The Japanese Animation Film and Art Expo returned to DeVos Hall and the Amway Grand hotel for their second year at these locations. This event ran into a few problems last year (long registration waits, confusing signage, etc). Despite all of that, the convention was a good time overall. Did they learn from the growing pains of being a convention that essentially started over? Find out.
A theme of improvement sums up JAFAX 21. The registration nightmare of last year was not relived. Instead of 3 to 4 hour waits, the wait times were slimmed down to 10 to 15 minutes. Dependable wi-fi connections were utilized in cutting down wait time in lines. There were separate lines for attendees who pre-registered and for attendees buying badges the day of. Also, there were lines for those paying with card and for those who were paying with cash. Registration was a massive improvement for 2017. This will serve JAFAX well into the future.
While registration was faster this year, the registration hours began at 11am while most of the activities were not available until around 3. I will note that an anime screening room and the manga library were open at noon in the Amway Grand. However, the majority of activities located at DeVos Hall were not available to the attendees. The Dealer’s Room section was closed for setup until 3 and the earliest panel began at 330. After quick registration, many attendees were hanging out in the lobby of DeVos Hall with not much to do. I can see how close to four hours of waiting around can be taxing on one’s patience. I hope that next year that a few activities will open earlier to tide people over until everything is available.
A new badge was introduced to commemorate the memory of Brian Haskins. Brian was a long standing member of JAFAX. I remember that he would run the AMV contest that I looked forward to each year. Sadly, Brian lost his long battle to cancer shortly after JAFAX last year. Any person that currently (or was) battling a life-threatening illness could apply for the badge. The application consisted of telling JAFAX about their love for anime, video games, or Japanese culture. One recipient and a guest were granted the badge which allowed free entrance into JAFAX for the weekend.
Once the convention truly began, fans of english voice acting had the opportunity to meet J Michael Tatum, David Vincent and Kyle Hebert throughout the course of the weekend. J Michael Tatum can be heard in Black Butler (Sebastian), Attack on Titan (Erwin Smith) and Tokyo Ghoul (Shuu Tsukiyama). David Vincent’s voice gave like to characters such as Senketsu (Kill la Kill) and Grimmjow Jaggerjack (Bleach). If you’ve watched Dragonball Z (and now, Super too), you would recognize Kyle Hebert as the voice of adult Gohan, Ox King, and the narrator. On top of the nice selection of voice actors, attendees had the chance to get an autograph/photo due to the multiple sessions scheduled each day.
The vendor room was bigger and better considering that the setup was different. Artists were located on the outer perimeter while dealers were on the inside. Since the 3 sided cube layout was (thankfully) abandoned, artists were clearly visible instead of hidden. Once inside the vendor section, there were a variety of wares to choose from. Plushies, wall scrolls, t-shirts, and DVDs were well within reach. I personally purchased oversized angry panda slippers and a few dvds.
Continuing with the theme of improvement, JAFAX did a better job with signage. Easy to read and professionally printed signs pointed attendees in the right direction. This was a marked improvement compared to the last minute hand drawn signs of last year. The signage helped with the modified layout of the event for this year. Registration, the Dealer’s room, autographs, and a few panel rooms were held at the DeVos Hall location. Upon entering the Amway Grand, one would find signs point to the rooms for gaming (table top and video games), panels, screenings, manga library, cosplay repair, con-ops, concert/dance and the maid cafe. For fans of pokemon, Pokemon stations were prevalent throughout the Amway Grand.
The video game room was an impressive step up this year. Tokyo Attack provided the arcade games. Dance Dance Revolution, Dance Evolution Arcade, jubeat and the Taiko Drum game were a few of the games available to scratch the rhythm itch. Fun Fact: The Taiko Drum game featured Tank, which was the opening theme song to the iconic anime, Cowboy Bebop. It was nice to see the Initial D (influential racing anime) racing game in action. The console portion of the gaming room was equally impressive. JAFAX staff provided their own consoles, TVs and games for attendees to enjoy during the weekend. Console systems included the NES Mini, PS4, X-Box One, the Nintendo Switch. Zero Dawn Horizon (PS4), Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo Switch), and the latest Guilty Gear Xrd iteration were a few of the newly released games available to play. The JAFAX staff and Tokyo Attack should be commended for providing an awesome gaming experience for attendees.
The manga library was filled with an extensive variety. Attack on Titan, One Piece, Read or Die, Samurai Champloo, Darker than Black, Ruroni Kenshin, Trigun and Blue Exorcist were just a few of the numerous titles in the library. Seeing Fushigi Yugi on the shelves brought back memories of when I first started reading manga through the local Grand Rapids library system. I will admit that I’m disappointed with myself that I did not set aside time to sit down and enjoy a volume or five in the manga library. Once you sit down, it’s easy to blow through volumes. I will make it a point to experience the library more next year. A huge thanks goes to the JAFAX staff and the GVSU Anime Club for their generosity during the JAFAX weekend.
Outside of the screening rooms, informative printed schedules listed what series were playing during the multiple programming blocks. For example, during the 6pm to 10pm program block, the schedule provided the name of the show, the description of the show and the viewing time for said show. Once the 10pm time frame passed, a new schedule was placed to keep attendees up to date. I would love to see this informative practice implemented more at other conventions with screening rooms.
While the overall setup was improved, a few setbacks occurred. Due to the convention being held between two locations with a five minute walk in between, the convention felt stretched out. At times, it felt like you had to pick between the two locations and stick with your decision. Outside of checking out the Dealer’s room, autographs and the guest panels in the Grand Ballrooms, there was nothing to experience at DeVos Hall. With the majority of events held at the Amway Grand, DeVos felt sparse attendance wise. There were only so many times a person could walk around the Dealer’s room before leaving DeVos for the Amway Grand.
If you were in a wheel chair, (or had a cart, in my case) you were out of luck if you were expecting a straight path to the screening and panels rooms in the Amway Grand. What awaited you was a convoluted path due to the convoluted layout of the Amway Grand. Access to the panel rooms involved taking an elevator down to the 1st floor to walk over to another elevator (completely hidden off of the beaten path) to reach the 3rd floor. If you accidentally went into the wrong elevator hoping to reach the 3rd floor, it would lead to hotel rooms instead. The path was frustrating, to say the least.
Places like the Amway Grand and DeVos Hall book events years out in advance due to high demand. Considering that JAFAX has a long way to go before it can completely book all of the Amway Grand, I don’t foresee it becoming a private event anytime soon. With that being said, I would like to see more of a hotel security presence during coinciding events that involve alcohol to prevent inebriated outsiders away from the convention area. I have no problem with people enjoying their libations at wedding receptions however, when you are so drunk that you start harassing con-goers, that presents a problem. A few folks from a wedding reception wanted to crash the Dance Party. JAFAX staff turned them away. The wedding guests loudly stated that they were going to crash the dance through a different entrance. This prompted JAFAX staff to post staff members at the alternative entrances to prevent these people from crashing. Another individual was harassing attendees in the hotel lobby. He was ranting about how he was going to personally tweet to Betsy DeVos about people ignoring him. I can’t make this up, people. He managed to make it upstairs into the table top gaming room. He wanted people to play the giant Jenga game with him. Thankfully, a JAFAX staff member was able to corral the man out of the room eventually. By the time hotel security arrived, Mr. Jenga had already wandered out of the building. I realize that it not the job of hotel security to babysit drunk guests. However, their presence would be helpful in potentially deterring them away from the convention attendees.
With all of that said, I must note that staff of JAFAX worked with what available rooms they were able to book for this year. JAFAX competed with an optometrist convention at DeVos Hall and multiple wedding receptions at the Amway Grand this year. While it would be nice to have one central location for everything, I don’t foresee that situation happening anytime soon. Once again, the staff of JAFAX did a wonderful job with what was available. I have no complaints with how the rooms were utilized.
My annual tradition of attending the AMV (Animated Music Video) contest was revived this year. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to last year’s contest. Thankfully, both contests from 2016 and 2017 were screened in the room. Considering that I am a huge fan of comedic AMV mashups, the Attack on Titan AMV set to the theme song from Friends was among my favorite selections. The video titled Talk Skating to Me mixed Yuri on Ice with Talk Dirty to Me. I love the creativity that people come up with in AMVs.
If watching an AMV contest was the extent of my anime viewing, I would have been disappointed in myself. I ventured into a screening room to watch the first episode of Yuri on Ice. Over the past year, I noticed a lot of attention and fandom surrounding this series. I knew the basic plot of the show from what I read online. From what I witnessed in the first episode, I can say that was impressed with the quality of animation. The scene where Yuri was practicing, by himself, was amazing. Yuri on Ice left a good impression on me. I might check out the rest of the series down the road.
In the Imperial Ballroom, JAFAX expanded their musical repertoire. Grand Rapids own Video Game Music band, Playing with Power took the audience on a nostalgia trip with tunes from games that were around in the 80s and 90s. DJ Marson and DJ Thundurdrop brought the bass drops and beats for the Electroinc Dance. The DJs blended the songs together to make them flow into one another. People were enjoying their time on the dance floor, including Rick and Morty’s own Mr. Poopy Butthole. Yes, you read that right.
The printed schedule/convention map would benefit from a tweak. Initially, I could not find the Playing with Power concert or the Electronic Dance listed among the columns of activities. However, I found them located at the very bottom of the schedule noting the time in the Imperial Ballroom. I feel that the concert listing on the bottom of the schedule might have impacted the turnout for the event. About 40 people were in the audience for Playing with Power. As cliche as it sounds, the attention is in the details. I hope that a new column for the Imperial Ballroom will be utilized in the future should they dedicate that room for events again. I will note that the printed schedule had a barrier column break down the middle separating the two locations. This additional column created an easier reading experience in trying to figure out what event was where and at what time.
I managed to attend a few panels this year. During David Vincent’s Q&A panel, he was giving lessons in voice acting to the audience. JAFAX panel guest M-Bro (aka Derek Parrot) hosted two entertaining panels that were succinctly titled: How to Con and Weaboo Trash When You’re An Adult. How to Con featured comedic and helpful tips on attending conventions. Weaboo Trash was a good natured insult fest aimed at the audience. Kids were certainly not allowed in that one. I attended WTF 101 with J Michael Tatum. As with all of the 18+ panels I have attended, what happens there, stays there. To round out my panels experience, Yokai Girls Gone Wild was the last but not the least. Panel guest Charles Dunbar educated the audience on the topic of female monsters found in Japanese folklore. JAFAX was not lacking for panel content.
The 2017 JAFAX was an overall improvement over the 2016 incarnation. Rectifying the main issues from last year (signage and registration) made for a better experience. If the staff continue to build upon what worked this year and tweak what didn’t, JAFAX will be on it’s way to growing more in the future. Once again, I enjoyed my time at JAFAX. I will look forward to the event in 2018. I wonder what awaits.
What were your thoughts on the event?