This past Saturday I found myself on the train heading towards the eastern part of the Netherlands, stopping just a few miles away from the German border. It was my actually my first time that far out east, but I wasn’t there to sight-see, I was there to attend an anime con. And not just any anime con, but Anime!
Living in a new and unfamiliar country, I had decided months ago that I would use my current situation as an opportunity to get an idea of anime fandom outside of the United States and Japan. I had previously attended Tsunacon, a relatively small one-day event held in Sliedrecht (but moving to Rotterdam starting next year), but Anime 2011 was my first time at a full-out 3-day Dutch anime convention. Though I was only able to attend Saturday, I still felt a strong sense of love for anime, manga, and video games.
Arriving in Almelo after a nearly three-hour trip, it was a short and pleasant walk through an open-air market to Theaterhotel Almelo, called so because it actually features a theater room capable of seating hundreds, something which makes Theaterhotel Almelo a good fit for an anime convention. Benefitting tremendously from gorgeous, 80-degree weather (that’s about 27 degrees Celsius), the spacious front area of the hotel acted as a nice spot for attendees to relax, pose for photos, and take a smoke break.
At three stories tall, and a restricted maximum attendance of 2500, Anime 2011 at Theaterhotel Almelo was not quite as large as the American conventions I’m used to, with Otakon boasting over 30,000 attendees last year, the fact that it was held in a hotel made it comfortably familiar to me, as it reminded me of my early convention experiences. Though, the fact that Anime con is actually only one of three anime conventions total in the Netherlands, and considered large for a Dutch con, should give readers an of the sheer difference in scale. In fact, in the Dealers’ Room, I had struck up a brief conversation with a Dutch attendee about precisely this topic. In a way, it made Otakon and Anime Expo sound downright legendary.
Speaking of the Dealer’s Room, I heard a familiar sound there, that of the loud exclamation of “Yaoi” and how it is probably fresh and hot and available here. Was that something which this con shared with the American ones? Was it actually universal?
Not quite, it was actually doujinshi seller Hendane’s Netherlands debut. He had heard about Anime 2011 from his time in a Dealer’s Room in Denmark. Asking him what sold well here, he said it’s pretty much the same everywhere, though what varies is the amount of disposable income that the young fans have. In Denmark, they’re apparently loaded. In the Netherlands, that is significantly less the case. The guy was doing his best to push Touhou, though I get the feeling that it hasn’t quite made its mark on the fandom here, even if I did photograph a Cirno cosplayer at Tsunacon.
Going around the rest of the dealer’s room, I also asked a few of the vendor what sold best for them. The most consistent answer was Lucky Star, which I find interesting for a number of reasons, most of them having to do with the age of that show. While certainly not old, in terms of anime fan memory it’s quite a few years in, and to see it maintain some kind of longevity was a pleasant surprise. One vendor also said that One Piece sold very well for them, which was also somewhat unexpected. Was there something about Oda’s title that gave it relatively more otaku clout here than in the US?
Just like Tsunacon, the Artist’s Alley and Dealer’s Room were one and the same, and so before I left I decided to pick up a fan-made magazine. And as I said last time, the artists at the con seem to showcase their output primarily in comics form, as opposed to individual illustrations (though those were still available). In a way, it reminded me of Japanese doujin events, and it’s actually something I kind of prefer over the US Artist’s Alleys.
Having missed out on the AMV competition last time, I made an effort to go check it out here, though by the time I got to the aforementioned large theater where it was being held, it was already full and I could not stay long. The AMV competition was sponsored by Archonia, the largest distributor of anime goods in Europe, which makes them a very familiar name to those living in Europe but probably unknown outside of it. They were actually in the Dealer’s Room. Before I left, I got a glimpse of an AMV featuring Naga the White Serpent from Slayers to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” Makes sense to me.
Around this time, I was feeling the need to take a break, and noticed that Anime 2011 had its very own maid cafe. Normally, I’m not big on maid cafes, but I saw one thing and I had to go: the maids were actually taking orders or serving food. Now that might not sound like a big deal, but let’s put it into perspective a little. New York Anime Festival has touted their own “maid cafe” for a few years now, except that the Jacob Javits Center in which the NYAF takes place has its own unique rules, namely that non-union workers cannot handle food. In other words, the only thing the “maids” are good for at NYAF is posing for photos, which is not to detract from their efforts in entertaining con-goers, but it’s just not quite the same. Seeing that these girls at Anime 2011 had no odd rules to deal with, and also seeing that their menu consisted of a combination of Japanese snacks and Dutch treats, I decided to sit down to some waffle and bitter lemon soft drink. As I looked around, I noticed that the customers were pretty even in terms of gender diversity.
Given the size limitations of the hotel, the convention could not have very many panels and workshops, though there were still a decent number. Of the activities at Anime 2011 though, only one of them resembled the kind of fan panel you would typically see at an American convention. Titled simply “Your Anime Sucks,” it was a guy at the front of the room doing his best to lightheartedly rag on any title you gave him. To keep it easy on everyone, primarily mainstream titles were preferred (and silly me, I thought Akagi was a mainstream title. Whoops!). Interestingly, the guy made an explicit point of using English instead of Dutch, because of the fact that he found Dutch as a language ill-equipped for the task at hand, whether it meant a lack of sufficient wordplay or just not enough derogatory phrases in the language. The guy put in a good effort, and if I had any suggestion to make to him, it is that he doesn’t dive deeply enough into the fabric of the shows to tear them apart. That, and his criticism of the Fate/Stay Night anime didn’t involve mentioning the CG dragon inside Saber’s vagina at all.
Possibly the most impressive part of this convention was its Game Room. Filled with Japanese-style sit-down arcade machines, obscure items like Evangelion pachinko and a Vectrex, all of the newest titles and consoles, and of course Dance Dance Revolution, Anime 2011′s Game Room was good enough for a con ten times its size. Wandering around, I heard an oddly familiar song, which turned out to be the Futari wa Precure opening coming out of a Taiko no Tatsujin game, and it took me back to when I was in Japan, playing that very same song on a machine in Akihabara. It made me reflect a little on how lucky I’ve been to live in so many different places in the world.
Another good feature of this game room was the fact that it was right next to the outdoors, which meant that fresh air was coming into it the whole time. If there is a cure for Game Room funk at conventions, it is actual air circulation.
I tried my hand at a little Super Smash Bros. Brawl where I was clearly rusty, moving on to an unusual Sega wrestling game, and then a couple of fighting games, where I got frustrated by the fact that I was unable to defeat the CPU Sol Badguy in Guilty Gear X. It also reminded me that I simply never got used to arcade sticks.
The last event of the evening was the concert with the convention’s guests of honor, the electronic band Aural Vampire. Sadly, I had a train to catch so I couldn’t stay for the whole concert but I actually enjoyed their music more than I thought I would. Comprised of gothic vocalist Exo-Chika and masked DJ Raveman (who I hear from good sources plays the blazin’ beat), their performance was fun and engaging, and I’d like to see them again, either here in the Netherlands or perhaps even in the United States. Photography was not allowed though, so you’ll have to settle for this picture of Clara the cow, one of two convention mascots. Its owner, not pictured here (but pictured on the official site), is a magical farm-girl named Marieke.
Overall, Anime 2011 was a different experience from both Tsunacon and the American conventions I’m used to, but still familiar enough that I could really feel that anime con atmosphere. If I have any regrets from the convention, they have to do with some necessary concessions on my part. As mentioned in the beginning, it’s a hotel con but I could only stay for one day, and I know from experience that having a convention involve commuting gives it a different impression. In that sense, I probably did not experience the true Anime 2011, especially because I could not be around for one of their signature events, the “Ecchimated Music Video” competition, i.e. an 18+ AMVs contest, which is something totally non-existent in the US as far as I know. I also could not convince anyone I knew to go to the convention with me, so it ended up being a solitary affair. Again, while still fun, conventions are made better by friends. Maybe next time I’ll go, I’ll be able to trick someone into attending as well.