Anime Detour 2011

Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Another opening shift this morning. This one was even worse because not only was it indisputably on my schedule, I voluntarily took it over so John could attend a brunch with the guests. So it was back to the grindstone at 9:30.

Since Sunday's always light, I'll also sprinkle in a couple extra cosplay photos that didn't quite fit Saturday. Strange that I have to explain that, because that used to be standard practice.

Wheeling And Dealing

This shift involved a little more crowd control as there was more unauthorized assemblage in front of my door. I had to direct people to the makeshift line downstairs, unsure of how a second floor room would have a first floor line. It was almost easier when the doors actually opened.

The open doors drew out a Toradora cosplayer too.

Hauling everything to the car proved to be a huge challenge, given the surplus of soda that we had and the tons of video game equipment in Mike's car. While they were parked nearby, I was too far away to make that many trips carrying that many 24-packs. We ended up having to use the old squatter routine where Sarah S. would sit on our bags/cases outside while I gathered everything together. Haven't done that one in a long time.

The added complication came when Evan completed his shift and Sarah had to take over. We had to coordinate a rotation that resulted in Sarah badging, me squatting and Evan hauling. With Red's help we somehow fit everything into the car.

Mike and Red not only had to fit everything, but had to take an extra passenger home on top of it.

Along the way Brian, Sari's husband and staffer for both Geek.Kon and Detour, ended up as one of the judges for the drabble contest and said my entry ended up in the top ten. Woot.

Double Woot!

With everything packed up I made a final run through the Dealer's Room, hung out with Richard and Shannon (who ended up stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes over the weekend: her Facebook updates in that span are now legendary) and picked up Whack a Catgirl, an amusing card game Bob introduced me to at Geek.Kon last year.

Also hovered around the charity auction for a bit. They raised over $36,000 for Japan relief. Wow... just wow.

On my way to the post-mortem, I stopped by John and Sarah B.'s panel on handling weapons safely for stage and convention. It should have drawn more, considering how many people could use some tips on that... and the fact that John brought a katana.

A real katana. It was pretty neat.

Lately, I've enjoyed attending post-mortems at conventions, mostly to see what stuff people take issue with and get ideas of things to avoid. This was a little unusual, and a bit uncomfortable, as the only Detour staffer fielding the questions was their con chair Kale. The departing con chair Kale who is taking a less lofty position next year. Usually there's an events head or some other officer there as well to field questions related to specific departments.

A less surprising gripe was stashing the Tabletop Gaming area away from the convention floor and all the way at the top floor of the hotel. The not-at-all surprising response was that it was the only place left to put it and it was better than nothing at all. Fair enough until somebody complained about why there had to be five Hetalia panels. The totally surprising response was that they try to accept as many panels as possible since they have to fill the rooms somehow. As opposed to, say, using a programming room for tabletop instead and cutting panels that really didn't have to be there.

Quick! Picture slam!

There's something strange about Detour that compels me to attend Closing Ceremonies. Usually I attend Closing Ceremonies at cons where I'm not quite ready for them to end and need some closure- No Brand and Kitsune have been the only cases of this in the past. Given the drive back and the lingering exhaustion all weekend, I was ready to go but I still felt like I needed to be there to the end. And not just because they were announcing the winner of the drabble contest.

This is where it gets a little weird. As mentioned pre-Totoro, Kale was stepping down as con chair and returning to his tech roots, passing the torch on to a new chairman. This is not always a big deal: four-year chairman Bob did the same thing at Geek.Kon this year with zero fanfare. But Closing Ceremonies was devoted to honoring the departing chair, with emotional testimonials from all of the guests, several of whom Kale and Anime Detour have helped through assorted Stuff. One of the most remarkable things about Detour is the way guests are active, participating members of the con community and both they and the convention look out for each other far beyond three silly days in a hotel.

It was strange seeing it all from the perspective of someone who is not in this community. This was only my second trip to Detour and being more up on con operations I found a lot more issues with it this time around. It's the same weekend as Kitsune Kon next year and I am choosing Kitsune Kon without hesitation. As someone who had only met Kale a couple hours earlier, and only briefly, it felt like we were trespassing. Sarah thought the whole thing was overwrought and was bored out of her skull. Surely she couldn't have been alone.

Still, I've seen plenty of Kale's contemporaries in Wisconsin: No Brand has Vinnk, Milwaukee has Momo and Daisho has Spittin' Wheelie. All are beloved cornerstones, crucial to the foundation of each convention. Two of them have moved on from their cons entirely and while Zack is still a big part of Daisho, he is no longer their chairman. Whether or not they received a grand send off, it's hard to dispute that they all had earned one. So it wasn't hard to figure out how Kale could mean so much to the Detour community and why him handing the reins is a pretty big deal.

But what really sets this apart is that Anime Detour is the size of No Brand, Milwaukee and Daisho combined. Bigger cons generally focus less on the three-prong relationship between staff, guests and attendees. Never mind ACen; I don't even know who's actually in charge of Iowa! It's remarkable that a convention of that size can still have such visible faces like Kale, Programming Head Jo and Guest Head Anton (who hosted a panel Sunday afternoon all about getting a chance to meet Anton). When one leaves his post to crawl back into the cave of tech staff, it feels like a chapter of convention history has ended. Conventions are always bigger than one person, but it's nice when a convention stops and gives due credit to someone who helped define its character.

 So once again, we have the question of where the hell Detour fits in our little network of madness. Given everything, I've found that the (oddly specific) comparison is No Brand 2006. This was when No Brand had established a close community and brought in guests that were just as much a part of it, rather than focusing on bringing in the New Hotness every year like most cons. They also still hadn't perfected their planning and operations, and there was a certain charm to the staff stumbling through it. Compare it to the last year or two when it felt more rehearsed and sterile, yet with an uncertainty about which direction it's trying to go (their move back to the Plaza will hopefully spice things up a bit). Detour's mistakes are less forgivable given their size and experience (and that they often err against the attendee), but the fact that they put on a much-beloved convention using a formula that still has so much room for improvement makes you excited about their prospects down the road, especially as they continue to commit to its previous ideals. They still need just a little more polish, that's all.

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