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FanimeCon 2022

By Fans, For Fans
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FanimeCon is one of the oldest anime conventions in the USA. Founded in 1994, this 28 year old convention is still going strong despite the challenges of COVID. After suffering the loss of two in-person conventions during the pandemic, FanimeCon returned to the San Jose Convention Center for 2022. While the event was successful, there were many challenges and a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.

The Challenges of Running a Convention During a Pandemic

The pandemic threw a wrench into the works of every convention. Even the most well organized and established conventions were faced with a lot of unknowns. "I think all of us, staff and attendees included, weren't sure how Fanime was going to look this year", says Milton Le, Co-Director of Marketing and Co-Director of Communications. "There were a lot of nerves. Different levels of confusion and worry. COVID hit us towards the end of planning for 2020. We had most things figured out already but then around February we started hearing about COVID and no one knew exactly what it was. We heard murmurs and people kind of laughed it off saying 'Maybe we'll get a week off of work.' Then come March we had to really talk about it."
"I think all of us weren't sure how Fanime was going to look this year." - Milton Le, Co-Director of Marketing and Co-Director of Communications
Those were the early days of COVID when no one really knew what to expect. By March of 2020 most conventions were cancelling and looking at rescheduling. "The divisions heads and some of the executive staff reached out to the county health department and worked closely with them to figure out 'What does this mean for our show?' We can't tell 30,000 people they can't show up the day before."

Uncertainty Looms

Ultimately the decision was made to cancel FanimeCon 2020. "We didn't know when the show would happen again." says Le. "It went from a one week delay, to three months, to a year. There were even talks about doing a summer show."
With a pause in live events and limitations on in-person meetings, staff had to get creative to stay in touch. "Our staff did different things to hang out virtually. Using Discord, playing games, virtual board games. We started talking about 'Can we do the show? What does that look like for FanimeCon 2021?' We did a virtual only show. We did a bunch of Zoom meetings, phone calls, all of that stuff. A lot of our staff are pretty close-knit. I have a gigantic staff at FanimeCon and while I can't say I know everyone's birthday and favorite food, I definitely know their names and their faces and I like to think I pick up some of their hobbies. Some of them are gamers. I'm huge into gaming and movies and Marvel and stuff like that. I talk to them about that stuff.
When Le talks about staffing for FanimeCon you can really get a feel for the community of staff behind FanimeCon. The slogan "By Fans, For Fans" isn't just a catchy phrase. It's the honest truth. This convention lives and breathes through the dedication of its staff who volunteer their time and energy to make everything work. Milton Le has been a volunteer since 1998. "I was in high school and I was really getting into anime. I'm very much dating myself now. There was no internet. People had to buy VHS tapes and find the one import store in all of the area. I remember we wanted to do a club in high school and luckily I had a teacher who was very good at fostering that idea of kids having their own thing - empowering kids to start their own clubs and hobbies. We wanted to bring anime to school. At the time it was just Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. Someone said there's this thing that people go to where they dress up. Having just started an anime club at my school I asked 'How can I volunteer here?' It helped that they gave you back your money if you volunteered. As a high school student with no job it felt really good."

Staffing Concerns

A FanimeCon tweet looking for staff.
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A FanimeCon tweet looking for staff.

Fan-run conventions are always in need of good staff and in the months leading up to the 2022 convention Fanime was seeking help. Despite being a close-knit group of staff, the two year break undoubtedly led to some staff members not returning for 2022. FanimeCon made numerous posts and requests on social media trying to attract new staff and volunteers. As quoted from their staff recruitment page, "FanimeCon Staff members are not paid. The spiffy "Staff" badge, the staff room rate, and the satisfaction of a job well done are the main rewards for all staffers." The staff room rate is definitely a nice perk since it can be difficult to find a hotel room for a convention like this. While this is a safe policy and FanimeCon were steadfast in their decision, it created a host of issues. Requiring proof of vaccination seems straightforward, but it's not that simple. How do you efficiently and effectively screen 20,000+ attendees? The answer: not very well 😅.
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There was a system in place to schedule your arrival for screening, but it apparently became overwhelmed early on Friday and was quickly abandoned. There were then four lines for entry. Two were if you were showing your vaccination card, and two for those using the Clear app. On Saturday the lines wrapped around the block and down the street and wait times could have been an hour or more. There was confusion around what was accepted as proof of vaccination. Physical cards were accepted as well as the Clear app, but not the apps that showed government confirmation of vaccination. Some people arrived with children under the age of 5 and were turned away at the door since children can't be vaccinated at that age. While the policies were clear and consistent, it wasn't obvious that an unvaccinated child couldn't attend. This is the unfortunate reality of a large event like this.
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I pressed Le about staff levels for this year. "The staff levels this year - I'm not gonna lie. It's always gonna be lower than you want. It's always a challenge to get staff. We're lower than normal." This point wasn't lost on attendees. Looking at posts on the FanimeCon (Unofficial Fan Group) Facebook group, people complained about certain events that were dropped or limited in some way. They suggested that the con should charge less since there are less events. While this is understandably frustrating as an attendee, it helps to remember that the people behind this event are just volunteers. They can only do so much with what they have. Le continued, "Some departments have a skeleton crew which is also why some events had to be cancelled this year. And also why some events have had to be retooled to figure out what we can do which is also why we aren't a 24 hour convention this year." Charging less for attendance because there aren't enough volunteer to fully staff the event doesn't make sense when the cost of operating the convention remains more or less the same. Civic convention centers charge the same amount for a room whether it has 50 people or 500 people in it. Everyone has to weigh the value of attending a convention like FanimeCon, but paying for registration is likely the best way to show support. Another way would be to volunteer or even run a panel. It can be a very rewarding experience.
I asked Le how people were enjoying the con so far (this was Saturday of the convention). "Honestly I've talked to a lot of attendees - obviously I can't talk to everyone. I've talked to attendees, vendors, staff, and members of press and everyone has given me really good feedback. I think everyone loves that we're here."
"I think everyone loves that we're here." - Milton Le, on the return of FanimeCon.

Vaccination Policies

As an attendee I can confirm that everyone was in good spirits and were happy to be back. The mood was relaxed and joyful and I saw people posting online that they felt like they were home again. However, the reality of running a convention during a pandemic means you have to make decisions about the health and safety of everyone. Having personally attended at least ten conventions since June of 2020, I've seen many different approaches to mask and vaccination policies. Some have both, some have neither. FanimeCon chose to allow only fully vaccinated individuals and masks were required.
Attendees were equally as confused about registration.
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Attendees were equally as confused about registration.

Le explained the response to the vaccination policy in this way. "There are differing opinions on the vaccination policy, but I think everyone I've talked to has basically said that they're really happy that we are taking a stance and have stuck to it. We're trying to keep everyone safe. We've always been a convention that on top of everything we want to keep everyone safe as well as happy and having fun and we've definitely stuck to that this year." While FanimeCon did indeed implement a safe policy and were steadfast in their decision, it created a host of issues. Requiring proof of vaccination seems straightforward, but it's not so simple. How do you efficiently and effectively screen 20,000+ attendees? The answer: not very well 😅.
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There was a system in place to schedule your arrival for screening, but it apparently became overwhelmed early on Friday and was quickly abandoned. Everyone then had to line up to have their vaccination status verified. Four queues were loosely formed at the main entrance - two for those showing their vaccination card and two for those using the Clear app. On Saturday the lines wrapped around the block and down the street and wait times could have been an hour or more. There was confusion around what was accepted as proof of vaccination. Physical cards were accepted as well as the Clear app, but not other apps or other government-approved proof of vaccination methods. Additionally, it was reported that at some point registration shut down early and then reopened later, which only caused further confusion and frustration.
Queues of people crowd the plaza waiting for their vaccination check.
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Queues of people crowd the plaza waiting for their vaccination check.

Four queues were formed for vaccination check. Two for manually checking vaccination cards and two for those using the Clear app.
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Four queues were formed for vaccination check. Two for manually checking vaccination cards and two for those using the Clear app.

The vaccination check queue wrapped around the Marriott hotel and went down the block on Saturday.
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The vaccination check queue wrapped around the Marriott hotel and went down the block on Saturday.

Convention center staff checked vaccination cards against government issued IDs.
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Convention center staff checked vaccination cards against government issued IDs.

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Perhaps the most concerning part of the whole vaccination check process were the people who were turned away at the door because their young children were unable to be vaccinated. The FanimeCon policy was 'no unvaccinated persons allowed', period. Since children under the age of five can't be vaccinated, they simply couldn't attend. The policies were clear and consistent, but it wasn't obvious that an unvaccinated child couldn't attend. Imagine having booked a hotel and paid for registration only to find out that you can't attend when you reach the door. These kind of situations are the unfortunate reality of running a large event like this. Refunds or rollovers for registration due to the COVID policies were later implemented. Enough about all of that stuff. Let's change gears and talk about some good stuff.

The Good Stuff - We're Back Baby!

The good news is that FanimeCon is back. "They're excited." says Le. "One attendee told me that COVID gave them the ability to watch all the anime that was on their list and they were excited to come back to any event where they could talk about it. Their roommates didn't understand anime as much as they now do. I love telling that story because I love the idea that they turned a negative into a positive." Turning the negative of COVID into a positive is exactly what is driving the revival of conventions. My own experience shows that events like FanimeCon aren't at their pre-COVID levels, but they are close. Even if we aren't actually out of the pandemic, we can attend events like these again and build those memorable experiences. "Being in-person is different than seeing pictures. You can find pictures of great cosplayers, but it's a whole different level when you see them in person. You get goosebumps. You get to see them in character. A picture or even a YouTube video or a TikTok is not the same." I would like to give a special thanks to Milton Le for taking the time to be interviewed. He is officially the first person to be interviewed for a Flannel Ninja article and I hope to do more of these in the future.

The Cosplayers

What would any anime convention be without cosplay?! FanimeCon had many great cosplayers who were all very eager to show off their stuff. This is what makes these events really fun. Seeing people enjoy themselves while sharing their craft and the love of the character. Please enjoy these frame grabs of the cosplayers in my FanimeCon Cosplay Music Video. Click here to scroll past them to learn more about the venue and the various events at FanimeCon.
@lizmelooo Morrigan from Darkstalkers
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@lizmelooo Morrigan from Darkstalkers

@oneoddhuman Honey Bee Inn girl from Final Fantasy
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@oneoddhuman Honey Bee Inn girl from Final Fantasy

@oneoddhuman Honey Bee Inn girl from Final Fantasy
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@oneoddhuman Honey Bee Inn girl from Final Fantasy

@daniella.claire.cosplay Sasha from Attack on Titan
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@daniella.claire.cosplay Sasha from Attack on Titan

@zero_obstacles Destiny Gundam
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@zero_obstacles Destiny Gundam

@monster.mutt Itto Arataki from Genshin Impact
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@monster.mutt Itto Arataki from Genshin Impact

@johnnyjunkers Goku
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@johnnyjunkers Goku
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@discaliber Mecha Saber from Fate
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@discaliber Mecha Saber from Fate

@moon.child.cosplay Lust from Full Metal Alchemist
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@moon.child.cosplay Lust from Full Metal Alchemist

@zoomsplays
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Naruto
@kitsunekoba reanimated Zabuza
@sexykakashi Kakashi Anbu
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Naruto @kitsunekoba reanimated Zabuza @sexykakashi Kakashi Anbu

@jinglebooboo
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@ninja_925 Wastelander
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@ninja_925 Wastelander

@jennybellycos Yor from Spy x Family
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@jennybellycos Yor from Spy x Family

@vylacosplay Janna from League of Legends
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@vylacosplay Janna from League of Legends

@luckylai_ Akagi from Azur Lane
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@luckylai_ Akagi from Azur Lane

@makeupyourreality Samus from Metroid
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@makeupyourreality Samus from Metroid

@pho3nixcosplay Kaneda from Akira
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@pho3nixcosplay Kaneda from Akira

@sugartrapcosplay Wonder Woman
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@sugartrapcosplay Wonder Woman

Princess Mononoke
@sarrahnadecosplay San
@pasteljellies Forest Spirit
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Princess Mononoke @sarrahnadecosplay San @pasteljellies Forest Spirit

@tytalis Lumine  from Genshin Impact
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@tytalis Lumine from Genshin Impact

@pikosplay Ahri from League of Legends
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@pikosplay Ahri from League of Legends

@makeupyourreality Yumeko from Kakegurui
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@makeupyourreality Yumeko from Kakegurui

@_filanon Mirko from My Hero Academia
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@_filanon Mirko from My Hero Academia

@rosewatercosplay Bayonetta
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@rosewatercosplay Bayonetta

@pho3nixcosplay Cat Woman
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@pho3nixcosplay Cat Woman

@mikaelakreuz Sakurajima Mai from Bunny Girl Senpai
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@mikaelakreuz Sakurajima Mai from Bunny Girl Senpai

@suteroozu Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
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@suteroozu Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

@oharucosplay Aerith from Final Fantasy
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@oharucosplay Aerith from Final Fantasy

@maruwins Yennefer from Witcher
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@maruwins Yennefer from Witcher

@daniella.claire.cosplay Marin from My Dress-Up Darling
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@daniella.claire.cosplay Marin from My Dress-Up Darling

@jaanessaaaa Daki from Demon Slayer
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@jaanessaaaa Daki from Demon Slayer

@taiga765 Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service
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@taiga765 Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service

@idlesann Shenhe from Genshin Impact
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@idlesann Shenhe from Genshin Impact

@emily.aurelia Ariel from The Little Mermaid
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@emily.aurelia Ariel from The Little Mermaid

@w.o.r.s.e White Rabbit Hatsune Miku
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@w.o.r.s.e White Rabbit Hatsune Miku

@hoshii_hikari Succubus Marin from My Dress-Up Darling
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@hoshii_hikari Succubus Marin from My Dress-Up Darling

@k8sarkissian Marin from My Dress-Up Darling
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@k8sarkissian Marin from My Dress-Up Darling

@lilybatcosplay Cinderella
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@lilybatcosplay Cinderella

@konekoanni Cheryl Gnome from Macros Frontier
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@konekoanni Cheryl Gnome from Macros Frontier

@jeliipop Shea from Arifureta
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@jeliipop Shea from Arifureta

Zelda
@suteroozu Skull Kid
@k8sarkissian Link
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Zelda @suteroozu Skull Kid @k8sarkissian Link

@spookybeann Tamaki from Fire Force
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@spookybeann Tamaki from Fire Force

@blodvy_sg Tifa from Final Fantasy
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@blodvy_sg Tifa from Final Fantasy

The Venue

The San Jose McEnery Convention Center is a nice looking building and is easy to navigate. It has two floors and a single main hallway that runs the length of the building. The largest space is occupied by the vendor hall. The Artist Alley sits across the hall in its own room.
The San Jose McEnery Convention Center lobby.
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The San Jose McEnery Convention Center lobby.

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The Dealer's Hall had ample room to move around and even had food vendors inside. It's always nice to see this since many convention centers don't allow any outside food vendors.
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Outside food vendors were allowed to sell inside the Dealer's Hall.
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Outside food vendors were allowed to sell inside the Dealer's Hall.

Gaming also had its own large space. Free to play arcade style games were spread out with plenty of elbow room. A gaming stage had ample seating and a large video screen. Board games also had plenty of tables.
Arcade games
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Arcade games

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Board games
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Board games

PC games
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PC games

Gaming stage
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Gaming stage

The Artist Alley room has a nice design, but it felt a little cramped and looked a little dark.
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Curiously there was no main events room that most anime conventions have. Instead there was a stage in the middle of the hallway with events all day long.
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Beautiful Outdoor Spaces

The highlight of the convention center is the large outdoor space in front of the main entrance. It has plenty of space for gatherings and is nicely landscaped with plants, flowers and trees. Attendees filled the area each day taking photos at meetups, playing beyblades, and just hanging out. It was in the mid 70's every day and dipped into the 60's at night, which is almost ideal weather.
A bird's eye view of the plaza in front of the convention center.
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A bird's eye view of the plaza in front of the convention center.

Attendees gather around for a beyblades tournament.
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Attendees gather around for a beyblades tournament.

Attendees gather in the outdoor plaza.
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Attendees gather in the outdoor plaza.

This spot was perfect for large cosplay meetups.
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This spot was perfect for large cosplay meetups.

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There's a nook near the Marriott hotel entrance where all of the photographers hang out and do shoots. The monolithic concrete walls made for some epic shots while the trees provided a kind of forest feel.
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There were many street vendors lined up on the sidewalk selling hotdogs and other items throughout the weekend.
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