Most of my con-going friends have attended at least one convention where their primary mode of transportation was airplane. This was long an aspiration for me, and even though I had the money for it, I wanted to find a convention where I could do more than just attend the convention, and also find others willing to go with me. For those who don’t know, many of the locals here tend to stick to in-state conventions, and a “far off” convention means Chicago’s Anime Central, a mere 7 hour drive away, so for me not having splurged yet on a far-away con by airplane was embarrassing. Trying to combine tourism, meeting friends, strengthening existing friendships, and expanding my con repertoire led me to look into attending Anime Weekend Atlanta, or AWA.
One thing to keep in mind with AWA is that its venue, the Cobb Galleria Convention Center, is nowhere near the airport and has no viable public transportation links. The fact that the convention is held at the tail end of convention season in late September is advantageous to cosplayers in terms of weather. Unfortunately, for this AWA, it was rainy both on Friday and Saturday, and the only hotel directly attached to the convention center, a Renaissance, always sells out extremely quickly. However, one thing working for AWA’s favor is the fact that hotels are relatively cheap- the Courtyard where I was staying was among the cheapest hotels I have ever seen for an anime convention at $109 per night and the most expensive hotels were around $159 per night. There are two other hotels near the convention center, a Sheraton and an Embassy Suites, but every other hotel requires a walk of at least 15 minutes outside. Tampering this inconvenience for me was the fact that I could route through the nearby Cumberland Shopping Mall to avoid part of the rain, and that the Courtyard offered shuttle van service to the Cobb Galleria.
The Cobb Galleria and the Renaissance were excellent venues for the event in terms of space and photography, as the large and open areas provided lots of natural light and plenty of room to spread out. However, everything was consolidated into one large building so traversing from place to place was quick and easy, non-Renaissance hotels notwithstanding. Aiding this transfer of people were one-way corridors where enforcement and adherence of the policy was above-average. There were more than enough food options at AWA, and the Renaissance was even providing discounts at their restaurants for non-Renaissance guests. The Cobb Galleria also had fast food and sit-down restaurant options, and the Cumberland’s food court also had its fair share of convention attendees. Perhaps the most innovative food-related venue, though, would have to be the near half-dozen food trucks (most of which were Asian-themed, too) at the side of the dealer’s room, and long lines at each one was a testament to how popular they were during the weekend. While we’re on the subject of the dealer’s room, the best way to describe it would be spectacular. It’s even larger than the one at ACEN, a convention with 30% more attendees, and the variety of merchandise in terms of types of items sold and fandoms catered to blew ACEN’s dealer’s room out of the water. The only complaints would be the much narrower walkways in AWA’s dealer’s room, the fact that the dealers room didn’t open until noon on Friday, and the fact that the artist alley was tiny.
The food trucks were not the only innovation I saw at AWA. On Thursday evening, attendees could sign up to have a table so they could sell their unwanted possessions. Though there was an associated fee of $25, guest attendance at this event was strong, and it was amusing to see some of the old anime items being sold. While this innovation is noteworthy, AWA also had two innovations which could have been improved upon. The first innovation is the fact that AWA is only the second convention I know of which offered the option for attendees to have their registration badge mailed before the convention. However, the value prospect here was a lot lower than ACEN’s, since badges didn’t get mailed until a week before the convention occurred and the cost was an extra $15 at AWA versus $2 for ACEN. Despite the relatively high price, based on badge pickup lines, I would go for it again. The second innovation was the fact that AWA partnered with Delta Airlines to offer discounted airfare for attendees. However, this innovation fell flat since the discount was a mere $5 each way. While we’re on the subject of small issues, AWA also follows ACEN’s tactic of providing discounted badges to panelists, which always was a sticking point for me since the commitment factor is weakened. Lo and behold, one panel I wanted to attend did get cancelled due to this. Nonetheless, AWA’s administration team was able to inform attendees and also came through when another panel had to be rescheduled to a later time. Information about the convention was easily accessible and properly communicated to attendees on the website, though I will have to still voice my disapproval on the panel schedule being released only a week before the convention.
Shokugeki no Shoma cosplay was represented at AWA
Speaking of panels, perhaps it is because this was my first convention outside the Midwest, but there were more panels I found interesting than at any other anime convention I have attended, and it was shocking to say that the Sunday panels were among my favorite. In fact, both a friend and I didn’t leave AWA until nearly 5:00 PM on Sunday since both of us had panels we wanted to attend. There were many panels I had never seen before, such as a panel on automobiles, one on insert songs, one on economics, one on 3D virtual reality hardware, and one on animals. Also kudos to the panelists, the ones whom I ran into seemingly more than capable of managing and running their panels well. They weren’t Fortune 500-quality business professional, but in terms of anime fans and compared with some of the other panels I have attended at other conventions (ahem Anime Central ahem), it might as well be. Also extraordinary were the attendees, since while there were panels where attendees were supposed to act crazy, the fact that most audience members were able to productively contribute to the panel discussion yet control themselves rather than attempt to overrun the panelists was amazing.
Now, this seems to be a convention that I would want to want to return to every year, based on the review so far. But there is one very large drawback resulting in a huge caveat to me giving AWA a full recommendation: the cosplay. It’s not bad, per se, as the technical skill of the cosplayers is very high indeed, especially those who use props or make armor (side note- Gundam cosplays and merchandise feature quite heavily at AWA). Private photographers were aplenty at AWA, and just watching these photographers demonstrate their technical skills was amazing. Group cosplay is more prevalent at AWA than at other conventions, with groups being larger, more complete, and with fewer instances of duplicate characters. It is instead the variety of characters and series being cosplayed from which left me cold. It was like if one was cosplaying from a common series that others were cosplaying from that year, picture requests abounded. But cosplay from a more obscure series or a more obscure character (of which 3 of my 4 cosplays fit into this criteria) and next to nobody will ask for your picture. Most cosplayers tended to stick to groups of other people and familiar series rather than branch into something outside of the anime mainstream. Photoshoots were another disappointment, since in the ones photoshoots I attended, leaders focused on standard character shots and didn’t have attendees do funny poses, scene recreation, or pairings. The atmosphere at the photoshoots was one of rigidity and obligation rather than socialization, fun, and humor, which is a serious damper on the convention. And that is perhaps the biggest roadblock I encountered- the people. The reserved nature of individuals at panels and throughout the convention translated to aloofness and introversion during conversations. AWA seems to be a convention where attendees go to meet with existing friends rather than form new ones, and my attempts at socialization and establishing new long-term friendships were met with less success than at Midwest conventions since most people retracted back into their own social circles rather than try and expand them or form new ones. The lack of an online forum doesn’t help either, and Facebook groups are not a substitute. As a result, the convention felt extremely cliquey, and would have been much less enjoyable had I not known some current attendees and a local friend.
Now, don’t get me wrong, AWA has a huge number of plus points, and as a convention, is operationally sound, priced right, has a lot of great panels and events, and is phenomenally put together. I am glad to have attended and gotten a chance to get outside the local convention atmosphere, plus experience some instances of “why didn’t I think of that?” If AWA is a local convention and you have a great group of friends who attend, consider yourself very fortunate. As for others, I would highly recommend this convention, but only for those going with a group of people instead of solo. Would I attend again? Absolutely, though not every year and instead only in the years where I am able to go with a group.
For pictures, do check out my Flickr here. Photoshoots attended include Gundam and Kill la Kill.