so I have been meaning to write about the ALA trip for, what, a month now and I haven't really had the time. First we got sick, and then I had to finish an article for CD, and then there was all the typical stuff like Mr Kitty and working and before you know it, here's Valentine's Day.
Anyway the deal is this. I was invited out to Anime Los Angeles as their Fan Guest Of Honor. Most of this is due to Alec Orrock, one of the directors of the show, whom I've known for a long time. Seeing as how this would get us out of Toronto in January, I said "yes" and the week after New Years we were off to LA.
Let me just start out by saying that ALA is an amazing show. It's about 4000 attendees, so it's small enough to not be terrifying but large enough to have the cash to do fun stuff. The chair, Chaz, has pretty definite ideas of what he wants the show to be like, but is wise enough to turn his staff loose and let them experiment and have fun. The show has a great relationship with the hotel, and this leads to a level of environmental interaction that I've never seen at an anime con. For instance, ALA brings in its own benches and bean-bag chairs. As Chaz puts it, the fans are going to sit in the halls anyway, might as well give them somewhere to sit. What makes this special is that the benches are customized.
You don't feel like you're in yet another hotel ballroom space, that's for sure. The staff and attendees were enthusiastic, friendly, and remarkably stress-free. Usually at conventions there's at least one flip-out or tantrum or star fit, but I didn't see anything like that at ALA. One custom the show has (and I've heard other conventions do this, but I'd never seen it) is the whole ribbon thing. How it works is this - staffers and fans have their own ribbons printed up, horizontal adhesive-backed ribbons that fit onto the badges, and onto each other, with clever fan-type sayings and mottos. Then when the convention starts, people trade ribbons, ask for ribbons, hand ribbons out, collect ribbons, and stick them to their own con badge. So first off it's a great ice breaker for your more shy fan. Secondly it means that everybody's badge is just a little bit different. And overall it gives the show a unique and friendly vibe I don't think I've seen matched. Of course some people take this to extremes:
I was treated fantastically, and this is another thing that ALA does really well - there's a staffer assigned to each guest (shown here is Ashley, my "handler") who's there to make sure you know where you need to be. At each panel there's a printed place card for each panelist, and that place card not only includes their name but the full list of that panelist's schedule, when and where they need to be all weekend long. So if you're a guest you have constant reminders of your events. Other conventions should totally do this.
This is a photo from the "how technology has changed the anime industry" panel. I was sitting next to a guy who wrote scripts for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS. If you look closely to the left you can see special surprise audience member Fred Patten, who vanished right after the panel and I wasn't able to say "hi" to him. HI FRED!
I didn't take as many photos as I intended, but one thing I definitely needed to get a shot of was the courtyard area, which was used for photoshoots:
This highly landscaped pool area takes advantage of the LA weather to allow costumers to photograph each other without clogging the halls. The consuite was in one of the pool deck suites so it had an outdoor entrance and exit. So nice to get outdoors during a show!
The lower driveway entrance of the hotel is permanently blocked off and that open space was used for the cosplay chess.
Again, the weather was the kind of weather people move to Southern California for, so getting outside was definitely a pleasure.
As far as the con goes, I did 9 panels including "Fandom Before The Internet", our Stupid Comics presentation, my Spooky Classic Anime thing, a fanzine panel with the Colony Drop fellas, I got to sit in on the last half of Tim's Yamato fandom thing, and a panel about convention horror stories that kind of turned into its own convention horror story in a way. We got to see a lot of crazy 80s and 90s OVAs thanks to CD's "not for kids" panel late Saturday night.
I think my only gripe about the hotel's location is that it's by LAX and if you don't have a car your food options are limited to the hotel restaurant, Jack In the Box or Denny's. We bummed a lot of rides over the weekend - we did In & Out twice (good, but no Five Guys), Pam Buck drove us out to Gardena to the Book-Off (!!!) and we had some Japanese lunch in the back of the grocery store, we went with Lloyd and Darius and Marlon and Marlon's LA connection to Umami Burger, and on Monday after the con Lynn drove us around town. We did Dim Sum in Chinatown after our trip to Little Tokyo.
Here's Shain and Tim in Little Tokyo. What are they looking at?
The Challenger memorial including the plaque honoring Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, that's what. Lots of neat stuff in Little Tokyo and we spent too much money. After lunch we went out to the Santa Monica Pier and enjoyed the sunshine and the beach.
That's not to say we didn't have several long, loud, drunken, fan-ranty meals in the hotel. I did a lot of catching up with Alec and Pam and got to meet many of the local LA scene anime movers and shakers, spent a while talking with Jake Tarbox, whom I never really have time to talk to at AWA, and of course it's always great to see Tim and Darius and Lloyd and Marlon, got to shoot the breeze with AX chair Mark Perez, Sean and Matt from CD, spent two hours in the parents lounge talking to a parent about Candy Candy and Gatchaman and Yamato. Got to hear a lot of gossip about SoCal conventions I'd never heard of and will likely never attend, but gossip is always fun. I'd like to think I gave value for money as FGOH; I did a lot of panels, anyway, and people seemed to at least listen to what I had to say.
All too soon it was Tuesday and we got checked out and were on our way back to Toronto. We were at the gate early enough to see the passengers get off our plane, and it being a flight from Toronto, who would be on it but Geddy Lee from Rush. Yup, that's our LA celebrity sighting, a Canadian.
So yeah, a really positive anime con experience. If you're in the area I highly recommend ALA, you might come alone but you'll leave with friends.