Having just got over the shock of being outside with real people, the Defective Inspector reports back on his visit to Bristol Anime & Gaming Con recently...
It was about a month ago that I went to Bristol Anime & Gaming Con and, due to various reasons, it has taken me up til now to tell you about it. I like to think back on events, make sure my opinion is not just regurgitated platitudes and instead genuine and considered. It was my first time there so I had NO idea what to expect… Well apart from anime and gaming obviously! Let’s get to it!
I walked into the host building; the Future’s Inn hotel in Bristol’s city centre, my hometown and geographical love glove so I was comfortable from the get-go. Parking around that area is notoriously bad for locals but with a fair few bus routes, various multi-storey car parks it wasn’t too difficult for a tourist to sneak in and enjoy themselves. Walking in was easier than I expected, I pushed past a few cosplayers lingering in the entrance and was welcomed by the happy couple sitting at a clearly marked desk. They wrapped one of those festival bands across my wrist, gave me a brochure with a schedule on and boom, I was set to go.
It was an odd thing to see but the con was split into two sections. The ground floor contained a few stalls, a café space turned boardgame haven with a small stairwell leading to a stage for various events (more on that later). You had to take the trip up to floor 6 to be involved with the talking, merch stalls, artist stalls or video game competitions as, simply put, that’s how the hotel was setup. The lifts were fairly reliable but there was the odd occasion where, heaven forbid, I had to exercise my leg muscles to try and investigate further. It only happened once, but dammit once is enough!
The General Demographic
Here is where things get complicated. Most of the con I’d consider to be family friendly, in fact the Main Stage was meant to be (though there were occasional slip ups) PG-13 rated so there was an emphasis on fun for the whole family. Generally that was true and, with the exception of a couple of Waifu pillows [Don't look these up on the interwebs - Ed], I didn’t think anything was “too adult”. I did also like the late evening dance/party event and the bar located near the Main Stage, it was an included adult-space but clearly separated. Would I let my theoretical future offspring attend the event? Yes, but with me nearby. Security was somewhat lacking as the one fellow who kept creeping out attendees was free to roam like a lost cat. He wasn’t doing anything malicious, but the concept of social norms and personal space were alien to this dude. I had to ask him to leave me alone twice.
So there is NOTHING about the event which was inappropriate and separation from adult to not-adult was made very clear whenever possible. But…. It’s a public space, be very aware of that. If I had to make a request: ear mark the person to speak to when stuff like that occurs. I’m a 5ft 10 bearded man, I wasn’t worried, but I cannot be sure about others.
I’ll admit this point, I wasn’t there for the stalls. Merchandise is something I’ve never hunted for so around 50% of people did not interest me. I’m sure they are lovely people but I like to speak to artists, actors, talents, cosplayers and anyone who has more creative flare than anything else. I did meet those people (a more detailed article about them will appear soon) and they varied rather wildly. Traditionally those on stalls were artists, some of them MCM veterans while others were so fresh to the scene they didn’t have access to a PayPal account. Nonetheless those who I did speak to were great to interact with! As I said I’ll cover the details later but from the con organiser’s perspective they gave me a broad, albeit small number, of artists to interact with.
I now move onto the stage and this was really the star of the Con. While there are talks worth talking about, the stage is where primary entertainment took place and audience participation was actively encouraged. Without this, the Bristol Anime & Gaming Con wouldn’t be anywhere near as enjoyable. Professional entertainment like Jolly Boat kept on coming back year after year so either they are well paid or well loved. In my future article(s) I’ll cover particular people I enjoyed but on the whole, I felt almost everything I saw was worth the wait to watch.
Need to shout out to the events where the audience were the stars of the show. Little things like lip syncing, talent shows, and cosplay walks were all very welcoming and encouraging. It didn’t matter if there was a prize at the end or not, most people just liked taking part! That kind of environment is golden and should be preserved for as long as possible. My point is that it wasn’t just down to the general professional talent, the main stage was a place for just about everyone. There was only one problem that kept cropping up and frankly I need to make a section to address it properly.
Most of the MCs were young and inexperienced. I am not sure if this was down to the MCs themselves or general logistical issues; they’d often not know what they needed to focus on, rarely stuck to time, often didn’t know who was arriving on stage or prizes that were due to be given away. There were also random divergences where the MC would engage heavily with a small group of people, I had to assume they were friends as it all seemed too familiar. I didn’t enjoy those moments and I more than once walked away from an event because of it.
I don’t know what the organisers paid them, but it was too much. I know enough people who MC for cons and you need a higher standard of professionalism. It isn’t a sixth form school play and you can easily lose that all-inclusive feeling when cliques form between the MC and the audience. I don’t know if this was a one off or a regular thing, I just HOPE it was a one off.
On a higher note, the talks were rather enjoyable. Because the room allocated had a closing door it felt very… isolated but in a good way. If you enjoyed active discussion with cosplay creators or avid artists then you could be a part of that in your own little bubble. It allowed for a more intimate environment and you could feel the comfortable air in the room. The talks themselves were very broad, so I wouldn’t have expected anyone to see them all, but it does mean there is something for just about everyone. Ranging from 101 con survival and speaking to professional artists to prop making for crossplay there wasn’t much I couldn’t learn in a such a short space of time. I won’t lie, I spent a few sessions in talks/panels, it gave me a chance to see creators in their element and I do love that more than anything.
The Video Gaming
The video game section, despite being a huge fan of video games, was not really my thing. It wasn’t so much down to what was on offer more to do with me. There were PC games, retro games, recent games, consoles, you name it and they were probably playing it. There were also tournaments which I could have engaged in but… Well I didn’t want to steal the prizes away from the normal folk. Yeah that’s the reason… My only criticism was the size of the room, in an attempt to keep things varied the space was filled to the brim with setups and anyone with mild claustrophobia should stay away. There is one simple solution: Move the tournament into the anime-chill out room. It wasn’t used enough to justify its existence throughout the con. I popped my head in repeatedly and no matter what was playing it never reached more than 30% full. It’s not to say anything was bad here, frankly it seemed popular enough to keep people coming back, but if I can help from an outside opinion I always will. I mean why else would I write these articles?
No Con is without fault, and that can be said about Bristol Anime & Gaming Con but it’s a good solid event well worth the money you pay. The merchandise is broad, genuine artists are present and the variety of entertainment can be seen throughout every event. It’s hard not to appreciate how many demographics were covered in 48 short hours! In the end a few things need tweaking but it’s far from ruined. While everyone won’t be drinking the same cup of tea, I think Bristol Anime & Gaming Con has more than enough blends to keep everyone quenched.
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Images from Bristolanimecon.com & futureinns.co.uk and Bristol Anime Con Facebook.
You can find tickets for the next Bristol Anime and Gaming Con here.