Con Report: LAGC Comes Of Age


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I’ve been going to AnimeLeague events for about four years ago and since then I have attended at least two of their events every year. Once a year at their main event, ALCon and their secondary event down in London titled London Anime and Gaming Con. It began as AnimeLeague Club London and was a small two to three hundred person meet-up in a small pub in the middle of London. Today, it’s a two thousand person two day convention staged two times a year. That’s a lot of twos! It’s certainly come on a lot since I first started going both in numbers and in organisation.

For the longest time, AnimeLeague events were subject to questionable organisation and quite often caused confusion with con goers and guests alike. It marred an otherwise fun convention for myself and my friends as well as everyone else who went but that certainly never stopped the con staff being friendly and approachable. I have faith in them and over the course of the past couple of years, the events I have attended have vastly improved overall. The previous ALCon was their best and it went by with little trouble and so did this year’s LAGC. LAGC’s major stumbling block is its venue, it’s far too small for what it wants to be, I’ve stated this many times and it’s the thing that’s holding this con back from taking the next step in presentation. For years it has been very cramped, oddly managed and a little hard to actually get to. This year though saw a much needed improvement and it was all down to the merger London Anime Con had with its sister event, London Gaming Con.

Having merged with its sister con, LAGC got a desperately needed upgrade. The con space had been restricted to only two spaces up until this year – a downstairs bar, stage and back room for gaming; and an upstairs panel stage and dealer’s hall. It was all too crammed in for my liking but this year was much different. Downstairs was much more open; gone were the chairs which took up space and in its place were smaller chairs and more standing room for people to mingle and drink at the bar. The back room was devoted to the artist’s alley and a maid cafe [albeit a little lacking in actual maids] was set up in the side room. Upstairs was still the usual dealer’s room/main stage but it was laid out better than before and you could actually hear what was going on on the stage. The erection of two tall vendors at the back of the seating for the stage acted as a sound wall for the stage which meant all those seated could hear the panellists and artists perform. The most crucial addition was an expansion into more of the university complex [the con is based mostly in the union bar of London Metropolitan University] for the gaming and secondary dealer’s halls. There was far more on offer for regular visitors to the event. It was a breath of fresh air. However, this new area was a little confusing to find and I failed to find it until the secondary. It needed better signage to guide people to the gaming area instead of just a small and somewhat confusing map in the con book.

One thing to take note of is that LAGC is an 18+ event and under 18s aren’t allowed to attend due to the fact the con takes place in a university bar and drink is freely available plus some of the events are a little more adult and having kids around would be very problematic for the organisers. It’s a shame that a sizeable chunk of anime fandom is not able to visit, but it’s not the end of the world.

Getting to the event is easy in that the venue is on the London Underground network but it does take a while to get to [unless you’re coming from King’s Cross] so do take that into account when you’re getting there.

When it came to performing, the staff were quick to act and throughout all the panels and engagements I and my fellow panellists had, we didn’t suffer any major hiccups or technical hitches. We were able to do what we do with little interference or trouble. Security was tight and was manned by the professional bouncers supplied by the venue. You could enter the con and know that you’ll be looked after and safe to enjoy yourself. My highlights of the con were watching EileMonty perform her musical set despite being ill, hanging out with my regular UK posse, the Abridgers’ Panel and then getting to meet Colleen Clinkenbeard [the voice of Gohan in Dragonball Z Kai] and have her sign my con book. I was so nervous before meeting her but it was all fine in the end.

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In short, London Anime and Gaming Con is worth going to at least once a year and is a welcome addition to the UK convention scene, especially down in the South of England where cons are few and far between. Just be aware that the con is very student-like in presentation and atmosphere – it gets quite rowdy and loud which isn’t a bad thing but for those who are very nervous around loud noises and crowded spaces, it’s best to take those factors into account before signing up to join the LAGC scene. It’s certainly improved since its first outing but there’s more it can do to become a truly great convention. A bigger venue, a more sensible layout, better signage and bringing down the age limit down to sixteen instead of eighteen.

[DVD Extras – My autograph from Colleen Clinkenbeard]

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SPECIAL: The Art of Conventional Fulfilment – Introduction


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Welcome! 

I’ve been to many conventions over the past six years and have picked up loads of experiences both as a con goer and as a guest. Conventions are a lot of fun, but they can be also full of frustration and stress if you don’t go into one with the proper attitude and frame of mind. Don’t worry! I’m going somewhere with this. What I wish to do with this series of articles titled The Art of Conventional Fulfilment is to give people an understanding of what it is like to go to a convention from multiple perspectives: First as an attendee, then as a panellist and finally as a guest. I won’t just linger on experiences though. I will also go over the essentials in order to help make your convention experience a little more enjoyable, fulfilling and more memorable.

WHERE DO WE BEGIN? PICKING A CONVENTION TO GO TO!

I began going to conventions in 2007. London Movie Comic Media Expo [MCM] was my first con-like experience and I picked a huge one to begin with. Over 20,000 people at the London ExCeL exhibition centre and no experience with how to deal with such a huge amount of people. I had fun, but it was such a shock to the system. I had people who knew who I was [I made sure of it by having a ‘MasakoX’ headband on my head a la Naruto…I shudder at myself.] but for the most part I was really out of my depth. It didn’t put me off but I went about the weekend the wrong way. I had nobody to meet, no means of getting about and I got lost many times. Not to mention I felt really nervous amongst the huge amount of people. Simply put, I went too big. This is where my first tip comes in:

TIP #1 – START OFF SMALL/LOCAL 

If you have a local anime convention or meet-up, go to it. Back in 2007, I had only one convention near where I live, Minami-Con in Southampton. The next closest was in London [MCM – but it wasn’t strictly an ANIME convention. It’s more of a shopping mall for sci-fi, anime, gaming fans]. That was it. Nowadays, anime conventions in the UK [and around the world] are far more plentiful and growing in number every year. Odds are that there is a local group or convention near where you live. Do your research and pick an event or club nearby. Just because it may be small, doesn’t mean it will be less fun than a huge event. Most of the smaller conventions I’ve been to have been just as, if not more, enjoyable than their larger counterparts. It’s because the space is far smaller and most often well used so you get to know the con space pretty quickly and are much less likely to get lost.

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Try and pick an event where the number is less than one thousand attendees [based on previous years if applicable]. The chances of that con being rammed with people and it being a large environment are low but you won’t lose the essence of what makes an anime convention special. In fact, it might have a more concentrated feel. Smaller cons are more often than not run by like-minded fans, so they’ll have a better understanding about the wants and needs of their attendees. Three conventions I can list that are great examples are Akumakon, Nom-Con and S-Con. All of these events [when I went to them] had less than one thousand attend the event but their charming and thoughtful staff and committee made sure that my time spent with them was something that I enjoyed and felt safe and secure. They were run professionally and with kindness that I always cherish. I seriously recommend these conventions if you’re in the UK or Ireland by the way.

If you’re a nervous person, a smaller convention can also ease your concerns or worries. You get to immerse yourself in your favourite genre of entertainment whilst not being immersed in people or being far away from where you live. If you don’t like it or feel a little uncomfortable, you can easily find a place to step out and take a break or even escape home quickly. You have that extra crumb of comfort should you need it.

I often speak to people at these smaller events and they tell me that this is their first con. I congratulate them for not jumping in too quickly like I did. It’s the best way to get a feel for the anime convention culture.

TIP #2 – DO YOUR RESEARCH 

Another important tip to begin with is to do your research. Search anime forums and websites such as AnimeCons.com, official convention sites/forums or even other anime fan blogs for a broad overview of the convention of which you are about to attend or register for. You want to be sure that the event you’re going to has:

a) A clean, easy-to-read website or page

b) Good reviews/feedback/reputation from con goers, reviewers and/or travel sites.

c) Transparency.

Most conventions ask you to pre-register for their event so it involves making a financial commitment to going and you putting your own ‘stamp of approval’ behind the con’s committee. Before you do, try and get as much information about the event as you can. Either from message boards either related or not related to the convention [in order to ascertain a somewhat objective view of proceedings], the con’s own website [the presentation and information here can make a huge difference on its reputation] and indeed your friends. If your friends have been to that convention, ask them. It’s imperative for you to gain an understanding about the place you’re going to be for the day or weekend before you pay upfront.

If a convention has a less-than-reputable standing in the anime community, find out why. Don’t just make a judgement on the spot, read up on it and judge for yourself about whether you still want to go or not. One thing’s for sure, don’t go because it’s easy to get to or it’s cheap. Go because you WANT to and you FEEL that you will have fun there. It’s all about fun here, not getting a good deal.

If a convention is very popular both with attendees and experts, don’t snap it up immediately. Think about it for a second. Will you be available that weekend? Will you have the money to go? Will there even be a place for you to stay? [Hotels fill up quickly if the con is popular!] If you can answer all those questions calmly and rationally, then by all means proceed.

TIP #3 – BUDGET. BUDGET. BUDGET. 

A common complaint I hear at conventions, especially in the second half of the weekend of a con, is “I don’t have any money left!” or “I spent all my money on <insert thing here>.” Things cost money. Things cost a lot of money at a con. There are people at conventions out to part you from your money; but they’re not doing anything nasty or nefarious! They have awesome stuff you can rarely find anywhere else, certainly in physical form. A form in which you can inspect, admire and lament that you don’t have enough cash to buy if you’re not careful.

Before you go, take into stock what things will cost upfront as best you can. There are things which you can easily budget for, things that are essential:

1) Pre-Registration Costs

2) Hotels

3) Transportation [Train, Car, Plane, Taxi etc.]

You can find out these three things beforehand and budget accordingly. You can shop around and get the best deal and have the assurance that those parts are dealt with…for the most part. Pre-Registration is NOT the first thing you do. Find out if you can GET THERE first. If you pre-register and THEN find out there are no feasible routes to the event, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Look around for the best deals when it comes to flights, transfers, routes, trains and planned excursions and see if it’s possible to even get to the convention from where you are based.

Then make sure you have a place to stay. If you’re just going for a day, this part isn’t necessary. If you’re going for a few days, however, you need this. You can’t just ignore it. You’ll be effectively homeless and have to resort to sleeping on the con floor [which is not recommended or tolerated by the staff.] Find places in the local area and BOOK EARLY. For the larger conventions, hotels fill up MONTHS beforehand and you’ll be out of luck. These hotels are right next to the convention or not far from it, a few minutes walk. Don’t be afraid to look further afield. When I go to Otakon, I pick a hotel which is a twenty minute walk from the event and it’s both easy to get to and cheaper. If you can get a good deal at the expense of immediate convenience then go for it. See if the hotel is within walking distance for you and is well lit and busy. Don’t pick a hotel in a rundown area and one which is perpetually quiet; you won’t feel safe. Stick to popular or well-kept areas.

If you can find friends to share with and friends that you’re comfortable sharing with, then go for it. It can save a lot of money and you’ll be with your pals all the time and people that you can trust. You’ll feel better leaving your stuff in a room with people you know. If you have to resort to finding people, get to know them before you go. Don’t just sign up to a room share and then leave it to the day of arrival to get acquainted. It’ll make for a better experience when you’re not at the con.

Also, take into stock that cons aren’t cheap. They can be if you choose not to buy anything or do anything; but odds are you’ll be stifling your enjoyment somewhat. I’m not saying that you should buy things for the sake of spending money. If you see something in the dealer’s room you want and can’t find anywhere else for a cheaper price, then buy it. You’ll have something you want AND the memory of buying it at the event. The item holds a more special significance to you. However, don’t go nuts. Be careful with your cash as you can soon easily find yourself penniless. As you’re budgeting for your hotel room, transportation costs and whatnot; set aside an amount for the dealer’s room. An amount that you’re comfortable with whatever your income.

Food at conventions can be pricey, so if you can, buy food outside of the con area if you want to save that little bit of extra cash. Just because the food is next to your favourite dealer or within the con floor, doesn’t mean you have to put up with prices that are double or in some cases triple the amount outside of the con. Support the local vendors where possible.

If you can budget beforehand for an event, then you will enjoy said event more as you will not be constantly worrying [or at least less likely to worry] that you have no or very little cash left.

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That’s all for now. I shall be posting more tips over time and adding to the data bank. If you have suggestions for me to cover, leave a comment. If you agree or disagree, leave a comment too.

Thank you and I hope you enjoyed!

[WINTER 2014] Tonari no Seki-kun


Audio Transcript: 

In this short slice-of-life comedy, we are presented with what people most fondly remember from their days in high school – messing around and not paying attention. That’s the core plot point in this short tale named Tonari no Seki-kun.

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The series translates to read Seki-kun, Master of Killing Time. That’s pretty much all this show is about – killing time. You can relate from what Seki-kun is up to; there have been times that we’ve decided we’d rather play with our study material rather than actually study and Seki really takes that to the nth degree. His creations are something to behold, wonder and disbelieve. It’s clear that what he gets up to would normally be spotted and dealt with sufficiently; but for the purposes of comedy and imagination, his works are given a chance to be witnessed by us as the viewer and the girl sat next to him named Rumi. Rumi is meant to be the straight-edged student who is trying her best to concentrate on the lesson but is instead fascinated and horrified with what Seki is up to. In fact, most of the time, it is Rumi that gets told off by the teacher for larking about instead of Seki which seems unfair but if you watch the show, it’s understandable WHY Rumi gets into trouble. She carries on to the point of craziness. Seki meanwhile remains quiet, focused and determined and for the most part doesn’t utter a word to anyone, even Rumi. He chooses to wield nasty looks at her if she interferes or overly judges his activities. That’s pretty much what happens in each episode. Each of his inventions are built, tested and he has his fun whilst causing Rumi to seemingly have a heart attack almost every episode!

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It’s a cute story, but one that is very limited. There’s only so much that you can do at your desk with things you could realistically acquire being a high school student. It’s a somewhat one dimensional narrative. Seki does something, Rumi objects/gets enthralled, Rumi gets in trouble, Seki gets away with it. The manga, which began as a one-shot in 2010, was written by Takuma Morishige and soon became a fully fledged multi-volume story with five volumes released as on February 2014. It has a pedigree behind it and is worth an anime adaptation as it does have some potential as being a cute and quirky short anime to fill the time between episodes of Space Dandy. It suffers a little from the animation quality, which is less than great. Characters look a little wooden and overly simplistic. I get that this is a simple show but that doesn’t excuse the animation studio for being lackadaisical with its work. Then again, the studio [Shin-Ei] knows the art of simple anime styles [Hare+Guu, Doraemon, Shin-chan etc] and often employs it. Simple story therefore equals simple animation. Right? Not really, no. You want to always have good presentation in whatever you create, this falls at the finishing post.

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I like Tonari no Seki-kun, I do. It’s a cute story and something to unwind with after a long day. Where it falls down is in its looks and potential longevity. There’s only so many times that Seki can fabricate a desktop masterpiece of delinquency and get away with it and only so many times that Rumi can prevent herself from choking Seki to death. She could just…ask to switch seats maybe? Either way, Tonari no Seki-kun is something to give a chance. Give it a try and see what you think; just know that it’s more than likely going to blow you away.

Tonari no Seki-kun is availble to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CONTINUE [with caution]