Yuricon News: The Anatomy of an Anime convention, 101, Part 5

December 12th, 2002

This will probably be the last part of this little series, since the other stuff we do is basically boring as hell.

Today I thought I’d talk about Guests. Guests aren’t usually the reason people go to cons. From the market research I’ve done, the biggest draw to a major con is the ability to visit with friends you don’t usually see. In fact, for most of the people I know who have gone to more than three cons, this is the *only* draw.

People seem to burn out on cons after the second or third one, then bitch that nothing is as good as the first con they ever went to (completely missing the irony there.) They still go, though. Over and over and over, like some kind of otaku Sisyphus, damned to attend cons despite the effort and lack of enjoyment. LOL

Honestly though, in my experience in running events, drama, rituals, etc, I’ve learned one major thing – people like stuff better when they’re involved. I certainly do. In the case of cons, most folks who say they enjoy the panels actually mean they enjoy the panels they are on, and folks who like cosplay, like they costumes they do best. It’s just human nature.

Here’s what I learned this year in my travels to every bloody con in the universe (ok, it wasn’t that bad, but it seemed like it); people don’t come to cons for Guests. People come to cons for 1) friends; 2) shopping; 3) cosplay. Guests and what’s being shown as part of Video programming are *waaaay* down the list of importance to the average congoer (In fact, I know several people who have yet to see a single anime *at* a con. I broke my own record this summer by watching one anime at Anime North and one at Otakon – mostly just to sing the theme song, though….) This is especially true when Guests are more like old friends and less like important anime-related people. And this doesn’t apply to a con that gets a really exceptional, popular, influential Guest, obviously. And it doesn’t apply to the really large, older cons, whose Guest lists are often full of such popular, influential and important people. ;-) But for smaller cons, this is basically the way it is.

So, why have Guests at all? Japanese conventions do not have Guests…or Contests, Panels, Games, Videos, etc. All they basically are are big DRs with a Cosplay area. So again we have to ask, why have Guests? My answer is what I like to call the “whoa, fuck!” factor.

Let’s say that there is a con local to you. You’re *probably* gonna go, even though you don’t care about the anime, or have seen the same Dealers a thousand times and can get the same stuff off the internet, anyway. You’ve got a few buds who are going, so you’ll probably go. But then you hear that the con hase as a Guest the person who writes your favorite manga – or did the voice of your fave character – and you go, “Whoa, fuck! How cool!” And now, in your mind, you’ll *definitely* go, because it’s not likely that you’ll bump into that mangaka or seiyuu on the street.

So, here’s the deal with Guests. If you are best friends with someone who does a voice, or wrote a manga, then you’re golden – if they can make it, they might come just out of friendship. This is how many conventions actually get their Guests – through personal relationships. There are organizers who know plenty of these folks personally, or know people who do. A Guest who comes out of friendship will expect to be treated well when they are here – and the reputations and friendship of all the people involved will be on the line. Think about it, if a friend invited *you* across the world and then, when you got there, you had a crappy hotel to stay in, or were left without a translator or guide….you’d be pretty pissed at your friend, wouldn’t you? So, even if it’s a good friend, you have to think what kind of impression you’re making. We’ve got a few different types of Guests coming to Yuricon, from our Guests of Honor, who are well-respected mangaka, to academic speakers to a j-pop band. Each one will expect to be treated well. I may not owe each person a suite with personal masseuse, but you can be sure that I’ll treat each one like they are actually *my* guest personally.

The other way to get a Guest is to beg. ^_^

No no, I’m kidding, the other way is through torturous negotiation. If you don’t know someone well, then you’re going the business relationship route. This is one of the popular questions at “So You Wanna Run A Con” type panels and forums. Inevitably someone asks, “How difficult is it to get a Japanese guest?” The answer is, of course, very hard.

Expect to take many months of back and forth discussions of all *kinds* of details, if you get that far along. Japanese companies are notorious for making decisions slowly and demanding many, many details. In our case we’ve been in negotiations for months with a potential Guest. I can totally understand the hesitation with which we’re treated. Imagine if someone you don’t know emailed or wrote you and asked if you would fly halfway around the world to a place you’ve never been and to meet people you don’t know! It’s a terrifying thought – even if the people who invited you do seem like you could trust them. (In my personal case, I *was* invited to a con that was pretty far away as a Guest. I had to decline, because even if I had wanted to go, I really didn’t think that the kids putting on the con were professional, or that they could afford to pay my way out there and put me up. It was nice to be asked, but frankly, I didn’t trust them to treat me right and I’m too old and curmudgeonly to put up with shit. Which is *exactly* what I expect any potential Japanese guest feels when a no-name con writes them out of the blue.

My experience has definitely given me a good perspective, I think,on the kinds of concerns that the company has. Much of these negotiations have been reassuring the company that we are real, business-like, will not leave them hanging, etc. In all honesty, I don’t actually expect to get this guest, but if we do, then we’ll have a hell of a “whoa, fuck!” factor for Yuricon. LOL If not, hey, we gave it the old college try.

In any case, the process has been exceptional. I couldn’t have done it at all without the dedication of a single woman, our translator Shoko, who I worship with every fiber of my being. Shoko, who is not at all an anime fan, has found this challenging and very amusing, so we’re even, because I’m not a fan of negotiating and I’ve found it challenging and amusing. We’re both hoping that the potential Guest will *also* find it amusing. ^_^

And that’s basically all I can think of that might be even remotely interesting to tell you about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. As I said, I believe that everyone has more fun when they are involved in a thing – and this means you!

Next time: Language Paralysis

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