Continuing the motto of “For Beautiful Convention Life”

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Anime Weekend Atlanta celebrated twelve years of “Beautiful Convention Life”. I must say that AWA lives up to this motto very well. AWA continues to grow, being one of the ten largest conventions in the US and largest anime convention in the Southeastern United States. 2006 was the first year that Akihabara Renditions attended as official press but this was my ninth straight year in attendance of this convention as a guest in some form or fashion. After being involved for so many years, one would expect to find the event very stale or that I would be showing up simply to catch up with old friends and club members from my High School Anime Club. That is certainly not the case! While I see many of the same staff year after year, ideas from both old and new members must be floated along with some degree of equality because with the diversity of programming, events, and panels, like a fine wine, gets better with age.

Sure, there are standard events that I attend every year – primarily Japanese Animation Hell (don't let the name fool you – it really has little to do with any actual anime – check out AnimeHell.org for a quick sample) and Totally Lame Anime (which does have a lot to do with anime) and other guests can fine numerous panels devoted to the voice acting and directing crews who are guests of the convention. Other topics discussed revolved around Gothic Lolita fashion, general Cosplay (from sewing to props), getting into the Industry, making your own mark in the online community, fan-fiction writing. Pretty much, if you can think about it and have a question, there's probably a panel on it. If you can think about it and think you're an expert, as I purvey the schedule here on my desk, there is plenty of time left open so you could probably start your own panel.

But what amazes me are the new panels that pop up every year. This year featured a panel I would have never expected and will certainly never forget: Anime 1940 – 1980. The beauty of this panel wasn't just the fact that it was a large panel devoted to the definition of “Classic” but with the content displayed, one could see the evolution of Japanese animation from the grips of wartime propaganda up to the juggernaut of the Bubble Economy. One of the most unforgettable clips I saw during the entirety of 2006 come from 1944's Momotarou – Umi no Shimpei 『桃太郎 海の神兵』. This film was made near the end of 1944 and released later in 1945 as the Pacific War was winding down. As such, it is pure propaganda and looking at it over sixty years later the story and action is completely absurd to us now. In the film, which I believe is a sequel to an earlier propaganda piece, Momoarou joins the Imperial Japanese Navy and then trains local forest animals of the territories that Imperial Japan “liberates” to expel the Gaijin and propel the rest of Asia towards prosperity under the guide of Big Brother Japan. I've said before that the modern anime Zipang 『ジパング』 should be commended for looking at the Pacific War with a “Nationalist” viewpoint compared to anti-war classics like Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) 『火垂るの墓』 or Barefoot Gen 『はだしのゲン』 – but seeing an actual piece of Japanese War Machine Propaganda puts things into a different perspective; Zipang appears much more neutral. Moving forward from the end of the war and quickly through the theatrical animation of the Occupation and into the development of television anime in the 1960s, we see the birth of definitive genres of Mahou Shoujo and Super Robot Mecha. Older fans or fans of older anime can appreciate this panel to get a glimpse at some of their favorites; newer fans or fans of new anime might also enjoy the panel for a bit of a history and development lesson.

Though, speaking of classics – AWA has plenty of dedicated video rooms and while half of them have mixed schedules, AWA also features a video room dedicated to all sorts of Classic Japanese Animation. From Heidi, Girl of the Alps 『アルプスの少女ハイジ』 to Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam 『銀河漂流バイファム』 and Uchuu Senkan Yamato 『宇宙戦艦ヤマト』 to Cat's Eye 『キャッツ アイ』, numerous other classics spanning numerous genres were played throughout the convention. With many classics fans lamenting that classic anime doesn't get the respect or demand that many of the newer titles do with younger fans, the video staff at AWA has taken care to diversify the programming and make sure that fans aren't left out in the cold, so to speak.

I'm sure this is all old news by now (being January that I am just now getting around to writing this review) but there were a few late news items worthy of mention. First was ADV toying around with digital distribution for the new Kyoushoku Soukou Guyver (Bio-booster Armor Guyver) 『強殖装甲ガイバー』 as well as movements towards issuing boxes with the second volumes of a series to assist in people making blind buys whether they want to spend extra on box sets without having to make the decision on the first volume. As far as title specific title information goes, there were no new classical licenses to announce; however I was able to wrangle some new information about some established ADV titles. Unfortunately the crew there could not confirm nor deny a license of the original Dirty Pair 『ダーテイペアー』 TV series nor have they considered making a move to release the Seisenshi Dunbine 『望戦士ダンバイン』 OAVs. The bright side of the picture is that Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman 『科学忍者隊ガッチャマン』TV DVDs are selling where ADV expected them to be. While not getting confirmation at what sort of sales volumes they have sold, good vague news is better than bad news. The only other Industry panel which I was able to make it to was FUNimation's panel. FUNimation is not a company which really licenses classics typically. Of their entire catalog, there is a small handful of titles in which would meet AkibaRen's criteria of classic – the Dragonball 『ドラゴンボール』 Trilogy, Kodomo no Omocha 『こどものおもちゃ』, and Crayon Shin-chan 『クレヨンしんちゃん』. The good news from this panel was that FUNimation was trying to get their re-worked dub of Shin-chan back onto Adult Swim after break-out popularity last August.

Finding a complaint, or to be a more positive, where the convention could improve, one has to think long and hard about this. One could complain about long elevator wait times; with our lodging on the ninth floor and all of the events on the second and ground floors, elevators become useful tools. But can we really blame the con staff for that? Not really; while the guests dictate the uses of said tools, the con staff doesn't exactly design the infrastructure of the hotels. Some areas were clogged with traffic, as to be expected, but again, can we blame the staff? I don't think we can nor should we. Are the con staff perfect? Absolutely not. There were admittedly screw-ups on behalf of the staff: primarily in regards to planning AWA's Costume Contest. However, they admitted and apologized for it. It shows the true professionalism of the con staff.

In closing, AWA was a great weekend. The con staff was fantastic, the hotel staff were attentive and the programming was excellent. On many Internet forums I see a lot of division within the fanbase. These divisions aren't along lines of genre or series but more along the lines of the Old versus New fans. Older fans generally complain that the classics are neglected. AWA thankfully caters to New and Old fans alike in terms of video programming and panels. For the new fan looking for a bit of history to see what made their favorites what they are and the old fans looking for a bit of nostalgia, AWA provides plenty of programming that won't let you down.



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