GAMMA.CON 2018 (and Wintercon 2018) Review

Being a Canberra boy (well, more-or-less) I have a bit of a soft spot for our local conventions. Given they don’t cost any money for me to go to, are within 20 minutes driving distance of my house (with ample parking) and have by far the largest number of my friends/acquaintances in attendance; it’s a pretty low bar for me to be impressed.

Well, it’s still a high bar as I’m a cynical jackass who doesn’t have positive feelings but attending an interstate event is much more of a hassle and thus primes me to expect more (and thus be disappointed more).

So in the last month I had the pleasure of attending both GAMMA.CON 2018 and Wintercon 2018. Two very different events here in the nation’s capital.

Lets get Wintercon out of the way first- it’s a garbage event that should not be called a “convention”. At best it’s a glorified games day. Tabletop gaming is fun and the full Cancon event run by the Canberra Games Society is somewhat bearable but fuck me is Wintercon garbage. No panels, no events, half a dozen traders (literallly). Nothing that wasn’t tabletop based (not even any role playing stuff like D&D I could see) and not a wide variety of table top stuff. I get that this is a fundraising venture for Cancon but falsely labelling this as a convention is an insult. I was there for about 2 minutes- walked in the door, realised there was nothing to do, realised I couldn’t even buy any miniatures/figures to use in D&D, looked at some misc dice and then left.

GAMMA.CON 2018 however, was a pretty good event. Which given some of the behind the scenes organisational stuff that was going on was a surprise.

A TL;DR:

GAMMA.CON 2018- 7/10 (Wintercon- 0/10)

The move from AIS to EPIC was done perhaps a year too early but GAMMA.CON made pretty good use of the space. In particular the “gaming hall” was great. The “Stage and Trader Hall” was fine but it somehow managed to feel way too crowded up one end and way too empty at the other. The positioning of the panel rooms as literally the first thing when you walked in was great given how hard to make people go to panels- for some reason people struggle to find the rooms and they are typically mostly empty.

i mean, that definietely has nothing to do with the panel content and just the venue yeah? And that’s why you have hepas of signage and great maps so attendees know where everything is right?

Lol get fucked.

I mean, the idea of styling your map on the old school Super Mario and Legend of Zelda maps/layouts was great. However it completely lacks any functionality- it’s hard to read, does not give an accurate gauge of how much space different areas give to each other or how the three different buildings the convention is in relate to each other… or the carpark. I’d say 80% of the map is effectively wasted space. Plus the numbers/labels and the captions/names are too small and in a bad colour and font for reading. Also if you look at the comments you will see a map of the Arist and Trader area… which is simply wrong (/lying?) because the layout of the green artist tables needs to be rotated 90 degrees to match how they were actually set up.

As an aside, names like “Gaming hall” are ones I’ve just invented on account of the garbage venue maps provided in the booklet being completely useless and factually wrong in multiple points. Unless you were actually there it’s nigh impossible for me to describe the set up based on these “maps”.

Was hoping that these maps were just decorative and actual ones would be provided in the program booklet and at the venue. No such luck. Even the volunteers who I asked for directions were pretty unimpressed with the maps and the only way you could find where anything was was to literally walk the whole venue to see yourself… which was hard when you didn’t know how far the venue extended.

Speaking of the program booklet; equally as bad as the maps. Rather than having a map in the double page spread in the middle of the book, it was one of the (also poorly designed) posters. The map sections were split across several pages on either side of the poster. As was the schedule.. which looked like a super basic excel table that was full of typos and errors. The only way to know what was actually on in a panel room or the screenings was to walk in and find out. Very hard to schedule. Also even the way the different schedules were displayed next to each other made no sense. (I’ll try to dig up a photo of the booklet to show what I mean.  But after weeks of chasing down a copy everyone I know threw away their copies)

That being said, the panel and screening schedule were pretty uninteresting. Too much seemed to hinge on uninteresting guests doing uninteresting topics. I only bothered going to three panels:

1) Turtle-Boy Podcast Live. This was surprisingly great. Have no clue what this podcast was about and I only went as there was nothing else on that I wanted to do. Was like 4 people in the audience and it became a really fun interactive thing of us building a hypothetical expanded cinematic universe featuring the Ninja Turtles to see what sort of problems could arise and how they could be prevented or solved.

2) The Movie Club: Hammer Time. A really informative and interesting discussion about the classic Hammer Horror stuff of the 1950s-1970s. I’m not a fan of horror and knew nothing about this topic but I found it a really good panel. (Again, only went due to nothing else of interest being on)

3) Girls Und Panzer Der Panel. With a tagline of ‘why is Girls Und Panzer Der so good’, I falsely assumed that was tongue in cheek and going to talk about why it was a bad anime (in terms of both concept and production/delivery). But no. A disappointing panel.

Speaking of disappointing- didn’t bother walking into the Screenings Room. Aside from all the non-screening content in there, nothing save ‘Land of the Giants’ seemed remotely interesting. All generic stuff or stuff I’d seen recently. Gone are the days when underappreciated gems would pop up in a screening room.

The panels/screenings were also super poorly set up. The two panel streams were set up to run in the same room separated by a nice black, thin and semi-transparent curtain. So noise pollution was very bad between them. Meanwhile the screening room (which had as many panels/workshops as screenings) was separated by the art room by an equally flimsy curtain. Fortunately the art room didn’t have much noise pollution… it was just really fucking dark and so hard to do any art stuff as the lights were off for the screenings. It seemed to be something that was not well thought out… or perhaps the best solution to a bad venue situation?

Oh and both panel rooms (well, half rooms) had fancy names. So you’d assume there’d be super prominent signage telling you which one is which right? Nah. Signage is for losers

The stuff in the “gaming hall” was pretty good- an eSports stage and a tournament stage down one end (with speakers angled to direct noise pollution into just that end), free play consoles of a whole bunch of old consoles (only criticism is it seemed very similar to previous years), the Restrospekt Videogame Museum (which looked great but I was soft-banned from it on account of my talent of accidentally breaking gaming consoles), freeplay pinball machines (possibly the single best highlight of the whole convention for the Terminator 2 pinball machine), some freeplay arcade machines (much better ones than previous years although still no Time Crisis 2), some indie devs (which didn’t look as interesting as previous years- a few repeats and the number of devs/games seemed down), a few traders (which seemed odd- will detail later on), some tabletop gaming (much smaller than previous years) and… wrestling…

Aside from the wrestling, the rest of the stuff was fine to great. But that wrestling… I mean… I know that we all know wrestling is fake but at least some effort to pretend it’s real would be great. Plus the sound was fucking- it was so much louder than it needed to be inside an enclosed space… and the MC microphone was at a different level to the music so it wasn’t even a consistent level of too loud. Plus the wrestling was happening for like… 15% of the convention? So otherwise the corner was a big chunk of dead space. With a whole bunch of chairs lined up next to it in rows that faced a blank wall rather than the stage… for some reason…

Also near the end of day 1 of the convention I the upstairs part of the event was connected to the “gaming hall”. You know, because the maps really didn’t make it clear. And the only staircase was near the secondary exit to the venue. It has some D&D sessions happening (cool) and then a ‘Cosplay HQ’ for cosplayers to hang out and do stuff (yawn). Nothing more to really add on either of those.

The other main hall- the ‘trader/stage hall’ was a bit more problematic. For one thing, there were about 110-120 ‘artists’ selling stuff. (I put ‘artists’ in quotation marks simply because of the sheer variety of things being sold here that aren’t technically “art” so I’m not sure if the term is appropriate). Given how disappointed I was with the variety of art at SMASH 2018, it’s probably no surprise that GAMMA 2018’s Artist Alley was pretty disappointing in terms of both variety and quality.

But quantity is the thing I want to touch on here as it’s the only thing that the event really has any input on. GAMMA.CON 2017 had ~5000 attendees and maybe 50-60 artists. This year’s GAMMA had ~6200 attendees. So you can see an issue here. Approximately double the number of ‘artists’ but nowhere near that amount of extra attendees.

Of note is that the Exhibitor numbers were down compared to last year. in 2017 there were probably 35-40. This year there was probably 20-25 this year. And a lot of the ones this year were new… which means a LOT of the ones last year didn’t come back.

In the very poor/slim amount of pre-event promotion that was done, one of the key lines was how much GAMMA had grown this year; being three times the size it was at AIS. However being frank the event hadn’t filled out AIS (hence my comment earlier that the move to EPIC was probably a year early). Sure the floor space was all being used, but there was so much more room to fit in attendees.

I suspect the blow out in artists numbers had to do with all this extra space needing to be filled. Because the huge increase in people selling things was not matched by a huge increase in people to buy things… so on average everyone will have done less trade than last year. And given how many apparently didn’t come back based on last year… that could be a concern.

If you’ve not done event organising, as an attendee this is bad for you in several ways. Firstly, if the traders don’t do well then they don’t come back and there’s less stuff for you to buy. Secondly, traders don’t buy space from at the convention which goes a notable way to paying the costs of the convention which puts up the cost of a ticket to attend. And lastly they are less likely to sponsor the convention or parts thereof; meaning either/both less money for the convention (again, higher ticket cost) and less cool prizes for competitions. This is of course simplifying a lot of various factors but it gets across the gist of the key parts.

Also- the Exhibitors that were there were pretty disappointing. Literally five different comic shops, plus a book shop, a fudge guy, a few generic pop culture merch sellers. Only two interesting ones were the ‘crazy cat lady’ trader where everything was themed around cats and the lewd ‘Senpai.jp’ shop that sold.. well… very lewd things. I was honestly stunned how many people were walking around wearing hoodies depicting an anime girls with rose coloured cheeks and semen all over her proclaiming ‘living lewd’. I would love to see how many of those hoodies ever see the light of day again.

Speaking of lewds, for some fucking reason the official event merch included softcore body pillows of the mascots. Aside from the fact the mascots are teenagers (and so it’s fucked), why would a ‘family friendly’ event put those sort of shit out.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a prude. There was the adult GAMMA@Night where selling that sort of thing would be fine (great even)… assuming you aged up the characters to be adults. But selling it from your official merch booth which shirts and pins and shit while kids are running around? Seems like a really poor decision from a PR perspective. Especially when you’re also selling branded shot glasses which were only allowed to be sold at the @Night event…

The Main Stage was pretty disappointing too this year. A lot of music stuff which was either bad (Meri Amber) or background jazz (The Consouls), boring guest junk or cosplay. There was a comedy show but I missed it. i assume it was fine.

i should probably touch on the Guests at this point. Honestly, I don’t know why GAMMA.CON bothered with half of them. I get bringing Spike Spencer as he is… a big shot VA from the USA… I guess. Not that you would know it from like 80% of his activities over the weekend- he seemed to be more like a snake oil salesman trying to sell me (I think) a book on dating advice, something to do with cooking (a website?) and some financial management “strategy”. It seemed really suss. But when you’re main credit is Shinji from Evangelion which is literally 20 years old I guess you need to diversify your talent(s) and income stream(s).

But the rest of the guests were Cosplay Guests. And the difference between what 1-2 Cosplay Guests bring and 4-5 cosplay guests bring is… well.. a waste of money in guest fees. A.K. Wirru is a fucking great bloke but given he was a guest last year is bringing him back straight away really a ‘headline act’. Hayley Elise did a cool thing at GAMMA@Night but who the fuck were the rest of them and how many tickets would they honestly have sold to the convention? (None) And did they bring interesting content (Not that wasn’t being brought by another Cosplay Guest already)

Should add that Ally Mclean no longer does Cosplay and does kind of do other stuff but I dunno whether it really qualifies as headline content. there were perhaps more prestigious/interesting people doing panels who didn’t get guest headline status.

At least GAMMA didn’t get Good Game or some iteration for like, the fifth year in a row. (2014- Junglist, 2015- Goose, 2016- Bajo/Hex, 2017- GGSP Team… kind of lazy guest organisation on behalf of the event repeatedly going to the same place for content).

Oh and the ‘Comic Book Guests’ and the ‘Tabletop Guests’ aren’t really what ‘guests’ mean in the convention scene. They are definitely great and bring awesome content (although a lot of repeats from GAMMA.CON 2017).

I do somewhat sympathise with the organisers. In the era of the big US Comic Cons being chock full of Marvel actors and Star Wars actors and… whatever other pop-culture thing has movies/TV shows happening; many do expect conventions to have “Guests”. But the budgets of these smaller volunteer organisations just can’t compete with the SupaNovas and the OZCC. And there isn’t an easy solution to balance this popular perception/desire with the stark reality of budgets.

The GAMMA@Night event was… unique. Fine. There was an Adults 18+ section and an all ages Neko Nation thing.

Dealing with the latter first, the Neko Nation thing was garbage. Lots of flashing lights and electronic remixes of j-pop and k-pop… with about 0-6 people concurrently dancing in a room with capacity for like 200 for the 4 hour period. It became a recurring gag to walk past the dance party and see how there was no-one there.

The fact you walked past it was a key issue- for some reason @Night was spread across two buildings (excluding Neko Nation) when it really had enough stuff for one building. All of the content was great- the adult video games, the life drawing (yay naked ladies), the pole dancing, the bar.

But there wasn’t enough content or people to fill out two huge halls.

For some reason, the Exhibitor/Artist areas were left open for @Night. So some people could keep selling things… or they could go home and just leave their merchandise unsupervised and at risk of being stolen.

Given only a handful of Traders actually stayed open; a fairly easy solution to to this problem would have been to move the traders in the gaming hall into the main Exhibitor section and then put those who wanted to stay open for @Night into the “Games Hall”. Then just having the Games Hall open for @Night. Move the main stage events to be on the Wrestling Ring/Stage and everything would fit and be better.

Back on the content- there were two things worth highlighting. One good, one bad. The good one was the “Cospole Dancing”. I mean, it was pole dancing with only a handful of cosplay realted things but they were good. The second last pole dance was a comedy one featuring Deadpool and a Unicorn. And then the last dance was Hayley Elise cosplaying Yoko dancing to the Gurren Lagann OP. Very nice.

The bad was a lets play/play through of some of visual novel soft-core porn game. On one hand the game was pretty boring (compared to Hatoful Boyfriend last year). Secondly the people on stage doing the voices were.. well.. less “doing the voices” and more “screeching”. Definitely a misstep for @Night.

So yeah. On balance, GAMMA.CON 2018 was pretty fine in general but the more I think of the details the more the small issues seem to pop up. All up I’d say it was probably a 7/10… which is what I would probably give it every other year I have been. As an attendee nothing is particularly problematic and as long as you don’t expect you’ll meet Stan Lee it’s a fun way to spend the weekend with friends. And if you get bored after a couple hours you can be back home/in bed/at a pub within 20 minutes.

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.

MadFest 2017 Bonus- Film Screenings wrap up/review

So I went to MadFest. It was ok (if I’m being generous).

But concurrently there was a series of five films being screened which was on paper part of the event but in practicality was effectively a separate event. Which I had to pay for so I have some skin in this being worthwhile this time XD.

The first film was, as I found out when I went, not actually a film. It was actually a screening of a recorded Love Live! concert. Specifically it was “Love Live! Sunshine!! Aqours First LoveLive! ~Step! Zero to One~ concert”. I hadn’t really paid attention to this one on the ticket info since I don’t like Love Live but since I had got a ticket for it I decided to go along.

I didn’t regret that decision. Per se. I was expecting it to be an anime film since part of the multimedium Love Live! franchise includes anime stuff. So I was quite surprised when (after a delayed start due to a) the line ride and b) technical difficulties that had the sound not working for like 10-15 minutes) some live action singers ran out onto a stage and started performing.

My first thought that is was gonna be one of those interactive shows a la Cheez TV, but with the actors doing bits and pieces live on stage in between segments of an anime film.

Lol no. It was just a recording of the concert. And it was pretty shit (as someone who does not know or care for Love Live). I was bored after about 5 minutes and then spent 15 minutes watching the audience instead as they were going crazy waving around those light sticks and doing moves and stuff. I also wondered why we didn’t have those light sticks at concerts in Australia since they seemed pretty cool/fun. Then I realised that if they were at a convert in Australia, someone would throw them at someone else in about 15 seconds.

But yeah- after 20 minutes I was bored so I left.

2/10?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next film was one of the two I was most excited for- the “Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel I. presage flower” film. It’s the first in a series of three films animating the Heaven’s Feel route of the Fate/stay visual novel. I have never played the visual novel but I love a lot of the anime related to the franchise- the original Fate/stay anime that was semi-Fate route, semi-anime original “Gold”(and has a bit of a mixed reception in the community), I enjoyed the Unlimited Bladeworks route movie (for being a complete trainwreck), I loved the Fate Zero prequel and Unlimited Bladeworks TV series. Plus I loved all three seasons of the Fate Ilya magical girl spin of series and am currently watching the Fate/Apocrypha alternative reality series that is currently airing in Japan. Oh and the Fate Grand Order OVA was ok.

As you can possibly tell, it’s quite a convoluted franchise with a lot of alternative versions of things. The original game had three options or ‘routes’ depending on which heroine you chose to be the main love interest- Saber (Fate), Rin (Unlimited Bladeworks) and Sakura (Heaven’s Feel).

This movie is obviously based on the Sakura heroine path and previously I didn’t really know much about it. Other than it got super fucked and Sakura gets royally ripped off/mistreated. Based Sakura pretty much gets the short end of the stick in every story and was flat out abused as a child in the Fate Zero prequel so that isn’t too surpising.

Having watched the movie (the first of a trilogy), I am firmly of the opinion that Sakura is the best girl. Sure I thought the same about Saber and Rin in thier routes but fuck me Sakura is awesome. Such a “bae”.

But yeah, the movie. And the screening festival.

Logistically the line ride for the movie was pretty bad. The screening was apparently sold out so there were a heap of people and the line was snaking around the foyer. Normally I wouldn’t have twigged how bad this was being managed but the week ebfore the PAX people had been managing lines for a theatre 5x the size (roughly) and kep the line into a section of the foyer 1/3 as big. Also there was a dude in the line behind me who had never seen any Fate stuff before and it was funny listening to his friend give him an outline of the franchise (shit is fucked up).

Also the build up to the movie by th eorganisers was a bit drawn out. They had a couple of the MadFest guests who were related to the Fate frnahcise talk a bit and the organisers also gave a bit of a talk. But it meant shit started like 40 minutes after the advertised start time (Love Live! delay, massive line, long speeches). Booo!

But I really liked the movie. As someone who has only seen anime stuff I think it did a good job referencing other parts of the franchise for fanservice while still bringing new content and ideas and direction to it’s own story. IN particualr fleshing out Sakura and Shiro’s history and burgeoning relationship was really good to see. As were the fights that happened (and lol Lancer just can’t get a break. Always gets his arse handed to him even when he is overwhelming the stronger fighter XD).

However I do think the movie relied way to heavily on people being familiar with other parts of the franchise to fully get it. For example pre-opening titles we get the fast forward verions of 18 months of Shiro x Sakura developing, then as the title credit play we see flashes of the scene where Shiro is killed and then brought back to life as a Master in the Holy Grail War. And then post titles Saber is running around and they’re all together doing stuff. So it basically skipped past the entire establishing premise and act for the Holy Grail War, Shiro’s involvement and who/what the hell Saber is (and where she came from). Also there was some weird/creepy scene with Skira and the Priest at a spicy tofu restaurant that had half the audience pissing themselves and the other half being generally confused. I think it was a reference to the game.

The ending of the movie felt a bit… dragged? I’m not sure the best word. It was kind of like the last Lord of the Rings movie where there were several points where it felt like the movie had ended and would cut to credits. I did like the spot where it ended though- the stuff that had been happening while different in context was similar in vibe to the other two routes but at the end there is a clear shift where something has gone wrong/different. Only bad thing is that I’m just annoyed I couldn’t immediately jump into the second and then third movie.

So… 8/10?

~~~~~~~~~~~

Next was a film that I was interested in but not fussed on and considered it a bit of a bonus- JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable 1.

I love a good JoJo meme as much as the next person. But I must confess that I have only seen the 2012 series of the anime (which covered Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency). I absolutely loved it but because I came it it late I marathoned it (which made for an awesome day). When the next part Stardust Crusaders came out I figured I’d do the same thing. Little did I realise it was a fucking 50+ episode arc (actually not sure how long it ended up). And when watching series X will take as much time as rewatching Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I’m going to rewatch Brotherhood. And I did rewatch Brotherhood (and it was fucking great).

In any case, Diamond is Unbreakable is actually the fourth part of the story. And judging by the title this is the first movie in a series that will cover this arc (although no other parts of the series have been put into live action movies so it’s an odd place to start)

The movie is fine. Like the first 2/3 were pretty good and then it went fucking mental. Which I guess is classic JoJo. The main A plot was good and the fight scenes were generally pretty good.

But outside that I had literally a list of questions about stuff I was confused about: who was the random person who attacked and killed the ‘bad guy’ of the movie and then disappeared? Why was their such an emphasis on Koichi’s grades? (And how did he go on the test he was studying for all through the movie?) What was with the random serious side jag into a discussion about how Josuke was saved when he was four eyars old? (And who saved him? What was he saved from?) Where the fuck did Jotaro go halfway through the movie after the fight with the water henchman? (And why did he just piss off in full knowledge that some magical madman was running around and Josuke was nowhere near ready to face him?) Why did Josuke’s young mum date and procreate with a married English man who was like 30-40 years her senior? Was Josuke pointlessly lying when he told Angleo he ‘wouldn’t die’ or did Josuke literally sentence him to an eternity of suffering as an inanimate, living rock? What the fuck was with the weird stalker chick going after Koichi/ Was she a ghost? WHAT THE FUCK WAS THE GOBLIN MAN? ARE THEIR FUCKING MYTHICAL CREATURES IN THIS UNIVERSE? (I mean, vampires exist so it is possible) is Jotaro’s hat a visor or is his hair curving under and over the back of the hat??

The biggest problem was that the big final fight (which was a bit dumb thinking about it) ended like 3/4 of the way through the film and then there was a heap of character backstory and development that was fine but really seemed to be dragging out the movie run time. Just chuck it all before the fight and it’d be great. Like it was worse than a DC film is trying to clunkily set up a multi film story arc.

So yeah… 6/10?

~~~~~~~~~~~

The next movie was the othe rone I was really looking forward to- No Game No Life Zero. The TV series is fantastic (if you ignore the incest undertones overtones)- great idea, great arts, great characters, all executed super well. Unfortunately the series adapted pretty much the entirety of the published novels so the wait for season 2 is a long one. This movie is a prequel set thousands of years before the series and looks at how the premise if the series (no wars, all disputes settled by games) is created.

I was honestly a little disspapointed by the movie. It was fine as a movie but I was expecting the greatness of the series.

There was a tonne of assumed knowledge for this movie-it was borderline incoherent for my friend who was watching it with me that hadn’t seen the series. The fanservice links to the series were a bit hit and miss- I liked the narrative frame of the movie being a story getting told the the TV series characters but I did not like that Jibril was the Flugel who fucked shit up for the movie main characters. Particularly her complete ignorance of this massive event back in the narrative frame which goes against her character of hunting for knowledge (and given fact the movie characters look nearly identical to the TV characters, even though they are unrelated their resemblance should be notable to her)

Also the story didn’t really make any sense- like why the hell did Shuvi want to play games against Riku? There was no reason for this at all given this era is pre-game stuff. And their races were at war with each other.

Also there was some super convenient shit happening- like the humans were getting absolutely smashed in the war but once they decided to go into hiding and be dirt ninjas they suddenly got super lucky and became super successful at everything. And managed to conveniently manipulate the three main fighting races into fighting each other without fucking anything up, getting caught or getting killed. Because apparently eating some ash and positioning yourself makes it possible for them to sneak around undetected and no-one ever wants to touch them.

But the worst things was the pacing decisions- like we skip over the fight/game between Riku and Shuvi and are never told the result of the game or their bargain (like, we can guess) or how Riku ‘changed the rules of the game’. But then we have a stupid marriage sequence that goes for way too long.

The character designs were pretty lame (literally some colour palette swaps  with minor design tweaks on the three main characters from the TV series. And Jibril.) But it was cool seeing more of the other races, particular the Ex-Machina who haven’t featured in the TV series. But their cooperation with the humans was another plot convenience that didn’t really make much sense

So yeah… 4/10

~~~~~~~~~~~

The last movie was Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Which in some places was advertised as being somehow related to Studio Ghibli but it didn’t seem to actually be related to Ghibli (I think it was just the Director has worked for Ghibli).

In any case, much like JoJo this was a bit of a bonus movie and I had not real expectations going in. And it was a fine movie.

Fairly typical- young child with not adult oversight find crazy power and has an adventure. they do something dumb and put a peer in danger. Like the main characters name was Mary Smith which highlights the genericness of the story.

The main character Mary annoyed me coz she was an idiot (typical child). Like the big bad is chasing her to get hold of the flower (which is hidden in Mary’s bag) and the bad guy knocks the bag away. So Mary yells out ‘oh no the flower in in the bag’… so the big bad stops chasing her and just takes the bag. And despite seeing how overpowering the magic of the magic berries are (there is like a 15 minute sequence where is makes her a magic pariah in front of the whole school she ends up at), she gets trapped in a magic cell and doesn’t think to fucking use the berries for a fair while. Also at the very end she had one berry left and rather than keep it, hide it or destroy it she just chucks it off into the forest. So some random other person will get to deal with the magic equivalent of a nuclear bomb when they go for a bush walk. Fuck me kids are dumb.

Also the broom wrangler is a random and unnecessary deus ex machina who saves Mary’s bacon like… three or four times. Or rather he is a necessary deus ex machina since Mary fucks herself over so many times and there is no development or progress for any character that has them learn from the previous hours of their life and not fuck up again.

Also Mary looks like a slightly older version of the girl from Ponyo… but doesn’t act any older…

Eh, perhaps i’m expecting too much from a kids/family movie.

Soooo…. 4/10.

~~~~~~~~~

But yeah. This five things combined to be, in my opinion, the best part of MadFest but really in hindsight collectively it was a bit hit and miss in an “objective” sense…

MadFest Melbourne 2017 round up

As I was in Melbourne for PAX Aus 2017, I decided I’d stick around for an extra week and check out the relatively new Madman Anime Festival Melbourne. It’s a relatively new convention/festival on the Australian circuit that is run in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. It is also colloquially referred to as MadFest. As you may be able to tell by the name, MadFest is run by Madman who is Australia biggest anime distribution company (and they do other stuff too). Which actually puts MadFest in this weird middle ground of being a commercial convention like Supanova or Oz ComicCon but way more niche in scope like non-profit community conventions like SMASH and AICON.

Given it’s the proverbial new kid on the scene but is being backed by one of the bigger popculture companies in Australia (who’ve had some level of involvement or support of basically every other convention in Australia) I was pretty keen to check it out at least once.

(For those of you living in Australia, you’re probably thinking ‘Why the fuck is it run in Brisbane and Perth? Melbourne makes sense but surely Sydney would have an event before Brisbane and then fucking every other capital city but Perth before Perth?! And you’d be right except Sydney and Adelaide already have well established anime conventions, SMASH and AVCON respectively. And given how small an industry anime is there isn’t enough money to support two anime conventions so MadFest . Meanwhile Perth used to have an anime convention, WAICON, but it collapsed due to the people running it being idiots and Brisbane, despite being the birthplace of Supanova, has never had much of a convention scene for no apparent reason. And yes I’m ignoring Animaga which also runs in Melbourne. And no-one cares about Tasmania, the NT or the ACT coz they’re way too small in terms of population.)

As with PAX Aus, I need to caveat/disclose this write up with the fact I got a free ticket to MadFest Melbourne. Yay for connection. However I did have to pay money for the MadFest Movie Screenings and any/all of the paid content within the event. So take my positive feedback in with a grain of salt since I did’t put in money and thus have a lower bar needed to make me think it was worthwhile.

And by positive feedback I mean- I was pretty disappointment with the event and probably won’t bother going again even with a free ticket unless it lines up with something else like PAX Aus again. Which ironically I probably won’t go to again unless it also lines up with some thing else. (And at one of the finel events the main MadFest organiser teased that the dates for 2018 will probably change so things aren’t looking good in that front)

So yeah…

TL;dr- MadFest is a pretty underwhelming event and unless you have a heap of money and are SUPER big fans of at least 75% of their international guests, save your money and maybe just do the concurrent Film Festival Screening instead.

Also I should further caveat that stellar review with the fact I am a massive anime weeb so honestly anything related to anime has to be like half decent for me to love it.

To start with a legitimately positive thing- MadFest had the first guest I have ever had any vague interest in: Shinichiro Watanabe. He’s the director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. Along with some Animatrix shorts, Terror in Resonance and Kids on the Slope. (I won’t mention Space Dandy as that show is utter shit).

Using my special early access i actually went straight to the autograph area to grab a token for Watanabe. I also went to both of his panels which were pretty ok. He made some pretty funny jokes and had interesting stuff to talk about. Although there were some organisation issues- like on Saturday they didn’t give his transport a microphone and on Sunday the host ran out of planned content less than half way through the panel so threw to audience questions.

Shifting straight into a negative- i was actually pretty disappointing with the host/MC of the panels. It was Andy Trieu from SBS PopAsia who I’ve seen do some great stuff in other places. But like he seemed to just not be clicking this weekend. On Saturday he kept yelling at the audience to ‘get pumped’ and then on Sunday his catchphrase had changed to ‘make some noise’. And he asked some really inane questions. Like Watanabe arrived in Melbourne on Friday evening and then went to MadFest on the Saturday. And Andy’s first question for him was ‘How are you enjoying Australia?’ And you could (or at least I imagined I could) see the side-eye Watanabe gave him when he explained that he had literally just got to the country and not had a chance to see him so why was he asking such a dumb question. And then on Sunday the opening question was ‘And how have you spent your time in Melbourne?’ Watanabe gave fairly bland, positive response but I expect in his head it was along the lines of ‘fuck me mate, I spend the entire day here yesterday and all of today here too so far, I haven’t seen shit yet’.

I mean in hindsight I think Andy did the best he could on stage but obviously whoever was doing the writing for questions and prep let the team down. Sorry MadFest/SBS PopAsia Intern!

And from that, I’ve almost run out of positive MadFest things. Primarily because there was so little to do at the event.

They had one stage and theatre of programmed content and both stages were literally made up entirely of guest related content e.g. interviews of international guests, workshops by local cosplay guests etc. So literally there were two things I was interested in (the two Watanabe panels). Plus a third panel on Sunday that was with Kana Ueda from the Fate series and an AniPlex executive (which I saw by accident because i wanted to skip the line ride for the Watanabe autographs).

There were a few exhibitions on the expo floor of varying okayness.

The best one was the Cowboy Bebop one which had a heap of sketches and official art and such from the series. My favourite was the artwork of Faye in a bikini which was put at the bottom and I expect had lots of people stopping down to check it out over the weekend. The best part of this was that it ended with a ‘shooting range’ where you used nerf guns to hit some targets and win a Cowboy Bebop artwork. This was good for two reasons- one my friend and the other randoms there were shit at it. two- I literally picked up the gun and nailed the three targets in three shots. And then spent my other seven shots hitting 6 other targets to keep showing off.  Like the carnival fantasy XD.

The bad parts of this exhibition was that the artwork you won was the same thing you were given to have Watanabe autograph. And that because I got in early I managed to literally smash through the thing in 5 minutes and thus finish the best part of the show floor before the event had even started.

The other good exhibition was the Your Name exhibition. That movie is fucking spectacular (side note- if you haven’t seen it, you should. And then watch A Silent Voice too. And then spend the rest of the week/month crying.) But the exhibition really was just three(?) art pieces and two(?) sets of text with quotes from various people describing parts of the movie and the movie creation process.

There was an Attack on Titan exhibition but that show is pure shit so I ignored it. Also there was an Attack on Titan VR experience but you had to pay $10 to do it. Screw that. Word is that it was mainly you just watching stuff happen and wasn’t very long/good. So fuck that for a rip off.

There was a Sword Art Online exhibition but that whole franchise is garbage (aside from the first… seven?… episodes of Season 1 and then half of I think episode 17) so meh. Also it was literally just two 6×3 wall of art with nothing to do or read so screw that for a boring waste of time.

Also allegedly there was a Love Live! Exhibit. But I would query if 8 cardboard cutouts qualify as an exhibit. And given I’ve seen them at at least two other events previously in the last 12-18 months I don’t think it’s much of an attraction either.

Also there was a heap of demos for Dragon Ball Z fighters. Which added a fun 5-10 minutes of content and then you finished the demo. The game looks pretty fucking sweet though.

The most annoying thing to me personally was the chill out zone with it’s anime screen. Firstly it only had bean bags. Fuck you MadFest. Some of us like to chill out with back support and/or not at ground level. Secondly the only thing that appeared to play on the anime screen was Boruto. I get that you’re trying to make Boruto the next Naruto even though it is somehow more tepid than Naruto was but seriously you’ve got a bunch of simulcast anime you should be promoing and a bunch of new release DVDs/Blurays you could promo. Fuck even the anime that you’re guests are in would be worth a slot in the anime lineup for people to watch. I saw three minutes of the anime ‘Hyouka’ while browsing the Minotaur Pop Culture shop in Melbourne which was 3 minutes more than MadFest of good anime being screened.

There was also a Maid & Butler Cafe. Using my early access privilege I hit up the line before the event even opened and still spent nearly an hour there in the line ride because something had fucked up with their set up so it took ages to get through it (to the point where we missed out on autograph tokens that day). It was ok. The Maids and Butlers did their best but the physical set up looked really basic and they didn’t have a lot to work with. The food and drink options were pretty shit too. (Also I only found one Maid attractive and we didn’t luck out and have her).  Will have to take my girlfriend or a good mate to one in Japan so I can have the real experience (and while I am cynical, I refuse to be sad and go to a Maid Cafe by myself).

On a semi-positive note, the line ride for the guest signing wasn’t too bad and fairly well administered. i mean i was meant to be there at 1:30pm, rocked up at 2:05pm (since I went to the Ueda panel to reduce time spent in the line) and still had 45 minutes in line. But I liked how when you signed up for a token you were given a little card with your name and autograph time. And you then gave that card to the (Japanese) guest so they had you name and could write it down without you having to say/spell it. Fucking super efficient. Mad props MadFest

The only problem with autographs was that for the main guests (Watanabe and Kana Ueda) you needed a token for and you could only get one per day. So if you got fucked over in a another line (e.g. the Maid Cafe) or slept in or were just slow or not there in line at 10am, you literally couldn’t get both of their autographs.

I should actually give kudos to MadFest for this, as combined with no online token sales it meant that you had to be at the event at 10am both days to get autographs. And autographs were always late in the day. So you were being forced to hang around and buy stuff. Otherwise I (and I guess others) wouldn’t have bothered rocking up to the event until like 2pm.

Although I legitimately spend three hours of MadFest on Sunday in a coffee shop next door watching current season anime on my laptop with a mate because there was nothing to do at MadFest itself. As there was nothing else to do. i also spent parts of both days doing paperwork and admin for various personal things. Real exciting stuff that is a selling point for going to conventions…

The only other MadFest event there was was the Madman National Cosplay Championship Final held on Sunday arvo. I went to that, which is saying a lot as I strongly dislike Cosplay. But i was interested to see that it wasn’t being held at Brisbane Supanova. Historically the MNCC has been wedded to Supanova (aside from in Adelaide where it is with AVCON due to timing). But given a) it’s not particularity well watched, b) the increasingly oversaturated cosplay comp circuit between MNCC, the World Cosplay Summit and OZCC’s ‘Champions of Cosplay (with the other two arguably being more reputable and having a better prize respectively) and c) the ongoing tussle between Supanova and OZCC; I’m guessing Madman wanted to consolidate their investment/resources. Any by running literally no other good content at the same time everyone was funnelled into watching the finale.

I think a Naruto cosplayer won with a fairly low quality comedy skit full of memes and internet jokes. I think they had a good quality costume though.

Also oh god skits are fucking terrible. OZCC’s comp has zero skits which makes the event way faster and way more bearable to watch.

The only other thing there was was the expo floor with shops. In positive news there was almost exclusively anime weabo crap on sale and my opening round had me racking up a theoretical bill of like $2000. But I have two strict shopping policies- if it is my top three waifus i buy immediately regardless of price, otherwise I do not buy outside of the first or last hour of a convention. In the first hour you can get the stuff you absolutely must have before someone else buys it. In the last hour you normally get great firesales as people don;’t want to pack up stock.

NORMALLY you do. But being in Melbourne, all the shops and warehouses were in Melbourne so it was no hassle (and no interstate shipping) for the stalls to pack up unsold stock. So no firesale. Which probably made me almost as salty as the fucking Boruto screenings. I did still spent nearly $1000 on anime crap though. Mainly waifu related but some excellent statues from rare (either old or obscure) franchises.

And that’s all of MadFest.

I say that because the most enjoyable part of MadFest was, in my opinion, an entirely separated event. And that was the screenings. I say it was a separate event for two reasons. Firstly, four out of five of the screenings took place in the evening/at night when the rest of MadFest was closed (and fifth one finished outside MadFest hours too… I think. I bailed on that one). And secondly the screenings were separately ticketed. So people could (and did) buy a ticket to the screenings without attending the main MadFest Event.

Given this, I’m going to write up a round up for those screenings 9and some reviews of the movies/screenings) in a separate post.

And that’s MadFest Melbourne 2017.

Uhhh… 4/10 (with a 2.5 bonus to be 6.5/10 if I factor in the screenings which i like a fair bit more on balance)

 

 

PAX Aus 2017 round up

I went PAX Aus 2017. Here’s some thoughts I wrote about it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I used to run conventions. Or festivals. When I started they were conventions but now they’re all festivals or expos. But that’s a (boring) story for another day.

One of the fun things about running a convention is you get know everyone else running conventions (a very small group, a few dozen people really) and everyone gives each other tickets to their events. So you can network and borrow/steal ideas and catch up with each other because you’re all friends.

I say this for three reasons- one I want to caveat my PAX Aus 2017 write up with the fact I didn’t pay to go (aside from transport, accommodation, food etc) which definitely affects the way I viewed the event (as in, I didn’t pay to I’m easier to satisfy). Secondly I want to highlight that in the last few years I’ve been to over two dozen conventions/expos so at this point a lot of them blend in and they all become pretty same-same and uninteresting to me. And lastly I’m just bragging XD

With all that said, PAX Aus was pretty good and retained its status as my equal favourite convention in Australia (equal with SMASH in Sydney).

Which is particularly impressive given I’m not a gamer and don’t really like playing games. I own three boardgames (which I’ve never opened) and after buying a Nintendo 3DS in 2014 I’ve played a grand total of two games (both of which are updated versions of games I played as a kids). And the only PC game I play is Warcraft 3’s campaign every 18 months or so.

TL;dr- overall Pax Aus was pretty great/fine just like in previous years. But there wasn’t really anything that made this PAX particularly notable/different compared to previous ones. If you like gaming you should definitely go. If you aren’t a gamer, check it out once and then you’ll probably be fine for the rest of your life not going again.

The great thing about PAX Aus is its panel line up. In my humble/arrogant opinion the thing that makes or breaks a convention is its panels/workshops. The Expo floor is fine for an hour but after that you’re out of money and/or things to buy. Guests are fine I guess but I don’t see the appeal in getting a photo or signature of someone who’s ‘famous’. Particularly nerd famous. And all the games and activities and shit that are there to play you can do in your own time any day of the year.

But panels- this is a chance to hear about completely new, completely random, completely insane stuff from all over the genre of a convention from all sorts of perspectives (consumer, creator, industry moneymaker, educator, bitter old fan etc).

This was my third PAX Aus and like in previous years I spent about 80% of my time in the panel rooms. And I was pretty much at the event the entirety of it’s opening hours.

The panels were great as with previous years. Sort of. As with every other year I pretty much always had some panel I wanted to go to at any particular time of the day- either because it was something I was interested in or it was something super niche that seemed different or it just sounded fun/dumb/crazy. However in previous years I found myself often with 3-4 things on simultaneously throughout the whole event and would ditch a panel after 2 minutes if it didn’t grab me since there were three other things on concurrently. But this year there tended to only 1-2 things of interest on at any one time.

So it was a lot less frenetic which was good for my knees but not for my brain.

Also a lot of the panels appeared to be… I dunno… less organised than in previous years. Like some panels definitely had a heap of preparation into them and others had poor preparation has half the joke/fun. But there were a lot of things in the middle where people had had a great and idea and then thought their panel of 4-6 people could just impro some gold.

(Oh fuck yeah- side note but one of the great things about PAX Panels is that everything is at least 3-4 people, if not 5-6. With the exception of a few notable ones where the sole presenters did public speaking and/or audience banter for a living e.g. Penny Arcade people, Jesse Cox. So there is no ‘one person awkwardly lecturing the audience for an hour’ panels. At least none that I saw. And I expect it is purely an artefact of the high demand on panel time/space that they get to only put on the cream of the crop.

So of the panels I went to that, here is what I can remember almost a week after the convention:

Good:

Acquisitions Inc Live- I’ve since found out this is a bit of a flagship program of the Penny Arcade Team. At the time I had no idea what it was but it had a big queue and a 3 hour timeslot on the program so I figured I would check it out. Was a group of five people- two Penny Arcade people, a DM from I think Wizards of the Coast, Jesse Cox (who I know and really like from the co-optional podcast but had never seen his face so spent 15 minutes trying to place his voice) and… one other person. A lady from somewhere I think. Real descriptive XD. Anyway they were doing a D&D style roleplay session set in the Star Wars universe (also I love Star Wars). It was really funny and they had a great dynamic. The way they gelled and worked together really showcased what a functioning roleplaying group can do and reminded me of some of the hijinks that happened in the first D&D group I was a part of (and highlighted some real issues with the current one I’m part of).

An Evening with Jesse Cox- As mentioned above, I like Jesse from the co-optional podcast and this hour long panel was pretty fun. He bantered with the audience and then ran a stupid Street Fighter tournament where he gave out really dodgy prizes e.g. hentai decals, maid card games. And he ate a bunch of Australian food. Also he highlighted (by accident) that fairy bread (bread with coloured sugar) may be an Australia party treat but is also just like standard American bread (which has a fuck tonne of sugar mixed into it). Fairly fun panel for his fans but if you didn’t know him, I guess not that interesting

Dating Sims- there were actually two dating sims panels I went to but I can’t remember which was which. One was by the same people as in previous years (where I found out about John Cena’s Sexy Magical HighScool Adventure) called PAXmance and it was pretty ok. Not much different from last year I think. Although they did highlight a game called Dream Daddy which really makes me think I should play dating sims coz it’s fucking hilarious. The other panel was about Western Dating Sims (as opposed to Japan developed ones) and I think missed the start of it so the talking part was a bit lame. But they then played a dating sim where you were dating Tank Girls and the route they took had them basically getting dragged by a psycho tank girl to a bar and getting smashed even though they were still in highschool. And wearing uniforms. To be honest, I may have confused which dating sim panel played which game but they were both pretty funny games so who cares. Also one of the presenters at PAXmance was wearing sunglasses even though we were inside at 10:30pm which really irritated me for some reason.

Jurassic Park Trespasser- this was one of the panels that clearly had a heap of work put into it as the panellists had played through the whole (horrific) game and picked out enough pieces of footage to last the exact length of the panel to show the game, the story and the disaster it all was. Essentially was people talking about this super broken Jurassic park game that was released sometime around the Jurassic Park 2 movie (I think). And it was so broken- like the MC was a pair of boobs with a super wonky arm The enemies were different coloured raptors. You could avoid T-rex’s by walking around them. The physics engine was crazy broken. Guns were pretty terrible. Ah such a bad game. But great fodder for a panel.

Bethesda Trivia- I don’t play games so I definitely don’t know any game trivia. I especially don’t know as nuanced trivia as that about a specific publisher. Every time they went to a new round I was like ‘Oh I have heard of that game/franchise. It’s pretty good I think’. This was one of the panels where failed preparation made it great- like they had drawing round but couldn’t put the whiteboard in a spot where the people competing could see and had them drawing either impossible or stupid things (that being said one person correctly guessed ‘dog meat’ from Fall Out by a single dot being put on the whiteboard). And they had audio questions but the tech failed. And the quizmaster didn’t have answers for some questions. And they ran way over time so were just smashing through things at a comical pace.

The Great Debate- the topic was ‘watching games is better than playing games’. The teams were a bit stacked because it was two comedians (Laurence Leunig and Jordan from Axis of Awesome) and journalist (Rae Johnston) (all Australian) vs two international guests (Jessie Cox and I think Bernie Berns…) and… a journalist? (I have no clue who the last person was). Like the first team had both the comedy chops and local knowledge to really get the live audience on side. But in any case all six people made pretty good arguments for their case and were all pretty funny and/or informative. Despite my personal support for the ‘watching is more fun’ side, I reckon the ‘playing is more fun’ side won. But then the judge/host did a cop out ‘everyone is a winner’ which ruined it a little.

Ok

Censorship party- this panel was actually a bit of a political thing by the Pirate Party. And from the two pirate party members up on stage (a German girl with crazy hair and a geeky looking guy with long greasy hair), they’ve got a long way to go before their ideas go mainstream (to be clear- they were saying generally good things, but half the battle is getting people to listen to you and if you look weird people will switch off). The panel itself was fairly bleh. Some interesting discussion on where we draw the line on censorship vs good taste e.g. is censoring games like GTA that have you killing prostitutes an ok thing to do? But this was a panel where there wasn’t really any prep is appeared as they ran out of content/steam about 40 minutes in and then the convo shifted into copyright stuff for… reasons…?

Button Mashing and Joy sticks, sex in videogaming- I remember nothing from this panel but my notes say “was ok. Title is an ok pun too”.

Comedy Cavalcade- I went to the comedy show last year and really liked it. This year less so. There was one comedian from Townsville who I just can’t stand, couldn’t stand her last year either. They have a super weird laugh and I just don’t find their jokes (“oh aren’t country people dumb”) funny. Jordan(?) from Axis of Awesome did a poem which was a bit weird. Demi Lardner was ok, I’m not normally a fan but yeah she was funny. My favourite was Adam Knox but that’s because I know him from Filthy Casuals (the podcast). Was hoping to also see either Tommy Dassalo (also from Filthy Casuals) or Dave Callan as the closers as I feel they’re the only nerd comedians with enough profile/talent to headline a comedy show. But neither were there.

Omegathon Final- last year’s Omegathon final was a VR first person shooter and was fucking intense. This years was 3D frogger and pretty underwhelming. The gimmick was the control scheme was a balance board. It started off close but by about half way one person was pretty clearly going to win it. Not as exciting as las year but still a good atmosphere. But I did stop paying attention for the middle bit to do some forms/paperwork for a meeting so I guess that shows how much I was really caring about it.

eSports Unsustainable Bubble- I missed the first half of tis panel and I suspect if I’d seen it all it would have gone in the ‘good’ pile. Was interesting hearing from four different perspectives (player, team manager, publisher and event/tournament co-ordinator) on the good and bad parts of eSports as an industry and where they saw things going. In particular the dude from Team Manager (a guy from Legacy eSports) had some really insightful views on what needed to happen to make eSports really hit it big like normal sports.

Meh

League of Heels- looked dumb so I left after about 30 seconds. Apparently it was interesting. But I don’t really like wrestling.

Twin Peaks- never seen an episode of the show so checked this out “for the lols”. Was pretty good if you knew what they were talking about judging by the audience reaction. (For reference I did the same thing with the Gwent card game panel last year and enjoyed it, so I had reason to think checking out random niche panels on topics I know nothing about could be fun)

World of Tanks- take above review for Twin Peaks and replace ‘twin peaks’ for ‘World of Tanks’ and ‘never seen episode’ with ‘never played a game’.

Zelda Breath of Wild- take above but insert references to me not having several hundred dollars to drop on a Switch and Zelda, combined with me not liking games, so I haven’t played Breath of the Wild. But I did play half of Ocarina of Time and 30 minutes of Wind Waker when I was a kid and Zelda seems like a fun franchise XD.

Injustice 2 Comics panel- take above reviews but make them about reading comics and/or playing comic based fighting games. Also the writer guy on the panel came across like a bit of an arrogant prick (as an arrogant prick myself, I can recognise my kind easily). Also the two hosts (who I vaguely recognise and I think do a podcast or something called Periodic Table of Awesome) have schtick I wasn’t a fan of either.

Top Weirdest Games- six people talked about 5 games they thought were weird. Was ok. Nothing special. Given they had less than 2 minutes to talk about each game it was a bit rushed and didn’t get a lot of depth. Some interesting games highlighted but generally kind of meh panel.

Vidoegame Fashion- take the above about Top Weird Games and replace with ‘top bits of good or bad or terrible costumes in videogames’. Was ok but lacked direction as a panel. Also the main host seemed to like taking digs at popular characters e.g. Mario in a bit of a smug/snarky way.

GameSpot giveaway- last year this was what the Bethesda Trivia was: hectic, trivia-esque madness. This year it was kind of boring.

3 Minute descriptions- people try to condense plot lines of games/franchises into 3 minutes. Some were very funny, some less so. Mainly funny if you’d played the game/knew the plot in some detail. Also the panellists only had like one prepared each so most of the panel was the audience giving it a crack which resulted in a wild variation in quality. And people then nitpicked what had been left out which I guess it to be expected.

Heroes to Icons- I remember nothing about this panel.

Charity Auction- I love trash and treasure auctions, so auctions where people pay well above RRP for things aren’t my jam. Also auctions with less than 10 items are boring. Give me 80 pieces of junk that need to get sold in 30 minutes. That’s a fun auction. Charity is good though.

Retro game championship- missed the start, was a 1 hour tournament on old consoles. Ended up being an 8 year old kid (roughly) vs a 30 something year old man (roughly). The kid got stomped pretty bad- the old dude knew way more about the Super Mario Bros shortcuts. Dunno how they selected who was competing though. Also one of the consoles shat itself halfway through the final, fucking good ole reliable technology XD.

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While panels took up 80% of my time, I did do other stuff.

Mainly that was watching speed running. In particular I watched bits of Lego Star Wars (which I played as a kid), Gears of War (which I’ve heard of but never played) and Hollow Knight (which I thought was Shovel Knight but it was obviously a different game). There were a bunch of other speed run games that looked interesting to see (some Metroid games, Uncharted, Spryo, Mario etc) but I can watch those at home on YouTube so I wasn’t super fussed about seeing them all.

The Expo floor held nothing of interest to me since I didn’t want to buy PC hardware or boardgames. I’ve heard a recurring criticism that every year there is less and less variety in vendors selling stuff and there is more and more people selling PC hardware. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to it but I do feel it’s probably true- every year there has been less and less that I look at for shopping, culminating in literally zero things this year. I have a suspicion this is a financial decision of who is willing to buy the space in PAX for the most amount of money so fair enough. And really I don’t know what people would otherwise buy while at PAX and/or what other things aren’t being sold other than niche merchandise. But meh.

The games places held no interest ether- I tried watching some eSport tournaments but got bored/confused pretty quickly. All the bright flashing displays promoting various games didn’t really work as I had no idea what the game was for or even what platform it was on (or if it was being sold or previewed or whatever). The only thing I did recognise was a Star Wars AR thing but the line for that was fucking massive so I didn’t even bother.
Also according to my gamer friends, apparently there was a huge push on ‘PubG’ and not enough other stuff. Fair enough?

The Indie Games I’m sure were cool but I didn’t really care enough to go look at those. I went real in depth on them in a previous PAX and was neither pleased or disappointed by it- somewhere in the middle. Ditto on the Pinny Arcade stuff, great for Penny Arcade fans but not me.

Played one tabletop game- Betrayal at Baldurs Gate. Was pretty fun to be honest, mainly coz I won. By doing nothing. There was six of us and four of them were killed semi-on-accident in a magic fight. I was closest to it and walked in, picked up all their loot and become too OP for the last living person to even consider fighting so casually waltzed off to complete the objective. But I can imagine that if I wasn’t the guy who lucked out in that scenario I would not have liked the game XD

Some broader comments and observations from a convention organiser perspective:

Really liked the move of the handheld area out into the end of the main hallway. It used to be in the main expo hall but putting it out there a) freed up expo hall space, b) filled in unused hallway space and c) had the chill out area (which is essentially what hand hold is) in a well ventilated area. Similarly the Pinny Arcade stuff was set up to occur in the main ticket queue hall after the big queues to get in were gone. I’d noticed in previous years how large and wasted this space was for most of the day so it was a good way to utilise it after the opening rush.

A friend made a similar comment about how the main floor space in the convention centre section of the building was quite barren (just a Jackbox game and dance game stage). But really it’s a manifestation of a common problem- 10% of your main stage events use 90%+ of the space, 90% use less than 10% of the space. So for most of the day both the main theatres and the outside floor area weren’t full and seemed empty. But there were a handful of times where there was a huge stage event on and in the hour leading up to it the convention floor was full of the queue lines. So I’m not that annoyed by the empty floor space in the area and/or can’t think how that space could be better used (or where else to put those massive lines).

I did like how they used one of the small rooms upstairs (too small to put anything into I suspect) as a queue overflow room.

I don’t like how barren Level 1 is. Essentially the ground floor and level 1 both access the main theatres. Which means that there aren’t any dedicated rooms on level 1 for stuff and for 90% of the events they put people through pm the ground floor to be closer to the stage. Which is fine, but it means that every single year Level 1 floor space is entirely underused and kind of shit. Like you go p the full floor of people on the ground and see nothing but a few signs the next floor up.

Personally I think the best thing to chuck there would be a chill out area. I dunno of you could put any permanent stalls there given the dimensions of the space and/or uncertain foot traffic (there is nowhere to really set up a permanent attraction/activity I think) but scattering chairs, tables and beanbags (and maybe a coffee cart) would fill it up and look much nicer. Alternatively move the Level 2 queue overflow into the space and use the current Level 2 room for something else. Or a combination of both ideas.

Also, and I realise there is zero things that can be done about this, but I hate how three panel rooms are within 50m of each other (plus the Diversity Lounge is in the same area and it hosts panel style events) but then one panel theatre is on a different level in a different building at literally the opposite end of the venue. My step counter loved that walking distance but my knees did not.

Convention food is always the same- overpriced and underwhelming. I think I sampled most of the food places over the course of the weekend and was not impressed by any of them to go back. Recommend taking snacks and/or drinks and/or some fruit in your bag when you go to a convention.

Also PAX merch confuses me. They seem to rapidly sell out of some key items on day 1 and have a heap of other stuff left over. But it’s always the same stuff every year- like hoodies are always critically understocked while some niche joke shirts are over stocked. I assume there is a reason for this but some more finely tuned stock ordering on merch would be a much more efficient money maker (i.e. buy more stock of the stuff that always sells out and less stock of the stuff that doesn’t for the next year).

The PAX Phone App was a really good too. It basically negated the need for me to find a convention booklet. Only issue with it was that apparently there was an updated version every day with changes to the schedule but it kept erroring out when trying to download it. So I have no clue whether I was looking at the correct schedule or not. I mean, things were generally on when and where I expected them to be for panels. The Speed running stage was sometimes about 30 minutes off but that looked more like a technical delay/overtime speed run problem. So yeah I dunno. Generally a good app though.

Bonus- one of my favourite things about PAX is how the size of it means that the nerd shit spills over into the rest of Melbourne. Like my friend and I were walking home to our dodgy AirBnB share house and there were these two normal looking cute girls who burst into a fairly big debate about which Dragon’s Age game was the best. Fucking awesome.

Bonus- I also want to highlight how much I like PAX’s continued stanc3 on not having any official cosplay stuff. Like they have a change room and allow other people to run cosplay stuff and obviously have cosplay there but there are no official PAX cosplay events/activities. I know the organisers have copped some heat on that from cosplayers who think they are more important than they are. But seriously the value proposition of cosplay is pretty shit- it doesn’t add much, causes a lot of problems and honestly distracts from actually cool/impressive/”important” stuff. More to the point, as the organisers have pointed out PAX is a gaming convention. Not a cosplay convention. Nor a pop-culture convention. It has a very specific focus and purpose- to celebrate and promote gaming. And while cosplay does have some overlap with the fan community of gaming, it otherwise a separate beast that doesn’t really belong at a gaming event in an official capacity.

Bonus/protip- if it’s PAX weekend, don’t go to any of the nerd bars e.g. Bartronica, Beta Bar. They’ll be fucking overcrowded and shit. They’re not actually that large in terms of floorspace. Go literally on 361 other days of the year and they’ll be great. I may write up something later about my limited experiences of going to nerd bars.

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So yeah, in summary PAX Aus 2017 was fine. Great even. It does a lot of things really well and for my personal tastes comes from very far behind to be equal best convention in Australia. However I have no real urge to go back again in future. I wasn’t planning to go to this year’s PAX until about 10 days before the event when a work meeting got moved (freeing up the weekend) and a friend asked if I wanted to split accommodation costs with them for a Melbourne trip to do Pax Aus and MadFest Melbourne. And personally I doubt I’d pay to go to PAX, no free ticket is me not going. Particularly as there really was nothing at this PAX that made it stand out to previous ones… which themselves were also very similar to each other.

So like… 7.5/10?

If you like gaming and are a gamer of any sort, I would recommend going. If you’re not, maybe go for a day just to see if you like it… and then probably never go again because you’ve already had the exact PAX experience that people have every year.

Also if you’re just gonna go try it out- I’d recommend just going on Friday. t’s way quieter than Saturday so has shorter lines/wait times but still a full ~14 hours of programmed content (unlike Sunday which finishes at 6pm) so it’s the best value for time/money. And then if you really like it you still have the option to get passes for one or both of the other days (of they’re not sold out).

Also protip- if you’re going to buy stuff either buy it in the very first hour or the very last 30 minutes of the whole convention- the first hour is so you definitely get the thing(s) you want. The last hour is so you get good deals and big discounts on stuff that vendors don’t want to have to pack up and take home. That applies to all conventions/events!