Even amongst the local congoers, Anime Boston had a reputation as a convention to aspire attending, especially with its panel programming. Amongst my closest congoing friends, it had a reputation for being a very expensive convention, and one in which they would only attend every other year. Like Anime Weekend Atlanta last year, I took the opportunity with Anime Boston to meet friends, old and new, and also expand my con repertoire, which for this year occurred over Easter Sunday.
Now, part of Anime Boston’s high price comes from the fact that it is held at the Hynes Convention Center, in the middle of downtown Boston. Plus points to this include ease of access via Boston’s subway system from Logan Airport, along with lots of options for food. However, for those travelling to the convention by car, expect to pay $20-$40 per day for parking, and for those travelling by plane, tickets (at least for me) don’t come cheap, unlike at Anime Weekend Atlanta. The main convention hotel, a Sheraton, is attached to the convention center, which is also attached to an upscale shopping mall, The Shops at Prudential Center, which also links to several overflow hotels. Booking hotels is where one first notices sticker shock- most rooms cost $220-$320 per night, with the exception being the much more basic Midtown Hotel at $170-$180 per night. (To give one an idea of the Midtown Hotel’s caliber, one must ask for soap for the bathroom) Now, this is twice as much as any other convention I have attended thus far, so that set the standard for the convention much higher. The question is whether Anime Boston could deliver.
For registration, even though there was no option to have badges mailed to attendees, the 4:00 PM badge pickup start time on Thursday was adhered to and the lines moved very quickly. However, getting into the convention center did involve some roadblocks, and it became apparent that Anime Boston is a convention that has been heavily affected by the Boston Marathon bombing several years ago. Accessing the convention center through all but one entrance meant going through a bag check and stepping through a metal detector, a bit like going through security at the airport, and lines at each check often added 10-20 minutes of travel time between going into and out of the convention center. Annoying as these procedures are, I can see why they were implemented, and thankfully, the staff at these checkpoints were professional about their jobs, and congoers didn’t react with too much frustration or anger, instead accepting the checks with a sense of normalcy. Interactions with other staff members were also positive, as they all seemed to maintain a higher sense of professionalism versus other conventions, though a heavy presence of Boston police officers and other security personnel were reminders of how the convention has been affected by the bombing. For food, Anime Boston strikes a balance, with fast food vendors being plentiful and quick. Do yourself a favor and avoid the overpriced and underwhelming cafeteria in the convention center, which closes at 8:00 PM, since one will have to go back to one’s hotel room eventually and the price of convenience is not worth it. However, for those who want a sit-down restaurant, be prepared to wait, especially on Saturday evening when tables were booked for an hour at 3 different places, or pay lots of money, as the Sheraton’s breakfast buffet rings out at a pricey $31 per person with tax and tip.
Once inside the convention center, one finds an extremely easy to navigate venue with logical placement of events, and there were lots of areas for photography plus wide hallways able to handle the flow of traffic. Now, while the photography venues were good, photoshoots are held in a different manner at Anime Boston, since many fandoms had several shoots during the course of the convention, instead of one photoshoot per fandom for the entire convention. Now, this does allow one to avoid schedule conflicts and allows for more flexibility, but it also splits groups up as many individuals will choose to attend only one of the shoots during the weekend. A photoshoot schedule was also not included in the convention handbook or schedule, unfortunately, and while the handbook did include a list of panels along with descriptions, it did not list other important panel information such as dates, times, and locations. Thankfully, all this information, along with panel descriptions, is listed on Anime Boston’s website and there was an app for smartphones. Now, while Anime Boston’s website includes a wealth of information in great detail, the forums are poorly maintained and cluttered, leading to difficulty in organizing and coordinating midsize and large meetups, a problem that is made worse by the lack of a Facebook group for attendees to converse or ask questions with each other. It also makes it difficult to find photographers for private photoshoots, something I wanted to do at the convention. Instead, the best cosplay moments were random stumbles in the hallway, and thankfully the congoers are mostly friendly and willing to strike up a conversation, with the crowd far less rambunctious than that of Anime Central’s. The variety of cosplay here is very good- not as large of a variety as Anime Central, but leaps and bounds better than the mostly mainstream characters represented at Anime Weekend Atlanta.
Now, while the congoers were mostly enjoyable and contributed to a positive convention experience, I was left a bit underwhelmed at the dealers room, which is a bit small for this size of convention, and the selection of merchandise a bit thin. The best vendors were the ones who brought in their own artwork, but chose to sell it through the dealers room instead of the artists alley, which by the way was average. On the other hand, the panels were phenomenal, not only in terms of selection but also in terms of focus. This is an anime convention, first and foremost, and the panels focus on anime, Japanese culture, and cosplay, with less deviation than in other conventions, and the variety not only caters to younger anime fans but also older ones as well. What surprised me the most, however, is that the convention manages to strike a difficult balance of being operationally sound but still have a good sense of fun and enjoyment. Things ran on time, few events were cancelled or delayed at least to my knowledge, and there was a sense of people just adhering to the rules to make sure all attendees had a good time, rather than rules for the sake of rules combined with militant adherence. Not only were attendees happy and having a good time, but staff were as well, and there was the sense that everyone came to the convention for the convention content and having a good time, rather than to cause a ruckus and be disruptive.
So did Anime Boston measure up? It is an excellent convention, make no mistake about that. The bag check is annoying, yes, but there is a good reason for its implementation. The lack of a Facebook group is annoying, yes. But the biggest problem, at least for me and most of the country, is the cost. Anime Boston is not twice the convention as its competitors, but it costs twice as much. For New England locals, especially for those who commute, it is a fantastic convention to attend, and one that can easily be made feasible. But for out-of-towners, it’s more of a treat convention, one to attend on occasion if not once in a lifetime. Despite it being an excellent convention, attending even every other year is an expensive proposition. Will I return? I’d like to, and if I do, it’ll be with a group of friends, but I can’t say for sure. Is it worth going to? Absolutely, even for out-of-towners.
My hallway pictures are up but I only attended the RWBY photoshoot on Friday, for which pictures will be up hopefully within a week here