Con Impressions: Sac-Anime Winter 2013
The biggest change for Sac-Anime 2013 was graduating to the Sacramento Convention Center after outgrowing their previous longtime location, Woodlake Hotel formally known as the Radisson Hotel. The semi-annual convention, which is held in both the winter and fall, is a popular destination for all involved in the anime industry both in Japan and in the United States and for most it marks the beginning of anime convention season. As can be expected, there were a few ups and downs, but with time, the future looks mighty bright.
For their first time in the Sacramento Convention Center, Sac-Anime kept things organized in terms of where things were located. Registration was held in the Grand Sheraton hotel, which made things easier as con attendees were kept separate from those who had already received their badges. Aside from badges, con attendees also received wristbands to ensure that they were allowed to be at the con; the wristbands also served as a deterrent for people wanting to share badges, which can be seen as either a positive or negative. Various exhibit halls were used throughout the convention center with the largest saved for the dealer's room/artist alley and smaller rooms were reserved for main events and autograph sessions. Despite only having half of the convention center as a Home and Garden convention was also going on, Sac-Anime still felt more spacious than at the Woodlake Hotel. Within the convention center, both Sac-Anime and convention center staff worked together to keep things orderly, and were aided by specific rules laid out in the programming guide as well taped-off areas to indicate where one should line up for different panels and events. Guest-wise, Sac-Anime has always been able to secure top name talent, and this year was no exception with the likes of Mai Aizawa, Toshio Furukawa, Kevin Conroy, Kyle Hebert, Liam O'Brien, Tsuyoshi Nonaka, and several others that ensured that no matter what your interests are, there would be someone to meet.
For other con interests, such as gaming, workshops, anime viewing and others, the Sheraton was the place to be, ensuring that convention goers weren't confined to just the convention center. Due to having access to more outdoor space versus being confined to the Woodlake Hotel, attendees were able to take photos freely, meet for gatherings, and overall just find a quiet place to sit and chat with friends new and old. With the convention centrally located in downtown Sacramento, food was more accessible versus the old location which was quite limiting.
Of course, not everything went off without a hitch, but over time those mistakes can be corrected easily. One of the biggest issues that seemed to recur was the lack of communication between staffers in regards to programming. With this lack of control, sessions were running longer than intended, which began a domino effect on the start time for everyone else; this was especially apparent for members of the press. For press outlets, the frustration was palpable as many interviews were running late, or had the wrong interviewees altogether. Even the Guests of Honor were unaware of what their schedules were due to the lack of communication.
Another problem was where attendees could line up, which was fairly manageable but highlighted potential fire hazards. Due to the shape and limited area of the convention space reserved for Sac-Anime, attendees were only allowed to line up half an hour prior to their programming event, but that didn't stop them from 'camping out' for their spots in line. Because of lack of enforcement regarding 'camping,' attendees could easily block access to even the bathrooms and water fountains. The lines also interfered with walking lanes as well as concession lines so much that it was easy to get stuck behind someone who wasn't sure where they were going.
Other issues that popped up during the convention may have been related due to either poor planning or inefficient training. Knowing full well that Sac-Anime has been growing steadily over the years, staff should have tried to secure the full convention center though losing half of the center may not have been entirely their fault. To ensure future growth of the con goes smoothly, being able to have the entire convention center will aid in keeping all Sac-Anime activities under one roof. Regarding one of their ticketed events, charging a fee for what was essentially a mini concert and voice acting session was probably not the wisest choice. Even bigger conventions generally do not charge fees for such things but rather for exclusive autograph sessions, though they are often tied with purchasing related merchandise, so it may have been over-confidence in planning when it came to the event. Audio problems is something that plagues conventions big and small, but this seemed more apparent due to the lengthy times it took for Sac-Anime technicians to get sound up and running between live and recorded sessions; discrepancies in both live and recorded audio volumes were also problematic as live audio was too low while recorded was too loud. Perhaps it was being unfamiliar with the equipment or just inexperience overall, but emphasizing proper training and maintaining sound levels is definitely needed in keeping the audience engaged.
Solving the two main concerns should be top priority, especially due to Sac-Anime's semi-annual schedule; the Fall convention will be here before they know it. One way of decongesting the hallways would be to simply allow lines to form outside or in an unused exhibit hall since programming is staggered. Regarding communication, establishing a firm schedule and holding meetings throughout the year would be a step in the right direction, but also training volunteers and staffers should be stressed as well.
Moving from a hotel to a convention center is a major thing for any convention, and Sac-Anime is no exception. Many things will go right, but many things will also go horribly wrong which is just the nature of the beast. Things can only improve from here on out, and Sac-Anime's future is shining brightly.