Convention Reports

February 25, 2009

News for Arisia 2009:

Arisia 2009 Convention Report

by Elizabeth O'Malley, Writer

In 2008 I decided to attend Arisia last minute. Before then, I had only attended anime conventions, and I wanted to experience a different type of convention. I had such a great time I knew that Arisia would be one of my yearly conventions. It doesn't hurt that it's local to me either. So I planned way in advance this time for Arisia 2009.

Arisia is New England's largest and most diverse Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. This year was their twentieth convention. For the third year, the convention was held in the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, which overlooks Boston and the Charles River. The convention runs annually on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, running Friday through Monday.

Prior to using the Hyatt, Arisia spent many years in the Boston Park Plaza before needing to relocate a few years ago. The Hyatt is smaller than the Park Plaza, therefore the convention has an attendance cap. Although the venue is smaller and has finicky elevators that like to break down, the staff makes great use of the convention space to host as many events, panels, and dealers as possible. Also, the Hyatt has the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in at a hotel.

The majority of the convention is on the first three floors. The first floor hosts registration, information desks, a blood drive, fan tables, main events, and most panel rooms. The second floor has a few more panel rooms, the con suite, and staff rooms. The third floor is their dealers' row. Since there is not one room big enough to have a dealers room all day, the convention uses almost all the hotels on the third floor for the dealers. Each dealer sets up shop in their hotel room and can have their own designated hours. It's a different approach that I think works for this type of convention. Unfortunately, there was very little in terms of anime merchandise, at most a couple items the dealer had on hand. I don't think it would work for an anime convention, because of the extreme popularity of dealers' rooms there. The fourteenth floor was used for Fast Track programming (kids age 1-12), as well as the Masquerade green room. Finally, the sixteenth floor was used for the Art Show.

In addition to the space issue at the Hyatt, another drawback of Arisia is the location of the hotel. The hotel garage only has a few hundred spaces, and filled up before 5pm on Friday this year. However, the con has a great parking rate of $7 per night, versus the normal $35 rate. There is free overflow parking available at MIT, which is close to the hotel, about half a mile away, and the nearest subway station is over a mile away. Those are reasonable walking distances, but not when it was below freezing outside the entire weekend. The convention does have a free shuttle available, which does help. It goes from the hotel, to the nearest T station and overflow hotel, past the overflow parking lot, and back to the hotel. The hotel also has no restaurants nearby. There is a food station set up with a variety of different foods, as well as a buffet set up in the restaurant. There was a second shuttle to take into Central Square, which has several restaurants.

Registration starts at $35, but gradually increases till the end of the year when it reaches $60, which is the same price at the door. Students aged 13-25 with a valid ID can get in for $25, even at the door, which is an amazing deal. They also offer babysitting, which is signed up for in advance, kids programming, and teen programming.

There were two large rooms devoted to main events programming, eight panel rooms, three Fast Track programming panel rooms, two video rooms, and a 24-hour gaming room (table top games, no video games). The video rooms showed films, television shows, and anime. Authors were available for book signings. There were also LARP and gaming events held throughout the weekend.

Arisia's panels divided up into tracks: Fast Track/Children's, Teen, Gaming, Anime, Media, Readings, Filk, Art, Comics, Costuming, Fan Interest, Life 2.0, Lifestyles, Literature, and Science. Over the past couple of years, Arisia has added more anime screenings and anime panels to their schedule, as well as encouraging anime costuming, to bring in younger fans who are interested in anime, as well as science fiction and fantasy.

Although there is not much hall costuming at the convention, Arisia has a great masquerade. Unlike anime conventions, masquerades at conventions like Arisia, which are International Costumers Guild (ICG) events, are totally different from Masquerades at anime conventions. The focus is entirely on the costume, where it is more about presentation than performance, and you only get a minute on stage. Instead of signing up for a time for workmanship judging, you set up a tech rehearsal. The tech crew uses all sorts of lights to make your costume look the best it can. Participants can use different colored lights, cues, and so forth to make the most of their presentation. When you report to the green room a couple hours before the masquerade, that is where workmanship judging is held, which is encouraged, but not required.

Arisia had a great number of anime panels and several screenings throughout the weekend. Screenings included Captain Herlock Endless Odyssey, Ouran High School Host Club, and Tsubasa. The panels covered many different topics, from old favorites to new fads, run by panelists who definitely knew their stuff. These panels were definitely fun, informative, and better than most panels I've been to at anime conventions. I was a panelist for six panels throughout the weekend: What Anime is New Now, What Do You Mean Last Airbender Isn't Anime?, Lolita Fashion and Culture 101, Fansubs and Piracy, Anime Distribution Changes/Webstreaming, and Shojo in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

All in all, Arisia is a good con run by people who know what they are doing. Of course, that should be the case for a convention that has been around this long. The age range is definitely a lot bigger than an anime con. I usually feel like one of the oldest people at an anime con, but at Arisia it was definitely the opposite. The biggest drawback is the location, both the hotel itself and the surrounding location.

Pros: Robust schedule with a large variety of panels and events; entertaining masquerade; overall well run convention

Cons: Location (lack of food variety, lack of ample nearby parking, hotel near nothing)

Recommendation: If you're a fan of all things anime and sci-fi/fantasy, check out this con. But, if crowded places are not your thing at all, you may want to reconsider.