It's been years since I've attended a convention I hadn't been to before. Finally finding myself with the opportunity, I finally made it out to Fanime, held in San Jose, CA, over Memorial Day weekend. Many people told me to expect Fanime to be Katsucon of the west coast, and that's pretty much what it was, both for the good and bad. The overall feel was the same, but there were some noticeable differences, beyond the drastically different weather.
Being in northern California, the weather was pretty much perfect all weekend. A little warm during the day and a little cool at night, but never outside of a comfortable range. As such, I would say that half of the convention, as measured by where people congregated and could be found, was held outdoors. Though one nearby park was essentially closed off to cosplayers (the city requires a photo permit for "professional" photography), the plaza in front of the convention center was always filled with con-goers. Many cosplayers used it for photo shoots, but many non-costumed attendees just relaxed outside instead of in the darker, more crowded convention center. The pleasant weather also was very conductive to walking a few blocks to the many (cheap) food options in the area.
With great weather and plenty of food, I should have been pretty happy, right? I was, mostly. Fanime was well worth the trip from the east coast, the time off, and passing on other weekend activities. The con itself, though, was pretty lacking in a few aspects. The biggest gripe was the issue of registration. (Take it from somebody who is a Fanime veteran to explain the details.) After waiting five hours or more to get a badge, a lot of people started the convention unhappy -- or without a badge they had paid for. That was the biggest problem, but it doesn't end there.
The construction going on in the middle of the convention center really disrupted everything. The common gathering places were gone, traffic was funneled through either small doors off to the side, or through the center lobby of the convention. Having lost a lot of space, several key convention facilities were moved away from the rest of the convention. (Including, for better or worse, registration.) Panel rooms, the dealer's hall, the gaming hall, and the swap-meet area were easy to find; they were all in the large function spaces directly off the main convention center hallway.
Con staff even designated parts of the hallway as "pedestrian highways" and kept people in those areas moving, greatly reducing the amount of crowding as people tried to go this way and that. Plenty of chairs and tables were also available for attendees to sit and rest. Despite the limited space and construction, getting around within the convention center was surprisingly easy for an event of the size. A nice addition was a convention approved cosplay meeting space, complete with a stage, located nicely in one of the best-lit parts of the center. Not that this was really the best space for cosplayers to meet or to take photos, but it was very effective in organizing the little usable space available to the convention in the center.
With so little space, a number of things had to be moved elsewhere. The main events were held in a civic center across the street. While the long lines in front of the building made it pretty clear something was going on there, I didn't find anything in the programming book or pocket guide to indicate when anything was occurring there, with only a foot-note sized arrow pointing out from the map of the convention center towards the civic center. The artists' alley was apparently in a tent outside, according to a sign inside the convention center. I never bothered trying to find out.
One part of almost every convention I like to attend is the masquerade (or whatever other named it goes under). I was going to try to see the Fanime masquerade, but after checking by the line at 4 pm (when doors were supposed to open) and again at 5 pm (when the doors still weren't open), I gave up. Later I'd find out it ran until 10 pm. Those kinds of delays are only eclipsed by the wait to get a badge, and despite what may have been a nice event, I'm glad I skipped it.
Fanime has a very relaxed, social atmosphere, so it always felt like there was plenty to do that wasn't on the schedule. Also, being from the east coast, it's the first time in a while I've seen a lot of people, making it even more tempting to skip official events to hang out. Even so, at most conventions I do at least a few specific con events. This convention? Not a single one, unless you count con-sanctioned cosplay photoshoots. It's not a complaint so much as a comment. Fanime was very enjoyable despite problems. I didn't really need to do a bunch of scheduled events to enjoy myself. At the same time, the difficulty in finding even a single event over the weekend that seemed worthwhile says something about the overall organization of the convention.
It's hard to say if I'll go back or not. I had a blast this year, but it's a long distance away and there are at least four other conventions, three of which I haven't been to in more than a decade, that are much closer and the same weekend. Not to mention plenty of other things to do over a nice long weekend when the weather is getting pretty nice. That being said, despite the problems with the convention, none of them would stop me from coming back. If anything, if it sounds like the problems are getting resolved, I can only imagine that the next time I go, it'll be even better.