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Messages - Tony

I'm really surprised people are reading this long-form stuff. It means a lot to me, and says a lot about you - so thank you!

I want to mention that this is primarily from my perspective, and that means a lot of things: it is not 100% un-biased, it is not 100% accurate, and I'm leaving out a lot of friends - and not - and their recollections and viewpoints.

It's really just a narrative, crafted for my own catharsis. I hope it can give some idea of what happens, maybe evoke nostalgia, or at the least, entertain.
Craige had just got some bad news.

"I just got some bad news," Craige explained over the phone. "I'm not going to go into detail, because it's personal, ok - but it's bad. And you know what, I don't want to deal with any more of your changes."

On the other end of the phone was the agent for a collection of bands forming the core of MusicFest 2006. The agent was asking for changes to the line-up, concessions, and so on - increases to Fanime's costs - and it wasn't the first time it had happened.

"So really," Craige explained, "I'll go ahead and do this. But if you ask for anything else, that's it. I'm going to kill you - I'm just going to kill you. I'm going to put you in my trunk with a shovel, drive out to the desert, and bury you. That's it. That's all."

The other end of the phone went silent.

Craige is ex-Military Police and had recently gotten back into physical training. He had been in life threatening situations, and he was in situations where he could threaten lives. He could disappear you, no doubt.

He wouldn't. But he could.

At-con, I ran into Craige. "Hey, have you seen the agent?" "No," I replied, "I've only interacted with his second-in-command." "No wonder," Craige chuffed. "He thinks I'm out to make good on my promise."


At a staff meeting near the end of FanimeCon 2005 planning season, the stress had gotten to Tomoko and she looked for help. Now, my recollection of the event has been refuted, but I recall it very clearly: Will - also on the Board of Directors and long-time head of Registration - approached her and said, somewhat resigned, "I think I'm ready to take over." She sighed in relief and gave him a hug. Will remembered things differently, but I like my version.

The remarkable thing about Will - chair of FanimeCon 2006 through 2008 - is his silence. He's not one to chat aimlessly. He never shared visions, nor made grand speeches; if he liked what you were doing, he would mutter, "cool"; if he didn't like what you were doing, he would frown - or look disappointingly, directly into your soul. In that way he was exceedingly good at getting greatness out of people: he didn't tell you he wanted, but he made sure you knew what was required - inside. You'd be working from a much deeper place than if he used the carrot or the stick.

His first act as chair was to fire everyone. That's normal. It is not assumed that staff are returning each year. But he didn't tell everyone they were fired; instead, in a Disney-esque proclamation, he declared everyone "released" from their positions. The vast majority of people came back, but it was a smart move to get rid of some troublemakers.

It also opened up spaces for new staff, and that's where Marie - my then-girlfriend, now-wife - came in. The previous head of publications had wrapped up and moved on, Marie wanted to help, and so I suggested her to run the department. "I don't think I can run a department," she confessed to Will. "You'll do fine!" Will exclaimed. He was very good at making terrible things look trivial, and so she took the position. She stayed on staff until we left this year.


My drive in 2006 was to build MusicFest into something amazing on its own. With the help and ecstatic support of the new head of live programming - Jason Ebner - we aimed to provide the biggest concert we could muster. As he put it, guests were the big present under the Christmas tree, and he wanted that box to be big.

But there were three problems. One, I had never done guest acquisition directly. Two, MusicFest's guests had always come from GR and so was funded by GR's budget; as an independent department, it had no guest acquisition budget. Third, Aya - who had been getting guests for years - quit. I had no experience, no help, and no money. A smarter man would have quit, but I am not a smart man.

Months in, it was time to reach out to guests. Without Aya we had little contact with our usual partners. A new partner came around, offering an anisong group. But a much larger offering, from a longtime staffer named Justin, came up at the same time.

I forget the name of the anisong group; I wasn't told their name initially. It was later revealed to be something about jamming. Project jamming? JAM Project? Who can remember these names, really.

So Justin comes around with a huge group of independents with stateside representation. They were building a Japanese music platform - one aimed at Americans - and were quickly signing local and independent acts in Japan. Some of the acts were weird and quirky, but some were very serious artists. Some were ex-Sony and had significant tie-ins. But all of them loved the idea of getting exposure in the U.S., and the rep saw a chance to explode into the market with FanimeCon, so they approached us, eager to do as much as they could. Justin was ecstatic. He would bring promo materials to meetings, lay it all out, and say, "Here is your lineup. This is your show. This will change everything. This will be legendary." Justin was good at marketing.

Their proposition was too good to be true: we had to get hotel rooms, but they would pay for the majority of the other expenses. That meant cheap flights, cheap transportation, no hospitality costs - a major win. They would need a dealer's table, of course - to sell merchandise and recoup their costs - but the arrangement would be practically free.

You know what they say about things that are too good to be true.

Over time, Justin casually revealed concessions he had made to the rep that ranged from inane to infuriating. Two bands turned into three bands; three bands turned into four bands; four bands turned into six bands. They needed more rooms, assistance with flights, a bigger dealers table. They wanted to hang banners - and that cost us labor fees - they wanted flyers in the registration bags - and that took manpower. Eventually they stopped talking through Justin and contacted me directly. That was a relief - I had more control - but then they started going around me, just like they had done to Justin. Everyone was amenable to helping them out - who doesn't want to be helpful? - but no one had a handle on the breadth of their requests. By the time they had gotten on Craige's bad side, our obligations had mushroomed past the size of our budget and I had lost almost all control of the situation

Jason was amazingly supportive. As the bands came in - supplemented by other American acts and some last-minute additions from JRock House - he championed the music cause and rallied for more resources. He pushed for a larger budget and got it, and even figured out how to deal with the now-absurd number of bands.

His plan was simple: have more than one stage. Thus was born Stage One, a venue that would host the bands throughout the convention. The big show would happen in the Civic as usual.

Everything was set. There was just one problem: we didn't really have any staff to run two rooms. It was mostly me, with a girl named Christin who had helped the previous year, and a girl named Lori who loved Japanese rock and had some stage experience. We were going in foolishly optimistic, and I was bad at delegating. A recipe for success.

The convention began. The stomach flu joined me again.

Thankfully, the reps managed the guest relations part of job. They made sure the bands got to con, got into a hotel room, and were taken care of. Well, sorta - I had heard that they were subsisting on pizza and McDonalds to keep costs low.

I'm not sure what happened because the reps largely kept out of view. I realized why when I ran into Craige, like I mentioned.

I was not prepared to run Stage One and the Civic. A few volunteers from the Tech department offered to run the board - they definitely saved my ass - but it was non-stop activity from waking up until crashing at night. I was so out of touch that I called my parents to ask if they could bring some music equipment from home. My dad didn't answer my call. My mom did, puzzled, saying, "Well, sure you can borrow the equipment - but I'm at work, so I can't help until after 5." I had called my mom at 8 AM on a Friday, thinking it was Saturday afternoon. I had no concept of the outside world; it was just crunch time. I wasn't eating and wasn't getting much sleep.

Marie was a trooper in all of this.

She was trying to run the Publications department almost by herself. In preparation of con, we bought an office copier/printer so we could do massive print runs quickly. This would save us a ton of money in printing flyers and newsletters. We called it Fluffy, and it would be Publication's saviour.

Except that Fluffy was an older, used machine. We had a service contract, but were not using her in a normal way. We were throwing a year's worth of work at her within the span of four days, and it choked. Marie resorted to doing print jobs in the middle of the night to get the newsletters out for the following morning, recruiting staffers to drive her to - and protect her at - every South Bay Kinko's she could find. She successfully drained the shops of supplies.

Once her work let up, she came to help me at Stage One. She would bring food, but I would snap at her - I was stressed, tired, and too busy. Kids, don't try that at home. I had a lot of apologizing to do at the end of that year.

I can't say I remember how everything went. I was too focused on running the board and coordinating bands to see if any of the efforts were a success.  I missed Akai SKY, Kamijo, and USA Musume. Staff got together to watch and support Lori's band, wherein she twisted or fractured her leg jumping down from the stage. I do remember being impressed musically by mothercoat, Swinging Popsicle, Goofy Style, and Poplar. UP HOLD was good but too hardcore for me. Miami was weird, in a cool way.

But to be honest, it was a blur. Between that and the pre-con negotiations, I was just trying to get through the weekend.

Next year we'll do it differently, I thought. No more go-betweens with go-betweens. We'll work directly with bands and be responsible for it. Lori piped up - it turned out she had become friends with the managers and handlers of ZZ from the previous year. She could tap them to have ZZ come back, since we knew they were popular, and secure more talent from their agency. We could fill out the rest of the lineup with local acts. It was a simple formula that could work.

We had the in. We started strategizing for 2007 immediately.
Scott was out.

I don't remember how it happened, but Scott, the chair of FanimeCon, was released from his position. Tomoko took his place. Tomoko was a very early staffer of FanimeCon, if not a founder, and had a spot on the Board of Directors.

Scott and Tomoko are, in my opinion, both geniuses in their own respects. Both are highly strategic thinkers. But where Scott is an analytic thinker, Tomoko dealt in interpersonal relations. The trouble in being a genius of any regard is that you operate on a different level than the people around you, and that disparity always causes friction. In Scott's case, his frustration with staff missing deadlines or doing half-assed work was becoming more and more public, and sentiments turned bitter. It's hard to deal with people when you are two steps ahead of them; they're always two steps behind.

This is conjecture, but it seems that despite Scott's performance - snagging the SJCC in advance, pulling MusicFest together, and so on - there were staff that were upset with him, and so Tomoko took over. I had a crisis of conscience with this. Scott could be rough, but he was my leader - my chair - and I wondered if continuing on would be a betrayal to him. On the other hand, I had grown to be friends with much of the senior staff and really enjoyed contributing. Scott ended up coming back as head of IT, and I was a fan of Tomoko's style, so I continued on. Scott is still running IT single-handedly.

To give you a sense of Tomoko's leadership style, when we set up a general staff mailing list, there was a question of what to name it. Would we give it a codename? Would it be a generic "staff@" list? No, Tomoko's idea for a name was much softer, touchy-feely, "we-love-our-staff".

Definitely an emotional leader. More on that later.

That's how 2005 began.

I was still focused on building the website, taking little time to figure out what to do with MusicFest. I knew what to do on the tech side of things, but guest acquisitions? Not my forte. Aya - still running GR - took lead in sourcing performers. She was already extremely successful at acquiring guests of honor, so it fell naturally to her to rope in musical guests as well. My job, then, was to run the show.

Contacting Japanese guests is a secretive art. You had to know the right people in the right places - friends of friends, nieces of managers, secretary-to-whomever - to get in touch with someone and see if they'd like to come to the U.S. Usually this is a fairly direct contact, after you talked some through the go-between; you would end up talking to a band member directly, or to their manager - not to their label or a stateside 3rd party, like you might do today. Negotiations were usually informal and minimal, too. You could confirm an appearance with a few emails and a few phone calls, and you didn't have to offer anything beyond a flight, a hotel room, and the promise of American fans.

Things were changing. Guests were getting burned by poorly-trained handlers, shady go-betweens, and cheapskate conventions. It was no longer a novelty to appear in the U.S. The question of what having an American presence would be bring was being answered, and the answer was largely, "not much." To counter this, guests were being stricter in their negotiations and less trusting with who they work with. A handful of people across U.S. conventions built and maintained a reputation for handling guests well, and it's why you see megastars appearing at Otakon, ACen, Sakura-Con, and so on even today. But beyond that, you started to need a lot of pull to get Japanese guests to come.

I didn't learn any of this for another year. Instead, Aya came to me with very simple options.

The first option was who to work with. There was AVEX or there was Sony. You could choose one or the other, but to put acts from both companies on the same stage would be a problem. Sony was not happy with Nami Tamaki being mixed in with other acts in 2004. Meanwhile, AVEX was making strides in the U.S. and seemed easier to work with; Camino came from AVEX, and they were great to work with. So, we decided to work with AVEX.

Next was who, from AVEX, to bring over. Labels always have a short list of acts that they want to promote stateside; short of having massive cash, they won't offer their A-list artists. Instead, you get mid- to entry-level acts that have some relevance but are still hungry for exposure. Aya came to me with some choices.

"I have two acts that we can work with," she said, "either a JPop singer-dancer, or a kind of a rock-rap group." The singer had a tie-in with video games, but the rock-rap group had more anime material overall. The singer would also require a stylist and backup dancers and would only do a karaoke-style show - that's where there's no live music, just vocals and backing tracks. The rock-rap group, on the other hand, would be performing live. "Let's go with the rock-rap group," I decided, "because they will actually be making music and the genre, with their tie-ins with anime, should have the wider appeal." Aya said ok, and we went forward.

I had just made my first guest decision. I had chosen ZZ over the singer-dancer chick. I think her name was Koda Kumi - I'm not sure if anyone knows who that is.

To appeal to the JPop crowd, one of the guest voice-actresses ended up performing a song or two. And for taking on ZZ, Avex sent us a brand-new singer, Kumiko Kato, to open up for ZZ. They also asked to include a DJ that had collaborated with ZZ. That was a fun situation.

Aya approached Tomoko about adding more guests to the roster. "They want to include a DJ for their set," Aya explained, "so they can do more of their popular songs, and have him spin live. They're also including Kumiko Kato. They'll pay for her flight, but we'll need to cover hotel. The DJ - we'll have to cover everything, and get him some equipment."

Tomoko sighed. "How much is this going to cost us?" "Maybe another $5,000." Tomoko sighed again, but smiled, and gave it the green light. $5,000, just like that. This was Tomoko: more emotional, less analytical. I think it was the right decision, though.

Tomoko was under a lot of stress at this point. This happens when you're overly emotional about the con: every time something great happens, it's the highest high; when something falls through, it's a terrible low. It's hard to endure. It's something I started doing starting with ZZ, and I've never learned how to detach myself from it, from falling for the talent.

She began looking for a replacement, and eventually, Will volunteered. He may claim he was begged to do it, but I recall him - with a sense of resignation - offering to take chair. And I remember Tomoko's relief.


Sometime between Aya snagging the Japanese performers and the convention beginning, I did manage to do some acquisitions of my own. I contacted and booked Ramen & Rice. I offered room and board, but they only asked for free badges. I was happy to oblige.

The convention rolled around and I had something of a stomach flu throughout it. I knew little about how to handle the guests except to have them do sound checks, have the sound guys set the levels, and figure out how to setup and strike the stage. Lucky for me - and thanks to Aya - that was all I needed to do. The most I did was to fetch bottles of water for Ramen & Rice. Again, I was happy to oblige.

The show itself was a massive surprise to me, especially considering how poorly 2004 had went. Ramen & Rice was the perfect opening act: they warmed up the crowd masterfully. Maria Yamamoto and Kumiko Kato dazzled on the stage. The tech and set changes went flawlessly. Then ZZ went on and knocked the crowd over. Mid-set - with the music blaring - Tomoko came into the Civic, saw me, and gave me a huge hug. I'll never forget how that felt.

Even more surprised were the artists. They had set up a 6' table with promo materials at the entrance of the Civic, hoping to sell a few CDs at the end of the show. They left backstage, rounded the corner to the entrance and were floored. Not only had over a thousand Americans showed up for their show - shouting and cheering and dancing like only Americans can do - there was a very long line of people waiting in line to buy merchandise and meet the acts. They had come to the U.S. with low expectations, and here they were, selling out of merchandise with a crowd of brand-new fans. Foreign fans.

Unfortunately I had missed all of this. While I was striking the stage, all of the performers left. I couldn't even say thank you. I've always regretted that, particularly with Ramen & Rice. They never returned my requests to play again. I hope it was because they had moved on, and it wasn't that they felt un-considered.

That was a long day.  I remember the pain of heading back to my hotel room after the show. I had worn steel-toed boots and was on my feet for over 16 hours; I had probably traveled the length of the Civic twenty or thirty times; I hadn't eaten anything since the night before. I was still feeling sick, but I showered, got into PJs, scarfed down a cheeseburger, and got together with staff to critique and celebrate the event.

That was when I was hooked. I knew I wanted to make more and more fans. I was ready to go all-in for 2006.

FanimeCon 2004 was held in the San Jose Convention Center. This is notable because it was arranged before FanimeCon 2004 had ended; this was the first time that the date and place of the convention had been decided early. It has remained on Memorial Day Weekend at the San Jose Convention Center ever since.

Unfortunately FanimeCon did not have sole possession of the SJCC in 2004. We shared the space with a large WWII veteran gathering. It was quite dissonant to be celebrating Japanese culture alongside veterans who had fought, and had lost friends, against it.

We made sure to grab the majority of the venue after that.

PMX launched around this time. It was terrifying. A big new event with deep pockets - held on the same weekend! - was threatening to eat our lunch. We had a huge overlap in their focus on music: they had booked TM Revolution, and we had our bourgeoning Gakufest.

Gakufest was becoming a cornerstone to event programming. We now had both the SJCC and the Civic Auditorium across the street, and the Civic would be the showcase venue for the concert. Behind the scenes, we debated about how the show should be run. Should it be ticketed? How should the venue be set up? Can we get a lineup that will fill the Civic with attendees? We discussed ideas, conjured numbers - very optimistically - and forged ahead to put together a multi-act, multi-hour show.

Planning, however, turned tense. Gakufest's budget was ballooning as performers confirmed. The tech would be expensive. Lorrayne's idea to account for this was to sell tickets, but the idea was rejected. Generally we do not like having a "premium" tier or a-la-carte events, and a ticketing scheme was counter to that philosophy. Yet the event was becoming unaffordable, and tensions were mounting.

About a month before con, things came to a head: Lorrayne had come up as the head of programming and a champion of Gakufest and had done a good job, but she was livid with the rejection of her plans. She quit abruptly and never turned back.

Sometimes passion turns negative, permanently. It's a recurring theme in Fanime.

Senior staff were left to pick up the pieces - trying to figure out who had been invited to perform, organizing the lineup, planning the tech, projecting a budget, and trying to execute it all.

I had been talking to Lorrayne before and after she left and had a good idea of what to do, but I lacked confidence. Instead of volunteering to run things, I volunteered as a second-in-command. A friend of then-video head Camilla stepped in to run the show. I forget the dude's name, but he had some experience and was nice to work with. Dude and I did our best to put things together, but we went into the show without a proper plan. It was a best-effort collaboration, and it was amazing it happened at all. Somehow we made a five-act show happen.

Three of the acts were great: The Beautiful Losers, Duel Jewel, and Camino were straightforward to handle and real professionals.

Nami Tamaki, cute and perky on-stage, was a diva behind the curtain. Her management lectured me more than a few times in the wings of the Civic. She needed the Proper water with a particular Bendy Straw placed correctly on stage. She took food from hungry staffers without thanks. She tossed trash to the ground. I was happy to see her go.

The acts continued. We were running further and further behind schedule. The crowd was getting restless between sets. The bands were eager to play. The stress mounted on me and the dude. He told me, "you and me, we're getting hammered tonight. If you can get me a beer, it would be a miracle." I dashed across the street mid-set to the hotel, grabbed a huge can of beer, and brought it backstage to him. There's no outside food and drink allowed in the Civic, and certainly no alcohol, but he cracked it open in full view of the Union staff that ran the venue. They understood why, and didn't say a word. They were just as flustered.

BLOOD was the end of it. They neglected to tell us that they would be spitting fake blood all over the stage, and the venue staff were pissed. Then things went bad on-stage. During their set, a guitar amp had overheated and cut out. The guitarist kept strumming - so hard that I could hear his pick against the strings from the wings 15 feet away - but to the audience, it appeared that he was faking the performance to a backing track. There was nothing we could do but wait for the amp to recover.

They were furious after their set. The guitarist either threw or kicked a chair at staff. When we confronted them with the bill for the fake blood, they forgot how to speak English. Needless to say, we did not ask them back.

That night, the Dude sent a parting post-mortem email to some of the senior staff. From that, I learned the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. He quit, and I took over as head for the next four years.


You may wonder what "Gakufest" is - it doesn't exist nowadays. The reason is simple: after the split, we needed to make sure that we had no liabilities in terms of naming and copyright of the event. Gakufest became MusicFest, and that's how it's been ever since.

I'm not sure what happened to the bands after then. GR head Aya even ended up going on a road trip with Camino after the show, all the way to Texas, where I believe they played A-Kon. But as is common in the music industry, success is short-lived. I think Camino broke up shortly thereafter. TBL dissolved after a few years, I think, but their lead Raj played at FanimeCon 2014. I heard Duel Jewel went on to some success, but like a lot of VK groups, they broke into solo acts and then disappeared. I never checked up on Nami Tamaki or BLOOD.

What happened to PMX? They hit hard for a few years and got some really fantastic performers, but eventually changed their dates and dialed back their guests. I'll explain why soon.

Conventions are hard, and working with Japanese guests is even harder. Making good, sustainable choices is difficult to master. I got my first real taste of this with FanimeCon 2005.
I didn't know it yet, but I met my wife in 2000. She was into anime and games, and I couldn't believe it. We bonded over RPGs, Ranma, Bubblegum Crisis - but not Sailor Moon, that's just not workable for me - and we generally fell in love.

She had been to AX once and didn't like it. I said I had been to FanimeCon and it was smaller and more fun. I convinced her to spend a weekend at FanimeCon 2002 with me, and we enjoyed it. But I didn't have as much fun as I could have; I thought the show could have been run better. I sent an email to the website saying that I had some sound engineering experience and would like to help - oh, and I make websites, if you need help there. I was asked to join as webmaster soon after. I remember exchanging emails with a guy named Scott while I was on vacation in Thailand. Something about receiving a pseudo-job offer while at a dial-up internet cafe on the beaches of Pattaya has stayed with me.

Enter FanimeCon 2003.

Scott Rux - chair (chairman) of FanimeCon at the time - asked me to come to a meeting so I could learn the ropes. I was supposed to meet him at, say, 3pm, in a meeting room at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I waited outside, staff slowly gathering around.

It was almost 3pm, then it was 3, and then it was a little after 3. Nervous, I slowly opened the meeting room door and peered in, hoping to find Scott. The room went dead and a dozen unfriendly faces shot a look at me from inside. Who was this kid, they seemed to ask.

"Um, sorry, I'm Tony? I'm here to meet Scott?" You know it's bad when you can hear the question mark in your voice.

"Yes, yes!", Scott said, jumping to his feet, "Come in!" He grabbed me by the arm and led me to an open seat. He introduced me as the new webmaster, and that was it. No sizing me up, no trial by fire. I offered to help and it was accepted unequivocally. I was now a member of the Senior Staff. That was really cool of Scott.

My first task was to redesign the site. I had the help of my good friend Chase, and we designed a few mockups. We ended up with a very peachy site whose taste, though debatable, was a step ahead of previous years. I got to know the senior staff by processing site updates for them. This was the year where Aya, head of Guest Relations (GR), pulled in a massive number of heavy-hitting guests; I became her best friend as I constantly updated bios on the website. It became a game to see how fast I could make updates for her.

This was also the first year of Gakufest. Senior staffer Lorrayne and her boyfriend saw the potential for a concert featuring Japanese or Japanese-inspired acts. She was absolutely thrilled to have landed a headliner, BLOOD, and filled out the roster with local acts. I soon learned two things: one, Visual Kei/VK followers are rabid, and two, always assume a VK artist is a man. I learned that last part the awkward way. Remember: before you say a chick is cute, make sure the chick is a chick.

Over the course of the year, I got to know a number of senior staff, but was otherwise an island. I had worked their content and got it onto the website, but no one really knew who I or Chase was. When we got to con, we had an uneasy position: we were technically senior staff with some level of authority, but no one knew or cared about it. I could see things from both the attendee and the staff perspective, and I didn't like it.

We had several run-ins with power-tripping staff that left a bad taste in our mouth. Staffers enforcing line control were yelling, being rude, and condescending. As senior staff, we had some authority to call them out - but we had no leverage, being essentially anonymous.

After a few of these incidents, we decided we were done. We threw our badges to the ground in anger. Then we realized people could impersonate us - as staff - and quickly picked them up. But we were pissed and almost didn't return.

What brought us back? The staff.

Aya - seeing us being yelled at by a staffer, and then missing the cutoff for autographs - very discreetly got us into the autograph room. We were thankful to be considered.

Lorrayne got us into Gakufest. It wasn't my thing, but I love music, and I was happy to support her and the event.

Scott, generously valuing our work, arranged for a hotel room for the weekend. Unfortunately through some crossed wires, I had already paid for a room. The chat, paraphrased and ill-remembered, went like this:

Scott: "Hey, when are you on-site?"
Tony: "I checked in yesterday!"
S: "You did? How?"
T: "I... showed them a credit card and ID... ?"
S: "But the room wasn't reserved until today."
T: "What room? I made my reservation a long time ago."
S: "Wait, you reserved your own room?"
T: "Yeah - why?"
S: "Ah. Crap. So, I got you a hotel room, and now I'm telling you about it."

I think it was put to good use as storage.

It didn't matter; the sentiment was appreciated. And that - the consideration - was what got us back to staff for FanimeCon 2004.
Haha, good catch! Thanks Barnes.

Yep, I'm done staffing and attending. Enjoy it for me!
What's this? A bonus chapter? The origin story!


It all started with a gaming convention and old veteran. He doesn't know this story - no one does - but that's fine.

It was 1995. I was in junior high, hating every second of it, and looking for escape. I found it in anime. I had followed "anime" in the sense that I collected Robotech VHS tapes, but my eyes were opened when a Hollywood Video opened near my house. No longer would I need to scour the shelves of Asian video rental stores in sketchy neighborhoods, nor would I need to save up for an LD player: now I had access to the real stuff, nearly on demand. I don't know how many tapes I copied, but I got very good at plugging in RCA cables blind.

The interesting thing about this time was that anime as a product was becoming mainstream, but no one really knew what it was. So, you'd end up with hardcore titles like La Blue Girl and Adventure Kid on the shelves, next to titles of varying maturity - Tenchi Muyo, Bubblegum Crisis, Ranma 1/2, Ghibli films - and the adults and the people in charge didn't know any better. This was like crack for teenage boys, and I would argue that this was critical to anime's surge in the early 90s. But that's another topic.

With this, my friends and I searched for a community.


Back in 1995 there was a gaming convention called Slugathon. It happened over the course of a weekend in the Santa Clara Convention Center. I saw a flyer - likely in some gaming shop - and convinced my best friend to go. We got dropped off early and stayed late, and it changed us profoundly. This was near the beginning of LAN gaming, and we were blown away by the ability to compete against a real, live player in Doom or Hexen or whatever game they had set up. It was amazing.

Supplementing the gaming was an anime room. It was staffed by two individuals I'd later meet in different circumstances: Tracy Brown and Rob Miles. They played fansubs of Street Fighter the movie - wow, a Chun Li shower scene! - and The Wind Ninja Chronicles - woah, so mature! - and we couldn't get enough. We were too in awe to approach Tracy or Rob, but we knew we had to reach out. They turned out to be prominent in the FanimeCon scene down the road. Little did I know that I would meet them again, years later, as peers.

As it happened, there was a flier for FanimeCon '96 laying around at the convention. We went home and begged our parents to go. They agreed. We mailed (!) a check (!!) and a hand-written registration form (!!!) and waited for the best day of our lives to begin.


FanimeCon '95 was hosted at Foothill College. If I'm remembering correctly, they had a few video rooms playing the latest stuff, a dealers room in the cafeteria, and a LAN set up for gaming. We got there terribly early, for teenagers - around 9am? - and stayed until it was dark. I remember debating whether to spend $90 on a probably-bootleg Ryo-Ohki. I remember hoping I could meet a girl that was into this stuff.  I remember Brian/Dieter hosting the masquerade. And then, it was over, and I couldn't wait for the next one.


Now it's FanimeCon '96. Still at Foothill College, but now getting massive, taking over the campus. It was held over two days and, for me, was a blur of getting up early, saving/starving our way through the day, looking out for a killer buy from a dealer, gaming, and watching shows. Anime was getting serious; Pioneer premiered Hyper Dolls and the Tenchi Muyo movie - in Dolby! The gaming area had Japanese PSX's playing Macross games, and hot gotten hotter and smellier. I seem to remember the dealer's room occupying the gymnasium, and that it rained in the afternoon, so everyone scrambled to get in there. Once more, Dieter hosted the masquerade, and we cheered and jeered each show. Still, not many girls were into this stuff.

My friends had a bit of a rift around this time, so I forgot about FanimeCon for a few years. By then, Power-Up and Howie's High Tech Games sprung up as places to get anime, so I didn't have as much interest in going to cons.


Then it's 1999. FanimeCon is in a real convention venue - a hotel - down in San Jose. We're old enough to drive, and we have real spending money, so we make our way down to the Wyndham.

Frankly, it sucked. We had to wait a while in a hot, stuffy room to get our badges. We paid $40, went to the dealers room, and were unimpressed. The gaming seemed non-existent, and we were accustomed to watching videos at home, so the convention's appeal was gone - replaced with teeming multitudes that we did not identify with. There were now pretty cosplaying girls that were into this stuff, but they always had jealous boyfriends hovering nearby, projecting their displeasure. Overall it was a disappointment, and we wanted our money back. We carried that sentiment as an in-joke for a long time; we would often look at each other, disappointed, and say: "Where's my forty dollars?!".


Anime was now entering the bubble era. It was easier to find titles at Suncoast, find sites on the net, or even just see stuff on TV. It was in shops and mom-and-pop rental stores. It was no longer underground - just niche. Though it was still a part of my formative years, it was no longer a priority. I had moved on.

And then, I met a girl that was into this stuff.
Hi Everybody!

You probably don't know who I am, but that's not important. I've been to 14 FanimeCons and staffed 12 of them, and now I'm moving on. But before I go, I wanted to share my experiences. Check back here each day for stories of 12 Years in 2 Weeks!
Does that mean I have to resume my tyranny here on the boards?
Quote from: korsair on May 20, 2014, 11:49:02 PMOne question comes to mind. With the fancy printers and all of the computers how much power will this system use?
Are you asking about the system's... power level?
Quote from: Tony on May 19, 2014, 11:10:59 AM
We do, but I'm trying not to comment about Fanime specifically. :) We have at least three strategic relationships and a handful of long-lasting ones. There are other
Just realized I didn't finish this thought! We have a few strategic and long-term relationships and try to grow them where we can. It can be difficult in that some companies are in different competitive spheres. And there are a lot of amateurs claiming to be representatives that are little more than acquaintances to the talent. I've personally made some bad choices and trusted untrustworthy people, but thankfully my staff was much smarter than me and has maintained some great relationships.

GAINAX is the prime example of a relationship we've been maintaining for a long time. In fact, I hope to bring them some nice gifts this weekend - if both they and my baby manage to sync schedules. :) There are a few agencies a convention can work with, and some management folks, too. Sometimes, though, you have to call a friend of a friend, or say hi on Twitter. It's weird work.
Quote from: hikanteki on May 19, 2014, 12:29:47 PM
Tony, thank you for your very detailed post about what goes on during the process of booking guests and how it has changed over the years.
You're very welcome!

QuoteOne thing that jumped out at me though -- while it makes sense that some guests don't know if they can attend until a couple of weeks before the con, then how are other anime cons able to have guests lined up far ahead of time?  Take for instance SacAnime, which is over Labor Day weekend, pretty much has their entire guest lineup now and they began announcing them in January.
From what I can see, SacAnime has pretty good, long-lasting relationships with domestic reps and talent. I've noticed for a couple years that they book domestics quickly and have been impressed with that.

QuoteGranted they have mostly North American guests, who I imagine are easier to book than Japanese guests (although they've been adding some Japanese guests lately, and announcing them ahead of time) but this year Fanime still hasn't announced their guests earlier despite being mostly North American guests too.
I can't speak to this year, but a few years ago when I was running GR into the ground - but for the grace of my staff did things turn out well - I did this as a strategy. My thinking was that Japanese guests are harder and more expensive, so we should book them up first; with the hard work done, we could quickly book domestics rapid-fire closer to the con. That kind of worked, except I started too late with the overall process, and the Japanese bookings took a long time. It's like poker* in that you have a bunch of cards to play, but not sure which to keep to get a winning hand.

* I've never really played poker...

QuoteAre they able to book earlier due to having existing relationships or contracts?
That's my guess.

Side note! I should point out that by "cheap" and "expensive" I mean that Japanese guests a) fly international, which can be 5x the price of a domestic flight, and b) tend to stay a little longer when they can, since they have to deal with a long flight, adjusting to timezone, and trying to squeeze in some sightseeing.
Quote from: cutiebunny on May 19, 2014, 09:54:23 AM
Thanks again, Tony, for weighing in the topic.  I realize Fanime staff is busy as the con is this weekend, but it does sadden me that it's up to (largely) former staff to respond to the valid concerns brought up on this topic.
I definitely understand that. It might help to explain that the convention in general *hates* to discuss the con, especially the current season, because it's *really easy* for the conversation to get out of hand. Personally I feel pretty stupid for talking about it - I don't want my words to reflect poorly on the convention - but I'm also mostly-retired and a few years out from active work, so I'm basically that crazy old timer that you can safely ignore as you like. :)

QuoteFanime had, prior to 2013, relied more on older, "past their prime" guests.  I don't think that the majority of people complaining that Fanime doesn't get enough guests would complain about guests who are best known for 1980s/1990s/early 2000s stuff.  Animazement's guest list this year primarily consists of older individuals whose "prime" was 20+ years ago.  Had Fanime gotten that line up instead, I would have been happily attending Fanime again this year.
You're actually pointing out a really good strategy that I'd never thought of! Maybe it's a good time to "look back" a bit. I mean, look at how people are going nuts for Sailor Moon. Mix that up with some talent with newer work, and that could be a good recipe for any con.

Then again, you'll get the, "That guest? They haven't done anything in years! Get with the times!" kind of reaction. It's hard to use that kind of feedback to figure out where to go with your strategy.

QuoteOnce again, the question becomes "What has changed so much in 2-3 years that Fanime can no longer get older guests like Tohru Furuya and Kia Asamiya?"
Ah, Furuya-san. That was fun...

I think we can, but opportunities come and go, so it's hard to say why some lineups pan out the way they do. That's actually one problem in using agencies, for example: they're a great line to getting lots of talent, but they have certain people they want to promote over others, and that can appear pretty random on this side of the table. And random performance looks like incompetence.

QuoteNo, you're not.  You try alternate methods before you go down this road.  Has Fanime considered asking its fanbase for additional funds?  How about a Kickstarter?  Those who donate a certain level get front row seats at the concert.  Or Kickstarter supporters only autograph sessions.  Or maybe original artwork from a guest.  As someone who routinely spends a lot of money on charity auctions, I'd be more inclined to give you my funds if you could not only line up an older but well known character designer or mangaka guest but guarantee that I could get a nice color sketch from them.
I disagree with this because it stratifies the attendees. That's ok in small doses, but without discipline, that can evolve into the situation I described. Personally, I'd prefer everyone have the same opportunity to enjoy the guest. Though I think you are pointing out an interesting middle ground in having extras for supporters. Maybe a little bit of it is ok.

QuoteI realize that you're not as involved in Fanime as you had been years prior, so the question isn't directed so much at you rather than Fanime as a whole. However, as an attendee who is willing to pay to enhance her convention experience, I grow tired of cons saying "We tried that once (10 years ago) and it didn't work, so, despite our more than double attendance since then, we're not going to consider it".  Things change.  Something that might not have worked when attendance was 10K might work when there's 20K.
That's an excellent point.

QuoteI have to admit I was alarmed when reading this paragraph and noted that you failed to mention Fanime as working hard to maintain its relationship with guests/agencies.
We do, but I'm trying not to comment about Fanime specifically. :) We have at least three strategic relationships and a handful of long-lasting ones. There are other

QuoteThat needs to change, possibly by paying someone to work on this full time.
This would be a huge cultural shift. If it could work, then I would happily submit my resume for Chair in consideration of competitive market compensation. :D

I guess we could outsource it - I believe AX did something like that with BAM! - but that can be a volatile relationship. Plus I haven't seen any source worth the money...

QuoteI heard from one of my colleagues that Fanime asked a friend of his for a guest's phone number so Fanime could invite him to the con.  Depending on non-staff to get guests for your con is no way to run things.
I'm not sure what that's about, so I can't comment. But guest acquisition is a weird and mysterious art, so I can't say whether that was a bad move or not. If I had to guess, that story doesn't sound right, because GR staff doesn't really use the phone. :D

Quote..Yet Fanime has increased its price every year.  You're competing with AX prices now, though, granted with AX, concert/special event tickets are not included.
Has it? I'm not sure.

That's at least partly due to our vendors no longer cutting us slack. Last I looked, something like 50-60% of everything went back to the facilities or city, and that only gets worse when they stop cutting us slack.

But that doesn't really address why prices go up, and I don't know enough to comment... just an idea.

QuoteI read through Freeden's post and nodded in agreement with it.  I could have written it because, like Freeden, Fanime was the first con I really loved.  2010 and 2011 were such fantastic years that I couldn't imagine myself going anywhere else.  Yet, as Memorial Weekend 2014 rolls around, I find myself packing my bags and making a 3000 mile trek to the East Coast to attend Animazement for my second time.
As chair during 2010 and 2011, that makes me really proud, at least. I hope you'll come back in the future!
Quote from: melancholyfox on May 19, 2014, 08:28:32 AM
I really appreciate this post. Every time something is going wrong in any aspect of my life, whether that be why the government is so shitty right now, why my income taxes take so much from my checks, why my son's doctor can't schedule my appointments sooner, etc....all I ever want is a little insight so that I have the option to understand and move on, but without that I just remain frustrated and confused. So thank you for this. That being said...
Thank you :)

QuoteSince Fanime is so big and Japan-US relations are changing have changed so dramatically, the staff is now having a tremendous amount of trouble competing with these bigger corporate-run conventions, right?
Yes and no. There might be some constrained resources we need to compete for, but I feel the most limiting factor is the industry itself, followed by operational problems like I described.

QuoteI love Fanime, but in my opinion it seems as though Fanimecon isn't going to be able to compete over the next 5-10 years similarly to how, say, a family owned coffee shop is run out of business when a new Starbucks opens up across the street. And then there's also the possibility of the fans that love Fanime so much standing up and saying "We can still have fun at Fanime! Screw the big cons!" But considering the demand for "relevant" guests and so many people saying "Sorry Fanime, but this us going to have to be my last year attending", I don't see that lasting. It's a very sad reality that I feel has been approaching over the last few years. The only way for the con to lift itself out of the mud might be to seek corporate funding of some sort.
Yes and no, on this one too! Like I said, I don't think there's a lot of true competition; mostly we have to fight against much bigger forces - industry/market conditions - and fight to improve ourselves, as always. Funding would help, but there are other problems beyond that. All of these guests need experienced handlers, and that is even harder to manage than getting the cash. At one point as chair, actually, I realized I could allocate more funds to FanimeCon GR, to get more guests - but we didn't have enough extra staff to support the extra guests that the extra cash would have brought in. You don't want to end up in a situation where staff are strained and forget things like hotel reservations, a band's sound check schedule, or just leave guests running around on their own...

I do think there are different ways to address these growing pains for any convention, but they can take some radical turns. I'd rather not talk about it, though, because I don't want it to come off as a criticism of any convention.

Having that "We can still have fun at Fanime!" mindset is key, though, for staff and attendees alike to keep the convention going.
Quote from: Nina Star 9 on May 17, 2014, 05:37:06 PM
Your previous reply in this thread, while still not entirely satisfactory, was one of the best staff responses that I've seen recently, since you gave some insight into how things work behind the scenes. I'd actually be interested to hear what you had to say in response to all the criticisms in this thread.
I cannot speak for staff because I'm not involved much this year, but I can talk in generalities.

The industry thing is probably the biggest, because it affects so much else.

People in the industry are working hard, so they're busy. It means they are either booked solid and can't come, or they can come only at the last minute when it's clear they can make time for Fanime.

Fun, related fact: nearly every single year, a Big Name contacts us days to weeks before con saying they are available. By then it's too late. We could certainly scramble to make things happen, but: 1) we look disorganized making announcements too close to con, 2) we're usually out of money, meaning we have to fight and scrape for cash, and 3) theres zero marketing value at that point - i.e. the "I wish I'd heard about this earlier!" effect from attendees. Yoshiki's appearance in 2011 was one of these, and thankfully it was a great experience, but we pulled a lot of strings and had some late nights making it happen.

"So pull strings, work some late nights, then!" That's how GR typically operates; it's a soft-skills game and doesn't scale well, operationally. Just contacting guests is taxing - maybe a 10-20% response rate - then there's a long back-and-forth waiting for confirmation, then budget adjustments, then contracts negotiation. Now we can get started: the fun of coordinating press releases, dozens of flights, passports, taxi rides, hotel room check-in and check-out dates, panels, events, stage plots, equipment lists, set lists, appearances, interviews, dietary restrictions, sightseeing requests... it's a fun challenge, but it makes "just work harder" not much of an option.

I'm sure I'm coming off whiny here, but I do want to give some idea as to the scale of effort involved. This is something that can, and is, being improved on each year. So let's move on.

Back to industry. People in a lean industry have to stick to what works. They can't afford to take risks - including servicing a smaller, foreign market: the U.S. This is a major problem with MusicFest guests - as the music industry is likewise suffering - because performing here may mean turning down a domestic gig that makes them real money. For anime professionals, there's no financial incentive in promoting your work overseas unless it is actually imported there - which is not happening like during the licensing sprees of the 90's and 00's. Seiyuu are a combination of both scenarios, in that they are typically multi-talented, incredibly busy, and so have even less incentive in turning down paying performances and coming to a place that doesn't sell what they create.

U.S. industry isn't good for us, either. Fanime has always shied away from industry involvement - we didn't want to become AX - and so our relationships are underdeveloped. Yes, CR and Viz still come to con, but they're not showing premieres or announcing, for example, Sailor Moon. In the past, you could arrange to bring relevant talent to con with the industry: maybe they'd pay half for the mangaka of that new license they just picked up. Between our lack of relationship, and the state of the industry, that's not happening for Fanime. This also leaves us without the advantage of sponsorship dollars.

Speaking of dollars: guests tend to need compensation nowadays. It's part "I have to eat", part "I'm tired of crappy cons screwing me over". No one is happy with that. One guest even remarked how the money issue tainted their visit, as they really prefer to come out of their own passion. We don't like it, either.

"So what - quit being cheap, accept reality, and throw some cash at the big names!" That's pragmatic, but I've never liked it, because it takes tremendous discipline not to start looking at guests as a money problem and start thinking about profit. Next you're looking at guests as an investment, measuring ROI, and you're charging for VIP seats, photos, autographs, etc.

"Fine, then stick to your philosophies - invite guests that want to come!" That's what we do - we don't invite guests that don't match that philosophy. If it seems they don't care, or are in it for a payment, we pass.

But it's not like it was 10 years ago, where coming to the U.S. was a new, interesting thing. Meeting American fans, playing an American gig - that novelty has worn off. It used to be a big, exciting thing - it's why some huge names in music and anime were coming in the early and mid 00's. But the grand experiment didn't yield much, and the market never broke open. The licensing bubble popped, U.S. companies collapsed, Japan turned inward, and here we are.


Let's put all this together as a typical scenario. I'm a member of a band and our manager comes to me talking about a possible appearance in America. But I work a day job to pay the bills, and I don't know if I can get time off until after Golden Week. The drummer and the bassist can't stay past Sunday morning because they have a gig Tuesday night. This isn't an event for us specifically, or a music festival, but an anime convention - the ones known for hosting "concerts" in hotel banquet rooms with borrowed equipment run by amateurs in costume. The crowd only really knows that opening song we did for that anime 5 years ago. They want to offer me free hugs and want my autograph, which is weird.

Our performance fee? They can't afford the Japanese price. Our sound technicians, guitar and drum techs? We can only afford to bring the FOH guy. Upgraded flight? Nope, we're flying economy for like 24 hours of lives. It's too expensive to ship lots of merchandise that may not sell, so we have to make money off of however many CDs, photographs, and knick-knacks can fit in a check-in. Americans don't buy CDs, you say...?


That's the kind of thing that makes it difficult to get big names. How do others do it?

Brand is big. It's easier to convince, and to explain, when you're #1 or #2. That carries its own momentum, because once you're known as a place where big names have been, big names are more comfortable to visit. See: AX, Otakon. You can even screw up and still have this advantage. See: AX.

Relationships are key. Otakon, ACen, etc work really hard to maintain relationships. They do a good job, too, so they are trusted. This is something that can literally take a decade to build up and one year to destroy. We have had volatility in certain areas that harmed us; I know I went through several promoters with MusicFest before we got and really developed our current relationships - which are stronger than people might think! - around 5 years ago. The anime side is more hit-or-miss; we are building relationships with seiyuu and their management, but many individuals represent themselves and don't have a management layer to trust and delegate to.

Related is staff. Otakon in particular has long-standing staff that have floated around and kept some consistency in the quality in execution. Personally I did not do a good job in this respect: I handed things off and took a nice vacation, leaving the new guys and girls hanging. They've had to re-learn things I could have taught them, but didn't. Then again, I was making it up as I went along, too. Like relationships, this is also something that can take years to develop, but one bad burn-out year can ruin it.

Money. Some conventions happily raise and pay fees and move along; others, like us, are more hesitant to go down that road.


There's some inside info. I hope it explains a bit why guest relations - across many conventions - are why they are what they are.
I wrote a long reply to address all of these very valid points, but I'll have to be a jerk and hand-wave it away. I mean, I'd like to talk about the complexities of guest relations, but I think it'll all come off as making excuses, when instead I'm intending to share experiences. I'm still happy to talk about that, but not in this context.

I'll say this instead: I hope those who aren't pleased with the lineup will at least check out the guests. They may not be your cup of tea, but I've never met a guest that wasn't interesting.

I'll also say - not to make excuses or ask for pity or whatever - that the staff are extremely concerned about getting amazing guests for you, and providing amazing experiences for the guests themselves. And I know they'll be working even harder next year to do even bigger things.
It's quite complex, and the terrain has changed since I started in cons ~10 years ago.

One of the biggest factors is essentially out of our control: the industry is not what it was 10-15 years ago. The novelty of exporting culture has worn off on the Japanese side, and the dollars aren't flowing like they used to, either. On top of that, digital is decimating entertainment as an industry world-wide. This factor alone makes it unreasonable for Japanese guests to come to the U.S.; I don't know how many times I've heard from a guest that they're losing opportunities by doing conventions at all.

An aside: My favorite counterpoint to this, though, is GAINAX. There is no reason for Yamaga-san to come every year, but he does. And occasionally, like this year, he can bring along some friends. It's not for money, or exposure - that's for sure. As far as I can tell, he just loves Fanime and the attendees. For him, that's enough. And that's why we announce him every year, even though it's expected: that kind of dedication deserves a little attention.
Staff & Volunteers / Re: Traffic cones
June 15, 2013, 11:03:28 AM
I don't call myself a tyrannical board admin for nothing! ;)

Ok - in all seriousness, it was a special gift from an Awesome staffer.
Staff & Volunteers / Re: Traffic cones
June 14, 2013, 08:37:49 PM
Quote from: WanderingAi on June 14, 2013, 02:23:20 AM
Does anyone know where this traffic cone came from?
Yes, I do!

Quote from: Lucifargundam on June 07, 2013, 02:00:49 AM
I consider this very insightful and very valueable information since newcommers into this field lack any input from people who are already in it.
I've found that IT jobs are kind of tricky to get, and that those who have a position tend to dig in. It's a steady gig, if you can get it.

QuoteI currently have no idea what it takes to take on such jobs or even qualify, since all I know is what is here an there imo... and since the IT field is ever-growing, I don't know what standards are being set for each positon/company...  My self-confidence is there but I always feel like there's "just one more thing" that I need to take on to be able to simply "qualify"....
That's true in any tech. The trick is to find a company with a certain approach: one that matches yours. A .net shop won't care that you're not up to date on Scala; they just want a .net person.

QuoteI'm decently sure I can manage servers on my own- creating a website from pure code is easy- creating a flash application is like doodling to me- thers really alot I can do, but can never really see past my own insecurities when it comes down to "do you have what it takes?".... I guess thats why I always drive myself towards always pushing myself further beyond the current standard/limit...
A drive to always grow is a good thing and will set you apart. You'd be surprised how many people in the IT field learn one set of skills and then stop.

My advice: learn how to interview, learn how to learn things quickly, learn how to blend into a culture, and learn that you're not an impostor.

I'm watching Pandora to make sure it doesn't go down.