SMASH 2018- TL:DR it was fine but 2019 could be great

For the weekend of August 14th-15th 2018, I got to go to SMASH– the Sydney Manga and Anime Show. Have been to every one of them since… 2014? 2012? Saw them at the old Sydney Convention Centre, Rosehill Gardens and now Sydney’s new ICC. Well, the Exhibition Centre part of the ICC (as opposed to the Convention Centre which I assume the ‘CC’ part of ICC stands for)

As an aside, the ICC is an absolutely garbage venue. It is some modern architecture bullshit of looking cool above any sort of functionality. The signage was non-existent and as SMASH has the joy of being on the top level (Level 4&5), you had to go all the way to one end (the west end?) of the building to slowly rise up the sloping staircases/ramps to find the entrance on the opposite side of the building (the east end)? Because simply having the access at the point where you go into the fucking building is too boring.

The part of the venue SMASH was in suffered from being a multipurpose box- as in it was a giant box that can be used ok for any sort of event and is thus not very good for any type of event. It has dirty scuffed floors, no natural light and this very bleak artificial light which didn’t really look nice. Compared to Rosehill Gardens, which as a racecourse are quite pretty, very disappointing venue.

And as an aside to the aside, the drop in food quality/options/prices in the ICC compared to Rosehill was perhaps the worst thing in the new venue. The food vans at Rosehill and their different options made it easily the best food/drink available at a convention in the country.

Now to talk about the actual event. Which I should preface by saying, despite what follows, was overall a pretty good and fun event.

The primary issue with SMASH was how mostly everything was in the one giant box. This included three separate stages, one of which had bands playing on it, meaning that there was a cacophony of noise all through the room. The sounds was also really bad- I stood in front of the stage watching a pretty good band Wasabi Galaxy and couldn’t hear the vocal. But across the hall (behind a “sound containing wall”) I could still hear the base guitar at the gaming area.

Similarly, when I went to the Screening Area, despite being given aset of ear covering headphones to listen to the screenings I could still hear the sound from the main stage bleeding over. And it wasn’t entertaining sound.

I do give SMASH props for their screening set up though. rather than having this big screen with speakers blaring more noise into the room, you surrendered your pass and were given headphones and a radio receiver. Which then let you listen to whatever was being played and moderate your own volume. Then you returned it when you left and got given your pass back.

Well, got given a pass back. Interestingly SMASH didn’t have weekend passes. If you had a weekend ticket and came on Saturday you were given a day pass and had to then line up again the next day and get a Sunday pass. Amusingly, both of my convention companions forgot to bring their ticket print out on Sunday which caused a small delay in checking in.

But yeah- after watching screenings you just got given back a random day pass. I’d be interested to find out whether this system was designed before or after they decided to not give out weekend passes. Because having a mix of pass types would make the system a complete mess.

I was super pleased with the attendance at the Code Geass screening. Was packed full. Good to see that people appreciate quality anime. Also saw a short movie called HoneyWorks and the first couple eps of FLCL. Will talk about those a bit more in my next anime review post (probably).

In general terms, the screening selection was fine. Which given SMASH’s history, is kind of disappointing. I watched stuff for a few hour chunk Saturday arvo and then had nothing of interest in either of their screening rooms for the rest of the convention.

I suppose the elephant in the room was the ticketing failure on Saturday. As with their previous venue changes, the SMASH homebrew ticketing system died on day 1. This meant that despite opening at 9am, people were still waiting to be let in at 11am. One of my companions had planned to rock up at 9am to get in straight away but myself and the 3rd person convinced them that was dumb. Nonetheless, we rocked up at 11am and still stood in line for an hour.

A fairly obvious solution to this would be allowing people to check in and collect passes on Friday night. Aside from lessening the pressure on the big opening and having some people being able to just walk straight in, it lets them iron out all the kinks in the system. And then have a smooth opening the next morning.

Was a bit salty that the presale line appeared to be moving slower than the on-the-day tickets line. I strongly feel that if someone pre-purchases a ticket they should be let in first. Priority/confirmed access is the whole reason you prepurchase tickets.

And I think that’s important for SMASH- I would speculate that they had a smaller overall floor area at the ICC than they did at Rosehill. On Saturday I reckon they were very much pushing venue capacity, you could barely move through parts of the Hall (especially the Artist Alley) there were so many people.

Also the presence of three stages inside the venue and then nothing on the outside… floor area(?)… was silly. Rather than standing in line being bored for an hour, I should have been standing in line listening to the the bands who were on a stage set up outside. Aside from reducing inside noise pollution, encouraging attendees to get some vitamin D and entertaining the people lined up outside; the music may have attracted more randoms off the street to check out the event. Easy and obvious solution.

Despite the number of stages, I can’t recall much of interest happening at them. SMASH had an oddly high proportion of their events being either Guest related or Cosplay related (or for cosplay guests, both of those things). Guests are always hit and miss depending on if you like what they are associated with (and for me, they were all misses) while Cosplay is largely boring and unentertaining hacks (with a few notable exceptions- AK Wirru is a fucking legend).

Although the bands were good and I did like the MC on that smaller stage (not so much a fan of the MC on the Main Stage).

Annoyingly I didn’t get to any of the AMV events… mainly because I wanted to see how many people were actually going to the AMV events? There were like half a dozen of them and I feel AMVs went out of fashion a decade ago. I’d love to know if people actually went and watched them.

Also there was so much Trivia on. There was a permanent trivia set up down the back of the venue and there was something going practically every hour. Too much. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to go to and ended up doing none of them. I thought it seemed like a dumb use of space but the handful of times I walked past it it seemed pretty full. So maybe it was good.

I found the Panel and Workshop selection a bit bland. Or pehaps just poorly timed. There was one interesting thing on Saturday- a Mahjong Riichi Workshop where the hosts were well intentioned but clearly unprepared for how popular the workshop would be. it was pretty full and they only had enough Mahjong sets for maybe half the people there. Was still a fun workshop.

The only panel I went to was one by the VA Spike Spencer. Mainly because the last English VA actor I saw do a panel was… some american dude… at Manifest 2013 in Melbourne and there was literally 6 people in the audience. Which was really awkward for everyone (the guest, the audience, the organisers). So I wanted to a) maybe stop that happening or b) relish in it if it happened again.

The panel was fine. I guess. Mainly Spike sharing stories and stuff that i wasn’t interested in. Also a chunk of fawning over his 11 month old kid which i suppose is fair enough. I was bored shitless in the panle but the rest of the audience (which was a couple dozen people) seemed to enjoy it.

The rest of the interesting panels and workshops were all early on Sunday morning. But on account of an awesome football match, my recent introduction by convention friends to Produce 48 and rampant alcoholism; we didn’t go to sleep until about 6am and thus didn’t get to SMASH on the Sunday until about 2pm. Thus all those interesting panels lost out to sleep.

That being said, the Sunday content was overall less interesting than the Saturday stuff. And Saturday wasn’t that interesting. I spent like 2 hours watching 1v1 League of Legends with a buddy explaining to me how the game worked. It was kind of interesting but also very one sided so not super fun to watch.

Did a bit of shopping and… well… was also a bit disappointed by that too. The Artist Alley at SMASH has an international reputation for being great- a lot of people come from overseas to showcase and sell their stuff. But something felt super off about it this year. On hone hand, the yuk venue (bad floor, bad lights) didn’t help. The layout seemed fine objectively (like, everything was spaced out enough and laid out sensibly) but at the same time didn’t seem to work well.

But more so than that, the actually art on sale/display was kind of lame. It took me  a while to figure it out, but a friend observed that everything seemed out of date. Like it was all of stuff from maybe 2-5 years ago. (Alternatively, it seems the only recent franchise covered by the art community was Darling in the FranXX). There was also a huge proportion of people doing ‘their art style of famous characters’ rather than the ’emulation of character original style but mixed up with new people or situations’. More generally, I suspect that after buying stuff at the last few SMASH-es, I’ve emptied the well dry of the artists who do stuff I like.

The Exhibitors were fine. The end of convention sales were great, as was the weird inconsistency in some pricing. I got a Konosuba figure and a Gurren Lagann figure at one store that had them listed as nearly 20% cheaper than two other stores AND THEN got a further end-of-convention discount.

This was a very big year for SMASH. As volunteer events struggle across the country (and the commercial ones too), they needed to firmly establish themselves as the Sydney event… especially with the recent confirmation that MadFest is coming to Sydney in 2019. There were also a few rumours of financial issues due to the ICC being a horrifically expensive venue (as well as just a horrific venue).

Taking a step back from my insider knowledge/experience from conventions (which leads me to focus on how things were bad/could be better rather than what was good); I think SMASH have done a pretty good job at the end of the day. Given the situation they were in with the rumours of MadFest, they had to move away from the superior Rosehill to cement them as the Sydney event. Most of the issues were the teething ones of a new venue and should be resolved for the next one. And judging by the packed attendance they should be financially solid for at least one more year (unless there has been some horrific financial mismanagement).

But they need to need to decide if they are going to stick with their market differentiation of Japanese culture or go the broader ‘pop culture’ angle. (Personally, I like their Japanese focus compared to Supanova and Oz Comic Con). League of Legends isn’t a Japanese game and while Indie Devs are cool, they are also not Japanese. They don’t really belong. I think embracing gaming is a must; but Japan is incredibly prolific with their own games and systems so the focus should be on those. And the over reliance on B-level guests and cosplay rubbish (particularly in their panel/workshop areas) is a missed opportunity. Filling that stuff with a broad range of (Japan focused) community stuff makes the event way more interesting and opens the event to attendance by a larger number of people.

In summary:

SMASH 2018- 7/10… but for potential for a 9.5/10 in 2019.

TV & Movie recap-May/June 2018

Here’s some random things that I’ve watched over recent months and some thoughts.

Also should have a few event reviews in the next couple months if things go well!

Movies

Solo: A Star Wars Story- An unexpectedly fun movie. After the various issues with basically every other Star Wars movie in the Disney Era, particularly the Last Jedi, and with all the production problems with Solo (and just the fact that this movie was not necessary) I had super low expectations. But it was a really fun movie. I really liked the unexpected ways they fleshed out bits and pieces of the Han Solo mythos and while there were problems with other bits; the only major change i would make is switching out a character reveal near the end from being *character* to being maybe Thrawn.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom- not very good. Wasn’t a big fan of Jurassic World but it was fine. This one… not so much. The plot armour and plot conveniences were a bit much. In one scene a dinosaur escapes though dumb circumstances (what a surprise) and ends up in a position where it could just run out into a forest chasing fleeing humans. instead it climbs on top of a mansion and then hangs upside down from the room to open a door on a balcony that happens to be the exact right room to find the main child character. Also a big decision happens at the end of the movie that undoubtedly results in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, if not more, for effectively no reason…

Oceans 8- love a good heist movie. While perhaps not as good as my nostalgic memories of the Oceans Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen movies, this was a fun ride. Also Anne Hathaway is a gorgeous human being. And the world of fashion is fucking terrifying.

Deadpool 2- it was fine. More of the same of the first with a few other one liner style jokes through out it. The commentary calling out the sexism of the X-Men via the formation of X-Force was pretty funny. Perhaps a bit forgettable, but I’d say the first one was too.

Avengers Infinity War: was fine. A solid 6/10 like basically every other Marvel movie. Jumped around a bit too much (relying on prior knowledge to fill in the gaps) and the villains henchmen army had real inconsistent levels of strength (I don’t care how powerful Wakanda tech is, regular people fighting them in hand-to-hand combat should have been massacred given the superheroes were barely holding their own). Also they chose the people to kill at the end poorly; too many of them are too essentially to and/or confirmed for future movies that they clearly aren’t permanently dead. my money is on Gamora being one of the few who doesn’t come back.

TV

Games of Thrones S2- continuing to follow along with Arya Talking to Me, smashed through S2 of Game of Thrones. While I enjoyed bits and pieces and particular scenes, most of this was me going “Oh I remember this in the book. And how this character dies and this entire plot line is irrelevant” *cough cough* Renly, Robb *cough cough*. The improving budget was good though. And the Battle of Blackwater episodes was extremely well made.

Bachelor in Paradise AU- was not a fan by the end of the season. Like the game mechanic was a bit fuzzy and there wasn’t a satifying “end point” for the show or its storylines. Seemed to just be really random and not planned out.

Survivor US Season 36- was a solid season in the end but some of the editing seemed to really show the hand of production; with a focus on these “big plays”, especially with idols, with a lot of implications of important stuff happening on the island affecting long term decisions being cut from the broadcast to hype up that weeks episode. The Final Council was particularly bad with some Jury members seeming to have literally no contribution.

Love Island AU- fuck this show is pure garbage. it is apparently a game show but I have no idea how anyone “wins”. At least Bachelor has the veneer of legitimacy in it’s “looking for love” thing and active activities. This is just people sitting around a bit villa with nothing happening at all.

Avatar The Last Airbender- after being disappointed by Legend of Korra, was hesitant to rewatch this show. Season 1 was a bit wobbly and I fast forwarded it through several parts. Season 2 was excellent, especially when Toph was brought in and from about halfway though Season 2 all the way up to 3/4 of the way through Season 3 was a non stop emotional roller coaster of joy and sadness (but like, good sadness). There were a few wobbly episodes leading up to the big four part finale but man that finale was amazing. Such a great show. And Iroh is such an awesome character

Spring 2018 Anime wrap up

Unfortunately, as they more or less say in Jurassic park, life finds a way to get in the way of watching anime.

Specifically, I was away with family no internet for about four months so started the Spring 2018 season super late. That being said, I somehow managed to catch up and finish all the shows worth watching. So here’s some thoughts that definitely follow the same format as my other wrap ups:

“Must Watch”

Legend of the Galactic Heroes- Die Neue These– The original 1980s/1990s always seemed like a must watch show. It was critically acclaimed by everyone who’d seen it and the genre and topic (sci-fi, politics, strategy, war with heroes on both sides, moral shades of grey etc). But it’s age, and thus old animation style, and the fact it was 110 episode long was always a major turn off. So the 2018 remake is a great jumping in point and now the original is extremely high on my ‘to watch list’. Possibly only two missteps- a single scene maybe 2/3 through that sort of seems to be trying to set up things for like Season 3 of this story and then a cliffhanger ending. Legit expected the show to be 13 eps not 12 based on how/where ep 12 ended.

Hinamatsuri- an excellent absurdist comedy dealing with a very nice, straight man yakuza and their sudden adoption of a psychic child. Incredibly funny storylines and characters… with a hugely poignant, entirely left-field social commentary weaved through the middle section that makes it almost lose the tag of being a comedy entirely. Not sure how I feel about the final episode. But absolutely one of the best comedy shows I’ve seen recently.

“Worth Watching (seriously)”

Mahou Shoujo Site– while not reaching the same heights as Puella Magi Madoka Magica or the same horrors as Magical Girls Raising Project, this was still a solid instalment in the genre of ‘cute high school girls getting absolutely fucked over and brutally massacred by the T&Cs of magic’. Is related to Magical Girl Apocalypse but I don’t know much about that. Worth checking out if your a fan of magical girls (or if you hate them)

Megalo Box– this boxing anime had a real 90s vibe to it, due mainly to the animation and pacing. Reminded me of Hajime no Ippo crossed with Blade Runner. Perhaps not as good as that cross over would imply, but still a really good story. While the overall arc was predictable, there were still a few twists and turns I did not expect.

Steins Gate 0– the original Steins;gate rates as one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. Period. However is has been a significant outlier to the rest of the anime in the same universe, with two iterations of Chaos;Head being bad and horrible and Robotics;Notes being passable. Even the Steins;gate movie was a bit unexciting. Currently this two-cour spin off story is half done and I think it’s falling short of the original but still exceeding everything else in the franchise. In particular the first six or so eps were a solid marathon with quite an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s hope it keeps that good trajectory.

Fumikiri Jikan– this is a little fun short (~4 minutes in length). So it is a bunch of funny scenarios that play out with some jokes and then end without over staying their welcome. Nothing amazing but a great little show to chuck on to fill in time.

“Worth watching (ironically)”

Dorei-kun The Animation– one of my rules of anime is that if the title includes the word ‘The Animation’, the show will be terrible. That is true here. However this is the rare case where is is such a dumpster fire that it becomes entertaining to watch (I’m looking at you Guilty Crown). Average animation, insane characters, ridiculous motivations, predictable story, poor voice acting (especially the English parts). Ah such a glorious train wreck of a show.

Comic Girls– cute girls doing “cute” things. I guess. Aspiring mangaka who all happen to be in the same class at the same school live in a door. They break out the trope of insecurities over breast size and have the busty blonde (who is still in school) traipse around in just her underwear in the second episode. Also there is a fifth person who lives by themselves in the attic (everyone else shares a room but this girl’s partner ditched her to go overseas) and is (unintentionally?) bullied mercilessly by the main four characters- they exclude her from everything, run away whenever she is near, don’t even recognise her when they see her at school… I guess it’s fine for just a ‘show to throw on and not think about’

Darling in the Franxx– once again, Trigger shows that despite they don’t deserve the unrequited love the community appears to give them. Take a less good version of Evangelion and halfway through switch it to be a less good version of Gurren Lagann and you’ve got what this show is attempting to do and failing at. And then there is a sudden shift into Stardew Valley for a bit too…

Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan– bad cooking with bad Fate franchise stuff. Whatever. I guess teaching anime fans how to cook food is of benefit to society?

Sword Art Online Alternative- Gun Gale Online– I stuck with Sword Art Online longer than most sane people did and perhaps my hatred of the franchise is disproportionately large because of that. I went into this expecting to hate it but found it ok. Taking out all the problematic characters of SAO and the world is ok. Has a stupid end but the journey was fun enough on the way there.

“You know what you’re getting”

Shokugeki no Souma S3 (cour 2)– This is the second half of Season 3. By this stage, you know if you like it or not. By this stage I’m still enjoying it but don’t pay full attention to it when I’m watching it

Boku no Nero Academia– this is… season 3 of the show? And it’s maybe half done? I think? It had a very shaky start as they had to jam story content into the framework of ‘students going to school’ which is by far the biggest thing holding the show back. But after the ~8-10 episode summer camp arc, we actually got the first bit of actual plot progression since about episode 3 of Season 1. Was fine, maybe even good in parts.

Nanatsu no Taizai- Imashime no Fukkatsu– the first half of the second season was quite a struggle. Actually, maybe it was the middle third. The story really got lost in the weeds and got kind of boring. Nothing was really progressing and characters were being added in and side stories fleshed out. And then at the end a heap of stuff was packed into a couple of episodes. Given how much time is spent recapping previous episodes, I’m wondering if there is a dearth in the source material.

“Dunno, is maybe ok”

Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryuu to Odoru– watched three episodes. Swords, magic and dragons. Wasn’t bad enough to make me hate it and drop it but not good enough to make me bother to pick up any more episodes. So maybe it it’s great, maybe it’s awful.

Is actually just bad

Anything not mentioned above is bad and shouldn’t be watched, mentioned again or have any money given to support it in any form. But some particularly egregious pieces of crap from Spring 2018:

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii- it’s main crime is being popular but not good. A classic case of anime fans going ‘hey I’m that unsociable nerd so maybe I can get a girlfriend/boyfriend like the unsociable nerds in this show even they they are bad people’. I dropped this on ep1, ep 3 and ep6 (my “friends” kept trying to make me watch it as it apparently got good. Liars.)

Tokyo Ghoul:re- Season 1 was fine, Season 2 was a trainwreck, this started by randomly destroying the kind of interesting MC and his kind of character development for no clear reason. And made things super fucking boring. Dropped in less than one ep.

Golden Kamuy- CGI Bears. Enough said (although Japan acknowledging the existence of the Ainu is surprising). Dropped after ep3

3D Kanojo- like Wotaku but without the pretence of being ‘realistic’. Not sure of that makes it worse of better though. Dropped after ep2

Uma Musume Pretty Derby- the horse girls and their interactions with broader soicety raise so many questions it makes my head hurt. Dropped after ep2