cancelled, it was literally hijacked by a Nazi and the staff pretended to have no idea despite several members being stationed INSIDE of the room. 

Listen, I'm not the type of writer to slander an entire event for just being an event. In fact, I'm not even doing that now. I'm sure that plenty of the people working for Anime Matsuri had no idea that any of this was happening. But the fact of the matter is, whoever is pulling the strings for this shindig (Most likely the same dude who birthed the sexual assault allegations) has virtually no control over his own convention and, judging by the actions of his peers and industry members themselves, is not worth the effort or cost. It works out, though, because that's actually how I'd round up the convention itself.

Anime Matsuri is a complete and utter mess and I will not be going back until its mistakes and shortcomings have been corrected.

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