Anime USA, November 9-11, 2012, is notable for being the last “big” con of the year on the East Coast. It’s by no means huge – attendance usually caps out around 5,000, but this year with a move to a gorgeous new hotel right in the center of Washington, D.C. in order to accommodate a larger number of attendees, AUSA is definitely growing and moving upward.
The Marriott Hotel at Wardman Park is an almost labyrinthine maze of interconnected “towers” and well-maintained and landscaped grounds with a distinct 18th century colonial feel, complete with period furniture, chandeliers, and grand entryways. The hotel website boasts that the location has almost 195,000 square feet of convention space attached – this part of the hotel is nicely modern with a sleek Scandinavian aesthetic. No matter what series I was photographing, I felt like I could find a good backdrop to shoot.
Because of Hurricane Sandy, there were many staff and attendees who weren’t able to make it last minute. Panels and scheduling were left scrambling to find last-minute replacements for cancellations due to the hurricane. Many people were told at badge pickup flat out that the schedule was completely wrong, and several times, there were staff walking into the panels I was attending to find out how long the panel ran and what the next panel was. I hesitate to pass judgment on any of this because of extenuating circumstances. No one can control natural disasters, and I felt the AUSA staff made everything work with the little time they had to scramble.
Some people I talked to commented about how big and “empty” the hotel felt, because of its linking corridors and the way the grounds seemed to go on and on. I think, however, that this can only be a good thing, as it indicates the convention has much room to grow. The amount of space relative to the number of people at the con this year also gave the convention a very laid-back vibe. There was room to move around, hallways weren’t crowded, and I hardly ever had to wait long for an elevator, even on Sunday morning during check-out. And of course, cosplayers wearing large or bulky costumes enjoyed the small crowds and the room to move around without hitting anyone in the face with giant wings or armor.
Among all the amazing cosplayers I talked to at the convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Marty Gear, a legend in the costuming community, one of the founders of the International Costumers’ Guild, experienced Masquerade judge, and former chair of Costume Con. I had the opportunity to sit in on three panels with Mr. Gear and talk to him at length about his costuming experience and “war stories,” and came away with a much deeper appreciation of the history of costuming in the United States. The addition of a dedicated “cosplay track” lineup of panels (always held in the same room) in addition to the Hall Contest and the Masquerade was something I hope to see at more conventions.
AUSA next year has been moved up two months to the (perhaps still sweltering in DC) dates of September 13-15, 2013. With people still reeling from Otakon in August and Dragon*Con over Labor Day, it remains to be seen if attendance will grow in 2013. But most cosplayers I talked to spoke of AUSA as a friendly con where they went not to debut elaborate costumes or take part in competitions or panels, but merely to relax at the end of the year, see old friends, and reminisce about all that’s happened in the cosplay scene since January 1st. If that’s the case, I say we need more conventions like Anime USA.