Another Anime Fest 2021 – It’s Not Different At All! Is It, Weebs?!

When the plague times befell upon our world, there was a lot of concern all over the place. Most of it was in the right place—worrying about the health of loved ones, vulnerable ones especially, fear over catching the disease yourself, if and how one’s employment would be effected and how would one keep money coming in, and taking a long, deep, introspective look in to whether or not working for a bastardly employer who sees employees as resources to be exploited and treats salaries as just another expense to minimize was something that was really one’s goal in life after all. But, because our world is besot with scumbags, some people had their priorities horribly misplaced—mostly between finding ways to profit off of scaremongering and ignorance and crying about how they’re supposed to live without their precious fast casual dining and going to the movies. And yes, our fandom is no different in this regard.

That’s right, when conventions were shelved due to not wanting to spread the disease any more than it already had been, a lot of people were upset…for the very wrongest reasons. Screw wanting to protect others and not spreading the disease to someone close to you, I wanna go to my cons, damn it!

Needless to say, this is the wrong mindset to have.

It’s taken quite a bit of time to get back to “normal” once the plague started; I personally didn’t attend a single convention in 2020. And regardless of whether you think restarting everything like we didn’t just lose hundreds of thousands of people whose deaths could’ve been prevented or not, it doesn’t change the fact that conventions are coming back. Though, with the advancement and widespread advocacy of life-saving vaccines, it’s at least a little easier to stomach attending them. Which is how we found ourselves up in New England in the autumn once again.

That’s right, Another Anime Convention was the first convention I had attended in over a year and a half, which has found itself a third venue in four years—this time, the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center in Westford, MA. A long time favorite of the staff, it was incredibly exciting knowing this would be our first full con weekend since 2019. So let’s see if we remember how to do this!

The weekend started the prior Thursday, traveling up to NYC to pick up Ranma and head up to New England. The traffic around the city was surprisingly heavy for an early afternoon, which led to more delays than we would’ve preferred. One thing that hadn’t changed was the scenery; it was still as picturesque and quaint driving through Connecticut and the like as I remembered. The different, softer font on the road signs probably helped a bit. Other than getting out of the city, the drive up was pretty smooth and uneventful…aside from seeing several cars either flipped over or in a ditch on the side of the road. I can only imagine what led up to those happenings.

We got to the hotel in the early evening, and the Westford Regency is a very lovely looking hotel. I later heard the comparison to an off-the-beaten-path bed-and-breakfast crossed with an old Jersey Shore motel in terms of aesthetics. Fairly accurate, I think. It was plenty big enough, but we also happened to notice a reception tent set up in one of the larger courtyards. One of the prevailing thoughts that a wedding was taking place this weekend…and the interactions between wedding guests and con goers were going to be something very special if it was a normal wedding (or a different kind of special if two otaku were having their wedding at an anime convention; both were equally plausible). As for the rest of the hotel, the rooms were spread out among some stretched-out corridors on a few floors. Much to my delight, it did have a swimming pool, though I didn’t hang out there too much, nor did I see too many people using it, whether or not they were with the convention.

That first evening was spent milling about, getting a feel for the location and its amenities, as well as getting dinner. Parking around the hotel was worry free, as I had driven into town several times throughout the weekend, mostly looking for food that wasn’t overpriced stuff served from the hotel’s kitchen and/or bar, and had little trouble parking in the same spot or close to it upon return. Speaking of, this was when my friend introduced me to Poké bowls for the first time. I had heard of them, yes, but this was my first time actually having one. Good, yes, but getting something delicious while avoiding any ingredients that I knew would or potentially could set off my crazy-bad allergy to seafood was a daunting task in and of itself. I just hope I didn’t look like I was a picky eater in that regard.

After breakfast on Friday morning, I explored a little bit more, coming across the long, narrow room that was the convention’s game room. Mostly fighting games—where I got to try out the recently released Sora for Super Smash Bros—and the like, as well as a huge Rock Band setup on the far side of the room. But my first order of business was hitting up a panel that was relevant for both myself and the podcast as a whole, “Twitch Tech Talk.” The panel was what you’d expect right from the title, a guide to operating and running a Twitch channel (or whatever your platform of choice would be) from a technical standpoint. There were more than a few things I was already keenly aware of, but couldn’t really take advantage of due to my PC currently needing major upgrades in order for it to be capable of streaming smoothly and consistently. Still, the panel was no doubt a boon to newcomers.

Throughout the weekend I would also eventually find my way to the Dealers’ Room and Artists’ Alley. And while even though I had plenty of money saved up for the weekend, I wasn’t too keen on just going on a mad spending spree and buying up anything that remotely struck my fancy. But I will say this: one of my roommates for the weekend showed off red bean paste mochi she bought from one dealer tucked away in the far corner of the room. After trying a bit, I decided that yes, I had to have some of my own. And I eventually found it—as well as a couple other vendors who were also selling mochi of various flavors. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the purchases I made in that regard.

Later on, I found my way over to the 18+ Match Game panel, and it certainly lived up to its moniker. This was one of the panels held out in the aforementioned tent…which, as it turned out, wasn’t hosting any kind of wedding that weekend, geeky or otherwise. Suffice to say, any motivation of scoring points or even abiding by the classic Match Game format was quickly jettisoned in favor of who can make the most absurd jokes and shoot over the proverbial line as quickly as possible…as well as relentlessly dunking on one of the hosts. And I have to give it up to the one panelist who answered a question about a father’s wishes with how he “didn’t have a father growing up, so [he] left [his] answer blank.” I texted the exchange to my friend. I didn’t know how he’d react. I wish I could’ve seen his face when he texted me back with a wall of cry-laughing emoji.

Saturday started with getting some early breakfast at a local diner; it was fair, but little worth mentioning otherwise. I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon walking around the con, hitting up the pool for a swim, and hanging out in the game room to various degrees. Sidebar: the hotel’s pool felt like it’s treated with a combination of both saltwater and chlorine; I couldn’t tell specifically, though it did, in the typical hotel pool fashion, left the smell of the chemicals lingering on my body for hours on end. Not pleasant.

The next panel that looked interesting to me was “A Virtual Visit to Real Anime Locations.” On the surface, it comes off as a guide as to how real world locations are used in anime and the like, with side-by-side comparisons between the anime scene/s in question and the real world locations used for inspiration. Though, after a while, it felt like the guy was just showing off his “first trip to Japan” PowerPoint slideshow.

But what I was really looking forward to was the “21+ It’s Always Sunny at AAC” panel later in the evening. If one was going into it expecting an anime-style rendition of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, think again. Sure, there’s plenty of improvisation, but with the surprise addition of timed skits and a dangerously unstable box of props, it was more akin to a Whose Line Is It Anyway? routine. There were also prizes for people in the audience who participated in one of their activities. I didn’t specifically, but I did walk away with a box of jalapeno mac and cheese that wasn’t too past its expiration date. You probably saw me eating it on stream when we talked about the con. It was…alright. Then again, what did I expect for nothing?

Much like any other convention before this time, Sunday brought upon the lows that came with a convention weekend coming to an end. As much as I enjoyed the weekend away, the both of us had to be home in a timely fashion, especially with me having to be up at 4 AM for work (and my vacation week was coming to an end, so that just made things even more disheartening). The drive back was mostly uneventful, although we did continue our grand tradition of not getting back to New York City before nightfall. And to be honest, this was

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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