Monday, February 20, 2012

Katsucon Post-Coma Report

I think Katsucon may have been the most tiring convention I've ever been to. I slept for fifteen and a half hours after I got home! I don't think I've ever slept that much straight through without chemical assistance or being seriously ill.

Anyway, Katsucon was fun, but had serious flaws. Let's start with...

The Good

Some of the good things at Katsucon were the typical good things at any con: Seeing con friends like Charles and Aaron and Tom (no Jeff, bastard went to the Doctor Who con instead), feeling like an accepted member of a community even when surrounded by strangers, not feeling threatened when people I don't know start talking to me and I don't know why, all that stuff was out in force. Also, I don't think I heard any meme kids all con--the only time anybody tried that obnoxious call-response shit was when Charles did it to make a point about fan culture.

Some high points specific to the con:
  • I never went to the video rooms or manga library. As I believe I've mentioned before, I don't go to cons to watch anime or read manga, because I can easily (and much more cheaply) do that at home. I will only go to a video room or manga library if there's nothing else to do, and that never happened at this year's Katsu.
  • We Con, Therefore We Are: A debate of sorts between an elitist jackass who was offended that anime cons don't consist entirely of scholarly gentlemen sipping tea and smoking fine cigars whilst comparing and contrasting Tezuka's linework to Miyazaki's, and Charles, who argued (rightly) that cons are and should be more about the fandom than the anime itself. Very entertaining, and the elitist jackass argued his point well despite being massively wrong and facing quite a bit of hostility from the crowd.
  • My Panels: All of my panels went off really well. Analyzing Anime 101 was a resounding success, despite the terrible time slot, and I am immensely happy with it. I am already making plans for a less anime-focused version to pitch to multi-fandom cons. Judaism and Anime went well, but still ran a little short even with the new content. I will have to add still more before I try again.
    As for my panels with Viga, the Madoka panel was immensely successful but we were unable to film it. We promised we would record a version at home and put that up on YouTube, but we will probably not be able to until some time in March. Anime of the West managed to blow some minds and hopefully help people understand that animation is animation no matter where it's from. Finally, My Little Panel: Friendship Is Magic went amazingly--our revised material was strong, our discussions of pony biology and the Cutie Mark Crusaders generated a lot of response, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic (some of them waited in line for two hours)!
  • Charles' and Aaron's Panels: I finally got to see Charles' Pokemon panel after missing it two cons in a row, and it was everything I had hoped for. He even gave Vanillish some much-needed love! I also finally managed to catch one of Aaron's panels (two, actually, The Life and Works of Hideaki Anno and Evangelion, WTF) and both were quite good.
The Bad

Despite having a lot of good, there were some serious issues with Katsucon this year, and they pretty much sum up to one word: Scheduling. A lot of people (including at least one guest I know of) had complaints about the scheduling of their panels, which seemed to be done without any regard for when might be an appropriate time (the middle of the night is not a good time for any panel that expects its audience to think!) or the effects on panelists and attendees. For example, my panel schedule was:
  • 2 a.m. Sunday: Analyzing Anime 101
  • 7 a.m. Sunday: Judaism and Anime
  • 9 a.m. Sunday: Madoka
  • 11 a.m. Sunday: Anime of the West
  • 1 p.m. Sunday: MLP:FIM

Kindly explain to me when the hell I'm supposed to get some sleep while giving those five hours of panels? And seriously, Analyzing Anime at two in the morning? What were you thinking, Katsucon!? I basically had to miss busiest part of the con because I spent Saturday afternoon and evening asleep in preparation for this absurd schedule.

The Ugly

Yes, there was worse than the scheduling fail. Much worse, and like the bad, it all comes down to one word. In this case: Communication.

Katsucon staff failed, hard, at communicating even basic information to the people who needed to know it, right from the start:
  • Panelists were not informed of their panels until two weeks before the convention. E-mails to con staff prior to this received no response or unhelpful responses. I understand that this was because they had not yet completely nailed down the guests, but there must have been some point well before the two weeks mark at which they were sure that they would have time for at least X panels, and they could have accepted that many panels while waitlisting an additional Y they hoped to have room for, like Anime Boston is doing this year.
  • The printed schedule handed out at the beginning of the con was an unreadable mess. Every con I have ever been to uses a grid layout: one axis shows the rooms, the other shows the time, and at the intersection you find the name of whatever event is in that room at that time. Katsucon has always had particularly unreadable grids that make it hard to tell whether a panel is on the half-hour or the hour, but this year was worse by far: There was no grid at all, just a list of panels organized by room.
    A list would be bad enough, but organizing it by room elevated the schedule from hard to use to impossible to use. People use the con schedule either to plan their day in advance or to decide where to go right now. In either case, the question is "What is happening at a particular time?" Only after you make that decision do you then want to know what room the event is in. Organizing by rooms makes answering the second question much easier, but at the price of making answering the first question a ton of work. I am quite sure I missed out on panels I might want to see because it was too much work to figure out when they were and whether they conflicted with other things I wanted to see--not that it matters, because thanks to my ridiculous schedule, I probably couldn't have seen them anyway.
    There was an online schedule using the grid format, but as the hotel did not have free wi-fi, it was only accessible to people with smartphones. There was no other attempt to communicate the schedule: No schedule grid posted as a sign at the information desks, and no signs in front of rooms showing the individual schedules for each room. Which leads to my next point...
  • Con staff did a woefully inadequate job of communicating schedule changes. The print schedule did not reflect changes made even before the con started, but they didn't actually tell anyone that unless they asked. They updated the online schedule with any changes, but did not provide updated print schedules at the information desks, which most cons do. Schedule changes during the con were not announced in any form except online--since there were no schedule signs, those could not be updated, nor did anyone post signs on room doors, as I've seen other cons do. Our My Little Pony panel was rescheduled from noon Sunday to 1 p.m., and not only did no one tell Viga and I, no one told the 60+ fans waiting in line for it until Viga and I saw them and started making noise. The former is an annoying oversight, but not disastrous. The latter is completely unacceptable. Oh, and when I asked why we were rescheduled, I got either the blatant lie or the egregious error that it was to give us a bigger space, even though we were still in the same room!
  • The convention did not have a feedback panel at the end. Apparently, buried in the unreadable mess of a schedule, there was one on Saturday afternoon at some point, which is just absurd. How can people give feedback on the con when half of it hasn't happened yet?

I'm still mulling this one over. Viga and I are seriously considering not coming back to Katsucon next year. She wants to make MagFest her winter con, and I am frankly fine with having one fewer con to pay for. On the other hand, if not for the shit-tacular scheduling that forced us to get a room for the weekend, this would have been nearly as cheap as AUSA, so the cost savings wouldn't be that much if I felt reasonably confident that I wouldn't have such bad scheduling. So it's up in the air right now.


  1. To be fair, said elitist jackass prefaced by saying he was going to troll the room with his opinions, to foster good discourse. And he's also not an elitist jackass per se, more a cynical bastard.

  2. Nah, he admitted himself to being an elitist in the panel, so I will stand by that characterization. Also, I could not remember his name (Joe Chen, I have since learned) so I needed something to call him. Anyway, he seemed like a fun guy to argue with. After writing this, I checked his blog out a little, and there was some neat stuff on there.