Animania 2005

In the Eye of Information Overload

Mini-me becomes life size and learns how to dress up in different costumes as Animefringe delves into the main weekend of Animania for Sydney 2005.

by Tim Henderson

This year’s October has got to go down as the most overloaded series of weeks that anime fans in Sydney have ever seen. The cinema front saw Howl’s Moving Castle continuing its highly successful cinema run, and Reel Anime spent some time occupying the Opera Quey Dendy cinemas with films such as Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and the recent 3D remake of Appleseed. A series of Miyazaki films have been showing on free-to-air TV, alongside Stand Alone Complex... and then there's the convention scene.

It's a sad fact, but I have never been to Animania until now. It always seems to show up at a time where being a university student in Australia is at its most hectic, and justifying a two-day outing such as this can be a little difficult. Then you realize that you've been working flat-out for the past month or so, and you need a slight breather, and more importantly, you really, really want to go. Maybe the horned angel on your shoulder gorged the white haloed one; whichever excuse suits your fancy.

So it begins with me traipsing down George Street, casually gazing around at my surroundings and wondering why the weather had become so cold after weeks of being stuck inside. The breeze hit my face hard, and until I reached my destination, I was eternally grateful for my beanie. Animania is held at the Town Hall, and as such, it couldn't be any easier to find. If you're from out-of-state or out-of-country, take heart in knowing that if you get off at Town Hall train station, you will be at your destination once you ascend the stairs. Alternatively, just head straight down George Street from Central, and to actually miss the building would require great skill. Seeing the brightly colored Animania flags flapping madly in the chilly wind outside of such a building is a site to see in itself.

Animania 2005

Perhaps a little over-eager, I showed up a good half an hour early to find a stairway already crowded with people, several in cosplay dress, waiting with bags in hand to head in as soon as the event was declared open. Being the sly sort that I am, I opted to attain my pass and slip in early to get an advanced look while the floor was still in a clear state. Staff alternated between organizing themselves, cleaning, and taking advantage of the free play video games. I followed their lead somewhat. Dealers were lining up their stock, and a fragile sense of calm wafted tenderly through the entirety of the bottom floor.

Leaving the gaming section and main shopping quarter that defined the bottom floor behind, I ventured upstairs to check out the screening room and the main hall. To be honest, the screening room was a little underwhelming, as it suffered from the simple problem of flat level seating. Once things got underway, the image was projected as high as the roof would allow, but people up at the back often opted to stand rather than sit in order to get a less chaotic view of the subtitles. In its own way, however, the main hall made up for this. A double-story horseshoe theatre, the layout was great, the seating both plentiful and comfortable, and the overall atmosphere and sense of space was fantastic. With the community and first aid stands (complete with cups of water alongside the more serious supplies) behind the seating area, this room saw a lot of diverse events over Saturday and Sunday, including the screening of anime such as Stellvia, Scrapped Princess, and the rather awesome Cromartie High between key events.

Animania 2005

Behind this was the artists’ area, a much-appreciated coatroom, and an unfortunately quiet karaoke area. A particularly likable and peaceful outdoors rest area made itself an option between the main hall and the screening room -- not that many people felt a need to use it!

With the general layout in mind, and a couple of bodies filtering into the hall, I decided to wander back downstairs. Something became immediately obvious at the moment when I left the staircase: the fragile calm that had previously occupied the space had been well and truly shattered, crushed to a brutal death as the entire room thumped with the new pulse of life brought about by an influx of bodies and a very popular Dance Dance Revolution machine. It must be stressed that there were three actual arcade games present, the already mentioned DDR, Tekken 5, and a two-player linkup of Initial D ver. 3. It must be stressed that they remained on free play throughout the entirety of the weekend, a luxury that I have found missing in my convention experiences in the past. This may have proven a little awkward for competition though, as two machines meant that the Initial D competition went on for a long time with only one race at a time, although props still go out to the attempt to keep a level playing field, even if they did forget to include any Mitsubishi cars on the entry form.

Animania 2005

Consoles provided other options, however, and friendly games of Soul Calibur 2, Burnout 3, and Super Smash Brothers Melee gave the less directly competitive something to indulge in. Furthermore, heading to the back corner would reveal a variety of more retro titles, which reminded me that my Master System has been broken for a couple of years now.

The two days were logically broken down into a series of different events scattered throughout the various spaces, allowing patrons to move around and attend at will whatever caught their interest. Saturday offered a variety of workshops, from cosplay to drawing, as well as a Yaoi panel (it should be noted that the paddles that apparently crowd American conventions have yet to make their way down here). I didn't really attend these, as I scheduled my time towards the Iron Artist, AMV Finals, and in particular, the actual Cosplay Competition.

Animania 2005

The Iron Artist is a fairly simple concept, basically taking the rules of the Japanese cooking show, The Iron Chef, and shifting the focus from cooking to drawing. I was a little upset that the artists were allocated so much time to render their designated character combinations in full, as I had been sadistically hoping for a frantic panic fest, but a little commentary and clumsy and invasive camera work kept things more entertaining that I had expected. Saturday saw two teams face off against each other, whereas Sunday was a one-on-one duel. The Iron Artists won on both counts.

As an art student with heavy practice in video, I wanted to check out the Anime Music Video finals. The event consisted of an hour of viewing what the staff had selected as the higher quality entries in the competition. The videos shown were still of very mixed quality, however, with some that were very impressive in their association and construction, and some that... weren't. Seeing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children rendered as Sin City was a cool novelty, as well as a fairly respectable technical feat. Please Teacher Onizuka was rather amusing in a predictably disturbing way, and an overall very well constructed Haibane Renmei video only suffered from one little problem that I'm inclined to associate with the AMV world in general: please, please stop using #&$%ing Evanescence for background music! A total of three of the finalist videos alone played to this heavily overused artist.

Animania 2005

It is fortunate to have a highlight of the day. Not only does it cast an overall warm glow over the events of the totality of the day, but it makes the process of structured journal writing easier. I don't have a phobia of wearing weird clothes and brightly colored wigs in public, but I do possess a good amount of laziness where preparing such getups is involved, and as such, I am generally content in seeing others strike poses, strut their stuff and occasionally make absolute asses of themselves in rather amusing and entertaining ways that always seem to boost their popularity with the crowd. Occasionally, I'm even overcome with a degree of envy.

The cosplay competition took place on the main stage, and it took full advantage of the short catwalk (readers are free to make up their own catgirl puns at this point). The costume quality varied, as did their personalities. Where some people were timid or quiet, others were utterly eccentric and occasionally, a little frightening. Seeing one of the emcees almost get stage-raped by a gay ninja is an image that probably wedged itself into most people's minds with the intent of lingering for some good time to come. There were a lot of Chobits (complete with requisite vocabulary limitations) and Final Fantasy costumes (complete, in a couple of cases, with fantastically massive swords). Given the variety and often-crazy flavor of fashion in this RPG series, it’s a small surprise that its cosplay popularity is always paramount. Overkill was hardly a problem, however, as crowds were entertained with Sephiroth brutally stabbing straight through Cloud Strife, and a recreation of the famous ballroom dance scene from Final Fantasy VIII. Making more use of themed background music than most groups, this group collaboration saw ten people dressed as five different respective couples from different games in the series. Once everyone had taken their places and had their introductions read out, the lights were dimmed and the couples went into a lengthy recreation of Squall and Rinoa's most memorable moment, showered in a consistent and endless array of futile camera flashes.

Animania 2005

Oh, and there were panties. Often by intent, but occasionally by accident. Any woman planning on dressing up in a particularly good costume would do well to keep in mind the fact that the stage is elevated. People up front taking photos were occasionally granted a particularly advantageous view.

A special word has to be thrown out to the two main emcees as well, as they both did a fantastic job of maintaining a level of personality and playing along with everything that went down onstage (or just opening a DS chatroom). The willingness to be toyed with on their part on both days allowed for a lot of spontaneous fun that a more formalized approach simply wouldn't have been able to make room for.

Animania 2005

As the first day eventually began to wind down, and the seething mass of bodies started to filter out after the cosplay contest, those who stuck around could either head back downstairs for some shopping or stay around in the main hall while the anime cover band Halcyon took to the stage (or they could have attended the aforementioned Yaoi panel). Live music is something that I don't have enough of in my life, and while I never really sat down to watch a show itself, I still greatly appreciated the presence of a live performance. There was a definite energy that rose above the token novelty of simply putting on a random soundtrack or an assortment of mp3s. I was just about ready to sweep the ground floor once more as their set came to a close, and I was able to do so with Drivers High happily playing in my head. Unfortunately, my desire to get back to browsing and taking advantage of free video games would mean missing out on the random game show, Animania Olympia.

Like ticking off token footage in a film montage, I went back to my accommodation, ate, took some quick notes, studied for a couple of hours, went to bed, got up again at six in the morning, showered, studied for another couple of hours, ate, and headed back out into Sydney bright and early for the second day of the convention. Try saying that sentence aloud and the concept of barely having time to breath will likely take on a physical property.

Animania 2005

Day two proved to be quieter than the one that had preceded it. Different people are likely to make different things of this, but in my slightly exhausted state, I was quite glad that it was, and I'm sure that I'm not alone in this viewpoint. The floor was sensibly crowded rather than packed in this time around, and it was easier to go straight to the dealers’ tables to see what had received a further price markdown. Drifting around the place was much easier, and the heavy crowd that had surrounded many of the gaming setups in the heat of competition on Saturday had lightened up enough to make sure that nobody had an unfair wait to have a turn.

The schedule, however, was still rather packed. The screening room ran throughout the day, workshops continued to be held, and the Main Hall once again saw a variety of events.

Animania 2005

Taking to the floor early again, I took the opportunity to check out the artist area, and to prove to myself once again that I will never be any good at arcade Initial D. Of more serious interest than my lousy virtual driving skills, the artist spaces that I never spent enough time in displayed an array of different styles, ranging from the very naughty to the sugar-soaked, sickly-sweet nice. Anime portraits were offered at some places; Pokey at others. The Generation stand was of particular interest. A couple of anthologies were on sale, and original pages from the soon-to-be-published TOKYOPOP manga, Queenie Chan's The Dreaming were on display for anyone interested in flipping through. I'm all well and good with standalone pretty pictures, but seeing the actual pages that end up in a graphic novel is a fascination that can overpower pure eye candy anytime.

Skipping past the Iron Artist final, the Madman Entertainment panel was held at 1 PM. While no major secret announcements were made, previews were shown, indications of cheaper boxsets were made, and after countless years of waiting, the Ramna 1/2 TV series was confirmed to be hitting Australian shores on DVD. Considering the crowd that was present, the roar of approval was impressively loud and enthusiastic. The panel ended with an opportunity to ask questions, an opportunity that proved to be very popular, since free DVDs were given out with every question asked!

Animania 2005

After that, the second round of cosplay for the weekend was held. Impressively, the energy maintained itself here with commendable success, and the lack of any ballroom dance recreations was compensated for by some truly creepy behavior put on display by a couple of entrants.

Sadly, my conscience as a student started to weigh me down. Satisfied with the two days that I had spent wandering around the Town Hall building, I decided it would best to take a deep breath and to get back to my everyday life. Of course, anyone who lives in these parts knows that Sydney doesn't have the most well respected train service in the world, and I found myself caught up in an awkward wait for a cramped bus ride and reaching a life-changing conclusion. Rather than leaving a convention early out of study guilt, realize that you're better off attaining the complete experience and hanging around for the fan dubbing anyway!

It must be noted that the door entry price is quite high, and I do recommend that anyone interested in going next year to make up your mind before pre-registration closes, as the discount is significant. There were some rough edges here that could use further refinement, but there was easily a positive for every downside, and a couple more. When it all comes down to contemplation, I got to spend a weekend surrounded by anime-themed fun, videogames, and crazy cosplay personalities. I had an excuse to write about it, one that allowed me to badmouth Cityrail in one fell swoop. If the memory of assessments can be removed from the equation, then the October of 2005 can go down in history as a pretty damned ideal month for an Australian otaku.

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